Rambling through Romans (15): 3:9-20

So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written,

There is no righteous person, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands.
    There is no one who looks for God.
12 They all turned away.
    They have become worthless together.
There is no one who shows kindness.
    There is not even one.
13 Their throat is a grave that has been opened.
    They are deceitful with their tongues,
        and the poison of vipers is under their lips.
14     Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are quick to shed blood;
16         destruction and misery are in their ways;
17         and they don’t know the way of peace.
18 There is no fear of God in their view of the world.

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, in order to shut every mouth and make it so the whole world has to answer to God. 20 It follows that no human being will be treated as righteous in his presence by doing what the Law says, because the knowledge of sin comes through the Law.


With all Israel’s gifts and graces, the Jews hold no advantage over the Gentiles with God (v.9).  Paul cites a series of Old Testament passages to back up his charge.  These texts leave little room for ambiguity on this (vv.10-18).  We’re all, Jew and Gentile, in the same boat here.

The Law, the Torah delivered to Moses and expounded in the first five books of the Old Testament, was given to Israel as its way of life appropriate to a people rescued by YHWH from Egypt by grace and by promise to Abraham and his family.  Its purpose was to order the life of the people to give glory to God and bear witness to his purposes for the world. For Israel, ever since the promise to Abraham and Sarah in Gen.12:1-3, has borne the duty and destiny of the world itself.   

But Paul also sees how the Law has actually worked out for Israel.  In default of obedience to it, Paul claims, the Law places Israel and the “whole world” Israel represents under judgment to God (v.19).  No human being, therefore, can ever establish themselves before God by performing the Law.  They cannot do it (as Paul has just demonstrated), and, in Paul’s view, the Law can only increase the knowledge of sin!

The Law can never do now what it was intended to do.  Indeed, it has been hijacked by sin to serve a purpose alien to itself.  It makes Israel (and thus the rest of us) aware of our unfaithfulness as God’s people and under judgment for this failure.  This is all it can do now, not because it is faulty, but because we are (as Paul will get to in ch.8).


Popular posts from this blog

Spikenard Sunday/Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

The time when America stopped being great

The Indiana Religious Freedom Law, the Pizza Parlour and What it Says About the Church