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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 3:9

9. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.

9. Quid ergo? præcellimus? Nequaquam: ante enim constituimus tam Judæos quam Græcos, omnes sub peccato esse.

9. What then? He returns from his digression to his subject. For lest the Jews should object that they were deprived of their right, as he had mentioned those distinctions of honor, for which they thought themselves superior to the Gentiles, he now at length replies to the question -- in what respect they excelled the Gentiles. And though his answer seems in appearance to militate against what he had said before, (for he now strips those of all dignity to whom he had attributed so much,) there is yet no discord; for those privileges in which he allowed them to be eminent, were separate from themselves, and dependent on God's goodness, and not on their own merit: but here he makes inquiry as to their own worthiness, whether they could glory in any respect in themselves. Hence the two answers he gives so agree together, that the one follows from the other; for while he extols their privileges, by including them among the free benefits of God, he shows that they had nothing of their own. Hence, what he now answers might have been easily inferred; for since it was their chief superiority, that God's oracles were deposited with them, and they had it not through their own merit, there was nothing left for them, on account of which they could glory before God. Now mark the holy contrivance (sanctum artificium) which he adopts; for when he ascribes pre-eminency to them, he speaks in the third person; but when he strips them of all things, he puts himself among them, that he might avoid giving offense.

For we have before brought a charge, etc. The Greek verb which Paul adopts, aitiasthai is properly a forensic term; and I have therefore preferred to render it, |We have brought a charge;| for an accuser in an action is said to charge a crime, which he is prepared to substantiate by testimonies and other proofs. Now the Apostle had summoned all mankind universally before the tribunal of God, that he might include all under the same condemnation: and it is to no purpose for any one to object, and say that the Apostle here not only brings a charge, but more especially proves it; for a charge is not true except it depends on solid and strong evidences, according to what Cicero says, who, in a certain place, distinguishes between a charge and a slander. We must add, that to be under sin means that we are justly condemned as sinners before God, or that we are held under the curse which is due to sin; for as righteousness brings with it absolution, so sin is followed by condemnation.

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