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This is a reply to the question of an objector who might have said, "Well, if both Jews and Gentiles stand on exactly the same grounds of judgment, and if God is no respector of persons, what was the use of the whole Mosaic system? Why be a Jew, or be circumcised? What was the advantage of it? Answer: The great advantage was in their being custodians of the Sacred Scriptures. Many other advantages accrued to the Jewish nation as a result of their possession of God's oracles; but rather than outlining a list of such blessings, Paul went to the source of them all and named their custodial possession of the holy revelation through the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament as their greatest advantage, since that was the fountain source from which all others derived. This teaches that the greatest advantage any person can have is that of knowing God's will. By promptly naming such an advantage, Paul did not allow for one moment that God's impending judgment against Israel because of their sins could have the effect of canceling out the marvelous advantages possessed by the chosen people. Paul would return in later chapters of this epistle to a fuller discussion of the peculiar favor of God to the Jews; but, for the moment, this one great advantage was enough to cite. The profit of circumcision was dealt with by Paul a little later in Romans 4.
They were entrusted with the oracles of God ...
Josephus arranged all the books of the Old Testament so as to make twenty-two books in all, corresponding exactly to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament as generally received, and also corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Jewish alphabet. These were divided into three large divisions: 1. The Torah, including the five books of the Pentateuch, II. The Nebhiim, with eight books in all: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the eighth book of this division being all twelve of the Minor Prophets counted as one book, and III. The Kethubhim, which actually had eleven books, with Ruth assigned as a part of Judges, and Lamentations assigned as a part of Jeremiah, in order to reduce this division to nine books and round out the total of exactly twenty-two in all. The nine books of the Kethubhim are: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Cantictes, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel (Ezra and Nehemiah counted as one), and Chronicles. F2
Any prejudice, therefore, to the effect that the apocryphal writings belong in the Old Testament fails in the light of the truth that the Jews, God's appointed custodians of the scriptures, rejected them. As Halley said, concerning the apocryphal books,
They were not in the Hebrew Old Testament. They were written after Old Testament prophecy, oracles, and direct revelation had ceased. Josephus rejected them as a whole. They were never recognized by the Jews as a part of the Hebrew scriptures. ... They were not recognized by the early church as on canonical authority, nor as of divine inspiration. F3
Josephus' limitation of the sacred books of Jewish scripture to exactly 22, as he arranged them, corresponding precisely to the 39 generally accepted books of the Old Testament, was stated thus,
For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have), but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all past times; which are justly believed to be divine. F4
What if ...
is a connective with the previous line of thought, the same expression occurring in Philp. 1:18, where Moffatt translated it, "What does it matter?" Paul was still addressing himself to the task of meeting Jewish objections; and the background fact here was Jewish reluctance to allow their conduct as fair grounds upon which they would be judged. Hodge explained that position thus:
"What if we are unfaithful," says the Jew. "Does that invalidate the faithfulness of God? Has he not promised to be a God to Abraham and his seed? Has he not entered into a solemn covenant to grant his people all the benefits of Messiah's kingdom? This covenant is not suspended on our moral character. If we adhere to the covenant by being circumcised and keeping the law, the fidelity of God is pledged for our salvation. We may therefore be as wicked as you make us out to be; that does not prove that we shall be treated as heathen." F5
Their want of faith ...
refers to the evil conduct of the chosen people due to their unbelief in God, and is not an indictment of their sin of rejecting the Messiah, the latter being a subject Paul had not yet dealt with. Again, from Hodge,
The apostle has not come to the exposition of the gospel; he is still engaged in the preliminary discussion designed to show that the Jews and Gentiles are under sin, and exposed to condemnation. F6
This verse continues in the main line of Paul's theme in Romans, a demonstration of the righteousness of God, that is, of the righteousness that marks God's character; and, therefore, to the insinuation that God would be unfaithful if he refused (on the basis of human sin) to convey eternal salvation to the Jews, the allegation that such a refusal would make God blameworthy - to all such thoughts, Paul bluntly replied, "God forbid! "Be it not so ..." is the rendition in the English Revised Version (1885) margin, and it means "Certainly not!" It is precisely the faithfulness of God that does deny to wicked men the fulfillment of God's promises to them, which promises were from the first and always, contingent upon human faithfulness. As Macknight pointed out:
To understand this, 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 heathens, if they became unbelieving and disobedient (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 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. F7
Let God be true, but every man a liar ...
means "Let it be obvious that God is true, in spite of the fact that every man may prove to be false." God is eternally true and righteous; and, upon those occasions when God judges people guilty of sin and unworthy of his benefits, it is because they are so. It was the major premise underlying the great life of Abraham that God will always do right, regardless of human behavior. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" was Abraham's great question, addressed to God in prayer, and understood in that context as an affirmation that "Of course, the Judge of all the earth will always do right" (Genesis 18:25). This disposition to justify God under all circumstances, Paul illustrated, as Hodge pointed out,
By the conduct and language of David who acknowledged the justice of God even in his own condemnation, and said, "Against thee only have I sinned; that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and overcome when thou art judged." F8
That thou mightest be justified ... prevail ... when thou art judged ...
These two clauses are a quotation from Psa. 51:4; and the circumstance under which David wrote that Psalm reveals the true meaning of these first four verses of chapter 3 The fact under consideration was God's intrinsic righteousness; and here, Paul was disposing of the quibble that, merely because God had promised it, and despite human sin, the Jews were entitled to possess eternal life and Messiah's kingdom; he dramatically refuted such a notion by appealing to the example of so distinguished a Jew as David, the man after God's own heart, who, when he sinned, was under God's condemnation. David acknowledged the justice of his own condemnation in order, as he wrote in Psa. 51 (and quoted by Paul), that God might be justified in his words and prevail when he came into judgment. Of course, this means "in order that God might be justified "in the eyes of men," since it is the human view of God's righteousness Paul was discussing. The two clauses of the quotation (Psalms 51:4) form a Hebrew parallel thus:
That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, And overcome when thou comest into judgment.
The second clause refers to God's coming into judgment (merely in a figure, of course) before the bar of human opinion. God is here presented as appearing before people's minds, as in a form of arraignment, and as receiving approval of all that is highest and best in human intelligence. Lard's perceptive thoughts on this are helpful. He wrote:
God is judged when he is arraigned in human thought, on his dealings with men. When thus arraigned, he must always come off victor. It is not enough that he must gain his cause, he must gain it triumphantly. This is the force of [Greek: nikesis]. He must be shown to be absolutely innocent of every charge. Nor let it be imagined that God is seldom arraigned. He is arraigned in the very charge here considered; and, in countless ways, we, as it were, arraign him every day. We arraign him for creating us capable of sin, for exposing us to temptation, for subjecting us to death for another's sin, for appointing us to a life of hardship, for requiring us to be holy in the midst of great trials, for not revealing to us more of the future - on these counts, and many more, we arraign him. Not that we formally arraign him and accuse him of wrong; but we arraign him in our perplexities, in our discontents - in a word, in the very modes in which we think of him. Not to be wholly reconciled to God is to arraign him. F9
Let all people, therefore, believe in and trust the absolute righteousness of God through whatever uncertainties, perplexities, disasters, sorrows, and tribulations life may bring. Fortunate indeed are they, like Job of old, who can exclaim in the midst of abounding calamities and throes of misery, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15).
Paul was still dealing with the quibbler. He had just proved that sin, even though in the best of people, as was the case with David, resulted in a demonstration of God's justice and righteousness. The quibble was to the effect that since sin served to display God's glory in such manifestations of his justice, it would be unrighteous of God to punish the sins which had been the occasion of advertising his justice. Paul wasted little time on that quibble, disposing of it in ten words. Here is Brunner's paraphrase of this place:
But if our wickedness serves to show the justice of God, what shall we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? F10
This quibble fitted into the Jewish objection against Paul thus:
If unbelief (as you say) does not make void God's faithfulness, but renders it more conspicuous, or serves to exhibit more clearly the righteousness of God, then God would be unrighteous in inflicting his wrath upon the ungodly. F11
Of course, there is more to this quibble than meets the eye, for it touches upon one of the truly great mysteries, that of how God can overrule sin, which is contrary to his will, and do so in such manner as to bring about the accomplishment of his purpose. In a more familiar setting, for example, "How could it be just for God to punish Judas, who only did what the prophets had foretold he would do?" As Brunner said of this mystery,
It is part of God's incomprehensibly wise government of the world that he can also use man's evil doings for the purpose of his kingdom, which is the essence of everything that is good. F12
Commendeth the righteousness of God ...
has reference to the mystery just mentioned. People of small minds and evil hearts can abuse such a doctrine as God's overruling of sin for good; but, if they do, it shall be to their ruin. Paul dealer with the abuse of the doctrine a little later; and, in view of his emphasis upon it, it might be profitable to explore it a little further. Holy does God overrule sin that good may come from it?
SIN THAT RESULTS IN GOOD
Under the great Mormon organ in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, a great pit has been opened up to give the mighty organ its deeper tones; and, similarly, people who have been scarred and burned in the pits of sin are generally more conscious and appreciative of God's grace and mercy than those persons who have lived conventionally respectable lives. That might be one of the underlying reasons why the publicans and harlots of Jesus' day entered the kingdom of God before the Pharisees (Matthew 21:31).
What are some of the ways God overrules sin for the good of his children? Sin increases man's appreciation for the goodness and holiness of God. People's lives are disciplined through the sorrows suffered because of sin. Through pitiful experience, man learns what he should have known all the time, that God's word is altogether true and faithful, that "the wages of sin is death"! God's teaching regarding sin is verified and confirmed by every sin ever committed, whether by saint or sinner; and this overwhelming verification of the word of God is a strong inducement to trusting and serving God. Sin also induces sympathy for other sinners on the part of them that sin. All of this may be only another way of saying that God uses two kinds of vessels in the achievement of his wise designs, those unto honor, and those unto dishonor; and the freedom of the human will enables man to choose the kind of vessel he will become; but it is not within the sphere of human prerogative to avoid the divine use of his life altogether. If one becomes a gross sinner, God will make an example out of him. God overruled the sin of Judas to make it serve his holy purpose of Jesus' being offered up during the Passover, thus fulfilling the scriptures. Sin is overruled in the lives of Christians, provided always that sin is fully repented of and forgiven.
Rom. 3:6 is Paul's blunt, almost horrified denial of any unworthiness that might be attributed to God for his judgment of wicked men; thus, here, as so frequently in the New Testament, judgment is held to be axiomatic with reference to God.
