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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

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Romans CHAPTER 2



I. The "Judges" Judged: 2:1-11

A. The inconsistent judge judges himself: 2:1

B. The hypocritical judge is judged by truth: 2:2

C. The foolish judge reasons poorly: 2:3

D. The presumptuous judge treasures up wrath: 2:4-11

II. Possessing and Recognizing Law doesn't exempt from Judgement:2:12-16

A. The Keeping of the Law Justifies: 2:12-13

B. The Gentiles do have law: 2:14-15

C. Jesus Christ will conduct the Judgement: 2:16

III. The Jewish Self-Portrait: 2:17-20

IV. The Jewish Inconsistency: 2:21-24

V. The Significance of Circumcision: 2:25-27

VI. The Identify of the Real Jew: 2:28-29


Verse 1

Rom_2:1 Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judges another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same things.

1. Some, unfortunately have twisted this verse to mean that if we speak out against any sin, we are also guilty. Such is not the case ( Eph_5:11 )

2. The condemnation happens when I condemn sin in others, while practicing the same thing. ( Mat_7:1-5 )

'Whosoever thou art' -whether Jew or Gentile.

"There were judges in Paul's world. There were Gentiles like Cato and Crassus among the Romans who while they condemned greed were both stingy and greedy. There were philosophers among the Greeks like Socrates and Plato who condemned incest but were pro homosexuality. There was the Stoic, Seneca, who preached austerity and amassed a fortune."

'Thou..that judgest' -i.e. condemns. "A large part of the religion of some men seems to consist in their readiness to find fault with others."

'practise the same things' -"To do it a little or do it a lot is not what determines if the practice is sinful. If it is indeed wrong then it is sinful to do it at all."

The Greek Expositors N.T. feels that 'practice the same things', means, "Not, you do the identical actions, but your conduct is the same, i.e. you sin against light (knowledge, you do what you know is wrong-1:32) (p. 595)

This observation opens up a whole field of thought. If I can agree that the actions mentioned in verses 29-32 are wrong, then I am clearly without excuse for whatever sins I commit. Practical application: The Homosexuals that condemn perceived discrimination, condemn themselves! If I can see that prejudice/hate is wrong, then I am without excuse in not seeing that homosexuality is wrong too.

3. Some people are under the impression, that if I speak out against sin (wrong,injustice, etc..), such vocal opposition in some measure covers over my own short-comings. Paul says, 'not so'!

4. Anytime mankind uses such words as 'wrong, right, injustice, fairness, etc..', he demonstrates that he is without excuse before God.

"The Jew was ready enough to judge the Gentile. But he forgets that the same principle on which the Gentile is condemned, i.e. that he does evil in spite of better knowledge (1:32), condemns himself also."

Verse 2

Rom_2:2 And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practise such things.

'Judgement of God' -God will judge

'According to Truth' -unlike the hypocritical judgement of men. We will hear much more in this chapter about 'judgement' from God's angle. It is righteous (2:5); it is according to what one did (2:6-10); it will be impartial (2:11); and by Jesus Christ (2:16). In order to judge according to "truth", absolute truth must exist.

'Practise such things' -hypocrites condemning sin, don't remove the sinfulness of the sin.

Verse 3

Rom_2:3 And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

'Reckonest' -'do you suppose' (NASV); 'what makes you think' (Phi).

Man reasons so poorly when he is trying to justify himself. Did some Jews (and seemingly moral Gentiles) really think that condemning sins in others would excuse their own? Some Jews thought that they would escape condemnation, simply because they were Jewish. ( Mat_3:8 )

Verse 4

Rom_2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

'Despisest' -'think lightly' (NASV). The word 'or' states an alternative. Either he thinks he will escape, or he despises God.

-to contemn, disdain, think little or nothing of (Thayer p. 338)

The Jew or 'moral' Gentile who continued in what they knew to be wrong, actually looked down upon the generosity of God. They may have been thinking, 'I don't need that forgiveness stuff like the rest of men'.

