Romans 3: The Advantage of Being Jewish
Torah is established by G-d’s faithfulness, our trusting Him does not negate His Instruction, rather it illuminates it and gives it greater significance.
An examination of Romans 3.
Romans 3 is one of the most misunderstood chapters of this wonderful letter: Calvin continues to demand predestination alone while Arminius insists on free will, neither one understanding that they have embraced a false choice. Rather than enter the mystery of faith and action, some modern Christian commentators have also demanded that we take sides. Thus begins the false battle between faith and works. It is almost as if we were being asked to choose sides between two friends who have no argument with one another.
Faith and Works were having a picnic, then along came a group of Christian scholars who proceeded to fight over who had the better sandwiches.
“It’s Faith” said one, “His sandwiches just seem to melt on my tongue, I don’t even need to chew.”
“No,” said another, “Work’s sandwiches are much more satisfying, the flavor in the meat is released as I chew giving me a great sense of fulfillment.”
The argument continued, becoming more and more animated and volatile: in the end it drew much blood. Meanwhile Faith and Works had sneaked away to another park to enjoy a peace filled afternoon, each eating what was left of the other’s sandwiches.
I have stated previously that, faith and works do not oppose one another, faith is a beating heart and right action is its life blood, neither one can function without the other and both fulfill the meaning of emunah (faith) which is the joining of faith and fullness as faithfulness.
As we begin this chapter of Romans, let’s hold lightly the teachings of our forebears and expose them to the light of Mashiyach that they might be gleaned for truth and that we might see the chaff blown away. We are about to cradle the mystery of faith and salvation and receive the sum of justification (being declared righteous) and eternal hope.
The Pauline Rhythm:
Shaul the rabbi to the Y’hudim and Paul the rabbi to the Goyim work in an authentic rhythm of key thought and explanation throughout Romans. At certain catalytic points Shaul seeds Jewish thought, sending the Jewish mind on a homiletic discovery and then proceeds to explain those core concepts in a way that the Gentile mind can comprehend.
From the beginning of Romans Shaul/Paul initiates a rhythm of speaking first to those who first received the Logion—Word essence—of G-d and then he equally illuminates that Word essence to Jews and Greeks alike in a unique dialogue that each one can understand simultaneously.
For example, in Romans 3:29 Shaul reminds the Jewish believers that G-d is echad—one, alone. This triggers a recollection of their tri-daily recitation of the Shema, meanwhile Paul solidifies the argument by presenting the obvious conclusion, that G-d’s oneness establishes the Torah through faith, an idea the Gentiles would rather do away with, not wanting to be exposed by that same Torah, preferring rather to participate in Greek freedom which leads to bondage.
This rhythm allows Shaul/Paul to minister to two unique people groups while maintaining a unified Gospel message of redemption through the faithfulness of G-d in the sacrificial death of His Son, whose own faithfulness bears example to the adopted children of G-d, the members of the Way.
Without Rhythm a song wanders aimlessly, boring the listener and ending unresolved. Rhythm drives a song, gives it purpose, steers it toward an objective. Rhythm unites the many instruments and guides them in singular passion toward completion. This kind of song is a pleasure to listen to and leaves the listener with a satisfied soul. This is the song of HaShem, the rhythm of a life in Him. Yeshua is Shaul/Paul’s rhythm, He also offers His eternal rhythm to our lives at the present time.
3:1 Then what advantage is there in being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 There is great advantage in every respect.
Notice that Rav Shaul (Paul) says, “There is great advantage to being Jewish in every way!” Not just in some small way but in every way, not just advantage but great advantage. This is where we learn that favor is not the same as partiality, HaShem has said, “Jacob I have loved but Esau I have hated.” HaShem judges Jacob and Esau impartially but He favors Jacob. In Rabbinic methodology the previous verse reads as a kal v’chomer (lite and heavy) argument. HaShem doesn’t hate Esau as such, but the comparison is made to emphasis the favor placed on Jacob and his lineage.
First of all, Jews have been entrusted with the logion—utterances; Aramaic: memra, Hebrew: d’var—words of G-d.
So why do Jews have great advantage in every way? Because we have been entrusted with the very logion (cosmic word essence of G-d, a person) in written form. The memra (Aramaic) and d’var (Hebrew) are both personal representations of G-d’s Word (Yeshua: Yochanan 1:1). From the inception of the Hebrew nation at Sinai G-d imparted by flame the engraved words of the Torah. Words engraved by the finger of G-d Himself. So yes, firstly we have the Word, though at first we may not have recognized Him (Yeshua). Thus, “Great advantage in every way!”
3 What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief nullify the emunah (trust/faith/faithfulness) of G-d, will it? 4 Heaven forbid/A Curse on it!--qelalah (Hebrew); ginomai-me (Greek) literaly ‘No, Never!’