Some commentators, as Lenski, apply these words to Christians primarily; but it seems to this expositor that Paul is plainly dealing with Jewish objections; and, although there may be an application of the principles mentioned here to Christians, the passage is plainly addressed to the Jewish objector. Whiteside wrote,
That this is another objection that a Jew might make is shown by the fact that Paul immediately adds, "(I speak after the manner of men)." F13
Why am I still judged as a sinner ...
shows that the addressees are Jewish, for the Christians did not so judge Paul. Lenski's view that "from verse I onward, Paul addresses the Roman Christians" F14 cannot be true, for there is no way to put the charge of falsehood against Paul in the mouths of any kind of Christians, much less those whom Paul had never met, as a body, and who are addressed in this epistle. The misunderstanding of some in reference to these verses lies in their failure to consider the subject matter. Paul, in this place, is absolutely not discussing the abuse of the doctrine of salvation by grace, which subject he had not even presented at this point in the epistle; but he is still defending the intrinsic righteousness of God. As Murray put it:
What then is Paul's answer to the distortion he is dealing with in Rom. 3:5-8? We might expect a lengthy argument after the pattern of Paul's rebuttal of the antinomian bias in Romans 6. This we do not find. We must bear in mind that the distortions in view in the respective passages are not identical, though they are similar. In Romans 6, Paul is dealing with the abuse applied to the doctrine of grace, whereas in Rom. 3:5-8 he is dealing with an assault upon the justice or rectitude of God. "The righteousness of God" (Romans 3:5) is the attribute of righteousness. ... It is the inherent equity of God and is to be coordinated with the truth or faithfulness of God (Romans 3:5-7). The abuse with which Rom. 3:5-8 deal is therefore of a different cast, and it is significant that Paul has no lengthy refutation. The consideration that he pits against the distortion is simply, "God forbid; in that event, how will God judge the world?" F15
These verses are an argumentum ad hominem (an argument from what people do) ably explained by Lard as follows:
You Jews cannot deny that you have been unjust; but this injustice, you say, has displayed the justice of God. You therefore cannot see how he can be just and punish you. Now, I will prove that your reasoning is false. In order to do this, I take my own case and show you how you view me. I am held by you to be false to the religion of my fathers. I am consequently condemned by you as a sinner. But in all this I am wronged, according to your own reasoning. For if the truthfulness of God has abounded the more to his honor by my being false, why do you still condemn me as a sinner? If, according to your reasoning, you should not be punished, neither should I. F16
Let us do evil that good may come ...
Paul here reduced the arguments of Jewish objectors to an absurdity, as it might be paraphrased, "If your method of judging is correct, then why not do evil to procure the good that would come of it?"
Whose condemnation is just ...
was Paul's way of saying that any such notion was absolutely incorrect and sinful, and justly condemned by God.
My lie ...
means, "the lie that I am now dealing with," or "our lie," thus identifying himself with the objector for the sake of a more effective rebuttal. Since the passage is directed against Jewish objectors, the thought is, "My lie, that is, my lie according to your view of things!" Whatever the exact construction put on this expression, it positively forbids the conclusion that Paul addressed these words to the Christians in Rome.
"As we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say ...
is a parenthetical statement; and we are in darkness as far as knowing who made any such slanderous reports against Paul, or upon what grounds they were fabricated. Certainly, it is going beyond the word of God to make the supposed grounds of those slanders the basis for concluding what kind of gospel Paul preached. That gospel is abundantly clear and concise in the light of a major portion of the New Testament which Paul wrote; and no reliance whatever should be placed upon the deductions which some have dared to make, basing their deductions, so they say, upon the grounds slanderers had for attacking Paul. Reference is made to the extensive deductions of Griffith Thomas who wrote:
Evidently his teaching had been charged with giving an excuse for sinning. Salvation by grace was said to have an immoral tendency, as we shall see again in Rom. 6:1. This (by the way) shows quite evidently the meaning of the Pauline doctrine of righteousness without works, for against no other teaching could such a charge be made. F17
The fallacy in Thomas' deduction stems from the consideration that Paul was not discussing salvation by grace in this passage, and from the further consideration that it is illogical and dangerous to base a deduction upon the alleged basis of a slander, especially where there is total ignorance of what that basis, if any, was. Slander needs no basis, and more frequently than not, has no basis other than the wickedness of the slanderers. The doctrine of salvation by "faith only" is certainly hard up for support, when its advocates appeal to alleged grounds of slander in order to try to sustain it. Moreover, Thomas' assertion that "salvation by grace is said to have an immoral tendency" is without foundation. Who said that it has such a tendency? Paul declared that it does not have such a tendency and named as slanderers any persons who might allege that it does. There are doctrines that tend to immorality, one of them being the theory of salvation by "faith only;" but salvation by grace, as taught by Paul, is of an utterly different category.
In the next dozen verses (Romans 3:9-20), the scriptural proof that all people are sinners in the eyes of God is set forth in the form of a number of Old Testament quotations; but it is likely that even more was intended than the mere conclusion of universal sinfulness. The apostle here pronounced a verdict, not only against sin, but also against mankind as now constituted, against all people and their systems, even against the Jew with his God-given system, and against the Gentiles and their pagan religions, and, in all this, showing how utterly helpless is man, apart from God, in his pitiful efforts to achieve any such thing as justification. What was so desperately needed was the revelation of God's way really to save people, to make them actually righteous, and to reveal the system of true reconciliation with God. Brunner thus expressed it:
And now Paul has reached the stage where he can strike the decisive blow against every kind of human presumption, so that he can crush it before going on to speak of what the whole letter points to: God's gracious act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. F18
Are we better then they ...
is a reference to any supposed Jewish superiority over the Gentiles. Paul had already identified himself, for the purpose of those arguments (Romans 3:7), with the Jews; and that identification is continued here in the words, answer is taken from the Old Testament, from which Paul quotes the sense, but not always the exact words, of a number of passages, the first being Psa. 14:1f and Psa. 53:1f. This blanket inclusion of all people "under sin" is a far greater thing than a mere charge that every man has committed some sin. Griffith Thomas' illuminating passage on this is,
Observe carefully that it is not, as in the KJV, "proved," for he is about to do this from scripture. He has charged them with being under sin. The phrase is very striking: "Not merely sinners, but under the empire of sin" (Liddon). It occurs again with equal force in Rom. 6:14; 7:14 and Gal. 3:22. This is the first occurrence of the word "sin" out of nearly fifty places in Romans 1-8. The various New Testament words for "sin" are deeply significant. The most familiar and frequent of them means "missing the mark"; another means "overstepping a boundary"; another, "falling instead of standing"; another, "being ignorant instead of knowing"; another, "diminishing what should be rendered in full"; another, "disobeying a voice"; another, "disregarding a command" and another, "willfully careless." These are but a few of the aspects of sinning suggested by the etymology of the terms used. F19
There is none that doeth good ...
is quoted from Psa. 14:1, and Psa. 53:1,3, and was here directed by Paul against the last stronghold of Jewish presumption, that of any alleged superiority over the Gentiles. This single quotation, reiterated in the Old Testament, was more than enough to sustain Paul's proposition; but he went much further and listed specific sins of Israel and confirmed each with an Old Testament reference. This larger list of twelve specifics was presented by Paul in two sections: (1) sins against their relationship with God (Romans 3:10-12) and (2) sins against fellow creatures (Romans 3:12-18), each class of sins being introduced by the quotation from Psa. 53:3, "There is none righteous, etc."
Paul here charged the Jew in an area where he might have supposed himself to be invulnerable; for, of all the sins the Jew considered himself above, it was spiritual ignorance due to a failure to seek God; and yet, right here it was in their own Bible. They neither understood nor sought after God. True, they knew many things; but they had never understood that their entire system was temporary, typical, and comparable to the scaffolding of a building, and due to be torn down when the great antitype was revealed. They had somehow missed the overriding fact that Judaism was nat designed to be God's permanent order of things. Their greatest specific error was doubtless their failure to understand the dual nature of the Messiah, the great Immanuel (God with us, or God in flesh) who would take away human sin (Matthew 22:41-45). They indeed knew what the Old Testament said of Messiah, but they split the prophecies into two categories, supposing that there would be two Messiahs, one of them the suffering priestly Messiah, and the other the glorious kingly Messiah; and it was that tragic error of not understanding that all of the Old Testament prophecies spoke of one Messiah, that blinded their eyes to the identity of the Christ when he came. But that was the fatal error that resulted in utter blindness, in a religious sense, of Israel's leaders. Christ exclaimed, concerning this, "Ye fools, and blind" (Matthew 23:17,19), going so far as to say, "Woe unto ye lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered" (Luke 11:52). They had so cluttered the word of God with their traditions and interpretations that they had even lost the key of knowledge, which was hopelessly buried beneath the rubbish mountain of trivia regarding tithing of mint, anise, and cumin, and a thousand other things. Thus the great sin here charged, and scripturally supported against Israel, was their reprehensible ignorance of God's word.
There is none that seeketh after God ...
What a paradox was this, that the chosen nation who had received the revelation of God and who had studied it so meticulously, were, in all that study, not seeking God at all, due to the lack of any proper motive, and having forgotten the warning of Hosea, "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3). Knowing what the scripture says is one thing; following on to know the Lord is another. Since the Jews were not seeking after God, what was the point of all their study? Christ himself pinpointed the trouble: it was this, that they desired the praise of men rather than the praise of God (John 12:43). Christ said,
Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
Moreover, they did not seek to glorify God, but only to glorify one another (John 5:44).
Because Israel did not understand and did not seek after God, they turned aside to follow foolish and hurtful things, even in many instances departing to follow after the gods of the pagans, thereby becoming unprofitable to God. All of the care and favor that God lavished upon them, with the intention that they should recognize and honor the Messiah when he came, and present him to the world - all that was lost. They were so unprofitable that they lost the key of knowledge, and far from recognizing and receiving the Lord when he at last came, they failed to recognize him, hated him, and murdered the Son of God! The profoundly adverse judgment of God in the perpetual hardening of that nation should always be considered against this background. They were to blame for not recognizing the Lord.
This progression to sins against fellow creatures was introduced by the last clause of Rom. 3:12, quoted from Psa. 53:2. Paul did not invent this charge of wickedness, but only read it out of the Old Testament, the indictment being further detailed and stated in Psa. 5:9; Psa. 140:3. The figure of speech here shows how utterly repugnant to God was their unprincipled conduct. The thought is that the words coming from their throats were as foul as any odor that ever came out of an opened grave. Their language and conversation were full of deceit. No credibility could be given to anything that they said; and, in this light, it must not be thought of as anything unusual when they tried to sustain charges against the Saviour by means of suborned testimony, and bribed the Roman soldiers to lie about the resurrection of the Lord. "A generation of vipers" indeed were they (Matthew 3:7).
