Romans 3:5-6 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 3:5
  • Romans 3:6

Paul is presenting an argument made by the Jewish “authorities” that if our sin demonstrates the grace of God then it is not fair for God to judge us. Paul clarifies that this is a human argument, God is God and he is the judge of the world.

The question in verse 5 is a sarcastic argument that says “if my sin shows God is righteous, and therefore does something good for God, then how is it fair that God judges me for it?” Paul answers that charge with Scripture (Psalm 51) and logic. If God is God, then God is the judge of the world. So if God could not judge sin He would not be God.

This verse connects with the previous verse, which quotes Psalm 51, written by King David after he sinned with Bathsheba. Paul quotes Psalm 51:4 in the previous verse (verse 4), and brings in the context surrounding Psalm 51:4, which makes clear that when God judges, His judgment is true and right.

David prays a prayer of repentance to God in Psalm 51:3-5:

“For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.”

Paul debunks the primary argument the competing Jewish “authorities” had against Paul’s teaching, they claim that Paul teaches we ought to sin because it does God a favor (verse 8). In Romans 3:8 Paul calls this accusation slander, and since Rome was the center of the civilized world at the time, it was vital for Paul to answer this slanderous charge to protect the ministry God charged Paul with, to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

In verse 6 we see the second of ten times the phrase “may it never be” is in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In each instance, Paul uses the phrase to answer a question –‘echoing the slander narrative being propounded by the competing Jewish “authorities.” It is instructive to note the questions in Romans that precede each of the occurrences of “may it never be.”

  • 3:3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?  
  • 3:5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms)
  • 3:31 Do we then nullify the law through faith?
  • 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
  • 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?
  • 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin?
  • 7:13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?
  • 9:14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?
  • 11:1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?
  • 11:11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?

It is clear that Paul is systematically unraveling the argument against him by the competing Jewish “authorities” and that their primary objection is his teaching that God accepts us as righteous in His eyes through grace alone and not because of our “goodness” from following religious practice or laws. The competing Jewish “authorities” believed that before anyone could become righteous they must be circumcised and obey the Jewish laws, a position Paul argued against at the Great Council from Acts 15. In that Great Council, James, the head Jerusalem elder, and Peter, the lead Apostle, agreed with Paul that we are saved by grace through faith and they commissioned Paul to take his message of grace to the world (Acts 15:7-11).

By making these arguments, the competing Jewish “authorities” seek to defeat Paul’s teaching that righteousness or justice comes through faith (Romans 1:16-17). Listed below are paraphrases of the statements made by the competing Jewish “authorities” mischaracterizing Paul’s teaching, which Paul answers with “may it never be.” (Bear in mind that Paul never backs down from asserting that righteousness comes only by faith) To all these statements, Paul answers “may it never be.”

  • 3:3 If people are really made righteous by God’s grace through faith, then God would break His promise to Abraham by not accepting unbelieving Jews.
  • 3:5 If by sinning we demonstrate the love of God, and if it is really true that the more sin God’s grace covers the greater God is shown to be, then God is unfair to judge us for something that makes Him look good.
  • 3:30 If faith is what really matters then the law of God no longer matters.
  • 6:1 If God’s grace really covers all our sins, then we ought to sin as much as possible so God’s grace can be demonstrated more often.
  • 6:15 If we are really under grace rather than under law then we should sin as much as we can.
  • 7:7 If we are really under grace and not law, then keeping the law would be sinful.
  • 7:13 If we are really saved by grace through faith and not by law, then we are saved from the law, which means the law is a source of death and is therefore evil.
  • 9:14 If Gentiles can really be saved without the law and without circumcision, then God has been totally unjust to Israel, because He cast Israel aside and broken His promises to Israel.
  • 11:1 If God actually looks at circumcision of the heart and not adherence to the religious laws God gave Israel, then God has rejected Israel because He has rejected circumcision.
  • 11:11 If Israel is being disobedient to God, and thereby fulfilling Scripture (as Paul claims), then God has thrown Israel under the bus.

To each of these assertions by the competing Jewish “authorities” Paul answers “may it never be.” But throughout these arguments by Paul, we will see that Paul continues to assert the theme verse that righteousness or justice comes by faith and humble obedience rather than prideful self-seeking (which includes “being good enough”) by being observant of laws and rules (Romans 1:16-17).

Biblical Text

5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

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