Vincent's Word Studies
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
Lit., surplus. Hence prerogative or pre-eminence.
Compare profiteth, Romans 2:25.
Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Rev., first of all; i.e., first in order. Paul, however, does not enumerate further, being led away by another thought.
The oracles (τὰ λόγια)
Diminutive. Strictly, brief utterances. Both in classical and biblical Greek, of divine utterances. In classical Greek, of prose oracles. See Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11. Not especially Messianic passages, but the Old Testament scriptures with the law and the promises.
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
Did 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?
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 (μὴ γένοιτο)
Lit., may it not have come to pass. Used by Paul fourteen times. It introduces the rebuttal of an inference drawn from Paul's arguments by an opponent. Luther renders das sey ferne that be far. Wyc. fer be it. It corresponds to the Hebrew chalilah. profane, which in the Septuagint is sometimes rendered by it, sometimes by μηδαμῶς by no means, sometimes by μὴ εἴη may it not be, and again by ἵλεως God be merciful to us (see on Matthew 16:22). It indicates a feeling of strong aversion: "Away with the thought."
Let God be true (γινέσθω ὁ Θεὸς ἀληθής)
Rev., better, "let God be found true;" thus giving the force of γίνομαι to become. See on was, I am, John 8:58. The phrase is used with reference to men's apprehension. Let God turn out to be or be found to be by His creatures.
Acknowledged righteous. The figure is forensic. God's justice is put on trial.
Rev., prevail. Gain the case. The word occurs only three times outside of John's writings.
When thou art judged (ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε)
Rev., when thou comest into judgment.
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
Only twice outside of Paul's writings, Luke 9:32; 2 Peter 3:5, both in the physical sense. Lit., to place together. Hence of setting one person with another by way of introducing or presenting him, and hence to commend. Also to put together with a vein of showing, proving, or establishing. Expositors render here differently: commend, establish, prove. Commend is the prevailing sense in the New Testament, though in some instances the two ideas blend, as Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Galatians 2:18. See Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 10:18.
Who taketh vengeance (ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν)
Rev., much better, who visiteth with wrath. Lit., bringeth the anger to bear. The force of the article it is difficult to render. It may be the wrath, definitely conceived as judicial, or, more probably, as in Matthew 3:7, referring to something recognized - the wrath to come, the well-understood need of unrighteousness. See on Romans 12:19.
As a man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον)
Rev., after the manner of men; i.e., I use a mode of speech drawn from human affairs. The phrase is thrown in apologetically, under a sense that the mode of speech is unworthy of the subject. Morison aptly paraphrases: "When I ask the question, 'Is God unjust who inflicteth wrath?' I am deeply conscious that I am using language which is intrinsically improper when applied to God. But in condescension to human weakness I transfer to Him language which it is customary for men to employ when referring to human relationships." Compare 1 Corinthians 9:8; Romans 6:19.
God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
Only here in the New Testament. The expression carries us back to Romans 3:4, and is general for moral falsehood, unfaithfulness to the claims of conscience and of God, especially with reference to the proffer of salvation through Christ.
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;
Are we better (προεχόμεθα)
Rev., are we in worse case than they? Render, with the American Revisers, are we in better case than they, i.e., have we any advantage? The Rev. takes the verb as passive - are we surpassed? which would require the succeeding verses to show that the Gentiles are not better than the Jews; whereas they show that the Jews are not better than the Gentiles. Besides, nothing in the context suggests such a question. Paul has been showing that the Old Testament privileges, though giving to the Jews a certain superiority to the Gentiles, did not give them any advantages in escaping the divine condemnation. After such showing it was natural that the question should be renewed: Do the Jews have any advantage?
We have before proved (προῃτιασάμεθα)
The reference is not to logical proof, but to forensic accusation. The simple verb means to charge as being the cause (αἰτία) of some evil: hence to accuse, impeach. Rev., correctly, we before laid to the charge.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
See on foolish, Romans 1:21.
Seeketh after (ἐκζητῶν)
Lit., seeketh out. See on 1 Peter 1:10.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
They are together become unprofitable (ἅμα ἠχρειώθησαν)
Only here in the New Testament: Together carries forward the all. The Hebrew of the Psalm means have become corrupt. The Greek word is to become useless. Compare John 15:6.
Only in Paul's writings. The radical idea of the word is profitableness. Compare have become unprofitable. Hence it passes readily into the meaning of wholesomeness. See on Matthew 11:30. It is opposed by Paul to ἀποτομία abruptness, severity (Romans 11:22). It is rendered kindness in Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 3:12; Galatians 5:22. Paul, and he only, also uses ἀγαθωσύνη for goodness. The distinction as drawn out by Jerome is that ἀγαθωσύνη represents a sterner virtue, showing itself in a zeal for truth which rebukes, corrects, and chastises, as Christ when He purged the temple. Χρηστότης is more gentle, gracious, and kindly Bishop Lightfoot defines it as a kindly disposition to one's neighbor, not necessarily taking a practical form, while ἀγαθωσύνη energizes the χρηστότης.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Open sepulchre (τάφος ἀνεῳγμένος)
Lit., a sepulchre opened or standing open. Some explain the figure by the noisome exhalations from a tomb. Others refer it to a pit standing open and ready to devour, comparing Jeremiah 5:16, where the quiver of the Chaldaeans is called an open sepulchre. So Meyer and Morison. Godet compares the phrase used of a brutal man: "it seems as if he would like to eat you." Compare Dante's vision of the lion:
"With head uplifted and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him."
"Inferno," i., 47.
Have used deceit (εδολιουσαν)
Hebrew, they smoothed their tongues. Guile is contrasted with violence in the previous clause. Wyc., with their tongues they did guilingly. The imperfect tense denotes perseverance in their hypocritical professions.
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Their feet are swift to shed blood:
Destruction and misery are in their ways:
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
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.
Often in Paul, of a thing generally conceded.
Saith - speaketh (λέγει - λαλεῖ)
See on Matthew 28:18. The former contemplates the substance, the latter the expression of the law.
May be stopped (φραγῇ)
Lit., fenced up. The effect of overwhelming evidence upon an accused party in court.
May become guilty before God (ὑπόδικος γένηται τῷ Θεῷ)
Rev., brought under the judgment of God. Ὑπόδικος under judgment, occurs only here. In classical Greek it signifies brought to trial or liable to be tried. So Plato, "Laws," 846, of a magistrate imposing unjust penalties. "Let him be liable to pay double to the injured party." Id., 879, "The freeman who conspired with the slave shall be liable to be made a slave." The rendering brought under judgment regards God as the judge; but He is rather to be regarded as the injured party. Not God's judgments, but His rights are referred to. The better rendering is liable to pay penalty to God.
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.
Works of the law
Not the Mosaic law in its ritual or ceremonial aspect; but the law in a deeper and more general sense, as written both in the decalogue and in the hearts of the Gentiles, and embracing the moral deeds of both Gentiles and Jews. The Mosaic law may indeed be regarded as the primary reference, but as representing a universal legislation and including all the rest. The moral revelation, which is the authoritative instruction of God, may be viewed either indefinitely and generally as the revelation of God to men; or authoritatively, as to the duty incumbent on man as man; or with reference to the instruction as to the duty incumbent on men as sinful men under a dispensation of mercy; or as instruction as to the duty of Jews as Jews. Romans 3:20 relates to the instruction regarding the duty incumbent on men as men. "It is the law of commandments which enjoins those outer acts and inner choices and states which lie at the basis and constitute the essence of all true religion. In the background or focal point of these commandments he sees the decalogue, or duologue, which is often designated 'the moral law by way of pre-eminence" (Morison, from whom also the substance of this note is taken). By the phrase works of the law is meant the deeds prescribed by the law.
Equivalent to man. It is often used in the sense of a living creature - man or beast. Compare 1 Peter 1:24; Matthew 24:22; Luke 3:6. Generally with a suggestion of weakness, frailty, mortality; Septuagint, Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 78:39; Ephesians 6:12. The word here has no doctrinal bearing.
