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Romans 2

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-11


CH. 2:1-11

For which cause thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest the other thou condemnest thyself: for thou that judgest dost practise the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is, according to truth, upon them that practise such things. But reckonest thou this, O man, that judgest them that practise such things and dost them, that thou wilt escape the judgment of God? Or, the riches of His kindness and the forbearance and the longsuffering, dost thou despise, not knowing that the kindness of God is leading thee towards repentance? But according to thy hardness and a heart without repentance thou art treasuring for thyself anger in a day of anger and of revelation of God’s righteous judgment, Who will give back to each one according to his works.” To them who by way of perseverance in good work seek glory and honour and incorruptibility, He will give eternal life: but to them of mercenary spirit and disobedient to the truth but obedient to unrighteousness shall there be anger and fury, affliction and helplessness, upon every soul of man that works out evil, of Jew first and of Greek; but glory and honour and peace to everyone that works good, to Jew first and to Greek. For there is no respect of persons with God.

In § 4, Paul proved that God is angry with the heathen, by pointing to the cause of His anger, viz. the contempt shown in turning from Him to idols, and by pointing to a terrible result of it, viz. their shameful immorality. From this he now draws (§ 5) an unexpected and universal inference, viz. that God is angry not only with the Gentiles but with all men. This universal inference he defends against supposed exceptions on the ground of God’s kindness, by asserting in Romans 2:3-10 that God’s judgment is impartial. And he will show that neither (§ 6) the gift of the Law nor (§ 7) circumcision affords any ground for hope that God will deviate in the case of the Jews from this universal principle.

Romans 2:1. For which cause etc.: an unexpected result of § 4, and another link in the chain of moral cause and effect.

Without excuse: recalling Romans 1:20. God manifested Himself in Nature to leave man without excuse for ungodliness: and now Paul asserts that, by giving up the heathen to shame and thus revealing His anger against ungodliness, He has left without excuse all who estimate moral conduct.

Judge: to distinguish right and wrong, to pronounce sentence, but not necessarily an adverse sentence. We cannot avoid setting up ourselves as judges and pronouncing judgment, by our lips or in our hearts, on the actions of others. Consequently, the words whoever thou art that judgest include all men. From this universal judging, we shall learn in Romans 2:15 that all men have a moral law. In § 4, by referring to idolatry and to the revelation of God in Nature, Paul limited his remarks to the Gentiles. But now he infers, from God’s manifested anger against the Gentiles, that all men are without excuse, thus including the Jews: and, by excluding them in § 4 and including them in § 5, he compels us to think about them. From Romans 2:9-10 we learn that the distinction of Jew and Gentile was in his mind. In § 4, he gained the verdict of the Jews against the Gentiles; and he now declares that by this verdict both Jews and Gentiles are left without excuse.

For wherein etc.: proof of the foregoing words. And this proof rests upon the words following: for thou dost practise the same things. Paul looks every man in the face and charges him with committing the sins described above. This implies that apart from the Gospel all men are sinning. He does not say expressly that all men commit the unnatural sins described in Romans 1:26-27 : for these are followed by a long list of other sins. But he asserts plainly that all men do what they know that God forbids and may justly punish. We have however proof that the special sins just referred to, which were in Paul’s day so prevalent among the Gentiles, were also prevalent among those who called themselves the people of God. The best of the Jews would be the least likely to absolve themselves from this charge of universal sinfulness: for their efforts to do right would teach them the deep corruption of their own hearts. The general moral debasement of the nation is depicted in dark colours on the pages of Josephus.

If Paul’s accusation be true, it is also true that all who pass sentence on others, by doing so, pass an adverse sentence on themselves. A judge who takes his seat to try a man for forgery, and is himself a forger, by opening the trial condemns himself: for he admits that forgery is a crime, and therefore that he himself deserves punishment. In § 4, Paul compelled the Jews to join in his sentence against the Gentiles. But the conduct which he compelled them to condemn as a mark of God’s anger is, he now tells them, their own conduct. Therefore, every man who has the moral sense to concur in this condemnation leaves himself without excuse.

Romans 2:2. The R.V. reads in the text, following the A.V., and we know; putting in the margin, as read by “Many ancient authorities,” for we know: a variation in one word. This latter reading would make Romans 2:2 confirm Romans 2:1, whereas the former would make it an additional assertion. The latter reading is given by Tischendorf; the former by the other editors, (see Introd. iii. 7,) who put the latter in their margin, thus expressing doubt. The external evidence seems to me slightly to favour the reading and we know; and the internal evidence somewhat more so. But the practical difference is slight.

To their own self-condemnation, Paul now adds the sentence of a more tremendous judge.

The judgment of God: in this case evidently a sentence of condemnation.

We know etc.: an appeal to their own conscience. Men may call in question the grounds of their belief that God will punish sin: but with a voice which they cannot contradict their own hearts tell them that He does so. In Xenophon’s Anabasis bk. ii. 5. 7, a Greek general reminds a Persian that to break oaths is to incur the anger of the gods, and that from their anger none can escape. Here we have one heathen appealing to another, to a stranger in race and religion, on the ground of a moral truth admitted by all.

According to truth: corresponding with the reality of the case, with man’s actual conduct. All judges aim at this: God attains it.

Upon: as in Romans 1:18.

We now see the justice of the universal inference in Romans 2:1. God made His name known to the Gentiles, in order to take from them all excuse for ungodliness. They treated with contempt His revelation of Himself: and in proof of His anger He gave them up to gross sin. In a more definite manner God made Himself known to the Jews: and their own hearts tell them that they are guilty of the darkest ingratitude and the most shameful sin. Therefore, if the gross sin of the Gentiles is a mark of God’s anger against them for disregarding the revelation in Nature, and if God’s judgment corresponds with man’s real conduct, the gross sin of the Jews is a mark of God’s anger against them for neglecting a more glorious revelation. Possibly even § 4 was designed chiefly for the Jews. It is a darker repetition of Nathan’s parable. After securing their verdict against the character described, Paul turns round in a moment and says, Thou art the man.

Notice in Romans 2:2 a repetition, after complete proof, of the assertion in Romans 1:18.

Romans 2:3. A pointed question bringing out in its worthlessness and absurdity a secret hope of escape cherished by some who are guilty of the sins which they condemn in others. While valid for all men, Paul’s appeal refers probably to the Jews.

Dost thou reckon this? is this the result of thy reasoning? Paul singles out an objector and speaks to him as though he had the man standing before him. For to him every thought assumes living form and breathes and speaks.

Judgest… and dost: solemn restatement of the man’s inconsistency. He condemns himself by condemning others, and knows that his own self-condemnation is confirmed by God who judges every man according to his actual conduct: and yet he expects in some way to evade the sentence of God. The words according to truth in Romans 2:2 and the judgment of God in Romans 2:3 expose the folly of this expectation. From man’s judgment escape is possible: but who shall escape the sentence of God?

Romans 2:4. Another question, bringing out the secret ground of this fallacious hope. God is merciful; and has shown special kindness to Israel by forbearance and longsuffering of long-continued sin. Therefore, though the man lives in sin, he expects to escape punishment. Paul declares that this hope is to despise His kindness in ignorance of its purpose.

