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Bible Commentaries
Romans 3

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Romans 3:1. What then is the advantage, etc. On the connection of thought, see above.

The Jew. Used generically for the Jews.

The profit, or, ‘benefit,’ of circumcision. This is a specification, which is naturally introduced in view of the previous discussion (chap. Romans 2:25-29).

Verses 1-14

The Justification by Faith, and the Curse of the Law.

Paul addresses himself again directly to the Galatians with an expression of his indignant surprise at the folly of their relapse into Judaism, and passes from the historical to the doctrinal part of the Epistle, from the apology of his apostolic authority to the defence of his apostolic teaching concerning justification by faith and evangelical freedom, in opposition to the slavish legalism which would make Christ's death superfluous and useless. He first reminds the readers of their own experience which must teach them that they received the Holy Spirit not through the law, but through faith (Romans 3:1-5); and then he appeals to the example of Abraham who was justified by faith, and whose genuine children are those who believe like him (Romans 3:6-9). The law on the contrary pronounces the curse upon every transgressor, and cannot possibly justify any man, since they are all transgressors (Romans 3:10-12). Christ alone by His atoning death delivered us from this curse (Romans 3:13-14).

Verses 1-20

2. The Sinfulness of the Jews, as a Proof of their Need of the Gospel.

This passage contains the second part of the proof of the universality of sin, and hence of the universal need of the gospel, wherein is revealed a righteousness from God appropriated by faith. It begins with a direct address to one who is not named, but characterized as a Jew, and passes to a direct proof of the guilt of the Jews, not only in spite of, but also in consequence of, their greater privilege, concluding with the formal declaration that no one can be justified by the works of the law (chap. Romans 3:20). The general proof of the sinfulness of the Jews is found in chap. 2, while chap. Romans 3:1-20 presents a confirmation from the Scriptures, which it is the privilege of the Jew to possess. For convenience, we divide chap. 2 into two sections: the first (1.) setting forth the grounds of God’s judgment of all men (Romans 2:1-16); the second (II.) applying this principle to the case of the Jews (Romans 2:17-29), while (3) the Scriptural proof of their guilt is presented in chap. Romans 3:1-20.

Verse 2

Romans 3:2. Much every way. This refers to both the preceding questions. ‘Every way’ means, under every moral and religious aspect, whichever way you look at it.

First of all. This is more literal than ‘chiefly’ (comp. chap. Romans 1:8). The possession of the Old Testament was the chief advantage, but ‘first of all’ suggests that there were others, which the writer does not name here (but details in chap. Romans 9:4-5). The form of the original points to a ‘secondly’ which is omitted. (The word rendered ‘because’ is not found in the best authorities.)

They were intrusted with. This is the more exact rendering.

The oracles of God. ‘ Oracles,’ lit., sayings, not limited to prophetic sayings. The Old Testament is meant. Even those writers who refer the phrase to the Messianic prophecies admit that these are found throughout the Old Testament, and that the possession of that book placed the ‘oracles’ in their trust. It clearly follows that the possession of the entire written revelation of God is to be deemed a greater privilege.

Verse 3

Romans 3:3. For what if; as is the case, thus introducing the fact as an objection to be answered. Others divide the verse: ‘For what? ( i.e., what is the case). If some,’ etc. This turns the whole into a guarantee that the oracles are still intrusted to them. Both views are grammatical, but the usual one is preferable. Such objections would be addressed to the Apostle continually, as he labored, more or less assailed by Jewish opposition; while the confirmation of the fact of Romans 3:2 seems unnecessary.

Some were without faith. The emendations of this verse are designed to reproduce the verbal correspondence of the original. There are, however, two views of the sense: (1.) That the faithlessness of the Jews to their trust (Romans 3:2) is meant. (2.) That unbelief in the Messiah is referred to. In favor of (1) are: the immediate context, both Romans 3:2, and the thought of God’s ‘faithfulness’ which follows; the fact that the doctrine of faith has not yet become prominent. But in support of (2) may be urged the common sense of the words used; the fact that God’s dealings, as told in the Old Testament make the reference to ‘unfaithfulness’ superfluous; the digressive character of the passage, the causal connection between unbelief and disobedience recognized in the Bible (if they were unfaithful, it was because they were without faith). We prefer (2), and find an objection growing out of the unbelief of the Jews at that time, which is more fully discussed in chaps. 9-11. The digression is then into a region of thought where the Apostle’s deepest feelings were concerned. A Jew might well raise such an objection, as if to say: ‘But how do you reconcile this advantage with the rejection of the Messiah you preach?’ As Lange remarks, ‘the unbelievers always remain in the minority in real significance, let their number be ever so great.’

Shall their want of faith, etc. The original shows that a negative answer is expected.

The faithfulness of God. The word used is ‘faith,’ but that it has here the sense of faithfulness is plain, from the Old Testament usage, and from the fact that no other sense is appropriately applied to God.

Verse 4

Romans 3:4. G od forbid, or, ‘let it never be’ (far from it). The expression is used in animated discussions, fourteen times by Paul (ten times in this Epistle), and elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 20:16). It is an indignant denial, including pious horror, and hence is equivalent to the English phrase ‘God forbid,’ to which, however, objection has been raised, both because it is not a translation of the Greek, and on account of the unnecessary use of the name of God. (See note on Galatians 2:1.)

Yea, let God be (lit., ‘become’) true. The only question here is whether Paul refers to what God is, or what He is proven to be. The latter seems to accord better with the word ‘become,’ and suits the context best. Hence we explain: be seen and acknowledged, even by His enemies, to be truthful. His faithfulness is essential to His truthfulness: He cannot be found true, if men can make of none effect his faithfulness (Romans 3:3).

But every man a liar. Every man who is unfaithful is a liar, but the reference is to the recognition of the fact. ‘Rather let us believe all men on earth to have broken their word and troth, than God His. Whatever becomes of men and their truth His truth must stand fast.’ (Alford.)

As it is written. Psalms 51:4; the penitential Psalms written by David after the visit of Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-14 ). It is precisely the recognition of his sin as against God (see first part of Psalms 51:4), that led David to add the passage here quoted. The quotation is from the LXX., which varies verbally from the Hebrew. As here used, it gives exactly the profound sense of the original,

That, i.e., ‘ in order that’ (both here and in the Psalm). This sense is essential to the train of thought. Man’s sin is overruled for the glory of God (Romans 3:5-7), through it God’s justice shines. The difficulty such a view always occasions is spoken of; thus proving that this is the sense.

Thou; i.e., God, to whom David speaks.

Mightest be justified, i.e., regarded as, declared, accounted righteous. The word, in the Old Testament, is frequently used of God, to whom no other sense is applicable. Indeed, no other sense suits the Old Testament usage in general; no other is admissible in the New. The sense ‘make righteous’ is indefensible on any ground but that of doctrinal prejudgment. Be-ore the doctrine of justification by faith is introduced, Paul himself furnishes a key to his meaning, by retaining this technical term from the LXX., though it deviates from the Hebrew.

In thy words, what thou hast spoken, the ‘oracles’ just spoken of would come under this head.

Mightest overcome, lit, ‘conquer.’ The Hebrew is: ‘the pure’ (E. V. ‘the clean’). The reference in Paul’s quotation, is to winning a law suit

When thou art judged, or, ‘standest in judgment.’ Hebrew: ‘in thy judging’ (E. V: ‘when thou judgest’). The passive (or middle) form here used may have either of the meanings we give. But we think the reference is not to God’s appearing as Judge, but to His appearing as a party in the judgment, upholding His own righteousness. This view preserves the parallelism, and is strictly grammatical. God is represented as humbling Himself to become a litigant, so that He may prevail, be declared righteous. ‘It is a mark of genuine piety to be disposed always to justify God, and to condemn ourselves’ (Hodge). Thus the Apostle reaches this point: God’s faithfulness cannot be made void; even the sin of men makes His truthfulness and faithfulness known. Here is the starting-point for a new objection.

Verse 5

Romans 3:5. But, introducing the common objection: ‘If God thus prevails, do we not, by our sin, help on His glory.’ The answer to this objection follows (Romans 3:5-8). Paul admits the premise but denies the conclusion.

Our unrighteousness. The opposite of ‘righteousness;’ here used quite generally.

Commendeth, or, ‘established’. The word may have either sense. The former makes the objection stronger, and is preferable here; in chapter Romans 5:8, where the word occurs again, both senses are suggested.

The righteousness of God. Here His character or attribute.

What shall we say? This phrase occurs several times in this Epistle, and was frequent among the Rabbins. ‘It is a formula of meditation on a difficulty, a problem, in which there is danger of a false conclusion. It was also in use among the classical authors.’ (Lange.) This is the preparation for the negative answer to the next question.

Is God unrighteous who is inflicting the wrath? This is the unwarranted conclusion, which is denied by the very form of the question in the original. The emphasis rests on ‘unrighteous,’ which refers to His character as Judge (comp. Romans 3:6-7). ‘The wrath,’ the well-known judicial wrath, at the judgment. This is a designation of God, being as He is, one who is inflicting the wrath, and is not equivalent to, where He inflicts, etc.

I speak after the manner of men. This parenthetical clause is a third protest against the wrong conclusion, which is directly denied in Romans 3:6. He speaks as men would speak; the question is one he could not ask as a Christian, still less as an Apostle. ‘I say this just as an ordinary man, not under the influence of the divine Spirit, may well say it’ (Meyer). So that the phrase favors, instead of opposing, Paul’s inspiration.

Verse 6

Romans 3:6. Let it never be. Exactly as in Romans 3:4 .

F or then how, for otherwise how, etc. The denial rests on the universally accepted truth that God will judge the world, all mankind. This he does not prove, but assumes as an accepted truth. The argument is: God will judge the world; to do this He must be righteous; therefore He cannot be unrighteous. The argument would hold with his readers. In fact, when men deny that God will judge the world, argument with them is useless. The principle, that God cannot be the author of sin which He judges, is not expressed, but underlies the whole argument (Romans 3:3-8).

Verse 7

Romans 3:7. But. This reading is more difficult, but preferable. If ‘for’ were correct, it would introduce an illustrative confirmation; ‘but’ presents an objection or contrast. Yet even with this reading the thought is explanatory. God must judge the world; but if, etc. ‘The argument accordingly rests on the basis, that in the case put (“ then” from Romans 3:6) the relation of God to the judgment of the world would yield two absurd consequences.’(Meyer.) ‘For’ presents this as Paul’s argument; ‘but,’ as an objection met at once.

The truth of God. Comp. Romans 3:4. His moral truth, in this connection, almost equivalent to His righteouness.

Through my lie. The emphasis rests on this phrase (notice the emended order), which here refers to moral falsehood; comp. ‘our unrighteousness’ (Romans 3:5). Whether the objection comes from a Jew or Gentile has been much disputed. But as the argument is based on the fact that God will judge ‘the world,’ no special reference is necessary.

Abounded unto his glory Another form of the thought of Romans 3:5; but here something must be supplied: If this abounding unto His glory is a sufficient justification. The state of things at the day of judgment is in the hypothesis.

