What law was Paul referring to in Romans 3:19-20?


I have a few questions about the Law in the Bible that I hope you can help answer, please. I am looking for specific information or verses and not general information, please. I may have some follow up questions after you reply if I need to clarify my understanding regarding any of your responses if that is ok with you.
  1. What Law is Paul referencing in Romans 3:19-20?
  2. When was this law that Paul references in Romans 3:19-20 finalized, or when was it done being written?
  3. If there was a point when this law was finalized, were there any other laws added to it after it was finalized, like an amendment for example?
Thanks in advance for your response.


After detailing the sins of the Greek society, Paul said, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin" (Romans 3:9). The Jews, and Paul includes himself as a Jew, are no better than the Greeks because both groups sin. The advantages that the Jews had were ultimately of no consequence to the final outcome. To emphasize his point, Paul quotes numerous Old Testament statements indicating that everyone sins.

Romans 3:10-12 come from Psalms 14:1-3 and Psalms 53:1-3. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Though the Hebrew says “does good,” Paul translates it as “just” which is in the range of mean for the Hebrew term and better fits Paul’s overall argument. “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” is based on Psalms 14:2. It is not a direct quote, but rather the conclusion drawn from God’s search of mankind. “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” The word for “unprofitable” literally refers to spoiled food.

Romans 3:13 comes from Psalms 5:9 and Psalms 140:3. In Psalms 5, David is speaking about the lies and slander people speak which results in destruction (Psalms 5:6). “The asp, or adder, is a species of serpent whose poison is of such active operation that it kills almost the instant that it penetrates, and that without remedy. It is small, and commonly lies concealed, often in the sand in a road, and strikes the traveler before he sees it” [Barnes’ Notes]. Poisonous snakes store their venom in sacks under their teeth. David is comparing an asp’s bite to what happens with people who tell lies. It acts quickly and there is no remedy that will stop its destruction (Jeremiah 9:3-5)

Romans 3:14 comes from Psalms 10:7. An example can be found in Shimei taunt of David (II Samuel 16:5, 7-8). Blessings and cursing are opposites, they should not come from the same person, yet too often they do (James 3:10).

Romans 3:15-17 is a condensation of Isaiah 50:7-8. The charge is that beyond causing harm, they are eager to do so. They leave behind them destruction and misery. They are not familiar with peace.

Romans 3:18 is from Psalms 36:1. There is no restraint on their actions because they have no fear of God.

By using a variety of Old Testament sources from different time periods, Paul shows that even while the Jews lived under the Law, their own Law condemned them for failing to be obedient. This is not to say every single Jew was guilty of all these crimes, but it does prove that being a Jew did not prevent these problems. Moreover, it demonstrates that sin is a widespread, universal problem.

"Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20).

The Law charges everyone with sin (Psalms 14:3). Therefore, even those under the Law are condemned. God did so to remove any excuse that might be offered (Psalms 107:42; Acts 13:39). Both the Jews and Greeks are guilty of sin before God.

The conclusion is that mere obedience to the Law is insufficient to justify men (Psalms 143:2; Galatians 2:16; 3:11). This does not say, as too many conclude, that no obedience is necessary. Paul has only proved that obedience alone is not enough because everyone eventually fails to obey in some aspect. But implied is that there ought to be some attempt at obedience. It is why men are being held accountable.

One area of difficulty produced by the Law is that the more we understand the Law and what we ought to do, the more we realize that we come up woefully short of the ideals the Law called men to reach. Paul talks of this at greater length in Romans 7.

Therefore, in answer to your questions,

  1. The context shows that Paul is specifically talking about the law recorded in the Old Testament.
  2. The Old Law was completed when Malachi was penned. Malachi was the last book written. This same law was then brought to an end when Jesus died on the cross. "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:13-14).
  3. The Old Law was a progressive revelation that took place over a thousand-year period. When people talk about amending a law system, they are changing the terms. The Old Law was rarely amended. It was clarified and applied to a variety of situations. One of the rare amendments was the priesthood. Originally, the priesthood was to be made up of the firstborn. When Israel sinned and the tribe of Levi stood with Moses, God gave the priesthood to the Levites.


