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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Romans 2

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Romans 2:1. Therefore. This refers to the preceding section (Romans 2:18-29), especially to the inexcusableness of the heathen, the culminating proof of which is found in Rom. 2:32.

Without excuse; as in chap. Romans 1:20.

O man, whosoever thou art, etc. The application to the Jews (Romans 2:17, etc.) shows that they are now in the Apostle’s mind; moreover this judgment of others was characteristic of the Jews. But what he says is true of every one ‘whosoever’ he is (see above).

Wherein. ‘ In the matter in which.’

Another. Lit, ‘the other;’ as it is rendered in 1 Corinthians 10:29. We would use ‘thy neighbor’ to express the thought, but the Jew would not call a Gentile ‘neighbor.’

Condemnest. There is a verbal correspondence in the original between ‘judgest’ and ‘condemnest.’

For thou that judgest, etc. This is the proof of the self-condemnation; for the judgment pronounced upon others applies to the man’s own conduct. There is a ‘reproachful emphasis’ upon ‘thou that judgest.’

Practisest. The verb is the same as in chap. Romans 1:32, and in Romans 2:27; both it and the corresponding noun have usually a bad sense.

The same things. Not the same deeds, but of the same moral quality. The censorious spirit is of the same sinful character as vice; the most moral men have sinful natures, and are kept from open transgression only by the grace of God, or by a pride which is no less sinful than vice.

Verses 1-16

1. The Ground on which all men are Judged

The Jews would at once assent to the truthfulness of the previous description; but while condemning the Gentiles, they would mentally excuse themselves. To this natural, yet improper state of mind, the Apostle replies. He shows great rhetorical skill, both in the use of direct address, and in not at once naming the Jews. The truth he states, and which he uses to convict the Jews, is of universal validity. The rhetorical form only enhances the logical force of the argument. This section is, in fact, the major proposition of a syllogism: All who judge others for sins they themselves commit, are under God’s condemnation (Romans 2:1-5); for God’s judgment is on moral (not national or ceremonial) grounds (Romans 2:6-11); and, moreover, He judges men according to the light they have (Romans 2:12-16). There is throughout a movement of thought toward the application to the Jew, which is expressed in vehement form in the next section; the minor proposition being found in Romans 2:17-20: the Jew, having more light, condemns others for sins he himself commits. The second paragraph of this section, which asserts the universal principle of God’s judgment, contains a series of antithetic parallelisms (see notes).

Verses 1-29

2. The Sinfulness of the Jews, as a Proof of their Need of the Gospel.

This passage contains the second part of the proof of the universality of sin, and hence of the universal need of the gospel, wherein is revealed a righteousness from God appropriated by faith. It begins with a direct address to one who is not named, but characterized as a Jew, and passes to a direct proof of the guilt of the Jews, not only in spite of, but also in consequence of, their greater privilege, concluding with the formal declaration that no one can be justified by the works of the law (chap. Romans 3:20). The general proof of the sinfulness of the Jews is found in chap. 2, while chap. Romans 3:1-20 presents a confirmation from the Scriptures, which it is the privilege of the Jew to possess. For convenience, we divide chap. 2 into two sections: the first (1.) setting forth the grounds of God’s judgment of all men (Romans 2:1-16); the second (II.) applying this principle to the case of the Jews (Romans 2:17-29), while (3) the Scriptural proof of their guilt is presented in chap. Romans 3:1-20.

Verse 2

Romans 2:2. And we know. Two very ancient manuscripts read ‘for’; but this was likely to have been an alteration. Paul thus introduces what he regards, and what his readers regard, as an undoubted truth. It is not necessary to suppose that he means ‘we Jews.’

According to truth. This belongs to the verb ‘is’; the judgment of God is according to truth, and hence it is against them that practise such things.

Verse 3

Romans 2:3. But reckonest thou, etc. There is a slight antithesis here: ‘but (although this is the case, that God’s judgment is against, etc.) dost thou reckon,’ etc., have this opinion, or fancy.

