Arguments for the proposition, 1:18-5:21

Argument #1

Part 6


Argument #1: The impartial nature of God's righteous condemnation of universal sin, 1:18-3:20;

Part 6: The law is not devalued, nor is sin promoted, by setting aside the law as a means of appropriating God's favour.


Having examined the place of the law in the righteous judgement of God, making the point that the assumed advantage of the law, namely its power to restrain sin and advance holiness toward a superior spirituality, is demonstrably not true, Paul now goes on to answers two objections, namely, that he devalues the covenant, and that he promotes libertarianism.


i] Context: See 1:1-7.


ii] Background: The Nomist heresy 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: God his faithful to the covenant:

Paul's thesis devalues the covenant, v1-4;

Paul's thesis promotes libertarianism, v5-8.


This passage, dealing with the charge that Paul devalues the covenant and its law and so promotes libertarianism, presents in four parts, four double questions followed by four double answers (except for the fourth answer), v1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8. Together the separate parts of the argument may be assembled under two main objections, as above.


iv] Interpretation:

Most commentators admit the complexity of verses 1-8, made more complex by the many presuppositions which control the interpretation of the passage. Dodd even suggests that Paul's argument is "obscure and feeble", but we are best to concur with Godet who said that the passage is "one of the most difficult, perhaps, in the epistle." The best we can make of the passage is that Paul now deals with two particular objections to his argument that the law (God's law evident in the Law of Moses, completed in the teachings of Jesus) does not progress holiness / sanctify for blessing, but rather serves to expose sin and enact judgment. Obviously, members of the circumcision party, the judaizers, nomist law-bound believers, have used these arguments against Paul and his libertarian gospel, although it is unclear whether the wording is Paul's, or that of his opponents.


The first objection: Paul's thesis devalues the covenant, teaching that the Mosaic law has no place in the Christian church, 3:1-4.

This idea would greatly affront the sensibilities of nomist believers, particularly those with Jewish heritage. Paul certainly does not devalue the covenant, nor does he regard the law as valueless. The logic of Paul's position is that there is no advantage in law-obedience for the appropriation of God's promised blessings. Israel was certainly privileged in possessing God's law, but having broken it, Israel has forfeited its promises. This may imply that human sin has thwarted God's sovereign intensions, but those intentions are fulfilled in Christ (the only covenant compliant Jew - the true remnant of Israel). Only those "in Christ", who rest on his faithfulness, realise the promised covenant blessings. Paul will develop this argument in chapters 9-11.


The second objection: Paul's thesis devalues the power of sin, happily undermining the purifying power of the law, such that one could argue in the end, "why not sin that grace may abound?" 3:5-8.

It could be argued that Paul's "gospel" is libertarian - that by devaluing the law it promotes sin. One could even logically construe from Paul's gospel, that sin, rather than submission to the law, contributes to God's glory. But, "that's pure slander, as I'm sure you will agree", Peterson, v8b. Paul will deal with this false premise in chapters 6-8.


Some commentators argue for three objections, although two seems more likely. Hunter summarises the case for thee nicely:

i "If every difference between Jew and Gentile vanishes, are we to conclude that membership of the Chosen People carries no advantage with it?"

i"It is obvious that some Jews by their unbelief are forfeiting the promises. Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness?"

i"If our wickedness (says the Jewish heckler) serves to show the righteousness of God, is it not unfair of God to inflict his wrath upon us?"


Note how Hunter, as with many commentators, sees Paul's argument focused specifically on Jews. As already noted, it seems more likely that Paul's particular focus is on law-bound nomist believers, those committed to God's Law (the Law of Moses, and Jesus' completion of the law) in order to progress holiness for blessing. None-the-less, the general nature of Paul's argument includes religious law-bound Jews in this class of people, just as those Gentiles who tend to do what the law demands, apart from the Law, is inclusive of moral Gentiles in general, and believing Gentiles in particular.

So, although Paul uses the word tou Ioudaiou, "the Jew", ie., "a person bound to the covenant and committed to the Mosaic law", it is always framed with the law-bound believer in mind; see IoudaioV, "Interpretation", 2:17-29.


Although the objections are prompted by Paul's argument in chapter 2, they go to the heart of his thesis, namely, that the righteous reign of God, out of faith, apart from the law, facilitates the fullness of new life in Christ.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:1

Argument #1, Part 6: The law is not devalued, nor is sin promoted, by setting aside the law as a means of appropriating God's favour, v1-8.

The first objection - Paul's thesis devalues the covenant, v1-4: If God's righteous judgment, of blessing or cursing, is irrespective of a person's submission to the law, then the covenant is without any value. To this assertion Paul states that for the Jew, there was great value in their possession of the covenant. Just in the possession of God's very word's there is advantage. Although Israel was not covenant compliant, their failure has not frustrated God's full realisation of the covenant's promised blessings.

tiv "what" - [therefore,] what [is] Interrogative pronoun serving to pose a question. The question is introduced by an inferential oun, "therefore", prompted by Paul's argument so far.

to perisson adj. "advantage" - the advantage, the pre-eminence, over and above. The adjective serves as a noun. Thus, NIV, "advantage", possibly "special advantage." The question implies that, given Paul's argument, there is none. "What then does the Jew possess which others have not?", Barrett.

tou Ioudaiou (oV) gen. "is there in being a Jew" - of the jew. The genitive is adjectival, possessive / subjective; "what therefore is the excessive thing belonging to the Jew?" = "then what advantage has the Jew?", Berkeley.

hJ wfeleia (a) "value" - [or what is] the gain, advantage, profit, value. "What is the use of circumcision?", Barclay, "value", Longenecker.

thV peritomhV (h) gen. "is there in circumcision" - of the circumcision. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "what benefit is there in possessing circumcision?" = as NIV.


Jewish heritage comes with many advantages, although Paul only names one advantage here, namely, the covenant, and then goes on to offer a qualification, v3-4, cf., 9:4-5.

kata + acc. "-" - [much] according to. Expressing a standard.

tropon (oV) "[in every] way" - [all, every] kind, way, manner (of an action). "Considerable, in every respect", Berkeley.

prwton men "first of all" - [for] first. The phrase takes the sense "of chief importance", first in superiority, so Moo, "chiefly", AV. The variant gar, "for", if original, is explanatory, although awkward with prwton men.

oJti "-" - that. Here epexegetic, introducing an explanation of what is "of chief importance".

episteuqhsan (epipisteuw) aor. pas. + acc. "they have been entrusted with" - they were entrusted with. Divine / theological passive; the divine election of Israel "bestowed special privileges upon them", privileges which were "terrible", Barrett. If ta logia means "the scriptures", then it could be said that Israel was entrusted with their preservation. But, as noted below, it is more than likely that "the words" entail the covenant and that "entrusted" doesn't mean "preserve / guard / etc.", but rather "respond to appropriately." Harrison, in the Expositors Bible Commentary, suggests "that what is called for ..... is faith and obedience." Paul would not be pleased with the suggestion that the full appropriation of covenant blessings had anything to do with obedience - it is ek pistewV, "out of faith." So, Israel was entrusted with the covenant, but many (most!) Jews failed to follow Abraham's lead, and relied on the Sinai law for blessing, yet the law can only give shape to the fruit of faith; without faith it can only curse.

ta logia "the very words" - the oracles, words [of god]. Possibly "the scriptures", although an unusual term for them. Specifically, "the covenant and its promises", Dumbrell, "his word of promise", Morris, but not the "Jewish communication as God's messengers to the world based on Torah", Wright. Cranfield opts for a broad sense, namely, God's self-revelation in the OT and NT. See Morris for other possibilities. Note that the genitive "of God" is adjectival, verbal, subjective.


