Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 3:1–4—Though humans are faithless and lie, God remains faithful.

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
2 Much in every way. To begin with,
the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.
3 What if some were unfaithful?
Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?
4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”

The gospel, sleeping in the midst of Jew and Gentile sin, comes awake in this chapter. But first Paul brushes aside false conclusions his readers might make from what he has said previously. Yes, unbelieving Jews are under God’s judgment. No, that does not mean God has revoked his OT promises to Israel.

And yes, Jews and Gentiles are alike under God’s wrath and in need of his mercy. But no, Jews continue to be different. They have not lost their special privileges granted by their covenant with God. As a sign of that covenant, circumcision still has great value.

Gentiles, who outnumber Jews in the Roman church, need to hear this message to realize that even though the two groups are equal in regard to both judgment and salvation their Jewish brethren retain their privileges. Paul will develop this theme at length in chapters 9–11.

Jew-Gentile relations are not the only topic forecast in these verses. Along with the next four verses, they move Paul’s argument forward in several respects. They introduce God’s promises and faithfulness to his covenant while stressing the necessity of human belief. And in a sense they introduce this chapter, which itself is pivotal. All of chapter 3 “is a key to the thought and structure of the rest of Romans,” Joseph Fitzmyer says with reference to W. S. Campbell.

Style notes
In style, Paul returns to diatribe. Some scholars, noting the absence of “you,” call it strictly dialogical (instruction by question and answer) rather than interaction with an imaginary opponent. If Paul is not conceiving what an opponent might say, he is formulating his own questions. In either case his questions serve to advance his argument. Colin Kruse states, “The questions he poses are not merely hypothetical but reflect real objections to his gospel to which he must respond.”

Verses 1–8 have generated controversy among interpreters, some regarding this passage among the most difficult to interpret in Romans. Paul’s curse style employing rapid-fire questions and “frustratingly brief” allusions to themes he will develop later contribute to the difficulty, Douglas Moo states. Dictation of intense writing may explain the incomplete grammatical constructions, Robert Utley suggests.

Oracles of God
Oracles has a general meaning in verse 2. They are God’s utterances, his words, and thus the entire Old Testament. This, God’s revelation of himself, is his foremost gift to the Jews. With this gift came the responsibility to believe and obey its teachings. Paul may have chosen this word rather than Scripture “to highlight those ‘sayings’ of the OT in which God committed himself to certain actions with reference to his people” (Moo).

“To begin with” translates a word meaning “first of all.” It seems Paul intended this to be one of several privileges, but he does not finish the list until 9:4–5.

God’s faithfulness
The contrast between this quality of God’s character and human infidelity is light versus dark. We lie, break promises, dodge and weave on commitments. God is forever true, dependable to keep every promise. He will fulfill every detail of his covenant with Israel. Moo thinks Paul has particularly in mind the Jews’ unfaithful response to the promised Messiah as seen in their failure to embrace Jesus.

Verses 2 and 3 have a Greek word that Paul uses four times to convey “the essence of Paul’s argument in this passage,” Richard Longenecker says. Highlighting those words, Longenecker sums up that argument: “being entrusted with the words of God does not guarantee a person’s faith in God or faithfulness to God; nor does such a great privilege provide exemption from divine judgment—and, conversely, nor does a person’s unfaithfulness discredit or bring to an end God’s faithfulness.”

Humans take note: God’s faithfulness cuts two ways. He is faithful to his promises of both blessing and judgment—God’s wrath reappears in verse 5 (see 1:18 and 2:5). As Kruse points out, “God remains faithful to the terms of his covenant with Israel when he imposes judgment upon Israel for her faithlessness.”

God is true
Verse 4’s exclamation “By no means!” the King James Version translates as “God forbid!” According to Longenecker, the latter best expresses “the religious context and emotional anguish” of Paul’s language. He regards Paul’s statement that follows—“Let God be true though every one were a liar”—as a Jewish aphorism that was likely well known to the believers at Rome, even the Gentiles.

The quote that ends the verse is from Psalm 51:4. David acknowledges God is right to accuse him of sin. Paul’s use of this Psalm makes the point that our infidelity displays and highlights God’s fidelity. Fitzmyer comments, “Though human sin is a rebellion against God’s will, it serves to magnify divine fidelity and uprightness.”