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Therefore - Διὸ Dio. The force of this word here has been the subject of much discussion. The design of this and the following chapter is to show that the Jews were no less guilty that the Gentiles, and that they needed the benefit of the same salvation. This the apostle does by showing that they had greater light than the Gentiles; and yet that they did the same things. Still they were in the habit of accusing and condemning the Gentiles as wicked and abandoned; while they excused themselves on the ground that they possessed the Law and the oracles of God, and were his favorite people. The apostle here affirms that they were inexcusable in their sins, that they must be condemned in the sight of God, on the same ground on which they condemned the Gentiles; to wit, that they had light and yet committed wickedness. If the Gentiles were without excuse Romans 1:20 in their sins, much more would the Jew, who condemned them, be without excuse on the same ground. The word therefore, I suppose, refers not to any particular word in the previous chapter, or to any particular verse, but to the general considerations which were suggested by a view of the whole case. And its sense might be thus expressed. “Since you Jews condemn the Gentiles for their sins, on the ground that they have the means of knowing their duty, therefore, you who are far more favored than they, are entirely without an excuse for the same things.”
Thou art inexcusable - This does not mean that they were inexcusable for judging others; but that they had no excuse for their sins before God; or that they were under condemnation for their crimes, and needed the benefits of another plan of justification. As the Gentiles whom they judged were condemned, and were without excuse Romans 1:20, so were the Jews who condemned them without excuse on the same principle; and in a still greater degree.
O man - This address is general to any man who should do this. But it is plain, from the connection, that he means especially the Jews. The use of this word is an instance of the apostle’s skill in argument. If he had openly named the Jews here, it would have been likely to have excited opposition from them. He therefore approaches the subject gradually, affirms it of man in general, and then makes a particular application to the Jews. This he does not do, however, until he has advanced so far in the general principles of his argument that it would be impossible for them to evade his conclusions; and then he does it in the most tender, and kind, as well as convincing manner, Romans 2:17, etc.
Whosoever thou art that judgest - The word “judgest” (κρίνεις krineis) here is used in the sense of condemning. It is not a word of equal strength with what is rendered “condemnest” (κατακρίνεις katakrineis). It implies, however, that they were accustomed to express themselves freely and severely of the character and doom of the Gentiles. And from the New Testament, as well as from their own writings, there can be no doubt that such was the fact; that they regarded the entire Gentile world with abhorrence, considered them as shut out from the favor of God, and applied to them terms expressive of the utmost contempt. Compare Matthew 15:27.
For wherein - For in the “same thing.” This implies that substantially the same crimes which were committed among the pagan were also committed among the Jews.
Thou judgest another - The meaning of this clearly is, “for the same thing for which you condemn the pagan, you condemn yourselves.”
Thou that judgest - You Jews who condemn other nations.
Doest the same things - It is clearly implied here, that they were guilty of offences similar to those practiced by the Gentiles. It would not be a just principle of interpretation to press this declaration as implying that precisely the same offences, and to the same extent, were chargeable on them. Thus, they were not guilty, in the time of the apostle, of idolatry; but of the other crimes enumerated in the first chapter, the Jews might be guilty. The character of the nation, as given in the New Testament, is that they were “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39; compare John 8:7); that they were a “generation of vipers” Matthew 3:7; Matthew 12:34; that; they were wicked Matthew 12:45; that they were sinful Mark 8:38; that they were proud, haughty, hypocritical, etc.; Matthew 23:0. If such was the character of the Jewish nation in general, there is no improbability in supposing that they practiced most of the crimes specified in Romans 1:0: On this verse we may remark,
- That people are prone to be severe judges of others.
(2)This is often, perhaps commonly, done when the accusers themselves are guilty of the same offences.
It often happens, too, that people are remarkably zealous in opposing those offences which they themselves secretly practice. A remarkable instance of this occurs in John 8:1, etc. Thus, David readily condemned the supposed act of injustice mentioned by Nathan; 2 Samuel 12:1-10.12.6. Thus, also kings and emperors have enacted severe laws against the very crimes which they have constantly committed themselves. Nero executed the laws of the Roman Empire against the very crimes which he was constantly committing; and it was a common practice for Roman masters to commit offences which they punished with death in their slaves. (See instances in Grotius on this place.)
(3) Remarkable zeal against sin may be no proof of innocence; compare Matthew 7:3. The zeal of persecutors, and often of pretended reformers, may be far from proof that they are free from the very offences which they are condemning in others. It may all be the work of the hypocrite to conceal some base design; or of the man who seeks to show his hostility to one kind of sin, in order to be a salvo to his conscience for committing some other.
(4) The heart is deceitful. When we judge others we should make it a rule to examine ourselves on that very point. Such an examination might greatly mitigate the severity of our judgment; or might turn the whole of our indignation against ourselves.
But we are sure - Greek, “We know.” That is, it is the common and admitted sentiment of mankind. It is known and believed by people generally that God will punish such crimes. It is implied in this declaration that this was known to the Jews, and it was particularly to the purpose of the apostle so to express himself as to include the Jews. They knew it because it was everywhere taught in the Old Testament, and it was the acknowledged doctrine of the nation. The design of the apostle here, says Calvin, is to take away the subterfuges of the hypocrite, lest he should pride himself if he obtained the praise of human beings, for a far more important trial awaited him at the bar of God. Outwardly he might appear well to people; but God searched the heart, and saw the secret as well as the open deeds of people, and they who practiced secretly what they condemned openly, could not expect to escape the righteous judgment of God. God, without respect of persons would punish wickedness, whether it was open, as among the Gentiles, or whether it was concealed under the guise of great regard for religion, as among the Jews.
The judgment of God - That God condemns it, and will punish it. He regards those who do these things as guilty, and will treat them accordingly.
According to truth - This expression is capable of two meanings. The Hebrews sometimes use it to denote truly or certainly. God will certainly judge and punish such deeds. Another meaning, which is probably the correct one here, is that God will judge those who are guilty of such things, not according to appearance, but in integrity, and with righteousness. He will judge people according to the real nature of their conduct, and not as their conduct may appear to people. The secret, as well as the open sinner therefore; the hypocrite, as well as the abandoned profligate, must expect to be judged according to their true character. This meaning comports with the design of the apostle, which is to show that the Jew, who secretly and hypocritically did the very things which he condemned in the Gentile, could not escape the righteous judgment of God.
Against him - That is, against every man, no matter of what age or nation.
Which commit such things - The crimes enumerated in Romans 1:0. The apostle is not to be understood as affirming that each and every individual among the Jews was guilty of the specific crimes charged on the pagan, but that they were as a people inclined to the same things. Even where they might be externally moral, they might be guilty of cherishing evil desires in their hearts, and thus be guilty of the offence, Matthew 5:28. When people desire to do evil, and are prevented by the providence of God, it is right to punish them for their evil intentions. The fact that God, prevents them from carrying their evil purposes into execution, does not constitute a difference between their real character and the character of those who are suffered to act out their wicked designs.
And thinkest thou ... - This is an appeal to their common sense, to their deep and instinctive conviction of what was right. If they condemned those who practiced these things; if, imperfect and obscure as their sense of justice was; if, unholy as they were, they yet condemned those who were guffey of these offences, would not a holy and just God be far more likely to pronounce judgment? And could they escape who had themselves delivered a similar sentence? God is of “purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity, Habakkuk 1:13. And if people condemned their fellow-men, how much more would a pure and holy God condemn iniquity. This appeal is evidently directed against the Jew. It was doubtless a prevalent sentiment among them, that provided they adhered to the rites of their religion, and observed the ceremonial law, God would not judge them with the same severity as he would the abandoned and idolatrous Gentiles: compare Matthew 3:9; John 8:33. The apostle shows them that crime is crime, wherever committed: that sin does not lose its essential character by being committed in the midst of religious privileges; and that those who professed to be the people of God have no special license to sin. Antinomians in all ages, like the Jews, have supposed that they, being the friends of God, have a right to do many things which would not be proper in others; that what would be sin in others, they may commit with impunity; and that God will not be strict to mark the offences of his people. Against all this Paul is directly opposed, and the Bible uniformly teaches that the most aggravated sins among people are those committed by the professed people of God; compare Isaiah 1:11-23.1.17; Isaiah 65:2-23.65.5; Revelation 3:16.
Or despisest - This word properly means to contemn, or to treat with neglect. It does not mean here that they professedly treated God’s goodness with neglect or contempt; but that they perverted and abused it; they did not make a proper use of it; they did not regard it as suited to lead them to repentance; but they derived a practical impression, that because God had not come forth in judgment and cut them off, but had continued to follow them with blessings, that therefore he did not regard them as sinners, or they inferred that they were innocent and safe. This argument the Jews were accustomed to use (compare Luke 13:1-42.13.5; John 9:2); and thus sinners still continue to abuse the goodness and mercy of God.
The riches of his goodness - This is a Hebrew mode of speaking, for “his rich goodness,” that is, for his abundant or great goodness. Riches denote superfluity, or what abounds, or which exceeds a man’s present desires; and hence, the word in the New Testament is used to denote abundance; or what is very great and valuable; see the note at Romans 9:23; compare Romans 11:12, Romans 11:33; 2 Corinthians 8:2; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 2:4. The word is used here to qualify each of the words which follow it, his rich goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering.
Goodness - Kindness, benignity.
Forbearance - ἀνοχῆς anochēs. Literally, his holding-in or restraining his indignation; or forbearing to manifest his displeasure against sin.
Long-suffering - This word denotes his slowness to anger; or his suffering them to commit sins long without punishing them. It does not differ essentially from forbearance. This is shown by his not coming forth, at the moment that sin is committed, to punish it. He might do it justly, but he spares people from day to day, and year to year, to give them opportunity to repent, and be saved. The way in which people despise or abuse the goodness of God is to infer that He does not intend to punish sin; that they may do it safely; and instead of turning from it, to go on in committing it more constantly, as if they were safe. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” Ecclesiastes 8:11. The same thing was true in the time of Peter; 2 Peter 3:3-61.3.4. And the same thing is true of wicked people in every age; nor is there a more decisive proof of the wickedness of the human heart, than this disposition to abuse the goodness of God, and because he shows kindness and forbearance, to take occasion to plunge deeper into sin, to forget his mercy, and to provoke him to anger.
Not knowing - Not considering. The word used here, ἀγνοῶν agnoōn, means not merely to be ignorant of, but it denotes such a degree of inattention as to result in ignorance. Compare Hosea 2:8. In this sense it denotes a voluntary, and therefore a criminal ignorance.
Leadeth thee ... - Or the tendency, the design of the goodness of God is to induce people to repent of their sins, and not to lead them to deeper and more aggravated iniquity. The same sentiment is expressed in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” See also Isaiah 30:18, “And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you;” Hosea 5:15; Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32.
Repentance - Change of mind, and purpose, and life. The word here evidently means, not merely sorrow, but a forsaking of sin, and turning from it. The tendency of God’s goodness and forbearance to lead people to repentance, is manifest in the following ways.
(1) It shows the evil of transgression when it is seen to be committed against so kind and merciful a Being.
(2) It is suited to melt and soften the heart. Judgments often harden the sinner’s heart, and make him obstinate. But if while he does evil God is as constantly doing him good; if the patience of God is seen from year to year, while the man is rebellious, it is adapted to melt and subdue the heart.
(3) The great mercy of God in this often appears to people to be overwhelming; and so it would to all, if they saw it as it is. God bears with people from childhood to youth; from youth to manhood; from manhood to old age; often while they violate every law, contemn his mercy, profane his name, and disgrace their species; and still, notwithstanding all this, his anger is turned away, and the sinner lives, and “riots in the beneficence of God.” If there is anything that can affect the heart of man, it is this; and when he is brought to see it, and contemplate it, it rushes over the soul and overwhelms it with bitter sorrow.
(4) The mercy and forbearance of God are constant. The manifestations of his goodness come in every form; in the sun, and light, and air; in the rain, the stream, the dew-drop; in food, and raiment, and home; in friends, and liberty, and protection; in health, and peace; and in the gospel of Christ, and the offers of life; and in all these ways God is appealing to his creatures each moment. and setting before them the evils of ingratitude, and beseeching them to turn and live.
And from this passage, we cannot but remark,
- That the most effectual preaching is what sets before people most of the goodness of God.
(2)Every man is under obligation to forsake his sins, and turn to God. There is no man who has not seen repeated proofs of his mercy and love.
(3)Sin is a stubborn and an amazing evil.
Where it can resist all the appeals of God’s mercy; where the sinner can make his way down to hell through all the proofs of God’s goodness; where he can refuse to hear God speaking to him each day, and each hour, it shows an amazing extent of depravity to resist all this, and still remain a sinner. Yet there are thousands and millions who do it; and who can be won by no exhibition of love or mercy to forsake their sins, and turn to God. Happy is the man who is melted into contrition by the goodness of God, and who sees and mourns over the evil of sinning against so good a Being as is the Creator and Parent of all.
But after thy hardness - The word “after” here κατά kata means in respect to, or you act according to the direct tendency of a hard heart in treasuring up wrath. The word “hardness” is used to denote insensibility of mind. It properly means what is insensible to the touch, or on which no impression is made by contact, as a stone, etc. Hence, it is applied to the mind, to denote a state where no motives make an impression; which is insensible to all the appeals made to it; see Matthew 25:24; Matthew 19:8; Acts 19:9. And here it expresses a state of mind where the goodness and forbearance of God have no effect. The man still remains obdurate, to use a word which has precisely the meaning of the Greek in this place. It is implied in this expression that the direct tendency, or the inevitable result, of that state of mind was to treasure up wrath, etc.
Impenitent heart - A heart which is not affected with sorrow for sin, in view of the mercy and goodness of God. This is an explanation of what he meant by hardness.
Treasurest up - To treasure up, or to lay up treasure, commonly denotes a laying by in a place of security of property that may be of use to us at some future period. In this place it is used, however, in a more general sense, to accumulate, to increase. It still has the idea of hoarding up, carries the thought beautifully and impressively onward to future times. Wrath, like wealth treasured up, is not exhausted at present, and hence, the sinner becomes bolder in sin. But it exists, for future use; it is kept in store (compare 2 Peter 3:7) against future times; and the man who commits sin is only increasing this by every act of transgression. The same sentiment is taught in a most solemn manner in Deuteronomy 32:34-5.32.35. It may be remarked here, that most people have an immense treasure of this kind in store, which eternal ages of pain will not exhaust or diminish! Stores of wrath are thus reserved for a guilty world, and in due time it “will come upon man to the uttermost,” 1 Thessalonians 2:16.
Unto thyself - For thyself, and not for another; to be exhausted on thee, and not on your fellow-man. This is the case with every sinner, as really and as certainly as though he were the only solitary mortal in existence.
Wrath - Note, Romans 1:18.
Day of wrath - The day when God shall show or execute his wrath against sinners; compare Revelation 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; John 3:36; Ephesians 5:6.
And revelation - On the day when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed, or made known. Here we learn:
(1) That the punishment of the wicked will be just. It will not he a judgment of caprice or tyranny, but a righteous judgment, that is, such a judgment as it will be right to render, or as ought to be rendered, and therefore such as God will render, for he will do right; 2 Thessalonians 1:6.
(2) The punishment of the wicked is future. It is not exhausted in this life. It is treasured up for a future day, and that day is a day of wrath. How contrary to this text are the pretences of those who maintain that all punishment is executed in this life.
(3) How foolish as well as wicked is it to lay up such a treasure for the future; to have the only inheritance in the eternal world, an inheritance of wrath and wo!
Who will render - That is, who will make retribution as a righteous Judge; or who will give to every man as he deserves.
