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Commentary on Romans

by Michael Bugg

Chapter 3

The Advantage of the Jew

Rom 3:1  Then what advantage has the Jew? What is the value of being circumcised?

Rom 3:2  Much in every way! In the first place, the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.

  1. What does Sha’ul mean by the advantage and value of being Jewish?
    1. “advantage” = περισσὸν, “exceeding some number or measure or rank or deed . . . pre-eminence, superiority, advantage” (Thayer’s). 
    2. “value” = ὠφέλεια, “usefulness, benefit”
  2. The advantages
    1. “the very words of God” – the Jew, receiving the Scriptures in his own tongue, written by and to his own culture, has a natural advantage in understanding them.
    2. From 9:4-5

                                                              i.      God’s children, even His firstborn son (Exo 4:22)

1.      the firstborn receives a double portion of the inheritance (Deu 21:17)

2.      becomes the leader of the family

3.      serves as the priest of the family

                                                            ii.      Had had God’s Sh’khinah among them – all other nations received angels over them instead (Deu. 32:8 [DSS, LXX, Targums], Dan. 10)

                                                          iii.      Received God’s covenants – even the Renewed Covenant was first and foremost with Israel (Jer. 31:30[31])

                                                          iv.      The Torah – not only the words of God, but His guardian over Israel to keep her safe until she reaches her Master (3:25)

                                                            v.      The Temple service – performed properly, would have kept the nation in right standing with God, and would have atoned not only for Israel, but the whole world

                                                          vi.      The promises – God’s unilateral promises of a Redeemer, the Resurrection, and the glory of the Age to Come were all given to and through Israel.

                                                        vii.      The patriarchs – for whose sakes God does not forget His covenant promises to Israel regardless of her sins (cf. 11:28)

                                                      viii.      The Messiah – having come from the bloodline and land of Israel, will rule from Israel over the whole earth, making Jerusalem His capital.

    1. Can more easily be grafted back into their own tree than a “wild branch,” a pagan Gentile, can be grafted in (Rom. 11:24)
  1. The Caveats
    1. Salvation is nowhere on the list!  Jew and Gentile are both saved by God’s loving grace, not by special position.
    2. With great light comes great responsibility – God’s judgment, like His grace, comes first to the Jew and only then to the Gentile
    3. The firstborn son is not loved more than the other children by a just father; he does, however, bear the greatest burden in emulating his father and leading the family.
  2. The Christian Response
    1. Commentators will readily admit to the advantage of the Jews – in the past – of having received the Scriptures, though few wish to acknowledge the advantage in understanding them.

                                                              i.      Partially justified – there is a veil over the eyes of those who do not know Yeshua:

1.      Isa 6:9f - He said, "Go and tell this people: 'Yes, you hear, but you don't understand. You certainly see, but you don't get the point!’  Make the heart of this people [sluggish with] fat, stop up their ears, and shut their eyes. Otherwise, seeing with their eyes, and hearing with their ears, then understanding with their hearts, they might repent and be healed!"

2.      Rom 11:25 - It is that stoniness, to a degree, has come upon Isra'el, until the Gentile world enters in its fullness . . .

3.      2Co 3:12-18 - Therefore, with a hope like this, we are very open - unlike Moshe, who put a veil over his face, so that the people of Isra'el would not see the fading brightness come to an end.  What is more, their minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the Old Covenant; it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away.  Yes, till today, whenever Moshe is read, a veil lies over their heart.  "But," [says the Torah,] "whenever someone turns to ADONAI, the veil is taken away." (cf. Exo. 34:34)  Now, "ADONAI" in this text means the Spirit. And where the Spirit of ADONAI is, there is freedom.  So all of us, with faces unveiled, see as in a mirror the glory of the Lord; and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by ADONAI the Spirit.

a.       Moshe being veiled refers to a time when he came down from Mt. Sinai and the brightness of the Sh’khinah could be see reflected in his face.  The people could not bear to look at such glory, so he veiled himself among the people, but took off his veil when turning to speak with the Holy One face-to-face.

b.      This veil did not keep the people from understanding his words, given in their tongue and idioms – just from seeing the full glory that the Holy One had given him.

c.       Sha’ul is applying this as follows:

                                                                                                                                      i.      This time, its not the messenger that is veiled, but the hearts of some of the hearers.

                                                                                                                                    ii.      Therefore, they cannot see the true glory of the Torah, which is Yeshua Himself (Rom. 10:4)

                                                                                                                                  iii.      However, when they do turn to God in repentance, the veil is taken away and the full glory of the Torah can be seen.

