Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
Ro 3:1-8. Jewish Objections Answered.
1, 2. What advantage then hath the Jew?—that is, "If the final judgment will turn solely on the state of the heart, and this may be as good in the Gentile without, as in the Jew within, the sacred enclosure of God's covenant, what better are we Jews for all our advantages?"
Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
2. Much every way; chiefly, because—rather, "first, that."
unto them were committed the oracles of God—This remarkable expression, denoting "divine communications" in general, is transferred to the Scriptures to express their oracular, divine, authoritative character.
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
3, 4. For what if some did not believe?—It is the unbelief of the great body of the nation which the apostle points at; but as it sufficed for his argument to put the supposition thus gently, he uses this word "some" to soften prejudice.
shall their unbelief make the faith of God—or, "faithfulness of God."
of none effect?—"nullify," "invalidate" it.
God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
4. God forbid—literally, "Let it not be," that is, "Away with such a thought"—a favorite expression of our apostle, when he would not only repudiate a supposed consequence of his doctrine, but express his abhorrence of it. "The Scriptures do not authorize such a use of God's name as must have been common among the English translators of the Bible" [Hodge].
yea, let God be—held
true, and every man a liar—that is, even though it should follow from this that every man is a liar.
when thou art judged—so in Ps 51:4, according to the Septuagint; but in the Hebrew and in our version, "when thou judgest." The general sentiment, however, is the same in both—that we are to vindicate the righteousness of God, at whatever expense to ourselves.
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
5, 6. But if, &c.—Another objection: "It would appear, then, that the more faithless we are, so much the more illustrious will the fidelity of God appear; and in that case, for Him to take vengeance on us for our unfaithfulness would be (to speak as men profanely do) unrighteousness in God."
God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
6. God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?—that is, "Far from us be such a thought; for that would strike down all future judgment.
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
7, 8. For if the truth of God, &c.—A further illustration of the same sentiment: that is, "Such reasoning amounts to this—which indeed we who preach salvation by free grace are slanderously accused of teaching—that the more evil we do, the more glory will redound to God; a damnable principle." (Thus the apostle, instead of refuting this principle, thinks it enough to hold it up to execration, as one that shocks the moral sense).
On this brief section, Note (1) Mark the place here assigned to the Scriptures. In answer to the question, "What advantage hath the Jew?" or, "What profit is there of circumcision?" (Ro 3:1) those holding Romish views would undoubtedly have laid the stress upon the priesthood, as the glory of the Jewish economy. But in the apostle's esteem, "the oracles of God" were the jewel of the ancient Church (Ro 3:1, 2). (2) God's eternal purposes and man's free agency, as also the doctrine of salvation by grace and the unchanging obligations of God's law, have ever been subjected to the charge of inconsistency by those who will bow to no truth which their own reason cannot fathom. But amidst all the clouds and darkness which in this present state envelop the divine administration and many of the truths of the Bible, such broad and deep principles as are here laid down, and which shine in their own luster, will be found the sheet-anchor of our faith. "Let God be true, and every man a liar" (Ro 3:4); and as many advocates of salvation by grace as say, "Let us do evil that good may come," "their damnation is just" (Ro 3:8).
And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
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.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
10-12. As it is written, &c.—(Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3). These statements of the Psalmist were indeed suggested by particular manifestations of human depravity occurring under his own eye; but as this only showed what man, when unrestrained, is in his present condition, they were quite pertinent to the apostle's purpose.
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
13-18. Their, &c.—From generals, the apostle here comes to particulars, culling from different parts of Scripture passages which speak of depravity as it affects the different members of the body; as if to show more affectingly how "from the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness" in us.
throat is an open sepulchre—(Ps 5:9); that is, "What proceeds out of their heart, and finds vent in speech and action through the throat, is like the pestilential breath of an open grave."
with their tongues they have used deceit—(Ps 5:9); that is, "That tongue which is man's glory (Ps 16:9; 57:8) is prostituted to the purposes of deception."
the poison of asps is under their lips—(Ps 140:3): that is, "Those lips which should 'drop as an honeycomb,' and 'feed many,' and 'give thanks unto His name' (So 4:11; Pr 10:21; Heb 13:15), are employed to secrete and to dart deadly poison."
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
14. Whose mouth, &c.—(Ps 10:7): that is, "That mouth which should be 'most sweet' (So 5:16), being 'set on fire of hell' (Jas 3:6), is filled with burning wrath against those whom it should only bless."
Their feet are swift to shed blood:
15. Their feet are swift to shed blood—(Pr 1:16; Isa 59:7): that is, "Those feet, which should 'run the way of God's commandments' (Ps 119:32), are employed to conduct men to deeds of darkest crime."
