Posted: 30 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
ALMOST EVERYTHING IN ROMANS 3:21–26 is disputed. There is no space for justifying a particular exegesis. But in my view, these are some of the more important conclusions to be drawn:
(1) "But now" (Rom. 3:21): the expression is temporal, not merely logical. Paul has devoted Romans 1:18–3:20 to demonstrating that all of the human race, Jews and Gentiles alike—i.e., those who have the Mosaic Law and those who do not—are guilty before God. But now, at this point in redemptive history, something new has happened. A "righteousness from God" has been made known.
(2) The phrase "apart from law" probably modifies "has been made known"—i.e., "a righteousness from God has been made known apart from law."
(3) "The law" does not here mean "legalism," as if Paul were saying that now a righteousness has been made known apart from legalism. Paul's point, rather, is that now, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, a righteousness from God has been made known apart from the law-covenant, the Law of Moses. This does not mean that such righteousness was unanticipated. Far from it: "the Law and the Prophets" (i.e., holy Scripture) had testified to it, had borne witness to it. In other words, "the righteousness of God" that has come to us through Jesus appeared independently from the law-covenant, but nevertheless the old law—indeed, the entire Hebrew Bible—bore witness to it and anticipated it.
(4) This "righteousness from God" comes to all who believe (Rom. 3:22–24). It cannot come to those who are good, for Paul has just spent two chapters proving that all are bad. It comes therefore to those who believe, and it comes freely by the grace of God "through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).
(5) This redemption was achieved by God setting forth Christ Jesus as "a sacrifice of atonement" (Rom. 3:25) or, more precisely, as "a propitiation" (KJV). God so brought about Jesus' death that, in his crucifixion, Jesus died "the just for the unjust" (1 Pet. 3:18, KJV) and thereby made God favorable or "propitious" to those who would otherwise face only his wrath. Thus Christ's death is not only an "expiation" (it cancels our sin) but a "propitiation" (it thereby makes God propitious). Of course, since it is God himself who provides the sacrifice, there is a profound sense in which God propitiates himself—i.e., he graciously provides the sacrifice that pacifies his own wrath.
(6) Stated otherwise, God offers up Christ not only to justify ungodly sinners such as ourselves, who have faith in Jesus, but also to maintain his own justice, to be just, in the face of all the sins ever committed (Rom. 3:25–26).
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