To every man - To each one. This is a general principle, and it is clear that in this respect God would deal with the Jew as he does with the Gentile. This general principle the apostle is establishing, that he may bring it to bear on the Jew, and to show that he cannot escape simply because he is a Jew.
According to his deeds - That is, as he deserves; or God will be just, and will treat every man as he ought to be treated, or according to his character. The word “deeds” (ἔργα erga)is sometimes applied to the external conduct. But it is plain that this is not its meaning here. It denotes everything connected with conduct, including the acts of the mind, the motives, the principles, as well as the mere external act. Our word character more aptly expresses it than any single word. It is not true that God will treat people according to their external conduct: but the whole language of the Bible implies that he will judge people according to the whole of their conduct, including their thoughts, and principles, and motives; that is, as they deserve. The doctrine of this place is abundantly taught elsewhere in the Bible, Proverbs 24:12; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 20:12; Jeremiah 32:19. It is to be observed here that the apostle does not say that people will be rewarded for their deeds, (compare Luke 17:10,) but according to κατά kata their deeds. Christians will be saved on account of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, Titus 3:5, but still the rewards of heaven will be according to their works; that is, they who have labored most, and been most faithful, shall receive the highest reward, or their fidelity in their Master’s service shall be the measure or rule according to which the rewards of heaven shall be distributed, Matthew 25:14-40.25.29. Thus, the ground or reason why they are saved shall be the merits of the Lord Jesus. The measure of their happiness shall be according to their character and deeds. On what principle God will distribute his rewards the apostle proceeds immediately to state.
To them - Whoever they may be.
Patient continuance - Who by perseverance in well doing, or in a good work. It means that they who so continue, or persevere, in good works as to evince that they are disposed to obey the Law of God. It does not mean those who perform one single act, but those who so live as to show that this is their character to obey God. It is the uniform doctrine of the Bible that none will be saved but those who persevere in a life of holiness, Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22; Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39. No other conduct gives evidence of piety but what continues in the ways of righteousness. Nor has God ever promised eternal life to people unless they so persevere in a life of holiness as to show that this is their character, their settled and firm rule of action. The words well doing here denote such conduct as shall be conformed to the Law of God; not merely external conduct, but that which proceeds from a heart attached to God and his cause.
Seek for - This word properly denotes the act of endeavoring to find any thing that is lost, Matthew 18:12; Luke 2:48-42.2.49. But it also denotes the act when one earnestly strives, or desires to obtain anything; when he puts forth his efforts to accomplish it. Thus, Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. Act 16:10; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Luke 13:24. In this place it denotes an earnest and intense desire to obtain eternal life. It does not mean simply the desire of a sinner to be happy, or the efforts of those who are not willing to forsake their sins and yield to God, out the intense effort of those who are willing to forsake all their crimes, and submit to God and obey his laws.
Glory and honour and immortality - The three words used here, denote the happiness of the heavenly world. They vary somewhat in their meaning, and are each descriptive of something in heaven, that renders it an object of intense desire. The expressions are cumulative, or they are designed to express the happiness of heaven in the highest possible degree. The word “glory” δόξαν doxan denotes properly praise, celebrity, or anything distinguished for beauty, ornament, majesty, splendor, as of the sun, etc.; and then it is used to denote the highest happiness or felicity, as expressing everything that shall be splendid, rich, and grand. It denotes that there will be an absence of every thing mean, grovelling, obscure. The word “honor” (τιμὴν timēn) implies rather the idea of reward, or just retribution - the honor and reward which shall be conferred in heaven on the friends of God. It stands opposed to contempt, poverty, and want among people. Here they are despised by people; there, they shall be honored by God.
Immortality - That which is not corruptible or subject to decay. It is applied to heaven as a state where there shall be no decay or death, in strong contrast with our present condition, where all things are corruptible, and soon vanish away. These expressions are undoubtedly descriptive of a state of things beyond the grave. They are never applied in the Scriptures to any condition of things on the earth. This consideration proves, therefore, that the expressions in the next verse, indignation, etc. apply to the punishment of the wicked beyond the grave.
Eternal life - That is, God will “render” eternal life to those who seek it in this manner. This is a great principle; and this shows that the apostle means by “their deeds” Romans 2:6, not merely their external conduct, but their inward thoughts, and efforts evinced by their seeking for glory, etc. For the meaning of the expression “eternal life,” see the note at John 5:24.
Who are contentious - This expression usually denotes those who are of a quarrelsome or litigious disposition; and generally has reference to controversies among people. But here it evidently denotes a disposition toward God, and is of the same signification as rebellious, or as opposing God. They who contend with the Almighty; who resist his claims, who rebel against his laws, and refuse to submit to his requirements, however made known. The Septuagint use the verb to translate the Hebrew word מרה maarah, in Deuteronomy 21:20. One striking characteristic of the sinner is, that he contends with God, that is, that he opposes and resists his claims. This is the case with all sinners; and it was particularly so with the Jews, and hence, the apostle used the expression here to characterize them particularly. His argument he intended to apply to the Jews, and hence he used such an expression as would exactly describe them. This character of being a rebellious people was one which was often charged on the Jewish nation, Deuteronomy 9:7, Deuteronomy 9:24; Deuteronomy 31:27; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 30:9; Isaiah 65:2; Jeremiah 5:23; Ezekiel 2:8, Ezekiel 2:5.
Do not obey the truth - Compare Romans 1:18. The truth here denotes the divine will, which is alone the light of truth (Calvin). It means true doctrine in opposition to false opinions; and to refuse to obey it is to regard it as false, and to resist its influence. The truth here means all the correct representations which had been made of God, and his perfections, and law, and claims, whether by the light of nature or by revelation. The description thus included Gentiles and Jews, but particularly the latter, as they had been more signally favored with the light of truth. It had been an eminent characteristic of the Jews that they had refused to obey the commands of the true God, Joshua 5:6; Judges 2:2; Jdg 6:10; 2 Kings 18:12; Jeremiah 3:13, Jeremiah 3:25; Jeremiah 42:21; Jeremiah 43:4, Jeremiah 43:7; Jeremiah 9:13.
But obey unrighteousness - The expression means that they yielded themselves to iniquity, and thus became the servants of sin, Romans 6:13, Romans 6:16-45.6.17, Romans 6:19. Iniquity thus may be said to reign over people, as they follow the dictates of evil, make no resistance to it, and implicitly obey all its hard requirements.
Indignation and wrath - That is, these shall be rendered to those who are contentious, etc. The difference between indignation and wrath, says Ammonius, is that the former is of short duration, but the latter is a long continued remembrance of evil. The one is temporary, the other denotes continued expressions of hatred of evil. Eustathius says that the word “indignation” denotes the internal emotion, but wrath the external manifestation of indignation. (Tholuck.) Both words refer to the opposition which God will cherish and express against sin in the world of punishment.
Tribulation - This word commonly denotes affliction, or the situation of being pressed down by a burden, as of trials, calamities, etc.; and hence, to be pressed down by punishment or pain inflicted for sins. As applied to future punishment, it denotes the pressure of the calamities that will come upon the soul as the just reward of sin.
And anguish - στενοχωρία stenochōria. This noun is used in but three other places in the New Testament; Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:10. The verb is used in 2Co 4:8; 2 Corinthians 6:12. It means literally narrowness of place, lack of room, and then the anxiety and distress of mind which a man experiences who is pressed on every side by afflictions, and trials, and want, or by punishment, and who does not know where he may turn himself to find relief. (Schleusner.) It is thus expressive of the punishment of the wicked. It means that they shall be compressed with the manifestations of God’s displeasure, so as to be in deep distress, and so as not to know where to find relief. These words affliction and anguish are often connected; Romans 8:35.
Upon every soul of man - Upon all people. In Hebrew the word “soul” often denotes the man himself. But still, the apostles, by the use of this word here, meant perhaps to signify that the punishment should not be corporeal, but afflicting the soul. It should be a spiritual punishment, a punishment of mind. (Ambrose. See Tholuck.)
