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Romans 2:1-3:20

I.          Epistolary Introduction - 1:1-17

II.        The Way of Salvation - 1:18-5:21

A.        Human Depravity: the doctrine of universal sin - 1:18-3:20

1.         Sin & Condemnation of the Gentiles - 1:18-32

2.         Sin & Condemnation of the Jews - 2:1-3:8

Two introductory comments. (1) The key to understanding Paul's argument in 1:18-3:8 are his statements in 3:9 and 3:19. As if a prosecuting attorney, Paul is determined to demonstrate "that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin" (3:9). The desired result of his argument is "that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God" (3:19). (2) That Paul is now, in 2:1-3:8, indicting the Jew (as he did the Gentile in 1:18-32), is evident from several factors: (a) Jews were inclined to judge Gentiles for their religious/moral perversity; (b) the person addressed in chp. 2 is the recipient of divine kindness, forbearance, and patience (v. 4); (c) Paul's point is that special privilege/advantage does not exempt one from judgment; but this is what the Jews mistakenly believed; and (d) v. 17 ("Jew").

a.         the failure of the Jews - 2:1-29

1)         principles of judgment - vv. 1-16

[People object to the concept of divine judgment, accusing God of being unfair, because they presume upon divine grace, taking it for granted.]

a)         fundamentals of judgment: its characteristics - vv. 1-5

1 -        judgment is universal - vv. 1-2

Paul's indictment of the Jew is not that he recognizes sin and denounces others for committing it. Indeed, according to v. 2, Paul expects Jews to acknowledge and agree that Gentiles who engage in the behavior described in chapter one are truly deserving judgment. Thus, he indicts him because he judges others for the very things he himself practices. It is self-righteous hypocrisy that provokes the apostle's words.

According to v. 2, this judgment that falls on the Jewish moralist no less than on the Gentile pagan, is, lit., "according to the truth," i.e., according to the facts as God sees them. Be it noted, however, that when Paul says the Jew does “the same things” he does not mean that Jewish people were engaging in overt homosexuality and idolatry as the Gentiles were. He most likely has in view the vices of 1:29-31.

2 -        judgment is unavoidable - vv. 3-5

a -        presuming upon God's grace - vv. 3-4

Cf. Mt. 3:9 for the Jewish belief in exemption from divine judgment. As Moo points out, "the assumption of God's special favor toward His people had already in the OT period become a source of false security for those within Israel who were not living faithfully within the covenant, as the preaching of the prophets abundantly indicates" (132).

b -        piling up God's wrath - v. 5

The word used in v. 5, translated "stubbornness", is the Greek sklerotes, from which we get the term "sclerosis", as in "arterial sclerosis" or hardening of the arteries. Another word of significance is the one translated “storing up” (thesaurizeis), from which we get our English term “thesaurus” (a treasury of words). Schreiner contends that Paul uses it here in an ironic sense “for it typically denotes the future bliss Jews would have because of their good works” (109).

A brief excursus on the doctrine of Hell:

The word most often translated "hell" in the NT is Gehenna, the Greek equivalent for "the valley of Hinnom". This valley is immediately southwest of Jerusalem, still visible from the Mt. of Olives. At one time it was there that human sacrifices were made to the pagan deity Moloch (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; cf. Jer. 7:31; 19:5ff.). When King Josiah brought religious reform to the nation, Gehenna was condemned and came to be used as a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. In addition to common refuse, the corpses of criminals considered unworthy of burial were piled there. The smoldering fires of Gehenna never went out, its flames fanned and endlessly stoked by the continuous supply of refuse. In Jesus' day, Gehenna was a visible representation of Hell. Cf. Mark 9:47-48. Gehenna is used 11x in the synoptic gospels, always on the lips of Jesus.

b)         foundations of judgment: its criteria - vv. 6-15

1 -        judgment is according to what a man does - vv. 6-10

a -        the principle asserted - v. 6

b -        the principle applied - vv. 7-10

These verses pose an obvious theological problem. Vv. 7,10,13 appear to say that eternal life is the reward to those who persevere in doing good deeds. But isn't this inconsistent with the doctrine of salvation by grace? Or to put it more bluntly, Romans 2:7,10,13 appear to be in blatant contradiction with Romans 3:20. There are four possible interpretations.