'Riches of His goodness..' -God had been mighty good to the Jewish people, despite their stubbornness. Other nations had passed by the wayside, lost their cultural identity, or lost their homeland.

'the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?' -in some people God's kindness, demonstrated in second chances, time to repent and escape from the physical consequences of some sins, only makes them more presumptuous. Unfortunately, some will always view 'time and opportunity' as time to get into more sin. ( 2Pe_3:9 ) Whatever time and second chances that God gives mankind, man doesn't deserve them. 'Time' between now and the Judgement, is undeserved and it is a demonstration that God is kind and patient. The Jewish people were under the mistaken impression that God would never punish them.

Verse 5

Rom_2:5 but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

'Hardness' -callousness, stubbornness.

'Impenitent' -unrepentant. A heart that refuses to change its attitude towards sin and God. Some people try to cover over sin by saying, 'I'm just set in my ways'. God says, if you know what's good for you, you had better get 'un-set'.

'Treasurest' -to amass or reserve, accumulate. Every rejection of God's goodness only accumulates more wrath.

"Accumulating wrath it went. Pile upon pile it grew. Until the day of reckoning when it had become one vast treasure of wrath! Devouring, boiling, consuming wrath! judicial, not vindictive."

Some people accumulate treasure in heaven ( Mat_6:19 ff); others only accumulate 'wrath'.

'In the day of wrath' -such a day exists! And the 'no-hell' people are dead wrong. Such a day will contain 'wrath'.

'Righteous judgement of God' -one cannot honestly look Jesus in the eye and say that hell is 'unjust'. Eternal punishment is many things, Paul says here, that such is 'righteous'.

Verse 6

Rom_2:6 who will render to every man according to his works: -the same truth is taught in many other passages- Mat_16:27 ; 1Co_3:8 ; 2Co_5:10 ; Rev_2:23 ; Rev_20:12 ; Rev_22:12 .

Note: Judgement is not based on 'what happened to you', or only on 'what you didn't do', it includes 'what did you do'! The Jewish people had depended upon their physical ancestry with Abraham to get them into heaven. Many religious people are depending upon something other than a personal life lived in faithfulness to Christ and His mercy to gain them acceptance with God.

Verse 7

Rom_2:7 to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life:

'Patience in well doing' -'insistent good behaviour strive' (Ber); 'steadfast endurance in well-doing' (Con).

'Seek for' -'strive for, aim at'. Suffice to say that anyone 'seeking' for eternal life, will obey whatever conditions, and believe whatever truths necessary to be right with God. This weeds out the 'seekers' from the 'pretenders' (2:8 'obey not the truth')

'Eternal life' -defined in this verse as a place of glory (brightness), honor (esteem, respect), and incorruption (not decay, hence no death). ( Act_10:34 ).

Eternal life is more than 'eternal existence'.

Verse 8

Rom_2:8 but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation,

'Factious' -'Selfishly ambitious' (NASV); 'Seek their own' (Alf); 'Self-seeking people' (Gspd).

The Word here is derived from a word that means to work for wages as a mercenary, and hence a mercenary spirit that wants quick returns.

The self-seeking and disobedient shall have their wages; affliction and anguish. Verses 8-9 definitely teach that hell is a terrible place! We should also note that there is 'truth' to be obeyed if one desires to gain eternal life.

Verse 11

Rom_2:11 for there is no respect of persons with God.

'Respect of persons' -to judge by the face or appearance. God isn't impressed by anyone's face, God isn't intimidated by anyone's position or place in life. He owes no one anything! 'God pays no attention to this world's distinctions' (Wey); 'For God has no favorites' (NEB)

Verse 12

Rom_2:12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law;

'Without law' -clearly in the context, the 'law' being spoken of is the Law of Moses.. 'sinned under the law'. "That it cannot be 'law' in general is clear from the fact that there can be no sin unless there exists some law to transgress. ( Rom_4:15 ; Rom_5:13 ; 1Jn_3:4 )"

The Gentiles, 'those without the law of Moses', still sinned, this demands that they were under law to God.

"Much is being said today about certain laws being binding only upon God's 'covenant people', as if there have been people in the world who were not God's covenant people. This concept is totally foreign to the Scriptures. Just as surely as all men have always been amenable to God, just that surely all people are 'God's covenant people'. There is no way people who are under law to God are not God's covenant people."

'Sinned under the law' -Possessing the law of Moses was no protection from condemnation.

The person that refuses to come to Christ, that says, 'I want to stand before God on my own merits', needs to realize that the only way to stand right with God outside of Christ is to have flawlessly kept the law of God. But law is a merciless judge for it demands no less than perfection.

Verse 13

Rom_2:13 for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified:

Having or recognizing law isn't enough. Many people 'listen' to the Word of God, but listening by itself isn't a virtue. Bible reading apart from personal application is vain. ( Jam_1:22-25 )

Verse 14

Rom_2:14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;

'The law' -i.e. the Law of Moses

'By nature' -'a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature' (Thayer p. 660)

Some try to make these verses teach that people instinctively know the difference between right and wrong, that all are born with a 'law on the heart'. I find the following difficulties with this view. The New Covenant was said to be written on the heart ( Heb_8:10 ), but it entered men's minds/heart through teaching. ( Mar_16:15-16 ; Joh_6:44-45 ). Where is the man that was born 'knowing God's law'? If one is born 'instinctively knowing right from wrong', then why all the commands to parents to 'instruct' children? ( Eph_6:4 ) And the Hebrew writer argues that those who know the difference between good and evil are students of the word ( Heb_5:14 ). In addition, I repeatedly find the Scriptures arguing the point very strongly, that one cannot go on the 'instincts' they are born with, when searching for the "right" path. ( Pro_3:5 ; Pro_16:25 ; Jer_10:23 )

I think McGuiggan is right when he says, "You see, it is one thing to be born with a capacity for obedience , a moral capacity (the ability to obey or reject God), but it is another to be born with a knowledge of HOW to express that moral capacity. Having the capacity to obey God is one thing, knowing what to do is another."

'the things of the law' -obviously the Law of Moses is under consideration (2:26).

In the O.T. we find a number of Gentiles or those of non-Hebrew heritage, recognizing various moral commands that we later find incorporated in the Law of Moses. ( Gen_20:9 ; Gen_26:10 ) I maintain that such 'knowledge of right and wrong' was gained through teaching.

Verse 15

Rom_2:15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them );

"Written in their hearts' -they weren't born with it on their minds, any more than Christians are born with the new covenant on their minds. ( Heb_8:6-13 ) See Pro_3:3 ; Pro_7:3 . While they didn't have two tablets of stone, they did know right from wrong, and hence were without excuse!

'Accusing or else excusing them' -

"Paul could observe the Jews and the Gentiles accusing one another. When they were doing this they were acknowledging a standard which the other had allegedly violated. He heard them excuse one another. The very fact that they bothered to "excuse" themselves or another establishes the fact that they see themselves as having lived up to (not violated) a law. All of this is said to show that the Gentile indeed had a law and couldn't plead ignorance."

Anytime a group of people make accusations or attempt to defend themselves they have just admitted one important fact, they are accountable to God!

Verse 16

Rom_2:16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.

The Gospel reveals a coming judgement, in which Jesus will sit as Judge. ( 2Co_5:10 )

"We learned that if hearers of the law were justified before God then the Gentiles were just as justified as the Jew for they clearly had "heard" of God's law, one way or another. They had as much law as the Jew. Sufficient, as a matter of fact, to bring them under judgement by God."

We should note: The Gospel doesn't condemn people, it is sent to people already 'condemned' by their own sins. ( Mar_16:15-16 ). People won't necessarily end up lost, because they didn't hear the gospel, they will primarily end up lost because they sinned.

Verse 17

Rom_2:17 But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the law, and gloriest in God,

'Restest upon the law' -'you feel secure in the law' (Nor); 'Rest comfortably in your Law' (Beck)

Verse 18

Rom_2:18 and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,

'Approvest' -'with a sense of what is vital in religion' (Mof); 'they claimed a unique ability to detect the most delicate shades of moral distinction' (Erdmans p. 49)

Verse 19

Rom_2:19 and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness,

Verse 20

Rom_2:20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth;

These verses appear to be a response to the Jew that might argue that verses 1-16 may have applied to some Jews, but not the "elite". So Paul describes the benefits and pride of the Jewish "elite". Proud of their Jewish name, confidence in the Law, knowing the will of God, aware of the finer points of the Law, taught in the Synagogue, a confident guide of those in spiritual darkness, a teacher of ignorant men and children.

Verse 21

Rom_2:21 thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Verse 22

Rom_2:22 thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?

Verse 23

Rom_2:23 thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonorest thou God?

These verses set forth the guilt of the Jew. Paul accuses them of adultery, theft and sacrilege. They opposed stealing, but they did rob God ( Mal_3:7 ff); or robbed their own parents of financial support ( Mat_15:1 ff). The Jews often transgressed the very law that they boasted in, through traditions and selfish attempts to manipulate it for personal gain.

To this day this verses sting the conscience!

Verse 24

Rom_2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written.

Quotation from Isa_52:5 . The Jews were so jealous for the Name of God, that they wouldn't pronounce it, and yet their conduct caused Gentiles to speak against it.

'No wonder..the world hates God because of you' (Tay). God's own people, often have become God's worst enemies and worst form of advertizement. How about us?

Verse 25

Rom_2:25 For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law: but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.

These verses make the point that receiving privileges from God, bring one under obligation to glorify God. The Covenant of Circumcision didn't only mark the Jew as a privileged one, but also, ONE UNDER OBLIGATION TO OBEY. Circumcision was no 'magic shield' to ward off condemnation due to disobedience. Neither is baptism, attendance, the Lord's Supper, etc..

'if thou be a transgressor..they circumcision is become uncircumcision' -by dishonoring God through disobedience, the Jew became in practice what he abhorred, an uncircumcised Gentile. The same is true with unfaithful Christians.

Verse 26

Rom_2:26 If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision?

The reverse was also true. ( Act_10:-12 ) And yet, in all of this, the moral Gentile still needed Christ! (Chapter 3) ( Act_10:1-48 ; Act_11:1-30 )

Verse 27

Rom_2:27 and shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who with the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law?

'by nature' - those who refuse to live the Jewish way, i.e. choice is implied.

'fulfill the law' -obviously, not perfectly. The good moral Gentile, stood in judgement on the Jews that transgressed their own written down law. ( Mat_12:41 ; Mat_11:20-21 )

Verse 28

Rom_2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:

Verse 29

Rom_2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Paul is affirming that there was also more to being a 'Jew' than mere physical requirements (ancestry and circumcision). There is nothing new about 'heart circumcision' ( Deu_10:15-16 ; Deu_30:5-6 ; Jer_4:4 ; Jer_9:25 ).

'spirit not in the letter' -this doesn't refer to some 'unspoken, inferred, between the lines law' in the Law of God. God expected obedience, and yet God always wanted obedience from the heart. People that obey God not because of rote or tradition, but because they want to. These are the type of people that serve God because they desire His approval and love rather than the praise of men.


1. They had sinned against the knowledge they had of God too, just like the Gentile. Their lives were also inconsistent with the knowledge of right and wrong they possessed. And hence they stood just as guilty as those mentioned in chapter one. Ouch!

2. If one can be right with God on the basis of 'law-keeping' (as opposed to obedience and forgiveness), then the Gentile stood on the same ground with the Jew! For both had 'law'.

3. Circumcision was pointless without obedience.

4. They were not the 'elite', but they had been the 'elect'. They were supposed to show other nations how to live, but for the most part they had only turned others off from God by their inconsistent and hypocritical conduct. And the lives of some Gentiles even put them to shame. ( Act_10:1 ff)

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/romans-2.html. 1999-2014.
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