Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 We believe so that we might understand

1 Corinthians 2:14-16

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Not everyone has the wisdom of God, and, in verses 14-16, Paul explains who has it and who does not. The main group who does not is identified by a two-word phrase in Greek that is translated by the NIV as “the person without the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). Older translations sometimes say “the natural man” (KJV, NASB, and ESV has natural person). The NET Bible and HCSB forthrightly say “the unbeliever.” An unbeliever does not have the Spirit of God dwelling within (Rom. 8:9) and is thus a natural man. Since Paul is stressing the Holy Spirit throughout this section, the NIV has nailed the meaning here.

Paul says three things about the person without the Spirit: they do not accept the things that come from the Spirit; they consider such things foolishness.; they cannot understand such things without the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). This has profound implications for evangelism. We often think wrongly that unbelievers do not understand biblical truth and for that reason they do not believe. So, we try to clarify the biblical truth for them but make little progress. Ben Witherington describes the real problem:

The non-Christian, using his or her natural faculties, is not able to understand or judge spiritual matters (v. 14). They appear to be foolishness. This is a general principle, and probably Paul would say that the only way the non-believer understands enough to accept the gospel in the first place before receiving the Spirit is that the Spirit has already been working unnoticed.[1]

Perhaps a better approach would be to persuade those who need salvation to open their lives to seek God. In Athens, Paul said, “God did this [created the world] so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:23). Only those willing to seek the Lord will find him.

The only way for an unbeliever to grasp the truth God has revealed is to start with Christ crucified. When they commit themselves by faith to Jesus Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit and then can understand spiritual things previously beyond their grasp (“the person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things,” 1 Cor. 2:15).

The person who does not have the Spirit cannot make accurate judgments about those who have the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:15). Gordon Fee says, “Those whose lives are invaded by the Spirit of God can discern all things, including those without the Spirit; but the inverse is not possible.”[2] The answer to the question in 1 Cor. 2:16 is that the Holy Spirit knows the mind of the Lord. Those who belong to Christ have the Spirit and really know Christ.[3] Garland explains that to have the mind of Christ requires putting to death selfish ambitions, humbling oneself, and giving oneself for others.[4]

Fee points out that 1 Cor. 2:14-16 has often been abused in the church by some who consider themselves to be so full of the Spirit as to be beyond correction or counsel from others. It has been hijacked by various deeper life or second blessing movements who regularly make a special revelation from the Spirit their final court of appeal.[5] Such actions miss the point and divert attention from the central message of Christ crucified.

Fee powerfully concludes: “The gift of the Spirit does not lead to special status among believers; rather, it leads to special status [in relation to] the world. But it should always do so in terms of the centrality of the message of our crucified/risen Savior.”[6]

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


[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 128.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 118.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 101.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 102.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

[6] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 120.

Exposition of Romans 5:11, Every Christian has reason to boast!

The Bible makes it plain that all humanity is created in the image of God. That fact explains a lot about humanity at its best and at its worst. By creation we can be both noble and tragic.

Is there more to the significance of being a Christian than that value which we have simply by being made in God’s image? Do we have a basis for becoming more in Christ than those who do not know Christ?

(ESV) Romans 5:11

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

In Romans 5:11 we encounter the very same verb (Greek kauchaomai) we found in 5:2-3, and once again ESV renders it with “rejoice” rather than the preferable meaning “boast.” The standard lexicon says that kauchaomai means “to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride oneself, brag.”[1] Unlike ESV, NIV, NET, NLT and HCSB — all of which say “rejoice” –Moo uses “boast” in his translation of kauchaomai in Rom. 5:2-3, and his translation of 5:11 is: “And not only this, but we also boast in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received this reconciliation.”[2]

Translators are probably influenced by Paul’s negative comments in Rom. 2:17-24 about the Jews boasting — wrongly — about their relationship to God on the sole basis that they possess the law. Curiously, all of the above-listed translations inconsistently render kauchaomai with “boast” in 2:17 when talking about the Jews; the only exception is NIV, which says “brag” (2:17). So, how does this verb become “rejoice” when speaking about Christians in Romans 5? Words do not always mean one thing because of context, but the justification for such changes must be considered.

Why am I beating this somewhat technical horse? Christian translators, commentators and theologians appear to be uncomfortable with pride because of the obvious dangers it presents (1 Cor. 4:6, 4:18, 5:2, 13:4; Col. 2:18; Rom. 4:2). Yet the New Testament contains a number of godly reasons for boasting or taking pride: works done for Christ (Gal. 6:4); the hope that we have because of Christ (Heb. 3:6); the faithfulness of other Christians (Phil. 2:16); Christ’s accomplishments through Paul (Phil. 1:26); and sacrifice in preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:15).