(1)       Some say Paul is inconsistent; that he does in fact contradict himself. But surely Paul is not so ignorant as to assert in 2:7-13 what he denies in 3:20,28.

(2)       One might choose to argue that the difference between 2:13 and 3:20 is the difference between how salvation was available in the OT and how it is available in the NT. In other words, in the old era, under the Mosaic covenant, doing the law could justify, but in the new era, under the New covenant, it no longer can. Now, faith alone justifies. There are two obvious problems with this view. First, this makes Paul's point in Romans 2:13 totally irrelevant to his readers, since they live in the present, New covenant, era. But worse still, Paul clearly and on several occasions insists that obedience to the Mosaic Law could never justify (see esp. Gal. 3:21). Salvation in the OT was never based on works of obedience to he law.

(3)       Others argue that Paul is speaking hypothetically. He is saying that only perfect obedience would gain a righteousness of which God approves, but such obedience is not practically possible. In other words, he is stating a principle that is true enough in its own right, i.e., it is theoretically true, but never practically attained. Moo opts for this view. Note his explanation:

"It is a continual seeking after eternal rewards, accompanied by a persistent doing of what is good, that is the condition for a positive verdict at [the] judgment. Paul never denies the validity of this principle, but he goes on to show that no one meets the conditions necessary for this principle to become a reality" (141).

Thus, according to Moo,

"vv. 7 and 10 set forth what is called in traditional theological (especially Lutheran) language 'the law.' Paul sets forth the biblical conditions for attaining eternal life apart from Christ. Understood this way, Paul is not [actually] speaking hypothetically. But once his doctrine of human powerlessness under sin has been developed (cf. 3:9 especially), it becomes clear that the promise can, in fact, never become operative, because the condition for its fulfillment -- consistent, earnest seeking after good -- can never be realized" (141).

Thus, in principle obedience to the law justifies one in God's sight (2:7,10,13), but in practice no one can obey the law (3:10-18). Therefore, no one will be justified through the law (3:20).

(4)       Another suggestion is that Paul is addressing two different situations. In 3:20 he has in mind one's initial entrance into salvation, that inaugural event when God declares one righteous in his sight through faith in Christ. In 2:13 (based on 2:7,10), on the other hand, he refers to the final judgment when one's works or good deeds, being the evidence or fruit of saving faith, will "vindicate" the individual or reveal him/her to be in righteous standing before God.

According to this view, Paul is advocating a judgment based on works. Appeal is made to similar texts in Gal. 5:21; 6:8; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5-6. The point is that good works secure entrance into eternal life insofar as they are the product of a true saving faith. A mere profession of faith in Christ without perseverance in good deeds will not avail on the day of judgment. According to this view, "Paul's statements in Romans 2 are not merely hypothetical; those who fail to do good works will face judgment, while those who practice good works will experience eternal life" (Thomas Schreiner, The Law and its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 187).

Schreiner explains this view:

". . . even though Paul asserts that no one can attain salvation by good works [which is his point in 3:20], he also insists that no one can be saved without them, and that they are necessary to obtain an eschatological inheritance [which is his point in 2:7,10,13]. The Spirit's work in a person produces obedience to the law (Rom. 2:26-29). The saving work of Jesus Christ radically changes people so that they can now obey the law they previously disobeyed (see Rom. 8:1-4). The works that are necessary for salvation, therefore, do not constitute an earning of salvation but are evidence of a salvation already given. The transforming work of the Spirit accompanies and cannot be separated from, the justifying work of God. Such good works manifest the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. We should also stress that Paul is not demanding perfect obedience, but obedience that is significant, substantial, and observable" (203-04).

In sum, judgment is based on works, not because works merit salvation, but because works manifest faith. Or: sola fide iustificat, sed non fide quae est sola! I.e., “faith alone justifies, but not the faith which is alone!”