                                                                                                                                  iv.      This does not prevent them from understanding the words of the Torah – just from seeing a particular glory that it holds.

d.      Stern notes, “Surprisingly, relatively few Jewish writers on the New Testament have voiced much objection to these verses.  The only Jewish responses I have personally experienced have been either direct denial or amused but ironic acceptance – ‘If it’s a veil that keeps us from seeing Jesus, we can live with that.’  Pitiful!” (Commentary 500)

    1. Later, in Rom. 3:9, Sha’ul writes, “So are we Jews better off? Not entirely; for I have already made the charge that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin.”

                                                              i.      “not entirely” = οὐ πάντως, which does lit. translate as “not entirely”

                                                            ii.      Routinely mistranslated and therefore misinterpreted:

1.      “No, in no wise” – KJV

2.      “Not at all” – NASB, ESV, NIV, Vulgate

3.      Bruce Metzger writes in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, “The unexpected sequence . . . of οὐ πάντως (which ought to mean ‘not entirely,’ but which in the context must mean ‘not at all’) accounts for the declaration of the words in some witnesses . . . and their replacement by perisson in others. . . .” (quoted by Stern, Comm. 341f)

a.       As Stern (ibid.) notes, Metzger is showing his theological bias here, ignoring the plain meaning of the Greek words because they do not agree with his presuppositions.

b.      This is why we must make a distinction between translation and interpretation. 

                                                          iii.      This means that while the Jew has some natural advantage in knowing God, he is not intrinsically better off in salvation.  Indeed, his advantageous position makes him more liable for judgment and therefore more in need of God’s grace.

God True When Every Man is a Liar

Rom 3:3  If some of them were unfaithful, so what? Does their faithlessness cancel God's faithfulness?

Rom 3:4  Heaven forbid! God would be true even if everyone were a liar! - as the Tanakh says, "so that you, God, may be proved right in your words and win the verdict when you are put on trial." (Psa 51:4, LXX)

  1. “Heaven forbid!”
    1. Gr. μὴ γένοιτο, “Let it not be!” 
    2. Probably a translation of “Chalilah! . . . Hebrew’s most intense wish for negation; therefore KJV’s ‘God forbid!’ conveys the sense well.” (Stern, Commentary 341)
  2. Psalm 51 was composed by David in confessing and repenting from the sin of Bathsheba and Uriah (2Sa 11f).
    1. David’s unfaithfulness did not remove God’s faithfulness in keeping His covenant with David that his house would endure forever on the throne of Israel (2Sa 7:11ff).
    2. However, that sin did result in a temporary disruption of David’s throne when his rebellious son Abimelech led a successful coup which drove David into exile.
    3. In the same way, Israel’s faithlessness in not receiving Yeshua in His First Coming or carrying out her mission to be a priestly nation among the nations put God’s promises on hold, and even resulted in exile, but just as God was faithful to David, so He is faithful to David’s kingdom through Ben David.

                                                              i.      Psa 51:18f - In your good pleasure, make Tziyon prosper; rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim.  Then you will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they will offer bulls on your altar.

Sin Must Be Punished Regardless of Its End Result

Rom 3:5  Now if our unrighteousness highlights God's righteousness, what should we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict his anger on us? (I am speaking here the way people commonly do.)

Rom 3:6  Heaven forbid! Else, how could God judge the world?

Rom 3:7  "But," you say, "if, through my lie, God's truth is enhanced and brings him greater glory, why am I still judged merely for being a sinner?"

Rom 3:8  Indeed! Why not say (as some people slander us by claiming we do say), "Let us do evil, so that good may come of it"? Against them the judgment is a just one!

  1. Even though one’s sin may bring glory to God by His use of that sin to bring about good, we are still responsible for our decisions.
    1. The absurdity of sinning to do good:

                                                              i.      Do we commend those who worshipped the golden calf?

                                                            ii.      Do we applaud Judas?

                                                          iii.      Do we give respect to Haman or Hitler because their failure to destroy the Jews showed God’s glory?

Nevertheless, the Jew Still Needs Salvation

Rom 3:9  So are we Jews better off? Not entirely; for I have already made the charge that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin.

Rom 3:10  As the Tanakh puts it, "There is no one righteous, not even one! No one understands,

Rom 3:11  no one seeks God,

Rom 3:12  all have turned away and at the same time become useless; there is no one who shows kindness, not a single one!

Rom 3:13  "Their throats are open graves, they use their tongues to deceive. Vipers' venom is under their lips.