Destruction and misery are in their ways:
16, 17. Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known—This is a supplementary statement about men's ways, suggested by what had been said about the "feet," and expresses the mischief and misery which men scatter in their path, instead of that peace which, as strangers to it themselves, they cannot diffuse.
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
18. There is no fear of God before their eyes—(Ps 36:1): that is, "Did the eyes but 'see Him who is invisible' (Heb 11:27), a reverential awe of Him with whom we have to do would chasten every joy and lift the soul out of its deepest depressions; but to all this the natural man is a stranger." How graphic is this picture of human depravity, finding its way through each several organ of the body into the life (Ro 3:13-17): but how small a part of the "desperate wickedness" that is within (Jer 17:9) "proceedeth out of the heart of man!" (Mr 7:21-23; Ps 19:12).
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
19. Now we know that what … the law—that is, the Scriptures, considered as a law of duty.
saith, it saith to them that are under the law—of course, therefore, to the Jews.
that every mouth—opened in self-justification.
may be stopped, and all the world may become—that is, be seen to be, and own itself.
guilty—and so condemned
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
20. Therefore by the deeds of—obedience to
the law there shall no flesh be justified—that is, be held and treated as righteous; as is plain from the whole scope and strain of the argument.
in his sight—at His bar (Ps 143:2).
for by the law is the knowledge of sin—(See on Ro 4:15; Ro 7:7; and 1Jo 3:4).
Note, How broad and deep does the apostle in this section lay the foundations of his great doctrine of Justification by free grace—in the disorder of man's whole nature, the consequent universality of human guilt, the condemnation, by reason of the breach of divine law, of the whole world, and the impossibility of justification before God by obedience to that violated law! Only when these humiliating conclusions are accepted and felt, are we in a condition to appreciate and embrace the grace of the Gospel, next to be opened up.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Ro 3:21-26. God's Justifying Righteousness through Faith in Jesus Christ, Alike Adapted to Our Necessities and Worthy of Himself.
21-23. But now the righteousness of God—(See on Ro 1:17).
without the law—that is, a righteousness to which our obedience to the law contributes nothing whatever (Ro 3:28; Ga 2:16).
is manifested, being witnessed—attested.
by the law and the prophets—the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus this justifying righteousness, though new, as only now fully disclosed, is an old righteousness, predicted and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
22. by faith of—that is, "in"
Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe—that is, perhaps, brought nigh "unto all" men the Gospel, and actually "upon all" believing men, as theirs in possession [Luther and others]; but most interpreters understand both statements" of believers as only a more emphatic way of saying that all believers, without distinction or exception, are put in possession of this gratuitous justification, purely by faith in Christ Jesus.
for there is no difference.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
23. for all have sinned—Though men differ greatly in the nature and extent of their sinfulness, there is absolutely no difference between the best and the worst of men, in the fact that "all have sinned," and so underlie the wrath of God.
and come short of the glory—or "praise"
of God—that is, "have failed to earn His approbation" (compare Joh 12:43, Greek). So the best interpreters.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
24. justified freely—without anything done on our part to deserve.
by his grace—His free love.
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—a most important clause; teaching us that though justification is quite gratuitous, it is not a mere fiat of the divine will, but based on a "Redemption," that is, "the payment of a Ransom," in Christ's death. That this is the sense of the word "redemption," when applied to Christ's death, will appear clear to any impartial student of the passages where it occurs.
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
25, 26. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation—or "propitiatory sacrifice."
through faith in his blood—Some of the best interpreters, observing that "faith upon" is the usual phrase in Greek, not "faith in" Christ, would place a "comma" after "faith," and understand the words as if written thus: "to be a propitiation, in His blood, through faith." But "faith in Christ" is used in Ga 3:26 and Eph 1:15; and "faith in His blood" is the natural and appropriate meaning here.
to declare his righteousness for the remission—rather, "pretermission" or "passing by."
of sins—"the sins."
that are past—not the sins committed by the believer before he embraces Christ, but the sins committed under the old economy, before Christ came to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself."
through the forbearance of God—God not remitting but only forbearing to punish them, or passing them by, until an adequate atonement for them should be made. In thus not imputing them, God was righteous, but He was not seen to be so; there was no "manifestation of His righteousness" in doing so under the ancient economy. But now that God can "set forth" Christ as a "propitiation for sin through faith in His blood," the righteousness of His procedure in passing by the sins of believers before, and in now remitting them, is "manifested," declared, brought fully out to the view of the whole world. (Our translators have unfortunately missed this glorious truth, taking "the sins that are past" to mean the past sins of believers—committed before faith—and rendering, by the word "remission," what means only a "passing by"; thus making it appear that "remission of sins" is "through the forbearance of God," which it certainly is not).
