21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
1901 ASV Translation:
21 But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Textual Issues:There is one textual variation in 3:21-23 between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26. The Textus Receptus has the phrase "and upon all" in 3:22 which the Nestle/Aland 26 does not have. Those who have produced the textual commentary on the variants have pointed out that this might actually be the result of an earlier variation in which some texts read "unto all" and others read "upon all", so the Textus Receptus combined the two readings so as to leave neither out. However, this is conjecture. The issue cannot be "resolved" on the basis of the external evidence. But, the reading of the Textus Receptus only does one thing that the Nestle/Aland 26 does not do: it provides a kind of emphatic redundancy. Thus, the only issue is "emphasis", not "meaning".
I. Paul's Next Theological Step: a New Way to Approach God.
A. Up to 3:21, Paul had been deeply involved in the thesis that "all are under sin". He began the detailed presentation of that thesis in 1:18 and continued stacking up evidence all the way to 3:18.
1. It is imperative that we understand the "Jew's" place in this argument.
a. Paul began with "general humanity" -- 1:18-32.
b. He then moved to a subset of general humanity that was particularly sensitive about being accused of blatant disobedience (1:32)...a subset that is particularly prideful about their ability to discern good and evil in others (2:1-16). This shows that Paul was moving in the direction of dealing with "pride" issues. This indicates that Paul was moving from a "general outer level of characterization" to a more specific inner level of characterization that is fundamentally about pride.
c. Then he moved to the central core of general humanity's problem by addressing the Jew specifically because it was in the Jew that the greatest level of humanity's problem surfaced -- an overweaning arrogance that got its "validation" from the "roots" of God's elective choice coupled with a subversive "twist" on the purpose of the Law of God -- 2:17-3:19.
2. Both "Jew" and "Gentile" had adopted an evil "thesis" regarding the divine election of the "Jew" and the purpose of His Law.
a. It was absolutely fundamental to the "Jewish" way of thinking that Yahweh chose the Jews upon whom to impose the Law for their "natural" superiority in godliness. This is a purely human "knee-jerk" attitude. It has always been "with" man since the fall of Genesis 3. Any time the Bible records a special favor from God upon man, men start looking for a reason in the man for such an act byGod. But, as Romans 9:10-13 clearly claims, this is totally false. God's elective actions are totally wrapped up in His purposes and have nothing to do with being rooted in man's accomplishments.
b. By the same token, the "Gentiles" raged against the God of the Jews (Paul said, clearly, in 2:24 that the Gentiles blasphemed God because of the Jews) because they both thought that God's choice of the Jews had to mean He was more pleased with them than He was with the Gentiles, and they knew that the Jews were not one whit more "godly" than they were. This "galled" them -- that the God of the Jews would visit them with great favor for their "superior" performance when they knew that their performance was not superior. This made the God of the Jews a fickle and unjust "god" in their eyes and He was both despised and blasphemed for being such.
3. But, both Jew and Gentile had misread the entire point of God's imposition of the Law upon the Jews.
a. According to Paul, the "point" of the law was to "prove" man's sinfulness; his bondage to sin; his condition of being "under sin".
1) In 3:20, the "point" of the Law was the inescapable knowledge of man's sinfulness. This means that the Law was never intended to regulate man's behavior. It was intended to reveal the absence of godliness in man's behavior.
2) This has to mean that God's imposition of the Law upon the Jews was not a "favor" rooted in His great pleasure with their devotion to the good. It was, instead, a divine design to create such a sense of hopelessness in man that he would turn from his natural arrogance to at least a modicum of humility and seek for a different way to approach God.
b. According to Paul, the "point" of the law was universal: what was true of the Jew was true of all of humanity. God chose the Jews as a microcosm of humanity to make it clear that humanity has a problem. That's why it is possible for him to say in 3:22 that there is NO distinction. The Jews were not a "special category of humanity" with a "special affinity for God"; rather, the Jews were typical of humanity and what the Law proved about them was, therefore, proof against all mankind.
B. But, now that that thesis has been meticulously argued, it is time to unwrap the foundations for the hope that truly exists.
1. By placing all men "under sin", Paul effectively wiped out any and every hope that man might entertain of a future in glory that was based upon man's "performance of good".
2. But, this only wipes out every hope that is rooted in man; it does not, of necessity, rule out hope altogether -- if another foundation can be laid for hope.
3. Thus, Paul moves to point out that both "Law" and "Prophets" bore witness to a kind of righteousness available to man that was not rooted in man or in his faithfulness in doing good.
1. "...now apart from Law...".
a. Now -- indicating a present time in which certain facts have come to light in actual history.
b. Apart from Law -- indicating a principle of operation that is divorced from the principles of demand/performance/reward/penalty.
1) It must be kept clearly in mind that "Law" means the "demand/performance" and the "reward/penalty" issues. It is not another issue such as "the revelation of God in words", or "the description of how the cause-and-effect universe runs. For Paul, in this text, "Law" means "performing sufficiently well under demand so as to qualify oneself for reward".
2) Under "Law" personal qualification is by means of personal choices and actions.
3) But, the only hope for mankind is a different means of qualification, one that is "apart from Law".
2. "...a righteousness from God...".
a. Not, as the AV says "the" righteousness of God.
b. Nor, as both the AV and ASV say "righteousness of God".
c. But, "a" righteousness "from" God.
1) The issue is not God's righteousness, per se. It is, rather, how a man obtains a righteousness that is acceptable to God. Now, that it has to match God's is without debate: God cannot and will not accept a sub-standard righteousness that is deficient and cannot stand alongside of His own. So, in a sense, the righteousness is "of God" in the sense that His is the standard and anything that comes to par with His is the functional equivalent of His.
2) The real issue is how a man might come into possession of such a righteousness, and Paul's argument is that God is willing to "give" such a thing to men. Thus, it is "from" God "to" men.
3. "...hath been manifested...".
a. There was, until the time involved in Paul's "now", some lack of clarity regarding this new approach to the old issue of how man might be "righteous" in God's reckoning.
1) The problem was that the means by which the problem was to be resolved was only "manifested" by earthly analogies -- the shedding of the blood of animal sacrifices.
2) In some ways, this "taught" the truth, but in other ways, it confused the issue.
a) The teaching was of the erasing of guilt by the sacrifice of the innocent.
b) But, the necessity was that the offerer bring that innocent to the priest to be slain -- thus involving man's "behavior", and thus making it look like the erasure of guilt was by man's activities...a point that cannot stand in the light of Paul's claim that man's activities cannot serve to bring man to the righteousness he needs before God.
3) It was not until the Christ came and lived out His sinless innocence and gave His life in the stead of men that it became clear that it was not man's offering of a sacrifice that got him a righteousness in the eyes of God. Clearly, man had nothing to do with a "godly" offering of a sinless substitute; rather, man's part in the "now" scenario was one of extreme hatred and violent animosity against the sinlessly innocent One who gave Himself. When Christ died for the sins of men, He was not "offered by men who sought redemption". He was brutally murdered by men who despised and rejected Him.
a) This fact highlighted what the sacrificial system had attempted to "mirror"; that guilt could be erased by the death of a substitute sacrifice.
b) But it also highlighted something that was not within the teaching ability of the Law; that the sacrifice did not arise from the "godliness" of those who offered. It was impossible for a sacrificial system to be set up in which men who despised God would bring sacrifices to Him to be reconciled to Him. Men who despise God do not do what He commands. So, the sacrificial system had a "problem" built in that kept the truth from clear manifestation. It was only when Christ offered Himself to God as a sufficient substitute that it became "clear" that man's salvation is "apart from" his efforts...apart from Law.
4. "...being witnessed by the Law and the prophets..."
a. This phrase means that the words of the writings of the Old Testament had, in them, both a statement, and explanation, of this "new" approach to God.
b. The declarations of Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 are clear: "righteousness in God's eyes is by faith". This is the "witness" in both Law and Prophet of a different means to obtaining righteousness in the eyes of God than human performance. Isaiah 64:6 clearly announced the inability of human acts of righteousness to bring a man to life, thus destroying the premise of justification by works of the Law (Romans 3:20). The "witness" to the fact, and necessity, of a different way of approaching the problem of man is within the words of Old Testament revelation, but the "clarity" was not there in those words. The words take on clarity only in a post-Calvary setting.