We are currently looking at Romans 3 as the Apostle Paul asked and answered several questions about accusations against his teaching. They included –
- Paul’s teaching impugns God’s covenant with Israel (3:1-2)
- Paul’s teaching impugns God’s faithfulness (3:3-4)
- Paul’s teaching impugns God’s justice (3:5-6)
- Paul’s teaching impugns God’s truth (3:7-8)
In the next part of our study we will look at another pair of questions and answers that contain some of the most powerful of God’s accusations against the human race.
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.”
τι ουν προεχομεθα ου παντως προητιασαμεθα γαρ ιουδαιους τε και ελληνας παντας υφ αμαρτιαν ειναι
τι ουν προεχομεθα (ti oun proechometha) “what then are we better” .. proechometha means “excel, surpass, better .. from pro (before) and echó (to hold, possess) .. “to hold before”
ου παντως (ou pantós) “not at all”
προητιασαμεθα γαρ (proétiasametha gar) “we have already charged indeed” .. proétiasametha means “make a prior accusation, accuse beforehand” .. from pro (before) and aitia (an accusation) .. this is the only place that προητιασαμεθα was used in the New Testament.
ιουδαιους τε και ελληνας παντας υφ αμαρτιαν ειναι (ioudaious te kai ellenas pantas hyph hamartian einai) “Jews both and Greeks all under sin to be” .. hyph means “under, under authority of”
Paul brought his questions and answers to a head in Romans 3:9. Everything he had presented since Romans 1:18 came down to this – “both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Every Jew, every Greek, all of them, are under the authority of sin.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Every Jew a sinner. Every Greek (Gentile) a sinner. Everyone in the world a sinner. That is what Paul said, what he wrote, what he meant. Paul went so far as to include himself – “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all.” Everyone was “previously charged” as being “under sin.”
“Once more the argument returns to the main track, and at last the Apostle asserts distinctly and categorically what he had already proved indirectly, that the Jew is every whit as bad as the Gentile.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
“What then — Well then, (may a Jew further urge,) since you grant that the Jews have the advantage of the Gentiles in point of privileges, having the oracles of God, the promises which he will never fail to observe, and the principles of righteousness which he will never himself violate in his conduct, are we not in a better condition for obtaining justification by our own obedience to his law? No, in no wise — The apostle answers, that all are equal in that point, both Jews and Gentiles. For we have before proved — Namely, in the two former chapters; both Jews — By the breach of the written law; and Gentiles — By transgressing the law of nature; that they are all — Every one of them, without exception; under sin — Under the guilt and power of it: and so are equally excluded from the possibility of being justified by works. And therefore gospel righteousness, or justification by faith, is no less necessary for the one than for the other.” Benson Commentary
“Are we better than they? – Are we Jews better than the Gentiles? Or rather, have we any preference, or advantage as to character and prospects, over the Gentiles? These questions refer only to the great point in debate, to wit, about justification before God. The apostle had admitted Romans 3:2 that the Jews had important advantages in some respects, but he now affirms that those advantages did not make a difference between them and the Gentiles about justification. No, in no wise – Not at all. That is, the Jews have no preference or advantage over the Gentiles in regard to the subject of justification before God. They have failed to keep the Law; they are sinners; and if they are justified, it must be in the same way as the rest of the world. We have before proved … – Romans 1:21-32; 2. Under sin – Sinners. Under the power and dominion of sin.” Barnes Notes on the Bible
Was this some new doctrine Paul was teaching? Not at all. This was a doctrine much older than Paul’s.
“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one”
καθως γεγραπται οτι ουκ εστιν δικαιος ουδε εις
καθως γεγραπται (kathós gegraptai) “as it has been written”
οτι ουκ εστιν δικαιος ουδε εις (oti ouk estin dikaios oude eis) “none there is righteous not even one” .. dikaios is an adjective that means “just, impartial, righteous”
Paul was declaring that no human being was “just, impartial, righteous,” no, not one.
Paul reached back into his vast knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures to prove his point to his Jewish and Gentile readers of the “universality” of sin. He began by quoting from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes.
