Romans Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 3
1. Then what advantage has the Jew? What is the value of being circumcised?
2. Much in every way! In the first place, the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.
Then what advantage (or "prerogative" or "superiority") has the Jew, that is, the born Jew or the Jewish proselyte? What is the value of being physically circumcised according to Jewish law, a member of the covenant people? After the squeeze of 2:17-29 one might expect the answer, "None," and there has been no shortage of antisemites who have decided they know better than Sha'ul.

But Sha'ul's answer is: Much in every way, not just in one way or some ways, but every way, of which in the first place (or "most importantly" or "especially"; the Greek word is again "proton"; see 1:16&N) is the fact that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God, his logia, his divine communications (not limited to his promises or prophecies, as the word "oracles" in KJV implies). This is of first importance because any other advantage of being Jewish stems from God's having chosen and spoken to the Jewish people. To imagine that the Jews are special because they have a finer ethical sense than others, or a land, or some sort of "racial genius" is to put the cart before the horse. The Jews were "the fewest of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:7), yet Adonai loved them, chose them and separated them for himself. "He declares his Word to Ya'akov, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. He has not done so with any other nation; and as for his judgments they have not known them" (Psalm 147:19-20). In sum, having the very words of God is no cause for Jewish pride, since the initiative was entirely God's; yet it is "in every way" a great advantage. 

3. If some of them were unfaithful, so what? Does their faithlessness cancel God’s faithfulness?
4. Heaven forbid! God would be true even if everyone were a liar! — as the Tanakh says, "so that you, God, may be proved right in your words and win the verdict when you are put on trial" (Psalm 51:6 (4)).
"If the New Testament is true, why doesn't my rabbi believe it?" Sha'ul. the rabbi from Tarsus, gives the correct answer to this common Jewish question: the veracity of God's Word (v. 2) does not depend on who believes it; truth stands by itself. If some of them were unfaithful to God's words (or "did not believe" them), so what? Does their faithlessness (or "unbelief, lack of trust") cancel God's faithfulness? Heaven forbid! God would be true even if everyone were a liar! Even the socially and religiously sanctioned unbelief of the Jewish community as a whole from Sha'ul's day to the present does not take one iota away from the truth of God's Word. Over against Jewish communal rejection of God's Word as expressed in the books of the New Covenant, the individual may discover for himself its truth and stability; the outcome of his search is not in doubt: God would be true even if everyone were a liar.

Sha'ul invites such individual search of the Word by quoting from the great penitential psalm provided for anyone ready to turn from sin. Psalm 51. Verse 6(4) is quoted; in the Tanakh it reads.

"Against you, you alone, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your word
and declared innocent when put on trial."

In presenting one verse Sha'ul, following normal rabbinic methods of citing Scripture, is calling attention to the whole psalm in which it appears (see Mt 2:6N), including the portions full of hope for any Jew who has been unfaithful and unbelieving:

"Create in me a clean heart, О God...
Restore to me the joy of your salvation...
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
О Lord, open my lips,
and my heart will declare your praise....
О God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart."

Only then, after the individual has gotten himself right with God, can his prayer for the Jewish community as a whole be offered:
"In your will, do good to Zion: build the walls of Yerushalayim!"

Heaven forbid! Greek me genoito, which some modern versions render literally, "Let it not be!" But this loses the force of the idiom, used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew expression, "Chalilah!" (Genesis 44:7,17; Joshua 22:29,24:16), which means "Profanation!" "A curse on it!" "Away with it!" "Chalilahr may be Hebrew's most intense wish for negation: therefore KJV's "God forbid!" conveys the sense well. I substitute "Heaven" for "God" in this expression because neither the Hebrew nor the Greek refers to God at all; and Jewish sensibility tends to remove words like "God" or "Lord" from curses, perhaps to avoid breaking the Third Commandment by taking God's name in vain (Exodus 20:7; compare Mt 5:33-37, also Mt 4:3N). The phrase occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, ten of them in Romans (here, 3:6,31; 6:2,15; 7:7,13; 9:14; 11:1, II), the others at Lk 20:16; 1С 6:15; Ga 2:17, 3:21,6:14. 

5. Now if our unrighteousness highlights God’s righteousness, what should we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict his anger on us? (I am speaking here the way people commonly do.)
6. Heaven forbid! Else, how could God judge the world?
7. “But,” you say, “if, through my lie, God’s truth is enhanced and brings him greater glory, why am I still judged merely for being a sinner?”
8. Indeed! Why not say (as some people slander us by claiming we do say), “Let us do evil, so that good may come of it”? Against them the judgment is a just one!
Sha'ul counters a specious argument based on carrying the point of w. 3-4 to an absurd extreme. Compare the similar self-justification of 6:1-2. 

9. So are we Jews better off? Not entirely; for I have already made the charge that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin.
So, given the advantage of being Jewish (vv. 1-2), are we Jews (note that Sha'ul considers himself a Jew, not an ex-Jew) any better of!? (Literally, "Do we excel?") Not entirely. Most versions, following the Vulgate of Jerome, give the answer to this rhetorical question as, "Not at all." In A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (ad loc.) Bruce Metzger writes,

'The unexpected sequence... of oupantos (which ought to mean 'not entirely,' but which in the context must mean 'not at all') accounts for the deletion of the words in some witnesses... and their replacement by perisson in others..."

Here I believe Metzger's theological presuppositions lead him to dismiss the straightforward translation, "Not entirely," which says Jews have some advantage, and replace it with the idea that Jews have no advantage. For what Metzger calls "the context" has to include vv. 1-4, where Sha'ul specifically called attention to the advantages Jews do have. C. E. B. Cranfield, after noting that "ои pantos properly means 'not altogether'," concludes, as I do, that this is indeed the correct understanding (Romans, ad loc).

Why, then, are Jews not entirely advantaged? Because, as Sha'ul has already said, all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin. True, having God's very words is an advantage Jews do have (vv. 1-2); and the infallibility of God's promises, even if no one believes them (w. 3-4), is another. But the same Word of God, the lanakh, reminds us of the Bad News that everyone sins, Jews included (see also vv. 22-23); in this regard Jews have no advantage. As Sha'ul later explains, the Torah lacks power in itself to change people's lives (8:3). The commentator С. К. Barrett, although he translates "ou pantos" "by no means," is correct in writing, 'The advantage of the Jew is real, but it is an advantage which is (or may at any moment become) at the same time a disadvantage. It consists in knowing (out of Scripture) that before God all talk of 'advantages' is folly and sin" (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 68). 

10. As the Tanakh puts it, "There is no one righteous, not even one! No one understands
11. no one seeks God,
12. all have turned away and at the same time become useless; there is no one who shows kindness, not a single one! (Psalm 14:1–3, 53:2–4(1–3))
13. Their throats are open graves, they use their tongues to deceive (Psalm 5:10(9)). Vipers’ venom is under their lips (Psalm 140:4(3))
14. Their mouths are full of curses and bitterness (Psalm 10:7)
15. Their feet rush to shed blood
16. in their ways are ruin and misery
17. and the way of shalom they do not know (Isaiah 59:7–8, Proverbs 1:16)
18. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Psalm 36:2(1)).
The proof-texts from the Hebrew Bible for the idea presented in v. 9 show that no one is righteous or kind (vv. 10-12), that everyone sins by both word (vv. 13-14) and deed (v. 15), because of a lifestyle that is evil and disastrous (v. 16) rather than good (v. 17), since they lack the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (v. 18; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). 

19. Moreover, we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those living within the framework of the Torah, in order that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world be shown to deserve God’s adverse judgment.
Whatever the Torah (here the whole Tanakh, from which vv. 10-18 has given quotations; see Mt 5:17N) says, it says to those living within the framework of the Torah (see 2:12N), that is, to Jews; in order that every self-justifying mouth may be stopped. Jewish included (Gentiles have already had their guilt pinpointed in 1:18-2:16); and thus the whole world be shown, proven by God's own words, to deserve God's adverse judgment. There is also this implicit kal v'chomer argument (see Mt 6:30N): if Jews, who have the Torah to guide them, turn out to be guilty before God, how much more will Gentiles, who do not have this guidance, also prove worthy of punishment. 

20. For in his sight no one alive will be considered righteous (Psalm 143:2) on the ground of legalistic observance of Torah commands, because what Torah really does is show people how sinful they are.
For in his sight no one alive will be considered righteous, quoted from Psalm 143:2. Greek dikaioo. corresponding to Hebrew hatzdik, is to be understood in a legal sense as "declare righteous or innocent," rather than "cause to behave righteously." God does the latter too, as part of his work in believers after they trust in Yeshua the Messiah; and it is a lifelong process. But being declared innocent by God and considered righteous, no longer regarded by him as a sinner deserving of his adverse judgment (v. 19), happens instantaneously at the moment a person gives up his self-righteousness, accepts God's assessment of him and means of forgiveness (through Yeshua), and depends entirely on God's mercy.

As with other rabbinic citations from the Tanakh, the phrase quoted is meant to call to mind the entire context. Psalm 143:1-2 (see vv. 3-4N). This is the passage on which vv. 20-26 constitute at once midrash (vv. 19-26N), commentary and fulfillment:
"A psalm of David:
"Hear my prayer. Adonai; give ear to my supplications; in your faithfulness answer me with your righteousness;
"and do not enter into judgment with your servant;
for in your sight no one alive will be considered righteous."

