As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one…(Romans 3:10).
Romans 3:10 is probably one of the most misunderstood and misquoted verses among Christians. It is often taken as a sweeping condemnation of every individual, but is this the proper interpretation? If it is, it should harmonizes with the balance of scripture.
To begin with let’s look at Romans 3:10 within a larger framework.
10. As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
13. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
14. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
15. Their feet are swift to shed blood:
16. Destruction and misery are in their ways:
17. And the way of peace have they not known:
18. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Again, is this true of everyone? Is this a sweeping condemnation of all people? The words “there is none righteous, no not one,” belongs with all the other charges such as none who seeks God, none that does good, tongues full of deceit, feet that are swift to shed blood, none who fear of God, etc.
WHAT ABOUT ABEL?
In Matthew 23:35 Jesus refers to Abel as RIGHTEOUS ABEL. And the author of Hebrews tells us By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, BY WHICH HE OBTAINED WITNESS THAT HE WAS RIGHTEOUS, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh (Hebrews 11:4). The apostle John tells us that Abel’s works were RIGHTEOUS (1 John 3:12).
WHAT ABOUT ENOCH?
The Bible says, ENOCH WALKED WITH GOD (Genesis 5:24). The author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation HE HAD THIS TESTIMONY, THAT HE PLEASED GOD.
Enoch was such a man of God, who pleased God, he never died! Jude tells us that Enoch prophesied of the coming of the Lord as well (Jude 1:14).
WHAT ABOUT NOAH?
The Bible says Noah was a JUST MAN and PERFECT in his generations, and NOAH WALKED WITH GOD (Genesis 6:9). Noah was RIGHTEOUS in the sight of the Lord (Genesis 7:1) and in Ezekiel, God mentions Noah along with Daniel and Job as RIGHTEOUS (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). In the New Testament, the apostle Peter refers to Noah as A PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (2 Peter 2:5) and the writer of Hebrews testifies of Noah’s righteousness.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, MOVED WITH FEAR (the fear of the Lord), prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, AND BECAME THE HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS BY FAITH (Hebrews 11:7).
WHAT ABOUT ABRAHAM ?
The scriptures tells us, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for RIGHTEOUSNESS (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3; 6; James 2:23). Abraham was called the FRIEND OF GOD (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23) and throughout scripture God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 32:22; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32).
Jesus said Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad (John 8:56) and God’s promise to Abraham was to bless all the nations through his seed, Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:16). Abraham is called the FATHER OF FAITH and the FATHER OF ALL WHO BELIEVE (Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7, 9, 29) and the BLESSING OF ABRAHAM comes on the Gentiles through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:14). God found Abraham’s heart faithful (Nehemiah 9:7,8).
Abraham was a man of faith who obeyed and feared God (Genesis 22: 12; 26:5; Hebrews 11:8). We see also that Isaac, Jacob. and Joseph were men of faith who feared the Lord and obeyed Him as well.
Also, the apostle Peter refers to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as an example of HOLY WOMEN, who TRUSTED GOD, by adorning themselves with A MEEK AND QUITE SPIRIT (1 Peter 3:4-6).
Lot, Abraham’s nephew, also was a righteous man. In 2 Peter 2:7-10, the apostle Peter references Lot as an example of how the Lord is able to deliver THE GODLY out of temptations. Peter calls Lot a JUST and RIGHTEOUS man whom the Lord delivered from the fitly lifestyle of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha.
We also read of others who feared God in scripture before we ever get to Moses and the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. For example the Hebrew midwives FEARED GOD and refused to obey the King of Egypt (Genesis 1:17, 20-21) and because they feared the Lord, many lives of Hebrew children were spared.
WHAT ABOUT JOSEPH, MOSES, JOSHUA, AND CALEB?
Joseph fled from sin when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-12).
Moses is called THE MAN OF GOD (Deuteronomy 33:1; Psalm 90:1; 1 Chronicles 23;14) and was a very HUMBLE MAN (Numbers 12:3) and interceded for Israel seeking God’s forgiveness and favor (Exodus 32:11). Moses feared the Lord (Deuteronomy 9:16-29) and was faithful in God’s house (Numbers 12:7; Hebrews 3:5).