Be justified (δικαιωθήσεται)
For the kindred adjective δίκαιος righteous, see on Romans 1:17.
1. Classical usage. The primitive meaning is to make right. This may take place absolutely or relatively. The person or thing may be made right in itself, or with reference to circumstances or to the minds of those who have to do with them. Applied to things or acts, as distinguished from persons, it signifies to make right in one's judgment. Thus Thucydides, ii. 6, 7. "The Athenians judged it right to retaliate on the Lacedaemonians." Herodotus, i., 89, Croesus says to Cyrus: "I think it right to shew thee whatever I may see to thy advantage."
A different shade of meaning is to judge to be the case. So Thucydides, iv., 122: "The truth concerning the revolt was rather as the Athenians, judged the case to be." Again, it occurs simply in the sense to judge. Thucydides, v., 26: "If anyone agree that the interval of the truce should be excluded, he will not judge correctly "In both these latter cases the etymological idea of right is merged, and the judicial element predominates.
In ecclesiastical usage, to judge to be right or to decide upon in ecclesiastical councils.
Applied to persons, the meaning is predominantly judicial, though Aristotle ("Nichomachaean Ethics," v., 9) uses it in the sense of to treat one rightly. There is no reliable instance of the sense to make right intrinsically; but it means to make one right in some extrinsic or relative manner. Thus Aeschylus, "Agamemnon," 390-393: Paris, subjected to the judgment of men, tested (δικαιωθεὶς) is compared to bad brass which turns black when subjected to friction. Thus tested or judged he stands in right relation to men's judgments. He is shown in the true baseness of his character.
Thus the verb acquires the meaning of condemn; adjudge to be bad. Thucydides, iii., 40: Cleon says to the Athenians, "If you do not deal with the Mitylenaeans as I advise, you will condemn yourselves." From this readily arises the sense of punish; since the punishment of a guilty man is a setting him in right relation to the political or moral system which his conduct has infringed. Thus Herodotus, i., 100: "Deioces the Mede, if he heard of any act of oppression, sent for the guilty party and punished him according to his offense." Compare Plato, "Laws," ii., 934. Plato uses δικαιωτήρια to denote places of punishment or houses of correction ("Phaedrus," 249). According to Cicero, δικαιόω was used by the Sicilians of capital punishment: "Ἑδικαιώθησαν, that is, as the Sicilians say, they were visited with punishment and executed" ("Against Verres," v., 57).
To sum up the classical usage, the word has two main references: 1, to persons; 2, to things or acts. In both the judicial element is dominant. The primary sense, to make right, takes on the conventional meanings to judge a thing to be right, to judge, to right a person, to treat rightly, to condemn, punish, put to death.
2. New Testament usage. This is not identical with the classical usage. In the New Testament the word is used of persons only. In Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35, of a quality, Wisdom, but the quality is personified. It occurs thirty-nine times in the New Testament; twenty-seven in Paul; eight in the Synoptists and Acts; three in James; one in the Revelation.
A study of the Pauline passages shows that it is used by Paul according to the sense which attaches to the adjective δίκαιος, representing a state of the subject relatively to God. The verb therefore indicates the act or process by which a man is brought into a right state as related to God. In the A.V. confusion is likely to arise from the variations in translation, righteousness, just, justifier, justify. See Romans 3:24, Romans 3:26, Romans 3:28, Romans 3:30; Romans 4:2; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:9; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:11, Galatians 3:24; Titus 3:7.