The Psalmist is aware that no one's works suffice to earn him being declared righteous by God (v. 20a; see first paragraph of this note), and therefore he pleads to be answered with God's righteousness (w. 21-26). And he expects a positive answer because God is faithful (vv. 22&N, 25-26). Verses 24-26 provide assurance that God will not enter into judgment with his trusting servants. In the rest of Psalm 143 the Psalmist acknowledges his dreadful condition and continues to plead for God's mercy. This must be the attitude of all who truly turn to God.

Legalistic observance of Torah commands. I use this phrase to render Greek erga hi mien because the briefer and literal "works of law" has almost always been misunderstood and made the underpinning of some dreadful theology. "Nomos" ("law") is correctly taken by most interpreters to mean the Jewish Law, the Law of Moses, the Torah. But from this point on, interpreters have usually riveted themselves to one of the following three misinterpretations of this verse:

(1) 'Wo one will be considered righteous by God on the ground of doing the good works the Torah requires," This is manifestly wrong because the most important good work the Torah requires is trusting God, loving him with all one's heart and soul and strength (Mk 12:28-30). Who can read the Torah without seeing that? Therefore, on the face of it, this interpretation is absurd. After all, the Torah was given by God to be obeyed; so why should obeying it not lead to being considered righteous by God? Moreover, Sha'ul quotes with approval Moses' pronouncement that "the person who does these things," who performs the righteous deeds commanded by the Torah, "will attain life through them" (10:5, quoting Leviticus 18:5). Surely attaining life and being considered righteous by God are equivalent.

(2) 'Wo one will be considered righteous by God on the ground of doing the good worfa the Torah requires, because no one is able to live up to the Torah's demands (Yeshua excepted)." Those who hold to the interpretation of Paragraph (1) in spite of the difficulty raised there defend their position by implicitly adding the clause about human inability. But such a teaching is not found in Sha'ul's argument here, or elsewhere in Romans, or, for that matter, anywhere in the Bible.

On what biblical evidence might one base the conclusion that no one is capable of obeying the Torah? Ya'akov 2:10 says that "a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all." But the "stumbling" spoken of here is rebellion against keeping a particular command of the Torah while claiming to uphold it. Ya'akov is not saying that anyone necessarily rebels (see Ya 2:10-11 &N). Acts 15:10 speaks of Kefa's objecting to placing on the Gentiles "a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." But this "yoke" meant "detailed mechanical rule-keeping, regardless of heart attitude, that some... held to be the essence of Judaism. This was not the yoke of the mitz.vot prescribed by God, but a yoke of legalism prescribed by men" (I am quoting Ac 15: ION). Yeshua himself objected to this (Mt 23:2^, Mk 7:5-l3&N).

The Torah was given to be obeyed, and God expected people to obey it. That is why Moses said,
"This commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it beyond your grasp.... The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it." (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Sha'ul himself quotes from this passage at 10:6-8&N. It is unthinkable that God instructed the Jewish people to observe a Law that was impossible to keep, for which the penalty of violation was death. The God of love does not play cruel games.

True, the people fell short of keeping the Torah; they sinned. But the Torah itself includes a procedure for dealing with sins, provided they were not committed "with a high hand." that is. in rebellion, after the manner of Ya 2:1 O&N. This procedure was the sacrificial system, and in fact the greater part of the Five Books of Moses is devoted to it. This system offered forgiveness to a repentant person who brought the required sacrifice. (How Yeshua affected this part of the Torah is touched on at v. 25 and developed more fully in Messianic Jews 9-10.) Thus, at the time the Messiah died, the Torah provided a framework within which a person might be saved (Mt 19:16-22, Lk 1:6&N,MJ 11:1-40), provided he trusted God in everything and in no way relied on his own self-righteousness.

In conclusion, this understanding is wrong because there is no reason for supposing a person cannot live up to what the Torah demands. The Torah does not set an impossible standard. Rather, it sets a standard of faith, trusting in God, and of following its system of repentance and sacrifice for obtaining forgiveness from God and restoring a condition of being considered righteous in his sight.

(3) "No one will be considered righteous by God on the ground of the bad works the Torah requires." Even more ridiculous than the first mistaken interpretation, what this means is that the Torah itself supposedly requires prideful, self-justifying, legalistic rule-following. But the Torah itself inveighs vigorously against such behavior, and the New Testament quotes portions of the Tanakh which make that very point! Furthermore, Sha' ul calls the Torah "holy, just and good" (7:12), which could not be true of a Torah that demanded bad works or self-righteousness.

