Romans 3:1-8

Humankind Would Rather Judge Than Be Judged

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In September 1999

1.  Chapter three beings with a single query.  This questioning is clearly from a Jewish perspective.  But, it doesn't mean that a Jew had actually asked Paul a question.  The question asked was based on an imaginary debate partner created by Paul.  In other words, he makes up and takes up a question which might have come from anyone who had been listening to his speech so far, and he sets forth a discussion in this form to respond to it.

2.  In chapter two Paul took up the issue of Jewish sin in particular. Certainly, the life of a Jew might have stood out conspicuously at its ethically high level, and at such a level it might have seemed that they had a way of life which honored the law.  But, what God took issue with was not just the circumstances which were outwardly evident.  A person could possibly be "a righteous person" in so far as the circumstances that appear on the surface.  But, God "will judge the hidden circumstances," (2:16).  We cannot say in the sight of God that even the Jews of the Pharisee sect, who were so strict in their observance of the law, had kept the law.  Instead, we could only say "while being proud of the law, they broke the law and made light of it," (2:23).  Thus, Paul has clarified with what he has written up to this point that there is neither Jew nor Gentile when standing before the judgment of God.  This conclusion will be expressed later in chapter three and verse nine as "Then, what is it?  Is there any superior point with us?  Hardly not.  As I already identified, whether Jew or Greek all are under sin," (3:9).

3.  Before he speaks on that conclusion, he will make up a few questions which could just as well have been produced out of the statements he has made so far and then he will provide answers to those questions.  That's what this passage I read today is on.  From here on we will read along while following the logic of Paul's statements closely.  And we will make a solid response to the issue made plain in this text.

Is God True?

4.  Well then first of all I will read to you from chapter three and verses one to four.

 "So, what is the superior point of the Jews?  Does circumcision have any benefit?  I can point out various things from all aspects.  First, they were entrusted with the word of God.  How in the world could that be?  Is the sincerity of God made into nothing by their insincerity because there were persons of sinfulness [or dishonesty]1 among them?  That will never be true.  Even if all people were liars, [we should] expect that God is a truthful being. As it is written, "'When you state a word, you will be justified, when you come under judgment, you will obtain victory,' (verses one through four).

5.  First of all the issue presented here is "What is the superior point of the Jews?  What benefit does circumcision have?"  This is not an issue of on what point is the Jew superior.  It is asking about the significance of why the Jews have existed.  The Jewish people have existed since the call of Abraham so long ago, going through the period of the monarchy and then the captivity and then recovering from the captivity and exist even until this very day. Also, they are distinct from other races by the sign appearing as circumcision. He asks whether the history of the Jews, who were chosen, formed, and lead by God, has any significance.  That is to say, since there is no distinction made between Jew or Gentile while in the presence of God's judgment, it is hard to understand the significance of why Jews still exist after going through a long history.

6.  First, Paul responds to that question positively.  He answers with "[they] have a superior point."  As for the meaning of their existence Paul answers that "I can point out [reasons] from every perspective," yet he takes up only one of those [reasons]. Which one is that?  He says, "First, they were entrusted with the word of God."  They were a people entrusted with the message of God's judgment and the message of the promise of salvation.  As such a people they assumed the responsibility of the books of the law, the books of the prophets, the psalms, and the other holy books, and they handed them down for generations.  I have already mentioned their zeal in this area.  They handed them down after such a manner as a people entrusted with the word of God.  The significance of the long history of the Jews probably lies in that.

7.  But, a doubt comes up here.  The doubt is "If the Jew is a sinner no different whatsoever from the Gentile and is a sinful* person, does the word of God which was shouldered by them and entrusted to them truly have value for trusting in? Furthermore, is God himself who entrusted his word to them truly worth trusting in?  It is the doubt of "Could you believe in such a God as that?"  Paul's message in verse three takes these kinds of questions as a basis for his reasoning. Generally speaking, there is certainly something to sizing up the things one is to carry on his or her shoulders by [asking] what kind of people have carried it on their shoulders.  If we thought that the things which dishonest persons had were not worth trusting in, it would certainly be impossible for us to do.

