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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-4

The Guilt of the Jews.

Correct knowledge and judgment alone avails nothing:

v. 1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

v. 2. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

v. 3. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

v. 4. Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

The apostle had uncovered the deep moral depravity of the Gentile world, a description that may well fill the reader with shuddering, horror, and loathing. But now there was danger, and the apprehension had apparently been realized, that someone, and especially a Jew, as the connection shows, seeing the unexampled moral degradation of the Gentiles, would transfer his condemnation from the sins to the sinner, while he himself stands back in smug self -satisfaction and self-conceit. But such a person forgets that the same principle on which the Gentile is condemned, that of doing evil in spite of better knowledge, condemns him as well. He therefore that judges and condemns another is himself inexcusable, is in the same condemnation. Every one that judges: Paul purposely makes the statement very general, it applies to all men of all times. For in this that thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself: By and through the act of judging the sinful act, by condemning the transgressor, a person passes sentence upon himself, for he makes a practice of committing the same sins which he is so ready to censure in others. Note that the apostle's words are directed chiefly against the uncharitable condemning of the neighbor's person, of making personal matters of the transgressions. That class of people is growing in numbers whose members are ever ready with censure and condemnation for the sins of others, but who are themselves guilty of the identical sins concerning whom their horror is so great; and St. Paul's rebuke is very timely.

To the fact that the uncharitable critics are without defense and excuse the apostle adds an emphatic reference to the coming judgment. We, that is, the apostle, together chiefly with his Jewish readers, know that the judgment of God is in accordance with the truth, it squares with the facts, and is therefore directed against those who make a practice of doing such things. Two facts here stand out: The judgment of God is certain, inevitable; it will strike the guilty ones, no matter what their position, their real or implied importance in life, their supposed superiority over others. This is brought out especially by the rhetorical questions which Paul here inserts, not without some show of irony. Is any one of the opinion that he, for his own person at least, while he is judging those that make it a practice of committing the sins enumerated above and yet is doing the same things, shall escape the righteous judgment of God? The number of paragons of virtue and morality, largely of their own imagination, that believe God will make an exception in their case, that surely their better knowledge and correct judgment will shield them from the wrath to come, has assumed alarming proportions in our days, due to the religion of works which is being proclaimed everywhere. But theirs is a vain hope; the holiness and justice of God expects much more than an imagined superiority and a haughty aloofness.

Paul presents the matter from a slightly different viewpoint. If a person cannot escape his own judgment, if his own reasoning must condemn him, does he expect to escape on the ground of the peculiar goodness of God? Does he despise the riches of God's goodness, patience, and forbearance, not understanding or comprehending the true nature and design of the goodness of God, which is to lead him to repentance? The kindness and goodness of God at the present time is merely a manifestation of His providence, Matthew 5:45, and does not justify the conclusion that these blessings will continue indefinitely, nor that the self-restraint, the patient waiting of the Lord may not soon have an end. The goodness of God is rather a tender invitation and admonition to effect a complete change of heart, to work repentance in the heart of man. Note: That has ever been the attitude of the great majority of men toward the providential goodness of God: they look upon His kindness as self-evident, as their due, as an obligation which He owes them, and are highly indignant when "the world does not give them the living they expect. " Only he whom the Word of God has led to the proper understanding of God's goodness and mercy and thus to proper repentance will make use of the patience and forbearance of God to his own salvation.

Verses 5-10

The righteous judgment of God:

v. 5. But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,

v. 6. who will render to every man according to his deeds:

v. 7. to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;

v. 8. but unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

v. 9. tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile;

v. 10. but glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

The goodness of God, far from being an excuse for false security, rather, when abused, results in an aggravation of man's guilt. He that persists in hardening his heart against the merciful intentions of God and deliberately keeps a heart that will not be converted, will, according to, in the proportion and measure of his obduracy and unrepentant heart, heap up for himself anger in the day of wrath and of the revelation of the justice and righteousness of God in His judgment. The Day of Judgment, whose coming is certain beyond the shadow of a doubt, will be the day of wrath for such a person, 2 Corinthians 1:14; Matthew 11:22; John 6:39; 1 Corinthians 3:13; Hebrews 10:25. He adds sin upon sin, abuses the rich gifts of the divine goodness for the gratification of his fleshly lusts, fills out the hours of the time of grace with transgressions of the divine Law, and will thus finally reap the storm of God's righteous wrath and eternal punishment.

This thought is now put at the head of another set of clauses, in which the certainty, the inevitableness, the impartiality, and the completeness of God's righteous judgment is described. God will render, will pay, to every one without exception according to his deeds, Matthew 25:31-46. The works of men will afford the evidence of the faith or unbelief of their hearts, they will be the visible exhibits of the condition of their minds. The apostle illustrates this meaning in both directions. To some God will render, in accordance with their steadfastness, their patient continuance, their life-work in doing good, glory and honor and incorruptibility, as to them that strive after eternal life. God will acknowledge their patient persistence in doing good by granting glory, by having the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father, Matthew 13:43; honor, the distinction of reigning with Christ, 2 Timothy 2:12; incorruptible being and existence, an undefiled and unfading inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. Just as the believers are constantly zealous for every good work, so they also strive earnestly to be saved; and these manifestations of their faith are rewarded by the payment of God's merciful gift, eternal life.

The apostle now pictures the opposite side. To them that are actuated by contention and partisan spirit, that are of a mean, selfish disposition, whose entire manner of living is controlled by selfishness, who therefore disobey the truth, the norm and rule for human conduct as laid down by God, and give ready obedience to unrighteousness, to the perversion and transgression of the divine truth: to these God also gives their well-earned reward, lasting indignation, which is always renewed by further anger over their unbelief and disobedience.

The apostle now makes an emphatic restatement of the double payment which the Lord dispenses, in reverse order. Tribulation or affliction from without, anguish or inward distress, the torture of an evil conscience, will come upon every soul of a person that performs, that deliberately and delightedly works, evil, upon every single person, of the Jew first, in accordance with the advantages which his nation enjoyed, but of the Greek as well. But glory and honor and peace, full, complete well-being, perfect happiness, will be the lot of him, of every person, that does that which is good, his inclination not being so active toward the evil as toward the good; and here also both the Jew and the Greek are included, for the reward of God is general. St. Paul here tells what will happen on the great Day of Judgment, just as the Lord gives information concerning the events of that day in other passages, Matthew 16:27; John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7-9; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12. The position and relation of every person toward Christ is shown by his works, and therefore reference will be made to them on the last day. By rewarding the good works of the believers with the gracious gift of eternal life, the Lord merely crowns His own work in them with His full acknowledgment in the presence of the whole world. Only by faith in the Savior are good works possible, and faith itself is a gift of God; and therefore the Last Judgment will be a glorious proof of the fact that salvation comes to men "all of grace."

Verses 11-16

The Necessity of Keeping the Law Properly.

Not the hearing of the Law, but the doing of the Law has value:

v. 11. For there is no respect of persons with God.

v. 12. For as many as have sinned without Law shall also perish without Law; and as many as have sinned in the Law shall be judged by the Law,

v. 13. (for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified;

v. 14. for when the, Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves;

v. 15. which show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another,)

v. 16. in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my Gospel.

The apostle had plainly stated that the judgment of God on the last day would be a righteous judgment. This statement he now establishes by declaring that there is no respect of persons with God; the external condition, position, or station of a person, his wealth and social connections, have absolutely no influence upon Him; He is righteous and impartial. For whatever people have sinned without Law, without Law also perish; and whatever people have sinned in or under the Law will be judged and condemned through the Law. If any people in the world are not in possession of the codified Law, the statement of God's will as contained in the Ten Commandments, then these people, evidently heathen, will perish, will be lost without a formal judgment according to such rule, they will suffer eternal death. But if any people and this is true especially of the Jews led a life of sin while in possession of the Law, with the full knowledge of its demands, promises, and threats, their judgment and condemnation will take place in accordance with and through the sentence of the Law. Whether, therefore, people have actually had the Law or not, whether they have been Jews or Gentiles, in either case the sinner incurs the penalty of God's wrath. And the special prerogative of the Jews, that they had received the written revelation of God, would have no value as an excuse for the transgression of the Law. For, as Paul very emphatically declares, not the hearers of the Law would be considered just before God, but the doers of the Law would be declared righteous. No degree of external familiarity with the words of the Law will have any weight before the judgment-throne of God; if there is to be justification in connection with the Law, it must be that of a perfect fulfillment of the Law, Luke 10:28. It follows, of course, that no man living can actually be justified by keeping the Law in his own strength, by his own merits. The fact that the believers are regarded by the Lord as doers of the Law, 8:4, is due to the perfect righteousness of Jesus, in which He fulfilled the Law for us, which is transmitted to us by faith and then regarded by God as our own property, though entirely the result of Christ's vicarious obedience.

The apostle had said, v. 12, that the people who had sinned without the Law would be condemned and suffer eternal damnation without the written Law. This he now proves in a parenthetical sentence. Whenever, as often as, or because the Gentiles who have not the Law, the written Law, yet by nature perform the things enjoined in the Law, do that which is commanded in the Law of Moses on account of the knowledge which they possess by nature, in all such cases these Gentiles, though they have not the Law, yet are a law unto themselves. These facts are fully substantiated in history. There are many heathen, unbelievers, who, by following the prompting of their conscience, shun every form of extraordinary shame and vice, do the work of their calling with all diligence, give assistance to the poor, and otherwise perform deeds which seem in total conformity with the injunctions of the written Law. They are a law unto themselves, they watch over their own deeds and distinguish between good and evil. This is further substantiated in v. 15: They thereby being men that show, prove, that the work of the Law, that which the Law requires, is written in their hearts. As the Jews had the words of the Law written on tables of stone, so the heathen had the contents of God's holy will written in their hearts, not in its concrete form, but according to its general trend; the knowledge of its demands was an intellectual possession of men. And now the heathen prove the work of the Law as written in their hearts, their own conscience testifying therewith, their own consciousness acting as witness for or against them. The natural law of God, the impress of His holy will in the heart of man, which tells him in general what is right and what is wrong, is accompanied and supplemented by the voice of conscience, which judges the concrete individual acts of a person, tells him whether the specific thing which he has done or is about to do is right or wrong. This is done in such a way that the thoughts between one another accuse or defend each other. The individual judgments, the individual actions of conscience are engaged in a dispute over the permissibility or inadmissibility of certain deeds which the person contemplates or has performed. The description of the apostle reminds of a formal court session, and incidentally brings out the fact that the judgments of conscience are not always reliable, and that an erring conscience is a possibility.

After this parenthetical digression the apostle now continues his thought regarding the judgment of the great day, a thought which is also loosely connected with this sentence: On the day on which God will judge the hidden things of men according to my Gospel, through Christ Jesus. The Gospel, as preached by Paul and emphatically declared to be his Gospel, entrusted to him, that will be the norm according to which sentence will be passed on the last day, John 12:48. The decision concerning salvation or damnation will depend upon the position which a person assumed toward the Gospel and toward Jesus, the Mediator of his salvation, whether he has accepted Jesus and the salvation of the Redeemer by faith or not. And since this faith will reveal itself in words and deeds, therefore it is correct to say also that sentence will be passed on the basis of the works as they have appeared in the life of every person.

Verses 17-24

The guilt of the Jews:

v. 17. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the Law, and makest thy boast of God,

v. 18. and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the Law;

v. 19. and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

v. 20. an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law.

v. 21. Thou, therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

v. 22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

v. 23. Thou that makest thy boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonorest thou God?

v. 24. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

Here the apostle addresses himself directly to the Jews, whom he had evidently had in mind principally in the entire passage; he speaks to them as a nation. Instead of "behold" we read "but if," the entire passage showing the intense excitement under which the apostle was laboring: If a person is called a Jew, if he takes pride in applying this name to himself as a distinction above other nations, and rests upon, places his confidence upon, the Law, upon the entire Mosaic system, and makes his boast of God. These were real prerogatives of the Jews, for to them the true, living God had revealed Himself; to them He had given, not only the moral, but also the ceremonial law, and everything that the word embraced in its widest sense. And the Jews believed that these external advantages made their position safe under all circumstances. And they had also other advantages which resulted from their possession of the Law. They knew the will of God, the absolute will, since they had been instructed from the Law, and therefore they were able to make the proper distinction between right and wrong, between good and bad; they could approve the more excellent, decide what was consistent with the will of God. Every Jew also felt confident that he in his own person could be a leader of blind people, of heathen as well as of those that lacked the information possessed by the children of Israel, and thus a light of them that were in darkness. Furthermore, he trusted in himself that he could be an educator of those that lacked proper understanding and judgment, a teacher of young people, since he, with all his fellows in the Jewish nation, had the embodiment of knowledge and of truth in the Law. The Jews, in the Law of Moses, had the full and adequate expression of the divine will, while the natural law, written in the hearts of men, has become almost illegible on account of sin. And the Jews were more than conscious of their favored position, falsely arguing, however, that they held it on account of their own excellencies and therefore developing the typical form of Pharisaism as they showed it in the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Paul now, having established so much, continues in the form of a rhetorical question: Teaching now another, thyself teachest thou not? The possession of the written Law enabled the Jews to be the teachers of others; but their entire conduct was in glaring contrast to the demands of the Law. They themselves were in most decided need of true teaching on the basis of the Law. Preaching not to steal, thyself stealest? Stealing includes all the injustices, all the forms of cheating, of which the Jews became guilty in their commercial enterprises. Saying not to commit adultery, committest thou adultery? Laxness in the observance of matrimonial chastity had ever been a characteristic of the Jewish people. Detesting idols, dost thou become a temple-robber? The Jews showed the greatest horror of heathen idols and professed holy zeal for the Lord Jehovah, but they themselves had an irreverent disregard of God and holy things and withheld from God His due, a robbery and profanation which the prophet denounces in no uncertain terms, Malachi 3:8. Thou that makest thy boast in the Law, through the transgression of the Law dishonorest thou God? A threefold accusation the apostle brings against the Jews: sin against their own bodies, harming their neighbor, and showing lack of reverence toward God. And the guilt of the Jews is even greater than that of the heathen, since they adorned their godlessness and unrighteousness with the Word and name of God. For the name of God was blasphemed on their account among the Gentiles, as it is written. St. Paul here has reference to Isaiah 52:5, adopting the Greek version for his purpose. The Gentiles, seeing such gross transgressions of the Law taking place among the Jews, very naturally drew the conclusion that the God of the Jews Himself taught them this behavior, that it agreed with the religion as it had been revealed to them. That is the severest form of guilt which involves a direct dishonoring and profaning of God. Note: The arraignment of Paul applies also to all hypocrites among the Christians, people that bear the Christian name and boast of the pure doctrine of the divine Word, but incidentally are guilty of dishonesty in business, of sins of unchastity, of irreverence toward God, of withholding their contributions toward the kingdom of God, etc.

Verses 25-29

False and true circumcision:

v. 25. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the Law; but if thou be a breaker of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

v. 26. Therefore, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the Law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

v. 27. And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the Law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the Law?

v. 28. For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh;

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

To the arraignment of Paul the Jews might have raised the objection that he was forgetting the sacrament of circumcision and the special significance which attached to this rite, by which the Jews were separated, set apart, from the heathen round about them. But circumcision does not change the argument of Paul in one single particular. It is true indeed that it has its value, if one practices the Law, follows its injunctions at all times and in all cases. If a circumcised Jew is a transgressor of the Law, the chief purpose of the sacrament is lost, for it bound the Jews under the obedience of the Law. Unless the keeping of the Law followed circumcision, the Jew was exactly in the same position as the Gentile. If, now, the uncircumcision observe the demands of the Law, will not the uncircumcision of such a person be regarded as circumcision? The argument is: If a Jew, though circumcised, break the Law, he will be condemned; if, therefore, a Gentile, though uncircumcised, keep the Law, he shall be justified. What follows? And the uncircumcision by nature (the Gentile, by nature uncircumcised and therefore unclean) that fulfills the Law will judge and condemn thee, who in spite of the letter and of circumcision art a transgressor of the Law. A heathen who with his imperfect natural law succeeds in keeping some of its demands may well condemn a Jew that boasts of the written Law and of the rite of circumcision, and yet does not honor the Law by keeping it.

And so Paul brings on his conclusion. Not he who seems so according to appearances is really a Jew; neither is that a true circumcision which is obvious as having been performed in the flesh. The mere fact that a person is a descendant of Abraham and has received in his body the rite of circumcision does not make him a member of the real Israel of the Lord, of the chosen people in the real sense of the word. The situation rather is this: He is a Jew indeed, a true Israelite, that is one in heart, in the inner man; and the true circumcision is that of the heart, that which is performed in the spirit, not in the letter. When the Holy Ghost, through the Word, changes the unrepentant, unbelieving heart into a believing heart, that is the true circumcision. And the person in whom this miracle has been performed has his praise not from men, but of God, Deuteronomy 10:16. He does not rely upon mere outward descent and ceremonies, to which he might boastfully point, but he realizes that his conversion is the work of God alone, Deuteronomy 30:6. He gives all praise and honor to God alone. Note: in a similar manner it is true of Baptism, that it must not be regarded as a rite of admission, regardless of faith and change of heart. It is a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, and both obliges and enables the baptized person to lead a godly life.


God, the impartial Judge, will render to every person his reward, from the evidence of his works, according to the Gospel; the Jews that make their boast of the Law and yet transgress the Law become guilty before the Lord and will have to bear His wrath; herein circumcision will avail them nothing, for the mere external rite has no value before God unless it is accompanied also by a circumcision of the heart, which is shown in the fulfilling of the Law

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/romans-2.html. 1921-23.
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