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Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

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Verse 1

Vv. 1. “ Wherefore 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.

Whom is the apostle addressing? Gentile magistrates, say the old Greek commentators. But a magistrate is appointed to judge crimes; he could not be reproached for filling his office. The best of the Gentiles, say the Reformers, and Hofmann in our own day. But what purpose would be served, in this vast survey of the general state of mankind, by such a slight moral warning given to the best and wisest of the Gentiles not to set themselves to judge others? Besides, this precept could not be more than a parenthesis, while it is easy to see that Rom 2:1 is exactly like Romans 1:18, the theme of all the development which immediately follows chap. 2. Evidently the person apostrophized in these terms: O man..., forms an exception among those men ( ἄνθρωποι , Rom 1:18 ) who hurtfully and wickedly reject the truth. He does not repress, on the contrary he proclaims it; but he contents himself with applying it to others. The true name of this collective personage, whose portrait Paul proceeds to draw without yet naming him, will be pronounced in Romans 2:17: “Now if thou Jew. ” The apostle knows how delicate the task is which he is approaching, that of proving to the elect people that divine wrath, now displayed against the Gentiles, is likewise suspended over them. He is about to drag to God's tribunal the nation which thinks itself at liberty to cite all others to its bar. It is a bold enterprise. The apostle proceeds cautiously. He first expresses his thought abstractly: thou who judgest, whosoever thou art, to unveil it fully afterward. Chap. 2 is thus the parallel of the passage Romans 1:18-32; it is the trial of the Jewish after that of the Gentile world. And the first two verses are its theme.

The course followed by the apostle is this:

In the first part, Romans 2:1-16, he lays down the principle of God's true (impartial) judgment. In the second, Romans 2:17-29, he applies it directly to the Jew.

The first part contains the development of three ideas. 1. Favors received, far from forming a ground for exemption from judgment, aggravate the responsibility of the receiver, Rom 2:1 to Romans 5:2. The divine sentence rests on the works, Rom 2:6 to Romans 12:3. Not on knowledge, Romans 2:13-16.

The διό , wherefore, which connects this passage with the preceding, presents a certain difficulty which Hofmann and Ritschl have used to justify their far from natural explanations of the preceding. Meyer takes this connecting particle as referring to the whole preceding description from Romans 2:18. For if a man is guilty, if he commits such things without judging them, it follows that he is still more guilty if he commit them while judging them. Rom 2:1 might, however, be connected more particularly with Romans 1:32. In point of fact, if sinning while applauding the sin of others is criminal, would not men be more inexcusable still if they condemned the sin of others while joining in it? In the former case there is at least agreement between thought and action the man does what he expressly approves while in the second there is an internal contradiction and a flagrant hypocrisy. In the act of judging, the judge condemns his own doing.

The word inexcusable, here applied to the Jews, is the counterpart of the same epithet already applied to the Gentiles, Romans 1:20.

Whosoever thou art ( πᾶς ): whatever name thou bearest, were it even the glorious name of Jew. Paul does not say this, but it is his meaning.

It is enough that thou judgest, that I may condemn thee in this character of judge; for thy judgment recoils on thyself. The Jews, as we know, liked to call the Gentiles ἁμαρτωλοί , sinners, Galatians 2:15. ᾿Εν ᾦ , wherein, signifies: “Thou doest two things at once; thou condemnest thy neighbor, and by condemning him for things which thou doest, thou takest away all excuse for thyself.” This meaning is much more pungent than Meyer's: in the same things which that is to say, in the things which thou doest, and which at the same time thou condemnest. There was undoubtedly a difference between the moral state of the Jews and that of other nations, but the passage Rom 2:17-24 will show that this difference was only relative. The repetition of the words: thou who judgest, at the end of the sentence, brings out strongly the exceptional character in virtue of which this personage is brought en the scene. The apostle confronts the falsehood under which the man shelters himself with a simple luminous truth to which no conscience can refuse its assent.

Verses 1-29

First Section (1:18-3:20). The Wrath of God Resting on the Whole World.

From Romans 1:18, St. Paul is undoubtedly describing the miserable state of the Gentile world. From the beginning of chap. 2 he addresses a personage who very severely judges the Gentile abominations just described by Paul, and who evidently represents a wholly different portion of mankind. At Rom 2:17 he apostrophizes this personage by his name: it is the Jew; and he demonstrates to him that he also is under the burden of wrath. Hence it follows that the first piece of this section goes to the end of chap. 1, and has for its subject: the need of salvation demonstrated by the state of the contemporary Gentile world.

Verse 2

Vv. 2. “ Now we know that the sentence of God is according to truth upon them which commit such things.

We might give the δέ an adversative sense: “ But God does not let Himself be deceived by this judgment which thou passest on others.” It is more natural, however, to translate this δέ by now, and to take this verse as the major of a syllogism. The minor, Romans 2:1: thy judgment on others condemns thee; the major, Romans 2:2: now the judgment of God is always true; the conclusion understood (between Rom 2:2-3 ): therefore thy hypocritical judgment cannot shelter thee from that of God. The connecting particle γάρ , for, in two Alex. is inadmissible. This for, to be logical, must bear on the proposition: thou condemnest thyself, which is unnatural, as a new idea has intervened since then.

What is the subject in we know? According to some: we, Christians. But what would the knowledge of Christians prove against the Jewish point of view which Paul is here combating? Others: we, Jews. But it was precisely the Jewish conscience which Paul was anxious to bring back to truth on this point. The matter in question is a truth inscribed, according to the apostle, on the human conscience as such, and which plain common sense, free from prejudices, compels us to own: “But every one knows.”

The term κρῖμα does not denote, like κρίσις , the act of judging, but its contents, the sentence. The sentence which God pronounces on every man is agreeable to truth. There would be no more truth in the universe if there were none in the judgment of God; and there would be none in the judgment of God, if to be absolved ourselves, it were enough to condemn others.

The words κατὰ ἀλήθειαν have sometimes been explained in the sense of really: “that there is really a judgment of God against those who”...But what the Jews disputed was not the fact of judgment; it was its impartiality that is to say, its truth. They could not get rid of the idea that in that day they would enjoy certain immunities due to their purer creed, and the greatly higher position which they held than that of other nations.

Such things, that is to say, those referred to by the same word, Romans 1:32.

But the apostle is not unaware that in the Jewish conscience there is an obstacle to the full application of this principle; it is this obstacle which he now labors to remove. Rom 2:3-5 develop the words: they who do such things (whoever they are, should they even be Jews); Rom 2:6-16 will explain what is meant by a judgment according to truth.

Verse 3

Vv. 3. “ But thou countest upon this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

We might, with Hofmann, take the verbs λογίζῃ and καταφρονεῖς ( thou countest, thou despisest) in an affirmative sense. But the ἤ , or indeed, at the beginning of Rom 2:4 would rather incline us, following Paul's ordinary usage, to interpret these words in the interrogative sense; not, however, that we need translate the former in the sense of: thinkest thou? The interrogation is less abrupt: “thou thinkest no doubt?” The word λογίζεσθαι , to reason, well describes the false calculations whereby the Jews persuaded themselves that they would escape the judgment with which God would visit the Gentiles. Observe the σύ , thou: “that thou wilt escape, thou,” a being by thyself, a privileged person! It was a Jewish axiom, that “every one circumcised has part in the kingdom to come.” A false calculation. Such, then, is the first supposition serving to explain the security of the Jew; but there is a graver still. Perhaps this false calculation proceeds from a moral fact hidden in the depths of the heart. Paul drags it to the light in what follows.