Of the Jew first - Having stated the general principle of the divine administration, he comes now to make the application. To the principle there could be no objection. And the apostle now shows that it was applicable to the Jew as well as the Greek, and to the Jew pre-eminently. It was applicable first, or in an eminent degree, to the Jew, because,
- He had been especially favored with light and knowledge on all these subjects.
(2)These principles were fully stated in his own Law, and were in strict accordance with all the teaching of the prophets; see the note at Romans 2:6; also Psalms 7:11; Psalms 9:17; Psalms 139:19; Proverbs 14:32.
Of the Gentile - That is, of all who were not Jews. On what principles God will inflict punishment on them, he states in Romans 2:12-45.2.16. It is clear that this refers to the future punishment of the wicked, for,
(1) It stands in contrast with the eternal life of those who seek for glory Romans 2:7. If this description of the effect of sin refers to this life, then the effects spoken of in relation to the righteous refer to this life also. But in no place in the Scriptures is it said that people experience all the blessings of eternal life in this world; and the very supposition is absurd.
(2) It is not true that there is a just and complete retribution to every man, according to his deeds, in this life. Many of the wicked are prospered in life, and “there are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm;” Psalms 73:4. Many of the righteous pine in poverty and want and affliction, and die in the flames of persecution. Nothing is more clear than there is not in this life a full and equitable distribution of rewards and punishments; and as the proposition, of the apostle here is, that God will render to every man according to his deeds Romans 2:6, it follows that this must be accomplished in another world.
(3) The Scriptures uniformly affirm, that for the very things specified here, God will consign people to eternal death; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, “In flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction,” etc.; 1 Peter 4:17. We may remark also, that there could be no more alarming description of future suffering than is specified in this passage. It is indignation; it is wrath; it is tribulation; it is anguish which the sinner is to endure forever. Truly people exposed to this awful doom should be alarmed, and should give diligence to escape from the woe which is to come.
For - This particle is used here to confirm what is said before, particularly that this punishment should be experienced by the Jew as well as the Gentile. For God would deal with both on the principles of justice.
Respect of persons - The word thus rendered means “partiality,” in pronouncing judgment, in favoring one party or individual more than another, not because his cause is more just, but on account of something personal - on account of his wealth, or rank, or function, or influence, or by personal friendship, or by the fear of him. It has special reference to a judge who pronounces judgment between parties at law. The exercise of such partiality was strictly and often forbidden to the Jewish magistrates; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; Proverbs 24:23; James 2:1, James 2:3,James 2:9. In his capacity as a Judge, it is applied often to God. It means that he will not be influenced in awarding the retributions of eternity, in actually pronouncing and executing sentence, by any partiality, or by regard to the wealth, function, rank, or appearance of people. He will judge righteous judgment; he will judge people as they ought to be judged; according to their character and deserts; and not contrary to their character, or by partiality.
The connection here demands that this affirmation should be limited solely to his dealing with people as their judge. And in this sense, and this only, this is affirmed often of God in the Scriptures; Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; Galatians 6:7-48.6.8; 1 Peter 1:17; Acts 10:34. It does not affirm that he must make all his creatures equal in talent, health, wealth, or privilege; it does not imply that, as a sovereign, he may not make a difference in their endowments, their beauty, strength, or graces; it does not imply that he may not bestow his favors where he pleases where all are undeserving, or that he may not make a difference in the characters of people by his providence, and by the agency of his Spirit. All these are actually done, done not out of any respect to their persons, to their rank, function, or wealth, but according to his own sovereign good pleasure; Ephesians 1:0. To deny that this is done, would be to deny the manifest arrangement of things everywhere on the earth. To deny that God had a right to do it, would be,
- To maintain that sinners had a claim on his favors;
(2)That he might not do what he willed with his own; or,
- To affirm that God was under obligation to make all people with just the same talents and privileges, that is, that all creatures must be, in all respects, just alike.
This passage, therefore, is very improperly brought to disprove the doctrine of decrees, or election, or sovereignty. It has respect to a different thing, to the actual exercise of the office of the Judge of the world; and whatever may be the truth about God’s decrees or his electing love, this passage teaches nothing in relation to either. It may be added that this passage contains a most alarming truth for guilty people. It is that God will not be influenced by partiality, but will treat them just as they deserve. He will not be won or awed by their rank or function; by their wealth or endowments; by their numbers, their power, or their robes of royalty and splendor. Every man should tremble at the prospect of falling into the hands of a just God, who will treat him just as he deserves, and should without delay seek a refuge in the Saviour and Advocate provided for the guilty: 1 John 2:1-62.2.2.
For - This is used to give a reason for what he had just said, or to show on what principles God would treat man, so as not to be a respecter of persons.
As many - Whosoever. This includes all who have done it, and evidently has respect to the Gentile world. It is of the more importance to remark this, because he does not say that it is applicable to a few only, or to great and incorrigible instances of pagan wickedness, but it is a universal, sweeping declaration, obviously including all.
Have sinned - Have been guilty of crimes of any kind toward God or man. Sin is the transgression of a rule of conduct, however made known to mankind.
Without law - ἀνόμως anomōs. This expression evidently means without revealed or written law, as the apostle immediately says that they had a law of nature, Romans 2:14-45.2.15. The word “law,” νόμος nomos. is often used to denote the revealed Law of God, the Scriptures, or revelation in general; Matthew 12:5; Luke 2:23-42.2.24; Luke 10:26; John 8:5, John 8:17.
Shall also perish - ἀπολοῦνται apolountai. The Greek word used here occurs frequently in the New Testament. It means to destroy, to lose, or to corrupt, and is applied to life, Matthew 10:39; to a reward of labor, Matthew 10:42; to wisdom 1 Corinthians 1:19; to bottles, Matthew 9:17. It is also used to denote future punishment, or the destruction of soul and body in hell, Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:14; John 3:15, where it is opposed to eternal life, and therefore denotes eternal death; Romans 14:15; John 17:12. In this sense the word is evidently used in this verse. The connection demands that the reference should be to a future judgment to be passed on the pagan. It will be remarked here that the apostle does not say they shall be saved without law. He does not give even an intimation respecting their salvation. The strain of the argument, as well as this express declaration, shows that they who had sinned - and in the first chapter he had proved that all the pagan were sinners - would be punished. If any of the pagan are saved, it will be, therefore, an exception to the general rule in regard to them. The apostles evidently believed that the great mass of them would be destroyed. On this ground they evinced such zeal to save them; on this ground the Lord Jesus commanded the gospel to be preached to them; and on this ground Christians are now engaged in the effort to bring them to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. It may be added here, that all modern investigations have gone to confirm the position that the pagan are as degraded now as they were in the time of Paul.
Without law - That is, they shall not be judged by a law which they have not. They shall not be tried and condemned by the revelation which the Jews had. They shall be condemned only according to the knowledge and the Law which they actually possess. This is the equitable rule on which God will judge the world. According to this, it is not to be apprehended that they will suffer as much as those who have the revealed will of God; compare Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:24; Luke 10:12.
Have sinned in the law - Have sinned having the revealed will of God, or endowed with greater light and privileges than the pagan world. The apostle here has undoubted reference to the Jews, who had the Law of God, and who prided themselves much on its possession.
Shall be judged by the law - This is an equitable and just rule; and to this the Jews could make no objection. Yet the admission of this would have led directly to the point to which Paul was conducting his argument, to show that they also were under condemnation, and needed a Saviour. It will be observed here, that the apostle uses a different expression in regard to the Jews from what he does of the Gentiles. He says of the former, that they “shall be judged;” of the latter, that they “shall perish.” It is not certainly known why he varied this expression. But if conjecture may be allowed, it may have been for the following reasons.
