“There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12)
The Apostle Paul is not the author of these words. David is. Paul is quoting, almost verbatim, from Psalm 14. Paul is employing a midrashic technique that was customoary in the first century to get people to think. He does in many of his other writings as too. He pits seemingly contrary ideas, one against another, to get his audience to reevaluate their assumptions. He is not framing hard core paradigm of man’s inability to do what is right or be in a right standing before God. He is also NOT making a propositional or theological truth statement. Paul is exaggerating, using linguistic drama and constructing hyperbole to make a point. We know this because:
THERE WERE RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE!
God says, unequivocally, that the following people are righteous: Abel(Hebrews 11:4); Lot (2 Peter 2:7–8); Enoch (Genesis 5:2); Noah, Daniel, Job (Genesis 7:1; Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 2 Peter 2:5); David (2 Samuel 22:25); Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:2); Zacharias son of Barachias (Matthew 23:35); Elisabeth, and Zechariah (Luke 1:6).
David says that God “knows the way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5–6) Solomon says that God “makes the righteous wise.” (Proverbs 2:7). David and Solomon again say God “never allows the existing righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22; Proverbs 10:30) because they draw their strength from Him. Isaiah says that “the righteous die, and no one understands or even cares. But when they die, no calamity can hurt them.” (Isaiah 57:1) The prophets speak of clusters of righteous people in a generic sense (Ezekiel 18,24; Ezekiel 21; etc.) There are many others of note other in scripture who were described as “neither turning to the right or the left,” such that their focused walk found them in a state of righteousness.
If we were to examine the entire chapter of Ezekiel 18 in context, we see this:
“But if the wicked man turns from all the sins he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him. Because of the righteousness he has practiced, he will live.” (Ezekiel 18:21,22)
God set the tone and definition of righteousness very early on. It still holds true:
“And if we are careful to obey all this Law (Torah) before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deuteronomy 6:25)
So, while Paul said there is none righteous, we know he didn’t mean it literally. He is employing the same poetic hyperbole that David uses in Psalm 14. Paul knew that there absolutely were righteous people and God himself testifies to it and them.