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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 2

Verse 1

Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same thing. [The apostle, it will be remembered, is proving the universal insufficiency of human righteousness, that he may show the universal need of a revealed righteousness. Having made good his case against one part of the human race--the Gentiles, he now proceeds to a like proof against the other part--the Jews. He does not name them as Jews at the start, for this would put them on the defensive, and made his task harder. He speaks to them first as individuals, without any reference to race, for the Jew idolized his race, and would readily admit a defect in himself which he would have denied in his race. But Paul, by thus convicting each of sin in his own conscience, makes them all unwittingly concede sin in all, even though Jews. It was the well-known characteristic of the Jews to indulge in pharisaical judgment and condemnation of others (Matthew 7:1; Luke 18:14), especially the Gentiles (Acts 11:3; Galatians 2:15). The apostle knew, therefore, that his Jewish readers would be listening with gloating elation to this his castigation of the Gentiles, and so, even in this their moment of supreme self-complacency, he turns his lash upon them, boldly accusing them of having committed some of the things which they condemned, and, hence, of being in the same general state of unrighteousness, though, perhaps, on a somewhat less degraded plane. To condemn another for his sin is to admit that the sin in question leads to and justifies condemnation as to all who commit it, even including self. The thought of this verse is, as indicated by its opening "Wherefore," closely connected with the preceding chapter, and seems to form a climax, thus: The simple sinner is bad, the encourager of sin in others is worse, but the one who condemns sins in others, yet commits them himself, is absolutely defenseless and without excuse. Whitby has collected from Josephus the passages which show that Paul’s arraignment of the Jews is amply justifiable.]

Verse 2

And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practice such things.

Verse 3

And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? [The argument may be paraphrased thus: Yielding to the force of argument, that like sin deserves like condemnation, even you, though most unwillingly, condemn yourself. How much more freely, therefore, will God condemn you (1 John 3:20). And we know that you can not escape, for the judgment of God is according to truth; i. e., without error or partiality against the doers of evil. And do you vainly imagine, O man, that when thine own moral sense is so outraged at evil that thou must needs condemn others for doing it, that thou, though doing the same evil thyself, shalt escape the judgment of God through any partiality on his part? Self-love, self-pity, self-justification, and kindred feeling, have, in all ages, caused men to err in applying the warnings of God to themselves. Among the Jews this error took the form of a doctrine. Finding themselves especially favored and privileged as children of Abraham, they expected to be judged upon different principles from those of truth, which would govern the judgment and condemnation of the rest of mankind. This false trust is briefly announced and rebuked by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-9), and afterwards more clearly and fully defined in the Talmud in such expressions as these: "Every one circumcised has part in the kingdom to come." "All Israelites will have part in the world to come." "Abraham sits beside the gates of hell, and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go down to hell." The same error exists to-day in a modified form. Many expect to be saved because they are the children of wealth, culture, refinement; because they belong to a civilized people; because their parents are godly; or even, in some cases, because they belong to a certain lodge, or order.]

Verse 4

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

Verse 5

but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

Verse 6

who will render to every man according to his works [The apostle here touches upon a second error which is still common among men. It is, as Cook says, that "vague and undefined hope of impunity which they do not acknowledge even to themselves." God’s present economy, which sends rain upon the just and the unjust, and which postpones the day of punishment to allow opportunity for repentance, leads untold numbers to the false conclusion that God is slack as to his judgment, and that he will ever be so. They mistake for indifference or weakness that longsuffering grace of his which exercises patience, hoping that he may thereby lead men to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Those who, by hardness of heart, steel themselves against repentance, thereby accumulate punishments which will be inflicted upon them in the day when God reveals that righteous judgment which has been so long withheld or suspended, for God is righteous, and he will render to every man in that day according to his works, after the following described manner]:

Verse 7

to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life:

Verse 8

but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation [to those who, by steadfastly leading a life of work (which, as Olshausen observes, no man can do, according to Paul, save by faith in Christ), seek for glory (and the future state is one of unparalleled grandeur-- John 17:24; Revelation 21:24), honor (and the future state is an honor; bestowed, though unmerited, as a reward-- Matthew 25:23; Matthew 25:40) and incorruption (which is also a prime distinction between the future and the present life-- 1 Corinthians 15:42), eternal life shall be given. But God’s wrath and indignation shall be poured upon those who serve party and not God (and the Jews were continually doing this-- Matthew 23:15; Galatians 6:12-13), and obey not the truth (John 8:31-32), but obey unrighteousness],

Verse 9

tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek;

Verse 10

but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:

Verse 11

for there is no respect of persons with God. [Paul here reiterates the two phases of God’s judgment which he has just described. He does this to emphasize their universality--that they are upon every man, regardless of race. The punishment shall come upon Jew and Gentile alike; but the Jew, because of pre-eminence in privilege, shall have pre-eminence in suffering (Luke 12:47-48). The blessings also shall be received alike, but here also the Jew, having improved his privileges, and having more pounds to start with (Luke 19:16-19), shall have pre-eminence in reward in as far as he has attained pre-eminence in life; for there is no unfair partiality or unjust favoritism with God. The man born in a Christian home stands to-day in the category then occupied by the Jew. He will be given greater reward or greater punishment according to his use or abuse of privilege.]

Verse 12

For as many as have sinned without the law [Gentiles] shall also perish without the law [i. e., without being judged by the expressed terms of the law]: and as many as have sinned under the law [the Jews] shall be judged by the law [i. e., his conduct shall be weighed by the terms of it, and his punishment shall be according to its directions. Thus the Gentiles, having the lesser light of nature, and the Jews, having the greater light of revelation, were alike sinners. By his altars, sacrifices, etc., the Gentile showed that nature’s law smote his conscience as truly as the clear, expressed letter of the Mosaic precept condemned the Jew. Thus both Jew and Gentile were condemned to perish; i. e., to receive the opposite of salvation, as outlined in Romans 2:7];

Verse 13

for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified [Of course, the Jew had a great advantage over the Gentile in that he possessed the law--Paul himself concedes this (Romans 3:1-2); but this mere possession of the law, and this privilege of hearing and knowing the will of God, by no means justified the sinner. Jews and Gentiles alike had to seek justification through perfect obedience to their respective laws, and no one of either class had ever been able to render such obedience. The Jew had the advantage of the Gentile in that he had a clear knowledge of the Lord’s will, and a fair warning of the dire consequences of disobedience. The Gentile, however, had advantages which offset those of the Jews, thus making the judgments of God wholly impartial. If the law which directed him was less clear, it was also less onerous. In a parenthesis the apostle now sets forth the nature of the law under which the Gentiles lived; he evidently does this that he may meet a supposed Jewish objection, as though some one said, "Since what you say applies to those who have a divine law given to them, it can not apply to the Gentiles, since they possess no law at all." It is to this anticipated objection that Paul replies];

Verse 14

(for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;

Verse 15

in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them) [The meaning here may be quickly grasped in the following paraphrase: Jews and Gentiles are alike sinners, yet each had a chance to attain legal justification; the former by keeping an outwardly revealed law, the latter by obeying an inwardly revealed one. Now, the Gentiles have such a law, as appears from their general moral conduct; for when those who do not have the law of Moses, do, by their own inward, natural promptings, the things prescribed by the law of Moses, they are a law unto themselves, having in themselves the threefold workings of law, in that the guidance of their heart predisposes them to know the right, the testimony of their conscience bears witness with their heart that the right is preferable, and lastly, after the deed is done, their thoughts or inward reasonings accuse or excuse them according as their act has been wrong or right. These well-known psychological phenomena, observable among the Gentiles, are proof conclusive that they are not without law, with its power and privilege of justification. Therefore, all are not sinners because there is respect of persons with God, for all have the possibility of attaining justification];

Verse 16

in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ. [This verse relates to the thought interrupted by the parenthesis; i. e., the thought of Romans 2:13 . Not hearers, but doers, shall be justified in the judgment-day, that day when God shall judge the secrets of men’s lives and judge them, as my gospel further reveals, through Jesus Christ as judge. The Jewish Scriptures revealed a judgment-day, and the thought was not unfamiliar to the Gentiles; but it remained for Paul’s gospel to reveal the new truth that Jesus was to be the Judge. Paul started with the thought that, in judging another, a sinner condemned himself (Romans 2:3). Having discussed that thought and shown that it is applicable to the Jew, because God’s judgments rest on moral and not on national or ceremonial ground, the apostle here resumes it once more, in connection with Romans 2:13; that he may show that if the law of Moses did not shield from condemnation, neither would circumcision.]

Verse 17

But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the law, and gloriest in God,

Verse 18

and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,

Verse 19

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

Verse 20

a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge of the truth;

Verse 21

thou therefore that teacheth another, teachest thou not thyself? [But if doers, and not hearers, are not justified, why do you put your confidence in mere hearing, and such things as are analogous to it? Since only the doers of the law are justified, why do you vainly trust that you will be acceptable because you bear the proud name of Jew (Galatians 2:15; Philippians 3:5; Revelation 2:9), rather than the humble one of Gentile? Why do you rest confidently merely because you possess a better law than the Gentiles, because you glory in the worship of the true God (Deuteronomy 4:7), and in knowing his will (Psalms 147:19-20), and in being instructed so as to approve the more excellent things of the Jewish religion above the debauchery of idolatry? Of what avail are these things when God demands doing and not mere knowing? And of what profit is it to you if the law does give you such a correct knowledge of the truth that you are to the Gentiles, yea, even to their chief philosophers, as a guide to the blind, a light to the benighted, a wise man among fools, a skilled teacher among children? Of what avail or profit is it all if, with all this ability, you teach only others and fail to teach yourself? The apostle next shows, in detail, how truly the Jew had failed to profit by his knowledge, so as to become a doer of the law.] thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Verse 22

thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?

Verse 23

thou who gloriest in the law, through thy transgression of the law dishonorest thou god? [These questions bring out the flagrant inconsistencies between Jewish preaching and practice. Teaching others not to steal, the Jew, though probably not often guilty of technical theft, was continually practically guilty of it in his business dealings, wherein, by the use of false weights, extortion, cheating, etc., he gathered money for which he had returned no just equivalent. Unchastity was also a besetting sin of the Jews, showing itself in the corrupt practice of permitting divorces without reasonable or righteous cause (Matthew 19:8-9). Some of the most celebrated Rabbis are, in the Talmud, charged with adultery. Paul’s accusation, that the Jews robbed temples, has been a puzzle to many. This robbing of the temple, according to the context of his argument, must have been a species of idolatry, for he is charging the Jews with doing the very things which they condemned. They condemned stealing, and stole; they denounced adultery, and committed it; they abhorred idols, yet robbed the temples of them that they might worship them. Such is the clear meaning, according to the context. But we have no evidence that the Jews of Paul’s day did such a thing. The charge is doubtless historic. The Jewish history, in which they gloried, showed that the fathers, in whom they had taken so much pride, had done this thing over and over again, and the same spirit was in their children, though more covertly concealed (comp. Matthew 23:29-32). The last question sums up the Jewish misconduct: glorying in the law, as is shown in Rom 2:17-20; they yet dishonored the God of the law by transgressing it, as is shown in this paragraph.]

Verse 24

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written. [Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23 . By their conduct the Jews had fulfilled the words of Isaiah and the meaning of Ezekiel. The Gentiles, judging by the principle that a god may be known by his worshipers, had, by reason of the Jews, judged Jehovah to be of such a character that their judgment became a blasphemy. (See also Ezekiel 16:51-59) Thus Paul took from the Jew a confidence of divine favor, which he had because he possessed the law. But the law was not the sole confidence of the Jew, for he had circumcision also, and he regarded this rite as a seal or conclusive evidence that he belonged to the people of God, being thereby separated by an infinite distance from all other people. He looked with scorn and contempt on the uncircumcised, even using the term as an odious epithet (Genesis 34:14; Exodus 12:48; 1 Samuel 17:26; 2 Samuel 1:20; Isaiah 52:1; Ezekiel 28:10) The apostle, therefore, turns his fire so as to dislodge the Jew from this deceptive stronghold. He drives him from his hope and trust in circumcision.]

Verse 25

For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law: but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.

Verse 26

If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision? [In verse 25 the apostle takes up the case of the Jew; in verse 26 that of the Gentile. By circumcision the former entered into a covenant with God, and part of the terms of his covenant was an agreement to obey the law. Thus the law was superior to circumcision, so much so that it, as it were, disfranchised or expatriated an Israelite for disobedience, despite his circumcision. On the contrary, if an uncircumcised Gentile obeyed the law, then the law naturalized and received him into the spiritual theocracy, notwithstanding his lack of circumcision. The verses are not an argument, but a plain statement of the great truth that circumcision, though beneficial to the law-abiding, has no power to withstand the law when condemning the lawless. In short, the Jew and Gentile stood on equal footing, for, though the Jew had a better covenant (circumcision) and a better law, yet neither attained to salvation, for neither kept the law.]

Verse 27

and shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who with the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law? [The Gentile, remaining as he was by nature, uncircumcised, if he fulfilled the law, shall, in his turn, judge the Jew, who was so ready to judge him (Romans 2:1), who, with a written law and circumcision, was yet a transgressor. The judging referred to is probably the indirect judging of comparison. On the day of judgment, the Gentile, with his poor advantages, will condemn, by his superior conduct, the lawlessness of the Jew. Comp. Matthew 11:21-22; Luke 11:31-32]

Verse 28

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:

Verse 29

but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. [He is not a Jew in God’s sight (though he is, of course, such in the sight of the world) who is simply one without; i. e., by being properly born of Jewish parents, nor is that a circumcision in God’s sight (though it is in the sight of the world) which is merely fleshly. But he is the real, divinely accepted Jew who is one within; i. e., who has in him the spirit of Abraham and the fathers in whom God delighted (John 1:47). His life may be hid from men, so that they may see nothing in him to praise, but it is praiseworthy in the sight of God, and circumcision is not that outward compliance with the letter of the law--literal circumcision--but that inward spiritual compliance with the true meaning of circumcision, the cutting off of all things that are impure and unholy, and that make the heart unworthy of an acceptance into the household of God.]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 2". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-2.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.