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 You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are 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 claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just (Romans 3:1-8).
As we look at Romans 3:1-8, this is the final passage before Paul wraps up the first major section on God’s condemnation of the entire human race in its sin. Romans 3:9-20 is his summation of total depravity and the condemnation of the human race. But before Paul comes to the summation beginning in verse 9, he answers some objections in the first eight verses of chapter 3. In these verses, we learn that Paul could be easily misunderstood in what he has taught about the Jews.
This tells us that every teacher of the word can be easily misconstrued in what he says. Every teacher can be subject to false conclusions that his hearers may draw. There are always listeners who can run ahead of you and wrongly assume that you must be saying what you do not mean to imply. Every teacher can have his words twisted by his listeners or readers. Every teacher can have words put into his mouth that he never intended.
I have certainly faced that. In my many years of ministry, I have had to address misunderstanding in public meetings involving the congregation in front of the entire church. This has been in response to false accusations that were brought against me regarding things I taught that were misinterpreted. I have faced these false charges in elder meetings. I have faced accusations in deacon meetings. I have faced them in the lobby of the church after I have preached. I have faced them in the parking lot as I step into my car after church. I have faced them all my life. It goes with the turf of being a public teacher of the word. If you are going to stand up and be a teacher, you are a large target for others to fire their charges. Although there may be times when I have not taught with clarity, there nevertheless are people who do not listen well to what I have said. There are people who do not think well. They jump to wrong conclusions irrationally based upon what I have said.
The apostle Paul was facing these same challenges. In an initial reading of Romans 3:1-8, this is a question and answer session with the apostle Paul. He is raising the questions that he anticipated were on the minds of many of his readers. He knew what they were thinking, and tried to answer their questions based upon what he had previously written. With some of the questions, he is simply anticipating what they are thinking. However, some of the complaints he has already heard. In verses 7 and 9, Paul addressed some slanderous charges that had been brought against him. They falsely accused him based upon what he taught.
In verses 1-8, there is a back-and-forth dialogue, much like the volley of a tennis match. In this passage, Paul will raise eight questions. Each one is in the odd-number verses, which are verses 1, 3, 5, and 7. There are two questions that Paul raises in each of these verses. These are questions that Paul were in the minds of his readers. The answers follow in the even-number verses, which are verses 2, 4, 6, and 8. In total, there will be eight questions and four answers. The eight questions are, in reality, four questions that are stated twice. At the end, there will be a ninth question, as Paul answers a question with a question, which, in reality, is a statement. That is how the flow of this passage unravels.
As I have studied the Bible, I have found that sometimes it is passages like this, which appear to be the most oblique and obscure, that yield the greatest blessings. There is a joy of discovery in learning the truth in a passage like this, because it forces us to think. This is one of those passages that is challenging to understand. We must carefully follow the thought pattern of the apostle Paul. The comprehension of these verses is not laying on the surface.
I. The First Objection (3:1-2)
Beginning in verse 1, the first objection that Paul addresses is that he is being falsely accused of being against his own people, the Jewish people. The apostle can easily anticipate that the believers in Rome are jumping to a wrong conclusion about what he has previously written. Some were accusing him of being anti-Jewish based upon what he said in chapter 2. Paul has warned the Jew that his national identity would not get him anywhere with God unless he believes in Jesus Christ. Paul is going to address this anti-Jewish accusation in verses 1-2.
What is the Advantage?
Verse 1 begins with the word “then,” which means that what follows is in response to what Paul has previously said. What follows is in response to the immediately earlier section in Romans 2:17-29. Paul writes, "Then what advantage has the Jew?" (verse 1). In other words, what profit is it to be a Jew if being Jewish does not guarantee your salvation? When Paul states "What advantage has the Jew," he is addressing questions raised by Romans 2:17-24. Then Paul returns to the subject of circumcision, which is a follow-up to what he previously asserted in Romans 2:25-29. He asks, “Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” (verse 1). Paul has just belabored that circumcision does not save the Jew. He has made it clear that it is only a symbol and sign of salvation. Circumcision is simply the cutting of the human body, but it does nothing for the soul. What advantage was that?
Paul can anticipate that people are going to misconstrue that he is against the Jew. Worse, they will presume that he is against what the Old Testament required for their circumcision. We could ask ourselves the same question in this way: What advantage was it to grow up in a Christian family? If that does not guarantee your salvation, what is the profit? What advantage is it that you went to a Christian school, if that does not put you in the kingdom of God? What advantage is it for you to go to a good church, a Bible-teaching church, if you can be in church where the word of God is being preached and you still are not saved? What is the advantage? We should all ask ourselves these questions.