The riches of His kindness: His abundant gentleness towards men: cp. Romans 9:23. Paul frequently heaps word on word, because he feels how poor the best words are to express the great things of God. His forbearance is shown in His holding back for a time His anger against sin: in the duration of His forbearance we see His longsuffering: and in the forbearance and longsuffering we see His abundant kindness.

Repentance: a change of purpose, arising from change of circumstances or from dissatisfaction with a former purpose, and prompting a change of action. This original use of the word is seen in 1 Samuel 15:11, where God is said to repent, and in 1 Samuel 15:29, where we read that He cannot repent: cp. Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 18:7-10. In a technical religious sense, viz. to denote a sinner’s purpose to forsake sin and serve God, the word is found, without further specification, in Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:11; Matthew 4:17; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Acts 26:20. See also Acts 20:21.

Leading thee towards repentance: God is bringing to bear on this man influences tending towards a change of purpose and a resolve henceforth to do right. But evidently these divine influences are altogether without result. For in spite of them the man’s heart is without repentance: Romans 2:5. In English we should say, “seeks to lead thee to repentance.” But the Greek idiom here used is equally correct and more graphic. For the hand of God is actually upon the man, drawing him towards something better. Paul asserts that God in His kindness exerts influences which, if yielded to, would change his life purpose.

Towards: an aim or tendency: see under Romans 1:1. God delays punishment because His kindness moves Him to use influence to lead the man to a new purpose in life, viz. to serve God. But the sinner, not knowing this, supposes that God’s kindness arises from indulgence towards sin. Now a ruler’s indulgence towards sin is an evil; whereas God’s kindness is infinitely good. This man misunderstands it to be a disposition which he would himself despise in any judge, and shows his contempt of it by refusing to be moved by it. He thus despises the kindness of God. Yet upon this kindness, which he both misunderstands and resists, he leans for escape from the just judgment of God.

Notice that Paul singles out of the promiscuous mass of his opponents a man who is heaping up for himself future punishment, and tells him without hesitation that God is leading him towards repentance; and charges him with ignorance for not knowing this. From this we infer with certainty that upon all men God is bringing these influences to bear. For, if there were one exception, Paul could not use the language of this verse. Cp. 1 Timothy 2:4; John 12:32. Without these influences, repentance is impossible: John 6:44; John 6:65.

Romans 2:5. A plain statement of what the man is actually doing, the man who while continuing in sin cherishes a secret hope of escape.

Hardness: moral obstinacy which will not bend to divine influences: Romans 9:18; Romans 11:7; Matthew 19:8; Acts 19:9; Hebrews 3:8.

A heart without-repentance: result and proof of his hardness.

According to his character and heart, he acts.

Treasuring: adding day by day to his sins, and therefore to the anger of God, hidden now as in a treasure-house, but in safe keeping, till the day of anger and of revelation (or unveiling, see Romans 1:18) of God’s righteous judgment. Notice here a definite day of judgment, as in Romans 2:16; Acts 17:31; this last an important coincidence. The increasing treasure of wrath, hidden now, will then be visible to all. Contrast Matthew 6:19. This implies gradation in punishment: Otherwise there could be no increase of it.

Romans 2:6. An assertion supporting the foregoing. It commends itself to the moral sense of all men. And, as a word-for-word quotation of Psalms 62:12 (LXX.) and as giving the sense of innumerable statements in the O.T., it would appeal to the Jew with divine authority. The Psalmist’s enemies, while secretly plotting against him, professed to be his friends. He appeals to God, who, he declares, will recompense each according to his works. The passage refers evidently to Jewish enemies, and therefore implies that God will treat even Jews according to their deeds. The quotation does not expressly refer to the day of judgment. But the incompleteness of retribution on earth, taken in connection with the unfailing truth of these words, implies a recompense beyond the grave. These quoted words, if their truth be admitted, prove that the judgment of the great day will be just, that therefore all who live in sin are day by day increasing the punishment which in that day will fall upon them, and that the delay of punishment arises, not from God’s indifference to sin, but from His desire that men may turn and live.

Romans 2:7-10. Development of the great principle just asserted in O.T. language, in reference to its two sides of reward and punishment. In Romans 2:7 we have reward; in Romans 2:8-9, punishment; and in Romans 2:10 reward again.

Romans 2:7. Glory: see under Romans 1:23. It denotes here, as in Romans 5:2; Romans 8:18; Romans 8:21, the splendour with which God will cover His servants, and which will evoke the admiration of all.

Honour: a mark of the value we put upon an object: rendered price in 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23. Same word in Romans 12:10; Romans 13:7, 1 Corinthians 12:23-24; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 6:1. It denotes here a recognition by God of the faithfulness of His servants.

Incorruptibility: absence of injury or decay of any kind. Same word in 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 2 Timothy 1:10; Wisdom of Solomon 2:23; Wisdom of Solomon 6:19-20: a cognate word in Romans 1:23; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:23. Those who do right, God will cover (see Romans 2:10) with a splendour which will make them objects of universal admiration, will attest the value He puts upon then, and will abide undimmed for ever. For this reward, they now seek: it is the deliberate aim of their life, and the hope of it (see Romans 5:2) is to them a joy.

Perseverance, or endurance, literally continuance under: a brave holding up under burdens which would cast us down, a pressing forward in face of foes who would drive us back. Same word in Romans 5:3-4; Romans 8:25; Romans 12:12; Romans 15:4-5. It is one of the great words descriptive of the Christian life, representing it as a toil and conflict.

According to… good work: along a path of doing good, under difficulties and in face of enemies, they seek glory and honour.

Eternal life: reward awaiting the class of persons here referred to. So Romans 5:21; Romans 6:22-23; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:16; 1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7; also Acts 13:46; Acts 13:48 in a speech of Paul; Judges 1:21; Matthew 19:16; Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:17; Mark 10:30; Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18; Luke 18:30; and with conspicuous frequency John 3:15-16; John 3:36; John 4:14; John 4:36; John 5:24; John 5:39; John 6:27; John 6:40; John 6:47; John 6:54; John 6:68; John 10:28; John 12:25; John 12:50; John 17:2-3; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 3:15; 1 John 5:11; 1 John 5:13; 1 John 5:20. This use of the phrase by various N.T. writers leaves no room to doubt that it, or its Aramaic equivalent, was actually used by Christ. Same words in Daniel 12:2, LXX.; also Enoch chs. xxxvii. 4, xl. 9, lviii. 3: important parallels. These passages prove that Christ adopted an eschatological phrase prevalent among the Jews. His new and distinctive teaching was that eternal life will be the reward of all who put faith in Him.

Life beyond the grave is in the N.T. always a reward of well-doing, never the common lot of all men. This implies that it is a state of blessing: and this is confirmed, here and elsewhere, by the other terms used to describe this future life. The future state of the wicked is not life, but “death” and “destruction:” so Romans 5:12; Romans 6:21; Galatians 6:8; Philippians 3:19.

Eternal or agelasting: duration continuing throughout some lifetime or age which the writer has in view. That the age in view here is absolutely endless, is implied by the word incorruptibility here and in 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15:42-54; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:4, by the purpose expressed in “may not perish” in John 3:16, etc.; and is made absolutely certain by the endless life and infinite love of our Father in heaven. See under Romans 16:25.

Romans 2:8-9. Another class of conduct and retribution.

