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1. Therefore inexcusable art thou, O man. ]This reproof is directed against hypocrites, who dazzle the eyes of men by displays of outward sanctity, and even think themselves to be accepted before God, as though they had given him full satisfaction. Hence Paul, after having stated the grosser vices, that he might prove that none are just before God, now attacks saintlings ( sanctulos ) of this kind, who could not have been included in the first catalogue. Now the inference is too simple and plain for any one to wonder how the Apostle derived his argument; for he makes them inexcusable, because they themselves knew the judgment of God, and yet transgressed the law; as though he said, “Though thou consented not to the vices of others, and seemest to be avowedly even an enemy and a reprover of vices; yet as thou art not free from them, if thou really examinest thyself, thou canst not bring forward any defense.”
For in what thou judgest another, etc. Besides the striking resemblance there is between the two Greek verbs, κρίνειν and κατακρίνειν (to judge and to condemn,) the enhancing of their sin ought to be noticed; for his mode of speaking is the same, as though he said, “Thou art doubly deserving of condemnation; for thou art guilty of the same vices which thou blamest and reprovest in others.” It is, indeed, a well-known saying, — that they who scrutinize the life of others lay claim themselves to innocence, temperance, and all virtues; and that those are not worthy of any indulgence who allow in themselves the same things which they undertake to correct in others.
For thou, judging, doest the same things: so it is literally; but the meaning is, “Though thou judgest, thou yet doest the same things.” And he says that they did them, because they were not in a right state of mind; for sin properly belongs to the mind. They then condemned themselves on this account, — because, in reproving a thief, or an adulterer, or a slanderer, they did not merely condemn the persons, but those very vices which adhered to themselves. (62)
(62) It is confessed by most that the illative, διὸ, at the beginning of the verse can hardly be accounted for. The inference from the preceding is not very evident. It is, in my view, an instance of Hebraism; and the reference is not to what has preceded, but to what is to come. It is not properly an illative, but it anticipates a reason afterwards given, conveyed by for, or, because. Its meaning will be seen in the following version: —
On this account, inexcusable art thou, O man, whosoever thou be who condemnest another, because, in what thou condemnest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou who condemnest doest the same things.
The verb, κρίνω, has here the idea of condemning, or of passing judgments; to judge is not sufficiently distinct. — Ed.
2. But we know that the judgment of God, etc. The design of Paul is to shake off from hypocrites their self-complacencies, that they may not think that they can really gain any thing, though they be applauded by the world, and though they regard themselves guiltless; for a far different trial awaits them in heaven. But as he charges them with inward impurity, which, being hid from the eyes of men, cannot be proved and convicted by human testimonies, he summons them to the tribunal of God, to whom darkness itself is not hid, and by whose judgment the case of sinners, be they willing or unwilling, must be determined.
Moreover, the truth of judgment will in two ways appear, because God will punish sin without any respect of persons, in whomsoever it will be found; and he will not heed outward appearances, nor be satisfied with any outward work, except what has proceeded from real sincerity of heart. It hence follows, that the mask of feigned sanctity will not prevent him from visiting secret wickedness with judgment. It is, no doubt, a Hebrew idiom; for truth in Hebrew means often the inward integrity of the heart, and thus stands opposed not only to gross falsehood, but also to the outward appearance of good works. And then only are hypocrites awakened, when they are told that God will take an account, not only of their disguised righteousness, but also of their secret motives and feelings. (63)
(63) “According to truth ” — κατὰ ἀλήθειαν, means, according to the true state of the case, without any partiality, or according to what is just and equitable; so [ Grotius ] takes it. Its corresponding word in Hebrew, אמת, is sometimes rendered δικαιοσύνμ, It is found opposed to ἀδικία in 1 Corinthians 13:6. The expression here may be deemed to be the same in meaning with δικαιοκρισία — righteous judgment, in verse 5. — Ed.
3. And thinkest thou, O man, etc. As rhetoricians teach us, that we ought not to proceed to give strong reproof before the crime be proved, Paul may seem to some to have acted unwisely here for having passed so severe a censure, when he had not yet proved the accusation which he had brought forward. But the fact is otherwise; for he adduced not his accusation before men, but appealed to the judgment of conscience; and thus he deemed that proved which he had in view — that they could not deny their iniquity, if they examined themselves and submitted to the scrutiny of God’s tribunal. And it was not without urgent necessity, that he with so much sharpness and severity rebuked their fictitious sanctity; for men of this class will with astonishing security trust in themselves, except their vain confidence be forcibly shaken from them. Let us then remember, that this is the best mode of dealing with hypocrisy, in order to awaken it from its inebriety, that is, to draw it forth to the light of God’s judgment.
That thou shalt escape, etc. This argument is drawn from the less; for since our sins are subject to the judgment of men, much more are they to that of God, who is the only true Judge of all. Men are indeed led by a divine instinct to condemn evil deeds; but this is only an obscure and faint resemblance of the divine judgment. They are then extremely besotted, who think that they can escape the judgment of God, though they allow not others to escape their own judgment. It is not without an emphatical meaning that he repeats the word man; it is for the purpose of presenting a comparison between man and God.
4. Dost thou despise the riches? etc. It does not seem to me, as some think, that there is here an argument, conclusive on two grounds, ( dilemma ,) but an anticipation of an objection: for as hypocrites are commonly transported with prosperity, as though they had merited the Lord’s kindness by their good deeds, and become thus more hardened in their contempt of God, the Apostle anticipates their arrogance, and proves, by an argument taken from a reason of an opposite kind, that there is no ground for them to think that God, on account of their outward prosperity, is propitious to them, since the design of his benevolence is far different, and that is, to convert sinners to himself. Where then the fear of God does not rule, confidence, on account of prosperity, is a contempt and a mockery of his great goodness. It hence follows, that a heavier punishment will be inflicted on those whom God has in this life favored; because, in addition to their other wickedness, they have rejected the fatherly invitation of God. And though all the gifts of God are so many evidences of his paternal goodness, yet as he often has a different object in view, the ungodly absurdly congratulate themselves on their prosperity, as though they were dear to him, while he kindly and bountifully supports them.
Not knowing that the goodness of God, etc. For the Lord by his kindness shows to us, that it is he to whom we ought turn, if we desire to secure our wellbeing, and at the same time he strengthens our confidence in expecting mercy. If we use not God’s bounty for this end, we abuse it. But yet it is not to be viewed always in the same light; for when the Lord deals favorably with his servants and gives them earthly blessings, he makes known to them by symbols of this kind his own benevolence, and trains them up at the same time to seek the sum and substance of all good things in himself alone: when he treats the transgressors of his law with the same indulgence, his object is to soften by his kindness their perverseness; he yet does not testify that he is already propitious to them, but, on the contrary, invites them to repentance. But if any one brings this objection — that the Lord sings to the deaf as long as he does not touch inwardly their hearts; we must answer — that no fault can be found in this case except with our own depravity. But I prefer rendering the word which Paul here uses, leads, rather than invites, for it is more significant; I do not, however, take it in the sense of driving, but of leading as it were by the hand.
5. But according to thy hardness, etc. When we become hardened against the admonitions of the Lord, impenitence follows; and they who are not anxious about repentance openly provoke the Lord. (65)
This is a remarkable passage: we may hence learn what I have already referred to — that the ungodly not only accumulate for themselves daily a heavier weight of God’s judgments, as long as they live here, but that the gifts of God also, which they continually enjoy, shall increase their condemnation; for an account of them all will be required: and it will then be found, that it will be justly imputed to them as an extreme wickedness, that they had been made worse through God’s bounty, by which they ought surely to have been improved. Let us then take heed, lest by unlawful use of blessings we lay up for ourselves this cursed treasure.
For the day, etc.; literally, in the day; but it is put for εἰς ἡμέραν, for the day. The ungodly gather now the indignation of God against themselves, the stream of which shall then be poured on their heads: they accumulate hidden destruction, which then shall be drawn out from the treasures of God. The day of the last judgment is called the day of wrath, when a reference is made to the ungodly; but it will be a day of redemption to the faithful. And thus all other visitations of God are ever described as dreadful and full of terror to the ungodly; and on the contrary, as pleasant and joyful to the godly. Hence whenever the Scripture mentions the approach of the Lord, it bids the godly to exult with joy; but when it turns to the reprobate, it proclaims nothing but dread and terror.“
A day of wrath,” saith Zephaniah, “shall be that day, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and wretchedness, a day of darkness and of thick darkness, a day of mist and of whirlwind.” (Zephaniah 1:15.)
You have a similar description in Joel 2:2, etc. And Amos exclaims,“
Woe To You Who Desire The Day Of The Lord! What Will It Be To You? The Day Of The Lord Will Be Darkness, And Not Light.” (Amos 5:18.)
Farther, by adding the word revelation, Paul intimates what this day of wrath is to be, — that the Lord will then manifest his judgment: though he gives daily some indications of it, he yet suspends and holds back, till that day, the clear and full manifestation of it; for the books shall then be opened; the sheep shall then be separated the goats, and the wheat shall be cleansed from the tares.
(65) What follows in the text, according to [ Calvin ], is this, “ et Corinthians pœni tere nescium — and a heart that knoweth not to repent;” καὶ ἀμετανοητον καρδίαν, which [ Schleusner ] renders thus, “ animus, qui omnem emendationem respuit — a mind which rejects every improvement.” It is an impenitable rather than “an impenitent heart,” that is, a heart incapable of repenting. See Ephesians 4:19. — Ed.
6. Who will render to every one, etc. As he had to do with blind saintlings, who thought that the wickedness of their hearts was well covered, provided it was spread over with some disguises, I know not what, of empty works, he pointed out the true character of the righteousness of works, even that which is of account before God; and he did this, lest they should feel confident that it was enough to pacify him, if they brought words and trifles, or leaves only. But there is not so much difficulty in this verse, as it is commonly thought. For the Lord, by visiting the wickedness of the reprobate with just vengeance, will recompense them with what they have deserved: and as he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify, he will also crown their good works, but not on account of any merit: nor can this be proved from this verse; for though it declares what reward good works are to have, it does yet by no means show what they are worth, or what price is due to them. And it is an absurd inference, to deduce merit from reward.
7. To them indeed, who by perseverance, etc.; literally, patience; by which word something more is expressed. For it is perseverance, when one is not wearied in constantly doing good; but patience also is required in the saints, by which they may continue firm, though oppressed with various trials. For Satan suffers them not by a free course to come to the Lord; but he strives by numberless hinderances to impede them, and to turn them aside from the right way. And when he says, that the faithful, by continuing in good works, seek glory and honour, he does not mean that they aspire after any thing else but the favor of God, or that they strive to attain any thing higher, or more excellent: but they can not seek him, without striving, at the same time, for the blessedness of his kingdom, the description of which is contained in the paraphrase given in these words. The meaning then is, — that the Lord will give eternal life to those who, by attention to good works, strive to attain immortality. (66)
(66) It has appeared to some difficult to reconcile this language with the free salvation which the gospel offers, and to obviate the conclusion which many are disposed to draw from this passage — that salvation is by works as well as by faith.
To this objection [ Pareus ] answers, that the Apostle speaks here of salvation by the works of the law, not indeed as a thing possible, which he subsequently denies, but as a declaration of what it is, that he might thereby show the necessity of a gratuitous salvation which is by faith only. And this is the view which Mr. [ Haldane ] takes.
But there is no need of having recourse to this hypothesis: for whenever judgment is spoken of even in the New Testament, it is ever represented in the same way, as being regulated in righteousness, according to the works of every individual. See Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12.
It will be a judgment, conducted according to the perfect rule of justice, with no respect of persons, with no regard to individuals as such, whether high or low, much or little favored as to outward privileges, but according to what their conduct has been, under the circumstances of their case. The rule, if heathens, will be the law of nature; if Jews, the law which had been given them. Judgment, as to its character, will be still the same to those under the gospel; it will be according to what the gospel requires. — Ed.
8. But to those who are contentious, etc. There is some irregularity in the passage; first, on account of its tenor being interrupted, for the thread of the discourse required, that the second clause of the contrast should be thus connected, — “The Lord will render to them, who by perseverance in good works, seek glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life; but to the contentious and the disobedient, eternal death.” Then the conclusion might be joined, — “That for the former are prepared glory, and honor, and incorruption; and that for the latter are laid up wrath and misery.” There is another thing, — These words, indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish, are joined to two clauses in the context. However, the meaning of the passage is by no means obscure; and with this we must be satisfied in the Apostolic writings. From other writings must eloquence be learnt: here spiritual wisdom is to be sought, conveyed in a plain and simple style. (67)
Contention is mentioned here for rebellion and stubbornness; for Paul was contending with hypocrites who, by their gross and supine self-indulgence, trifled with God. By the word truth, is simply meant the revealed will of God, which alone is the light of truth: for it is what belongs to all the ungodly, that they ever prefer to be in bondage to iniquity, rather than to receive the yoke of God; and whatever obedience they may pretend, yet they never cease perversely to clamor and struggle against God’s word. For as they who are openly wicked scoff at the truth, so hypocrites fear not to set up in opposition to it their artificial modes of worship. The Apostle further adds, that such disobedient persons obey or serve iniquity; for there is no middle course, which those who are unwilling to be in subjection to the law of the Lord can take, so as to be kept from falling immediately into the service of sin. And it is the just reward of outrageous licentiousness, that those become the bondslaves of sin who cannot endure the service of God. Indignation and wrath, so the character of the words induces me to render them; for θυμος in Greek means what the Latins call excandescentia — indignation, as Cicero teaches us, (Tusc. 4,) even a sudden burning of anger. As to the other words I follow [ Erasmus ]. But observe, that of the four which are mentioned, the two last are, as it were, the effects of the two first; for they who perceive that God is displeased and angry with them are immediately filled with confusion.