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1
“God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Psalm 53:2-3
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” Ecclesiastes 7:20
“No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity … Their works are works of iniquity, And the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways.” Isaiah 59:4, 6-8
Here are some other thoughts on Romans 3:10 –
“As it is written, &c.—(Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3). These statements of the Psalmist were indeed suggested by particular manifestations of human depravity occurring under his own eye; but as this only showed what man, when unrestrained, is in his present condition, they were quite pertinent to the apostle’s purpose.” Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
“As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one. The several passages cited here, and in some following verses, are taken out of the Psalms and Isaiah; and are brought to prove, not only that the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, being equally corrupt and depraved as they; but also to show the corrupt state and condition of mankind in general: and the words are not always literally expressed, but the sense is attended to, as in this passage; for in the original text of Psalm 14:1, it is, ‘there is none that doth good’; from whence the apostle rightly infers, ‘there is none righteous’; for he that does not do good, is not righteous; and therefore if there is none on earth that does good and does not sin, there is none righteous upon earth, ‘no, not one’ single person. The Jews allegorizing that passage in Genesis 19:31, ‘there is not a man in the earth to come into us’, remark (u) on it thus, ‘Urab qydu vya Nya,’ ‘there is not a righteous man in the earth’; and there is not a man that rules over his imagination.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
Verses 11 – 18
“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ‘Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit’; The poison of asps is under their lips’; ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Paul quoted from several Scriptures familiar to Jews that supported his teaching –
“For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.” Psalm 5:9
“They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips.” Psalm 140:3
“His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.” Psalm 10:7
“An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.” Psalm 36:1
Paul quoted from the Scriptures, which should have had a profound effect on Jews who would read this epistle, then moved to a logical conclusion based on the evidence.
Verses 19 – 20
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
οιδαμεν δε οτι οσα ο νομος λεγει τοις εν τω νομω λαλει ινα παν στομα φραγη και υποδικος γενηται πας ο κοσμος τω θεω διοτι εξ εργων νομου ου δικαιωθησεται πασα σαρξ ενωπιον αυτου δια γαρ νομου επιγνωσις αμαρτιας
οιδαμεν δε (oidamen de) “we know moreover”
οτι οσα ο νομος λεγει (hoti hosa ho nomos legei) “that whatever the law says”
τοις εν τω νομω λαλει (tois en tó nomó lalei) “to those under the law it speaks”
ινα παν στομα φραγη (hina pan stoma phragé) “that every mouth might be stopped” .. phragé means “fenced in, closed, blocked off so it can’t spread”
και υποδικος γενηται πας ο κοσμος τω θεω (kai hupodikos genétai pas ho kosmos tó theó) “and under judgment might be all the world to God” .. hupodikos means “answerable to, liable to judgement of, brought to trial” and is used only once in the New Testament, here in Romans 3:19.
διοτι εξ εργων νομου (dioti ex ergón nomou) “therefore by works of law”
ου δικαιωθησεται πασα σαρξ ενωπιον αυτου (ou dikaióthésetai pasa sarx enópion autou) “not will be justified any flesh before him” .. sarx means “body, person”
δια γαρ νομου επιγνωσις αμαρτιας (dia gar nomou epignósis hamartias) “through indeed law is knowledge of sin” .. epignósis means “exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition”
Paul meant that people would have an exact, full knowledge of sin through the Law. This spoke directly to the Jews who were the recipients of the of God through the mouths of the prophets. It reminds us of what Paul had written previously in his epistle –
“Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” Romans 2:17-24
Paul’s logical conclusions concerning the power and universality of sin are difficult to argue against. He has made a most profound presentation for stopping the mouths of all people so that “all the world may become guilty before God.” No one can be justified in God’s sight by the deeds of the law – “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Here are other thoughts about Romans 3:19-20 –
“Paul sets forth another view of its purpose here; namely, to drive home to men’s consciences the conviction of sin. That is not the only purpose, for God reveals duty primarily in order that men may do it, and His law is meant to be obeyed. But, failing obedience, this second purpose comes into action, and His law is a swift witness against sin. The more clearly we know our duty, the more poignant will be our consciousness of failure. The light which shines to show the path of right, shines to show our deviations from it. And that conviction of sin, which it was the very purpose of all the previous Revelation to produce, is a merciful gift; for, as the Apostle implies, it is the prerequisite to the faith which saves.” MacLaren’s Expositions
“Not only the Gentiles, but the Jews also; may become guilty — May be fully convicted as guilty, and evidently liable to most just condemnation. These things were written of old, and were quoted by Paul, not to make men guilty, but to prove them so. Therefore by the deeds of the law — By works of complete obedience to the law of God, whether natural or revealed; there shall no flesh be justified — Or pronounced righteous.” Benson Commentary
“Now we know that what things soever the Law (ὁ νόμος here for the Old Testament generally as the embodiment and exponent of the Law) saith, it speaketh to them that are under the Law(not to the world outside, but to those within its own sphere): that every mouth (the Jew’s as well as the Gentile’s) may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Because by works of law (νόμοςhere suitably without the article; see on Romans 2:13) shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for through law is knowledge of sin. In this concluding verse the apostle briefly intimates the reason of law’s inefficacy for justification, anticipating, after a manner usual with him, what is afterwards to be more fully set forth, as especially in ch. 7. The reason is that law in itself only defines sin and makes it sinful, but does not emancipate from it.” Pulpit Commentary
“It is in vain to seek for justification by the works of the law. All must plead guilty. Guilty before God, is a dreadful word; but no man can be justified by a law which condemns him for breaking it. The corruption in our nature, will for ever stop any justification by our own works.” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
One of the first Bible verses I remember hearing presented to me before I became a Christian is coming up next time as we continue our study of Romans – The Gospel of God.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.