What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used 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: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Comments on Romans 3:1-3:31
Having established that neither Jew or gentile has an "excuse" before God, Paul continues in this section with a discussion of the importance of the Torah, and how it is to be followed in faith. What is missed in most studies (due to a lack of understanding of Paul as a rabbi, Pharisee and brilliant Torah teacher) is the role of the Shema as the underpinning to his teachings. This is more fully explained in this chapter.
3:1 What advantage then hath the Jew?
After all the previous discussion (going back to 1:18) one might think that Paul would say there is no advantage to being a Jew, but this is not the case. Paul points to possession of the Torah as indeed being the "Jewish advantage," but only if correctly followed in faith. As he points out, the mere fact of possessing the Torah does not make the Jews "superior."
Yeshua, had the same message for certain self-righteous religious leaders, who thought their being born Jews automatically made them right with God:
In fact, the gift of the Torah to the Jews is directly attached to their responsibility - to take the Torah as a light to the rest of the world (Matthew 5:13-16) and work to bring in the Kingdom of God and fulfill the Shema.The fact remains that it was only the Jews that were chosen by God for this, and therefore they do have an advantage.
Paul maintains the continuity of the position he shares with his Jewish brethren:
The status of the Jews however, as being the only people that God has dealt with directly, puts them in a difficult position when they fail God:
3:2 unto them were committed the oracles of God.
God makes clear who the only people are that He has dealt with in such direct fashion:
This has not changed since Yeshua's death and resurrection. (See note to 3:21 below.)
We will elaborate on Israel's election in chapters 9-11 of this study. With the free gift of faith comes a responsibility to God's Torah. Beginning with verse 2 and ending with verse 31 in this chapter, Paul shows that Torah is an integral part of the faith of the believer - Jew and gentile.
3:3 shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
Unfortunately, man has not heeded this advice from Paul. Since that time, many view the "rejection" of Yeshua by most of the Jews of His day, combined with destruction of the Temple, taking of the city of Jerusalem, and dispersion of the Jews, as "proof" that God changed his plan. This has resulted in the formation of other religions who claim they are now "the royal priesthood," and that the Torah-based faith of Israel was replaced by a "law-free gospel" that proclaims concepts such as "the law of love," or "law of Christ."
Paul teaches that God will never be unfaithful to Israel. As we will see, this is yet another example of a teaching that Paul mentions early in the letter which he will use later on to correct certain behaviors among the gentiles in the congregation.
Having established that the Jews maintain an "advantage," and that Torah-based faith of Israel continues, even if Israel fails God (verses 1-4), Paul now confronts misuse of the idea of being "saved by faith," apart from the Torah.
Paul first addresses the possible false interpretation of what he just said, making it clear that we are not to think we can sin so that God can show his righteousness. Paul makes it clear that man's evil deeds are worthy of punishment and do not cancel His right to judge the world. He gives himself as an example (verse 7) of someone who faces God's judgment due to his own sin.
3:8 as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say
Paul was accused of teaching against Torah - a charge he vehemently denied both here and in Acts 21:21-27. (Our background material discussed Paul's faithful Torah observance as a rabbi and Pharisee.) Although Peter warned that Paul's teachings were at such a high level that many would misunderstand what he was saying (2 Peter 3:16), there is also a probability here that these were men opposed to Paul, who were lying and speaking evil of him. Paul will bring up the subject of Torah and sin again, in verses 5:20-6:1.
3:9 are we better than they? No, in no wise
Romans 3:9 is one of the more blatant cases of poor Scripture translation found in the Bible. First of all, the question is not if the Jews are "better" than gentiles (as the King James translation would have you think), but if they have "an advantage" in some way (see verse 9 below). More importantly, the answer to Paul's question, "No, in no wise," is an incorrect translation of the Greek ou pantos, which means, "not entirely."
Looking back at Romans 3:1, we see that Paul has already stated that the Jews DO "have an advantage" in that they have the Tenakh (Torah, Prophets and Writings). Unfortunately, all modern translations are affected by Christian bias when it comes to the subject of the Torah being integral to the faith of the believer in Yeshua, as seen by the mistranslation in this verse. We saw an example of this anti-Torah bias in Romans 1:1-7, and we will encounter more in Romans chapter 10.
Although the Jews have the real advantage of the Torah, both they and gentiles sin and face judgment (as Paul showed in chapters 1 and 2). Judgment however, comes to the Jew first and then to the gentile as they are judged at different levels. (To whom much is given, much is expected.)
God's Torah is Holy, and its commandments are to be followed, as it is the path He has given us to learn of Him and to salvation. Scripture paints a beautiful pattern:
God shows that He desired gentiles to take on more of the Torah and they are blessed for doing so:
Paul elegantly links together an assortment of verses from the Tenakh (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 10:7; Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1), as proof texts for his statement in the previous verse. For insight into understanding the "rules" Paul followed in creating his midrashim (expository teachings), see The Seven Rules of Hillel.
