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The Mount Everest of the Bible

A Commentary on “The Most Important Paragraph” in Scripture
E. M. M u r r a y

The Mount Everest of the Bible
A Commentary on “The Most Important Paragraph” in Scripture by Paris E. M. Murray
Contents Introduction……………………………………………..……..…1 Chapter 1: Base Camp No One is Righteous………………………………….........…..3 Chapter 2: Beginning the Ascent The Righteousness of God Made Known…………………...5 Chapter 3: Death Zone The Wrath of God………………………………………….....….8 Chapter 4: Dash for the Summit Scandal in the Heavens………………………………………..12 Chapter 5: Near Vertical at the Top of the World A Sacrifice of Infinite Value……………………………………16 Chapter 6: The View from the Summit Your Claim to Righteousness……...................................…19

Copyright © 2011 E. M. Murray

What on earth did that mean? It bothered me quite a bit I had no idea why NIV’s Devotional Bible team would make such a claim. the NIV Devotional Study Bible—arguably the world’s most popular devotional Bible--refers to the end of Romans chapter 3 as “the central theological passage in the Bible”. sermon 5-23-1999 1 Copyright © 2011 E. For instance. declaring: “This is the acropolis of the Bible”. But what about Romans 3—that is. p. [1] The Pleasures of God. how come so few of the church-going mainstream—my International Churches of Christ family members in particular—seem to have any awareness of it? My attempt to answer that question ultimately led to this prayerful analysis—8 years in the making as of Easter 2011—to discover for myself what Romans 3:21-26 is all about and why it appears to be such a pivotal passage to our faith and understanding. Is it possible a mere segment of a single chapter of one New Testament book could be so central to the entirety of Biblical revelation? If so. Acropolis? You remember—as in the highest point of the city. Needless to say. two verses in Romans 3—would compel Lloyd Jones to say that? I subsequently discovered renowned expositor and author John Piper labeled verses 21-26 of Romans chapter 3 “the most important paragraph in the Bible”[1]. I was surprised to learn that the tail-end of chapter 3 has caused quite the stir in Christian scholarly circles over the past century or so.The Mount Everest of the Bible A Commentary on “The Most Important Paragraph” in Scripture by Paris E. “The Mount Everest of the Bible”[2]. 165 [2] The Demonstration of God’s Righteousness. A while later I learned that Martin Lloyd Jones. and went so far as to label verses 23-26. my curiosity was peaked. M. singled out verses 25 and 26 of Romans chapter 3. Murray Introduction A number of years ago while in the midst of a prayerful read-through of Romans. a man widely held to be the most influential British preacher of the twentieth century. M. Murray .

since you now know fully what the rest of us see in a mirror dimly. and unintelligible at lower altitudes becomes obvious. and servant who had been suffering from liver cancer—summited early this morning. with the apostle Paul and the inspired text as our trustworthy Sherpas. See you at the summit. who knows how high our faith and understanding might go—if we just have the courage to make the climb? When the effort becomes discouraging.Caution A word to the reader: it is with good reason we’ve adopted “Mount Everest” as our title. as we near the summit the effort will likely discourage all but the most determined reader. April 21. and the unity of the Bible is easier to grasp. father. my friend. M. gain more significance to you. Murray . Andy. I was informed a dear friend. from the summit of Romans 3 the death of Jesus Christ—why it had to happen and why it is rightfully the focal point of all history—will make more sense. and understandable. their relationships are more apparent. I’ve retired into solitude and worked on this commentary as part of my Easter week devotions. indeed. Thursday. As we traverse the slopes of Romans 3 the full grandeur and scope of God’s revelation will be seen more clearly. Perhaps most important. An attempt on Everest is not for the faint-hearted. casual climbers are well-advised to seek lower peaks. The good news is. What seemed hazy. So then. disjointed. Our ascent upon the slopes of Romans 3 will at times be arduous. Dedication Every Holy Week for the past 8 years or so. Andy Bulatao—a faithful brother. In the moments I completed this year’s edition. and fortify your faith unlike ever before. this one’s for you. hang in there. unified. 2011 2 Copyright © 2011 E. The full panorama of key Biblical events from Genesis to the Revelation can be taken in simultaneously.

Chapter One: Base Camp No One is Righteous 3 .

