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Romans 12

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First CorintiansHodge's Commentary

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Verse 1

Chapter XII


This chapter consists of two parts. The first, Romans 12:1-8, treats of piety towards god, and the proper estimation and use of the various gifts and offices employed or exercised in the church. The second, Romans 12:9-21, relates to love and its various manifestations towards different classes of men.


As the apostle had concluded the doctrinal portion of the epistle with the preceding chapter, in accordance with his almost uniform practice, he deduces from his doctrines important practical lessons. The first deduction from the exhibition which he had made of the mercy of God in the redemption of men, is that they should devote themselves to him as a living sacrifice, and be conformed to his will and not to the manners of the world, Romans 12:1, Romans 12:2. The second is, that they should be humble, and not allow the diversity of their gifts to destroy the sense of their unity as one body in Christ, Romans 12:3-5. These various gifts were to be exercised, not for selfish purposes, but in a manner consistent with their nature and design; diligently, disinterestedly, and kindly, Romans 12:6-8.


I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, etc. As the sum of all that Paul had said of the justification, sanctification, and salvation of men is, that these results are to be attributed not to human merit nor to human efforts, but to the mercy of God, he brings the whole discussion to bear as a motive for devotion to God. Whatever gratitude the soul feels for pardon, purity, and the sure prospect of eternal life, is called forth to secure its consecration to that God who is the author of all these mercies.

That ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. All the expressions of this clause seem to have an obvious reference to the services of the Old Testament economy. Under that dispensation, animals free from blemish were presented and devoted to God; under the new dispensation a nobler and more spiritual service is to be rendered; not the oblation of animals, but the consecration of ourselves. The expression, your bodies, is perhaps nearly equivalent to yourselves; yet Paul probably used it with design, not only because it was appropriate to the figure, but because he wished to render the idea prominent, that the whole man, body as well as soul, was to be devoted to the service of God. “Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God, in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1 Corinthians 6:20. The apostle carries the figure out; the sacrifice is to be living, holy, and acceptable. The first of these epithets is generally considered as intended to express the contrast between the sacrifice here intended, and the victims which were placed lifeless upon the altar; thus believers, in 1 Peter 2:5, are called “living stones,” in opposition to the senseless materials employed in a literal building. We are to present θυσίαν ζῶσαν, a sacrifice that lives. “Abominabile est, cadaver offere.” — Bengel. The word living, however, may mean perpetual, lasting, never neglected; as in the phrases, “living bread,” John 6:51, ‘bread which never looses its power;’“living hope,” 1 Peter 1:3, ‘hope which never fails;’“living waters,” “a living way,” etc.; (see Wahl’s Lexicon, under the word ζάω.) The sacrifice then which we are to make is not a transient service, like the oblation of a victim, which was in a few moments consumed upon the altar, but it is a living or perpetual sacrifice never to be neglected or recalled. The epithet holy has probably direct reference to the frequent use of a nearly corresponding word (Mymit@f) in the Hebrew scriptures, which, when applied to sacrifices, is commonly rendered without blemish. The word holy is then in this case equivalent to immaculate, i.e. free from those defects which would cause an offering to be rejected. The term acceptable is here used in the same sense as the phrase, “for a sweet smelling savor,” Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18; Leviticus 1:9, i.e. grateful, well-pleasing; a sacrifice in which God delights. Τῷ Θεῷ is to be connected with εὐάρεστον and not with παραστῆσαι.

Your reasonable service. There is doubt as to the grammatical construction of this clause. The most natural and simple explanation is to consider it in opposition with the preceding member of the sentence, as has been done by our translators, who supply the words which is. This consecration of ourselves to God, which the apostle requires, is a reasonable service. The word λοτρεία does not mean an offering, but worship. It is not the thing offered that is said to be reasonable in the sense of, endowed with reason, but the nature of the service. It is rendered by the mind. The word (λογικήν) rendered reasonable, is indeed variously explained. The simplest interpretation is that which takes the word in its natural sense, viz., pertaining to the mind; it is a mental or spiritual service, in opposition to ceremonial and external observations. Compare the phrase (λογικὸν γάλα) ‘milk suited, or pertaining to the mind,’ 1 Peter 2:2. Others understand these words as expressing the difference between the sacrifices under the Christian dispensation and those under the Old. Formerly animals destitute of reason (ἄλογα ζῶα) were offered unto God, but now men possessed of a rational soul. But this interpretation is neither so well suited to the meaning of the word, nor does it give a sense so consistent with the context; compare 1 Peter 2:5.

Verse 2

And be not conformed to this world:, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, etc. Not only is God to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, as required in the preceding verse, but there must be a corresponding holiness of life. This idea is expressed in the manner most common with the sacred writers. Regarding men universally as corrupted and devoted to sin, the world is with them equivalent to the wicked; to be conformed to the world, therefore, is to be like unrenewed men in temper and in life. The word accurately rendered conformed, expresses strongly the idea of similarity in character and manners; and that rendered transformed expresses with equal strength the opposite idea. This world. The origin of this term, as used in the New Testament, is no doubt to be sought in the mode of expression so common among the Jews, who were accustomed to distinguish between the times before, and the times under the Messiah, by calling the former period this world, or this age, (òåÉìÈí äÇæÆä) and the latter, the world, or age to come (òåÉìÈí äÇáÈÌà). The former phrase thus naturally came to designate those who were without, and the latter those who were within the kingdom of Christ; they are equivalent to the expressions the world and the church; the mass of mankind and the people of God; compare 1 Corinthians 2:8; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Luke 20:35; Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 6:5. There is, therefore, no necessity for supposing, as is done by many commentators, that the apostle has any special reference, in the use of this word, to the Jewish dispensation; as though his meaning were, ‘Be not conformed to the Jewish opinions and forms of worship, but be transformed and accommodated to the new spiritual economy under which ye are placed.’ The word (αἰών) here used, and the equivalent term (κόσμος) commonly translated world, are so frequently used for the mass of mankind, considered in opposition to the people of God, that there can be no good reason for departing from the common interpretation, especially as the sense which it affords is so good in itself, and so well suited to the context.

By the renewing of your mind. This phrase is intended to be explanatory of the preceding. The transformation to which Christians are exhorted, is not a mere external change, but one which results from a change of heart, an entire alteration of the state of the mind. The word νοῦς, mind, is used as it is here, frequently in the New Testament, Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:17, Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 2:18, etc. In all these and in similar cases, it does not differ from the word heart, i.e. in its wide sense for the whole soul.

That ye may be able to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The logical relation of this clause to the preceding is doubtful, as the original (εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν) admits of its being regarded as expressing either the design or the result of the change just spoken of. Our translators have adopted the former view, ‘Ye are renewed, in order that ye may be able to prove, etc.’ The other, however, gives an equally good sense, ‘Ye are renewed so that ye prove, etc.;’ such is the effect of the change in question. The word rendered to prove, signifies also to approve; the sense of this passage, therefore, may be either, ‘that ye may try or prove what is acceptable to God,’ i.e. decide upon or ascertain what is right; or, ‘that ye may approve what is good, etc.’ The words good, acceptable, and perfect, are by many considered as predicates of the word will. As, however, the expression ‘acceptable will of God’ is unnatural and unusual, the majority of modern commentators, after Erasmus, take them as substantives; ‘that ye may approve what is good, acceptable, and perfect, viz., the will of God.’ The last phrase is then in apposition with the others. The design and result then of that great change of which Paul speaks, is, that Christians should know, delight in, and practice, whatever is good and acceptable to God; compare Ephesians 5:10, Ephesians 5:17; Philippians 4:8.