Verses 4-5

Vv. 4, 5. “ Or despisest thou the rïches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But, according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath for the day of wrath and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. ” ῎Η , or even. The meaning is: is there something even worse than an illusion; is there contempt? The case then would be more than foolish, it would be impious! The riches of goodness, of which the apostle speaks, embrace all God's benefits to Israel in the past: that special election, those consecutive revelations, that constant care, finally, the sending of the Messiah, all that constituted the privileged position which Israel had enjoyed for so many ages. The second term, ἀνοχή , patience (from ἀνέχεσθαι to restrain oneself), denotes the feeling awakened in the benefactor when his goodness is put to the proof by ingratitude. Paul has in view no doubt the murder of the Messiah, which divine justice might have met with the immediate destruction of the nation. The third term, μακροθυμία , long-suffering, refers to the incomprehensible prolongation of Israel's existence, in spite of the 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 murder of Stephen and James (Acts 7:12). The three words form an admirable climax. The last ( long-suffering) characterizes this treasure of grace as exhausted, and that of wrath as ready to discharge itself. The notion of contempt is explained by the fact that the more God shows Himself good, patient, and meek, the more does the pride of Israel seem to grow, and the more does the nation show itself hostile to the gospel. ᾿Αγνοῶν may be translated: ignoring, or mistaking; the first meaning is simpler and may suffice, for there is a voluntary ignorance, the result of bad faith, in consequence of which we do not see what we do not care so see; it is this ignorance which is referred to here.

The phrase τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ is touching: what is good, sweet, gentle in God ( χρηστός , strictly: that may be handled, what one may make use of, from χράομαι ). The form: “what good there is”...leaves it to be inferred that there is something else in God, and that He will not let Himself be always treated thus with impunity. The time will come when He will act with rigor.

The word ἄγειν , to lead, implies the power possessed by man of yielding to or resisting the attraction exercised over him. If he could not resist it, how could the Jews be accused of committing this offence at this very time? Μετάνοια , repentance, is the act whereby man goes back on his former views, and changes his standpoint and feeling.

Verse 5

Vv. 5. The δέ , but, contrasts the result of so many favors received with the divinely desired effect. The contrast indicated arises from the fact that the Jews in their conduct are guided by a wholly different rule from that to which the mercy of God sought to draw them. This idea of rule is indeed what explains the preposition κατά , according to, which is usually made into a by. The word denotes a line of conduct long followed, the old Jewish habit of meeting the calls of God with a hard and impenitent heart; what Stephen so forcibly upbraided them with, Acts 7:51: “Ye stiffnecked ( σκληροτράχηλοι ) and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.”

Hardness relates to insensibility of heart to divine favors; impenitence, to the absence of that change of views which the feeling of such goodness should have produced.

But it must not be thought that these favors are purely and simply lost. Instead of the good which they should have produced, evil results from them. Every favor trampled under foot adds to the treasure of wrath which is already suspended over the heads of the impenitent people. There is an evident correlation between the phrase riches of goodness, Romans 2:4, and the Greek word θησαυρίζειν , to treasure up. The latter word, as well as the dative (of favor!) σεαυτῷ , for thyself, have certainly a tinge of irony. What an enriching is that! Wrath is here denounced on the Jews, as it had been, Romans 1:18, on the Gentiles. The two passages are parallel; there is only this difference between them, that among the Gentiles the thunderbolt has already fallen, while the storm is still gathering for the Jews. The time when it will burst on them is called the day of wrath. In this phrase two ideas are combined: that of the great national catastrophe which had been predicted by John the Baptist and by Jesus (Matthew 3:10; Luk 11:50-51 ), and that of the final judgment of the guilty taken individually at the last day. The preposition ἐν (“ in the day”) may be made dependent on the substantive wrath: “the wrath which will have its full course in the day when”...But it is more natural to connect this clause with the verb: “thou art heaping up a treasure which shall be paid to thee in the day when”...The writer transports himself in thought to the day itself; he is present then: hence the ἐν instead of εἰς .

The three Byz. Mjj. and the correctors of the Sinaït. and of the Cantab. read a καί , and, between the two words revelation and just judgment, and thus give the word “day” three complements: day of wrath, of revelation, and of just judgment. These three names would correspond well with the three of Romans 2:4: goodness, patience, long-suffering; and the term revelation, without complement, would have in it something mysterious and threatening quite in keeping with the context. This reading is, however, improbable. The καί ( and) is omitted not only in the Mjj. of the two other families, but also in the ancient versions (Syriac and Latin); besides the word revelation can hardly be destitute of all qualification. The apostle therefore says: the revelation of the righteous judgment; thus indicating that wrath (righteous judgment) is still veiled so far as the Jews are concerned (in contrast to the ἀποκαλύπτεται , is revealed, Rom 1:18 ), but that then it will be fully unveiled in relation to them also.

Only two passages are quoted where the word δικαιοκρισία , just judgment, is used: in a Greek translation of Hosea 4:5, and in the Testaments of the twelve patriarchs. The word recalls the phrase of Romans 2:2: “The judgment of God according to truth. ” It dissipates beforehand the illusions cherished by the Jews as to the immunity which they hoped to enjoy in that day in virtue of their theocratic privileges. It contains the theme of the development which immediately follows. The just judgment of God (the judgment according to truth, Rom 2:2 ) will bear solely on the moral life of each individual, Romans 2:6-12, not on the external fact of being the hearer of a law, Romans 2:13-16. These are the positive and negative characteristics of a judgment according to righteousness.

It would be unaccountable how Ritschl could have mistaken the obvious relation between Romans 2:5; Rom 2:4 so far as to connect Rom 2:5 with the notion of wrath, Romans 1:18, had not a preconceived idea imposed on him this exegetical violence.

Verse 6

Vv. 6. “ Who will render to every one according to his deeds.

No account will be taken of any external circumstance, but solely of the aim which has governed the man's moral action. It has been asked how this maxim can be reconciled with the doctrine of justification by faith. Fritzsche finds in them two different theories presenting an insoluble contradiction. Others think that in the judgment the moral imperfections of believers will be covered by their faith; which would convert faith into a means of sinning with impunity. What a just judgment that would be! Melanchthon, Tholuck, and others hold that this standard is purely hypothetical; it would be the standard which God would have applied if redemption had not intervened. But the future, “ will render,” is not a conditional ( would render). Besides, judgment according to the deeds done, is attested by many other passages, both from Paul (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Gal 6:6 ), from Jesus Himself (John 5:28-29; Matthew 12:36-37, etc.), and from other writings of the New Testament ( Rev 20:13 ). Ritschl thinks that throughout this passage it is a Pharisee whom Paul introduces as speaking, and who starts from a narrow idea of divine justice the idea, viz., of retributive justice. But what trace is there in the text of such an accommodation on the apostle's part to a standpoint foreign to his own? The logical tissue of the piece, and its relation to what precedes and follows, present no breach of continuity. There is only one answer to the question raised, unless we admit a flagrant contradiction in the apostle's teaching: that justification by faith alone applies to the time of entrance into salvation through the free pardon of sin, but not to the time of judgment. When God of free grace receives the sinner at the time of his conversion, He asks nothing of him except faith; but from that moment the believer enters on a wholly new responsibility; God demands from him, as the recipient of grace, the fruits of grace. This is obvious from the parable of the talents. The Lord commits His gifts to His servants freely; but from the moment when that extraordinary grace has been shown, He expects something from their labor. Comp. also the parable of the wicked debtor, where the pardoned sinner who refuses to pardon his brother is himself replaced under the rule of justice, and consequently under the burden of his debt. The reason is that faith is not the dismal prerogative of being able to sin with impunity; it is, on the contrary, the means of overcoming sin and acting holily; and if this life-fruit is not produced, it is dead, and will be declared vain. “ Every barren tree will be hewn down and cast into the fire” ( Mat 3:10 ). Comp. the terrible warnings, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 6:7, which are addressed to believers.

