The Advantage of Being Jewish
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevail when Thou art judged.” 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.) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just. (3:1–8)
Looking at the rather tragic history of the Jewish people, one is not inclined to think there has been any advantage in being a Jew. In spite of the reality that they are such a noble strain of humanity and chosen by God, their history has been a saga of slavery, hardship, warfare, persecution, slander, captivity, dispersion, and humiliation.
They were menial slaves in Egypt for some 400 years, and after God miraculously delivered them, they wandered in a barren wilderness for forty years, until an entire generation died out. When they eventually entered the land God had promised them, they had to fight to gain every square foot of it and continue to fight to protect what they gained. After several hundred years, civil war divided the nation. The northern kingdom eventually was almost decimated by Assyria, with the remnant being taken captive to that country. Later, the southern kingdom was conquered and exiled in Babylon for seventy years, after which some were allowed to return to Palestine.
Not long after they rebuilt their homeland, they were conquered by Greece, and the despotic Antiochus Epiphanes reveled in desecrating their Temple, corrupting their sacrifices, and slaughtering their priests. Under Roman rule they fared no better. Tens of thousands of Jewish rebels were publicly crucified, and under Herod the Great scores of male Jewish babies were slaughtered because of his insane jealousy of the Christ child. In the year a.d. 70, the Roman general Titus Vespasian carried out Caesar’s order to utterly destroy Jerusalem, its Temple, and most of its citizens. According to Josephus, over a million Jews of all ages were mercilessly butchered, and some 100,000 of those who survived were sold into slavery or sent to Rome to die in the gladiator games. Two years previously, Gentiles in Caesarea had killed 20,000 Jews and sold many more into slavery. During that same period of time, the inhabitants of Damascus cut the throats of 10,000 Jews in a single day.
In a.d. 115 the Jews of Cyrene, Egypt, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia rebelled against Rome. When they failed, Emperor Hadrian destroyed 985 towns in Palestine and killed at least 600,000 Jewish men. Thousands more perished from starvation and disease. So many Jews were sold into slavery that the price of an able-bodied male slave dropped to that of a horse. In the year 380 Emperor Theodosius I formulated a legal code that declared Jews to be an inferior race of human beings-a demonic idea that strongly permeated most of Europe for over a thousand years and that even persists in many parts of the world in our own day.
For some two centuries the Jews were oppressed by the Byzantine branch of the divided Roman empire. Emperor Heroclitus banished them from Jerusalem in 628 and later tried to exterminate them. Leo the Assyrian gave them the choice of converting to Christianity or being banished from the realm. When the first crusade was launched in 1096 to recapture the Holy Land from the Ottoman Turks, the crusaders slaughtered countless thousands of Jews on their way to Palestine, brutally trampling many to death under their horses’ hooves. That carnage, of course, was committed in the name of Christianity.
In 1254 King Louis IX banished all Jews from France. When many later returned to that country, Philip the Fair expelled 100,000 of them again in 1306. In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain even as Columbus began his first voyage across the Atlantic, and four years later they were expelled from Portugal as well. Soon most of western Europe was closed to them except for a few areas in northern Italy, Germany, and Poland. Although the French Revolution emancipated many Jews, vicious anti-Semitism continued to dominate most of Europe and parts of Russia. Thousands of Jews were massacred in the Ukraine in 1818. In 1894, because of growing anti-Semitism in the French army, a Jewish officer named Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, and that charge was used as an excuse to purge the military of all Jews of high rank.
When a number of influential Jews began to dream of reestablishing a homeland in Palestine, the Zionist movement was born, its first congress being convened in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. By 1914, some 90,000 Jews had settled in Palestine. In the unparalleled Nazi holocaust of the early 1940s at least 6,000,000 Jews were exterminated, this time for racial rather than religious reasons.
Although in our society anti-Semitism is seldom expressed so openly, Jews in many parts of the world still suffer for no other reason than their Jewishness. From the purely historical perspective, therefore, Jews have been among the most continuously and harshly disadvantaged people of all time.