“There is none righteous. We may deduce from Paul’s argument that the Law of Moses was not given to fully remedy the dilemma of Humankind’s sin. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes. there is none who does good. one of the primary reasons the Law was given was so the entire human race—not just the nation of Israel. with their tongues they keep deceiving. 10 as it is written. 15 their feet are swift to shed blood.Chapter One: Base Camp No One is Righteous Every major climb starts at base camp. there is none who seeks for God 12 all have turned aside. 17 and the path of peace they have not known. we begin with Paul’s terrifying proposition that all humanity—Jew and Gentile—is under sin. Romans 3:9-18 “9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Alas. 13 Their throat is an open grave. not even one”. 11 there is none who understands. the poison of asps is on their lips. 14 whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. not even one. so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God. but all nations—would have a profound awareness of its unrighteous state.” 4 Copyright © 2011 E. M. Paul asserts rather that through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Murray . 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight. there is not even one. 16 destruction and misery are in their paths. for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. it speaks to those who are under the Law. together they have become useless.” Scripture upon scripture is amassed to confirm the awful truth: “There is none righteousness. rather than a comforting refuge from the storms to come. Romans 3:19-20 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says. In another words. “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.

Murray . M.Chapter Two: Beginning the Ascent The Righteousness of God Made Known 5 Copyright © 2011 E.

Chapter Two: Beginning the Ascent The Righteousness of God made known Romans 3:21-26 NASB 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested. when Paul speaks of the righteousness of God. because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. what exactly is he talking about? Is he referring to Christ? Or something else? 6 Copyright © 2011 E. 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. Paul asserts that the righteousness of God has been made known now. Lastly. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Paul declares that the righteousness of God has now been made known. and as its successor and superior is distinct and apart from the Law. so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Murray . 26 for the demonstration. The Righteousness of God made known 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested. meaning that the testimony of the Law introduced on Mount Sinai approximately 1450 B. Paul’s word choice—“being witnessed”—implies the righteousness of God is being witnessed in an ongoing continuous manner by the Law and the Prophets even up to the present time. as it were. see Introduction). 3:2). the righteousness of God is described as being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. I say. hence it follows that before now—before Jesus’ death—it was not yet known or apparent. Also. This was to demonstrate His righteousness. towards the righteousness of God. being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. For this reason the righteousness of God manifested now is the right and proper object of anyone who at anytime looks intently into the Law (James 1:25) and pays attention to the Prophets (2 Peter 1:19. is greater than the Law. of His righteousness at the present time. Consequently the righteousness of God—the objective of the Law—supersedes the Law. being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets Having asserted the dilemma of humanity’s unrighteous estate (Romans 3:9-20. for there is no distinction. point forward across the centuries. 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. And so we inquire. M. What precisely is Paul talking about? First.C and the testimony of the Prophets who proclaimed that Law throughout the ensuing one thousand years.

Insofar as “all those who believe” are concerned. From this point forward Paul addresses the extraordinary difficulties inherent in a relationship between the infinitely glorious God and the fallen human race. it seems Paul presents the righteousness of God as their objective and Jesus Christ as the means to that objective. o The righteousness of God is the ultimate objective. he is not referring to the same thing. o The righteousness of God is for—implying for the benefit of—all those who believe. 7 Copyright © 2011 E. let’s recap: Points to Pin Down: So far we have noted several distinguishing characteristics of what Paul describes as “the righteousness of God”: o The righteousness of God is presented as the object of the Law and the Prophets. the bigger problem of forgiveness. o The benefits of the righteousness of God come through faith in Jesus Christ. it would naturally be the objective of those who were subject to the Law and those who listen to the Prophets. M. Jesus Christ is the means of its accomplishment. We now proceed to the problem of sin. Notice Paul’s distinction between God’s righteousness on the one hand and Jesus Christ on the other. If you’ve made it this far. Paul depicts them as separate and distinct from one another.For All Who Believe 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe The righteousness of God has been made known for all who believe. then and today. Murray . o Paul depicts the righteousness of God as distinct from Jesus Christ— they are not the same thing. and for all eternity. and faith in Jesus Christ associates all those who believe with the righteousness of God. in the present. you are doing great. o The Law and Prophets testify about the righteousness of God in former days. Before we move on to a more challenging phase of the climb. and the massive tension between the two. That is to say. Having affirmed God’s righteousness as the objective of the Law and the Prophets.

Chapter Three: Death Zone The Wrath of God 8 Copyright © 2011 E. M. Murray .

Humankind has either failed to glorify God as God (Romans 1:21). Murray . Thus sin could be described as an exchange—trading the glory of God or the glory from God for anything else. 2 Corinthians 10:18. Bible students normally think of God’s wrath in terms of long ago Old Testament episodes. and for the glory from God—as rulers of creation (Psalm 8). but the wrath of God abides on him. Hebrews 10:23). John speaks of the terrifying present state of the individual who does not believe and obey the Christ: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. such as Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-8) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).Chapter Three: Death Zone The Wrath of God Falling Short of God’s glory (22 cont. 25:21). Paul alludes to the same idea when recalling his and his readers’ former states. However. but he who does not obey the Son will not see life. Despite being created for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:7) in the sense of giving due honor and praise (Romans 11:36). for instance God’s ultimate judgment on unrepentant sinners in “the coming wrath” (Matthew 3:7.) for there is no distinction. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. the wrath of God is abiding on that person at this very moment— meaning right now. placed hope in things other than God’s promises (Colossians 1:23. honor and praise (John 12:43. “We were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). 1 Corinthians 4:5. M. 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation (“sacrifice of atonement” NIV) in His blood through faith. 6:1. 1 Peter 1:7 ). 1 Thessalonians 1:10) or “the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5).” John 3:36 That is to say. or sought glory from men instead of God (Romans 2:29b). Romans 1:23). or in terms of the distant future. and as recipients of His rewards (Matthew 5:12. exchanged God’s glory for something else (Jeremiah 2:11-13. Now we must ask: what are the consequences for falling so far short? Enter God’s Wrath 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. 9 Copyright © 2011 E.

propitiation] refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute. taking away sin. That is what propitiation means: God averted his own wrath through the death of his Son. 10 Copyright © 2011 E. “Having now been justified by His blood. God’s wrath is just. It may be that Jesus’ ordeal on the cross went far beyond the physical and emotional suffering of his abandonment.” --NIV footnote for sacrifice of atonement On Propitiation Consider author John Piper’s explanation of this term: This old word is important because other words like “expiation” (RSV) and “sacrifice of atonement” (NIV) do not press forward the idea of appeasing wrath which is in this word. p. The Passion of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. 167 It [i. and a way must be found for this wrath to be averted. putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10. The Pleasures of God. “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5. NASB).e.” Just how precisely God’s wrath is averted and appeased. He absorbed the full measure of punishment that was due to the fallen human race. Moses Stuart. propitiatory in several older translations. The substitute is provided by God himself. This is what Isaiah alludes to by. possibly even far beyond human comprehension. NIV) and. according to several of Church history’s most prominent scholars[1] is attributed to the Greek term hilastērion which is translated propitiation in NASB. “put an end to the agony of death. p. does not just cancel the wrath. we are saved from God’s wrath through the blood of Jesus. and it was spent. M. we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. et al.” [1] Such as John Calvin. and crucifixion. “but the LORD was pleased to crush Him. Murray . Acts 2:24 states when God raised Christ up He.. not withdrawn. torture. Jonathan Edwards. The point of the word is that God’s wrath is against the ungodly because of the way they have desecrated his glory.21 The Punishment that Brought Us Peace Jesus therefore not only took upon himself the sins of all humanity and not only was He separated from God as a result. and sacrifice of atonement in NIV: “Or as one who would turn aside his wrath. This is what happened in the death of Jesus.Saved from God’s Wrath According to Romans 5:9. he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself.

In a way we may never fully understand in this age. More profoundly. He was pleased to do so: “The LORD was pleased to crush Him” Isaiah 53:10. Crushed by the Father We should also note Paul’s emphasis it was God Himself who presented Jesus Christ as a wrath deflecting sacrifice (Romans 3:25). take upon himself the sin of all humanity. Over and above all the schemes against Jesus—whether by Judas or Herod or the Jewish religious establishment or fickle crowds or the occupying Roman authorities—He was handed over to them by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23) and they did to Him what God’s power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28). This begs the question: How could God the Father be pleased to crush his only begotten Son? What in all the universe could be so inconceivably valuable to God that he would be pleased to crush his Son in order to bring it about? Or from the viewpoint of Jesus. endure separation from the Father. live thirty years in a feeble body amongst sinful people. Jesus willingly absorbed the holy wrath of God on behalf of all Humanity. not only did God orchestrate the death of His Son. Jesus did not die as the helpless victim of evil men who brought about an untimely end to His ministry. suffer shame and crucifixion. NASB. and deliberately subject himself to God’s infinite wrath? 11 . what objective could be so indescribably precious He would willingly go to unimaginable lengths to bring it about--including make himself nothing.

Chapter Four: Dash for the Summit Scandal in the Heavens 12 Copyright © 2011 E. Murray . M.

Although it is obvious by virtue of its inclusion in the Bible that God intended a Christian audience—if only a few brave climbers like yourself—it is probable the demonstration was primarily for a non-Earth audience[1]. in effect. for whom was this demonstration of God’s righteousness performed? 2) Why would God’s righteousness need to be demonstrated in the first place? If most of the world—indeed. I’ll undertake an exposition of the demonstration of God’s righteousness to the above “non-Earth audience” in the next edition of this commentary.  13 Copyright © 2011 E. namely: • God Himself • Christ Jesus • the Heavenly host • Satan • the fallen angels • the Old Testament saints • the animal kingdom • possibly even all (inanimate) Creation Which brings us to the second question: Why would such a profound demonstration of God’s righteousness be necessary in the first place? Could there be a reason to doubt God’s righteousness? [1] Rather than risk killing off the some of the few brave climbers who’ve made it this far.) This was to demonstrate His righteousness If. Murray . most of the Church—goes to the grave oblivious of such things. M. could it be that God’s demonstration failed for lack of an audience? I will declare most emphatically no. we are compelled to ask: 1) Since “demonstration” implies an audience.Chapter Four: Dash for the Summit Scandal in the Heavens Demonstration of righteousness (verse 25 cont. Paul is equating the punishment that brought us peace with a demonstration of God’s righteousness.

Paul explains that God in His forbearance (or tolerance. NASB renders dikaiosynē in verse 25 as “righteousness”.) …because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed We must here emphasize the intimate connection between the concepts of righteousness and justice. 25 cont. Paul himself declares that if God’s righteousness were suspect. particularly injustice against Himself? In a sense. “A general state or ordering of things. as dikaiosynē is rendered in Romans 2:4) passed over the sins previously committed during the Old Testament dispensation[1]. The Passover: Old Testament Grace As we attempt to resolve this predicament.g. Romans 2:5. Now imagine for a moment how God’s actions here would have raise the eyebrows of the angelic members of the aforementioned non-Earth audience: How could the God of Justice (Isaiah 30:18). consider Paul’s allusion to the Passover— when Hebrew households were spared from God’s judgment of Egypt by displaying the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorframes (Exodus 12). God stayed His hand so to speak. e. This is not to be confused with Dispensationalism as espoused by Scofield. I adhere to the term’s original meaning and usage: e. 13. Scandal in the Heavenly Realms In passing over those sins. because what seems to be at stake is the righteousness of God as it relates to God’s justice (that the semantic range of the Greek dikaiosynē encompasses “righteousness” as well as “justice” is evident by the choices of Bible translation teams. cf. of a blemish on God’s attribute of infinite righteousness and justice. 14 Copyright © 2011 E. who loves righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5) pass over sins? Indeed. [1] By dispensation.The Great I AM Passes Over Sin (v.. M. restraining the deserved judgment and ruin that would otherwise follow sinning against an infinitely just God.. Murray . specifically: a system of revealed commands and promises regulating human affairs. NIV translators render it as “justice” in verse 25 and 26). The appearance of such could conceivable raise an impossible possibility in the minds of angelic onlookers—that is. how could he judge the world (Romans 3:6)? Wouldn’t something be cosmically askew if the God of Justice were to turn a blind eye towards injustice. passing over the sins previously committed creates the appearance of an unresolved anomaly on God’s track-record of justice.g.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

[1] It should be noted that Paul’s allusion to the Passover should not be construed as excluding the sins of Humankind that occurred before the Passover—from the Fall to the Exodus. so to speak. This mercy was inseparably tied to God’s allegiance to His promises to Abraham. looking backwards with the benefit of God’s complete revelation we are aware despite the high priest entering the Most Holy Place annually to offer blood for sin. God had prophesied their subsequent delivery to Abraham four centuries earlier (Genesis 15:13-14). We revisit this account because Paul’s carefully chosen allusion to the Passover hints at parallels between how God dealt with His chosen people then. but perhaps even centuries later (Hosea 8:5). despite the Israelites having no claim to righteousness. when left to their own devices they quickly returned to deep-seated Egyptian influenced pagan practice.[1] Neither Animal Sacrifices nor Grace Removes the Offense The Passover sacrifice appears to be a forerunner of the systematized animal sacrifices under Mosaic Law. despite a few Israelites’ sporadic acknowledgement of God (Exodus 1:17-21). Isaac. and Jacob (Genesis 50:24)—an oath He swore by Himself (Hebrews 6:13). Even though God commanded Israel’s adherence to these regulations. and how He deals with His chosen people now. not just at Sinai (Exodus 32). thus they were spared from the destroyer (Exodus 12:23). Israelite religious practice was little distinguishable from their Egyptian overlords. these acts were unable to clear the conscience of the worshipers (Hebrews 9:7-10) and it was impossible for the blood of animals to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). We remember how the Israelites in Egypt became partakers of God’s grace and recipients of God’s promises through a faithful and obedient response to the word of the Lord. or merit of any kind outside of God’s grace and His promises. However.Take note that in those days. but the offense of sinning against an infinitely holy God remained. but it was solely by God’s mercy. M. Even so. Murray . the Mosaic sacrifices were external regulations only. worthiness. Indeed. Instead it seems animal sacrifices offered in faith under Mosaic Law granted God’s people a temporary pardon. 15 Copyright © 2011 E. It is apparent that in a sense God had “passed over” those sins as well. As such it was by no righteousness of their own that the Israelites were saved. it is also evident that the Israelites were sufficiently faithful and obedient to follow the Passover instructions from the Lord.