Paul was continuing to pile up scriptures to prove the wickedness of that generation which rejected Christ. This verse is a paraphrase of Psa. 10:7; and, like the three charges listed in Rom. 3:13, deals with sins of the tongue. The fact that this class of sins is mentioned at such length in this context shows how important the tongue is as an indicator of character.
This is quoted from Isaiah 59:7 and contains the charge of being swift and ready killers. The propensity of the chosen people for committing murder is well-documented in scripture; and Christ himself addressed his lament over Jerusalem thus, "Thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee" (Matthew 23:37). In that amazing passage, Christ documented the long list of murders of the prophets and concluded by revealing to the public a murder hitherto concealed by the Pharisees, and unknown until Jesus revealed it! Christ also prophesied that the same murderous hatred would be vented against the apostles and preachers of the new covenant.
These verses are a continuation of the prophecy of Isaiah 59:7f; and here one may see the end result of not knowing and not seeking after God. Turning away from the Father always brings the defector into a destructive and miserable way of life, a way of turbulence, wretchedness, violence, and conflict.
It should be borne in mind that all these charges must be understood, not as mere prejudice on Paul's part, but as the pronouncements of the true prophets of God in the old institution. These things are what the Jewish scriptures say about the Jews. This verse is a quotation from Psa. 36:1, and seems to be presented here as a climax of all the wickedness already documented. Where there is no fear of God in the hearts of people, there is no practical restraint of any kind upon their deeds. The unregenerated man who does not fear God or, for that matter, even believe that God exists - such a man quickly proves what a vicious and unprincipled beast the natural man becomes, once he has drifted, or fallen, beyond the reach of heavenly influence. This statement is the final in a list of twelve classes of wickedness charged against Israel by Paul, every one of which he documented by quotations from the prophets of the Old Testament. That the sins catalogued in these verses must be understood as the crimes of Israel is apparent, not merely from the fact that Paul directed these words to Israel, but from the further fact of their being mentioned in the Old Testament.
Thus Paul sharpened the impact of his charges of Israel's being under the complete dominion of sin. A paraphrase of what he said here is, "This is what your own law says about you, and that should shut up every mouth which would deny that Israel is under sin exactly like the rest of the world."
These words make it absolutely clear that the Jews are the principal subject of the apostle in this section; but the final clause makes it also clear that Paul was not concerned merely with concluding Israel under sin, but all people.
That every mouth may be stopped ...
Paul was determined to convict the total race of Adam, and the devastating charges he had just sustained against Israel have the collateral effect of condemning the Gentiles as well, for they were admittedly worse than the Jews. Paul's mention of "the law" in this verse is significant, in that it reveals an inspired definition of what is meant by "the law." It means not merely the Torah, or Pentateuch, but the entire Old Testament, as Paul here quoted from the prophets and from the Psalms, referring to all of his quotations as being from "the law."
Whiteside summarized the teaching of this verse thus:
The Jew readily granted that the Gentile was under the judgment of God, and now Paul proves from the Jewish scriptures that the Jew likewise was under the judgment of God. F20
A glance at the English Revised Version (1885) margin shows that Paul here used a word for "law" that seems to be broader than Moses' law, and some of the commentators have made much of that; but what is unanswered is why Paul who had just mentioned the law in a context where it was positively identified as the Old Testament (Romans 3:19), should here be thought of as having introduced another subject. It would seem, from this consideration, that the English Revised Version (1885) committee did well in rendering it "the law" here as in the previous verse. It is true, of course, that the fact of justification being impossible to attain through the law of Moses, which is the highest law ever given, would surely allow the deduction that justification would likewise be impossible of attainment through any lesser law.
Why was justification impossible of attainment under Moses' law? First, no man, as people are constituted, is capable of perfectly living up to all the provisions of Moses' law, or any other. Moses' law made no allowance for any violations whatsoever and provided no means of forgiveness for violators. The Holy Spirit, at that time, not having been provided to dwell in people's hearts, could not be claimed for either help or encouragement. For these reasons, the practical result of the law was to demonstrate that every man who tried to keep it was a sinner! That is the thought of the last clause in this verse.
Macknight's thoughts on why law condemns are as follows:
That the apostle is here speaking of a meritorious justification, by moral as well as ceremonial works of Iaw, is evident from the universality of his proposition; and from this, that the only condition on which law allows justification to any person, is his performing all its requisitions. Therefore, as in the present state of human nature, a perfect obedience to law is impracticable, the apostle's assertion in this verse remains invariably true. F21
Paul was about ready in this epistle to announce a means of justification by which man may be forgiven of his sins, truly possess a genuine righteousness, and claim the inheritance among the saints in light; but, before doing so, he evidently felt that it was imperative to remove all notions that any man might have to the effect that he might ever earn, or merit, salvation through living a life of strict conformity to the law of Moses; and the denial that it was possible under that law, which was indeed the best ever devised, was equivalent to a denial that it could be accomplished under any kind of law whatsoever. The ability to merit or earn salvation is simply not in mortal people; and that fact underlies Paul's extensive argument presented thus far in the epistle with the design of bringing all people to realize their condemnation under God, due to their sin, and to impress upon them the glorious nature of the true means of justification about to be announced.
Justification, as a practical thing, is the equivalent of salvation; but a more precise definition is given by Hodge, thus:
(Justification) is always used in the sense antithetical to condemnation. To condemn is not merely to punish, but to declare the accused guilty or worthy of punishment; and justification is not merely to remit punishment, but to declare that punishment cannot be justly inflicted. F22
The inability of people to achieve a state of justification by means of law should not be held as a reason for despising law, especially God's law; because, as Brunner expressed it,
The Law cannot make us righteous, but it can reveal to us what is wrong. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. This is no small matter. If there still had to be something other than the way of the Law, we do not bypass the Law to reach this other thing but only go right through the Law. The Law, taken seriously, breaks the arrogance of man; yes, it breaks man himself. But only as someone who is broken, as a person who is thoroughly shaken, as someone who has come to the end of his tether, can he understand what has to be said of him now as being the one and all of the gospel message. F23
Rom. 3:21-31 contain Paul's statement of that one and all just referred to above in Brunner's paragraph on the Law. In Paul's small paragraph here, one of the most significant revelations in sacred scripture, the great mystery of redemption, is at last announced; the mystery hidden from the foundation of the world is finally declared, that being the device by which God can forgive the sins of people and procure their absolute justification in Jesus Christ. How could even God devise a vehicle for the conveyance of so great a blessing? How could God be just, that is, accounted by men to be just, while at the same time passing over sins and blessing the perpetrators of sins as if they had never sinned at all, even forgiving them? How could God receive fallen and sinful people unto himself without, in so doing, bestowing a tacit approval of their horrible wickedness, thereby compromising his just government of the universe itself? The answer to all such questions is embryonically contained in the glowing sentences which make up this small section of Paul's letter to the Romans.
But now ...
These words are the pivot between the old and the new, the hinge upon which the door closes upon the old and shameful darkness of human history and opens upon the new and living way in Christ Jesus. Paul had concluded all people under sin, under the judgment of God; but at this point he would announce the means by which Paradise lost may be recovered; he was about to announce the revelation of the mystery hidden before times eternal, the mystery of "how" God would provide forgiveness of fallen man. In this connection, it should be remembered that in all previous history there was never any such thing as the forgiveness of sins, except conditionally and typically, and that the justification and forgiveness to be made available through Jesus Christ constituted an utterly new thing. Good news indeed it was, the gospel. This gospel (which means good news) was, and is still, provided for all races and conditions of people, without regard to prior privilege, not upon the basis of merit, but upon the basis of God's gracious favor to mankind, and provided actually by and through the righteousness of Christ. Paul was ready to discharge that debt to all mankind he had acknowledged in 1:14, and he would do it by preaching that gospel.
Apart from the law ...
Whiteside and others are quick to point out that Paul here used a term which includes more than the law of Moses, F24 but, as pointed out under Rom. 3:20, the impossibility of procuring justification under God's divine law automatically argues the impossibility of such a thing's being possible under any other similar kind of law; and, therefore, the translators have wisely left it to read "the law." Of a different category is the law of the gospel.
A righteousness of God hath been manifested ...
is identical with the translation in Rom. 1:17, and is, without any doubt whatever, an incorrect rendition. See notes on that place. Enough here to note that RSV, Phillips, and the New English Bible all reject the rendition of "a" righteousness, making it read "the righteousness" as in KJV. Apparently, the English Revised Version (1885) committee believed that "a righteousness" favored the popular theory of a forensic or imputed righteousness, which God bestows upon believers under certain conditions; but in that they were doubtless wrong; for what is in view in this passage is God's intrinsic righteousness, not an imputed righteousness at all, the particular proof of God's righteousness lying in this, that salvation has at last been made available to all people who will receive it.
Being witnessed by the law and the prophets ...
This refers to the Old Testament witness to Christianity and shows the intimate connection between them. The Old Testament revealed, through a number of types and shadows, the marvelous teachings of the new covenant, there being no less than four distinctive Old Testament witnesses to the identity, character, mission and teaching of Jesus Christ the Son of God. This is a matter of such consequence that a fuller discussion of it is inserted here.
THE OLD TESTAMENT WITNESS OF JESUS CHRIST
The four great Old Testament witnesses to Jesus Christ and the new institution he came to establish are: (1) the verbal prophecies; (2) typical persons; (3) the tabernacle in its plan of construction and in various devices within it; and (4) the grand ceremonial functions of Jewish religion, such as the Day of Atonement, the Passover, etc.
The verbal prophecies, numbering some 333, foretold the coming of the Messiah in such detail and clarity that hardly any phase of our Lord's life and character was omitted. The time and exact place of his birth, the particular tribe of Israel through whom he would be born, the fact of his betrayal by a friend, even the very amount of the betrayal price, the details of his crucifixion, that he should be buried but not see corruption, that he would speak in parables, that he would be despised and rejected by human beings, and that not a bone of him should be broken - and on and on, literally hundreds of such facts as these were faithfully predicted in the Old Testament prophecies.Great typical men in the extensive history of Israel were laid under the burden of setting forth the nature, character, attitude, mission, and even the name of Christ. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Jonah, Aaron, and Melchizedek, to name only a few, were all typical, in one way or another, of Jesus Christ, and all reflected in one degree or another the coming glory of Messiah. To take, as an example, one of the very least of those men, Jonah, will show the wealth of particulars by which each one of them bore witness to Christ. Both Jonah and Jesus were asleep in a ship at sea in a storm, and both were awakened. Both were involved in the safety of the vessel, though in opposite ways, Jesus being responsible for the safety of his, and Jonah for the danger to his. Both produced a great calm, Jesus by fiat, Jonah by being thrown overboard. Both willingly consented to die for the salvation of others. Both came from approximately the same spot on earth, Gath-hepher, the home of Jonah, being less than three miles from Nazareth. Repentance of the Gentiles resulted from the mission of both.
