Romans 3:1-20  (Part 1)
A Response to the Jews

The book of Romans is a book that explains the good message known as the gospel.  

When we come to chapter 3.1-20, Paul continues this thought that the Jews were sinners just like the Gentiles and needed the gospel.  

In chapter 2, the author sets out to show that the there is no partiality with God  (Rom. 2.11).  It makes no difference to God whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.  If you are righteous, God will accept you.  If you are a sinner, God will reject you.  When we come to chapter 3, we find one  this thought continued.  

As you read and study the first 20 verses of Romans 3, you are going to notice a lot of rhetorical questions being asked to show that God does not show partiality.  If you are a Jew and you sin, God will punish you.  If you are a Gentile and you sin, God will punish you.  

There were some among the Jews who were questioning Paul's conclusions.  Paul told the Jews in chapter 2 that they were just as guilty as the Gentiles and needed the gospel.  The Jews responded by accusing God of going back on His promise.  They believed that God was being unfaithful to His people, the Jews, by cutting them off.

The answer to their accusation is that God is true to His character in punishing sin.  The Jews sinned, and as a result, God punished them by severing His relationship with them.  This punishment demonstrated that God did not show partiality.  He treats sin the same way regardless of whether one was a Jew or a Gentile.  

Is God Unfaithful in Cutting Off the Jews?

Romans 3.1:  “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?”  

Circumcision was one of the ways that Jews distinguished themselves from the rest of the world.  Circumcision was a sign to show that the Jews were the people of God.  

In chapter 2, Paul made the point that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles because both Jews and Gentiles sinned.  If there is no difference in the eyes of God between Jews and Gentiles since both are guilty of sin, is there any advantage to being a Jew?

The Jews considered themselves better than the Gentiles.  They saw themselves as being entitled to the blessings of God and a home in heaven.

  • One of the reasons is because the Jews had the sign of circumcision showing that they were the people of God.  God said, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised”  (Gen. 17.10).  God told Abraham that He had a covenant relationship with him and his descendants.  Circumcision was the sign of that relationship.
  • Another reason is that the Jews were chosen to be God’s people.  God told the Jews, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7.6).  The Jews thought themselves to be privileged and entitled because they were God’s chosen.  
  • Another reason for their feeling superior and entitled is because they were given the Law of Moses.  In Deuteronomy 4.13,14, Moses tells the Jews that the Ten Commandments were given to them.  

In Romans 3.1, Paul rhetorically asks that if the Jews were just as much the sinners as the Gentiles, then is there any advantage to being a Jew?  Is there any benefit to being a Jew?  He answers that question in the next verse.

Romans 3.2:  “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” 

Paul answers the question by says that there is an advantage to being a Jew.  The benefit to being a Jews is that God gave them the Ten Commandments.  

Romans 3.3:  “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?”

Notice what is being asked.  Paul is rhetorically asking that if some of the Jews did not keep the Ten Commandments and were not obedient to the Law of Moses, does that mean that God will no longer keep His promise?  

The Jews were God’s own chosen people.  He had a relationship with them.  He promise that they would be His people.  But the Jews were just as much sinners as the Gentiles as Paul explained in chapter 2.  As a result of the Jews sinning, God has severed His relationship with them, so they are no longer His people.  Does that mean that God broke His promise?  Did the sins of the Jews cause God to break His promise?  That is what verse 3 is asking.  

What is the answer?

Romans 3.4:  “Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.”

To answer the question posed in verse 3, the writer says, in essence that it isn’t God who is being unfaithful.  It is man who is being unfaithful.  He tells the Jews that if you are going to accuse someone of being unfaithful, it ought to be man.  

If the relationship between God and the Jews is broken because of disobedience, it isn’t because of any failure on the part of God.  It isn’t because God failed to keep His promise.  It is man’s fault that he has sinned.  

To prove that God is faithful, and that the problem lies with man, Paul quotes an Old Testament passage.  The passage that he quotes is Psalm 51.4:  “That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.”

God cut off the Jews from being His people because they sinned.  They responded by accusing God of breaking His promise.  This passage says that God was well within His right.  He is fair when He punishes sin.         

We might want to go back to the Old Testament, and see the terms of God’s relationship with the Jews.  

Deuteronomy 28.15:  "But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”

Simply put, God told the Jews that if they obey Him, He would bless them.  If they disobeyed them, He would punish them.  The Jews knew that.  

Take this back to Romans.  In chapter 1, the Gentiles are separated from God because of their sin.  The Jews react by agreeing that the Gentiles should be cut off.  

When Paul writes that the Jews are also separated from God because of their sin, they react by accusing God of breaking His promise to them.  Paul answers by telling them that they are the ones who are unfaithful.  They are the ones who are disobedient.  God is being true to His word by punishing sin just as it has always been.

Is God Unfair in Punishing the Jews?

Romans 3.5:  “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.).”

When we sinned, it produced something good.  It demonstrated that God is righteous.  Then God turns around and punishes us for demonstrating His righteousness.  Is that fair?  He gave me a law to follow, and He knew that I wouldn’t follow it.  He knew that I would be disobedient.  Is it right for God to punish me?  That’s the question that is being asked.  Is God being unfair when He inflicts His wrath on us?