The two following verses develop the idea of the verb ἀποδώσει , will render.

Verses 7-8

Vv. 7, 8. “ To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, [to such] eternal life: but for them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [for such] wrath and indignation!

The Jews divided men into circumcised, and consequently saved, and uncircumcised, and consequently damned. Here is a new classification, which Paul substitutes, founded solely on the moral aim.

There are two principal ways of construing Romans 2:7. Sometimes the three words: glory, honor, immortality, are made the objects of the verb: will render ( Rom 2:6 ), understood. The phrase: patient continuance in well-doing, is thus taken to qualify the pronoun τοῖς μέν , to them, and the last words: ζητοῦσιν κ . τ . λ ., become merely an explanatory appendix: “to wit, to them who seek eternal life.” The meaning of the verse thus taken is: “to them who live in patient continuance in well-doing [He will render] glory and honor and immortality, [to wit, to those] who seek eternal life.” But this construction is very forced. 1. The subordinate clause: “in continuance,” is rather the qualification of a verb than of a pronoun like τοῖς μέν . 2. The participle ζητοῦσι would require the article τοῖς , and would make a clumsy and superfluous appendix. The construction, as given in our translation, is much more simple and significant. The regimen καθ᾿ ὑπομονήν , literally, according to the standard of patient continuance in well-doing, corresponds with the seek, on which it depends; seeking must be in a certain line. And the weighty word eternal life, at the close of this long sentence, depicts, as it were, the final and glorious issue of this long and laborious practice of goodness. This accusative is the object of the verb: will render, understood ( Rom 2:6 ).

The notion of patient continuance is emphasized here, not only in opposition to the idea of intermittent moral efforts, but to indicate that there are great moral obstacles to be met on this path, and that a persistent love of goodness is needed to surmount them. The apostle says literally: perseverance in good work. In Rom 2:6 he had used the plural works. He now comprehends this multiplicity of works in the profound principle which constitutes their unity, the permanent determination to realize goodness. What supports a man in this course is the goal which he has constantly before him: glory, an existence without defilement or weakness, resplendent throughout with the divine brightness of holiness and power; honor, the approbation of God, which forms the eternal honor of its object; immortality ( incorruptibility), the absolute impossibility of any wound or interruption or end to this state of being. The ands, καί , before the last two substantives, show a certain degree of emotion; the accumulation of terms arises from the same cause. In all human conditions there are souls which contemplate the ideal here described, and which, ravished with its beauty, are elevated by it above every earthly ambition and the pursuit of sensual gratifications. These are the men who are represented under the figure of the merchant seeking goodly pearls. For such is the pearl of great price, life eternal! This last word, laden as it were with all divine riches, denotes the realization of the ideal just described; it worthily closes this magnificent proposition.

But is it asked again, where, in this description of a normal human life, are faith and salvation by the gospel to be found? Does Paul then preach salvation by the work of man? The apostle has not to do here with the means whereby we can really attain to well-doing; he merely affirms that no one will be saved apart from the doing of good, and he assumes that the man who is animated with this persistent desire will not fail, some time or other, in the journey of life, to meet with the means of attaining an end so holy and glorious. This means is faith in the gospel a truth which Paul reserves for proof at a later stage. “ He that doeth truth,” said Jesus to the same effect, “ cometh to the light,” as soon as it is presented to him (John 3:21; comp. Rom 7:17 ). The love of goodness, which is the spring of his life, will then lead him to embrace Christ, the ideal of goodness; and, having embraced Him, he will find in Him the triumphant power for well-doing of which he was in quest. The desire of goodness is the acceptance of the gospel by anticipation. The natural corollary of these premisses is the thought expressed by Peter: the preaching of the gospel before the judgment to every human soul, either in this life or in the next (1 Peter 3:19-20; 1Pe 4:6 ). Comp. Matthew 12:31-32. And if the apostle has spoken of patient continuance in this pursuit, it is because he is well aware of that power of self-mastery which is needed, especially in a Jew, to break with his nation, and family, and all his past, and to remain faithful to the end to the supreme love of goodness.

The other class of men is described Romans 2:8. The regimen ἐξ ἐριθείας can without difficulty serve to qualify the pronoun τοῖς δέ ; comp. the construction ὁ or οἱ ἐκ πίστεως , Romans 3:26; Galatians 3:7. The meaning is: “but for those who are under the dominion of the spirit of contention.”

The word ἐριθεία , contention, does not come, as has been often thought, from ἔρις , disputation, but, as Fritzsche has proved, from ἔριθος , mercenary; whence the verb ἐριθεύειν , “to work for wages,” then, “to put oneself at the service of a party.” The substantive ἐριθεία therefore denotes the spirit which seeks the victory of the party which one has espoused from self-interest, in contrast to the spirit which seeks the possession of the truth. Paul knew well from experience the tendency of Rabbinical discussions, and he characterizes it by a single word. The term truth is here used abstractly; but Paul has, nevertheless, in view the concrete realization of this notion in the gospel revelation. Unrighteousness, which he contrasts with truth (exactly as Jesus does, Joh 7:18 ), denotes the selfish passions, vain ambitions, and unrighteous prejudices, which lead a man to close his eyes to the light when it presents itself, and thus produce unbelief. Unrighteousness leads to this result as certainly as moral integrity leads to faith. Jesus develops precisely the same thought, John 3:19-20. The words wrath and indignation, which express the wages earned by such conduct, are in the nominative in Greek, not in the accusative, like the word eternal life ( Rom 2:7 ). They are not, therefore, the object of the verb will render, which is too remote. We must make them either the subject of a verb understood ( ἔσται , will be, there will be), or, better still, an exclamation: “for them, wrath!” The three Byz. Mjj. follow the psychological order, “ indignation and wrath! ” First the internal emotion ( indignation), then the external manifestation ( wrath); but the other two families present the inverse order, and rightly so. For what is first perceived is the manifestation; then we pass upward to the feeling which inspires it, and which gives it all its gravity. Θυμός is the emotion of the soul; ὀργή comprehends look, sentence, chastisement.

Why does the apostle once again repeat this contrast of Rom 2:7-8 in Rom 2:9-10 ? Obviously with the view of now adding to each term of the contrast the words: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, which expressly efface the false line of demarkation drawn by Jewish theology.

Verses 9-10

Vv. 9, 10. “ Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that effecteth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace to every man that doeth good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek!

The asyndeton indicates, as it always does, the more emphatic reassertion of the previous idea: “ Yes, tribulation and anguish!”

The antithesis of Rom 2:7-8 is reproduced in inverse order, not only to avoid the monotony of a too exact parallelism, but chiefly because, following up Romans 2:8 ( wrath and indignation), the idea of Romans 2:9 ( tribulation and anguish) presented itself more naturally than that of Romans 2:10 ( glory and honor and peace); comp. the same arrangement, Luke 1:51-53. The terms tribulation and anguish describe the moral and external state of the man on whom the indignation and wrath of the judge fall ( Rom 2:8 ). Tribulation is the punishment itself (corresponding to wrath); anguish is the wringing of the heart which the punishment produces; it corresponds to the judge's indignation. The soul is mentioned as the seat of feeling. The phrase, every soul of man, expresses the equality and universality of the treatment dealt out. Yet within this equality there is traced a sort of preference both as to judgment and salvation respectively ( Rom 2:10 ), to the detriment and advantage of the Jew. When he says first, the apostle has no doubt in view (as in Rom 1:16 ) a priority in time; comp. 1 Peter 4:17. Must we not, however, apply at the same time the principle laid down by Jesus, Luke 12:41-48, according to which he who receives most benefits is also the man who has the heaviest responsibility? In any case, therefore, whoever escapes judgment, it will not be the Jew; if there were but one judged, it would be he. Such is the apostle's answer to the claim alleged, Romans 2:3: ὅτι σὺ ἐκφεύξῃ , that thou, thou alone, shalt escape.

Verse 10

Vv. 10. The third term: 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. The simple ἐργάζεσθαι , to do, is substituted for the compound κατεργάζεσθαι , to effect ( Rom 2:9 ), which implies something ruder and more violent, as is suited to evil; comp. the analogous though not identical difference between ποιεῖν and πράσσειν , John 3:20-21.

On the word first, comp. the remarks made Romans 1:16, Romans 2:9.

Here again the apostle indicates the result finally reached, whether evil or good, without expressly mentioning the means by which it may be produced; on the one hand, the rejection of the gospel ( Rom 2:9 ), as the supreme sin, at once the effect and the cause of evil-doing; on the other, its acceptance ( Rom 2:10 ), as effect and cause of the determination to follow goodness and of its practice. But what is the foundation of such a judgment? One of God's perfections, which the Jew could not deny without setting himself in contradiction to the whole Old Testament, the impartiality of God, whose judgment descends on evil wherever it is found, with or without law Rom 2:11-12 ).

Verses 11-12

Vv. 11, 12. “ For there is no respect of persons with God. For all those who have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and all those who have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.

The principle stated in Rom 2:11 is one of those most frequently asserted in the Old Testament; comp. Deu 10:17 ; 1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19. Accordingly, no Jew could dispute it.

The phrase πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν , literally: to accept the countenance, to pay regard to the external appearance, belongs exclusively to Hellenistic Greek (in the LXX.); it is a pure Hebraism; it forcibly expresses the opposite idea to that of just judgment, which takes account only of the moral worth of persons and acts. With God signifies, in that luminous sphere whence only just sentences emanate. But is not the fact of the law being given to some, and refused to others, incompatible with this divine impartiality? No, answers Romans 2:12; for if the Gentile perishes, he will not perish for not having possessed the law, for no judgment will cause him to be sifted by the Decalogue and the Mosaic ordinances; and if the Jew should sin, the law will not exempt him from punishment, for the code will be the very standard which judgment will apply to all his acts. Thus the want of the law no more destroys the one than its possession saves the other. The aorist ἥμαρτον , sinned, transports us to the point of time when the result of human life appears as a completed fact, the hour of judgment. The καί , also (“will also perish without law”), brings out the congruity between the mode of the sin and that of the perdition. In the second proposition, this also is not repeated, for it is a matter of course, that where there is a law men should be judged by it. The absence of the article in Greek before the word law, makes this word a categorical term, “A mode of living over which a law presides;” as applied: the Mosaic law. Διὰ νόμου , by law, that is to say, by the application of a positive code (the Mosaic code). We must beware of regarding the difference between the two verbs: ἀπολοῦνται , shall perish, and κριθήσονται , shall be judged, as accidental (Meyer). The very thing the apostle wishes is by this antithesis to emphasize the idea that the Jews alone shall be, strictly speaking, subjected to a judgment, a detailed inquiry, such as arises from applying the particular articles of a code. The Gentiles shall perish simply in consequence of their moral corruption; as, for example, ruin overtakes the soul of the vicious, the drunken, or the impure, under the deleterious action of their vice. The rigorous application of the principle of divine impartiality thus brings the apostle to this strange conclusion: the Jews, far from being exempted from judgment by their possession of the law, shall, on the contrary, be the only people judged (in the strict sense of the word). It was the antipodes of their claim, and we here see how the pitiless logic of the apostle brings things to such a point, that not only is the thesis of his adversary refuted, but its opposite is demonstrated to be the only true one.

Thus all who shall be found in the day of judgment to have sinned shall perish, each in his providential place, a result which establishes the divine impartiality.

It is evident that in the two propositions of this verse there is the idea understood: unless the amnesty offered by the gospel has been accepted, and has produced its proper fruits, the fruits of holiness (in which case the word ἥμαρτον , sinned, would cease to be the summing up and last word of the earthly life).

And why cannot the possession of the law preserve the Jews from condemnation, as they imagine? The explanation is given in Romans 2:13, and the demonstration in Romans 2:14-16.

Verse 13

Vv. 13. “ For not the hearers of the law are just before God; but the doers of the law, they shall be justified. ” Why hearers rather than possessors or readers? To describe the position of the Jews who heard the reading of the law in the synagogue every Sabbath, and who for the most part knew it only in this way ( Luk 4:16 et seq.; Acts 13:15; Act 15:21 ).

Before God, says Paul; for before men it was otherwise, the Jews ascribing righteousness to one another on account of their common possession of the law. If such a claim were well founded, the impartiality of God would be destroyed, for the fact of knowing the law is a hereditary advantage, and not the fruit of moral action. The judicial force of the term δικαιωθῆναι , to be justified, in Paul's writings, comes out forcibly in this passage, since in the day of judgment no one is made righteous morally speaking, and can only be recognized and declared such. This declarative sense appears likewise in the use of the preposition παρά ( before God), which necessarily refers to an act of God as judge (see on Rom 1:17 ). The article τοῦ before νόμου , law, in the two propositions, is found only in the Byz. Mjj.; it ought to be expunged: the hearers, the doers of a law. No doubt it is the Mosaic law which is referred to, but as law, and not as Mosaic. Some think that this idea of justification by the fulfilment of the law is enunciated here in a purely hypothetical manner, and can never be realized ( Rom 3:19-20 ). Paul, it is said, is indicating the abstract standard of judgment, which, in consequence of man's sin, will never admit of rigorous application. But how in this case explain the future “ shall be justified”? Comp. also the phrase of Romans 2:27: “uncircumcision when it fulfils the law,” words which certainly refer to concrete cases, and the passage Romans 8:4, in which the apostle asserts that the δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου , what the law declares righteous, is fulfilled in the believer's life. It will certainly, therefore, be required of us that we be righteous in the day of judgment if God is to recognize and declare us to be such; imputed righteousness is the beginning of the work of salvation, the means of entrance into the state of grace. But this initial justification, by restoring communion between God and man, should guide the latter to the actual possession of righteousness that is to say, to the fulfilment of the law; otherwise, this first justification would not stand in the judgment (see on Rom 2:6 ). And hence it is in keeping with Paul's views, whatever may be said by an antinomian and unsound tendency, to distinguish two justifications, the one initial, founded exclusively on faith, the other final, founded on faith and its fruits. Divine imputation beforehand, in order to be true, must necessarily become true that is to say, be converted into the recognition of a real righteousness. But if the maxim of Rom 2:13 is the rule of the divine judgment, this rule threatens again to overturn the principle of divine impartiality; for how can the Gentiles fulfil the law which they do not possess? Vv.14 and 15 contain the answer to this objection.

Verses 14-15

Vv. 14, 15. “ For when Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things which the law prescribes, these, having not the law, are their own law unto themselves: for they show thereby the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness to it, and their thoughts accusing or else excusing them one with another.

