Whole Counsel Theology

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sermon Review Part the Sixth: Romans 3:23

I'm continuing my reviews of the last sermon I heard my former pastor preach and some of the claims made in it. The first post in the series can be found here, and it contains a link to the audio file of the sermon if anyone wishes to hear it. It isn't too long, and it would give you a lot of context to the conversation at hand.

I do want to repeat though, since I have not said it in a while, that I bear no ill-feelings toward my former pastor(s) or my former church. I love them as brothers and loved and still do love Calvary. Yet, given what was said in that sermon and that it went largely unquestioned, I wanted to provide a review of some of the statements and proof-texts he offered.

In any case, the next Scripture he referenced in his sermon after 2 Peter 3:9 was Romans 3:23. He didn't cite the context, so I'll go ahead and grab that real quick (any emphasis is mine as usual):
Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- (22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

There is the context. Now, with regard to that verse, and the word "all" that it contains, he said (referring back to 2 Peter 3:9),
"It is the identical, same word."

Sure enough, it is the identical word used in 2 Peter 3:9. My question is... so what? :) Given that "all" is an adjective, a universal quantifier with a variable referent, just because it is the same word is largely irrelevant. The question that must be asked is this: to what does the word "all" refer to in this passage?

In verse 23 it is being used as a substantive; that is, it is an adjective being used as a noun/pronoun. However, this doesn't resolve the problem, because we then need to find its antecendent and referent; our task is really not much different. There are TWO possible referents for this word back in the previous context.

One of them is in verse 22, which speaks of "all who believe." However, this should be rejected as the referent for a couple of reasons.

First, the "all who believe" is a smaller group from the previous group discussed in verse twenty, that is, every "human being" when the text says that no human being will be justified in God's sight by works of the law.

Second, related to the first, the "all have sinned" fits best with a reference back to verse twenty when it says no human being will be justified by the law. The reason why no one will be justified by the works of the law is that "all have sinned," that is, every human being has sinned. Further, this makes the best sense with the phrase in verse twenty-two, "there is no distinction." There isn't any distinction between who? Between any and every human being, because all human beings have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.[1]

So, as is apparent from the context here, the word "all" does indeed mean every person without exception in verse 23.


1. Something else noteworthy is Paul's previous discussion in the preceding verses in the chapter leading up to verse 20 where Paul clearly is speaking of individual people. This added background cements the argument for "all without exception" meant in this verse.



  • David,

    I have enjoyed this little series. I too have had the frustration that pastors do not really want to engage with members of their church on Scripture. Instead, they choose to wave off concerns with platitudes, and vague general statements.

    Do you think that it is born out of uncertainty, or more the modern trend in churches where they seem to be scared of offending anyone?

    In this specific message, it seems as if your ex-pastor falls in the second category. Calling someone a sinner would offend them.

    God bless, and good luck with your search for a new church.


    By Blogger August, at Monday, November 13, 2006 10:50:00 AM  

  • August:

    Thanks for the kind words, and the sure to be prayers for our search for a new church.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Monday, November 13, 2006 6:59:00 PM  

  • It's my priviledge. Drop by my new blog sometime.

    By Blogger John, at Monday, November 13, 2006 7:17:00 PM  

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