So then, why even mention such a peculiar understanding? Because many Christians seem to have the idea that the Torah was an inferior product of God, that the Messiah is in some sense "better" than the Torah, and that therefore the Torah is relatively "bad." But such an interpretation impugns the character of God. It is tantamount to the second-century heresy of Marcion, who regarded the Old Testament as inferior to the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament as inferior to the God of the New.

Theology based on one or the other of these misinterpretations has taught Christians that the Jewish Law is inferior, inadequate, legalistic, a producer of pride, something separate from God's grace, superseded now that Yeshua has come, and of value only insofar as it points to the Messiah. If this were true, anyone who would uphold such a Law must obviously be blind, foolish or misled. Since Jews uphold the Mosaic Law, it follows from these premises that Jews are blind, foolish or misled. In this way antisemitism is made virtually a pillar of Christian faith! No wonder a "gospel" with such implications is unacceptable to Jews!

But there is an alternative. While sometimes Sha'ul uses the word "erga" ("works," in the plural) neutrally, nineteen times he employs it as a technical term with negative valence, signifying:

"actions stemming from a boastful, self-righteous belief that by doing them, by following a set of rules in one's own strength, without any trust in God or faithfulness towards him, one can earn God's praise and applause and obligate him to grant one a berth in heaven."

The word "erga" is used by itself in this sense at 4:2,6; 9:11; 11:6 (three times); Ep 2:9; 2 Ti 1:9; and Ti 3:5. It is used with "nomou" ("of law") in the present verse, 3:27,28; 9:32; Ga 2:16 (three times); and Ga 3:2, 5,10.

This is also the sense understood for "erga" ("works") in the third misinterpretation above. The difference between it and my understanding is that I do not take "erga" with the modifier "nomou" ("of law") to mean "bad self-strength works prescribed in the Torah" but rather:

"bad self-strength works produced when sinful people misuse and pervert the Torah, so that instead of regarding it as God's gracious gift intended both to orient people toward righteous, God-motivated behavior and at the same time to show them how far short they fall of achieving it, they regard the Torah as a rulebook containing requirements they can meet mechanically, without trusting God or even caring about him, and can therefore take great pride in their own achievements and have great self-satisfaction over how much they have pleased God."

In other words, "works of law" are indeed "works produced by the Torah," but through its being used improperly. This is what I have tried to convey in my rendering, "legalistic observance of Torah commands."

This is a good place to call attention to a book clarifying these issues: Daniel P. Fuller's Gospel And Law: Contrast Or Continuum? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980).

What the Torah really does is show people how sinful they are, literally, "for through law is full-knowledge of sin." Greek amartia corresponds to Hebrew diet; both are usually translated "sin," but both also convey the sense, "missing the mark," like an archer who shoots off-target. Thus, what the Torah gives to anyone who lets himself be affected by it is ever fuller awareness of how much he is missing the target of righteousness which the Torah sets before him. This is, of course, not the Torah's only task — it also offers positive guidance toward right behavior. In theory a Jew, with the Torah to direct him, might possibly be able to aim nearer the target than a Gentile without it. Nevertheless, his achievement will always fall short of the goal; and unless he realizes this and becomes appropriately humble he will surely not be saved. The subject is analyzed at length in Chapter 7. 

21. But now, quite apart from Torah, God’s way of making people righteous in his sight has been made clear — although the Torah and the Prophets give their witness to it as well —
Quite apart from Torah, Greek chdris nomou, literally, "apart from law"; KJV's archaic "without the law" does not mean "lacking it" but "outside it." What this phrase means is that God's righteousness has nothing to do with our obeying the Torah and its prescriptions but goes back to the underlying axiom of such obedience, faith.

God's way of making people righteous. An alternative rendering for this phrase is "God's righteousness," that is, as in vv. 25-26&NN, his "moral integrity," to use the phrase of Leander E. Keck {Paul and His Letters, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979, pp. 118-123). God's moral integrity is demonstrated directly by Yeshua's atoning death; it does not depend on the constitution of the Jewish nation, the Torah.

Nevertheless, The Torah and the Prophets give their witness to it Throughout the Tanakh God's holiness and moral integrity are proclaimed, as also is the truth that human beings cannot attain God's standard of righteousness by striving for it. As Isaiah 64:5(6) puts it, "All our righteousnesses," those we achieve by mere human effort without genuine reliance on and trust in God, "are as filthy rags." Moreover, not only do the Scriptures attest to God's way of making people righteous, but non-Messianic Judaism is aware of it too. The eleventh-century Midrash to Psalm 44:1 says,

"When the chi Idren of Israel went out from Egypt, they cou Id not offer any works of their hands whereby they might be redeemed. And so, it was not because of the works of their fathers, nor was it because of their own works, that the sea was divided before them; rather, it was only so that God might make a name for himself in the world."