2 -        judgment is according to what a man knows - vv. 11-15

a -        the principle asserted - v. 11

b -        the principle applied - vv. 12-15

Paul’s primary purpose here is to demonstrate to the Jews that mere possession of the Law does not, in and of itself, bring salvation and thus does not, in and of itself, constitute an advantage over the Gentiles.

In v. 12, Paul declares that those who sin without the law will perish. But why? Verses 14-16 give the reason: “Gentiles are fairly judged for their sin because even without knowing the Mosaic law they are conscious of moral norms and yet do not consistently keep them” (Schreiner, 119). In other words, Gentiles who do not have THE law of God (the Mosaic Law) are not completely without law. The basic moral principles revealed in the Law of God (obedience to parents, do not murder, do not lie, etc.) are inscribed on their hearts, indelibly embedded in their conscience by virtue of the fact that they are created in the image of God, no less than the Jews. Unsaved Gentiles, says Paul, manifest an innate awareness of God's moral demands, their conscience either accusing or acquitting them.

An objection often found on the lips of skeptics is that it is unfair of God to hold people morally accountable and to judge them for failure to obey a “law” of which they are ignorant. But here Paul clearly reminds us that no one is utterly without divine law and that each and every one will be judged according to their response to the “law” they have received (whether carved in tablets of stone, as with the Jews, or merely on the tablet of one’s heart, as with the Gentile).

It is important to note that when Paul speaks of the “work of the law written in their hearts” (v. 15) he is not alluding to the truth of Jeremiah 31:33. In this latter text, the prophet speaks of the time when God’s saving work among his people will entail the writing of the law on their hearts. Paul’s purpose in v. 15, on the other hand, is simply to demonstrate that the Gentiles have an inner, intuitive awareness of the law and its obligatory force. When Paul says in v. 14 that they are “a law to themselves” he has in mind “what is natively human [by virtue of having been created in God’s image], not what is supplied by the Holy Spirit [by virtue of having been redeemed]” (Schreiner, 123).

Paul’s reference to Gentile "obedience" to certain divine moral principles does not imply they are saved or that this is an obedience that secures merit for them in God's presence. In the first place, the text emphasizes that “accusing” thoughts predominate and that “defending” thoughts are relatively rare, or at least the exception rather than the rule. Secondly, the opening statement of v. 12 confirms this point. Paul “introduces the Gentiles by stating that those who sin without the law will perish without it. Verses 14-16 fill in the basis on which the judgment of the Gentiles occurs. They are judged by the law that is written in their hearts and attested by their conscience. They will eternally perish and face condemnation because of their failure to keep the law” (Schreiner, 124). Thus both the Jews and Gentiles will be judged for their failure to keep the law which they both, in ways unique to each, possessed.

c)         the finality of judgment: its conclusion - v. 16

It is staggering to think that the “secrets” of our souls, those obscure and hidden thoughts, those veiled fantasies and silent sins, will all be laid bare before God on the day of judgment. How does this affect your life now?



An Alternative Interpretation of Romans 2:12-16

N. T. Wright (“The Law in Romans 2,” in Paul and the Mosaic Law, ed. James D. G. Dunn [Eerdmans, 2001], 131-50) has proposed a reading of Rom. 2:12-16 that, if true, would cast considerable doubt on the traditional understanding of this text. Wright’s argument is based on, among other contextual clues, two grammatical observations.

First, he argues that the “for” (gar) with which v. 14 opens indicates that this verse is an explanation of the principle stated in v. 13. In other words, the “doers of the law who shall be justified” (v. 13) are none other than the “Gentiles” of v. 14. But who are these Gentiles who will be justified by doing the law?