8.  For instance, the following example might be familiar to us.  A person who has never been to church knocks on the door of a church for the first time.  The person who knows nothing at all about church could be thinking, "Since this is an assembly of people who believe in God, it will surely be an assembly of angelic and pure people."  However, he starts coming to church and then after a while he will see the reality of persons who are sinners in the church as well.  Human unrighteousness and untruthfulness are present there, too.  He comes to realize that there aren't very many angels in it.  In thinking along that line again, as he examines church history, when he looks at it from a world wide perspective, the church has done some very awful things. Therefore, in the final analysis it could be possible that he ends up thinking that "this word of God preached by the church of Christ is not worth trusting in.  This God believed in and worshipped by the church of Christ is not worth trusting in."  The [verse] that says, "By their insincere and sinful* structure, the sincerity of God is made into nothing" means exactly that.

9.  Well, will the sincerity of God be made into nothing by the untruthfulness of humanity?  Paul gives a resounding "no" to this question.  "That will never be true.  Even if all people were liars, [we should] expect that God is a truthful being."  In other words, judging God after looking at humankind is wrong.  [It is wrong] because God is not worthy of having humankind sit in judgment upon him and condemn him.  The truthfulness of God should not be put to question but is a matter which ought to be assumed as a major premise.  [It should be taken as a basic presupposition] because a being who is not truthful no longer is  worth the name of God and a God who is not truthful is only a contradiction in terms.  Therefore, even if all persons were liars, [we should] expect that God is a truthful being, says Paul.

10.  This is not a message Paul merely spoke from his own ideas.  It is something which has already been mentioned in the Old Testament Psalms.  Paul is quoting here from Psalm 51:6.  Since what Paul wrote is a quotation from the Greek version, there are a few differences with the Old Testament Psalm that we have, but it is substantially the same.  The phraseology of "When you state a word, you will be justified, when you come under judgment, you will obtain victory" is a bit difficult to understand, but this means, to put it short, that "God is the one who will win in court."  In other words, it means that God is ultimately the righteous one.

11.  The entire verse of Psalm 51:6 of the Old Testament goes like this: "Before you and only you I have committed a sin and did what appears as wickedness in your sight.  What you say is righteous and your judgment is not a mistake."  This passage, in contrast with David's sin, deals with the righteousness of God and the error free judgment of God.  In the original Greek version [from which Paul had quoted] this point sticks out a great deal.  Paul quoted this psalm with such a point in mind.  In other words, far from there being doubts cast upon the truthfulness of God by the reality of human sin, instead, whenever there is unrighteousness with humankind the truth and righteousness of God are made more and more obvious.  It is clear and evident that God alone is the one who is worth trusting in and he is the one and only righteous and true Being.  It's equivalent to how no matter how deep and thick the darkness gets, the sparkling light shinning into it becomes clearer and more distinct.

Is God, Who Judges Humanity, Righteous?

12.  However, at this point some people may have entertained the following doubts. "If that's the case, the manifestation of human unrighteousness isn't bad, right? If you say the truth of God is made clear by it."  That such a question is raised is natural.  Paul also understood this matter.  From verse five on Paul continues on this [point] in his speech in the following way:


 "But, if our unrighteousness makes clear and plain the righteousness of God, what should we say regarding that?  Though I speak according to human logic, is God, who lets forth his anger, unrighteous?  That will never be true.  If that were true, how could God judge the world?  Furthermore, if the truth of God was made much more clear through our lie and if the glory of God comes out of it, why must I still be judged as a sinner?  Besides that, if that were so, couldn't we say 'Let's do bad so good may come!'?  There are some who slander saying that we are making that claim, but it's expected that such persons will undergo divine punishment," (verses five through eight).

