NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson III)
Other early church scholars add their views concerning God’s faithfulness versus man’s unfaithfulness. For instance, Apollinaris writes: “Let it be agreed, Paul says, that God is faithful and true in every case, whereas men have been judged as unfaithful and untrue, so that God by His goodness may conquer the self-righteousness of men by bestowing His own righteousness upon them.”1 And Theodoret says: “God knew in advance who would obey the law and who would break it. Therefore, those who did not believe were unable to stand in the way of His blessings.”2 In other words, God did not set up living under the Law of Moses for it to fail. However, even if those to whom it was given failed, God would still use it to prepare them for living more freely under the Law of Grace.
Reformer John Calvin believes that Paul was holding back some of the harsh criticism he could have unleashed on the Jews for having trampled the covenant underfoot as they paraded around proudly boasting of having the sign of circumcision. Says Calvin: “As then he [Paul] seemed before to have intimated that whatever grace there might have been in the sign of circumcision, it had wholly vanished through the ingratitude of the Jews, he now, anticipating an objection, again asks what opinion was to be formed of it. There is here indeed a sort of reticence, as he expresses less than what he intended to be understood; for he might have truly said that a great part of the nation had renounced the covenant of God; but as this would have been very grating to the ears of the Jews, he mitigated its severity, and mentioned only some.”3
However, Calvin adds this: “For Paul’s inquiry is not so much whether the unbelief of men neutralizes the truth of God, so that it should not in itself remain firm and constant, but whether it hinders its effect and fulfillment as to mankind. The meaning then is: Since most of the Jews are covenant-breakers, is God’s covenant so ineffective by their unfaithfulness that it brings forth no fruit among them? To this, he answers, that it cannot be that the truth of God should lose its stability through man’s wickedness. Though then the greater part had been nullified and trodden under foot God’s covenant, it yet retained its efficacy and manifested its power, not indeed as to all, but with regard to a few of that nation: and it is then effective when the grace or the blessing of the Lord assists in eternal salvation. But this cannot be, except when the promise is received by faith; for it is in this way that a mutual covenant is on both sides confirmed. He then means that some ever remained in that nation, who by continuing to believe in the promise, had not fallen away from the privileges of the covenant.”4
Bible scholar John Bengel notes that God’s power in His promise to save will continue even if mankind loses all faith. He says: “They who deny universal grace, perceive but little of the faithfulness of God in respect to unbelievers. Even in the case of the lost, the preexistent will of God ought to be highly valued. For what they have not, they yet might have; and this very circumstance confers upon them a very great privilege; and even though they do not improve it, there still remains this advantage, that the glory of God, and the glory of the faith of God, are illustrated in them.”5 Is Bengel suggesting that all mankind will be redeemed and saved whether they want to or not? No! He is pointing out that nothing mankind can do will force God to cancel His plan to save all those who are willing, even if it comes down to just one.
Adam Clarke sees Paul again posing a question in this verse that is answered in the next: “If some in the Jewish nation have abused their privileges, and acted contrary to their obligations, will their wickedness annul the Promise which God made to Abraham, that he would, by an everlasting covenant, be a God to him and to his seed after him?6 Will God, therefore, by stripping the Jews of their peculiar honor… will He falsify His promise to the nation because some of the Jews are bad men?”7 In Clarke’s mind, Paul gives an emphatic answer, “God forbid!” In doing so, Paul is intimating that it should never even be considered. In fact, let every person who believes so be a liar. God alone is telling the truth.
