Romans 3:13-16 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 3:13
  • Romans 3:14
  • Romans 3:15
  • Romans 3:16

Paul continues pointing out the sinfulness of mankind.

In verse 13, Paul shifts to quoting Psalm 5, but continues to drive home the same theme; humanity on its own tends to do evil. The poison noted here is falsehood, lying, and deception. People lie for different reasons, but it seems for the most part it is either to attempt to gain control of others, extract something from others, or escape accountability for our actions. A world where everyone lies is a world without love, without human connection, it is a world where everyone is alone.

Paul has already made clear that this is exactly what the competing Hebrew “authorities” are doing when they are slandering Paul’s message, misrepresenting his gospel (verse 8). But Paul made it clear that he is no better than them (verse 9). It is only because of the power of the Spirit and walking by faith following and obedience to the Spirit that Paul can avoid living a life of sin, a life of deceiving words.

In verse 14, Paul moves to Psalm 10, but is still focusing on destructive words, as the words of the competing Jewish “authorities” were intended to tear down Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles. The Bible is consistent with emphasis on the power of words. Jesus himself is called the Word (John 1:1). The Word of God is said to be an instrument of judgment that divides between soul and spirit, and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

The words of men also have immense power. James 3:5-12 describes the human tongue as being an untamable instrument of destruction, like a small flame that ignites a forest fire. Paul, in this section, is reinforcing his assertion that it is not only the condemnable, slandering, competing Jewish “authorities” who have a sin problem, but this is a human problem that every single person has, including Paul.

In verse 15, Paul quotes Isaiah 59:7 which is part of a passage that describes unrighteous and unjust behavior. Sin separates us from God, and because the essence of sin is doing things “my way,” it inevitably leads to deception. Once we resort to deceiving others, we are headed down a road to advance the destruction and enslavement of other people.

The competing Jewish “authorities” have come to the most influential place on earth, Rome, to convince the Gentile believers in Rome whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8) that Paul’s teaching of grace is wrong. They seek, through judgment of Paul and slander of his teaching, to destroy Paul’s ministry.

Paul is exposing the competing Jewish “authorities” for who they are: sinful slanderers bent on destruction.

But Paul is also very adamant that this is a human condition. The very grace the competing Jewish “authorities” condemn is the grace every one of us needs to cover our sin problem. Paul will insist that this grace of God is what we rely on every single moment of every day, not only at the time of our new birth when we receive the gift (of a new birth) through faith.

In verse 16, Paul continues to quote Isaiah 59:7 which explores unrighteous or unjust behavior, and how it begins with sin and separation. Once we commit to following “my way” instead of God’s way (which is the essence of sin) we naturally follow a path of deception which leads to destruction and violence to others. It might be reputational, as with these competing Jewish “authorities” slandering Paul. Or it might be physical, as Paul experienced numerous times from enemies during his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:22-28).

This lifestyle, a lifestyle of making life about “me” and “my way” leads to a path of destruction and misery. It turns out that when we focus on controlling and enslaving others we end up enslaving ourselves. When we are intent on the destruction of others, we ensure our own destruction. When we decide to punish someone by being bitter, they suffer little and our soul corrodes. When we use anger or rage to attempt to control others, it is our blood pressure that boils, our attitude that is ruined, and our happiness that is sacrificed.

Biblical Text

13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,

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