Why (if this is a sufficient justification, does He judge the world, and thus) am I also (I who thus glorify him) as a sinner still judged, i.e., at the day of judgment. The absurd consequence as respects God, is that He has no right to judge man as a sinner, because man’s falsehood glorifies His truth. The order we adopt places the emphasis on ‘judged.’ ‘I,’ here is to be taken generally as ‘my’ in the previous clause. Although the application to the Jew is designed. ‘Still,’ i.e., after the supposed result has occurred, furnishing the supposed excuse.

Verse 8

Romans 3:8. And why not. This is parallel to ‘why am I,’ etc. (Romans 3:7). The second absurd consequence, as respects man, is the evil principle, so strongly condemned, as carrying its refutation with it. The construction would regularly be: and why not let us do evil, etc., but the mention of the false accusation leads to an irregularity. Some propose to avoid this by supplying: ‘let us say,’

Slanderously reported; lit, ‘blasphemed.’ Such slander was in the last instance blasphemy, since thus God’s character was outraged. Here the reference is to what they were reported as doing.

Affirm that we say, Let us, etc. The early Christians were charged with even asserting this false principle, which would have been worse than the previous charge. Men might do this without being so hardened as to adopt it as a doctrinal principle. The foundation of this slander was doubtless the doctrine of free grace, and the Christian non-observance of the Mosaic law. Similar slanderous and blasphemous inferences have frequently been made from Scriptural truth.

Whose condemnation is just ‘ Whose,’ i.e., of those who practice and announce this evil principle, not the slanderers. ‘Damnation’ is too specific a rendering of the original word, which means ‘condemnation’ of any kind. The absurdity of the principle, that the end justifies the means, is not proven; the Apostle makes short work of an objection which has this logical issue. A doctrine directly leading to immoral results cannot belong to the gospel Paul is setting forth.

Verse 9

Romans 3:9. What then. The Apostle now returns to his main argument, after the digression, which, however, is referred to in this question.

Are we better than they? That ‘we’ refers to the Jews appears, from the whole argument, as well as from Paul’s usage. But the exact meaning of the verb used (the only Greek word occurring in the question) has been much discussed. In the active voice it means, to hold before, then to surpass, to excel; in the middle, to hold before one’s self, hence to put forward something as a defence, or excuse; in the passive, to be surpassed or preferred. The form here may be either middle or passive, but the former is uncommon in the New Testament. (1.) The usual explanation takes it as middle, with the meaning; ‘have we any advantage’ = ‘are we better than they?’ This suits the context admirably; in Romans 3:2, the advantage of the Jew was spoken of, but the digression (Romans 3:3; Romans 3:8) may well be followed by the assertion that the Jew is no better. This explanation gives an active sense, but middle verbs frequently pass over into an active sense. (2.) Strictly middle: ‘Do we put forward anything in our defence?’ But this would require an object after the verb. (3.) Passive, ( a.) ‘Are we surpassed (by the Gentiles)?’ A Jew would hardly ask such a question, which is moreover out of keeping with the context. ( b.) Are we preferred (by God)?’ But this also is opposed by the context, which treats of man’s sin, not of God’s power.

No, in no wise. This is the correct sense of a phrase which stands literally, ‘not altogether.’ There is no contradiction between ‘much every way’ (Romans 3:2) and this denial. The former refers to historical and external advantages, the latter to the moral result

For we before charged; not, ‘proved.’ The word suggests a formal indictment. The charge was made in the previous part of the Epistle (chaps. Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:29).

Both Jews and Gentiles. The charge had been made first against the Gentiles (chap. 1), then against the Jews (chap. 2), but the order is here reversed, since the argument is directed against the Jews.

That they are all under sin. While unregenerate, they are all under the power of sin (the notion of guilt is implied, but not expressed). ‘All’ is emphatic.

Verses 10-18

Romans 3:10-18. As it is written. This formula here introduces a number of Old Testament quotations, describing the moral corruption of the times of David and the prophets. Human nature being essentially the same always and everywhere, the description holds good universally, but the application here is to the Jews first, afterwards to ‘all the world’ (Romans 3:19). In Psalms 14:0 the general application is most obvious, hence it is quoted first ‘The arrangement is such that testimony is adduced: 1 st, for the state of sin generally (Romans 3:10-12); 2 d, the practice of sin in word (Romans 3:13-14) and deed (Romans 3:15-17); and 3 d, the sinful source of the whole(Romans 3:18).’ Meyer. Romans 3:10.

There is none righteous, etc. The citation from Psalms 14:1-3 (covering here Romans 3:10-12) varies from the LXX. especially in this verse, which begins with the last clause of Psalms 14:1. Hebrew: ‘there is not a doer of good.’ LXX: ‘there is not (one) doing good, there is not even one.’ ‘Righteous’ is substituted, to contrast with ‘under sin.’

Verse 11

Romans 3:11. There is none that understandeth, etc. Latter half of Psalms 14:2; ‘so quoted that the negative sense which results indirectly from the text in the Hebrew and LXX. is expressed by Paul directly’(Meyer). As regards the meaning, both parts of the verse refer to impiety; sin being represented as folly, and then as failure to seek God.

Verse 12

Romans 3:12. They have all turned aside, etc. Accurately quoted from Psalms 14:3 (LXX.).

Unprofitable. More literally, ‘useless,’ ‘worthless.

Not even one. ‘ There is not even unto one.’ The same form occurs in Romans 3:1 of the Psalm, from which Romans 3:10 here varies.