Furthermore, the author of Hebrews says, By FAITH Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; ESTEEMING THE REPROACH OF CHRIST greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned (Hebrews 11:24-29).
Moses’ successor, Joshua was chosen by God to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land because he was a man who sought God, feared God, and trusted God. Also the mantle which God had placed on Moses was transferred to Joshua before he led Israel into the Promised land (Deuteronomy 31:14, 23; 34:9).
During the time of Moses we read of others like Caleb, who along with Joshua were the only 2 among the 12 spies who trusted God and because of their faith they were rewarded by God. In fact God said of the following about Caleb.
But MY SERVANT CALEB, because he had ANOTHER SPIRIT with him, and hath FOLLOWED ME FULLY, him will I bring into the land where into he went; and his seed shall possess it (Numbers 14:24).
WHAT ABOUT PHINEHAS AND OTHERS?
We also read of Phinehas, who was of priestly descent. He was zealous for God’s Holy justice and turned God’s wrath away from the children of Israel (Numbers 25:7-13) and his zeal for God was counted as righteousness to him and to his generations (Psalm 106:30-31). God gave to him and his descendants “a covenant of peace” because he was jealous with zeal for the Lord.
Job also was a RIGHTEOUS man (Ezekiel 14:14,20). In fact the Bible says he was PERFECT and UPRIGHT, and one that FEARED GOD, and ESCHEWED EVIL (Job 1:1). Job was such a godly man that God even showcased him in the face of Satan (Job 1:8). Job was God’s servant, a man accepted by God (Job 42:7-8) and an example of patience (James 5:10-11) and he learned that God was merciful and compassionate.
As we venture through the scriptures we read of God’s servants such as Gideon, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, Hannah, Samuel, Jonathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nehemiah, Ezra, Esther and others who feared God, sought Him, and were righteous in His sight.
We read of David, A MAN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:32). In 2 Samuel David said, “the Lord rewarded me according to my RIGHTEOUSNESS: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me” (2 Samuel 22:21) and “the Lord hath recompensed me according to my RIGHTEOUSNESS; according to my cleanness in his eye sight” (2 Samuel 22:25).
King Solomon was blessed by God because his father, David, walked before God IN TRUTH, and IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, and was RIGHTEOUS IN HIS HEART (1 kings 3:6; 1 Kings 9:4). David is also the one who said, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin”. This is cited by Paul in Romans 4.
Josiah who was a descendant of David and the King of Judah, was like his father David in that had a tender heart before the Lord and he humbled himself before God when he heard the Word of the Lord (2 Kings 22:19).
We also read of Daniel who had an EXCELLENT SPIRIT (Daniel 5;12) whom God called RIGHTEOUS, along with Noah and Job (Ezekiel 14;14,20).
In Nehemiah 7:2, Hananiah is mentioned as a faithful man and more God fearing than most others.
Furthermore we read in Psalms and Proverbs about those who are righteous and those who seek God and who fear the Lord. Phinehas, mentioned previously, is spoken of in Psalms 106 as “RIGHTEOUS.”
The apostle Peter tells us that God spoke by the mouth of all HIS HOLY PROPHETS (Acts 3:21) and makes reference to the words which was spoken by THE HOLY PROPHETS as they testified of the coming of the day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:2). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews expounds on the faith of some of the Old Testament saints calling them A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES that have gone on before us (Hebrews 11-12:1).
NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES
When we come into the New Testament we see more examples of people who served the Lord, feared Him, and sought Him.
We read of Zacharias and Elisabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. The Bible says, THEY WERE BOTH RIGHTEOUS BEFORE GOD, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord BLAMELESS (Luke 1:6).
We also read of Simeon, a JUST and DEVOUT man, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel: and THE HOLY GHOST WAS UPON HIM (Luke 2:25).
We read of Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She was an elderly lady who had been a widow for a long time. The Bible says she departed not from the temple, but SERVED GOD with fastings and prayers night and day (Luke 2;36-38).