The word is not, however, to be construed as indicating a mere legal transaction or adjustment between God and man, though it preserves the idea of relativity, in that God is the absolute standard by which the new condition is estimated, whether we regard God's view of the justified man, or the man's moral condition when justified. The element of character must not only not be eliminated from it; it must be foremost in it. Justification is more than pardon. Pardon is an act which frees the offender from the penalty of the law, adjusts his outward relation to the law, but does not necessarily effect any change in him personally. It is necessary to justification, but not identical with it. Justification aims directly at character. It contemplates making the man himself right; that the new and right relation to God in which faith places him shall have its natural and legitimate issue in personal rightness. The phrase faith is counted for righteousness, does not mean that faith is a substitute for righteousness, but that faith is righteousness; righteousness in the germ indeed, but still bona fide righteousness. The act of faith inaugurates a righteous life and a righteous character. The man is not made inherently holy in himself, because his righteousness is derived from God; neither is he merely declared righteous by a legal fiction without reference to his personal character; but the justifying decree, the declaration of God which pronounces him righteous, is literally true to the fact in that he is in real, sympathetic relation with the eternal source and norm of holiness, and with the divine personal inspiration of character. Faith contains all the possibilities of personal holiness. It unites man to the holy God, and through this union he becomes a partaker of the divine nature, and escapes the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:4). The intent of justification is expressly declared by Paul to be conformity to Christ's image (Romans 8:29, Romans 8:30). Justification which does not actually remove the wrong condition in man which is at the root of his enmity to God, is no justification. In the absence of this, a legal declaration that the man is right is a fiction. The declaration of righteousness must have its real and substantial basis in the man's actual moral condition.
Hence justification is called justification of life (Romans 5:18); it is linked with the saving operation of the life of the risen Christ (Romans 4:25; Romans 5:10); those who are in Christ Jesus "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1); they exhibit patience, approval, hope, love (Romans 5:4, Romans 5:5). Justification means the presentation of the self to God as a living sacrifice; non-conformity to the world; spiritual renewal; right self-estimate - all that range of right practice and feeling which is portrayed in the twelfth chapter of this Epistle. See, further, on Romans 4:5.
Clear and exact knowledge. Always of a knowledge which powerfully influences the form of the religions life, and hence containing more of the element of personal sympathy than the simple γνῶσις knowledge, which may be concerned with the intellect alone without affecting the character. See Romans 1:28; Romans 10:2; Ephesians 4:13. Also Philippians 1:9, where it is associated with the abounding of love; Colossians 3:10; Plm 1:6, etc. Hence the knowledge of sin here is not mere perception, but an acquaintance with sin which works toward repentance, faith, and holy character.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Logical, not temporal. In this state of the case. Expressing the contrast between two relations - dependence on the law and non-dependence on the law.
Without the law
In a sphere different from that in which the law says "Do this and live."
Is manifested (πεφανέρωται)
Rev., hath been manifested, rendering the perfect tense more strictly. Hath been manifested and now lies open to view. See on John 21:1, and see on revelation, Revelation 1:1 The word implies a previous hiding. See Mark 4:22; Colossians 1:26, Colossians 1:27.
Being witnessed (μαρτυρουμένη)
Borne witness to; attested. The present participle indicates that this testimony is now being borne by the Old Testament to the new dispensation.
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:
Faith of Jesus Christ
A common form for "faith in Christ."
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Have sinned (ἥμαρτον)
Aorist tense: sinned, looking back to a thing definitely past - the historic occurrence of sin.
And come short (ὑστεροῦνται)
Rev., fall short: The present tense. The A.V. leaves it uncertain whether the present or the perfect have come is intended. They sinned, and therefore they are lacking. See on Luke 15:14. The word is not merely equivalent to they are wanting in, but implies want under the aspect of shortcoming.
The glory of God (τῆς δόξης τοῦ Θεοῦ)
Interpretations vary greatly. The glory of personal righteousness; that righteousness which God judges to be glory; the image of God in man; the glorying or boasting of righteousness before God; the approbation of God; the state of future glory.
The dominant meanings of δόξα in classical Greek are notion, opinion, conjecture, repute. See on Revelation 1:6. In biblical usage: 1. Recognition, honor, Philippians 1:11; 1 Peter 1:7. It is joined with τιμή honor, 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 2:7, Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 1:17. Opposed to ἀτιμὶα dishonor, 1 Corinthians 11:14, 1 Corinthians 11:15; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 6:8. With ζητέω to seek, 1 Thessalonians 2:6; John 5:44; John 7:18. With λαμβάνω to receive, John 5:41, John 5:44. With δίδωμι to give, Luke 17:18; John 9:24. In the ascriptive phrase glory be to, Luke 2:14, and ascriptions in the Epistles. Compare Luke 14:10. 2. The glorious appearance which attracts the eye, Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:6; Luke 12:27. Hence parallel with εἰκών image; μορφή form; ὁμοίωμα likeness; εἶδος appearance, figure, Romans 1:23; Psalm 17:15; Numbers 12:8.