Likewise, the tabernacle, and later the temple patterned after it, typified the ultimate scheme of redemption as it would be revealed in Christ. The candlestick typified the word of God; the table of shewbread the providence of God; the veil the flesh of Christ; the mercy seat the supremacy of Gods' mercy, etc. The design and Construction of the three courts represented various aspects of the world, the church, and heaven. Such things as the great bronze altar, the bronze laver, the golden altar of incense, and even the checkered squares of the floor of the sanctuary, symbolizing life's joys and sorrows - all of these things, and many others, bore a mighty weight of symbolism looking to the new institution, so great a weight, in fact, that volumes would be required to give full treatment to so vast a subject.
The fourth Old Testament witness of Christ and the New Testament was that of the religious services themselves, things like the thank offering, the sin offering, the Passover, the Day of Atonement, etc. Thus, Christ is the true atonement; he is our Passover, having been slain at the very hour the paschal lambs were being slain; and the exact correspondence between type and antitype is so extensive as to be utterly amazing. In fact, all four of these witnesses being taken together provide the most overwhelming proof that can be imagined of the true identity and authenticity of Christ. The God-inspired preparation for Christ's entry into the world was so abundantly adequate that it seems almost incredible that Israel should not have recognized the King when he came.
The pre-Christian Jew could not look in any direction without beholding some eloquent symbol of Jesus Christ. He could not heed any major voice of Jewish prophecy without hearing (or reading) some majestic prophecy of the coming Redeemer. There was hardly any truly significant man in the whole history of the Hebrews who was not typical of Christ; nor was there any honored institution among them that did not share the burden of enlightenment looking to the revelation of the Son of God; and, added to all this, there was the extravagant symbolism of their most sacred religious services and ceremonials. This combined testimony of men and institutions, in the aggregate, embracing practically all that was of any significance in Jewish history - this total testimony was designed for one thing only, and that was to reveal the Christ when he came. The entire national life of the Jews was so totally permeated, pervaded, and infused with pre-knowledge of the coming Saviour, and with such an intensity and profusion as to approach a surcharge! No wonder, then, that Paul who was about to announce to all people the salvation that Christ had made available would have paused at this point to recall that it was all witnessed by the law and the prophets.
It will be noted that "faith of Jesus Christ" has been used instead of "faith in Jesus Christ," as appears in the English Revised Version (1885) and many other versions. There are many reasons for staying with the KJV in this place, and similar places, of which there are a number, throughout the New Testament; because the same tampering with the word of God which resulted in the monstrosity of "a" righteousness of God (3:21; 3:21 and 1:17) is in evidence here. The true scriptural justification "by faith" has no reference at all to the faith of stinking sinners, but to the "faith of the Son of God." Note the following:
The scriptures hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe (Galatians 3:22).
In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Ephesians 3:12).
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Philippians 3:9).
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16).
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Now, all of the above scriptures were changed in the English Revised Version (1885) to read, in each instance, "faith in Christ," the translators taking note of the alternate translation only in the form of a single note on Romans 3:22. Without a doubt the KJV is correct in all these places, a fact confirmed by the total agreement of the Emphatic Diaglott in each case. Most of the older commentators, such as James Macknight and Adam Clarke, likewise agree with the KJV rendition of these places. Even Greathouse, although in disagreement, mentioned some interpreters who,
Insist that the phrase [Greek: pisteos Iesou Christou] means "the faith of Christ" (like the "faith of Abraham" in Rom. 4:16). F25
This interpreter is not convinced by the reasons alleged as the grounds of changing these passages in God's word and is certain that the only end served by their change was that of bolstering the "faith only" theory of justification.
That the true grounds of justification cannot ever be in a million years the faith of fallible, sinful people, would appear to be axiomatic. How could it be? The very notion that God could impute justification to an evil man, merely upon the basis of anything that such a foul soul might either believe or do, is a delusion. Justification in any true sense requires that the justified be accounted as righteous and undeserving of any penalty whatever; and no man's faith is sufficient grounds for such an imputation.
On the other hand, the faith of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the scriptures, is indeed a legitimate ground of justification, because Christ's faith was perfect. "Faithful is he that calleth you" (1 Thessalonians 5:24); and, in the absolute sense, only Christ is faithful. Only he is called "the faithful and true witness" (Revelation 3:14). Moreover the faith of Christ was obedient. It was a perfect and complete obedience, lacking nothing whatever; and therefore the obedient faith of the Son of God, sinless and holy, is the ground and only ground of any justification of any such thing as a human being; and Christ only therefore might righteously be justified in God's sight. How then are people saved at all? They are saved "in Christ," having been incorporated into him, and thus being justified as a part of him. See under "Christ, Incorporated," below. Hodge was very close to this truth when he wrote:
Faith is not the ground of our justification; it is not the righteousness which makes us righteous before God. F26
And, as long as the "faith" mentioned by Hodge is construed as "sinners' faith" the statement is profoundly correct; but the "faith of the Son of God" is indeed the ground of our justification, because that faith is definitely included in the "righteousness of God" mentioned in this verse.
Even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ ..."
shows the principal constituent of God's righteousness. God's righteousness, in short, is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, his absolute, intrinsic, unalloyed righteousness, implicit in his perfect faith (mentioned here) and his perfect obedience (implied). The contrary notion that God's righteousness is some imputation accomplished by the sinner's faith is unfounded. Any righteousness that could commend itself to the Father and become the ground of anything truly worthwhile would, by definition, have to be a true and genuine righteousness. That righteousness was provided by the sinless life of the Christ, summarized in this verse as "through faith of Jesus Christ," the idea being much clearer in the KJV,
The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.
Unto all and upon all them that believe ...
That believer's faith is not in the first clause of this verse is proved by its being introduced in the final phrase, "believe" here having reference to sinners' faith, which is no part of God's righteousness at all, but a mere condition of his salvation, like baptism, being neither any more important nor any less important than baptism.
Its being affirmed here that the true righteousness of God is "unto all them that believe" is primarily a part of Paul's argument for the intrinsic righteousness of God, the supporting fact in view being that God's righteousness had been made available unto all, not being restricted, as formerly, to Israel. The sole condition mentioned in this place as prerequisite to procurement of that righteousness is BELIEVING, and it must be understood as a synecdoche, a form of metaphor, where a part stands for the whole, such as "sail" for ship. In the employment of this figure, the part mentioned must be outstanding and conspicuous. Thus, a ship 'could not be called merely "a rudder." Faith, being an outstanding and conspicuous condition of redemption, is here used as a synecdoche for all the conditions God has imposed and made to be prerequisites of salvation. The most conspicuous theological error of Biblical interpretation in the past five hundred years is that of interpreting this synecdoche as a denial of the other conditions of salvation.
This is Paul's statement of the fact of God's justice in making salvation to all who complied with the terms upon which it was extended. All people are in fact sinners; and the same basis for saving one, or making salvation available, is the basis for extending it to all.
Glorious is the thought that justification in God's sight is now available to all people, not upon the basis of their success in keeping the commandments of any law, nor upon the basis of their having achieved any degree of moral perfection, or even excellence, and not upon the basis of their fulfilling any kind of law whatever, except that of meeting the terms upon which God provided it. True, those terms are called "a law of faith," a "perfect law of liberty," and a "royal law"; but such "law" is not in view here.
is appropriate, because nothing that man could ever do in a million years of righteous living could ever earn the tiniest fraction of the salvation God gives to people in Christ.
The redemption that is in Christ ...
The expression "in Christ" is, in some ways, the most important in all the Pauline writings, where this expression, or its equivalent, "in whom," "in him," etc., is used no less than 169 times. F27
What does it mean to be "in Christ"? It means to be in his spiritual body, called the church, the body of which Christ is the head, of which he is declared to be the Saviour, and which means having a spiritual relationship to Christ, a relationship of intimate union and identification with him. Redemption is not in faith, or baptism, or in anything else except being "in Christ." Right here is that device contrived by God himself by which a man might truly and legitimately be justified; and it might be looked upon as a divine corporation.
This writer is indebted to John Mackay, former President of Princeton Theological Seminary, for this concept of a divine corporation. He wrote:
Which God designated to give historical fulfillment to the "plan of the mystery." That organ is a community, the community of the "chosen in Christ," of "the destined in love." In the Epistle of the Ephesians, which is supremely interested in the corporate side of Christianity, "The People of God" occupy a central place. In the Old Testament they formed the "Commonwealth of Israel" in the New Testament the Christian Church, "the Body of Christ." F28
JESUS CHRIST, INCORPORATED
Inherent in the very fact of Christ's having a spiritual body is the concept of its being extra-literal. What kind of body is it? That it is a community of believers on earth is implicit in the fact that the Corinthians had "by one Spirit" all been baptized "into it" (1 Corinthians 12:13). That, in the last analysis, it includes more than the church is plainly set forth in Ephesians where "every family" in heaven and upon earth are a part of it. All the saved of all ages are in it, because only in Christ has salvation ever been possible for anyone. The wonder of this body is that it is truly spoken of as a person, like any other corporation, being, in fact, a fully legal person, hence the propriety of saying that one is "in Christ."
Christ's absolute righteousness cannot be separated from himself and conferred or imputed to others, true righteousness being non-transferable; but it is possible, thanks to the wise provision of God in forming the corporate "in Christ," for all who will to enter that body, becoming one with Christ, fully identifiable with him, and being in fact "in him." All such then share Christ's righteousness. It is truly theirs. This is what Paul means by "redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
The shares of this corporation are the righteousness of Christ. In Christ is a bank of all the righteousness ever accredited to people. All spiritual blessings are categorically said to be in this corporation, "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). This means that there are no spiritual blessings anywhere except in Christ.
Who are those who make up Christ's spiritual body, thus being "in Christ"? The New Testament gives the following clues to their identity:
They are those who have been born again. Christ's spiritual body, also called by Christ "the kingdom," cannot be entered except by the new birth (John 3:3-5). They are those who are the "new" creatures. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, like every other corporation, Jesus Christ, Incorporated, has a seal. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
In whom (that is, in Christ), having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).