Those of a mercenary spirit: men actuated by low and selfish motives; a character always more or less assumed by sin, and in all forms and degrees essentially opposed to the Christian life.

Disobedient to the truth: equivalent to “hold down the truth with unrighteousness” in Romans 1:18. In Nature and in the Law of Moses, God manifested unseen realities. These were designed to rule the life and thought of men. But some men refuse to submit to this divine rule. Yet, as creatures, they are compelled to obey a power stronger than themselves; their only choice being a choice of masters. Refusing to obey the truth, i.e. to live in harmony with reality, they actually obey unrighteousness: this last word is used here as in Romans 1:18, which this verse recalls. Cp. Romans 6:16.

Now follows the retribution awaiting the persons just described.

Anger: as in Romans 1:18, God’s determination to punish.

Fury: a passionate outbursting of anger. Both are forbidden in Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8 : but anger is permitted in Ephesians 4:26. Human passions are here attributed to God, because only thus can God’s indignation against sin and the tremendous punishment awaiting sinners be set forth. Same word in Revelation 14:10; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1, and both words together in Revelation 16:19; Revelation 19:15. But not elsewhere in N.T. is fury attributed to God.

Affliction: any kind of hardship, e.g. poverty, sickness, persecution, or punishment.

Helplessness: literally, narrowness of space, affording no way of escape; translated twice straitened (A.V. and RV.) in 2 Corinthians 6:12.

Romans 8:35 suggests, and 2 Corinthians 4:8 proves, that it is stronger than affliction. The four words are a chain of cause and effect. God is angry, determined to punish sin. His anger bursts forth in divine fury: this falls upon man in the form of affliction; and puts him, with no way of escape, in a position of absolute helplessness. These last words imply conscious suffering: so Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50.

Upon every soul etc.: further description of those upon whom will fall this awful punishment. It will strike the soul, the seat of life; and will fall upon (as in Romans 2:2; Romans 1:18) every soul of man that works out evil. These last words are a short summary of the conduct described in Romans 2:8.

Jew first and Greek: as in Romans 1:16. In the day of judgment, distinctions are recognised; but they avail not. We may conceive the Jew standing nearer to, and the Greek farther from, the throne; as in Paul’s day they stood (see Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17) nearer to and farther from the sound of the Gospel. To the Jew, the Gospel came first, and on him the retribution will first fall: but the Greek will not escape.

Romans 2:10. Restatement of the reward awaiting the righteous, in contrast to the fate of the lost, just described; and therefore parallel to Romans 2:7. The glory and honour for which they seek will be given to them; and peace, as in Romans 1:7. It is an exact opposite of affliction and helplessness, the one resulting from the favour, the other from the anger, of God. The repetition of Jew first and Greek shows how prominent in Paul’s thought was this distinction. To assert, while recognising it, the impartial judgment of God, is the chief purpose of this chapter.

Romans 2:11. A great principle underlying the O.T. declaration in Romans 2:6, asserted here in order to confirm the statement in Romans 2:9-10 that God will punish and reward both Jew and Greek.

Respect-of-persons: literally, face-reception: to look at a man’s face and exterior, instead of at his heart and life; to take into consideration his gold ring or fine clothing, and treat him accordingly. Same word in Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1 : cp. James 2:9; Acts 10:34; also Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6. The statement that God does not look at mere externals commends itself to the moral sense of every man. It is clearly implied in the O.T. declaration of Romans 2:6; and it implies that the sentence of the great day will not be determined by the accident of birth. Yet some such accident is the only ground of trust of the man addressed in Romans 2:3. The remainder of Romans 2, is an exposition of this great principle in its bearing on the distinction of Jew and Gentile.

REVIEW. In Romans 2:1-2, Paul reasserts, as valid for all men, the assertion in Romans 1:18. That it admits of no exception whatever, he proves in Romans 2:3-11 by words taken from the O.T., and by expounding the principles which underlie them. He also correctly infers from these words that all who continue in sin are daily increasing the punishment which awaits them; and that, if they expect to escape because of God’s kindness, they thereby show their ignorance of the purpose of that kindness and their contempt for it.

In § 5, Paul has taught us that, apart from the Gospel, all men not only have committed but are committing sin; that God is bringing to bear on all men influences tending towards repentance; and that the judgment of the great day will be, both in its broad distinction of reward and punishment, and in the measure of punishment, according to works. This implies that the glad tidings of salvation announced in Romans 1:16 are not inconsistent with, and do not set aside, a final retribution according to works.

Verses 12-24


CH. 2:12-24

For so many as have sinned without law will also perish without law: and so many as have sinned in law will be judged by means of law. For not the hearers of law are righteous before God; but the doers of law will be justified (for whenever Gentiles, the men who have no law, do by nature the things of the Law, these not having law are to themselves a law; men who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing joint-witness thereto, and their reasonings one with another when accusing or even excusing) in the day when God will judge the hidden things of men, according to my Gospel, through Christ Jesus.

Moreover, if thou bearest the name of Jew, and dost rest upon law, and dost exult in God, and knowest the will of God, and approvest the things that excel, being instructed out of the Law; and art persuaded that thyself art a guide of blind men, a light of those in darkness, an instructor of foolish ones, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and the truth in the Law- the man then that teachest another, dost thou not teach thyself? The man who as herald forbiddest to steal, dost thou steal? The man that biddest not to commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? The man that abhorrest the idols, dost thou rob temples? Thou who dost exult in law, through transgression of the Law thou dishonourest God. “For the name of God, because of you, is blasphemed among the Gentiles,” according as it is written.

This section introduces a new element, THE LAW; and confirms the great principle asserted in Romans 2:11 by proving that the gift of the Law to Israel only was no deviation from it. Paul asserts in Romans 2:12 that the presence or absence of the Law will save no one: he proves this in Romans 2:13 by appealing to a principle which underlies all law; by showing in Romans 2:14-15 that this principle applies even to the Gentiles; and by showing in Romans 2:17-24 that to deny its application to the Jews involves the greatest absurdity. In this way the hope struck down in § 5 is traced to its source, viz. God’s special kindness to Israel shown in the gift of the Law; and there mercilessly dispelled.

Romans 2:12. Proof of Romans 2:11, even in view of the distinction of Jew and Gentile.

Law: a prescription of conduct by an authority claiming to determine what men are to do or not to do: see note under Romans 3:20.

Without-law: cognate word twice in 1 Corinthians 9:21 : Gentiles, who in Romans 2:14 are twice said to “have no law.” They sinned; but their sin had nothing to do with the historical and external law given to Israel at Sinai. Yet they will perish or be destroyed: see note below: but their ruin will be without law, i.e. on principles independent of the Law of Moses, of which they never heard.

Sinned in law: cp. Romans 3:19 : their sins were committed in a moral environment created by the Law given at Sinai. And this moral environment will be the standard or instrument by means of which they will be judged. The similar form of the two clauses portrays the similar treatment and fate of two classes of sinners. It thus confirms Romans 2:11.

Romans 2:13. A great principle underlying all law and frequently asserted in the Law of Moses. It supports the foregoing words.

Hearers: in an age when books were scarce and when the Law was known chiefly through public reading of it. Cp. James 1:22; Acts 15:21.

Righteous before God: enjoying His approval as judge: see under Romans 1:17.

