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No respect of persons with God
To understand the early verses of this chapter, one must read the whole chapter and determine to whom the apostle speaks. In the preceding chapter Paul had described the state of idolatrous pagans. He now passes to the Jews, who (while they rejected the righteousness of God in Christ to which the law and the prophets bore witness) looked for salvation in their relation with Abraham, their observance of the ceremonial law, and their outward morality. Paul shows that the just judgment of God is the same against Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned. Romans 2:17; Romans 2:23; Romans 2:28 give us evidence that Paul here addressed the religious Jews and not the heathen philosophers.
Romans 2:1. The religious Jews passed judgment upon and condemned the Gentiles, and Paul censures them (not for their judging and condemning sin and idolatry, but for their being guilty in their hearts and oftentimes in their deeds of the same things for which they condemned others). Paul says that the law declares all men to be guilty before God (Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23). He has already proved the inexcusableness of the Gentiles, and in these verses he does the same in regard to the Jews. When you condemn the sins of others and are guilty of the same transgression, you condemn yourself and are inexcusable (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27-28).
Romans 2:2. God's judgment is according to truth–not appearance, works, nation, or profession. God will punish sin without respect of persons in whomsoever it is found! ‘The soul that sinneth shall surely die.’ ‘God will by no means clear the guilty.’ The true believer is free from condemnation because he is righteous. He has fulfilled the law and suffered its just penalty in the obedience and death of Jesus Christ, with whom he is one (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:25-26).
Romans 2:3. Since God's judgments are true and righteous, since God looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance, since all men are sinners and guilty before God, how can anyone who has not a perfect righteousness and a sufficient atonement hope to escape? (Job 25:4-6.) All must be judged according to their works, and all who are not in Christ shall perish (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34).
Romans 2:4. Are you Jews so blind as to trifle with, presume upon, and despise the wealth of God's goodness, forbearance, and patience toward you? Do you not know that the goodness of God to you is intended to lead you to repentance and faith in him? Goodness denotes God's benefits and blessings on them. Forbearance denotes God's bearing with them and not immediately executing vengeance. Long-suffering signifies the extent of his forbearance. They concluded from their position as Abraham's seed, their prosperity under God's goodness, and the delay of his judgment that they would escape condemnation. These mercies and benefits which should have turned them to God in true repentance and faith served only to harden them in their presumption and false profession.
Romans 2:5. But by your stubbornness and impenitence of heart, trusting in your works, traditions, and claims to righteousness, you are storing up wrath and indignation for yourselves on the day of judgment. You are the authors of your own destruction. The benefits and special favor of God which these Jews enjoyed increased their condemnation, for an account of them all shall be required (Romans 3:1-2; Luke 12:47-48). There is no judgment of God which is not according to strict justice! Mercy and judgment are irreconcilable except in Christ, in whom mercy is exercised consistently with judgment. Righteous and strict judgment admits no mercy! The acquittal of a believer in Christ in that day will be as just as the condemnation of the ungodly! (Acts 17:31.)
Romans 2:6. In that day of judgment God (who is righteous, holy, just, and true) will deal justly with every person according to his deeds. Every man will answer for himself in all that he thought, said, and did. Punishment shall be universal but not equal, for it is a just judgment (Matthew 11:22-23).
Romans 2:7. These words are descriptive of one sort of person–those who have in faith and perseverance sought the glory of God in Christ, the HONOR which abides in Christ, and immortality in Christ or the resurrection of life (Philippians 3:10-11). God will render to them eternal life!
Romans 2:8. But to those who are self-seeking, self-willed, self-righteous, and disobedient to the gospel of truth, there will be indignation and wrath.
Romans 2:9-11. The wrath of God will be poured out upon all men who are guilty of sin (whether Jew or Gentile), and the mercy of God will be upon all men in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile); for there is not respect of persons with God (Romans 3:22-23; Romans 10:12-13; Colossians 3:11).
Both Jew and Gentile under condemnation
Romans 2:12. Divine justice will deal with sin; in whomsoever sin is found, he shall perish! The Gentiles who have not the written law of Moses shall perish, for they have sinned against the light of nature, conscience, and the law written on their hearts. On the other hand the Jews, who have the written law, shall be judged by that law and condemned. Their having the law, hearing the law, or partially doing the law shall not free them from condemnation, but rather shall increase their misery.
Two objections are generally raised against these words:
1. Since God has not given the written law to the heathen, they ought not be condemned; and
2. Since God gave the Jews his written law and declared them to be a special people, they should be spared. Both of these are dealt with in the next three verses enclosed by a parenthesis.
Romans 2:13. Reading the law, preaching the law, and hearing the law may justify a man in his own eyes and even in the eyes of men; but it will not justify him before God (Luke 16:15; Matthew 23:27-28). If a man would seek righteousness from or by the law, it must be a perfect inward and outward obedience (Galatians 4:21; Galatians 3:10). The commandments of God are not given for consideration, curiosity, or contemplation but to be perfectly obeyed. Without a perfect holiness, no man shall be justified (Matthew 5:20). This righteousness is ours in Christ (Romans 3:19-26) through faith.
Romans 2:14. This verse supplies the answer to the objection that God cannot justly condemn the heathen since he has given them no written law. Paul states that though they have not a written law, they have proven by their own deeds that they have a law in themselves, put there by God. The heathen do certain things (though imperfectly) commanded by the law, which proves they discern the difference between right and wrong.
Romans 2:15. Haldane distinguishes between the law itself and the work of the law. The work of the law is the thing that the law does; that is, what it teaches about good and bad, right and wrong. The Gentiles, who institute religious rites, make laws to punish theft, murder, and adultery, and reward honesty and truth, prove that there is imprinted on their hearts the work of the law, which distinguishes between what is just and unjust. The testimony of their own conscience witnesses against them.
‘They accuse or excuse one another.’ This supposes a knowledge of right and wrong. No man can accuse or condemn another if he has no standard of right and wrong, and no man can defend an action unless he has a similar standard. The Gentile is not without law, though he is without the written law of Moses; and he shall be judged and condemned according to light and knowledge (Romans 1:18-20).
Romans 2:16. These words are to be read in connection with Romans 2:13. They express the time when both Jews and Gentiles shall be judged. As there is law common to the whole human race, there is a common judge, who is God; and there will be a day when God will hold this judgment (Revelation 20:12-15; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
‘The secrets of men’ means that this judgment will include all things, even the most secret and most concealed. It is not like the judgments of men which cannot discern the thoughts and the heart. God will not only expose the external but the internal guilt, even the inmost thoughts of men (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
‘By Jesus Christ.’ Jesus Christ will conduct the judgment, for he is the Judge of the quick and the dead; and to him hath the Father committed all things (John 5:22; Acts 17:31; Revelation 1:17-18).
‘According to my gospel.’ That is, the gospel which he preached. The gospel includes everything revealed by Christ, and this judgment is declared therein (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:18; John 3:36).
‘In the economy of Jesus Christ there are two extreme degrees, one of abasement, the other of exaltation. The lowest degree of his abasement was his death and burial. The opposite degree of his exaltation will be the last Judgment. In his death he was covered with reproaches and pierced with the arrows of divine justice. He was exposed on the cross as a spectacle to the whole city of Jerusalem. In the Last Judgment, arrayed in glory and majesty, he will appear before the whole universe in the glory of his Father (Philippians 2:6-11).’ –Robert Haldane
Who may be called a true Jew?
From here to the end of the chapter the Jews were especially addressed in order to show that all of their external advantages over the Gentiles, such as the law, the ceremony, the prophets, and so forth, would not justify them before God! They were sinners like the Gentiles, and trusting in these external types and privileges only aggravated their condemnation.
Romans 2:17-20. In these four verses Paul deals with the privileges of the Jews under six particular headings.
1. ‘You bear the name of Jew.’ They were Abraham's seed. In that name they were distinguished from all other nations and people.
2. ‘You rest in the law.’ It was not that they loved the law, or obeyed it, or understood the purpose of it, or saw Christ as the end and goal of it for righteousness, but only that they had the law and the ceremony and, therefore, claimed God's favor and blessings.
3. ‘You boast that the true God is your God.’ The Gentiles worshipped idols; the Jews worshipped the true God. The Gentiles were aliens; the Jews were the covenant people. The Gentiles had no prophets nor tabernacle; God dwelt with the nation of Israel.
4. ‘You say that you know God's will.’ What he requires, what he commands, and what is agreeable to him.
5. ‘You say that you approve of the things of God because you have been instructed by the law.’
6. ‘You say that you are guides and teachers of other men.’ They felt that they had in their law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, which equipped them to be teachers and instructors.
Romans 2:21-23. In these verses Paul reveals their hypocrisy. He establishes more firmly what he had said earlier in this chapter that, though they had the law, they did not practice it; and though they boasted of their knowledge of the law, they were ignorant of its spirituality and therefore condemned themselves (Romans 10:1-4).
Here is a man who says he is one of God's chosen people, who has received and approved of the law, whose boast is in God, who knows his will, approves of the excellent things, who teaches others that they should not steal, lie, commit adultery, or worship idols. Surely this is a man of God! He would have you believe that he is. But under this mask of hypocrisy is a thief, an adulterer, a blasphemer, and an idolater who makes a mockery of the law by continually breaking it.
Whatever advantage the Jews had over the Gentiles, they were, notwithstanding, in the same condition before God–unrighteous, ungodly, intemperate, and consequently subjected to the same condemnation.
Romans 2:24. It is written by your prophets that wherever you journeyed among the Gentiles, your conduct and behavior caused the heathen to mock the name of God (Ezekiel 36:20-22; 2 Samuel 12:13-14).
Romans 2:25. Paul here pursues the Jew into his last stronghold; circumcision! This rite was more ancient than Moses and distinguished them from other nations. Circumcision was a symbol of the Lord's covenant and a sign of all the advantages enjoyed by the Jews. They thought that circumcision itself was sufficient to obtain righteousness. Paul declares that in view of obtaining favor with God, circumcision is profitable only if you perfectly keep the whole law (Galatians 5:2-3). If you are trusting the fact that you are circumcised to reconcile you to God and you do not keep the whole law, you may as well be uncircumcised.
Romans 2:26-27. This is a hypothetical case, for no man can keep the whole law. But suppose an uncircumcised man should keep the law perfectly. He would be righteous before God, and he would condemn you who have the outward form and letter but transgress the law.
Romans 2:28-29. A man is not a child of God, righteous before God, and justified by mere name, nationality, profession, and ceremony. True circumcision is not something outward, but it is an inward work of grace on the heart.
A man is a true Jew (or redeemed person) who has a work of grace in the heart, who has renounced his works and looked to Christ, who worships God in spirit and truth, who has the law of God written on his heart and not in his hand, and his praise is from God and not from men (Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17).
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Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 2". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/