(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 10/14/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Over the past several sermons, we've seen that God judges all people without exception by the same standard. He does not have one standard for the Jews and another standard for the Gentiles. The Gentiles, being law-breakers, are under the just wrath and condemnation of God. Even though the heathen do have God's Law explicitly written for them, they are still accountable. Romans 2:12 says that "as many as sinned without Law will also perish without Law." Now the Jews had God's Law explicitly written for them, yet they, too, being law-breakers, are under the just wrath and condemnation of God. Romans 2:12 says that "as many as sinned within Law will be judged through Law." The Jews are judged by the Law they strive to keep, because only the perfect DOERS of the Law shall be justified. Their circumcision only profits if they keep the Law perfectly. If they do not keep the Law perfectly, then their circumcision becomes the uncircumcision of the heathen.
Now let's turn to Romans 3 and read verses 1 through 8, which is the next paragraph:
Romans 3: (1) What then [is] the superiority of the Jew? Or what the profit of circumcision? (2) Much every way. For first, indeed, that they were entrusted with the Words of God. (3) For what if some did not believe? [Will] not their unbelief nullify the faith of God? (4) Let it not be! But let God be true, and every man a liar; even as it has been written, "That You should be justified in Your words, and will overcome in Your being judged." (5) But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? [Is] God unrighteous who lays on wrath? I speak according to man. (6) Let it not be! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (7) For if in my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I yet judged as a sinner? (8) And not (as we are wrongly accused, and as some report us to say), Let us do bad things so that good things may come, [the] judgment of whom is just.
First, Paul asks two questions. The first reads, "What then is the superiority of the Jew?" in the LITV. Young's Literal Translation says the same thing. In the KJV, it reads, "What advantage then hath the Jew?" The Greek word for "superiority" or "advantage" comes from a root meaning "over" or "above." So the question Paul asks is, "What then does the Jew have that is over and above the Gentile" Or, "What then is the pre-eminence of the Jew?" I like "advantage" better than "superiority," because the word "superiority" can give people the wrong idea that God is a respecter of persons or that the Jews are somehow better.
The second question is, "Or what the profit of circumcision?" The Greek word for "profit" means "benefit" or "usefulness." So the second question Paul asks is, "Or what is the benefit or usefulness of circumcision?"
Why would Paul ask these questions? Well, go back to the first question. There's a little word that gives us a clue. That word is "then." "What THEN is the advantage or the Jew?" "Then" is a connector word. It connects us to what Paul previously said. The chapter division here is not conducive to the flow of thought. The reason Paul asks these questions is because he just got through saying that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God's Law and justice and that circumcision is meaningless if the Jews break the Law. So Paul asks questions that might crop up in people's minds and then answers these questions.
Was there any advantage to being a Jew, to being one of the circumcised? Paul says in the next sentence that there was much advantage in every way. He then goes on to say what one of the main advantages was, and that was that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. To "entrust" means "to deliver something in trust to." God delivered His oracles in trust to the Jews. An "oracle of God" is an "utterance of God." The Jews were given the utterances of God and entrusted with them. The first advantage of having these oracles is that they had the very Word of God with them. They had God's revealed will by way of command, and they had the gospel. That could not be said of the heathen nations. They were also the PRESERVERS of the Word of God, so that God's infallible Word would be passed on from generation to generation. What an advantage! God was actually WITH this people, giving them His Word! The heathen were in the dark, stumbling around trying to make sense of everything. The Jews were privileged beyond measure!
But what did most of the Jews do with this privilege? Did they see God's Law as showing them the perfect righteousness of God and showing them that they cannot meet up to this perfect righteousness in their own conduct? Did they run to the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the coming Messiah as their only hope of salvation? No. Instead, they used God's Law as their attempted means to gain and maintain God's favor. They did not run to a righteousness outside of themselves; instead, they rested in their own righteousness.
Look at verse 3. Paul asks two more questions that could arise. Paul just got through saying that there was much advantage to being a Jew, as evidenced by the fact that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. However, as I just stated, most of the Jews used these oracles for self-righteousness. So a question arises: So then what good was entrusting the oracles of God to these people who used them for self-righteousness? Paul asks some questions and then answers them. In effect, he is asking, "Will the unbelief of the unbelieving Jews nullify the faithfulness of God in entrusting Israel with His oracles?" Paul answers strongly to the negative: LET IT NOT BE! This can also be translated, "MAY IT NEVER BE!" It is the strongest negation that one can give.
Before I get into this passage any further, I want to talk about how the KJV translates the first sentence of verse 4. The KJV translates it "God forbid." This is a horrible and repugnant translation. It is one of the main reasons I don't use the KJV as the basis for Scripture readings or for sermons. Now I do not totally discard the entire KJV and believe that some of its renderings are better than the LITV, but this turns me way off to the KJV. Paul uses this phrase many times in his epistles, so the phrase "God forbid" shows up many times in the KJV. Look up the word "God" in your Strong's Concordance and go to where it's used in Romans 3:4. You will see that only the word "God" is italicized, but there are TWO numbers! What's the deal? Well, since the word "God" is italicized, you would expect that one or both of these numbers would refer you to a Greek word for "God." But, lo and behold, NEITHER of these numbers references a word for "God"! Why is that? Because GOD'S NAME IS NOT IN THIS SENTENCE. The KJV translators just stuck it in there. The phrase "God forbid" was a colloquialism of the time that was a strong negation. So instead of giving a literal translation, the KJV translators gave a colloquialism, thus showing that in this instance, they were not legitimate translators. They didn't even ITALICIZE God's name, which means that they were not only mistranslating, they were engaged in deception, making the readers think that God's name was actually in the original. And there's more.
In the Old Testament, the KJV inserts God's name unitalicized where it is not in the original SEVEN TIMES in the British colloquialism "God save the king" or "God save king such and such." In the original, there is NO MENTION of God, and NO MENTION of God's salvation to the king. Instead, the phrase literally means, "May the king live!" Again, this is totally uncalled for, it is a colloquialism, not a literal translation, and uses God's name where it is not in the original. It is a horrible and repugnant and repulsive translation. And the KJV-Only advocates who so strongly denounce the modern translations for not being literal, word-for-word translations have a problem on their hands. Their own precious translation makes the same inexcusable error. And this error is even WORSE than many of the colloquialisms of the modern translations! They put God's name where the Holy Spirit DID NOT put God's name, and that is serious business. God said, "You shall not take the name of Jehovah your God in vain; for Jehovah will not leave unpunished the [one] who takes His name in vain." This includes inserting the holy name of God into a passage of His Word where He did not intend it to be, and it includes using the holy name of God in a common, vulgar colloquialism. I REPUDIATE and CONDEMN the KJV translation of this phrase and of the phrase in the Old Testament with all my being. This is not something just to lightly pass off.
The two words that you will find in the Concordance when you look up "God" in Romans 3:4 are MAY and zhin-o-MA-hee. MAY means none, never, not, nor, neither, never, and so on. It is a NEGATION. Zhin-o-MA-hee means to be, to be caused to be, to come to pass, to happen, to be performed. So MAY zhin-o-MA-hee means "it will never be" or "it will not be" or "May it never be" or "May it not be" or "Let it never be" or "let it not be." Any of these is acceptable. What is NOT acceptable is the repugnant phrase, "God forbid."
So let's get back to what Paul is saying when he says "Let it not be." He is saying that God's faithfulness is NOT destroyed by the faithlessness of some of the Jews. God's faithfulness is NOT conditioned on what man does. God's promises to Israel are NOT made void by the wickedness of the majority of the Jews. And even the oracles of God that God entrusted to the Jews would NOT be corrupted so as to be of no use to further generations. God preserved His infallible Word among the Jews even in the midst of widespread apostasy. He even used the apostates themselves to preserve His Word. Those Scribes who so meticulously wrote and copied God's Word out of the belief that their writing recommended them to God were used of God to preserve His infallible Word. God uses ALL things, even the wickedness of the reprobate, for the good of His people. And the wickedness of the reprobate IN NO WAY thwarts God's promises and purposes. In Israel, although the majority were apostate, God kept a remnant who were faithful to His Word and who believed the gospel. God's Word will never fail.
Paul adds to his exclamation in verse 4 by saying, "But let God be true, and every man a liar." He adds emphasis to what he has already been saying by proclaiming the truthfulness of God in his faithfulness to do what He says He will do, and contrasting it with the untruthfulness of man in his unfaithfulness. God's Word is true, and what God promises, He will accomplish, no matter what man sees as obstacles. And when man does not believe God's Word to be true, especially in this case when one believes that the work of man can negate the work of God, he is a liar.
He goes on to prove this by quoting part of Psalm 51:4. Now there is something very interesting in Paul's quote. His quote is directly, exactly word-for-word, from the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. But if you turn back in your Bibles to Psalm 51:4, you will see a different translation. Let's turn back there:
Psalm 51: (4) Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done evil in Your eyes; that You might be justified in Your speaking [and] be clear when You judge.
The last part of this verse is what Paul quoted. Notice that the LITV says "and be clear when You judge." The KJV says it the same way: "and be clear when thou judgest." Young's says "Thou art pure in Thy judging." All of them translate this passage as God doing the judging. Yet in Romans 3:4, Paul, under divine inspiration, quotes word-for-word from the Septuagint that says that it is God who is judged. What do we do with this? Well, we must conclude that the translation of Psalm 51:4 by the LITV, the KJV, Youngs, and any others that do not match the Septuagint are incorrect. So let us base our understanding on the correct translation of Psalm 51:4, which is the English translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew. It would be much easier if this passage were translated to say that it is God that is judging, but that is not what David was saying, and that is not what Paul was saying.
First, we see that God is justified in His words. Remember, Paul is using this is a proof that God is always true; that He will never fail. David is saying that God's Word will never fail. His promises will never falter, no matter what man does. Now let's think of the context in which David wrote Psalm 51. It is after Nathan the prophet exposed David's sins of murder and adultery. David first confesses his sin against God, and then he says that God is justified in His speaking. I believe that this has two meanings. First, David is confessing that God is just in His temporal chastisement of David and his house. Nathan said that the sword will not turn aside from David's house continually and that he will raise up evil against David in his own house and will give his wives to others. David confesses that God is right to do such a thing and confesses that God will keep his promise to do such a thing. But there is something else here that is more important. David is also confessing that God's promises are sure and certain, no matter what men do. He is confessing that even though he had fallen into grievous sin, his sin will not thwart the promise of God to any degree whatsoever. God's promise to bring the Messiah through David's seed was not in the least bit shaken; in fact, it was through the line of David and Bathsheba that the Messiah came.
The second thing David said is that God will overcome, when He, God, is judged. The Hebrew word that is translated "clear" can also be translated "overcome." To overcome means to conquer or to prevail. Now we get to the phrase, "in Your being judged." In what way is God judged? Well, in the context of this passage, it is when the wicked judge God to be to be thwarted by the sins of men. Paul asked the question in verse 3, "Will their unbelief destroy the faithfulness of God?" These people who judge God say "Yes." They make a judgment about God that He has to change His plans when men don't do what He wants them to do. But God shuts the mouths of these idolaters when He shows that every promise comes to pass. It's just like the self-righteous religionists of today that judge God. They say that God promises to save everyone without exception, yet some who refuse to be saved thwart God's promise and make it of none effect. But God shuts the mouths of these evildoers by the truth that EVERYONE whom God promises to save WILL BE saved, WITH NO EXCEPTIONS. God's will is NEVER thwarted by the actions of any human being. God promises that all for whom Christ died will be saved, and because God is a perfect promise-keeper, all for whom Christ died WILL be saved. It matters not what evil men do; God will bring EVERY SINGLE PERSON for whom Christ died to saving faith in Christ and will bring them ALL to glory. In fact, he DETERMINES what evil men will do, and he USES this to the GOOD of those for whom Christ died, even providentially using this evil to bring His people to a place where they hear and believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone.
Now to verses 5 through 8. Paul brings a question that arises from a false premise. And Paul makes it clear by saying "I speak according to man" that he is NOT espousing this view. The false premise is that unrighteousness commends or approves the righteousness of God. This false premise comes from people who would see God's faithfulness to David in spite of David's sin as approving David's sin. Paul asks the question, "Is God unrighteous when he shows wrath?" This question also comes from the false premise that where there is sin, God's righteousness is always commended. So if God approves of sin so He can show His righteousness in taking no vengeance on the sinner, then God would be unjust to punish the sinner, according to this argument. Paul's reaction is another strong negation: "Let it not be!" The thought that God is unrighteous in His showing wrath is blasphemous. Paul uses a rhetorical question to crush this blasphemy. He says that if this blasphemy were true, then God would not be able to judge the world and remain righteous. If God were unrighteous in showing wrath toward sinners, then God would be unrighteous in sending people to hell. The TRUTH is that God MUST punish ALL sin, because He is HOLY. People do not get to heaven just because God decided not to show His wrath toward them. The people who get to heaven have had their sins PUNISHED on the cross in the person of Christ. And those who go to hell are being PUNISHED for their own sins, since Christ was never PUNISHED on the cross in their place. In both instances, God remains righteous and just. And in the instance of His people, His righteousness and justice is maintained while He also shows mercy and grace, because the sins of His people were imputed to Christ, and Christ paid the just penalty that these sins deserved, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to His people, and God sees them as perfectly righteous in the eyes of His law and justice.
Verse 7 goes into another question that would come from a person who would claim that God is unjust to condemn sinners. It is actually a continuation of the question in verse 5. The argument goes, "If my sin actually glorifies God, then why does God judge me as a sinner?" Now we've heard that one before, haven't we? It comes right from the mouths of the God-hating Arminians. They ask, "If God's will is always accomplished and God is glorified in everything, then when I sin, isn't that doing God's will and glorifying God? If it is, then why does God disapprove of sin?" Let God be true and every man a liar.
Then in verse 7, Paul answers the objector who would accuse him and others who proclaim the gospel of excusing or even endorsing sin. The objector says, "If you are saying that in sin the glory and righteousness of God is magnified, then you are saying that we should all sin so that the glory and righteousness of God would be magnified. After all, if God still kept His promises to David, even though David did wickedness, then you're saying that we should engage in wickedness like David so God's faithfulness to fulfil His promises would shine forth." It is like the question in Romans 6:1:
Romans 6: (1) What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
Paul says that this has been an accusation that he and other Christians have encountered, and he clearly says that they DO NOT hold to this heresy. At the end, by saying "the judgment of whom is just," Paul means that if someone DOES ACTUALLY hold to this heresy, it would be just to judge them as lost. He is saying, "We don't believe this, but if we did, we would be lost, because anyone who believes this is lost."
Today we have seen that the Jews had many advantages over the Gentiles, and the primary one was that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. However, the majority of them did not believe. But this did not thwart God's purposes and promises in the least. God's promises stand fast and sure, even when people sin, whether it be the wicked Jews or a man of God like David. God condemned the Jews and showed mercy to David. God is righteous in showing mercy to some sinners and in showing wrath to other sinners. God's mercy does not come at the expense of His justice. When God shows mercy to a sinner, it is because God has already shown wrath toward that person's sins by punishing His only begotten Son in the place of that sinner. ALL are sinners, as we will see clearly next week, the Lord willing. And the only thing that makes us to differ from the sinners who are on their way to hell is the work of Christ in our stead. Let us bow before the righteous, just, merciful, and gracious God. Amen.