Verse 13

Romans 3:13. Their throat is an open sepulchre. Quoted accurately from the Greek version of Psalms 5:9. The reference is to sinful speech. The figure is either from the noxious odor, or from the insatiableness of an open grave. In either case, the reference is to the corrupting character of the speech.

They have used deceit. Habitual, continued action is expressed. Hebrew: ‘their tongues they make smooth.’

The poison of asps, etc. Accurately quoted from (LXX.) Psalms 140:3, latter half of the verse. The Hebrew is: ‘poison of an adder;’ but the distinction between the two classes of venomous serpents is not maintained in the LXX. The reference is to the malice which is behind the cunning of their tongues. Perhaps the thought of the poison bag under the serpent’s fangs suggests the figure.

Verse 14

Romans 3:14. Whose month, etc. (From Psalms 10:7.) The variations from the LXX. are slight. The Hebrew is: ‘His mouth is full of oaths, and deceit, and fraud.’ ‘Deceit,’ which occurs in the original, was omitted, because already mentioned (Romans 3:3).

Full of cursing and bitterness. The bitterness which prompts the speech is the cause of the cursing.

Verses 15-17

Romans 3:15-17. Their feet, etc. Sinful doings are here described in a quotation from Isaiah 59:7-8. There are some omissions, as will appear from the following rendering of the original passage in the Hebrew:

‘Their feet run to do evil.

And they haste to shed innocent blood;

Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;

Wasting and destruction are in their highways;

A way of peace they hare not known,

And there is no judgment in their paths,

Their paths they have made perverse for themselves;

No reader in it hath known peace.’

The sense is plain: they readily commit murder (Romans 3:15); wherever they go, they produce destruction and misery (Romans 3:16); the one opposite way, that where men walk peacefully, is strange to them.

Verse 18

Romans 3:18. There is no fear of God, etc. (From Psalms 36:1.) ‘The transgression of the wicked is affirming within my heart: “Fear of God is not before his eyes.”‘ The quotation from the LXX. is exact. ‘Fear of God,’ reverence of Him, is here figuratively spoken of, as if it existed external to man, for a rule of life. Paul’s closing quotation reaffirms what the Scriptures everywhere teach, that the source of sin is a wrong attitude toward God; not to fear God is to be (and become yet more) immoral.

Verse 19

Romans 3:19. Now we know. As in chap. Romans 2:2, a truth admitted by all his readers is thus introduced. The Apostle’s argument is that these Scripture passages must apply to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles.

The law faith, i.e., the Old Testament, as a whole; not the Mosaic law alone, since other parts of Scripture have been cited. Regarded as a rule of life, the whole Old Testament is properly called ‘the law.’

Speaketh, speaks out, makes known by word.

Who are under the law; lit; ‘in the law,’ as in chap. Romans 2:12; but the article is inserted here, since the argument turns on the specific reference to the Mosaic law.

That. ‘In order that.’ There is no necessity for weakening the exact sense. This was the purpose of God in thus speaking through the Law. Through this conviction of the whole world the gospel was revealed (comp. Galatians 3:22-23). Notice the correspondence with the thought with which this division of the Epistle begins (chap. Romans 1:18: ‘for the wrath of God, etc.).

Every mouth may be stopped. Jew as well as Gentile. The reference is not to the final judgment, but to the more immediate effect of the law: it cuts off every wrong ground of justification; every one is without excuse.

All the world. This is the positive side of the purpose. All men are here included.

Kay become. This is the result purposed.

Subject to judgment before God. This paraphrase brings out the sense, which includes more than ‘guilty.’ The whole world was to be convicted of guilt, proven obnoxious to punishment. To ‘God’ satisfaction for sin is due.

Verse 20

Romans 3:20. Because. The word here used means, in classical authors, ‘therefore’ giving a conclusion from preceding; statements; but the prevailing sense in the New Testament is ‘because,’ assigning a reason for what precedes. Taken in that sense here, it shows why this conviction of the whole world must be the result of God’s speaking in the law. (This verse should not be separated by a period from Romans 3:19.)

By the works of the law; lit, ‘from works of law.’ But to refer ‘law’ to anything else than the Mosaic law is to weaken the passage greatly, and ‘works,’ as here defined, is equivalent to ‘the works’ in English. The Mosaic law, as a whole, is referred to; ‘the whole revealed law as an undivided unity, yet with special regard to the moral law.’ A reference to the ceremonial law alone is forbidden by the last clause of the verse. The verse admits of an application to law in general; but to regard this as the primary thought is contrary to the scope of the Apostle’s argument ‘Works of the law’ are works required by the law, in harmony with the law, ‘good works,’ as they are popularly termed. Some (the Roman Catholic expositors, etc.) refer the phrase to works produced by the law, i.e., without the impulse of the Holy Spirit. But this distinction implies that works wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit may be a ground of justification, which confuses the latter with sanctification.

No flesh. The word ‘flesh’ is here used in the Old Testament sense; human being, with the added notion of frailty; as we say, no mortal man. The New Testament gives it an ethical sense, which will be discussed hereafter. In Psalms 143:2, which resembles this clause, we find ‘no man (or, no one) living.’ The negative in the original is joined with the verb, but in English we must translate, ‘no flesh.’

Justified, i.e., accounted righteous. This is the obvious sense in the parallel passage in the Psalm. Indeed, this is the usual (probably the exclusive) sense in the New Testament. Modern scholarship confirms the view of the Protestant reformers on this point. (See Excursus below.)

