Summary: Paul continues the subject of the guilt of the Jews. He anticipates arguments in rebuttal to his conclusion that neither Israel’s law, her circumcision, or her birth could save her.
(11) Availability of a Righteousness from God
In the first eight verses of chapter 3, Paul continues the subject of the guilt of the Jews. He anticipates arguments in rebuttal to his conclusion that neither Israel’s law, her circumcision, or her birth could save her. These theoretical objections are stated in the odd-numbered verses and Paul’s answer to each objection is stated in the even-numbered verses.
1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?
What advantage then has the Jew? If the Jews are condemned along with the heathen, what advantage is there in being the chosen nation of God? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Since circumcision is the sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, what advantage is that relationship if being Jewish will not save?
2 Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.
Much in every way. Paul contends that there are many privileges which God has granted to Israel. A list of them is given in chapter 11; it is not necessary for Paul to enumerate them here. Rather, he simply points out one as an example of the others.
To them were committed the oracles of God. One of the chief ancestral privileges of Israel is that they were the custodians of the oracles of God. Acts 7:38— “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us”; and Hebrews 5:12—“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food”—The oracles of God are the Old Testament Scriptures. It was a great advantage to the Jew to be singled out by God and entrusted with the oracles of God, through which God revealed Himself. This privilege carried with it a heavy responsibility.
Paul uses the oracles of God to encompass the entire Old Testament.—the Jews received the very words of the true God. They had a great advantage in having the Old Testament because it contained the truth about salvation; “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). It contained the truth about the Gospel in its basic form; “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). When Paul said, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2), he meant the oracles of God—the Holy Scriptures.
3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?
What if some did not believe? Perhaps to soften the effect a little, Paul phrases the question to apply to some of the people. He asked, “If some failed to believed, would God react by being unfaithful to the whole nation?” As keepers of the Old Testament, the Jews had in fact failed to comprehend the message of the Old Testament, especially the prophetic and messianic passages. The unbelief of the Jews is seen in their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and consequently they did not believe the oracles of God which they so carefully guarded.
The second question is Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?
This would be another way to put it: “Granted that not all Jews have believed, but does this mean that God will go back on His promises? After all, He did choose Israel as His people and He made definite covenants with them. Can the unbelief of some cause God to break His word?” Paul’s answer is a classic.
4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”
Certainly not! This expression has been translated a variety of ways such as, “good heavens, no,” “may it not prove to be so,” “perish the thought,” etc. Whenever there are questions whether God or man is right, always proceed on the basis that God is right and every man is a liar. This is what David said, in effect, in Psalm 51:4: “The complete truthfulness of all You say must be defended, and You must be vindicated every time You are called into question by sinful man.” Our sins only serve to confirm the truthfulness of God’s words.
Let God be true, but every man a liar establishes a principle which is found throughout this epistle. God does not formulate His purpose or will according to outside influences, but according to what He Himself is. If men prove unfaithful to God’s oracles, He is nevertheless faithful in His promises to them. The quotation which follows is from Psalm 51:4 where King David had broken the covenant of God and had found in himself no righteousness or integrity of any kind. Paul quotes this verse in order that his readers may clearly see the difference between the faithfulness and integrity of God and the lack of the same in man—“That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”