Commentary on Romans 3:1-8

A Summary of Romans 3:1-8
From the preceding chapter it is evident that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and stand in need of redemption. The Jews are not excused on account of special privileges. But this creates a difficulty. If Jews and Gentiles are both in the same condition of sin, and if the true and salutary circumcision be that of the heart, which pagans also may possess (Rom 2:25-29), what special privilege have the Jews, and what use is it to have been born a Jew and to have received circumcision of the body? The Jews were God’s chosen people. They had the Law and practiced circumcision as a sign of their covenant with God; but if a pagan without the Law and circumcision could be even more acceptable in God’s sight than a Jew, where is the superiority of the Jews over the pagans?
Replying to this difficulty the Apostle says the Jews excel the pagans in every way, and especially in this that the divine promises were given to them. And he goes on to observe that, far from nullifying the promises made to them by God, the present infidelity of Israel will only cause the divine fidelity to shine forth with greater splendor. But hence it must not be concluded that the sins of the Jews, which shall serve to manifest the glory of God, will go unpunished. If this were true, then God could not judge and punish any sinners, since all could claim that their sins served to proclaim the divine glory. Nay more, such a conclusion would make sins abound.
A much fuller treatment of the Jewish position will be given in Chapters 9 ff.

Rom 3:1  What advantage then hath the Jew: or what is the profit of circumcision?
St. Paul does not wish his adversaries to misunderstand and distort what he has just been saying. He would not have any one think that he meant to say that circumcision, even under the Old Dispensation, had no force or value.

What advantage
. Literally, “What excess” (το περισσον = to perisson), i.e., what relative gain.

Rom 3:2  Much every way. First indeed, because the words of God were committed to them.
St. Paul replies to the foregoing question or difficulty by saying that the advantages and privileges of the Jews over those of the Gentiles are many in every way.

First indeed
(πρωτον μεν = proton men). From this expression some (Beelen, Drach, Lemonnyer, etc.) conclude that St. Paul had it in mind to enumerate the various privileges of the Jews, but lost the thread of his thought and was carried out to something else. It is more probable, however, that πρωτον (proton “first”) here agrees with περισσον (perisson, advantage in verse 1), and that, consequently, there is question not of the first, but of the principal superiority of the Jews, which consisted in their having “the words of God.” But even this explanation does not dispel the difficulty of the expression; for if the Apostle speaks of the principal privilege, why, it may be asked, does he not afterwards speak of the secondary? It seems as if something was omitted by the Apostle (as in Rom 1:8) which was not considered necessary to his purpose (Lagrange).

The words of God
. The Greek Fathers understood “the words” (τα λογια = ho logia) to refer especially to the Law, which gave the Jews their superiority over the Gentiles. Modern critics believe the λογια (“words”) have principal reference to the Messianic promises of which there is special question in Rom 4:13 ff.; Rom 15:8. It is more probable, however, that the term embraces the whole body of Sacred Scripture, i.e., of the Old Testament (Lagrange, Parry).

Rom 3:3  For what if some of them have not believed? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid!
In this verse St. Paul declares that the incredulity of the Jews will not make God unfaithful to His unconditional promises to them. The incredulity in question doubtless was the fault not of a few, but of the nation as a whole, and signifies their unfaithfulness to God’s oracles throughout the course of their history, and in particular with regard to the Messianic prophecies (Num 14:11; Num 20:12; Deut 9:23; Ps 78:22; 1 Cor 10:7 ff.). And yet the Jews, despite their many infidelities, ever continued to be the depositaries of the promises which God had made in His revelation, and which were realized later on inChristianity.

