Romans 3:3
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
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(3) For what if.-What (follows) if, &c. Or we may take the first two words by themselves, and throw the next two clauses together. How stands the case? If some rejected the faith, shall their rejection make void or defeat the faithfulness of God?

The Apostle considers an objection that might be brought against his argument that the divine revelation vouchsafed to them was a special privilege of the Jewish people. It might be said that they had forfeited and cancelled this privilege by their unbelief. He first reduces the objection to its proper limits; it was not all, but some, who were unbelievers. But granting that there were some who did not believe this fact would have no power to shake the eternal promises of God.

Romans 3:3-4. For what if some — And they a considerable number, of those who once possessed these invaluable treasures; did not believe — Them, or did not duly consider what they speculatively believed, and so rejected the gospel to which they were intended to lead; shall their unbelief make without effect — Shall it disannul; the faith of God — His faithful promises made to Abraham and his seed, especially of sending the Messiah, and of effecting our redemption by him? Shall it destroy his fidelity to his promises, and prevent his fulfilling them to them that do believe? God, having promised to give to Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and to be their God, the Jews affirmed that if they were cast off from being his people, and driven out of Canaan for not believing on Jesus, the faithfulness of God in performing his promises would be destroyed. Probably the apostles, in their discourses to the Jews, had, if not expressly affirmed, yet obscurely intimated, that for crucifying Jesus they would be punished in that manner. God forbid — That we should insinuate any thing that can be justly considered as derogatory to God’s faithfulness: yea, let God be true — Let the blessed God be acknowledged true to his covenant and his promises, though every man should be esteemed a liar, and unfit to have any confidence reposed in him; or, though every Jew should disbelieve, and be cast off on that account. To understand this more fully, we must recollect, that the performance of the promises to the natural seed of Abraham, is, in the original covenant, tacitly made to depend on their faith and obedience, Genesis 18:19, and that it is explicitly made to depend on that condition in the renewal of the covenant, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Besides, on that occasion, God expressly threatened to expel the natural seed from Canaan, and scatter them among the heathen, if they became unbelieving and disobedient, Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64. The rejection, therefore, and expulsion of the Jews from Canaan, for their unbelief, being a fulfilling of the threatenings of the covenant, established the faithfulness of God, instead of destroying it. As it is written, Psalm 51:4, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings Εν τοις λογοις σου in thy words; and mightest overcome — Be pronounced holy and just, and clear of all imputation of unrighteousness; when thou art judged — When any presume insolently to arraign the equity of thy conduct, or, when thy proceedings are narrowly examined by right reason. The original expression, however, εν τω κρινεσθαι σε, it seems, should rather be rendered, when thou judgest, a translation agreeable to the place whence the quotation is made. God’s words referred to, in which David justified God, or acknowledged him to be just, are those threatenings which Nathan, by God’s order, denounced against him, on account of his crimes of adultery and murder, 2 Samuel 12:9-12. And God judged, or punished David, when he executed these threatenings on him and his posterity; and David acknowledged God to be just, or clear, in doing this, by receiving the deserved punishment in humility, resignation, and meekness. And the apostle seems to have quoted David’s confession, that God’s punishing him in the manner threatened by Nathan, was no breach of the promises he had made to him and his posterity, because it showed the Jews that God’s promises, like his threatenings, were all conditional, and that, consistently with his promises to Abraham and to his seed, God might reject the Israelites, and drive them out of Canaan, they having forfeited their right to be accounted the seed of Abraham, the father of the faithful, by their infidelity; and the Gentiles, by imitating his faith, being now received for God’s children.

3:1-8 The law could not save in or from sins, yet it gave the Jews advantages for obtaining salvation. Their stated ordinances, education in the knowledge of the true God and his service, and many favours shown to the children of Abraham, all were means of grace, and doubtless were made useful to the conversion of many. But especially the Scriptures were committed to them. Enjoyment of God's word and ordinances, is the chief happiness of a people. But God's promises are made only to believers; therefore the unbelief of some, or of many professors, cannot make this faithfulness of no effect. He will fulfil his promises to his people, and bring his threatened vengeance upon unbelievers. God's judging the world, should for ever silence all doubtings and reflections upon his justice. The wickedness and obstinate unbelief of the Jews, proved man's need of the righteousness of God by faith, and also his justice in punishing for sin. Let us do evil, that good may come, is oftener in the heart than in the mouth of sinners; for few thus justify themselves in their wicked ways. The believer knows that duty belongs to him, and events to God; and that he must not commit any sin, or speak one falsehood, upon the hope, or even assurance, that God may thereby glorify himself. If any speak and act thus, their condemnation is just.For what if some did not believe? - This is to be regarded as another objection of a Jew. "What then? or what follows? if it be admitted that some of the nation did not believe, does it not follow that the faithfulness of God in his promises will fail?" The points of the objection are these:

(1) The apostle had maintained that the nation was sinful Romans 2; that is, that they had not obeyed or believed God.

(2) This, the objector for the time admits or supposes in relation to some of them. But,

(3) he asks whether this does not involve a consequence which is not admissible, that God is unfaithful.

Did not the fact that God chose them as his people, and entered into covenant with them, imply that the Jews should be kept from perdition? It was evidently their belief that all Jews would be saved, and this belief they grounded on his covenant with their fathers. The doctrine of the apostle Romans 2 would seem to imply that in certain respects they were on a level with the Gentile nations; that if they sinned, they would be treated just like the pagan; and hence, they asked of what value was the promise of God? Had it not become vain and nugatory?

Make the faith - The word "faith" here evidently means the "faithfulness" or "fidelity of God to his promises." Compare Matthew 13:23; 2 Timothy 3:10; Hosea 2:20.

Of none effect - Destroy it; or prevent him from fulfilling his promises. The meaning of the objection is, that the fact supposed, that the Jews would become unfaithful and be lost, would imply that God had failed to keep his promises to the nation; or that he had made promises which the result showed he was not able to perform.

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.

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.

For what if some did not believe?.... It is suggested, that though the Jews enjoyed such a privilege, some of them did not believe; which is an aggravation of their sin, that they should have such means of light, knowledge, and faith, such clear and full evidences of things, and yet be incredulous: though it should be observed that this was the case only of some, not of all; and must be understood, not of their disbelief of the Scriptures being the word of God, for these were always received as such by them all, and were constantly read, heard, and attended to; but either of their disobedience to the commands of God required in the law, or of their disregard to the promises of God, and prophecies of the Messiah, and of their disbelief in the Messiah himself when he came; but now this was no objection to the advantage they had of the Gentiles, since this was not owing to want of evidence in the word of God, but to the darkness and unbelief of their minds: and,

shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? no, their unbelief could not, and did not make void the veracity and faithfulness of God in his promises concerning the Messiah, recorded in the oracles of God, which they had committed to them; for notwithstanding this, God raised up the Messiah from among them, which is another advantage the Jews had of, the Gentiles; inasmuch as "of" them, "as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is God over all, blessed for evermore", Romans 9:5, and he sent him to them, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as a prophet and minister; he sent his Gospel to them first, and called out by it from among them his elect, nor did he take it from them until he had done this: and he took it away only; until "the fulness of the Gentiles", Romans 11:25, is brought in; and then the Gospel shall come to them again with power, and "all Israel shall be saved" Romans 11:26.

For what if some did not {c} believe? shall their unbelief make the {d} faith of God without effect?

(c) Break the covenant.

(d) The faith that God gave.