Verse 3

For I say through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, etc. The apostle connects with the general exhortation contained in the preceding verses, and founds upon it, an exhortation to special Christian virtues. The first virtue which he enjoins upon believers is modesty or humility. This has reference specially to the officers of the church, or at least to the recipients of spiritual gifts. It is very evident from 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, that these gifts were coveted and exercised by many of the early Christians for the purpose of self-exaltation. They, therefore, desired not those which were most useful, but those which were most attractive; and some were puffed up, while others were envious and discontented. This evil the apostle forcibly and beautifully reproved in the chapters referred to, in the same manner that he does here, and much more at length. He showed his readers that these gifts were all gratuitous, and were, therefore, occasions of gratitude, but not grounds of boasting. He reminds his readers that the design for which these gifts were bestowed, was the edification of the church, and not the exaltation of the receiver; that, however diversified in their nature, they were all manifestations of one and the same Spirit, and were as necessary to a perfect whole as the several members of the body, with their various offices, to a perfect man. Having one Spirit, and constituting one body, any exaltation of one over the other was as unnatural as the eye or ear disregarding and despising the hand or the foot. As this tendency to abuse their official and spiritual distinctions was not confined to the Corinthian Christians, we find the apostle, in this passage, giving substantially the same instructions to the Romans.

Through the grace given unto me. The word grace in this clause is by many understood to mean the apostolic office, which Paul elsewhere speaks of as a great favor. “Tantundem valent ejus verba acsi dixisset: Non loquor a me ipso, sed legatus Dei, quae mihi mandata ille injunxit, ad vos perfero. Gratiam (ut prius) vocat apostolatum, quo Dei bonitatem in eo commendet, ac simul innuat, se non irrupisse propria temeritate, sed Dei vocatione assumptum.” — Calvin. Compare Romans 1:5; Romans 15:15; Ephesians 3:2, Ephesians 3:8. But this is too limited; the word probably includes all the favor of God towards him, not merely in conferring on him the office of an apostle, but in bestowing all the gifts of the Spirit, ordinary and extraordinary, which qualified him for his duties, and gave authority to his instructions. Through, dia&, i.e. on account of, or out of regard to.

Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. The word to think is an inadequate translation of the Greek, (φρονεῖν,) in as much as the latter includes the idea of the exercise of the affections as well as of the intellect; see Romans 8:5; Colossians 3:2; Philippians 3:19. To think of oneself too highly, is to be puffed up with an idea of our own importance and superiority.

But to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. There is in the first member of this clause a beautiful paronomasia in the original (φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν) which is lost in a translation. The word rendered soberly properly means to be of a sane mind; and then to be moderate or temperate. Paul speaks of one who over-estimates or praises himself as being beside himself; and of him who is modest and humble as being of a sane mind, i.e. as making a proper estimate of himself. “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause,” 2 Corinthians 5:13, i.e. ‘If we commend ourselves, it is that God may be honored; and if we act modestly and abstain from self-commendation, it is that you may be benefited.’ To think soberly, therefore, is to form and manifest a right estimate of ourselves, and of our gifts. A right estimate can never be other than a very humble one, since whatever there is of good in us is not of ourselves, but of God.

The expression measure or proportion of faith, is variously explained. Faith may be taken in its usual sense, and the meaning of the clause be, ‘Let every one think of himself according to the degree of faith or confidence in God which has been imparted to him, and not as though he had more than he really possesses.’ Or faith may be taken for what is believed, or for knowledge of divine truth, and the sense be, ‘according to the degree of knowledge which he has attained.’ Or it may be taken for that which is confided to any, and be equivalent to gift. The sense then is, ‘Let every one think of himself according to the nature or character of the gifts which he has received.’ This is perhaps the most generally received interpretation, although it is arrived at in different ways; many considering the word faith here as used metonymically for its effects, viz., for the various (χαρίσματα) graces, ordinary and extraordinary, of which it is the cause. This general sense is well suited to the context, as the following verses, containing a specification of the gifts of prophesying, teaching, ruling, etc., appear to be an amplification of this clause. The first mentioned interpretation is, however, most in accordance with the usual meaning of πίστις.

Verse 4

Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, etc. In these verses we have the same comparison that occurs more at length in 1 Corinthians 12, and for the same purpose. The object of the apostle is in both cases the same. He designs to show that the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians, so far from being inconsistent with their union as one body in Christ, is necessary to the perfection and usefulness of that body. It would be as unreasonable for all Christians to have the same gifts, as for all the members of the human frame to have the same office. This comparison is peculiarly beautiful and appropriate; because it not only clearly illustrates the particular point intended, but at the same time brings into view the important truth that the real union of Christians results from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as the union of the several members of the body is the result of their being all animated and actuated by one soul. Nothing can present in a clearer light the duty of Christian fellowship, or the sinfulness of divisions and envying among the members of Christ’s body, than the apostle’s comparison. ‘Believers, though many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.’ Οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν. We, the many, are one body. In one respect we are many, in another we are one. Just as the body is many as to its members, and one in their organic connection. Believers are one body, i.e. a living organic whole, not in virtue of any external organization, but in Christ, i.e. in virtue of their common union with him. And as this union with Christ is not merely external, or by profession, or by unity of opinion and sentiment only, but vital, arising from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Christ, so, the apostle adds, the union of believers one with another, is also a vital union. They are ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη, every one members one of another. The relation of believers to each other is far more intimate than that between the members of any external organization, whether civil or ecclesiastical. It is analogous to the mutual relation of the members of the same body, animated by one soul. ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς for ὁ καθ ̓ ἕνα, in the sense of εἷς ἕκαστος, is a solecism occurring only in the later Greek.

Verse 5

Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, etc. In these verses we have the same comparison that occurs more at length in 1 Corinthians 12, and for the same purpose. The object of the apostle is in both cases the same. He designs to show that the diversity of offices and gifts among Christians, so far from being inconsistent with their union as one body in Christ, is necessary to the perfection and usefulness of that body. It would be as unreasonable for all Christians to have the same gifts, as for all the members of the human frame to have the same office. This comparison is peculiarly beautiful and appropriate; because it not only clearly illustrates the particular point intended, but at the same time brings into view the important truth that the real union of Christians results from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as the union of the several members of the body is the result of their being all animated and actuated by one soul. Nothing can present in a clearer light the duty of Christian fellowship, or the sinfulness of divisions and envying among the members of Christ’s body, than the apostle’s comparison. ‘Believers, though many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.’ Οἱ πολλοὶ ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν. We, the many, are one body. In one respect we are many, in another we are one. Just as the body is many as to its members, and one in their organic connection. Believers are one body, i.e. a living organic whole, not in virtue of any external organization, but in Christ, i.e. in virtue of their common union with him. And as this union with Christ is not merely external, or by profession, or by unity of opinion and sentiment only, but vital, arising from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Christ, so, the apostle adds, the union of believers one with another, is also a vital union. They are ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς ἀλλήλων μέλη, every one members one of another. The relation of believers to each other is far more intimate than that between the members of any external organization, whether civil or ecclesiastical. It is analogous to the mutual relation of the members of the same body, animated by one soul. ὁ καθ ̓ εἷς for ὁ καθ ̓ ἕνα, in the sense of εἷς ἕκαστος, is a solecism occurring only in the later Greek.

