Romans 3:9–20 – No One is Justified through the Law


Romans 3:9–20


Paul declares that all people—both Jews and gentiles—are under the power of sin and cannot be justified through the Law.


Romans 3:9–20 is the conclusion of a longer section of the letter that begins in 1:18. In this section, Paul argues that all people—both gentiles and Jews—have some awareness or knowledge of God, whether through experience of the world and the testimony of one’s conscience, or, in the case of the Jews, also through the Law that God gave them. Despite this knowledge, both groups have failed to properly honor God and have instead turned away from God, manifested by not living in accordance with God’s will (as they have come to understand it). Therefore, all people—Jews and gentiles alike—are subject to God’s impartial judgment.

Paul powerfully brings this argument to completion in 3:9–20. Although he acknowledges in 3:1–8 that Jewish people have an advantage that gentiles do not because God gave them the Scriptures, in 3:9–20 he clarifies that even so, Jews and gentiles (referred to in 3:9 as Greeks) are equally under sin and not able to be justified (that is, brought into right relationship with God) by observance of the scriptural Law. Paul, in fact, presents a chain of Scriptural citations in 3:10–18 to show that the very Scriptures the Jews received testify to the fact that no one is righteous. This illustrates the bold claim Paul makes in 3:9 that all people are equally “under the power of sin.” Although “sin” has various nuances of meaning throughout Romans, here and elsewhere in the letter, Paul characterizes it as a force that seeks to dominate people and thus alienates them from God (e.g., Romans 6:12–14; 7:8–11). Rather than freeing people from sin, the Law brings awareness of sin (3:20).