Paul's quotations in verses 13 and 14 are especially critical of incorrect speaking. James had a lot to say about "correct" and "incorrect" speaking:
These final verses of the chapter could be considered a midrash on Psalm 143, which teaches that no man living is justified by his own works. Trust in God, centered in following His ways, given in His Torah, is what will justify man. Present through these verses is Paul's Shema-centered theology. Both Jew and gentile are under condemnation of the same God, and are saved by the same God, as He is the One God for both. What formerly separated Jew and gentile, (the Torah) is now through faith what unifies them into one building. (See comments on Ephesians 2 in the introduction.)
The highlighted verse (8) in the Psalm, "Cause me to hear," is ha shemee ayni, in the Hebrew, which has the same root as "shema."
3:19 what things soever the law saith,
Paul makes it clear that if the Jews whom the Torah "speaks to" (those that do and hear) are facing judgment, then those who do not share this benefit (the rest of the world), are no better off, hence, every mouth is stopped (shut up).
3:20 by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified
The temptation here (due to years of anti-Torah teaching) is to take this verse out of context in order to say that the Torah does not lead man to salvation and that no one could be "saved" before Yeshua appeared. This is not what Paul is teaching and is not what God says throughout the Tenakh.
Such a theology also fails the test of "New Testament" Scriptures (not that ever God changed), such as this:
Paul has already spoken (chapters 1 and 2) of both Jews with the Torah, and gentiles who don't have Torah, each as having no excuse before God. The implication here is that all men can be saved if they live up to the revelation that they have received from God in their lives. Anyone who is doing this however, will not reject Yeshua (the true Torah-based Yeshua), as He is the promise and goal of God's Torah.
The Greek text uses a unique term, erga noumo, translated as, "deeds (or works) of the Law". Paul seems to have "invented" this term as a way of conveying a Jewish spiritual concept into the Greek language which lacked the proper terms.
Paul has already discussed the topic of boasting in the law. Trying to claim salvation by performance of the "deeds of the law," is seen by Paul as a misuse of Torah. He taught that although the Torah was given by God to be obeyed, instead of following Torah in faith, people follow in their own strength (self-righteousness) apart from God, and come to believe that they then "deserve" a place in heaven. Torah not only shows how we sin, but also gives us guidelines as to how to be conformed to the image of God and grow in intimacy with Him.
3:21 the righteousness of God without the law
This is another misleading translation, often "quoted" to show that faith has nothing to do with God's Torah. (The language of the King James is archaic.) The Greek term, choris nomou, means apart from Law. (This verse of course implies that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Torah.)
As Paul has already mentioned, his point is that no one can earn their salvation by doing works, even Torah-based works, apart from trusting in God. Paul repeats his thought in verse 28, where it is translated as, "without the deeds (works) of the Law."
This is not a new teaching - God has always demanded trust first. We are told in the book of Hebrews that the children of Israel with Moses in the desert, failed to "mix" faith with their works.
God rebuked His children through Isaiah, for performing the commandments away from faith:
3:22 which is by faith of Jesus Christ
There are different translations of this verse, that render different meanings. Versions such as the NIV, NASB, RSV and New King James, along with author C.E. Cranfield, translate this as "faith in Jesus Christ," as opposed to "faith of Jesus Christ." (The former is called the objective genitive, the latter is the subjective genitive.) The original King James, Darby and Young's Literal Translation, along with authors Joseph Shulam and David Stern, support the subjective genitive (the faith "of" Yeshua). A similar argument is seen in verses 25-26 (below).
3:23 For all have sinned
This is not a "New Testament" teaching:
3:25-26 a propitiation through faith in his blood
The English translation is awkward. Paul is not saying we are to put our faith "in His blood," in some superstitious manner, foreign to Judaism.
The context of the surrounding verses is important:
Here the "blood" of Yeshua is equated with death, and has sacrificial significance. There is disagreement as to the precise meaning of this verse, similar to verse 22. If the "faith" in question is Yeshua's faithfulness, then the "faith in His blood" in verse 25 is referring to Yeshua's faithfulness in obedience unto the shedding of His blood and His death in order to provide salvation for mankind. (This does not detract from the idea of us having faith in Him, which Paul also teaches.)
AN ADDITIONAL TEACHING ON YESHUA'S SACRIFICE
Beyond the linguistic debate, a key to understanding the deeper meaning of this verse (and Yeshua's role in dying) is knowledge of the Yom Kippur sacrifice, where the blood of the bull and scapegoat provided atonement for all the sin of Israel. It is important to note, that the Yom Kippur sacrifice was of no value to the unrepentant Hebrew person. Even though this was a single sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation, God required trust in Him for this atonement to take effect on the individual.
