Romans 3:10–11, “None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.”
For the first-century Jew who prided himself on being a part of God’s chosen people unlike the unclean, pagan Gentiles, the notion that even the Jews were not inherently more holy than non-Jews was a hard pill to swallow indeed (Rom. 3:9). But no true Jew could argue with the testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures, which is no doubt why the Apostle Paul turns in Romans 3:10 to the biblical support for his assertion that Jew and Gentile alike are under sin apart from the Lord’s grace.
Verses 10–18 feature several Old Testament citations that emphasize the pervasiveness of humanity’s sinful condition. Paul begins the list in verse 10 with a quote that is likely from Psalm 14:3, but Ecclesiastes 7:20 may be in view as well. Many of the Jews in the Apostle’s day would have been accustomed to reading David’s words in Psalm 14 as applying only to the Gentile pagans, but that failure to see the application of their own Scriptures to themselves was exactly the problem that kept many first-century Jews from seeing their own need for the gospel. As the prophets tell us, the ancient Jews could become no better than the pagans through their own willful transgression of God’s law. Hosea 1:8–9 tells us the ancient Israelites as a whole did just that, for the Lord declared them “Not My People.” Paul’s point in quoting Psalm 14:3 is that the Jews, no less than the Gentiles, had no special claim to being God’s holy people, because they did not follow the ways of their Father or even care to do so. A right application of the Word of God to their situation and an honest look at their own sinfulness could lead to no other conclusion.
Romans 3:11 highlights the “noetic effects of sin”—the impact of sin upon the mind. Paul quotes Psalm 14:2, applying it to both Jews and Gentiles to show how all people in Adam have had their minds darkened and do not understand what is right. Of course, this does not mean they have no sense of the good; it means they misuse and pervert what they do know, twisting it for selfish and sinister ends. Moreover, “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11b). This was a shocking thought even for the Gentiles who, from all outward appearances, did search for the divine through their philosophies and religions. Yet being religious and truly seeking after the Lord do not always go hand in hand. Apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we seek only the benefits of our Creator and not the Creator Himself. This gives many “the appearance of godliness,” though they deny its power (2 Tim. 3:1–5).
Martin Luther comments on Romans 3:11, “This statement pertains both to those who manifestly do not seek God as well as to those who seek Him or rather think they are seeking Him, because they do not seek Him in the way in which He wishes to be sought and discovered, namely, through faith, in humility, and not through their own wisdom and presumption.” Let us not confuse the search for the Creator’s benefits with the search for the Creator. For which are you searching?