Entrusted with the Truth
Paul gives a positive answer in verse 2. He says the advantage in being a Jew is “great in every respect" (verse 2). It is a huge advantage, Paul says, to be subject to circumcision. He then explains, "First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (verse 2). The “oracles of God” refers to the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. It refers to special revelation from God that saves. This refers to the message of the gospel and the way of salvation that was made known in the Scripture. Paul says this knowledge was an enormous advantage that the Jew grew up hearing the word of God, because no one can be saved unless they know the truth of saving grace. Paul answers this first objection, that he is being anti-Jewish, by saying that there is great advantage to being a Jew. But merely knowing the gospel in the head does not make anyone a Christian.
The application for us is that just being a Baptist does not get you into heaven. Merely being a Presbyterian does not get you into the kingdom of God. Simply going to a Bible-teaching church does not automatically put you in Christ. However, this exposure to the truth does give you a great advantage, because you now know what is required to be saved. You are responsible to act upon the truth and believe in the gospel. An enormous advantage has been afforded to you that other people have not had. You have had the advantage of all advantages, because the truth has been made known to you.
Before I move on, I want to make a very simple statement. The mere fact that you are in this Bible study is an enormous blessing from God. This very millisecond, you are exposed to that which billions of people in the world have never heard. You are in a very privileged place, in that you have access to the Bible. It is being opened and explained to you. You are in a privileged place.
The Privileged Few
This is the first objection that Paul answers. He is not down on being Jewish. He is simply saying the Jew has an advantage that the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and many Roman citizens did not have until the gospel finally reached them. At this time, the Aztecs never had the gospel preached to them. Neither did the Eskimos. We could go around the globe, listing places that never had access to the gospel at this time in history.
I want us to pause here for a moment and internalize the profundity of this truth. Most of you in this room go to churches were there is a pastor who stands up with an open Bible and reads the text, explaining and applying it. Most of you go to a Sunday School class or receive teaching beyond the pulpit in which the word of God is made known to you. You are a privileged person. You are the tip of the iceberg, and the whole rest of the human race is submerged below water level. You are blessed and favored by God, just like the Jew who had the oracles of God entrusted to him. There is great advantage to being exposed to the truth. That is the first objection Paul addresses.
II. The Second Objection (3:3-4)
In verse 3, the second objection is stated in the form of two more questions. Paul says, “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” (verse 3). “Some” refers to a portion of the Jews. The apostle is still addressing those who were physically born as sons of Abraham. God has promised in His word that He will save many Jews. That is a part of the Abrahamic covenant. It goes back to God saving Abraham out of paganism, when he began the work of saving a remnant of Jews in every generation down through the Old Testament.
It was the intention of God that Israel was to take the saving message of the gospel to the world. But the majority of the nation of Israel had been apostate, hardened in unbelief. The entire generation of the exodus wandering in the wilderness was lost and unconverted. Does that, therefore, mean that the word of God has failed? Does that mean that the faithfulness of God to His own word and promises had failed? That was a question in the first century that needed to be addressed, because the generation in the day of Paul was also lost. They were so hardened in unbelief that they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ.
God is Faithful and True
Paul's response in verse 4 is an important answer. He exclaimed, "May it never be!" In the Greek language, these words are me genoito, which is the strongest, most emphatic “no.” There was no stronger negative denial in the Greek language. This could be translated, "No way!” or “Not at all!" It is a dogmatic refuting of the very idea. May never be that God is unfaithful to the promises of His word. The apostle continues, “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (verse 4). Paul is asserting that God will fulfill all of His promises to the Jewish people. If every man in the world says that God is unfaithful to His word, this can never negate His faithfulness to His covenant promises. It does not matter what man says. All that matters is what God says.
This is the argument that Paul is setting forth. It is an important truth for us to remember. It does not matter what the majority of people say on any moral issue. The majority of the religious crowd has always been wrong. The majority has never been right. All that matters is what does God say. As we live our Christian lives, we must resist being squeezed into the mindset of this world. We must remember that even if the entire world is unanimous about a matter, God alone holds the truth. God speaks truth in His word.
