Grace Bible Church
Scott L. Harris
April 28, 2002
What Advantage to the Jews?
In our study of Romans over the last several months, we have seen Paul develop his case for the
Gospel message. Remember that the theme of Romans is the Gospel message as Paul states in 1:16,17
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to
the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the] righteousness of God is revealed from faith to
faith; as it is written, "But the righteous [man] shall live by faith." The Gospel message is about the
righteousness of God in providing a means of salvation for sinful man who otherwise remains under His
In our examination of the first two chapters of Romans we have already seen God’s righteous
condemnation and wrath upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in
unrighteousness. All men have been given sufficient knowledge of God so that they should seek Him.
God has made Himself evident within man from birth and made Himself evident without to man in
creation itself. The result is that all people are without excuse for not seeking Him (1:20).
The ungodliness and unrighteousness of some is obvious. Paul describes such people, the
immoral unrighteous, in 1:21-32. The level of depravity varies from individual to individual, but it is a
spiral downward into greater evil. It begins with a simple neglect to honor God properly and descends
into a refusal to even acknowledge Him. God’s wrath comes upon them by withdrawing His restraining
hand and letting them pursue their sinful desires and their consequences. It begins with giving them over
to the lusts, or strong desires, they have for what is impure. It continues downward into degrading
passions in which the emotions caused by the lusts overwhelms common sense and reason and therefore
controls. It ends in depraved minds in which discernment of right and wrong has become twisted. They
condemn what is good as bad and approve what is evil as good. We live in a society in which this has
become common place, but it has shown itself in societies and generations before us. Isaiah (5:20)
pronounced woe on those who did this in his time.
The immoral unrighteous are obvious, but there are also the moral unrighteous. Paul deals with
them in Romans 2:1-16. They are not as flagrant in their ungodliness and unrighteousness, and they even
condemn those who are obviously immoral, yet their very judgement of others condemns them because
they do the same things (2:3). They may not rob a bank, but they take things from work, put in less than
a full days work for a full days pay, and violate copyright. Stealing is stealing and thieves do not go to
heaven. The may not perjure themselves in a courtroom, but lying even when you are not under oath is
still lying, and liars do not go to heaven either (Rev. 20:8). They may manage to keep their marriages
intact and avoid extra-marital affairs, but they have a roving eye and a bent toward pornography. Jesus is
clear in Matthew 5:28 that looking on a woman to lust after her is committing adultery in the heart. The
bottom line is that though they are not as bad as those who are obviously immoral, they still commit the
same sins in violation of even their own standards of conduct. Their own consciences condemn them
Finally, 2:17-29 covers those who are religious and claim to be righteous because they
supposedly know and seek after God. Paul uses the Jews as the supreme example of such people. They
had all the advantages. They had the Law of God revealed to them which they taught to others. They had
the godly heritage of Abraham. The problem was, they did not keep the law or follow Abraham’s
example. Having the law and keeping the law are two different things. Having a godly people as
ancestors and being godly yourself are two different things. What should have been an advantage to
them became a curse that condemned them, because they did know better, but still violated God’s
commandments and sinned against Him.
This brings us up to our passage for study today in Romans 3:1-8. Remember that Paul was
writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. Those with a Jewish background would
have a logical question at this point which Paul addresses – vs. 1
"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?"
Paul addresses these questions in verses 2-8 and then addresses the final conclusion in verses 9-18. I faced a bit of a dilemma as I prepared this sermon because it would make sense to go all the way to
verse 18 in this morning’s sermon, but in view of the rising antisemitism around the world and in our
own nation, I want to take a little extra time in explaining the advantage and blessing of being Jewish.
I believe we are all aware that the repeating of the pro-Palestinian propaganda in recent weeks by
world media sources has resulted in outbreaks of anti-Jewish persecution in various places around the
world, particularly in Europe, but also here in the U.S. The shifting of the U.S. in its policy toward the
nation of Israel over the last decade has its foundation in a theological change that will bend and even
support current political pressures from the Islamic nations. As a nation, we are shifting from recognition
of the Jewish people as God’s unique chosen people with a promised land and future, to seeing them as
just another ethnic group with no more claim to the land than anyone else.