(1) If he had a affirmed of the Jews that they should perish, it would at once have excited their prejudice, and have armed them against the conclusion to which he was about to come. Yet they could bear the word to be applied to the pagan, for it was in accordance with their own views and their own mode of speaking, and was strictly true.
(2) The word “judged” is apparently more mild, and yet really more severe. It would arouse no prejudice to say that they would be judged by their Law. It was indeed paying a sort of tribute or regard to that on which they prided themselves so much, the possession of the Law of God. Still, it was a word. implying all that he wished to say, and involving the idea that they would be punished and destroyed. If it was admitted that the pagan would perish; and if God was to judge the Jews by an unerring rule, that is, according to their privileges and light; then it would follow that they would also be condemned, and their own minds would come at once to the conclusion. The change of words here may indicate, therefore, a nice tact, or delicate address in argument, urging home to the conscience an offensive truth rather by the deduction of the mind of the opponent himself than by a harsh and severe charge of the writer. In instances of this, the Scriptures abound; and it was this especially that so eminently characterized the arguments of our Saviour.
For not the hearers ... - The same sentiment is implied in James 1:22; Matthew 7:21, Matthew 7:24; Luke 6:47. The apostle here doubtless designed to meet an objection of the Jews; to wit, that they had the Law, that they manifested great deference for it, that they heard it read with attention, and professed a willingness to yield themselves to it. To meet this, he states a very plain and obvious principle, that this was insufficient to justify them before God, unless they rendered actual obedience.
Are just - Are justified before God, or are personally holy. Or, in other words, simply hearing the Law is not meeting all its requirements, and making people holy. If they expected to be saved by the Law, it required something more than merely to hear it. It demanded perfect obedience.
But the doers of the law - They who comply entirely with its demands; or who yield to it perfect and perpetual obedience. This was the plain and obvious demand, not only of common sense, but of the Jewish Law itself; Deuteronomy 4:1; Leviticus 18:5; compare Romans 10:9.
Shall be justified - This expression is evidently synonymous with that in Leviticus 18:5, where it is said that “he shall live in them.” The meaning is, that it is a maxim or principle of the Law of God, that if a creature will keep it, and obey it entirely, he shall not be condemned, but shall be approved and live forever. This does not affirm that anyone ever has thus lived in this world, but it is an affirmation of a great general principle of law, that if a creature is justified by the Law, the obedience must be entire and perpetual. If such were the case, as there would be no ground of condemnation, man would be saved by the Law. If the Jews, therefore, expected to be saved by their Law, it must be, not by hearing the Law, nor by being called a Jew, but by perfect and unqualified obedience to all its requirements. This passage is designed, doubtless, to meet a very common and pernicious sentiment of the Jewish teachers, that all who became hearers and listeners to the Law would be saved. The inference from the passage is, that no man can be saved by his external privileges, or by an outward respectful deference to the truths and ordinances of religion.
For when - The apostle, in Romans 2:13, had stated a general principle, that the doers of the Law only can be justified, if justification is attempted by the Law. In this verse and the next, he proceeds to show that the same principle is applicable to the pagan; that though they have not the written Law of God, yet that they have sufficient knowledge of his will to take away every excuse for sin, and consequently that the course of reasoning by which he had come to the conclusion that they were guilty, is well founded. This verse is not to be understood as affirming, as an historical fact, that any of the pagan ever did perfectly obey the Law which they had, any more than the previous verse affirms it of the Jews, The main point in the argument is, that if people are justified by the Law, their obedience must be entire and perfect; that this is not to be external only, or to consist in hearing or in acknowledging the justice of the Law; and that the Gentiles had an opportunity of illustrating this principle as well as the Jews, since they also had a law among themselves. The word “when” ὅταν hotan does not imply that the thing shall certainly take place, but is one form of introducing a supposition; or of stating the connection of one thing with another, Matthew 5:11; Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5-40.6.6, Matthew 6:16; Matthew 10:19. It is, however, true that the main things contained in this verse, and the next, actually occurred, that the Gentiles did many things which the Law of God required.
The Gentiles - All who were not Jews.
Which have not the law - Who have net a revelation, or the written word of God. In the Greek the article is omitted, “who have not law,” that is, any revealed law.
By nature - By some, this phrase has been supposed to belong to the previous member of the sentence, “who have not the law by nature.” But our translation is the more natural and usual construction. The expression means clearly by the light of conscience and reason, and whatever other helps they may have without revelation. It denotes simply, in that state which is without the revealed will of God. In that condition they had many helps of tradition, conscience, reason, and the observation of the dealings of divine Providence, so that to a considerable extent they knew what was right and what was wrong.
Do the things - Should they not merely understand and approve, but actually perform the things required in the Law.
Contained in the law - Literally, the things of the Law, that is, the things which the Law requires. Many of those things might be done by the pagan, as, e. g., respect to parents. truth, justice, honesty, chastity. So far as they did any of those things, so far they showed that they had a law among themselves. And wherein they failed in these things they showed that they were justly condemned. “Are a law unto themselves.” This is explained in the following verse. It means that their own reason and conscience constituted, in these things, a law, or prescribed that for them which the revealed law did to the Jews.
Which show - Who thus evince or show.
The work of the law - The design, purpose, or object which is contemplated by the revealed Law; that is, to make known to man his duty, and to enforce the obligation to perform it. This does not mean, by any means, that they had all the knowledge which the Law would impart, for then there would have been no need of a revelation, but that, as far as it went, as far as they had a knowledge of right and wrong, they coincided with the revealed will of God. In other words, the will of God, whether made known by reason or revelation, will be the same so far as reason goes. The difference is that revelation goes further than reason; sheds light on new duties and doctrines; as the information given by the naked eye and the telescope is the same, except, that the telescope carries the sight forward, and reveals new worlds to the sight of man.
Written in their hearts - The revealed Law of God was written on tables of stone, and then recorded in the books of the Old Testament. This law the Gentiles did not possess, but, to a certain extent, the same requirements were written on their hearts. Though not revealed to them as to the Jews, yet they had obtained the knowledge of them by the tight of nature. The word “hearts” here denotes the mind itself, as it does also frequently in the Sacred Scriptures; not the heart, as the seat of the affections. It does not mean that they loved or even approved of the Law, but that they had knowledge of it; and that that knowledge was deeply engraved on their minds.
Their conscience - This word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the morality or immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. It has usually been termed the moral sense, and is a very important principle in a moral government. Its design is to answer the purposes of an ever attendant witness of a man’s conduct; to compel him to pronounce on his own doings, and thus to excite him to virtuous deeds, to give comfort and peace when he does right, to deter from evil actions by making him, whether he will or no, his own executioner: see John 8:9; Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; Romans 9:1; 1 Timothy 1:5. By nature every man thus approves or condemns his own acts; and there is not a profounder principle of the divine administration, than thus compelling every man to pronounce on the moral character of his own conduct. Conscience may be enlightened or unenlightened; and its use may be greatly perverted by false opinions. Its province is not to communicate any new truth, it is simply to express judgment, and to impart pleasure or inflict pain for a man’s own good or evil conduct. The apostle’s argument, does not require him to say that conscience revealed any truth, or any knowledge of duty, to the Gentiles, but that its actual exercise proved that they had a knowledge of the Law of God. Thus, it was a witness simply of that fact.
Bearing witness - To bear witness is to furnish testimony, or proof. And the exercise of the conscience here showed or proved that they had a knowledge of the Law. The expression does not mean that the exercise of their conscience bore witness of anything to them, but that its exercise may be alleged as a proof that they were not without some knowledge of the Law.
And their thoughts - The word “thoughts” (λογισμῶν logismōn) means properly reasonings, or opinions, sentiments, etc. Its meaning here may be expressed by the word “reflections.” Their reflections on their own conduct would be attended with pain or pleasure. It differs from conscience, inasmuch as the decisions of conscience are instantaneous, and without any process of reasoning. This supposes subsequent reflection, and it means that such reflections would only deepen and confirm the decisions of conscience.