Rom 3:14  Their mouths are full of curses and bitterness.

Rom 3:15  "Their feet rush to shed blood,

Rom 3:16  in their ways are ruin and misery,

Rom 3:17  and the way of shalom they do not know.

Rom 3:18  "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Rom 3:19  Moreover, we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those living within the framework of the Torah, in order that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world be shown to deserve God's adverse judgment.

Rom 3:20  For in his sight no one alive will be considered righteous on the ground of legalistic observance of Torah commands, because what Torah really does is show people how sinful they are.

  1. “There is no one righteous” – Psa. 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, which are very parallel:
    1. Psa 14:  For the leader. By David: Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God.  They deal corruptly, their deeds are vile, not one does what is right. 

      From heaven ADONAI observes humankind to see if anyone has understanding, if anyone seeks God.  But all turn aside, all alike are corrupt; no one does what is right, not a single one.  

      Don't they ever learn, all those evildoers, who eat up my people as if eating bread and never call on ADONAI?  There they are, utterly terrified; for God is with those who are righteous.  You may mock the plans of the poor, but their refuge is ADONAI. 

      How I wish Isra'el's salvation (y’shuat Yisrael) would come out of Tziyon! When ADONAI restores his people's fortunes, Ya'akov will rejoice, Isra'el will be glad!
    2. This passage sets the tone for many of those which are cited afterwards—since Psalms 14 and 53 indict all “humankind,” the references to the wicked that follow may likewise be applied to “all humankind.”
  2. “Their throats are open graves” – Psa. 5:9
    1. Here David is speaking of his enemies, in contrast to he himself, of whom he says, “But I can enter your house because of your great grace and love; I will bow down toward your holy temple in reverence for you.” (v. 7)
    2. The particular sin here, as in the next citations, is slander—one of particular poignancy to Sha’ul and the Ekklesia, since they were often the victims of it (cf. Rom. 3:8).
  3. “Viper’s venon” – Psa. 140:3
    1. Again, David is speaking of the evil schemes of the wicked who are trying to destroy him—in particular, employing slander—and appealing to the Holy One for deliverance and their destruction.
  4. “curses and bitterness” – Psa. 10:7
    1. A continuation of the previous thought, also ties to the fool of Psa. 14 and 53 who says, “There is no God” (cf. v. 4).
  5. “feet swift to shed blood” – Isa. 59:7f
    1. Quotes from the prophet’s denouncement of Israel as a whole misusing the fast of Yom Kippur (cf. 58:5) while still actively committing the very sins Yom Kippur was supposed to atone for.
  6. “no fear of God” – Psa. 36:1
    1. This psalm contrasts the wicked’s actions with the righteousness of God, who shelters those who know Him “in the shadow of [His] wings” (vv. 7, 10).
  7. “what the Torah says”
    1. Sha’ul is here speaking of “Torah” in the sense of the whole of the Tanakh.
    2. His point is that the very Scriptures that Jews claim to make them enlightened (cf. 2:17ff) also tell them that there is no one who keeps them righteously.
    3. Therefore, the Scriptures do not reveal ourselves to be righteous, but to be sinners in need of God’s grace.
  8. “knowledge of sin”
    1. Psa 19:7-11 - The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the inner person. The instruction of ADONAI is sure, making wise the thoughtless.  The precepts of ADONAI are right, rejoicing the heart. The mitzvah of ADONAI is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The rulings of ADONAI are true, they are righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold, also sweeter than honey or drippings from the honeycomb.  Through them your servant is warned; in obeying them there is great reward.

                                                              i.      “restoring the inner person” is m’shivat nephesh (משׁיבת נפשׁ), lit. “bringing repentance to the soul/life”

Righteousness Apart From the Law?

Rom 3:21  But now, quite apart from Torah, God's way of making people righteous in his sight has been made clear - although the Torah and the Prophets give their witness to it as well -

Rom 3:22  and it is a righteousness that comes from God, through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, to all who continue trusting. For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or a Gentile,

Rom 3:23  since all have sinned and come short of earning God's praise.

Rom 3:24  By God's grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua.

Rom 3:25  God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death. This vindicated God's righteousness; because, in his forbearance, he had passed over [with neither punishment nor remission] the sins people had committed in the past;

Rom 3:26  and it vindicates his righteousness in the present age by showing that he is righteous himself and is also the one who makes people righteous on the ground of Yeshua's faithfulness.

