9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
1901 ASV Translation:
9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin;
Textual Issues:There are no textual differences in 3:9 between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26.
I. Paul, having gone through a lengthy presentation of his "case" against the Jewish theological mindset (2:17-29), and having countered the complaint afterwards that he was "discounting" everything God had done in 1500 years of "Jewish History" (3:1-8), is now calling for a kind of "final" conclusion.
A. In his rejection of the "Jewish theological mindset", Paul absolutely rejected the pronounced tendency of that mindset to "exalt its bearer" over others.
1. Self-exaltation over others is the worst possible "sin" in this light: it was the essence of sin of the "Day Star, Son of the Morning" of Isaiah 14:12-14, which is commonly understood as a reference to the original angelic rebellion against God, led by Satan (the devil).
2. That the "Jewish theological mindset" had actually, in indisputable history, formed the foundation for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was, for Paul, who believed Him to be the very God of the Jews, absolute proof that the "mindset" was Satanic.
3. That Jesus of Nazareth taught that the coming Kingdom of God was going to be a kingdom of servants makes the entire notion of "self-exaltation over others" an absolutely contrary dogma to that Kingdom because contention only arises when one begins to "pit" himself/herself against others in an effort to dominate them.
4. That Paul pictured himself as the "bondservant" of the God of Jesus of Nazareth meant that he embraced the Servant-Kingdom thesis and that made it impossible for him to tolerate any doctrine which allowed a person to exalt himself/herself over others. God is, of course, free to "exalt" anyone He chooses as "authorities over others" (like apostles, prophets, elders, etc.), but men are not free to exalt themselves to any of those positions.
B. That Paul's argument can easily be misunderstood and/or twisted into something it is not is easily seen in Paul's anticipation of "objections" in 3:1-8.
1. Clearly, the "Jews" strongly wished to have a "superiority" over "others".
2. Just as clearly, Paul was not going to tolerate that carnal lust.
3. But, it simply cannot be true that God's activities with the "Jews" over 1500 years of actual history did not produce some kind of "advantageous benefit(s)".
4. Thus, Paul enthusiastically endorsed the true "advantageous benefit": the presence of the "oracles of God" within the "Jewish" community as opposed to all "Gentile" communities.
a. This is not a "contradiction" of all that he said in 2:17-29 for two reasons: God is free to give advantages to one and not to another; and advantages do not automatically tally up to "superiority".
b. The true use of the "oracles of God" is the use of them to enhance one's experience of the Life of God. All other uses, especially the use of them to "exalt oneself", are flawed at the central core because the Life of God does not consist in being "superior" to others in any "self-exalting" sense.
5. But, Paul's claim of "advantage" seems to have an "internal" problem: what if those given the 'advantage' misuse it? Does that not annul it?
a. First, why would one who wished to exalt himself over others argue with Paul over whether the oracles of God were "advantageous"?
1) The objector arises because Paul is so opposed to that "wish" and has vehemently denied that the words of God can be twisted into support for it.
2) For one who has always used the oracles of God to puff himself up, this is absolutely intolerable.
3) Thus, the "objector" wishes to refute Paul's claim that the "oracles of God" are of any good use if they are not useful for self-promotion. We must understand that what Paul has done is that he has taken the instrument of Jewish self-exaltation (note how prominent the "Law of God" is in the Jewish attempt to self-promote in 2:17, 18, and 20) away in order to apply its "usefulness" to a totally different objective. This is tantamount to someone taking a shovel away from someone who thinks its purpose for being is to swat flies and telling them that shovels are for digging in the dirt. If the person is absolutely committed to seeing the shovel as a "heavy-duty fly-swatter", he is not going to appreciate being told that the shovel is not designed for that and is likely to complain that if a "shovel" is not for killing flies, it is worthless for anything. This is simply the over-reaction of a childish foolishness.
4) So, the "objector" is simply throwing a childish temper tantrum because Paul will not permit him to use the Law of God to exalt himself.
b. Second, does the attempted misuse annul the divine purpose?
1) Yes, misuse does annul the divine purpose.
2) But, it only does that for the one misusing it; it does not do that for anyone who is willing to apply it to the purpose for which God intended it.
c. Third, is this a real answer, given the fact that everyone misuses the words of God sometimes?
1) David supplies Paul with an answer: yes, even the failures of men to properly use the oracles of God enable those oracles to accomplish their true purpose. David declared in Psalm 51 that his sin made God's true character "shine" more brightly. Since the oracles of God are given by God to enable men to understand what He is really like, even violations of those oracles, by way of contrast, make what He is really like more clear. Man's lies make God's truthfulness more stark.
2) Does this mean, then, that men are free to sin in order to make God better known? Will they escape judgment because their sin is put to "good" use by God? No, because the prior fact is still true: unless men use the oracles of God for the purpose for which they were intended, they fail to serve men. Therefore, though men can get to know God better by reason of the contrasting sins of men, that ability is only "good" for those who wish to know Him better -- which brings us full circle: the oracles of God are designed to impart to man an ability to enter into God's life and any who apply them to that objective will live. And, if anyone has failed to use them for that purpose and repents and begins to use them for that purpose, he will discover that even his former sins will deepen his understanding of the true character of God.
d. Thus, the oracles of God are a tremendous advantage for the one seeking to trust God -- and for no others, including those who only wish to use God to exalt themselves.
C. The Final Conclusion.
1. Paul asks it this way: "What then?"
a. He is saying we need to "come to a conclusion".
b. The issue is "what conclusion shall we draw?".
2. A possible answer: we are "better" than they are because we have the oracles of God.
a. The word Paul selects here is unique here in the New Testament and its meaning outside of the New Testament varies. Besides, it is in a form that leaves its "voice" a bit ambiguous.
b. But, the word is generally used in reference to "prominence" and that idea fits the argument of the apostle like a glove.
c. The issue is, "does our 'advantage' equal a 'superiority'?"
3. Paul's denial of that answer: Not so; "better" is "self-exalting" and I have already gone to enormous lengths to "prove" that both Jews and non-Jews are equally sinful and, therefore, not in any condition to argue for some kind of "moral superiority".
a. The issue here is Paul's meaning of "under sin". He says he has "before accused" everyone of having the same problem. Everyone is "under sin".
1) The word translated "before proved" in the AV and "before laid to the charge of" is another word used only once in the New Testament. It's meaning is established by the context in which Paul clearly declares all of humanity to be equally bound by sin.
2) Thus, I have translated it "before accused".
b. But, what does it mean to be "under sin"?
1) If we understand Paul to mean that the material from 1:18 through 2:29 is where he "before accused all", it is not difficult to grasp his meaning for "under sin".
2) In that entire context, Paul concluded in several places that sin had such a grip on people that they spew its fruit out of their lives on every occasion without any demonstrable control over it. In other words, Sin is in control and men are the servants of it.
3) This means that "under sin" means to be "enslaved by sin's dominion so that it has the freedom to express itself in an almost unlimited way". This is surely established by the rebelliousness of 1:32, the impenitence of 2:5, and the hypocrisy of 2:24. These three verses come in their own contexts as summaries of the behaviors of three types of human beings. The three types are the idolatrous rebellious of 1:18-29; the self-righteous of 2:1-16; and the self-exalting of 2:17-29. Paul sees all of humanity in one of these three ways, so that, by addressing each of these categories, he ends up "charging everyone with being under sin".