Not only have Jews historically had little social or political security, but in Romans 2:17–20 Paul declares that, although they are God’s specially chosen and blessed people, Jews do not even have guaranteed spiritual security-either by physical lineage or religious heritage. Being born a descendant of Abraham, knowing God’s law, and being circumcised did not assure them a place in heaven. In fact, rather than protecting Jews from God’s judgment, those blessings made them all the more accountable for obedience to the Lord.
After having demolished the false securities on which most Jews relied, Paul anticipated the strong objections his Jewish readers would make. The truths he sets forth in the book of Romans he had taught many times before in many places, and he knew what the most common objections in Rome would be.
Paul had confronted Jewish objectors from the beginning of his ministry when Paul took the four Jewish Christians into the Temple to fulfill a vow, for example. The leaders seized him and cried out to the crowd that had gathered, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place” (Acts 21:28). It was because Paul had a reputation for teaching such things that the Christian elders in Jerusalem persuaded him to take the men into the Temple for purification, thinking such an act would convince the leaders that Paul had not forsaken the teaching of Moses (see vv. 21–24).
In his defense before King Agrippa, Paul said,
I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place. (Acts 26:19–22)
The apostle did not teach that Jewish heritage and the Mosaic law ceremonies were not important. Because they were God-given, they had tremendous importance. But they were not in Paul’s day, and had never been, the means of satisfying the divine standard of righteousness. They offered Jews great spiritual advantages, but they did not provide spiritual security.
After his conversion, Paul continued to worship in the Temple when he was in Jerusalem and faithfully practiced the moral teachings of the Mosaic law. He personally circumcised Timothy, who was Jewish on his mother’s side, as a concession to the Jews in the region of Galatia (Acts 16:1–3). He even continued to follow many of the ceremonial customs and the rabbinical patterns in order not to give undue offense to legalistic Jews, as noted in Acts 21:24–26.
But the essence of his preaching was that none of those outward acts have any saving benefit and that a person can become right with God only through trust in His Son Jesus Christ. It was that truth of salvation only by God’s grace working through man’s faith that the unbelieving Jews found intolerable, because it exposed the worthlessness of their traditions and the hypocrisy of their ostentatious devotion to God.
Self-righteous, self-satisfied Jews could not stand any attack on their supposed Abrahamic security and their man-made legalism. The apostle had learned from all these experiences that unbelieving Jews would always accuse him of teaching against God’s chosen people, against God’s promises to His people, and against God’s purity. It is therefore those three objections that he confronts in Romans 3:1–8.
The Objection That Paul Attacked God’s People
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (3:1–2)
Paul’s accusers continually charged him with teaching that the Lord’s calling of Israel to be His special people was meaningless. If that were so, the apostle blasphemed the very character and integrity of God.
Paul knew the questions that some Jews in Rome would ask after they read or hear about the first part of his letter. “If our Jewish heritage, our knowing and teaching the Mosaic law, and our following Jewish rituals such as circumcision do not make a Jew righteous before God,” they would wonder, “then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?”
Many Scripture passages would have come to their minds. Just before God presented Israel with the Ten Commandments, He told them, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Moses wrote of Israel, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples” (Deut. 10:14–15). In the same book Moses wrote, “You are a holy people to the Lord your God; and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (14:2). The psalmist exulted, “The Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession” (Ps. 135:4). Through Isaiah, the Lord declared of Israel, “The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise” (Isa. 43:21).
Because of those and countless other Old Testament passages that testify to Israel’s unique calling and blessing, many Jews concluded that, in itself, being Jewish made them acceptable to God. But as Paul has pointed out, being physical descendants of Abraham did not qualify them as his spiritual descendants. If they did not have the mark of God’s Spirit within their hearts, the outward mark of circumcision in their flesh was worthless (Rom. 2:17–29).
Nevertheless, Paul continues, the advantage of being Jewish was great in every respect. Although it did not bring salvation, it bestowed many privileges that Gentiles did not have. Later in the epistle, Paul tells his readers, doubtlessly with tears in his eyes as he wrote, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, 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” (9:3–5).
The Jews as a people had been adopted by God as His children, with whom He had made several exclusive covenants. He had given them His holy law and promised that through their lineage the Savior of the world would come. The Jewish people were indeed special in God’s eyes. They were blessed, protected, and delivered as no other nation on earth.
But most Jews paid little attention to the negative side of God’s revelation to them. He proclaimed of Israel, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth,” but immediately went on to say, “therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). With high privilege also came high responsibility.
In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a feast given by a king to celebrate his son’s marriage. Several times he sent messengers to the invited guests telling them that the feast was ready, but each time they ignored the invitation. Some of them even beat and killed the messengers. The enraged king sent his soldiers to destroy the murderers and set their cities on fire. The king then sent other messengers to invite everyone in the kingdom to the feast, regardless of rank or wealth (Matt. 22:1–9).
That parable pictures Israel as the first and most privileged guests who were invited to celebrate the coming of God’s Son to redeem the world. But when the majority of Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God opened the door to Gentiles, those whom the king’s messengers found along the highways and in the streets. I believe that the guests who attended the feast represent the church, people in general who acknowledge Christ as God’s Son and received Him as Lord and Savior.
Through Isaiah, the Lord lamented of Israel, “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?” (Isa. 5:4). The answer, of course, was that there was nothing more that God could have done for His people. He had bestowed on them every conceivable blessing and advantage.
Becoming more specific regarding their benefits, Paul said to his hypothetical Jewish objectors, “You were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Logion (oracles) is a diminutive of logos, which is most commonly translated word. Logion generally referred to important sayings or messages, especially supernatural utterances.
Although oracles is a legitimate translation (see also Acts 7:38; Heb. 5:12), because of the term’s association with pagan rites, that rendering seems unsuitable in this context. In many pagan religions of that day, mediums and seers gave occultic predictions of the future and other messages from the spirit world through supernatural “oracles.” By observing the movements of fish in a tank, the formation of snakes in a pit, or listening to the calls of certain birds, fortune-tellers would purport to predict such things as business success or failure, military victory or defeat, and a happy or tragic marriage.
Such a connotation could not have been further from Paul’s use of
logion in this passage. His point was that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of the one and only true God, referring to the entire Old Testament (cf. Deut. 4:1–2; 6:1–2). God’s revelation of Himself and of His will had been entrusted to the Jews, and that gave them unimaginably great privilege as well as equally immense responsibility.
As the poet William Cowper wrote,
They, and they only, amongst all mankind,
Received the transcript of the Eternal Mind;
Were trusted with His own engraven laws,
And constituted guardians of His cause;
Theirs were the prophets, theirs the priestly call,
And theirs, by birth, the Savior of us all.
Tragically, however, Jews had focused much attention on their privileges but little on their responsibilities. During one period of their history they misplaced and lost the written record of God’s law. Only when a copy of it was found by Hilkiah the high priest during the restoration of the Temple did Judah begin again to honor the Lord’s commandments and observe His ceremonies for a brief time under the godly King Josiah (see 2 Chron. 34:14–33).
For many centuries before the time of Paul, beginning during the Babylonian Captivity, the Jews’ reverence for her man-made rabbinical traditions and interpretations had come to far outweigh her reverence for God’s written Word.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day prided themselves as being experts in the Scriptures. But when the Sadducees tried to maneuver Jesus into a corner by asking a hypothetical question about marriage in heaven, He rebuked them by saying, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24).
To a crowd of unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem the Lord declared, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man died and went to hell. From there he cried out to Abraham to send a special messenger to tell his brothers the way of salvation. But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). In other words, the Old Testament contained all the truth that any Jew (or any Gentile, for that matter) needed to be saved. Jews who truly believed the Scriptures recognized Jesus as the Son of God, because He is the focus of the Old Testament as well as the New. But most Jews preferred to follow the traditions of the rabbis and elders rather than “the sacred writings which are able to give … the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
That same attitude has characterized much of Christianity throughout its history. The teachings and standards of a denomination or of an exclusive group or sect have frequently overshadowed, and often completely contradicted, God’s own revelation in the Bible.
