THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS
The Jewish Need for God's Righteousness
Todayís lesson falls in the overall outline of Romans in the following way:
Theme: The Faithfulness and Righteousness of God (1:16-17)
I. The Need for God's Righteousness (1:18-3:20)
(1) Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision. (2) Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (3) What then, if some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (4) May it never be! Rather, let God be found true though every man be found a liar, as it is written: "That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words and mightest prevail when Thou art judged." (5) But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say then? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) (6) May it never be! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (7) But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (8) And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), let us do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just.
In these eight verses Paul uses a literary technique called a diatribe in which it appears that he is arguing with somebody. In a diatribe the person being argued with is not a real person but represents the real attitudes and ideas of certain people. In this case. the somebody is the typical first-century Jew. This typical Jew either asks a question which Paul answers or raises an objection which Paul counters. (This is a literary technique to add spice to his letter.)
Note that these objections raised by this "imaginary Jew" are not just made-up kinds of questions. These questions accurately reflect the kinds of questions Paul had to deal with as he preached to those from a Jewish background. Just like the behavior of the Jews he describes in 2:21-22 accurately reflects their behavior, so these objections reflect their beliefs.
Paul is continuing to pick apart piece by piece the different ways the Jews thought that they were righteous. By the time Paul got to this point in Romans, the Jews must have been reeling. They had thought of themselves only in terms of privilege. It seemed though that Paul now was actually saying that the only thing the Jews were enjoying was greater responsibility, not privilege, that judgment was going to harder on them than on the Gentiles because of their privileges. In light of this this imaginary Jew asks: "What benefit then is it to be a Jew or to have undergone circumcision?" What is Paul's answer in verse 2?
By "the oracles of God" Paul means each and every statment of God which God gave the Jews and which makes up the OT. They were the receptacles of God's Word in the days of the OT. They were even the receptacles of much of the NT oracles of God as well: Matthew, John, Hebrews, and James. (The other NT books seem to be addressed primarily to Gentile Christians.) Alone receiving God's Word made them a privileged people.
To get a fuller picture of the advantage of what it meant to be a Jew, look once more at Rom. 9:4, 5. The last blessing God bestowed upon the Jews in these verses is the climax of all of God's blessings upon the Jew.
In his presentation of Rom. 2:1-20 Paul has basically shown that the Jews had not been faithful to God because they had flagrantly broken God's Law. The question the imaginary Jew asks is if God then has quit being faithful to the Jewish people. What is Paul's response?
Read Rom. 11:25-29 and then explain how God is going to show His faithfulness to Israel at the end of time.
The question the imaginary Jew is asking is if the Jews are still God's people. The answer is a resounding "Yes." The only problem though is that the Jew is under the discipline/wrath of God while the Christian is experiencing the salvation/righteousness of God. (Karl Barth, the famous 20th-century Swiss Protestant theologian once claimed that the Jew today revealed the wrath of God, whereas the Christian Church revealed the salvation of God.) When the Jewish nation rejected Jesus, it brought down God's wrath upon itself. Examples of this wrath: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD; the complete destruction of Israel in 125 AD; the wandering of the Jew for the next 1800 years; and the persistent persecution of the Jew during the Middle Ages and modern era. Normally we think of the holocaust as the only time the Jews were persecuted severely. That's not true. After the Jewish bankers of England raised enough money to ransom Richard the Lionhearted, he repaid them by persecuting them and driving many of them out of England.
Why have they experienced such heavy discipline from God? Because of their rejection of Jesus Christ. Two of the most chilling statements in the entire Bible are found in the stories of Jesus on trial before Pilate. When Pilate washes his hands and declares that he is innocent of Jesus' blood, the Jews reply: "His blood be upon us and our children." When Pilate calls out regarding Jesus: "Behold, your King," they reply: "We have no king but Caesar." By saying this, they rejected not only Jesus as their king, they rejected God also.
Before looking at the next statement made by this imaginary Jew, look at the end of verse 5 where Paul says: "I am speaking in human terms." In other words, don't hold him to what he is about to say. He is merely repeating the twisted logic of many Jews in his day, a logic which is purely human and not divine.
What argument does the imaginary Jew try to make in order to save the Jew in verse 5?
How would "our unrighteousness demonstrate the righteousness of God?
The imaginary Jew then claims that if his unrighteousness makes God's righteousness that much clearer to everybody, then it is wrong for God to condemn the Jew. What is Paul's response to this in verse 6?
The imaginary Jew (mouthing the logic of real Jews in Paul's day) then asks why God would condemn him when he lies if his lying just makes God look even more truthful. Paul does not respond to this because it is such an absurd notion. What response though would Paul have made to this statement?
In verse 8 what is the final piece of logic the imaginary Jew uses in his attack against Paul?
Paul says that some people actually think that Paul promoted the logic of verse 8. From what you know about Paul's teachings, how could they come up with such an accusation against Paul?
Paul's response to this last piece of absurdity is what (2:8)?
(9) What then? Are we better than they? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, as it is written: There is none righteous, Not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good; there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they keep deceiving; the poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitternss; Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths; and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."
In order to show that the Jew is no better off than the Gentile when it comes to righteousness and that the reverse is likewise true, Paul quotes a list of OT verses. Fill in the blanks. (The blanks will emphasize that EVERYBODY starts out in a wrong relationship with God.
There is _____________ righteous, Not even __________. There is _________ who understands; there is ______________ who seeks for God. ________ have turned aside. ______________ they have become useless. There is ___________ who does good; there is ____________ _____________ ___________. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they keep deceiving; the poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitternss; Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths; and the path of peace have they not known. There is ________ fear of God before their eyes."
Paul cannot be any clearer than this.
In summing up everything he has been writing about the Gentile AND Jewish need to be right with God, Paul once more emphasizes the lostness of the Jew. When the Jew read those OT verses Paul quoted in verses 10-18, who did the Jews think this applied to? Yet according to Paul, who was God speaking to and about when He spoke those verses?
At the end of verse 19 Paul claims that because these OT verses applied to the Jews specifically, what was then true?
In verse 20 Paul once more launches 2 MOAB's (Mother Of All Bombs) right on the Jewish theology of his day. According to Paul can anybody be made right with God by trying to keep the Law perfectly?
As we shall see, Law does not lead people to do right. As we shall see, Law actually leads to further lawlessness, not only for the Christian but also for the non-Christian. Moreover, it actually assumes that people are doing wrong. What need though is there for Law when people do right? (This is a rhetorical question.)
This answers a question a friend recently asked recently: "Can somebody be saved by keeping perfectly the Law?" The answer to that question is both yes and no. If a person can keep the Law perfectly (never breaking a single commandment), he will be saved. The truth though is that this has never happened and never will happen. As we shall see, salvation comes only as a response to faith in God through Jesus Christ.