THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 2, VERSE 17, TO CHAPTER 3 VERSE 20
2:17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
2:18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
2:19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
2:20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
2:21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
2:22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
2:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
2:26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
3:1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
3:3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
3:5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
3:6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
3:7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
3:8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
3:9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
3:13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
3:14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
3:15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
3:17 And the way of peace have they not known:
3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
SECTION 4: ROMANS 2:17-3:20
GOD’S WRATH AGAINST MEN AS LEGISLATOR
4 (c) 2:25-29 The charge of unreality.
4 (d) 3:1-8 The charge of infidelity.
4 (e) 3:9-17 The charge of iniquity.
4 (f) 3:18-20 God before man’s eyes and man in God’s sight.
SUBJECT OF SECTION 4
The apostle now directly confronts the Jew with his lack of responsible action in the light of the privileges he has been given by God. He deals with the matter in five ways, showing conclusively that just as the heathen man of chapter 1 rejects God as Creator, and the moraliser rejects God as Moral Governor, the Jew dishonours God as the Legislator who gave the Law and the prophets for their instruction.
4 (a) THE CHARGE OF COMPLACENCY
The Jew in relation to God:
2:17 Behold, thou art called a Jew- relying on nationality and background for favour with God. And restest in the Law- thinking that to simply receive the Law is enough. And makest thy boast in God- at first sight a good thing, but really this boasting was an evidence of national pride in what God had done for them. Compare the true boasting in 5:11.
2:18. And knowest His will- sure that his interpretation of the Law was correct. And approvest the things that are more excellent- guided by the law he was able to form an opinion on moral issues, and to say with authority what was best.
The Jew in relation to Gentiles:
2:19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind- Gentiles are blind, and the Jew leads them, doing so independently of the help of God, “thou thyself art a guide”. A light of them which are in darkness- Gentiles are in spiritual darkness, the Jew is confident that he is able to enlighten them.
2:20 An instructor of the foolish- Gentiles in Old Testament times were without the wisdom revealed in the Old Testament, therefore the Jew instructs them. A teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth of the law- Gentiles are immature babes, the Jew trains them. Gentiles are in error, the Jew has the “form (organised system) of the Law,” and hence possesses truth. All the things mentioned in verses 17-20 are in relation to the Law of Moses. That Law directed men, but it gave no power to move in the right direction, see Romans 8:3. Instead of looking to God in faith, the Jew was content with striving to keep the observance of the Law, which caused him to be complacent and proud.
4 (b) THE CHARGE OF HYPOCRISY
2:21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?- Publicly, the Jew advanced the cause of the Law, but privately committed what he condemned in others. The descriptions of verses 19 and 20 all had the idea of teaching in them, so Paul confronts the Jew with his inconsistency. That which he teaches to another, the Jew must teach himself first. The scribes sat in Moses’ seat, but the Lord said “they say, and do not”, Matthew 23:2,3. Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?- we may illustrate these things from the fall of David in the matter of Bathsheba, for David stole her from Uriah her husband, as Nathan the prophet declared in parable form, 2 Samuel 12:1-10.
2:22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?- David was guilty of this sin with Bathsheba. Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?- it was Uriah the Gentile, Bathsheba’s husband, who was concerned for the welfare of the Ark, and the Tables of the Law within it, 2 Samuel 11:11, whereas David was intent on breaking those laws, even though at his coronation he would have committed himself to upholding them. To commit sacrilege is to rob temples, but David had gone further and had robbed God.
2:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?- the second table of the Law related to the rights of one’s neighbour, but killing, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, (as David did in effect when he sent presents to Uriah, pretending he was in favour with him, 2 Samuel 11:8), and coveting one’s neighbour’s wife, all hurt a man’s neighbour. God was dishonoured as much by this, as by the breaking of the first five commandments.
2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written- see Isaiah 52:5, “My name continually every day is blasphemed”. See also 2 Samuel 12:14, where Nathan the prophet tells David that “by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme”.
4 (c) THE CHARGE OF UNREALITY
2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law- circumcision was a physical operation on a Jew’s body with spiritual implications, and that which distinguished him from a Gentile as one who was bound to keep the law. It was only of value if the truth of separation to God and obedience to the law expressed in it was practised. But if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision- a circumcised Jew who did not keep the law was no better than an uncircumcised Gentile.
2:26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?- if a circumcised man can become like an uncircumcised Gentile by bad conduct, then in theory an uncircumcised Gentile can become like a circumcised Jew by good conduct. Righteousness is “all that the Law demanded as right,” which the apostle has already shown was known by Gentiles without them having tables of stone. See 2:14,15. The apostle is shaking Jewish complacency to its foundations. The Rabbis said “All the circumcised have part in the world to come”, but the apostle shows here that they were mistaken.
