GOD’S CONDEMNATION OF ALL MEN (EVEN THE MOST RELIGIOUS) DOES NOT CONTRADICT:
– THE VALUE OF SPIRITUAL PRIVILEGES OR
– THE CONSISTENCY OF GOD’S OWN CHARACTER (HIS FAITHFULNESS AND JUSTICE)
Michael Bird: Paul now tries to anticipate the objections of his imaginary Jewish interlocutor. If it is true that the inherited privileges of the Jewish people (i.e., their monotheistic worship, divine election of the nation, and receiving the Torah) have had a null and void impact in making Israel any better than the pagan nations, then is the failure not really Israel’s but actually God’s failure? If Israel falters, has God failed to be faithful to his chosen people? If Paul is right, is not God’s faithfulness put under a cloud of suspicion because God has reneged on his covenant promise to sustain and save Israel? Furthermore, if the logic holds that Gentiles and Jews alike are caught in evil and are justly condemned, then why bother following the Jewish way of life?
John Toews: The diatribe does not represent a digression in Romans, but a continuation of the discussion of God’s impartiality. Paul correlates God’s impartiality with God’s faithfulness and righteousness in relationship to Israel even in judgment. The covenantal language affirms that God remains faithful to the promises to Israel despite her unfaithfulness and despite God’s just judgment for this unfaithfulness.
Grant Osborne: Having firmly described the shared sinful condition of humankind, Paul turns to several thoughts about the unique benefits of being Jewish. He wants to remind his Jewish brothers that their lack of faith has not hindered God’s plan. Paul does not want his people to miss the significance of God’s faithfulness. In spite of their failures, God still allows them to be the people of the Messiah. In fact, the Jews’ lack of faith is a clear witness to the absolute need for a Savior. Neither they nor we can save ourselves. God’s faithfulness is our only hope.
Frank Thielman: Paul recognized that this second element of God’s righteousness—that it means the impartial punishment of Jews alongside gentiles—was the most difficult part for biblically literate people to accept because the Scriptures single out the Jewish people as God’s special possession and object of his love, mercy, and faithfulness (e.g., Exod 19:5–6; Deut 4:32–39; 1 Kgs 8:52–53). Paul therefore emphatically insists that God will punish Jews who disobey him no less than gentiles who disobey him. He makes his case so forcefully that he ends chapter two with the astonishing picture of an uncircumcised gentile keeping the law and receiving a more favorable judgment from God in the end than a circumcised Jew who breaks the law (2:26–27).
Paul knew that his explanation of God’s righteousness along these lines generated an important set of questions. Has Paul left Jews with any advantage? Does his argument imply that the tables have turned and Jews are actually at a disadvantage when compared to gentiles? . . .
These questions come up again in 9:1 – 11:36. There Paul will again address the question of whether his explanation of God’s righteousness means that Israel has lost the advantage that, according to Scripture, God gave to it. In 9:1 – 11:36 Paul will be more concerned than he is here with exactly what the Scripture promised Israel and how these promises can be fulfilled in light of his gospel’s explanation of salvation history. Here in 3:1–8 his concern is restricted to the issue of whether God is fair in punishing his people with his wrath since God promised to be faithful to them.
Timothy Keller: In the first eight verses of the chapter, Paul anticipates and answers some objections he knows chapter 2 may have provoked among those in the Roman church who are from a Jewish background. These objections are not critical to Paul’s argument, and they may not be objections we often hear raised today. But Paul was a great evangelist, and we see him here placing himself in his listeners’ shoes, respecting them enough to think hard about how they would be responding to his teaching (he does something similar in Acts 17:22-31 as he preaches in Athens).
These verses are thus best understood as a Q+A session between Paul and his imagined reader:
Q: Paul, are you saying there is no advantage to biblical religion (v 1)?
A: No, I’m not saying that. There is great value in having and knowing the words of God (v 2).
Q: Yes, but those words have failed, haven’t they, because so many haven’t believed the gospel of righteousness revealed in God’s Son Jesus. What has happened to the promises (v 3a)?
A: Despite his people’s failure to believe, God’s promises to save are advancing. Our faithlessness only reveals how committed to his truth he is (think of what he’s done in order to be faithful to his promises!) (v 3b-4).