Thus, the members of Jesus Christ, Incorporated, are those who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. They are also the saved, for the author of Acts declared that
The Lord added to them day by day those that were saved, (or as more accurately in the English Revised Version (1885) margin) those that were being saved (Acts 2:47).
The true members of Jesus Christ, Incorporated, are the saved, the sealed with the Holy Spirit, the new born, the new creatures. In a word, they are baptized believers in Christ. The reception of the Holy Spirit of promise, in the first sermon of the gospel age, was made contingent upon the repentance and baptism of those who believed (Acts 2:38), and Paul's mentioning "of promise" in Eph. 1:13, above, shows that he had that in mind. Baptism is an essential element in the new birth, though not the whole of it; and the "newness of life" which belongs to every person "in Christ" follows his being baptized into Christ (Romans 6:4). There can be no marvel, therefore, at the fact of baptism's being mentioned three times in the New Testament as an act of obedience that results in the believer's having a new status, that of being "in Christ." "Baptized into Christ" is found in Rom. 6:3 and Gal. 3:27; and, in 1 Corinthians, it is written: "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (Romans 12:13).
From these Holy Scriptures, there comes the certain conclusion, then, that faith is not the sum and all of salvation; it was not even so in the case of Christ whose faith and perfect obedience wrought salvation for all; nor can it be supposed that "faith alone," defined by James as "dead" (James 2:17f), can ever avail anything except the eternal disappointment of them that trust in it.
In that all have sinned, a fact Paul was at great labor to prove, there resides the absolute necessity for every man to die as the penalty of sin, that penalty to be understood not merely as mortal but as eternal death; and God's justice will require that every man ever born on earth pay it, unless exempted through being in Christ. Thus, in the final judgment, only those who are truly "in Christ," members of that entity called the spiritual body, or, as here, Jesus Christ, Incorporated, can truly be exempted, and that not upon the basis of their faith alone, but upon the basis that Christ actually died for them, and that they died "in the person of Christ." That is the thrust of Paul's thought that Christians have been "baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3).
Jesus Christ, Incorporated, is the corporation set up through purchase by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28), the device God had planned before all time, and the mystery hidden before times eternal, and now made "known through the church" (Ephesians 3:10), and called the "mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:19).
These thoughts are offered in the prayerful hope that people may forsake human theories of salvation, that they might believe and be baptized, as Christ commanded, and give glory to God "in the church" as directed by an apostle (Ephesians 3:21).
Like every figure of speech used to convey eternal truth, this one also results in certain distortions, as, for example, above where Christ is spoken of as being alone entitled to salvation. Of course, he was never lost; but the inheritance of the saints is scripturally noted as that which they shall receive as joint-heirs with Christ. Thus, subject to the limitation of all metaphor, this one is conceived of as a vehicle for vital truth, taught abstractly, throughout the New Testament; and, it is hoped, made a little plainer in this comparison.
Thus, only the righteous, the perfect, the truly faithful and obedient shall be saved; and there will be no basis for any man to boast of having anything such as that, because such is not in man; but it is in Christ, and those in Christ may through absolute identification with Christ truly say that they are perfect, etc. That is what Paul meant when he wrote: "That we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28).
Thus, it will not be an imputed righteousness, procured by the sinner's faith, but a real, actual righteousness wrought by Christ, that can save such a one as sinful man, and then only if he will die to himself and become utterly one with Christ in Christ. As Paul said of himself:
It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me; and that life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Before leaving Rom. 3:24, the seeming paradox of how God's grace is free and at the same time all people do not receive it, should be observed. Paul wrote Titus:
For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:11,12).
From this, it is plain that God's grace having appeared, and salvation having been brought to all people, refer to the availability of that grace and salvation, and not to their being unconditionally bestowed. From the farmer who reaps down his fields to the fishermen off the Grand Banks, all men receive God's gifts conditionally, and never unconditionally. Thus, it is no surprise that God's grace and salvation came "instructing men," with the necessary deduction that rejection of the instructions was automatically rejection of the grace and salvation. Failure to comply with divinely imposed conditions is forfeiture of all benefits conditionally given.
Here the final clause is rendered with respect to the Greek text mentioned in the English Revised Version (1885) margin, the reasons for which are set forth under the preceding verses. This is done to make it clear that Paul was not promising salvation to all them that believe in Christ, but to those who believe in such a way as to be participants in the "faith of Jesus," that is, by being in his spiritual body.
Whom God set forth ...
These words reveal the initiative of God in the offering of Christ for the world's sin; and, although there were others involved in that offering, one of the preeminent facts of Christianity looms in this verse, namely, that God paid the price of human redemption. There are no less than seven centers of initiative in the crucifixion of Christ, but the first of these is God himself, the fountain source of all authority and power. This is plainly evident thus:
We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).
The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Paul's words here are worthy to be placed alongside the great Old Testament texts which identify God as the payer of the penalty of human transgression. Paul also wrote the Corinthians:
Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Thus, the profound promise of God to Abraham that "God will provide himself a lamb" (Genesis 22:8) was indeed fulfilled. It is precisely in this one tremendous fact that Christianity differs utterly from all the ethnic and natural religions, in which it is always man who pays and pays. It is the fairest maiden bound over to the dragon, the boldest Warrior who gives himself to save others; but in Christianity, God in Christ paid it all.
God was not alone in offering Christ; but God, Christ, Satan, the Jews, the Romans, all people and every man participated in it, as detailed below.
WHO CRUCIFIED CHRIST?
In the verse noted above, it is plain that God crucified Christ. It was the Eternal Father himself who "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16); and it was under the broad umbrella of his permissive will that the entire drama of Jesus' crucifixion was enacted upon the darkened summit of Golgotha. It should never be thought, therefore, even for a moment, that Satan was successful in thwarting the will of God upon the Cross. The Cross was in God's plan from the beginning; Jesus was "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). The very purpose of Christ's coming into the world was to die for the sins of the world. This is emphasized by Jesus' conversation on the Mount of Transfiguration, where he discussed his impending death with Elijah and Moses, not with any attitude of frustration, but in the view that Jesus' death was a magnificent thing which Christ himself should accomplish (Luke 9:30). The mystery of how God overrules all things, while at the same time allowing for the freedom and responsibility of the human will, appears here, as frequently, in scripture. God used evil men in the pursuit of their own evil designs, the pride and vanity of Israel, and even the devil himself, as well as the indifference and blindness of the Romans - all these things being made to subserve the divine purpose in Christ's death upon the cross. Yes, God crucified Christ.
Christ also crucified Christ, being the architect of his own death. This is clearly stated in Luke 9:30; but, beyond that, all of the details of his crucifixion, involving such things as: (1) the charge upon which he elected to receive the death penalty; (2) the exact time of his death, and (3) the place of his execution, were all specifically chosen by Jesus and ordered in keeping with his gracious will. The consent to die was Christ's alone to give; and he declared publicly:
I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again (John 10:17,18).
At the very moment when the Pharisees had decided against killing Christ during the Passover, Christ announced to his disciples that he was going up to Jerusalem to die (Matthew 26:1-5), thus bringing it about that his death coincided exactly with the slaying of the paschal lambs on the preparation of the Jewish Passover, antitype perfectly fulfilling the type, as God intended.
Satan crucified Christ, bruising his heel, according to the ancient prophecy in Gen. 3:15:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; and it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Yes, Satan crucified Christ. Who but the devil could have contrived the betrayal kiss, or induced a soldier to prick his own fingers gathering thorns for the brow of a man the governor had publicly declared to be innocent? Who but Satan could have inspired the atrocious ugliness, humiliation, suffering, shame, and repugnance that reached such a crescendo upon Calvary? If there was ever an instance of doing a complete job of diabolical cruelty upon any person in human history, Satan did it in the case of Jesus' death. The Cross must have exhausted the capacity of the devil himself for the heaping up of sufferings upon a single individual; for Satan did not merely contrive, with God's permission, the death of Christ on the Cross, he embellished the torture with every conceivable refinement of sadistic cruelty and humiliation. Jesus said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Revelation 1:8), which is the English equivalent of "I am the `A' and the `Z.'" Certainly, Satan threw the alphabet at the Master on the Cross:
"A" is for his arrest, like a criminal hunted by the law.
"B" is for his betrayal by a friend.
"C" is for his crucifixion and the Cross.
"D" is for the desertion of his disciples.
"E" is for the encirclement of his enemies.
"F" is for his fainting and falling under the weight of the Cross.
"G" is for the Garden of Gethsemane, scene of tears and blood.
"H" is for the hall of Herod where they mocked him.
"I" is for the inscription above his head.
"J" is for Judas.
"K" is for the kiss.
"L" is for the lies they swore.
"M" is for the malefactors on the right and on the left.
"N" is for the nails in his hands and feet.
"O" is for the order of the governor under which he died.
"P" is for Pontius Pilate, the priests and the Pharisees.
"Q" is for the quaking earth that shuddered as the deed was done.
"R" is for his rejection and the release of Barrabas.
"S" is for the smiting of his cheek, the spitting, and the shame.
"T" is for the thorns with which they crowned him.
"U" is for unjust trials, six in all, unjust, unthinkable, ungodly.
"V" is for the vituperation of his foes.
"W" is for water where Pilate washed his hands.
"Y" is for the yells of those who hated him.
"Z" is for the zeal of those who slew him.
- and if it should be supposed that there is no word for "X," let it be remembered that "X" stands for the unknown, that Christ on Calvary was the Great Unknown, and, in that, perhaps, was the bitterest part of it all for Jesus.
Yes, Satan pressed his attack against the Lord in every conceivable manner, perhaps hoping to the very last that he could make death so repulsive to the Son of God, so humiliating, and repugnant to him, that Christ would simply reject it, call for the legions of angels, abort the mission of redemption, and return to God; in which event, if such a thing had happened, Satan would have thwarted the divine purpose of human redemption.
The Jews crucified Christ; and, despite the findings of Vatican II, which is said to have absolved Israel of the blame, the Jews themselves, in the person of their highest court, and all the leaders of the people, with the concurrence of the hierarchy and the entire ruling establishment in Jerusalem itself, publicly accepted the blame for it in the cry:
His blood be upon us and upon our children (Matthew 27:25).
