I.3. Romans 3:1-8. Jewish Objections.
This passage is interesting as showing us, what is more often the case than appears on the surface, that St. Paul has in mind as he reasons the familiar objections of an opponent — his own objections, perhaps in part, before he was a Christian. St. Paul, that is to say, very frequently writes controversially, and argues ad hominem: and his own reasoning is only rightly understood when we have clearly in view what he is opposing. It of course very frequently happens in literature generally that a saying is completely misunderstood, because that with which it is contrasted is overlooked. Thus, John the Baptist's advice to the soldiers to 'be content with their wages' is commonly interpreted to mean — 'Be satisfied with your wages as they are, and do not ask for more.' This might have been good advice or bad advice to give to the soldiers, but it is not John the Baptist's. He means, 'Be satisfied with your pay and do not supplement it by robbery and unauthorized exaction.' Here then the implied contrast is necessary to enable us to interpret correctly the positive advice. Similarly in the case of St. Paul, his doctrine of the absoluteness of the divine election, as stated later in this epistle, has been misunderstood, because it has been supposed that he is asserting the divine absoluteness as against the claim of man to moral freedom, and to equitable judgement in accordance with responsibility. But in fact this is what he is indirectly vindicating. What he is arguing against is the claim of the Jews that God was bound to their race. It is against this claim — this immoral claim to perpetual privilege on the part of one race, however they might behave — that St. Paul exalts the absolute freedom of God to choose or reject as He sees fit. It is of great importance then, especially with a writer so frequently controversial as St. Paul, to watch continually to see which is the phase of thought or feeling that he is opposing. Frequently, as I say, it hardly appears on the surface of St. Paul's writing that he really has a definite opponent in view. Sometimes, as in the passage now to be considered, it becomes apparent, and the argument is best exhibited in the form of a dialogue (though to let the dialogue appear clearly, missing links have to be supplied) thus —
Jewish Objector. But if all this is true — if Jews are no better off than Gentiles — of what use is it to be a Jew? What is the value of our circumcision and the position into which it initiates us? (ver. 1)
St. Paul. Its value is manifold. To take one point first, it lies in the fact that the oracles of God — His teaching and promises — were entrusted to our race (ver. 2).
J. O. But if God thus of old gave special promises to us as His special people, and if now we are simply like the heathen under His wrath, the conclusion is that He has been false to His promises (argument implied in ver. 3).
S. P. No: that is not to be thought of. It is not God who has played false, it is man: it is our race. The Jews refused to believe: not however all of them, but some. If there is a trial between God and His people as to which has been true, it is God who must be vindicated as the Psalmist says (vers. 3, 4).
J. O. But if, as your teaching proves, all our unrighteousness is made to serve as a background on which God makes His righteousness all the more evident — that is enough. Our wrong-doing serves its purpose in this way. God has no right both to use our wrong-doing for His own purposes, and then, besides this, to visit His wrath upon us (ver. 5a).
S. P. Such thoughts our human nature suggests (ver. 5b). But we know they are false. God is the judge of the world, and His action necessarily supplies the standard of all judicial righteousness (ver. 6).
J. O. But do consider my point. If the result of my playing false to God is that His fidelity is only thrown into higher relief and the whole process ministers to His glory, why am I, the unconscious instrument of His glory, treated as an offender? and why should I not resolve to go on freely doing wrong (as you yourself are sometimes accused of teaching), so as to give God more abundant opportunities to overrule my action for the greater good? (vers. 7, 8a.)
S. P. A man stands justly condemned in the very using of such an argument (ver. 8b).
What advantage then has the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? Much every way: first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God. For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written,
That you might be justified in your words,
And might prevail when you comest into judgement. But if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men.) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? But if the truth of God through my lie abounded to his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? and why not (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say), Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just.
What is of interest here is to notice that St. Paul reproduces the argument of his Jewish opponent with great sympathetic force. It had clearly been weighed in his own mind. It was urged, no doubt, against his own teaching, that it gave an excuse for sinning by suggesting that the greatness of the sin only glorified the super-abundant greatness of the pardoning love. It is only too probable that some of his followers were persuaded by some such argument or acted as if they were. Thus St. Paul states it with vigour, but thereby only makes all the more apparent the meagreness of his reply. Not that the argument is such as makes reply difficult. In a slightly different form St. Paul deals with it elaborately in chapters ix-xi. But here he clearly treats it as contemptible when its true character has once been disclosed. And why? Because it is professedly an explanation of the ways of God with man, which is at the same time an excuse for immorality. It is an intellectual exercise at the expense of conscience. And St. Paul shows, by the very contempt with which he treats it, that a man who will play false with his conscience, and then proceed to find intellectual justifications, is not to be met in the intellectual region at all. He has been condemned already.
St. Paul then, we find, will not argue with one who reasons at the expense of his conscience; and this is an important principle. When the intellect is acting purely, it must be free, and must be dealt with seriously on its own ground. But the conscience must be followed first of all. Its light is clearer than the light of intellect, and must be left supreme. Whatever be the bewilderment of my intellect, I am self-condemned, God-condemned, if I play false to the moral light. And arguments to the contrary, however clever-sounding or philosophical, are in fact sophistry. There is, we must confess, a good deal of such sophistry to-day in the use of arguments drawn from the current philosophy of necessitarianism and the idea of heredity.
 Chapters ix-xi.
 The points are resumed in ix. 1.
 Ps. xxxii.
From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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