Q: But if unrighteousness is necessary for God’s righteousness to be seen, how is it fair for him to judge us (v 5)?
A: On that basis, God would not judge anyone in the world. And we (ie: Paul and religious Jews) all agree God should judge (v 6).
Q: Well then, if me sinning makes God look better, that means that I should sin more, shouldn’t I, so that his glory is more clearly seen (v 7-8)?
A: I’ve been accused of thinking this, and I certainly don’t. And saying you’re sinning so that God will love you is an attitude that is absolutely worthy of judgment (v 8).
I. (:1-2) GOD’S CONDEMNATION OF ALL MEN DOES NOT CONTRADICT THE VALUE OF SPIRITUAL PRIVILEGE
A. (:1) Key Question – Any Value to Spiritual Privileges If They Can’t Save?
- Stated with Respect to Ethnic Identity
“Then what advantage has the Jew?”
- Restated with Respect to Religious Rites
“Or what is the benefit of circumcision?”
Spiritual identity and religious heritage do not automatically gain God’s favor –
but that does not mean they are all a big waste.
B. (:2) Positive Answer —
- Summary Answer
“Great in every respect.”
- Primary Example
“First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
a. There are many advantages and benefits–with the most important
being possession and knowledge of the Word of God
“entrusted” implies a stewardship
Revelation (although it carries with it accountability) is a privilege and much preferred above the state of ignorance
b. God has granted spiritual privileges not to promote complacency
but to encourage application and outreach to others
Frank Thielman: Jews do retain important advantages over gentiles, despite their lack of any soteriological advantage over them. The gift of God’s law, together with the responsibility of sharing that gift with the nations, is one of those advantages.
II. (:3-8) GOD’S CONDEMNATION OF ALL MEN DOES NOT CONTRADICT THE CONSISTENCY OF HIS OWN CHARACTE
A. (:3-4) He Remains Faithful to His Promises to the Jews
(reliable in performing His promises)
- (:3) Is God’s Faithfulness Nullified?
“What then? If some did not believe,
their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?”
Frank Thielman: Paul insists that the unfaithfulness of some Jews to their covenant responsibility to obey the law and be a light to the gentiles does not mean that God will be unfaithful to his word concerning them.
- (:4) May It Never Be!
“May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged.’”
Proof text from Ps.51 where David reminds us that God will always be proved right (when all the facts are in) when He speaks–what He says will prove out to be true
Frank Thielman: Paul emphatically rejects the idea that the unfaithfulness of some Jews to their covenant with God could cancel God’s faithfulness to them. The expression “certainly not!” (μὴ γένοιτο) was an interjection used for putting a thought as far away from the discussion as possible. Depending on the context, it could mean, “Perish the thought!” (e.g., Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes 5; Plutarch, Lyc. 20.6; Luke 20:16), “Far be it from me!” (Epictetus, Diatr. 1.2.35; 1.5.10; 1.8.15), “Far from it!” (Epictetus, Diatr. 1.5.10), or, as here, “Certainly not!” Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians (6:15) and Galatians (2:17; 3:21; 6:14), but most frequently in Romans (3:6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11), and his use of it often closely parallels its use in the Discourses of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Both Paul and Epictetus use the expression, for example, to reject a position and at the same time to initiate an explanation of why the position should be rejected. In Paul this subsequent discussion tends to focus on a certain topic such as “righteousness” (3:4–5) or “judgment” (3:6–8). . .
Thomas Schreiner: If salvific purposes exhaust the relationship between God and the Jews, then it is difficult to understand how any Jews would experience his judgment. In verse 4b Paul introduces the theme that God’s faithfulness and truth can’t be confined to his saving righteousness. God is also faithful to his promises in the judgment of his people. In other words, the saving righteousness of God does not rule out his judging righteousness. Even though God has promised salvation to the Jews, no individual Jew should presume upon those promises and think their salvation is guaranteed. God is still just and righteous when he judges sin among the Jews, for no individual is automatically granted God’s covenant mercies.
