Romans 3:1-8 The faithfulness of God

3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 3:2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Context – The last verses of the previous chapter compared Jews and Gentiles, and stated that circumcision, in itself, has no value.  This gave rise to the question in 3:1: what is the advantage of being a Jew?

Circumcision – Note how “circumcision” is used here more or less as a synonym for “Jew”.  It has become the major mark of identification of the Jews.

Oracles – Verse 2 responds that, to be a Jew, has many great advantages.  Most importantly, they were “entrusted with the oracles of God”, also translated as “the Words of God” (LITV).  The Bible is the word of the living God. It is eternal wisdom. It reveals to us the mysteries of the distant past, and the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  It sheds a glorious light on the world to come.  It reveals the love of God in the plan of redemption.  His words are a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105).  It is manna from heaven.  It eases our fears, strengthens the intellect, guides our decisions, purifies the character and enriches the soul.

But we need Christ to open to the mind the meaning of His Word, and the Holy Spirit to convey its true significance. We say with the disciples on their way to Emmaus, when “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27):

Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24;32)?

Other benefits received by the Jews are listed in 9:4-5:

to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh

Entrusted The word “entrusted” in the original is related to “faith” and means that God, by giving them His Words, put His faith in them.  This word possibly implies that God’s Word were not given to the Jews for their benefit only, but that it has been entrusted to them for the benefit of the entire human race.

3:3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 3:4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.”

3:5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 3:6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

3:7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 3:8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

These verses can be divided into three parts; each consists of an “if” question and a response.  If we fail to understand the context of these questions, they would seem rather strange:

How can “their unbelief” possibly “nullify the faithfulness of God”?

How can the righteousness of God be demonstrated by unrighteousness (3:5)?

Similarly how can the truth of God abound to His glory through a lie (3:5)?

Why should anyone ask, “why am I also still being judged as a sinner” for “my lie” (3:7) if the entire Bible argues that “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (2:5-6)?

In summary it is proposed below that:

3:3-8 does not deal with people in general, but are exclusively about Jews.

Their unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” refer not to general Jewish sins over centuries, but refer specifically to the Jewish rejection of Christ.

These verses deal with the same topic as Romans 9 and 11.  Put in that context the strange questions take on meaning.

The “unrighteousness” of the Jews in rejecting Christ made it much easier for non-Jews to become part of God’s people on earth.  In this sense “our (Jewish) unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” (3:5) and “through my (Jewish) lie the truth of God abounded to His glory” (3:7).

The real issue in 3:3-8 is whether God acted appropriately.  God made many promises to Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament.  The question whether “their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God” (3:3) is a question about these promises.  The question is, since Israel rejected Christ, did God break His promises to Israel?

God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.  This is the conclusion of Romans 9 and 11.  Many people think these chapters deal with the election of individuals to salvation, but these chapters actually explain what happened to Israel, and the conclusion of those chapters is that God hardened Israel against Christ.  Therefore it is asked “why am I also still being judged as a sinner” for “my lie” (3:7).

These concepts will now be explained in more detail.

JEWS

It is proposed that 3:3-8 discuss Jews exclusively:

3:1-2 explicitly deals with Jews.  The “some” in 3:3 therefore refers to Jews.

3:1-2 states that Jews have many “advantages”.  3:9 says that “we” (Jews) are not “better than they” (Gentiles) (3:9).  3:9 therefore follows logically after 3:1-2.  These verses can be combined into a single thought that “we” Jews have many advantages, but “we” are not better than Gentiles.  Since this forms the boundary of 3:3-8, it is implied that the verses in-between are also discussing Jews.

The “our” (3:5) and “my” (3:7) therefore also refer to Jews.

One key to the interpretation of Paul’s writings is to know that he never jumps around randomly.  It may not always be easy to follow his logic, but generally one thought or sentence is always related to the previous thoughts.

JEWISH SIN

Each of the three sections refer to sin, namely “unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” (3:7).  Since this entire section is about Jews, this refers to the “unrighteousness” of Jews.  Furthermore, since the “unbelief”, “unrighteousness” and “lie” are mentioned in the same context, they have the same Jewish sin in mind.

Romans 9 and 11 also deal with the nation of Israel (9:1-7; 11:1-2).  The foundational question in Romans 9 is whether “the word of God has failed” (9:6).  Since this question is answered by stating that “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”, the question is therefore whether God’s word with respect to Israel has failed.  In other words, the question is whether God’s promises to Israel still stand.

The foundational question in Romans 11 is whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).

The unspoken context of both these questions is the fact that the nation of Israel, as a whole, rejected Christ.  11:30-32 confirms this by saying to the Gentiles (11:13):

For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these (the Jews) also now have been disobedient

9:32-33 explains how the Jews have “now … been disobedient”:

They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (9:32-33).

Both Romans 3 and 9-11 therefore deal with Jews, and both particularly deal with Jewish sin.  This article will continue below to point out many other parallels between 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11, and will conclude that 3:3-8 is actually part of the discussion in Romans 9-11.

On that basis it is proposed, since the Jewish sin in Romans 9-11 is the rejection of Christ, that the same sin is in view in 3:3-8.  It is proposed that the “unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” (3:7) is not Israel’s unfaithfulness in general over the centuries, but specifically the Jewish rejection of Christ.

GOOD CONSEQUENCES

According to 3:3-8 this Jewish sin had good consequences, namely that it “demonstrates the righteousness of God” (3:5) and allowed “the truth of God” to abound “to His glory” (3:7).  3:8 similarly reports the distortion of Paul’s message as “Let us do evil that good may come“.

Romans 11 also contains the idea of “transgression” that has good consequences, but this chapter also explains in what way the Jewish sin has good consequences:

By their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).

Their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles” (11:12).

you (Gentiles) … now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience” (11:30)

It has been shown above that both 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11 deal with Jews and both deal with Jewish sin.  To this has now been added that both speak about good consequences of that sin.  This supports the notion that these two sections deal with the same subject.  Further evidence for this will be provided below.

On this basis it is proposed that the good consequences of the Jewish sin in 3:3-8 are the same as in Romans 11.  In other words, “our (Jewish) unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” and “through my (Jewish) lie the truth of God abounded to His glory” because “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).

It is by the rejection of Christ that “salvation has come to the Gentiles”.  This confirms the previous conclusion, namely that the “unrighteousness” (3:5) of the Jews, that is in view here, is particularly the rejection of Christ.

Faithfulness of God questioned

Note that the real issue in 3:3-8 is not the Jewish sin, but whether God acted appropriately.  This is indicated by the question about the appropriateness of God’s response after each of the three references to the Jewish sin:

… will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (3:3)
The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (3:5)
… why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (3:7)

Romans 9 and 11 also ask questions about the appropriateness of God’s actions.  These questions in Romans 3, 9 and 11 can be divided into two groups.  The first category of questions is about the fairness of God’s judgment.  Romans 3 asks:

The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?” (3:5) and
why am I also still being judged as a sinner” (3:7)?

Since this section deals with Jews, and particularly with their rejection of Christ, the question is whether God’s judgment of the Jews, for their rejection of Christ, is fair.

Romans 9, after declaring “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), similarly inquires:

Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?

Romans 9 also asks about the fairness of God’s judgment, but this context reveals why God’s judgment is questioned.  The question is, if “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), “why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?  Put in this context the questions in 3:5 and 3:7 become logical.

The second category of questions is about God’s faithfulness to His promises to Israel.  Romans 9 and 11 ask whether “the word of God … failed” (9:6), and whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).  These effectively are questions about the promises previously made to Israel.  God’s promises to Israel include:

I will make them … a blessing. … they will be secure on their land. … when I … have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. … they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people” (Ezekiel 34:26-31)

Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child …? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 49:8-16)

The questions in Romans 9 and 11 ask whether such promises still stand.  Compare the questions in Romans 9 and 11 to Romans 3:3, which asks:

If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

Because of the many parallels between 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11 it is proposed that this also asks whether God remains faithful to His promises to the Jews.  Both Romans 3 and 9-11 therefore ask whether God’s promises to Israel failed.

What did God do to Israel?

After posing these questions, Romans 3 claims that God did right (3:4, 6), but does not say what God did.  These verses only indicate that God remained faithful to His word that He gave to Israel (3:3-4), but that He “inflicts wrath” (3:5) and judges (the Jew) “as a sinner” (3:7).

Since it is proposed here that 3:3-8 introduces the great topic that is discussed more fully in Romans 9 and 11, and that these strange questions in 3:3-8 become logical in the context of Romans 9 and 11, and since this section will briefly discuss Romans 9-11, it is preferable to read the article on Romans 9-11 before continuing with this article.  The discussion below assumes insight into these very controversial chapters.

If we turn to Romans 9 and 11 to really understand what God did to Israel, we find the foundational statement in Romans 9:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (9:6-7)

As already stated, the unspoken background to this statement is the fact that the Jews, as a whole, rejected Christ.  This gives rise to the question, if God gave all these “oracles” to the Jews (3:2; 9:4-5) and “promises … to the fathers” (15:8, compare 4:13), but most of Israel rejected God’s Son, with the consequence that they are eternally lost (9:1-3; 10:1; 11:14), does that mean that God has become unfaithful to His Word?  Have His promises come to nought?  What happened to all the promises God made to Abraham and to Israel?  In response to these questions we read that “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (9:6).  In other words, the fact of their rejection of the gospel of Christ does not mean that God has failed or will fail to keep the promises He made.  God’s promises to Israel still stand!

