In verse 9, Paul asks, “[A]re we better than they?” The pronoun “we” includes all who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The “they” are Gentile believers. The church at Rome was made up of both Jew and Gentile believers. Paul had reason to believe that there were Jewish believers in the church who might think themselves to have favor with God because Jews were given the scriptures and were of the lineage of Abraham.
In answering his own question, the apostle states that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, are under sin.
In chapter 2, Paul argued that the knowledge of the law which Jews possessed was not an advantage. Jews knew the law but broke it. Sin separates man from God. The law reveals that all men are separated from God. The sin of men and the righteousness of God are as oil and water.
God did not give the law to a sinless people. Jewish believers are of the same need as Gentile believers. Both need God to deal with the barrier that separates them from Him and to deliver them from the power of sin. Both need Christ to intercede.
Many Jewish believers erred (Paul was not among them) in that they saw themselves differently from how God saw them. God reveals Himself to men through the scriptures. In verses 10 through 18, Paul quotes Old Testament scripture after Old Testament scripture that reveals the manner in which God views both Jew and Gentile.
The words, “There is none righteous, no, not one”, is from Psalm 14, a psalm of David. None, not one, does not leave room for exception. This psalm begins with the statement: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Righteousness cannot be found in atheists. Can an exception exist for believers?
Is Abraham not an exception? Abraham’s journey on earth was before God gave the law to Moses. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him for righteousness. God did not find righteousness in Abraham. God reached out to Abraham; God instructed Abraham to go to a land which He would show him and He would make a great nation of him. Abraham obeyed and his belief was counted for righteousness. Abraham’s righteousness did not exist before he believed. Abraham was not born believing. Likewise, neither Jew nor Gentile is born believing. God finds righteousness in no man. There are no exceptions.
In verse 13, Paul quotes from Psalm 5 and Psalm 140. Both are psalms of David. All psalms are given by God through the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 5, David, a man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14), describes the wickedness of his enemies as an open grave waiting to devour him. In Psalm 140, David describes evil men as having the poison of asps beneath their tongues. Wickedness and evil are of men, not of God. The evil and wickedness of man is the natural result of man’s desire to be as God (See Gen. 3). God created Satan perfect in all his ways. Satan remained perfect until iniquity was found in him (Ezek. 28:15). The iniquity that bubbled from Satan stemmed from a desire to be as God (Isa. 14:14). Man, like Satan, has chosen rebellion against God.
One can argue that David was a Jew and these words apply Gentiles. This argument is destroyed in verses 15-17. Verses 15 through 17 are from Isaiah 59. The prophet Isaiah was moved by the Holy Spirit to detail the sins of Jews in this scripture. The quickness of the Jew to shed blood and destroy was vividly demonstrated when the Son was tried, found guilty, and crucified. Both Jew and Gentile are dependent upon God to count belief for righteousness.
The last scripture which the apostle cites is: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Ps. 36:1). Believers are not to be excluded. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, took his eyes from the Lord and sinned. No man is righteous, no, not one. All men are guilty. Knowledge of the law does not change the verdict. The law reveals the universal guilt of all men. The law reveals that man cannot supply his own righteousness. No act of atonement can undo a single sin.
If knowledge of the scriptures were to produce an advantage to the Jew, the Jew would have come to God begging for forgiveness and asking Him to supply the righteousness which they did not possess. The Jews sought a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression; they did not seek a Savior.
Believers enjoy a new relationship with God because He counts belief for righteousness. The Father counts the righteousness of the Son to whosoever shall believe upon Him. Believers have been given victory over sin. The Lord Jesus is our victory.