This, namely, what follows, the description of the man addressed: that thou shalt escape the judgment of God! This seems to have been the Jewish error; according to Romans 2:2 such escape was impossible. But it is an error not confined to the Jews. ‘The sinner can persuade himself, and by many kinds of misconception stupefy himself, so as to believe that his sins will go unpunished.’ (Tübingen Bible). Ah, how common is this deception!

Verse 4

Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou, etc. A new error. ‘The despising of the divine goodness is the contemptuous unconcern as to its holy purpose, which produces as a natural consequence security in sinning (Ecclesiastes 5:5 f.).’ Meyer.

Riches; referring to abundance or magnitude; a favorite expression with the Apostle, especially in the Epistle to the Ephesians (see reff.).

Goodness: the general and positive term (taken up again), which is further explained by forbearance and long suffering; the negative terms referring to God’s tolerating sin and withholding punishment. ‘To the present hour in each life, the series of the Divine Goodness may be counted by the succession of a man’s sins’ (John Foster).

Not knowing. ‘Inasmuch as you do not know.’ Not the same word as Romans 2:2. Culpable ignorance; ignoring the fact that might be known, is perhaps implied.

Is leading thee to repentance, This is its purpose, and its tendency, but it is thwarted by man’s wilful ignorance. This verse is a question; but in the next verse, which is so closely joined with it, this interrogative form is gradually lost.

Verse 5

Romans 2:5. But. With this tendency of the goodness of God is contrasted the conduct of man. Instead of being thereby led to repentance, men allow themselves to fancy that God’s goodness is a proof that He will not punish sin.

After thy hardness and impenitent heart. As might be expected from, in accordance with and occasioned by, thy hardness, etc.

Treasurest up for thyself; thou for thyself, not God for thee. ‘The despising of the riches of God’s goodness in forbearance and long suffering is the heaping up of a treasure of wrath’ (Lange).

In the day of wrath; wrath which will be revealed in the day of wrath; ‘against’ is quite incorrect.

And revelation, etc. This qualifies ‘day.’ God’s ‘righteous judgment’ (one word in Greek) will not be fully revealed until the great day of final judgment

Verse 6

Romans 2:6. Who will render, etc. This is the universal principle of God’s judgment, and it is set forth in detail in Romans 2:7-10, which form a parallelism. In fact, Romans 2:6; Romans 2:11 are parallel; Romans 2:7-10 being an amplification of the contrast implied in both of these verses.

Works. This is the word so frequently used by Paul in this Epistle and in Galatians. Unfortunately the E. V. sometimes (as here) translates it ‘deeds.’ Some difficulty has been raised as to the agreement of this principle with the doctrine of justification by faith, to which such emphasis is afterwards given. But (1) the Apostle is expounding the law, or the revelation of wrath (chap. Romans 1:18), not the Gospel. (2) Good works are the fruit and evidence of faith. ‘The wicked will be punished on account of their works, and according to their works; the righteous will be rewarded, not on account of, but according to their works. Good works are to them the evidence of their belonging to that class to whom, for Christ’s sake, eternal life is graciously awarded; and they are in some sense, and to some extent, the measure of that reward’ (Hodge). The fact that the Apostle, in this connection, speaks of the judgment as ‘according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ’ shows that he was not aware of any inconsistency between the two principles.

Verse 7

Romans 2:7. By endurance, perseverance, steadfastness, rather than ‘patience,’ is the idea of the word, and the preposition in the original points to the standard according to which the action is performed.

In good work. The singular is used to express the character as a unit. (‘Well-doing’ obscures the correspondence with ‘works,’ Romans 2:6.) The whole phrase qualifies the verb.

Seek for glory and honor and incorruption. Future salvation is thus described as the object of pursuit; it is ‘glory,’ because of its splendid manifestation; ‘honor,’ because it is a reward; ‘incorruption,’ because it is eternal. Whether any who are not Christians have thus sought, is not declared by the Apostle; comp. Romans 2:14.