Yom Kippur was conducted only once a year, and was separate and apart from the daily sacrificial system. This raises some interesting questions:
There are also certain "difficult verses" found in Ezekiel's Millennial Temple prophecy (Ezekiel 40-48):
The book of Hebrews (understood in its proper Hebrew framework), is of great help in understanding what Yeshua's death did in relation to the sacrificial system. Hebrews portrays Yeshua as the final Yom Kippur sacrifice unto salvation. This maintains the important distinction between Yom Kippur and the daily sacrifices found in the Tenakh.
The reason there is no more Yom Kippur sacrifice is because Yeshua's death was the final Yom Kippur sacrifice for salvation. The reason the daily sacrifices can and will return, is that they were not the same as Yom Kippur, but were for regular reconciliation with God for daily sins.
At this time, with no earthly Temple present, Yeshua Himself is acting as our High Priest and mediator, providing the reconciliation with God required for when we sin. In the absence of the Temple, God does accept the sacrifice of our lips, rather than animal sacrifices, for our daily reconciliation, including reconciliation of the non-believing nations (1st John 1:9, 2:2, 4:10). This was set up by God in the Torah in the form of the sacrifices done for the nations on the feast of Succot (Tabernacles). The prophet Hosea (Hosea 14:2) also speaks of offering the sacrifices (bull-calves) of lips, for when the Temple was not in place.
Hosea does not however, say that prayers can replace the salvation sacrifice of Yom Kippur. Nor will God accept a renewal of the earthly Yom Kippur sacrifice should a Temple be rebuilt. The Talmud records that the Yom Kippur sacrifice was rejected by God for 40 consecutive years, following the death of Yeshua to the time the Temple was destroyed:
Hebrews 6:4-6 is an important section concerning the Yom Kippur sacrifice being changed by Yeshua's death. Although these verses can be applied to returning to sin in general (after experiencing saving revelation from God), the immediate context would seem to refer to believers in Yeshua returning to performing of the Yom Kippur sacrifice, as it puts Messiah (who died as the final Yom Kippur sacrifice), to an open shame:
When Yeshua returns to earth for His reign in the Millennium (with the earthly Temple back in place), the daily reconciliation sacrifices will be reestablished, as they will once again be needed and required.
3:27 Where is boasting then?
Many of the Jews of Paul's day, instead of being a "light to the gentiles," (Matthew 5:13-16) had taken the Torah and used it create a legalistic righteousness unto themselves (as Yeshua also accused them of). Paul raises the issue of Torah-based faith versus self-righteous legalism, again in verses 9:30-10:4 and 11:6. The view of some of his fellow Jews of being "better" than the gentiles, simply because they had the Torah, was a form of "covetousness"(of the Torah) and was a sin.
Although the Jews have the advantage of the Torah (re: 3:1-8 above) the fact is that according to the Shema (see next verse) there is One God for both Jew and gentile.
3:28 a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Without an understanding of Paul's Hebrew mindset, he can almost sound schizophrenic. After all, here he says a man is saved not by "the Law," but in the previous chapter, he stated:
As always, context is critical. Verse 3:28 sums up the substance of the previous verses. God's Torah, properly understood and followed, (that is not to be used to seek justification as a reward for works) summons men to "faith." However, this "faith" includes turning from sin (as defined by God's Torah) to a life of grateful obedience to God (by learning and submitting to His Torah).Paul is dealing with both types of error common to man. If someone tries to do the works of Torah, outside of faith and "earn" salvation, that person will fail. Conversely, if anyone claims to have "faith," but wilfully ignores God's Torah, this also fails. Scripture calls such a person a liar (1 John 2:3-5).
Again, behind the more obvious meaning of the verse (all are saved by faith) is the additional understanding and teaching of Paul that opposed the exclusivity that denied gentiles equal access to God without first converting to Judaism (since Yeshua's death). This was the decision of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, (based on the Shema), which Paul and the other disciples took out to the existing Messianic communities and in their new evangelistic campaigns. The goal of the Torah is faith in Israel's Messiah as the savior of the entire world. God is one God for all people, through faith, which upholds the Torah.
3:29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?
Here again, Paul uses the Shema in his teaching to show God is the God of the gentiles too. As seen in this and the next verse, monotheism and Torah were inseparable to Paul.
3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Despite Paul's careful arguments in explaining the essence of the Torah, there is still the possibility that some might come to the false conclusion that Torah was not for the believer in Yeshua. Paul therefore, makes it clear that trust in God is what the Torah is all about. Recognizing you are a sinner (which is done through knowing what the Torah calls sin), turning to God, and following His Torah as the guideline for your life, is the path for both Jews and gentiles.
Unfortunately, the mystery of iniquity (violation of Torah) that Paul warned was creeping in to the Messianic community in his day, has today become the "norm" for most people claiming to follow the Messiah, who say they are "not subject to the Law of God."
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