If the majority of "Jews" were unfaithful to the covenant, does that nullify God's commitment to the covenant promises?

gar "-" - for. Is cause / reason being expressed? In questions, often not, rather more inferential than causal: "what then if some ...."

ei + ind. "[what] if" - [what] if. Introducing a conditional clause 1st class where the condition is assumed to come true; "what then if, as the case may be, .... then will their unbelief ...."

tineV "some" - certain. Not all Jews are unfaithful. Christ was faithful and those who are "in Christ", by grace through faith, are faithful. This is true, but it is more than likely that Paul recognises that there are Jews who, like Abraham, have live by faith, as opposed to the "some" who live by law. For the new perspective commentator, the "some" are important, although the argument is rather tenuous: The remnant of Israel was indeed faithful to the covenant, living by faith, fulfilling the law through obedience and sacrifice where there was sin. The "some" who were unfaithful destroyed the possibility of Israel as a whole from fulfilling its covenant responsibilities, of being a light to the Gentiles, and thus providing salvation to the world. Yet, the faithlessness of the "some" did not thwart God's covenant promises now fulfilled in Christ, the remnant of God, and through Christ, "the equality of salvation" for both Jew and Gentile.

hpisthsan (apisteuw) aor. "did not have faith / were unfaithful" - disbelieved / were unfaithful. Translations and commentators are divided on whether lack of faith is intended, as NIV, "unbelieving", Barrett, which is the more common sense of the word in the NT, or unfaithfulness, in the sense of "untrue to their trust", Lightfoot, or more pointedly, in line with the new perspective, "infidelity to the law", Dumbrell. The TNIV's move back to "unfaithfulness" lines up better with "God's faithfulness", but Israel's "unfaithfulness" was not to the law, but to faith. Unlike God who fulfils his covenant responsibilities (he performs his side of the agreement), many in Israel failed to fulfil their covenant responsibilities - to trust in God as Abraham trusted in God.

mh "-" - [surely] not [the unbelief / unfaithfulness of them]? This negation, in the apodosis of the conditional clause, presents as a rhetorical question expecting the answer "No".

katarghsei (katargew) fut. "will ..... nullify" - will nullify, make of no effect, render invalid. The future tense serves as a deliberative subjunctive. A word with multiple meanings in the NT. As derived, the word takes the sense "to make to do absolutely no work", so "make inoperative", Morris. "Make completely inoperative / put out of use", Delling.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God's [faithfulness]" - [the faithfulness] of god. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, or verbal, subjective; "God's faithfulness." "Faithfulness, fidelity", refers to a quality possessed by God; he keeps his promises irrespective of whether his children do, or do not.


Paul expresses an emphatic denial of the implication in the question in v3 that God would not follow through on his promises - that he would be unfaithful. God's judgment in matters of unfaithfulness is totally appropriate, but it does not eliminate his covenant promises.

mh genoito aor. opt. "not at all" - may it not be. Expressing a negative wish. "God forbid!", Barclay. "By no means!", ESV.

de "and" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point; "not at all, rather .....", Berkeley.

ginesqw (ginomai) imp. "let [God] be [true]" - let be [god true]. The imperative expressing a command. Obviously not "let God become", but more in the sense "let the presence of God be recognised", "be found", Lightfoot; "let God be seen to be true", Cassirer.

de "and" - and [every man a lier]. Counter point, possibly concessive; "though every one were a liar", ESV.

kaqwV gegraptai "as it is written" - as it has been written. Standard introduction to a quote from scripture. The quote is from Psalm 51:4, "you are right when you accuse me and justified in passing sentence", REB. Some argue that the quote serves to introduce the second objection, see Cranfield.

oJpwV an + subj. "so that" - that. This construction usually forms a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that", possibly result here, so Longenecker. Properly oJpwV an + fut.

dikaiwqhV (dikaiow) aor. subj. "you may be proved right" - you may be justified. Obviously not "justified" in the sense of "made right", but rather "shown to be right / in the right", as NIV.

en + dat. "when [you speak]" - in [the speech, sayings of you]. Here adverbial, possibly temporal, as NIV, or more likely instrumental, expressing means, "by means of", Morris.

nikhseiV (nikaw) fut. "prevail" - [and] you will be victor, conqueror. Here Paul has properly used the future tense for the oJpwV an construction", see above. You will win the case", REB.

en tw/ + inf. "when [you judge]" - in the [judgment of you]. This construction usually forms a temporal clause, as NIV. "You will win the case", REB. The case is won when God is judged / assessed by his creation (the infinitive being treated as passive, so Lightfoot) and stands vindicated.


ii] Paul's thesis promotes libertarianism, v5-8. If a person's covenant infidelity promotes God's covenant fidelity, is it not unjust of God to judge that person's failure. In fact, taking the logic one step further, "why not sin that grace may abound?" To this assertion, Paul asks a rhetorical question; "so it would be unjust for God to condemn sin would it? - obviously not!, v6. "An argument like this bears its condemnation on its face", Barclay, v8b.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to the next set of questions.

ei + ind. "if" - if. Introducing a conditional clause 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case .... then ...."

hJmwn pro. "our [unrighteousness]" - [the unrighteousness] of us. Since this question derives from Paul's law-bound critics, the "our" would indicate believers with an attachment to the Sinai covenant, an attachment Paul, as a Jew, happily affirms. Other suggestions include, "Jews", Moo, "mankind", Dumbrell, "Christians", Lenski.

sunisthsin (sunisthmi) pres. ind. "brings out .... more clearly" - demonstrates, exhibits / commends. Taking a general sense "to bring together / stand together", the word was used legally in the sense "to prove", and therefore "demonstrate / show"; "exhibits God's justice more clearly", Cassirer, but possibly "serves to confirm the justice of God", NRSV. Something stronger is possible, "commend", AV.

qeou dikaiosunhn (h) "God's righteousness" - righteousness of god. We can dispense with the pietistic idea of "God's righteousness" as a divine morality to be lived out by faith, and must choose between the genitive "of God" being partitive, "that status of being right with God which comes as his gift", O'Brien; or possessive / subjective, "the saving activity of God", Talbert, "God's dynamic fidelity to his covenant promises", Dumbrell = "his saving righteousness." See The righteousness of God.

mh "-" - [what will we say? god the one bringing = inflicting wrath is] not [unjust]? This negation is used for a question expecting a negative answer, lit. "is God, the one inflicting wrath, unjust / unrighteous? Certainly not!" The participle "the one bringing" serves as a substantive standing in apposition to "God"; "that God, the one who inflicts wrath, is unjust?" = "that it is unfair of God to inflict his anger upon us?", Moffatt.

kata + acc. "I am using [a human argument]" - according to [man i say]. Expressing a standard; "in accordance with." The argument aligns with human frailty and has obviously been posed by the nomist believers.


The logic of the question does not stand scrutiny, because if God is not willing to condemn sinners, how can he preside over the judgment of the world?

mh genoito "certainly not" - may it not be so. "What a load of rubbish."

epei "if that were so" - because, since, for. Here "for otherwise", BDF456/3, a classical usage of this causal conjunction.

pwV "how" - how [will god judge]. Interrogative particle, not really modal here, expressing manner, "in what way ....?", rather serving to prompt a rejection of a question, "otherwise it would be impossible for God to judge the world", BAGD p739,1d. "How else would things get straightened out if God didn't do the straightening?", Peterson.

ton kosmon (oV) "the world" - the world. Accusative direct object of the verb to judge. Not just Israel. Paul again alludes to universal sin and its unconditional condemnation.


"It is like saying that if my lying throws into sharp relief the truth of God and, so to speak, enhances his reputation, then why should he repay me by judging me a sinner?", Phillips.

de "Someone might argue" - but/and. Variant gar, "for", exists, which would imply that v7 and 8 are a further development of the argument, but it seems more likely that they simply restate v5 and 6, so Metzger etc. "Or again", Cassirer.

ei + ind. "Someone might argue, 'if'" - if. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, the truth of god abounded by my lie to the glory of him, then why still also as a sinner am I judged?