John Murray: The thought would appear to be as follows. Sin is directed against God and sin even against fellow men (as was David’s) is sin against them because it is first of all and ultimately sin against God; therefore God in his judgments upon men for sin is always just. And not only so. The character of sin as directed against God, and for the reason that it is directed against God, subserves the purpose of vindicating the justness of God’s condemnatory judgment. So far from detracting from the justice of God, sin as against God promotes the vindication and exhibition of his justice in the judgment he pronounces with reference to it. While this may appear to be harsh reasoning yet it is consonant with the subject the apostle has in hand. He has been making emphatic protestation to the effect that the unbelief of men does not bring to nought the faithfulness of God. The appeal to David’s confession provides him with the strongest kind of confirmation. For David had said that sin, since it is against God, vindicates and establishes God’s justice. If sin does not disestablish the justice of God, neither can man’s faithlessness and untruth make void the faithfulness and truth of God. God must be true though every man be a liar. That this is the apostle’s use and interpretation of Psalm 51:4 the succeeding context indicates. For he proceeds forthwith to deal with the false inferences which opponents would derive from the proposition that sin vindicates the justice and judgment of God—“but if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (vs. 5).
B. (:5-6) He remains Just (manifesting His righteousness in action)
- (:5) Is God’s Justice Nullified?
“But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God,
what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?
(I am speaking in human terms.)”
Frank Thielman: God is not unjust to punish those who sin, even if their sin results in the demonstration and verification of his righteousness.
Thomas Schreiner: Paul defends the thesis that even though the Jews possess salvific promises, they are not thereby exempt from moral responsibility and God’s judgment. In this sense verses 5–8 explicate and defend more fully the theme broached in the citation of Ps. 51:4 in Rom. 3:4b.
John Murray: There is one further expression in this passage that needs explication—“I speak as a man” (vs. 5). Paul is not to be interpreted as contrasting what he says now as a mere man with what on other occasions he says as an apostle or Christian. He is writing as an apostle. The thought is that in asking the foregoing questions he is accommodating himself to the human mode of interrogation and reasoning. In reality the questions are impertinent and out of place. For God’s justice is not something that may be called in question. And we may only utter these questions as voicing those that arise in the human mind and then only for the purpose of intimating the recoil of abhorrence from the very suggestion that God might be unjust. This is exactly what Paul does; he adds immediately the formula (cf. vs. 4 and note thereon) of emphatic negation, “God forbid”. The holiness and righteousness of God do not allow for calling his rectitude into question or for any suggestion of his inequity. It is that fundamental datum that Paul’s apologetic expression, “I speak as a man” underlines. It is for the purpose of repudiating the suggestion that he voices the questions.
- (:6) May It Never Be!
“May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world?”
Lightning appears brightest when the sky is the darkest;
In the same way God’s righteousness looks even better against the backdrop of darker sin.
But that does not make God inconsistent when He judges sin.
Sin can never be justified; only condemned.
Every Jew would grant that God is obligated to judge the world.
Frank Thielman: Paul backs up his denial that God is unjust in punishing the unjust by appealing to a principle Jews would have accepted as axiomatic: God will judge the world. Paul knows that in a Jewish context God’s judgment of the world is always just. God “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jer 9:24) and judges the peoples of the earth justly and equitably (Pss 9:8; 96:10, 13; 98:9; Wis 12:12–13). Just judgment, as the Scriptures define it, involves condemning the guilty and exonerating the innocent (Gen 18:25; Exod 23:7). Paul knows no other god than the God who views judgment as just judgment and who defines justice in such a way that the unrighteous are condemned and punished. Paul’s point, then, is simply that if God is to judge the world at all (and the Scriptures affirm that he will), he must judge it justly. For the one true God, no other option is available.
C. (:7-8) Restatement and Conclusion — final answer to the objectors:
the absurdity of the logical extension of their arguments
- (:7) The Absurdity of the Argument against God’s Truthfulness
“But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory,
why am I also still being judged as a sinner?”
- (:8a) The Absurdity of the Argument against God’s Righteousness
“And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come ‘?”
Frank Thielman: If human unrighteousness and deceit somehow promote God’s reputation as righteous and truthful, then God should not punish the unrighteous. It is a short step from this sort of reasoning to the claim that one should intentionally do bad things in order to achieve good results. Paul assumes that his readers will be appropriately horrified at such a conclusion, and he frames the rhetorical question that articulates it so that it expects a resounding “no!”
- (:8b) Conclusion
“Their condemnation is just.”