14.  Paul takes "though I speak according to human logic" as an introduction and thus says, "Is God, who lets out his anger, unrighteous?"  Earlier, as a question pertaining to the truthfulness of God appeared in the text, so here a question has been directed pertaining to the righteousness of God. The question is whether it is right in the first place for God to judge the sins of humanity.  I covered the basis for this earlier.  It was about how the unrighteousness of humanity makes the righteousness of God obvious.  Even the unrighteousness of humanity is used by God himself for his glory.  But then, the claims are raised, "Why does God still become angry even though the unrighteousness of humanity turns into something good for God?  Isn't that strange?  An angry God is more unrighteous."  This is "the logic of humanity."

15.  This is repeated in verse seven with a bit more personal language.  In this passage it is not "we" or "us," but changes to "I" or "me."  In other words, it is no longer a general argument, but an individual person is thinking privately within his own heart.  "If by my lie the truthfulness of God is made all the more evident and it turns to God's glory, why must I still be judged as a sinner?"  And, the person's private thought comes to the following conclusion.  "Let's do evil so that good will come."  In other words, it means, "In order to make the truthfulness and the righteousness of God conspicuously apparent and to make the glory of God abundantly visible, let us do evil."  It is like saying, I'll take part in something that makes the world around us dark so that the light of God will be evident.

16.  Well, please recall what Paul said in his speech so far up to this section, that is, what has appeared in the text since saying, "Jews and Gentiles are sinners with no differences between them."  In other words, according to the way a person takes it, one could draw the conclusion "Let's do bad, shall we not?" from the message Paul gives.  And it seems there was a person who had drawn that conclusion and had actually said, "That is what Paul is asserting here."  It seems there was a person who was slandering Paul by saying that.

17.  However Paul gives a firm "no" against making that type of mistake.  In the first place the saying was wrong in the text when it said, "God is unrighteous, isn't he?"  Such a claim is nothing more than human arrogance undiscerning of one's status.  We must recall the words Paul gave earlier, that "We ought to consider all persons liars and God as righteous."  God is the one who will ultimately judge the world.  Humans are on the side that gets judged.  That means that God is God and humans are humans.

18.  Well, we have thus looked at several questions that Paul had raised by creating an imaginary opponent, but it doesn't seem as if the real world of we humans has been sketched out by this passage.  First of all, what has been made clear in this passage is consistently this image of humanity which would try to place itself on the side which passes judgment.  People don't see themselves as persons who will stand before God or as persons on the side that gets judged, but rather people would try to pass judgment even on God.  People say God is untruthful and they say God is unrighteous.  Therefore, unless they acknowledge God's truthfulness and righteousness, they will think that judgment has nothing to do with them.  I would certainly say that we cannot avoid admitting that this type of arrogance and foolishness lies within us.

19.  And secondly, what has been made clear is this figure of humanity which tries to justify its own unrighteousness by any means necessary.  "If by my lie the truth of God is made all the more evident and it turns to God's glory, why must I still be judged as a sinner?"  This is how the individual has a thought in the privacy of his heart which admits that sin is definitely inside him.   Even though the other person doesn't know that there is lying going on, both God and the individual alone know.  But, the individual doesn't want to admit he is a sinner who ought to be judged as such.  He persistently wants to make himself into a righteous person.  So, he comes up with all kinds of excuses.  He mixes up a load of smart-alecky sophistry.  Then he tells it to himself and not to others, but to try to convince himself.  For that reason, he even makes God into the bad guy.  To top it off, a person will ultimately even say, "Let's do bad so good will come."

20.  Paul declares, "It's expected that the person who talks like that will undergo divine punishment."  The reason it says that undergoing divine punishment is expected is not because a person just committed some sin.  As it has been made clear in the passage of scripture I read you today, it is because the relationship between God and the individual is not fundamentally correct.

End Note

1 This word literally means "dishonesty, insincerity, untruthfulness, or bad faith."  This word will be marked by an asterisk "*" to denote this point.

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