Exposition of Romans 3:13-19, Plan on lacking words before God

Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.

If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?

(ESV) Romans 3:13-19

Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.

The venom of asps is under their lips.

14 Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13-14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15-17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”[1]

C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is striking.[2] Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someones death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a terrorist cell!

For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people that they need something which they do not need. Consider how children defend their conduct to parents and what adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!

While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.”[3] That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.

NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?

Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16-17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7-8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15-17 falls right into place.

Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:

The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13-17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.[4]

Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word law (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of “law” probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase under the law.

When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. Shutting the mouth connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”[5]

The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.”[6] Oh my!

So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!

The longest day

How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!

1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?

2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before Gods throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 202.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 194.

[3] BDAG-3, pikria, bitterness, anger, harshness, q.v.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 167.

[5] Moo, Romans, 205.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 168.

Exposition of Romans 3:9-12: Take note: humanity is not okay!

Grant Osborne captures the spirit of these times when he says, “Virtually all non-Christian religions assume that there is good in everyone and that everyone will be all right if he or she does more good than bad.”[1]

The viewpoint of those religions about balancing good and bad is like saying, “My body is 95% cancer-free.” Is that a cause for celebration? No, it is a cause for death!

(ESV) Romans 3:9-12

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.

To be sure, Romans 3:9 is one of the more difficult verses in the New Testament. Perhaps that explains the rare deviation by the ESV from its policy of translating the biblical text without injecting interpretation. The word Jews does not appear in the underlying Greek text, although most authorities believe that identification is an accurate interpretation of the first-person-plural (we) verbal form.

Fortunately, the difficulties with the first half of 3:9 do not affect the highly significant second half of 3:9: “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” We have seen that Paul began in chapter one with an indictment of humanity, largely if not exclusively focused on the Gentiles. Then, in chapter two, Paul turned to the harder case, the Jews. That combination (“Jews and Greeks”) is known as merism, a figure of speech that means all-inclusive. When we say someone was covered with mud from head to toe, we are using merism.

The NET Bible does a good job of retaining the original word order in Romans 3:9b: “we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin.” The italicized words could serve as a caption for Romans 1:18-3:20. All have come under the rule of sin and have committed acts of sin. The only exception is the man from heaven: Jesus, the virgin-born, fully-obedient, crucified and resurrected Son of God.

Amazingly, when you consider the dark picture Paul has been painting, this is the first mention of sin (Greek hamartia) in the letter to the Romans. With 48 uses in Romans, sin appears more frequently than any other theological word except God. C.E.B. Cranfield analyzes the significance of Paul’s usage: “Very seldom does he use hamartia [sin] in the plural to denote actual sins committed (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3), whereas in other parts of the NT the plural use is predominant. Paul, when he uses hamartia [sin], thinks rather of sin as a power controlling man than of the individual sins man commits.”[2] This Age is dominated by sin resulting in death.

Cranfield is influenced not merely by the mention of sin but also the fact that all are under sin, a phrase in which Paul uses a preposition (hupo) which here means: “under, under the control of, under obligation in reference to power, rule, sovereignty, command.”[3] Looking at all of Romans 1-8, Douglas Moo adds his insight by saying:

All people who have not experienced the righteousness of God by faith are under sin: That is, they are helpless captives to its power. . . . For the problem with people is not just that they commit sins; their problem is that they are enslaved to sin. What is needed, therefore, is a new power to break in and set people free from sin a power found in, and only in, the gospel of Jesus Christ.[4]

Paul has certainly described the condition of all humanity prior to conversion.

Having given his summary indictment all under sin Paul turns to a traditional method of proving his point by citation of numerous OT quotations (3:10-18). For those who belong to God, the phrase as it is written (3:10) has conclusive power. With slight adaptations, Paul cites Psalm 14:1-3:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
(Romans 3:10-12)

Plead guilty!

All who have not been declared righteous by faith — and every human since Adam started out that way — are guilty of specific sins and guilty of being dominated by sin. But, as sure as rain falls, that fact is not something any of us want to embrace!

1. How would you describe the sin-dominated phase of your life? What behavior characterized you at that time? How did you regard God?

2. What forms of self-defense do people employ to deflect this charge of universal unrighteousness? In what respects do you find these methods persuasive? Why do these methods fail with God?

As you can see, we have to understand the human problem before we can fully grasp how complete and decisive the solution is through faith in Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 85.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 191.

[3] BDAG-3, hupo, under the control of, q.v.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 201.

Exposition of Romans 3:5-8, Twisted arguments cannot defend our sin

The popularity of gymnastics in the Olympic Games is legendary. Many of us follow those events closely, and they always get prime-time positioning on television.

Much less attractive are the verbal gymnastics of special-interest groups who portray issues as if their side had a corner on the truth and the opposition was working for the devil. Those gymnastics often come to center stage when religious views are discussed.

Is it fair or sensible in such an argument to pit the special interests of a group against the interests of God?

(ESV) Romans 3:5-8

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come? as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Paul had to deal with some serious arguments in explaining the gospel — such as God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel — but he also had to contest some fundamentally silly arguments raised by special-interest groups. Grant Osborne describes the basic counterargument from Paul’s Jewish opponents: “If sin does highlight the righteousness of God (v. 5) and bring him glory (v. 7), then we should try to sin even more so as to bring even more good out of it (v. 8).”[1]

This is similar to a systemic or even ecological argument that goes like this: sin is part of the whole ecological system of God and man, and sin even serves a constructive purpose in the system by making God look good by comparison. So, it would be unrighteous of God to inflict wrath on us as sinners since we are actually doing him good.

Wow! Using this type of reasoning, we could argue that cancer is a good thing because it keeps so many oncologists employed.

The real problem is not that such arguments are silly and may rightly be mocked. The real problem is that such ideas constitute blasphemy by attacking God’s character! Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

Now you may be thinking it unlikely that anyone would make such an argument. If so, you underestimate the ingenuity of the ancient rabbis. Paul has just quoted Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4b. That Psalm contains David’s remorse for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Samuel 11). C.E.B. Cranfield describes how the rabbis explained David’s sin. They argued that the young king looked back to Genesis 8:21 where God said, “. . . the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” David reasoned — as the ancient rabbis imagined — that if he did not take the beautiful Bathsheba, then God’s statement would be falsified! So, David took her and murdered her husband only to protect God![2]

Since Paul is dealing with the Jews, his most theologically powerful opponents — both inside the church and outside of it — his reference in 3:5 to “our unrighteousness” probably refers to the failure of the Jews to live up to their covenant obligations. I will apply these ideas to contemporary Christians at the end of the lesson.

The phrase “righteousness of God” in 3:5 also needs clarification, because it does not mean the same thing as it did in 1:17. Douglas Moo says, “God’s righteousness here designates God’s faithfulness to his own person and word, particularly, as v. 4b reveals, as this is revealed in his judgment of sin.”[3]

Paul points out that if God does not inflict his wrath on the unrighteous (3:5), then he is in no position to judge the world (3:6). If God allowed the Jews to rebel against him without experiencing his wrath — presumably on the basis of possessing the law and circumcision — this would be such a breach of justice as to disqualify God from judging the Gentiles. But all Jews held that God must judge the Gentiles in keeping with Old Testament revelation (e.g. Gen. 18:25). Paul relies on that universally-held doctrine in 3:6.

Verses 3:7-8 make clear that the Jewish objectors were angry about the idea that God would judge them for their sins and also at Paul for teaching a doctrine that they thought encouraged the practice of sin. In their view, how could those sinners who put their faith in Jesus Christ succeed when law-keeping Jews had failed? Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

To be sure, Paul will return to give a much deeper answer to those who challenged God’s faithfulness to Israel in Romans 9-11. For now he continues on track to show that all Jews and Gentiles are sinners before Gods justice.

Are Christians exempt?

Moo speaks of our situation in plain terms: “All too often we Christians have presumed that God’s grace to us exempts us from any concern about our sin. . . .We want to stand on the promises — and this is entirely appropriate. But we must not forget that God promises (in the NT as well as the OT) to rebuke and chastise his people for sin as well as to bless them out of the abundance of his grace.”[4] Ouch! It seems that Christians also take part in religious gymnastics.

Have you ever found yourself presuming that (1) God's grace to us exempts us from concern about our sin, or (2) God's grace excuses our sin so it is not that bad? How does either of those concepts show up in your life?

Peter agrees with Pauls conclusions when he says:

For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?
(1 Pet. 4:17-18, NET)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 84.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 183, footnote 5.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 190.

[4] Moo, Romans, 196-197.