The point is that Romans 5:11 says we may boast in God because of the reconciliation he has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. Yes, of course, rejoicing is also appropriate for the same reason; but boasting and rejoicing are not the same thing.

Time to do a little bragging!

We need to take a moment to reflect candidly on the contemporary scene. How is it that Iranian protestors can ascend in the night to the roofs of Tehran to shout god is great yet American Christians would be mortified to do such a thing? Clearly, the context in Iran is not the same as here in America, and that seems to include their attitude toward the one they worship.

We have every reason as Christians to hold up our heads in pride for the incomparable God that we worship! If you understood me to say that we are nothing and he is everything, then I have failed to make myself clear. Instead, “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11b), so we may hold up our heads because he lives within us and has made us part of God’s own family. Jesus Christ is the basis for all godly pride in the life of a Christian; we are significant because he has made us significant.

So, in short, we should be proud of God and proud of what he has done in our lives!

1. What leads some Christians to be silent -- or sometimes almost apologetic -- about their faith in Jesus Christ and their pride in God? Do they realize it?

2. What do you think about the idea that Jesus Christ is the basis for godly pride as well as our personal significance?

Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14b). To be proud of God and to boast about what God has done within those who have trusted in Christ magnifies God and so humbles us in the proper way.

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


[1] BDAG-3, kauchaomai, boast, q.v.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 297.

Almost “Alone in the Void”

Adam Frank, a professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Rochester, has done us a favor. His op-ed in the New York Times forces us to face the music about our future prospects of mastering interstellar travel. His conclusion is that There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time. As a man who grew up with an astronomy book in one hand, a science fiction book in the other and a telescope of my own making in the garage, I find that a very hard pill to swallow!

Yet, as a physics major with a graduate degree in engineering, I understand the scientific principles that lead to Frank’s pessimistic assessment. He speaks of our love for Star Trek and Star Wars, but he says, The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago.

Frank calls on us to think about it:

No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No relief from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.

In light of our shared history, what would you estimate to be the chances of our learning to get along? Not so good!

Ah, but we are not alone, in spite of Dr. Frank’s realistic estimates. God created our cosmos and ever lives as its master. He pierces the vast, lonely void in the person of Jesus Christ to offer us salvation from ourselves, our sin, and our cosmic isolation. He offers us a purpose, a destiny, and, yes, he even offers us the only viable opportunity we will ever have to see what he has made.

I suggest you put down the astronomy book and the science fiction book and pick up the Holy Bible, which contains God’s offer of a relationship that will span the ages and the awesome distances that chill our human hopes. Trust in Jesus Christ, who alone can fill your spiritual void and show you the wonders of all he has made.

Copyright  2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Aurora, Colorado shootings and sin

In the early hours of 7/20/2012, a single man executed a carefully designed plot and killed 17 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The death toll will certainly rise higher in days to come. I have intentionally omitted this mans name because he deserves shame, not fame. If only the news media would do the same!

People are totally mystified about one question: Why? What mystifies me is that this is still a question. Have we not seen enough wars, enough torture, enough human slavery, enough terrorism and enough mass murder to believe in sin in the human heart? Have we all forgotten the one (unnamed) man who murdered 69 teens in Norway just one year ago (7/22/2011)? It happens over and over; so, how can we not look for real answers instead of dwelling on pretended mysteries?

Okay, so millions do not want to hear what God says. They want to put pictures on Facebook, post their opinions, watch the latest videos, play the latest games or have sex with their latest partner. God has given them the ability to make such choices, and our distracted generations have firmly seized that opportunity. Since they do not want to address the serious issues of life, we should not be surprised when they have no clue about how evil occurs through human agents or how it exists within their own hearts.

In asking why, the public never looks beyond their own insensitivity to God. The biblical Book of Romans describes the situation like this:

28Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know Gods righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 3:2832)

But just as God has described the cause of the shootings in detail, he has also provided a solution for human sin and its horrible consequences:

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

On the basis of Christs death for our sins, God offers complete amnesty to all who have ignored him in their rebellion and ignorance. But all amnesties have conditions. The condition for Gods amnesty is this:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of Gods one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Sin caused the killings in Aurora. Human sin. Only God can fix what is wrong with humanity. I urge you to accept Gods amnesty by committing your life to Jesus Christ. Give him your allegiance so that you can be part of the solution to human sin rather than part of the problem.

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 4:13-14, An unqualified promise requires no works

Some of us grew up around churches that had a set of rules which, if violated, meant we could be hell-bound — so they said. The list contained things like drinking, dancing, wearing makeup, swearing, immodest dress, and other such things. (Some of you may need comforting now!)