2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature if it fulfil the law- Gentiles were born without the benefit of inherited privileges, yet some of them sincerely attempted to act righteously. The apostle is not saying they could completely carry out the law, but that if they did they would condemn faithless Jews. Judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law- Jews had the Law administered nationally, (the letter of the law handed down at Sinai), and circumcision administered personally, to admit them into the community which had the law, so grew up in a sphere conducive to Law-keeping, but broke it. By being content with possessing the Scriptures, (the letter), and being circumcised, they thought themselves secure, failed to depend on God, and hence transgressed the Law. They are condemned by sincere Gentiles. They had allowed the very possession of the law and circumcision to lead them to transgress the law, but only because their hearts were not right.
2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly- living an outwardly blameless life. See Phillipians 3:6, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”. Blameless, that is, as far as men were able to tell. Neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh- note how radical these statements are; neither outward observance of ceremonies, nor physical marking of the outside of the flesh are of any value. The Old Testament insisted on heart circumcision, which meant separation in heart from that which displeased God, and involvement in that which did. Deuteronomy 10:16- “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart.” Deuteronomy 30:6- “and the Lord God will circumcise thine heart…to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.” Jeremiah 4:4- “circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart…” Acts 7:51- (words which Paul heard Stephen say), “ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears”.
2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly- not relying on an outward sign in the flesh, like physical circumcision, but having an inner earnestness to do God’s will. The prophets in the Old Testament had spoken like this, see 1 Samuel 15:22,23; Isaiah 1:10-15; Micah 6:6-8. And circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter- a truly circumcised person is not content with mere observance of the externals of religion as detailed in the ceremonial law. Whose praise is not of men, but of God- a play on the word Jew, which coming from “Judah”, means “praise,” see Genesis 29:35. Men may not appreciate the spiritual person, but God does, and commends him. If the Jew would really live up to his name, he must be changed inwardly. Some of the Pharisees were guilty of seeking the praise of men by outward observance, John 12:43.
4 (d) THE CHARGE OF INFIDELITY
The apostle anticipates objections to his first three charges, and in so doing accuses the Jews of infidelity.
3:1 What advantage then hath the Jew?- in view of the failures described in 2:17-24, there seems to be no benefit in being a Jew. Or what profit is there of circumcision?- in view of the truths set out in 2:25-29, where circumcised persons are said to be no better than the uncircumcised, it might be thought that there is no advantage in being a Jew if outward things are invalid.
3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God- there are many and varied advantages in being a Jew, listed in 9:4,5, but one of the chiefest is the possession of the living word of God, which they were expected to observe. Note the connection between “committed”, (entrusted), and “did not believe”, verse 3, (were unfaithful to the trust).
3:3 For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?- what shall we say about this situation, where some were unfaithful. Shall we say that if some were unfaithful to the trust placed in them by God, (as demonstrated by the fact that He gave them His oracles), that they thereby made it impossible for God to be faithful to His promises?
3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar- let the fact that God is true, and that men are all liars, govern our thinking in this matter. Paul energetically repudiates the idea that God’s truthfulness and faithfulness in regard to His promises depend on man’s favourable response to His word. Every man is a liar, so we cannot expect right dealings from him. God is true to His word, whatever man’s reaction is. Since men are liars, they live out a lie in their lives, as the illustration from the life of David will show. As a result of his experience, he was caused to acknowledge that God was true and he was unfaithful. As it is written, That thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when Thou art judged- David came into direct confrontation with the word of God over the matter of Bathsheba, and acted out a lie to cover his sin. See 2 Samuel 11; Psalm 32. The apostle quotes here from Psalm 51, one of David’s repentance psalms. When David repented he justified (vindicated) God and condemned himself, thus relieving God of any misrepresentations which men might make about Him because of David’s sin. Thus God overcame His accusers when they criticized Him. This reversed the situation described in 2 Samuel 12:14. All this came about as a result of Nathan the prophet bringing God’s word to David.
3:5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?- the foregoing suggests another objection, which the apostle puts as if from himself, hence “I speak as a man”. Can God righteously judge men for doing that which gives Him fresh opportunity to glorify Himself? “What shall we say” is usually used in the New Testament when the argument of an opponent is being refuted. (I speak as a man)- to speak like this is to speak as a natural man without the knowledge of God. To a believer the idea is abhorrent.
3:6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?- that God will judge the world has been established in chapters 1 and 2, but this objection would destroy that, for it would undermine just judgement, and God is not capable of unjust judgement. Two consequences would follow from this. First, I should not be judged at all. Second, we ought to sin freely, so that more good may come to God’s reputation. These consequences are so outrageous that the apostle is content to simply say that the judgement of those who suggest such things is just.
3:7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I judged as a sinner?- if the truth about God contained in the oracles delivered to the Jews has been enhanced by my life lived contrary to that truth, (“my lie”), why am I still to be judged as a sinner? Surely I should be praised for enhancing God’s glory! Such an idea is clearly wrong.
3:8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come?- some were saying that Paul taught the practice of evil so that good might come to God’s reputation. “And not rather means “And why should we not say”. Even though the apostle thought this to be slanderous, he is content to leave the matter in God’s hands, being assured that those who speak like this are ripe for judgement. Whose damnation is just- the suggestion is so outrageous that it only needs the reminder of coming judgement to refute it. But let his opponents beware, for the judgement which is just for sinners generally, is just for false teachers too.
4 (e) THE CHARGE OF INIQUITY
Having examined all classes of men, the apostle now presents his final argument on the subject of the universal sin of man, and the consequent danger of the wrath of God.
The epistle to the Romans puts man in God’s Law-court, charges him in 1:19-3:8, presents written evidence in 3:9-18, pronounces him guilty in 3:19, then tells of the just means whereby his guilt may be removed, 3:20-25, and the repentant, believing sinner justified, 3:26, with the consequent freedom from condemnation, 8:1.
3:9 What then, are we better than they?- in verse 1 the apostle had asked what advantage and profit the Jew had, and his answer was “much every way.” Now, having disposed of the arguments of his opponents he is able to ask a final question- “Are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)? and now his answer is as follows. No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin- The Jew has outward advantages, but inwardly, as 2:21-24 shows, he is no better than sinful Gentiles. “Proved” here means “charged, incriminated, accused”, and this has been done in 1:18-3:8. The proof proper is about to be presented from the Old Testament scriptures, from which the apostle extracts fourteen statements proving conclusively that man is a sinner.
MAN’S CONSTITUTION IN RELATION TO GOD
3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one- THE NATURE OF MAN is corrupted and depraved by Adam’s fall. Psalm 14:3 actually says, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one”, but as the apostle John says, “he that doeth righteous is righteous, as He is righteous”, 1 John 3:7, for it is the nature that produces the results, such as goodness. If there is not a righteous nature, then there is no righteous fruit.
3:11 There is none that understandeth- THE MIND OF MAN is ignorant of the truth of God, “having the understanding darkened,” Ephesians 4:18.
There is none that seeketh after God- THE ATTITUDE OF MAN is one of apathy towards God.
3:12 They are all gone out of the way- THE WILL OF MAN makes him continue in the path of departure from God begun in Genesis 3.
They are together become unprofitable- THE LIFE OF MAN is unprofitable to God.
There is none that doeth good, no, not one- THE WORKS OF MAN are contrary to God, who is essentially good.
MAN’S CONDUCT IN RELATION TO MEN
3:13 Their throat is an open sepulchre- both DEFILED AND DEFILING. See Matthew 23:27; Mark 7:21-23.
With their tongues they have used deceit- DECEITFUL. “the wicked…go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies”, Psalm 58:3.
The poison of asps is under their lips- DANGEROUS. “ye are of your father the Devil”, John 8:44. “O generation of vipers”, Matthew 3:7.
3:14. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness- cursing is malice expressed, whereas bitterness is malice harboured. DAMAGEING. All these statements were true of Saul of Tarsus, as he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, Acts 9:1.
3:15 Their feet are swift to shed blood- DEADLY.
3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways- destruction is the action, misery is the effect. DESTRUCTIVE.
3:17 And the way of peace they have not known- DISCORDANT and DISTURBED.
4 (f) GOD BEFORE MAN’S EYES AND MAN IN GOD’S SIGHT
3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes- DEFIANCE of God characterises man, and he expresses this by disregarding his responsibilities before God and before man.
These statements may appear to be extreme, but the point is what man is capable of if left to himself. Condemnation comes upon us because we are sinners, as well as because we have sinned, so this passage serves to highlight both what we commit, and what we are. Man is totally depraved, which means he is affected by sin in all aspects of his person. Note this does not mean that men are as bad as they can be, but they do have the potential to be as bad as they can be, and this extreme badness is exposed in verses 10-18. Note also the emphasis on spoken things, for Paul had summarised the sinner’s life as a lie, 3:7. And this living lie works itself out in ways that are hostile to the living God. Then finally the eyes, the vehicle by which sin entered the world at the beginning, for Eve saw the forbidden tree, and failed to fear God, Genesis 3:6.
3:19. Now we know- it is common knowledge to Israel, to whom the law was given. That what things soever the law saith- the word for saith gives emphasis to the content of the Law. It saith to them that are under the law- a different word for saith, giving emphasis to the personal challenge of the voice of the Law. The law of Moses condemns the sins of verses 10-18. “Them that are under the law” were the people of Israel, the ones through whom the whole of humanity was put to the test. Their main benefit, 3:1,2, becomes their main accuser. That every mouth may be stopped- if Israel with all their advantages fails, then there is no hope for the rest. “As in water face answereth to face, so is the heart of man to man”, Proverbs 27:19. The mouths of sinners are stopped from protesting against the condemnation of God here, and in verse 27 they are stopped from boasting. “behold I am vile, what shall I answer Thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth”, Job 40:3-5. And all the world may become guilty before God- the whole world is “liable to punishment”, or “liable to pay penalty to God”, since the apostle has now proved universal sinfulness, and therefore universal guiltiness. Man has nothing to say in response to God’s verdict of “Guilty”. They make a great mistake who say they will wait until judgement day to find out their position. God has declared it to them already, whilst there is time to repent and believe. Man has been brought to trial, lost his case, and is liable now to punishment.