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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Romans 3

 

 

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Verses 1-8

What advantage then hath the Jew?

Romans 3:1-8

This chapter can be divided into three parts:

1. Romans 3:1-8 answer objections to the things stated in Chapter Two.

2. Romans 3:9-19 prove Jew and Gentile are guilty of sin and cannot be justified by the law.

3. The remaining verses state the true and only way of justification–by the righteousness and death of the Lord Jesus.

Romans 3:1. We must read Romans 2:28-29. If a person is not truly a Jew who is born of Jewish parents and is brought up in the customs, ceremonies, and religion of the Jews; but anyone of any nation who is born of the word and the Spirit of God is of true Israel–if being circumcised profits nothing unless the whole law is kept–then of what profit is circumcision? If having the law, the prophets, and the ceremonies adds to the condemnation of Abraham's natural sons and increases their responsibility, what advantage or profit is there in being a Jew? Better to be a heathen, one might think.

It might be asked today in the same vein. Why preach the gospel to the heathen if the majority of them will reject it and be held more accountable for their unbelief because of the light of the preached word?

Romans 3:2. The Old Testament Jews had great advantage over the Gentile nations. They had the oracles of God. The word is used four times in the New Testament. In Acts 7:38 it means the law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:12 and 1 Peter 4:11 it embraces the truths of the gospel. In this verse it includes all the scriptures of the Old Testament, especially as they regarded the Messiah, Christ Jesus! While the Gentile must discover what he could of God through the light of creation, conscience, and providence, the Jew had the prophesies of the coming Messiah, pictures and types of his sacrifice and atonement in the ceremonies, and the promises of redemption and forgiveness through faith in him. Instead of believing on him, confessing their guilt revealed by the law, and resting by faith in the mercy of God and righteousness imputed, they took the law, circumcision, ceremonies, and Jewish heritage and went about to establish their own righteousness based on imperfect, hypocritical obedience to the form! All laws, rituals, morality, ceremonies, scriptures, and outward form are of no value, but rather are devastating if they do not lead a person to Christ.

Romans 3:3. What if most of the Jews disregarded the promises of God, did not believe the prophecies of the Messiah, despised and rejected him when he came, and sought acceptance through their heritage and rituals? Does this make void the promises of God concerning the Messiah? Does this neutralize the promises of God in Christ? Does this make void God's covenant with Abraham? Does the rebellion and unbelief of the favored nation make of none effect redemption by grace through faith in Christ?

Romans 3:4. God forbid! Let no such thought enter your mind. God's truth can never be changed by want of faith in men. God is true and faithful to his word, to his promises, to his attributes, and to his covenants. On the other hand, man is false, not only because he often violates his word, but his nature is to lie and shun the truth (Romans 8:7; Genesis 6:5).

Paul quotes David (Psalms 116:11; Psalms 51:4). God is just in his Judgments, upright in all that he does, and will prevail regardless of what sinful men say or do!

Romans 3:5-6. A man may say, ‘If my unrighteousness establishes, illustrates, and commends the righteousness of God, then God would be unjust to inflict his wrath on me.’ This is not Paul's opinion, but it is an objection raised by foolish men. The answer is that all unrighteousness is sin and does not by itself commend or illustrate the righteousness of God! We do not preach that man's evil and sin glorifies God or in itself makes the grace of God glorious. If God used the evil of believers to glorify himself, he could not judge evil in unbelievers. God's mercy to the miserable, grace to the guilty, and pardon of the most unrighteous glorify him. The black background does not give beauty to the diamond on display, but only lets us see the diamond's beauty by contrast.

Romans 3:7-8. Nothing is more opposite to truth than a lie. A lie can never be of any advantage to truth or to the God of truth. A lie is of the devil and punishable by death. The truth of God could never abound through a lie. If this were true, then men could say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come.’ But evil cannot of itself produce anything but evil. The fact that God's glory is manifested through grace to the chief of sinners is not the work of men but the work of God, who, through the righteousness of his Son, turns even our sins to the promotion of his own glory.


Verses 9-20

There is none righteous, no, not one

Romans 3:9-20

In the two preceding chapters Paul had written of the guilt of the Gentiles and of the Jews separately. Now he takes them together and proves from scripture that all men are sinners and there is none righteous, no, not one. Through these verses he is supporting the conclusion which he had in mind all along and at which he arrives in Romans 3:20; namely, that by the deeds of the law no man can be justified! And all of this is to set forth the true way of peace as shown in Romans 3:21-26.

Romans 3:9. The Jews are not superior or any better off than the Gentiles with regard to their state and condition before God. Though the Jews had the advantage with respect to external privileges and revelations, yet, says the apostle, we have already proved that all men, Jew and Gentile, are equally born in sin, are by practice sinners, and are equally condemned before the law of God (Psalms 14:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). All are not only guilty but also in bondage to sin.

Romans 3:10. This statement may be regarded as a summary of all that follows and state the entire case: ‘there is none righteous, no, not one.’ Not one person possesses a righteousness which can in any way meet the demands of our Holy God. Four times Paul uses the phrase, ‘there is none,’ and adds twice, ‘no, not one!’ (Romans 3:23.)

Romans 3:11. Man thinks he is a wise and understanding creature. It is true that he has the faculty to understand things natural, civil, and moral–and that quite imperfectly! But man has no spiritual knowledge of God, no true sense of himself and his sin, no true understanding of the way of salvation in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14; John 6:44; Ephesians 4:18).

There is none that seek God earnestly, with the whole heart, or in Christ Jesus. There is none that worship him in spirit and truth and commune with him through the Mediator for his honor and glory! (John 5:40-44.)

Romans 3:12. ‘They have all gone out of the way’ of God and his truth (out of the way of holiness, light, and life) and into their own way of sin and evil (Isaiah 53:6). ‘They are unprofitable,’ becoming corrupt and filthy. They are unfit for that for which God made them–to glorify God. ‘There is none that doeth good’ in a spiritual manner. Sin and self are mixed with all that we do. Only God is truly good. Even our good works are unacceptable and filthy in his sight (Isaiah 64:6).

Romans 3:13-14. Thus far the apostle has spoken in general terms of man's sin. He now deals with particulars–such as words and actions.

As to our words, he marks all of the organs of speech–the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth. Nothing is more offensive than an open grave sending forth the horrible odor of rotten flesh. The speech that comes from a sinner's throat proceeds forth from a dead, corrupt heart and nature. His tongue is used to form words of deceit, hatred, blasphemy, and exaggeration.

The deadly poison of the snake is ejected forth from his lips as they form words of slander, gossip, and blasphemy. ‘His mouth is full of cursing’ means speaking not only shameful words, but, in particular, blasphemy of God. It is full of harsh words for God, superiors, parents, and all authority. Bitterness, murmuring, and discomfort flow freely.

Romans 3:15. Having shown man's sinful words, Paul turns to his actions! This comes from Isaiah 59:7. The feet represent motion and action; and when these are said to be swift to shed blood, it denotes the eagerness and readiness of men to sin against God and one another.

Romans 3:16-18. All the ways men take and the methods they pursue make them miserable and lead to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). The way of sin does not build–it only destroys.

By nature men do not know the way of peace with God in Christ. Christ is the only way of salvation, eternal life, and everlasting peace and happiness. A man can only know this who is taught of God (1 Corinthians 2:7-10).

By the fear of God is not meant a fear of hell, damnation, and the wrath of God, but a reverential awe, worship, and affection which leads to faith and obedience. The natural man has contempt for the Living God as shown by his treatment of Christ. He will not honor God.

Romans 3:19. The law which speaks here is the moral law of God as it appears in the whole word of God, which every man is bound to observe and obey, Jew and Gentile. All mankind is under God's law. This law pronounced every son of Adam guilty and stops every mouth. We have no defense, no alibi, and nothing to reply; for the holy law of God exposes our corruption inwardly and outwardly.

Romans 3:20. Therefore this is the apostle's conclusion: The law cannot save, cannot justify, cannot give us a righteousness. It can only do three things:

1. Shut our mouths and declare us guilty before God,

2. Teach us the depths and darkness of our sin and depravity, and

3. Shut us up to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:7-11).


Verses 21-31

Just and justifier

Romans 3:21-31

Romans 3:19-20 sum up the things that Paul has said concerning Jews and Gentiles. All are guilty of sin. All are without excuse. None can open his mouth in his own defense or claim any righteousness, but everyone must acknowledge guilt before God. Paul then proceeds to the conclusion he meant to draw from all this: there is no justification of any before God by works or the deeds of the law. The law reveals sin; it cannot relieve sin.

