NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XVI)
Early church theologian Augustine asks: “Could Paul have promised glory, honor, and peace to the good works of Gentiles apart from the grace of the gospel? No, because there is no acceptance of such persons with God. And because it is not the hearers but the doers of the law who are justified, he argues that all, whether Jew or Gentile, alike shall have salvation in the gospel.”1 And another early church scholar adds his endorsement to this view: “Paul says ‘for all’ meaning first the Jews, in that it was from among them that salvation first arose, and then the Gentiles, in that from the Jews grace had abounded even to them so that now both share in it together. This grace is not given in general but only to those ‘who believe,’ but it is common to everyone without distinction.”2 Paul is hoping that those in Rome who converted from Judaism to Christianity will understand, that God, through Christ, sees all people as equally worthy of His grace.
Reformist John Calvin gives us his exposition on this subject: “When therefore we discuss this subject [righteousness], we ought to proceed in this way: First, the question respecting our justification is to be referred, not to a decision of men, but to a decision of God, before whom nothing is counted as righteousness but perfect and absolute obedience to the law. This appears clear from its promises and threatenings: if no one is found who has attained to such a perfect measure of holiness, it follows that all are in themselves destitute of righteousness. Secondly, it is necessary that Christ should come to our aid; who, being alone upright, can render us just by transferring to us His own righteousness. You now see how the righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ. When, therefore, we are justified, the efficient cause is the mercy of God, the worthiness of Christ, the instrument is the Word in connection with faith. Hence faith is said to justify because it is the instrument by which we receive Christ, in whom righteousness is conveyed to us.”3
Adam Clarke sees righteousness as such: “That method of saving sinners which is not of works, but by faith in Christ Jesus; and it is not limited to any particular people, as the law and its privileges were, but is to all mankind in its intention and offer, and becomes effectual to them that believe; for God has now made no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. So the Jews might ask why did God then call Abraham and give the Law to Moses instead of simply making it available to all mankind? The answer can be found in the fact Abraham was not Jewish, and Moses was raised as a Hebrew in Egypt, and that they and their descendants were chosen to carry the message of salvation until the day when it would be made available to all who believe. God said this very clearly to Abraham: ‘Every nation on the earth will be blessed through your descendants. I will do this because you obeyed me.’4”5
H. A. Ironside also makes this point: “The Righteousness of God is a term of wide importance. Here it means a righteousness of God’s providing a perfect standing for guilty men for which God makes Himself responsible. If men are saved at all it must be in righteousness. But of this, man is utterly lacking. Therefore, God must find a way whereby every claim of His righteous throne shall be met, and yet guilty sinners shall be justified from all wrongdoings. His very nature demands that this must not be at the expense of righteousness but in full accordance with it.”6 Ironside believes that this has been part of God’s plan from the beginning, as witnessed and testified to by the Law and the Prophets.
As such, the same aspect of obedience would be required of all the who were blessed to hear the good news of salvation. Charles Hodge points out: “With justification by works being impossible, God has revealed another, already taught indeed, both in the law and prophets, a method which is not legal, i.e. not on the condition of obedience to the law, but on the condition of faith, which is applicable to all men, and perfectly gratuitous.”7 So the Law will be involved, except, the law given through Moses will be exchanged for the grace given through Christ. What an improvement! Complete obedience to the Law was impossible, but it is possible through Christ because He was perfect in His obedience.
And pulpit orator Charles Spurgeon says: “There is no righteousness by works on the face of the earth. The law itself describes men as being sinful from their throat to their feet. Almost every member of the body is mentioned and described as being disgusting with sin. We cannot become righteous by the law. Paul says that there is no one who has ever obtained righteousness in that way. We, on the contrary, have so sinned that we never can become righteous through the Law; but there is a new way of righteousness, the way of the righteousness of God; and God’s righteousness is much better than the best human righteousness can ever be conceived to be. There is a righteousness which comes to us by faith in Jesus Christ, not by doing, but by believing, a righteousness which is freely bestowed upon all them that believe.”8 Then Frederic Godet makes the point: To pronounce someone righteous, God does not ask anymore: Have you kept the law? Rather: Do you believe in My Son?9
And Bible scholar Ellicott explains: “By faith of Jesus Christ—i.e., by faith which has Christ for its object, ‘faith in Christ.’ ‘Faith’ in St. Paul’s writings implies an intense attachment and devotion. It has an intellectual basis, necessarily involving a belief in the existence, and in certain attributes, of the Person for whom it is entertained; but it is moral in its operation, a recasting of the whole emotional nature in accordance with this belief, together with a consequent change in character and practice.”10
Verse 23: For all have missed the mark and fallen short of God’s expectations.
