Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Romans 3:10-18

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul makes six “No one is righteous” etc quotations from the Old Testament.

If we bother to read the context of those quotations, we see that the passages he is quoting from (mostly Psalms) are not actually asserting that no one is righteous, rather that unrighteousness is confined to a specific group at a specific time:
The Gentiles who are currently invading, the Jews who are oppressing the poor, the enemies of the writer etc.

Similarly the writers believe that some people are righteous: The Israelites who are being invaded by wicked Gentiles, the poor and humble who are being oppressed by their countrymen, the writer himself and those around him whom his wicked enemies are attacking.

It is from these passages that Paul is quoting. To try and extract from them the idea that every single person in the world is horribly fallen and wicked is a complete falsification of the text... that is not what any of these passages are saying.

I don't believe Paul was so stupid as to misunderstand 6 out of 6 passages he quotes. Especially as 5 of them are Psalms, Paul was probably intimately familiar with all of them, as they would have been sung regularly.

So what is Paul's point? Looking at Romans, his point is clear:
Some Jews and some Gentiles at specific times in history were wicked.
That's the point Paul is trying to make, and he has chosen 6 scriptural passages that agree with that point.

In the greater context of his argument, he is trying to prove that the Jews are not magically protected from wickedness merely because of their Jewishness. And so he lists in Romans 2 many crimes common to Jews of his own day, and then in Romans 3 turns to scripture and notes that scripture speaks in similar words regarding evil Jews and evil Gentiles, it does not bother to distinguish one from the other. Jewish wickedness is not any better in God's eyes than is Gentile wickedness, and thus correspondingly Jewish righteousness is not any better in God's eyes than Gentile righteousness (which is what Paul is trying to prove).

Paul is not trying to allege that every human being is evil (he doesn't believe that). He is making a point about a lack of difference between Jewish evil and Gentile evil by speaking of the historical unrighteousness of specific people in specific times and specific places.

6 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

Paul is not trying to allege that every human being is evil (he doesn't believe that).

How do you interpret Eph 2:1-3?

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."

8/12/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Paul sees the world as ruled by the powers of darkness. The devil, decay, death, corruption, sin etc, the "powers and principalities" of the present evil age have dominion. Thus humanity, the good and the evil are enslaved in bondage to these powers. God defeats the powers subjugating us and so saves us. This is what Ephesians is on about... in fact it's what most of the letter of Ephesians is spent explaining.

There is an important subtle difference in Pauline thought between the heart and the flesh, the spirit and the body (see Romans 7). The heart can be in agreement with God and yet the flesh enslaves us. ie the evil is external and not internal.

The mistake that I am complaining about is the mischaracterisation of this evil as internal evil rather than external. Total depravity and similar teachings claim that human nature itself in its internal state is fallen in such a way that no one can be right before God by themselves in any way. That is simply not what Paul is on about, he is perfectly happy with speaking of good and bad people. The evil that God deals with is the external evil, the enslaving powers that are defeated by Christ. In other words, Paul would reject the notion of an inherent sinful nature, rather he would argue that we are under sin's power... which is quite a different concept.

As usual, the NIV reads its doctrine into the text by using the term "sinful nature" (vs 3)...

8/12/04  
Blogger kitfin said...

Andrew...re the early church fathers have you tried the electronic version of these works? Bible Society have them on Logos Software @ $99.95 try their website at www.biblesociety.org.nzProbably though, they are ancient english versions, but more searchable than paper! Chris

9/12/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Um, if you're referring to the "Logos Church Fathers Catholic" software, it seems to be $399 not $99. And anyway that software's just a copy of what's available online for free at www.ccel.org/fathers2
My main issues with the ccel collection is that it is incomplete and archaic in its translation, neither of which problems the software would solve...

Just curious, but who are you?

9/12/04  
Blogger Scott said...

It's a bit of an overstatement that the whole of Ephesians is talking about this cosmic battle.

But the passage I mentioned is clearly talking about behaviour that we have personal responsibility for. It says 'we followed the ways of the world', as in, you were wrong for doing so, and your willpower was the driving factor, although there is a sense of enslavement in that. We gratified the cravings of our flesh.

Also, Psalm 143 which Paul quotes from seems to be teaching that exact truth, that noone is righteous before God. Verse 2 even the writer of the Psalm is humble before God, acknowledging his sinfulness. And remember David, 'surely I was sinful from birth'.

When it comes the personal state of our own hearts, it becomes a lot harder to stand before God and proclaim, 'yep, I'm righteous!' I for one know that my heart is naturally against God, and does not acknowlege him unless it was for his work of salvation in my life.

13/12/04  
Blogger Scott said...

I should also say that even though I agree that Pauls main point was to show the common sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles, that doesn't exclude his believing that we are all seperated from God because of our sin, and that we all have a tendency away from loving God.

13/12/04  

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