Murray . M.Chapter Five: Near Vertical at the Top of the World A Sacrifice of Infinite Value 16 Copyright © 2011 E.

the impossibility of saving ourselves becomes immediately apparent. Evidently even God’s short-term solution of animal sacrifices did not take away sin nor did those sacrifices undo the colossal offense of defaming an infinitely holy God. or the death of mere animals—to accomplish such a feat would require a sacrifice of infinite value. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. 17 Copyright © 2011 E. How might we repair the righteousness of an infinitely righteous God? By asking such a question. The Weight of Glory and other addresses. indeed with God’s wrath abiding on us. As sinful creatures what could we possibly do to reaffirm God’s infinite righteousness? What reparations could we conceivably offer to undo offending an infinitely just God? Neither repentance alone. --C. p. is zero. Murray . nor even the collective condemnation of all humanity throughout history. M. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself. A solution of this magnitude would be completely beyond the reach of sinful mortals. would remove the infinite offense of sinning against the Great I AM. nor our deaths alone. it is obvious that left to our own devices we are hopelessly and irretrievably lost. out of relation to God. Lewis. no hope of redeeming ourselves. the immensity of God’s dilemma is beginning to crystallize: Despite being created for God’s glory Humankind has fallen into sin and in so doing has desecrated and demeaned God’s glory.Chapter Five: Near Vertical at the Top of the World A Sacrifice of Infinite Value The Reputation of God Thus. A Sacrifice of Infinite Value Having fallen short of God’s glory with nothing to offer. 119 Thus we see the humanistic folly of concluding Jesus Christ died for us solely because of our great value. It would be more accurate to say that humanity’s sin against the glory of God was so horrible that to remove it would require a solution on an infinite scale. We are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (verse 24). S. Yet God Himself has already spared us from His wrath by substituting an infinitely valuable sacrifice in our place.

. Equally amazing is that Christ’s sacrifice resolved the seemingly irresolvable tension caused by Humankind’s fall. 18 Copyright © 2011 E. but by His own blood and therefore achieved our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). all for God’s glory. Paul’s second mention of the demonstration of God’s righteousness reaffirms that the righteousness of God. mercy. and holiness. Indeed. of His righteousness at the present time Having demonstrated God’s righteousness concerning the Old Testament dispensation. Christ demonstrated the righteousness of God. Righteousness Past and Present 26 for the demonstration.When Christ died as our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) He entered the Most Holy Place once for all. He redeemed the transgressions that were committed and previously passed over under the old covenant (Hebrews 9:15) thereby vindicating (i. was the primary reason Jesus went to the Cross. concerning the past and the present age. justifying) God’s holy name from what had seemed to the angelic audience to be a gross miscarriage of justice by the God of Justice. Murray . I say.e. clearing. His infinitely valuable sacrifice effected the harmonious resolution of God’s justice. not by the blood of animals. M.

Chapter Six: The View from the Summit Your Claim to Righteousness 19 Copyright © 2011 E. M. Murray .

M.) so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. you made it!) Ω 20 Copyright © 2011 E. So that He would be the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus By the very same means God demonstrated His own righteousness by the infinitely valuable sacrifice of His Son. so to speak. By this demonstration God has defused a cosmic scale scandal and re-established. Murray . our Lord and Savior. the King of Kings. So that He would be just: Paul affirms by means of an Everest-size understatement that the God of Justice would “be just”—presumably undeniably and infinitely so in the eyes of all those in heaven and earth. His righteousness and justice as uncontested in the past. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. through the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son. 2. God demonstrates our righteousness today by our faith in that very same sacrifice—Jesus Christ. --2 Corinthians 5:21 Hallelujah Praise Jehovah! (Congratulations. 26 cont. so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. All of this was done for two simultaneous reasons: 1.Chapter Six: The View from the Summit Your Claim to Righteousness Paul emphatically declares that God. the present. has demonstrated His own righteousness: (v. and for all time.

M. His lives with his wife and family in Manila. Murray . and Semitic languages student. Philippines. Murray is an emerging markets project finance specialist. theologian. 21 Copyright © 2011 E.About the Author Paris E. M.