Romans 3:4b, Paul quoting the psalm (SBLGNT):

Ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε.

The Hebrew (51:4) is always translated with God as the subject - "thy judgement" or "when thou judgest", so I'm guessing that's unambiguous (I don't speak Hebrew; happy to receive correction here). The LXX (50:6) introduces the confusion I have in Romans, reading identically to the text above. It is translated:


so that you may be justified in your words and be victorious when you go to law


that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

There seems to be no consensus in the English translations of Romans:


“So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

RSV (KJV, ESV, NASB NET are similar with respect the passive voice.):

“That thou mayest be justified in thy words and prevail when thou art judged.”

But the NRSV:

“So that you may be justified in your words and prevail in your judging.”

I suppose the NIV/NRSV (and I think NETS, though I can't quite figure out what "when you go to law" means - maybe that was intentional) renderings must be considering κρίνεσθαί to be a middle voice, translating as active.

Is the middle voice a reasonable interpretation?

That would make this much easier. If not,

Were the LXX translators and/ or Paul envisioning God being judged? (Perhaps plausible with reference to the statement earlier in the verse, "γινέσθω δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἀληθής", but I don't understand who is doing the judging.) Does Paul elsewhere portray God as the object of judgement?

2 Answers 2


Psalm 51:4 (v.6 in Hebrew)

In BHS1 v.4 is v.6, and the construction in Hebrew is an infinitive construct with both a prepositional prefix and a 2nd person singular pronominal suffix attached (בְשָׁפְטֶֽךָ).

The pronominal suffix can be used on an infinitive construct as either a subject or object of the verb.2 That means there is flexibility in the construction itself that allows for it to essentially mean "God [doing] judgement" or "judgement [done to] God." This is true of the previous construct as well, which could mean "God speaks" or "speaking [about] God."

The common practice of Hebrew parallelism is probably partly what drives the typical translation of God as subject in both cases (that keeps it parallel). Additionally, theologically, one is left to ask how it is that God is judged and by who (which is the essence of your question here).


The context of Psalm 51:4 shows a "judging" of God occurring. David is "judging" that God is right, David has sinned and done evil (vv.3-4).3 Basically, in every action a person takes, four judgments are occurring—(1) God is judging the righteousness of a person's actions, and (2) a person is judging the rightness of his own actions. Thus in the outworking of (2), then (3) a person is judging God's words about what He has revealed to be right (if a person is agreeing, the person considers God "right," if disagreeing, the person considers God "wrong"), and (4) God is judging the person's judgment of His own character, whether they acknowledge Him as "righteous" or not by being in agreement with Him.

This is actually still expressed in a parallel form in the verse if the second statement is considered object, not subject. Note the chiastic thought structure (A B B' A') of the verse then the ESV text given best leaves ambiguity for the last part of the verse being subjective or objective, but here it is assumed objective:

   Against you, you only, have I sinned       [David making right judgment of God's words]
   and done what is evil in your sight,       [David referring to God's judgment of him]
   so that you may be justified in your words [David referring to God's judgment in general]
   and blameless in your judgment.            [David referring to anytime God is judged]

This idea of God's words being judged is carried over to Romans 3.

Romans 3:4

What is interesting is that God through Paul4 does not hold it the concepts as parallel in Romans 3:4. Indeed, Paul converts the first infinitive ("You speak") in the Hebrew into a noun in the reference (τοῖς λόγοις σου; "the words of you"), but keeps an infinitive for the second, but specifically makes it middle/passive in form (it could have just as easily been made active if the idea was intended to be God judging, rather than God being judged).

The best support for it not being a middle voice is the context of Romans 3 itself. The lead up to v.4 is v.3, where the question is referring to "the faithfulness of God" (NKJV) in light of people's (specifically in context, Jew's) unbelief. All unbelief is simply a manifestation of that person's judging God's revealed and recorded words (the subject of v.2) to be false.

However, v.4 is asserting that any person's judgment of God as false, resulting in unbelief, is no proof at all that God is not true and righteous. He is true, His words true, and He is righteous, no matter if every man lies about God otherwise and does not believe His words.


So "who is doing the judging" of God (and specifically God's words)? All people. Those judging Him true judge rightly, and believe Him. Those judging Him false judge wrongly, and do not believe Him.

"Does Paul elsewhere portray God as the object of judgement?" Yes and no. Yes, when one realizes that belief/unbelief is such a judgment, then the Bible (not just Paul) is full of instances of God's being judged. No, I could not find a use of κρίνω with God as object elsewhere in Paul's writings.

However, Rev 16:7 makes a statement of judgement of God (likely by an angel):

“Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”


1 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Westminster Hebrew Morphology Electronic ed. (Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society; Westminster Seminary, 1996), Ps 51:6.

2 Ronald J. Williams, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3rd. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 2007), 48.

3 The context is David's repentance after hearing God's judgment against David by the prophet Nathan for his sin with Bathsheba.

4 I hold to a hermeneutic that all Scripture is ultimately of divine Authorship, so both Romans (through Paul) and Psalm 51 (through David) have the same ultimate Author behind them.

  • I wish I could +10 this. I'm smarter for having read it.
    – Rap
    Sep 26, 2017 at 12:54
  • Thanks. This is both very interesting and helpful.
    – Dave
    Oct 13, 2020 at 19:26
  • Excellent answer. +1. You might have also referenced 1 Kings 17, 18 (and many others) where people had to judge God vs god; or 2 Thess 1, 4, 5; or Ps 73, etc.
    – Dottard
    Oct 13, 2020 at 20:26

Who is being judged in Romans 3:4?

In BTP09

As tuas palavras, ó Deus, hão de mostrar que és justo e hás de vencer quando fores julgado.

fores julgado is a common usage of the 2ª person sigular future of the verb "ser" (meaning: to be) where the subject is revealed before in ó Deus (meaning: Oh God).


That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.

The clearest pointer is the usage of the letter Y in uppercase, which respects the same rule in this version when addressing God in other passages (Matthew 4:6, ...) and it isn't the case in other contexts that address anyone else but God (Matthew 5:25, 5:29, 5:30, ...).

From the translations considered, BPT09 and NASB (which has a more literal translation than NLT), there's no doubt the one being judged is God.

From the verse, Paul is using his knowledge of the Scriptues to quote Psalms 51:4

Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.

which is a Psalm where David affirms that God is blameless to judge him.

Also, in Romans 2 we're being made known of the hypocrite (Romans 2:1) wanting to just condemn sinners instead of forgiving them (ignoring the fact that is behaving in the same way) and also that it is not the external behavior that counts, but the internal change that manifests an external change (Romans 2:17-29).

All things considered, I see it as Paul reinforcing the idea that God's judgement is good and that He's not behaving the same way as the hypocrite. To strenghen that claim, he says that if we were all to judge God in light of His word, He would be righteous and blameless.

If we take that it speaks to literally all of us, then the one's that look to the «outward appearance» (1 Samuel 16:7, John 7:24) would also be able to realize this and therefore implying that God'd prove through the external behaviour too.

Does Paul elsewhere portray God as the object of judgement?

The expression fores julgado and You are judged are a combination of G4571 (σέ , se) and G2919 (κρίνω , krinō). Analysing each in other sections of the bible and their respective meaning allows me to say that Paul doesn't use this combination again to portray God as the object of judgement.

The closest I could find was Romans 2:16, 3:6, 1 Cor. 5:13 but with a clear God shall judge, shall God judge, God judgeth (theos krinō).

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