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Romans 2

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The Wrath of God Against the Jew (2:1–3:20)

Having clearly enunciated the theme of his treatise that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (1:16-17), Paul sets out to prove beyond question the need of all men for the gospel. In chapter one, verses 18-32, Paul argues that the Gentiles are lost without Christ and the gospel. Now in chapter two, he enters into the second half of his argument, which is designed to show that the Jews also are lost without Christ and the gospel. The whole argument does not conclude until Romans 3:23 where Paul states "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

Chapter two begins with Paul’s argument that the Jews also are lost. There is some controversy among commentators as to precisely when Paul turns his accusing finger on the Jews since he does not name his target until verse 17. Some believe that in verses 1-16 he has reference to those Gentiles who have not sunk to the level of degradation described in chapter one. In other words, they believe he is describing the morally superior Gentiles of that day. Others believe Paul’s aim embraces all men, whether Jew or Gentile, who are disposed to condemn their fellows. Along with Godet, Cranfield, McGarvey, Macknight, Whiteside, Nygren, and Lipscomb, however, it seems evident that Paul has the Jews in mind from the outset. Notable among those who believe Paul here refers not to the Jews only but to all men are Beet, Godet, and Cranfield; all recognize Paul’s careful approach to the subject of the Jews’ sins as an apostrophe. According to E. W. Bullinger, an apostrophe occurs when the "speaker turns from the real auditory whom he is addressing and speaks to an imaginary one. It is a sudden breaking off in the course of speech, diverting it to some new person or thing" (901). McGarvey explains Paul’s stratagem:

The apostle…is proving the universal insufficiency of human righteousness, that he may show the universal need of a revealed righteousness. Having made good his case against one part of the human race—the Gentiles, he now proceeds to a like proof against the other part—the Jews. He does not name them Jews at the start, for this would put them on the defensive, and make his task harder. He speaks to them first as individuals without any reference to race…By thus convicting each of sin in his own conscience, [he] makes them all unwittingly concede sin in all, even though Jews (307-308).

Paul’s argument against the Jews readily divides into six paragraphs. In verses 1-11, he reveals that those who condemn others for sin of which they themselves are guilty have no excuse. They condemn themselves and cannot think to escape God’s judgment because God judges all men according to their deeds and without partiality. In his second paragraph (12-16), he shows that knowledge of the law does not in itself constitute any defense against God’s judgment. In verses 17-24, Paul names the typical Jew and lays bare the ruinous hypocrisies by which his life is characterized. In his final paragraph of chapter two, he discloses that the Jew cannot rest in his circumcision as security, for circumcision profits only those who obey the law. When one disobeys, his circumcision becomes uncircumcision; and, conversely, the uncircumcised man will be counted as one circumcised if he does what the law requires. Then, in Romans 3:1-8, Paul anticipates two potential misunderstandings of his position and answers them in advance. Finally, in Romans 3:9-20 he points out that, while the Jew has many advantages over the Gentile, he has no advantage in respect to his salvation by virtue of his meritorious keeping of the law. He then demonstrates that all men alike are guilty of sin and under its power by the litany of Old Testament quotations in verses 10-18. Cranfield concludes:

So far from imagining themselves to be excepted from God’s condemnation of human sinfulness, the Jews must accept it as certainly including themselves, since what is said in the Scriptures concerns first and foremost the people of the scriptures. And, if the Jews are no exception, then it is clear that all mankind must stand guilty before God. There is no question of the Jews’ being justified by God on the ground of obedience to the law: The effect of the law is to reveal man’s sinfulness (43).

Verse 1

Therefore, thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

Therefore: Paul begins his argument against the Jews cautiously from one standpoint and yet his attack is aggressive from another. He castigates the complacent and self-righteous judge who is guilty of committing the very sins he condemns. Paul’s caution, however, is evident in that he does not name the Jew he has in mind until the force of his argument is overwhelming.

Cranfield explains the use of "Therefore" by stating that while the points of Romans 1:18-32 are specific to the Gentiles the sins named are universal to all men (Cranfield 43). McGarvey views this verse when connected to Romans 1:32 as forming a climax: "The simple sinner is bad, the encourager of sin in others is worse, but the one who condemns sin in others, yet commits them himself is absolutely defenseless and without excuse" (308).

In beginning his argument by sequentially building on the conclusion of Romans 1:32, Paul hopes to carry the Jewish reader along with him until he sees the end of the argument rather than immediately alienating him by open accusation equating his sinful position with that of the heathens. Paul visualizes the Jews’ gloating over his castigation of the Gentiles; and so, as he turns the accusation against the Jews, he does so carefully. The point of rebuke is to convince the sinner to change and not merely to "put him in his place." Therefore, the rebuke should be couched in terms that will not alienate the offender at the outset. Paul, thus, evidences his love for the truth and for the men he attempts to convert.

thou are inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest another: The word "inexcusable" is the same word used in Romans 1:20 of the Gentiles and further reveals that Paul has turned to consideration of the Jews. The structure of the arguments is the same.

It is important to note that it is not the judging of another that is condemned here. It is a certain kind of judging. Passages that apparently condemn judging (Matthew 7:1-5; John 7:24 a; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5) must be reconciled with passages that authorize—even command—the believer to judge (John 7:24 b; Matthew 7:15-20; Matthew 12:33; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:1-4). Judging that is condemned is harsh, censorious, and hypocritical. Neither are men to judge the motives of a man (1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). The judging that is applauded is righteous judgment based, not on appearance, but on facts. It is judgment of words and deeds by the word of God. God’s word does not contradict itself.

for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things: The reason this "man" is guilty is not that he judges the Gentiles to be sinners but that in so condemning them he condemns himself because he is guilty of the same sins. His judging is hypocritical. Lipscomb seeks to soften Paul’s criticism of the Jew:

This is not a charge that the Jews had run to the same excesses. It was the plant that bore these bitter fruits. In refusing to believe in and obey God they had chosen the course that led to the same degrading vices. When men cut loose from God, they all go the same course. Disobedience to God is the mother of all vices. Rejecting and refusing to obey God leaves the spirit weak and helpless and subjects man to the sole rule of his fleshly lusts and passions (47-48).

There can be no question that what Lipscomb said is true. Several scholars (notably Macknight and McGarvey), however, point out that Whitby’s notes give numerous quotations from Josephus, demonstrating that the Jews in their day were guilty of most of the crimes committed by the Gentiles just as they are revealed in chapter one (McGarvey 308).

Verse 2

But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to the truth against them which commit such things.