Verse 6

Having therefore gifts differing according to the grace given unto us, etc. In this and the following verses we have the application of the preceding comparison to the special object in view. ‘If Christians are all members of the same body, having different offices and gifts, instead of being puffed up one above another, and instead of envying and opposing each other, they should severally discharge their respective duties diligently and humbly for the good of the whole, and not for their own advantage.’ It is a common opinion that the apostle, in specifying the various gifts to which he refers, meant to arrange them under the two heads of prophesying and administering; or that he specifies the duties of two classes of officers, the prophets and deacons (dia&κονοι). To the former would then belong prophesying, teaching, exhortation; to the latter, ministering, giving, ruling, showing mercy. This view of the passage, which is adopted by De Brais, Koppe, and others, requires that the terms prophet and deacon should be taken in their widest sense. Both are indeed frequently used with great latitude; the former being applied to any one who speaks as the mouth of God, or the explainer of his will; and the latter to any ministerial officer in the church, 1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:7, Colossians 1:23, etc. Although this interpretation is consistent with the usage of the words, and in some measure simplifies the passage, yet it is by no means necessary. There is no appearance of such a systematic arrangement; on the contrary, Paul seems to refer without any order to the various duties which the officers and even private members of the church were called upon to perform. The construction in the original is not entirely regular, and, therefore, has been variously explained. There is no interpretation more natural than that adopted by our translators, who, considering the passage as elliptical, have supplied in the several specifications the phrases which in each case the sense requires. Instead of beginning, a new sentence with Romans 12:6, many commentators connect ἔχοντες in ἐσμεν Romans 12:5, and make the following accusatives depend on it. The whole passage is then regarded as declarative, and not exhortative. ‘We are one body having gifts, prophecy according to the proportion of faith; or the gift of ministering, in the ministry, he that teacheth, in teaching,’ etc. It is plain, however, that this requires a very forced interpretation to be given to the several terms here used. Διακονία does not in the same clause mean first the gift, and then the exercise of the gift; much less can ἐν τῇ παρακλήσει, ἐν ἁπλότητι, etc., indicate the sphere within which the gifts mentioned are exercised. Others retaining the exhortatory character of the passage, still connect ἔχοντες with Romans 12:5. ‘We are having gifts, whether prophecy or ministry, let us use them aright.’ On the whole, the simplest method is to begin a new sentence with ἔχοντες, and supply the necessary verb in the several clauses, as is done in our version, and by Olshausen, Fritzsche, Phillipi. Compare 1 Peter 4:11, εἴ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια Θεοῦ (sc. λαλείτω), etc.

Having therefore gifts differing according to the grace given unto us, i.e. as there are in the one body various offices and gifts, let every one act in a manner consistent with the nature and design of the particular gift which he has received. Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. The first gift specified is that of prophecy, with regard to the precise nature of which there is no little diversity of opinion. The original and proper meaning of the Hebrew word rendered prophet in the Old Testament, is interpreter, one who explains or delivers the will of another. And to this idea the Greek term also answers. It matters little whether the will or purpose of God which the prophets were called upon to deliver, had reference to present duty or to future events. They derived their Hebrew name not from predicting what was to come to pass, which was but a small part of their duty, but from being the interpreters of God, men who spoke in his name. We accordingly find the term prophet applied to all classes of religious teachers under the old dispensation. Of Abraham it is said, “He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee and thou shalt live,” Genesis 20:7. The name is often applied to Moses as the great interpreter of the will of God to the Hebrews, Deuteronomy 18:18; and the writers of the historical books are also constantly so called. The passage in Exodus 7:1, is peculiarly interesting, as it clearly exhibits the proper meaning of this word. “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet,” i.e. he shall be thy interpreter. In Romans 4:16, it is said, “He shall be a mouth to thee;” and of Jeremiah, God says, “Thou shalt be as my mouth,” Jeremiah 15:19; compare Deuteronomy 18:18. Any one, therefore, who acted as the mouth of God, no matter what was the nature of the communication, was a prophet. And this is also the sense of the word in the New Testament;‹64› it is applied to any one employed to deliver a divine message, Matthew 10:41; Matthew 13:57; Luke 4:24; Luke 7:26-29, “What went ye out to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger, etc.” John 4:19, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet,” i.e. an inspired man. Acts 15:32, “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren and confirmed them.” 1 Corinthians 12:28, “God hath set in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; etc.” 1 Corinthians 14:29-32, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual (inspired), let him acknowledge, etc.” From these and numerous similar passages, it appears that the prophets in the Christian church were men who spoke under the immediate influence of the Spirit of God, and delivered some divine communication relating to doctrinal truths, to present duty, to future events, etc., as the case might be.‹65› The point of distinction between them and the apostles, considered as religious teachers, appears to have been that the inspiration of the apostles was abiding, they were the infallible and authoritative messengers of Christ; whereas the inspiration of the prophets was occasional and transient. The latter differed from the teachers (διδάσκαλοι), inasmuch as these were not necessarily inspired, but taught to others what they themselves had learned from the Scriptures, or from inspired men.

Agreeably to this view of the office of the prophets, we find the sacred writers speaking of the gift of prophecy as consisting in the communication of divine truth by the Spirit of God, intended for instruction, exhortation, or consolation. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,” 1 Corinthians 13:2; “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort,” 1 Corinthians 14:3; “If all prophesy and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all, etc.,” v. 24.

The gift of which Paul here speaks, is not, therefore, the faculty of predicting future events, but that of immediate occasional inspiration, leading the recipient to deliver, as the mouth of God, the particular communication which he had received, whether designed for instruction, exhortation, or comfort. The apostle required that those who enjoyed this gift should exercise it according to the proportion of faith. This clause admits of different interpretations. The word (ἀναλογία) rendered proportion, may mean either proportion, or measure, rule, standard. Classic usage is rather in favor of the former of these meanings. The latter, however, is necessarily included in the former; and the word is defined by Hesychius, measure, canon, or rule. The choice between the two meanings of the word must depend on the sense given to the word faith, and on the context. Faith may here mean inward confidence or belief; or it may mean the gift received, i.e. that which is confided (τὸ πεπιστευμένον); or, finally, that which is believed, truths divinely revealed. If the first of these three senses be adopted, the passage means, ‘Let him prophesy according to his internal convictions; that is, he must not exceed in his communication what he honestly believes to have been divinely communicated, or allow himself to be carried away by enthusiasm, to deliver, as from God, what is really nothing but his own thoughts.’ If the second sense (of πίστις) be preferred, the clause then means, ‘Let him prophesy according to the proportion of the gifts which he has received; i.e. let every one speak according to the degree and nature of the divine influence, or the particular revelation imparted to him.’ If, however, faith here means, as it does in so many other places, the object of faith, or the truths to be believed, (see Galatians 1:23; Galatians 3:25; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:5, etc.,) then according to the proportion signifies, agreeably to the rule or standard; and the apostle’s direction to the prophets is, that in all their communications they are to conform to the rule of faith, and not contradict those doctrines which had been delivered by men whose inspiration had been established by indubitable evidence. In favor of this view of the passage is the frequent use of the word faith in the sense thus assigned to it. The ordinary subjective sense of the word does not suit the passage. The amount or strength of faith does not determine either the extent to which the gift of prophecy is enjoyed, or the manner in which it is exercised. There were prophets who had no saving faith at all just as many performed miracles who were not the true disciples of Christ. “In that day,” says our Lord, “many shall say unto me, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” to whom he will say, “I never knew you.” The second sense given to πίστις, that which is confided to any one, i.e. a gift, is without any authority. The objective sense of the word, although denied by many of the strict philological interpreters, is nevertheless well established by such expressions, “obedience to the faith,” “doer of faith,” “faith once delivered to the saints,” and is perfectly familiar in ecclesiastical usage.

