Romans 3:27-31

Romans 3:27-31 (ESV)

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Time to take my own advice.  I’ve asked Russell for positive assertions to balance his skepticism and he’s provided several excellent ones – – the love for his family and the love for the beauty of science.  What do I love and where can I explain how I build my life?  I too love my family and my work.  That is such a blessing and I realize that all can’t rejoice with it.  My hope for each of our readers is that you have a family to love and treasure.  My hope is that work is a joy and not a toil – – no matter what you do.  Why has scripture led me Christ?  Romans is a major reason.  I chose Romans because its authorship is not disputed by atheist New Testament experts.  That is not the non sequitur it seems.  On many issues of history, I prefer to consult the least biased experts I can find or at least those with different biases than mine.  Serious scholars of the Christian New Testament attest that Paul wrote Romans in the first century CE.  I last addressed Romans 3:21-26 here, saying that humility required confidence.  What does this next passage say?

Here we find that least controversial of words – – faith.  Paul contrasts the Jewish law and prophets with a different kind of law – – faith.  I find our recent discussions of what faith is and is not to be useful background as I revisit Romans.  To simplify, faith is belief based on acceptable evidence or is the evidence when empirical evidence is not available.  Faith is my belief that there was a man named Jesus who was God incarnate and that he made me right before himself by the free gift of forgiveness.  This faith is specific and does differentiate following Christ from other religious faiths.  For me to believe this there are several prerequisites.  I have to believe that a supernatural is possible and probable.  That is empirically untestable.  I have to believe that Jesus and Paul existed and that Paul’s letter is an early and faithful communication of what he believed.  Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, would cede the first three points but argue that a revelation to one is just that – – a revelation to one.  He felt that Paul mythologized the Christian faith based on his familiarity with Roman myth.

As a follower of Christ, I do believe that God came to men and dwelt among them.  I do believe that he willingingly gave his life to rescue mine and to reconcile me to God.  Then what of the myriad book of rules that Paul contrasts here?  Then what of the law of works?  Why did the Jews have so many rules, some of them so strange to our modern ears?  The Jews, people of the book, were set apart.  In my opinion, they still are.  They were, are, a minority.  The law and physical male circumcision were two marks that set them apart.  But I was not born a Jew.  I was born a Gentile (non-Jew) just like >98% of humanity.  If I did grow up with the law, prophets and traditions of God’s chosen people, then how could I be special before him too?

By the law of faith.  Paul is saying that faith in Christ brings Gentiles into God’s fold.  As a Gentile writing 2000 years after him that brings me comfort.  I was not raised with Torah.  I was not circumcised for religious purposes.  I have always identified with the Romans more than I have the Jews.  And yet, there is a way for me.  The law set apart God’s people the Jews.  In antiquity, they were strange.  The law of faith sets apart the people of God today.  I feel strange too.  It is interesting that Paul feels faith is not a replacement for law but a fulfillment.  The purpose of the law was to lead the Jews to and constantly remind the Jews of God.  This purpose is now fulfilled by faith – – leading me to and constantly reminding me of God.

What of my sincere friends who do not believe in either a supernatural, or the historicity or fidelity of scripture?  Here I find comfort and instruction in the reminder that the God of three natures is one.  He is God of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).  <2% + >98% = everyone.  Who am I to disrespect those whom God calls his own?  Mine is to love and to gently reason and to be thankful for the law of faith which brings me to God and offers the same for all humans.

Pascal – – 1:16

Romans 3:21-26

Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Humility requires confidence.  As Romans 1 strikes me as the root cause of my problem, so Romans 3 begins to build the fulcrum of the solution.  I’ve been waiting for this verse, trying hard to wait – – like a kid who must sleep the night before a trip to an amusement park.  Romans 3:23 – – all.  I don’t want to include you in all.  I’m selfish.  Its not about you – – its about me.  I’m there in the center of all.  Perhaps you are the center of your own all too.  Why be selfish here?  Because the first person under judgment, the only person I am dimly qualified to judge – – is me.  Sin is a difficult word.  Ultimately I believe it is an archer’s term – – not hitting the mark.  Not shooting first, then painting the bull’s eye and concentric circles later.  I don’t hit the mark – – I can’t even reach my own center.  I’m not kind enough, patient enough, generous enough, smart enough, thin enough or rich enough – – the latter two aren’t even laudable goals – – how laughable am I!

Humility requires confidence.  How can I reach for humility from self effacement, worse debasement?  What confidence serves as a foundation?  The confidence that comes from being loved.  The confidence that comes from being valued by another whom I admire.  I live and breathe in America.  It seems so counter-cultural and Philistine that I would derive my worth from another.  Isn’t that what we have risen from?  Isn’t slavery one of the greatest stains on our national conscience?  It is.  So why build humility on vicarious confidence?  I’m getting to know myself as the trail of life winds forward, up and around.  I know that I miss the mark and I desperately want and need someone to walk with me.  Wish fulfillment?  Oh yes – – I wish for one to lead me.  Superman?  Oh no – – Nietzsche was wrong.  I understand this better – – or better, this understands me.

Humility requires confidence in one deserving of confidence.  As I place that confidence in following Christ, I’m able to say that I don’t understand it all.  I’m able to put myself firmly in Romans 1 and not hypocritically assign only others who struggle in different ways.  Am I completely humble, completely gentle?  Dear God – – no.  But I see what you did for me, see how I needed you and what you did in compassion, and I start to see a way forward.  There are two paths to humility – – a destination that I seek.  I’ve known one path – – humiliation.  This is another, and I propose the better.



Romans 3:9-20

Romans 3:9-20 (ESV)

 What then? Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
     they use their tongues to deceive.”
    “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16  in their paths are ruin and misery,
17  and the way of peace they have not known.”
18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Sin.  It is a difficult subject.  Was ignorance bliss?  In the Genesis account of humanity’s fall, the fruit of original sin came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So perhaps ignorance was innocence after all.  All.  It is an easy subject.  Does all include the follower of Christ or another god?  It is not a trick question.

Pick a law or moral code.  Make it the code of Hammurabi or law of YHWH.  Read from the Declaration of the Rights of Man or from my genome.  I will break it.  Me.  And apparently everyone else too.  The quotations from the center of the passage are from the Hebrew wisdom scriptures – – mainly Psalms.  Again, Romans, and the Christian faith cannot be understood without proper pronouns.  Paul directs criticism at the chosen of God and at himself.  He sees himself in this boat.  Remember Romans 1? Remember how foolish it is to reduce it to a diatribe against gay people?  I could not, would not do that because it wasn’t faithful to what I knew was coming.  It simply wasn’t an honest interpretation of the text as it stood either.

Jew, Gentile, my:  humanity, nation, tribe, family, self – – all.  This is, of course, building to Romans 3:23-24 – – a cornerstone of Christian theology.  Everyone breaks any law by the standard that Christ set, where lust is adultery and anger murder.  Here lies a great tension.  Why would God given instructions knowing that I can’t or won’t follow them?  Why offer normative content without redemptive promise?  Here also lies the premonition of a great tragedy.  If following these laws is not the answer, then perhaps I should ignore them. If no one follows these laws well, then perhaps I can assert my superiority by comparing myself to you.

Let me pause here.  How many who read and write here have been put down and discounted?  Was it a result of an attitude that we all need help, or perhaps of comparative superiority?  When I took pride in comparison, did I suffer the dissonance that the approach deserves?  I’m ashamed to say – – only recently.  I needed forgiveness and I needed to turn.



Romans 3:5-8

Romans 3:5-8 (ESV)

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

To remember the context in Romans 3:1-4, Paul has just talked about Jews and Gentiles.  Why was it good to be a Jew (as he and Jesus were) and what could the Jews say to everyone else (most of us)?  Essentially the Jews were chosen to bless the world.  The Abrahamic covenant was not just to the semitic tribe, but to the tribe of humanity.  So, what’s happening here in this passage?

If Jews are a subset of the tribe of humanity, even a special and chosen subset, then they will fail.  In the language of scripture it is sin.  In the language of evolutionary biology it is the individual’s survival as predominant over the species’.  The great historian calls it the personal impulse opposed to the corporate. Different translations of the same sentence:  We fail.  But if our failure points to God’s goodness, what right does he have to blame us?

But he does.  Here the heart breaking paradox is introduced.  We are destined and responsible.  Do we have free will or is God completely sovereign?  Yes.  That is usually a family room discussion for mature Christians, not a topic to offer in the living room with friends of all stripe.  But, if I can’t share my authentic confusion then why share at all?  Great(er) minds have wrestled with this concept in Romans – – including the man who penned it.

God does bring good from evil and we are responsible for our evil.  We are then condemned and justly so.  If it ended there, I would not follow Christ.  Thankfully, it does not.



Romans 3:1-4

Romans 3:1-4 (ESV)

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means!  Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
 and prevail when you are judged.”

Paul continues with one of the great themes of Romans – – Jews and Gentiles.  He is reviewing and foreshadowing the main point – – we are all sinners and can all be saved by God’s grace in Christ.  That helps me make sense of Romans 1 and reminds me that I am very much part of the they.

I recently read the book Nailed by David Fitzgerald.  In balance I read Simply Jesus by NT Wright.  Fitzgerald argued that Jesus did not exist.  Wright argued that Jesus was a Jew.  The first book helped me to understand an uncommon but important objection to faith.  I may write more about it later answering with the scholarship of Will and Ariel Durant.  The second book has had me thinking for a month and is more relevant to this passage of Romans.

If there is a God who reveals truth, then he chose the Jewish people to do so.  If there is an incarnation of that God, then he was a Jew.  I ascribe to the propositions and accept the conclusions.  Where then is the Christian anti-semite?  The same place as the Christian racist:  in deep sin.  I believe not just in a deist energy and order, but in a revelatory God who spoke into time and history to people with words.  These people were the Jews.

Christian anti-semitism is a non-starter and needs to be answered with scripture.  This passage in Romans is a good place to start.  Romans 3:23 is coming.  Just like Romans 1 we realize that all humans are in the same boat before a holy God and are in need of rescue.  God keeps promises, even when we don’t.  The original promise to Abraham recorded in Genesis was that the world would be blessed by him.

The Jewish people and promise were not abolished by the coming of Jesus Christ.  If you are a Christian, remember the context of your faith and ethnicity of your savior.  Do not tolerate anti-semitism.  You cannot do so and honor the scripture.  Likewise, remember that God disciplines those he loves.  When the Hebrews scriptures (Christian Old Testament) record the Jews turning from him, suffering in captivity followed.  Do not endorse anything Jewish or Christian only because it bears the name – – use the same lenses that God grinds in scripture:  justice and mercy.



Romans Recap: Chapters 1-2

How long will it take to get through 16 chaptes of Romans?  It took almost 8 months for the first 1/8th.  Just saying…  I’ll pause each two chapters along the way for an index with links and a few sentence summary of the section.  Then we’ll go on with Romans 3 and other domains of knowing truth and knowing each other.

Introduction – – as much as possible, a plain language, apply to today approach to what Christian believers call the greatest letter and skeptics call an example of fine ancient literature in high Greek.

Romans 1:1-7 – – Paul introduces himself as a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Did Paul exist?  Did Jesus exist?  These are relevant questions of modern skepticism.  The text says yes – – open to all assertions of circularity.  We’ll have to look for external corroboration in scripture and in cognitive resonance.  All three persons of the trinity are introduced, a theme to which we’ll return.  The key word of Romans, in my opinion the key word of life, is penned:  grace.

Romans 1:8-15 – – Gratitude for believers and a constant desire for mutual encouragement.  A fellowship of believers can be, should be, a beautiful thing.  Why then do we fail?  We are selfish and fallen.  Paul is obliged to share the good news of grace to as many as will listen.  Burdened?  No.  Obliged.  There is a difference.

Romans 1:16-17 – – Not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the core of who I am.  I believe that faith in Jesus is reasonable.  I’m not angry with atheists, agnostics, free thinkers or skeptics.  Neither am I ashamed of what I believe.  It is fair to ask me to explain it.

Romans 1:18-20 – –   Why is God angry?  The very concept of an angry God may be a reason to disbelieve.  However, is it consistent?  We are supposedly made in God’s image.  Do we get angry?  What can be known about God through nature?  Will biology and physics prove or disprove God?  Or – – can we know God’s invisible attributes:  eternal power and divine nature, through the limits of the very small and the very large?

Romans 1:21-23 – – Who are they?  The they that are without excuse.  Who are they?  Any definition of they that excludes us is fatally flawed.  Start here and stay here.  I am they, so I will not despise or marginalize another.

Romans 1:24-27 – – I wrote an introduction to this passage here.  I was (and am) concerned that believers have reduced Romans 1 to an injunction against the practice of homosexuality.  Read slowly and with compassion.  Hard questions came from this passage.  Please ask these questions.  Please listen to others for their answers.

Romans 1:28-32 – – Who are they?  We are they.  Any sin required all of Christ’s blood.  That is the offense of the cross.  That is what I want to yell from the pews in church this morning.  We are they.  Stop marginalizing.  No one needed a savior more than me.  You will never understand grace if you think wrath is for another.

Romans 2 introduction:  Romans 2 stands against Christian hypocrisy.  How many people have barriers to belief because I fail to follow Christ authentically?  More than a few.

Romans 2:1-3 – – The fallen heart in Romans 1 will be judged.  Not by me – – I’m just as corrupt.

Romans 2:4-5 – – How were we turned from God’s wrath?  By his kindness.  How then could we withhold his kindness from another?

Romans 2:6-11 – – Is it just for disobedient self-seekers like me to receive wrath and fury? Yes it is just. Is it just for me to receive trouble and distress for the evil I do? Yes it is just. Do I want God to be just? I do. I agree with the skeptics that a God of injustice clashes with the moral sense that I claim he put within me. Yes – – I want God to be just. Can I afford that justice? No. No I can’t.