Romans 3.6:  “Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?”

Paul makes the point that God was doing the right thing when He punished the Gentiles for their sin.  If God is doing the right thing when He punishes the Gentiles, then He is also doing the right thing when He punishes the Jews.  If you break His laws, He is being fair in punishing you just as He was fair in punishing the Gentiles.  

God will judge the whole world the same way.  God is not going to have one set of standards for the Gentiles, and another set of standards for the Jews.  If you break His laws, you will be punished, and God is right in doing so.

Remember that this is a context that begins all the way back in chapter 2 with Paul saying to the Jews that there is no partiality with God.  If you have sinned, you need the gospel because you are not right with God.  This is the case no matter who you are.  To the Jews who thought they were entitled to heaven, Paul says that God is being true to Himself when He punishes sin.  By punishing sins, God is showing Himself to be righteous.  

If good comes through our sins and God is shown to be righteous, then why not just keep on sinning?  That is an argument that Paul anticipated.

Romans 3.8:  “And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.”

God has given me a law to follow and has told me that if I do not keep the law, He will punish me.  I didn’t keep the law, and God punished me.  God is right in punishing me.  That proves that God is right when He punishes me, because I did wrong and deserve it.

If I prove that God is right when I do wrong, then why not keep doing what is wrong?  If I keep doing what is wrong, then everyone will know that God is right, and I am actually helping God.  This is the reasoning Paul is responding to in verses 6-8.  

What is the problem with the argument that we can keep sinning because it helps show that God is righteous?  If you keep doing what is wrong to prove that God is right, you will indeed show that God is just, but it will cost you your soul.

Romans 3.9:  “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

The idea of being under sin is not the idea that we have inherited the sins that Adam committed in the beginning.  It does not mean that Adam sinned, and as a result, all of humanity is under the punishment of his sin.  

It means that every one of us is guilty and has to face the consequences of our own sin.  If I am a Gentile, then I am guilty of sin and am facing the eternal consequences of those sins.  If I am a Jew, then I am guilty of sin and am facing the eternal consequences of those sins.

Remember that in chapters 2 and 3, he is writing to Jews.  He already addressed Gentiles in chapter one.  Now he is addressing Jews who thought that they were exempt from the consequences of sin since they were God’s people and entitled to heaven.  But Paul says to the Jews that everyone is under the guilt and punishment of sin.  

To prove this, Paul turns to the Old Testament and quotes Psalm 14.1-3, Psalm 53.1-3, and Ecclesiastes 7.20.  All of these Old Testament passages emphasize the fact that nobody is exempt from sin.  Everyone is guilty of sin.  No one is right with God outside of the gospel.

Let’s look closely at Romans 3.10-18 where he quotes these Old Testament passages.  In verse 9, Paul writes that “we have previously charged both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin.”  Then he begins quoting the Old Testament.

  • Verse 10:  “There is none righteous, no, not one 
  • Verse 11:  “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.”
  • Verse 12:  “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable;  There is none who does good, no, not one." 

Several times in these three verses, the Holy Spirit guides the hand of the apostle Paul to tell us that every one of us has made bad decisions and broken the laws of God, and every one of us deserves His punishment.

If I keep reading in Romans 3.13-18, I find something else of interest.  I find several body parts mentioned as being used to commit sin.

  • Verse 13:  “Their throat is an open tomb.”
  • Verse 13:  “With their tongues they have practiced deceit.”
  • Verse 14:  “The poison of asps is under their lips.
  • Verse 14:  “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
  • Verse 15:  "Their feet are swift to shed blood.”
  • Verse 18:  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  

In these verses, I read about six different body parts used as tools to commit sin.  How interesting that four of those six body parts have something to do with our speech.  The thing that causes you and I the most trouble, and will cause us to fall into sin the fastest is saying the wrong things:  Lying, gossip, backbiting, using profanity.

Verses 19 and 20 bring this whole thought to a close.

Romans 3.19:  “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” 

Verse 19 is concluding what we just read in verses 10-18.  All these verses were written to the Jews to tell them that they are just as guilty of sin as the Gentiles so that the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, have become guilty before God.  

Romans 3.20:  “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  

Even though the Jews the chosen people of God and living under the Law of Moses, they were still not right with God.  Remember that we are in a section where the writer is telling us how one becomes right with God.  The Jews thought that they were already right with God because they had the Law.  They were the people of God.  Paul tells them that they are not justified because they have the Law.  Quite the contrary, when they read the Law, it reminded them that they have not kept the law.  

Summary:  In Romans 2, Paul writes that the Jews were just as guilty of sin as the Gentiles.  In Romans 3.1-20, Paul anticipates that the Jews would protest his conclusions.  He expected the Jews to challenge God’s faithfulness.  They would protest by saying that there was an advantage to being a Jew.  They would claim to be God’s people and entitled to God’s favor.  They would accuse God of not keeping His promise by lumping them in with the Gentiles.  Paul reiterates that God shows no partiality.  Everyone is guilty of sin, and God is right to punish the Jews just as He did the Gentiles.

To Further Study the Book of Romans:

> > > Romans chapter 3 (Part 1)

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