The Siddur quotes Daniel 9:18 in the preliminary morning prayers:
"Sovereign of all worlds! Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before you, but because of your abundant mercies,"

and then continues by expounding on this verse in the spirit of Ecclesiastes:
"What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? our righteousness? our helpfulness? our strength? our might? What shall we say before you, Adonai, our God and God of our fathers? Are not all the mighty men as nothing before you, the men of fame as though they had never existed, the wise as if without knowledge, and those with understanding as if without discernment? For most of their works are void, and the days of their lives are vanity before you, and the preeminence of man over beast is nothing, for all is vanity."

So, like Sha'ul, the rabbis have recognized human inability to meet God's standard for righteousness, even with the guidance of the good Torah that God gave. 

22. and it is a righteousness that comes from God, through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, to all who continue trusting. For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or a Gentile,
Through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, Greek dia pisteos Iesou Christou, in other translations virtually always rendered, "through faith in Jesus Christ." This implies that God considers an individual righteous because he believes in Yeshua. But George Howard ("Romans 3:21-31 and the Inclusion of the Gentiles," Harvard Theological Review 63 (1970), pp. 223-233) has made a strong case for regarding this Greek phrase not as an objective genitive but as a subjective genitive, with the word "pistis" meaning "faithfulness" rather than "faith, belief (on this see Ac 3:16N and Section (1) of Ga 2:16cN). For the relevant quotation from Howard's article see section (2) of Ga 2:16cN, all of which constitutes an essential complement and sequel to the present note.

Sha'ul uses the same expression, "dia pisteos Iesou Christou" not only here but in v. 26; Ga 2:16 (twice), 3:22; Ep 3:12 and Pp 3:9. Somewhat similar constructions are found at Co 2:12 and 2 Th 2:13. The issue is important enough to make it worth understanding what subjective and objective genitives are. In Greek grammar pisteos ("faithfulness of" or "faith of") is the genitive case of "pistis" ("faithfulness" or "faith"); broadly speaking, the genitive case adds the "of.1' The question, then, is: what kind of an "of is it? H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, in A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (The MacMillan Company, 1927; 1957 printing) deal with the matter on pp. 78-79. With a noun of action,

"We have the subjective genitive when the noun in the genitive produces the action, being therefore related as subject to the verbal idea of the noun modified,"

and the example given is "the preaching of Jesus Christ" (Ro 16:25). In contrast, there is the objective genitive.

"We have this construction when the noun in the genitive receives the action, being thus related as object to the verbal idea contained in the noun modified."

The example given is: "But the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Mt 12:31). In the first example (the subjective genitive), Yeshua does the preaching and does not receive it. In the second (the objective genitive), the Spirit does not do the blaspheming but receives it, is the object of it. In our present verse, if "pisteos''' is subjective, Yeshua does the pistis ("the faithfulness of Yeshua"); if objective, Yeshua receives the pistis ("faith in Yeshua") and someone else does it.

In addition to the grammatical points presented by Howard, a key argument for regarding "pisteos lesou" as "faithfulness of Yeshua" arises from taking vv. 20-26 as a commentary on Psalm 143, as explained above in v. 20aN. The psalm speaks not of our faith in God but of God's faithfulness to us. As noted, the same phrase appears in v. 26, and the decision made here and in that verse controls how to translate "pisteos" in v. 25 also. But E. D. Burton, whose Commentary on Galatians 1 elsewhere quote with approval (at Ga 2:16b&N), writes (p. 121),

"The evidence that pistis, like elpis and agape, may take an objective genitive is too clear to be questioned (cf. Mark 11:22, Acts 3:16, Colossians 2:12, 2 Thess 2:13)."

Nevertheless I do question it, at least in all but one of the verses he cites. Mark 11:22 I render. "Have the kind of trust that comes from God," instead of "Have faith in God;" I take the construction as a genitive of origin, as when one identifies Paul of Tarsus (having Tarsus as his origin); the genitive of origin has more affinity with the subjective genitive than with the objective genitive. Colossians 2:12 is a subjective genitive (see Co 2:1 1-13aN), while 2 Th 2:13 is another genitive of origin (see note there). Burton's case for taking Sha'ul's "pisteos" as objective genitive is thus reduced to Ac 3:16 and is further weakened by its being a very difficult verse, no matter how translated, and by its not having been written or spoken by or about Sha'ul.

short of the glory of God"). On sinning and falling short of the target of earning God's praise, see v. 20cN. The principle that everyone is a sinner is taught in the Tanakh:

'There is no one who does not sin." (1 Kings 8:46)

"For there is not a righteous person on the earth, who does good and does not sin." (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

"Behold, Adonai's hand is not shortened, so that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy, so that it cannot hear.
Rather, your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God
and your sins have hidden his face from you, from hearing." (Isaiah 59:1-2)

"We are all like one who is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:5(6))

The question of why it is true, and how it comes about, that everyone sins — in other words, the question of so-called "original sin" — is discussed at 5:12—21N.

