NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson VII)
Verses 8-9: Why not say, “Let’s all sin, so that good will come from it.” (Some people slanderously claim I’ve made such a statement!) They will get the punishment they deserve. What about it then? Are we Jews better than the people who are not Jews? Not at all! I have already said that Jews and the people who are not Jews are all sinners.
Up to this point in his letter, Paul has shown the need of salvation for Jews and Gentiles. Now, he embarks on his explanation for the universal need of salvation for all mankind. Unfortunately, he has to do so defensively, because his teaching of grace over law was misinterpreted to mean that God is pleased when we do wrong so His grace when applied, will receive applause and make Him look like a benevolent God. In fact, later on in this letter, Paul will say: “The law was brought in so that more people would sin the way Adam did. But where sin increased, there was even more of God’s grace.”1 Nevertheless, Paul makes it clear in most of his letters that one never glories in their sins, but are to glory in the cross because it meets the need for forgiveness of those sins.2
Most of all, Paul wanted to expose the claim made by many Jews that they were to be treated differently because before they became believers in Christ through grace, they were already God’s children under the law. We see this attitude reflected on the occasion when Jesus was invited to a meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house, and a woman with a bad reputation showed up and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint them with expensive perfume. When the host Simon saw this, he smugly said to himself: “If this man were a real prophet, he would know that the woman who is touching him is a sinner!”3 In other words, Simon is reasoning that if he, as an authentic Jew, did not see fit to wash the feet of this visitor being hailed as the Messiah, then Jesus certainly shouldn’t allow someone so low as this woman to come in and do so. Paul saw this same attitude in the Jewish leaders of the community of believers in Rome. If they did not feel that as Jews God could be honored by what they did, then how could the Gentiles believe He would pay any attention to them?4 Paul wanted them to know that at the foot of the cross we are all treated equally.
Two early church scholars ask questions in an attempt to clarify the words of Paul. Ambrosiaster asks: “Whether forgiveness encourages sin?” He then explains: “The matter was raised by opponents, as if this were the meaning of the preaching of the forgiveness of sins—that they should do evil and good would come of it. That is, they should sin so that by forgiving their sins God should appear to be good, according to what has just been said. Paul calls this blasphemy and rejects it as a bad interpretation of God’s teaching. Faith is not meant to encourage people to sin by preaching that God will ultimately be vindicated. Rather, it gives sinners a remedy so that having recovered their health they may live under the law of God and not sin again.”5
The another early church scholar asks: “If there were no lies would God appear to be truer?” He then says: “This is aimed at the Carpocratians,6 who are the worst of heretics and Gentiles to boot. The text is directed at those who say that unless they sin, God’s grace will not abound, and unless they tell lies God will not appear to be truthful. The Apostle answers them by saying, that if what they think is true then they should not be judged as sinners. But given that vengeance is wreaked on sinners, Paul says that they have not thought correctly.”7 Then Pelagius gives his conclusion to what Paul is attempting to point out here: “Paul finds no reason for saying that the Jews are better than others.… Both Jews and Gentiles are under sin—something we not only deduce by reason but also corroborate by the witness of the Jews themselves.”8
Reformist John Calvin notes that in his day accusations were being made by the opponents to the Reformation similar to those hurled against Paul by some in Rome. Calvin writes: “Since Paul speaks so reverently of the secret judgments of God, it is a wonder that his enemies should have fallen into such wantonness as to slander him: but there has never been so much reverence and seriousness displayed by God’s servants as to be sufficient to check impure and venomous tongues. It is not then a new thing, that adversaries in our day pile on so many false accusations so as to make our doctrine detestable, which we ourselves know to be the pure gospel of Christ, and all the angels, as well as the faithful, are our witnesses. Nothing can be imagined more monstrous than what we read here was laid to the charge of Paul, to the end, that his preaching might be rendered hateful to the inexperienced. Let us then confront this evil, when the ungodly abuse the truth which we preach by their defamation: and let us not cease, on this account, constantly to defend the genuine confession of it, inasmuch as it has sufficient power to crush and to dissipate their falsehoods. Let us, at the same time, according to the Apostle’s example, oppose, as much as we can, all malicious stories, so that the mean-spirited and dispirited may not, without some opposition, speak evil of our Creator.”9
John Bengel writes that this epistle was principally written for the purpose of Paul’s confuting those who maintained that the righteousness of God depends strictly [absolutely] on let us sin without fear so good may come. The same phrase occurs in the Greek Septuagint text of Jeremiah 17:6. Those calumniators10 mean to say this: Good is at hand, ready to come; but evil should prepare the way for it to the glory of God. That is those who do evil, or even say that we ought to do evil, in order that good may come. Bengel says that such unprincipled men endeavor to escape by being misrepresented as unjust [unrighteous], but it will, in a peculiarly [in an especial degree], overtake them. Thus Paul separates, as great a distance as possible, that conclusion and abruptly repels such disputers.11