Though there have been many Christians who have been caught up in antisemitism in years past
and in the present, there is no Biblical reason for it, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Christians should be
the best friends that even non-Christian Jewish people can have. We should also be the strongest
defenders of the nation of Israel. That does not mean Israel, right or wrong, but it does mean that we
reject the claims of the so called "Palestinians" and support Israel’s right to exist and claim to the land.
More on this later. Lets back to Romans.
The Advantage of Being Jewish (1,2)
If being Jewish does not prevent a person from being under God’s wrath, then what advantage is
there of being Jewish. If being a partaker of the covenant relationship with God as evidenced by
circumcision does not make the person righteous before God, then what advantage could there be to
being circumcised? In fact, given the persecution the Jews have had throughout the centuries, even in
ancient times, it would seem that it was a disadvantage to be Jewish. How much more true that would be
in our own time.
Paul answers, vs. 2, "Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the
oracles of God."
No, being born of Jewish heritage does not automatically remove a person from being under
God’s wrath. And, no, keeping Jewish rituals such as circumcision does not automatically make a person
righteous before God. But nevertheless, being Jewish gives many advantages. The first one that Paul
points out is that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
The word "oracles" here is from lovgion / logion which is usually translated as "word." In
English, "oracles," often has a connotation of something given through some spirit medium, usually in a
pagan, occultic setting. That certainly is not what is meant here, but rather that the Jews had
supernaturally received the words of God from God. This is a case in which the NIV translation is more
clear to us by avoiding the word "oracles" with its occultic connotation and translating it as, "they have
been entrusted with the very words of God." This is a reference to the entire Old Testament.
How were the Jews entrusted with the "very words of God?" They did not come through the
religious musings of some philosopher or mystical character. There are many cult groups and false
religions around today based on such musings. They were not getting the supposed revelation about God
through some medium who was not to be questioned. Mormonism, Islam and other false religions are
built on revelations that come from a supposed angel to some particular individual. Actually, the angels
these people got revelations from were fallen angels which we usually refer to as demons.
The very words of God came to the Jews through many different people over a wide expanse of
time and each of them were to be challenged for they had to meet the Biblical test of a prophet. The
Scriptures clearly warn that along with the true prophets, God was going to allow false prophets to come
to test to people whether they would follow God or not. What religion other than ancient Judaism and
Christianity can meet the tests of Deut. 13 &18:18-22?
Deut. 18:18 states, "18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I
will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not
listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 20 But a
prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet
who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." 21 You may say to yourselves, "How can
we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the
name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That
prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." Deut. 13 clearly explains that no mercy
was to be shown to such a false prophet. They were to be stoned to death even if it was your own
brother, son, daughter, wife you love or closest friend (13:6). The false gods of the surrounding pagan
nations were not to be worshiped by the Jews.
Under those tests, the founders of the false religions that still exist in our time would have all
been slain – Muhammad, who enticed and forced people to worship Allah instead of Yahweh. Joseph
Smith and those who have followed him that call people to worship a God that is not the God of the
Bible. Charles Russell and all the leaders of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that have
followed him for their many false prophecies. The list can go on and on. Though we cannot kill such
false prophets in a secular democracy such as ours, we are still to test those who claim to speak for God
(2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Don’t believe someone just because they claim to be a Christian and use the
Bible. There are many false teachers out there that present the doctrine of demons as truth (1 Tim. 4:1-3) and seek to tickle people’s ears with false doctrine and myth (2 Tim. 4:3,4).
Being those entrusted with the words of God is both a tremendous advantage and responsibility.
MacArthur appropriately quotes from one of William Cowper’s poems on this point.
They, and they only, amongst all mankind,
received the transcript of the Eternal Mind;
Were trusted with His own engraven laws,
And constituted the guardians of His cause;
Theirs were the prophets, theirs the priestly call,
And theirs, by birth, the Savior of us all.
Paul had already commented on the advantage of this in his statements in chapter 2:17-20.
Because they had the words of God, they could know His law and His will. Because of this, they could
be confident in knowing what God demanded and what He wanted which was to result in them being
able to be a guide to the blind, a light to those in the darkness, a corrector of the foolish and a teacher of
the immature. I pointed out in our discussion of this a few weeks ago what each of these meant. The
gentiles were considered to be blind and in darkness because of their lack of knowledge of God. The
Jews were privileged with that knowledge so they could guide the gentiles to the light and remove their
blindness. They had God’s standards, so they could be confident in correcting those who were foolish
back to that standard. They were to be the instructors of those were still ignorant which would have
included their own children as they grew up.
God did not entrust the Jews with His words on a whim. It was done because He had already
chosen faithful Abraham and his descendants to be His chosen people. God made a covenant with
Abraham in Genesis 12. "The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your
father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will
bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." The
covenant was made unconditionally that Abraham was to go to a certain land where God would be make
him a great nation, make his name great and make him a blessing to all people. In Gen. 13:14-17 God
designates the particular land that He will give to Abraham and his descendants. In Genesis 17:19
Abraham is told that these covenant promises would be passed down through Isaac (not Ishmael) and in
Gen. 26:4 God confirms this covenant with Isaac. In Gen. 28;14 and 35:11 the Lord confirms the
covenant will not go through Esau, but through Jacob who is renamed Israel. Later, the covenant with
Israel’s descendants is detailed through Moses on how God wanted them to live and what the blessings
would be for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Prophets then followed who often revealed
what God was about to do even as they corrected the people and called them to live according to God’s
commands. The Jews are God’s chosen people (Deut. 10:15) who were to be a kingdom of priests and a
holy nation (Exod. 19:5,6), and that is why His very words were entrusted to them. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us
that this responsibility to be priests who proclaim God’s excellencies to all people now belongs to us
who are Christians. However, the Jews are still God’s chosen people and when we get to chapters 9-11
we will see the promises that God will still fulfill to and through them.
The Truth of God’s Promises (3,4)
In Romans 3:3,4 Paul moves onto the next objection that would have been in the minds of his
Jewish readers. If being of Jewish lineage and keeping the rituals were not enough, then perhaps God
was not true to his promises. Paul corrects a common belief among Jews then which still exist even
"What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will
it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man [be found] a liar, as it is
written, "That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged."
Paul’s argument here is simply this. The unfaithfulness of individual Jews to keep the covenant
that God made with them that results in them being under God’s wrath does not nullify the promises that
God has made to the whole nation. God’s promises to Israel were usually conditional, and those that
were unconditional dealt with the nation as a whole. There were blessings for obedience and curses for
disobedience, yet even when curses were being brought against individuals and the even nation in the
deportations, God’s unconditional promises to the nation would still be carried out in the future. Paul
makes this point very clear in chapters 9-11 which we will get to in the future. The nation of Israel will
be saved (11:26), though individuals within the nation will perish under God’s wrath (2:17-29; Zech.
14:2). Those who hold to the covenant theology position in this area make the same mistake today that
the Jews often made then. The failure of individuals does not nullify God’s promises to the nation. The
church has taken on certain responsibilities that belonged to the Jewish nation, but the church has neither
absorbed nor replaced Israel, for God still has plans for His chosen people as a nation.
Whenever there is confusion about what God has said or what He is doing, there is one thing
certain. God is true in all that He says and all that He does even if that means every man is found to be a
liar. In other words, God is the standard of truth, not man’s attempt to understand everything and put
them into nice categories. God is perfect and His word verifies itself and He is justified by His own
judgement. The judgement of men cannot stand against God.
The Purity of God
In verses 5-8 Paul moves to the next objection his Jewish readers might have had with what he
has taught. "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The
God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be!
For otherwise how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God 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 affirm that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is
Paul has stated that God’s righteousness is shown in the gospel, yet to this point Paul has only
pointed out that everyone is ungodly and unrighteous. Can God be pure if He is glorified by what is
impure? How can the unrighteousness of man demonstrate the righteousness of God? If this is true, then
wouldn’t it be unjust for God to punish sin when that very sin brings Him glory? This would have
sounded like it could be blasphemy to many Jews.
Paul makes a parenthetical statement at the end of verse to make sure his readers know that what
he has said here being spoken of from the point of view of human logic. In other words, Paul is
clarifying that this not what he himself has said or believes, but is rather an argument that laid against
him. Paul intensifies his disclaimer saying, "May it never be." If Paul was speaking, he would have been
shouting this. God neither encourages nor approves sin in order to glorify Himself. If that were true, then
God would be unjust and would have no basis by which to judge the world.
The Old Testament is full of references to God as judge and that He is righteous and just in His
judgements. For example, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges
on earth !" (Ps. 58:11). "Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; Against them He will
thunder in the heavens, The Lord will judge the ends of the earth" (1 Sam. 2:10). Arise, O God, judge
the earth! For it is Thou who dost possess all the nations (Ps. 82:2). Let the nations be glad and sing
for joy; For Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness, (Ps 67:4) God is a righteous judge (Ps. 7:6).
For the Lord is our judge , The Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king; He will save us (Isa.
33:22). The Jews understood this very well, and it was obvious that if He condoned sin, then He would
not have a basis for true, righteous, fair, just judgement.
Paul was being slandered on this point because they did not understand the gospel of grace that
Paul was preaching. To them, it seemed as if Paul was saying that they should do evil that good would
come of it. If lying makes the truth of God abound to His glory, then why not lie even more so God’s
truthfulness can be exalted even more? If my sinfulness makes God’s holiness even more apparent, then
my sinfulness is good, but if that is true, then how could the liar, the adulterer, the idolater, the covetor,
etc. be judged a sinner? If that is what Paul was teaching, then their condemnation would be just.
However, that is not what Paul was teaching. He will go on throughout the rest of chapter 3 and
the rest of the book to clarify the gospel of Grace and God’s righteousness in justifying the sinner. In
short, Paul was anticipating the arguments he would receive against the gospel of salvation by God’s
grace because he has already faced them and the personal accusations made against him. These
arguments and accusations still exist. Let’s apply them in the Christian context.
The Jewish legalist rejected Paul’s gospel of grace because then there would be no advantage in
being a Jew, and from their point of view, this would make God a liar that does not keep His promises.
The "Christian" legalist also rejects the gospel of grace because it would nullify all their work in trying
to earn their salvation. But they view the Bible and salvation in the same way as the Jewish legalists did.
Salvation comes through obedience to the law, keeping the rules, and being born into a family that does
this that is a great help. They correctly understand that God would be unjust if He condoned sin, but they
do not understand they are the religious unrighteous. Their self-proclaimed righteousness is destroyed at
the wall of truth in the fact that they themselves sin. They know the rules, but they do not keep them.
Like a good trial lawyer, they do their best to manipulate the laws to give themselves the illusion of
keeping them, but they are in fact guilty. They understand correctly that God will keep His promises, but
they fail to understand that they do not meet God’s conditions for salvation. God will judge them
according to their very deeds (2:6; Rev. 20:12) which will condemn them instead of vindicating them.
They will be cast into the lake of fire.
There are also the antinomians which means "without law." They correctly understand that they
are sinners that cannot earn their salvation, but they actually take on the ideas that Paul was falsely
accused of proclaiming that God is glorified by their sin. They reject all Biblical commands, or at least
the ones they do not like, saying they are free from the law and can therefore do anything they want.
Paul’s concluding statement in verse 8 applies to them. The are justly condemned for they make God
unjust and cause God’s name to be blasphemed just as surely as the religious unrighteous do. Their
lifestyle often becomes that of the immoral unrighteous or the moral unrighteous at best. They pervert
God’s grace into lasciviousness. To continually live in unrepentant sin is a clear indication that the
person is not saved. Genuine salvation is from sin to righteousness (Rom. 6) for the purpose of
becoming holy (Eph. 2:4), conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and for the performance of the
good works God has prepared beforehand (Eph. 2:10). Genuine salvation is about a living, ongoing
relationship with the sovereign creator of the universe who makes us righteous before Him through His
grace in granting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s life to be the substitute payment for the penalty of our
sin. You can do nothing to earn this gracious gift of salvation, but once accepted, you are no longer your
own, because you have been bought with the price of His precious blood.
What is the advantage of being a Jew? Great in every respect. They have been given the words of
God. They are God’s unique chosen people. But those advantages will be of naught unless they follow
God’s words with circumcised hearts of love for God (Dt. 10)
What is the advantage of being raised where there is Christian influence whether it is in the
home, with other family or friends or a local church? Great in every respect. You have available to you
the words of God and have around you those who love God and desire to help you understand those
words and walk with God. But those advantages will be of naught unless you personally seek God’s
forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ and strive to walk with Christ according to His word.
Are you taking advantage of what has been given to you?