In his sight. The reference is to God’s verdict, but not necessarily at the last judgment. The passage affirms that it is morally impossible for any man at any time to be declared righteous in Goers judgment, by his doing what God’s law has prescribed. Perfect compliance with the law would entitle a man to such a verdict (chap. Romans 2:13), but the Apostle thus far has been proving that all men are sinners, and that God purposed to convict them as sinners (Romans 3:14). Now he affirms this must be the first result of the revelation through the law, because by the works of the law justification is impossible for every man. ‘No man, even with an outwardly faultless observance of the law (comp. on Philippians 3:6), is in a position to offer to it that full and right obedience, which alone would be the condition of a justification independent of extraneous intervention; in fact, it is only through the law that man comes to a clear perception and consciousness of his moral imperfection by nature (his unrighteousness).’ Meyer.

For through the law cometh knowledge of sin. The word rendered ‘knowledge’ means full knowledge, recognition, etc. Men without the law have some sense of sin; but only through the law does man properly recognize the sinfulness of sin (comp. chap. Romans 7:13). This sentence of Paul, taken in connection with Galatians 3:24-25, contains the whole philosophy of the law as a moral educator. This is the second use of the law, according to the old Protestant Divines. The first was political; the second, convincing (pedagogical); the third, didactic, regulating the life of a believer (comp. the German: Z├╝gel, Spiegel, Riegel; restraint, mirror, rule). Notice that this last clause confirms the usual view of ‘law’ and ‘justify.’ At the same time it forms an appropriate conclusion to the first division of the Epistle. All need the gospel as God’s power unto salvation, for the knowledge of sin, not ‘righteousness from God,’ comes through the law. Thus, too, the way is opened for the positive statement of the next division, which shows that righteousness from God comes by faith.

Verse 21

Romans 3:21.

But now. Either, ‘at this time,’ i.e., in the gospel dispensation, or, ‘in this state of things,’ i.e., as further defined. The latter is preferable.

Apart from the law. Though the article is wanting, there can be no question that the Mosaic law is meant. This phrase should come first, as in the Greek, both for emphasis, and to prevent the ungrammatical connection with ‘righteousness of God,’ which some advocate. It qualifies the verb ‘manifested,’ and means not, ‘without the law,’ as if that had no existence and no office to perform, but independently of the law; the manifestation has been without its aid.

The righteousness of God, or, ‘God’s righteousness.’ As in chap. Romans 1:17, the article is wanting. The meaning here is precisely as there, a righteousness which proceeds from God; it is given to the believer for Christ’s sake in the act of justification. It is here characterized by a series of antitheses; independent of the law, yet authenticated by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21); freely bestowed on the believer, yet fully paid for by the redemption price of Christ (Romans 3:24); intrinsically holy, yet justifying the sinner (Romans 3:26); thus God is displayed as Himself the righteous Ruler of the universe and the merciful Father who provides free salvation.

Hath been made manifest. This revelation of righteousness is set forth as an accomplished and still continued fact. It was not thus known before, and it is now known independently of the law.

Being witnessed. Continuously witnessed in the whole Old Testament Scriptures. This is not a contradiction to ‘apart from the law.’ The revelation having been made in the gospel, it turns out that the Old Testament attests what its legal requirements did not and could not make known, while the law could not justify (Romans 3:20), there is no contradiction between the parts of God’s revelation. The unity of God, on which Paul bases his argument in Romans 3:29, might be used to enforce the principle here set forth; indeed, chap. 4 forms the proof of this clause.

Verses 21-31


The theme of this second main division of the doctrinal part of the Epistle may be found in Romans 3:21: (1.) The righteousness of God apart from the law has been made manifest ( i.e., a righteousness by faith), and (2.) this is attested by the law and the prophets. Chap. Romans 3:22-31 expands the former idea; chap. 4 the latter, 1. Righteousness from God comes independently of the law, by faith in the atoning Saviour (Romans 3:21-26); hence the universality of its application (Romans 3:27-30), establishing the law; for 2. Abraham was justified by faith, being the father of believers, uncircumcised as well as circumcised (chap. Romans 4:1-25). The whole division is based upon the evangelical idea of justification; and in chap. Romans 3:23-26 we have presented to us the doctrine of justification by free grace through faith in Christ, in its inseparable connection with the atonement as its objective basis. We therefore insert here the following Excursus.

The Word Justify and Kindred Terms.

The word ‘justify,’ in Greek as well as English, is derived from the adjective, meaning just or righteous. In the Bible, however, this is a religious idea, involving conformity to God’s will or law, and not a purely ethical one. The verb, according to its etymology, in both languages, would mean: to make righteous, but it passes over in actual use into the sense: to account righteous, having a forensic or declarative meaning. The question is, which meaning does it have in the New Testament. There ought to be little doubt that the latter sense is that exclusively intended in the New Testament, especially by the Apostle Paul.

1. The verb had this declarative sense in classical Greek, before the Hellenistic usage was formed.

2. It is frequently used in the LXX., and in all but two or three cases the declarative sense is preferable; in many instances (as where God is said to be justified; and where judicial verdicts are spoken of) it is the only possible one.

3. Not only is the Hebrew usage fairly reproduced in the LXX., but the Hebrew notions of ‘righteous,’ pointing to God’s will as the standard, God’s estimate as the decisive one, would lead us to expect the word to take on a technical forensic sense, during the two centuries in which the peculiarities of New Testament Greek were fully developed.

4. In the New Testament the declarative sense is appropriate in every instance. (Revelation 22:11 might have been an exception, but the correct reading gives another form.) On the other hand, while there are passages in which the sense ‘make righteous’ could be appropriate, in the majority of instances such a meaning is impossible. The word occurs thirty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-seven times in Paul’s Epistles, mostly in close argumentation. To suppose that he used the term indefinitely, is to cast contempt on all his writings. Already in his speech at Antioch, in Pisidia (Acts 13:39), he used it in a strictly declarative sense, as well known to his hearers. All the phenomena, philological and historical, point to a definite, technical sense, and that the sense upheld by Protestants generally. A comparison of the passages will confirm to the English reader this view. See any good Concordance.

