ROMANS CHAPTER 3: FAITH AND THE JUDGMENT OF GOD

 

Beloved Heavenly Father,

Through the miracle of our baptism You have, through water and the power of God the Holy Spirit, circumcised our hearts of stone and placed within us a heart that beats in union with the heart of our most beloved Savior, Jesus.  It is through this supernatural transformation that You have empowered us to share the love of Christ with others and to live out our Christian faith in obedience to Your laws and statues so that at every Eucharistic celebration when we go forth to receive Your Son, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, we at the same time go forward to offer our lives as a loving sacrifice'a sacrifice from one who is called to be Your child.  Send us Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study of St. Paul's letter to the Church in Rome. St. Paul, Apostle and friend, pray for us.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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"For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries, and bring you home to your own country.  I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols.  I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead.  I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and respect and practice my judgments." Ezekiel 36:24-27

 

Question: Up to this point in his letter how would you articulate Paul's main points after his address and greeting? See point #1 in Romans 1:18-19; point #2 in 2:6-11; point #3 in 2:12-16; and point #4 in 2:17-29.

Answer:

1.      All human beings are subject to God's impartial judgment: Romans 1:18-29

2.      God's righteous judgment will be pronounced according to a person's deeds: Romans 2:6-11

3.      Gentiles who are not exposed to the Law will not be judged by the Law of the Sinai Covenant but by natural and moral law revealed by their conscience: Romans 2:12-16

4.      The Law of Moses [Sinai Covenant] and the sacrament of outward circumcision [imposed since the time of Abraham] is no guarantee of salvation.  On the contrary it is the Law which will expose the sins of the Jews to God's judgment'the real Jew is one who is inwardly a Jew and the sign of being a true Jew is circumcision of the heart: Romans 2:17-29

 

In chapter two of his letter to the Church in Rome St. Paul redefined what it means to be a true Jew'one who is called by God's name into a holy covenant which binds God to the believer or believers as one covenant family.  Paul defines the real Jew in a dual statement in 2:28-29'first in the negative in verse 28: "Being a Jew is not only having the outward appearance of a Jew, and circumcision is not only a visible physical operation" and then in the positive in verse 29The real Jew is the one who is inwardly a Jew, and real circumcision is in the heart, a thing not of the letter but of the spirit.  He may not be praised by any human being, but he will be praised by God." Just prior to establishing the new definition of the true Jew Paul had reminded his hearers of the promises God made to Israel concerning the New Covenant in Isaiah 52 and in Ezekiel 36 when He would "sprinkle" [Isaiah 52:15 Septuagint translation] and "pour clean water" over [Ezekiel 36:35] His people to purify them and give them the spirit who would circumcise their hearts of stone and replace their hearts of stone with new hearts'a promise of the Sacrament of Baptism. 

 

In the Old Covenant God's Law had been written on the cold stone of tablets of the 10 Commandments but now in the New Covenant He will write His Law on the fertile ground of circumcised hearts transformed by the Holy Spirit.  In reminding the Roman Christians of this promise Paul is asserting the value in God's eyes of the inner and hidden obedience of faith over the external forms of obedience to God in the Old Covenant'using circumcision as his example.  Paul is reminding his listeners of the new definition of holiness that God promised in the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, in Ezekiel 36 and other passages which are fulfilled in them.  In Paul's second letter to the Church in Corinth written sometime just prior to this letter Paul had expressed a similar teaching in that animated by the Holy Spirit Christians are living witnesses in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, " You yourselves are our letter, written in our hearts, that everyone can read and understand; and it is plain that you are a letter from Christ, entrusted to our care, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on stone tablets but on the tablets of human hearts"'a reference probably not only to the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments but to the hearts of stone in Ezekiel 36:26 and pointing out the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old.  Paul will revisit this theme of the new Jewish/Christian identity in Romans 7:6.  It is the inward transformation that will enable the Covenant people to follow God's statues and ordnances with faithful obedience'an obedience the Old Covenant people were too handicapped to fulfill because their hearts had not receive the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit as New Covenant believes receive Him in the Sacrament of Baptism.

 

In chapter 3 Paul continues his dialogue with his Jewish audience by openly debating an imaginary Jewish questioner.  In 3:1-8 Paul addresses objections to his previous points that a Jew might raise concerning the nature of God's righteousness and God's faithfulness to His Old Covenant people.  As he continues in this imaginary debate Paul will ask a series of anticipated questions followed by a series of responses.  Notice how each question and response leads to the next objection. 

 

Please read Romans 3:1-8: God's Faithfulness to Israel Endures

"1 Is there any benefit, then, in being a Jew?  Is there any advantage in being circumcised?  2 A great deal, in every way.  First of all, it was to the Jews that the message of God was entrusted.  3 What if some of them were unfaithful?  Do you think their lack of faith could cancel God's faithfulness? 4  Out of the question!  God will always be true even if no human being can be relied on.  As scripture says: 'That you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence and your victory may appear when you give judgment.'  5 But if our injustice serves to bring God's saving justice into view, can we say that God is unjust when'to use human terms'he brings his retribution down on us?  6 Out of the question!  It would mean that God could not be the judge of the world.  7 You might as well say that if my untruthfulness makes God demonstrate his truthfulness, to his greater glory, then I should not be judged to be a sinner at all.  8In this case, the slanderous report some people are spreading would be true, that we teach that one should do evil that good may come of it.  In fact such people are justly condemned."

 

Question: What three hypothetical objections does Paul's imaginary Jewish opponent raise in Romans 3:3-7?

Answer:

Objection #1: "What advantage is there to being a Jew?

Objection #2: "What if some of them were unfaithful?  Do you suppose their lack of faith would cancel God's faithfulness?"

Objection #3 "But if our injustice serves to bring God's saving justice into view can we say that God is unjust when'to use human terms'he brings his retribution down on us?"

 

Question: What 3 part comparison is Paul making in his hypothetical debate?

Answer: In this argument he is comparing faithfulness, truthfulness/ justice, and holiness/righteousness with faithlessness, falsehood, and sinfulness.

 

Faithfulness vs. faithlessness

Romans 3:1-4

Truthfulness/justice vs. falsehood

Romans 3:5-6

Holiness/righteousness vs. sinfulness

Romans 3:7-8 and continuing to verse 20

 

Question: In 3:1-2 what double question does Paul ask?

Answer: (1) What advantage is there to being Jewish and (2) what value is there to the sacrament of circumcision? 

Paul is asking what advantage is there in the "ethnic" sense in addition to the spiritual sense he just defined in his new definition of a Jew in Romans 2:29.

 

Question: How does Paul answer his own question? What does he mean by "messages" or "oracles"?

Answer: The Israelites/Jews alone were entrusted with the "messages" or "oracles" of God'the men and woman through which Yahweh spoke to His Covenant people with the promise of a future redeemer and the promise of God's gift of salvation, beginning with father Abraham and continuing through Moses and the age of the Prophets [see the list of the Old Testament prophets in the Charts section].  These "messages" to which Israel, as God's Covenant people have been entrusted are probably not only the revelations made to the prophets but also the rules of conduct under the Law delivered to them through Moses.  The possession of these divinely inspired messages was clearly an  to the Jew [see Deuteronomy 4:7-8; Psalm 147:19-20; 103:7].

 

Question: As those to whom God's message of salvation was entrusted what was Israel's duty and obligation?  Was there also a threat included as punishment for ignoring this privilege?  See Amos 3:2

Answer: Israel alone was given revelation by God to share God's revelation her Gentile nations and yes there were curses as well as blessings: "You alone have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will chastise you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:2

Question: Did Old Covenant Israel fulfill her destiny to spread the world-wide blessing promised to Abraham and to bring her Gentile neighbors into covenant with the One True God?  Hint: see Romans 2:24: Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 16:15-39; 36:20-22;

Answer: Old Covenant Israel as a nation presented a bad example of holiness and allowed herself to be seduced into idolatry and away from God by her Gentile nations [Ezekiel chapter 16].  The Jews of the Old Covenant had the advantage in that they were the first to receive the promise of salvation but they were no better off in this knowledge if they do not obey God'through disobedience they were as much under the power of sin as the Gentiles.  However, it was through Old Covenant Israel that God would fulfill His promise of a Redeemer and it would be the faithful remnant of Israel, who through the gift of faith believed in the Messiah Jesus, and would be established as the New Covenant Israel on the Feast of Pentecost in the Upper Room circa 30AD. The Jews of the New Covenant became the nucleus of the universal Church who would fulfill those covenant promises made to Abraham circa 2,000 earlier.  It was the filling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allowed the New Covenant Church to fulfill this mission'a power not available to Old Covenant Israel.

 

In Romans 3:3-4 Paul raises the second objection which concerns God's faithfulness.

Question: What is the second objection?

Answer:  The objection is if Israel is the only people chosen to receive the revelation of God, then does Israel's infidelity annul God's promises? 

 

The Old Covenant nation of Israel [and later Judah] as a whole did not abide by the Law and did not convert the Gentile nations. did not convert the Gentile nations.  Instead she allowed herself to be seduced by the sins of her neighbors. Nevertheless Paul assures the Jews that their lack of faith cannot cancel God's faithfulness. In Romans 3:4 Paul says that "God will always be true.." and Jesus identified Himself  "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life" in John 14:6.  The Catechism affirms God as the source of all truth in CCC# 2465: "The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth.  His Word is truth, His Law is truth, His 'frightfulness endures to all generations.'  Since God is 'true,' the members of his people are called to live in the truth."  

 

Paul continues in 3:4 "that God will always be true even if no human being can be relied on.  As scripture says: 'That you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence and your victory may appear when you give judgment."  In his reply to this objection Paul refers to Psalm 116:11-14, repeating a phrase of the psalmist in verse 11, "no human being can be relied on."

 

and then with the phrase, "As Scripture says," Paul quotes Psalm 51:4(New Jerusalem, however verse numbers can be different in other translation, i.e. it is 51:6 in the New American translation)

Psalm 51 is from King David's great Psalm of repentance, but Paul is quoting from the Greek Septuagent.  The Septuagint was the Greek translation of what we call the Old Testament that was in use during Jesus' ministry and which became the official Old Testament translation of the universal Church.  When the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, even in the Gospels, it is usually from the Greek Septuagint.

 4 Against you, you alone, I have sinned, I have done what you see to be wrong.." and Paul quotes this part of verse 4, "that you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence, and your victory may appear when you give judgment, 5 remember, I was born guilty, a sinner from the moment of conception.  6 But you delight in sincerity of heart, and in secret you teach me wisdom. 7 Purify me with hyssop till I am clean, wash me till I am whiter than snow." Psalm 51:1-7, New Jerusalem (51:3-10 NAB, 50:3-10 Septuigent)

But the Septuagint translation of this is passage is more literally translated"...that you may be justified in your word", which assures that God will be found righteous when condemning human sin but in confronting human disobedience and sin God will remain faithful to the saving "words" He spoke and entrusted to Israel as His Covenant people,  for God is wholly faithful and true and by pardoning He demonstrates His power over evil and His victory over sin.

 

Question: Did you notice the phrase "a sinner from the moment of conception" in Psalm 51:5 (51:7 NAB, 50:7 Septuigent)?  To what sin does this verse refer?

Answer: This passage identifies original sin [see CCC # 388-389].

Question: Did you notice the reference to "hyssop" in Psalm 51:7(NAB 51:9)?  Hyssop was used in the Old Covenant purification rites and it was used in the ratification of the Sinai Covenant in Exodus 24 [Hebrews 9:19 ]. When were we "purified with hyssop and washed whiter than snow" = our sins forgiven?  Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the Altar, representing Yahweh, and on the people in the ratification of the Sinai Covenant; see Hebrews 9:18-19, and also used for ritual purification in Leviticus 14:4; and Numbers 19:18.  See John 19:28-37; what is the link between the hyssop used in the ratification at Sinai and in John 19?

Answer: The hyssop was used to sprinkle blood on the Altar, representing Yahweh and on the book, the word of God, and on the people forming one covenant family united in the blood.  At Jesus' crucifixion the hyssop is used to give Jesus His last drink of wine'essentially the last cup of the Passover meal which ratified the covenant for another year but this time the hyssop and the wine are a sign for the sacrifice of the lamb whose blood will spurt out from His side covering everyone and uniting everyone in the blood of the New Covenant when His side is pierced by the Roman soldier.  It is in this use of the hyssop that we became purified and washed whiter than snow when we enter into Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection in our Baptism, the Sacrament which cleanses us from all sin, including original sin, and justifies us in the site of God [ this is our "initial justification" which is merited for us by the Passion of Christ; see CCC# 1992].

 

The promise of God's faithfulness to which Paul refers in quoting from these Psalm passages is a promise repeated consistently throughout the Old Testament.    

Question: What promise did Yahweh make to David concerning the Covenant people in Psalms 89:1-52?  What passages especially speak of God's promise of faithfulness to Israel despite their lack of faithfulness?

Answer: Psalm 89:30-35. "Should his descendants desert my law, and not keep to my rulings, should they violate my statues, and not observe my commandments, then I shall punish their offences with the rod, their guilt with the whip, but I shall never withdraw from him my faithful love, I shall not belie my constancy, I shall not violate my covenant, I shall not withdraw the word once spoken.  I have sworn my holiness, once and for all, never will I break faith with David."

 

Question: Is this promise of faithfulness also extended to us?  Read 2 Timothy 2:11-13; what doesn't this promise of faithfulness mean concerning sin and disobedience?

Answer:  "If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.  If we persevere, then we shall reign with him.  If we disown him, then he will disown us.  If we are faithless, he is faithful still, for he cannot disown his own self."  Yes, God is always faithful but faithfulness in love does not mean the dismissal of righteous judgment for sins.

 

Question: What is the third objection Paul raises in Romans 3:5-6

Answer: Is God just?  Paul argues that human sinfulness only serves to highlight God's truthfulness and justness.  And continuing in this context of the justness of God Paul asks if our injustice or unrighteousness serves to demonstrate God's righteousness and justice [see Psalm 1:4] then is His punishment unjust since He in a sense gains from our failure'and Paul adds the disclaimer "in human terms"?

Question: How does Paul answer?

Answer: He answers that God must be able to justly inflict His wrath or He could not be the One judge of the world.

Question: What significant grammatical change do you notice in verse 7?

Answer: Paul changes to the first person singular when he proposes the argument that it is unjust for God to judge a sinner whose very sin enhances God's glory.  To this absurd assumption Paul answers that sinfulness and the furtherance of God's glory cannot be argued from this morally perilous position.   No matter how one may try to justify it, it is simply immoral to do evil with the declared intent of doing good.  Paul regards this ridiculous position, which evidently some have raised by twisting Paul's words and accusing him of saying that evil had to be committed for good in order for God's truth and justice to be made manifest.  Paul emphatically rejects this assumption as a scandal only worthy of condemnation and not worth wasting his time. 

 

The moral teaching of the Church requires that the Christian is upright in all matters even if by that upright action someone is hurt'the end never justifies the means'an action can only be considered fully good if all of its elements are good.   In Pope Pius XII's address of April 18, 1952, the holy Father said, "God desires us always to have, above all, an upright intention, but that is not enough.  He also requires that the action be a good action. [...].  It is not permissible to do evil in order to achieve a good end."

 

Please read Romans 3:9-20:  The universal sinfulness of man

"9 Well: are we any better off?  Not at all: we have already indicted Jews and Greeks as being all alike under the dominion of sin.  10 As Scripture says: 'Not one of them is upright, not a single one, 11 not a single one is wise, not a single one seeks God.  12 All have turned away, all alike turned sour, not one of them does right, not a single one. 

13 Their throats are wide-open graves, their tongues seductive.  Viper's venom behind their lips; 14 their speech is full of cursing and bitterness. 15 Their feet quick to shed innocent blood, 16 wherever they go there is havoc and ruin.  17 They do no know the way of peace, 18 there is no fear of God before their eyes.'  19 Now we are well aware that whatever the Law says is said for those who are subject to the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world brought under the judgment of God. 20 So then, no human being can be found upright [justified] at the tribunal of God by keeping the Law; all that the Law does is to tell us what is sinful."

 

In verse 9 Paul announces that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners; this is the first mention of the noun "sin" in Paul's letter.  He personifies the word "sin" as a master who dominates a slave held in bondage. In this passage it would be a shocking scandal for Jewish Christians to be told that they were considered to be in the same position as Gentile sinners'a universal solidarity composed of unworthy sinners alienated from fellowship with a righteous God!

 

Then in Romans 3 verses 10-18 Paul quotes a series of 7 verses; 5 from the Psalms and one verse each from Isaiah and Proverbs'all from the Septuagint translation:

Psalm 14:1-3

"Not one of them is upright, not a single one, not a single one is wise, not a single one seeks God.  All have turned away, all alike turned sour, not one of them does right, not a single one."

Psalm 5:9

"Their throats are wide-open graves, their tongues seductive."

Psalm 140:4[3]

"Viper's venom behind their lips;"

Psalm 10:7

"Their speech is full of cursing and bitterness."

Proverbs 1:16

"Their feet quick to shed innocent blood,"

Isaiah 59:7-8

"wherever they go there is havoc and ruin."

Psalm 36:1

"there is no fear of God before their eyes."

 

These Old Testament passages and Paul's statements that teach from them are a review of what Paul has been saying about the spiritual condition which refers not only to the Jews but to the worldwide infection of sin upon mankind.  He sums up his assessment of the sinful condition of mankind with a quotation from Psalms 36:1.

Question: How is Psalm 36:1 a summation or a result of this accumulation of sin and apostasy?

Answer: If man truly feared the righteous wrath of God how could he dare to behave so unrighteous?

 

Question:  In Romans 3:10 Paul's quote from the Psalms, "There is no righteous person, not even one" and in Romans 3:23 in his statement, "No distinction is made: all have sinned and lack God's glory.." Paul writes that "all," everyone, has committed personal sin.  Does that include the Virgin Mary? see CCC# 404-405 for the difference between the state of original sin and the act of personal sin,

Answer: This is a general "all".  There are exceptions: Jesus, for example was without sin; therefore, He did not commit personal sin.  Babies who die in childbirth or very young children, and the severely mentally retarded are not guilty of having committed personal sins.  The angel Gabriel called Mary a perfect past participle, replacing Mary's name by addressing her as kekaritomene, "has been graced".  Not "will be full of grace", but "has always been in a state of grace"!  To be in a state of grace is to be without sin.  The verbal adjective "graced" is not just describing a simple past action.  The perfect tense is used to indicate that an action has been completed in the past resulting in a present state of being.  Baptism is what first perfected us in grace but Mary was forgiven original sin in advance, making her moment of conception immaculate'without sin.  CCC# 411 states, "...Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: she was preserved for all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life." And CCC# 491 states: "Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.  That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses..." [also see CCC# 487-511]. Note: St Jerome translated Gabriel's address to Mary in the Greek, kekaritomene into Latin as gratia plena, "full of grace" in order to convey that sense of Mary being completed or perfected by grace which is what the perfect tense in Greek indicated.  To be "full" or "filled" was as full of grace as one could be'nothing was lacking in Mary's grace.

 

In Romans 3:20 Paul sums up the argument he began in Romans 1:16-18 by returning to his theme of justification and God's righteousness or "saving justice" and man's lack of righteousness by making an allusion to Psalm 143:2, "no living being will be justified before you." compared to Paul's verse 20: "So then, no human being can be found upright [justified]" and linking this inability to be found righteous through the deeds of the imperfect Old Covenant Law independent of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 3:21-31 provides a clear statement of St. Paul's teaching on the Gospel of salvation introduced in chapters 1-3: the principle of justification by faith in Christ Jesus.  Our merciful God has provided the means of saving humanity from its endless spiraling downfall into sin.  Divine righteousness, or divine "saving justice" [ 3:21] has judged mankind guilty but has by God's grace declared the guilty innocent and not only declared but made the declaration a reality' not as a result of following the old Law of Moses, nor through any merit of man [ 3:21-23] but through forgiveness of their sins [ 3:24] through the virtue of the redemption of man won from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is applied to all who in faith believe in Him [ 3:24-25]. God the Father's saving justice and righteousness has been manifested in the Incarnation of the Son, whose work of salvation inaugurates a New Age in the history of salvation.

 

Please read Romans 3:21-26: The revelation of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ

"21 God's saving justice was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, but now it has been revealed altogether apart from law: 22 God's saving justice given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  No distinction is made: 23 all have sinned and lack God's glory, 24 and all are justified by the free gift of his grace through being set free in Christ Jesus.  25 God appointed him as a sacrifice for reconciliation, through faith, by the shedding of his blood, and so showed his justness; first for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand; 26 and now again for the present age, to show how he is just and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus."

 

Paul's "but now" in verse 21 marks a transition in Salvation History which moves beyond the Law and the promises of the Prophets into the Messianic Age of the New Covenant in which the former period of divine wrath [ 1:18ff] gives way to the period of divine grace in which believers are justified through the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

From Romans 3:1 to 31 the verb or noun which we translate as righteous/ righteousness or as justify/justification/justice; in Greek  = dikaios/dikaiosune is used by Paul 12 times [ 3:4, 5, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26 (3 times), 28, 30]. 

 

Question: In Romans 3:21 Paul writes that God's righteousness or "saving justice" was previously revealed in the Old Covenant Law and by the Prophets but in this new age how has His saving justice or righteousness been revealed?  See verse 22.

Answer:  God's righteousness have been revealed through faith in Jesus.

Question: How do we receive faith?  See CCC# 153 - 155

Answer: Faith is a gift of God's grace in cooperation with a human act.  It is a supernatural virtue infused by God to the one who accepts the gift.  In exercising faith the "human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace."

 

Question: Even though all have sinned how has God justified mankind?  See 3:24

Answer: By His grace through the saving work of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross and the shedding of His blood.  Paul uses the Greek word charis to indicate a gift given freely and unearned.  This is the sense in which this Greek word is most often used in the New Testament and especially in Paul's letters where the word charis is employed to describe the way in which God offers the gift of salvation through Jesus the Son:

Jesus' Incarnation was an act of grace

John 1:14, 17; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Titus 2:11

Jesus self-sacrificial death was an act of grace'a gift of the Father

Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 1:6ff; Hebrews 2:9

Through grace we are justified, receive salvation, and the right to eternal life without the works of the O.C. Law

Romans 3:24; 4:4ff; Ephesians 2:5,8; Titus 3:7; Acts 15:11

Jesus' Second Advent will be an act of grace'it will be an act of grace when we receive everlasting glory

2 Thessalonians 1:121 Peter 1:13

 

It is also possible to receive grace "in vain" [ 2 Corinthians 6:1], to "fall from grace" [ Galatians 5:4]; to forfeit grace and insult the Spirit of grace [ Hebrews 12:15; 10:29].  Above all grace must be carefully guarded, it must used wisely, and it is necessary for grace to increase'we must continually grow in grace to be strengthen on our faith journey in order to strengthen us and help us obtain our goal [ Romans 5:2; Hebrews 12:28; 1 Peter 4:10; 5:12; Acts 13:43; 14:26; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Timothy 2:1; Hebrews 13:9].

 

Romans 3:25 in the New American translation reads, "whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins."  To "set forth" means God destined Christ to become the sacrifice that would free man from his sins by paying the price that a sinful humanity deserved to pay'death'He died in our place.  A synonym for "expiation" is "atonement".  The Catholic Dictionary defines "expiation" as "Atonement for some wrongdoing.  It implies an attempt to undo the wrong that one has done, by suffering a penalty, by performing some penance, or by making reparation or redress.  (Etym. Latin ex-, full = piare, to propitiate: expiare, to atone for fully) page 139.  God's requirement for justice was meant by Jesus' atonement or expiation for our sins.  This passage says that it was "by the shedding of his blood" that we were justified, "He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law, which stood against us, he has destroyed it by nailing it to the cross; and he has stripped the sovereignties and the ruling forces, and paraded them behind him in his triumphal procession."  Philippians 2:14-15.

 

Question: Why was the shedding of Jesus' blood necessary for our justification?  See Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10-12; Hebrews 9:7 & 22; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; 24:25-27; John 6:51-58; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:24-32; 15:3; 1 Peter 1:20.

Answer: It was the plan God had set in motion from before the fall of our first parents:

      1 Corinthian 15:3

On the Old Covenant feast day known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was made for the sake of the sins of the people as a whole.  The blood of the sacrificed lamb was sprinkled on the "mercy seat" of God, the top of the Ark of the Covenant.  The blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has performed what the ancient ritual, and all ancient sin sacrifices, could only symbolize'purification from sin'  Jeremiah 31:31, 34b, "Look the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel..[...].  ...they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind." This is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ that is the inheritance of the New Israel, the Universal Church.

 

Question: Romans 3:25-26 says that Jesus came to save those who died in the past as well as the present and that those of the past's "sins went unpunished".  What does Paul mean?  What was the condition of judgment in the past?  Was it temporal or eternal?  Why?  See CCC # 633; 536; 1026; 1 Peter 3:18-22

Answer: Before the coming of the Savior the blessings were temporal and so were the punishments.  No one was condemned before having the opportunity to hear the Gospel message of salvation'even those who had already died.  Jesus preached to the souls waiting in Sheol/Hades [the grave]  and led them out of Sheol/Hades into heaven'the gates of which were opened at His Baptism and which continue to remain open in this season of the great harvest of souls which began with Jesus' generation.  Note: the Greek word "Hades" means the abode of the dead and does not refer to the fiery pit reserved for Satan and his fallen angels.

 

Please read Romans 3:27-31: The power of faith

"27 So what comes of our boasts?  There is no room for them.  On what principle'that only actions count?  No; that faith is what counts, 28 since, as we see it, a person is justified by faith and not by doing what the Law tells him to do.  29 Do you think God is the God only of the Jews, and not of Gentiles too?  Most certainly of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God; he will justify the circumcised by their faith, and he will justify the uncircumcised through their faith. 31 Are we saying that the Law has been made pointless by faith?  Out of the question; we are placing the Law on its true footing."

 

Question: In Romans 3:26 Paul writes, "he is just and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ", and in this passage of Romans 3:27-31 Paul repeats that we are justified by faith and not by works. Is this a contradiction to Romans 2:6-7 and 13 which connects justification and eternal life to good deeds?

Answer: Not at all.  First of all Paul is not referring to the works of God in acts of love an charity through the lives of redeemed believers, he is instead referring to works of the Old Covenant in obedience to the Law of Moses which was made to bring the people of God to a holy and righteous state but that righteousness failed if faith didn't transform the law written on stone to the law lived out in faith through transformed and circumcised hearts. 

 

It is important not focus so exclusively on one particular passage that you are kept from a properly developed understanding of the consistent teaching of sacred Scripture as a whole.  For example, the Old Testament book of Leviticus would be unsolvable without the New Testament book of Hebrews and the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah would be limited in its revelation without the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Heresies usually begin from an exaggerated interpretation of one passage of Scripture without looking at Scripture as a whole.  Focusing on faith and rejecting the passages on works Martin Luther in the 16th century erroneously translated Romans 3:28 as "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law", and interpreted this passage to negate anything of redeeming value in the works of man.  The phrase "faith alone" only appears in one place in Scripture and that is in the letter of St. James to the universal Church in which he writes in James 2:24, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" [New American translation]Luther would have eliminated this letter from the New Testament entirely had he dared but in the end he gurglingly kept it in the canon of the New Testament but called it "an epistle of straw"'this from a man who insisted that sacred Scripture was the sole authority for the revelation of God.

 

Martin Luther viewed Romans chapter 2 and its statements of judgment according to works as God's plan for humanity that couldn't be fulfilled'a failed Plan A because everything man touched was sinful'man was incapable of works of righteousness.  Luther instead insisted that Romans chapter 3 as a means for justification was God's Plan B that was completed by "faith alone".  According to the teaching of the Catholic Church then and now this teaching is in error. 

 

The only way to avoid error in interpretation is to keep within the circle of sacred Scripture as a whole, reading and studying within the Living Tradition of the Church and to not interpret some passages at the expense of others'every passage of Holy Spirit inspired Scripture is of equal weight and without error!  If the interpretation of one passage is at odds with another then the interpretation is in error.  Both Scripture and our sacred oral Tradition interpreted through the universal Magisterium continually confirms or corrects our understanding of the revealed Word of God.  It is also important to be aware that there may be more than one dimension to a given point of doctrine expressed in Scripture.  For example, Jesus Christ is both man and God.  He is both High Priest [ Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:11-28] and unblemished victim [ Ephesians 1:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19] and He is also 'the Lion of Judah' and 'the Lamb of God' [see Revelation 5:5-6].  He is also both the 'Lamb of God' [ John 1:29, 35], the good Shepherd of God's flock which is the Church [ John 10:11-16], and He is also the Bridegroom of the Bride who is that same Church [ John 3:29; Matthew 9:15; Revelation 19:7; 21:2]!  All of these titles are different dimensions of Jesus' divine authority and Lordship as the Savior of mankind and the Son of God.

 

In Romans 3:27-31 Paul is emphasizing that the interior law is built on faith and faith is the gift of God that leads to justification. This is the faith that Paul is speaking of as the first step in a process'a process that continues in a life-long journey of salvation.  It is faith that first justifies us in our initial justification through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ when God declares us to be righteous children reborn into the family of God through our Baptism.  As we journey through this life to eternity it is from faith that the works of God, working through lives of faith must flow to continue the process of justification.  We Catholics see faith and works as inseparable'two sides of the same coin.   For a good explanation on the relationship between faith and works read St. James teaching on faith and works in James chapter 2.  In 2:24-26 St. James sums up his teaching by writing, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?  For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." New American translation. [James is referring to the story of Rahab the woman of Jericho in Joshua 2:1-21; 6:22-2].

 

Paul beautifully expressed the gift of God's grace and the faith that leads to salvation in his letters to the churches of Galatia and Ephesus when he wrote,

This is the love that is the work of God the Holy Spirit working through the circumcised hearts of believers who become a conduit of God's love expressed in acts of mercy and kindness to His suffering children in the world who are most in need of His love.  

 

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Did Mary need a Savior; after all Mary herself said in Luke 1:47 "My soul rejoices in God my Savior"'isn't she admitting to needing a Savior?

Answer: The Catholic Church agrees that Mary did indeed need a Savior; however, Mary was saved from sin in a unique manner.  She was given the grace to be saved completely from sin so that she never committed even the smallest transgression.  Mary was saved from sin by receiving the grace to be preserved from sin'Christ's saving grace was applied to her before she was conceived.  Mary was forgiven original sin in advance, making her moment of conception immaculate'without sin and in this same way, she was "saved" by her son and Savior from the moment she was created.  See CCC# 411; 487-511; 721-26.

 

Question: We established that it was God's plan that Jesus' blood should purify us from all sin.  Is receiving Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist necessary for our salvation?  See John 6:53-58; 1 Corinthians 11:24-32; CCC # 1088; 1211; 1324-27; 1370-77; 1393-5; 1413; 1524; see Catechism index for more passages.

Answer: YES.

Question: Is the Eucharist a true sacrifice?  Are we re-sacrificing Christ at every Mass?

Answer: Yes, it is the same sacrifice represented on every Catholic altar at every Mass that took place 2,000 years ago.  NO, we are not sacrificing the Savior again at every Mass.  His one sacrifice was complete and sufficient but His sacrifice is on-going because sin and redemption are on-going.  Read John 5:5-6 and Hebrews 10:11-18.  As our Prophet, King, and High Priest He has taken His place in heaven at the right hand [place of honor] of God the Father.  He could not continue to serve as High Priest if He did not have a continuing sacrifice to offer, He would only have been the victim.  For more information see the document "Is the Eucharist a True Sacrifice?" in the Documents files.

 

Question: In Romans 3:21-24 Paul writes: "21 God's saving justice was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, but now it has been revealed altogether apart from law: 22 God's saving justice given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  No distinction is made: 23 all have sinned and lack God's glory, 24 and all are justified by the free gift of his grace through being set free in Christ Jesus."  In Ephesians he also writes: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. [ Ephesians 2:8].  And also in Galatians Paul writes: "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith" [ Galatians 3:26].  Therefore, is faith all you need and is baptism only a symbol that is not necessary for salvation?

Answer: Although Martin Luther believed in the efficacy of Baptism, many Protestant denominations today take sola fide, "faith alone" in the literalist interpretation and teach that one has only to believe in Jesus and confess that He is Lord to receive the gift of salvation. But the passages above quoted from Paul's letters are only a precondition for divine son/daughtership in the family of God'faith as opposed to the Old Covenant Law of Moses in which those who had faith remained children in the family of Adam [see CCC# 1265].  In the next part of the Galatians passage Paul explains the instrumental means of the application of salvation when he writes, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.."  We hear the Gospel message and in faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we accept the message but this acceptance is the beginning and foundation of our new birth in repentance and Baptism; it is not the birth itself'what our Protestant brothers and sisters would call being "born again."  We should answer when asked if Catholics are "born again", yes, we are indeed "born again" through the regenerating power of water and the Spirit in our Baptism into the life of Christ as Jesus clearly taught in John 3:5-6, "In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human, what is born of the Spirit is spirit." And the Church clearly teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for our salvation [see CCC# 846; 1257].  Jesus teaching on the necessity of Baptism for salvation is also repeated by the New Testament writers:

From Paul's writings interpreted within our sacred Tradition and Scripture as a whole, we can say that faith in Jesus Christ is the first necessary step in being "born again", but without the water of baptism it is incomplete and does not bestow the New Testament rebirth into the family of God that is required for salvation.  Faith is used by Paul in all his writings as a synecdoche, a word that summarizes a process'in this case the entire salvation process.  All Scripture references that unite faith and baptism are perfectly reasonable and reflect the process in God's comprehensive plan for man's journey of faith into eternal salvation.  See CCC# 405; 846; 977-78; 1212-15; 1250-53; 1257; 1265; 1263; 1266; 1272; 1446; 1997.

 

Catechism References for Romans chapter 3 [* indicates verse quoted in citation]

3:4

2465

3:21-22

2543

3:20

708

3: 22

1987

3:21-26

2543

3:23

399*; 705; 2809

 

 

3:25

433; 1460*

 

Resources used in the lesson:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Pauline Books and Media, Boston 1999.

The Salvation Controversy

Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer

Romans, Brendan Byrne

Navarre Commentary'Romans

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture'Romans

Strong's Concordance 

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians"

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.