NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson VIII)
Charles Hodge also notes the impact of such thinking by Paul’s opponents on the doctrine that would be adopted by the community of believers in Rome. Hodge says: “Such is the apostle’s argument against the grounds of confidence on which the Jews rested their hope of exemption from condemnation. ‘Our unfaithfulness serves to commend the faithfulness of God. Therefore we ought not to be punished.’ According to this reasoning, says Paul, the worse we are, the better: for, the more wicked we are, the more conspicuous will be the mercy of God in our pardon; we may, therefore, do evil that good may come.’ By reducing the reasoning of the Jews to a conclusion shocking to the moral sense, he thereby refutes it. The Apostle thereby recognizes the authority of the intuitive moral judgments of our nature, and thus teaches us that those truths which are believed on their own evidence, as soon as presented to the mind, should be regarded as fixed points in all reasoning; and that to attempt to go beyond these intuitive judgments, is to unsettle the foundation of all faith and knowledge, and to open the door to universal skepticism. Any doctrine, therefore, which is immoral in its tendency, or which conflicts with the first principles of morals, must be false, no matter how plausible the arguments may be in its favor.”1
The great British orator Charales Spurgeon comments: “If all the good in the world could result from a single evil act, we have no right to do it. We must never do evil with the hope of advancing God’s cause. If God chooses to turn evil into good, as He often does, that is no reason why we should do evil. There is no such justification for sin. The murder of Christ at Calvary has brought the greatest possible benefit to us; yet it was a high crime against God, the greatest of all crimes, when man turned against God and killed the Son of God.”2 In other words, what the Jews in Jerusalem meant for evil, by having Jesus crucified by the Romans, though it was wrong, God turned it into good for the whole world, much the same as what Joseph declared to his brothers, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good — so that it would come about as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved.”3 So it wasn’t a case of the Jews doing something horrible to force God’s goodness out into the open, but that God was able to take what they openly meant for evil and transform it into something beautiful for the whole world to see. This is the story of our lives.
F. F. Bruce contributes this to our understanding of what Paul says here: “There is a prima facie clash between this answer to ‘Are we Jews any better off?’ and the answer in verse 2; ‘Then what advantage has the Jew?’—‘Much in every way.’ But that earlier answer had reference to the privileges inherited by Jews as members of the elect nation; ‘No, not at all,’ relates to their standing before God. Privileges or no privileges, Jews and Gentiles stand equally in need of His grace. N. A. Dahl omits ‘No, not at all,’ and takes the preceding question to mean ‘What do we hold before us as a defence?’ (answer: ‘Nothing; we are all alike held fast by sin’).4”5
Jewish scholar David Stern adds: “Why, then, are Jews not entirely advantaged? Because, as Paul has already said, all people, Jews, and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin. True, having God’s very words is an advantage Jews do have (vv. 1–2); and the infallibility of God’s promises, even if no one believes them (vv. 3–4), is another. But the same Word of God, the Tanakh, reminds us of the Bad News that everyone sins, Jews included (see also vv. 22–23); in this regard Jews have no advantage. As Paul later explains, the Torah lacks power in itself to change people’s lives (8:3). The commentator C. K. Barrett, although he translates “ou pantôs” “by no means,” is correct in writing, “The advantage of the Jew is real, but it is an advantage which is (or may at any moment become) at the same time a disadvantage. It consists in knowing (out of Scripture) that before God all talk of ‘advantages’ is folly and sin.”6
Verses 10-12: As the Scriptures say, “There is no one doing what is right, not even one.7 There is no one who understands. There is no one who is trying to know God. They have all turned away from Him, and now they are of no use to anyone. I say again, there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Now the Apostle turns to the Scriptures to make his point. If these Messianic Jewish leaders in Rome were not inclined to accept Paul’s admonition based on his reputation, certainly they would respect the Word of God. He gives a paraphrase of what David said in one of his teaching Psalms. In context it reads this way: “A brutish fool tells himself, ‘There isn’t any God.’ Such people are depraved, all their deeds are vile, not one of them does what is good. God looks out from heaven upon the human race to see if even one is wise if even one seeks God. Every one of them is unclean, altogether corrupt; not one of them does what is good, not a single one.”8
Bible scholar Paul Herring cautions the reader to note that verse one doesn’t just say there is no one who does good, that’s only the last part of the verse. He writes: “How does the verse start out? It is the fool who says there is no God – it is the fool who is wicked, and there is not one person who says this, who is good.” To make his point further, Herring says: “Look carefully at verse 4: ‘Do all the workers of wickedness not know, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?’ This further emphasizes that those who do not do good are the wicked. In other words, the statement is not universal; there are righteous (non-wicked) who do good. We then see in verse 5 that they are in fact many who are righteous.”9
This blanket condemnation on mankind’s misconduct was not new, it was expressed as far back as the days of the patriarch Job: “No one can make something clean from something so dirty.”10 Job’s friend Eliphaz made the same point: “People cannot really be pure. They cannot be more right than God!”11 And by the time of Jeremiah the prophet, we read: “Nothing can hide its deceit as well as the human heart. And who really understands why it is so critically ill?”12
When Jesus taught on the subject of man’s chronic sinfulness, He too makes the point: “All sinful ideas begin in the mind.”13 And the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that they too were once part of such a hopeless state of sinful decay until God in His mercy and grace brought them salvation.14 But that redemption did not make everyone immediately perfect. They must have standards to be measured by and guidelines to follow. Paul tells Timothy that for that reason the law was given. But he notes: “We know that the law is good provided one uses it in the way it was intended to be used.”15 In other words, the law was designed to give directions, not to become a roadblock. However, Jewish leaders of the church in Rome were doing that with the Gospel of Christ when it came to the Gentiles.
