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Analysis of Texts

ROMANS 3:10-12


"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." The Calvinist's main emphasis is on the fact that "there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God." This is supposed to be speaking of a literal condition in which all human beings are born. They cannot so much as seek God or understand Him

This is a quotation taken from Psalms 14 to drive a point. Taken out of the context of Paul and that of David it sounds literally what the Calvinist says. Let us look at Psalms.

Ps. 14:1 For the director of music. Of David. The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

4 Will evildoers never learn-- those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD?

5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.

  1. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

The whole Psalm is about the fool and not about mankind as a whole. Theses verses refer to the fools who says in their heart that there is no God and not about the whole mankind. Most people evidently know that there is a God (even when they have the wrong understanding of Him) and live by the morals which are acceptable to God. I have lived among people of different faith and have seen that those who fear God behave even better than the ""born again" because they know only of a God of Law. But in this subgroup of Atheists (Who do not acknowledge God) and fools "They are corrupt……" Their philosophy sees nothing greater than themselves. So they eventually become evil doers. I know many atheists who are highly moral because of their upbringing in Christian families. Eventually they found themselves trapped among evildoers and they cannot but justify those.

Verse 4 says: "Will evil doers never learn…" What follows is a horror. These evil doers devour my people as men eat bread? Evidently this is not true. Atheists place no value on human life and this leads to wanton destruction. But they are certainly not cannibals. Psalmist is simply using hyperbole to drive a point about the evil doers.

Verse 4 speaks of ‘my people’ – the righteous people, and generally this refers to the nation of Israel. Again in verse 5 God says there are righteous people. If the verse quoted referred to the whole mankind where are this righteous men coming from? There were righteous people under the law. Those who obey the law and live a law-abiding life are righteous, irrespective of the fact whether they are Christians or not. But it is difficult to live a righteous life. Please note there is a difference between being righteous and being saved.

Thus we see Psalms 14 as a poetic exaggeration, a common figure of speech not to be read with a slavish literalism. But it gives a point about the conduct of those who reject the existence of God.

What was Paul trying to say when he quoted this passage?

Let us look at the context:

Rom 3:9 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.

10 As it is written: (quoting Psalms 14) "There is no one righteous, not even one;

11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

13 "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips."

14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."

15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 ruin and misery mark their ways,

17 and the way of peace they do not know."

18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

21 But now righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 

Evidently the quotation was to prove that both Jews and gentiles are alike – both are sinners.

Paul goes on to say in verse 20 that no one will be declared righteous before the Lord by observing the law. Even if a person observes the law and even though a person is declared righteous according to the law, he is not righteous before God. Laws are based on sociological context in the context of history. Even to be righteous according to the law is difficult. The revelation of God is progressive through history because God’s standards are much higher and is based on Selfless Love and not on the transient Law. This is made clear in verse 23 by reference to the glory of God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In terms of the Law one may be righteous but in terms of the glory of God, everyone is imperfect. This is inevitable within the context of finiteness of creation. Paul’s whole teaching is to go beyond the Law into the realm of Love. In that terms no one will be counted righteous. This was indeed the heritage of the sons of men because of the fall of Adam.

Sin is given a new meaning here not in terms of Law but in terms of the Royal Law. In that terms no one meets the standard and no one can. Even Jesus could not as a man. (This may look blasphemous. Please read Jesus and the original sin)

In the same letter Paul asserts

Rom 5: 16 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

There were people who did not sin even before Jesus’ atonement. So the doctrine of total inability is an imposition on the text. It certainly refers to difficulty of meeting this demand, he can and do try – falling short of the glory of God. Man cannot just reach that glory of God. The picture is that of a man performing high jump. He can certainly jump high - but not high enough to clear the standard of God. This no one can except empowered by God.