2. The fact that similar directions respecting those who consider themselves prophets or inspired persons, occur in other passages. Thus Paul says, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 14:37. This was the standard; and no man had a right to consider himself inspired, or to require others so to regard him, who did not conform himself to the instructions of men whose inspiration was beyond doubt. Thus, too, the apostle John commands Christians, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world,” 1 John 4:1. And the standard by which these prophets were to be tried, he gives in 1 John 4:6 : “We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” It was obviously necessary that Christians, in the age of immediate inspiration, should have some means of discriminating between those who were really under the influence of the Spirit of God, and those who were either enthusiasts or deceivers. And the test to which the apostles directed them was rational, and easily applied. There were inspired men to whose divine mission and authority God had born abundant testimony by “signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” As God cannot contradict himself, it follows that anything inconsistent with the teachings of these men, though proceeding from one claiming, to be a prophet, must be false, and the pretension of its author to inspiration unfounded. Accordingly, the apostle directed that while one prophet spoke, the others were to judge, i.e. decide whether he spoke according to the analogy of faith; and whether his inspiration was real, imaginary, or feigned.

3. This interpretation is also perfectly suitable to the context. Paul, after giving the general direction contained in the preceding verses, as to the light in which the gifts of the Spirit were to be viewed, and the manner in which they were to be used, in this and the following verses, gives special directions with respect to particular gifts. Those who thought themselves prophets should be careful to speak nothing but truth, to conform to the standard; those who ministered should devote themselves to their appropriate duties, etc.

Verse 7

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching. The terms minister and ministry (διάκονος; and διακονία, deacon and deaconship) are used in the New Testament both in a general and a restricted sense. In the former, they are employed in reference to all classes of ecclesiastical officers, even the apostles; see 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 1:7, Colossians 1:23; 1 Timothy 4:6; Acts 1:17, Acts 1:25; Acts 20:24; Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Corinthians 4:1, etc. In the latter, they are used in reference to a particular class of officers, to whom were committed the management of the external affairs of the church, the care of the poor, attention to the sick, etc.; see Acts 6:1-3; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13, etc. It is doubtful in which of these senses the latter of the above-mentioned words is here used by the apostle, most probably in the restricted sense. The apostle exhorts different classes of officers to attend to their own peculiar vocation, and to exercise their own gifts, without intruding into the sphere of others, or envying their superior endowments. The deacons, therefore, were to attend to the poor and the sick, and not attempt to exercise the office of teachers. Luther, and many others, give the words their wide sense. “Hat jemand ein Amt, so warte er des Amtes:” If a man has an office, let him attend to it. But this would render unnecessary the specifications which follow. The apostle, in this context, refers to definite ecclesiastical offices in connection with ordinary Christian duties. That is, he exhorts both church officers and private Christians.

He that teacheth, on teaching. Teachers are elsewhere expressly distinguished from prophets, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:29 : “God hath set some in the church: first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?” And in this passage they are not to be confounded, nor is teaching to be regarded, in this place, as one part of prophesying. As remarked above on Romans 12:6, the teachers were distinguished from prophets, inasmuch as the former were not necessarily inspired, and were a regular and permanent class of officers. Those who had the gift of prophecy were to exercise it aright; those who were called to the office of deacons, were to devote themselves to their appropriate duties; and those who had the gift of teaching were to teach.

Verse 8

He that exhorteth, on exhortation. The word (παρακαλέω) here used, means to invite, exhort, and to comfort. Our translators have probably selected the most appropriate sense. Teaching is addressed to the understanding; exhortation, to the conscience and feelings. There was probably no distinct class of officers called exhorters, as distinguished from teachers; but as the apostle is speaking of gifts as well as officers, (both are included in the word χαρίσματα,) his direction is, that he who had the gift of teaching, should teach; and that he who had a gift for exhortation, should be content to exhort.

He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. These directions have reference to the manner in which the duties of church officers and of private Christians ought to be performed. In this connection, the former no doubt are principally, though not exclusively intended. It is a common opinion, that giving, ruling, showing mercy, (ὁ μεταδιδούς, ὁ προΐστάμενος, ὁ ἐλεῶν), refer to different functions of the deaconate. But not only the use of μεταδιδούς instead of διαδιδούς — the former properly meaning giving, (what is one’s own,) and the latter, distributing — is opposed to this view, but the whole exhortation, which refers with equal, or greater propriety, to the state of mind and the manner in which the private duties of Christian fellowship are to be performed. There seems to be no good reason for the restriction of the directions here given to either class, officers or private members, exclusively. He that giveth, with simplicity, ἀπλότητι, singleness of mind. This direction, considered in reference to the deacons, whom, no doubt, Paul included in his exhortation, contemplates their duty of imparting or distributing to the necessity of the saints. This duty, by whomsoever performed, is to be done with simplicity, i.e. with purity of motive, free from all improper designs. This same word is rendered singleness of heart, in Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22, and occurs in the same sense, in the phrase, “simplicity and godly sincerity,” 2 Corinthians 1:12. Considered in reference to private Christians, this clause may be rendered, he that giveth, with liberality; see 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11, 2 Corinthians 9:13.

He that ruleth, with diligence. Here again the right discharge of ecclesiasticial duties is principally intended; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to know (esteem, love) them that are over you in the Lord;” 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders that rule well.” There is considerable diversity of opinion as to the explanation to be here given to ὁ προΐστάμενος. The word properly means, one who is placed over, who presides, or rules. It is, however, used in a more restricted sense, for a patron, one who befriends others, and especially strangers. Hence in Romans 16:2, Phoebe is called a προστάτις, a patroness, one who befriended strangers. As what precedes and what follows, giving and showing mercy, relate to acts of kindness, the one to the poor, the other to the sick, so this word, it is urged, should be understood of showing kindness to strangers. There is certainly force in this consideration. But as there is very slight foundation for the ascription of this meaning to the word in the New Testament, and as it is elsewhere used in its ordinary sense, (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12, comp. 1 Timothy 5:17), it is commonly understood of rulers. Some take it in reference to rulers in general, civil or ecclesiastical; others, of church-rulers or elders; others, specifically of the forestaer,‹66› or pastor, or bishop of the congregation. The objection against this restricted reference to the presiding officer of a church, is the introduction of the term in the enumeration of ordinary Christian duties. He that gives, he that acts as pastor, he that shows mercy, is rather an incongruous association. It is more common, therefore, to understand προΐστάμενος, of any one who exercises authority in the church. Those who were called to exercise the office of ruler, were required to do it (ἐν σπουδῇ) with diligence, i.e. with attention and zeal. This is opposed to inertness and carelessness. The government of the church, in collecting abuses, preventing disorders, and in the administration of discipline, calls for constant vigilance and fidelity. “Προΐσταμένους tametsi proprie nuncupat eos, quibus mandata erat ecclesiae gubernatio (erant autem illi seniores, qui aliis praeibant ac moderabantur, vitaeque censuram exercebant,) quod autem de illis dicit extendi in universum ad praefecturas omne genus potest. Neque enim aut parva ab iis solicitudo requiritur, qui omnium securitati consulere, aut parva sedulitas ab iis, qui pro salute omnium noctes diesque excubare debent.” — Calvin.

He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness, (ἱλαρότης, hilarity.) As the former direction (he that giveth, with simplicity) had reference to the care of the poor, this relates to the care of the sick and afflicted. These were the two great departments of the deacons’ duties. The former was to be discharged with honesty, this with cheerfulness; not as a matter of constraint, but with alacrity and kindness. On this, the value of any service rendered to the children of sorrow mainly depends.


1. The great principle, that truth is in order to holiness, which is so frequently taught in the Scriptures, is plainly implied in this passage. All the doctrines of justification, grace, election, and final salvation, taught in the preceding part of the epistle, are made the foundation for the practical duties enjoined in this, Romans 12:1.

2. The first great duty of redeemed sinners is the dedication of themselves to God. This consecration must be entire, of the body as well as the soul; it must be constant, and according to his will, Romans 12:1.

3. Regeneration is a renewing of the mind, evincing itself in a transformation of the whole character, and leading to the knowledge and approbation of whatever is acceptable to God, Romans 12:2.

4. God is the giver of all good, of honors and offices as well as of talents and graces; and in the distribution of his favors he renders to every man according to his own will, Romans 12:3-6.

5. Christians are one body in Christ. This unity is not only consistent with great diversity of gifts, but necessarily implies it; as the body is one from the union of various members, designed for the performance of various functions, Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5.

6. The different offices of the church are of divine appointment, and are designed for the benefit of the whole body, and not for the advantage of those who hold them, Romans 12:6-8.


1. The effect produced upon us by the mercies of God, in redemption, and in his providence, affords an excellent criterion of character. If they lead us to devote ourselves to his service, they produce the effect for which they were designed, and we may conclude that we are of the number of his children. But if they produce indifference to duty, and cherish the idea that we are the special favorites of heaven, or that we may sin with impunity, it is an evidence that our hearts are not right in the sight of God, Romans 12:1.

2. While Christians should remember that the service which they are called upon to render is a rational service, pertaining to the soul, they should not suppose that it consists merely in the secret exercises of the heart. The whole man and the whole life must be actively and constantly devoted to God, Romans 12:1.

3. Those professors of religion who are conformed to the world, cannot have experienced that renewing of the mind which produces a transformation of character, Romans 12:2.

4. Self-conceit and ambition are the besetting sins of men entrusted with power, or highly gifted in any respect, as discontent and envy are those to which persons of inferior station or gifts are most exposed. These evil feelings, so offensive to God, would be subdued, if men would properly lay to heart, that peculiar advantages are bestowed according to the divine pleasure; that they are designed to advance the glory of God, and the good of his church, and not the honor or emolument of those who receive them; and that very frequently those which are least attractive in the sight of men, are the most important in the sight of God. It is here as in the human frame; not the most comely parts are the most valuable, but those which are the least so. The vital parts of our system never attract the praise of men, and are never the source of vanity or pride, Romans 12:3.

5. As Christians are one body in Christ, they should feel their mutual dependence and their common interest in their Head, from whom life, intelligence, enjoyment, and every good comes. They should sympathize in each other’s joys and sorrows; the hand should not envy the eye, nor the eye despise the foot. How can they, who are destitute of this common feeling with their fellow Christians, be partakers of that Spirit by which true believers are constituted really and not merely nominally one? Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5.

6. Real honor consists in doing well what God calls us to do, and not in the possession of high offices or great talents, Romans 12:6-8.

7. No man’s usefulness is increased by going out of his sphere. It is a great mistake to suppose because one possession or employment may, in itself considered, afford better opportunity of doing good than another, that therefore any or every man would be more useful in the one than in the other. The highest improvement of the individual, and the greatest good of the whole, are best secured by each being and doing what God sees fit to determine. If all were the same member, where were the body? ‘God is not the author of confusion, but of order, in all the churches of the saints,’ Romans 12:6-8.

8. No amount of learning, no superiority of talent, nor even the pretension to inspiration, can justify a departure from the analogy of faith, i.e. from the truths taught by men to whose inspiration God has born witness. All teachers must be brought to this standard; and even if an angel from heaven should teach anything contrary to the Scriptures, he should be regarded as anathema, Galatians 1:8. It is a matter of constant gratitude that we have such a standard whereby to try the spirits whether they be of God. Ministers of Christ should see to it, that they do not incur the curse which Paul denounces on those who preach another gospel, Romans 12:6.

9. Private Christians, and especially ecclesiastical officers, are required to discharge their respective duties with singleness of heart, and in the exercise of those virtues which the peculiar nature of their vocation may demand, Romans 12:6-8.

Verse 9


Having treated of those duties which belong more especially to the officers of the church, the apostle exhorts his readers generally to the exercise of various Christian virtues. There is no logical arrangement observed in this part of the chapter, except that the general exhortation to love precedes the precepts which relate to those exercises which are, for the most part, but different manifestations of this primary grace. The love of the Christian must be sincere, and lead to the avoiding of evil, and the pursuit of good, Romans 12:9. It must produce brotherly affection and humility, Romans 12:10; diligence and devotion, Romans 12:11; resignation, patience, and prayer, Romans 12:12; charity and hospitality, Romans 12:13; forgiveness of injuries, Romans 12:14; sympathy with the joys and sorrows of others, Romans 12:15; concord and lowliness of mind, Romans 12:16; and a constant endeavor to return good for evil, Romans 12:17-21.


Let love be without dissimulation, or, love is without hypocrisy, i.e. sincere, not hypocritical, and not consisting in words merely. The love intended in this verse, is probably love to all men, and not to Christians exclusively, as in Romans 12:10, brotherly affection is particularly specified. Much less is love to God the idea meant to be expressed.

Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. There is a number of participles following this verse, to which our translators supply the imperative of the substantive verb; ‘be abhorring,’ ‘be kindly affectioned,’ etc. Others connect them all with εὐλογεῖτε in Romans 12:14; ‘abhorring evil,’ ‘being kindly affectioned,’ ‘bless those,’ etc. But these participles do not express what should qualify, or characterize, the act of blessing our persecutors; ‘hating,’ ‘loving the brethren,’ ‘bless your enemies,’ etc. It is more natural to assume that the apostle departs slightly from the regular construction, and writes as though, in Romans 12:9, he had said, ἀγαπᾶτε ἀνυποκρίτως, ἀποστυγοῦντες, κ. τ. λ. Compare 2 Corinthians 1:7, and Hebrews 13:5, ἀφιλάργυρος ὁ τρόπος, (for ἀφιλάργυροι περιπατεῖτε) ἀρκούμενοι τοῖς παροῦσιν. This is the explanation given by Philippi and others. The words rendered to abhor (ἀποστυγέω) and to cleave to (κολλάομαι) are peculiarly forcible, and express the highest degree of hatred on the one hand, and of persevering devotion on the other. The latter word, in the active form, properly means, to glue, and in the middle, to attach one’s self to any person or thing. The words evil and good, in this passage, may be understood of moral good and evil; and the exhortation be considered as a general direction to hate the one and love the other. But the great majority of commentators, out of regard to the context, take the terms in a restricted sense, making the former mean injurious, and the latter kind. The sense of the whole verse would then be, ‘Let love be sincere; strive to avoid what is injurious to others, and earnestly endeavor to do whatever is kind and useful.’ As the words themselves admit of either of these interpretations, the choice between them depends upon the context. The latter is, on this ground, perhaps to be preferred.

Verse 10

Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another. ‘As to brotherly love, be kindly affectioned one towards another. ‘This exhortation seems to have special reference to Christians. The word (φιλόστοργος) used by the apostle, expresses properly the strong natural affection between parents and children (στοργή), but is applied also to tender affection of any kind. Here, no doubt, the idea is, that Christians should love each other with the same sincerity and tenderness as if they were the nearest relatives.

In honor preferring one another. This passage, thus translated, cannot be understood otherwise than an exhortation to humility; and such is the interpretation generally given to it. But the word (προηγεῖσθαι) rendered to prefer, never occurs in that sense elsewhere. It means properly, to go before, to lead; and then, figuratively, to set an example. And the word translated honor, may mean deference, respect, and even kindness, (observantia et omnia humanitatis officia quae aliis debemus. Schleusner.) The sense of the clause may then be, ‘as to respect and kindness (τιμῇ) going before each other, or setting an example one to another.’ This interpretation, which is given by most of the recent commentators, is not only better suited to the meaning of the words, but also to the context. The Vulgate translates, “Honore invicem praevenientes,” and Luther, “Einer komme dem Andern mit Ehrerbietung zu vor.” It is not only an injunction of politeness, but that in all acts of respect and kindness we should take the lead. Instead of waiting for others to honor us, we should be beforehand with them in the manifestation of respect.