Romans 3:3. Not an objection to the preceding, but a guarantee of the ἐπιστεύθ. τὰ λόγια τ. Θεοῦ just mentioned, as something that has not been cancelled and revoked through the partial unbelief of the people. “For how? what is the case?[738] If some refused the faith, will their unbelief make void the faithfulness of God?” will it produce the effect that God shall now regard the promises once committed to the Jews as void, and Himself as no longer bound to His word therein pledged? The ἠπίστησαν and the ἈΠΙΣΤΊΑ are by the context necessarily referred to the ΛΌΓΙΑ Τ. ΘΕΟῦ; the unbelief of a part of the Jews in the promises manifested itself, namely, by their rejecting the Messiah who had appeared according to the promise. So in substance also Matthias, who nevertheless apprehends the notion of ἈΠΙΣΤ. as unfaithfulness towards what was entrusted to them, which the τίνες did not use for the purpose of letting themselves be led thereby to Christ. But ἈΠΙΣΤΕῖΝ and ἈΠΙΣΤΊΑ (even in 2 Timothy 2:13) mean specifically throughout the N. T. (see in this Epistle Romans 4:20, Romans 11:20; Romans 11:23; compare Morison, p. 23) unbelief, not unfaithfulness, although Hofmann also ultimately comes to adopt this notion. This remark also applies against the supposition of Köllner, de Wette, Mehring, and older writers, that Paul meant the unfaithfulness (the disobedience) of the Jews in the times before Christ.[739] Such a view is opposed to the context; and must not the idea, that the earlier breaches of covenant on the part of the Jews might possibly annul the λόγια, have been wholly strange to Paul and his Jewish readers, since they knew from experience that, even when the Jews had heaped unfaithfulness upon unfaithfulness, God always committed to them anew, through His prophets, the promises of the Messiah? In the mind of the Apostle the idea of the πάρεσις τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων was fixed (Romans 3:25; Acts 17:30). Therefore we cannot understand (with Philippi) unbelief in the promises shown in the period before Christ to be here referred to. But according to the doctrine of faith in the promised One who had come, as the condition of the Messianic salvation, the doubt might very easily arise: May not the partial unbelief of the Jews since the appearance of Christ, to whom the λόγια referred, possibly cancel the divine utterances of promise committed to the nation? Notwithstanding the simple and definite conception of ἀπιστεῖν throughout the N. T., Hofmann here multiplies the ideas embraced so as to include as well disobedience to the law as unbelief towards the Gospel and unbelief towards the prophetic word of promise—a grouping together of very different significations, which is the consequence of the erroneous and far too wide sense assigned to the λόγια τ. Θεοῦ.

τὴν πίστιν τ. Θεοῦ] The genitive is necessarily determined to be the genitive of the subject, partly by ἡ ἀπιστία αὐτῶν, partly by Romans 3:4, and partly by Θεοῦ δικαιοσ. in Romans 3:5. Therefore: the fides Dei in keeping the λόγια, keeping His word, in virtue of which He does not abandon His promises to His people.[740] Compare 2 Timothy 2:13, and the frequent πιστὸς ὁ Θεός, 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 1:18 al[741]

Observe further that Paul designates the unbelievers only by τινές, some, which is not contemptuous or ironical (Tholuck, Philippi; compare Bengel), nor intended as a milder expression (Grotius), but is rather employed to place in a stronger light the negation of the effect under discussion; and, considering the relative import of τινές, it is not at variance with the truth, for although there were many (τινές καὶ πολλοί γε, Plat. Phaed. p. 58 D), still they were not all. Compare Romans 11:17, and on 1 Corinthians 10:7; Krüger, § 51, 16, 14.

[738] τί γάρ; compare Php 1:18. Elz., Bengel, and Lachm. place the sign of interrogation after τινές. Van Hengel follows them, also Th. Schott and Hofmann. It is impossible to decide the question. Still, even in classic authors, the τί γάρ; standing alone is frequent, “ubi quis cum alacritate quadam ad novam sententiam transgreditur,” Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. ii. 6, 2; Jacobs, ad Del. epigr. vi. 60; Baeumlein, Partik. p. 73 f.

[739] Especially would τίνες be quite unsuitable, because it would be absolutely untrue. All were disobedient and unfaithful. See ver. 9 ff.

[740] It is the fides, qua Deus promissis stat, not in reality different from the idea of the ἀληθής in ver. 4. The word πίστις, however, is selected as the correlative of ἀπιστία. Despite the Jewish ἀπιστία it continues the case, not that God has been πίστος (in that, namely, He has spoken among the people, Hofmann thinks), but that He is πίστος, in that, namely, He does not allow Himself to be moved by that ἀπιστία τινων to become likewise ἄπιστος, which He would be, if He left His own λόγια committed to the Jews unfulfilled. He will not allow this case of the annulling of His πίστις to occur. Compare 2 Timothy 2:13.