The glory of God is used of the aggregate of the divine attributes and coincides with His self-revelation, Exodus 33:22; compare πρόσωπον face, Exodus 33:23. Hence the idea is prominent in the redemptive revelation (Isaiah 60:3; Romans 6:4; Romans 5:2). It expresses the form in which God reveals Himself in the economy of salvation (Romans 9:23; 1 Timothy 1:11; Ephesians 1:12). It is the means by which the redemptive work is carried on; for instance, in calling, 2 Peter 1:3; in raising up Christ and believers with Him to newness of life, Romans 6:4; in imparting strength to believers, Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:11; as the goal of Christian hope, Romans 5:2; Romans 8:18, Romans 8:21; Titus 2:13. It appears prominently in the work of Christ - the outraying of the Father's glory (Hebrews 1:3), especially in John. See John 1:14; John 2:11, etc.
The sense of the phrase here is: they are coming short of the honor or approbation which God bestows. The point under discussion is the want of righteousness. Unbelievers, or mere legalists, do not approve themselves before God by the righteousness which is of the law. They come short of the approbation which is extended only to those who are justified by faith.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
The fact that they are justified in this extraordinary way shows that they must have sinned.
See on Luke 1:30.
From ἀπολυτρόω to redeem by paying the λύτρον price. Mostly in Paul. See Luke 21:28; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:35. The distinction must be carefully maintained between this word and λύτρον ransom. The Vulgate, by translating both redemptio, confounds the work of Christ with its result. Christ's death is nowhere styled λύτρωσις redemption. His death is the λύτρον ransom, figuratively, not literally, in the sense of a compensation; the medium of the redemption, answering to the fact that Christ gave Himself for us.
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;
Set forth (προέθετο)
Publicly, openly (πρό); correlated with to declare. He brought Him forth and put Him before the public. Bengel, "placed before the eyes of all;" unlike the ark of the covenant which was veiled and approached only by the high-priest. The word is used by Herodotus of exposing corpses (v. 8); by Thucydides of exposing the bones of the dead (ii. 34). Compare the shew-bread, the loaves of the setting-forth (τῆς προθεσέως). See on Mark 2:26. Paul refers not to preaching, but to the work of atonement itself, in which God's righteousness is displayed. Some render purposed or determined, as Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9, and according to the usual meaning of πρόθεσις purpose, in the New Testament. But the meaning adopted here is fixed by to declare.
This word is most important, since it is the key to the conception of Christ's atoning work. In the New Testament it occurs only here and Hebrews 9:5; and must be studied in connection with the following kindred words: ἱλάσκομαι which occurs in the New Testament only Luke 18:13, God be merciful, and Hebrews 2:17, to make reconciliation. Ἱλασμός twice, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; in both cases rendered propitiation. The compound ἐξιλάσκομαι, which is not found in the New Testament, but is frequent in the Septuagint and is rendered purge, cleanse, reconcile, make atonement.
Septuagint usage. These words mostly represent the Hebrew verb kaphar to cover or conceal, and its derivatives. With only seven exceptions, out of about sixty or seventy passages in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew is translated by atone or atonement, the Septuagint employs some part or derivative of ἱλάσκομαι or ἐξιλάσκομαι or Ἱλασμός or ἐξιλασμός is the usual Septuagint translation for kippurim covering for sin, A.V., atonement. Thus sin-offerings of atonement; day of atonement; ram of the atonement. See Exodus 29:36; Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 5:8, etc. They are also used for chattath sin-offering, Ezekiel 44:27; Ezekiel 45:19; and for selichah forgiveness. Psalm 129:4; Daniel 9:9.
These words are always used absolutely, without anything to mark the offense or the person propitiated.
Ἱλάσκομαι, which is comparatively rare, occurs as a translation of kipher to cover sin, Psalm 65:3; Psalm 78:38; Psalm 79:9; A.V., purge away, forgive, pardon. Of salach, to bear away as a burden, 2 Kings 5:18; Psalm 25:11 : A.V., forgive, pardon. It is used with the accusative (direct objective) case, marking the sin, or with the dative (indirect objective), as be conciliated to our sins.
Ἑξιλάσκομαι mostly represents kipher to cover, and is more common than the simple verb. Thus, purge the altar, Ezekiel 43:26; cleanse the sanctuary, Ezekiel 45:20; reconcile the house, Daniel 9:24. It is found with the accusative case of that which is cleansed; with the preposition περί concerning, as "for your sin," Exodus 32:30; with the preposition ὑπέρ on behalf of A.V., for, Ezekiel 45:17; absolutely, to make an atonement, Leviticus 16:17; with the preposition ἀπό from, as "cleansed from the blood," Numbers 35:33. There are but two instances of the accusative of the person propitiated: appease him, Genesis 32:20; pray before (propitiate) the Lord, Zechariah 7:2.
Ἱλαστηριον, A.V., propitiation, is almost always used in the Old Testament of the mercy-seat or golden cover of the ark, and this is its meaning in Hebrews 9:5, the only other passage of the New Testament in which it is found. In Ezekiel 43:14, Ezekiel 43:17, Ezekiel 43:20, it means a ledge round a large altar, and is rendered settle in A.V.; Rev., ledge, in margin.
This term has been unduly pressed into the sense of explanatory sacrifice. In the case of the kindred verbs, the dominant Old-Testament sense is not propitiation in the sense of something offered to placate or appease anger; but atonement or reconciliation, through the covering, and so getting rid of the sin which stands between God and man. The thrust of the idea is upon the sin or uncleanness, not upon the offended party. Hence the frequent interchange with ἀγιάζω to sanctify, and καθαρίζω to cleanse. See Ezekiel 43:26, where ἐξιλάσονται shall purge, and καθαριοῦσιν shall purify, are used coordinately. See also Exodus 30:10, of the altar of incense: "Aaron shall make an atonement (ἐξιλάσεται) upon the horns of it - with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement" (καθαρισμοῦ purification). Compare Leviticus 16:20. The Hebrew terms are also used coordinately.
Our translators frequently render the verb kaphar by reconcile, Leviticus 6:30; Leviticus 16:20; Ezekiel 45:20. In Leviticus 8:15, Moses put blood upon the horns of the altar and cleansed (ἐκαθάρισε) the altar, and sanctified (ἡγίασεν) it, to make reconciliation (τοῦ ἐξιλάσασθαι) upon it. Compare Ezekiel 45:15, Ezekiel 45:17; Daniel 9:24.
The verb and its derivatives occur where the ordinary idea of expiation is excluded. As applied to an altar or to the walls of a house (Leviticus 14:48-53), this idea could have no force, because these inanimate things, though ceremonially unclean, could have no sin to be expiated. Moses, when he went up to make atonement for the idolatry at Sinai, offered no sacrifice, but only intercession. See also the case of Korah, Numbers 16:46; the cleansing of leprosy and of mothers after childbirth, Leviticus 14:1-20; Leviticus 12:7; Leviticus 15:30; the reformation of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 34; the fasting and confession of Ezra, Ezra 10:1-15; the offering of the Israelite army after the defeat of Midian. They brought bracelets, rings, etc., to make an atonement (ἐξιλάσασθαι) before the Lord; not expiatory, but a memorial, Numbers 31:50-54. The Passover was in no sense expiatory; but Paul says, "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us; therefore purge out (ἐκκαθάρατε) the old leaven. Let us keep the feast with sincerity and truth;" 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Corinthians 5:8.
In the Old Testament the idea of sacrifice as in itself a propitiation continually recedes before that of the personal character lying back of sacrifice, and which alone gives virtue to it. See 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6-10; Psalm 50:8-14, Psalm 50:23; Psalm 51:16, Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 1:11-18; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8. This idea does not recede in the Old Testament to be reemphasized in the New. On the contrary, the New Testament emphasizes the recession, and lays the stress upon the cleansing and life-giving effect of the sacrifice of Christ. See John 1:29; Colossians 1:20-22; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:19-21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 4:10-13.
The true meaning of the offering of Christ concentrates, therefore, not upon divine justice, but upon human character; not upon the remission of penalty for a consideration, but upon the deliverance from penalty through moral transformation; not upon satisfying divine justice, but upon bringing estranged man into harmony with God. As Canon Westcott remarks: "The scripture conception of ἱλάσκεσθαι is not that of appeasing one who is angry with a personal feeling against the offender, but of altering the character of that which, from without, occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship" (Commentary on St. John's Epistles, p. 85).
In the light of this conception we are brought back to that rendering of ἱλαστήριον which prevails in the Septuagint, and which it has in the only other New-Testament passage where it occurs (Hebrews 9:5) - mercy-seat; a rendering, maintained by a large number of the earlier expositors, and by some of the ablest of the moderns. That it is the sole instance of its occurrence in this sense is a fact which has its parallel in the terms Passover, Door, Rock, Amen, Day-spring, and others, applied to Christ. To say that the metaphor is awkward counts for nothing in the light of other metaphors of Paul. To say that the concealment of the ark is inconsistent with set forth is to adduce the strongest argument in favor of this rendering. The contrast with set forth falls in perfectly with the general conception. That mercy-seat which was veiled, and which the Jew could approach only once a fear, and then through the medium of the High-Priest, is now brought out where all can draw nigh and experience its reconciling power (Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:22; compare Hebrews 9:8). "The word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory. We saw and handled" (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3). The mercy-seat was the meetingplace of God and man (Exodus 25:17-22; Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89); the place of mediation and manifestation. Through Christ, the antitype of the mercy-seat, the Mediator, man has access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). As the golden surface covered the tables of the law, so Christ stands over the law, vindicating it as holy and just and good, and therewith vindicating the divine claim to obedience and holiness. As the blood was annually sprinkled on the golden cover by the High-Priest, so Christ is set forth "in His blood," not shed to appease God's wrath, to satisfy God's justice, nor to compensate for man's disobedience, but as the highest expression of divine love for man, taking common part with humanity even unto death, that it might reconcile it through faith and self-surrender to God.
Connect with propitiation (mercy-seat). The sacrifice of Christ becomes effective through the faith which appropriates it. Reconciliation implies two parties. "No propitiation reaches the mark that does not on its way, reconcile or bring into faith, the subject for whom it is made. There is no God-welcome prepared which does not open the guilty heart to welcome God" (Bushnell).
In His blood
Construe with set forth, and render as Rev., by His blood; i.e., in that He caused Him to shed His blood.
To declare His righteousness (εἱς ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ)
Lit., for a shewing, etc. Rev., to shew. For practical proof or demonstration. Not, as so often explained, to shew God's righteous indignation against sin by wreaking its penalty on the innocent Christ. The shewing of the cross is primarily the shewing of God's love and yearning to be at one with man (John 3:14-17). The righteousness of God here is not His "judicial" or "punitive" righteousness, but His righteous character, revealing its antagonism to sin in its effort to save man from his sin, and put forward as a ground of mercy, not as an obstacle to mercy.
For the remission of sins that are past (διὰ τὴν πάρεσιν τῶν προγεγονότων ἁμαρτημάτων)
Rev., correctly, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime. Passing over, praetermission, differs from remission (ἄφεσις). In remission guilt and punishment are sent away; in praetermission they are wholly or partially undealt with. Compare Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30. Ἁμάρτημα sin, is the separate and particular deed of disobedience, while ἁμαρτία includes sin in the abstract - sin regarded as sinfulness. Sins done aforetime are the collective sins of the world before Christ.