We may add, that though he might have briefly described, even in two words, the blessedness of the godly and also the misery of the reprobate, he yet enlarges on both subjects, and for this end — that he might more effectually strike men with the fear of God’s wrath, and sharpen their desire for obtaining grace through Christ: for we never fear God’s judgment as we ought, except it be set as it were by a lively description before our eyes; nor do we really burn with desire for future life, except when roused by strong incentives, ( multis flabellis incitati — incited by many fans.)
(67) With regard to the construction of this passage, 6-10, it may be observed, that it is formed according to the mode of Hebrew parallelism, many instances of which we meet with even in the prose writings of the New Testament. None of the ancients, nor any of the moderns, before the time of [ Bishop Lowth ] , understood much of the peculiar character of the Hebrew style. All the anomalies, noticed by [ Calvin ] , instantly vanish, when the passage is so arranged, as to exhibit the correspondence of its different parts. It consists of two general portions; the first includes three verses, Romans 2:6; the other, the remaining three Romans 2:9. The same things are mainly included in both portions, only in the latter there are some things additional, and explanatory, and the order is reversed, so that the passage ends with what corresponds with its beginning. To see the whole in a connected form, it is necessary to set it down in lines, in the following manner —
6. Who will render to each according to his works, —
7. To those indeed, who, by perseverance in well — doing, Seek glory and honor and immortality, — Eternal life
8. But there shall be to them who are contentious And obey not the truth, but obey iniquity, —Indignation and wrath:
Then follow the same things, the order being reversed —
9. Distress and anguish shall be on every soul of man that worketh evil, — On the Jew first, and then on the Greek;
10. But glory and honor and peace, To every one who worketh good, — To the Jew first and then to the Greek;
11. For there is no respect of persons with God.
The idea in the last and the first line is essentially the same. This repetition is for the sake of producing an impression. The character of the righteous, in the first part, is, that by persevering in doing good they seek glory, honor, and immortality, and their reward is to be eternal life: the character of the wicked is that of being contentious, disobedient to the truth, and obedient to unrighteousness, and their reward is to be indignation and wrath. The character of the first, in the second part, is, that they work good; and of the other, that they work evil: and the reward of the first is glory, honor, and peace, and the reward of the other, distress and anguish; which are the effects of indignation and wrath, as glory honor, and peace are the fruits or the constituent parts of eternal life. It is to be observed that priority in happiness, as well as priority in misery, is ascribed to the Jew. — Ed.
9. To the Jew first, etc. He simply places, I have no doubt, the Jew in opposition to the Gentile; for those whom he calls Greeks he will presently call Gentiles. But the Jews take the precedence in this case, for they had, in preference to others, both the promises and the threatenings of the law; as though he had said, “This is the universal rule of the divine judgment; it shall begin with the Jews, and it shall include the whole world.”
11. There is no respect of persons, etc. He has hitherto generally arraigned all mortals as guilty; but now he begins to bring home his accusation to the Jews and to the Gentiles separately: and at the same time he teaches us, that it is no objection that there is a difference between them, but that they are both without any distinction exposed to eternal death. The Gentiles pretended ignorance as their defense; the Jews gloried in the honor of having the law: from the former he takes away their subterfuge, and he deprives the latter of their false and empty boasting.
There is then a division of the whole human race into two classes; for God had separated the Jews from all the rest, but the condition of all the Gentiles was the same. He now teaches us, that this difference is no reason why both should not be involved in the same guilt. But the word person is taken in Scripture for all outward things, which are wont to be regarded as possessing any value or esteem. When therefore thou readest, that God is no respecter of persons, understand that what he regards is purity of heart or inward integrity; and that he hath no respect for those things which are wont to be highly valued by men, such as kindred, country, dignity, wealth, and similar things; so that respect of persons is to be here taken for the distinction or the difference there is between one nation and another. (68) But if any hence objects and says, “That then there is no such thing as the gratuitous election of God;” it may be answered, That there is a twofold acceptation of men before God; the first, when he chooses and calls us from nothing through gratuitous goodness, as there is nothing in our nature which can be approved by him; the second, when after having regenerated us, he confers on us his gifts, and shows favor to the image of his Son which he recognizes in us.
(68) The word προσωποληψία, respect of persons, is found in three other places, Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; and James 2:1; and in these the reference is to conditions in life. In Acts 10:34, the word is in another form προσωπολήπτης, a respecter of persons, and as a verb in James 2:9. The full phrase is πρόσωπον λαμβάνω, as found in Luke 20:21, and Galatians 2:6. It is a phrase peculiar to the Hebrew language, and means literally, to lift up or regard faces, that is, persons, נשא פנים. See Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7
An argument has been hence taken to oppose the doctrine of election; but this is to apply to a particular thing what belongs entirely and exclusively to another. This belongs to the administration of justice, but election is the exercise of mercy. Even [ Grotius ] admits, that God manifests a difference in bestowing benefits, but not in exercising Judgment. Indeed, in the present instance, with regard to the subject handled by the Apostle, there was a manifest difference; the Gentile had only the law of nature, but the Jew had a revealed law. Yet when brought to judgment there was to be no respect of persons, each was to be judged impartially according to the circumstances of his condition. And further, election does not proceed on the principle of showing respect of persons, that is, of regarding men according to their privileges or outward circumstances, or kindred or relation in life, or any thing in man; but its sole and exclusive ground or reason is the good pleasure of God. — Ed.
12. Whosoever have sinned without law, (69) etc. In the former part of this section he assails the Gentiles; though no Moses was given them to publish and to ratify a law from the Lord, he yet denies this omission to be a reason why they deserved not the just sentence of death for their sins; as though he had said — that the knowledge of a written law was not necessary for the just condemnation of a sinner. See then what kind of advocacy they undertake, who through misplaced mercy, attempt, on the ground of ignorance, to exempt the nations who have not the light of the gospel from the judgment of God.