So are the Jews that don’t believe now forsaken? Will their refusal of the Word/Torah (Yeshua) cancel out the faithfulness of G-d? Absolutely no way, I cough up a mucus clump and spit on that idea, cursing it to kever—the earth, dust, and to Abaddon—destruction! –A. J. Brown paraphrase Romans 3:3
While the Greek literally translates, “No, never!” the same Greek phrase is used in the Septuagint—Greek Old Testament—to translate the Hebrew “qelalah,” which means, “A curse on it,” or “Heavens forbid,” inferring G-d’s controlling interest but not naming Him directly.
Jews would not have said “G-d forbid” as some translations read because the Name of G-d is holy and pronunciation even of the generic term for G-d Elohim was limited to sacred occasions in reverence for the Holy name. What this does mean is that the idea that G-d’s faithfulness could ever fail to offer salvation (Yeshua) to Israel, whom He had chosen as the least among the nations to be His people was anathema—a heinous contradiction—to Shaul/Paul and indeed to the Jewish people as a whole.
Rather, let G-d be found true, though every human being be proved a liar, as it is written:
“That You may be justified in Your words,
And prevail in Your judging.” (Psalm 51:4)
Shaul/Paul is now quoting directly from the Tehillim—Psalms—and by way of rabbinic tradition is expecting that his readers will understand that the whole of psalm 51 is intended. He then proceeds to present a Midrash— a homiletic, spiritual allegory—on Psalm 51 as a teaching tool for his readers. For the purpose of illuminating the text of Romans 3 further I have inserted the psalm in question you’re your reference.
“51:1 Be gracious to me, Elohim—G-d, according to Your chesed—loving kindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion machah—erase—my peshah—rebellion.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my avon—perversity
And cleanse me from my chata—habitual sinfulness.
3 For I know my rebellion,
And my habitual sinfulness is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned and missed the mark
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was shaped in perversity,
And in habitual sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
7Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
9Hide Your face from my offences
And erase all my perversity.
10 Bara—create from nothing—in me a clean heart, Elohim,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation (Yeshua)
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach the perverse Your ways,
And habitual sinners will turn to You.
14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, Elohim, the Elohim of my salvation (Yeshua);
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your tzedakah—righteousness.
15 O Adonai, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of Elohim are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, Elohim, You will not despise.
18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
repair the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in the sacrifices of the tzedek—righteous one,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.”
5 But if our--humanity—unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of G-d, what shall we say? The G-d who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 Heaven forbid/A Curse on it!—No, never! For otherwise, how will G-d judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of G-d 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 claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.
This is a rhetorical argument based on the foundation of the psalm, which is written by a guilty David. Predestination devoid of free will produces the same absurd argument. The obvious answer to this foolishness is that those who perpetuate it are justly condemned.
9 What then? Are we (Jews) better than them? Not entirely; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for G-d;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles 7:20)
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,” (Psalm 5:9)
“The poison of asps is under their lips”; (Psalm 140:3)
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; (Psalm 10:7)
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.” (Isaiah 59:7-8)
18 “There is no fear of G-d before their eyes.” (Psalm 36:1)
So are we Jews better off? Well, yes and no. We had a great head start and continue to have the wonderful guidance of the Torah and the covenant of circumcision, however the very Torah that guides us also accuses us just as it accuses all humanity. Shaul/Paul collects together a veritable plethora of proof texts from the Tanakh to confirm what his listeners already know to be true, “there is none who is righteous, not even one.” Of course there is one exception, ha-Tzedek—the Righteous One.
19 Now we know that whatever the Torah--Instruction—says, it speaks to those who are within the borders of the Torah, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to G-d;20 because by legalistic observance of the Torah no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Torah comes the knowledge of sin.
What we already know is confirmed to us by the Torah. That there is no one who has an excuse. The borders of the Torah were always intended to be spread far and wide by Israel according to her calling to be a light to the nations in order to expose sin and bring all humanity into a Trust relationship with HaShem. Note that every mouth and all the world are held accountable to G-d based on the Torah. An observance of Torah devoid of relational trust in G-d will result only in the exposure of sin.
21 But now quite apart from the Torah, the righteousness (Messiah the tzadek) of G-d has been manifested, being witnessed by the Torah and the Prophets,
What is meant here is that aside from the issue of Torah the righteousness of G-d, which is personified in Yeshua, has been revealed, having already been testified to and witnessed by the Torah and the prophets.
22 even the righteousness of G-d through the faithfulness of Yeshua Ha-Mashiyach (Jesus Christ) for all those who believe;
Not through our faith in Him—as some English translations infer—but through His faithfulness.
For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or of another ethnicity;
That is, “it makes no difference regarding salvation through faithfulness.” This doesn't refer to the cultural and practical differences between ethnicities.