Paul is addressing this because he said in Romans 2 that Israel is lost and perishing without Christ. The Jews must be thinking, “Is Paul saying that God not going to keep His word?” Paul cuts off that erroneous conclusion and says, "Listen, before we go any further with that kind of foolish talk, you need to understand that if the whole world were to speak with one voice, and God alone said something is true, be assured that God is true and the whole world is full of liars." We need to know and believe what God says. Paul declares, “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:4). He states elsewhere that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Titus 1:2).
God Will Prevail
Next, Paul quotes from the Old Testament to make his point. He cites Scripture to show that what he asserts is true. Quoting Psalm 51:4, he writes, “As it is written, that You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged” (verse 4). “Justified” means ‘to be proven to be right.’ Paul is saying that God's authoritative word will prevail in judgment on the last day. Man will not be judged by what men say. The final judgment will be according to the standard of the word of God.
In light of this, we should have the highest confidence in the word of God and how reliable are His words. As we live our Christian lives, and as we chart the course for the path that we follow, all that matters is what God says on any matter whatsoever. I know that is what you believe, which is why you are in this Bible study and are not off at a coffee shop poling people on what they think about a particular issue.
III. The Third Objection (3:5-6)
The third objection is raised in verse 5 as Paul expresses what he anticipates people are assuming. He knows human nature and knows that people will think he is arguing against the righteousness of God. So, he must refute this wrong assumption. This third objection is Paul answering those who assume he is attacking the righteousness of God. The objection is stated in verse 5 and, once again it comes in the form of two questions.
Paul writes, “If our unrighteousness,” meaning the sin and the unbelief of the Jewish people, “demonstrates the righteousness of God,” meaning enhances the glory of God. This is inverted logic that says, if our sin brings glory to God, then why do we not just sin more? If God is glorified in everything, that would include sin. Then why do we not sin all the more? Paul will address this specific thought again in Romans 6.
Paul continues, “What shall we say?” (verse 5). “We” refers to the imaginary objector. Paul is, in essence, quoting them. He can hear this objector say, “The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?” (verse 5). Paul knew that some were drawing the faulty conclusion that God's judgment and wrath is unjust. They were thinking, “If God's righteousness is demonstrated in man's unrighteousness, how can God be righteous to pour out judgment?” How can man be held responsible in the judgment? That is the track that Paul is on. Then parenthetically, Paul says, "I am speaking in human terms," meaning human logic. This conclusion is not divine reasoning, but human logic.
Paul corrects that fallacious thinking in verse 6, and he again says, “May it never be!” Paul brings the sledgehammer down on that faulty argument. This could be translated “Nonsense!” or “God forbid!” Paul explains why this is a wrong conclusion to draw, “For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” (verse 6). Paul argues that following this logic, God would be barred from judging the world. If the unrighteousness of man enhances the righteousness of God, then God could never judge sin justly. To the contrary, God will judge all unbelieving Jews, just like He will all unbelieving Gentiles. Let there be no mistake, there is no special exemption for anyone who is outside of the Lord Jesus Christ to escape the judgment of God. God is righteous in His judgment of sinners, and this includes Jews.
IV. The Fourth Objection (3:7-8)
The fourth objection follows in verse 7, and it also comes in the form of two questions. It addresses a supposed attack by Paul against the holiness of God. He writes, “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory.” In other words, people have said the more Paul tells lies, it causes God's truth to stand out even more. This line of reasoning is much like the illustration of the black velvet backdrop enhancing the luster of the sparkling diamond. The darker the velvet backdrop, the more the diamond sparkles. In like manner, the darker the sin, the more it causes the glory of God to shine more brightly.
This is a serious objection that is being raised against Paul. This one is not an imaginary objection, as we will see in verse 8. This is what people are actually saying as they slander Paul and falsely accusing him of teaching a contorted view of man’s sin enlarging God’s glory.
But Paul certainly never taught this. People were not correctly assimilating his teaching. They were claiming that he taught, “through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory” (verse 7). In other words, the more he lies, the more God is glorified. Then it follows that he is teaching people to sin. By such reasoning, the logical conclusion is, “Why does God still want to judge me if my sin brings Him greater glory? It is bizarre how people can take Paul’s teaching and draw bizarre conclusions.
It is hard to understand the demented thinking of the objectors in verses 1, 3, 5, and 7. These people have so perverted what Paul has taught in chapters 1 and 2 that it is hard to grasp the twisted thinking of these questions. They are far away from the truth and nowhere near what Paul was saying. Yet nevertheless that is the reality that Paul was facing and compelled to address.
