The Knowledge of Sin
Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." 13 "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; 14 "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (NKJV)






The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57.  The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) believers.

The word “Jew” is a reference to their heritage, not a religion. Jews were named such because they were from Judah.

In the preceding passage, Paul wrote of the circumcision of the heart being the sign of God’s people, not physical circumcision as was the Jewish custom. Christian Jews still thought that physical circumcision gave them some kind of advantage as a Christian.

Paul offers up the question of advantage when he writes: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” (v. 3:1). If the Jews don’t have an advantage what good was it to be God’s people and to be circumcised?

The ultimate answer to “the question of advantage” is Jesus Christ. Our only advantage is to become a Christian. Neither Gentiles. nor Jews have an advantage because of their heritage.

In this passage, Paul expounds on the question of advantage when he writes “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” (v. 9). Paul, as a Jew, is stating that Jews are no better than Gentiles. They are all sinners.

To illustrate the sinfulness of man Paul launches into a series of verses from the Law, the Old Testament. Verses 10-18 are all taken from the Old Testament.

In verse 10, Paul writes “As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;”. This is from Psalm 14:1 and means that no one is “righteous” in their own strength. All are sinners.

In verse 11, Paul writes “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” This verse is from Psalm 14:2 and means that no one understands God or seeks Him out. The work of the Holy Spirit does this.

Next, in verse 12, Paul writes “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." This verse is from Psalm 14:3 and means that we all have turned away from God, become corrupt and do not do good. Apart from God, we are all controlled by our sinful humanity.

Verses 13-14 state "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; "The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." These verses are from Psalms 5:9, 140:3 and 10:7 respectfully. They refer to our sinful speech, when under the control of our humanity.

Verses 15-17 state "Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known." These verses are from Isaiah 59:7-8 and mean that we are violent and destructive, not peaceful, when we are controlled by our humanity. Only God can give us peace.

Finally, in verse 18 Paul writes "There is no fear of God before their eyes." This verse is from Psalm 36:1 and means that when we are controlled by our humanity, we do not fear God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10}. Wisdom comes from God (1 Kings 10:24).

After these illustrations, Paul offers his conclusions to this passage. The background is that the Law, broadly speaking the Old Testament Scriptures, were given by God to the people of Israel.

In giving the Law, God knew that the Israelites would not be able to obey it, in its entirety. To illustrate this for all mankind, God gave the Israelites a very long time, some 4-5 thousand years, to live up to the Law. They were unable to, which, as a test sample, meant that all mankind would not be able to live up to the Law.  

So, Paul writes “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (v. 19). The law was written to the Jews and their lack of obedience meant that the whole world was “guilty before God”. Everyone in the world is guilty of sin and is in need of a Savior.

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20). No one, when controlled by his humanity, is able to obey the Law in its entirety.

So, no one can be justified by God, found innocent by God, by learning the Law. The Law only gives us “the knowledge of sin”. The Old Testament Scriptures define sin and the New Testament Scriptures point us to the remedy for our sin, Jesus Christ.

It is only by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that we can be found innocent of our sin. Once we become a Christian all of our sins are forgiven and we are justified in the eyes of God. At the same time, the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us the means to be controlled by God and not by our sinful humanity.

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Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary