Romans 3 Study Notes


3:1 It might seem from chap. 2 that being a Jew and being circumcised conferred no advantage, but Paul listed many Jewish advantages in 9:4-5. In our day it is advantageous to have Christian parents, to attend a church, to be baptized, to attend a Christian school, and to read the Bible—but none of these advantages can save us.

3:2 It is a great privilege to be Jewish—considerable in every way. They heard God speak the “ten words” or Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-20) directly to them. Then through a long series of prophets, God’s words came to them. No other people on earth had this privilege.

3:3 Even if some of the Jewish people were unfaithful, God will be faithful to his covenant and will bring his promises to fulfillment. Paul referred particularly to the promises centered in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

3:4 After he was confronted by the prophet Nathan for his sins surrounding the Bathsheba incident, David confessed in Ps 51:4 that God is justified in his judgments. Let God be true, for it would be against his infinitely perfect nature to be otherwise.

3:5-8 Paul addresses several implications to which critics mistakenly thought his teachings would lead. For example, if God is shown to be in the right by man’s sin and error, then God is honored by our shortcomings. How then can God punish us when we have helped display his righteousness? But Paul answered that as a matter of principle God’s judgment of sin is always righteous. People who think otherwise deserve condemnation, for their true focus is not on glorifying God but on giving free rein to their sinful desires.

3:9 All the world is under sin, and yet sin is considered an archaic topic in our secular society. It is not hard to guess why. Vice is something done against oneself; crime is something done against society or an individual; but sin is against God. Since modern culture is essentially atheistic, “sin” has become a meaningless term.

3:10-18 In these verses Paul linked seven OT passages to demonstrate that all of humanity is under sin’s dominion. No one is righteous; no one understands (Jn 8:43-44; 1Co 2:14), and no one . . . seeks God. Since Adam and Eve’s fall, people have hidden from God, but God sent his Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10). All have gone astray (Is 1:2-4; 53:6), and in God’s sight none are right. Paul cited Bible passages that show the extent of corruption. As Jesus taught, “from within, out of people’s hearts” (Mk 7:21) come all sorts of evil. Humans are quick to shed blood. During the past century more than thirty-nine million people lost their lives in wars. And by conservative estimates, human governments killed an additional 125 million people—led by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and others. The root problem is that humans are often practical atheists even when they profess belief in God. They choose against God’s will and show no fear for it.

3:19 Someone may argue that the seven passages cited above are addressed not to Jews but to pagan nations. But everything in the Hebrew Bible is first addressed to the Jews for their instruction so they can learn about sin’s power. All people from every nation and ethnicity are sinners, and God will judge the whole world. In God’s court, everyone is speechless.

3:20 No one can earn justification by obedience to the law’s requirements. The law was never intended to be a means of salvation. A primary purpose of the law was to reveal sin in its full scope, thus pointing to humanity’s need for the gift of righteousness.

3:21-26 The phrase but now marks a decisive shift in Paul’s argument. This paragraph (one long sentence in the original Greek) is a wonderful compression of theology. The righteousness of God was manifested and given through the cross of Christ. Sinners gain pardon not through their adherence to the law, but through faith in the one who fulfilled all righteousness on their behalf. The Law and the Prophets refers to the OT, and the entire OT is correctly understood as a witness to Jesus and his work.

3:22 Jesus is the object of faith and the means of obtaining the gift of the righteousness of God. The gift is for both Jews and Gentiles who believe.

3:23 All have missed the mark that God intended for the human race and have lost the glory of the original creation (Ps 8:5). Believing the good news starts the process of the restoration of glory (Rm 8:30; 2Co 3:18).

3:24 Justified means that Christians are declared to be righteous (5:1,9; 8:30; 1Co 1:30; 6:11). Sinners stand condemned in God’s court, and yet he declares believers “not guilty” because of Jesus’s work on the cross. Freely means that God grants justification not due to any merit in Christians but solely by his grace, the undeserved love and mercy of God. Redemption is a commercial term that refers to purchasing freedom for slaves. All people are slaves to sin by their fallen nature. The purchase price for our freedom was the blood of Christ Jesus (see Mk 10:45; 1Pt 1:18-19).


Greek pronunciation [hih lahss TAY ree ahn]
CSB translation atoning sacrifice
Uses in Romans 1
Uses in the NT 2
Focus passage Romans 3:25

The Greek noun hilastÄ“rion in Rm 3:25 is rich with theological meaning. The only other place this term occurs in the NT is Heb 9:5, which says that the cherubim above the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place were “overshadowing the mercy seat.” In the Greek OT, the word is used for the lid of the ark of the covenant (traditionally called “the mercy seat”; see Ex 25:17-22; Lv 16:2,13-15). Another related word, hilasmos, atoning sacrifice, occurs twice in the NT (1Jn 2:2; 4:10). This word family refers to the turning away of God’s wrath against sin by means of a sacrifice. The main ideas of this word group are mercy and satisfactory sacrifice for sin. The innermost part of the tabernacle was the place where mercy was found, but only through the proper sacrifice. Similarly, Jesus’s death is the only place one can find mercy. God’s wrath against sin was turned away by Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

3:25 Atoning sacrifice translates the Greek word hilastÄ“rion, a term borrowed from the sacrificial system and the temple. It was used in the Greek translation of the OT for the cover of the ark of the covenant—the “mercy seat” (see Ex 25:17-22; Lv 16:14-15). On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sprinkle blood over the ark to atone for the nation. By this rite sins were deemed expiated or wiped away. Moreover God’s wrath was averted or propitiated. But human sins could not literally be atoned for by the death of animals. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Thus Jesus came to accomplish what no priest slaying an animal could ever hope to accomplish: full satisfaction of God’s requirements for atonement. God presented his Son as an atoning sacrifice. By means of Jesus’s blood—his sacrificial death—God’s holy wrath against sin was appeased, and the sins of those who place their faith in Christ are taken away.

3:26 The present time of the cross and preaching of the good news vindicated God, showing that he is righteous and declares righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

3:27-28 No one can boast in one’s works. No one can boast even in one’s faith. Faith is not the cause of justification but the means of justification. The cause of salvation is grace and mercy.

3:29-30 There is only one God and only one way to be justified by him, no matter your ethnic and national identity: by faith. The phrase who will justify does not mean that justification occurs at a future time (at the last judgment) and is therefore not a present reality for the believer. Rather, it points to the fact that God counts each of us justified as we come to faith. Thus God “will justify” your neighbor tomorrow if your neighbor comes to faith.

3:31 Does the gospel destroy the law? To answer this question, Paul considered the case of Abraham (Rm 4).