Albert Barnes sees Paul raising a question that might come from a skeptical reader. He writes: “This is to be regarded as another objection of a Jew. ‘What then? or what follows? if it is admitted that some of the nation did not believe, does it not follow that the faithfulness of God in His promises will fail?’ The points of the objection are these: The Apostle had maintained that [in spite of their being chosen and have circumcision as a seal of approval] the nation was sinful.”8 The meaning of the objection is that the Jews who proved unfaithful would be lost, [and this] would imply that God had failed to keep His promises to the nation; or that He had made promises which the result showed He was not able to perform.9 But this type of thinking would come only from a doubter who thinks that while he can’t trust himself, he is given the right to question God’s faithfulness
Charles Hodge sees this comparison: “It cannot escape notice how completely the doctrine of the Jews has been transferred by ritualists [from Judaism] to Christianity. They [the Jews] held that if a man was circumcised and remained within the Theocracy, he might be punished for his sins, but he would ultimately be saved. So [Christian] ritualists hold that all who are baptized and remain within the pale of the true Church, though they may suffer for their sins here or hereafter (in purgatory) are certain to be finally saved.”10
And Charles Ellicott remarks: “The Apostle considers an objection that might be brought against his argument that the divine revelation granted them was a special privilege of the Jewish people. It might be said that they had forfeited and canceled this privilege by their unbelief. He first reduces the objection to its proper limits; it was not all, but some, who were unbelievers. But granting that there were some who did not believe this fact would have no power to shake the eternal promises of God.”11
F. F. Bruce gives us his commentary: “Now, in fact, Israel had not proved faithful to this trust. And this might have been put as an objection to Paul when he argued that it was a great advantage to belong to the nation which had received the divine oracles. But his reply is that men’s faithlessness never alters God’s faithfulness or frustrates His purpose. Their unfaithfulness simply makes His truth clearly visible: His righteousness is always vindicated over against their unrighteousness. Then a further objection is dealt with. Someone may say: ‘If my faithlessness makes God’s faithfulness more visible if my unrighteousness establishes His righteousness, why should He find fault with me? He is really the gainer by my sin; why should He exact retribution for it?’ This objection seems so foolish to Paul that he apologizes for mentioning it. The answer is plain: God is the moral governor of the universe, the judge of all the earth; how could He exercise that function which is inseparable from His Godhead if He did not exact retribution for sin?”12
Jewish scholar David Stern asks an important question: “If the New Testament is true, why doesn’t my Rabbi believe it?” He then goes on to say: “Paul, the Rabbi from Tarsus, gives the correct answer to this common Jewish question: the veracity of God’s Word (v. 2) does not depend on who believes it; truth stands by itself. If some of them were unfaithful to God’s words (or ‘did not believe’ them), so what? Does their faithlessness (or ‘unbelief, lack of trust’) cancel God’s faithfulness? Heaven forbid! God would be true even if everyone were a liar! Even the socially and religiously sanctioned unbelief of the Jewish community as a whole from Paul’s day to the present does not take one iota away from the truth of God’s Word. Over against Jewish communal rejection of God’s Word as expressed in the books of the New Covenant, the individual may discover for himself its truth and stability; the outcome of his search is not in doubt: God would be true even if everyone were a liar.”13
Verse 4: No, even if everyone else is a liar, God will always do what He says. As the Scriptures say about Him, “You, O God, will be proven right in what You say, and You will win the verdict when You are put on trial.”
Paul now reveals why these questions were being asked based on an expression by King David: “In panic I declared, ‘All people are liars.‘”14 Early church bishop Eusebius commented: “Even if all men loved a lie before the coming of the truth, the true God nevertheless remained fair, holding fast to the things which were proper to God and fulfilling everything which was said that was fitting.”15
Paul is emphatic about the stability and steadfastness of God’s promises, even though man may waiver and even go back on his commitment, God will not use that as an excuse to renege on His own Word. The Apostle appeals to what David said after he had admitted his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Paul chooses to paraphrase what the convicted King said, which would go something like this today: “Does their faithlessness cancel God’s faithfulness? Heaven forbid! What God said would be true even if everyone were a liar! — as His Word says, “So that you, O God, may be proven right in what You said, and end up winning the verdict if You are put on trial.”16
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster has this to say: “Because God is truthful, He gives what He has promised. To fail is human, for the times and the foolishness of nature make man unstable in that he does not have foreknowledge. But God, for whom there is no future, remains unchanging, as He says: ‘I the Lord do not change.’17 Therefore Paul says that all men are liars, and this is true. For nature is fallible and is not unreasonably called a liar. It may be a liar intentionally or accidentally, but we must not expect God to be like that, for He is perfect and full of good will and will accomplish what He has promised. He even confirms this by the prophetic oracle: ‘You are justified in your sentence and blameless in your judgment.18”19
1 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Theodoret of Cyr: Interpretation of Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Calvin, ibid.
5 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Genesis 17:7
7 Adam Clarke, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Matthew 13:23; 2 Timothy 3:10; Hosea 2:20
9 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit.,loc. cit.
12 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 101
13 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Psalm 116:10-11
15 Eusebius of Emesa: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Psalm 51:4
17 Matthew 3:6
18 Psalm 51:4
19 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.