However, there were a few problems. First, the list seemed to vary a bit from church to church. Second, it was not quite clear whether we went to heaven by keeping the list or whether it only served as a signpost marking the way to hell. Questions about the list were not exactly solicited. (Smile)

Even more puzzling — what did all of that have to do with faith in Jesus?

(ESV) Romans 4:13-14 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Since Christians hold ideas that are nowhere recorded in Scripture — such as the three Magi or purgatory — it is no surprise that the Jews of Paul’s day did as well. One such bogus idea was that Abraham had obeyed the Law of Moses perfectly before it had been given.[1] [In the following discussion the Hebrew word torah is sometimes used to refer to the Law of Moses.]

The Jews did not believe this idea on a whim; it allowed them to claim that one could be Abraham’s child only by taking on oneself the yoke of torah.[2] So, the claim about Abraham keeping the torah before there was one was a convenient way of tying together the patriarch who had received the promises from God and the law given through Moses over 430 years later. Yet, in Galatians, Paul argues: “The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise” (Gal. 3:17, NET).

Of course, the idea that Abraham could obey the law before there was a law has always been ridiculous. For example, Lev. 17:4 requires that a sacrifice be brought to the Tent of Meeting and given to the priest for sacrifice on that spot. But in Abraham’s time there was no Tent of Meeting, and the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. So, how did that work? This simply shows that you should never be surprised at the creativity of theologians when they float free of the Bible; in that case they are like scientists speaking authoritatively about non-scientific matters such as the miracles of Jesus. (Smile)

In a way, Paul cuts through all these specious theological assumptions by returning to what God originally promised Abraham (Rom. 4:13). The Greek sentence throws the phrase “not through the law” near the beginning of the sentence to stress the incongruity of the idea that the law had anything to do with the promise. Instead, Paul says the promise came “through the righteousness of faith” (4:13b).

Now that Paul has expressed his thesis that faith was the basis of the promise to Abraham rather than the law (4:13), he next explains why this is so. Grant Osborne expands the logic of Romans 4:14 by saying: “If it were possible to be righteous and thus gain an eternal inheritance on the basis of personal achievement, then faith would be unnecessary. If works and obedience were sufficient, the need for God’s promise would be removed.”[3]

The final clause of 4:14 — “faith is null and the promise is void” (ESV) — has two Greek verbs in the perfect tense. This probably emphasizes the state of affairs that would exist if law-keeping were actually the way of attaining righteousness before God, the premise that Paul denies.[4] Basing righteousness on law-keeping simply throws faith and promise into the trash!

The final clause of 4:14 makes for an interesting study in English translations. NET probably has the most literal translation in relation to the meaning of the Greek verbs:

(NET) faith is empty and the promise is nullified (Rom. 4:14)

We can compare the NETs translation to two other important English translations:

(ESV) faith is null and the promise is void (Rom. 4:14)

(NLT) faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless (Rom. 4:14)

Since the ESV and NLT have strongly different translation philosophies, it is surprising to find them using a similar approach to this clause. “Null and . . . void” has a nice idiomatic ring in English, uncommon for ESV. NLTs “not necessary and . . . pointless” uses words that are very powerful from a pragmatic, American viewpoint. Both ESV and NLT run away from the semantic range of the Greek verbs, but they do a superb job of conveying the futility of basing righteousness on the law.

If the law does not bring righteousness, then what does it do? In 4:15 Paul explains what the law does:produces wrath — as opposed to what it cannot do:secure the inheritance.[5] He will develop these ideas more fully in Romans 5:12-14 and 7:7-13. C.K. Barrett captures the essence of Paul’s point when he says, “Law, though good in itself (7:12, 14) is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.”[6] Faith carries no such baggage.

The clause “where there is no law there is no transgression” (4:15) does not mean “where there is no law there is no sin.” On the contrary, the law makes sin all the more grave. Thomas Schreiner says, “Transgression of the law involves greater responsibility since the infraction is conscious and therefore involves rebellion against a known standard.”[7]

Faith and the law

The primacy of faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that the rules mentioned in the introduction of this lesson are totally without value. In a way more approximate and less authoritative than the Law of Moses, those rules at the start of this lesson were meant to motivate godly behavior, however imperfectly. The confusion sewn about keeping the rules as a way of salvation is less forgivable.

1. There is more to being a good citizen of the U.S. than keeping the laws of your state and the United States. By analogy, what does it take to be a good Christian?

2. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. How do these verses help clarify the relationship between faith and works? In what way can Ephesians 2:8 be said to constitute a promise to those who put their faith in Jesus?

The tension between grace and law is ancient. What God promises in an unqualified way will come to pass without regard to what we do. What we do truly matters, but we cannot overturn the promises of God. That is cause for rejoicing!

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


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 227.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 273.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 114.

[4] Moo, Romans, 275, footnote 25.

[5] Moo, Romans, 276.

[6] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957) 95.

[7] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 230.

Exposition of Romans 3:21-22, Christ made righteousness possible; we believe.

Mount Everest is a cruel place. Hundreds come every year to try their luck against the savage winds, the 29,030 foot altitude, and low temperatures. But worst of all is the death zone, those levels above 23,000 feet where the body cannot adjust. Once you enter the death zone, your body begins to shut down, and the time remaining is unknown, yet the summit juts a mile above you. So, you must keep moving in spite of exhaustion, pain, or adversity.

One survivor put it this way: “The only way to describe it is an utter exhaustion. You really don’t care if you die or if you just sit down and don’t go any further.”[1] If you sit down, you must get up — or die. No one can take you to safety.

The Bible explains that every one of us start out life in a spiritual death-zone, and time is running out. We all fall there and cannot get up. What then?

(NET) Romans 3:21-22

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, [verse break]

After his long presentation of humanitys universal guilt before God (1:18-3:20), Paul now returns to his theme from 1:17 — the unveiling of a righteousness from God that is entirely by faith.

In order to explain this passage, we will repeat something stated in previous posts. The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosune [righteousness] theou [of God], where the final noun is in the genitive case. Since the Greek genitive is a descriptive or limiting case as to kind[2], we are roughly speaking here of a God-kind-of-righteousness. In context, that righteousness contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Jews, who were trying to get to heaven by keeping the law.

But how exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Douglas Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, righteousness of God is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the righteousness of God.

However, Paul has advanced his argument beyond what he said in 1:17 by adding the phrases “apart from the law” and “which is attested by the law and the prophets” (3:21). He has just demonstrated that no one will be justified by works of the law (3:20), and yet God demands righteousness of his people.

Before we leave 3:21, we will consider some important facts about how Paul presents his statements. First, note carefully the use of the phrase “but now.” Moo correctly says: “‘But now’ God has intervened to inaugurate a new era, and all who respond in faith — not only after the cross, but, as Rom. 4 will show, before it also — will be transferred into it from the old era.”[4] We got our first big clue about this new era in 1:4, where we learned that Jesus “was appointed Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead” (NET).

Theologian Herman Ridderbos speaks about these two eras when commenting on 2 Cor. 5:17, “The old things stand for the unredeemed world in its distress and sin [Rom. 1:18-3:20], the new things for the time of salvation and the re-creation that have dawned with Christ’s resurrection.”[5]

The second thing to observe about how Paul presents his facts in 3:21 is his use of the Greek perfect tense, translated “the righteousness of God . . . has been disclosed.” After saying that the choice of the perfect tense is often deliberate, Wallace approvingly quotes M. Zerwick when he says, “The perfect tense is used for indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.”[6] The present state of affairs is that the righteousness of God stands in plain sight as a result of the past action of Christ in dying and rising from the dead.

As we enter 3:22, we encounter an interesting debate, although the outcome is not theologically significant no matter which view is right. On the one hand, we have the traditional translation of 3:22a given by the ESV: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” With that we compare the alternative translation of 3:22a presented by NET: “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

The key question is whether,in the italicized phrase alone, Jesus is the object of faith (ESV’s translation faith in Jesus Christ) or Jesus is the one whose subjective faithfulness is meant (NET’s translation the faithfulness of Jesus Christ). Note very carefully that both translations end with the necessity of our own faith in securing God’s righteousness (for all who believe), and the decision on the disputed matter does not alter the necessity of our faith in Jesus for salvation.

I join grammarian Daniel Wallace, who, after a long analysis, says, ‘Although the issue is not to be resolved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of [the NET Bible’s translation]”.[7] Many thoughtful authorities fall on each side.

In the final analysis, our salvation depends on Christ’s obedient death followed by his resurrection to become the Son-of God-in-power. When we put our faith in him, we obtain righteous standing before God.

In the zone

Jesus has been to the spiritual death-zone. He died there and rose again so that he might lift us up and take us to safety — as many of us as are willing to trust in his help.

1. How long did you spend in the spiritual death-zone, apart from Christ? What did it take for you to take his help and get out?

2. Who do you know who is still in the spiritual death-zone? What can you do to get them the only help -- Jesus Christ?

“Because God’s children are human beings — made of flesh and blood — the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.” (Heb. 2:14, NLT).

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


[1] Everest: The Death Zone. Nova. PBS. 02-24-1998.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76-77.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 74.

[4] Moo, Romans, 221.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 45.

[6] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 573, citing M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963) 96.

[7] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 116.

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.