The truth of this verse, which epitomizes the Bad News of 1:18-3:20, is basic to understanding both the inherent problematic condition of all mankind and the Good News that God offers the only solution to the problem through Yeshua the Messiah. 

23. since all have sinned and come short of earning God’s praise.
24. By God’s grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua.
By God's grace, without earning it, all who continue faithfully trusting (understood from v. 22) are granted the status of being considered righteous before him (God). through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin (literally just "through the redemption"; see vv. 19-26N) that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua.

Sha'ul gives detailed examination to this theme in Chapter 6. 

25. God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death. This vindicated God’s righteousness; because, in his forbearance, he had passed over [with neither punishment nor remission] the sins people had committed in the past;
Kapparah for sin. Greek ilasterion appears twice in the New Testament; at MJ 9:5 it means the "mercy seat" which formed the cover of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, where the cohen hagadol entered once a year, on Yom-Kippur, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people (l>eviticus 16; see MJ 9:5N). In the present verse it means "propitiation, expiation, atonement" and corresponds to Hebrew kapar. which has the same meaning in the Tanakh and has the root sense of either "cover" or "wipe clean." These two root meanings both express what God does when he accepts expiation for sin: he covers the sin from his sight and/or wipes or washes it away.

Non-Messianic Jews are hard pressed to give an answer to the question: "Now that the Temple has been destroyed, so that sacrifices can no longer be offered in the manner God requires in the Torah. what is the kapparah for sins?" The customary answer, that the sacrifices have been replaced by repentance, prayer and works of charity, finds no basis in the Tanakh, even though all three are worthy activities and the first two are surely essential elements of the atonement process. The correct answer to the question is given in this verse: Yeshua is the kapparah. See also Messianic Jews 9-10&NN.

b Through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death, Greek dia pisteos en to autou aimati, literally, "through faithfulness in his blood." On understanding pisteos as Yeshua's faithfulness to God and not our faith in him, let alone "in his blood," see v. 22N. The Greek preposition "en" which often means simply "in" or "by," is here better rendered "in the sphere of or "in respect to."

"Blood" must be understood as a metaphor for "death" and not as a special, magical substance. KJV's "through faith in his blood" suggests that Yeshua*s blood magically atones for sin if we have faith in it. There have been enough pagan intrusions into Christianity without adding this one. For proof that "blood" means "bloody sacrificial death," as rendered here, see Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 108-124. See also Yn 6:51-66N.

Thus Sha'ul is referring here to Yeshua's faithfulness to God in being willing, even though sinless and not deserving execution, to undergo a painful, horrible, bloody sacrificial death on our behalf (see Pp 2:5-11). He is not speaking about our trust, faith or belief in Yeshua, or in his death, or in his blood. 

26. and it vindicates his righteousness in the present age by showing that he is righteous himself and is also the one who makes people righteous on the ground of Yeshua’s faithfulness.
Many profound ideas are brought together in these eight verses as Sha'ul sets forth with masterly brevity God's ultimate solution to man's ultimate problem, sin. Whether his succinctness posed difficulty to Sha'ul's original readers we cannot know, but today we find many ambiguities and uncertainties in his compressed phrases. The concepts introduced here are so important that a seemingly small difference in interpretation can have enormous consequences for the Jews, for the Church and for the Jewish-Christian interface. For this reason I have in several places included phrases not found in the Greek text in order to make as clear as possible what 1 believe to be the correct interpretation. This accords with my translation philosophy of deciding what a text means and expressing that meaning as clearly as possible (as explained in the JNT Introduction, Section V). But since there are other plausible understandings it seems fair to offer the reader a literal rendering as well:

19. "And we know that whateverthings the law says, to the ones in-connection-with the law it speaks; so that every mouth may be stopped and under judgment may become all the world to God;
20. because by works of law will not be justified all flesh before him; for through law full-knowledge of sin.
21. But now, without law God's righteousness has been manifested, being witnessed to by the law and the prophets,
22. moreover, God's righteousness through faithfulness [or: trust] of Messiah unto all the ones trusting (for there is no difference,
23. for all sinned and come short of God's glory);
24. being justified without cost by his grace through the redemption which is in-connection-with Messiah Yeshua,
25. whom God set forth a propitiation [or: mercy seat] through faithfulness [or: trust] in-connection-with his blood, for a showing-forth of his righteousness because of the passing-by of the sins that had previously occurred
26. in-connection-with the forbearance of God, for the showing-forth of his righteousness in the present period unto his being just and justifying the one from faithfulness [or: trust] of Yeshua.

The key to understanding these verses properly is realizing that they are a midrash on Psalm 143, as explained in v. 20aN. Other verse-by-verse notes deal with other issues raised by this passage.

25c-26 This vindicated (or: "demonstrated") God's righteousness, etc. From here to the end of v. 26 Sha'ul continues his midrash on Psalm 143 (see v. 20aN) by analyzing exactly how Yeshua's atoning death relates to God's righteousness. The Greek text is difficult, and there are other interpretations; I have given weight to Barrett's commentary in arriving at my understanding.

On "faithfulness" see v. 22N, where George Howard's article was cited. In that article he also writes (p. 231):
"It is not through the Law of Moses that the promise to Abraham is fulfilled but through the faithfulness of Christ. Only in this way has God devised to bring all nations to himself."

Thus it is God's faithfulness to his own promise made to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3) that produces God's redemption of humanity through Yeshua and Yeshua's faithfulness to God. This is what is meant by "God's righteousness."

But the central issue of this passage is the justice/mercy paradox. We know that God is altogether just and altogether merciful, even though it is hard for us to understand how he can be righteous and just, exacting due punishment for sin, but yet at the same time be merciful, forgiving people who trust in Yeshua. The answer is that individual righteousness begins and ends with trusting God, neither more nor less (1:17). This means (1) trusting that God has justly poured out the full measure of his wrath (1:18) on Yeshua, the sacrificed lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Yn 1:29), and (2) trusting that in his great mercy God regards anyone who identifies fully with Yeshua as already fully punished for his past sins (6:3).

But how does this make God both just and merciful? How can an individual rely on someone else's taking the punishment which he himself deserves for his sins? This question bothers many thoughtful people, Jews and Gentiles alike. The following parable, whose source I do not know, does not fit the theological realities at every point, but it is suggestive.

Once upon a time there was a king who was strong, brave and possessed of all other good qualities. He ruled his country justly, loved his people and was loved by them.

Because of this there was no crime in his kingdom — until one day it was discovered that a thief was loose in the land.

Knowing that wrongful behavior would multiply unless he took a strong stand against it. the king decreed that when caught the thief would receive twenty lashes. But the thefts continued. He raised the punishment to forty lashes in the hope of deterring further crime, but to no avail. Finally, he announced that the criminal would be punished with sixty lashes, knowing that no one in the country could survive sixty lashes except himself. At last the thief was caught, and it turned out to be — the king's mother.

The king was faced with a dilemma. He loved his mother more than anyone in the world, but justice demanded that the punishment be carried out. Moreover, were his subjects to see that it was possible to commit a crime and not be punished for it, social order would eventually be completely undermined. At the same time, he knew that if he were to subject his own mother to a punishment that would kill her, the people's love would turn to revulsion and hate toward a man so lacking in compassion and ordinary affection, and he would be unable to govern at all. The whole nation wondered what he would do.

The day arrived for administering the prescribed punishment. The king mounted a platform in the capital's central square, and the royal flogger took his place. Then the king's elderly mother was brought forward, fragile and trembling. On seeing her son the king, she burst into tears. "I'm... so sorry... for what 1 did!" she wailed, between sobs. Then, recovering, the bent, white-haired figure made her way toward the flogging harness. The people gasped as the flogger raised his muscled arm with the leather whip.

Just as it was about to crack down on the exposed back of the woman who had given him birth, the king cried "Stop!" The arm poised in mid-air, the whip fell limp. The king rose from his seat, removed his robe, walked to the harness, embraced his mother, and, with his broad frame covering his mother and his bared back exposed to the flogger, commanded him, "Execute the sentence!" The sixty stripes fell on the back of the king.

"He was wounded for our transgressions,
bruised for our iniquities;
his suffering was for our well-being,
and by his stripes we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray;
we have turned, each one to his own way;
and Adonai has laid on him
the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6) 

27. So what room is left for boasting? None at all! What kind of Torah excludes it? One that has to do with legalistic observance of rules? No, rather, a Torah that has to do with trusting.
28. Therefore, we hold the view that a person comes to be considered righteous by God on the ground of trusting, which has nothing to do with legalistic observance of Torah commands.
Literal translation of these verses:
"Wherefore therefore the boasting? It was shut out. Through what law? of works? No, rather through a law of trusting. For we reason that a person is justified by trusting, apart from works of law."