This leads to Wright’s second point, which pertains to the word translated “by nature” (phusei). More traditional views have taken this word with what follows, hence: “for when Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things of the law they, not having the law, are a law to themselves.” On this reading, “by nature” means something like “instinctively” or “by virtue of something in their constitution” as divine image-bearers. In other words, in some way these unregenerate Gentiles have had the law of God written on their hearts as a constituent element in their status as image-bearers. Though unsaved, they are not without knowledge of what God requires, of the fundamental principles of right and wrong. These they have “by nature”. Wright, however, contends that “by nature” should be taken with what precedes and should be translated in a way that is consistent with its usage a mere thirteen verses later in 2:27. In the latter text phusis means what the Gentiles are or have “by birth”. Their “natural” state is uncircumcised. This leads Wright to translate 2:14 as follows: “for when Gentiles who do not by nature have the law do the things of the law they, not having the law, are a law to themselves.” Thus “by ‘nature’, that is, by birth, they are outside the covenant, not within Torah. And yet they ‘do the things of Torah’ (v. 14)” (145). Although it may seem unusual from a grammatical point of view, a similar construction is found in Rom. 14:1 (in which the substantive participle is followed, rather than preceded, by its modifying dative).

These Gentiles, therefore, who by birth did not have the law of God, yet do the things of the law, are Christian Gentiles, not unbelievers. This is confirmed by 2:15 which, Wright contends, is in fact a direct allusion to the new covenant of Jer. 31:33 and its promise of God putting his law within his people and writing it on their hearts. Says Wright, “I find it next to impossible that Paul could have written this phrase, with its overtones of Jeremiah’s new covenant promise, simply to refer to pagans who happen by accident to share some of Israel’s moral teaching” (147).

But if the Gentiles in 2:14 are Christians, what is the meaning of 2:15 and the reference to an inner uncertainty, as it were, concerning their status before God? Says Wright:

“They are not simply lawless Gentiles; but the Jewish law, which is now in some sense or other written on their hearts, and which in some sense they ‘do’, nevertheless has a sufficiently ambiguous relation to them for them to still be concerned that the eventual issue might be in doubt. Hence, as judgment day approaches, they may well find inner conflict as they reflect on their situation. They would not have this inner conflict were they not Christians. The situation would then be the simply [sic] one of v. 12” (146).

Wright concludes that Rom. 2:14-15 is not talking about the function of the divine image or conscience in unregenerate Gentiles by which they demonstrate an intuitive knowledge of the law of God. Rather, these are Christian Gentiles who, in fulfillment of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah, have had the law of God written in their hearts by the Spirit. Although they were born without the law, being outside the covenant God established through Moses, they now have the law in fulfillment of God’s promise to establish a new covenant. These are the “doers of the law” (v. 13) who will find themselves vindicated (justified) at the final judgment.

If Wright’s interpretation is correct, the principal textual support for the idea of general revelation in the conscience of mankind is lost.


2)         practices of the Jews - vv. 17-29

a)         the folly of a religious phony - vv. 17-24

(refusing to practice what you preach by relying on your privileges and position)

1 -        their boast - vv. 17-20

As Cranfield notes, "Paul appears to be deliberately taking up claims which were actually being made by his fellow Jews, echoing the very language in which they were being expressed" (164).

a -        their privileges in relation to God - vv. 17-18

Are the privileges listed here to be viewed negatively or positively? Probably the latter. Paul lists 5 of them: (1) The name ("Jew"), in which they took great pride. (2) Their reliance on the Law, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (see Ps. 19:7-11; Ps. 119). Unfortunately, the Jewish man relied "on it in the sense of thinking to fulfill it in such a way as to put God in his debt or of imagining complacently that the mere fact of possessing it gives him security against God's judgment" (Cranfield,164). (3) Their boast in God; cf. Rom. 5:11; 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17 (unfortunately, their boast was exclusivistic: "God is mine, not yours, and you can't have Him"). (4) Their knowledge of the divine will; and (5) their spiritual discernment that came from a knowledge of the Law are both wonderful advantages.

b -        their prerogatives in relation to men - vv. 19-20

Again, there are 5 of them: (1) they were spiritual guides to the spiritually blind; (2) they were a light to those in darkness (cf. Isa. 42:6-7); (3) they were corrector to the foolish (practical moral guidance; cf. Mt. 23:15); (4) teachers of the immature; and (5) possessors of the truth ("The Jew's confidence that he can be the four things just mentioned rests on his conviction that in the law he possesses the embodiment of knowledge and truth, i.e., knowledge and truth in a form which can be grasped, expressed clearly and understandably" [Cranfield,167]).

2 -        their behavior - vv. 21-24

Here in vv. 21-24 the argument takes a different turn, as Paul points out how despite their advantages the Jews had failed to live up to their calling.

a -        conduct versus claim - vv. 21-23

Once more, Paul gives 5 examples: (1) teaching; (2) stealing; (3) committing adultery (cf. Mt. 5:21-48); (4) robbing temples; and (5) boasting in the Law (he has in mind boasting in the sense of thinking that by obedience to the Law one can put God in one's debt, also, boasting in the sense of, on the basis of the former, looking down one's nose at others).

The reference to “robbing temples” has sparked considerable debate. Is it literal or metaphorical? Probably the former, notes Schreiner (133), as “Paul highlights an inconsistency among the Jews. They claim to detest idolatry and spurn any association with idols, yet they are willing to be defiled by profiting from the very idols they detest.”

But was it actually the case that all Jews were thieves, adulterers, and robbed temples? Of course not! This certainly wouldn’t apply to Paul prior to his conversion. “We should recognize that Paul [here] engages in a piece of rhetoric designed to argue for the principle that the Jews did not keep the very law they possessed and taught. . . To conclude that these examples charge every Jew of committing these particular sins is a mistake. Paul uses particularly blatant and shocking examples (like any good preacher) to illustrate the principle that Jews violated the law that they possessed. Moo observes rightly, ‘It is not, then, that all Jews commit these sins, but that these sins are representative of the contradiction between claim and conduct that does pervade Judaism’” (Schreiner, 134).

b -        conclusion - v. 24

This is a citation of Isa. 52:5. The principle by which the Gentile reasoned was this: "A people are like their God."

b)         the foundation of a phony religion - vv. 25-29

(the belief that an external ritual compensates for the absence of an internal reality)

Robert C. Roberts has a good description of the dangers of ritualism. In ritualism,

"you identify being a Christian with having certain experiences or doing certain actions, in church. The right sounds and sights and maybe smells, the right chants and vestments, exquisite music, and the right genuflections and self-crossings -- all coordinated and blended like an eight-course French dinner -- are calculated to create a mood of reverence and holy mystery. When these liturgical actions, performed in lush stained-glass darkness, send goosebumps roaming down your back and cause little floods of wetness to well up behind your eyeballs, then you know in your heart that you are a true Christian."

There is also a low form of ritualism. That is to say,

"if you're from Bumpkin Ridge you may need a different strategy than genuflections and incense. It's the old favorite hymns that make you feel the religion in your heart. 'Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,' 'In the Garden,' 'Throw Out the Lifeline,' 'I love to tell the Story.' And it's not the priest crossing himself that makes you feel religious, but the thump of his fist on the pulpit, and the song leader flingin' his arms every which way. If there isn't enough arms-flingin' and Bible-thumping, the Holy Spirit just doesn't grip on you. And it's not the goose bumps traveling down the spine, but the sweat collecting in the armpits and hanging down from your glasses. If the high liturgy was a French dinner, this is a hotdog and a coke."

1 -        the outward ritual - vv. 25-27

a -        ritual without reality is unrighteousness - v. 25

b -        reality without ritual is righteousness - vv. 26-27

When Paul says that the uncircumcised Gentile is regarded as circumcised, he means that he/she is part of God’s redeemed community notwithstanding the absence of the physical mark in one’s flesh.

