Romans 3:23

Do not argue with anyone about whether or not Jesus died in the place of every single person who has ever lived. First, unless you believe Jesus’ death failed in any sense, the answer is obvious. But also, the biblical writers are never addressing that issue. In fact, they do not even try to argue that often about whether or not every single person who has ever lived is a sinner.

Trust me, I believe every person who has ever lived is a sinner and deserving of God’s wrath. But all the weight of the “all” passages in the NT are addressing the fact that Jews and Gentiles are together now. Whenever “all” is positive, the emphasis is that Gentiles are included. Whenever the “all” is negative, it seems the weight is that even Jews are included.

For example, I have concluded this week that Romans 3.23 is ever-so-slightly misquoted by everyone. I have always used it to argue that every single person who has ever lived is a sinner. While I still believe that truth, and believe there are many passages that teach that, that is only implied in Rom 3.23. The “all” in v23 is the same group being talked about in v24: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace…” Clearly, not every single human being who has ever lived is justified by God’s grace. The “all” of v23 is supposed to shock us by pointing out that even Jews are included in that group. Paul is arguing that anyone can become righteous apart the Law; it is a righteousness through faith in Christ “for all who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned…and are justified by his grace…” (Rom 3.21-24). The argument is about God seeing no distinction among mankind. You might interpret Rom 3.23-24 as “all (who are ever saved) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justfied by his grace…” The weight of “all” is always on the surprising nature of Jews and Gentiles being blocked together.

Who cares right? Two things: first, I would simply point out how easy it is to get the simplest verses exegetically wrong (“wrong” might be a strong word here). We must work hard to get the text right! This is God’s Word to us! Second, arguments about limited atonement never enter the Apostles’ minds. I think they believe the same thing John Calvin believes. It’s just that it never enters their minds when they are making arguments. Not only in the atonement passages do I not think it enters their minds, I am not even sure they are thinking of “all” (as in every single human being)  in the sin passages. That is how far those kinds of arguments are from their minds.

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