We’ve seen in past studies that there are many ways to outline Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Whichever outline you prefer it’s important to note a primary theme Paul introduced in Romans 1:16-17 –
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.”
We learn that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith [read previous study here]. It is because of God’s “righteousness” that we understand how Paul expanded his theme to “the wrath of God.” [read previous study here]
One outline we can use for the current study is –
The Whole World Guilty Before God – Romans 1:18-3:20
We see in these verses how God condemns both Gentiles and Jews, why He does, and the right He has to do it.
When we last left Paul at the end of Romans 2, he proclaimed that what the Jews depended on for a unique relationship with God would not provide the result they believed was theirs. Paul continues his reasoning in chapter 3.
“What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.”
τι ουν το περισσον του ιουδαιου η τις η ωφελεια της περιτομης πολυ κατα παντα τροπον πρωτον μεν γαρ οτι επιστευθησαν τα λογια του θεου
τι ουν το περισσον του ιουδαιου (ti oun to perisson tou ioudaiou) “what then is the superiority of the Jew” .. perisson means “advantage, greater, superior”
η ωφελεια της περιτομης (hé ópheleia tés peritoués) “or what is the benefit of the circumcision” .. ópheleia means “profit, advantage, gain, benefit”
πολυ κατα παντα τροπον (polu kata panta tropon) “much in every way” .. tropon means “manner of life, character, way”
πρωτον μεν γαρ οτι επιστευθησαν τα λογια του θεου (próton men gar oti episteuthésan ta logia tou theou) “chiefly indeed for that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” .. próton means “in the first place, first, chiefly” .. episteuthésan means “entrusted with, persuaded by, trust in, have faith in” .. logia means “communication, utterances, oracles”
This is a powerful question and answer. If a person’s racial background and circumcision didn’t make a person a “real” Jew, what good was it? Paul said that the Jews had an advantage with God in that they had been entrusted with the “oracles” of God – meaning the Scriptures, the Word of God. At the time Paul wrote Romans he would have been speaking of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
God gave the Law to Moses and the Israelites almost 1,500 years before Paul wrote Romans. That means Jews had a HUGE head start on the Gentiles when it came to both information from and relationship to God. They were God’s covenant people.
However, Paul had just written these words a few verses earlier –
“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:25-29
Was Paul doing an about face concerning the position of Jews before God?
He was not.
Being Jewish meant they had received God’s communication (oracles). Jews heard, studied and prayed the oracles of God. Jewish parents were responsible to teach their children the oracles of God from early childhood. However, many Jews didn’t believe God’s Word. What did that do to the promises of God to His people?
Paul addressed that next.
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?”
τι γαρ ει ηπιστησαν τινες μη η απιστια αυτων την πιστιν του θεου καταργησει
τι γαρ ει ηπιστησαν τινες (ti gar ei épistésan tines) “what indeed if disbelieved some” .. épistésan means “unfaithful, disbelieve”
μη η απιστια αυτων (mé hé apistia autόn) “not the unbelief of them” .. apistia means “distrust, unfaithfulness, unbelief”
την πιστιν του θεου καταργησει (tén pistin tou theou katargései) “the faith of God will nullify” .. katargései means “abolish, make of no effect, nullify”
Paul asks what appears to be a rhetorical question – “what if some Jews did not respond in faith? Does that impact the faithfulness of God?” God called the Jews to be His covenant people. If God doesn’t save them because of their unfaithfulness to Him, is He being unfaithful to them? Did the Jews’ lack of faith cancel out God’s faithfulness?
The Amplified Bible translates the verse this way – “What if some did not believe and were without faith? Does their lack of faith and their faithlessness nullify and make ineffective and void the faithfulness of God and His fidelity [to His Word]?”