Romans 3:21. ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.’ ‘The righteousness of God’ is one of the most important expressions in the Scriptures, and it signifies both the precept of the law and the penalty of the law. That is, the Holy law in every jot and tittle must be honored; and where there is the least offense, justice must be satisfied. We are not talking here of God's own personal holiness, but of that righteousness he has (by his grace) provided for and imputed to guilty sinners through his Son (Romans 10:1-4).

‘Without the law;’ not without perfect obedience to the law (for this Christ did) but without regard to the sinner's obedience to the law. If there is no imputation of Christ's obedience, no one will be saved (Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 5:20).

‘Now is manifested’ in the gospel. Why is the gospel the power of God unto salvation? Because therein is the righteousness of God revealed! (Romans 1:16-17.) Christ fulfilled it for us and reveals it to us (Romans 5:19).

Moses and all the prophets testified of this righteousness in Christ (Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Psalms 85:10-13).

Romans 3:22. This perfect righteousness whereby we are sanctified, justified, and received in God's presence as holy and without blame is not imputed to us on account of any work of our own; but it is received by faith. Faith is not a part of that righteousness, but it is through faith that it is received. Before we can have a part of anything in Christ, we must be one with him; and this union is accomplished through faith (Romans 4:11-13 : Philippians 3:9; Romans 4:20-24).

This righteousness of God is unto all and upon all that believe, of every tribe, nation, and tongue. There is no difference made between Old Testament people and New Testament people, between Jew and Gentile, between male and female.

Romans 3:23. Why is there not one way of life for one and one way for another? Because all have sinned and come short of God's commandments, requirements, and glory! (Romans 3:9-11; Psalms 14:1-3; Romans 5:12.)

Romans 3:24. The blessing here is justification which stands opposed to accusation and condemnation (Romans 8:31-34). We have the holiness and righteousness of his Son as if it were our own (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 1:6-7).

The cause of this blessing is the free grace of God. He chose us, redeemed us, and called us according to the good pleasure of his own will (Ephesians 2:4-7).

The source of this blessing is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus! Christ, as our Redeemer, perfectly obeyed the law, bore our sins in his own body, was buried and rose again. He sits at the Father's right hand as our Mediator. In him we are complete (Colossians 1:19-23).

Romans 3:25. The word ‘propitiation’ signifies the mercy-seat (Hebrews 9:5), which was a type of Christ. Christ is the propitiation to God for our sins. He has reconciled us to God by his obedience and sacrifice (Hebrews 2:17; 2 Corinthians 5:19).

‘The sins that are past’ means that God pardoned the sins of believers under the Old Testament dispensation by the atonement of Christ. They were persuaded of the promises in Christ and embraced them by faith (Hebrews 11:13). It was due to God's forbearance that he did not immediately destroy them but passed by their sins till his law was honored and his justice satisfied by Christ.

Romans 3:26. ‘To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness;’ or to manifest that perfect righteousness provided by Christ for every believer (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We are not only innocent but have the righteousness of God in Christ. God saves men in such a way that his justice and truth are not compromised or violated. He is a just God and a justifying God (Psalms 85:10).

Romans 3:27-28. There is no room or reason for boasting by Jew or Gentile. All boasting is cast out! By what principle is boasting excluded? By works? Certainly not! Our sins are revealed and laid bare by God's law. We are deprived of all glory. The principle of faith destroys boasting, for faith receives all from God and claims nothing for ourselves (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). The conclusion stands firm–justification is by faith without the works of the law.

Romans 3:29-30. It is further confirmed that Jews and Gentiles are on the same level with respect to their state before God. He is the Lord God of both; and he justifies both in the same way–through faith in Christ.

Romans 3:31. The law is abolished as a covenant of works. It is fulfilled by Christ in its administration, and it is destroyed as a yoke of bondage; but the law remains unchanged in the hands of Christ, where it is honored, established, and fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-20).

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/romans-3.html. 2013.

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