Romans 3
Matthew Poole's Commentary
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
Romans 3:1,2 The Jew’s prerogative,

Romans 3:3,4 which is not vacated by the unbelief of some,

Romans 3:5-8 nor is God’ s justice impeached in punishing their sinfulness.

Romans 3:9-19 The law itself convinceth the Jews also universally of sin,

Romans 3:20 so that no flesh is justified by the deeds of the law,

Romans 3:21-30 but all indiscriminately by God’s grace through faith in Christ,

Romans 3:31 yet without annulling the obligations of the law.

What advantage then hath the Jew? An elegant prolepsis or anticipation of what might be objected against the apostle’s assertion in the foregoing words. If the Jews (might some object) lie equally exposed to condemnation with the Gentiles, then they have no excellency above them. Or thus, If external things do not commend us to God, (as it is affirmed, Romans 2:28,29), but the Gentiles are brought into the church without them, then the Jews have no prerogative above the Gentiles, though God hath owned them so long for his peculiar people.

What profit is there of circumcision? i.e. what is the use of it, or for what end was it instituted, seeing the uncircumcised are brought in and accepted, as being circumcised notwithstanding, and clean in heart?

Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
He answers the before mentioned objection by a liberal and free concession. The answer doth particularly relate to the first member of the objection, though comprehending the other.

Chiefly; this word is not to be referred to the order of speech, as Romans 1:8, for he doth not begin any discourse here; nor to the number of privileges and advantages, for he names but one in all; but to the quality, and so the excellency, of this privilege here spoken of; q.d. It is the chief of all.

Unto them were committed the oracles of God: profane writers make this word to signify the answer that was given by the demons, or heathen gods; and yet the Holy Ghost doth not disdain to make use of this word, (as well as divers others), though abused to heathenish superstition. The sense is, To the Jews were credited, or given in custody, the Holy Scriptures, containing all the books of the Old Testament, in particular the legal covenant, or law of God, given on Mount Sinai, which Stephen calls the lively oracles, Acts 7:38; more especially yet the fundamental articles of religion, and doctrines of grace, and salvation by the Messias, called the oracles of God, Hebrews 5:12, though more hid, it is true, in types, promises, and predictions.

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
If some did not believe; if some did remain in infidelity, Acts 28:24, if they would give no credit to the oracle, and to the promise of a Messiah.

The faith of God; i.e. the truth and faithfulness of God, Psalm 33:4. The whole verse is another prolepsis. The implied objection is this, That the Jews are nothing the better for these oracles, or have no advantage by them, if by unbelief they have rendered themselves unworthy or incapable of benefit by them. The answer to this is anticipated by propounding another question; Can the infidelity of some be any hinderance of God’s performing his promise to others, to his chosen ones? The interrogation is a negation, q.d. It cannot be, as the following words show: see 2 Timothy 2:13.

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.
God forbid; the negation that was closely couched in the former verse, is in this expressed by a note of indignation, and of the greatest detestation.

Let God be true; let him remain or appear faithful to his promises and covenant; or, let him be acknowledged to be so, according to the frequent testimonies of Scripture: see Numbers 23:19 Titus 1:2 Hebrews 6:17,18.

But every man a liar; or, although every man should be a liar; or, whatsoever we say of men, who are all mutable creatures, who are liable to mistakes in their own natures, and so may easily deceive others: see Psalm 116:11.

That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings; that thou tnightest be acknowledged just in thy promises and threatenings; in which sense the word is used in divers places, Matthew 11:19 Luke 7:29,35 Lu 10:29.

Mightest overcome; that thou mightest be clear or pure, so it is in the Psalm. The apostle honours the Seventy, which was the common translation, and minds the sense rather than the words. He that is clear, is like to overcome in a just judgment.

When thou art judged; or, when thou judgest: the word may be taken actively or passively; i.e. when thou dost execute judgment upon any, or, when any do presume to censure you.