Here are some other thoughts about verse 3 –
“The Apostle considers an objection that might be brought against his argument that the divine revelation vouchsafed to them was a special privilege of the Jewish people. It might be said that they had forfeited and cancelled this privilege by their unbelief. He first reduces the objection to its proper limits; it was not all, but some, who were unbelievers. But granting that there were some who did not believe this fact would have no power to shake the eternal promises of God.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
“Did not the fact that God chose them as his people, and entered into covenant with them, imply that the Jews should be kept from perdition? It was evidently their belief that all Jews would be saved, and this belief they grounded on his covenant with their fathers. The doctrine of the apostle Romans 2 would seem to imply that in certain respects they were on a level with the Gentile nations; that if they sinned, they would be treated just like the pagan; and hence, they asked of what value was the promise of God? Had it not become vain and nugatory?” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
“The faith of God; i.e. the truth and faithfulness of God, Psalm 33:4. The whole verse is another prolepsis. The implied objection is this, That the Jews are nothing the better for these oracles, or have no advantage by them, if by unbelief they have rendered themselves unworthy or incapable of benefit by them. The answer to this is anticipated by propounding another question; Can the infidelity of some be any hinderance of God’s performing his promise to others, to his chosen ones? The interrogation is a negation, q.d. It cannot be, as the following words show.”
“The unbelief of the Jews does not reflect badly on God but rather shows his honor and love of man to be all the greater, in that God is seen to have bestowed honor on people who would dishonor him. Look how he has revealed them to be guilty of misdeeds because of what they gloried in. The honor God showed to them was so great that even when he saw what the result of it would be, he did not withhold his good will toward them. But the Jews made the honors bestowed on them a means of insulting him who honored them.” John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans
The Apostle Paul answers his question powerfully and decisively.
“Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”
μη γενοιτο γινεσθω δε ο θεος αληθης πας δε ανθρωπος ψευστης καθως γεγραπται οπως αν δικαιωθης εν τοις λογοις σου και νικησης εν τω κρινεσθαι σε
μη γενοιτο (mé genoito) “never may it be” .. genoito means “come into being, happen, come about”
δε ο θεος αληθης (de ho theos aléphés) “moreover God true”
πας δε ανθρωπος ψευστης (pas de anthrόpos pseustés) “every moreover man a liar” .. pseustés means “deceiver, liar”
καθως γεγραπται (kathόs gegraptai) “as it has been written”
οπως αν δικαιωθης εν τοις λογοις σου (hopόs an dikaiόthés en tois logois sou) “that anyhow you may be justified in the words of you”
και νικησης εν τω κρινεσθαι σε (kai nikésés en tό krinesthai se) “and will prevail in being judged you” .. nikésés means “overcome, conquer, prevail”
It’s as if Paul is shouting his answer at this point: “No way! Impossible! Every person is a liar compared to God!”
Paul quoted from Psalm 51:4 –
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”
Here are some other thoughts on this important statement by Paul –
“God forbid – Greek. Let not this be. The sense is, “let not this by any means be supposed.” This is the answer of the apostle, showing that no such consequence followed from his doctrines; and that “if” any such consequence should follow, the doctrine should be at once abandoned, and that every man, no matter who, should be rather esteemed false than God. The veracity of God was a great first principle, which was to be held, whatever might be the consequence. This implies that the apostle believed that the fidelity of God could be maintained in strict consistency with the fact that any number of the Jews might be found to be unfaithful, and be cast off.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
“God forbid; the negation that was closely couched in the former verse, is in this expressed by a note of indignation, and of the greatest detestation. Let God be true; let him remain or appear faithful to his promises and covenant; or, let him be acknowledged to be so, according to the frequent testimonies of Scripture: see Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:17,18. But every man a liar; or, although every man should be a liar; or, whatsoever we say of men, who are all mutable creatures, who are liable to mistakes in their own natures, and so may easily deceive others: see Psalm 116:11.” Matthew Poole’s Commentary
The Apostle Paul is continuing the theme of God’s Judgment and will ask and answer a most important question about whether God is ‘unjust’ in the next part of our special series on Romans – The Gospel of God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.