Adam Clarke echoes the same opinion about opposition in his day to the Gospel as preached by John Wesley. He writes concerning some of the charges made by Paul’s enemies and the Apostle’s response: “This is a most irreverent sentiment, but it follows from your reasoning; it has, indeed, been most injuriously laid to the charge of us Apostles, who preach the doctrine of free pardon, through faith, without the merit of works; and this is so manifest a perversion of the truth that a just punishment may be expected to fall on the propagators of such a slander.”12
Clarke then goes on to give a possible response from Paul’s critics and his answer: “[Critics] What then? – After all, have not we Jews a better claim to the privileges of the kingdom of God than the Gentiles? [Apostle Paul]: In no wise – For I have already proven that both Jews and Gentiles are under the guilt of sin; that they are equally unworthy of the blessings of the Messiah‘s kingdom; and that they must both, equally, owe their salvation to the mere mercy of God. From this, to the end of verse 26, the Apostle proceeds to prove his assertion, that both Jews and Gentiles were all under sin; and, that he might enforce the conviction upon the heart of the Jew, he quotes his own Scriptures, which he acknowledged had been given by the inspiration of God, and consequently true.”13
Albert Barnes also address the slanderous act against Paul of accusing him of spreading false doctrine. This, of course, would not come from anyone on the outside who did not understand the Scriptures, so it must have come from inside, especially from the Jewish contingent. So Barnes writes: “Why they should affirm this, is not known. It was doubtless, however, some perversion of the doctrines that the Apostles preached. The doctrines which were thus misrepresented and abused, were probably these: the Apostles taught that the sins of people were the occasion of promoting God‘s glory in the plan of salvation. That ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”’14
Barnes continues: “That God, in the salvation of people, would be glorified just in proportion to the depth and pollution of the guilt which was forgiven. This was true; but how easy was it to misrepresent this as teaching that people ought to sin in order to promote God‘s glory! and instead of stating it as an inference which they drew from the doctrine, to state it as what the apostles actually taught. This is the common mode in which charges are brought against others. People draw an inference themselves, or suppose that the doctrine leads to such an inference, and then charge it on others as what they actually hold and teach. There is one maxim which should never be departed from: ‘That a man is not to be held responsible for the inferences which we may draw from his doctrine; and that he is never to be represented as holding and teaching what we suppose follows from his doctrine.’ He is answerable only for what he avows.”15
H. A. Ironside also weighs in on this controversy: “Does man’s unrighteousness then prepare the way for God to display His righteousness, and is it a necessity of the case? If so, sin is a part of the divine plan and man cannot be held accountable. But this the Apostle indignantly refutes. God is just. He will judge men for their sins by righteousness. And this could not be if sin were foreordained and per-determined. If the latter were true man might have just cause to complain: ‘If the truth of God has more abounded through my lie for His glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?’ And in that case what was being slanderously reported by some as the teaching of Paul, ‘Let us do evil that good may come,’ would be correct. But all who so plead show themselves deficient in moral principle. Their judgment is just.”16
Believe it or not, such satire is often displayed when a backslider is given more accolades and praises for returning to the fold because of their rescue from a terrible, sinful life, than those who have remained steadfast and true. Often the story of the Prodigal Son is used as a basis. But that shows a misunderstanding of what Jesus taught. If a person lost their wallet with $500 inside, while at the same time having $10,000 in savings. Does their joy at retrieving their wallet with the money mean that the money on deposit is not worth as much? No! It is simply the joy that comes from anything we value, no matter how little, when it is returned after having been lost.
1 Romans 5:20
2 See Galatians 6:14
3 Luke 7:39
4 Cf. Luke 18:9
5 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
6 The Carpocratians were an early Gnostic sect founded by a non-Jew named Carpocrates in the first half of the second century. Information derived from heresiologists is all scholars have today about this Gnostic sect. These Gnostics venerated Jesus, but they believed that philosophers such as Plato, Pythagoras and Aristotle were also gods. The Carpocratians believed that Jesus was merely an ordinary man with extraordinary recollection. These Gnostics also did not believe in the Immaculate Conception or the virgin birth as taught by the Orthodox Church. Instead, the Carpocratians insisted that Jesus was actually the son of Joseph.
7 Pseudo-Constantius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Pseudo-Constantius: On Romans, op cit., loc. cit.
9 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 This word is from the Latin and means: to utter maliciously false statements, or accuse falsely
11 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 236-237
12 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Romans 5:20
15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.