But we are sure: This statement is equivalent to: "we both recognize the truth that…" or "you and I both know and agree…" Paul states what he knows to be common ground between himself and the "man" he addresses. Similar usages of "we know" occur in Romans 3:19; Romans 7:14; Romans 8:22; Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Timothy 1:8 (Cranfield 44). In each case, Paul introduces a thought that will strike a common chord in the mind of his reader.

that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things: God is absolutely righteous (Judges 5:11; Ezra 9:15; Job 36:3; Psalms 5:8; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 48:10; Psalms 97:2; Psalms 119:40; Psalms 119:137; Psalms 119:142; Psalms 119:144; Psalms 119:172). Not only so but He is also the God of truth (Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 31:5; Psalms 86:11; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 117:2; Isaiah 65:16; John 8:26; John 17:17; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2; Revelation 6:10). It is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, God’s judgment is guided by absolute truth, and it is decidedly against those who commit such sins as the Gentiles did—even more especially is it against those who, guilty of the same sins, compound the matter by self-righteously condemning their fellow human beings.

Godet sees here the major premise of a syllogism: "now, the judgment of God is always true. The minor, ver. 1: thy judgment on others condemns thee; the conclusion between vv. 2 and 3; therefore thy hypocritical judgment cannot shelter thee from that of God" (115).

Verse 3

And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

The Jew to whom Paul is writing fancies himself the recipient of special divine favor. He counts it his greatest credit that he knows God and has the written Law of Moses from God. Consequently, he assures himself of his superiority over all others. He counts heavily on his relationship to Abraham to lock in God’s partiality at the judgment. He believes Deuteronomy 4:6-8 to be his special assurance. He feels confident in knowing God and possessing God’s law. Lipscomb notes this confidence, and McGarvey (309) concurs with that conclusion:

Although he knew himself to be guilty of the same sins which he condemned in the Gentiles, he yet evidently did not expect God to condemn him. He expected God to overlook in him, because a Jew, what he knew he would not overlook in the Gentile, and what even he himself did not overlook; but Paul here shows that sin is sin by whomsoever committed; that sin does not lose its essential character by being committed in the midst of religious privileges; and that those who profess to be the people of God have no peculiar license to sin…(Matthew 3:7-9) (48).

McGarvey supplies several quotations from the Talmud clearly illustrating the prevailing Jewish attitude of special privilege (309). Nygren contributes a quotation from the apocryphal book Wisdom (15:1-4), evidencing the same (119). This error surfaces today when men appeal to their position, culture, or wealth to elicit special consideration. Sometimes people believe they will be judged leniently because of their godly parents or because they live in a certain civilization. To all of these, Paul’s interrogative clearly implies they shall receive no special considerations. As Beet notes, "From men’s judgment escape is possible: but who shall escape the sentence of God?" (70).

Verse 4

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

Or despisest thou: This question does not pose an alternative to the previous one but rather serves to intensify the question of verse 3. The Jews of Paul’s day are deceiving themselves into thinking that God is slack concerning His promise to judge the world and that He will ever be so. Peter advances the same argument to his readers in 2 Peter 3:5-11.

the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering: The "riches" of God’s goodness embrace all of God’s provision for Israel from before the foundation of the world to the sending of the Messiah. God’s "forbearance," according to Godet, "denotes the feeling awakened in the benefactor when His goodness is put to the proof by ingratitude" (116). The Jews have done much over the years that well could have provoked God’s justifiable destruction of the nation, the climax being the murder of the Messiah. Still He bears long with them. The third term describing God’s incredible patience is closely related to the second in meaning. The idea is that not only does God bear long with Israel’s rejection of "the way" but also His loving kindness causes Him to be patient with them in their sin. Godet describes God’s "incomprehensible prolongation of Israel’s existence in spite of thirty consecutive years of resistance to the appeals of God, and to the preaching of the apostles which had elapsed, and in spite of such crimes as the murders of Stephen and James (Acts vii and xii)" (116).

not knowing: The more God demonstrates His love and patience by granting the Jews mercy and time to repent the more the Jews show contempt for and deliberate ignorance of the truth! They do not know because they willfully refuse to know.

the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance: In the scriptures there are four motivators used to persuade men to obey God. The first and highest is the principle of choosing to do right simply because it is right (Matthew 5:6). The second noble principle is discovered when men obey in order to set a good example before their fellows (1 Timothy 4:12). The third motivator to obedience is the promise of reward (2:7, 10). The last Bible inducement to do right is the fear of punishment for failure (2:8, 9). In this passage, the motivating principle is God’s goodness, as seen in His provision for and patience with unbelievers.

While God’s goodness leads men to repentance, the implication here is clear that men possess the power to reject God’s guidance. In fact, that is exactly what the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day are doing. If men are powerless to resist God’s leading, then the Jews here cannot be rightly accused of committing an offense by refusing to be led.

Finally, consider the repentance to which God’s goodness leads men (meta/noia/n). Repentance is properly meta/noia "to undergo a change in frame of mind and feeling, to repent…to make a change of principle and practice, to reform" (ALGP 273). To repent involves several steps in the New Testament. First, one must be persuaded of his need to change. Second, godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) must impel the mind to change the will of the man. Third, the actual point of repentance occurs when the person changes his mind. Fourth, repentance evidences itself in a reformation of life. Matthew 21:28-29 describes this process well [even though the word rendered "repent" in the King James Version is a different word that means only "to experience remorse" (Bromiley 590)]. The point is that in Matthew 21 the process of repentance is evidenced when the son reforms his life and does the work he had first refused to do.

Verse 5

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath: As the Jews continue to despise the riches of God evidenced in the gospel and refuse to be led to repentance, their hearts become hard—impenetrable and insensitive. "Hardness" (sklhro/thta/) signifies intransigent "stubbornness" (BDAG 930). They are impenitent and, in continuing to be so, are heaping up for themselves a great mountain of wrath. Paul develops a beautiful play on words here. Instead of gathering to themselves the riches of God’s goodness, these impenitent Jews are piling up "treasures" of anger for themselves.

against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: The anger they are stacking up for themselves will explode upon them at the last day—the great judgment day (John 5:28-29; 2 Peter 3:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). God’s incredible patience does have a limit; and when it is exceeded, those who stubbornly remain impenitent will receive the full brunt of His wrath and righteous punishment. Contrary to popular belief in both Paul’s day and ours, there will be terrible consequences of sin meted out to those who obey not the gospel and to those who fall away from the truth after having once obeyed (2 Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 10:38-39).

Worthy of note is Paul’s ascription to God of absolute righteousness or justice. God is just by virtue of His own faultless character. Consequently, His judgment is "according to truth" (verse 2), and it is absolutely "righteous" (verse 5). Ezekiel 18 presents at length the argument of God’s just punishment against sin. It is Israel who is wrong, he says, and not God. God is just.

Verse 6

Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

On the day of judgment, the time for mercy and grace will have passed. God’s grace and mercy are evident now in His longsuffering patience. That day will be characterized by judgment and not mercy. It is not that God will forsake His own character and become merciless but rather it is a matter of what facet of His character shall be predominant at the scene. Just as mercy and grace predominate now through the extension of the gospel plan and justice is held in abeyance, then justice will predominate.