Romans 2:12-16 – – What does this paragraph in Romans 2 teach me?  God will judge us by the knowledge that he gives us.  What about hell?  If you are not perplexed and disturbed by hell with the sense of justice that God authored in your soul – – you should be.

Romans 2:17-24 – – The only problem that I have with the comprehensive lists that skeptics have compiled of wrongs done by Christ-followers is this – – I think that the Christ-followers should have written the lists.

Romans 2:25-29 – – Who are the Jews, both then and now?  A small tribe in a vast land that just hasn’t gone away.  Does God break his promises when we do?  Is there a reasonable basis for Christian anti-semitism or should it be confronted as false?

Selah and shalom my friends.  I’m going to address Rafols as to why truth is truth.  Its time to expound on Plato, and the arrow of time, and the weight of history.  I will return, will always return, to scripture.  It is meaningful to me because it provides the lens through which I view the world.  But I am almost insatiably curious about life and the world and I hope our journey together will last many years.  Thank you so much for joining.






My approach to scripture and a word new to me

Good morning friends.  It is a pleasure to be here writing with an open Bible and a fresh cup of coffee.  As Russell and I move forward with our conversation, one aspect that I enjoy is to present scripture in the way that I understand it.  Russell once called the early effort light exegesis – – a Greek term for reading out the meaning of a text from its original intent and content.  It is a critical and generally objective approach.  It is one cornerstone upon which higher criticism stands.  I learned a new word today.  Eisegesis is offered as a contrasting approach to biblical interpretation.

An eisegete will read his or her own subjective experience, even desire, into the interpretation of scripture.  To call someone an eisegete is the wordsmith equivalent of a logician saying, “not even wrong.”  I do believe that the historical content and original content of scripture matter.  That said, I disagree with many of the conclusions of higher criticism.  Can I argue Greek with Ehrman?  I am not qualified for that.  Can I value truth and explain what scriptures mean to me today and ask if you can agree?  I hope so.  I also hope that is not eisegesis.  I’m trying to use my new word correctly in three sentences, but my nascent understanding of the term suggests that an eisegete is the poster-child for the logical fallacy of confirmation bias.

Back to non-Greek English.  I’ll do my best to explain Romans in the context of the balance of scripture and with a desire to apply it to life today.  My core understanding of scripture, according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17?  It is inspired (God-breathed) and useful for teaching, correcting, and training so that the Christ-follower is competent and equipped for every good work.  Since I am not a biblical scholar, I’ll thumb back one page to explain my approach in 2 Timothy 2:15.  “Do your best [rendered study in other translations] to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Study has has defined my life from early years.  Read, think, write.  Join us as we take that approach to knowledge and beauty in life.  Truth is truth.

One request from new friends learning with me?  Don’t let me be an eisegete.  Call me out if my biases are confirmed in interpretation, if I make the scripture say what I want it to say.  Then our journey will be rich.



Romans 2: 25-29

Romans 2:25-29 (ESV)

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

This brief passage is a continuance and prelude to an important theme in Romans and Christianity as a whole.  Who are the Jews?  The Jews were descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The sons of Jacob originated the eponymous tribes of Israel (Jacob was renamed this after wrestling with God’s angel).  One of those tribes was Judah from whom came the second king of Israel David, from whom came Jesus Christ.  The very first paragraph of Romans makes it clear that Jesus is first of all a Jew.  The very first paragraph of Romans can inspire a well-reasoned skeptical response.  In a thought diversion that will receive its own post in the future – – how on earth can a Christ follower be anti-semitic?

Circumcision of males was an outward sign of the Jewish faith and culture and an early manifestation of historical hygiene laws.  For the culture in which Paul writes, it is private, but indisputable evidence of being Jewish.  Throughout the New Testament, Paul will use circumcision to be the literal proof of Jewish heritage and the Abrahamic covenant.  My understanding of the Jews is this:  God chose to bless the world through them.  Romans does not displace the Jews.  God will always love them and keep his promise of faithfulness.  But the Jews, like all people, stray from him.  Over and again God refers to himself as a shepherd, and us as sheep.  The metaphor is most clear in David’s twenty-third Psalm.

Paul is setting the stage here for an understanding of the new covenant.  Through Jesus both Jews and non-Jews (referred to variously as gentiles or Greeks) can be followers of God.  Not just an external sign.  Not just tradition.  Rather circumcision of the heart and repair of a fallen nature.  Please realize – – before God, Jew and non-Jew are the same.  The covenant of Abraham began by establishing and blessing the Jewish nation.  It continues in blessing the world through Jesus Christ.  God does not forget Jews when they leave him and retain the riches of cultural heritage and shake the remnants of robust theism.  He does not forget non-Jews when they do the same.  He patiently sends a shepherd.