Romans 3:21-25, 28

Salvation For All

How does God save people?

Popular Translation

21 God’s goodness to us is now clear, even without his Law. The Bible points this fact out. 22 God is truly good to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are. 23 Everyone has sinned and doesn’t match the glory of God. 24 But God’s goodness is a freely-given gift to everyone because of what Jesus did to save people. 25 Jesus offered his blood to God. When people believe this, they receive God’s forgiveness. God shows his goodness when he ignores past sins.

28 So, we firmly believe that God shows his goodness to people, apart from his Law.

Literal Translation

21 Now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been made clear, having testified in the Law and the Prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in JESUS CHRIST for all (those) believing. There is no difference (between the good and the evil), 23 for everyone sinned and lacks the glory of God, 24 (those sinners) being made right in his grace as a gift through the redemption of CHRIST JESUS, 25 whom God set forth (as) atonement by HIS blood (received) through faith, in a demonstration of his righteousness by passing over former sins.

28 We hold man is made righteous in faith, apart from the Law.

3:21 “...having testified in the Law and the Prophets” The term “Law and Prophets” referred to the Hebrew Scripture or Old Testament.

3:22b-25 This long sentence is constructed in the following manner:

1. A declarative clause (“There is no difference...”)

2. A clause of explanation (“for everyone sinned and lacks the glory of God”)

3. Two dependent phrases:

A. a participial phrase (“being made right...”) The first participial phrase in 3:24 referred to the subject of the explanation clause(“everyone”); everyone sinned (3:23) but everyone is made right with God by his gift of grace through the redemption of Christ Jesus

B. a relative clause (“whom God set forth...”). . The relative clause hooks onto the previous phrase. It’s subject is “Christ Jesus;” the gift of righteousness is a gift of grace through the redemption of Christ Jesus (3:24), whom God set forth as a expiation of our sins by his blood.

The easiest way to understand the sentence is to break it down into several sentences. See the popular translation for an example.

3:25 “whom God has set forth as an atonement by his blood...” The term “atonement” is actually “expiation.” The word “atonement” was created by William Tyndale (1494-1536) to express how people are reunited with God. Tyndale focused on the phrase “at-one-ment” to express the result of Christ’s death. Jesus died not just to renew the relationship between God and humanity (implied in the term “reconciliation”); he died to “cover” the sins of people (implied in the term “expiation”), so that the transgressions of humanity were, in effect, voided. In God’s eyes, the sin of humanity was forgotten with the death of Christ on the cross.

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is full of theological insight, since it was his most systematic look a salvation from a Christian perspective. Central to Paul’s thought is the salvation of non-Jews; Gentiles could be saved through faith in Christ, just as Paul realized his salvation. Of course, faith in Christ stood outside of the Jewish Law, but Paul took that insight one step further. He maintained the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets” of 3:21) pointed this fact out because they, according to Paul, refer to Christ. (Paul’s assertion was assumed by the early Church Fathers; these Christians interpreted the Old Testament allegorically, a way to see symbols for Jesus in the Hebrew passages.)

If salvation was outside the Law, then everyone sinned and, so, needed God’s mercy, even those who follow the Jewish Law. But, what is God’s mercy? Paul used the notion of “righteousness” several times in these passages to express his understanding of salvation. God made the relationship between him and humanity “right;” he did this through the death and resurrection of his Son. Righteousness was not a birthright, or based upon bloodline; it was a freely-given gift.

Notice how Paul differed from his Jewish contemporaries in this respect. For Pharisees, the gift of salvation was given to Abraham, and realized in the covenant at Sinai. As long as one stood within the covenant and obeyed the Law, they received salvation, defined by the promises YHWH made to Abraham: land and descendants. So, in this sense, birthright and bloodline outlined the notion of “salvation” the Pharisees promoted. Yet, this notion was open-ended. As long as the Chosen People were persecuted and denied their land, the promises of YHWH were unfulfilled. Jews believed the promises would be completely realized in the resurrection of the just and the Kingdom of God. Still, the promises were parochial, not universal.

St. Paul saw the promises as universal. He downplayed the “land” component (implicitly, he spiritualized the land as an end time reality) and up-played the offer of salvation for all people. Salvation was realized through the activity of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Because Christ was risen, ascended to the Father and would return in glory, St. Paul interpreted salvation through the lens of resurrection and the Final Judgment. The “in-between time” was an opportunity to gather all God’s children (in other words, it was a chance for evangelization with the expectation of Christ’s immanent return). In this universal view, salvation was a gift given to all, for the benefit of all. No one had a right to it.

Salvation comes from God. Since he is the God of all, salvation is offered to all. Yet, how he offers that salvation remains a partial mystery. We might argue over the time of the offer or its means, but, we do know that God wills salvation for everyone. Our focus, then, should be on our acceptance of the his gift.

Take a few moments to reflect on God’s gift of salvation. How does that thought lead you to prayer and praise? How does it change your outlook on life?