Men also will be judged according to what they have done. Paul teaches this precept often (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-8), as does Jesus (John 5:28-29; Matthew 12:36-37). John the Revelator teaches it as well (Revelation 20:13). What men have thought, said, and done will be weighed against the word of God (John 12:48) and what is written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15) in that final day. Consequently, the Jews need to come to repentance. On that day God will show no partiality whatsoever. Men, Jews or Gentiles, who arrive at the judgment expecting God to ignore the sin in their lives, after He has spent their lifetime trying to persuade them through the gospel to repent, shall encounter a rude awakening indeed.

Verse 7

To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.

To them who by patient continuance in well doing: The verb "will render" of verse 6 governs each of the phrases in verses 7-10. In this passage the fundamental expression is that God will render eternal life to those "who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality."

patient continuance in well doing: These words describe steadfast endurance or perseverance. Beet says it signifies "a brave holding up under burdens which would cast us down, a pressing forward in the face of foes who would drive us back" (72). This concept is a favorite one for Paul in this epistle (cf. 5:3, 4; 8:25; 12:12; 15:4, 5) and represents the Christian life as one of toil and conflict. Perseverance manifests itself in good works. Godet likens these patient workers to "the men who are represented under the figure of the merchant seeking goodly pearls" (119). The reward of eternal life is the "pearl of great price" to the persevering worker of good who sacrifices all to obtain it (Matthew 13:45-46).

Is the apostle ascribing salvation here to the works of men? Of course not. He is not here explaining the means whereby men attain unto well doing. In verses 6-16, Paul details the general principles by which all men of all time will be judged. Those Jews and Gentiles who lived before the Christian dispensation will be judged by these principles and in agreement with Christ’s gospel (verse 16; 3:25). In like manner, all men who have lived in the Christian age will be judged by these principles. Those Jews living under Moses’ law, as well as those Gentiles living under the moral law written on their hearts, who by "patient continuance in well doing" have lived faithfully and obediently, seeking for "glory and honor and immortality," shall receive eternal life. Scriptural testimony to this truth is discovered in Hebrews:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God…These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city (11:8-10, 13-16).

Eternal life has always been promised only to those who serve God in faith and obedience under whichever law of God they lived. The principle Paul quoted (1:17) from Habakkuk 2:4 is an eternal principle: "The just shall live by faith," or more accurately "the just by faith shall live." In Romans 1:16-17, he has already asserted that in the Christian age the system whereby men who are sinners attain unto righteousness is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the good works under consideration in this verse are works of faith rather than works of merit, according to whatever law of God prevails during a person’s lifetime. Paul’s simple affirmation here is that no one will be saved apart from doing good works. Eternal life will be given only to those who are characterized by persistent good works.

seek for glory and honor and immortality: Obtaining the ultimate blessing of eternal life calls for determined effort. This faithful good worker seeks or strives for these goals. His life in Christ is neither haphazard nor nonchalant. He labors for glory (5:2; 8:18, 21), "the splendor with which God will cover His servants and which will evoke the admiration of all" (Beet 72). Honor denotes God’s recognition of the faithfulness of His servants. Immortality or incorruptibility denotes the absence of injury or degeneration of any kind. Those who attain this blessing will abide undimmed forever.

eternal life: In the New Testament, life beyond the grave is always and only ascribed to the saved. It is the reward of well doing. It is never granted to all men. As Beet notes:

This implies that it is a state of blessing: and this is confirmed, here and elsewhere, by the terms used to describe this future life. The future state of the wicked is not life but death and destruction (v.12; vi.21; Galatians vi.8; Philippians iii:19) (73).

Not only are the righteous promised life after death but also that life is eternal or age lasting:

… [its] duration continuing throughout some lifetime or age,

…That the age in view here is absolutely endless is implied by the word incorruptibility here and in 1 Cor. ix.25, xv. 42-54, 2 Tim. i.10, 1 Pet. i. 4…and is made absolutely certain by the endless life and infinite love of our Father in heaven (Beet 73).

Verse 8

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.

But unto them that are contentious: "Contentious" (e)riqei/a$) in usages before New Testament times:

…denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means…its meaning in our literature is a matter of conjecture…yet for Paul and his followers, the meaning strife and contentiousness…cannot be excluded…But selfishness, selfish ambition…in all cases gives a sense that is just as probable (BDAG 392).

Bromiley enlightens with these words: "As a complex term in everyday usage, it can be given different senses according to context. ’Contentious’ is perhaps too specialized in Romans 2:8, where it refers to the ’despicable nature’ of those who do not obey the truth but seek immediate gain…The idea is ’base self-seeking,’ the ’baseness’ that cannot shift its gaze to higher things" (256).

and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness: Those who are self-seeking are those who refuse to obey the truth and instead purposefully obey unrighteousness. Those who obey unrighteousness are the same as those who in Romans 1:18 suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. Described here are those men of every age who refuse to accept God’s way as it has been revealed to them and who hold it down by their evil actions. Jews who refuse to obey the law and who do not seek God’s will in faith are here described, as are Gentiles who fail to obey the law of nature but instead defile themselves with the sins of Romans 1:18-32.

indignation and wrath: The difference between God’s anger and His wrath is difficult to perceive. Godet suggests that "indignation" (qumo/$) represents the internal emotion while "wrath" (o)rgh) represents the external manifestation (120).

Henry Alford observes that indignation "denotes the abiding, settled mind of God towards them…and the latter (wrath—AWB), the outbreak of that anger at the great day of retribution" (The New Testament for English Readers 856). To those, then, who are self-seeking and deliberately refuse either to believe or obey the truth but instead purposely obey unrighteousness, punishment awaits. They are gradually building up God’s anger against themselves for their sins, and eventually God’s anger will break out in righteous judgment, punishing them eternally in hell on the great and final day.

Verse 9

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.

Tribulation and anguish: Paul continues his argument concerning what God will render to all men. In verses 9 and 10, he reverses the order of verses 7 and 8. By this construction the universality of God’s judgment is emphasized.

"Tribulation" (qli=yi$) is "trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation…distress" (BDAG 457). "Anguish" (stenoxwri/a) describes "distress, difficulty, anguish, trouble" (BDAG 943). The four words in successive order are a chain of cause and effect according to Beet:

God is angry, determined to punish sin. His anger bursts forth in divine fury; this falls upon man in the form of affliction; and puts him, with no way to escape, in a position of absolute helplessness. These last words imply conscious suffering: So Mt. xiii.42, 50 (74).

upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile: In this phrase Paul is emphasizing the universality of God’s judgment to be meted out to evil doers of whatever ilk. His judgment will be upon every soul of man, whether Jew or Gentile. It is not that one or the other will receive a harsher judgment but is merely a literary artifice to stress totality—Jew and non-Jew alike.

Verse 10

But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile:

The "glory" and "honor" for which the faithful, perseverant, obedient workers of good have been striving will be given to them. In addition, they will receive the reward of peace, which is the opposite of the affliction and anguish that shall be the eternal lot of the wicked. Godet offers this:

Peace describes the subjective feeling of the saved man at the time when glory and honor are conferred on him by the judge. It is the profound peace which is produced by deliverance from wrath, and the possession of unchangeable blessedness (120).