To justify, then, denotes an act of jurisdiction, the pronouncing of a verdict, not the infusion of a quality. When God justifies, He accounts as righteous, treats as righteous. That He will make righteous those whom He accounts righteous, follows from His character, not from anything in the character of justification itself. It is ‘an act of God’s free grace,’ bestowed without any merit of ours, on the objective ground of the perfect righteousness of Christ, as apprehended, and thus made subjective by a living faith (see Romans 3:25). The doctrine of justification may be distinguished from the broader and deeper doctrine of a life-union with Christ, but must not be sundered from it. The same grace which justifies does also renew, regenerate, and sanctify; faith and love, justification and sanctification, are as inseparable in the life of the Christian, as light and heat in the rays of the sun. The distinction is necessary, however, for it is expressly made in Scripture, and is of the greatest importance in preaching the gospel.

5. The history of Christian experience confirms the philological result. In this view was found the practical power of the Reformation. It turns the sinner away from his own doing to seek salvation outside of himself; when joined with the atonement of Christ, it gives peace to his conscience; it comforts the believer continually, giving an ever-fresh motive to holy living, which is the consequence, not the came of justification. Notice, too, that everywhere justification is spoken of as an act, not a continuous work. The tenses chosen by Paul indicate this. The only apparent exception is in this verse, where a present participle (implying continuous action) is used; but here the continuity is in the persons who are justified, and not in the act in the case of each. Comp, the full notes, philological and doctrinal, of Dr. Schaff in Lange, Romans, pp. 130 ff., 138 ff., and also the Excursus in this volume, Galatians, chap. 2

Verse 22

Romans 3:22. Even the righteousness of God through faith, or, ‘a righteousness, however (mediated), through faith’ (Meyer); the article being omitted, as in Romans 3:21, before ‘righteousness.’ There is a contrast implied between ‘the righteousness of God’ in general, and this specific form.

In Jesus Christ. Lit., ‘of Jesus Christ,’ but as He is the object of faith, the proper English expression is ‘in.’ To explain the whole phrase of Christ’s faithfulness to us, or of faith produced by Him, is opposed by Paul’s usage.

Unto all them that believe. This briefer reading is supported by the four oldest manuscripts; the longer reading presents the added sense of ‘extending over.’ That this righteousness does not come to all, appears from the qualifying phrase: ‘that believe.’

For there is no distinction. This assigns the reason for what precedes. There is no other way for any; all must believe, in order to obtain this righteousness. There may be other points of difference among men, but as respects this point, there is no ‘distinction’ made in God’s dealing with them.

Verse 23

Romans 3:23. For all sinned; this is the historical fact, they became sinners. For this reason there is no distinction. ‘Have sinned,’ is not altogether objectionable, since it implies a relation to what precedes.

Fall short. As the result of their having become sinners.

Glory of G od. This is variously explained as, glory before God, glory like God (in His image, showing His glory), glory from God. The last is preferable; His approval is meant (although it is true this glory from Him alone can stand before Him), since the next verse closely joins the thought of justification. Civilization, refinement, intelligence, and external morality, have not made these words less universal in their application.

Verse 24

Romans 3:24. Being justified. The present tense points, not to continuous justification of the individual, but to an action continuous as respects those spoken of in Romans 3:22-23. Because they are all in this condition (fallen snort of the glory of God), if they are justified it is in this way, namely, freely; as a gift, not by their own merit.

By his grace. God’s grace, i.e., His unmerited favor. His love to the sinner, is the efficient cause of justification; this led to the objective means: through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The word ‘redemption,’ meant first of all, release or deliverance of captives from a state of misery or danger by the payment of a ransom as an equivalent. This idea of a ransom price paid is the essential one in the figurative expression, and the connection not only forbids every attempt at explaining it away, but points to the historical Person who paid the ransom (Christ Jesus) as well as to the ransom itself (the death of Christ). Of course the widest sense of redemption includes a number of blessed truths; but the reference here is specific; and the idea of the payment of a price is confirmed by a number of similar expressions in the New Testament. Freedom from sin is the consequence of the ‘redemption’ here spoken of, but the ‘redemption’ itself is an essential part of the work of Christ. Hence the redemption is said to be in Him, not through Him; the next verse clearly shows that the reference is to His vicarious death. ‘Every mode of conception, which refers redemption and the forgiveness of sins not to a real atonement through the death of Christ, but subjectively to the dying and reviving with Him guaranteed and produced by that death, is opposed to the New Testament, a mixing up of justification and sanctification.’ (Meyer.)

Verse 25

Romans 3:25. Whom. The personal redeemer Christ Jesus stands immediately connected with justification; how is here declared (Romans 3:25; Romans 3:20).

G od set forth. One historical fact is spoken of. The meaning ‘purposed,’ which the original word may have, is inappropriate, because the purpose is expressed in detail afterwards. ‘Publicly set forth or himself’ is the full sense of the term here.

To be a propitiatory sacrifice. One word in the original, but something must be supplied in English: ‘as,’ ‘for,’ ‘to be,’ have been suggested, the last being preferable because a fact is referred to. The Greek word is strictly an adjective, meaning ‘propitiatory,’ but is used in the LXX. as a noun, usually referring to the mercy-seat ( kapporeth) , the lid of the ark of the covenant; in this sense it occurs in Hebrews 9:5, the only other instance of its use in the New Testament. Explanations have been suggested: (1.) ‘Mercy-seat;’ but this confuses metaphors; the mercy-seat was hidden, not set forth; the article is wanting; the figure is nowhere else applied to Christ, and the mercy-seat was designed to show God’s grace, not ‘His righteousness.’ (2.) In consequence of these objections we prefer to render it ‘a propitiatory sacrifice,’ either taking the word in that sense, or supplying the noun. This amounts to the same as the other explanation, but is not open to the same objections. (3.) ‘To be propitiatory;’ but there is no instance of the adjective being applied to persons. (4.) ‘As propitiator;’ this is open to the same objection. (5.) ‘As a means of propitiation;’ this is too abstract.

It will be noticed that all explanations rest on the thought that Christ’s death was sacrificial and expiatory; that it was a real atonement, required by something in the character of God, and not merely designed to effect moral results in man. We may not know all that this ‘propitiation’ involves, but since God Himself was willing to instruct His ancient people by types of this reality, we ought to know something definite and positive respecting it. The atoning death of Christ is the ground of the ‘reconciliation’ (wrongly translated ‘atonement’ in chap. Romans 5:11), since it satisfies the demands of Divine justice on the one hand, and on the other draws men to God. Independently of the former, the latter could not be more than a groundless human feeling.

Through faith, in his blood. We insert a comma after ‘faith,’ because the word translated ‘in’ is never joined with ‘faith,’ and because the important phrase ‘in his blood,’ is made too subordinate by the ordinary punctuation. Further, faith in Christ is more than faith in His blood. We join ‘in His blood’ with ‘set forth,’ etc. This setting forth of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice took place in the shedding of His blood. ‘By His blood’ is not so exact. The entire thought is purely expiatory; the figure is that of doing away guilt by blood; the reality is the atoning death of Christ, which really removes the guilt of sin. ‘Through faith’ (lit, ‘the faith,’ pointing to ‘faith’ already mentioned in Romans 3:22) may be connected either with ‘propitiation,’ so that it indicates how this propitiation becomes effective, or with ‘set forth,’ etc. The former is perhaps preferable, since the propitiation could hardly be said to be set forth through faith. The notion that ‘faith’ here means Christ’s faithfulness is altogether unwarranted.

To exhibit, or, ‘unto the exhibition,’ or, demonstration.

His righteousness. God’s judicial (or punitive) righteousness. His retributive justice is meant; the death of Christ shows how He hates sin, while He saves sinners. The rest of the verse, when fairly interpreted, opposes the various other interpretations.

Because of the passing over of sins formerly done. The E. V. is misleading. This clause gives, not the design, but the occasion of the showing of God’s righteousness: ‘passing over’ is not the same as ‘remission.’ God had allowed the sins of the race which were committed before Christ’s death (‘sins formerly done’), to pass by without full punishment. He had not forgiven them; the wrath that appeared (comp. chap. Romans 1:18) was not a sufficient punishment; His passing over these sins obscured His righteousness. The death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice showed what His righteousness demanded, while it effected pardon and justification. That this is the correct view, appears not only from Romans 3:26, but from the next clause: in the forbearance of God, which explains the ‘passing over.’ Remission is a matter of ‘grace;’ ‘passing over,’ of forbearance. To refer the latter part of this verse to actual pardon under the Old Testament dispensation is contrary to the obvious sense of the words, however true it is that the Old Testament saints had remission of sins.

Verse 26

Romans 3:26. For the exhibition. The noun is the same as in Romans 3:25, but a different preposition has been chosen, perhaps for euphony. This verse, however, points more to the historical demonstration, Romans 3:25 to the purpose.

Righteousness, as in Romans 3:25.

In the present time, when the historical demonstration has taken place, in contrast with ‘formerly’(E. V. ‘past’), not with ‘in the forbearance of God.’

That he might himself be. This is the purposed result, the final aim of the whole transaction. ‘Himself’ rives an emphasis to the fact that it is the personal God whose character is to be displayed; this alone is a fitting end, ‘Might be,’ in this connection, is equivalent to ‘might be shown and seem to be;’ but it does not refer merely to the human estimate. What God did (Romans 3:25), actually had as its purpose and result that He was just and the justifier, etc. Not just and condemning, but ‘just and justifying’ (the comma after ‘just’ is unnecessary). By setting forth Christ, in His blood, as a propitiation, to be appropriated by faith, God not only demonstrated His judicial righteousness which had been obscured in past ages, but also and mainly, He accomplished this purpose and result, that His own character was displayed, as just and justifier, as righteous and accounting righteous him that hath faith in Christ. Not one without the other; not one in contrast with the other; but both in harmony. Every notion of making righteous confuses and weakens the whole passage, but especially this phrase. God could not show Himself righteous in any simpler way than by making men righteous; the gospel paradox is that He is righteous and accounting righteous believing sinners. The fact that ‘righteousness’ in the immediate context refers to God’s judicial righteousness, as well as the leading thought of ‘propitiation,’ combine with the lexical requirements of the passage itself in warranting the statement, that every reference to sanctification is a gratuitous importation, the result of theological prejudgment. Plain facts in the history of God’s people warrant the further assertion, that such an importation ultimately leads away from God’s method of sanctification.

Of him who is of faith in Jesus; lit., ‘him of faith of Jesus.’ More fully expressed: ‘him who is of the part of faith,’ whose essential characteristic is faith. The object of this faith is ‘Jesus,’ called here by His human name, probably with tender emphasis. At the close of this profound passage our thoughts are led back to the personal Redeemer. In the death of Christ, God punished sin and saved the sinner; Divine justice was vindicated in the culminating act of redeeming love. The Son voluntarily, and in accordance with the holy love of the Father, assumed the whole curse of sin, and, as the representative Head of the human family, in its stead and for its benefit, satisfied the demands of Divine justice. His sacrifice was a real propitiation, in contrast with the types of the Old Testament. The design was that God might righteously account the believer righteous. To this view , the only one exegetically defensible, it has been objected that it seems to conflict with morality, that God’s design is to make men holy; but the sufficient answer is, that the sacrificial death of Christ has taught most of God’s righteousness, that God’s freely accounting men righteous has done most to make them righteous.

Verse 27

Romans 3:27. Where is the boasting (or ‘glorying’) then? We have here an inference (‘then’) vivaciously set forth in question and answer. In view of this manifestation of God’s righteousness apart from the law, the Jew cannot boast. Such a scheme prevents any glorying; but the immediate reference to the Jew is clear from the context, as well as the use of the article. The Jewish attitude was well known; hence the question is not abrupt. ‘Glorying’ would cover both the good and bad senses of the Greek term, which, however, has here the bad sense, namely, ‘boasting.’ In chap. Romans 4:2 another, but similar word is used.

By what kind of a law? This refers to the exclusion, which must have taken place according to some rule or principle revealed by God; ‘law’ being here used in its widest sense, of any expression of the will of God.

A law of faith; i.e., a law that requires faith. ‘The contrast is not here between the law and the gospel as two dispensations, but between the law of works and the law of faith, whether found under the law or the gospel, or (if the case admitted) anywhere else. This is evident by the Apostle proving below that Abraham was justified, not by works, so as to have whereof to boast, but by faith’ (Alford). ‘If we were saved by our own works, we might put the crown upon our own heads. But the law of faith, the way of justification by faith, doth forever exclude boasting .... therefore it is most for God’s glory, that thus we should be justified’ (Mathew Henry).

Verse 28

Romans 3:28. For we reckon. This reading is supported by the most ancient authorities (with the exception of the Vatican MSS.). It suggests the reason for the previous assertion: Glorying is excluded by the law of faith, for (we have already proved and hence) we reckon, etc. The common reading makes this verse an inference. ‘Reckon’ is the word usually so rendered; ‘conclude’ is incorrect, in any case.

By faith apart from the works of the law. This principle has already been established (Romans 3:21-26); and is re-stated here to furnish a basis for the argument against the pride of the Jew. Luther here adds ‘alone,’ and the phrase ‘faith alone’ has been a watchword of evangelical Protestantism. Certainly, the context excludes every other ground of justification and because it does there was no necessity for Paul’s writing ‘alone,’ or for our inserting it. The emphasis rests on ‘faith,’ which ‘is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.’ (Westminster Confession.) On ‘works of the law,’ see Romans 3:20.

Verse 29

Romans 3:29. Or is God the God of Jews only? ‘ Or,’ which is omitted in the E. V., presents an alternative, in case the principle of Romans 3:28 should be doubted. ‘Belong to Jews only’ is the full sense. The Jews made this claim, and it would hold good, if justification were by works of the law, since the Jews alone possessed the law.

Yes, of Gentiles also. Paul’s position as an Apostle to the Gentiles, the revelation of the universality of the gospel made to him, confirmed the promise of the Old Testament (Romans 1:1-5). Hence all this establishes the position of Romans 3:28, that a man is justified by faith.

Verse 30

Romans 3:30. Seeing that God is one, he who shall, etc. (A slight change of reading gives the sentence a lively argumentative form; the word used being that translated ‘if so be that’ in chap. Romans 8:9.) The argument is pressed further to the undoubted fact ‘that God is one.’ ‘The unity of God implies that He is God, not merely of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles; for otherwise another special Deity must rule over the Gentiles, which would do away with monotheism’ (Meyer). But the unity of God’s being involves the uniformity of His method of justification. If God is one, there can be no contradictory revelations from God; hence Christianity, based equally with Judaism upon monotheism, cannot admit of being one among several religions equally true.

The circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith; lit., ‘the faith.’ The change from ‘by faith’ to ‘through the faith,’ may not have been designed to express any distinction, as Paul frequently uses the two phrases, ‘by faith’ and ‘through faith,’ as if they were equivalent. Some distinguish the former, as giving the general ground of justification (as opposed to that of works); the latter, the particular means, through his faith (as opposed to want of faith). To make the former imply a different position on the part of the Jew, is to oppose the whole current of Paul’s thought.

Verse 31

Romans 3:31. Do we then make void the law through faith? This verse may be regarded either as the proposition of chap. 4, or as the conclusion of the preceding argument. It is both in fact, being a transition from the doctrine of justification by faith to the proof that Abraham was thus justified. The objection to making it begin the next chapter is the form of Romans 3:1 (which see). But we place it in a separate paragraph. The article is wanting with the word ‘law,’ but the reference to the Mosaic law is unmistakable.

Let it never be. See Romans 3:4. The Apostle indignantly denies that faith abrogates the law, as might be objected.

N ay; or, ‘but on the contrary,’ we establish the law, cause the law to stand. Not as a ground of justification, but as itself teaching justification by faith, the next chapter giving the historical proof. This is the main point here, although there are many other reasons which might be urged in support of the statement as a general one. The law was never intended as a means of justification; it could not therefore be abrogated as such a means. In its typical character it has fulfilled its purpose; as to its moral contents, as the expression of the holy will of God, as a rule of conduct, it was perfectly fulfilled by Christ and is constantly fulfilled in the holy life of a believer.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/romans-3.html. 1879-90.
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