9:6-7 justifies this statement by saying, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants”.  Notice the “Israel”, which is equivalent to “children”.  God’s word has not failed because not all Jews are “children” or “Israel”.  This concept is confirmed by the examples in the subsequent verses used to explain this principle, namely the examples of Isaac and Jacob (9:8-16).  These examples show how God selected people from the line of Abraham to be “children” and “Israel”.  It is very important to understand the implication of this justification.  The point is that the promises that God gave to Israel and to Abraham really were only made to a subset of Israel, namely the Israelites that are “children” and “Israel”.  It is for this reason that “the word of God has (not) failed” (9:6), in spite of the fact that most of Israel rejects Christ.  In other words, God’s promises always were only for the true “children” and “Israel”, and His promises remain valid for the true “children” and “Israel”.

The parallel statement to 9:6-7 in Romans 11 confirms these conclusions:

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:2) because “there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (11:5).  “What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (11:7).

Again the unspoken background to this statement is the fact that the Jews, as a whole, rejected Christ.  This gives rise to the question whether God rejected “His people”.  In response to this question we read that “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (9:2).  Similar to the concept of the true “children” and “Israel” in Romans 9, “His people” is explained by 11:5 as “a remnant” from Israel.  This disputed by many Bible teachers, but this principle is repeated several times over:

In 9:6-7 we have the principle that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (9:6-7).

This is followed by the examples of Isaac and Jacob to show how God chose people out of the descendants of Abraham.

In 11:1 Paul uses himself as an example of the “His people” of 11:1, and Paul does not represent all Jews.  He is an example of the Christian Jews.

The “whom He foreknew”, with which the “His people” is qualified in 11:2, indicates people that God had known unto salvation even before they were born, and this is not the entire Jewish nation.

11:2-4 uses the example of the 7000 in Elijah’s time to explain the concept of “His people whom He foreknew”.

11:5 explicitly applies this example of Elijah’s 7000 to “the present time”, saying that a “remnant” that has been chosen.  This therefore is the “His people whom He foreknew”.

11:7 says that the chosen obtained what Israel sought, and the rest were hardened.

11:16-25 compares Israel to an olive tree.  The root represents the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29).  The hardened rest (11:7) are represented by branches that have been broken off.  The remnant of Israel (11:5) is the Jewish branches that remain in the tree, still attached to the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29).

Over and over we therefore find in these chapters the idea that God did not reject His people because a remnant remains.  God selected a remnant out of the Jewish nation, and that explains why “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (9:6) and “God has not rejected His people” (11:1), in spite of the fact that literal Israel, as a whole, rejected Christ.

This starts to say what God did to Israel.  It says that the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29) still stand, but only for the true remnant, while the parable of the olive tree tells us that the Gentiles have now also been attached to the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God.

But these verses go further.  Romans 9 uses the example of Pharaoh (9:17) to say that “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18).  Romans 11 applies this principle to Israel by saying that “the rest (of Israel) were hardened” (11:7).  This means that God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.  In other words, it was God’s intention that Israel would not accept Christ.  “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear” (11:8), in order that “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).  Romans 9 is often understood as dealing with sovereign election, but actually is an explanation of the causes and consequences of Israel’s rejection of Christ.  God did not only respond to Israel’s unbelief.  He was the cause of their unbelief.  He actually hardened Israel to prevent them from accepting Christ.  He could have allowed Israel to corporately accept Christ as king, in spite of the fact that “this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat 15:8), but God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.

This explains why the two categories of questions above arose:

The first category is, if “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), “why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?  In other words, if it was God’s decision to harden Israel, why does He keep them accountable for their sin?  For an answer on this question, please refer to the article on election in Romans 9-11.

The second category asks whether “the word of God … failed” (9:6), and whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).

CONCLUSION

Both Romans 3 and Romans 9-11 start off with a reference to the advantages of Jews (3:1-2; 9:4-5), both focus on the sin of the Jews, both state that this sin had good consequences, both question whether God acted appropriately, and both confirm that God did right.  Based on these parallels, it is proposed that Romans 3:1-8 deals with the same topic as Romans 9 and 11.  3:1-8 can therefore be interpreted by means of Romans 9 and 11, as an explanation of the causes and consequences of Israel’s rejection of Christ.

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