A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Whole World Under the Sentence of Condemnation (Romans 3:9-20)
The conclusion of the first section of Romans, called condemnation, answers the question, "Is the world lost?" This division comes almost in the center of the chapter. I have always been sorry that when they divided the Bible into chapters, they did not begin one there. There is no more definite division in the whole Bible. Note verse 21 begins "But now." He is introducing a new thing into the text.
Three sections of this first division deal with the Gentile, the moral man, and the Jew. Paul now comes to the conclusion of this section. Notice what particular class of men he is dealing with: "both of Jews and Gentiles" (v. 9). He has dealt with them separately, and now he is going to bring them together in the final section of the first division. In the world there are only two classes of people in the eyes of God: Jews and Gentiles.
Paul answers the question, "How many Jews and Gentiles are there who are righteous": verse 10, "there is none"; verse 11, "there is none," and again, "there is none"; verse 12, "there is none."
Four times the expression "none" is used. But that is only the negative side. "None" is the answer to the question, "How many righteous are there?" Now for the positive side. How many sinners are there? How many of all these people are sinners? The answer is to be found in the latter part of verse 9. It is the word "all," appearing also in verses 12 and 19.
The word "none" appears four times, and "all" appears three times; three and four equal seven. If the number seven marks completeness, then the indictment that God brings against the world is a complete one - sevenfold - a complete indictment of evil. This section sums up all that has gone before, in order that Paul may bring the whole world to the judgment bar of God and leave them standing there - trembling and silent!
In this section is a picture of a courtroom with a criminal on trial. The very terms that the apostle uses are legal. There are several elements involved in a human trial. First, a charge. Then, very often there is an indictment, written and carefully prepared, and it has perhaps one, two, three, four, or a dozen counts. Then there is an opportunity given for the prisoner to make his defense. Finally, there is a verdict brought in specifying the guilt or innocence of the party. These four elements appear in this passage: 1. The Charge, verse 9; 2. The indictment, verses 10-18; 3. The Defense, verse 19; and 4.The verdict, verses 19-20.
"What then?" Paul is summing up all that has gone before. He has talked to the Gentile, both the heathen and the moral man; he has talked to the Jew. And he has condemned all of them. Now he is going to conclude, and so he says, "What then? What shall we say in conclusion? Are we better than they?" ("We," the Jews.) "Are we Jews better than the Gentiles?"
His answer is, "No, in no wise." Then he explains why. He says, "For we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin." The word "prove" is a very bad translation, for it means "to lay a charge against somebody in a court." It does, however, include the idea of proving that charge, because Paul not only laid a charge against the world, but he proved the charge. So we might speak of it as a proven charge. Just like a charge might be laid before a criminal in a courtroom.
What was the charge? "All under sin." He does not say that all have sinned. He will say that later on. he does not say, "I charge Jews and Gentiles that they are all sinners," but "They are all under sin." This is a very striking phrase, especially in the original. It means that these people are not only under sin, but they are under all that goes with sin. Sin has its guilt, sin has its power, sin has its condemnation, and sin has its doom! Paul is saying that every one of these people (both Jews and gentiles) is under the guilt of sin, under the power of sin, under the condemnation of sin, under the doom of sin! All these ideas are gathered up in this statement.
This is really no new charge. He says in essence, "We made that charge before." But when did Paul make that charge? In the three sections we have been studying. He is only gathering the whole thing up in one great sweeping statement, making the charge that every man in the world is under sin!
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 29)