Belonging to a Christian church is much like it was to be a Jew under the Old Covenant. Outward identity with those who claim to be God’s people, even when they are genuine believers, is in itself of no benefit to an unbeliever. But such a person does have a great advantage above other unbelievers if in a church he is exposed to the sound teaching of God’s Word. If he does not take advantage of that privilege, however, he makes his guilt and condemnation worse than if he had never heard the gospel. “For if we go on sinning will-fully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment” (Heb. 10:26–27; cf. 4:2–3).
The Objection That Paul Attacked God’s Promises
What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevail when Thou art judged.” (3:3–4)
The next objection Paul anticipated and confronted was that his teaching abrogated God’s promises to Israel. As any student of the Old Testament knows, God’s promises to His chosen people are numerous. How, then, could Paul maintain that it was possible for a Jew not to be secure in those promises?
Paul’s answer reflected both the explicit and implicit teaching of the Jewish Scriptures themselves. God had never promised that any individual Jew, no matter how pure his physical lineage from Abraham, or from any of the other great saints of the Old Testament, could claim security in God’s promises apart from repentance and personal faith in God, resulting in obedience from the heart. Isaiah 55:6–7 provides a good illustration of an invitation to such obedient faith: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
As in the passage from Amos 3:2 mentioned above, many of God’s greatest promises were accompanied by the severest warnings. And most of the promises were conditional, based on His people’s faith and obedience. The few unconditional promises He made were to the nation of Israel as a whole, not to individual Jews (see, e.g., Gen. 12:3; Isa. 44:1–5; Zech. 12:10).
The apostle therefore agreed in part with his accusers, saying, What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? His opponents were perfectly right in defending the Lord’s integrity. No matter how men respond to His promises, He is absolutely faithful to keep His word.
Though certainly not intentionally, the idea in covenant theology that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan of redemption assumes God’s faithlessness in keeping His unconditional promises to Israel. Because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ as her Messiah, God has postponed the fulfillment of His promise to redeem and restore Israel as a nation. But He has not (and because of His holy nature He could not) reneged on that promise. His prediction, for example, that He will one day “pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10) could not possibly apply to the church. And because such a renewal has never happened in the history of Israel, either the prediction is false or it is yet to be fulfilled.
Later in the epistle Paul strongly affirms that God has not rejected His people Israel (Rom. 11:1). A few verses later he declares, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ ” Lest he be misunderstood as referring to the church as the new Israel, Paul adds, “From the standpoint of the gospel they [Jews] are enemies for your [Christians’] sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (vv. 25–29).
The national salvation of Israel is as inevitable as God’s promises are irrevocable. But that future certainty gives individual Jews no more present guarantee of being saved than the most pagan Gentile.
The mistake of Paul’s accusers was in believing that God’s unconditional promises to Israel applied to all individual Jews at all times. But as Paul shows earlier in 9:6–7, when he writes: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’ ”
The accusers were right in contending that God cannot break His word. If the blessings of a promise failed to materialize it was because His people did not believe and obey the conditions of the promise. But their unbelief could not prevent the salvation which God would ultimately bring to the promised nation.
But an even deeper truth was that, contrary to the thinking of most Jews, salvation was never offered by God on the basis of the heritage, ceremony, good works, or any basis other than that of faith. Paul therefore asks rhetorically, “The fact that Jews who did not believe forfeited their personal right to God’s promised blessings and barred themselves from the inheritance of God’s kingdom will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” His salvation will come to Israel some day, when all Israel will be saved.
Answering his own question, he exclaims, May it never be! The phrase mē genoito (may it never be) was the strongest negative Greek expression and usually carried the connotation of impossibility, “Of course God cannot be unfaithful in His promises or in any other way,” Paul was saying.
Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. If every human being who ever lived declared that God is faithless, God would be found true and every man who testified against Him would be found a liar.
Summoning Scripture as he regularly did, Paul quotes from the great penitential psalm of David, Israel’s most illustrious and beloved king, from whose throne the Messiah Himself would some day reign. As it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and mightest prevail when Thou art judged” (see Ps. 51:4). Because God is perfect and is Himself the measure of goodness and truth, His Word is its own verification and His judgment its own justification. It is utter folly to suppose that the Lord of heaven and earth might not prevail against the sinful, perverted judgment that either man or Satan could make against Him.
The Objection That Paul Attacked God’s Purity
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.) May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just. (3:5–8)
The third objection Paul anticipated was that his teaching attacked the very purity and holiness of God. The argument of his accusers would have been something like this:
If God is glorified by the sins of Israel, being shown faithful Himself despite the unfaithfulness of His chosen people, then sin glorifies God. In other words, Paul, you are saying that what God strictly forbids actually brings Him glory. You are saying that God is like a merchant who displays a piece of expensive gold jewelry on a piece of black velvet so the contrast makes the gold appear even more elegant and beautiful. You are charging God with using man’s sin to bring glory to Himself, and that is blasphemy. You are impugning the righteous purity of God. Not only that, but if man’s unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say about God’s judgment? If what you say is true, why does God punish sin? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?
Again lest his readers conclude that he was expressing his own thinking, Paul immediately adds the parenthetical explanation that he was speaking in human terms, that is, according to the human logic of the natural mind. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t think for a minute that I believe such perverted nonsense. I am only paraphrasing the charges that are often made against me.”
To intensify the disclaimer, Paul says again, “May it never be! Obviously God does not encourage or condone sin in order to glorify Himself, for otherwise how will God judge the world?”
If Jews understood anything about the nature of God it was that He is a perfect judge. From the earliest part of the Old Testament He is called “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25). The psalmists repeatedly refer to Him as a judge (see, e.g., Pss. 50:6; 58:11; 94:2). A major theme of virtually all the prophets is that of God’s judgment-past as well as present, imminent as well as in the distant future. Paul’s very obvious point is that God would have no basis for equitable, righteous, pure judgment if He condoned sin.
In verses 7 and 8 the apostle reiterates the false charges against him in somewhat different terms. “You claim that I say, ‘If through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged a sinner?’ ”
That was clearly a charge of antinomianism (disregard of God’s law) of the worst sort. The critics were accusing Paul of teaching that the more wicked a person is, the more he glorifies God; the more faithless a person is, the more faithful he makes God appear; the more a person lies, the more he exalts God’s truthfulness.
Those were not hypothetical misrepresentations, as Paul makes clear in his next statement: “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?” Paul’s enemies obviously had repeatedly charged that his gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone not only undermined God’s law but granted license to sin with impunity. In effect, they accused him of saying that, in God’s eyes, sin is as acceptable as righteousness, if not more so.
Although the scribes and Pharisees were themselves sinful and hypocritical to the core, they loved to condemn others for breaking the Mosaic law and the rabbinical traditions even in the smallest degree. Their religion was legalism personified, and the idea of divine grace was therefore anathema to them, because it completely undermined the works righteousness in which their hope was rounded.
The same legalism characterized the Judaizers, supposed Jewish converts to Christianity who insisted that Christians had to maintain all the Mosaic laws and ceremonies. Their charges against Paul’s gospel of grace were virtually identical to those of the scribes and Pharisees. The apostle therefore was attacked in much the same way both from within and without the church. It is therefore probable that Paul was addressing his arguments both to the Jewish leaders without and to the Judaizers within.
One of the most obvious characteristics of fallen human nature is its amazing ability to rationalize sin. Even small children are clever at giving a good reason for doing a wrong thing. That, essentially, was what Paul’s opponents charged him with doing-rationalizing sin on the basis that it glorified God.