Rom 3:4  But God is true and every man a liar, as it is written: That thou mayest be justified in thy words and mayest overcome when thou art judged.
Here the Apostle affirms the absolute fact that God, by His very nature, is true and faithful in the fulfillment of His promises; but man, on the contrary, owing to his corrupt nature, is liable to deceive and to be deceived. The words of Psalm 51:6 are cited and accommodated to the present question to illustrate God’s veracity and fidelity. David, after his sins of homicide and adultery (2 Kings 12:7 ff.), feared that God might recall the promises made to him; but Nathan assured him of the contrary. David, therefore, in the Psalm, confesses his sins in order to show (a) that God is faithful to His promises in spite of man’s unfaithfulness, and (b) that God will triumph over the false and suspicious judgments of men regarding His fidelity to His promises.
Now, the Apostle argues, the condition of the Jews is analogous to that of David. Just as the sins of David did not render God unfaithful to His promises to the Psalmist, but rather brought out more manifestly the divine justice and fidelity, so the incredulity of the Jews will not make God unfaithful to the promises He made them. Further on (in Romans 11), the Apostle will speak more definitely of the actual incredulity of the Jews, and will draw out in detail what here he only affirms in a general way.

When thou art judged
( κρινεσθαι = krinesthai) is in the Hebrew of Ps 51:6 “when thou judgest.”

Rom 3:5  But if our injustice commend the justice of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust, who executeth wrath?

Rom 3:6  (I speak according to man.) God forbid! Otherwise how shall God judge this world?
St. Paul here anticipates another objection which may arise out of his doctrine that God’s fidelity and justice are made manifest by the sins of men. The sinner might ask, he says in effect, “if my sins cause God’s justice to be recognized, is not God unjust in punishing my sins?” The very thought that God could be unjust is blasphemous, and hence the Apostle here hastens to tell us that the objection raised is not from himself, but according to man, i.e., after a merely human standard which does not understand the justice and sanctity of God. This impious supposition is energetically rejected by the Apostle, who then replies that if God could not punish sinners because their sins finally redound to His glory, He would never be able to judge the world, either Jewish or pagan, and would consequently never establish justice among men by rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. The objection is refuted by its own absurdity, because God being just, must judge all men according to their deeds.
The sins of men do not cause, but merely occasion the manifestation of God’s justice and fidelity; the real cause of this manifestation is God’s infinite power which is able to draw good from evil and must by its very nature always issue in something good. Hence it does not follow that sin ever becomes excusable or ceases to deserve punishment.

This world
. Literally, “The world,” here signifies the Gentiles as distinguished from the Jews (Rom 11:12, 15). Sometimes the expression embraces all men, as in 1 Cor 1:2; sometimes it refers to the enemies of Christ, as in 1 Cor 1:20; 1 Cor 2:12.

Rom 3:7  For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie, unto his glory, why am I also yet judged as a sinner?
Cornely thinks St. Paul has changed here to speak in the name of a Gentile, who asks why he should be condemned for his lie, i.e., his worship of idols (see Rom 1:25), which, by its folly and stupidity has made more manifest the knowledge of the true God, while the Jew with his infidelity is let go free? But as there is nothing to indicate that the Apostle is speaking now in the name of a Gentile any more than in verse 5; and as he nowhere declares that the Jew’s sins are to go unpunished, it seems better to hold with the common opinion that there is still question of the Jew. The objection now raised is bolder than that of verse 5, although the principle is the same, namely, that which contributes to the glory of God ought not to be reprehensible. In verse 5 the Jew is willing to be judged, but unwilling to suffer punishment; here he does not even want to be condemned as a sinner.

The truth of God
, i.e., the truth of His words, in punishing the Jews for their incredulity, as He had promised to do.

My lie
, i.e., the incredulity, infidelity and transgressions of the Jew, in spite of God’s threats of chastisement. The truth of God’s words, and, consequently, His glory, were made more manifest by the fulfillment of His threats of punishment for the Jews’ sins.

Rom 3:8  And not rather (as we are slandered and as some affirm that we say) let us do evil that there may come good? Whose damnation is just.
Here again the Apostle shows the absurd consequence of the foregoing false supposition. If sin goes unpunished because it contributes to the glory of God, why not continue to sin for the sake of promoting God’s glory? As he tells here in parentheses, this impious doctrine had been imputed to himself by some of his enemies, perhaps on account of his teaching that “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom 5:20; cf. Gal 3:22); but he now rejects this calumny with indignation and declares that eternal damnation will be a just punishment for its authors and for those who teach such a doctrine, making the end justify the means. It is not improbable that this series of objections (verses 5-8) was purposely introduced by the Apostle, in order that he might have a chance to refute the calumny of his adversaries.
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