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God's [truthfulness]" - [the truth] of god. The genitive is often viewed as plenary, ie., both subjective and objective.

en "-" - [abounded] in = by [my untruthfulness]. The preposition here is probably instrumental, expressing means, "untruthfulness through me", or association, "untruthfulness in association, connected with me" = "my lie", ESV. "Untruthfulness" possibly with the sense of "undependability", Morris, "my lie, that is, practice contrary to truth", Wesley.

eiV + acc. "increases [his glory]" - to [the glory of him]. Used here to express advantage; "My lack of integrity promotes the integrity of God to his glory."

eti kagw "[why am I] still [condemned]" - [then why] still also [as a sinner am i judged]? The crasis kagw, is emphatic, not "also" but "actually", Moule. "Why am I actually judged to be a sinner?" Barrett. The adverb eti, "still, yet", "highlights the logical inference Paul draws", Harvey.


It seems likely that in this verse Paul quotes the words used by his detractors and describes their argument as very "human" - shifty to say the least. Free grace (although it wasn't free for Jesus) doesn't mean free to sin. By proclaiming the righteous reign of God, the setting-right of all things by God in the faithfulness of Christ apart from submission to the Mosaic law, the law-bound believers in the church at the time ("the weak", 15:1) felt that Paul was undermining the law's purifying (sanctifying) role. They argued that Paul's doctrinal position served only to promote license. In fact, the logic of his argument implies that sin is not really a problem because it shows up the grace of God. As Paul puts it, "those who promote such a stupid argument are deservedly condemned."

The connective kai encourages quite a number of different ways to tie v8 to v7. Cranfield opts for UBS4, as NIV, a question mark at the end of v7 and at the end of agaqa, "that good may result?" The kai, untranslated in the NIV, implies that v8 is linked to v7, possibly a restatement of v7. The argument tends to be over whether v8 is Paul's response to v7, or an objection posed to Paul, see Moo. It seems likely that the quote in v8, unlike v1-7, records the actual words of Paul's more extreme objectors, and so demonstrates the illogical nature of their argument. "Why not go all the way and suggest that we teach (as some actually slanderously do), 'hey, let's live it up ... it will make God look even better'", cf., Junkins.

mh "[why] not [say]" - [and] not. When this negation is used in a rhetorical question it implies a negative answer, but it is somewhat difficult to express here. Morris suggests "do we say perhaps ......?" - obviously not. "Do you really think that the gospel we proclaim promotes the notion that ......?" - answer "No, of course not".

kaqwV "as" - as [we are slanderously charged]. Here expressing a characteristic quality, not "like" Paul is charged, but "as" indeed he is charged; "this is in fact the very argument that some people slanderously allege that I use", Barclay.

legein (legw) pres. inf. " that we say" - [and as some affirm us] to say. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what people claim, namely, "that we say ......"

oJti "-" - that. Serving to introduce a dependent statement, direct discourse, expressing what Paul is supposed to have said / taught, namely "let us do evil ......"

poihswmen (poiew) aor. subj. "let us do [evil]" - let us practice. Hortatory subjunctive.

ta kaka adj. "evil" - evil things. The articular adjective serves as a substantive, accusative object of the verb "to do." The plural obviously indicates a string of evil acts, even possibly habitual evil.

iJna + subj. "that [good may result]" - that [the good may come]. Here introducing a final clause expressing purpose: "in order that ..."

w|n gen. pro. "their" - [the condemnation, judgment] of them [is deserved]. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. The subject is unclear; is Paul condemning (possibly God does the condemning) those who report that he teaches this heresy, or is he condemning the heresy itself? "Such an argument is quite properly condemned", Phillips.


Romans Introduction.



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