Not even the alleged clearance of Vatican II can wipe that out; and besides, even Vatican II did not absolve the Jews of any blame whatever, but removed the unjust charge that the Jews ALONE were to blame. The benefit of Vatican II is that it reversed the historic position of the Medieval church to the effect that the Jews were alone guilty of Christ's death, a position which was doubtless the source of much anti-Semitism, and which the Roman church quite properly repudiated. A careful reading of that document, however, will show that there was no intention whatever of clearing the Jews of any guilt at all in Christ's crucifixion, and thus rejecting their King when he came. The Jews indeed were guilty, the only amelioration of it lying in those true Israelites who became Christ's followers and formed the first nucleus of his church. This frequently neglected fact is the glory of the Jews. The great body of the primeval church was Jewish; and Jesus' declaration that "salvation is of the Jews" pertains with great force to the make-up of the original church.
The position of the Medieval church, noted above, was the cause, or one of the causes, of a fierce anti-Semitism which has been a frequent disgrace of history; and the courage of the Roman church to alter that position is commendable. It never was true that Israel alone was guilty of Jesus' murder, not even if all of Israel had concurred in it, which they did not; and even if that generation had totally concurred in it, no possible blame could pertain to their posterity, regardless of their screams for Jesus' blood to be upon them and upon their children (Matthew 27:25). Despite all this, the truth is plain enough that the Jews did crucify Jesus, the nation itself overwhelmingly and officially rejecting him, and contriving his execution by a cunning combination of political pressure, suborned testimony, and mob violence. Speaking of those Jews, it is profoundly correct to say that they were a fourth center of responsibility for the crucifixion of our Lord.
A fifth center of responsibility lies in the Gentiles, particularly the Roman government of that era. Like Israel, the Romans were not alone guilty, but guilty just the same. Romans and Jews had the same status in Crist's crucifixion as that of two men robbing a filling station and killing the operator, both being totally guilty, but neither of them exclusively so. Both Rome and Jerusalem were totally guilty of Christ's death, though neither was exclusively so. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judaea. The chiliarchs and their legions in the tower of Antonio were under Pilate's command; and Pilate knew and admitted the innocence of Jesus Christ and could have released him. When Pilate said, "I find no fault in him," that should have been the signal to summons the legions and disperse the mob. The military might of Jerusalem was firmly in his hands; and the battle flags that decorated the stage of that dark drama on Golgotha were the storied banners of the Roman legions. The official order under which Christ was put to death bore the seal and signature of the Roman government, in the person of the procurator. True, the Sanhedrin had condemned the Lord, but they were powerless to move against him unless Pilate had allowed it. It was a Roman court of justice, no less than the highest religious tribunal of the Jews, that consented to the Lord's execution. There is no way to diminish the blame that shall attach forever to the name of Pilate and the nation he represented, the proud nation of Rome being itself, therefore, a fifth center of motive and responsibility for the crucifixion of the Son of God.
This brings us to the sixth center of responsibility for Christ's crucifixion, a center as wide as all humanity; for, in a sense, the whole race of man crucified Jesus. In that all have sinned, no one is totally free of blame. The Cross marked the total breakdown of the most respected institutions of all history, Roman justice and Jewish religion alike failing the crucial test, No single race, group, or condition of human beings deserves total blame; but by the same token, no one may deny any guilt at all, or claim absolution from complicity in this profoundest tragedy Of all time. All people, in the collective sense, are guilty, even the disciples of Jesus, for they forsook him and fled. The human race in its entirety crucified Jesus.
The seventh and final center of responsibility is every man's heart, the taint of sin being universal. Every person who knows and fully appreciates the truth can receive this. It was my sins, every man's sins, that nailed him up. The Lord was not crucified by some world-shaking monstrosity of sin, but by the little, ordinary, everyday sins, just as up-to-date as this morning's newspaper. Christ was harried to death because of pride, envy, and scorn. He was betrayed, not for a million dollars, but for about twenty dollars worth of silver. Such petty considerations as social position, political expediency, graft, timidity, cowardice, greed, jealously, lust, and indifference - all on a rather small scale; these were the sins that crucified him. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" Every man conscious of sin knows that he was indeed there.
To be a propitiation ...
The Greek usage of the word here translated "propitiation" applies it to the making of sacrifices to gods or men for the purpose of mollifying their anger or procuring their favor; but the scriptural usage of this term is not like that of the ancients. God makes the propitiation, but, at the same time, is the one propitiated; moreover, God does not need to be reconciled to man, but man need to be reconciled to God. As Paul expressed it, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Other New Testament examples of this word or its root are found in 1 John 2:2; 4:10; and Luke 18:13. There must certainly be far more in the meaning of this word than people can fully comprehend in this life. Some of the meaning lies in the eternal justice that requires punishment of every sin. God's laying upon Christ "the iniquity of us all" it part of the meaning of "propitiation." There is also in it the mystery of the attraction that the Cross has for people. Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I shall draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32); and every succeeding century has revealed new dimensions of that mysterious truth.
Greathouse noted that:
When we speak of Christ's sacrifice as a propitiation, we do so against the background teaching of this epistle that "the wrath of God" is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men" (Romans 1:8). Of course, this does not mean that God has to be appeased like an angry man. Such a perversion of the biblical doctrine of propitiation misses the fundamental point made everywhere in the Bible, that it is God himself who puts forward the propitiatory offering for man's sin. Propitiation means that God found a way to uphold the law and safeguard his justice while extending mercy to a guilty sinner who trusts in Christ. "Expiation" means that in Christ the guilty rebel is forgiven of his sin and cleansed from his demerit. F29
There is no human experience which fully qualifies as an illustration of what God did for humanity in providing a propitiation for human transgression; but the nearest thing to an adequate illustration of so magnificent a mercy is the legendary story of Lycurgus, semi-mythical character of the ninth century before Christ, said to have been the founder of the Spartan constitution, and whose legendary justice is memorialized on the south frieze of the grand audience chamber of the Supreme Court of the United States. This ancient king of Sparta proclaimed a law carrying the penalty of blindness for violators. The law was unpopular, and the king's son, and heir apparent, was maneuvered into breaking it. Calmly, Lycurgus ordered the executioner to heat the blinding irons, commanded the trembling prince to kneel, and the executioner burned out one of his eyes; whereupon the king interrupted the executioner, explained that the law required two eyes to be blinded, and that the king himself would give one of his own, thus sparing his son. Whether fact or fable, that ancient story illustrates the administration of justice tempered with mercy, and suggests the far greater thing that God did for his human children when he paid the penalty of their sins by dying upon the Cross in the person of his Son.
The fact noted above, that God is at once the propitiation and the propitiated, is strongly suggestive of the similar paradox in Hebrews 9:11,12, where Christ is typified at one and the same time both by the victim whose blood is shed and by the high priest by whom it was offered.
"Propitiation" is thought by some commentators to suggest the covering of the ark of the covenant, which also served as the platform upon which was enthroned the mercy seat in the ancient tabernacle, such authors as Wuest, Lenski, Macknight, and Locke holding that view, with others, as Hodge, offering detailed arguments to the contrary. Leaving the resolution of such questions to those more able to decide them, this student finds the possible allusion to the mercy seat stimulating and helpful. This allusion, if that is what it is, is in line with what Paul had already said concerning the witness of the law and the prophets to the great realities of the new covenant (Romans 3:21); and it was exactly in that ancient device called the mercy seat, especially in its peculiar position above and on top of the ark of the covenant, that one finds the most dramatic symbol in the Old Testament suggesting Gods' mercy as being enthroned even above God's law. There, in the placement of that mercy seat, was revealed the key fact of God's dealings with the race of man. There it was clear that, even under the Old Testament, mercy was higher than law. No more significant truth than this was ever revealed by the typical devices of the old covenant. Thus it is most appropriate that Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the agent and the grounds of that mercy, should be called (in this interpretation of the word) the base of the mercy seat and the covering of the law.
Either view of what is meant by propitiation leads directly to the heart of Paul's teaching here; which is simply this, that Christ is the sole ground of salvation. He is the basis of that mercy which outranks the law of God itself. Here too is the basis of the scriptural teaching that salvation is free, unmerited, the gift of God, or of the grace of God. Regardless of the conditions set forth in the word of God (and there ARE conditions), there can never be any thought of man's achieving, earning, or meriting salvation. It is indeed the gift of God. Even an obedient faith which must be manifested by all who aspire to receive God's unspeakable gift of salvation, can never be thought of as adequate grounds of it, the true basis of it being Jesus Christ alone. Christ's perfect faith (as a man), and his perfect obedience, produced the sum total of human righteousness ever achieved on earth; and since Christ is the God-man, it is nothing less than God's righteousness which is in Christ. Without that perfection of the Saviour, there could have been no such thing as salvation for people.
Through faith in his blood ...
This expression stands in the KJV without having the comma after "faith," making the meaning to be "through faith in the efficacy of Christ's blood," or "faith in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice"; however, RSV, Phillips, and the New English Bible refer "in his blood" back to the beginning of the sentence, thus:
Whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith (RSV).
God has appointed him as the means of propitiation, a propitiation accomplished by the shedding of his blood, to be received and made effective in ourselves by faith (Phillips).
It will be observed that the obvious reason for rearranging this verse is to have Paul say that we are saved "by faith," which is true, of course, only if it be understood as a synecdoche. The meaning in the KJV is far preferable; and, since there is an admitted change in the meaning, the reasons for such change must be looked upon with suspicion. Both the translations cited close the verse with "by faith"; but the Greek New Testament has the word for "faith" (twenty words earlier) in that verse; and from this, we are certain that a distortion of Paul's meaning has been made. Moses E. Lard commented on this place, justifying the meaning given in the KJV, thus:
Now the conditional efficacy of his blood seems to me to be the very point the apostle is guarding, by placing "through belief" where it stands. Christ is an atoning sacrifice through belief. Without belief he is not one. We must believe in his blood in order to be ransomed by it. This is the fact which the apostle is seeking to protect. F30
To show his righteousness ...
Here in the heart of this magnificent passage, called by Olshausen "the Acropolis of the Christian faith," F31 a true definition of the kind of righteousness which constituted Paul's principal theme in Romans is delivered. It is the intrinsic righteousness of God. It is true that there is some reference to the other class of righteousness (imputed, or forensic); but, throughout this great letter, it is the character of God that Paul discussed. At the beginning of this verse, Paul mentioned the offering of Christ; and here, in these words, the reason for God's so doing is stated. It was for the purpose of showing, or making known to all people, the righteous character of God. God was not merely winking at sin in those long pre-Christian ages; in the fullness of time, God would sacrifice the Son himself, "whom he made to be sin on our behalf," that he might show just what a terrible thing sin is, and to demonstrate that no sin will at last be tolerated by God. Such a view of God's eternal righteousness could never have been known until God gave his only begotten Son.
Because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime ...