The boasting spoken of is that of 2:17-21. The reasons for rendering "works" as legalistic observance of rules are given in v. 20bN.

The KJV rendering of v. 28, "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," raises the question of whether Sha'ul and Ya'akov are inconsistent with each other, because Ya'akov writes that faith apart from the actions is barren (Ya 2:20), and that "a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone" (Ya 2:24); see Ya 2:14-26&NN for my answer, showing that Sha'ul and Ya'akov do not contradict each other. Also see Ep 2:8-10&N. where Sha'ul himself ties faith to works and explains how they are related to each other. And see 4:1-2N below. 

29. Or is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, he is indeed the God of the Gentiles;
30. because, as you will admit, God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Therefore, he will consider righteous the circumcised on the ground of trusting and the uncircumcised through that same trusting.
Sha'ul argues: If you still think that only Jews can be saved because only they have the Torah to follow, ask yourself, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn't he also the God of the Gentiles (Greek ethne, see l:5b-6N)? Yes, he is indeed the God of the Gentiles; because, as you will admit, "God is one" (Adonai echad). quoted from the most important verse in Judaism, the Sh 'ma ("Hear, О Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is one," Deuteronomy 6:4).

Christians are sometimes asked: "If the Sh'ma says that 'God is one,' how can you believe in the Trinity, which says that God is three?" If the question is a rhetorical way of stating that God's oneness is inconsistent with the notion that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then Sha'ul's quoting of the Sh'ma should demonstrate that at least one educated Jew found no contradiction. If the question is asked seriously, it must first be insisted emphatically that trinitarian theology does not say that "God is three"; beyond that, it is my hope that the Jewish New Testament and this commentary on it will help supply an answer.

The conclusion to be drawn from God's oneness is. Therefore he will consider righteous the circumcised on the ground of trusting (ek pisteos) and the uncircum-cised through that same trusting (dia tis pisteds). I am grateful to Joseph Shulam for pointing out the significance of the Greek terms "ek" ("out of) and "dia" ("through") in this verse; the rest of this note builds on his analysis.

As Jews grow up faithfully "out of" the soil of faith, trusting in Yeshua, God will regard them as righteous. And he will do exactly the same thing for Gentiles as they go "through" the process of coming to have the same faith that faithful Messianic Jews have. Gentiles do this when they take Jewish history, which is salvation history, as their own. They thus come into union with this Jewish faith-stream; and this Jewish faith-stream, as they encounter the Jewish Messiah, carries them on into salvation.

Thus there is a difference between Jews and Gentiles — though not in their salvation; for, as the whole book of Romans is at pains to point out (1:16&N), in the Messiah, so far as salvation is concerned, there is "neither Jew nor Gentile" (Ga 3:28). But for historical reasons there is a difference between Jews and Gentiles in the process which leads to their salvation. Only the Jews have salvation history as their own, so that they come "out of the matrix of faith and salvation history. Gentiles must appropriate that history to themselves, for it is not theirs naturally. But it is theirs, and fully so, as they identify with it and go "through" to become one with the faith experiences and salvation history of the Jewish people.

In conclusion. 1 will repeat, in order to avoid any misunderstanding: the righteousness which God confers through Yeshua is absolutely the same for Gentiles as for Jews. In the Kingdom of God, wherein God rules the saved, there are no second-class citizens, no "separate but equal"; rather, there is "neither Jew nor Gentile." 

31. Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we confirm Torah.
Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Sha'ul follows the rabbinic method, found throughout the Talmud, of anticipating a hypothetical questioner — and not so hypothetical, if one reads the literature of Jewish attitudes toward Christianity. Here is his argument: You might think the assertion, '"Works of law' are of no avail for salvation," is tantamount to overthrowing the Torah itself — if you were used to thinking of the Torah as a rulebook capable of being followed mechanically without trusting God (see v. 20bN). For this very reason Sha'ul, in order to keep the attention of those who would otherwise reject anything more he has to say, addresses the issue head-on, answering in the negative as strongly as possible. Heaven forbid! (on this expression see 3:4N, last paragraph) and adds: On the contrary, we confirm Torah (or "uphold" it, "establish" it or "place" it "on a firm foundation").

Why does trusting, which is the exact opposite of mechanical rule-keeping, "confirm Torah"? Because trusting God, and not mechanical rule-keeping, is the very basis, foundation and essence of Torah, it is what the Torah is all about. In saying so, Sha'ul does not exhaust the subject; far from it. It is his literary style, however, to introduce a topic briefly, allowing the reader to be filled with questions about it, and then return to it later. That is what he docs here; he returns to the matter of how faith and Torah fit together in Chapters 7 and 9-11. 

next chapter...