Mr. Hamilton,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your time in answering some of my earlier questions. I do have some more thoughts about what you are saying and would appreciate your further explanation when you have time.

If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that the law that Paul is referring to in Romans 3:19-20 is specifically talking about all laws and commands given to Israel recorded in the Old Testament beginning with Moses and all the way through Malachi. I say this because you said in your previous email when referring to this old law that it was completed when Malachi was penned, and Malachi was the last book written.

If the law Paul references in Romans 3:19-20 was started with Moses and was completed with Malachi then there had to be other laws given to Israel after Moses. These laws must also have been given to the Israelites to follow for successive generations like the law of Moses.

I was unaware that any additional laws were ever added to the law of Moses or that any of the laws given to Moses were ever amended.

My understanding was that the law Paul referred to in Romans 3:19-20 was the Law God gave Moses as recorded for us in Exodus through Deuteronomy and nothing after that. The people were to read it regularly and teach their children, but where do you get that it was given as a progressive revelation that took place over 1000 years? The law of Moses may have been clarified from time to time, but clarification and progressive revelation are different things. Clarification of an existing law is not the same as giving a new law. Where does the Bible show that the law God gave Moses took a thousand years to be revealed?

I would agree with you if you said other people after Moses were given specific commands of God, but were those commands part of the law of Moses or specific to those people at that time? For example, some commands given to David were specific to David and the people he was ruling over at that time but not necessarily for prior or future generations. David was still required to keep the laws given to Moses as well as any other command God gave him, but people after David did not have to keep the commands given to David. They were only required to keep the laws given to Moses.

Could you please refer me to these rare laws that were added to or that amended any of the laws given to Moses and that continued until Malachi? I assume that the list would be short since they were rare. You don’t have to go into great detail about each law, I don't want to take up too much of your time. I am just looking for help finding the verse or verses that show all added or amended laws from what God gave Moses because I have been unable to find any.

If possible, could you also please explain what you mean when you refer to the priesthood as one of the rare amendments in the old testament, I would appreciate it. Was this the only amendment or were there others?

Thanks again.


The reason I started out with Romans 3:9 to answer your question is to show what Paul considered to be the Law. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul quoted from Psalms and Isaiah to make his point that everyone sins and then concluded, "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law" (Romans 3:19). Therefore, the Law is not limited to the writings of Moses. It included Psalms, written about 500 years later, and Isaiah, written about 700 years later. Paul applied it to everyone under the Law, so therefore these statements were not limited to just the people who lived at that time.

If you continue through Romans, you'll find Paul citing Genesis (Romans 4:9), Exodus (Romans 7:7), Malachi (Romans 9:13), Hosea (Romans 9:25), Isaiah (Romans 9:27-29), etc. Yet, it is Malachi that you reject as being a part of the Law. Paul used the phrase "it is written" when referring to Malachi, just as Jesus did when offering irrefutable evidence.

Regarding the example of God "amending" His covenant with Israel:

Initially, God offered to make the entire nation of Israel a nation of priests. "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel" (Exodus 19:5-6). From this holy nation, the firstborn were to be given to God in His service. "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine. ... And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, that you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the LORD'S. But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem" (Exodus 13:2, 11-13).

From among all these servants of God, God chose Aaron and his descendants to serve as priests for the nation. "Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron's sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar" (Exodus 28:1). "And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons" (Exodus 29:9).

Unfortunately, the Israelites rebelled and made a golden calf to worship while Moses was on Mount Sinai. Only the tribe of Levi stood faithful with Moses. "Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, "Whoever is on the LORD'S side-come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him" (Exodus 32:25-26). God blessed their dedication. "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother" (Exodus 32:29). In reward for their dedication, God replaced the firstborns with the tribe of Levi. "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD" (Numbers 3:12-13). The Levites then took on the duty of serving God. "At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day" (Deuteronomy 10:8). That service included serving the priests. "And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary" (Numbers 8:19).

The change in the terms of service was one that came readily to my mind. If there are others, I would have to do a more detailed search. However, this one proves the point I made.

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