These words have resulted in questions of what is meant: (1) Does it mean that the ancients were forgiven of their sins, or (2) does it mean that their sins were "passed over," in a sense ignored, without adequate explanation of the reason for God's so doing, the position here being that the latter meaning is correct. There are learned arguments to the effect that God actually forgave the sins of ancients, but Paul's statement that under Moses law there was "a remembrance of sins year by year" (Hebrews 10:3) disproves that thesis. It may well be doubted that there was ever any such thing on earth as the forgiveness of sins, prior to the death of Christ; and, even if it should be allowed, as some affirm, that there was forgiveness before Calvary, it would have been on the basis of what God would do on the Cross, in the same way that the forgiveness of people since Calvary is founded upon what God has already done there. Jeremiah's treatment of the subject of forgiveness in his grand prophecy of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-35) makes forgiveness to be a distinctive hallmark of the new covenant, which it could not have been if sins were truly forgiven under the old.
The particular aspect of showing God's righteousness which is here given as one of the reasons for the offering of Christ seems to take into account some of the things people might have unjustly thought concerning God and his government of man. For example, from of old, the absolute righteousness of God is the basic attribute of his character; but people might have thought otherwise, when it was considered by them that God had passed over the sins of ancients without either punishing them or displaying any adequate grounds of their forgiveness. For example, when Abel died, he was a sinner like all the others who had ever lived; but upon his death the angels bore his soul away to the mansions of the blessed (called in later generations Abraham's bosom); and, as Milligan noted,
If there was a time when any of God's creatures might be supposed to be ready to charge him with partiality and injustice, it seems to me that that was the time. The fact that man had sinned was known in heaven, earth, and hell; and the fact that justice demanded satisfaction was also known. But when, where, and how had this satisfaction been given? Nothing had yet appeared within the horizon of even the tallest angel in glory that was sufficient to justify such an event as the salvation of a soul that had been defiled by sin. F32
The fact that such allegations against the character of God actually did occur in the thoughts of people is proved by Paul's tacit acknowledgment of them in their refutation. Paul's words here show that God's righteousness in passing over ancient sins was grounded in his holy purpose of ultimately paying the penalty of their sins himself in the person of Christ. The pledge, in fact, that God would indeed do that very thing was constantly reiterated throughout the entire pre-Christian era, as more fully explained under Rom. 3:25.
The purpose of the death of Christ, as mentioned in this verse, should be understood in the sense of "one of the purposes" of his death, and not in an exclusive sense. The death of Christ was of such overwhelmingly extensive importance that any single citation of what was accomplished by it could by no means exhaust the subject. As Hodge pointed out:
The death of Christ answers a great number of infinitely important ends in the government of God. It displays his manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10-11); it was designed to purify unto himself a people zealous of good works (Titus 2:14); to break down the distinctions between the Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:15); to effect the reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles unto God (Eph. 2:16); to deliver us from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4); to secure the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7); to vindicate his ways to men, in so long passing by, or remitting, their sins (Romans 3:25); to reconcile the exercise of mercy with the requirements of justice (Romans 3:26); etc. F33
To the above list, cited by Hodge, should be added: the fact that the death of Christ condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3); that it fulfilled the words of the prophets who had foretold it (1 Corinthians 15:3); and that it had the effect of drawing all people unto Christ (John 12:32).
In the forbearance of God ...
This phrase proves what was said above regarding God's "passing over" the sins of the ancients. In the fullness of time, all would be made plain; but for generations, it must have appeared to many that God "winked at" human wickedness (Acts 17:30; 17:30 ). Those long periods of God's forbearance, however, would at last be explained and understood in Christ's death on the Cross. There it was perfectly plain that not one little sin would ever crawl by the eyes of the eternal God without the execution of its due penalty. And behold how terrible is the penalty of sin, as demonstrated in the death of Christ. The personal meaning for every descendant of Adam, as revealed in Christ's crucifixion, is that God will exact the penalty due every sin, unless it shall be remitted in Jesus Christ. Sanday has this:
(One) object of the death of Christ was to remove the misconceptions that might be caused by the apparent condoning of sins committed in times anterior to the Christian revelation. A special word is used to indicate that those sins were not wiped away and dismissed altogether, but rather "passed over" or "overlooked." This was due to the forbearance of God, who, as it were, suspended the execution of his vengeance. Now the apostle shows by the death of Christ that justice that had apparently slept was vindicated. F34
For the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season ...
This is a repetition, for emphasis, of what Paul had already said.
That he himself might be just ...
means "that God might be just in the eyes of men." The death of the Son of God served notice upon all creation that the eternal justice was absolute and that all sin must suffer punishment, unless covered by the blood of Christ.
And the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus ...
As the English Revised Version (1885) margin shows, this clause in the Greek New Testament reads, "the justifier of him that is of faith of Jesus," and the true meaning of the passage is not that the believer's "faith, faith alone, has God's righteousness." F35 "Him that is of the faith of Jesus" does not indicate that the believer's faith is the ground of salvation, but that the faith of the Son of God is the ground of it. Who is he that is "of the faith of Jesus"? Such a one is the person "in Christ," who is dead to himself, walking in newness of life, sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and having been baptized into God's corporate reality, the spiritual body of Christ, and who is, therefore, possessed of a new identity, being no longer his own self, but Christ. As Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:20). No person whatsoever may expect salvation upon any other foundation than his total identity with Christ. Only the faith of Christ is sufficient to save any person; and the believer's faith, which is merely one of the conditions upon which he may become possessor of Christ's faith, can never justify him, apart from his being in the Lord Jesus Christ, and actually having put on Christ, in the sense of clothing himself with the Lord, and having taken upon him the name of Christ. As to when a person has such status, the Scriptures are clear. When does the believer put on Christ?
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).
And when does the believer take the name of Christ?
They were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5).
For neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
And when does the believer enter that "one body" (Christ) wherein is EVERY spiritual blessing?
For in one Spirit were ye all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free (1 Corinthians 12:13).
And how is it stated in the word of the Lord that people are admitted "into Christ"?
All we ... were baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3).
And how do believers die to themselves and participate in the newness of life in Christ, and when do they begin to do so?
We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
When the believer dies through the denial and repudiation of himself and begins to live the new live in Christ, what is such a change called, and how is it accomplished?
Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
And when is the believer sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, indicating that he is truly "in Christ"?
After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).
It should be noted that the English Revised Version's use of the past participle does not alter the truth that reception of the Holy Spirit comes AFTER the sinner has faith, and that it is something apart from faith; but if the believer stops short of receiving the Holy Spirit, is he nevertheless a child of God?
But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Romans 8:9).
But is not the reception of the Holy Spirit achieved when people believe, and without regard to any other condition? Peter addressed a group of believers on the day of Pentecost thus:
Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Thus, the Holy Spirit "of promise," mentioned above, has reference to this and proves that it was promised conditionally to believers, the reception of the Spirit being contingent upon their repentance and baptism (they were already believers). And may the Holy Spirit be received apart from the new birth which makes people sons of God?
And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).
Thus, the reception of the Holy Spirit is contingent also upon the recipient's being already a son of God. The Spirit is sent not to make him a son, but because he is so. But, since the Holy Spirit "of promise" (and to be distinguished from certain miraculous manifestations, as in the case of Cornelius) is received only upon fulfillment of the conditions mentioned on Pentecost, the deduction is absolutely mandatory that no person is a Son of God without repentance and baptism.
Any theory of justification by "faith only" on the sinner's part is refuted by the above considerations, and countless others. Of supreme significance is the fact that all such things mentioned above, namely, reception of the Holy Spirit, repentance, baptism, putting on Christ, being born again, walking in newness of life, etc., are possible only for those who are already believers. No unbeliever can be baptized, although he might be wet; no unbeliever can put on Christ, etc. Therefore, all of the above named conditions of salvation are conditions to be fulfilled by believers and are thus conditions
in addition to faith
which are anterior to justification, making it impossible to believe that justification is by "faith only." But not even these conditions, faith included, are the ground of justification; THAT GROUND is in Christ alone; and all conditions people must fulfill as prerequisites to entering Christ are utterly void of any power in themselves to justify. The profound mistake of the past half a millennium has been in the supposition that ANYTHING, even faith, on the sinner's part, can justify. In the passages that affirm salvation to be "by faith," or justification "by faith," the language is only accommodative, the idea being that a person complying with the divine conditions of being "in Christ" is thereby justified, not on the grounds of his compliance, but upon the ground of Christ into whom the sinner is thus brought and swallowed up completely in the identity of the Saviour. People are saved by their own faith in exactly the same sense that they are saved "by baptism" (1 Peter 3:21), namely in the secondary sense of these things being prerequisite to salvation, true justification "in Christ" being not at all due to ANYTHING that the sinner might either believe or perform, but entirely founded upon Christ's perfect faith and obedience, the true righteousness of God, in Christ. Accessory to this view is the obvious truth that synecdoche is used in all of those passages where it is declared that people are saved "by faith," "by baptism," "by grace," "by hope," etc., or justified "by works" - in all such places, it is never affirmed by scripture, though often by people, that "only" is a lawful word to use with any of these things.
What, then, of the New Testament passages which speak of persons "saving" themselves?
Save yourselves from this crooked generation (Acts 2:40).
Thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee (1 Timothy 4:16).
Work out your own salvation (Philippians 2:12).
Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins (Acts 22:16).
All such language is accommodative and has respect to the fact that a person who does indeed perform what God has required does, in a certain limited sense, save himself, no human faith or performance being sufficient of itself to save. But this is not inconsistent with the truth that faith and certain acts of obedience are absolutely prerequisite to salvation.
The foregoing Rom. 3:21-26 are the theme of Romans; it is the doctrine of salvation "in Christ." The resolution of the problem of how God can make men righteous is determined thus: God himself, in the person of Christ, entered our earth life, lived the absolutely perfect life, fulfilling all the law of God, and paying the penalty of all sin through death upon the Cross. Through God's regard for the perfect righteousness of Christ, called by Paul "the faith of Christ," a descendant of Adam, through perfect union with and identification with Christ, can receive the benefits of Christ's righteousness (the righteousness of God) as his own, not while retaining his identity as a sinner, but upon the condition of his dying to himself, clothing himself with Christ, even taking his name, and being faithful to that new identity "in Christ." The righteousness which God, by such a device, "imputes" to people is no mystical or magical by-product of sinners' faith, but is a BONA FIDE, honest-to-goodness righteousness that was lived and wrought by Jesus Christ upon this earth; and all who receive it shall not be able to do so within the perimeter of their own identity, but only through their identity and union with Christ.
And what of any who might not remain "in Christ"? Jesus himself declared,
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:16).