2 -        the inward reality - vv. 28-29

a -        being a true Jew is not a matter of heritage - v. 28

b -        being a true Jew is a matter of heart - v. 29

So, how can uncircumcised Gentiles belong to the people of God without submitting to the physical rite? “Paul’s answer in verse 29 is that physical circumcision and being an ethnic Jew are unnecessary to belong to the people of God. What counts is being ‘a Jew in secret’ . . . that is, in the heart, and possessing ‘the circumcision of the heart’” (Schreiner, 141). Thus, here Paul defines the essence of what it is to be a true Jew. He couldn't be any more explicit than this: the true Jew, the true Israelite, is not that man or woman who has Abraham's blood in his veins but the one who has Abraham's faith in his heart. The mark of being a citizen of the kingdom of God is circumcision, not of the flesh, but of the heart. One's ethnic heritage is not decisive in determining who is among the covenant people of God. One's personal faith is.

Ought we then to call the Church spiritual Israel or the true Israel? Those who say Yes point to the fact that the NT authors readily apply to the Church titles, honors, and blessings reserved in the OT for ethnic Israel: the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:15ff.), the circumcision (Phil. 3:1-3), the dispersion (1 Pt. 1:1), chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for God's own possession, people of God (1 Pt. 2:9-10). See especially Gal. 6:16 and Rev. 3:9. As the true Israel of God, the church, comprised of both ethnic Gentiles and ethnic Jews, is the heir of all the promises made to the OT patriarchs. This by no means precludes a future ingathering of ethnic Jews (on which, see Romans 11). What it does mean is that when ethnic Jews are saved, they are incorporated into the Church and made one body and fellow-heirs with believing Gentiles. There is only one people of God, the Church, the true Israel, in which both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles have been circumcised in heart and made heirs to the covenant promises.

b.         the faithfulness of God - 3:1-8

A brief word on the literary device known as diatribe. Douglas Moo explains:

"Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary genre called the diatribe. In this genre, an author gets his point across by engaging in an imaginary discussion or debate with a student or opponent. Elements of this style include frequent questions, posed by the author himself to his conversation partner or by the conversation partner, emphatic rejections of possible objections to a line of argument using me genoito ("May it never be!"), and the direct address of one's conversation partner or opponent. Romans 3:1-8 is a particularly clear example of this dialogical style; and chap. 2, while not containing any true dialogue, is similar to those parts of the diatribe in which the 'teacher' rebukes his conversation partner by exposing his presumption and inconsistency (cf. 2:1: 'you have no excuse, O man'; 2:3: 'Do you suppose, O man'; 2:17: 'If you call yourself a Jew,' etc.)" (124-25).

1)         the first objection raised - v. 1

2)         the first objection refuted - v. 2

One can almost hear Paul's Jewish friends thinking to themselves:

"If physical circumcision does not contribute to salvation, if being a descendant of Abraham does not guarantee blessing, if the Law brings a knowledge and conviction of sin, and if we Jews are as liable to judgment as Gentiles, What good is there in being a Jew at all?"

By the way, the word translated “benefit” is opheleia. Its verb form was used in 2:25 and there meant “saving advantage.” It is likely that the same connotation is present here. Paul’s question, then, is this: “Is there any saving advantage in being a Jew or possessing physical circumcision?” More on this below.

C. K. Barrett explains the force of the objection:

"If the OT is to be believed God did choose the Jews out of all mankind and did bestow special privileges upon them. To reduce them therefore to the level of other nations is either to accuse the OT of falsehood, or to accuse God of failing to carry out his plans. It is this theological objection to his thesis that Paul is bound to meet" (62).

On Israel's unique status, see Deut. 7:6-8 and Amos 3:1-2. When Paul turns to consider Israel's prerogatives, "one item tops all others, namely, the fact that to the Jews, and to no other nation, was accorded the unique privilege, the high honor, of being the custodians of the oracles of God, that entire special revelation to Israel which consisted not only of commandments, but also of predictions and promises" (Hendriksen, 109). See esp. Ps. 147:19-20; Deut. 4:8. This phrase, “oracles of God,” may well refer to the entire OT scriptures. However, Schreiner contends that “the promises of salvation for Israel are uppermost in Paul’s mind. The advantage should not be restricted merely to the possession of the Scriptures and the stewardship required because of their possession. This would scarcely advance the argument beyond chapter 2 since the possession of the law by Israel, although an advantage in some respects, ensures only that Israel will be judged because of their failure to obey it. Rather, Paul declares something more profound about the ‘saving advantage’ that ethnic Israel possessed: they had promises from God ensuring them of future salvation” (149; see esp. chp. 11).

It is here that we expect a long list of advantages and blessings that God bestowed on the Jewish people during the age of the OT (cf. his "first of all" in v. 2a). But he mentions on the one (the "oracles of God"), breaks off his argument, and resumes it at 9:3-5.

3)         the second objection raised - v. 3

4)         the second objection refuted - v. 4

Virtually all of Romans 9-11 is designed to answer this (v. 3) powerful and confusing objection.

5)         the third objection raised - vv. 5,7,8

6)         the third objection refuted - v. 6

3.         Sin and Condemnation of all Mankind - 3:9-20

a.         the charge - v. 9

It would appear that Paul asks the same question within the span of a few verses and then proceeds to provide contradictory answers. To the question in 3:1, “what advantage has the Jew?” he answered, “great in every respect” (3:2). But to the question in 3:9, “Are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)?” he answers, “not at all” (3:9). How can we avoid this discrepancy? “Only by clarifying what benefit or ‘advantage’ he has in mind,” notes Stott. “If he means privilege and responsibility, then the Jews have much because God has entrusted his revelation to them. But if he means favouritism, then the Jews have none, because God will not exempt them from judgment” (99).

The word translated "charged" (NASB) is rendered "proved" in the KJV. But Paul has not proven the universal guilt of the human race. He has indicted or charged or accused the human race. The proof is found in vv. 10-18.

b.         the confirmation - vv. 10-18

Note Paul's emphasis on the universality of sin: no fewer than 8 times in the first 3 verses he uses words like "none", "all", "no, not even one" in order to make his point. These are what I call emphatic universal negatives, i.e., no exceptions allowed! Here we encounter the supreme irony in human life:

"The supreme irony of the human situation in every age is that the one thing, and only thing, in which all mankind is concretely at one is sin. And the irrational paradox of it is that it makes any other sort of unity impossible. The unity for which men strive in various ways is always being negated by the unity for which they never need to strive -- their unity in sin" (D. R. Davies).

[Note the structure of this list that follows in vv. 10-18. Verses 10-12 describe the universality of sin similar to what we saw in 1:18-23. Verses 13-14 focus on sins of speech. Verses 15-17 focus on sins in society at large. Verse 18 identifies the ground and root cause of all the sins just noted: the failure to fear God.]

1)         man's character - vv. 10-12

Paul goes out of his way to emphasize the universality of sin. Five times he uses the Greek phrase ouk estin = “there is none”. The one line that lacks this phrase has instead the Greek work pantes = “all”, which points to the pervasiveness of sin. Again, in vv. 10 and 12 he uses the words oude heis = “there is not even one” and heos henos = “not even one.” Point made!

a)         men don't obey God - vv. 10,12b

Is there any sense in which unrighteous, unsaved people can be said to do good?

b)         men don't understand God - v. 11a

Cf. esp. 1 Cor. 2:14. Why do they not understand? It isn't because they lack sufficient mental ability nor is it because of a lack of evidence (cf. Rom. 1). It comes from a willful refusal to keep God in their thinking.

c)         men don't want God - vv. 11b-12a

How does the statement, "There is none who seeks for God" affect the subject of free will? If none seek for God, how is it that anyone ever gets saved?

But what about all those people who appear to be "seeking" God; those who are "searching" for more? R. C. Sproul answers:

"We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. [But] people do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives."

2)         man's conduct - vv. 13-18

c.         the conclusion - vv. 19-20

Here in v. 19 Paul says that the Law of Moses was given to the Jews so that “every mouth,” including “Gentile mouths,” might be closed, and so that “all the world,” including the “Gentile world,” may become accountable to God. But how could Jewish possession of the Law make the whole world liable to God’s judgment? Paul’s point appears to be that “if the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can” (Schreiner, 168).