Will be justified: will receive a favourable sentence from the judge: see note under § 9. That the future tense refers to the day of judgment, we shall learn in Romans 2:16 : so Matthew 12:37, an important parallel and a meeting-point of two very different types of N.T. teaching. Not those who have listened to a law, but those who have done what it bids, will be accepted by the judge. This is the very essence of all law: for law is a declaration of what men are to do. And it was proclaimed often in the Law of Moses and by the prophets. Cp. Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10. Moreover, if this principle be admitted, if the rewards of law are given only to those who have obeyed it, and if its punishments are inflicted on those who have broken it, then, evidently, they who have sinned will be judged by means of the law in which they have sinned. Thus the Law itself proclaims the condemnation of those who continue in sin, and the folly of those who while living in sin hope to escape because of the special favour shown to Israel in the gift of the Law. Consequently, the gift of the Law to Israel is no presumption whatever that in their case God will deviate from His principle of judging all men without respect of persons.

Romans 2:14-15. These verses confirm the universal principle asserted in Romans 2:13 by showing that it applies not only to Jews but to Gentiles. All Gentiles belong to the definite category of the men who have no law. They have no external prescription of conduct like the Law of Sinai.

By-nature: by the outworking of forces born in us, as distinguished from results of education and later events, i.e. of influences which since our birth have moulded our conduct and character: same word in Ephesians 2:3; Galatians 2:15; Galatians 4:8. By nature the bee builds cells and lays up honey: and this proves that in the bee certain principles of architecture have been implanted by a higher power.

The things of the Law: actions bidden in the Law of Moses; so Romans 2:15, the work of the Law. For instance, the Law says, “Honour thy father and thy mother.” The Greeks, who never heard the Law, sometimes did this: so Xenophon, Memoirs bk. iv. 4. 20, quoted in my Through Christ to God p. 28. Their conduct, whenever they do the things of the Law, which cannot be a result of a law they never heard, must therefore spring from moral forces born in them. This obedience is only fragmentary, and therefore cannot justify: for the Law demands perfect obedience. So Galatians 3:10. But it is sufficient for Paul’s argument.

Not having law: emphatic repetition of the point of the argument. The Gentiles have no law external to themselves; yet they sometimes do the things bidden in the Law: they are therefore a law to themselves, i.e. there is within them, as part of themselves, something which is to them what the Books of Moses are to the Jews. This proof appears whenever Gentiles do the things of the Law.

Romans 2:15. Further exposition and confirmation of the argument in Romans 2:14.

The work of the Law: the conduct prescribed in the Law of Moses, looked upon as a code of morals.

Hearts: as in Romans 1:21. Their occasional obedience proves that the God of Nature, who wrote His Law on the tables of stone given to Israel at Sinai, has engraved it on the walls of that inner chamber from which comes all human action. Many disobey this law written within. But, as Socrates argues in Xenophon’s Memoirs referred to above, this does not disprove the authority of the law. Thus the Gentiles carry within them, written in their hearts, a standard of conduct which God has given to be the rule of their life.

Bearing-joint-witness: confirming what another witness has said: same word in Romans 8:16; Romans 9:1.

Conscience, or consciousness: same word in Romans 9:1; Romans 13:5; 2 Corinthians 1:12: the inborn faculty by which a man contemplates, and pronounces sentence upon, himself, his thoughts, emotions, purposes, words, and actions. It is the inward eye which reads the law written in the heart and compares with it the conduct of himself and others. Practically it is the law written within looked upon as a faculty of judgment: it is the inborn Moral Sense of man. This inward knowledge and inborn faculty of judgment, whose voice no one can contradict, confirms the evidence given by the occasional right action of the Gentiles, and proves that God has given to them a standard of right and wrong by which they will be judged.

And their reasonings etc.: a second confirmation of the same. Every day the heathen reasons in his mind whether something done by his neighbour is right or wrong. The result is that he accuses his neighbour, or excuses him from the accusations of others. These reasonings imply a standard with which the conduct of men around is compared. And in all nations, as is proved by the literature of the ancient world, this standard is in its main outlines the same: and in the main it corresponds with the moral teaching of the Law of Moses. Thus the reasonings which find utterance in the blame or praise with which even the heathen speak one of another bear witness that God has given to them a law which is a part of themselves, and is to them what the book was to Israel.

Accusing: put first because in a world of sinners man’s verdict on his fellows is more frequently condemnatory than approving. But even their excusing of others implies a moral standard written within. Of this we have now three proofs, the occasional right conduct of the heathen, their inward estimate of their own actions, and their spoken estimate of the actions of men around them.

It is easy to feel the force of the above reasoning. The ancient writers of Greece and Rome prove clearly that the Gentiles among whom Paul moved sometimes did noble actions in harmony with the moral teaching of the Pentateuch; and that, speaking generally, the heart of the people, expressed in its approval and condemnation of men around, was in harmony with the same. This proves that, although they had no outward law, the Gentiles had an inner law which was a part of themselves, which guided their judgment, and was designed to guide their conduct. The force of this argument is not lessened by the fact that on some points this law was imperfect. The letters written within were partly defaced. But enough remained to prove their divine origin, and to be a standard by which the heathen will be judged.

This argument would not fall to the ground even if the Gentiles had been unconscious of the divine origin of this unwritten, yet deeply-written, law. For all admitted its existence, whether or not they knew whence it came. That it came from God, we infer from its agreement with the Law of Sinai: and that it came from God many ancient writers acknowledge. SOCRATES, in Xenophon’s Memoirs bk. iv. 4. 19-21, referred to above, speaks of the unwritten laws held in every country, and quotes as samples honour to parents and the prohibition of incest. He says that since these laws are universally held and are evidently not a result of human legislation they must have been made by the gods. Still more explicit is CICERO in his Laws bk. ii. 4: “This then, as it appears to me, has been the decision of the wisest philosophers, that law was neither a thing contrived by the genius of man nor established by any decree of the people, but a certain eternal principle which governs the entire universe, wisely commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong. Therefore they called that primal and supreme law the mind of God enjoining or forbidding each separate thing in accordance with reason. On which account it is that this law, which the gods have bestowed on the human race, is so justly praised. For it is the reason and mind of a wise Being equally able to urge us to good and to deter us from evil… For even he (Tarquin) had the light of reason deduced from the nature of things, which incites to good actions and dissuades from evil ones; and which does not begin for the first time to be a law when it is drawn up in writing, but from the first moment that it exists: and its existence is coeval with the divine mind. Therefore the true and supreme law, whose commands and prohibitions are equally authoritative, is the right reason of the Sovereign Jupiter.”

The above testimonies receive important confirmation from the supreme authority, recognised by many who reject the authority of the Bible, of the inborn moral sense. This last is by no means infallible; but until better instructed it is the law we are bound to obey. A man may make mistake in obeying Conscience: he never does right to disobey it. The peremptory authority of the moral sense, dominating all other considerations, reveals its divine source.

From this law written within, all external law receives its authority; and by it must all external law be judged. To it appeals not only the moral law given to Israel but the supreme revelation given in Christ. And the homage paid by the moral sense of man to the character and teaching of Christ is the strongest testimony to His divine mission. It is a voice of God in man bearing witness to the Voice of God speaking to us from the lips of the Incarnate Son.

This inborn voice of God is doubtless the chief agent through which “God is leading” men “towards repentance.”