Later in the epistle Paul deals in detail with this same issue. After saying that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” he quickly counters the false conclusion he knew many people would jump to. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be!” (Rom. 5:20–6:2). With all the forcefulness he could muster, the apostle denounced the charge that he condoned any kind of sin. Least of all would he presume to justify sin by the spurious and vile argument that it brought glory to God.
It is possible, of course, that some of Paul’s accusers wrongly associated his teachings with that of libertines in the church, such as those who were a blotch on the church at Corinth. Jude wrote of “certain persons [who had] crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
For a professed Christian to live in continual, unrepentant sin is a certain mark that he is not saved. To be a Christian is to be under the lordship of Jesus Christ and genuinely desire to serve Him. As Jude makes indisputably clear, the person who tries to justify his sin by presuming on God’s grace is ungodly and denies Christ (v. 4).
Paul’s final response to his slanderous critics was short but pointed. Although he was not the least guilty of teaching antinomianism, he fully concurred that for those who do teach it, their condemnation is just.
God’s Faithfulness and Justice (3:1–8)
The subject of the guilt of the Jews is continued, but now with a couple of new emphases: (1) the element of unbelief and (2) the claim of immunity from divine judgment on the strange grounds that God’s faithfulness is thrown into bolder relief by human failure. What reasonable basis remains for acting in judgment?
1 The opening question reflects the devastating attack the apostle has launched in the preceding chapter. “Circumcision” (the definite article is used) could serve to denote Israel (cf. 4:9), but here it refers to the rite of circumcision, as in 2:25–27.
2–3 In the light of Paul’s preceding argument (cf. the statement he will make in 3:9), one might well expect a negative answer to the question of v. 1. Surprisingly, however, Paul answers his question with the strong statement, “Much in every way!” He begins to enumerate the aspects of that advantage, “first of all,” but proceeds no further than his first point (for what he could have added had he continued, see the fuller list in 9:4–5). As Stuhlmacher, 52, puts it, “The relativizing of the special claims of the Jews in view of the final judgment according to works in no way means for Paul that Jews and Gentiles were equal in terms of the history of election.”
The chosen advantage noted here is that this nation has been “entrusted with the oracles of God” (NASB; NIV, “very words of God”). The Greek word for “oracles,” logia (GK 3359), is related to logoi (GK 3364, as used, e.g., in Jn 14:24) but has a specialized meaning in classical Greek, where it is used especially for divine utterances, often for those preserved and handed down by earlier generations. Jewish writers used it both for pagan oracles, which they considered false, and for revelations from the God of Israel. LXX usage makes it evident that two elements could belong to a logion: (1) a disclosure of what God proposes to do (especially in terms of prediction, as used in the LXX of Nu 24:16) or (2) a pronouncement of the duty laid on men and women in view of the divine will or promise (e.g., Ps 119:67 [LXX 118:67]).
To be “entrusted” with the divine oracles obviously means more than to be the recipient of them. It means more even than to be the custodian and transmitter of them. What is called for, in the light of the meaning of logia, is faith and obedience. Just at this point the Jews failed (v. 3). Paul has already dealt sufficiently with Jewish failure in terms of the law, but here he deals with it in terms of God’s revealed purpose. The statement that “some did not have faith” is reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 10:7–10, where the same author says that some became idolaters, some grumbled, etc. Actually, only two men of the exodus generation pleased God and were permitted to enter the Promised Land. Paul is recognizing the concept of the faithful remnant in Israel.
Is the rendering “did not have faith” acceptable here, or should one regard the NRSV translation, “were unfaithful,” as preferable? The problem is to determine which fits better with the contrasting term—“God’s faithfulness.” We should recall that the oracles of God summon both to faith (in their promissory character) and to faithfulness (in their legislative aspect). From the Jewish standpoint, a logion could involve both halakah and haggadah—something to be done and something to be believed. (Haggadah embraced the promises and much else.) But since Paul has dealt with obligation already in ch. 2, we should perhaps think here in terms of emphasis on the area of belief. Of course, the two concepts of faith and faithfulness are closely related. Barrett, 60, renders it “proved unbelieving,” which fits the context.
We should understand “God’s faithfulness” in terms of the covenantal aspect of God’s dealings with Israel. There are really two sides to this faithfulness—the one positive and the other negative, in line with a similar duality in connection with the righteousness of God (1:17–18). That the negative aspect is before us here is evident from the mention of his wrath (v. 5). This is in harmony with a frequent emphasis in the prophets. When Israel fractured the Sinaitic covenant, God’s very faithfulness compelled him to judge his people by sending them into captivity. The positive aspect (which we might have expected from v. 1 but which is deferred) will appear in the sustained discussion of God’s dealings with Israel (chs. 9–11).
4 As might be expected, Paul vigorously rejects any suggestion that God could fail in terms of his faithfulness. This is the first of ten occurrences in Romans of the expression “may it never be!” (mē genoito; NASB; NIV, “not at all!”), which Paul uses to make a vehement denial of a conclusion that must be resisted. God’s faithfulness is a fixed point in Paul’s universe: “The faithfulness of God is unchangeable” (Bengel, 40). The concept of God’s fidelity is carried forward by the use of a closely related term. He is “true” to his covenantal promises because he is true in himself. If one had to choose between the reliability of God and of human beings, one would have to agree with the psalmist when he declared in his disillusionment, “All men are liars” (Ps 116:11). One of the best men in Israel’s history, declared to be the man after God’s own heart, proved a disappointment. After being chastened for his sin and refusal to confess it for a long period, David was ready to admit that God was in the right and he was in the wrong (Ps 51:4—a psalm traditionally ascribed to David).
5–6 The supposition that human unrighteousness could serve to display God’s righteousness may have been suggested by the passage from Psalm 51 just cited. Is it not possible (so the logic runs) that since human failure can bring out more sharply the righteousness of God, the Almighty ought to be grateful for this service and soften the judgment that would otherwise be due the offender? The question is one Jews might well resort to in line with their thought that God would go easy on his covenant people. So Paul speaks for a supposed interlocutor. The mention of “wrath” ties in with 2:8–9.
Paul’s explanatory statement “I am using a human argument” is due to his having permitted himself to use the word “unjust” of God, even though it is not his own assertion (cf. 6:19). But God is not unrighteous. Paul responds to the suggestion with his strongest form of objection: “May it never be!” (v. 6; NASB; NIV, “Certainly not!”; see v. 4). “If that were so,” i.e., if God were unrighteous, he would not be qualified to judge the world. The idea is unthinkable—indeed, blasphemous—and there is no need to establish God’s qualifications, since the readers, at least, are not in doubt on a point of this sort about which Scripture is so clear.
7–8 Once more the apostle entertains a possible objection. The thought is closely related to what was stated in v. 4, as the similarity in language indicates. Though the construction is somewhat rough, the general sense is clear enough. Speaking for an objector, Paul is voicing the hoary adage that “the end justifies the means”: “Let us do evil that good may result” (v. 8). He has evidently had to cope with this in his own ministry, and he will be dealing with it again in a different context (6:1). Here he is content to turn the tables on the objector. If any claim that their falsehood, which throws into sharp relief the truthfulness of God, promotes God’s glory and should therefore relieve the sinner of condemnation, let them ponder the apostolic verdict—“their condemnation is deserved” (v. 8).
4 The infinitive κρίνεσθαι, krinesthai (GK 3212), should probably be taken as a middle rather than a passive (see Cranfield, 1.182; Bruce, 96), so that the second line of the quotation runs, “and may prevail when you judge.”
5 David Daube (The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism [London: Athlone, 1956], 396) has examined the expression κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω, kata anthrōpon legō, lit., “I speak according to man” (NIV, “I am using a human argument”) in the light of rabbinic usage and has concluded that it is a technical term in Paul’s writing. Daube writes, “It constitutes an apology for a statement which, but for the apology, would be too bold, almost blasphemous.”
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 163–175). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 61–64). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.