Romans - Lesson 14

Romans 3:24-26

The lesson examines a potential problem in the translation of Romans 3:23-24, focusing on the term "all" and the perceived implication of universalism. Dr. Moo contends that the NIV attempts to address this issue but acknowledges the ongoing debate on universalism in evangelicalism. The analysis then shifts to the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation, emphasizing the need for consistency across various texts. The lesson teaches on redemption, drawing parallels between Paul's dual cultural background and the Greco-Roman slave market. The discussion highlights the concept that the cross works both backward and forward in history, addressing sins committed beforehand as well as present and future sins. 

Lesson 14
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Romans 3:24-26

II. The Heart of the Gospel: Justification by Faith (1:18–4:25)

A. The Universal Reign of Sin (1:18–3:20)

1. All Persons Are Accountable to God for Sin (1:18-32)

2. Jews Are Accountable to God for Sin (2:1–3:8)

a. The Jews and the Judgment of God (2:1-16)

b. The Limitations of the Covenant (2:17-29)

c. God's Faithfulness and the Judgment of Jews (3:1-8)

3. The Guilt of All Humanity (3:9-20)

B. Justification by Faith (3:21–4:25)

1. Justification and the Righteousness of God (3:21-26)

2. "By Faith Alone" (3:27–4:25)

a. "By Faith Alone": Initial Statement (3:27-31)

b. "By Faith Alone": Elaboration with Respect to Abraham (4:1-25)

Class Resources
  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Romans 3:24-26  
Lesson Transcript


Romans 3:24-26

And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.


A. Universalism: 

Moving down into verse 24 creates a little bit of a problem for us. It’s a problem that I think unfortunately, in my view, is accentuated in the NIV. Look at the movement from verse 23 to verse 24: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified.’ Let’s pause there for a moment. All are justified? That sounds like universalism. Now in fact, there is no equivalent to the English ‘all’ in terms of a Greek word there. What the NIV has simply done is recognize that the verb here seems to pick up its subject from before. You have a series of verbs: all sinned, and fall short, being justified and the ‘all’ seems to be the subject of all the verbs that follow. The NIV has kind of clarified it by adding the ‘all’ there. But you still have the problem, whether you put the word in ‘all’ or whether you just assume it from the earlier position in the verse. 

This is one of three particularly significant verses in Romans that are often cited in favor of universalism. It is an increasingly popular option in our day, the idea that ultimately all human beings will be saved. This is argued in a variety of ways, but again, it is becoming an option which is beginning to work into the fringes of evangelicalism broadly described. It isn’t something out there, but it is something that is becoming a little bit more close to home.

The argument is that if God truly is a sovereign God, He can’t ultimately leave anything unsaved. God will not be content with allowing there to be an eternal hell, because then there would be an eternal rebellion against Him in the good creation which would be contrary to God’s purposes and nature. It is a very powerful argument and again in terms of the Biblical evidence, most people would say that there are places in the Bible that don’t sound like universalism at all, but there are a few places where you get the breakthrough into the “right” view, and here is one of the verses.

B. The Bible is Complementary but not Contradictory: 

The response that I would make to that is that first of all, I’m committed, as I hope you are, to being consistent in your Biblical interpretation. Any interpretation of any single text in the Bible has to be coherent with how you are reading the Bible elsewhere. Because God is the author of all of these 66 books, because He is the one who inspired all of Scripture, Scripture finally does speak with a single voice. Now, that voice can take a lot of different patterns and forms and emphases, but ultimately, it cannot be contradictory. You can’t have the Bible saying some human beings will never be saved and all human beings will be saved. You can’t have it saying both of those things because those are contradictory. There are a lot of places where the Bible is complementary in its truths, but it can’t be contradictory. 

When I am faced with an issue of this sort, the first thing I want to do is say, I have to be faithful to the whole of Scripture here. Therefore, I get involved in a pattern that I think is something we go through for the rest of our lives as readers of Scripture, a kind of spiral in which we read a particular text, and then we go to another text and try to integrate it. And then yet to another text. And then maybe we have to go back to the first text to figure it out again.  We want ultimately to do serious work throughout all Scripture bringing it all into a coherent, final, consistent voice. 

Recognizing that, at least for me, there are verses and bits of Scripture that I still have trouble integrating as well as I would like. Where I might just have to say that I know that Scripture is consistent; I have proven that again and again. I know God is not going to lie to me, I know that He isn’t going to say that black is white, and true is false. So here is a verse that I am not quite sure how to work into the whole, but I know I can ultimately. Maybe I need to take a rest and not force it, maybe I need to suggest some plausible explanations that I can’t prove. That to me is the background here. When we face texts like this, our obligation as Biblical readers, as people who are faithful to Scripture is to try to see how it all can work together. 

And in this case, I might come to this verse and acknowledge that it could be read in a universalistic way; maybe Scripture teaches that elsewhere. And then I go to other verses and now I find what I thought was there, too many clear verses talk about hell being eternal. Too many verses talk about the decisions human beings make in this life as being final. Too many verses talk about the decision of faith in Christ, or not to believe in Christ, as decisive for eternal destiny.  No, there is too much of that there.  Let me come back to verse 24 and see if there are other explanations.  

C. God’s Righteousness: 

One explanation that is somewhat compelling to me is to understand the verb ‘justify’ in verse 24 as picking up the language of righteousness in verse 21 and 22. So that, in my view, if I were the single translator of the NIV (God forbid!), I would put an opening and closing parenthetical mark (in the text) because that is in a sense, simply Paul reminding us of what he has already argued. 

The main flow of thought is that this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ, and this righteousness happens freely by His grace. Remember we are talking about the same idea here. So that is the way I would read the paragraph here. I don’t think Paul is suggesting universalism here. I think that he is using the verb in verse 24 to pick up the idea of righteousness and develop it in some other ways. 

I guess that gives some significance to the difference in how you interpret verse 22 that Christ is doing the faith act, rather than us doing the faith act. One could also interpret then that that faith act of Christ is available and applicable to all.  I’m not arguing for universalism, but I see how that changing of verse 22 could lend more credibility to the universalism argument. 

Dr. Moo:   
I don’t think so because the issue is still the ‘all’s’ here. Whether this is our faith in Christ or Christ’s faithfulness to us, the problem in the continuous reading is the all who believe, all who have sinned, and then this verb just continues the sequence; and you would think that the subject has to be the same. Paul doesn’t introduce a new subject here.  It’s a kind of rule for any language, you have to pick up the last subject, and the last subject there was ‘all’.  Whereas if you bracket that off a little bit, then – and this goes back up to the idea of righteousness – then I think we avoid that problem. I think the issue is the same whether it’s our faith in Christ, or Christ’s faithfulness to us.  I think this is a plausible way of reading Paul’s argument here, the sequence that he gives us.

So, in verses 21 and 22, God’s righteousness, His declaring us to be right before Him, is something that is new, it’s promised by God, and has now come to pass in Christ. It is something that we activate by our faith, and it is something that is a matter of God’s grace, freely by His grace.

Grace is a great theme of course in Paul. I think in the commentary I talk about it as a theological axiom of Paul’s. It is one of these points of his worldview that he doesn’t feel that he even needs to argue for. It is the very nature of God to be One who is not constrained by human creatures, who acts toward us in freedom. He is not being forced to give us anything. So, God’s grace as we will see in chapter 4, becomes really important in understanding this matter of our justification by faith. 

This righteousness that we enjoy, God’s act of putting us in the right, comes through the redemption. Here two important backgrounds again come together.

D. We Have Been Redeemed: 

Paul as you remember, is a man of at least two worlds; he is a man of the Jewish world. That is his heritage, is was what he was trained in, that is what formed him in his religion. But he is also a man of the Greco-Roman world of his day, of the larger culture that he lives in. Just as most of us. We have a foot in the church world, but we have a foot in the secular world as well. We are affected by our larger culture as well as by our Christian context. 

This word redemption then on the one hand would certainly have had for Paul and his readers a connection with the Greco-Roman slave market. Redemption was a word used when slaves would purchase their freedom. Most of you will know perhaps, that in the world of Paul’s day, slaves were not always slaves for life. Very often slaves could win their freedom in a variety of ways; when they did, they would pay a redemption, they would pay a price to be released from slavery. That was called redemption, the very word that Paul uses here. 

At the same time, this was the word also used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. We call it the Septuagint abbreviated with the Roman Numerals LXX. The tradition has it that this translation was done by 70 translators, hence the Latin word septuaginta, or Septuagint, abbreviated LXX. The same Greek word was used there to talk about God’s rescue of His people from Egypt. So, both of these allusions would have been in mind here as people heard Paul at this point in Romans 3. They would have thought, on the one hand, God in Christ has paid a price to set slaves free. He has paid a price to set me free from my slavery to sin, remember chapter 3 verse 9. The problem dictates the solution. The problem human beings face is being governed by, dictated to by, sin; we are imprisoned under sin and what we need therefore is someone to liberate us from that power, from that slavery. This is what Christ has done. 

That’s why when we think about the Gospel and the way we portray the Gospel, it is important for people to understand both the problem and the solution. I think you can do it in either direction, as it were. Sometimes, you want to start with the problem and then give the solution, and sometimes, you want to begin with the solution and then work back to the problem.  I think you can preach the Gospel effectively either way, but the two are related to each other. Helping people to understand that as a human being, the problem is not that you do bad things.  If the problem is just that you do bad things, maybe all you need is a teacher. Do you realize you are not doing the right things? Let me help you learn how to do the right things, you see.   

But no, the human problem is much more fundamental than that. It is that we are under slavery to sin and the solution is not going to be an educator, but the solution again, has to be a powerful liberator, Jesus Christ. At the same time, people would have thought here is a new Exodus. Just as God brought His people from their slavery in Egypt, forming them into a new people of His own, so God in Christ is bringing His people now in through a new Exodus, out of the again imprisonment to sin into a new life to please God.

E. The Atonement, Yom Kippur: 

The next major idea then Paul goes on to say, God has worked in this way to redeem us. He did this by sending Christ as a sacrifice of atonement. This is another key theological word; in Greek it is hilastērion used only here and in Romans 9:5 in the New Testament. It is a pretty rare word which is one of the reasons it is kind of difficult to pin down. Here are some of the translations that you will find: expiation in the RSV, propitiation in the ESV, or again sacrifice of atonement in the NIV. 

There is here a movement that goes along with what I argue in the commentary. I’m not saying that just because, ha, ha, ha, I’m right but just to say that the view I argued for in the commentary on Romans was not all that popular when I wrote the commentary, it is much more popular now. I think there are good reasons why people are moving to this third view that sees Paul alluding here to the so-called ‘mercy seat’ which is English.  It was in Tyndale’s New Testament that came from Martin Luther’s German gnadenstuhl, the German translation that influenced Tyndale when he produced the first Bible. It is often translated ‘atonement cover’ in modern versions of the Bible. But this is the way in which this word in used in 21 of its 27occurrences, and clearly in Hebrews 9:5, its only other New Testament usage. 

Paul is engaging in a typology here then. He reminds his people again of this central Old Testament element: the atonement cover, where on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the blood of the sacrificial animals was placed. It was, in a sense, the place of atonement, the place where God and His people met on that one significant day of the year. 

So, what he is saying is that God now has set forth Christ as the New Covenant counterpart to that atonement cover. That is where the sacrifice was offered in the Old on the Day of Atonement; now in Christ, there is this new final, what Hebrews calls ephapax, once for all Day of Atonement that has taken place through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. God presents Him, publicly displays Him on that cross as the place now where God deals with human sin. So, you remember here the argument in Hebrews, the priest going into the Tabernacle once a year offering the blood and making atonement for the people. Now Paul says Christ has done that once for all in His sacrifice on the cross. Do you want to talk about that at all?

So, He has made the sacrifice of atonement that makes the mercy seat efficacious?  

Dr. Moo:   
I’m not sure I would want to put it quite that way.  Rather, He (Christ) is the New Covenant counterpart to the mercy seat, the place where God has dealt definitively now with human sin. In the Old, God dealt with human sin year after year. The sacrifice had to be repeated. Again, the argument of Hebrews here in saying, that is the inferiority of the old, those sacrifices weren’t final, they didn’t stick, they had to be done year after year after year. Now in Christ there has been one final, once for all, place, offering of the sacrifice that takes care of all human sin forever.  

F. God’s Holiness: 

One final thing in the text that we need to talk about. When we come into verses 25 and 26. At the end of 25 and 26, again if I might allude to the Greek text here for a moment, you have the same Greek word here that you had previously. Recognizing this in our update to the NIV, we have kept the word ‘righteousness’ in all the places. We decided that it was going to be better to reflect the Greek in that way and keep the word righteousness in every place. What you have up here (in the slide) is the old NIV, not the updated.

I have used the old NIV here, because I do think, even if it may be a little overly interpretative, it does get the point Paul is making. I do think that he shifts the meaning of this word here from the beginning of the passage to the end. That obviously is the problem with the view that I am arguing for. 

All things being equal, you would expect an author to use a word with the same meaning in the same context. If they are going to shift meanings, they have to make that pretty clear. So that becomes the question here:  has Paul sufficiently indicated a shift of meaning? I think he has, maybe I’m wrong. I think he has. So that now at the end of the passage, he is talking not about God’s activity to put people in the right; he is talking about God’s own holiness or justice, an attribute of God. What Paul is saying is that God did things this way, He sent Christ as this kind of a sacrifice, sent Him to the cross as a sacrifice on our behalf, to demonstrate His justice, because He had left sins committed beforehand unpunished.

This reading of Romans 3 flows into what has been a very traditional understanding of the atonement. Probably an understanding that a lot of us have grown up with or have been taught, maybe even without realizing where its Biblical roots of the words were. Namely, on the cross of Christ, God answered the problem of how to forgive human sin. In God’s own justice, He couldn’t simply overlook human sin. Human sin, because God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness, He must react with wrath against human sin. So, in a sense the problem, if we may put it this crass way, the problem for God was how do I forgive human sin? How do I establish a right relationship with sinners who deserve my wrath? The answer to the question is the gift of Christ as the One who fully takes on Himself God’s wrath against sin. So, in the cross of Christ, God is satisfying His justice. This is what verse 25 and 26 would be talking about. 

In talking about sins committed beforehand, I think he is talking about Old Testament saints who were given access to God’s grace and salvation even though they had sinned and especially because there had not been any way to overcome that sin. The blood of bulls and goats we know can’t satisfy the need for forgiveness. So, how to provide a means for these Old Testament saints finally to be entering into God’s presence as righteous? The answer, again, is the cross of Christ in which God presents Christ as this offering for the sins of all human beings.

G. God’s Forgiveness: 

Christ, therefore, taking upon Himself the wrath we deserve, enabling us then to stand with God by virtue of our identification with Christ. He in a sense becomes the canopy, the umbrella that covers us from the wrath of God that otherwise would deserve to fall upon us. 

So, Paul talks about these sins both committed beforehand and also at the present time. The cross of Christ you see works both backwards in history and forwards in history. This was the central moment, the point where God deals decisively with all human sin. That means not just human sin after the cross, but human sin before the cross as well. When God let David into heaven, let’s say, God was able to do that because Christ in His view had already paid the penalty; coming ahead in history, but in God’s perspective, in a sense, already paid. 

Paul then neatly summarizes this idea in the last verse. ‘That God might be both just and the one who justifies.’ Beautiful word play that captures these two basic elements in Romans 3:21-26. God is the One who justifies, and He is also the One who, while justifying, remains just. Here again is the great power of Romans 3:21-26. The way in which it talks about the cross of Christ not only as the means by which we can be saved but also the means by which God Himself can be vindicated in saving us.