The voice of conscience is a clear monition of a universal and impartial judgment to come. For its absolute authority assures us that it is able to vindicate its commands by adequate retribution. Such retribution we do not see in the present life; and are therefore compelled to expect it beyond the grave.

Paul has now confirmed the universal principle stated in Romans 2:13 by showing how it will apply to Gentiles as well as Jews: and, by pointing to a law which all have broken, he has confirmed the statement in Romans 2:12. The difference created by the partial gift of the Mosaic Law is not so great as at first sight appears. To all men, in different ways, God has given the one law. That He gave it to the Jews in more emphatic form, does not afford the slightest presumption that He will deviate in their favour from the great principle which underlies all law.

Romans 2:16. Not connected with Romans 2:15 : for the accusations and excuses were those made in Paul’s own day. We must therefore take Romans 2:14-15 as a parenthesis. Paul declared in Romans 2:13 that only “the doers of law will be justified.” But, instead of saying at what bar and when, he stops to prove that even the Gentiles have a law, and therefore come under the application of this great principle; and then in Romans 2:16 takes up the thought thus broken off.

In the day when God will judge: recalling Romans 2:5, “in the day of anger and revelation of God’s righteous judgment.”

The hidden things of men: cp. 1 Corinthians 4:5, “till the Lord come, who also will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” God will publicly pass sentence on the secrets which the man himself, in the solitude of his own conscience, has already condemned.

My Gospel: so Romans 16:25 : the good news of salvation as Paul understands and proclaims it. He reminds his readers that the Gospel he everywhere preaches implies that God will judge the secrets of men at the great day. The doctrine of retribution beyond the grave must ever accompany, as a safeguard, the announcement of present salvation.

Through Christ Jesus: see note under Romans 1:5, and compare John 5:27; 1 Corinthians 4:5.

Romans 2:17-24. Another confirmation of Romans 2:13, in addition to that given in Romans 2:14-15. After supporting the principle that the doers, not the hearers, of law will be justified, by showing how it applies to the Gentiles, Paul now further supports the same by a personal and pointed appeal which brings out the absurdity of the position of the man who practically rejects it.

Romans 2:17-18. Jew: a name of which he is proud: cp. Galatians 2:15; Revelation 3:9.

Rest upon law: he feels secure because he possesses a standard of right and wrong, an authoritative declaration that those who obey will be rewarded and those who disobey punished. Paul evidently speaks now to the man addressed in Romans 2:3-4. But there the word Jew was kept back because others might cherish the fallacious hope there expressed; and because this hope, in Jew or Greek, was dispelled by the one universal principle that God has no respect of persons. In Romans 2:17-24, Paul’s reasoning applies to Jews only.

Exult: so Romans 3:27; Romans 5:2; Romans 5:11; Romans 11:18; a rising or gladness of spirit which has always in view the object external or internal which has called it forth, and which is always ready to express itself in words. We exult in God, when our hearts rise within us at the thought of His greatness, His power, His love to us. This man, while living in sin and therefore under condemnation of God, is lifted up by the thought that Jehovah is God of the Jews.

And knowest the will of God: another ground of confidence. It enables him to distinguish and approve the things that excel: for he is day by day instructed out of the Law. This vain confidence in a mere knowledge of the Law finds utterance in John 7:49.

Notice the gradation in Romans 2:17-18. The man addressed remembers that he is a Jew, and that to his nation the tables of stone were given. This gives him, even while living in sin, an assurance of safety. From the Law, his thoughts rise to its great Author. That the Maker of the world is the God of the Jews, fills him with exultation. Through the Law he has looked into the mind, and knows the will, of God: amid the mistaken judgments of others, he has an infallible standard by which he can determine and approve that which is really good.

Romans 2:19-20. A second flight of steps in the self-exaltation of the Jew. Having attained the position described in Romans 2:18, he confidently aspires to something higher. While he can see all things clearly in the light of the Law, others are in darkness: and he is fully persuaded that he is a guide of those who wish to walk in the path of morality but have not eyes to see the way. He can give to blind men not only guidance but sight: for he is a light of those in darkness. He will undertake the whole moral training of those who have not the wisdom which he has learnt from the Law: for he is an instructor of foolish ones. They are babes; and he offers to be their teacher: for in the Law, which he has, knowledge and the truth present themselves in definite form to the mind of man.

Instructor: one who undertakes whatever belongs to moral training, thus differing from a mere teacher.

Form: the sum-total of that by which the inward nature of an object presents itself to our senses, and thus makes itself known to us, that by which we distinguish one object from another. Whatever we can see, feel, or hear is the form of a material object: whatever we can conceive is the form of a mental object. Same word in 2 Timothy 3:5 : cognate word in Philippians 2:6-7; Mark 16:12. The revealed will of God is knowledge when grasped by the mind of man; and the knowledge, as that best worth knowing. It is truth, because it corresponds with reality: it is the truth, because it sets forth the one great reality. The knowledge and the truth represent the contents of the Law in their relation to the mind of man and to objective reality. This man claims to be a teacher, because by his acquaintance with the sacred books his mind grasps the most worthy object-matter of intellectual effort, and a correct delineation of the eternal realities. The same eternal reality, and the same true matter of human knowledge, has in a still higher degree assumed form, and presented itself to the mind, in the Gospel of Christ.

Observe the beauty and symmetry of Romans 2:17-20. They fall into two divisions, each ending with a participial clause explaining the clauses before it. In the former, we have a learner; in the latter, a would-be teacher. The second division takes a loftier flight; and is therefore introduced by a word expressing confidence.

Romans 2:21-24. A personal appeal, exposing the ridiculous position of the man addressed.

Romans 2:21-22. The man that teachest another: a short summary of the sentence begun in Romans 2:17; completed now by the question dost thou not teach thyself? “If thou hast this knowledge and art a teacher of others, is it true that thou leavest thyself untaught?”

Preachest: proclaimest as a herald, a state officer of importance and honour. He made announcements in the name of the Government, in peace or war, to enemies, allies, or subjects: so Daniel 3:4. The Jews looked upon themselves as heralds of God. The man before us does that which, as herald, he forbids others to do. He acts as Nebuchadnezzar’s herald would have done had he refused himself to bow to the image of gold.

Abhorrest the idols. In order to separate Israel as completely as possible from idolatry, God commanded them (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:25 f) to look upon everything belonging in any way to idols as utterly hateful and disgusting. They were not to bring into their houses anything pertaining to false gods; else the curse of the idol would rest upon them. This divine detestation of idols, the man before us shares. Yet he robs-temples: a recognised crime (Acts 19:37) in the days of Paul, and looked upon as specially atrocious. It was prompted by the treasures often deposited in temples. Josephus says that Moses specially forbad to rob temples: Antiq. bk. iv. 8. 10. Here is a man to whom an idol is an object of abhorrence, to whom the touch of everything belonging to it is pollution. Yet he violently breaks into the very sanctuary of a false god and with his own hands brings into his own house the gold and silver which, because consecrated to an idol, God has pronounced accursed. Paul cannot possibly refer to the plunder, direct or indirect, of the temple at Jerusalem. For this was not inconsistent with abhorrence of idols: whereas the previous questions, of which this is the climax, show that Paul has in his mind a case of gross inconsistency.