These blessings await those who are faithful, obedient well doers under whatever law of God they have lived. John 3:20-21 provides a divine commentary on this attitude:

For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Finally, Paul once more asserts that God’s approbation is available to all men—to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. The main point of this entire passage is that God’s judgment of all men shall be impartial. The Jew need not expect special favors by virtue of his Jewishness.

Verse 11

For there is no respect of persons with God:

The Greek word for "respect of persons" (proswpolhmyi/a) is a colorful compound word whose literal meaning is "face reception" (Beet 74). Bromiley says:

In the Old Testament one finds various phrases that express respectful greeting or reception e.g. bowing the face, lifting up the face. Out of these arises the idea of a showing of preference or partiality to certain people. God in contrast, respects the face of no one (Deuteronomy 10:17). Following the OT, the NT has different expressions for showing respect of persons…God, however, shows no partiality… To express this thought the noun prosopolempsia is coined (952).

God does not judge a man by his face or his exterior. His judgment is not based on externals or upon how things appear visually. Rather His judgment is righteous (John 7:24). God judges according to the true facts—according to the heart and life. The New Testament is emphatic about this principle. Christians are not to demonstrate partiality in their relationships with men (James 2:1; James 2:9), and God absolutely does not show such partiality (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; Acts 10:34; Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6).

Verse 12

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: In interpreting Paul’s argument in verses 12-16, one must not lose sight of the big picture. The point to be fixed in the mind of the Jew is that there is no essential difference between Jew and Gentile with respect to the judgment of God. Both will be judged on the same basis. Have they done the good or the evil? God will not show partiality toward either. In verse 12 Paul anticipates a protest. While it is axiomatic that God judges without favoritism, surely a difference between the Jew and the Gentile must be made on the basis of knowledge of the law. Is not he who knows the law to be favored over him who is ignorant of the law of Moses? This paragraph does not discuss the concept of justification. The point is only alluded to incidentally in verse 13. Paul’s purpose is to reveal by reference to the Gentiles that the Jews’ trust in their possession of the law—in knowing God’s will—is not well-founded. It is true that the Jew has the law of Moses and that the Gentile does not. But the point is that neither has kept the law they had. Paul deals a deathblow to the Jew’s confidence because he has the law. It is not having the law that justifies. It is keeping it. Both Jew and Gentile are sinners. Both stand under the wrath of God. Without the sacrifice, resurrection, and mediation of Jesus, both are doomed. Without the gospel both are lost. In actuality, there is no difference in the Jew "under the law" and the Gentile "without the law," for both have sinned. Nygren points out:

It is not by accident that Paul speaks negatively. It would not be equally true to say: "All who have done right without the law will also be justified without the law, and all who have done right under the law will be justified under the law." Why not? Because Paul knows that both the Jews and Gentiles are all under sin (3:9)…In the last analysis whatever can be said positively about Jew and Gentile turns into something negative.

About the Jew the positive is that he knows the law; but that very fact becomes the basis of his condemnation. About the Gentile the positive is that he is a law to himself; but for that very reason he is without excuse before God, since he is also a sinner (130).

The first phrase of verse 12 then refers to Gentiles. When Gentiles sin against the law of nature written on their hearts, they shall be condemned by God on the basis of the law they have violated and not on the ground of Moses’ law. Romans 1:18-32 clearly reveals that all Gentiles have sinned against the moral code written on their hearts.

and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law: On the other hand, the Jews, from the time of their exodus from Egypt and the giving of the law on Sinai to the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), have been amenable to the law of Moses. Those who sinned, while living under the law, shall be condemned by God on the basis of the Mosaic law. Paul is in the process of proving beyond doubt the sinfulness of all Jews and thus their need for the gospel of Christ. The point is that the Jews have no favored position by virtue of their possessing the law of Moses. Having the law is not what God respects. Keeping the law is what God favors. This principle is true for all men for all time relative to whatever law they live under.

Verse 13

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God: Frequently, the words translated "to hear" connote not merely the recognition of sound or even the listening to it but listening with a view to heeding, to obeying the voice (for example, Deuteronomy 4:30; Jeremiah 11:2; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 2:1). Liddell and Scott reveal that ak) roatai (hearer) derives from a)kroath/$, which means "to hear, hearken or listen to" (55). In this immediate context, however, where the word is used in opposition to doing, the strong sense it often carries is set aside. It denotes only that hearing that falls short of doing (compare James 1:22-25).

The Jews must not count themselves as God’s children, or even Abraham’s children (Matthew 3:9; John 8:39-40) by virtue of their hearing of the law of Moses. They must not reckon themselves to be saved or justified on the basis of possessing the law. More than hearing or having the law is required for one to be credited with justification. The claimant to justification must be doing and keeping the law.

but the doers of the law shall be justified: Justification or acquittal, on the basis of Moses’ law as a system within itself, came by virtue only of absolute sinless obedience in every detail. No one could claim justification on the basis of Moses’ law who (1) had ever had a single sinful thought, or (2) had ever said a single sinful word, or (3) had ever committed a single sinful act. No matter how small the violation, the lawbreaker stood condemned. As Whiteside observes: "The law condemns the guilty and justifies the innocent" (56). This fact explains why the only justification available to Jews living under the Mosaic covenant or to Gentiles living prior to the Christian age comes by virtue of their faithful observance of whatever law they serve under, in anticipation of the shed blood of Jesus whereby God declares "his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (3:25).

But before Paul elucidates that glorious doctrine, the Jews must realize: (1) that justification under the law and by the law itself derives not from being its custodian but from perfect obedience, and (2) that no Jew, other than Jesus, ever attains such a lofty height of successful obedience. No, all of them have sinned and stand condemned before the law.

Verse 14

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law: In this verse Paul’s quick mind leaps ahead to anticipate and answer an objection he perceives to be rising to the lips of the Jews: "If what you are saying is true, then it applies only to those who have been given the law. Therefore, it cannot apply to Gentiles, for God has not given them a law. It sounds to us as if you have either contradicted yourself or built a straw man case with no application." To this objection, Paul makes this reply.

While it is true that the Gentiles have not received the law of Moses and are not amenable to it; it is not true that they have no law from God. As Macknight points out, the Gentiles had not received a law by revelation (Vol. 1 217). That is, they possessed no written or verbal law from God. Nevertheless, their actions prove beyond doubt that they do have a law.

do by nature the things contained in the law: Obviously, such conduct cannot be the result of a law unknown to them. Rather it is as Paul explained in Romans 1:18-21. They are "without excuse" because they have violated the moral code written in their hearts. This verse simply presents the other side of the coin. When Gentiles perform in accord with the same moral principles detailed to the Jews in Moses’ law, their obedience "spring(s) from moral forces born in them" (Beet 78). To be sure, their obedience is at best fragmentary and, therefore, cannot justify them on the basis of the law of their hearts. For this law, like any other system of law, cannot justify except on the basis of perfect obedience. Quoting again from Whiteside, "The law convicted the violator instead of justifying him" (56). To be fair, Whiteside was referring to the law of Moses when he says this statement, but it is true in reference to justification by any system of law.

these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: When Gentiles, who do not have the law of Moses, do by nature those things Moses’ law requires of men morally, then they become a law unto themselves. In other words, by their occasional right deeds and recognition of moral laws, the Gentiles reveal in their own conduct that they are governed by a law from God. Therefore, what Paul has argued in verses 12 and 13 stands, and the Jews must begin to recognize their need of Jesus Christ and the salvation offered in the gospel.