Through the forbearance of God (ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ Θεοῦ)
Rev., in the forbearance. Construe with the passing by. The word ἀνοχή forbearance, from ἀνέχω to hold up, occurs in the New Testament only here and Romans 2:4. It is not found in the Septuagint proper, and is not frequent in classical Greek, where it is used of a holding back or stopping of hostilities; a truce; in later Greek, a permission.
The passage has given much trouble to expositors, largely, I think, through their insisting on the sense of forbearance with reference to sins - the toleration or refraining from punishment of sins done aforetime. But it is a fair construction of the term to apply it, in its primary sense of holding back, to the divine method of dealing with sin. It cannot be said that God passed over the sins of the world before Christ without penalty, for that is plainly contradicted by Romans 1:18-32; but He did pass them over in the sense that He did not apply, but held back the redeeming agency of God manifest in the flesh until the "fullness of time." The sacrifices were a homage rendered to God's righteousness, but they did not touch sin with the power and depth which attached to Christ's sacrifice. No demonstration of God's righteousness and consequent hatred of sin, could be given equal to that of the life and death of Jesus. Hence Paul, as I take it, says: God set forth Christ as the world's mercy-seat, for the showing forth of His righteousness, because previously He had given no such manifestation of His righteousness, but had held it back, passing over, with the temporary institution of sacrifices, the sin at the roots of which He finally struck in the sacrifice of Christ.
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
At this time (ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ)
Lit., in the now season. Rev., at this present season. See on Matthew 12:1. The contrast is with the past, not with the future.
Just and the justifier (δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα)
The sense and yet, often imported into καὶ and, is purely gratuitous. It is introduced on dogmatic grounds, and implies a problem in the divine nature itself, namely, to bring God's essential justice into consistency with His merciful restoration of the sinner. On the contrary, the words are coordinate - righteous and making believers righteous. It is of the essence of divine righteousness to bring men into perfect sympathy with itself. Paul's object is not to show how God is vindicated, but how man is made right with the righteous God. Theology may safely leave God to take care for the adjustment of the different sides of His own character. The very highest and strongest reason why God should make men right lies in His own righteousness. Because He is righteous He must hate sin, and the antagonism can be removed only by removing the sin, not by compounding it.
Him which believeth in Jesus (τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἱησοῦ)
Lit., him which is of faith in Jesus. See on Romans 3:22. Some texts omit of Jesus. The expression "of faith" indicates the distinguishing peculiarity of the justified as derived from faith in Christ. For the force of ἐκ out of, see on Luke 16:31; see on John 8:23; see on John 12:49; see on 1 John 5:19.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
Rev., glorying. Only once outside of Paul's writings, James 4:16. See on rejoiceth, James 2:13. Not ground of boasting, which would be καύχημα, as Romans 4:2; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:26. The reference is to the glorying of the Jew (Romans 2:17), proclaiming his own goodness and the merit of his ceremonial observances.
It is excluded (ἐξεκλείσθη)
A peculiarly vivid use of the aorist tense. It was excluded by the coming in of the revelation of righteousness by faith.
By what law? (διὰ ποίου νόμου)
Lit., by what kind of a law? Rev., by what manner of law? What is the nature of the excluding law?
Of works? (τῶν ἔργων)
Lit., the works, of which the Jew makes so much. Is it a law that enjoins these works? Nay, but a law which enjoins faith. Paul does not suppose two laws and give the preference to one. There is but one divine law of ejectment, the quality of which is such that, instead of enjoining the Jews' works, it enjoins faith. The old and the new forms of the religious life are brought under the one conception of law.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
By faith - through faith (ἐκ - διά)
Some make the two prepositions equivalent. The difference may be explained from the fact that the real Jew has already a germinating faith from the completion of which justification arises as fruit from a tree. So Wordsworth: "The Jews are justified out of (ἐκ) the faith which their father Abraham had, and which they are supposed to have in him The Gentiles must enter that door and pass through it in order to be justified." Compare Ephesians 2:17.
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Make void (καταργοῦμεν)
Rev., make of none effect. See on Romans 3:3.