Verse 11

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. The love to which the apostle exhorts his readers is not inactive or cold; on the contrary, it manifests itself in diligence, zeal, and devotion to God. The word rendered business (σπουδή) properly means haste, activity. It is the effect or outward manifestation of zeal. The exhortation has not the reference which our version would naturally suggest, viz., to the active performance of our several vocations; it refers rather to religious activity: ‘As to activity or diligence, do not grow weary or be indolent; on the contrary, be fervent in spirit.’ The word spirit is by many understood of the Holy Spirit; it most naturally refers to the mind; compare Acts 18:25, where it is said of Apollos, “being fervent in spirit (i.e., zealous) he spake and taught diligently.” This clause, therefore, stands in opposition to the preceding. Instead of being inactive, we should be zealous.

Serving the Lord, i.e. doing service to the Lord; influenced in our activity and zeal by a desire to serve Christ. This member of the sentence thus understood, describes the motive from which zeal and diligence should proceed. Compare Ephesians 6:5-8, especially the expressions as unto Christ, as the servants of Christ, as to the Lord, etc.; and Colossians 3:22, Colossians 3:23. Instead of serving the Lord, there is another reading, according to which the passage must be rendered, serving the time,‹67› (tempori servientes. Calvin,) i.e. making the most of every opportunity (see Ephesians 5:16); or, as others understand it, ‘adapting your conduct to circumstances.’ Zeal is to be tempered with prudence. The common text is the best authenticated, and is generally adopted. The zeal which the apostle recommends is zeal for Christ, and not for our own advancement or interests.

Verse 12

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer. These exhortations refer to nearly related duties: Christians are to be joyful, patient, and prayerful. However adverse their circumstances, hope, patience, and prayer are not only duties, but the richest sources of consolation and support. ‘Rejoicing on account of hope, or in the joyful expectation of future good.’ This hope of salvation is the most effectual means of producing patience under present afflictions; for if we feel “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” it will not be difficult to bear them patiently. Intercourse with God, however, is necessary to the exercise of this and all other virtues, and therefore the apostle immediately adds, continuing instant in prayer. The original could hardly be better translated; as the Greek term (προσκαρτερέω, intentus sum rei) expresses the idea of perseverance and ardor in the prosecution of any object. There are no attributes of acceptable prayer more frequently presented in the Scriptures than those here referred to, viz., perseverance and fervor, which, from their nature, imply faith in the ability and willingness of God to grant us needed good, Acts 1:14; Acts 6:4; Ephesians 6:18, etc.

Verse 13

Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. These virtues are the immediate fruits of the love enjoined in Romans 12:9, Romans 12:10. The word rendered to distribute (κοινωνέω) signifies, intransitively, to become a partaker with; and, transitively, to cause others to partake with us, to communicate to. It is commonly followed by a dative of the person to whom the communication is made, Galatians 6:6. In this case the construction may be the same as in the preceding verses, ‘as to the necessity of the saints, be communicative;’ or, ‘give to the necessity of the saints.’ The transitive meaning of κοινωνέω is by many denied, and is, at least, infrequent. It is, therefore, commonly taken here in its ordinary sense: ‘Taking part in the necessities of the saints; regard them as your own.’ Believers are κοινωνοί in everything, because they are all members of the body of Christ. The members of the same body have the same interests, feelings, and destiny. The joy or sorrow of one member, is the joy or sorrow of all the others. The necessities of one are, or should be, a common burden. As intimately connected with this injunction, the apostle adds, given to hospitality, as our translators aptly render the strong expression of the original. The phrase is φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες, following after hospitality; sectantes, ut hospites non modo admittatis, sed quaeratis. The value which the early Christians placed upon the virtue of hospitality is plain, from Paul’s enumerating it among the requisite qualifications of a bishop, Titus 1:8. During times of persecution, and before the general institution of houses of entertainment, there was peculiar necessity for Christians to entertain strangers. As such houses are still rarely to be met with in the East, this duty continues to be there regarded as one of the most sacred character.

Verse 14

Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not. The exercise of love, and the discharge of the duties of benevolence, are not to be confined to the saints, or people of God; but the same spirit is to be manifested towards our enemies. The word (εὐλογέω) rendered to bless, signifies both to pray for good to anyone, and to do good. Here, from the context, the former meaning is to be preferred, as it is opposed to cursing, which signifies to imprecate evil on anyone. The command therefore is, that, so far from wishing or praying that evil may overtake our persecutors and enemies, we must sincerely desire and pray for their good. It is not sufficient to avoid returning evil for evil, nor even to banish vindictive feelings; we must be able sincerely to desire their happiness. How hard this is for corrupt human nature, everyone who is acquainted with his own heart well knows. Yet this is the standard of Christian temper and character exhibited in the Scriptures, Matthew 5:44. “Ardua res est, fateor, et naturae hominis penitus contraria; sed nihil tam arduum, quod non virtute Dei superetur, quae nobis nunquam deerit, modo ne ipsam invocare negligamus. Et quanquam vix unum reperias qui tantos in lege Dei progressus fecerit, ut praeceptum istud impleat; nemo tamen filium Dei jactare se potest, aut Christiani nomine gloriari, qui non animum istum ex parte induerit, et cum affectu adverso quotidie pugnet. Dixi hoc esse difficilius quam remittere vindictam, ubi quis laesus fuerit. Quidam eniu licet manus contineant, neque etiam agentur nocendi libidine, cuperent tamen aliunde hostibus suis accidere cladem vel damnum. Deus autem verbo suo non tantum manus coercet a malcficiis, sed amarulentos quoque affectus in animis domat; neque id modo, sed etiam vult de eorum salute esse sollicitos qui nos injuste vexando sibi exitium accersunt.” — Calvin.

Verse 15

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Love produces not only the forgiveness of enemies, but a general sympathy in the joys and sorrows of our fellow men, and especially of our fellow Christians. The disposition here enjoined is the very opposite of a selfish indifference to any interests but our own. The gospel requires that we should feel and act under the impression that all men are brethren; that we have a common nature, a common Father, and a common destiny. How lovely is genuine sympathy. How much like Christ is the man who feels the sorrows and joys of others, as though they were his own!

Verse 16

Be of the same mind one towards another; mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. The phrase (τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν) used by the apostle expresses the general idea of concord, unanimity; whether of opinion or feeling depends on the context; see 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; Romans 15:5. Here the latter idea is the prominent one. ‘Be of the same mind,’ i.e. be united in feeling, interests, and object, let there be no discord or disagreement. This idea is then amplified in the following clauses; do not be aspiring, but be humble. Ambition and contempt for lowly persons or pursuits, are the states of mind most inconsistent with that union of heart by which all Christians should be united. “Quocirca illud τὸ αυτὸ non intelligo idem quod alii de nobis sentiunt, sed idem quod nos de nobis ipsi sentimus, vel quod alios de nobis sentire postulamus.” — De Brais. Erasmus and others understand this clause to mean, ‘Think of others as well as you do of yourselves’ (nemo putet alium se minorem.) But this gives too restricted a sense, and is no better suited to the context than the common interpretation given above. The command is, that we should be united; feeling towards others as we would have them feel towards us.

