Dan Popp
Objection!
Romans: The most important book ever written
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Dan Popp
November 5, 2010

After Paul had finished telling the religious people that they were no better in God's true accounting than the pagans, he wisely paused to field objections. Welcome to our discussion of "the most important book ever written," the biblical letter to the Christians in Rome.

Chapter 3

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? [ESV]

There seems to be a hidden accusation here: This so-called "good news" of yours, Paul, makes God unjust toward His chosen people. You're implying that they'll get no benefit, no additional reward, no special consideration for the extra burdens He's placed on them.

Much in every way. First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. [NIV] ...the oracles of God. [NASB]

The world owes an enormous debt to the Jews. Christians, at least, should acknowledge that we would have no Bible — including the New Testament — if not for the faithfulness of many Jewish people in speaking, recording and preserving God's revelations. This is their unique privilege. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." [Deut. 29:29 NASB] Who in this passage are "us" and "our sons?" The Jews, of course.

The postmodern consensus that Luke was a Gentile is based on circumstantial evidence, at best: Paul doesn't include him in a list of "the circumcision" in Colossians 4:10-14.

But Psalm 147 is emphatic: "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His judgments, they have not known them." (vv.19,20 NKJV) Paul confirms this later in Romans (9:4) when He writes of the Israelites: "With them were the special covenants made, to them was the Law given." [Amp] The human race could have been spared incalculable grief and confusion if we had only understood that non-Jews cannot write Scripture.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God? [RSV]

Commentators reveal a play on the words translated "entrusted" in the previous verse, and "unfaithful" here. They were entrusted, but didn't trust. When we get to Chapters 9 through 11 we'll see Paul expand on the Jews' unfaithfulness and God's faithful plans for them, so we'll glide down to verse 5:

Another question: if our injustice serves to bring out God's justice, what are we to say? Is it unjust of God (I speak of him in human terms) to bring retribution upon us? Certainly not! If God were unjust, how could he judge the world? But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. [NEB, ESV]

Someone told me that God doesn't use evil for His purposes. But of course the entire Bible is the story of God using evil for His purposes. When all is said and done, every fragment of wrong that God has permitted will add to the glory and goodness and grace in the universe; otherwise the self-worshipers would be right when they blame Him for allowing sin. Nevertheless, we are free moral agents accountable for our choices. The fact that "you meant it for evil but God meant it for good," as Joseph told his brothers (Gen. 50:20), does not mitigate the fact that you meant it for evil.

Now Paul sums up the argument he's been making through Chapters 1 and 2. Once again the Scriptures, the "first advantage" of the Jews, will be summoned to testify against them — and us.

Well, then, are we [Jews] superior and better off than they? No, not at all. We have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin — held down by and subject to its power and control. [Amp]

There is none righteous, no, not one.
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
All have swerved from the right path;
Every one of them has become corrupt.
There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Their mouths are gaping tombs;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit;
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
They are strangers to the high-road of peace;
There is no fear of God before their eyes. [NKJV, Mon, KJV, Knox, NEB]


Paul was going easy on us; there are actually many more verses from the beautiful book of Psalms and elsewhere that he could have piled on top of these.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and all the world be brought under the judgment of God: Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight — indeed it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are. [NIV, ASV, NASB, Phillips]

As we said last time, the Gentiles will be judged by the law they have — the internal, law-unto-themselves kind of law; and the Jews will be judged by the Law they have — the same divine pronouncements that mark them as God's favorites. Anyone relying on the Law to save him, any of us pretzel-people hoping to bend himself back to straightness, is humiliated into silence.

The trial is done. The Prosecution rests. No defense is possible. The verdict is just, and it covers all of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles:

Guilty.

But...

© Dan Popp

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)