Paul now uses another anchor to secure his teaching that all mankind is saved on an equal bases whether or not they came to the knowledge of the truth about Christ through the Law or outside the Law. And that is: They are all sinking in the same quagmire of sin from which they cannot free themselves even with the help of the Law. This was determined long before Paul said it. Solomon was aware of man’s lost condition back in his day. He writes: “For there isn’t a righteous person on earth who [only] does good and never sins.”11 And for the Messianic Jews, Paul puts this in perspective when writing to the Galatians: “The Scriptures put everything in prison under the control of sin, so that the only way for people to get what God promised would be through faith in Jesus the Messiah.”12 Paul was not the only one who held this position, so did the Apostle John.13
In Paul’s mind, he was convinced that God did not create humans to sin but to serve as a model of His genius and generosity. However, the original two humans failed to accomplish this because of the deceit of Satan. So in order to make that point, Paul uses a Greek word “hamartanō” for sin. This word means: “to be no part of; to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken.” In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul says this: “Live your life for God, who called you into His Kingdom for His glory.”14 Then in his second letter, Paul states: “God chose you by using the Good News that we told you. You were chosen so that you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”15
The Apostle Peter was of the same mind when he wrote: “You should be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. You will be happy and full of joy when Christ shows His glory.”16 Peter then goes on to make the same point Paul did: “Yes, you will suffer for a short time. But after that, God will make everything right. He will make you strong. He will support you and keep you from falling. He is the God who gives all grace. He chose you to share in His glory in Christ. That glory will continue forever.”17
Most of the early church scholars see the need for everyone to understand the implications of what Paul is saying here. Says Irenaeus: “For as these men [of old] did not impute to us Gentiles our transgressions, which we committed before Christ was manifested among us, so also it is not right that we should lay blame upon those who sinned before Christ’s coming. For ‘all men come short of the glory of God,’ and are not justified of themselves, but by the advent of the Lord, they who earnestly direct their eyes towards His light…We ought not to be puffed up or harsh with those of ancient times, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we seek no further forgiveness of sins. If later we do things displeasing to God, we are shut out of His kingdom.”18
Another scholar writes: “Paul shows that nature has failed the Gentiles and that both nature and the Law have failed the Jews, before going on to mention the grace of the gospel and saying: ‘What do we have by grace which is special and superior? Faith, made effective by the righteousness of Christ.’ … Paul does not say that all have broken the law but that all have sinned in a general sense. Now the one who is lacking something tries to make up his deficiency. The Jews had the Law, but they were lacking the fullness of grace.”19
Then early church preacher Chrysostom says: “There is no difference at all between the Greek, the Scythian, the Thracian or even the Jew, for all are in the same plight.… Even if you have not done the same sins as others, you have still been deprived of God’s glory just as they have been, because you are among those who have offended.… However, Paul was saying this not to cast them into despair but rather to show the love of the Lord toward man, as he goes on to say [in the following verses].”20 To this Pelagius adds: “All sinners need the glory of God because they do not have their own.”21
1 Augustine: The Spirit and the Letter 44
2 Gennadius of Constantinople: Pauline Commentary, loc. cit.
3 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
4 Genesis 22:18
5 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
9 Frederic Godet: On Romans, loc. cit.
10 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, loc. cit.
11 Ecclesiastes 7:20
12 Galatians 3:22
13 1 John 1:8
14 1 Thessalonians 2:12
15 2 Thessalonians 2:14
16 1 Peter 4:13
17 Ibid. 5:10
18 Irenaeus: Against Heresies Bk. 4, Ch.27.2
19 Severian: Greek Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 7
21 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.