  1.  “apart from the Torah” = χωρὶς νόμου,
    1. not ανόμου (“lawless” or “wicked”)
    2. that is, not “without the law” (KJV), but “outside of the Torah . . . although the Torah and the Prophets give their witness to it as well”
    3. But isn’t Yeshua the Torah?

                                                              i.      Sha’ul here refers to “Torah” as the written text, a system of commandments woven into Israel’s history.

                                                            ii.      Yeshua is the True Torah of which the Written is only the type – an accurate depiction of God’s righteousness and mercy, but still only the picture rather than the reality.

    1. Sha’ul’s point is that the righteousness of the written Torah can never be obtained, for we are all sinful, so God imparted to us a righteousness outside of the written text in the Person of Yeshua.
  1. “without earning it”
    1. As previously noted, pistis can never earn the charis that inspired it – it is the proper response in receiving the charis

This has always been understood and taught in Judaism!

                                                              i.      The Avinu Malkheynu concludes, “Be merciful to us, for we have with us no righteousness or loving-kindness, be merciful to us we pray.”

                                                            ii.      The Amidah

1.      6 th Benediction – “Forgive us Father, for we have sinned, Pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed, For Thou art a pardoner and a forgiver.  Blessed art Thou, Lord, Gracious One who forgives abundantly.

2.      13 th Benediction – “Grant a good reward to all who sincerely trust in Thy Name; Place our lot with them forever and let us not be shamed, For in Thee do we trust.”

                                                          iii.      The preliminary morning prayers: “Sovereign of all worlds!  Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before You, but because of Your abundant mercies.”

                                                          iv.      See also the quote in 4.a.vi.1 below

  1. “a righteousness that comes from God”
    1. lit. “a righteousness of God” or “God’s righteousness” – that is, God’s own righteousness, not just His way of providing it to us, is revealed in the sacrifice of the Lamb.

                                                              i.      Jer 23:5f - "The days are coming," says ADONAI, “when I will raise a righteous Branch for David. He will reign as king and succeed, he will do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Y'hudah will be saved, Isra'el will live in safety, and the name given to him will be ADONAI Tzidkenu [ADONAI Our Righteousness].”

  1. “redeeming us from our enslavement to sin”
    1. A key point in chapter 6 – better to discuss there?
    2. Here Sha’ul calls to mind Israel’s redemption from enslavement to Egypt, which came in several distinct stages:

                                                              i.      God sent a messenger (Moshe/Yeshua) to take out His people

                                                            ii.      He went to war with the gods of Egypt/with the unclean spirits in Israel

                                                          iii.      Israel is finally freed from slavery and protected from the sentence of death by the blood of the Passover Lamb.

                                                          iv.      The redeemed leave Egypt/the ways of this world

                                                            v.      1Co 10:1-4 - For, brothers, I don't want you to miss the significance of what happened to our fathers. All of them were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they all passed through the sea, and in connection with the cloud and with the sea they all immersed themselves into Moshe, also they all ate the same food from the Spirit, and they all drank the same drink from the Spirit - for they drank from a Spirit-sent Rock which followed them, and that Rock was the Messiah.

                                                          vi.      Only then did Israel come to Mt. Sinai and receive the Torah – Israel received redemption by trusting God in the course of that redemption, not by keeping a Torah that they hadn’t even received yet!

1.      The Midrash on Psalm 44:1 – “When the children of Israel went out from Egypt, they could not offer any works of their hands whereby they might be redeemed.  And so, it was not because of the works of their fathers, nor was it because of their own works, that the sea was divided before them; rather, it was only so that God might make a name for Himself in the world.”  (Stern, Comm. 347)

    1. On slavery to sin vs. slavery to God:

                                                              i.      Gal 4:3-5 - So it is with us - when we were "children" we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe; but when the appointed time arrived, God sent forth his Son. He was born from a woman, born into a culture in which legalistic perversion of the Torah was the norm, so that he might redeem those in subjection to this legalism and thus enable us to be made God's sons.

                                                            ii.      1Pe 2:16 - Submit as people who are free, but not letting your freedom serve as an excuse for evil; rather, submit as God's slaves.

                                                          iii.      2Pe 2:19 – They [the false teachers] promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for a person is slave to whatever has defeated him.

                                                          iv.      1Co 7:22 - For a person who was a slave when he was called is the Lord's freedman; likewise, someone who was a free man when he was called is a slave of the Messiah.

                                                            v.      The Sh’liachim (Emissaries) frequently referred to themselves as “slaves” to Messiah Yeshua (Rom. 1:1 et al., 2Pe 1:1, Jude 1:1).

1.      In Jewish culture, an indentured servant who was set free on the seventh year had the option of staying with his master if he chose (Exo. 21:1-6).

                                                          vi.      The subject of freewill slavery will be a key point in Rom. 6

  1. “the kapparah” – atonement (Gr. ἱλαστήριον)
    1. The Gr. word could refer to both a sacrificial victim and a monument built to placate Diety
    2. A reference to the Mercy Seat of the Ark (as in Heb. 9:5)?

                                                              i.      The Mercy Seat, representing God’s throne between the kheruvim,

1.      God would speak to Israel from “between the kheruvim” (Exo. 25:22)

                                                            ii.      was where the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifice was sprinkled to atone for the sins of Israel

1.      both on it and before it (Lev. 16:14), exactly where Yeshua’s hands and feet would be if He sat upon it.

                                                          iii.      Without Yeshua,

1.      the Mercy Seat would just be so much gold,

2.      we would have no forgiveness of sins,

3.      and we could not keep the Feasts today, because the requisite priestly service would not be fulfilled.

Neither Boasting in the Torah Nor Abolishing It

Rom 3:27  So what room is left for boasting? None at all! What kind of Torah excludes it? One that has to do with legalistic observance of rules? No, rather, a Torah that has to do with trusting.

Rom 3:28  Therefore, we hold the view that a person comes to be considered righteous by God on the ground of trusting, which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of Torah commands.

Rom 3:29  Or is God the God of the Jews only? Isn't he also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, he is indeed the God of the Gentiles;

Rom 3:30  because, as you will admit, God is one. Therefore, he will consider righteous the circumcised on the ground of trusting and the uncircumcised through that same trusting.

Rom 3:31  Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we confirm Torah.

  1. Boasting excluded
    1. The Torah convicts all of sin, so no one can boast in their ability to keep it.
    2. The Torah also condemns pride, which comes with boasting.
    3. The righteousness of God has not been revealed in men keeping His Torah, but in one man, Yeshua, keeping His Torah and then dying for those who couldn’t.
  2. “What kind of Torah excludes it?”
    1. Two options for how to read the Torah:

                                                              i.      As a set of rules that one can keep to earn God’s favor, thus enabling one to boast over those who don’t keep it up to your level.

                                                            ii.      As a set of teachings that one learns and tries to obey, not to earn favor with God, but as a proper response of pistis to His charis.

    1. Since the former allows boasting which is forbidden by the Torah, the latter must be the proper response. 
    2. Therefore, Sha’ul argues, one is considered righteous who trusts God and out of that trust and gratitude for His gift of atonement and salvation is loyal and faithful to Him.
  1. God of Jew and Gentile alike
    1. Since both are saved by trust in and faithfulness towards God, one cannot say that only Jews are saved or that somehow Jews are more saved.
    2. “God is one” – Adonai Echad, the central statement of faith for all Judaism.  There is not a separate God for the Gentiles, but One God who created Jew and Gentile alike, and who loves and saves Jew and Gentile alike.
    3. Gal 3:28 - . . . there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one.

                                                              i.      Christians tend to treat this passage as if it said, “there is no more Jew” only.

                                                            ii.      “neither male nor female”

1.      Is the husband no longer head of the household?

2.      Is homosexuality okay?

3.      Of course not!

                                                          iii.      It is simply saying that there is no barrier between these groups, but one Body, all saved by trust in Yeshua.

                                                          iv.      It does not mean that all distinctions in callings and roles have passed away.  The same is true of Sha’ul’s argument here in Romans.

    1. This may seem obvious to us today, but in the 1st Century, it was a radical idea.

                                                              i.      Acts 10-14 chronicle the “growing pains” of having so many Gentiles seeking entrance into the Kingdom of God.

1.      Kefa was actually taken to task for associating with Cornelius, and his hearers were astounded that the Gentiles were given the Spirit too!

  1. Abolishing vs. confirming the Torah
    1. Mat 5:17-19 - "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.  Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah -- not until everything that must happen has happened.  So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

                                                              i.      To abolish meant to annul, disobey, or teach falsely.

                                                            ii.      To fulfill meant to keep, obey, and teach correctly.

                                                          iii.      R. Yonatan says, “Whoever keeps the Torah when poor will in the end keep it in wealth.  And whoever treats the Torah as nothing (lit. “abolishes the Torah”) when he is wealthy in the end will treat it as nothing in poverty.” (Avot 4:11)



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