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
26. To declare … at this time—now for the first time, under the Gospel.
his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus—Glorious paradox! "Just in punishing," and "merciful in pardoning," men can understand; but "just in justifying the guilty," startles them. But the propitiation through faith in Christ's blood resolves the paradox and harmonizes the discordant elements. For in that "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin," justice has full satisfaction; and in that "we are made the righteousness of God in Him," mercy has her heart's delight!
Note, (1) One way of a sinner's justification is taught in the Old Testament and in the New alike: only more dimly during the twilight of Revelation; in unclouded light under "its perfect day" (Ro 3:21). (2) As there is no difference in the need, so is there none in the liberty to appropriate the provided salvation. The best need to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ; and the worst only need that. On this common ground all saved sinners meet here, and will stand for ever (Ro 3:22-24). (3) It is on the atoning blood of Christ, as the one propitiatory sacrifice which God hath set forth to the eye of the guilty, that the faith of the convinced and trembling sinner fastens for deliverance from wrath. Though he knows that he is "justified freely, by God's grace," it is only because it is "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" that he is able to find peace and rest even in this (Ro 3:25). (4) The strictly accurate view of believers under the Old Testament is not that of a company of pardoned men, but of men whose sins, put up with and passed by in the meantime, awaited a future expiation in the fulness of time (Ro 3:25, 26; see on Lu 9:31; Heb 9:15; Heb 11:39, 40).
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Ro 3:27-31. Inferences from the Foregoing Doctrines and an Objection Answered.
Inference first: Boasting is excluded by this, and no other way of justification.
27, 28. Where is boasting then? … excluded. By what law?—on what principle or scheme?.
of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
28. Therefore we conclude, &c.—It is the unavoidable tendency of dependence upon our own works, less or more, for acceptance with God, to beget a spirit of "boasting." But that God should encourage such a spirit in sinners, by any procedure of His, is incredible. This therefore stamps falsehood upon every form of "justification by works," whereas the doctrine that.
Our faith receives a righteousness
That makes the sinner just,
manifestly and entirely excludes "boasting"; and this is the best evidence of its truth.
Inference second: This and no other way of salvation is adapted alike to Jew and Gentile.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
29. Is he the God of the Jews only? &c.—The way of salvation must be one equally suited to the whole family of fallen man: but the doctrine of justification by faith is the only one that lays the basis of a Universal Religion; this therefore is another mark of its truth.
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
30. it is one God who shall justify—"has unchangeably fixed that He shall justify."
the circumcision by—"of"
faith, and the uncircumcision through faith—probably this is but a varied statement of the same truth for greater emphasis (see Ro 3:22); though Bengel thinks that the justification of the Jews, as the born heirs of the promise, may be here purposely said to be "of faith," while that of the Gentiles, previously "strangers to the covenants of promise," may be said to be "through faith," as thus admitted into a new family.
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
31. Do we then make void the law through faith?—"Does this doctrine of justification by faith, then, dissolve the obligation of the law? If so, it cannot be of God. But away with such a thought, for it does just the reverse."
God forbid: yea, we establish the law—It will be observed here, that, important as was this objection, and opening up as it did so noble a field for the illustration of the peculiar glory of the Gospel, the apostle does no more here than indignantly repel it, intending at a subsequent stage of his argument (Ro 6:1-23) to resume and discuss it at length.
Note, (1) It is a fundamental requisite of all true religion that it tend to humble the sinner and exalt God; and every system which breeds self-righteousness, or cherishes boasting, bears falsehood on its face (Ro 3:27, 28). (2) The fitness of the Gospel to be a universal religion, beneath which the guilty of every name and degree are invited and warranted to take shelter and repose, is a glorious evidence of its truth (Ro 3:29, 30). (3) The glory of God's law, in its eternal and immutable obligations, is then only fully apprehended by the sinner, and then only is it enthroned in the depths of his soul, when, believing that "He was made sin for him who knew no sin," he sees himself "made the righteousness of God in Him" (2Co 5:21). Thus do we not make void the law through faith: yea, we establish the law. (4) This chapter, and particularly the latter part of it, "is the proper seat of the Pauline doctrine of Justification, and the grand proof-passage of the Protestant doctrine of the Imputation of Christ's righteousness and of Justification not on account of, but through faith alone" [Philippi]. To make good this doctrine, and reseat it in the faith and affection of the Church, was worth all the bloody struggles that it cost our fathers, and it will be the wisdom and safety, the life and vigor of the churches, to "stand fast in this liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, and not be again entangled"—in the very least degree—"with the yoke of bondage" (Ga 5:1).