Chapter three begins with a natural question coming from the end of chapter two. If the Jews are just as bad off as the Gentiles, “What advantage does the Jew have?” (Romans 3:1) The answer is actually, “Many!” although Paul would not mention them all until much later in this letter. At this point, one would suffice to help Paul make his upcoming point – “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2).
There are some who would like to think that God was present, speaking to all nations throughout the history of the world and that the Scriptures contain only a small sample of the messages just to Israel. 1 However, based on this verse and God’s pattern revealed in the Old Testament, it seems that Israel was designed to be God’s “showroom” for the world, a place where the nations could come and see the true God on display in the hearts and lives of his people. With the exception of Jonah’s singular trip to Assyria, even the prophets who spoke against foreign nations did so from Israelite soil. Additionally, the Scriptures inspired and preserved by God were written by Jews. 2 There is no excuse for them to not know his will.
This begins a series of piercing, thought-provoking questions that Paul would ask (and often answer) over the next nine chapters, until the end of chapter eleven. For instance, “If our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” is he unjust to punish us (Romans 3:5-8)? Should we not, instead, do more unrighteousness so that he can be further glorified? The answer, as Paul will carefully unpack, is a resounding “No!”
Because of the Gentile rejection of creation and conscience and the Jewish rejection of God’s spoken and written law, Paul concluded that “all are under sin” equally (Romans 3:9-18). He supported this with a series of quotations from various psalms and the prophet Isaiah – the very words they had rejected – culminating in this chilling indictment on the human race: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
At this point one would assume all hope is lost. If the Jews cannot obtain God’s righteousness and Gentiles are equally bad off, what hope is there (Romans 3:19-26)? This is the beauty and grace of the gospel: “the righteousness of God [comes] through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Because all people are equally under sin, God’s plan is to declare us righteous “freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Because it is not based in anything we could ever accomplish, God is both “just and the justifier,” that is, he maintains his holy justice and righteousness by declaring righteous only those who come to him through Jesus, apart from the works of the law. “Where, then, is boasting?” There is none, because God’s righteousness is a gracious gift that cannot be earned, only received through faith, available to everyone who is under sin, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 3:27-31).
- Of course, he was known to some Gentile people (Abraham, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro), but speaking to them was not his primary method, especially after the founding of the Jewish nation. ↩
- There is some debate over Luke’s ethnicity. Colossians 4:11 makes it sound as if the people listed later, including Luke, could not be Jewish, but the grammar does not necessarily demand that interpretation. On the other hand, when Paul was arrested for allegedly entering the Temple with a Gentile, it was “Trophimus the Ephesian” that the Jews arrested him for, even though Luke was with Paul in Jerusalem on that trip (see Acts 21:15-30). It seems no one thought it an issue for Luke to enter the Temple. ↩