The prohibition of the three sins here mentioned is a pattern of the teaching which this man, like many Jews of that day, thrusts upon others but refuses himself to practise. All these sins belong to the secret things of men, in Romans 2:16 for the man who commits them may still have an outward appearance of morality. Notice a gradation of guilt. This man takes the property of another, invades the sanctity of his home, and hides in his own house things specially accursed by God.

Romans 2:23. Solemn assertion, following indignant questions, as Romans 2:5 follows Romans 2:3-4. Paul tells the man the practical result of the conduct just described.

Exult in law: combining “rest in law and exult in God” in Romans 2:17. He exults in the thought that to his nation God has given an authoritative standard of right and wrong; yet he tramples that standard under foot, and by so doing leads us to think slightly of the God who gave it.

Transgression: as in Romans 4:15; Romans 5:14.

Romans 2:24. Proof of the foregoing. Blaspheme: to speak so as to injure, whether against God, as here, or against men, as in Romans 3:8; Romans 14:16; Matthew 27:39 : an English form of the Greek word here used. Even the heathen saw the absurd contradiction of this man’s words and works. Yet from his bold profession they suppose him to enjoy the favour of the God of the Jews: and they spoke with contempt of a deity who, as they thought, smiled on such a worshipper.

Because of his profession and conduct, the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles.

According as it is written: same words in Romans 1:17, followed by a quotation. Here they follow a quotation nearly word for word from Isaiah 3:5, LXX. In each case they call attention, as in Romans 3:4; Romans 3:10; Romans 4:17 etc., to a harmony of Paul’s teaching with the Old Testament. The words because of you and among the Gentiles are not in the Hebrew, and were doubtless not in the original prophecy: but they are clearly implied there. Through the captivity (Isaiah 52:2) of His people, the name of God was constantly reviled. His power seemed to have been broken. Men said that the gods of Babylon had triumphed over Him who divided the Red Sea. These words were evidently spoken among the Gentiles and because of what had happened to the Jews. Hence the added words correctly reproduce the prophet’s meaning: and Paul does not hesitate to quote the current translation, though in an unimportant detail it was not verbally correct. The prophet’s words teach the great principle that the character and honour of God are at stake in His people. Men judge Him by what they see in them. If we admit this principle-as we are compelled to do both by the prophet’s words and by daily observation-we cannot be surprised that the Gentiles speak with contempt of Him whose worshippers teach others morality and themselves live in sin.

Here as in Romans 1:17 Paul appeals to the Scriptures not so much for a proof as to point out a harmony; a harmony greater than at first sight appears. In each case, God surrendered to their enemies (cp. Romans 1:24) those who, while professing to be His servants, actually turned away from Him: and, in each case, the degradation brought dishonour to Him whose name the degraded ones bore.

Review of Romans 2:17-24. In the light of the day which will reveal all secrets, Paul turns suddenly round upon a man who calls himself a Jew. In that name he glories. He rests secure because he belongs to the nation to whom the Law was given. He remembers that his fathers were chosen by God to be His own peculiar people; and the thought fills him with exultation. By study of the Law he knows the will of God, and is thus able to form a correct judgment on moral conduct and to approve the right. His possession of the Law and his knowledge of its contents give him confidence. Others are blind: he will be their guide. Himself full of light, he will fill them with light, and will lead in the right path men who have no wisdom to find it for themselves, and teach those who compared with himself are babes. All this he can do because he has the Law, in which the eternal realities, the highest object of human knowledge, are presented in intelligible form. But Paul asks with astonishment, Is it true that you who teach others are yourself untaught? He explains the meaning of this question. You proclaim as herald of the king the law against theft: do you break as well as proclaim that law? You speak against adultery: is it true that in secret you are guilty of it? You profess abhorrence of idols: to you the touch of them and of all that belongs to them is defilement. Is it true that you, regardless alike of the true God and the false gods, enter the inmost chamber of idolatry and steal from the temple and hide in your own house the treasures sacred to the heathen and accursed by God? The man is silent: the absurdity of his position is evident to all. With solemn earnestness Paul paints a still darker picture, the direct result of this gross inconsistency. By trampling under foot the Law given to guide your own conduct, you bring contempt on Him who gave it. By choosing your nation to be His people, God made you the guardians of His name and honour. That glorious and fearful Name, which to know and to honour is life eternal, you have moved the heathen to mention with derision. They have seen and ridiculed the contrast of the words and works of their own teachers: see Lucian, Works lxix. 19. They see the same contrast in you. From your bold profession they suppose that you possess the favour of the God of Israel: and they treat with contempt a deity who, as they think, smiles on you. By your deep depravity, as your fathers by their far-off bondage, you have led the Gentiles to blaspheme.

Notice the double absurdity of the man’s position. His own conduct proves the worthlessness to himself of the teaching in which he boasts. If it is good for anything, it is to make men honest and chaste and separate from idols. This man trusts for salvation to that which his own conduct proves to be, so far as he is concerned, worthless. Again, his possession of the Law brings actual dishonour to God: and this is its only practical result. Men around think less of God because this man lives among them, and calls himself a disciple of God. It were more for His glory, and therefore for the good of those who know this man, if he were a professed heathen. Now we know that God is specially jealous for His own honour. Yet this man expects to escape the impartial judgment of God because of his possession of the Law, of which the only result is dishonour to God. That he knows the Law, is his greatest condemnation.

The above argument strikes with equal force against all conduct, of Jews or Christians, which is inconsistent with profession, and which thus brings dishonour to God.

The great principle that God’s judgment will be without respect of persons, stated at the end of § 5 as the foundation of its argument, has now been defended from an objection based on the fact that God has Himself made a distinction between man and man by giving the Mosaic Law to Israel only; and has been confirmed by proof that it applies equally to the two great divisions into which the giving of the Law has divided mankind. We found in Romans 2:12 a sort of summary of the section; and in Romans 2:13 a great principle underlying the very idea of law, a reassertion of the principle asserted in Romans 2:11. In Romans 2:14-15 we saw that the principle of Romans 2:13 can be applied to Gentiles. And in the light of the great day (Romans 2:16) we saw in Romans 2:17-24 how absurd it is to deny its application to the Jews: for everyone who does so takes up the ridiculous position there described. Thus the hope which found expression in Romans 2:3-4 has been traced to, and dried up at, its chief source.

DESTRUCTION. The words perish, destroyed, lost, represent, and collectively reproduce the sense of, one Greek word denoting utter ruin, i.e. the end of the normal and beneficial state of that which is lost, the utter failure of the maker’s or owner’s purpose regarding it. In this sense of ruin material or moral, the word is very frequent in the Greek drama. It is contrasted in 1 Corinthians 1:18 with “saved,” and in Luke 15:4; Luke 15:6; Luke 15:8-9; Luke 15:32 with “found.” But it does not imply or suggest that the ruined object has ceased, or will ever cease, to exist; although it by no means excludes this idea. Certainly the lost coin in Luke 15:8-9 still existed uninjured: for it was afterwards found. But, by separation from its owner, it became to her practically non-existent; her purposes about it were utterly frustrated. The broken wine-skins in Matthew 9:17 perished when they were so damaged as to be useless. But, though torn, they still existed.

A very common use of the word is to denote natural death, looked upon as utter ruin of human life on earth. But this by no means implies their annihilation: for most of the Greeks looked upon the dead as still conscious; and Christ says in Luke 11:51 that “Zachariah perished between the altar and the house,” just as we speak of good men as lost at sea.