Whosoever have sinned under the law, etc. As the Gentiles, being led by the errors of their own reason, go headlong into ruin, so the Jews possess a law by which they are condemned; (70) for this sentence has been long ago pronounced,“
Cursed are all they who continue not in all its precepts.” (Deuteronomy 27:26.)
A worse condition then awaits the Jewish sinners, since their condemnation is already pronounced in their own law.
(69) Ανόμως commonly means unlawfully, wickedly, lawlessly; but here, as it is evident from the context, it signifies to be without law. The adjective ἀνόμος is also used once in this sense in 1 Corinthians 9:21. — Ed.
(70) The word “condemned” would be better in the text than “judged;” it would then more plainly correspond with the former part, where the word “perished” is used: and that it means “condemned” is evident, for those who have “sinned” are the persons referred to. — Ed.
13. For the hearers of the law, etc. This anticipates an objection which the Jews might have adduced. As they had heard that the law was the rule of righteousness, (Deuteronomy 4:1,) they gloried in the mere knowledge of it: to obviate this mistake, he declares that the hearing of the law or any knowledge of it is of no such consequence, that any one should on that account lay claim to righteousness, but that works must be produced, according to this saying, “He who will do these shall live in them.” The import then of this verse is the following, — “That if righteousness be sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled; for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works.” They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children. It is therefore improper and beyond what is needful, to introduce here a long discussion on the subject, with the view of exposing so futile a sophistry: for the Apostle only urges here on the Jews what he had mentioned, the decision of the law, — That by the law they could not be justified, except they fulfilled the law, that if they transgressed it, a curse was instantly pronounced on them. Now we do not deny but that perfect righteousness is prescribed in the law: but as all are convicted of transgression, we say that another righteousness must be sought. Still more, we can prove from this passage that no one is justified by works; for if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified; for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law. (71)
(71) On the expression “hearers of the law,” [ Stuart ] has these remarks — “The Apostle here speaks of οἱ ἀκροαταὶ τοῦ νόμου, because the Jews were accustomed to hear the Scriptures read in public; but many of them did not individually possess copies of the sacred volume which they could read.”
14. For when the Gentiles, etc. He now states what proves the former clause; for he did not think it enough to condemn us by mere assertion, and only to pronounce on us the just judgment of God; but he proceeds to prove this by reasons, in order to excite us to a greater desire for Christ, and to a greater love towards him. He indeed shows that ignorance is in vain pretended as an excuse by the Gentiles, since they prove by their own deeds that they have some rule of righteousness: for there is no nation so lost to every thing human, that it does not keep within the limits of some laws. Since then all nations, of themselves and without a monitor, are disposed to make laws for themselves, it is beyond all question evident that they have some notions of justice and rectitude, which the Greeks call preconceptions προληψεις, and which are implanted by nature in the hearts of men. They have then a law, though they are without law: for though they have not a written law, they are yet by no means wholly destitute of the knowledge of what is right and just; as they could not otherwise distinguish between vice and virtue; the first of which they restrain by punishment, and the latter they commend, and manifest their approbation of it by honoring it with rewards. He sets nature in opposition to a written law, meaning that the Gentiles had the natural light of righteousness, which supplied the place of that law by which the Jews were instructed, so that they were a law to themselves. (72)
(72) As to the phrase, “these are a law unto themselves,” [ Venema ] adduces classical examples — πᾶν τὸ βέλτιστον φαινόμενον ἔστω σοι νόμος ἀπαράβατος “Whatever seems best, let it be to thee a perpetual law.” — Epict. in Ench. , c. 75. “τὸ μὲν ορθὸν νόμος ἐστὶ βασιληκός What is indeed right, is a royal law.” — [ Plato ] in Min., page 317.
The heathens themselves acknowledged a law of nature. [ Turrettin ] quotes a passage from a lost work of [ Cicero ], retained by [ Lactantius ] , which remarkably coincides with the language of Paul here — Ed.
15. Who show the work of the law (73) written, etc.; that is, they prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a discrimination and judgment by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what is honest and dishonest. He means not that it was so engraven on their will, that they sought and diligently pursued it, but that they were so mastered by the power of truth, that they could not disapprove of it. For why did they institute religious rites, except that they were convinced that God ought to be worshipped? Why were they ashamed of adultery and theft, except that they deemed them evils?
Without reason then is the power of the will deduced from this passage, as though Paul had said, that the keeping of the law is within our power; for he speaks not of the power to fulfill the law, but of the knowledge of it. Nor is the word heart to be taken for the seat of the affections, but only for the understanding, as it is found in Deuteronomy 29:4,“
The Lord hath not given thee a heart to understand;”
and in Luke 24:25,“
O foolish men, and slow in heart to believe.”
Nor can we conclude from this passage, that there is in men a full knowledge of the law, but that there are only some seeds of what is right implanted in their nature, evidenced by such acts as these — All the Gentiles alike instituted religious rites, they made laws to punish adultery, and theft, and murder, they commended good faith in bargains and contracts. They have thus indeed proved, that God ought to be worshipped, that adultery, and theft, and murder are evils, that honesty is commendable. It is not to our purpose to inquire what sort of God they imagined him to be, or how many gods they devised; it is enough to know, that they thought that there is a God, and that honor and worship are due to him. It matters not whether they permitted the coveting of another man’s wife, or of his possessions, or of any thing which was his, — whether they connived at wrath and hatred; inasmuch as it was not right for them to covet what they knew to be evil when done.
Their conscience at the same time attesting, etc. He could not have more forcibly urged them than by the testimony of their own conscience, which is equal to a thousand witnesses. By the consciousness of having done good, men sustain and comfort themselves; those who are conscious of having done evil, are inwardly harassed and tormented. Hence came these sayings of the heathens — “A good conscience is the widest sphere; but a bad one is the cruelest executioner, and more fiercely torments the ungodly than any furies can do.” There is then a certain knowledge of the law by nature, which says, “This is good and worthy of being desired; that ought to be abhorred.”
But observe how intelligently he defines conscience: he says, that reasons come to our minds, by which we defend what is rightly done, and that there are those which accuse and reprove us for our vices; (74) and he refers this process of accusation and defense to the day of the Lord; not that it will then first commence, for it is now continually carried on, but that it will then also be in operation; and he says this, that no one should disregard this process, as though it were vain and evanescent. And he has put, in the day, instead of, at the day, — a similar instance to what we have already observed.
(73) By the work of the law, τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου, is to be understood what the law requires. The “work of God,” in John 6:29, is of the same import, that is, the work which God requires or demands; and the same word is plural in the former verse, τὰ ἔργα — “the works of God.” So here, in the former verse, it is τὰ τοῦ νόμου — “the things of the law,” where we may suppose ἔργα to be understood. The common expression, “the works of the law,” has the same meaning, that is, such works as the law prescribes and requires. — Ed.
(74) [ Calvin ] seems to consider that the latter part of the verse is only a expansion or an exposition of the preceding clause respecting “conscience:” but it seems to contain a distinct idea. The testimony of conscience is one thing, which is instantaneous, without reflection: and the thoughts or the reasonings — λογισμῶν, which alternately or mutually accuse or excuse, seem to refer to a process carried on by the mind, by which the innate voice of conscience is confirmed. This is the view taken by [ Stuart ] and [ Barnes ], and to which [ Hodge ] is inclined.
Another view of the latter clause is given by [ Doddridge ] , [ Macknight ] , [ Haldane ] , and [ Chalmers ] The last gives this paraphrase of the whole verse, — “For they show that the matter of the law is written in their hearts — both from their conscience testifying what is right and wrong in their own conduct, and from their reasonings in which they either accuse or vindicate one another.”
But to regard the two clauses as referring to conscience and the inward workings of the mind, appears more consistent with the context. The Gentiles are those spoken of: God gave them no outward law, but the law of nature which is inward. Hence in the following verse he speaks of God as judging “the secrets of men,” as the inward law will be the rule of judgment to the Gentiles — Ed.
16. In which God shall judge the secrets of men (75) Most suitable to the present occasion is this periphrastic definition of judgment: it teaches those, who willfully hide themselves in the recesses of insensibility, that the most secret thoughts and those now completely hid in the depths of their hearts, shall then be brought forth to the light. So he speaks in another place; in order to show to the Corinthians what little value belongs to human judgment, which regards only the outward action, he bids them to wait until the Lord came, who would bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the secrets of the heart. (1 Corinthians 4:5) When we hear this, let it come to our minds, that we are warned that if we wish to be really approved by our Judge, we must strive for sincerity of heart.
He adds, according to my gospel, intimating, that he announced a doctrine, to which the judgments of men, naturally implanted in them, gave a response: and he calls it his gospel, on account of the ministry; for the authority for setting forth the gospel resides in the true God alone; and it was only the dispensing of it that was committed to the Apostles. It is indeed no matter of surprise, that the gospel is in part called the messenger and the announcer of future judgment: for if the fulfillment and completion of what it promises be deferred to the full revelation of the heavenly kingdom, it must necessarily be connected with the last judgment: and further, Christ cannot be preached without being a resurrection to some, and a destruction to others; and both these things have a reference to the day of judgment. The words, through Jesus Christ, I apply to the day of judgment, though they are regarded otherwise by some; and the meaning is, — that the Lord will execute judgment by Christ, for he is appointed by the Father to be the Judge of the living and of the dead, — which the Apostles always mention among the main articles of the gospel. Thus the sentence will be full and complete, which would otherwise be defective.
(75) In accordance with some of the fathers, [ Jerome ] , [ Chrysostom ] , [ Theophylact ] , and others, [ Calvin ] connects this with the immediately preceding verse: but almost all modern critics connect it with the 12th verse, and consider what intervenes as parenthetic. This is according to our version. In the Romans 2:12, both the Gentile and the Jew are spoken of, and that with reference to judgment. In this verse the time and the character of that judgment are referred to, and its character especially as to the Gentile, as his case is particularly delineated in the parenthesis. The Apostle then, in what follows, turns to the Jew. “According to my gospel” must be understood, not as though the gospel is to be the rule of judgment to the Gentile, but as to the fact, that Christ is appointed to be the Judge of all. See Acts 17:31. — Ed.
17. Behold, thou art named a Jew, etc. Some old copies read εἰ δὲ, though indeed; which, were it generally received, would meet my approbation; but as the greater part of the manuscripts is opposed to it, and the sense is not unsuitable, I retain the old reading, especially as it is only a small difference of one letter. (77)
Having now completed what he meant to say of the Gentiles, he returns to the Jews; and that he might, with greater force, beat down their great vanity, he allows them all those privileges, by which they were beyond measure transported and inflated: and then he shows how insufficient they were for the attainment of true glory, yea, how they turned to their reproach. Under the name Jew he includes all the privileges of the nation, which they vainly pretended were derived from the law and the prophets; and so he comprehends all the Israelites, all of whom were then, without any difference, called Jews.
But at what time this name first originated it is uncertain, except that it arose, no doubt, after the dispersion. (78) [ Josephus ] , in the eleventh book of his Antiquities, thinks that it was taken from Judas Maccabæus, under whose auspices the liberty and honor of the people, after having for some time fallen, and been almost buried, revived again. Though I allow this opinion to be probable, yet, if there be some to whom it is not satisfactory, I will offer them a conjecture of my own. It seems, indeed, very likely, that after having been degraded and scattered through so many disasters, they were not able to retain any certain distinction as to their tribes; for a census could not have been made at that time, nor did there exist a regular government, which was necessary to preserve an order of this kind; and they dwelt scattered and in disorder; and having been worn out by adversities, they were no doubt less attentive to the records of their kindred. But though you may not grant these things to me, yet it cannot be denied but that a danger of this kind was connected with such disturbed state of things. Whether, then, they meant to provide for the future, or to remedy an evil already received, they all, I think assumed the name of that tribe, in which the purity of religion remained the longest, and which, by a peculiar privilege, excelled all the rest, as from it the Redeemer was expected to come; for it was their refuge in all extremities, to console themselves with the expectation of the Messiah. However this may be, by the name of Jews they avowed themselves to be the heirs of the covenant which the Lord had made with Abraham and his seed.
And restest in the law, and gloriest in God, etc. He means not that they rested in attending to the law, as though they applied their minds to the keeping of it; but, on the contrary, he reproves them for not observing the end for which the law had been given; for they had no care for its observance, and were inflated on this account only, — because they were persuaded that the oracles of God belonged to them. In the same way they gloried in God, not as the Lord commands by his Prophet, — to humble ourselves, and to seek our glory in him alone, (Jeremiah 9:24,) — but being without any knowledge of God’s goodness, they made him, of whom they were inwardly destitute, peculiarly their own, and assumed to be his people, for the purpose of vain ostentation before men. This, then, was not the glorying of the heart, but the boasting of the tongue.
(77) [ Griesbach ] has since found a majority of MSS. in favor of this reading, and has adopted it. But the difficulty is to find a corresponding clause. There is none, except what begins in Romans 2:21; εἰ δὲ and οὖν do not well respond, except we render the first, though indeed, and the other, yes or nevertheless somewhat in the sense of an adversative. It will admit this meaning in some passages. See Matthew 12:12; Matthew 26:64; Romans 10:14. — Ed.
(78) This is not quite correct. They were called Jews even before the captivity, and during the captivity, but most commonly and regularly after it. The words Jews, first occurs in Genesis 16:6. See Esther 4:3; Jeremiah 38:19; Daniel 3:8; Ezra 4:12; Nehemiah 2:16. — Ed.
18. And knowest his will, and approvest things excellent, etc. He now concedes to them the knowledge of the divine will, and the approval of things useful; and this they had attained from the doctrine of the law. But there is a twofold approval, — one of choice, when we embrace the good we approve; the other of judgment, by which indeed we distinguish good from evil, but by no means strive or desire to follow it. Thus the Jews were so learned in the law that they could pass judgment on the conduct of others, but were not careful to regulate their life according to that judgment. But as Paul reproves their hypocrisy, we may, on the other hand, conclude, that excellent things are then only rightly approved (provided our judgment proceeds from sincerity) when God is attended to; for his will, as it is revealed in the law, is here appointed as the guide and teacher of what is to be justly approved. (79)
(79) There are two expositions of the words, δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφερόντα, which may be sustained according to what the words signify in other places. The first word means to prove, or test, or examine, and also to approve; and the second signifies things which differ, or things which are excellent. “Thou provest, or, distinguishest things which differ,” is the rendering of [ Beza ] , [ Pareus ] , [ Doddridge ] , and [ Stuart ] : “Thou approvest things excellent or useful,” is the rendering of [ Erasmus ] , [ Macknight ] , and others. The first is the most suitable to the context, as knowledge, and not approval, is evidently intended, as proved by the explanatory clause which follows, — “being instructed out of the law.” — Ed.
19. And believest thyself, etc. More is still granted to them; as though they had not only what was sufficient for themselves, but also that by which they could enrich others. He grants, indeed, that they had such abundance of learning, as that others might have been supplied. (80)
(80) Calvin has passed over here several clauses: they are so plain as to require no remarks, except the two last. “The instructor of the unwise — insipientium,” ἀφρόνων, of such as were foolish from not understanding things rightly. “The teacher of the ignorant — imperitorum,” νηπίων, babes, that is, of such as were ignorant like babes. But these and the foregoing titles, “the guide of the blind,” and, “light to those in darkness,” were such as the Jewish doctors assumed, and are not to be considered as having any great difference in their real meaning. There seems to be no reason to suppose, with [ Doddridge ] and some others, that “the blind, foolish, ignorant” were the Gentiles, for the Jews did not assume the office of teaching them. It is to be observed that Paul here takes the case, not of the common people, but of the learned — the teachers.
20. I take what follows, having the form of knowledge, as a reason for the preceding; and it may be thus explained, — “because thou hast the form of knowledge.” For they professed to be the teachers of others, because they seemed to carry in their breasts all the secrets of the law. The word form is put for model ( exemplar — pattern); (81) for Paul has adopted μόρφωσιν and not τύπον : but he intended, I think, to point out the conspicuous pomp of their teaching, and what is commonly called display; and it certainly appears that they were destitute of that knowledge which they pretended. But Paul, by indirectly ridiculing the perverted use of the law, intimates, on the other hand, that right knowledge must be sought from the law, in order that the truth may have a solid basis.
(81) The same word occurs only in 2 Timothy 3:5, “μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας — the form of godliness.” It is taken here in a good sense, as meaning a sketch, a delineation, an outline, a representation, or a summary. [ Chalmers ] renders the words thus, — “The whole summary of knowledge and truth which is in the law.” Some understand by knowledge what refers to morals or outward conduct, and by truth what is to be believed. Others regard them as an instance of Hebrewism, two substantives being put, instead of a substantive and an adjective; the phrase would then be, “true knowledge.” — Ed.
21. Thou, who then teachest another, teachest not thyself, etc. (82) Though the excellencies ( encomia — commendations) which he has hitherto stated respecting the Jews, were such as might have justly adorned them, provided the higher ornaments were not wanting; yet as they included qualifications of a neutral kind, which may be possessed even by the ungodly and corrupted by abuse, they are by no means sufficient to constitute true glory. And hence Paul, not satisfied with merely reproving and taunting their arrogance in trusting in these things alone, employs them for the purpose of enhancing their disgraceful conduct; for he exposes himself to no ordinary measure of reproach, who not only renders useless the gifts of God, which are otherwise valuable and excellent, but by his wickedness vitiates and contaminates them. And a strange counselor is he, who consults not for his own good, and is wise only for the benefit of others. He shows then that the praise which they appropriated to themselves, turned out to their own disgrace.
Thou who preachest, steal not, etc. He seems to have alluded to a passage in Psalms 50:16, where God says to the wicked,“
Why dost thou declare my statutes, and takest my covenant in thy mouth? And thou hatest reform, and hast cast my words behind thee: when thou seest a thief, thou joinest him, and with adulterers is thy portion.”
And as this reproof was suitable to the Jews in old time, who, relying on the mere knowledge of the law, lived in no way better than if they had no law; so we must take heed, lest it should be turned against us at this day: and indeed it may be well applied to many, who, boasting of some extraordinary knowledge of the gospel, abandon themselves to every kind of uncleanness, as though the gospel were not a rule of life. That we may not then so heedlessly trifle with the Lord, let us remember what sort of judgment impends over such prattlers, ( logodœdalis — word-artificers,) who make a show of God’s word by mere garrulity.
(82) This clause, and those which follow, are commonly put in an interrogatory form, that is, as questions: but some, as [ Theophylact ] , [ Erasmus ] and [ Luther ] , have rendered the clauses in the form here adopted. There is no difference in the meaning.
It is worthy of notice, that the Apostle, after the Hebrew manner, reverses the order as to the points he mentions; he, as it were, retrogrades, and begins to do so at Romans 2:21. The passage may be thus rendered, —
17. Seeing then, thou art named a Jew, And reliest on the law, and gloriest in God,
18. And knowest his will, And decernest things which differ, being taught by the law,
19. And art confident that thou art A leader to the blind, a light to those in darkness,
20. An instructor to the foolish, a teacher to babes, Having the form of knowledge and of truth according to the law:
21. Yet thou, who teachest another, teachest not thyself, Thou, who preachest, “Steal not,” stealest,
22. Thou, who sayest, “Commit no adultery,” committest adultery, Thou who detestest idols, committest sacrilege,
23. Thou who gloriest in the law, by transgressing the law dishonorest God; For the name of God, as it is written, is through you blasphemed by the Gentiles.Romans 2:21
, and part of the 22, refer to what is contained in Romans 19:0 and the 20; and the latter part of the 22 to the 18 verse; and 23 to the 17. The latter part of the 22 helps us to fix the meaning of the latter part of the 18; the man who hated idols and committed sacrilege proved that he did not exercise his boasted power of making a proper distinction between right and wrong. Then the man who is said, in Romans 2:17, to rely on the law and glory in God, is charged, in Romans 2:23, with the sin of dishonoring God by transgressing the law — Ed.
22. Thou who abhorrest idols, etc. He fitly compares sacrilege to idolatry, as it is a thing of the same kind; for sacrilege is simply a profanation of the Divine Majesty, a sin not unknown to heathen poets. On this account Ovid (Metamor. 3,) calls Lycurgus sacrilegious for despising the rites of Bacchus; and in his Fasti he calls those sacrilegious hands which violated the majesty of Venus. But as the Gentiles ascribed the majesty of their gods to idols, they only thought it a sacrilege when any one plundered what was dedicated to their temples, in which, as they believed, the whole of religion centered. So at this day, where superstition reigns, and not the word of God, they acknowledge no other kind of sacrilege than the stealing of what belongs to churches, as there is no God but in idols, no religion but in pomp and magnificence. (83)
Now we are here warned, first, not to flatter ourselves and to despise others, when we have performed only some portions of the law, — and, secondly, not to glory in having outward idolatry removed, while we care not to drive away and to eradicate the impiety that lieth hid in our hearts.
(83) “Sacrilege,” mentioned here, is by some taken literally as meaning the robbing of God as to the sacrifices he required, and the profanation of sacred rites; “many examples of which,” says [ Turrettin ], “are recorded by the Prophets, and also by [ Josephus ], both before and during the last war.” But some extend its meaning to acts of hypocrisy and ungodliness, by which God’s honor was profaned, and the glory due to him was denied. The highest sacrilege, no doubt, is to deprive God of that sincere service and obedience which he justly requires. “They caused,” says [ Pareus ] , “the name and honor of God to be in various ways blasphemed by their wicked hypocrisy; and hence they were justly said by the Apostle to be guilty of sacrilege.” He then adds, “we must notice, that idolatry is not opposed to sacrilege, but mentioned as a thing closely allied to it. Indeed all idolatry is sacrilegious. How then can the Monks, Priests, and Jesuits clear themselves from the charge of sacrilege? for they not only do not detest idolatry, being in this respect much worse than these hypocrites, but also greedily seek, like them, sacred offerings, and under the pretense of sanctity devour widows’ houses, pillage the coffers of kings, and, what is most heinous, sacrilegiously rob God of his due worship and honor and transfer them to saints.” Yet the world is so blind as not to see the real character of such men! — Ed.
23. Thou who gloriest in the law, etc. Though every transgressor dishonors God, (for we are all born for this end — to serve him in righteousness and holiness;) yet he justly imputes in this respect a special fault to the Jews; for as they avowed God as their Lawgiver, and yet had no care to form their life according to his rule, they clearly proved that the majesty of their God was not so regarded by them, but that they easily despised him. In the same manner do they at this day dishonor Christ, by transgressing the gospel, who prattle idly about its doctrine, while yet they tread it under foot by their unbridled and licentious mode of living.
24. For the name of God, etc. I think this quotation is taken from Ezekiel 36:20, rather than from Isaiah 52:5; for in Isaiah there are no reproofs given to the people, but that chapter in Ezekiel is full of reproofs. But some think that it is a proof from the less to the greater, according to this import, “Since the Prophet upbraided, not without cause, the Jews of his time, that on account of their captivity, the glory and power of God were ridiculed among the Gentiles, as though he could not have preserved the people, whom he had taken under his protection, much more are ye a disgrace and dishonor to God, whose religion, being judged of by your wicked life, is blasphemed.” This view I do not reject, but I prefer a simpler one, such as the following, — “We see that all the reproaches cast on the people of Israel do fall on the name of God; for as they are counted, and are said to be the people of God, his name is as it were engraven on their foreheads: it must hence be, that God, whose name they assume, is in a manner defamed by men, through their wicked conduct.” It was then a monstrous thing, that they who derived their glory from God should have disgraced his holy name; for it behoved them surely to requite him in a different manner. (84)
(84) On this remarkable passage [ Haldane ] has these very appropriate, just, and striking observations, —“
The Apostle, in these verses, exhibits the most lively image of hypocrisy. Was there ever a more beautiful veil than that under which the Jew presents himself? He is a man of confession, of praise, of thanksgiving — a man, whose trust is in the Law, whose boast is of God, who knows his will, who approves of things that are excellent, a man who calls himself a conductor of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of babes; a man who directs others, who preaches against theft, against adultery, against idolatry, and to sum up the whole, a man who glories in the commandments of the Lord. Who would not say that this is an angel arrayed in human form — a star detached from the firmament, and brought nearer to enlighten the earth? But observe what is concealed under this mask. It is a man who is himself untaught; it is a thief, an adulterer, a sacrilegious person; in one word, a wicked man, who continually dishonors God by the transgression of his law. Is it possible to imagine a contrast more monstrous than between these fair appearances and this awful reality?”
No, certainly; but it is a contrast which still exists, with various modifications, in many instances. — It ought to be observed, that when the author calls the Jew “a man of confession, of praise, of thanksgiving,” he alludes to the import of the word, Jew, in Hebrew, which is derived from a verb, which includes these ideas: and it is supposed by some, that there is an allusion in the last words of this chapter, “whose praise,” etc., to what the name signifies. — Ed.
25. For circumcision indeed profits, etc. He dissipates by anticipation what the Jews might have objected in opposition to him in the defense of their own cause: for since circumcision was a symbol of the Lord’s covenant, by which he had chosen Abraham and his seed as his peculiar people, they seemed not to have gloried in vain; but as they neglected what the sign signified, and regarded only the outward form, he gives this answer — That they had no reason to lay claim to any thing on account of the bare sign. The true character of circumcision was a spiritual promise, which required faith: the Jews neglected both, the promise as well as faith. Then foolish was their confidence. Hence it is, that he omits to state here the main use of circumcision, and proceeds to expose their gross error, as he does in his Epistle to the Galatians. And this ought to be carefully noticed; for if he were explaining the whole character and design of circumcision, it would have been inconsistent in him not to have made mention of grace and free promise: but in both instances he spoke according to what the subject he had in hand required, and therefore he only discussed that part which was controverted.
They thought that circumcision was of itself sufficient for the purpose of obtaining righteousness. Hence, speaking according to such an opinion, he gives this reply — That if this benefit be expected from circumcision, it is on this condition, that he who is circumcised, must serve God wholly and perfectly. Circumcision then requires perfection. The same may be also said of our baptism: when any one confidently relies on the water of baptism alone, and thinks that he is justified, as though he had obtained holiness by that ordinance itself, the end of baptism must be adduced as an objection; which is, that the Lord thereby calls us to holiness of life: the grace and promise, which baptism testifies ( testificatur ) and seals, ( obsignat ,) need not in this case to be mentioned; for our business is with those who, being satisfied with the empty shadow of baptism, care not for nor consider what is material ( solidum — substantial) in it. And this very thing you may observe in Paul — that when he speaks to the faithful of signs, apart from controversy, he connects them with the efficacy and fulfillment of the promises which belong to them; but when he contends with the absurd and unskillful interpreters of signs, he omits all mention of the proper and true character of signs, and directs his whole discourse against their perverted interpretation.
Now many, seeing that Paul brings forward circumcision rather than any other part of the law, suppose that he takes away justification only from ceremonies: but the matter is far otherwise; for it always happens, that those who dare to set up their own merits against the righteousness of God, glory more in outward observances than in real goodness; for no one, who is seriously touched and moved by the fear of God, will ever dare to raise up his eyes to heaven, since the more he strives after true righteousness, the clearer he sees how far he is from it. But as to the Pharisees, who were satisfied with imitating holiness by an outward disguise, it is no wonder that they so easily deluded themselves. Hence Paul, after having left the Jews nothing, but this poor subterfuge of being justified by circumcision, does now also take from them even this empty pretense.
26. If then the uncircumcision, etc. This is a very strong argument. Every thing is below its end and subordinate to it. Circumcision looks to the law, and must therefore be inferior to it: it is then a greater thing to keep the law than circumcision, which was for its sake instituted. It hence follows, that the uncircumcised, provided he keeps the law, far excels the Jew with his barren and unprofitable circumcision, if he be a transgressor of the law: and though he is by nature polluted, he shall yet be so sanctified by keeping the law, that uncircumcision shall be imputed to him for circumcision. The word uncircumcision, is to be taken in its proper sense in the second clause; but in the first, figuratively, for the Gentiles, the thing for the persons.
It must be added — that no one ought anxiously to inquire what observers of the law are those of which Paul speaks here, inasmuch no such can be found; for he simply intended to lay down a supposed case — that if any Gentile could be found who kept the law, his righteousness would be of more value without circumcision, than the circumcision of the Jew without righteousness. And hence I refer what follows, And what is by nature uncircumcision shall judge thee, etc., not to persons, but to the case that is supposed, according to what is said of the Queen of the south, that she shall come, etc., (Matthew 12:42,) and of the men of Nineveh, that they shall rise up in judgment, etc., (Luke 11:32) For the very words of Paul lead us to this view — “The Gentile,” he says, “being a keeper of the law, shall judge thee who art a transgressor, though he is uncircumcised, and thou hast the literal circumcision.”
27. By the letter and circumcision, etc. A construction (85) which means a literal circumcision. He does not mean that they violated the law, because they had the literal circumcision; but because they continued, though they had the outward rite, to neglect the spiritual worship of God, even piety, justice, judgment, and truth, which are the chief matters of the law. (86)
(85) Hypallage, substitution, a figure of speech, by which a noun or an adjective is put in a form different from its obvious import. — Ed
(86) The rendering of this clause is rather obscure, “who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law.” The preposition, διὰ, has no doubt the meaning of ἐν or σύν, as in some other passages, as in Romans 4:11, δἰ ἀκροβυστίας — in uncircumcision, and in Romans 8:25, δἰ ῦπομονὢς — in or with patience. Then the version should be, “who, being with, or having, the letter and circumcision, dost transgress the law.” The “letter” means the written law. That this is the meaning is evident from the context. Both [ Grotius ] and [ Macknight ] give the same construction. It is better to take “letter,” i.e. , the law, and “circumcision” separate, than to amalgamate them by a rhetorical figure, as is done by [ Calvin ] and others. [ Hodge ] justly says, that this is “more suited to the context, as nothing is said here of spiritual circumcision.”
The word γράμμα, letter, has various meanings — 1. What is commonly called letter, the character, Luke 23:38, — 2. What is written, a bond or contract, Luke 16:6; — 3. In the plural, letters, epistles, Acts 28:21; — 4. The written law, as here, and in the plural, the Old Testament Scriptures, 2 Timothy 3:15; — 5. What is conveyed by writing, learning, John 7:15; Acts 26:24; — and, 6. The outward performance of the law, it being written, as opposed to what is spiritual or inward, as in the last verse of this chapter, and in 2 Corinthians 3:6. — Ed
28. For a Jew is not he, etc. The meaning is, that a real Jew is not to be ascertained, either by natural descent, or by profession, or by an external symbol; that the circumcision which constitutes a Jew, does not consist in an outward sign only, but that both are inward. And what he subjoins with regard to true circumcision, is taken from various passages of Scripture, and even from its general teaching; for the people are everywhere commanded to circumcise their hearts, and it is what the Lord promises to do. The fore-skin was cut off, not indeed as the small corruption of one part, but as that of the whole nature. Circumcision then signified the mortification of the whole flesh.
29. What he then adds, in the spirit, not in the letter, understand thus: He calls the outward rite, without piety, the letter, and the spiritual design of this rite, the spirit; for the whole importance of signs and rites depends on what is designed; when the end in view is not regarded, the letter alone remains, which in itself is useless. And the reason for this mode of speaking is this, — where the voice of God sounds, all that he commands, except it be received by men in sincerity of heart, will remain in the letter, that is, in the dead writing; but when it penetrates into the heart, it is in a manner transformed into spirit. And there is an allusion to the difference between the old and the new covenant, which Jeremiah points out in Jeremiah 31:33; where the Lord declares that his covenant would be firm and permanent when engraven on the inward parts. Paul had also the same thing in view in another place, (2 Corinthians 3:6,) where he compares the law with the gospel, and calls the former “the letter,” which is not only dead but killeth; and the latter he signalizes with the title of “spirit.” But extremly gross has been the folly of those who have deduced a double meaning from the “letter,” and allegories from the “spirit.”
Whose praise is not from men, etc. As men fix their eyes only on those things which are visible, he denies that we ought to be satisfied with what is commendable in the estimation of men, who are often deceived by outward splendor; but that we ought to be satisfied with the all-seeing eyes of God, from which the deepest secrets of the heart are not hid. He thus again summons hypocrites, who soothe themselves with false opinions, to the tribunal of God.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34