The mean while - Margin, “Between themselves.” The rendering in the margin is more in accordance with the Greek. The expression sometimes means, in the mean time, or at the same time; and sometimes afterward, or subsequently. The Syriac and Latin Vulgate render this mutually. They seem to have understood this as affirming that the pagan among themselves, by their writings, accused or acquitted one another.
Accusing - If the actions were evil.
Excusing - That is, if their actions were good.
One another - The margin renders this expression in connection with the adverb, translated “in the mean while,” “between themselves.” This view is also taken by many commentators, and this is its probable meaning. If so, it denotes the fact that in their reflections, or their reasonings, or discussions, they accused each other of crime, or acquitted one another; they showed that they had a law; that they acted on the supposition that they had. To show this was the design of the apostle; and there was no further proof of it needed than what he here adduced.
- They had a conscience, pronouncing on their own acts; and,
- Their reasonings, based on the supposition of some such common and acknowledged standard of accusing or acquitting, supposed the same thing. If, therefore, they condemned or acquitted themselves; if in these reasonings and reflections, they proceeded on the principle that they had some rule of right and wrong, then the proposition of the apostle was made out that it was right for God to judge them, and to destroy them; Romans 2:8-45.2.12.
In the day - This verse is doubtless to be connected with Romans 2:12, and the intermediate verses are a parenthesis, and it implies that the pagan world, as well as the Jews, will be arraigned at the bar of judgment. At that time God will judge all in righteousness, the Jew by the Law which he had, and the pagan by the Law which he had.
When God shall judge - God is often represented as the Judge of mankind; Deuteronomy 32:36; Psa 50:4; 1 Samuel 2:10; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Romans 3:6; Hebrews 13:4. But this does not militate against the fact that he will do it by Jesus Christ. God has appointed his Son to administer judgment; and it will be not by God directly, but by Jesus Christ that it will be administered.
The secrets of men - See Luke 8:17; Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing,” etc., Matthew 10:26; 1 Corinthians 4:5. The expression denotes the hidden desires, lusts, passions, and motives of people; the thoughts of the heart, as well as the outward actions of the life. It will be a characteristic of the day of judgment, that all these will he brought out, and receive their appropriate reward. The propriety of this is apparent, for,
- It is by these that the character is really determined. The motives and principles of a man constitute his character, and to judge him impartially, these must be known.
- They are not judged or rewarded in this life. The external conduct only can be seen by people, and of course that only can be rewarded or punished here.
- People of pure motives and pure hearts are often here basely aspersed and calumniated. They are persecuted, traduced, and often overwhelmed with ignominy. It is proper that the secret motives of their conduct should be brought out and approved.
On the other hand, people of base motives, people of unprincipled character, and who are corrupt at the heart, are often lauded, flattered, and exalted into public estimation. It is proper that their secret principles should be detected, and that they should take their proper place in the government of God. In regard to this expression, we may further remark,
(1) That the fact that all secret thoughts and purposes will be brought into judgment, invests the judgment with an awful character. Who should not tremble at the idea that the secret plans and desires of his soul, which he has so long and so studiously concealed, should be brought out into noon-day in the judgment? All his artifices of concealment shall be then at an end. He will be able to practice disguise no longer. He will be seen as he is; and he will receive the doom he deserves. There will be one place, at least, where the sinner shall be treated as he ought.
(2) To execute this judgment implies the power of searching the heart; of knowing the thoughts; and of developing and unfolding all the purposes and plans of the soul. Yet this is intrusted to Jesus Christ, and the fact that he will exercise this, shows that he is divine.
Of men - Of all people, whether Jew or Gentile, infidel or Christian. The day of judgment, therefore, may be regarded as a day of universal development of all the plans and purposes that have ever been entertained in this world.
By Jesus Christ - The fact that Jesus Christ is appointed to judge the world is abundantly taught in the Bible, Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5; John 5:22, John 5:27; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-52.4.18; Matthew 25:31-40.25.46.
According to my gospel - According to the gospel which I preach. Compare Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:8. This does not mean that the gospel which he preached would be the rule by which God would judge all mankind, for he had just said that the pagan world would be judged by a different rule, Romans 2:12. But it means that he was intrusted with the gospel to make it known; and that one of the great and prime articles of that gospel was, that God would judge the world by Jesus Christ. To make this known he was appointed; and it could be called his gospel only as being a part of the important message with which he was intrusted.
Behold - Having thus stated the general principles on which God would judge the world; having shown how they condemned the Gentiles; and having removed all objections to them, he now proceeds to another part of his argument, to show how they applied to the Jews. By the use of the word “behold,” he calls their attention to it, as to an important subject; and with great skill and address, he states their privileges, before he shows them how those privileges might enhance their condemnation. He admits all their claims to pre-eminence in privileges, and then with great faithfulness proceeds to show how, if abused, these might deepen their final destruction. It should be observed, however, that the word rendered “behold” is in many manuscripts written in two words, ἔι δὲ ei de, instead of ἴδε ide. If this, as is probable, is the correct reading there, it should be rendered, “if now thou art,” etc. Thus, the Syriac, Latin, and Arabic read it.
Thou art called - Thou art named Jew, implying that this name was one of very high honor. This is the first thing mentioned on which the Jew would be likely to pride himself.
A Jew - This was the name by which the Hebrews were at that time generally known; and it is clear that they regarded it as a name of honor, and valued themselves much on it; see Galatians 2:15; Revelation 2:9. Its origin is not certainly known. They were called the children of Israel until the time of Rehoboam. When the ten tribes were carried into captivity, but two remained, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The name Jews was evidently given to denote those of the tribe of Judah. The reasons why the name of Benjamin was lost in that of Judah, were probably,
(1)Because the tribe of Benjamin was small, and comparatively without influence or importance.
- The Messiah was to be of the tribe of Judah Genesis 49:10; and that tribe would therefore possess a consequence proportioned to their expectation of that event.
The name of Jews would therefore be one that would suggest the facts that they were preserved from captivity, that they had received remarkably the protection of God, and that the Messiah was to be sent to that people. Hence, it is not wonderful that they should regard it as a special favor to be a Jew, and particularly when they added to this the idea of all the other favors connected with their being the special people of God. The name “Jew” came thus to denote all the peculiarities and special favors of their religion.
And restest in the law - The word “rest” here is evidently used in the sense of trusting to, or leaning upon. The Jew leaned on, or relied on the Law for acceptance or favor; on the fact that he had the Law, and on his obedience to it. It does not mean that he relied on his own works, though that was true, but that he leaned on the fact that he had the Law, and was thus distinguished above others. The Law here means the entire Mosaic economy; or all the rules and regulations which Moses had given. Perhaps also it includes, as it sometimes does, the whole of the Old Testament.
Makest thy boast in God - Thou dost boast, or glory, that thou hast the knowledge of the true God, while other nations are in darkness. On this account the Jew felt himself far elevated above all other people, and despised them. It was true that they only had the true knowledge of God, and that he had declared himself to be their God, Deuteronomy 4:7; Psalms 147:19-19.147.20; but this was not a ground for boasting, but for gratitude. This passage shows us that it is much more common to boast of privileges than to be thankful for them, and that it is no evidence of piety for a man to boast of his knowledge of God. An humble, ardent thankfulness that we have that knowledge a thankfulness which leads us not to despise others, but to desire that they may have the same privilege - is an evidence of piety.
And knowest his will - The will or commands of God. This knowledge they obtained from the Scriptures; and of course in this they were distinguished from other nations.
And approvest - The word used here is capable of two interpretations. It may mean either to distinguish, or to approve. The word is properly and usually applied to the process of testing or trying metals by fire. Hence, it comes to be used in a general sense to try or to distinguish anything; to ascertain its nature, quality, etc.; Luke 12:56. This is probably its meaning here, referring rather to the intellectual process of discriminating, than to the moral process of approving. It could not, perhaps, be said with propriety, at least the scope of the passage does not properly suppose this, that the Jew approved or loved the things of God: but the scope of the passage is, that the Jew valued himself on his knowledge of what was conformable to the will of God; see the notes at Romans 14:0.