There are four principal ways of connecting Rom 2:14 with what precedes.

1. Calvin goes back to Romans 2:12 a: “The Gentiles will perish justly, though they have not the law ( Rom 2:12 ); for they have a law in their hearts which they knowingly violate” ( Rom 2:14 ). The explanations of Neander, de Wette, Hodge, etc. are to the same effect. But the number of important intermediate propositions and ideas intervening between this and Romans 2:12 a renders it unnatural to connect the “ for ” of Rom 2:14 with this declaration. Besides, was it necessary to prove to the Jews the righteousness of the punishment which would be inflicted on the Gentiles!

2. Meyer connects the for with the immediately preceding proposition, 13b: “It is only doers of the law who can be justified, for this rule can be applied even to the Gentiles, since they too have a law engraved on their hearts.” The connection is simple and logical. But can the apostle really mean to say that a Gentile can obtain justification by observing the law of nature? That is impossible. We should require in that case to revert to the purely abstract explanation of Romans 2:13 b, to regard it as a hypothetical maxim, and consequently to take Rom 2:14-15 as an abstract proof of an impracticable maxim. These are too many abstractions.

3. Tholuck, Lange, Schaff likewise join the for with 13b; but they hold at the same time that this for will be veritably realized: “The doers of the law shall be justified, for God will graciously take account of the relative observance of the law rendered by the Gentiles” (here might be compared Matthew 25:40; Mat 10:41-42 ); so Tholuck. Or: “Those Gentiles, partial doers of the law, will certainly come one day to the faith of the gospel, by which they will be fully justified;” so Lange, Schaff. But these are expedients; for there is nothing in the text to countenance such ideas. In Romans 2:15, Paul takes pains to prove that the Gentiles have the law, but not that they observe it; and about faith in the gospel there is not a word. This could not possibly be the case if the thought were an essential link in the argument.

4. The real connection seems to me to have been explained by Philippi. The for refers to the general idea of Romans 2:13: “It is not having heard the law, as the Jews think, but having observed it, which will justify; for if the hearing of it were enough, the Gentiles also could claim this advantage, since positive features in their moral life testified to the existence of a law engraved on their hearts, and the very definite application of it which they are able to make.” This connection leaves nothing to be desired; and Meyer's objection, that it is necessary in this case to pass over 13b in order to connect the for with 13a, is false; for the idea of 13b is purely restrictive: “The doers of the law shall alone be justified,” while the real affirmation is that of 13a: “Those who had been only hearers shall not be justified.” It is on this essential idea of Rom 2:13 that the for of Rom 2:14 bears. ῞Οταν , when it happens that. These are sporadic cases, happy eventualities.

The word ἔθνη , Gentiles, has no article: “people belonging to the category of the Gentiles.”

The logical relation included in the subjective negative μή is that which we should express by: “ without having the law,” or: “ though they have it not.” Τὰ τοῦ νόμου , literally: the things which are of the law, agreeable to its prescriptions. They do not observe the precept as such, for they have it not; but they fulfil its contents; for example, Neoptolemus in Philoctetes, when he refuses to save Greece at the expense of a lie; or Antigone, when she does not hesitate to violate the temporary law of the city to fulfil the eternal law of fraternal love; or Socrates, when he rejects the opportunity of saving his life by escaping from prison, in order to remain subject to the magistrates. Sophocles himself speaks of these eternal laws ( οἱ ἀεὶ νόμοι ), and contrasts this internal and divine legislation with the ever-changing laws of man. Φύσει , by nature, spontaneously, by an innate moral instinct. This dative cannot be joined with the preceding participle ( ἔχοντα ); it qualifies the verb ποιῇ , do; the whole force of the thought is in this idea: do instinctively what the Jew does in obedience to precepts. The readings ποιῶσιν and ποιοῦσιν may be corrections of ποιῇ with the view of conforming the verb to the following pronoun οὗτοι ; the Byz. reading ποιῇ may also, however, be a correction to make the verb agree with the rule of neuter plurals. In this case the plural of the verb is preferable, since Paul is speaking not of the Gentiles en masse, but of certain individuals among them. Hence also the following οὗτοι , these Gentiles. This pronoun includes and repeats all the qualifications which have just been mentioned in the first part of the verse; comp. the οὗτος , John 1:2.

The logical relation of the participle μὴ ἔχοντες , “ not having law,” and of the verb εἰσίν , “ are law,” should be expressed by for; not having law, they therefore serve as a law to themselves. The negative μή , placed above before the participle and the object ( τὸν νόμον ), is here placed between the two. This separation is intended to throw the object into relief: “ This law ( τὸν νόμον ), for the very reason that they have it not ( μὴ ἔχοντες ), they prove that they have it in another way.” This delicate form of style shows with what painstaking care Paul composed. But so fine a shade can hardly be felt except in the original language. The phrase: to be a law to oneself, is explained in Romans 2:15.

The descriptive pronoun οἵτινες , “as people who,” is meant to introduce this explanation; it is in consequence of what is about to follow that Paul can affirm what he has just said of them, Romans 2:14. The relation of the verb ἐνδείκνυνται , show, and its object ἔργον , the work of the law, may be thus paraphrased: “show the work of the law ( as being) written;” which would amount to: prove that it is written. But it is not even necessary to assume an ellipsis ( ὡς ὄν ). What the Gentile shows in such cases is the law itself written (as to its contents) within his heart. Paul calls these contents the work of the law, because all the law commanded was meant to become work; and he qualifies νόμου by the article ( the law), because he wishes to establish the identity of the Gentile's moral instinct with the contents of the Mosaic law strictly so called. But this phrase: the work of the law, does not merely designate, like that of Romans 2:14, τὰ τοῦ νόμου ( the things agreeable to the law), certain isolated acts. It embraces the whole contents of the law; for Rom 2:15 does not refer to the accidental fulfilment of some good actions; it denotes the totality of the moral law written in the heart. The figure of a written law is evidently borrowed from the Sinaitic law graven on the tables of stone. The heart is always in Scripture the source of the instinctive feelings from which those impulses go forth which govern the exercise of the understanding and will. It is in this form of lofty inspiration that the law of nature makes its appearance in man. The plural: their heart, makes each individual the seat of this sublime legislation. The last propositions of the verse have embarrassed commentators not a little. They have not sufficiently taken account of the starting-point of this whole argument. St. Paul, according to the connection of Rom 2:14 with Romans 2:13, does not wish merely to prove that the Gentile possesses the law; he means to demonstrate that he hears it, just as the Jew heard it at Sinai, or still hears it every Sabbath in the synagogue ( ἀκροατής , hearer of the law, Romans 2:13 a). And to this idea the appendix refers which closes Romans 2:15. That the Gentile has the law (is a law to himself), is already demonstrated. But does he hear this law distinctly? Does he give account of it to himself? If it were not so, he would certainly remain inferior to the Jew, who brings so much sagacity to bear on the discussion of the sense and various applications of the legal statute. But no; the Gentile is quite as clever as the Jew in this respect. He also discusses the data of the moral instinct which serves as his guide. His conscience joins its approving testimony afterhand to that of the moral instinct which has dictated a good action; pleaders make themselves heard within, for and against, before this tribunal of conscience, and these discussions are worth all the subtleties of Rabbinical casuistry. Συνείδησις , the conscience (from συνειδέναι , to know with or within oneself). This word, frequently used in the New Testament, denotes the understanding (the νοῦς , for it is a knowing, εἰδέναι , which is in question), applied to the distinction of good and evil, as reason (the διάνοια ) is the same νοῦς applied to the discernment of truth and falsehood. It is precisely because this word denotes an act of knowledge that it describes a new fact different from that of the moral instinct described above. What natural impulse dictated without reflection, conscience, studying it afterward, recognizes as a good thing. Thus is explained the σύν , with, in the compound verb συμμαρτυρεῖν , to bear witness with another. Conscience joins its testimony to that of the heart which dictated the virtuous action by commending it, and proves thereby, as a second witness, the existence of the moral law in the Gentile. Volkmar: “Their conscience bears testimony besides the moral act itself which already demonstrated the presence of the divine law.” Most really, therefore, the Gentile has a law law not only published and written, but heard and understood. It seems to me that in the way in which the apostle expresses this assent of the conscience to the law implanted within, it is impossible not to see an allusion to the amen uttered aloud by the people after hearing the law of Sinai, and which was repeated in every meeting of the synagogue after the reading of the law.

