9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
The section 3:9-12 is the final discourse in a series of diatribes that began at 2:1 dealing with God’s impartiality. Closing the argument, this concluding diatribe focuses on all men rather than just Jew or Gentile. Verse nine begins the section dealing with the universal sin of mankind
Human character falls short of the nature of God so none is righteous (3:9-12).
Man is inwardly out of phase with God’s character (3:13-14).
Man is outwardly out of phase with God’s character (3:15-18).
Paul set his argument as in a courtroom situation. He presented the evidence by quoting Scripture (vv. 10-12) and the verdict in verses 19 and 20.
9 What then [inference from chapters two and three]?
The idea of this question is “What argument can we give on the behalf of all people?” Paul drew his argument to a conclusion. “How are we to understand this situation?”
Are we [believers] better than they [Jews and Gentiles]?
The New Testament uses the Greek word for “better” only here in the New Testament. This question comes from hypothetical readers to whom Paul wrote, most of whom were from Gentile background. Believers need the grace of God as much as anyone else.
Not at all.
This is a blanket indictment. Paul decisively made his statement. Roman readers were not better than Jews and Gentiles in any sense. Jews do possess advantages over others (2:17-20; 3:1-2) but God does not provide them privileged treatment. All people (Christian, Jew, and Gentile) are “under sin.” The word “all” strengthens the “not.” Nothing shields man from the justice of God.
For we [Paul and his associates] have previously charged [prior accusation] both Jews and Greeks
Both Jews (2:17f) and Gentiles (1:18-2:16) are under God’s judgment. This is incrimination of all people. Paul said in effect, “I am telling you as it is.” The words “previously charged” are a legal term in the Greek to designate a people earlier indicted, as shown in Romans 1:1-3:8. “Previously charged” comes from two words before and to bring an accusation against. We find the conclusion of 1:18-3:8 in 3:9-18.
that they are all [emphatic] under sin.
This is the first mention of the 49 times Romans uses the word “sin.” “Sin” in the singular denotes the power of sin in the lives of people. “Sins” in the plural refers to deeds of sin. Since “sin” is in the singular in this verse, it denotes a power, an alluring arena that draws people under its influence. Sin can dominate those under its power.
The phrase “under sin” occurs a number of times in chapters six and seven. The idea is that “sin” is a force with a negative effect. That effect is blindness to God and His Word. Sin so wraps its tentacles around the individual that he cannot help but commit acts of sin. All stand guilty before God’s bar of divine justice. Everyone has a need for salvation provided by God. All people have solidarity in the results of sin. All stand indicted before God. This is legal language whereby Paul filed charges in a court of law.
Universal sinfulness is a fundamental principle of Christianity.
Sin is characteristic of all mankind. Some people think that they are inherently better than other others because of their philanthropy and religiosity. Some Christians even think that God saved them because they are more deserving than others. However, all of us are equally sinners before an absolutely holy God.
All mankind is under both the penalty and the power of sin.