Meditations in Romans : 36: All have sinned
Rom 3:9-17 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
We commented in the previous meditation about the need to observe context to catch the meaning and now we need to think about context and the whole Bible. We are about to embark on a passage that reveals humanity in its worst light and in one sense that could be very depressing and so it is at times like this that we need to remind ourselves that we need to see any passage in the light of the whole of Scripture. Paul’s point here is to show the need that ALL mankind has of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, and therefore he focuses on the negatives aspects of human existence. Elsewhere he focuses on the glory of being a child of God and that is all very positive, but we can’t get to that until we have been through the negatives that bring us to our knees at the foot of the Cross. So let’s see what he says, with that awareness in the back of our minds.
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! This is Paul summing up and arriving at a conclusion at the end of the previous paragraphs about the Jews. Oh no, when it comes down to it, the Jews are the same as the Gentiles; we all have the same needs: We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. So, the starting place is that there is no distinction, ALL of mankind, Jew and Gentile are in the same boat! To justify this Paul starts quoting Scripture: As it is written: All that follows are Old Testament quotations.
We need to understand, when we observe New Testament writers quoting the Old, that often they simply convey the sense, sometimes they take bits and put them together and sometimes they quote from the Greek version of the Old Testament which was slightly different from the Hebrew version in places.
Thus Paul seems to quote from Psa 14:3 which reads, “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Or possibly Psa 53:1 “They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good,” or possibly Eccles 7:20 “There is not a righteous man on earth” as he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Within his summary, note the universality of sin. In verse 9 he had declared that “ALL are under sin.” Now in his summary see the words he uses: “no one….. not even one….. no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away… no one who does good, not even one.” Oh yes, he is saying, don’t think you might be an exception. There are NO exceptions!
Then he turns from generalities to specifics of sin and goes on to cite the Old Testament speaking out what people say: Psa 5:9 – “Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.” He writes, “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” Then Psa 140:3 “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.” He quotes the latter half of that verse exactly. He then cites Psa 10:7 “His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” He writes, “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” He then quotes Isa 59:7,8 “Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know.” He writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” Finally he cites Psa 56:1 “There is no fear of God before his eyes,” as he writes, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Yes, rather a negative collection of verses from the Old Testament but in so doing he shows us that this is no new doctrine but simply the teaching of the whole Bible. Throughout the whole Bible the teaching is the same, that without God we are sinners who are lost, helpless and hopeless! Have no illusion about being a nice person. Any niceness you have is the grace of God. Left to ourselves we are not nice, left to ourselves sin rises up and we can be thoroughly unpleasant. Left to ourselves we desperately need God’s help.