But there is not only hearing, there is even judging. The Rabbins debated in opposite senses every kind of acts, real or imaginary. The apostle follows up the comparison to the end. The soul of the Gentile is also an arena of discussions. The λογισμοί denote the judgments of a moral nature which are passed by the Gentiles on their own acts, either (as is most usually the case) acknowledging them guilty ( κατηγορεῖν , accusing), or also sometimes (such is the meaning of ἢ καί ; comp. Romans 2:14: when it happens that...) pronouncing them innocent. Most commonly the voice within says: That was bad! Sometimes also this voice becomes that of defence, and says: No, it was good! Thus, before this inner code, the different thoughts accuse or justify, make replies and rejoinders, exactly as advocates before a seat of judgment handle the text of the law. And all this forensic debating proves to a demonstration not only that the code is there, but that it is read and understood, since its application is thus discussed.

The μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων , between them ( among themselves). Some, like Meyer, join this pronoun with αὐτῶν , the Gentiles; he would refer it to the debates carried on between Gentiles and Gentiles as to the moral worth of an action. But it is grammatically more natural, and suits the context better, to connect the pronoun between themselves with λογισμῶν , judgments. For this internal scene of discussion proves still more clearly than a debate of man with man the fact of the law written in the heart. Holsten proposes to understand the participle συμμαρτυρούντων (borrowed from συμμαρτυρούσης ) with λογισμῶν : “their conscience bearing witness, and the judgments which they pass on one another's acts in their mutual relations also bearing witness.” This construction is very forced, and it seems plain to us that the two participles accusing or else excusing refer to the thoughts, just as the participle bearing witness referred to their conscience.

How can one help admiring here, on the one hand, the subtle analysis whereby the apostle discloses in the Gentile heart a real judgment-hall where witnesses are heard for and against, then the sentence of the judge; and, on the other hand, that largeness of heart with which, after drawing so revolting a picture of the moral deformities of Gentile life (chap. 1), he brings into view in as striking a way the indestructible moral elements, the evidences of which are sometimes irresistibly presented even by this so deeply sunken life?

Verse 16

Vv. 16. “ In the day when God shall judge the hidden things of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

In this final proposition there is expressed and summed up the idea of the whole preceding passage (from Rom 2:6 ), that of the final judgment. But what is the grammatical and logical connection of this dependent proposition? It would seem natural to connect it with what immediately precedes ( Rom 2:15 ), as Calvin does: “Their inward thoughts condemn or approve them in the day when”...for: “till the day when”...But this sense would have required ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας . Tholuck and Philippi employ another expedient; they understand: “and that especially in the day when”...; or: “and that more completely still in the day when”...Others: “ as will be seen clearly in the day when”...But if Paul had meant to say all that, he would have said it. Hofmann and Lange, also connecting this proposition with Romans 2:15 (Hofmann especially with ἐνδείκνυνται , manifest), regard the judgment of Rom 2:16 as being only the internal and purely moral judgment which is produced in the human conscience every time the gospel is preached to man. They read κρίνει , judges, and not κρινεῖ , will judge. The phrase: in the day when, would therefore denote, not the last judgment, but every day that a man hears the gospel for the first time. There is a context in which this explanation would be possible; but here, where the dominant idea from Rom 2:6 has been the final judgment, it is inadmissible. Besides, the phrase: by Jesus Christ, is not exactly suitable to any but the last judgment; comp. the words, Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; Mat 25:31 et seq.; and especially the very similar phrases in 1 Corinthians 4:5. Moreover, Rom 2:29 can leave no doubt as to the apostle's meaning. The only tolerable explanation, if it were wished to connect Rom 2:16 with Romans 2:15, would be to take the verbs of Rom 2:15 as expressing the permanent present of the idea: “The manifestation of the presence of the law, written within their hearts, takes place, for: will certainly take place, in the day when”...; but this meaning of the verbs in the present in Rom 2:15 could not be guessed till after reading Romans 2:16. The time of the manifestation would have required to be indicated immediately to prevent a misunderstanding. The only natural connection of the words: in the day when, is to join them to the end of Romans 2:13: “The doers of the law shall be justified... in the day when ”...No doubt Rom 2:14-15 thus become a sort of parenthesis. But, notwithstanding, Paul has not deviated for a moment from his principal thought. These two verses contained an explanatory remark, such as we nowadays would put in a note; it was intended to show that the Gentiles also would be entitled to believe themselves justified, if all that was necessary for this end were to possess and hear a law without doing it. This false idea set aside, Paul resumes the thread of his discourse at Romans 2:16. To explain this verse, there is clearly no need of the two expedients proposed, the one by Ewald, to join it with Romans 2:4, the other by Laurent, to regard it as an interpolation.

The phrase: hidden things, is to be explained only by the understood contrast to external works, legal or ceremonial, in which the Jews put their confidence. None of those fine externals of piety or morality will deceive the eye of God in that day of truth. He will demand holiness of heart; comp. the expression, Romans 2:29; ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ᾿Ιουδαῖος , the Jew who is one inwardly, and: the circumcision of the heart; comp. also, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:20-48; Matthew 6:1-18. This idea was indispensable to complete what had been said of judgment according to deeds.

The word men sets the whole body of the judged face to face with the Judge, and reminds the Jews that they also will be there, and will form no exception.

At the first glance the phrase: according to my gospel, is surprising, for the expectation of the final judgment by Jesus Christ belongs to the apostolic teaching in general, and not to Paul's gospel in particular. Nevertheless, it is this apostle who, in consequence of his personal experience, and of the revelation which had been made to him, has brought out most powerfully the contrast between the ἔργα νόμου , legal and purely external works, wanting the truly moral principle of love and good works, the fruits of faith working by love (Ephesians 2:9-10; Gal 5:6 ). This antithesis was one of the foundations of Paul's preaching.

The last words: by Jesus Christ, recall all the sayings in which Jesus announced His advent as judge. If it is really He who is to preside in the great act of final judgment, it is plain that, being such as He has made Himself known to us, He will not be satisfied with a parade of external righteousness, and that He will demand a holiness like that which He realized Himself, which, taking its origin in consecration of heart, extends over the whole life.

Verse 17

Vv. 17. The name Jew, ᾿Ιουδαῖος , is probably not used without allusion to its etymological meaning: Jehoudah, the praised one. The preposition ἐπί , which enters into the composition of the verb, converts this name into a real title. But Israel possesses more than a glorious name; it has in its hands a real gift: the law. Here is a manifest sign of the divine favor on which it may consequently rest. Finally, this token of special favor makes God its God, to the exclusion of all other nations. It has therefore whereof to glory in God. To the gradation of the three substantives: Jew, law, God, that of the three verbs perfectly corresponds: to call oneself, to rest, to glory.

Hence there result ( Rom 2:18 ) two capabilities which distinguished the Jew from every other man. He knows God's will, and so succeeds in discerning what to others is confused. One is always entitled to be proud of knowing; but when that knowing is of the will, that is to say, the absolute and perfect will which ordains all, and judges of all sovereignly, such a knowledge is an incomparable advantage. By this knowledge of the divine will the Jew can discern and appreciate ( δοκιμάζειν ) the most delicate shades of the moral life Τὰ διαφέροντα might signify the things that are better ( meliora probare), from the meaning of surpass, which is often that of the verb διαφέρειν . But here it is better to translate: the things that differ (from the sense of differing, which is also that of διαφέρειν ); for the apostle seems to be alluding to those discussions of legal casuistry in which the Jewish schools excelled, as when the two eminent doctors Hillel and Schammai gravely debated the question, whether it was lawful to eat an egg laid by a hen on the Sabbath day.

The last words of the verse: instructed out of the law, indicate the source of that higher faculty of appreciation. The term κατηχούμενος , from κατηχεῖδθαι , to be penetrated by a sound, makes each Jew law personified.

From this knowledge and faculty of appreciation flows the part which the Jew claims in regard to other men, and which is described in Rom 2:19-20 with a slight touch of ridicule. The first four terms set forth the moral treatment to which the Jew, as the born physician of mankind, subjects his patients, the Gentiles, to their complete cure. The term πέποιθας , thou art confident, describes his pretentious assurance. And first, he takes the poor Gentile by the hand as one does a blind man, offering to guide him; then he opens his eyes, dissipating his darkness by the light of revelation; then he rears him, as one would bring up a being yet without reason; finally, when through all this care he has come to the stage of the little child, νήπιος ( who cannot speak; this was the term used by the Jews to designate proselytes; see Tholuck), he initiates him into the full knowledge of the truth, by becoming his teacher.

The end of the verse serves to explain the reason of this ministry to the Gentile world which the Jew exercises. He possesses in the law the precise sketch ( μόρφωσις ), the exact outline, the rigorous formula of the knowledge of things which men should have (the idea which every one should form of them), 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. We need not then, with Oltramare, make these last words an appendix, intended to disparage the teaching of the Jew: “though thou hast but the shadow of knowledge.” The drift of the passage demands the opposite sense: “as possessing the truth in its precise formula.”

Verses 17-20

Vv. 17-20. “ Now if thou who art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and canst discern the things that differ, being instructed out of the law; and esteemest thyself to be the guide of the blind, the light of them which are in darkness, the instructor of the foolish, the teacher of babes, because thou hast the formula of knowledge and of the truth in the law ”...

Instead of ἱδέ , behold, which the T. R. reads, with a single Mj., we must certainly read εἰ δέ , now if; this is the natural form of transition from principles to their application; the other reading seems to be a consequence of itacism (pronouncing ει as ι ).

Where are we to find the principal clause to which this now if is subordinate? Some, Winer for example, think that the same construction continues as far as the beginning of Romans 2:21, where it is abandoned on account of the length of the sentence, and where an entirely new proposition begins. But we must at least meet again somewhere in the sequel with the idea which was in the apostle's mind when he began with the words now if. Meyer regards Rom 2:21 itself as the principal clause; he understands the οὖν , therefore, as a particle of recapitulation. But, in an argument like this ( now if, Rom 2:17 ), this meaning of therefore is unnatural. It is better than, with Hofmann, to hold that the series of propositions dependent on now if is prolonged to the end of Romans 2:24, where the principal proposition resulting from all these considerations is understood as a self-evident consequence: what good in this case (that of such sins, Rom 2:21-24 ) will accrue to thee from all those advantages ( Rom 2:17-20 )? It is to this understood conclusion, which we would replace with lacuna-points (...), that the for of Rom 2:25 very naturally refers. By this figure of rhetoric (aposiopesis) the apostle dispenses with expressing a conclusion himself, which must spring spontaneously from the conscience of every reader.

The propositions dependent on “ now if,” taken together, embrace two series of four verses each; the one, that from Romans 2:17-20, is intended to enumerate all the advantages of which the Jew boasts; the other, from Romans 2:21-24, contrasts the iniquities of his conduct with those advantages.

The advantages are distributed into three categories. 1. The gifts of God, Romans 2:17. Romans 2:2. The superior capabilities which these gifts confer on the Jew, Romans 2:18. Romans 2:3. The part which he somewhat pretentiously thinks himself thereby called to play toward other nations, Romans 2:19-20. There is something slightly ironical in this accumulation of titles on which the Jew bases the satisfaction which he feels as he surveys himself.

Verses 17-29

The second part of the chapter, Romans 2:17-29, contains the application of the principles laid down in the first. After expressing himself in a general and more or less abstract way, Paul addresses himself directly to the person whom he had in view from Romans 2:1, and finally designates him by name. Yet he still proceeds with the utmost caution; for he knows that he is giving a shock to inveterate prejudices, prejudices which he long shared himself. The way is slowly paved for the conclusion which he wishes to reach; hence the length of the following sentence, which contains as it were the preamble of the judgment to be pronounced.

Verses 21-24

Vv. 21-24. “ And if, then, thou who teachest another, teachest not thyself, if preaching a man should not steal, thou stealest, if, while saying a man should not commit adultery, thou committest adultery, if, abhorring idols, thou robbest temples, if thou that makest thy boast of the law, dishonorest God through breaking the law; for the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written ”...

On the one side, then, the Jews are proud of the possession of their law; but, on the other, how do they put it in practice? it is to set forth this contradiction that the second series of propositions is devoted, Romans 2:21-24. The οὖν , then, 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. The term teach includes all the honorable functions toward the rest of the world which the Jew has just been arrogating. ῾Ο διδάσκων : Thou, the so great teacher!

The apostle chooses two examples in the second table of the law, theft and adultery: and two in the first, sacrilege and dishonor done to God. Theft comprehends all the injustices and deceptions which the Jews allowed themselves in commercial affairs. Adultery is a crime which the Talmud brings home to the three most illustrious Rabbins, Akiba, Mehir, and Eleazar. Sensuality is one of the prominent features of the Semitic character. The pillage of sacred objects cannot refer to anything connected with the worship celebrated at Jerusalem; such, for example, as refusal to pay the temple tribute, or the offering of maimed victims. The subject of the proposition: thou who abhorrest idols, proves clearly that the apostle has in view the pillage of idol temples. The meaning is: “Thy horror of idolatry does not go the length of preventing thee from hailing as a good prize the precious objects which have been used in idolatrous worship, when thou canst make them thine own.” The Jews probably did not pillage the Gentile temples themselves; but they filled the place of receivers; comp. besides, Acts 19:37. The dishonor done to God arises from their greed of gain, their deceits and hypocrisy, which were thoroughly known to the Gentile populations among whom they lived. Paul weaves the prophetic rebuke into the tissue of his own language, but by the as it is written he reminds his readers that he is borrowing it from the inspired Scriptures. His allusion is to Isaiah 52:5 (which resembles our verse more in the letter than the sense), and to Ezekiel 36:18-24 (which resembles it more in the sense than in the letter).

We have regarded the whole passage, Romans 2:17-24, as dependent on the conjunction εἰ δέ , now if, Romans 2:17: “Now if thou callest thyself...( Rom 2:17-20 ); and if teaching so and so, thou...( Rom 2:21-24 ).” Thereafter, the principal clause is easily expressed as a proposition to be understood between Romans 2:24-25: “What advantage will this law be to thee, of which thou makest thy boast before others, and which thou dost violate thyself with such effrontery?” For, in fine, according to the principle laid down, Romans 2:13, it is not those who know the law, but those who do it, who shall be pronounced righteous by the judgment of God. The idea understood, which we have just expressed, is that to which the for of Rom 2:25 refers: “For it is wholly in vain for thee, if thou art disobedient, to reckon on circumcision to exculpate thee. A disobedient Jew is no better before God than a Gentile, and an obedient Gentile becomes in God's sight a true Jew.” Such is the meaning of the following passage, Romans 2:25-29.

Verses 25-27

Vv. 25-27. “ For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. If then the uncircumcised keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not he who, though uncircumcised by nature, fulfils the law, judge thee, who in full possession of the letter and circumcision, dost transgress the law?

Paul knocks from under the Jew the support which he thought he had in his theocratic position, with its sign circumcision. We have seen it; the adage of the rabbins was: “All the circumcised have part in the world to come,” as if it were really enough to be a Jew to be assured of salvation. Now, circumcision had been given to Israel as a consecration to circumcision of heart, an engagement to holiness, and not as a shelter from judgment in favor of disobedience and pollution. Taken then in this sense, and according to the mind of God, it had its use; but employed in the Rabbinical sense, it formed only an external wall of separation requiring to be overturned. The prophets never ceased to work in this direction; comp. Isaiah 1:10-15; Isa 66:1 et seq. Γέγονε , strictly: “ has become, and remains henceforth uncircumcision,” in the eyes of God the righteous judge.

Verses 26-27

Vv. 26, 27 describe the opposite case: the transformation of the obedient Gentile into a Jew, according to the judgment of God. This transformation, being the logical consequence of the preceding, is connected by οὗν , then, with Romans 2:25.

The apostle is not now speaking, as in Romans 2:14-15, of a simple sporadic observance of legal duties. The phrase is more solemn: keeping the just ordinances of the law ( δικαίωμα , all that the law declares righteous). In Romans 8:4, the apostle uses a similar expression to denote the observance of the law by the Christian filled with the Holy Spirit. How can he here ascribe such an obedience to a Gentile? Philippi thinks he has in view those many proselytes whom Judaism was making at this time among the Gentiles. Meyer and others seek to reduce the meaning of the phrase to that of Romans 2:14. This second explanation is impossible, as we have just seen; and that of Philippi falls to the ground before the preceding expressions of the apostle, which certainly contain more than can be expected of a proselyte ( keep, fulfil the law, φυλάσσειν , τελεῖν τὸν νόμον , Rom 2:26-27 ). The comparison of Rom 8:4 shows the apostle's meaning. He refers to those many Gentiles converted to the gospel who, all uncircumcised as they are, nevertheless fulfil the law in virtue of the spirit of Christ, and thus become the true Israel, the Israel of God, Galatians 6:16. Paul expresses himself in abstract terms, because here he has to do only with the principle, and not with the means by which it is realized; compare what we have said on Romans 2:7; Romans 2:10. The future λογισθήσεται , will be counted, transports us to the hour of judgment, when God, in order to declare a man righteous, will demand that he be so in reality.

We might begin Rom 2:27 as an affirmative proposition: and so He will judge thee. But perhaps it is more in keeping with the lively tone of the piece to continue in Rom 2:27 the interrogation of Romans 2:26, as we have done in our translation: “And so (in virtue of this imputation) will not He judge thee”...? The thought is analogous to Luke 11:31-32, and Matthew 12:41-42, though the case is different. For there it is Gentiles who condemn the Jews by the example of their repentance and their love of truth; here, it is the case of Christians of Gentile origin condemning the Jews by their fulfilment of the law.

Ostervald and Oltramare substitute for judge, used by the apostle, the term condemn. This is wrong; for the claim of the Jews is to escape, not only from condemnation, but from judgment; and it is bitter for them to hear, not only that they shall be judged like the Gentiles, but that they shall be judged by them. Τὸν νόμον τελεῖν , to fulfil the law, is a phrase expressing real and persevering fulfilment. The love which the gospel puts into the believer's heart is in fact the fulfilment of the law, Romans 13:10.

The preposition διά , strictly ( across the length of): through, here denotes, as it often does, the state, the circumstances in which an act is accomplished; comp. 2Co 2:4 ; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 2:15. So: “in full possession of the letter and circumcision.”

This double transformation of the disobedient Jew into a Gentile, and of the obedient Gentile into a Jew, in the judgment of God, is explained and justified by Romans 2:28-29.

Verses 28-29

Vv. 28, 29. “ For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter; its praise is not of men, but of God.

The double principle laid down here by Paul was the sum of prophetic theology; comp. Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:14; Ezekiel 44:9. And hence it is that the apostle can make it the basis of his argument. Rom 2:28 justifies the degradation of the Jew to the state of a Gentile, proclaimed in Romans 2:25; and Rom 2:29 the elevation of the Gentile to the rank of a Jew, proclaimed in Romans 2:26-27. The two words which justify this double transformation are ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ , in secret, inwardly, and καρδίας , ἐν πνεύματι , of the heart, by the spirit. For if there is a principle to be derived from the whole of the Old Testament, it is that God has regard to the heart ( 1Sa 16:7 ). Paul himself referred in Rom 2:16 to the fact that in the day of judgment by Jesus Christ, it would be the hidden things of men which would form the essential ground of His sentence. There is only one way of explaining naturally the grammatical construction of these two verses. In Romans 2:28, we must borrow the two subjects ᾿Ιουδαῖος and περιτομή from the predicate; and in Romans 2:29, the two predicates ᾿Ιουδαῖός ( ἐστι ) and περιτομή ( ἐστι ) from the subject.

The complement καρδίας , of the heart, is the gen. object.: the circumcision which cleanses the heart; the clause ἐν πνεύματι , in spirit, denotes the means: by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the superior force which, by transforming the feelings of the heart, produces true inward purification. The letter, on the contrary, is an outward rule which does not change either the heart or the will; comp. Romans 7:6. Meyer thinks we should take οὗ , of which, as a neuter, referring to Judaism in general. But to what purpose would it be to say that the praise of Judaism comes not from men, but from God? That was sufficiently obvious of itself, since it was God who had established it, and all the nations detested it; we must therefore connect this pronoun with the Jew which precedes, and even with the feminine term circumcision, which is used throughout this whole piece for the person circumcised.

The word praise is again an allusion to the etymological meaning of the word ᾿Ιουδαῖος , Jew (see on Rom 2:17 ); comp. Genesis 49:8. God, who reads the heart, is alone able to allot with certainty the title Jew in the true sense of the word that is to say, one praised. The idea of praise coming from God is opposed to all that Jewish vainglory which is detailed Romans 2:17-20.

What a remarkable parallelism is there between this whole passage and the declaration of Jesus, Matthew 8:11-12: “Many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven,” etc....And yet there is nothing to indicate imitation on Paul's part. The same truth creates an original form for itself in the two cases.

Yet the apostle anticipates an objection to the truth which he has just developed. If the sinful Jew finds himself in the same situation in regard to the wrath of God as the sinful Gentile, what remains of the prerogative which divine election seemed to assure to him? Before going further, and drawing the general conclusion following from the two preceding passages, Rom 1:18-32 and Romans 2:1-29, Paul feels the need of obviating this objection; and such is the aim of the following passage.

Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/romans-2.html.
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