Paul returns to his previous question: “Do we [Jews] have any advantage?” Previously, in 3:2, he said “Much in every way!” Now Paul says, “Not at all!” The advantage is that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. Now Paul says there is no advantage at all. Why? “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.”
All are sinful is what Paul concludes, and to prove this from the Torah Paul trots out a litany of verses: Eccl 7:20 and Ps 14:1, then to Ps 14:53, then to Ps 5:9, to Ps 140:3, and then to Ps 10:7. Then to Isa 59:7-8, and last to Ps 36:2. He didn’t need all that support, but he wanted to hammer the point: no one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, everyone turns away, no one does good … no fear of God. But the string of quotations, as Tom Wright shows, come to the end with the context of God coming in to rescue and redeem Israel from its sinful condition.
No one is more prepared to believe this litany of the human propensity to sinfulness than postmoderns. Why? Because, above all, the postmodernist contends for a hermeneutic of suspicion, a belief that others are tainted with bias and self-serving agendas, and out to protect and perserve and aggrandize power. So, if anyone should be prepared to believe what Paul says here it should be the postmodern. Above all, they should see the sinfulness of others at work.
Some today, though, want to minimize sin. Perhaps the worry is that the word “sin” has been misused; it has been. We can admit that. But, we still need to find a word that does two things: it must tell us something about who we are, deep inside and it must tell us about what we do. Sin is a good word for that, even today. Often I use “cracked Eikon” because it tells us who we were, who we are, and what we do. Sin is also a term for something that has a life of its own: it is like kudzu in the South and Buckthorn in the North. It takes over.
Here’s the irony of this chapter: the advantage of having the oracles of God, of being Jewish, is an advantage in discovery. And what one discovers, according to Paul, is that the Jew, too, is also a sinner. 3:19: those who have the Torah are “silenced” and “held accountable to God.”
The oracles give the Jew the advantage, Paul says, but is the advantage of knowing before others know this that they are sinful and that the Torah will not make them righteous.
Tomorrow: the meaning of “works of the law”.