It is thus, not merely true that one must be "in Christ" to be saved, but he must also remain "in Christ." It is one thing to have been in Christ and a far different thing to be "found in him." "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Revelation 14:13).
There is no hesitation on the part of this writer to accept the corollary that to be "in Christ" is to be "in the church." It is impossible to think of the body of Christ as being anything other than the church, as far as earth is concerned. The book of Ephesians makes it clear that all things in heaven and upon earth will eventually be part of that body; but, in the present dimensions of time and place, the church is the body of Christ. If it should be objected that this makes too much of the church, let it be replied that Christ shed his blood for the church, and none other than Paul himself made the blood of Christ to be the purchase price of the church (Acts 20:28), a fact which, by any interpretation whatsoever, makes the church an absolutely essential organization. It is precisely here that the theory of the exegetes that salvation is by "faith only" collides with and is shattered upon the rock of eternal truth. By any fair interpretation whatever, the "faith only" theory offers salvation without and apart from the church; and that view reduces the crucifixion and shedding of Christ's blood to the status of a mere murder. There are difficulties in the interpretation accepted here, but these do not touch the essential heart of it, that the church is Christ's body. What of the claims of various institutions that they are the church, the true body of Christ? What of the prevalence of so much deadwood in every church? No man can fully answer such questions. The marred image of the church which confronts all who look for the real thing in this generation is pitiful indeed; but the deformities and aberrations are of Satan and not of Christ. The major premise stands that the church is the spiritual body of Christ and that to be in either is to be in both. Only in Christ's spiritual body is it possible for people to be accounted righteous in God's sight. Sinedes expressed it thus:
When we ask what the body of Christ is, we must remember that it is the community committed to the ongoing service of reconciliation in the power of the cross. Within the community, faith is directed to the cross. The life the community lives is the life styled by the cross - the sacrificial life of loving service. The cross stands at the center of the reality of the body. F36
The final necessity of finding Christ's spiritual body in the form of an earthly community, the church, is imperative; and the responsibility for finding, to the best of his ability, devolves upon every man, who with bended knee and open Bible must seek and find the Lord.
The glorying that Paul spoke of in this verse is the type of boasting that a man might indulge in if he had always lived an absolutely perfect life, never having committed any sin whatever, and never having violated in the slightest instance any commandment of God. Such a man, if any had ever so lived, might presume that he stood justified in God's sight, upon the basis of his own glorious record of a spotless life; but in the first part of this chapter, Paul proved from the scriptures that all have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory, and that both Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin and utterly unable to claim justification on the basis of any kind of moral, upright conduct, regardless of any relative superiority over one's fellow-creatures. True, the Jew might have been closer to God than Gentiles; but, whether from a greater or lesser distance, both are hopelessly separated from God. In Rom. 3:21-26, Paul outlined the plan of redemption, through which Jews and Gentiles alike might "in Christ" share the benefits of God's righteousness in Christ; and why is boasting excluded by such a plan? Because it was achieved, not by man, but by Christ, being grounded upon nothing that people might either believe or do, but totally upon the achievement of Christ. As Whiteside expressed it:
In recognizing oneself as a condemned sinner, there is cause for humility, but no grounds for boasting. And the greatest ground for humility is the knowledge that an innocent Person died to save me from my folly. Instead of being the proud possessor of a spotless character, I have to rely on another to cleanse me from my own defilement; and this depending on the innocent to justify the guilty is what Paul calls the `law of faith." F37
Of works? Nay, by a law of faith ...
Here, and in Rom. 3:28, below, there are two laws in view, these being: (1) the law of works and (2) the law of faith. Paul's purpose in bringing both laws into view was to avoid confusion of anything that he had written with the proposition that people are saved without any obedience at all. True salvation is not of the works of the law of Moses, nor of any other ceremonial or morality system; but, nonetheless, justification is still by means of "a law," that of faith (justification here meaning "in the secondary sense" of that which the sinner must do to enter a state of justification, and not meaning the ground of his actual justification in Christ). And what is the law of faith? It is defined thus in the word of God:
A law of faith (Romans 3:27).
The law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2).
The perfect law (James 1:25).
The royal law (James 2:8).
The law of liberty (James 2:12).
I will write my laws in men's minds (Hebrews 8:10).
In a word, the law of faith is the law of the gospel of Christ and is inclusive of all that people must do to be united with and identified with Christ, as being "in him," as well as all that may be necessary to remaining "in Christ" and being found "in him" at the last day.
Paul, in these words, categorically excluded the law of faith as being in any wise under consideration when he wrote that works could form no basis of man's glorying. The law of faith, through which sinners believe and obey the gospel, excludes all glowing on man's part in that it requires the sinner to die to himself, mortify the members of the body, forsake his own identity, and become perfectly united in love with Jesus Christ "in him." The saved therefore cannot glory, for his own works are dead, through the operation of the law of faith, and he lives "in Christ." Thus it is true that the law of faith nullifies the glorying through any works at all of the sinner; and even such things as the work of faith performed under the law of faith, necessary as those things are, cannot be the basis of any human glorying.
Works of the law ...
as used in the last of this verse, is a reference to the works of the law of Moses, and is excluded, by the distinction noted in the previous verse, from any reference to the works of the law of faith. And are there certainly any such works? Indeed, for Paul wrote of the "work of faith" as follows:
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
"Works of law" in the RSV would have the effect of including other laws than that of Moses in Paul's statement here; but, in any case, the law of Moses is the one primarily in view, the inclusion of any such similar laws being immaterial, since the law of faith was excluded in the previous verse. Phillips and the New English Bible both reject the RSV rendition, Phillips even going so far as to capitalize Law, thus referring it exclusively to Moses' law.
Greathouse noted that:
Here (in Romans 3:28) is the basis for the Protestant doctrine of sola fide, "by faith alone." F38
This great Protestant heresy came about from a stubborn failure to heed a number of surpassingly important considerations.
You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).
Sola fide is thus a clever contrivance of people, nothing but a groundless speculation, added to the word of God and contrary thereunto. Dear as this false theory appears to be to so many, it seems that the crumbling towers of Protestantism should alert some of the blind leaders of the blind to the fact that something is wrong. And what is wrong? Half the world have been taught that they are saved by faith ONLY; and, upon a man's acceptance of such a proposition, why should he bother with religious chores of any kind? The commentators who glorify sola fide should take note of the fruits of it.
Whiteside wrote on this same subject thus:
Paul is not contrasting faith and the obedience of faith, but he is contrasting justification by works of law and justification by faith. In Rom. 1:5, he speaks of "the obedience of faith" - that is, obedience of which faith is the source and foundation, an obedient faith. When Paul talks about faith, he means an obedient faith. Many have stumbled through Romans without ever recognizing the fact that Paul made that plain in the very beginning of his letter. To make "works of law" refer to the obedience of faith is to enshroud ourselves in a fog of confusion from which we will not be able to emerge with any clear idea of the gospel plan of salvation. F39
For one to be justified by the works of any law (except that of faith outlined above) would require that he should have kept it perfectly throughout every moment of his existence; and it is obvious that no man could so procure justification. The great good news of the gospel is that, regardless of universal human inability to acquire justification through perfect obedience of law, God has made the perfect righteousness to be available to all people "in Christ."
Israel's long familiarity with God constitutes the ground of their reluctance to admit salvation as a Gentile prerogative, and was also the basis of their feeling that God was a tribal, or national, God to themselves alone. Paul here disposed of that bias by two statements: (1) since there is only one God, he is God of both Jews and Gentiles, and (2) the salvation God offers to all people is offered upon the same conditions to them all, "by faith," and "through faith" being the summary of those conditions in a magnificent synecdoche.
The expressions "by faith" and "through faith" are a kind of gobbledegook, as rendered in this place. Lard wrote:
The two expressions should be translated in the same words. In speaking of them, Winer says: "Paul certainly does not have in view a difference of meaning between them." When we translate, God will justify the Jews BY belief and the Gentiles THROUGH belief, we bewilder, not enlighten. F40
In these glorious thoughts of the great apostle to the Gentiles, one is overwhelmed with the grandeur, holiness, and justice of God's great scheme of human redemption; nor can the intrusion of any human system, such as sola fide, take away the joy of thinking these great thoughts after him. That error should have been imported into this chapter is unfortunate; but it is such an error that any man may see it and avoid the pitfalls of accepting it. Martin Luther, the great reformer, was the man who, more than any other, was responsible for the error; and an understanding of the circumstances by which he fell into it goes far to explain why it happened. Lard observed that:
It was over this passage that Luther made his famous translation, "We are justified by faith ONLY," which daring act gave rise to that doctrine. But Luther's act was prompted solely by his aversion to the Papal tenet of justification by works. It is without defense, either from scripture or philology. I admire Luther's bold opposition to the error of Rome, but deeply regret the extreme to which it led him. Not that the doctrine of justification by faith only is as dangerous as the Roman position. This I do not hold. On belief in Christ, absolutely taken, it would be difficult in my judgment to lay too great stress. ... It is only when belief is affirmed to be the sole condition of justification that I put in my demurrer. F41
There looms in these two verses a further phase of Paul's argument that God was righteous in calling both Jews and Gentiles "through the faith," that is, by means of the Christian religion, with no regard whatever for any distinctions at all between Jews and Gentiles. (The rendition "through the faith" is in the English Revised Version (1885) margin). Paul, beginning here and continuing throughout the fourth chapter, had under discussion, not the question of how either Jew or Gentile was justified, but rather the problem of how God could be righteous in wiping out all the glorious privileges of Judaism and saving both Jews and Gentiles, without distinctions between them, in the new system of Christianity. That issue was a "hot" one in those times; and the principal theme of Romans was directed to a defense of God's righteousness in doing such a thing.
Circumcision ... and the uncircumcision ...
Paul here shifted to another pair of words expressing the distinction, "Jews and Gentiles"; and he followed this terminology throughout Romans 4, in which these two words are found twelve times. It will be much easier for the student to follow Paul's meaning in that chapter if the subject Paul was discussing is kept constantly in view. He was not, repeat not, explaining how either Jews or Gentiles are justified, but was still discoursing on how God was righteous in calling both groups to salvation within the framework of Christianity.
This is another case of Paul's using the term "law" without the article, as a glance at the English Revised Version (1885) margin will reveal; nevertheless, the law of Moses would seem to be the principal one in view, though, as explained below, the principle is not limited to that law alone. Faith cannot void any law. The statement, like many in the word of God, is true either in or out of its context.
FAITH CANNOT VOID LAW
Ye have heard it was said to them of old time (in the law of Moses), Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21,22).
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.