“Are we worse off?” or “Are we better off?”? (Romans 3:9)

In my book, I argue that “Are we [Jews] worse off?” is a plausible translation of the question προεχόμεθα; in Romans 3:9, given the context in which it appears.

Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

I describe the context in this way:

[In Rom 3:1] Paul continues to affirm the epistemological advantages of Jews. In response to the question, “what is the advantage [περισσός] of the Jew? Or what is the value [ὠφέλεια] of circumcision?” (cf. Rom 2:25), Paul answers that “primarily” (πρῶτον) they were “entrusted” (verb πιστεύειν) with the “oracles of God” (τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ). The word πρῶτον (Rom 3:2) recalls the statement of Jewish priority in Rom 1:16. For Paul,  then, the primary advantage of being Jewish is epistemological. In Rom 3:3–8, Paul goes on to claim that God’s “words” (Rom 3:4) and his “truth” (Rom 3:4, 7), are indeed very good, since they show God’s righteousness in judging sin—even if that sin is committed by the hearers of the Law themselves. (p. 155)

I then describe how this leads to a plausible translation of Rom 3:9:

This observation leads to a plausible reading of the question in Rom 3:9 (προεχόμεθα;) as “Are we [Jews] worse off?”, taking the verb as a passive indicative rather than a middle indicative. Cranfield (1975, 1.189) rejects this interpretation as “unsuitable to the context.” Yet if Rom 3:1–2 is asserting that God’s Law is indeed a special epistemological privilege for Jews, while Rom 3:3–8 is asserting that God’s glory is specially revealed by his judgment against those Jews who did not respond rightly to the Law, then “Are we [Jews] worse off [by having the Law]?” (Rom 3:9a) follows naturally. Furthermore, Paul’s reminder about universal subjection to sin (Rom 3:9b) is a suitable answer to the question, since it reminds the readers that Gentiles are just as sinful as Jews and so equally subject to judgment (cf. Rom 2:9–13). Although Jewish sin may have a special role in revealing God’s justice, Jews are no more or less liable to judgment itself than Gentiles are. (p. 155 n. 62)

NB The reference to Cranfield is from The Epistle to the Romans. 2 vols. The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975.

The full details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 5 of the book (pp. 155). The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

 

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