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

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-29

Sin Is Race-Wide (2:1-29)

Many readers of Romans, like many listeners to Paul no doubt, might wish to disagree with him on one point in particular. All that you say of sin is true, they might say, but it is not true of everybody. There are many persons (they would say) who have high ideals, who look down on and despise the low and vulgar sinners. They have the same disgust that you have for the kind of sins you were describing. Furthermore, what about the Jews? They have the highest type of religion ever known. Besides, they are your own people. It is all very well to condemn the masses of men; they are a sorry lot. But not the high-minded, not the Jews, surely!

Paul speaks to the first point (concerning men of moral insight and ideals) in chapter 2:1-16, and to the second point (about the Jews) in 2:17-3:20. It is true, he does not fully explain his ar­gument, nor logically prove it. He just tosses out the hand grenade and lets the splinters hit where they will. (This may be one of the places where he leaves it up to the intelligent reader to decide on the merits of the case.)

What Paul says is that the moral critic is guilty of the same sins for which he attacks others. Jesus brought this out in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and in his verdicts on the Pharisees (Matthew 23; Luke 11:37-44). Even the Romans had a proverb: "Every man carries two sacks; one in front for his neighbor’s faults and one behind for his own." It is only the moral critic who thinks he is perfect; no one else shares his admiration for himself. The man who despises the "gross" or obvious sinner, the hoodlum or scoundrel, may easily be guilty of sins which—in comparison with his ideals—are worse than those of the ignorant hoodlum.

One difficult point in this section has to do with 2:6-16. Does Paul contradict himself here? Right in the middle of his argu­ment he speaks of a future judgment at which God will "render to every man according to his works" (vs. 6). People who write books on Romans have struggled manfully with this passage. At two crucial points it does not fit Paul’s teaching about faith and righteousness (not only in Romans but elsewhere) : (1) he speaks of eternal life as a reward for "patience in well-doing" (vs. 7); and (2) he assumes that some men do actually do what the Law re­quires. One general opinion is that this passage must be under­stood in conformity with Paul’s more usual teaching, which is that God approves or disapproves men according to their faith, not their "works." Another opinion is that this passage weakens the insistence on justification "by faith alone," and that other passages should be understood in conformity with this one. Still other in­terpreters believe that this is a kind of ironic passage. Just as a certain Irishman was reported as saying, "I believe in hell, because the Church teaches it; but by the mercy of God there’s nobody in it," so Paul may be saying: "Everyone who does good will receive eternal life; but because of the sinfulness of man, nobody can claim it on that basis." Others have written that what Paul is trying to say is that God is impartial, and deals with Jew and Gentile alike on the same basis.

In 2:25-29 Paul deals with circumcision, which marked off the Jewish man from the non-Jewish. Many Jews came to regard this rite as a kind of magic, whereby a true Jew could get past all dif­ficulties and through all doors and pass an examination at the Last Judgment with flying colors. Paul’s point about it is that cir­cumcision does not serve as a label of a true Jew; that is a matter of the heart. The Jews were, by God’s intention, God’s people; but the cold fact is that many of them were not really his. One can say in modern language that Church membership is good, pro­vided the Church member is a real Christian. But being baptized does not in itself make one a Christian.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/romans-2.html.
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