Who are the “All” of Romans 3:20-24?

Riley and Jones 2. Copywrite Douglas W Jerving 2017.

Permission is granted to reprint the following article as long as no changes are made and the byline, copyright information, and the resource box is included. Please let me know if you use this article by sending an email to dje@newedisongazette.com.

Who are the “All” of Romans 3:20-24?

Part Two

Copyright © August 7, 2017 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: -Romans 3:22-24.

In Part One we examined the possible implication of a limited universalism from the above passage from St Paul. We saw that limited universalism means that salvation is effected upon all the fleshly descendants of Adam, but not upon the fallen angels, demons or Satan. We considered the possibility that in the eschatological judgment, some portion of mankind might choose, because of their thorough-going hatred for God, to descend with Satan’s hordes into eternal punishment. We examined the possibility that Romans 3:23-24 implies such a limited universal salvation for all mankind. We gave serious interest to the possibility that the last 2000 years of historical theology may be wrong, and showed that sentimentalism is not equivalent to proper Biblical exegesis. In the end, the only proper way to resolve the questions raised by Romans 3:20-24 is to interpret it from the internally consistent passage itself, and its consistency with the rest of Scripture.

In this second part, we will see that Paul was not at all a universalist, and that Romans 3:20-24 does not teach the nearly universal salvation of all mankind.

In Part One we discussed the possibility that this passage of Scripture implies the ultimate salvation of the whole human race. If all who sin are the same as all who are being justified then we can say without doubt that all who are of the race of Adam will be saved. Paul’s theology at this point implies a limited universalism, so long as we are correctly interpreting it. Based on the (faulty) exegesis of Romans 3:20-24 set forth in Part One, all mankind will ultimately be saved.

This interpretation is based on the application of the “all” of verse 23 to the “being justified” of verse 24. If all have sinned and thereby all condemned, then it is also true that all have been justified, and therefore all mankind shall be redeemed. That is the interpretation of the passage which was set forth as a possibility in Part One above.

From the context, the righteousness of God is intended for all mankind by faith. It is open to all. Not just the Jews, but all mankind. The righteousness is “upon” all that believe, Jew or Gentile without difference. God’s grace extends to all mankind regardless of ethnic or national boundaries. That is the context of Romans chapter three.

It is more appropriate to interpret verse 23 as a parenthetical statement rather than considering it as a further development of verse 22. Verse 23 parenthetically acknowledges that both the Jew and the Gentile have sinned and fallen short. Paul installs a parenthetical statement at verse 23 regarding the fact that both groups are outside the justification of God. Romans 3:22-24 would then read as follows:

(Verse 22) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: (for there is no difference, [Comma.] (Verse 23) for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,) [Comma] [Parenthetical statement.] (Verse 24) being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…

Notice that the parenthesis begins with the last clause of verse 22 (v. 22c) and continues through verse 23. Because verses 22c-23 are parenthetical verse 24 cannot be a continuation of the thought of verse 23, and must be a continuation of verse 22a-b. All those who are being justified refers to all them that believe. Whether Jew or Gentile, only those who believe in Christ are the redeemed. We read, by paraphrase, the following:

“The righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ is offered to all mankind, and it is bestowed on all them that believe, (for there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, since all mankind have sinned and come short of the glory of God,) being justified freely by His grace…”

When we read verses 22c-23 parenthetically the passage makes tremendously more sense. All sin and all fall short, Jew or Gentile. There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile. They both, they all, have sinned, and both, all, fall short of glory. This is the theme of the whole passage: that the Jew and Gentile are both condemned.

“Upon all them that believe” (v22) and “(all) being justified” (v24) refers to all believers despite their heritage as Jew or Gentile, not to the parenthetical “all” of verse 23. It is not all that have sinned and fallen short (v 23) who are redeemed. It is all those who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile (v 22) who are redeemed. The “all” of verse 23 does not apply to the ”being justified” of verse 24 since that “all” is part of the parenthetical statement of verses 22c-23: “(for there is no difference, since all have sinned and come short…)”

Quite obviously then, an “all” does apply to those “being justified” but it is the “all” of verse 22b: “and upon all them that believe… being [all] justified freely by His grace.” It is all those who believe who are being justified. It is NOT all the flesh descendants of Adam who are saved. It is the spiritual descendants of Abraham, who, through faith in Christ are saved.

The Apostle Peter said that Paul writes things that are difficult to understand. I think this passage of Scripture is a perfect example of that. But it is still capable of understanding for all those who are truly seeking the Word of God, and determined to plumb its depths. Therefore Paul, in the pastoral epistles, admonishes that no novice should ascend to the ministry, lest he fall into condemnation due to his own ignorance.

The doctrine of the universal salvation of all mankind is completely contrary to the whole counsel of the Word of God; It contradicts and contravenes all Scripture. It is not the teaching of the Bible, but is a fiction made up by the emotional and sentimental philosophies of men who justify their anarchy against God. It is selfish autonomy as opposed to a Biblical theonomy.

The doctrine of eternal punishment of the wicked is thorough-going from Genesis to Revelation. It is undeniably one of the most evident teachings of the Bible, and therefore of the believing Christian Church. The Old Testament clearly teaches life after death (Gen 5:24; Lev 19:28; Num 16:30; Deut 26:14; Ps 55:15.) Yahweh (God) judges sin (Ps 1:5 f; 96:13; 98:9; Eccles 12:14 with11:9). God’s judgment is eternal (Job 1:8; Ps 49:12-15, 19; 69:28; 104:35; Prov 11:7; 14:32; 15:24; Isa 33:14; 66:24; Dan 12:2; Mal 4:1). (Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 422. CMP, 2002.) These passages from the Old Testament are the foundation for Jesus’ teaching on the eternal punishment of the wicked. It is clear from this background that Jesus’ own teaching on the subject cannot be written off as “mere” parables as many universal salvation teachers say. Jesus really believed and taught the eternal punishment of the wicked. (See my marginal notes in the above text on my shelf.)

Paul is explaining how the Gospel incorporates the salvation of all who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. He is not teaching that all mankind will be saved (which would be understood if v 23 were not interpreted parenthetically). He makes clear that salvation is offered to all mankind, but is applied only to those who believe.

Considering the whole context, Paul is not teaching the universal salvation of all men, but only of those who believe, whether they are Jew or Gentile. He makes the point that all are condemned despite their heritage (v 23) by way of parenthetical argument. He says that all believers are redeemed, not all mankind.

All have sinned and fallen short, Jew and Gentile alike. All are offered the righteousness of God (v 22) and all who believe are recipients of that righteousness.

Part 2 of this dissertation therefore shows that Paul was not at all teaching a form of universalism, but rather that salvation is open to all who believe and obey the Gospel, Jew and Gentile alike. Salvation is unto all mankind; i.e., available to all. Salvation is effective upon all who believe.

I am always intrigued by those people on social media that proudly declare that they are going to hell. They think all their friends will be there too, and they’ll have one big party for the rest of eternity, without God getting in their way. What intrigues me is that as soon as a Christian discusses Biblical morality, their hackles go up. “Are you condemning me to hell?” (Wait! I thought that was where you wanted to go. Aren’t you choosing hell yourself?) What they don’t seem to understand is that we want to deliver them from that same condemnation to which we were at one time also condemned. No. I don’t want you to go to hell. I don’t want to go to hell. Why would I wish that on you?

My prayer is that all men will repent and turn to the living God, believe in His Son Jesus Christ and be saved from the eternal fire that resides already upon the wicked.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at dje@newedisongazette.com.


Return to The New Edison Gazette main site.