[741] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

Romans 3:3 f. τί γάρ; For how? i.e., Well then, how stands the case? Cf. Php 1:18. εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες = if some did disbelieve. It is not necessary to render this, with reference to ἐπιστεύθησαν in Romans 3:2, “if some proved faithless to their trust”. What is in Paul’s mind is that “the oracles of God” have had their fulfilment in Christ, and that those to whom they were entrusted have in some cases (whether few or many he does not here consider) refused their faith to that fulfilment. Surely it is no proper inference that their unbelief must make God’s faithfulness of no effect. He has kept His promise, and as far as it lay with Him has maintained the original advantage of the Jews, as depositaries and first inheritors of that promise, whatever reception they may have given to its fulfilment. Away with the thought of any reflection upon Him! When the case is stated between God and man there can only be one conclusion: let God come out (γινέσθω) true, and every man a liar; let Him be just, and every man condemned. This agrees with the words of Scripture itself in Psalms 51 (50):6, which Paul quotes exactly after the LXX: the Hebrew is distinctly different, but neither it nor the original context are regarded. ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου is a translation of Hebrew words which mean “when Thou speakest,” i.e., apparently, when Thou pronouncest sentence upon man; here the sense must be, “that Thou mayest be pronounced just in respect of what Thou hast spoken,” i.e., the λόγια, the oracles or promises entrusted to Israel, νικήσεις: win thy case (see note on text). Burton, Moods and Tenses, §§ 198, 199. ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε: Probably the infinitive is passive: “when thou art judged”; not middle, “when thou submittest thy case to the judge”. The quotation from Psalm 115:2, πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης, is not important: the main thing, as the formal quotation which follows shows, is the vindication of God from the charge of breach of faith with the Jews in making Christianity the fulfilment of His promises to them.

3. For what] Here a formula of argument, introducing an objection.

if some] A euphemism, most natural in the words of a supposed Jewish Opponent. As a fact, it was the “some” who believed, the many who did not; as of old at Kadesh-barnea. (Numbers 13, 14.)

the faith of God] i.e. His good faith, faithfulness to His promise. The same Gr. word appears with the meaning “faithfulness” in e.g. Galatians 5:22 (where E. V. has “faith”), Titus 2:10, and perhaps 1 Timothy 4:12.—See Appendix C.

3–8. The Divine Judge will not connive at sin

3–8. For what if some, &c.] Romans 3:3-8 form a passage of much difficulty in detail, though clear as a whole. The difficulty results partly from a doubt as to where the Opponent speaks, and partly from the Apostle’s own thought modifying the words put into the Opponent’s mouth. It will be best to waive a minute discussion of interpretations, and at once to give our own in the shape of a paraphrase.

Romans 3:3. (The Jewish Opponent). “You say the Jew has advantage. He has indeed: God’s veracity (truth, faithfulness) is pledged to give him eternal life. For can we think that the unfaithfulness of some Jews to God annuls His faithfulness to the race? Will He fail in His purpose?”

Romans 3:4. (The Apostle.) “God forbid! Rather should we admit any charge of untruth against man, than the least against God. So David saw, and wrote, in his confession of his own sin; his main thought was (Psalm 51:4) that he would even own the very worst against himself, that God might be seen to punish him justly.”

Romans 3:5. (The Opponent.) “But hear me further. The sinful unbelief of some Jews, as you own, cannot change His purpose. May I not say more? does it not, by bringing His faithfulness into contrast, glorify Him? and if so, will He punish it? What say you of His justice or injustice in visiting even wicked Jews with wrath?”

Romans 3:6-8. (The Apostle.) “I say, God forbid the thought that He will not punish them. For, on such a principle, how shall God be the universal Judge at all? I too, be I Jew or Gentile, might say as well as you, ‘I choose to tell a lie; somehow or other this will illustrate God’s truth, e.g. by contrast; therefore I ought to be acquitted; I ought to be allowed to act on the principle of evil for the sake of good;’—a principle with which we Christians are charged, but which we utterly condemn.”

We now remark on details.

Romans 3:3. Τί γὰρ, for what?), viz. shall we say Romans 3:5, where likewise μὴ, interrogative, follows; so, τί γάρ, LXX., Job 21:4.—ἐι, if) Thus might the Gentile rival easily object.—ἠπίστησαν) The words derived from a common root are, ἐπιστεύθησαν, ἠπίστησαν, ἀπιστία, πίστιν.—τινὲς, some) [for many, most of the Jews], a form of expression to avoid what is disagreeable [euphemy]. Moreover, unbelievers, though numerous, are considered as some indefinitely, because they do not very much come under enumeration, ch. Romans 11:17; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Timothy 4:1.—πίστιν), the faithfulness, by which promises will be performed, and good will come [Romans 3:8]. This faithfulness remains, though all men should be unfaithful [unbelieving]; it remains, chiefly in respect of believers. They who deny universal grace, have but little [perception or] knowledge of the faithfulness of God in respect to unbelievers. With respect even to the reprobate, the antecedent will of God ought, indeed, to be held as of great account; for what they have not, they, nevertheless, might have had; and this very circumstance confers upon them an altogether great privilege; and even though they do not perceive it to be so [or uphold it], still this peculiar advantage [Romans 3:1, τὸ περισσόν] remains, that the glory of God, and the glory of the faithfulness of God, are illustrated in them. Comp. the expression, hath abounded, Romans 3:7. This, the peculiar advantage, is not to be held as of no account. The apostle, when he would vindicate our faith, with great propriety praises the faithfulness of God. Comp. 2 Timothy 2:13.—καταργήσει; shall it make of no effect?) The future, employed with great force in a negative address. The faithfulness of God is unchangeable.

Verse 3. - For what if some (τινες. The expression does net denote whether many or few; it only avoids assertion of universality of unbelief (cf. Romans 11:17; 1 Corinthians 10:7), though it is implied in the following verso that, even if it had been universal, the argument would stand) did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? Alford renders ἠπίστησαν "were unfaithful," taking it in the sense of being "unfaithful to the covenant, the very condition of which was to walk in the ways of the Lord, and observe his statutes;" and this on the ground that the apostle is not as yet speaking of faith or the want of it, but, in accordance with the idea of the preceding chapter, of ἀδίκια (ver. 5) and moral guilt. But the meaning of words must not be forced to meet the views of interpreters; and we observe that ἀπιστεῖν and ἀπιστία are ever elsewhere used in their proper sense to denote want of faith (cf. Matthew 13:58; Matthew 17:20; Mark 6:6; Mark 16:11, 14, 16; Luke 14:11, 41; Acts 27:24; Romans 4:20; Romans 11:20, 23; 1 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:13). Still, it is to be observed that in the passage before us ἀπιστία in man is opposed to πίστις in God, so as to suggest a more general sense of ἀπιστία than mere unbelief. In view of this opposition, we may adopt the rendering of the whole passage in the Revised Version: "What if some were without faith? Shall their want of faith," etc.? Meyer and others, understanding (as said above) by λόγια the Divine oracles which were prophetic of Christ, refer ἠπίστησαν exclusively to the disbelief in him on the part of the majority of the Jews at the time of writing. But the aorist tense of the verb, as well as the context, is against the idea of such reference, at any rate exclusively. The context, both in ch. 2. and the latter part of this chapter after ver. 9, certainly suggests rather reference to the failure of the Jews throughout their history to realize the advantage of their privileged position; and this failure might properly be attributed to their want of faith, to the καρτδία πονηρὰ ἀπιστίας (Hebrews 3:12), cf. Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 4:2, together with Romans 4:11. Ἀπιστία in these passages is regarded as the root of ἀπειθεία. On the other hand, the whole drift of ch. 11. in this Epistle - where the present ἀπιστία of the chosen people shown in their rejection of the gospel is spoken of as not hindering, but furthering, the righteous purpose of God, and redounding in the end to his glory - suggests a like reference here. And it may have been in the apostle's mind, though, for the reasons above given, it can hardly be the only one in the passage before us. Romans 3:3Did not believe (ἠπίστησαν)

Rev., were without faith. Not, as some, were unfaithful, which is contrary to New Testament usage. See Mark 16:11, Mark 16:16; Luke 24:11, Luke 24:41; Acts 28:24; Romans 4:20, etc. The Rev. rendering is preferable, as bringing out the paronomasia between the Greek words: were without faith; their want of faith; the faithfulness of God.

Faith of God

Better, as Rev., faithfulness; the good faith of God; His fidelity to His promises. For this sense see on Matthew 23:23. Compare Titus 2:10, and see on faithful, 1 John 1:9; see on Revelation 1:5; see on Revelation 3:14. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 1:18.

Make without effect (καταργήσει)

See on Luke 13:7. The word occurs twenty-five times in Paul, and is variously rendered in A.V. make void, destroy, loose, bring to nought, fail, vanish away, put away, put down, abolish, cease. The radical meaning is to make inert or idle. Dr. Morison acutely observes that it negatives the idea of agency or operation, rather than of result or effect. It is rather to make inefficient than to make without effect. So in Luke 13:7, why should the tree be allowed to make the ground idle? 1 Corinthians 13:8, prophecies shall fail, or have no more work to do. 2 Timothy 1:10 Christ abolished death. There is no more work for it. Romans 6:6, the body of sin is rendered inactive. Romans 3:31, Do we deprive the law of its work - render it a dead letter?

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