So the question arises, was God silent all this time? Once Noah’s flood wiped out all but his own family, were they left without directions? The argument has already been made that signs of God’s existence and power had been demonstrated in the skies and on earth from the beginning. But David tells us: “The Lord looks down from heaven to see if there is anyone who is wise, anyone who looks to Him for help. But everyone has gone the wrong way.”16 This no doubt led Solomon to explain: “Knowledge begins with reverence and respect for the Lord, but stubborn fools hate wisdom and refuse to learn.”17 But it wasn’t a one-way street, Solomon made clear God’s offer through Wisdom: “I wanted to tell you everything I knew and give you all my knowledge, but you didn’t listen to my advice and teaching.”18
It appears that Isaiah was making the same point that Paul emphasizes here: “These are people who refuse to learn anything. So God, their Maker, will not sympathize with them or be kind to them.”19 In other words, after God has done everything necessary to get the truth to people, if they still refuse to accept what He shows them, then He will not pat them on the head and say, “Okay, that’s alright, you’re not really that bad.” Salvation is not a game to God. He extracted a heavy price from His Son to pay for that salvation. Yet He will not force it on anyone who is unwilling to believe.
It becomes a matter of desire. What is it that a person really wants in life? Are they satisfied with an everyday form of mere existence, or do they want more? Jeremiah had that same question, and the Lord told the Prophet what He observed: “It is because my people are foolish — they do not know me; they are stupid children, without understanding, wise when doing evil; but they don’t know how to do good.”20 And when the prophet Hosea found himself facing a similar problem, God had a similar answer: “My people are wasting away because they lack knowledge. You priests have refused to learn so I will refuse to let you be priests for me.”21
When Jesus came as a personal messenger from God, He too found Himself perplexed by the way His message was received. He told His followers: “I use stories to teach the people: They look, but they don’t really see anything. They listen, but they don’t really hear or understand.”22 So it appears that even by Paul’s day things had not changed much. People were only listening to what they wanted to hear and only assimilated what pleased them. The wise man Job put his finger on the problem way back in his day when he said that some people had reached this conclusion: “Who is the All-Powerful that we need to serve Him? What difference does it make whether or not we pray to Him?”23 In other words, so far they had gotten along just fine without God in their lives, so why should they start including Him now? Why go to church? Why read their Bible? Why pray? They may even look around and say, “It doesn’t seem to have helped those who call themselves Christians, so why do I need it?”
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
2 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
3 Genesis 50:20 – Complete Jewish Bible
4 N. A. Dahl, ‘Romans 3:9: Text and meaning’ in Paul and Paulism, ed. M. d. Hooker and S. G. Wilson (1982), pp. 184-204
5 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, pp. 103–104
6 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit.
7 See Psalm 14:3
8 See Psalm 14:1-3 – Complete Jewish Bible; Cf. 53:1-3
9 Paul F. Herring: The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind The Greek (Kindle Locations 708-713)
10 Job 4:4
11 Ibid. 15:14
12 Jeremiah 17:9
13 Matthew 15:19; Cf. Mark 7:21
14 Ephesians 2:1-5
15 1 Timothy 1:8
16 Psalm 14:2-3; Cf, 53:2-3
17 Proverbs 1:7
18 Ibid. 1:23
19 Isaiah 27:11b
20 Jeremiah 4:22 – Complete Jewish Bible
21 Hosea 4:6
22 Matthew 13:13
23 Job 21:15