Romans 3:9-20 is written like the closing remarks in a court room case. Paul started his indictment of the human race back in Romans 1:18 and now he is driving it home to a powerfully damning conclusion. Paul pulls on Old Testament scripture has his final evidence, and includes in this section some of the reasons for why the way the world is what it is.Paul switches back to the first person plural as he enters this section, which tells us he is including himself in the indictment. Some of the various commentaries I have looked at have argued over who the “we” is here, but the broader context makes it clear that the we includes Paul, and his fellow Christians. As we saw through our studies thus far Paul attacked first the Gentiles, then the Jews in the preceding sections, which could easily lead to the Christians saying “well then what about us? We are obviously better then anyone else.” It idea is to this idea that Paul’s answer of “Not at all!” is given which is followed by Paul’s most powerful arguments against humanity in general. He starts by reminding his readers that he has already made the charge that all humans are under the power of sin (Jews and Gentiles are the only two groups of people in the world from the Jewish mindset).
Romans 3:10-18 is a collection of various scriptures mainly but not exclusively pulled from the Psalms. Some of these quotes are nearly exact, and others are more loosely quoted. Paul is quoting this from memory at the time of the writing, and in a culture where exact quotes were not considered the norm because they tended to quote according to the meaning of the text and not the literal wording. These factors, plus the likelihood that the was quoting from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and not the Hebrew scriptures explain the differences in the exact wording of his quotes from what we have in our Bibles today.
This section of Old Testament quotes is broken in to three groupings, with the first grouping starting at Romans 3:10 and running through 3:12. In this section Paul states over and over the idea that no one, not even on person is righteous. Six times Paul says “no one” or “not even one” in just these three short verses alone. It is as if someone said “Well how about…” and then Paul cut them off with “NO ONE!” and then that back and forth debate repeated a few times. This is no different then how modern evangelists work that is first they have to tear down any idea that someone in the audience might be an exception and not need saving grace.
The next section, Romans 3:13-14 uses the speech of man as a case in point of how bad the sin of humankind really is. Jesus taught us that what comes out of a person’s mouth shows the vile nature of their heart, (Mat. 15:16-20) and James taught us that the tongue is a restless evil, full of poison (James 3:8). Paul picks up on that theme here and calls the throat an open grave. If you can picture the decay and foul odor of what a open grave filled with decaying bodies is like then you can began to get the idea of how foul the human heart and how hopeless the human condition is. There is no one alive that can honestly say they never said something hurtful, have never lied, or have never cursed anyone with their words. At some point after saying such a thing we often realize how wrong it was and say stuff like, “I have no idea where that came from,” or “I did not really mean that,” or some other phrase to try and excuse our words when the reality according to Christ is that we know it came from, it came from our hearts. No matter how good we try to be under our own power, soon or later our fallen nature shows itself though our words (and actions, but here Paul is focusing on speech).
The third section, Romans 3:15-17, gives the results of the fallen nature of humankind. Paul writes that humankind is swift to shed blood, that is that humans do not need to be convinced or forced to kill, we rush to do it of our own accord. We like to think that we only kill out of need, but our own history proves us wrong. As John MacArthur puts it:
Even in the United States, with its Christian heritage, since the turn of the twentieth century twice as many of its citizens have been slain in private acts of murder than have been killed in all the wars of its entire history. According to researcher Arnold Barnett of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a child born today in any one of the fifty largest cities in the United States has the chance of one in fifty of being murdered. Dr. Barnett estimated that a baby born in the 1980s is more likely to be murdered than an American soldier in World War II was of being killed in combat.
We can look at any nation through out history and see the pattern of bloodshed repeated. If we look to the beginning of the human race, the very first sin recorded after the fall was murder. The history of the world is an never-ending story of war and destruction; even today as I write this America currently has troops fighting in multiple foreign countries, and people are dyeing daily in wars around the world.
Romans 3:18 quotes from Psalm 36 and tells us the reason for all off this evil. Paul writes that there is no fear of God in humans. To understand this we must remember what sin is. Sin at its core is a rebellion against God and God’s sovereign control of the universe. Since God is all good, then the only way to rebel against Him is to do evil acts. If one turns away from all that is good and all that is holy, then that person has only the evil nature of this cursed world to turn to.
Paul closes this section out with a reminder that everyone that has ever lived, or ever will live falls under the judgment of God. Paul knows that the Jews are likely revert back to their worldview that they are safe since they have the Law. The problem with that position is that the only thing a law, no matter who writes it, can do is curse. Laws are the framework, which is used to list things that should or should not be done, and the punishment that goes with violating the law. No law, not even God’s Law, can save anyone because that is simply not the function of law. Laws instead are the standard or measure, which shows us how corrupt we are and exposes our sins.
Paul spent considerable space in this letter setting up the case and presenting the evidence that all of humankind is sinful, and accountable to God for judgment. He is making it distinctly clear that no matter how good a person might seem, in and of themselves they cannot escape judgment and the wrath of God. In our section for next week he will cover the good news of how to repair this broken relationship with God such that we do not have to face the wrath that is to come but he cannot present that until he proves to his readers that they need to be spared which was the focus of Romans 1:18-3:20.