The things that are more excellent - The word translated here “more excellent” denotes properly the things that differ from others, and then also the things that excel. It has an ambiguity similar to the word translated “approved.” If the interpretation of that word above given is correct, then this word here means those things that differ from others. The reference is to the rites and customs, to the distinctions of meats and days, etc., prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Jew would pride himself on the fact that he had been taught by the Law to make these distinctions, while all the pagan world had been left in ignorance of them. This was one of the advantages on which he valued himself and his religion.
Being instructed ... - That is, in regard to the one God, his will, and the distinguishing rites of his worship.
And art confident - This expression denotes the full assurance of the Jew that he was superior in knowledge to all other people. It is a remarkable fact that the Jews put the fullest confidence in their religion. Though proud, wicked, and hypocritical, yet they were not speculative infidels. It was one of their characteristics, evinced through all their history, that they had the fullest assurance that God was the author of their institutions, and that their religion was his appointment.
A guide of the blind - A guide of the blind is a figurative expression to denote an instructor of the ignorant. The blind here properly refers to the Gentiles, who were thus regarded by the Jews. The meaning is, that they esteemed themselves qualified to instruct the pagan world; Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:15.
A light - Another figurative expression to denote a teacher; compare Isaiah 49:6; John 1:4-43.1.5, John 1:8-43.1.9.
In darkness - A common expression to denote the ignorance of the Gentile world; see the note at Matthew 4:16.
Of the foolish - The word “foolish” is used in the Scriptures in two significations: to denote those who are void of understanding, and to denote the wicked. Here it is clearly used in the former sense, signifying that the Jew esteemed himself qualified to instruct those without knowledge.
Of babes - This is the literal meaning of the original word. The expression is figurative, and denotes those who were as ignorant as children - an expression which they would be likely to apply to all the Gentiles. It is evident that the character bare given by Paul to the Jews is one which they claimed, and of which they were proud. They are often mentioned as arrogating this prerogative to themselves, of being qualified to be guides and teachers of others; Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:2, Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:24. It will be remembered, also, that the Jews considered themselves to be qualified to teach all the world, and hence evinced great zeal to make proselytes. And it is not improbable (Tholuck) that their Rabbies were accustomed to give the names “foolish” and “babes” to the ignorant proselytes which they had made from the pagan.
Which hast the form of knowledge - The word translated here as “form” properly denotes a delineations or picturing of a thing. It is commonly used to denote also the appearance of any object; what we see, without reference to its internal character; the external figure. It sometimes denotes the external appearance as distinguished from what is internal; or a hypocritical profession of religion without its reality; 2 Timothy 3:5. “Having the form of godliness, but denying its power.” It is sometimes used in a good, and sometimes in a bad sense. Here it denotes that in their teaching they retained the semblance, sketch, or outline of the true doctrines of the Old Testament. They had in the Scriptures a correct delineation of the truth. Truth is the representation of things as they are; and the doctrines which the Jews had in the Old Testament were a correct representation or delineation of the objects of knowledge; compare 2 Timothy 1:13.
In the law - In the Scriptures of the Old Testament. In these verses the apostle concedes to the Jews all that they would claim. Having made this concession of their superior knowledge, he is prepared with the more fidelity and force to convict them of their deep and dreadful depravity in sinning against the superior light and privileges which God had conferred on them.
Thou therefore ... - He who is a teacher of others may be expected to be learned himself. They ought to be found to be possessed of superior knowledge; and by this question the apostle impliedly reproves them for their ignorance. The form of a question is chosen because it conveys the truth with greater force. He puts the question as if it were undeniable that they were grossly ignorant; compare Matthew 23:3, “They say, and do not,” etc.
That preachest - This word means to proclaim in any manner, whether in the synagogue, or in any place of public teaching.
Dost thou steal? - It cannot be proved, perhaps, that the Jews were extensively guilty of this crime. It is introduced partly, no doubt, to make the inconsistency of their conduct mere apparent. We expect a man to set an example of what he means by his public instruction.
Dost thou commit adultery? - There is no doubt that this was a crime very common among the Jews; see the Matthew 12:39 note; John 8:1-43.8.11 notes. The Jewish Talmud accuses some of the most celebrated of their Rabbies, by name, of this vice. (Grotius.) Josephus also gives the same account of the nation.
Thou that abhorrest idols - It was one of the doctrines of their religion to abhor idolatry. This they were everywhere taught in the Old Testament; and this they doubtless inculcated in their teaching. It was impossible that they could recommend idolatry.
Dost thou commit sacrilege? - Sacrilege is the crime of violating or profaning sacred things; or of appropriating to common purposes what has been devoted to the service of religion. In this question, the apostle shows remarkable tact and skill. He could not accuse them of idolatry, for the Jews, after the Babylonish captivity, had never fallen into it. But then, though they had not the form, they might have the spirit of idolatry. That spirit consisted in withholding from the true God what was his due, and bestowing the affections upon something else. This the Jews did by perverting from their proper use the offerings which were designed for his honor; by withholding what he demanded of tithes and offerings; and by devoting to other uses what was devoted to him, and which properly belonged to his service. That this was a common crime among them is apparent from Malachi 1:8, Malachi 1:12-39.1.14; Malachi 3:8-39.3.9. It is also evident from the New Testament that the temple was in many ways desecrated and profaned in the time of our Saviour; notes, Matthew 21:12-40.21.13.
Makest thy boast ... - To boast in the Law implied their conviction of its excellence and obligation, as a man does not boast of what he esteems to be of no value.
Dishonourest thou God - By boasting of the Law, they proclaimed their conviction that it was from God. By breaking it, they denied it. And as actions are a true test of man’s real opinions, their breaking the Law did it more dishonor than their boasting of it did it honor. This is always the case. It matters little what a man’s speculative opinions may be; his practice may do far more to disgrace religion than his profession does to honor it. It is the life and conduct, and not merely the profession of the lips, that does real honor to the true religion. Alas, with what pertinency and force may this question be put to many who call themselves Christians!
The name of God - The name and character of the true God.
Is blasphemed - Note, Matthew 9:3. That is, your conduct is such as to lead the pagan world to blaspheme and reproach both your religion and its Author. By your hypocrisy and crimes the pagan world is led to despise a religion which is observed to have no effect in purifying and restraining its professors; and of course the reproach will terminate on the Author of your religion - that is, the true God. A life of purity would tend to honor religion and its Author; a life of impurity does the reverse. There is no doubt that this was actually the effect of the deportment of the Jews. They were scattered everywhere; everywhere they were corrupt and wicked; and everywhere they and their religion were despised.
Among the Gentiles - In the midst of whom many Jews lived.
Through you - By means of you, or as the result of your conduct. It may mean, that you Jews do it, or profane the name of God; but the connection seems rather to require the former sense.
As it is written - To what place the apostle has reference, cannot be certainly determined. There are two passages in the Old Testament; which will bear on the case, and perhaps he had them both in his view; Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:22-26.36.23. The meaning is not that the passages in the Old Testament, referred to by the phrase, “as it is written,” had any particular reference to the conduct of the Jews in the time of Paul, but that this had been the character of the people, and the effect of their conduct as a nation, instances of which had been before observed and recorded by the prophets. The same thing has occurred to a most melancholy extentin regard to professed Christian nations. For purposes of commerce, and science, and war, and traffic, people from nations that are nominally Christian have gone into almost every part of the pagan world. But they have not often been real Christians. They have been intent on gain; and have to a melancholy extent been profane, and unprincipled, and profligate people. Yet the pagan have regarded them as Christians; as fair specimens of the effect of the religion of Christ. They have learned therefore, to abuse the name of Christian, and the Author of the Christian religion, as encouraging and promoting profligacy of life. Hence, one reason, among thousands, of the importance of Christian missions to the pagan. It is well to disabuse the pagan world of their erroneous opinions of the tendency of Christianity. It is well to teach them that we do not regard these people as Christians. As we have sent to them the worst part of our population, it is well to send them holy men, who shall exhibit to them the true nature of Christianity, and raise our character in their eyes as a Christian people. And were there no other result of Christian missions, it would be worth all the expense and toil attending them, to raise the national character in the view of the pagan world.