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Both Jews and Gentiles, then, have an opportunity to obtain justification according to the principle of law: the Jews by receiving and keeping a divinely inspired law directly from God—that is, a written code; the Gentiles by receiving an unwritten internal moral code written on their hearts. Both groups of people have failed one hundred percent of the time. Jews and Gentiles alike are sinners.

One last argument assuring his readers that the Gentiles have such a law arises from their general moral conduct. The Gentiles are a law unto themselves in that the threefold workings of law manifest themselves in their lives. As John might say, there are three that bear witness of this truth:

1. The deed itself demonstrates that what the law demands is written on the heart;

2. their consciences bear witness with their heart that the right way is preferable;

3. and finally, after the deed is done, their reason either accuses them when they have broken the moral code or excuses them when they have done right (McGarvey 312; Nygren 125).

Together these three demonstrate that the Gentile, too, is without excuse when he sins. Therefore, God’s judgment is venerated when both the Jew and the Gentile fall under His divine wrath.

Of the conscience, Beet explains it as man’s inborn faculty by which he contemplates and pronounces sentence upon himself, his thoughts, emotions, purposes, words, and actions. It is the inward eye that reads the law written in the heart and compares it with the conduct of himself and others. Practically, it is the law written within looked upon as a faculty of judgment: it is the inborn moral sense of man (78).

Verse 15

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men: "In the day" calls to our minds the expression in verse 5: "the day of wrath." Both expressions refer to the final day—the day of judgment. This verse completes the thought begun in verse 13 that it is not the hearer but the doer of the law who shall be justified. In verses 14 and 15, Paul digresses from his argument for a moment to stave off the Jews’ futile objection to the principle that salvation comes by virtue of keeping the law, rather than by merely possessing it. He does so successfully by demonstrating that Gentiles have a law also to which they must answer—the moral code written on man’s heart. Now in verse 16, he returns to the point at hand.

In the day of judgment, all men are going to stand before God and give account of the deeds of their lives (2 Corinthians 5:10; John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:12-15). If men arrive there expecting to be saved by virtue of the law system they lived under, they shall have a rude awakening. For no one, not even a Jew who lived under Moses’ law, shall be able to claim perfect obedience; and that is the only basis for justification under a meritorious law system (Galatians 3:21). The point is that if men, even Jews, seek salvation at the judgment without having submitted themselves in faithful obedience to the gospel of Christ, they shall be lost.

On that day God shall judge the secrets of men. One must always remember that God is omniscient. He knows absolutely everything—all our thoughts, all our words, all our deeds, everything. Hebrews 4:13 says, "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."

In 1 Corinthians 4:5, the record says: "Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts" (NIV).

Finally, in the Old Testament the Preacher echoes Paul when he says, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Not even a man’s most secret thoughts are hidden from God. Therefore, on the judgment day if we hope to be saved, we need more help than a meritorious system of law—even Moses’ law—can provide. Before such a law, all men, Jews and Gentiles, would only fall.

by Jesus Christ according to my gospel: Fortunately, men will be judged that day not by a law of merit but by the law of faith (3:27)—the system of grace revealed and made effective by Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, together with the power of His resurrection. Men will still have to answer for their deeds (John 5:28-29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:13) but in accord with Paul’s gospel (Romans 16:25).

The words "my gospel" refer to Paul’s gospel and are the divinely inspired revelation of the good news of salvation he preaches everywhere (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is one and the same as the gospel of Christ.

Thankfully, in the great day of judgment, men will be judged according to their deeds by the Lord Himself. Jesus announces this fact first in John 5:20-30. His judgment on that day will be meted out upon the principles revealed in the gospel—the law of faith. Paul’s message to the Jew is that he is not safe under Moses’ law because he has sinned and stands condemned by the law. The same is true for the Gentile, though he is condemned by the law written on his heart. If either desires to be justified on the day of judgment, he must accept, obey, and faithfully apply the gospel of Christ to his life.

In turning to consider the Jews’ plight without Christ and without the gospel, Paul begins obliquely in verse 1 of chapter two by revealing that the man who condemns his fellow of things for which he himself is guilty condemns himself. Approaching the issue gingerly, he discusses the ramifications of that principle and demonstrates its application to the Jew. In so doing, he pauses to reinforce the power of his argument relative to Gentiles also. Both points rest in the fact that the basis of God’s judgment is on moral, and not on ceremonial or national, grounds. Having arrived where he has aimed, Paul now turns to consider the Jew and his fallen condition head-on and by name. The point continues to be that no man—not even a Jew—has one shred of hope of salvation outside of Jesus Christ and the grace system offered in the gospel.

Verse 17

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God.

Behold, thou art called a Jew: With these words Paul has arrived at the point for which he began aiming in verse 1, when he turned from considering the unhappy plight of the Gentiles to that of the perishing Jews.

Some writers have attached more than a tinge of irony to the following list of the advantages of the Jews because, as a people, they have so miserably failed to avail themselves of the blessings promised to faithful adherents of the law. However, irony is not the figure Paul is using. Irony entails the use of words to suggest the opposite of their usual sense. Paul does not mean to discount the great advantages the Jews did have on account of their position as God’s chosen people and their possession of the law as the revelation of God’s will. Instead, Paul reels off these tremendous blessings one after another as background and emphasis for the contrast he draws between knowing the law and keeping the law.

When the name Jew became the popular designation for the Old Testament people of God is not known. When the division of the nation occurred during the days of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and successor, the ten northern tribes defecting behind Jeroboam’s leadership became known as Israel. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were styled as the nation of Judah, owing to Judah’s predominance in size, population, and political power. Later this new name was shortened to the Jews, probably around the time of the fall into Babylonian captivity. The word is discovered several times in Esther and once each in the books of Jeremiah and Zechariah (Esther 2:5; Esther 3:4; Esther 5:13, et.al.; Jeremiah 34:9; Zechariah 8:23). During the captivity, the name Jew became the cherished appellation of the common people.

and restest in the law: The whole problem is that the Jews place their trust in the fact that they alone of all people possess the law (Thayer 228). In their estimation, this fact proves beyond question that God favors them above all others. Supremely confident, they have no fear. Shepherd notes a passage in Micah that illustrates strikingly the false confidence of the Jews (57):

The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us (3:11).

and makest thy boast in God: The Jew exults that he is the chosen of God, but all the while he fails to obey the God who has chosen him. The word "boast" (kauxa=sai) and its cognates are important ones in Romans (2:23; 3:27; 4:2; 5:2, 3, 11; 15:17). It means "1. intransitively to boast, glory, or pride oneself…in or about a person or thing…2. transitively to make a boast about something, to boast about, mention in order to boast of" (BDAG 536). Beet says it describes:

A rising or gladness of spirit which has always in view the object external or internal which has called it forth, and which is always ready to express itself in words. We exult in God, when our hearts rise within us at the thought of His greatness, His power, His love to us (81).

The problem is that the typical Jew, while living in sin and consequently under the condemnation of God, is falsely placing his confidence in the idea that God was the God of the Jews. Their justification does not lie in Jehovah’s being their God but rather in being doers of Jehovah’s law and not merely hearers.

Verse 18

And knowest his will and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

And knowest his will: The Jew is incredibly blessed by virtue of having received the revelation of God’s will through the hands of Moses and the prophets. His error lies not in knowing God’s will but in regarding such knowledge as the divine mark of superiority and approval over all others. Not to be tedious, the point again and again is not only knowing but also doing.

and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law: The Jew is better able to distinguish between right and wrong than the Gentile because he is instructed out of the more complete revelation of Moses’ law. The Jew certainly has great blessings from God that should enable him to keep the law more effectively by far than he does.

Verse 19

And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness:

As the typical Jew exalts himself, Paul continues to describe the second plight of the Jew’s pretentious assurance. He is quite sure that he sees all things clearly by the light of his Mosaic law, while all others are pitiably surrounded by darkness. He has no doubt, but is fully persuaded, that he is the only hope for the poor Gentile. Taking the lowly Gentile by the hand, as one does a blind man, he purports to guide him. Not only so, but he also believes he can provide light for these poor creatures. After all only the Jews possess the revelation of God.

Verse 20

An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

An instructor of the foolish: The self-exalted Jew imagines himself as the instructor of those foolish ones; that is, he reckons himself the corrector (paideuthn ), the one in charge of corrective discipline (BDAG 749). He fancies himself the only one capable of providing all that belongs to the moral training of those who are ignorant of God’s will and, consequently, are silly or foolish.

a teacher of babes: Not only is the Jew, in his own eyes, able to correct those ignorant ones who had gone awry, he is also able to teach the doctrine of God’s will to the young.

which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law: The Jew glories in the fact that, in the law of Moses, he possesses the very embodiment of knowledge and truth (Bromiley 609). Godet says:

He possesses in the law the precise sketch…the exact outline, the rigorous formula of the knowledge of the things which men should have…and of the truth, that is to say, the moral reality or substance of goodness. Knowledge is the subjective possession of truth in itself. The Jew possesses in the law not only the truth itself, but its exact formula besides, by means of which he can convey this truth to others (128).

Verse 21

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself: Paul now comes to the examination of the Jew’s lofty exaltations of himself and his great advantage of possessing God’s law. In exposing the Jews’ shameful inconsistencies, Paul asks four rhetorical questions. Great claims have been proudly asserted, but how do they put it all into practice? That is the testing question. The word "therefore" (ou@n), "ironically contrasts the real practical fruit produced in the Jews by their knowledge of the law, and that which such an advantage should have produced" (Godet 128). By "teachest another," Paul means to suggest all the great honorable leading, guiding, instructing, and disciplining the Jew has been arrogating to himself (verses 17-20). The idea Godet says is: "Thou, the so great teacher!" (128).

thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal: When Paul questions them about stealing, he probably does not have actual thievery or robbery in mind, although that is possible. More likely he means to indicate all the injustices and deceptions the Jews permit themselves in their commercial affairs (false weights, extortions, cheating, etc.). It is not that every Jew is a thief but that these sins are generally widespread. The gross hypocrisy Jesus lambastes in Matthew 23 is what Paul is attacking. The idea of preaching against stealing while at that very time stealing is horrendous. Such is the zenith in hypocrisy. The overarching concept is that the Jews’ radical understanding of their position by virtue of having or knowing the law is at fault. Graphically, the apostle again establishes that it is not knowing but doing that justifies under Moses’ law. The only basis for justification under Moses’ law is absolute sinless perfection, obedience in every single instance all of one’s life. The same principle applies under the moral law of the Gentiles.

Verse 22

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery dost thou commit adultery: The law of God concerning marriage that prevailed in Old Testament times was considerably looser than either the law God gave to Adam and the patriarchs (Genesis 2:24) or the New Testament law for Christians introduced by Jesus (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9) and expanded and detailed by Paul (1 Corinthians 7:1-40). Moses’ law allowed the Jews to divorce their wives for many causes (Matthew 19:3-7; Deuteronomy 24:1-4). God even tolerated polygamy during this age. Moses’ law, however, did not countenance the practice of adultery at all. In Exodus 20:14, the seventh of the Ten Commandments says simply: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." In Leviticus, the law clearly establishes the penalty for adultery:

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer, and the adulteress shall surely be put to death (20:10).

The Jews under Paul’s consideration knew well that the law in which they put so much trust condemned them because of their sins of adultery. Godet mentions that some of the most illustrious rabbis of the day were openly acknowledged to be adulterers (129). In the matter of the woman taken "in the very act" of adultery in John 8:7, the Lord said to her accusers, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Did Jesus mean that Leviticus 20:10 should be set aside here? Absolutely not, for that would have violated the law and allowed one to sin. Yet Jesus "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22). Did He expect any of these men would be totally above sin? No, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). He almost certainly meant to let him who is without this sin (that is, adultery) cast the first stone. Jesus knew the weakness of these men in matters of adultery; and accordingly, it is no surprise when the vengeful accusers, so challenged, simply melt away (John 8:8-9). To preach moralistically against adultery and yet be guilty of that sin is the zenith of hypocrisy in Paul’s eyes.

thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege: On the surface the Babylonian captivity had accomplished with great success God’s intention of separating forever His people Israel from their continued and repetitious infatuation with idols. For afterwards, while Israel might be guilty of the most grievous of sins, she was never again guilty of idolatry. The Jews of Paul’s day, some 575 years after the return from Babylon, abhorred idols. To abhor (bdelusso/meno$), according to Vine, means "to render foul (from bdeo, to stink), to cause to be abhorred…to detest…to be abominable" (Vol. I 9). The Analytical Greek Lexicon adds "to abominate, loathe, detest, abhor" (Perschbacher 68). The Jews loathed the very mention of idolatry. They turned from it as one would a foul stench assaulting his nostrils. At least, they detested idolatry officially or verbally. The fact is they were guilty of gross hypocrisy because they were guilty themselves of committing sacrilege while professing to abhor all idolatry.

Though Paul’s thrust is evident, it is difficult to ascertain with surety what he means by "dost thou commit sacrilege?" Literally, "commit sacrilege" (i(erosulei=$) derives from a verb (i(erosule/w) that is a compound word signifying robbing temples. It is formed by connecting i(ero/n, a temple, and sula/w, to rob (Vine, Vol. III 301). The noun is discovered only once in the New Testament (Acts 19:37) where the Ephesians are assured by the town clerk that Gaius, Aristarchus, Alexander, and by extension Paul are not "robbers of churches" (temples). The verb form of this noun also occurs only once and that is here in verse 22.

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, however, point out that while literally the word pertains to a temple robber, it also possesses a more general meaning of "one who commits irreverent acts…with vandalism against sacred images" (BDAG 471). Numerous other lexicographers give similar definitions (Liddell and Scott, Abbott-Smith, and Pickering). Others appeal only to the literal definition (Thayer).

Several interpretations of the sin Paul condemns here have been proffered. Beet believes that in violation of the clear prohibition in Deuteronomy 7:25-26, the Jews were breaking "into the very sanctuary of a false god and with his own hands brings into his own house the gold and silver which, because consecrated to an idol, God has pronounced accursed" (83). This idea seems a bit far-fetched. Stealing icons from a pagan temple would have been included in Paul’s first example of their hypocrisy. Cranfield (56) and Macknight (Vol. 1 221) seem to doubt this point, also.

Bromiley modifies this view: "Literally, the term means ’to commit temple robbery’ but it may be used less strictly, e.g., for the taking of the Temple gold from the Jews…At issue is probably not so much the actual robbing of pagan temples as making a profit out of votive offerings" (354-355). With this view Godet agrees (129). However, this view also seems unlikely. M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature says that sacrilege is:

The violation or profanation of holy places, persons, or things. Though the word sacrilege is not used elsewhere than as above in our version of the canonical Scriptures, yet we find the crime itself often alluded to; e.g. "profaning the sanctuary" (Lev. xxi,23), "profaning hallowed things" (Lev. xix,8), "profaning the covenant" (Mal. ii,10). The first sacrilegious act we read of is that of Esau selling his birthright (Gen. xxv,33), for which he is called "profane" by Paul (Heb. xii,16). Instances of this under the Mosaic economy (which sternly forbade it [Exod. xxv,14]) were the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. x), the men of Bethshemesh (1 Sam. v), Uzzah (2 Sam. vi,67), Uzziah (2 Chron. xxvi). The Jews at a later period of their history were eminently guilty in this particular, inasmuch as they withheld the tithes and offerings which God required of them (Mal. iii,8-10), and converted his holy Temple into a market (Matt. xxi,12,13)…yet they pretended to be punctiliously scrupulous in their reverence for the interior building (Matt. xxvi,61) (Vol. 9 231).

In view of this explanation of sacrilege, the view expressed by Whiteside, Lipscomb, and Cranfield seems more likely.

The prophet Ezekiel exposed long ago the Jews’ penchant for sacrilege when he says:

Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things; they have put no difference between the holy and the profane, neither have they shown any difference between unclean and clean and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (22:26 ASV).

The Jews had profaned the worship and service of God by adding to and taking away from God’s law. They had altered the commands of God’s word or ignored them altogether. In Paul’s day, the Jews had profaned the Temple by turning it into a house of merchandise and a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:16). Whiteside asks the penetrating question: "What avails it, if a person abhors idols and yet is so disrespectful to God as to commit sacrilege against God’s holy things?" (62). Horror stricken at the mere mention of idols, the Jews had profaned the law of God itself by supplanting its laws with the traditions of men. In Lipscomb’s commentary on Romans, Shepherd notes that "anything devoted to God and then used for some other purpose is sacrilege" (60). Even in our day, Christians sometimes are guilty of the same hypocrisy: for example, when brethren sing hymns of praise and glory to God as pure entertainment without making melody in their hearts, or when they add instrumental music to the singing of gospel songs in public worship or in private devotion.

It seems more likely that Paul’s contrast is between the Jews’ abhorrence of idols on the one hand and their inconsistent commission of sacrilege against the one true God on the other. Cranfield concludes Paul is "thinking not only of behavior which is obviously sacrilegious but also of less obvious and more subtle forms of sacrilege" (56).

Verse 23

Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

This passage is the summation of Paul’s argument in verses 21 and 22. For the Jews the glory in the law of God thankfully and humbly as the gracious and merciful revelation of God’s will is one thing. For them to boast that God has given them His will and, therefore, is in debt to them is quite another.

The error of the Jews is that they believe God is under obligation to save them because they know and possess the law. They miss the whole point of revelation. God saves doers of the law and not hearers (verse 13). In so thinking, the Jews only bring God’s righteous condemnation down upon themselves. They dishonor God by breaking God’s law. The law of Moses has no scheme by which to justify lawbreakers.

Verse 24

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written:

Paul alludes to the law in which the Jews boast. By their inconsistent, hypocritical law-breaking, which dishonors God, the Jews have "fulfilled the words of Isaiah (52:5) and the meaning of Ezekiel (36:18-24)" (McGarvey 314). The Gentiles believe the character of a god can be ascertained by the behavior of his worshipers. When they see the dishonorable lifestyles of the Jews, they are led to mock at and blaspheme Jehovah. It is a terrible judgment one must face when he not only sins himself but by his behavior leads others to speak mockingly of the God of heaven.

Paul is beginning to close in on his point that the Jews, like the Gentiles, are hopelessly locked in sin without Christ and without the gospel. It remains for him to breach the Jew’s last bastion of defense—the rite of circumcision. This attack he clearly launches in verse 25.

Verse 25

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: Neither can the Jew appeal to God’s longsuffering, for to do so, while continuing to sin, is to blaspheme God and evoke His wrath. Security in the law is negated because he has not kept the law and the law leaves the sinner utterly without excuse. But will not circumcision suffice to shield him from the wrath of God? Nygren asks:

Did not God Himself establish the covenant with Israel and designate circumcision as the seal of the covenant? Is it possible for God to be angry at His peculiar people who bear the mark of circumcision as evidence that they belong to Him? (132).

Surely, there is secure protection in this rite given by God to mark His own.

The problem arises when we recognize that the covenant, of which circumcision is a seal, is a covenant of law. Consequently, circumcision is of advantage only if one keeps the law in obedience. If one becomes a lawbreaker, circumcision will not shield him from God’s wrath. Whiteside remarks:

Paul was seeking to show the Jews that this sign of covenant relationship was worthless to the one who did not live up to the covenant requirements. What avails it for me to show a written covenant between me and another man, if he can show that I have broken every covenant requirement? If he can do so, it is the same as if I had no contract (63).

Yes, there is advantage in circumcision if one obeys the covenant; however, a just God cannot overlook disobedience of the law by His covenant people.

but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision: As shall become more evident momentarily, when the Jew breaks the law, it is not that his circumcision has been annulled in God’s sight; but, rather, he has become uncircumcised in heart. In other words, his heart is far from God, and his life is a contradiction of his covenant relationship with God. He is still a member of God’s special people, but he is nevertheless subject to wrath for he has broken the agreement. The stress is not on the seal of the covenant but on the substance of it.

Verse 26

Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

The NKJV translates the first phrase of this verse: "if an uncircumcised man…." Paul’s argument here is abstract. Whether or not there actually are Gentiles who fill the bill of the righteousness of the law is not the point. The point is: First, the law and circumcision provide no safe haven for sinners; and second, God is just toward all men. Those Gentiles (if there are any) who by nature keep the law, are counted by God as among the circumcised—that is, as faithful, obedient Jews. Also, unfaithful, disobedient Jews are reckoned among those outside covenant relationship with God. God is just. He shows no partiality, favoritism, or respect of persons. Both Jew and Gentile stand on equal footing before Him.

Verse 27

And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature: This phrase is asking, Shall not the Gentile, who has no written revelation from God, judge the unfaithful Jew? The Gentiles, of whom Paul speaks, are men who lived prior to the Christian dispensation.

With this question Paul has neatly turned the Jew’s condemnation of the Gentile (verse 1) against himself. In verse 1, the Jew judges the Gentile as worthy of death. Now their positions are reversed. The uncircumcised Gentile who "fulfills the law" condemns the Jew who, though he has the scriptures and circumcision, breaks the law.

if it fulfill the law: Paul contemplates that the Gentiles are those who accomplish the law or who attain the end for which it was given. They realize in action what the law commands in words. These are the same individuals recognized in verses 14 and 15.

judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law: Paul has in mind the unfaithful Jew whom he has been steadily exposing. He has the written law of God before his eyes and in his body he bears the mark of the covenant of God. Yet he is, notwithstanding, an unfaithful lawbreaker.

Standing against him in judgment is, as Beet remarks, "a man like Cornelius in whom the moral purposes of the Law have been to some extent attained (cf Acts 10:2; Acts 10:22; Acts 10:35)" (90). By contrast, the Jew, who prides himself in his safety before God by virtue of possessing the law and being circumcised, has completely thwarted these purposes. The judgment of the Gentile against the Jew is one of comparison.

Paul’s teaching here echoes the message of Jesus in Matthew 12:41-42:

The men of Ninevah shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

From Paul’s further elucidation in Romans 3:9; Romans 3:23, one must infer that the fulfilling of the law by these Gentiles entailed an imperfect obedience. By the term imperfect obedience, we mean the behavior of one whose rule, intent, and tenor of life is to obey God according to whatever law under which he lives. Because of the frailty of the flesh, he ultimately and occasionally fails to obey; thus, his obedience is imperfect. In such cases, the imperfectly obedient man will do all in his power to correct himself and once again set out on the path of trust and obedience, seeking to do God’s will as he knows it. This distinction between absolute and imperfect obedience must be maintained because whenever any man is tried by the absolute standard of moral law, he is invariably discovered to be wanting (3:20). Even so, the imperfect obedience of a few Gentiles, like Cornelius, is more than sufficient to condemn the immoral and unfaithful Jew of verse 1, who would presume to sit in judgment of the Gentiles.

One can also infer that some Gentiles who lived before the Christian Age will be saved in the judgment by their obedience, imperfect though it was, to the moral law written in their hearts. This conclusion encompasses no contradiction to Romans 3:20, for their obedience, by virtue of its imperfection, nullifies any claim to justification or salvation by merit. The moral law written on their hearts will be unable to justify them because, like Moses’ law, it required absolute sinless perfection in order to justify. Such Gentiles, however, will be saved by the unmerited favor of God who will credit their trust in Him, evidenced by their imperfect obedience, for righteousness. This free gift is possible by virtue of the shed blood of Christ, which (see chapter three) flows both directions from the cross in perfect atonement.

Verse 28

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward, in the flesh:

Paul turns his argument up a notch here. He has been arguing at length that the Jew, who is so judgmental of the Gentile, condemns himself by his judgment because he is guilty of the same sins as the Gentile. He who prides himself in the possession of the law of Moses and the sign of God’s covenant in his flesh is in fact a lawbreaker. Consequently, his circumcision is worthless (verse 25). Here Paul points out that even keeping the law, if one does so in a cursory or superficial manner, is not enough. God demands that men serve Him not only in outward (physical, ritual) obedience but also from the heart—that is, with the spirit or inner man. This precept in no way lessens the requirement for the Jew to do things exactly as God has directed in order to please Him. To the contrary, it enhances that principle. Not only must man obey God outwardly but also he must obey Him from the heart.

The law itself teaches the Jew is obligated to "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiffnecked" (Deuteronomy 10:16). In Deuteronomy 30:6, God promises to make this kind of circumcision the distinguishing mark of His true servants. He says, "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." In Jeremiah 9:25-26, God says the days are coming when He will punish his people because "all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart" (NIV). Again, in the New Testament, Stephen blasts the Sanhedrin because they are "stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart" (Acts 7:51). Paul’s argumentation here is similar to that of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount where He says it is not only wrong to murder your brother but also it is murder even to be angry at him without a cause (Matthew 5:21-24).

Mere outward circumcision is worthless. Mere physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is of no value. Neither of these attributes makes one a true Israelite in whom God is pleased. Naturally, such a revelation occasions the question answered in verse 29. Who is the true Jew and what makes him so?

Verse 29

But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter: The proper content and dignity of the true Jew is found not only in that which is outward and visible but more importantly in that which is inward and spiritual. It is found in the behavior that results from the sphere of the inner man devoted to God. The "spirit" here seems to refer to a man’s own spirit. It describes his religious, God-conscious inner life, rather than a mere mindless outward observance of the law, however meticulous in the letter. This is the principle Paul expresses in Romans 9:6, "…they are not all Israel, which are of Israel."

whose praise is not of men, but of God: The Jew who is a true Israelite is intent upon obeying God in exact detail outwardly because the worship of his inner, spiritual man (heart) in its submission to God’s will demands it. He is interested in doing the right thing because it is right and because it is God’s will. His desire is to receive approbation from God first and above all else. He does not crave the praise of men. He does not execute the law in his life in order to impress or satisfy his fellows. In John 12:43, the scriptures condemn those who are hesitant to confess Christ because "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." Jesus condemns those who do their alms before men to be seen of them and those who make pretension of prayer to be seen of men. He says such characters will receive no reward from God no matter how much they give or how long they pray (Matthew 6:1-2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:8). By contrast, the true Israelite is the one who keeps the law—not only its outward ordinances but also its spiritual precepts. He seeks the praise of God rather than the praise of men.

At this point Paul senses the frustrated objection of the Jew. If there is no protection in possessing the revelation from God to Moses and if there is no special provision to be made for those who are circumcised, then of what conceivable value is it to be a Jew?

If the sinful Jew is leveled to the same hopeless position before God’s wrath as the sinful Gentile, then "what remains of the prerogative which divine election seemed to assure him" (Godet l31)? Having taken great pains to remove from the Jew all reason to glory and to put him on the same plane as the Gentile, Paul shrewdly anticipates the cry of despair rising in the throat of the Jew. His answer is surprising.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-2.html. 1993-2022.
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