1 February 2014

Romans 3:1-20

“The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (v. 2)


Granted that the law (Genesis to Deuteronomy) cannot make people good, is it still something to admire? Has its capacity to reveal the will of God been corrupted because it has been placed in the guardianship of the Jewish people, with their manifest moral failures? Actually, argues Paul, the Jewish Scriptures (ie the Old Testament) continue to throw into relief the perfections of God. God's faithfulness, God's justice and God's truth stand secure and untarnished, in marked contrast to the immorality of God's people - not that the Jewish failure to obey God can ever be justified on that ground; nor should it ever be further encouraged in order to highlight God's holiness.

In verse 9 Paul returns to a point he has argued earlier (Romans 2:1-16). Both Jews and Gentiles (non Jews) indulge in wickedness and evil. Paul now provides a collection of texts (mainly from the book of Psalms) which confirm that "the oracles of God" already bear witness to the failure of all people everywhere to live up to their divine calling.

The Jewish Scriptures, then, have this to be said in their favour. They reveal God's will for everyone; they also reveal that everyone, without exception, has broken the law. The Old Testament announces God's promise of freedom; it also shows that everyone, without exception, is blind to the law's teaching about how God's salvation is to be delivered. The Scriptures make clear that human hearts are in the vice-like grip of a power which is alien to God ('sin').

In spite of the law's majestic qualities, it cannot save the Jews. They are spiritually in the same place as Gentiles, ie they are sinners. There is no point in Gentiles becoming Jews in order to be saved. Rather the gospel (good news of Christ) must be heard as a new gift to everyone - a gift that makes a spiritual difference.

To Ponder

  • Do you consider it to be important for Christians to read the Old Testament? If so, what in your experience helps you to make sense of it?
  • What is your experience of saying or singing the Psalms in Christian worship? When was this last discussed in your congregation?
  • Identify two or three Old Testament passages that matter a lot to you because they help you in your Christian living. How can you best share them with others?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.