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

Argument #1

Part 7


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

Part 7: Given the human condition of universal sin, the law is unable to purify, it only condemns.


Paul now draws a conclusion from his argument so far, namely, that the human condition of universal sin is not alleviated by submission to the law, for the law only serves to make sin more sinful.


i] Context: See 1:1-7.


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


iii] Structure: Argument summary:

Proposition, v9:

There is no eternal advantage for a person

who submits to the Law of Moses,

because all humanity is under the power of sin.

Scriptural support, v10-16:

Because humanity does not fear God, (v18):

None is righteous, v10;

All have turned from God, v11-12;

All have sinned in speech, v13-14;

All have harmed others, v15-16.


The law does not justify, it only condemns, v17-18.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul now sums up his argument: Human corruption / sin is a universal phenomenon, a repetition of Adam's failure to honour God, and weather a person is, or is not committed to the covenant and its law, everyone is bound by sin and stands under the condemnation of God.


dikaiwqhsetai, "will be justified" = "will be declared righteous" NIV, v20, although such a translation reflects a particular theological position, as does "made righteous." Other possibilities are "counted / treated as righteous", "have conferred on them a righteous status", "gain covenant status", ..... Commentators lean toward "judged right with God", although what God judges right, is right, so surely "set right with God" = "made right with God" is an acceptable translation.

Essential to Paul's understanding of justification is the extent of the setting right. Paul teaches a setting right which is complete, a perfection / holiness in the sight of God which covers the past, present and future. It is for this reason that Paul's ethical teaching amounts to be what you are. What we are is perfect in Christ through faith, apart from the law. It is likely that the judaizers, law-bound believers, nomists, saw justification as a divine act of forgiveness related to conversion. Keeping in with God and going forward for the appropriation of his promised blessings was all about law-obedience - it was all about using the law to restrain sin in order to purify / sanctify for blessing. Yet, in Christ the promised blessings of the covenant are fully ours apart from law-obedience. In Christ a believer is holy, made right with God.


ergwn nomou, "works of law" = "observing the law / doing what the law of Moses commands", v20. The meaning of this phrase has prompted endless debate, particularly with respect to The New Perspective on Paul (see Dunn who argues it is a boundary marker separating Jew from Gentile). It probably serves as a descriptor of nomism / pietism, the idea that performance will progress the Christian life. Most likely the law of Moses is in mind. Paul's treatment of the law is a matter of constant debate in that he both affirms the doing of the law, but also depreciates it. Clearly, the intended purpose of obedience is what matters. There is nothing wrong with using the law as a guide to Christian living, but to use the law to facilitate God's grace is to place ourselves under the curse of the law. Only perfect obedience enables us to participate in God's plan to set all things right. Even Paul, who, when it came to the legalistic observance of the law, was "blameless", knew that he was not justified "by doing what the law commands", Moffatt.


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

Text - 3:9

Argument #1, Part 7: Given the human condition of universal sin, the law is unable to purify, it only condemns, v9-20:

i] Proposition: Due to universal sin and the impartial nature of God's judgment upon sin, there is no advantage for a person committed to the Mosaic law, v9.

tiv oun "what shall we conclude then?" - what therefore? Interrogative tiv + inferential gar = "what then", NRSV.

proecomeqa (proecw) pres. mid/pas. "are we any better?" - we excel (active) = are we better off, do we have an advantage? The NIV, as with most modern translations, opt for a middle voice rather than passive, and treat the middle as active (middles are often active in NT). "What advantage", as far as God is concerned? "Have we a shelter under which we can regard ourselves as delivered from wrath", Godet. Paul notes that there is advantage for IoudaioV, "a Jew = a person who, in affirming Jewish heritage, submits to the law of Moses, as opposed to Gentiles who don't", v1, but this is qualified such that in eternal terms there is no advantage. In using the 2nd. pers. pl.,"we", Paul includes himself; "Are we Jews any better off?", ESV. When it comes to law-obedience, Paul is less than scrupulous, but none-the-less, he retains his Jewish heritage, while at the same time being the first to admit that, as to a person's standing before God, Jewish heritage means nothing. Note that Paul's use of "we" can mean "we Jews", or "we members of the Pauline missionary team", or "we apostles" or "we believers" (Morris has the "we" in this verse as "we Christians"), eg., note the "we" in v8.

ou pantwV adv. "not at all!" - not all. As an exclamation. The definite sense "by no means", Barclay, as NIV, is accepted by most, eg., Turner, BAGD, although the Gk. properly says "not altogether", Cranfield.

gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why "we" are no better off, "because ...."

prohtiasameqa (proaitiaomai) aor. mid. "we have already made the charge" - we have made a previous accusation (active). "We have already made the point that we are all sinners and stand under the judgment of God, irrespective of our submission to the law."

einai (eimi) inf. "that" - [all] to be. Infinitive of the verb to-be, serving to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul has already "charged", namely that everybody is in the bondage of sin. The subject of the infinitive is the accusative adjective "all".

uJf (uJpo) + acc. "under the power of" - under [sin]. Expressing subordination. Usually understood as "under the power of sin", ie., "unable to escape from that condition", Denney.

IoudaiouV (oV) "Jews" - [both] jews [and greeks]. See notes 2:17-29


ii] The string of six quotations, Ps.14:1-3, 5-9, 140.3, 10:7, Isa.59.7-8 and Ps.36:1, prove the universality of sin, of our "moral bankruptcy and guilt before God", Hunter, but with particular reference to those who don't think they have a problem - the self-righteous / nomist believers / members of the circumcision party / judaizers / "the weak", v10-18.

The text of Psalm 14:1-3 covers v10b-12. "No one is righteous, no, not one",

kaqwV "as [it is written]" - as [it has been written]. Comparative; idiomatic phrase serving to introduce a quote from scripture.

oJti "-" - that. introducing a dependent statement, direct quote. Note that the LXX quote states "there is no one who does good." Paul's "righteous" is editorial.

dikaioV adj. "righteous" - [there is not] a righteous man [not one]. Possibly just taking the sense "upright", but usually understood in the Pauline sense of "count / treat as right / righteous", Barrett, and therefore "possess covenant status"; "no one", "not even one" has ever gained, maintained, or progressed this standing before God through their own effort applied to the law, although there are some who are right before God by faith. So, "there is no one who is righteous under the law", all sin and all stand condemned.


"There is none who understands, none who seeks God."

ouk estin "there is no" - there is not. This anaphoric (referring back to "all under the power of sin") construction is repeated throughout v10-16.

oJ suniwn (sunihmi) pres. part. "one who understands" - the one understanding. The participle serves as a substantive, predicate of the verb to-be; "there is not he who understands" = "no person has genuine understanding as to their sinful condition."

oJ ekzhtwn (ekzhtew) pres. part. "one who seeks" - [there is not] the one seeking. As above, the participle serves as a substantive. The prefix ek expresses "earnest seeking." The "seeking" here may be a seeking apart from grace, or a seeking which is ephemeral, a seeking after religious experience.


"All have turned aside and become unprofitable; No one does good, not even one"

exeklinan (eklinw) aor. "have turned away" - [all] turned away, bent away. "Swerved from the right path", Montgomery.

hcrewqhsan (acreiow) aor. pas. "we have [together] become worthless" - [together] they become useless, unprofitable. Aorist is possibly ingressive where the stress is placed on the beginning of the action, so NIV. "Together", ama, in the sense of "simultaneously they turned aside and became worthless."

oJ poiwn (poiew) pres. part. "one who does [good]" - [there is not] the one doing [kindness, good]. The participle serves as a substantive, predicate of the verb to-be; "there is not he who does good" = "there is no one who practices goodness", Barclay.

ouk estin "not" - there is not. Variant reading; emphatic construction.

eJwV eJnoV "even one" - until as one. In the sense of "even reaching one"; "so much as one", Zerwick. "There isn't one person who does right", CEV.


The Psalms continue to illustrate the evil of mankind, particularly applicable to the self-righteous / nomists and their tongue, v13-14. Speech that is "foul and filthy", Taylor, may be in mind, but in the context it is speech that deceives and leads astray.

"Their throat is a yawning grave; they practised deception with their tongues", Psalm 5:9;

"Inside their lips is the poison of asps", Psalm 140:3;

anewgmenoV (anoigw) perf. pas. part. "are open [graves]" - [a grave] having been opened [is the throat of them]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the noun "grave"; "a grave which has been opened." The image of a throat like an open grave is somewhat strange, but possibly the stench of the open grave is what is intended, and this related to a deceitful tongue, so: "their talk is foul and filthy like the stench of an open grave", LB.

taiV glwssaiV (a) dat. "[their] tongues" - with the tongues [of them]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means; "they use their tongues to deceive", ESV.

edoliousan (doliow) imperf. "practice deceit" - they were working deceit. The imperfect tense is durative; "They use their tongues for treachery", REB.

uJpo + acc. "under [their lips]" - [poison of snakes is] under [the lips of them]. Spatial, "under, below" - "to rest beneath", Moule; "the venom of vipers is on their lips", Cassirer.


"Their mouths are full of bitter cursing", Psalm 10:7.

wnJ gen. pro. "their" - whose. Anaphoric, pointing back to "all", v9. The genitive pronoun is used for the possessive genitive autwn, "of them" = "their".

araV kai ceilh gen. "cursing and bitterness" - [mouth is full] of cursing and bitterness. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / content; "full of." The word "bitterness" in Hebrew means "fraud". The mouth (having already mentioned the larynx, tongue and lips), when in deceiving mode, brings on the hearer a curse and the bitterness of having been deceived.


Isaiah 59:7-8 proclaims God's judgment upon faithless Israel, here illustrating Israel's evil, an evil applicable to all humanity, and that includes the self-righteous / law-bound believers.

"Their feet make haste to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their paths, the way of peace is unknown to them."

ekceai "to shed" - [swift the feet of them] to pour, shed [blood]. There is no verb in the Gk. (an ellipsis) so it must be supplied, eg., "they have swift (adj. "sharp", so obviously "swift") feet", the infinitive is then epexegetic, explaining something about the "feet", but possibly better adverbial, expressing purpose, "in order to shed blood." The unrighteous of Israel (although v15 is possibly wider) live in a destructive way; "Everyone is in a hurry to destroy."

en + dat. "-" - [ruin and misery] in [the paths of them]. Local, expressing space; on the path they have traveled lies the remains of what they have trampled under-foot, namely, suntrimma, "shattered, crushed things", and the consequence of the shattering, namely, talaipwria, "misery". The verb must be supplied; "they spread ruin and misery along their path", TNT.

kai "and" - and [way of peace they do not know]. Coordinative; and there is more to add. "They do not recognise (egnwsan, "know") the way that leads to fellowship (eirhnhV, "peace") with God and one another."


The final quote from Psalm 36:1 identifies the ultimate source of the problem, namely, they do not fear God.

"They have no fear of God before their eyes."

foboV (oV) "fear" - [there is not] a fear. If "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom", then they haven't even begun to relate to God; "he plays no part in directing their life", Cranfield. "Fear", probably in the sense of "respect", Fitzmyer; "reverence for God does not enter their thoughts", NEB. Morris argues for "the terror of the Lord", but this seems somewhat negative; respect in response to faith seems more likely.

qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - of god. The genitive is adjectival, verbal, objective.

apenanti + gen. "before" - before [the eyes of them]. Spatial; "before, in front of, opposite." Idiomatic, "in the presence of", Moule; "reverence for God is something for which they shut their eyes", Cassirer.


iii] Paul now summarises his argument: Those who place themselves under the law of Moses, as with all humanity, are in a state of sin and face the impartial judgment of God. The law does not sanctify / purify / make holy toward the appropriation of the promised covenant blessings, rather it primarily serves to expose sin for what it is.

de "now" - but/and. Here transitional, indicating a step in the argument, here to a conclusion, as NIV.

oJti "that" - [we know] that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what "we know." Who are the "we"? See proecomeqa, "are we any better off", v9.

oJ nomoV (oV) "the law" - [whatever] the law [says]. The presence of the article indicates the sense "the Mosaic law", but it still could mean the Old Testament scriptures as a whole. Commentators divide, eg., "the Mosaic law", Dumbrell; "the Old Testament as a whole", Mounce. It is more than likely that Paul has in mind the Mosaic law.

toiV dat. "to those who are" - to the ones. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase en tw/ nomw/ into a nominal phrase, dative of interest, advantage; "the declarations of the Mosaic law are set out for those who have submitted to its authority."

en "under" - in, on [the law]. Local, expressing sphere; "in the sphere of." So, "those within the sphere of the law," Wuest, "inside the law", Moffatt." "We know (= "those of us who affirm Jewish heritage know") that the instruction of the law (Mosaic law rather than scriptures) applies to those who have placed themselves under / submit to the authority of the law."

iJna + subj. "so that" - [it speaks] that [every mouth]. Here possibly introducing an adverbial clause, final, expressing purpose, "in order that", or consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that."

fragh/ (frassw) aor. pas. subj. "may be silenced" - may be stopped. Courtroom imagery where a defendant is unable to answer the charge due to the degree of incrimination.

kai "and" - and. Introducing a second purpose.

paV oJ kosmoV "the whole world" - all the world. Nominative subject of the verb "to become." The whole world is not incriminated by the law of Moses, rather, those under the law are incriminated by the law and thus they, along with the Gentiles (J+G = "the whole world"), stand guilty.

genhtai (ginomai) aor. mid. subj. "held accountable" - may become [under judgment, guilty]. "Guilty" in the sense of having broken the law and thus subject to punishment.

tw/ qew/ "to God" - to god. The dative may be taken as local, "before God / in God's presence", direction, indicating the injured party who may rightly seek recompense.


No person can claim God's favour by submitting to the law's requirements. The only thing the law does is to expose our sinfulness and thus, our state of loss.

For a detailed examination of the phrase ex ergwn nomou ou dikaiwqhsetai, "will not be justified out of works of law", see Galatians 2:16

dioti "therefore" - therefore. This conjunction can be causal, "because, for", or inferential, "therefore". Translations tend to go either way, but inferential seems best. "For the truth is that no human being will be accepted as righteous in God's sight ......", Cassirer.

pasa sarx "no one" - all flesh. "No human being", REB.

dikaiwqhsetai (dikaiow) fut. pas. "will be declared righteous" - [not] will be justified. Predicative, the passive being divine / theological, God is the unstated agent; see "Interpretation" above for this key theological term.

ex "by" - from. Expressing source / origin; "out of / from", extending to "on the basis of", basis, or "by", means. This can be expressed in the sense of an expenditure for some end, eg., buy something "with" money, so here gain righteousness "with works of the law", even expressed instrumentally, "by means of obedience to the law of Moses."

nomou (oV) gen. "[observing] the law" - [works] of law. The genitive is adjectival, attributive / idiomatic, "works which are commanded by the law", so Schreiner, cf., Moo. This is virtually a technical term for Paul, meaning "obedience to the law of Moses" to enhance righteousness / holiness for divine approval. The term is used some six times in Galatians. See "Interpretation" above. (Note that I use the word "enhance" because if the issue Paul is dealing with is nomism rather than legalism, then the works are not for the purpose of gaining righteousness. A nomist, such as an unconverted Pharisee or a converted Judaizer, saw their righteousness / covenant status before God as a gift of grace, so law-obedience is all about confirming, securing, maintaining, advancing that status for blessing).

gar "rather" - for. Causal; "because", Cassirer.

dia + gen. "through [the law]" - through, by means of [law]. Instrumental, expressing means; "through", identifying that the function of the law is not to make holy, but rather, expose the human state of sin.

epignwsiV (iV ewV) "we become conscious" - is recognition, realisation, knowledge. The prefix epi gives the sense "the full recognition, perception."

aJmartiaV (a) gen. "of our sin" - of sin. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective; "the law forces us to face our complicity."


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