|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:9-18 Here again is shown that all mankind are under the guilt of sin, as a burden; and under the government and dominion of sin, as enslaved to it, to work wickedness. This is made plain by several passages of Scripture from the Old Testament, which describe the corrupt and depraved state of all men, till grace restrain or change them. Great as our advantages are, these texts describe multitudes who call themselves Christians. Their principles and conduct prove that there is no fear of God before their eyes. And where no fear of God is, no good is to be looked for.
Verses 9-20. - (3) The testimony of the Old Testament to human sinfulness. Objections having been thus raised and met, the apostle now confirms his position, that all mankind, Jew as well as Gentile, are under sin, by adducing the Scriptures of the Jews themselves. Verse 9. - What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved (or, charged, as in the Vulgate, causati sumus) both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. The meaning of the first part of this verse has been much discussed. We may observe:
(1) Τί οῦν seems to be rightly separated (as in Authorized Version) from προεχόμεθα because of the form of the answer to the question, οὐ πάντως: after τί προεχόμεθα; we should expect οὐδέν.
(2) The Jews, with whom St. Paul identifies himself, must be supposed to put the question; not the Gentiles, as some have supposed. For there is nothing in the context to suggest the Gentiles as the speakers, nor does what follow suit the supposition.
(3) The main question is as to the sense of προεχόμεθα, which occurs here only in the New Testament, and has, therefore, to be interpreted from consideration of the sense of which the verb is capable, and the probable drift of the argument. Some have taken it as a passive verb, with the meaning, "Are we surpassed?" i.e. are we Jews in worse case than the Gentiles on account of our greater privileges? The active verb, προέχειν, in the sense of "to excel," being both transitive and intransitive, its passive may be used in the same sense. An instance quoted in commentaries is καπ οὐδὲν εχομένοις ὑπὸ τοῦ Διός (Plut., 'Mor.,'), "cum Jove minores non sint." So the recent Revisers, though dissented from by the American Committee. The strong objection to this interpretation is that there has been nothing so far even to suggest any superiority of the Gentile to the Jew, and that what follows does not bear upon any such idea. Thus to interpret would be to sacrifice the sense to supposed grammatical exigence, which, after all, is uncertain. Taking, then, προεχόμεθα as the middle voice, we have two interpretations before us; either, with Meyer, to render, Do we put forward (anything) in our defence? - which he maintains (though not conclusively) to be the only proper sense of the middle verb - or (as in the Authorized Version), Are we better (i.e. in better ease) than they? This rendering, though it gives essentially the same sense as if προέχομεν (intransitive) had been written, is commended by its suitableness to the course of argument, and the middle voice may, perhaps, he accounted for as denoting the Jews' supposed claim of superiority for themselves. Thus the connection of thought is plain. The conclusion of ch. 2. had left the Jews on the same footing with the Gentiles before God in respect of sinfulness. But then objections had been raised on the ground of the acknowledged privileges of the chosen people; and such objections have been met. The apostle now sums up the result: What, then, is the state of the case? Have we any advantage to allege? No, not at all in the sense intended; the previous argument stands; and he proceeds to confine his position from the testimony of the Old Testament itself.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
What then? are we better than they?.... The apostle returns to what he was treating of in the beginning of the chapter, and suggests, that though the Jew has the advantage of the Gentile, with respect to some external privileges, yet not with regard to their state and condition God-ward, and as in his sight; "are we Jews better than they Gentiles?"
no, in no wise; upon no consideration whatever, neither as men, nor as Jews; which is directly opposite to a notion that people have of themselves:
"in mankind (they say (r)) there are high degrees, one higher than another, and the Israelites , "are above all mankind"; they are the head, and the nations of the world are the tail, and are like to a serpent, for they come from the filth of the old serpent.''
Again, they say (s),
"worthy are the Israelites, for the holy blessed God hath given to them holy souls, from an holy place, "above all the rest of the people", that they may do the commandments, and delight in the law.''
And elsewhere (t) it is observed on those words, Genesis 1:24, "the living creature", or "the soul of the living creature", by R. Aba:
"these are the Israelites, for they are the children of the holy blessed God, and their holy souls come from him; the souls of the rest of the people, from what place are they? says R. Eleazar, from the side of the left hand, which is defiled; for they have polluted souls, and therefore they are all defiled, and defile whoever comes nigh them:''
but they are no better, especially with regard to their estate by nature:
for we have before proved; in the preceding chapters, by full instances to a demonstration; and if that cannot be thought sufficient, he goes on to give more proof in the following "verses":
that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin; under the power and guilt of sin, and a sentence of condemnation for it; which is equally true of the Jews, who were no better than the Gentiles, for being Abraham's seed, for being circumcised, for having the ceremonial law, and other outward privileges; for they were equally born in sin, and by practice sinners, as the Gentiles: and this is true of God's elect in all nations, who are no better by nature, by birth, than others; as deserving of the wrath of God as the rest; no better in their tempers and, dispositions, or in the endowments of their minds, or outward circumstances of life; nor better qualified to receive and improve the grace of God bestowed on them, than others.
(r) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 103. 2. Vid. Nishmat Chayim, orat. 2. c. 7. fol. 61. 1.((s) Zohar in Lev. fol 28. 2.((t) Zohar in Gen. fol. 31. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ro 3:9-20. That the Jew Is Shut Up under Like Condemnation with the Gentile Is Proved by His Own Scripture.
9. are we better than they?—"do we excel them?"
No, in no wise—Better off the Jews certainly were, for having the oracles of God to teach them better; but as they were no better, that only aggravated their guilt.
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