For circumcision - John 7:22 note; Acts 7:8 note. This was the special rite by which the relation to the covenant of Abraham was recognised; or by which the right to all the privileges of a member of the Jewish commonwealth was acknowledged. The Jews of course affixed a high importance to the rite.
Verily profiteth - Is truly a benefit; or is an advantage. The meaning is, that their being recognised as members of the Jewish commonwealth, and introduced to the privileges of the Jew, was an advantage; see Romans 3:1-45.3.2. The apostle was not disposed to deny that they possessed this advantage, but he tells them why it was a benefit, and how it might fail of conferring any favor.
If thou keep the law - The mere sign can be of no value, The mere fact of being a Jew is not what God requires. It may be a favor to have his Law, but the mere possession of the Law cannot entitle to the favor of God. So it is a privilege to be born in a Christian land; to have had pious parents; to be amidst the ordinances of religion; to be trained in Sundayschools; and to be devoted to God in baptism: for all these are favorable circumstances for salvation. But none of them entitle to the favor of God; and unless they are improved as they should be, they may be only the means of increasing our condemnation; 2 Corinthians 2:16.
Thy circumcision is made uncircumcision - Thy circumcision, or thy being called a Jew, is of no value. It will not distinguish you from those who are not circumcised. You will be treated as a pagan. No external advantages, no name, or rite, or ceremony will save you. God requires the obedience of the heart and of the life. Where there is a disposition to render that, there is an advantage in possessing the external means of grace. Where that is missing, no rite or profession can save. This applies with as much force to those who have been baptized in infancy, and to those who have made a profession of religion in a Christian church, as to the Jew.
Therefore, if the uncircumcision - If those who are not circumcised, that is, the pagan.
Keep the righteousness of the law - Keep what the Law of Moses commands. It could not be supposed that a pagan would understand the requirements of the ceremonial law; but reference is had here to the moral law. The apostle does not expressly affirm that this was ever done; but he supposes the case, to show the true nature and value of the rites of the Jews.
Shall not his uncircumcision - Or, shall the fact that he is uncircumcised stand in the way of the acceptance of his services? Or, shall he not as certainly and as readily be accepted by God as if he were a Jew? Or in other words, the apostle teaches the doctrine that acceptance with God does not depend on a man’s external privileges, but on the state of the heart and life.
Be counted for circumcision - Shall he not be treated as if he were circumcised? Shall his being uncircumcised be any barrier in the way of his acceptance with God? The word rendered “be counted,” is what is commonly rendered “to reckon, to impute”; and its use here shows that the Scripture use of the word is not to transfer, or to charge with what is not deserved, or not true. It means simply that a man shall be treated as if it were so; that this lack of circumcision shall be no bar to acceptance. There is nothing set over to his account; nothing transferred; nothing reckoned different from what it is. God judges things as they are; and as the man, though uncircumcised, who keeps the Law, ought to be treated as if he had been circumcised, so he who believes in Christ agreeably to the divine promise, and trusts to his merits alone for salvation, ought to be treated as if he were himself righteous, God judges the thing as it is, and treats people as it is proper to treat them, as being pardoned and accepted through his Son.
Which is by nature - Which is the natural state of man; his condition before he is admitted to any of the unique rites of the Jewish religion.
If it fulfil the law - If they who are uncircumcised keep the Law.
Judge thee - Condemn thee as guilty. As we say, the conduct of such a man condemns us. He acts so much more consistently and uprightly than we do, that we see our guilt. For a similar mode of expression, see Matthew 12:41-40.12.42.
Who by the letter ... - The translation here is certainly not happily expressed. It is difficult to ascertain its meaning. The evident meaning of the original is, “Shall not a pagan man who has none of your external privileges, if he keeps the law, condemn you who are Jews; who, although you have the letter and circumcision, are nevertheless transgressors of the law? ‘
The letter - The word “letter” properly means the mark or character from which syllables and words are formed. It is also used in the sense of writing of any kind Luke 16:6-42.16.7; Acts 28:21; Galatians 6:11, particularly the writings of Moses, denoting, by way of eminence, the letter, or the writing; Rom 7:6; 2 Timothy 3:15.
For he is not a Jew ... - He who is merely descended from Abraham, and is circumcised, and externally conforms to the Law only, does not possess the true character, and manifest the true spirit, contemplated by the separation of the Jewish people. Their separation required much more.
Neither is that circumcision ... - Neither does it meet the full design of the rite of circumcision, that it is externally performed. It contemplated much more; see Romans 2:29.
But he is a Jew - He comes up to the design of the Jewish institution; he manifests truly what it is to be a Jew.
Which is one inwardly - Who is “in heart” a Jew. Who has the true spirit, and fulfils the design of their being separated as a special people. This passage proves that the design of separating them was not merely to perform certain external rites, or to conform to external observances, but to be a people holy in heart and in life. It cannot be denied that this design was not generally understood in the time of the apostles; but it was abundantly declared in the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12-5.10.13, Deuteronomy 10:20; Deuteronomy 30:14; Isaiah 1:11-23.1.20; Micah 6:8; Psalms 51:16-19.51.17; Psalms 50:7-19.50.23.
And circumcision is that of the heart - That is, that circumcision which is acceptable to God. and which meets the design of the institution, is what is attended with holiness of heart; with the cutting off of sins; and with a pure life. The design of circumcision was to be a sign of separation from the pagan world, and of consecration to the holy God. And this design implied the renunciation and forsaking of all sins; or the cutting off of everything that was offensive to God. This was a work especially of the heart. This design was often stated and enforced in the writings of the Old Testament; Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked;” Jeremiah 4:4; Deuteronomy 30:6.
In the spirit - This is an expression explaining further what he had just said. It does not mean by the Holy Spirit, but that the work was to take place in the soul, and not in the body only. It was to be an internal, spiritual work, and not merely an external service.
And not in the letter - That is, not only according to the literal, external command,
Whose praise ... - Whose object is not to secure the praise of human beings. One of the main characteristics of the Jews in the time of Christ was, a desire to secure honor among men, as being exactly scrupulous in the performance of all the duties of their religion. They prided themselves on their descent from Abraham, and on their regular conformity to the precepts of the Law of Moses; Matthew 3:9; Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5; Luke 18:10-42.18.12; Matthew 23:23.
But of God - “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart;” 1 Samuel 16:7. The praise of God can be bestowed only on those who conform really, and not externally only, to his requirements.
The remarks which are made here respecting the Jews, are also strictly applicable to professing Christians, and we may learn,
- That the external rites of religion are of much less importance than the state of the heart.
- That the only value of those rites is to promote holiness of heart and life.
- That the mere fact that we are born of pious ancestors will not save us.
- That the fact that we were dedicated to God in baptism will not save us.
- That a mere profession of religion, however orthodox may be our creed, will not save us.
- That the estimate which people may put on our piety is not the proper measure of our true character and standing.
- It is an inexpressible privilege to be in possession of the Word of God, and to know our duty. It may, if improved, conduce to our elevation in holiness and happiness here, and to our eternal felicity hereafter.
- It is also a fearful thing to neglect the privileges which we enjoy. We shall be judged according to the light which we have; and it will be an awful event to go to eternity from a Christian land unprepared.
- Whatever may be the destiny of the pagan, it is our duty to make preparation to meet God. The most wicked of the pagan may meet a far milder doom than many who are externally moral, or who profess religion in Christian lands. Instead, therefore, of speculating on what may be their destiny, it is the duty of every individual to be at peace himself with God, and to flee from the wrath to come.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent