In a legal arraignment, the document detailing the specific charges against the accused is called the indictment. In a civil court, there is always the possibility that the charges could be dropped if the accused can prove his innocence or cast enough doubt on the charges brought against him.
But sinners are never afforded that luxury in God’s courtroom. The charges against us are irrefutable and inescapable before our omniscient Judge. In that realm, the indictment could hardly be more grim or more imposing. It is a detailed accusation drawn entirely from an infallible source—Scripture. There are thirteen counts in Romans 3:10–17 brought against every person who has ever lived. Every one of them is a direct quotation or paraphrase from the Old Testament:
1. There is none righteous, not even one.
2. There is none who understands.
3. There is none who seeks for God.
4. All have turned aside.
5. Together they have become useless.
6. There is none who does good, there is not even one.
7. Their throat is an open grave.
8. With their tongues they keep deceiving.
9. The poison of asps is under their lips.
10. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
11. Their feet are swift to shed blood.
12. Destruction and misery are in their paths.
13. And the path of peace they have not known.
Verse 18 then summarizes the indictment with one final Old Testament quotation: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
It is a universal indictment of all humanity. Four times in this passage the word none is used. Twice that expression is underscored with the words not even one. The word all is used in verses 9, 12, 19, 22, and 23—five times total in this discussion of the universality of sin. So this is a comprehensive statement. No one escapes the indictment.
The practice of stringing together verses and phrases drawn from diverse biblical sources was very common in rabbinic teaching. This is a didactic device known as charaz (literally, “string of pearls”). Paul draws, from multiple Old Testament sources, several parallel phrases about the universality of sin. And he strings them together like pearls—except that the result is not pretty. The full necklace is a choking indictment against every member of the human race.
This is no mere opinion of Paul’s, nor is it dry theoretical doctrine. He purposely starts with the phrase “As it is written,” in order to highlight the divine authority behind this indictment. He is employing a phrase commonly used in rabbinical discourse to introduce biblical citations. It’s an expression employed many times throughout the New Testament—often by Christ Himself.
Our Lord used it when He was being tempted by Satan. The devil assaulted Jesus with three sinister dares. All three times Christ answered with direct quotations from the Old Testament, saying “It is written . . . It is written again . . . Away with you, Satan! For it is written . . .” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10, NKJV, emphasis added). The phrase “it is written” is used more than sixty times in the New Testament. (It is used more than a dozen times in the Old Testament as well.) It is a formal appeal to the highest of all authorities, an implicit recognition that when Scripture speaks, God has spoken.
The Greek expression is a perfect passive indicative—meaning it describes a definitive action with abiding significance. The idea it conveys is, “This stands written as an eternal truth.” The perfect tense is always significant in koine Greek (the language of the New Testament). In this expression, that tense serves to underscore the finality and continuing authority of Scripture as the unchanging and eternal Word of God. What stands written is settled forever in heaven (Psalm 119:89). In Jesus’s words, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).
So this is God’s definitive, authoritative Word on the hopeless depravity of fallen humanity.
Paul’s indictment comes in three parts. The first deals with character, the second with conversation, and the third with conduct. In other words, the corruption of sin affects our very nature, it is revealed in what we say, and it is manifest in the way we act. And we’ll consider all three of those aspects in the days ahead