What does Romans 3:13 mean?
ESV: “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
NIV: Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.' 'The poison of vipers is on their lips.'
CSB: Their throat is an open grave;they deceive with their tongues. Vipers' venom is under their lips.
NLT: 'Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.' 'Snake venom drips from their lips.'
KJV: Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
NKJV: “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
Verse Commentary:
Paul is quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, the sacred text that his Jewish readers would recognize and respect. His purpose is to show that his statements about every person being "under sin" are not a new idea. The last few verses drew on Psalm 14, which indicated that God sees a universal trend in humanity towards sin and disobedience. Though we may be able to do good things, sometimes, we all choose not to follow God's goodness all the time. This means nobody—not one person—can be considered "righteous" according to their own efforts.

This and the following verses list several ways people use our human body parts to express our sinful nature. Paul begins with the voice, quoting from Psalm 5:9 where David declares that the throats of his enemies are open graves. This carries two ideas. First, in Jewish thinking, graves are tainted by death, and are therefore corrupt. Anything taken from a grave would be ceremonially unclean. The phrase could also mean that the effect of their words is death and decay. Also from Psalm 5:9, Paul points to the tongue as a source of deception. The deception David referred to was flattery—a dishonest use of words.

Paul moves from throat to tongue to lips and a quote from Psalm 140:3. There, David referred to evil men with the venom of asps—deadly snakes—under their lips. In other words, words from the mouths of his enemies could quickly poison and kill.

Paul's use of David's words here is meant to expand on David's original description. David referred to his enemies' mouths—Paul is pointing to the sins of every single person who has ever lived. We all have used our words, our mouths, for sinful purposes. That is who we are apart from God's help and power.
Verse Context:
Romans 3:9–20 contains a string of quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul uses these to demonstrate that both Jews and Greeks alike are under sin. After establishing that ''there is none who does good'' from Psalm 14:1, Paul uses quotes from Psalms and Isaiah to show ways we have always used our bodies—throats, tongues, lips, feet, and eyes—to express our sinfulness. He concludes the section with his strongest statement, yet, that no human being will be justified in God's sight by following the works of the law. The law can only show us our sin, not save us from it.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 3 begins with a question-and-answer scheme. These are responses one might expect from someone opposed to what Paul wrote in Romans 2. Next, Paul quotes from a series of Old Testament passages. These Scriptures show that those writers also agreed that nobody, not one person, deserves to be called righteous. Paul declares emphatically that no one will be justified by following the works of the law. Finally, though, he arrives at the good news: righteousness before God is available apart from the law through faith in Christ's death for our sin on the cross.
Chapter Context:
The prior chapter explained that God's judgment on sin will come to all men, whether or not they understand the literal law. Faith in God, in the heart, matters more to God than rote obedience. At the start of this chapter, Paul answers a series of questions from an imagined objector to those teachings. Next, he quotes a series of Old Testament passages which support His teaching that human beings are by nature sinful. Each of us turns away from God. Nobody can be justified by the law, Paul insists. Fortunately, it is possible to attain God's righteousness: but only by His grace, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sin on the cross. We must come to this by faith, and it is available to Jews and Gentiles alike.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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