The Guilt of all Humanity (Romans 3:9-20)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Paul has made a clear and convincing case for the sinfulness of the Gentile (1:18-32) and the Jew (2:1-3:8). He now brings this first major section of his letter dealing with righteousness and sin (1:1-3:20) to a conclusion. As he steps back he describes the devastation of all humanity with one of the clearest passages in the NT revealing the sinful condition of all.

1. ALL ARE CORRUPT (3:9-18)

What is the condition of all mankind in the sight of God? This question is answered in verses 9-18. In a manner that is contrary to popular thought, in this section Paul pulls together a number of OT references that reveal humanity’s complete corruption before the Lord. Humanity is corrupt in God’s eyes because of their sinful state (3:10-12), sinful speech (3:13-14), and sinful steps (3:15-17). After providing a graphic picture of humanity’s moral corruption, Paul concludes by citing Psalm 36:1 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). This sums up the case of humanity’s moral corruption. The refusal to see God’s glory and greatness leads to a refusal to submit to His Word.

 

2. ALL ARE CONDEMNED (3:19-20)

 Paul now brings this passage and the first major section (1:18-3:20) of his letter to a conclusion. Both the Jew and the Gentile (all humanity) are guilty of sin and are therefore condemned to judgment. The Jews had possession of the Mosaic Law, and the Gentiles possession of the Law in their consciences. For this reason they are both accountable to God (3:19). No one can be made right in God’s eyes by keeping the requirements of God’s law because all have failed in this task. Though God’s Law cannot save people, God’s law does expose the sin and guilt of all humanity (3:20).

 

After establishing that both Gentiles (1:18-32) and Jews (2:1-3:8) are sinful in God’s eyes, Paul has concluded that all humanity is morally corrupt and therefore condemned. Paul’s concluding case concerning humanity is that all are guilty. This section ends with great darkness and hopelessness. This now makes way for the second major section in Paul’s letter, which is righteousness and salvation (3:21-8:39).

 

Study Questions:

  1. How does 3:9 provide a summary of all that has been said in 1:18-3:8?
  2. In 3:10-18 Paul cites a number of OT passages to establish the fact that all humanity is sinful. Why is it important that he appeals to Scripture?
  3. How do you reconcile this list of sins with those who live moral lives?
  4. Why can’t people claim to be innocent before God? See 3:19
  5. What does God’s law do and what can it not do? See 3:20