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d,
This is an illumination/midrash on psalm 51.
24 being justified--declared righteous—as a gift by His chesed--loving kindness—through the ransom which is in Messiah Yeshua; 25 whom G-d displayed publicly as kapparah--atoning covering, wiping away—sacrifice in His blood through emunah--faithfulness.
Notice that in psalm 51 the petitioner begins by saying, “Sacrifice and offering You did not require.” What this means is that there was no sacrifice that David could offer to atone for what he had done. All he could do was to show himself broken and contrite, humbling himself before G-d. But at the end of the psalm G-d accepts the sacrifice of the tzedek—righteous: this refers to the sacrifice of the Righteous One (Yeshua) who will not only cover but also erase David’s habitual sinfulness.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of G-d He passed over--Pesach—the sins previously committed;
The first Pesach—Passover—was a temporary covering of former sins in anticipation of the fulfillment of G-d’s plan in the Pesach—Passover—of Yeshua the lamb of G-d. Yeshua’s sacrifice not only covers sin it also erases it.
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has emunah--faith, faithfulness, trust—in Yeshua.
Because G-d has proved His loving kindness and righteousness from the beginning He is now seen to be irrefutably just and is able to justify all those who would accept His faithfulness through the faithfulness of His Son the tzedek—Righteous One.
27 Where then is (hypocritical) boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of Torah? One of legalistic observance? No, but by a Torah of emunah--trust, faith, faithfulness.
You can’t boast about your legalistic miss observance of the Torah. Yeshua is proof that G-d’s faithfulness is the only means by which Torah can be lived. The kind of Torah—instruction—being offered here is a Torah of trust in the faithfulness of G-d. This kind of Torah is living and sharper than a two edged sword, dividing between bone and marrow. Yeshua had previously said that, “For truly I tell you, until the heavens and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means be removed from the Torah until everything is accomplished.” (Mattitiyahu 5:18) This will occur at the resurrection of the dead after the judgment. After this there will no longer be any need for instruction because G-d Himself will dwell with us in manifest glory.
28 For we maintain that a person is justified--declared righteous—by emunah--trust, faith, faithfulness—which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of the Torah.
We are justified by G-d’s faithfulness and our receiving of the gift of G-ds Son, the Righteous One whose blood has made atonement for our habitual sinning. Because of G-d’s faithfulness toward us we are able, through Messiah to be faithful to Him, not through legalistic Torah observance but through a trust relationship with G-d.
Those who say that our salvation has nothing to do with us are speaking nonsense. A husband cannot say “I do” on his wife’s behalf and love by definition must be chosen freely. As Stephen Hawking once said, “I have noticed that even those who assert that everything is predestined and that we can change nothing about it still look both ways before they cross the street.”
29 Or is G-d the G-d of Jews only? Is He not the G-d of all ethnos--ethnicities? Yes, of all ethnicities, 30 since indeed G-d will justify the circumcised on the origin of faithfulness and the uncircumcised through that same faithfulness.
It is true that over 360 times in the Tanakh G-d refers to Himself either directly or indirectly as the G-d of Israel, however the Shema clearly states that He is G-d alone. Therefore, being the only G-d He is by definition the G-d of all.
Notice that G-d will justify the Jews--circumcised—on the very origin of faithfulness, that is Messiah Yeshua—the Word made known first to Israel through the Torah and the Prophets—Himself and that in turn the Gentiles--fore skinned—come to faith through that revelation. Israel, in Messiah is now able to fulfill her calling to be a light to the nations.
31 Do we then nullify the Torah through trust/faith/faithfulness? Heaven forbid/A Curse on it! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.
We are not saved/redeemed in order to break the Torah, on the contrary through faith our view of the Torah changes from punitive Law to Instructional discipline. We are not saved by it but we do live within its borders. After all, G-d disciplines the ones He loves.
Trust is the key, one who trusts G-d has accepted the gift of G-d’s righteousness. The governance of the written Torah over the individual ends at physical death because its purpose is to reveal sin in a sin laced creation. In the Olam haba (World to come) we will have no need of the written Torah because we will know only good and G-d Himself will be our dwelling place. Unlike the borders of the written Torah the borders of eternity are limitless.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
AWESOME. Tackled very well yet again. Clear and concise truth-forming. We rest in his works and faithfulness in fulfilling his own word (Torah). We look upon Him for our entirity, our personhood, our being, our healing, our growth, justification and salvation. We delight in his Torah and personal revelation of his fulfillment in the gospels. We bow to his discipline to honour the instructions of the Torah as we live out the word (living Torah/Yeshua) by his empowering grace through faith in his efforts (mighty deeds and the cross) through the leading of the gift of The Holy Spirit. Faithfulness. Amen.
Todah rabah Joseph. Thanks so much for your overview of this blog and your encouraging feedback. יעקב
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,