No One is Righteous, Rom. 3:9-20
This paragraph begins by asking if the Jews are any better than Gentiles. The conclusion is obvious— “Not at all!” (3:9). Paul was not picking on the Jews. His indictment of the entire human race began with the Gentiles, whose false religion and gross immorality was undeniable. Next Paul had forcefully brought God’s case against the Jews, his former chosen nation. To be under sin is to be under its burden of guilt, and to be due its prescribed punishment.
Now Paul appeals directly to the Old Testament Scriptures to fully demonstrate God’s indictment of the Jews. In this section, Paul quotes Scripture like an old-fashioned tent revival evangelist. Ten passages are strung together to paint the picture of the Jews’ sinfulness. All but two of these come from the Psalms. One is from Ecclesiastes and one from the prophet Isaiah. Perhaps we would have expected quotes directly from the law code itself. But by using poetic portions of Scripture, the indictment is more colorful. These are not exact quotations for several reasons. We all read the Bible in translation, not from the Hebrew. Additionally, scholars realize that Paul often quotes from the ancient Greek Septuagint translation instead of the Hebrew Scriptures. Sometimes the quotes are drawn out for emphasis, or even abbreviated. At other times, the sense is given instead of a literal quote. We do this on a regular basis in teaching and preaching. You may enjoy looking up all these Old Testament references.
The Jews could not be justified by the Law because law does not save. The Law spelled out God’s expectations and stated penalties for disobedience. Imperfect human beings could never have kept the Law perfectly, so the Israelites were condemned by the Law of which they boasted. The many animal sacrifices of the Law did not bring pardon for sin. Only the blood of God’s own Son accomplishes forgiveness. The book of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear (Heb. 10:1-10). The Law created a consciousness of sin and condemnation, but the Jews conveniently excused their own sinfulness. In Galatians Paul describes the function of the Law as a guardian, responsible for the discipline of a child. The Law was designed to guide the Jewish nation until the coming of Christ, who fulfilled and replaced the Law (Gal. 3:23-25). Everyone sins, and the Law of Moses was not the solution.
Paul says the Law spoke to those under the Law. Reminding the Jews of their covenant obligations and of their failures was meant to silence them. God doubtless grew weary of Israel’s dodges and excuses. Even flawless submission to the Law would not have justified the Jews, but they fell far short keeping the Law. Now they were being called to account. Since the arrival of the Christ and the beginning of the New Testament era, all are now accountable to the New Testament standards.
The New Testament serves both to make us aware of the will of God and to tell us how to be saved. We are all sinful, but we can be saved by obeying Jesus. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). We cannot live perfectly, but we have a perfect Savior!
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.