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God; an anticipation of another objection, which might be lnade upon the preceding words: that if the faithfulness of God, in keeping his promises, doth appear in and notwithstanding the unfaithfulness of men, then we gather thus much, that the fidelity of God is rendered a great deal more commendable by the perfidiousness of man.

What shall we say? Thus we object, or this will be the inconvenience.

Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? i.e. then God is unjust in punishing the Jews, or any other wicked men, for that which tends to his own glory, and the commendations of his veracity.

I speak as a man; this is the language of carnal men, and such blasphemy they speak; I recite the objection of some men, and speak after their carnal manner.

God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
God forbid; he rejects the cavil with his usual note of detestation, as not thinking it worthy of answer.

For then how shall God judge the world? q.d. If God were in the least unrighteous, how could he govern the world at present, and judge it at last in righteousness? Which is affirmed, Psalm 96:13 98:9. Or, how could he be God and supreme, if he were not just by his nature and essence, and his will the very rule of righteousness: see Genesis 18:25 Job 34:12.

For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
By truth he means the faithfulness and veracity of God; as by lie, the perfidiousness and inconstancy of man; ut supra et alibi.

Why yet am I also judged as a sinner? q.d. If more glory accrues to the name of God by my wickedness, what reason is there that I should be punished, and proceeded against as an offender, who have occasioned this further glory to God? The apostle doth plainly personate in this place a wicked objector, or he speaks in the name and person of such a one. This way of speaking and writing is very frequent among all authors; and it is found sometimes with the penmen of the Holy Scriptures: see Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 1 Corinthians 15:32. The apostle tells the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 4:6, that in a figure he transferred some things to himself and to Apollos for their sakes, that they might not be puffed up; he, counted such schemes and figures as these to be most profitable and efficacious to the reader.

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.
The placing of these words makes them sound harshly, and consequently causeth obscurity. Critics make a great stir about them, some including them in a parenthesis, others affirming there is a transposition in them. They seem to be a refutation to the former cavil, and must be accommodated to that sense. It is as if the apostle should have said, If sinners deserve no punishment, because God reaps glory to himself by their sins; then that is a good proverb, or saying, which is in some men’s mouths, and we ourselves are slandered with it, as if it were our opinion and doctrine, That we may do evil, that good may come of it. But this saying is generally exploded; none dare to vouch it, and therefore the former cavil is of no force.

Whose damnation is just; i.e. their damnation is just, who teach such doctrine, and practise accordingly; who

do evil, that good may come of it. The apostle doth not vouchsafe to refute this absurd saying, but simply condemns it, and those that put it in practice. Or else his meaning in these words is this, that they justly deserve damnation, who calumniate the apostles and publishers of the gospel, and raise false reports and slanders of them: their damnation is just, who affirm we say or hold, That evil may be done, that good may come thereof.

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;
What then? are we better than they? the apostle here returns to the argument that he had been handling in the beginning of the chapter. He brings in the Jews propounding a question, Seeing it was confessed that the oracles of God were committed to them, then it followed, that they excelled the Gentiles, and stood upon better ground than they.

No, in no wise; he doth not contradict himself as to what he had said of the Jews’ prerogative, Romans 3:2. They did indeed excel the Gentiles as to some external benefits, of which you have a larger account, Romans 9:4,5, but not upon the account of any evangelical righteousness, or their own supposed merit.

We have before proved; viz. separately and apart, in the foregoing chapters; and the same is now to be asserted of

both Jews and Gentiles, conjunctly and together; that notwithstanding the Jews boasted of their law, and the Gentiles of their philosophy, yet as to the evangelical faith and righteousness, they were both in the same case.

Under sin; under the power of sin, but chiefly under the guilt of sin: see Romans 3:19.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
As it is written; viz. in several places of Scripture, which he quotes in the following verses, giving us the sense, though not so strictly tying himself to the words; and this is a proper proof, to the Jews at least, whom he had called a little before the keepers of these oracles.

There is none righteous, no, not one: the more general proof with which he begins, is taken out of Psalm 14:3, and Psalm 53:1, upon which places see the annotations.

There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
There is none that understandeth; a more particular proof of the corruption of the soul, and the faculties thereof; and first of the mind, taken out of the forecited Psalms, which may be compared with the scriptures which speak of the ignorance and blindness of the mind, Deu 32:29 Job 32:9 Isaiah 1:3 Jeremiah 4:22 10:14.

There is none that seeketh after God; a proof of the corruption of the will, which follows also in the forecited Psalms.

They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
They are all gone out of the way: viz. of truth, or life: see Psalm 14:3 36:4 58:3. This doth illustrate thee former charge.

They are together become unprofitable; unuseful, and, which is more noisome, fit only for the dunghill, as the word signifies: this follows also in Psalm 14:1-7 see Job 15:16.

There is none that doeth good, no, not one; the same as Romans 3:10, though more exactly according to the words of the Psalm, where also it is twice repeated: see Psalm 14:1,3.

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Their throat is an open sepulchre; he proceeds to instance in the corruption of man with respect to the members of his body; and he mentions the organs of speech in four several expressions, much to the same purpose: the first is allegorical, taken out of Psalm 5:9, upon which see the annotations.

With their tongues they have used deceit; this text doth plainly express the corruption of the tongue, because of lies, calumnies, perjuries, flatteries; and it is taken out of Jeremiah 9:3-5.

The poison of asps is under their lips: the third expression is allegorical, as the first, taken out of Psalm 140:3, upon which see the annotations.

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
This last and very plain expression of the corruption of the tongue, is taken out of Psalm 10:7: See Poole on "Psalm 10:7".

Their feet are swift to shed blood:
If we consider this member also, we may see the corruption of man; witness that testimony, Proverbs 1:16, and Isaiah 59:7; on both which see annotations.

Destruction and misery are in their ways:
Ver. 16,17. Both which assertions lie together, and follow in that Isaiah 59:7,8.

And the way of peace have they not known:
See Poole on "Romans 3:16"

There is no fear of God before their eyes.
This last assertion gives us one true cause of all the aforesaid evils, taken out of Psalm 36:1: See Poole on "Psalm 36:1".

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.
Another anticipation of an objection, to this purpose: All these testimonies (might the Jews say) do not concern us, they concern the impure and Gentile world only, unless possibly some profane wretches amongst ourselves also. But to this the apostle says; We know (which some think hath the force of an asseveration) that whatsoever the law of God, more especially the Mosaical law, or more generally all that is contained in the Scripture, saith of the wickedness and defection of mankind, it saith to the Jews more particularly, to whom the law was given, and who are under the conduct of it; much the same with that phrase, Romans 2:12: see Romans 6:15 1 Corinthians 9:20.

That every mouth may be stopped; i.e. hindered from boasting, to which the Jews were so prone; or rather, that conscience might so press them, that they should silently, or as it were speechless, expect their own damnation. without being able to frame any excuse: see Psalm 63:11 Ezekiel 16:63 Matthew 22:12.

And all the world may become guilty before God; that Jews and Gentiles and all mankind, as depraved, might be obnoxious to the judgment and condemnation of God: see Romans 3:9, and John 3:18.

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.
Therefore; i.e. Seeing the Gentiles, by the law of nature, and the Jews, by the written law, are thus subject to the judgment of God; and seeing no one is able to fulfil the law, and satisfy for the breach of it; therefore, &c.

By the deeds of the law; he means the moral law, and not the ceremonial law only or chiefly; even that law that forbids theft and adultery, as Romans 2:21,22, and concupiscence, as Romans 7:1-25; and by which, as this text says,

is the knowledge of sin; to which Gentiles as well as Jews are obliged, and by which therefore they are condemned.

No flesh; a common synecdoche: see Genesis 6:3,12, and elsewhere. The same with no man living, in the psalmist; especially being depraved with original corruption, which is called flesh in Scripture.

Be justified in his sight; or be discharged in the court of heaven: the phrase is taken from Psalm 143:2, see annotations there.

For by the law is the knowledge of sin: lest any should think that the law hereupon is useless, he goes on to show its use, but a quite contrary one to what they intended. It convinceth us of our guilt, and therefore is far from being our righteousness, Romans 7:7 1 Corinthians 15:56.

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
But now: q.d. Though justification be not by the law, yet it is to be obtained in another way, as follows.

The righteousness of God: see Romans 1:17.

Without the law; inasmuch as the law, pressing obedience to be performed by us in our own persons, seems plainly ignorant of the righteousness of another imputed to us.

Is manifested; this righteousness nevertheless is revealed plainly, now since the coming of Christ, and in the gospel, as in Romans 1:17.

Being witnessed by the law and the prophets; that there may be no suspicion of novelty: see John 5:46,47. The testimonies be refers to are very numerous: see Genesis 3:15 15:6 22:17,18 Isa 53 Jer 31:31,33 Da 9:24,25. See the same argument used, Acts 24:14 26:22 28:23.

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:
He mentions the righteousness of God again, that he may further explain it, by the means or instrument by which it is received, viz. faith; see Romans 4:11,12 9:30 Philippians 3:9; where there are several expressions to the same purpose, that this righteousness is without the law indeed, but it is by the hand of that faith by which we believe in Jesus, called therefore here, the faith of Jesus Christ.

Unto all and upon all them that believe; whether they be Jews or Gentiles, if they believe, excluding the self-justiciaries amongst the one, and the philosophers amongst the other.

For there is no difference; they are not justified two several ways: see Romans 3:9.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
For all have sinned: q.d. No wonder there is no difference, when both the one and the other have the guilt of Adam’s transgression imputed to them, and have original corruption inherent in them, from whence proceed very many actual transgressions.

And come short of the glory of God; i.e. of the glorious image of God, in which man was at first created; or, of communion with God, in which the glory of a rational creature doth consist; or rather, of the eternal glory, which they come short of, as men that run a race are weary, and fall short of the mark.

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Being justified freely by his grace; i.e. Being in this case, they can by no means be acquitted and freed from the accusation and condemnation of the law, but in the way and manner that follows. He mentions the great moving cause of justification first, (which doth comprehend also the principal efficient), that it is without any cause or merit in us; and by the free favour of God to undeserving, ill-deserving creatures, Ephesians 1:6,7 2:8 Titus 3:7.

Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: the meritorious cause is expressed by a metaphor taken from military proceedings, where captives taken in war, and under the power of another, are redeemed upon a valuable price laid down: see Matthew 20:28 Mark 10:45 1 Timothy 2:6 Hebrews 9:12.

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;
Whom God hath set forth; i.e. God the Father hath proposed this Jesus, in the eternal counsel, and covenant of redemption, Ephesians 1:9 1 Peter 1:20,21; or in the types and shadows of the old tabernacle; and hath now at last shown him openly to the world.

To be a propitiation, or atonement, 1Jo 2:2. He alludes to the mercy seat sprinkled with blood, which was typical of this great atonement; and from whence God showed himself so propitious and favourable to sinners, Leviticus 16:2 Numbers 7:89.

Through faith in his blood: he goes on to show the instrumental cause of justification, to wit, faith; i.e. the close adherence and most submissive dependence of the sinner; together with the peculiarity of the object of faith, viz. the blood, @ i.e. the death and sacrifice, of Christ; in contra-distinction to his dominion, (with which yet on other accounts faith is so much concerned), and in opposition to the blood of beasts slain and sacrificed.

To declare his righteousness; i.e. for the showing forth either of his goodness and mercy; see 1 Samuel 12:7,8,10 Psa 36:10; or of his faithfulness in his promises, and fulfilling all types and prophecies; or else of his vindictive justice, in the just proceedings of God against sin, which he hath condemned in his Son, though he justify the sinner. Or further, it may be understood of the righteousness of faith, of which Romans 3:22, which is hereby shown to be his; and to manifest itself in the forgiveness of sins, which is so declared as to be exhibited.

For the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; he means, either the sins committed before justification, while God bore so patiently with the sinner, and did not presently take the forfeiture; or else the sins committed under the Old Testament, before the proposed propitiation was exposed to the world, when God so indulged our fathers, as to pardon them upon the account of what was to come: see Hebrews 9:15-18.

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; he repeats the final cause of justification, viz. the making the after said declaration of the righteousness of God, in the time of the gospel, and dispensation and ministry thereof, 2 Corinthians 6:2, which is taken out of Isaiah 49:8.

That he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus; i.e. that no wrong might be done to the essential purity of his nature, or rectitude of his will; nor yet to his immediate justice, by which he cannot but hate sin, and abhor the sinner as such; though in the mean time he gives a discharge to him that is of the faith of Jesus, (as it is in the original), or of the number of those that believe, and cast themselves upon a Saviour.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Where is boasting then? the apostle doth, as it were, insult over them: q.d. Where is now the former boasting cf the Jews, as if they were so much better than the Gentiles? Or what is become of the ground of boasting, that they, or either of them, might think they had in the law, or philosophy, or any moral performances? See Jeremiah 9:23,24.

It is excluded. By what law? of works? If it be inquired upon what account this boasting is excluded, we answer plainly, It cannot be by that law that commands works, as the condition of acceptance and justification, and tells us nothing by whom that condition should be fulfilled; the law being become weak to us, for such a purpose. by reason of sin, Romans 8:3.

Nay: but by the law of faith; i.e. the gospel law which requires faith, by which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, and attained by us. And this is called a law of faith, as some think, in condescension to the Jews’ custom of speaking, who are so much delighted with the name of the law; and so that he might not be suspected of novelty: but, as most, it is a Hebraism, denoting no more than the doctrine or prescript of faith.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Here is the conclusion of the whole matter that he had been discoursing of, from Romans 1:17 to this very place. When he says, we conclude, he means, we have reasoned or argued well, as logicians do; or this is the full account that we have taken, and summed up, after the manner of arithmeticians.

A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law; a phrase equivalent to that which is so much spoken against, that we are justified by faith only; as if we should say, That God is to be worshipped, excluding angels, idols, images, &c., it would be as much as to say, God is to be worshipped only.

Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
By answering his own proposed questions, he plainly shows us, that the covenant of grace, by which God is God of his people, does not belong to the Jews only, that they only should have justification and bliss, but to the Gentiles also, according to the promise, Genesis 17:5 22:18 Psalm 2:8 Isaiah 11:10,12, and many others; which promises are more especially to be accomplished, now the wall of partition is broken down, as Ephesians 2:13,14.

Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
That it may not be thought that God is variable in the action of justifying sinners, but that it might be known that he is one, i.e. unchangeable, he shows, that both the circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles are justified by the same God in Christ, and by the same way and manner, viz. by and through faith, with no more difference than there is betwixt these two phrases, (by faith and through faith), which cannot be distinguished the one from the other.

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Do we then make void the law through faith? A very material objection is here to be anticipated and answered, viz. that by establishing justification by faith alone the law is rendered useless, and the obligation thereto destroyed.

God forbid: yea, we establish the law: having rejected this objection, by his usual note of abhorrency, he proceeds to show, that nothing more establishs the law, inasmuch as by faith we attain a perfect righteousness, we are interested in the most complete obedience of Christ to the moral law; and that hereby every type, promise, and prophecy is fulfilled; see Matthew 5:17 Luke 16:17: and we ourselves also being enabled thereunto by a gospel spirit, have a more exact conformity to the law, though we cannot reach to a fulfilling of it.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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