Paul rebuttals, “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say)” (verse 8). He cannot stop the rumor mill concerning what people are saying behind his back. All he can do is attempt to correct people’s flawed thinking. The more these people repeat their wrong views about Paul’s teaching, the more they drift further away from what he actually said. They have a multiplying effect at work as they talk among themselves. With every conversion, they are moving further and further away from the sound teaching that Paul was actually giving.
I have certainly experienced this in my years of ministry. For example, any time I teach on the doctrine of sovereign election, people falsely assume, "He is anti-evangelism. He is anti-missions. He is anti-prayer. He is anti-personal holiness. He is anti-human responsibility." But everyone of those accusations are a misrepresentation of what I said. I never even implied that. But people will take what you say and then come to wrong conclusions. Then, as they talk among themselves, they exasperate their misunderstanding, moving them further away from the truth. It finally reaches the point that they actually slander the teacher because they have gotten so far away from what his words actually were.
Quite frankly, Paul’s critics were not well-taught enough to be able to rightly connect what he was saying. They were drawing wrong conclusions based upon the truth that was being taught. There were so many gaps in their understanding of his position, that they were incapable of processing the truth. They were like little children playing with a loaded revolver. They knew enough to be dangerous.
“Their Condemnation is Just”
Paul will answer this objection at the end of verse 8. In fact, he answers so abruptly that he does not even want to honor the bad assumption. The objections are so far removed from the truth that the apostle will not waste the ink to give a detailed answer. He simply asserts, “Their condemnation is just” (verse 8). Now, we should ask the question: Whose condemnation is just? The answer is: The people who are asking these questions. Paul refuses to allow them to lay these charges at his feet. Instead, he lays the condemnation at their feet. They will be judged by God for such foolish talk and misconstrued conclusions. Paul cuts it off right here. In essence, this is the end of this discussion. Paul has nothing more to say, other than to turn them over to God. Their condemnation is just.
I understand that these are challenging verses. It is a challenge to get our arms around Paul's thinking in these verses. We question, “Who in the world would think that way?” It is so far off that we think, surely, it must be hypothetical. Yet it is not hypothetical. Paul would not waste eight versus in the book of Romans to talk about something that is superfluous. Every verse is important. This was obviously important enough that it finds itself permanently recorded in the book of Romans. Every time this book is opened, down through the centuries, these false conclusions will be read. To be sure, it is profitable for all believers to give careful thought to what Paul is saying.
Here is the application, the “so what.” I have already said it, but I want to make sure we get it.
First, the mercy of the providence of God. Many of us have been unspeakably blessed to be soundly taught the word of God. Perhaps you have been favored to have grown up in a Christian family with Christian parents. Maybe you have been exposed to the truth through strong pulpits and Christian ministries. Let us not let this reality pass our notice without giving thanks to God. The argument that Paul makes with the Jew is the same argument to be made for each and every one of us. We live on an island of truth in the midst of an ocean of lies and apostacy. What a privileged, small, little plot of land in which we find ourselves. We are not the only ones to be taught the truth, but it is rare. I do not know that we can fully comprehend how privileged we are. You need to thank God that in the goodness of His providence He has given you access to churches and Bible studies where the truth is being made known to you.
Second, the reliability the word of God. All that God has said is true. Every promise will come to pass. Every prophecy will be fulfilled. The prophet announced, “The grass withers, the flower fades away, but the word of God abides forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Let every man be found a liar who disagrees with God. All that matters is what God has to say. A one-word synonym for “truth” is ‘reality.’ It is the way things really are, and the way things really are is what God says in His word. Man is what God says man is. Sin is what God says sin is. Salvation is what God says salvation is. Salvation is received as God says it is to be received. Heaven and hell are what God says heaven and hell are. The final judgment is what God says the final judgment is. That is reality, and anything that disagrees with the word of God is a lie from the pit of hell. That is the second thing that we take from this.
Third, the certainty of the wrath of God. This is where Paul began this opening section in Romans 1:18. He returns to it in Romans 3:5-6. These two passages serve as bookends around this first section that both starts and concludes on the wrath of God. God is the One who inflicts wrath. Hell is not air-conditioned. Hell is a real place that will go on forever. The vengeance of an angry God will be poured out with full, unmitigated fury upon damned souls in hell forever.
Fourth, the equity of the justice of God. We see in these verses that the condemnation of the unbeliever is just. At the end of verse 8, we note that all of God's judgments are right and true. There is never any injustice with God. God never handles sinners with inequity. God always administers an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The divine punishment will always fit the human crime. The judgment and condemnation of sinners is perfectly just.