Mind not high things, i.e. do not aspire after them, do not desire and seek them; see the use of the Greek word here employed in Romans 8:5; Colossians 3:2, (τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε), But condescend to men of low estate. The general idea expressed by these two clauses is obviously this, ‘Be not high-minded, but humble.’ The precise meaning of the latter clause, however, is a matter of much doubt. The word (συναπάγω) rendered condescend properly means, in the passive or middle voice, to allow one’s self to be carried along with others, i.e. influenced by them, as in Galatians 2:13, “In so much that Barnabas also was (allowed himself to be) carried away with their dissimulation.” And 2 Peter 3:17, “Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” “With the dative of a person, συναπάγεσθαι means to be carried along with him; with the dative of a thing, it means to be carried along by it.” Philipi. If ταπεινοῖς be here taken as masculine, one sense is, allow yourselves to be carried along with the lowly, i.e. to associate with them, and share their condition. If it be taken as neuter, to correspond with the τὰ ὑψηλά in the first clause, then the meaning is, allow yourselves to be carried along together by lowly things: i.e. instead of being concerned about high things, let lowly things occupy and control you. So Calvin: “Non arroganter de vobis sentientes sed humilibus vos accommodantes. Vocem humilibus in neutro genere accipio, ut antithesis ita compleatur. Hic ergo damnatur ambitio, et quae sub magnanimitatis nomine se insinuat animi elatio: siquidem praecipua fidelium virtus moderatio est, vel potius submissio, quae honorem semper malit aliis ceder quam praeripere.” Most modern commentators concur in this view of the passage. In either way the general sense is the same. The thing forbidden is ambition; the thing enjoined is lowliness of mind.

Be not wise in your own conceit. This precept is intimately connected with the preceding, since ambition and contempt for lowly persons and pursuits generally arise from overweening self-estimation. No species of pride is more insidious or more injurious than the pride of intellect, or a fancied superiority to those around us, which leads to a contempt of their opinions, and a confident reliance upon ourselves. The temper which the gospel requires is that of a little child, docile, diffident, and humble; see Romans 11:25; Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 5:21.

Verse 17

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Paul having, in the preceding verses, enjoined the duties of love, condescension, and kindness towards all men, comes in this and the following passages, to forbid the indulgence of a contrary disposition, especially of a spirit of retaliation and revenge. The general direction in the first clause is, not to retaliate; which is but a lower exercise of the virtue afterward enjoined in the command to “overcome evil with good.”

Provide things honest in the sight of all men. Our translation of this clause is not very happy, as it suggests an idea foreign to the meaning of the original. Paul does not mean to direct us to make provision for ourselves or families in an honest manner, which is probably the sense commonly attached to the passage by the English reader, but to act in such a manner as to command the confidence and good opinion of men. In this view, the connection of this with the preceding member of the verse is obvious. ‘We must not recompense evil for evil, but act in such a way as to commend ourselves to the consciences of all men.’ There should not, therefore, be a period after the word evil, since this clause assigns a motive for the discharge of the duty enjoined in the first The word (προνοεῖσθαι) rendered to provide, signifies also to attend to, to care for. The sense then is, ‘Do not resent injuries, having regard to the good opinion of men,’ i.e. let a regard to the honor of religion and your own character prevent the returning of evil for evil. Thus Paul (2 Corinthians 8:20, 2 Corinthians 8:21) says of himself that he wished others to be associated with him in the distribution of the alms of the church, “having regard to what was right, (προνοούμενοι καλὰ,) not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” “Summa est, dandam sedulo esse operam, ut nostra integritate omnes aedificentur. Ut enim necessaria est nobis conscientiae innocentia coram Deo; ita famae integritas apud homines non est negligenda. Nam si Deum in bonis nostris operibus glorificari convenit, tantundem decedit ejus gloriae, ubi nihil laude dignum in nobis homines conspiciunt.” — Calvin. In Proverbs 3:4, we have the same exhortation, nearly in the same words as given in the lxx: προνοοῦ καλὰ ἐνώπιον κυρίου καὶ ἀνθρώπων.

Verse 18

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. The retaliation of injuries necessarily leads to contention and strife, while peace is the natural result of a forgiving disposition. The command in this verse, therefore, is naturally connected with that contained in Romans 12:17. So far from resenting every offense, we should do all we can to live at peace with all men. As the preservation of peace is not always within our control, Paul limits his command by saying, if it be possible, so far as lieth in you, τὸ ἐξ ὑμῶν, as to what is of you. The cause of conflict must not arise from you. Your duty is to preserve peace. From the wickedness of others, this is often impossible; and Paul’s own example shows that he was far from thinking that either truth or principle was to be sacrificed for the preservation of peace. His whole life was an active and ardent contention against error and sin. The precept, however, is plain, and the duty important. As far as it can be done consistently with higher obligations and more important interests, we must endeavor to promote peace, and for this end avoid giving offense and avenging injuries. Grotius well expresses the meaning of this verse: “Omnium amici este, si fieri potest; si non potest utrimque, certe ex vestra parte amici este.”

Verse 19

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves; but rather give place unto wrath, etc. This is a repetition and amplification of the previous injunction, not to recompense evil for evil. There are three interpretations of the phrase give place unto wrath, which deserve to be mentioned. According to the first, the wrath here intended is that of the injured party, and to give place to, is made to signify, to allow to pass, i.e. let it go, do not cherish or indulge it. But this is in direct contradiction to the common and proper meaning of the phrase in question, which signifies, give free scope to; and no example of a contrary usage is adduced. In Latin, the phrase, dare spatium irae, is frequently used in the sense of deferring the indulgence of anger, giving it space or time to cool. But spatium in these cases has reference to time, temporis spatium, a sense in which the Greek τόπος is not used. The second interpretation refers the wrath to the injurer. The meaning then is, ‘Do not avenge yourselves, but rather yield (cedite irae) or submit to the anger of your enemies.’ This is consistent with the literal meaning of the phrase to give place, i.e. to get out of the way; and Schoettgen says that the Jewish writers use the corresponding Hebrew phrase (ðÈúÇï îÈ÷åÉí) in the sense of avoiding; of this usage, however, there is no example in the Bible. It is certainly contrary to the uniform scriptural usage of the expression, which is never employed to convey this idea, but uniformly means, as just stated, to give room to, to allow free exercise to any person or thing; see Ephesians 4:27, “Neither give place to the devil.” The third interpretation, therefore, according to which it is the wrath of God that is here intended, is the only one consistent with the meaning of the phrase or with the context. ‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, leave that matter to God.’ Stand out of the way. Give scope to the wrath of God. It is his prerogative to punish. The passage, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord, is quoted from Deuteronomy 32:35, and is obviously cited to show the propriety of the command to leave vengeance to God, and not attempt to take it into our own hands. This does not imply a desire that the divine vengeance should overtake our enemies, but simply that we should not usurp the prerogative of God as the avenger.

Verse 20

Therefore, if thine enemy hungry, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, etc. That is, instead of avenging ourselves by returning evil for evil, we must return good for evil. The expressions, feed him and give him drink, are obviously not to be confined to their literal meaning, nor even to the discharge of the common offices of humanity; they are figurative expressions for all the duties of benevolence. It is not enough, therefore, that we preserve an enemy from perishing; we must treat him with all affection and kindness.

For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. This whole verse is taken from Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.” The common and natural meaning of the expression, to heap coals of fire upon any one, is to inflict the greatest pain upon him, to punish him most severely; see Psalms 140:10, “Let burning coals fall upon them;” Psalms 11:6, “Upon the wicked he shall rain coals (ôÇÌçÄéí for ôÇÌúÂîÄéí), fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest;” Ezekiel 10:2; 2 Esdras 16:53, “Let not the wicked deny that he has sinned, for coals of fire shall burn upon the head of him who denies that he has sinned against the Lord God.” The most probable explanation of this figurative expression is, that the allusion is to the lightning or fire from heaven, which is the symbol of the divine vengeance. To rain fire upon any one, is to visit him with the severest and surest destruction. This explanation is much more natural than to suppose the allusion is to the practice of throwing fire-brands upon the heads of the besiegers of a city, or to the fusing of metals.

There are three leading interpretations of this interesting clause. The first, which is perhaps the oldest, and very generally received, is, that Paul means to say that our enemies will be much more severely punished if we leave them in the hands of God. than if we undertake to avenge ourselves. ‘Treat your enemy kindly, for in so doing you secure his being punished by God in the severest manner.’ The revolting character of this interpretation, which every one must feel, is mitigated by the remark, that the enemy is not to be thus treated from any wish or intention of drawing down the divine wrath upon him; it is only meant that such will be the consequence. But this remark does not meet the difficulty. This clause is so connected with the preceding, that it must be understood as assigning the motive or reason for the discharge of the duty enjoined: ‘Treat thine enemy kindly, for in so doing,’ etc. The second interpretation is, that by heaping coals of fire on his head, is meant, you will cause him pain, i.e. the pain of remorse and shame. So Tholuck, and many other commentators. The third, which seems much the most simple and natural, is, ‘for in so doing, you will take the most effectual method of subduing him.’ To heap coals of fire on any one, is a punishment which no one can bear; he must yield to it. Kindness is no less effectual; the most malignant enemy cannot always withstand it. The true and Christian method, therefore, to subdue an enemy is, to “overcome evil with good.” This interpretation, which suits so well the whole context, seems to be rendered necessary by the following verse, which is a repetition of the previous injunctions in plainer and more general terms. The sentiment which the verse thus explained expresses, is also more in harmony with the spirit of the gospel. “Vincere dulce et praeclaram est. Optimam autem vincendi rationem sapientissime docet Salomo (Proverbs 25:21) jubens nos esurientibus inimicis cibum, sitientibus potum praebere: quia beneficiis eos devincientes fortius superabimus, quam qui hostem a vallo et moenibus flammis superjectis arcent et repellunt.” — De Brais.

Among the numerous striking classical illustrations of the sentiment of this verse, quoted by Wetstein, are the following: Justinus, 11:12, 8, “Tunc Darius se ratus vere victum, cum post praelia etiam beneficiis ab hoste superaretur.” Caesar ap. Cic. ad Atticum, 9:8, “Haec nova sit ratio vincendi, ut misericordia nos muniamus, id quemadmodum fieri possit, nonnulla mi in mentem veniunt, et multa reperiri possunt.” Seneca de Beneficiis, 7:31, “Vincit malos pertinax bonitas, nec quisquam tam duri infestique adversus diligenda animi est, ut etiam vi victus bonos non amet.” 32, “Ingratus est — huic ipsi beneficium dabo iterum, et tanquam bonus agricola cura cultuque sterilitatem soli vincam.” De Ira, 2:39, “Non enim ut in beneficiis honestum est merita meritis repensare, ita injurias injuriis; illic vinci turpe est, hic vincere.”

Verse 21

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. It is only by disconnecting this verse from the preceding, and considering it as nearly independent of it, that any plausibility can be given to the first interpretation mentioned above, of Romans 12:20. That it is not thus independent of it, almost every reader must feel. ‘We are not to conquer evil by evil, but to treat our enemies with kindness. Thus we shall most effectually subdue them. Do not therefore allow yourself to be overcome of evil, (i.e., to be provoked to the indulgence of a spirit of retaliation,) but overcome evil with good; subdue your enemies by kindness, not by injuries.’


1. Love is the fulfilling of the law; it leads to the avoiding of everything injurious to our neighbor, and to sedulous attention to everything adapted to promote his welfare, Romans 12:9.

2. The relation in which Christians stand to each other, is that of members of the same family. As, however, it is not a relation constituted by birth, nor secured by the adoption of a name, there is no evidence of its existence but that which consists in the exercise of that ‘brotherly affection’ (that spiritual στοργή) which brethren in Christ feel for each other, Romans 12:10.

3. Religion is the soul of morality, without which it is but a lovely corpse. Our moral duties we must perform as “serving the Lord.” The religious affections and emotions do not supersede those of a simply benevolent or social character, but mingle with them, and elevate all social and relative duties into acts of religion and genuine morality, Romans 12:11.

4. The source of our life is in God; without intercourse with him, therefore, we cannot derive those supplies of grace which are requisite to preserve the spirit of piety in our hearts, and to send a vital influence through the various duties and avocations of life. Hence the absolute necessity of being “instant in prayer,” Romans 12:12.

5. God has made of one blood all men that dwell upon the face of the earth. There is in this fact of a common origin, and the possession of a common nature, a sufficient ground for the inculcation of an universal sympathy with all our fellow men. As he is no true Christian who is destitute of a genuine sympathy for his fellow Christians, so he is very far from being a man such as God approves, who does not “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” Romans 12:15.

6. A wrong estimate of ourselves is a fruitful source of evil. Viewed in relation to God, and in our own absolute insignificance, we have little reason to be wise or important in our own conceits. A proper self-knowledge will preserve us from pride, ambition, and contempt of others, Romans 12:16.

7. Abstaining from evil is but one half of duty. It is not enough to avoid imprecating evil upon our enemies; we must sincerely desire and pray for their welfare. Nor is it sufficient not to recompense evil for evil; we must return good for evil, Romans 12:17-21.

8. The prerogatives of judgment and vengeance belong to God, we have no right, therefore, to arrogate them to ourselves, except in those cases in which, for his glory and the good of society, he has given us authority. All condemnation of others for self-gratification, and all private revenge is inconsistent with the gospel, Romans 12:11-21.


1. Christians should never forget that faith without works is dead. It is not more important to believe what God has revealed, than to do what he has commanded. A faith, therefore, which does not produce love, kindness, sympathy, humility, the forgiveness of injuries, etc., can do us little good, Romans 12:9-21.

2. It is peculiarly characteristic of the spirit of the gospel that it turns the heart towards others, and away from our own interests. Self is not the Christian’s center; men are loved because they are men, Christians because they are Christians; the former with sincere sympathy and benevolence, the latter with brotherly affection. The happiness and feelings of others, the gospel teaches us to consult in small, as well as in great matters, anticipating each other in all acts of kindness and attention, Romans 12:9-13.

3. The benevolence of the gospel is active and religious; it leads to constant efforts, and is imbued with the spirit of piety, Romans 12:11.

4. We must remember that without Christ we can do nothing; that it is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us. If, therefore, we attempt to discharge the duties here enjoined apart from him, we shall be as a branch severed from the vine; and unless we are “instant in prayer,” this union with Christ cannot be kept up, Romans 12:12.

5. Alms-giving and hospitality, in some ages of the church, have been unduly exalted, as though they were the whole of benevolence, and the greater part of piety. While we avoid this extreme, we should remember that we are stewards of God, and that “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, hath not the love of God dwelling in him,” Romans 12:13. 1 John 3:17.

6. One of the most beautiful exhibitions of the character of our Savior was afforded by his conduct under persecution. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter;” “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” Even martyrs dying for the truth have not always been able to avoid the prediction of evil to their persecutors; so much easier is it to abstain from recompensing evil for evil, than really to love and pray for the good of our enemies. This, however, is Christian duty; such is the spirit of the gospel. Just so far, therefore, as we find our hearts indisposed to bless those who curse us, or inclined to indulge even a secret satisfaction when evil comes upon them, are we unchristian in our temper, Romans 12:19-21.

7. Nothing is so powerful as goodness; it is the most efficacious means to subdue enemies, and put down opposition. Men whose minds can withstand argument, and whose hearts rebel against threats, are not proof against the persuasive influence of unfeigned love; there is, therefore, no more important collateral reason for being good, than that it increases our power to do good, Romans 12:20, Romans 12:21.

Bibliographical Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 12". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians.