Theodore Jennings wants to socialize and politicize Paul. He thinks that highlighting Paul’s concerns for classic political issues like law and justice does better justice to what Paul actually wrote (Outlaw Justice).

But then his agenda bumps up against the text. On the catena of Psalm texts in Romans 3, Jennings writes, “some or few are ‘just’ through the doing of the law. But doing the works of the law has proven incapable of producing a just totality or sociality. The efficacy of the law in producing justice is severely limited: it produces only enough just persons as to demonstrate that humanity is without excuse relative to the demands of the law. If absolutely none were just, we could say that it’s no use; it’s impossible. So the presence of some, even very few, who are or seem to be just demonstrates the guild of the totality, for the totality is not just, neither the Greco-Roman nor the Judean totality” (63).

No doubt the last observation is true, and true to Paul. But it’s difficult to shake the sense that Paul is talking about individuals, and universalizing his claims that none are just.

It’s difficult to shake that sense because, well, that’s what the text says. To “there is not a righteous one” is added oude eis - not even one (3:10). To “there is none who does good” is added ouk estin heos henos - there is not even one (3:12). No flesh is justified before God (v. 20) - not “little” or “some” flesh, but none.

So, yes, it is impossible. Which is why it takes God’s action in Christ apart from law to resolve it.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart