Romans 3:1-4 (ESV)
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”
The key to understanding Romans is understanding what Paul is doing when he says, “By no means!” Look this verse up in different translations and you’ll see many variations. The Greek just doesn’t translate succinctly into English. It’s only two words in the original—μὴ γένοιτο (may GEN-oi-taw, with the “g” pronounced hard, as in “get,” not soft, as in “gel.”)
“May” just means “not.” “Genoitaw” is the verb “to become” in the optative mood. Optative is like subjunctive—something that might happen—but with the extra sense of desire. So, “may genoitaw” translates to, “I hope that never happens,” or more literally, “Not that it might ever come to pass.” That’s too long, so translators try to come up with something short that means the same thing. The King James translates it as, “God forbid:” The NKJV says, “Certainly not!” The NIV says, “Not at all!”
Paul will use this phrase over and over in Romans. Every time Paul asks a question and answers it with may genoitaw, he’s doing two things. First, he’s saying that the answer to the question is no.
Second (and this is critically important) he’s saying that it’s a good question. If you’re wondering about this, you’re on the right track; you understand his point. This forces the reader’s mind down a very specific path.
But these questions are going to get increasingly blunt. Not everyone is aggressive enough to even consider them. So Paul brings them up. By asking tough questions—questions we may not even be willing to think—he’ll force us to confront tough issues, and to fully understand what he’s teaching.
It’s a brilliant trick and it makes the theology of Romans bulletproof. There’s no room for confusion.
So, with this first use of “may genoitaw,” Paul answers the question, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”
Thank God for that. Where would we be without his longsuffering faithfulness? We’re saved by grace—incredible, extreme, ridiculous grace.
Praise God for the gospel of grace. Praise Him for his longsuffering faithfulness, in the face of our relentless faithlessness. Praise Him for Paul and his epistles. Praise Him for Romans.
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