With these associations of thought, the word is used in Romans 2:12; Romans 9:22; Romans 14:15 and throughout the N.T. to describe the future punishment of sin. As so used, it denotes loss of the “eternal life” promised (e.g.

Romans 2:7; Romans 6:23) to the righteous, the normal and blessed state of the children of God and the realisation of their original destiny, a life beginning in embryo now and to be fully developed at the great day. The loss of this glorious life is the utter ruin of the lost ones, the complete failure of the purpose of their being, and the loss of whatever gives worth to existence. All this, and no more, the word implies. It does not imply or suggest whether the ruined object continues to exist as a ruin, or has ceased to exist. Nor does the word itself exclude the possibility that the lost may be afterwards found.

In Romans 2:12, the word will-perish asserts that the punishment described in Romans 2:8-9 involves utter ruin; as does the word “death” in Romans 6:16; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23, and “the second death” in Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:4. But these terms do not define exactly the ultimate fate of the lost.

The meaning of the word destruction and its bearing on the Eternal Punishment of Sin are discussed fully in my volume on The Last Things.

Verses 25-29


CH. 2:25-29

For circumcision profits, if thou practise law; but if thou be a transgressor of law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision. If then the uncircumcision keep the decrees of the Law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision? And the uncircumcision from nature, accomplishing the Law, shall judge thee who with letter and circumcision art a transgressor of law. For not he that is so in that which is manifest as a Jew; nor is that which is manifest, in flesh, circumcision. But he that is so in secret is a Jew; and circumcision of the heart is in Spirit, not letter, whose praise is not from men, but from God.

Circumcision, which meets us for the first time at the beginning of § 7, is as conspicuous a feature of it as was the Law in § 6. The mention of circumcision uncovers another secret ground on which the objector of Romans 2:3-4 builds a hope of exceptional kindness on the day of judgment. In § 6 he hoped to escape then because God had specially favoured his nation by the gift to them only of the Mosaic Law. But the Law, to which the impenitent man ran for refuge, gave him up to the impartial justice of a dishonoured God. Only one ground of hope remains. He bears in his body the sign and seal of the Covenant of God: by the express command of God he was circumcised. But, just as in § 6 Paul showed that the Law, so now he will show that Circumcision, will not save an impenitent sinner from God’s impartial judgment.

Romans 2:25. This verse confirms the condemnation implied in Romans 2:23-24, by proving that circumcision will not save a man from it; and thus still further supports the truth of God’s impartial judgment, the great matter of this chapter.

Circumcision profits: it is better to be a circumcised Jew than an uncircumcised heathen. But the abiding advantage is only for those Jews who practise what the Law bids. What the advantage is, Paul will, in Romans 3:1, inquire. The inquiry is needless here, because, whatever the benefits be, this man is shut out from them by the condition on which only they can be obtained. Circumcision was the sign of a covenant in which blessing was conditioned by obedience to the Law. Therefore, as a visible pledge that God will bestow the promised blessings, it was a benefit; but only for those who practise law.

But if… transgressor of law: a complementary truth implied in this limitation, viz. that they who break this law are practically uncircumcised. Circumcision was originally a token of God’s covenant with Abraham: Genesis 17:11. The blessings therein promised were a numerous posterity, a special relation to God as His people, the land of Canaan, and that from them should go forth a blessing to all mankind. As first given in Genesis 15:18, the covenant was not limited by any condition whatever. It assumed the form, not of a law, but of a promise; an absolute promise independent of man’s conduct. See Romans 4:13. Afterwards, circumcision was added as a condition of a personal share in the promised blessings: Genesis 17:10-14. Later still God made another covenant at Sinai, which He confirmed and enlarged in the plains of Moab: Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 29:1. This covenant promised the favour of God and abundant temporal blessing on condition of obedience to the Law, and threatened His fearful displeasure in case of disobedience: Leviticus 26 :, Deuteronomy 23 :. Circumcision was enjoined (Leviticus 12:3) in the Law, and was thus a condition of blessing. It was therefore to the Jews of Paul’s day a visible pledge that from Abraham’s seed should go forth a blessing for the whole world, and that God would fulfil the covenant which promised personal blessings to those who obey the Law. Consequently, circumcision and the Law always stood together: John 7:23; Acts 15:1. To undergo circumcision was to accept the Old Covenant as the basis of man’s dealings with God: Acts 15:5; Galatians 5:3; Galatians 6:13. Consequently, to a transgressor of law circumcision was practically void: it had become uncircumcision. See further under Galatians 5:2.

Romans 2:26. An inference from Romans 2:25, of the fairness of which Paul asks his readers to judge.

Uncircumcision: an abstract term used for a concrete embodiment of its idea, as in all languages and ages: so Romans 3:30. Paul dismisses for a moment all thought about the man except that he is uncircumcised.

Keep: view with jealous care, as when one guards a treasure: Galatians 6:13; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14. To disobey the decrees of the Law, is to cast them away as worthless.

Reckoned: in the calculation of the great Judge. In Romans 2:3, Paul questioned the man as to his own reckoning about himself: he now compels him to answer a question about God’s reckoning. “Since the blessings of which circumcision is a pledge are given only on condition of obedience to the Law, will not the heathen who fulfils this condition obtain the blessings? will he not on the great day stand, in the Judge’s reckoning, in the position of a circumcised man?” This question implies that outward ordinances are of value, not in themselves, but only as means to moral ends; and that the end is sometimes otherwise gained.

Romans 2:27. A solemn affirmation, following, as in Romans 2:5; Romans 2:23, an unanswered question.

Uncircumcision from nature: absence of circumcision, resulting from the circumstances in which the man was born. See under Romans 2:14.

Accomplishing the Law: attaining the end for which it was given, realising in action what the Law sets forth in words. Compare the word keep in Romans 2:26. Because the Gentile observes with jealous care the decrees of the Law, God will treat him in the judgment as circumcised: and because in him the purpose of the Law has been achieved, his presence in the judgment will pronounce sentence on thousands of Jews in whom that purpose has been utterly defeated.

Shall judge: proclaim punishment awaiting him.

Thee who etc.: vivid description of the unfaithful Jew. He has the letter of the Law before his eyes: in his body he bears the sign of the covenant: but he is none the less a transgressor of law. By his side in the judgment stands a man like Cornelius, in whom the moral purposes of the Law have been to some extent attained. In the impenitent Jew, these purposes have been altogether thwarted. The presence of the Gentile proclaims, in a way not to be misunderstood, the punishment awaiting the Jew. This verse does but re-echo the words of one Greater than Paul: Matthew 12:41-42.

The indicative future shall-judge and the cases put conditionally in Romans 2:26; Romans 2:14 imply plainly the possibility of the case here supposed. Same teaching in Acts 10:35; and a good example in Romans 2:2; Romans 2:22. From Romans 3:9; Romans 3:23 we infer that this obedience, tried by the absolute standard of the moral law, was imperfect, and therefore (Romans 2:20) could not justify. But it was sufficient to condemn utterly the immoral Jew. Romans 2:26-27 also imply that in the great day the persons in question will enter eternal life: for the only distinction then (see Romans 2:7-8) will be life or destruction. We therefore infer that some heathens will be saved through their obedience, though imperfect, to the law written in their hearts. This does not contradict Romans 3:20. For their obedience, because imperfect, gives them no claim to salvation. Like those who put faith in Christ, they will be saved by the undeserved favour of God, who will reckon-not their faith: for they never heard the Gospel, but-their imperfect obedience-for righteousness. This opens a door of hope for many in Christian lands whose religious advantages have been so few that they have never heard the Gospel in its purity and power. And it warns us not hastily to pronounce on the destiny of some upright men who have not the assurance of salvation enjoyed by many of the servants of Christ.

Romans 2:28-29. A great principle, stated negatively and positively, and supporting Romans 2:27.

Manifest: set conspicuously before the eyes of men, as in Romans 1:19. It includes the various external forms which distinguish Jews from Gentiles.

Jew… Circumcision: recalling the same words in Romans 2:17; Romans 2:25.

In the flesh: the weak and dying part of man, to which circumcision belongs. Paul says that the real distinction of men is not in outward things, and that the true mark of that distinction is not in the weak body soon to be laid in the grave.

In secret: so Romans 2:16, “God will judge the secret things.”

Circumcision of the heart: commanded in Deuteronomy 10:16 and promised in Deuteronomy 30:6, as the distinguishing mark of the true servants of God. All who have not this mark are “uncircumcised:” cp. Jeremiah 9:25-26; Acts 7:51. The infinite superiority of circumcision of heart, as compared with that in which many Jews trusted, Paul assumes; and goes on to say how it is brought about, viz. in Spirit. This last cannot be the human spirit, as in Romans 1:8 : for then it would be an empty repetition of heart. Most frequently, it denotes with Paul the Holy Spirit: and this gives a good sense here.

Letter: outward form of the written Law. For the outward rite, only a written command was needed: the inward change can be wrought only by the Spirit of God. In 2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6, written shortly before this epistle, we have an important coincidence of thought; and, especially in 2 Corinthians 3:3, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of God,” a confirmation of the above exposition. This passing mention of the Spirit is an allusion to teaching afterwards more fully developed.

Praise not from men but from God: further description of inward religion, rebuking the vainglory which prompted so much of the outward religion of the Jews. Only that which obtains praise from God will avail in the great day.

Romans 2:28-29 state, in language recalling frequent and explicit O.T. teaching, a great principle which commends itself to the moral sense of all, and which supports both the statement in Romans 2:25 and the inferences drawn from it in Romans 2:26-27. If the real distinctions are within, uncircumcision will not necessarily deprive a man of the blessings of the covenant and circumcision will not save from condemnation one whose sins are the more inexcusable because committed in spite of a written law and by a circumcised man. To prove this, is the chief purpose of Romans 2, of which Romans 2:28-29 sum up the result. God will judge men (Romans 2:6) according to their works: and a man’s works flow from his inmost self. He is (Romans 2:11) no respecter of persons: and to respect persons is to treat a man, not according to his inward reality, but according to his appearance and circumstances. Any other theory lands us (Romans 2:21-24) in manifest absurdity. Thus is dispelled all hope of escape from the impartial judgment of God, whether based upon superior knowledge derived from the Law or upon outward and visible union with the people of God.

CHAPTER II. treats of one subject, which naturally divides itself into the three sections I have adopted. Paul began by deducing in Romans 2:1-2 from Romans 1:18-32 a universal truth. That this truth admits of no exceptions, he proves in Romans 2:3-11; and shows in Romans 2:12-24 that a knowledge of the Law, and in Romans 2:25-29 that circumcision, give a man no right to make himself an exception.

The earnestness and reality of Paul’s tone prove that the opinions he combats were actually held and widely spread. Of this we have confirmation in the summary given in Matthew 3 of the teaching of John the Baptist. He saw men who while living in sin trusted for salvation to their relation to Abraham, and meets them with arguments similar to those of this chapter. The ancient literature of the Jews reveals the same errors, opposed indeed by the better teachers, but widely current. So Thorath Adam f. 100, ch. 2, “All Israel shall have a portion in the age to come:” Shemoth Rabba f. 138. 13, “Let not heretics and apostates and impious ones of Israel say, Because we are circumcised, we do not descend into hell. What does the Holy and Blessed God? He sends an angel and makes them uncircumcised, that they may descend into hell.” We have further and melancholy confirmation of the same in the applicability of the reasoning of this chapter to many Christians, not only in the dark ages, but in our own day and in the most enlightened Churches. Many who do what they know to be wrong rely for salvation, perhaps unconsciously, on their knowledge of the way of salvation-of which knowledge the only result is a readiness to teach or to condemn others less instructed or less orthodox than themselves-or on their outward connection with the people of God or their attention to religious ordinances. By teaching that God looks at the heart and judges all men according to their works, Paul pronounces sentence on all such. This may be seen by reading Christian instead of Jew in this chapter. The substitution only increases the force of the argument. The difference between the words and works of some who bear the name of Christ brings serious dishonour to His name, the name of Him who died to save them, and hinders the work He died to accomplish. God who of old required circumcision of the heart requires to-day that men worship Him in spirit and truth. These deadly errors among ourselves give to this chapter an abiding and infinite worth.

It also teaches the absolute necessity of repentance. Since God is angry with all sin, none except they who turn from sin can enjoy His favour. Consequently none can intelligently seek His favour except those who sincerely endeavour to avoid all sin, and none can intelligently believe that they possess it except those who actually conquer sin. Not only does Paul thus prove man’s need of repentance, but by proclaiming God’s anger against all sin he does all that words can do to lead men to it.

This chapter is a safeguard against a common perversion of the fundamental doctrine of this epistle, Justification through Faith. And Paul sets up the safeguard before he develops the doctrine to be guarded. DIV. I., of which Romans 2 is so important a part, was introduced in Romans 1:18 as logically necessary for the completeness of Paul’s argument. We see now its moral and spiritual necessity. Through failure of some teachers to give prominence to the truths of this chapter, the doctrine of Justification through Faith has been frequently and seriously perverted.

The teaching of Romans 2 : holds a place in relation to the rest of the epistle analogous to that of the Epistle of James in relation to the Epistles of Paul; of the 1st Gospel in relation to the rest of the N.T.; and especially of the teaching of John the Baptist in relation to the teaching of Christ. The resemblance is seen in modes of thought and even in phrases and words. It is therefore of great value as a means of harmonizing these very different, and at first sight apparently contradictory, portions of the New Testament.

Notice carefully in Romans 1:19-20; Romans 1:24; Romans 3:12-15; Romans 3:26-27 Paul’s account of the religious position of the Gentiles. God has manifested Himself to them in the created universe, and has written His law upon their hearts in the inborn moral sense. He has punished them for their forgetfulness and contempt of Him, as shown in their idolatry, by giving them up to gross sin: and in the great day He will judge them according to their obedience or disobedience to the law written within. In that day, some who never heard of Moses will be accepted because, in their careful efforts to do right, the moral purpose of the Law of Moses was in some measure attained.

The chapter from the study of which we now rise receives its entire practical value from the chapters which follow. It is a voice crying in a wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Like the greatest of the prophets, it points to that which is greater than itself. We may sum up the whole and its bearing on Romans 1 in the words of the Master, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 2". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/romans-2.html. 1877-90.
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