In Matthew 13:17 Jesus said to his disciples, “many prophets and RIGHTEOUS MEN have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
In Matthew 23:35 Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes of all the RIGHTEOUS blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of RIGHTEOUS ABEL unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, who was slain between the temple and the altar.
Furthermore, we read how John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus the Messiah, was a JUST and HOLY man (Mark 6:20) and he was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). We also read how Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist, to FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS (Matthew 3:15) and how Jesus said to the temple authorities, “John came unto you IN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him (Matthew 21:32, see also Luke 7:30).
Joseph, the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus was a JUST man (Matthew 1:19) and Jesus commended Nathanael for being an Israelite indeed, in whom is NO GUILE (John 1:47). In Luke 23:50-51 we read of Joseph of Arimathaea who was a GOOD and JUST man.
After Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, we read of men like Cornelius, a Gentile centurion from Caesarea. The Bible says he was a DEVOUT MAN, and one that FEARED GOD with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always (Acts 10:1-2).
Not only did Cornelius fear God, but those of his household did as well.
When the apostle Peter was sent to testify of Jesus to Cornelius and his house, Peter said, “of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation HE THAT FEARTH HIM, and WORKETH RIGHTEOUSNESS, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).
In Acts 13 the apostle Paul said the to those to whom he was preaching, “Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you FEARTH GOD, to you is the word of this salvation sent” (Acts 13:26).
In both cases, when Peter preached to Cornelius and his house, and when Paul preached in Acts 13, those who FEARED GOD had not yet been born again and because of their reverence for God, the word of salvation was sent to them.
Finally, in Romans 3:10-18, the apostle Paul is quoting from Old Testament scriptures which came by HOLY MEN OF GOD AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST (2 Peter 1:21).
With these examples we can see that the words in Romans 3:10-18 cannot be rightly interpreted as a sweeping condemnation of every person who has ever lived, but should be understood as the condemnation of those who reject God and do such things because of their unbelief (Romans 3:3-18).
Romans 3:10-18 uses quotes from the Old Testament which make a distinction between the wicked and the godly.
Romans 3:10-12 is taken from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 which are almost identical. Both begin with the words, “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”
Romans 3:13 is a quote from Psalm 5:9 and Psalm 140:3. In both, the context is referring to deliverance from wicked and evil people. In both Psalm 5 and 140, the Psalmist appeals to God to deliver him from those who are wicked because he is righteous.
Romans 3:14 is a quote from Psalm 10:7 which is a Psalm regarding the wicked who show contempt towards God in their pride. This is in contrast to the humble and poor who trust in God.
Romans 3:15 is a quote from Proverbs 6:18: Consider Provebrs 6:16-19:
16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
It seems that verses 16-17 is a comment made by Paul regarding what has been said in verses 10-15 and not necessarily a direct quote from the Old Testament.
Verse 18 is a quote from Psalm 36:1, which is another reference to the wicked in contrast to those who trust in the Lord.
When we consider the Old Testament contexts from which Paul quotes in Romans 3:10-19, we cannot conclude that Paul is making a sweeping statement that every person is wicked, wretched, and evil, for in those places from which Paul is quoting, there is a contrast made between those described in Romans 3:10-19 and the righteous, humble and needy.
Romans 3:9 is a pivotal verse regarding Paul’s words in 3:10-19. Consider verse 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…
Paul is echoing his statements from Romans 1:18 – 3:8. His argument is that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and in need of salvation.
In Romans 1:18-32 Paul expounds on how the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man who were not given the Law as the people of Israel were. In chapter 2, Paul takes the “law breaking Jew” to task showing how he is condemned. As we move into chapter three Paul is still expounding on the theme of Jew and Gentile showing how ALL are under the power of sin.
Romans 3:10-19 is not a discourse about how wicked and evil every unsaved person is but rather an argument that ALL are under sin and in need of salvation. In chapter 4 Paul expounds on Abraham as the father of faith because he believed God and was declared righteous. Certainly Paul did not think that Romans 3:10-18 was a description that could be placed on Abraham, the friend of God and father of our faith.