Eternal life. This is what God will render to the class just spoken of. The phrase is distinctively Christian.

Verses 7-10

Romans 2:7-10. The parallelism will appear from the following arrangement:

A To them that by endurance in good work

Seek for gory and honor and incorruption,

Eternal life: B But to them that are self-seeking

And disobey the truth, but obey unrighteousness

Shall be wrath and indigination. B Tribulation and anguish,

Upon every soul of man that is working out evil,

Of the Jew first, and also of the Greek A But glory and honor and peace,

To every man that is working good,

To the Jew first, and also to the Greek The first and fourth, second and third stanzas are respectively parallel, but the lines in the first and second, give (1) the character, (2) the pursuits, and the reward of the opposite classes, the third and fourth stanzas reverse this order.

Verse 8

Romans 2:8. To them that are self-seeking. Lit., ‘them of faction.’ ‘Contentious’ is not exact, since the word is derived from serve, meaning to work for hire. In the New Testament the derivative always means factiousness, venal partisanship; here it refers to those who are intriguing, selfishly serving a party, and not the truth.

Disobey the truth, etc. Notice how ‘the truth’ and ‘unrighteousness’ are directly opposed to each other by the Apostle.

Wrath and indignation. This is the better supported order. ‘Wrath’ points to the permanent attitude of a holy God toward sin; ‘indignation,’ to its particular manifestation, at the judgment. ‘Shall be,’ should be supplied to reproduce the change of construction in the original; a delicate adjustment to indicate that, while God is directly the giver of eternal life, the punishment of sin is the necessary result of the sinner’s own conduct, even though God punishes. Comp. a similar change in chap. Romans 9:22-23.

Verse 9

Romans 2:9. Tribulation and anguish. The parallelism is continued in reverse order. ‘Tribulation’ refers to the external weight of affliction; ‘anguish’ to the internal sense of its weight, hence it forms the climax (comp. references).

Every soul of man. An emphatic and solemn way of saying ‘every man’ (comp. chap. Romans 13:1), but possibly implying that it is the ‘soul’ which feels the pain. That the body may not share in the punishment is not stated, here or elsewhere.

Is working out evil. We attempt, by this rendering, to bring out the difference between the verbs here and in Romans 2:10; also to express the continuous action implied. The article is found in the original (‘the evil,’ ‘the good’). The verb, which means to work out, to accomplish, is stronger than the simple verb which occurs in Romans 2:10.

Of the Jew first. First in privilege, the Jew becomes first in responsibility; comp. Romans 1:16. It now becomes evident that this chapter refers especially to the Jews.

Of the Greek. This represents ‘Gentile,’ as in chap. Romans 1:16; but it should be correctly translated here and in Romans 2:10, as it is the previous instance.

Verse 10

Romans 2:10. Glory and honor and peace. (Comp. Romans 2:7.) ‘Peace’ is here used in its fullest sense; in the Old Testament it includes ‘peace, plenty, and prosperity,’ but with more of a temporal reference than in its New Testament use. Comp. chap. Romans 8:6, and similar passages.

Verse 11

Romans 2:11. For there is no respect, etc. This is not a mere repetition of Romans 2:6; but shows the reason why ‘the Jew first, and also of the Greek.’ Since God has no respect of persons, He must judge the Jew first. The verse, therefore, constitutes a proper transition to the next paragraph (Romans 2:12-16), which sets forth that God’s judgment is according to light. The phrase ‘respect of persons’ is represented in the original by one word. The conception is from the Hebrew (to lift up, or accept, the face), and in the New Testament is always used in a bad sense, of unjust partiality. In the Old Testament it sometimes has a good sense.

Verse 12

Romans 2:12. For. This introduces an explanation, namely, since God is no respecter of persons it follows that He will judge according to light.

As many as have sinned without law. ‘Without law’ is a single adverb in the original, and refers to the absence of the Mosaic law as a standard of morals, since the Gentiles were not absolutely without law (comp. Romans 2:14-15). The next clause also refers to the Mosaic law, although both here and in Romans 2:13 the article is wanting in the original. The word ‘law’ in this definite sense was so common among the Greek-speaking Jews that they treated it as a proper name, and frequently omitted the article. Since the reference to the Mosaic law is so important here, it is to be regretted that Bishop Lightfoot has lent the weight of his authority to the position, that ‘law’ without the article means abstract law, and ‘the law’ the Mosaic law.

Also perish. ‘ Also’ points to the correspondence between sinning and perishing; the latter is the opposite of salvation, and does not mean annihilation.

Under law; lit., ‘in law,’ in that condition, not simply in possession of it.

Shall be judged by law. The Jews ‘do not escape the judgment (of condemnation) on account of their privilege of possessing the law, but on the contrary are to be judged by means of the law, so that sentence shall be passed upon them in virtue of it. See Deuteronomy 27:26; comp. John 5:45 ’ (Meyer). It is evident that any other reference than to the Mosaic law makes the passage very flat. The verse teaches that the immoral heathen will not be punished, however, with the rigor of the written law, as in the case of disobedient Jews and unfaithful Christians, but according to their light. The unfaithful Christians will be judged more severely than the disobedient Jews, and the disobedient Jews than the immoral Gentiles. The last, however, will not go unpunished, since they are without excuse (chap. Romans 1:20; Romans 2:14-15).

Verse 13

Romans 2:13. For. This introduces the proof of the latter part of Romans 2:12. The parenthesis of the E. V. is not only unnecessary, but misleading; for it improperly connects Romans 2:16 (which see) with Romans 2:12, and places the important proof of this verse in a subordinate position. The Jewish mistake was that the possession of the law of itself gave them an advantage in the judgment. They practically denied that those who sinned under the law would be judged by the law. Now the Apostle’s object is to prove the Jews guilty before God and in need of righteousness by faith; this verse, therefore, is an important link in the chain of his reasoning, and not a parenthetical statement.

The hearers of the law. The best authorities omit the article before ‘law’ in both clauses; but the phrases are equivalent to ‘law-hearers’ and ‘law-doers,’ evidently referring here to the Mosaic law, however correct the more general application may be.

Are righteous before God. That God’s verdict is meant, so that ‘the righteous before God’ are those who are ‘justified,’ is perfectly clear from the whole sweep of the argument.

But the doers, etc. This form of the general principle of Romans 2:6 opposes the Jewish error, and it is not at all in opposition to the principle of justification by faith (see in Romans 2:6). ‘How in the event of its being impossible for a man to be a true “doer of the law” (Romans 3:9 ff.) faith comes in and furnishes a “righteousness by faith,” and then how man, by means of the “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) attained through faith, must and can fulfil (Romans 8:4) the law fulfilled by Christ (“the law of the Spirit of life,” Romans 8:2), were topics not belonging to the present discussion’ (Meyer).

Shall be justified. Hence this phrase means, ‘shall be accounted righteous.’ (See Excursus on Galatians, chap. 2, and below, under chap. 3. It is especially unfortunate here, where the adjective ‘righteous’ occurs, that we have no corresponding verb, of the same derivation, to express the sense of ‘justify.’) This is the theoretical effect of law, and is the practical effect when by faith one is made, as the result of justification, a doer of the law. (Comp. note on Romans 2:6.)

Verse 14

Romans 2:14. For. The principle of Romans 2:13 is now applied, so far as it can be, to the Gentiles, and this thought is parenthetical (Romans 2:14-15); Romans 2:16 being connected with the close of Romans 2:13. It is not necessary to insist upon the insertion of marks of a parenthesis in the translation, but the two verses should not be separated by a period. Here, as in the previous discussion, the theoretical effect of law is set forth. The Gentiles have a law within themselves, which is, so to speak, a substitute for the Mosaic law, and by this law they are judged, by the doing of it, not by the hearing of it. It is not asserted that any do thus attain to justification; the word we render whenever having a conditional force.

Gentiles. The article is wanting; the expression refers to those Gentiles among whom the supposed case occurs.

That have not the law, lit, or, ‘having not a law;’ the state of the Gentiles as a whole, they have not a revealed law. Hence this description makes ‘Gentiles’ = ‘the Gentiles.’

Do by nature the things of the law. ‘ By nature,’ independently of express enactment; on this the emphasis rests. The paraphrase of the E. V: ‘the things’ contained ‘in the law,’ is quite near the meaning. This form points to individual requirements, rather than to the keeping of the whole law. The explanation: ‘do what the law does,’ command, convince, condemn, etc., is opposed by the phrase ‘doers of the law’ (Romans 2:13).

Not having the law, etc. Since they do not have, or though they do not have. The former is preferable, in view of the connection of thought. Their moral nature supplies for them the place of the revealed law, in the case supposed. It is not implied that the place of the Mosaic law is thus fully supplied.

Verse 15

Romans 2:15. Who: or, ‘being such as.’ This is virtually the proof that they are a law unto themselves.

Shew the work of the law. By their doing of it show what is the work of the law = the sum of ‘the things of the law’ (Romans 2:14).

Written in their hearts. They show that this work of the law is written in their hearts. That is, the Gentiles, in the case assumed, are a law unto themselves, as is evident from their showing by their acts that what the law enjoins is written in their hearts.

Their conscience also bearing witness. Their conscience adds its testimony to that of their act; ‘witnesses together with.’ The practical proof (‘show,’ etc.), is confirmed by this internal use.

Their thoughts one with another. ‘ Meanwhile’ is incorrect. The question arises, whether ‘one with another’ refers to ‘thoughts’ or to the persons spoken of. The latter view (which would be better expressed by placing ‘one with another’ at the close of the verse) indicates that their moral judgments upon one another also attest that the law is written in their hearts. The former view, which is preferable, makes the whole of the latter part of the verse refer to the moral process which takes place in the heart of man after a good or bad act: the conscience sits in judgment, rendering sentence in God’s name according to the law; the ‘thoughts’ are the several moral reflections which appear as witnesses in this court of conscience.

Accusing or even excusing them. ‘ Even’ is preferable to ‘also,’ since it suggests that the conscience finds more accusing than excusing thoughts. It is also true, that adverse judgments of other persons are more common, but we adopt the view that the judgment spoken of is that of a man upon his own acts and feelings. ‘This judicial process, which takes place here in every man’s heart, is a forerunner of the great judgment at the end of the world’ (comp. Romans 2:16). ‘How can we fail to admire here both that fine analysis with which the Apostle reveals in the heart of the Gentiles a true hall of judgment where are heard the witnesses against and for the accused, then the sentence of the judge,

and that largeness of heart with which, after having traced so repulsive a picture of the moral deformities of the Gentile life (chap. 1), he brings out here in a manner not less striking the indestructible moral elements of which that life, although so profoundly sunken, offers now and then the unexceptionable signs.’ (Godet)

Verse 16

Romans 2:16. In the day. The question of connection is the important one. Some Join directly with Romans 2:15;, referring the ‘day’ to the day when the gospel is preached to the Gentiles, and the demonstration of Romans 2:14-15 is made. But this verse seems to point to the future judgment. Most commentators, therefore, look for the connection in some more appropriate part of the preceding context. The E. V. loins with Romans 2:12, but Romans 2:13 is not parenthetical (see Romans 2:13). Romans 2:14-15 are, however, and the connection with Romans 2:13 (‘the doers of the law shall be justified’) is even more appropriate, since it brings the discussion closer to the main thought, namely, the conviction of the Jews. (Romans 2:5; Romans 2:10, which have been suggested, are too remote.) The attempt to preserve the close connection with Romans 2:15, rendering ‘unto the day,’ is grammatically objectionable.

Shall judge. A change of accent permits the translation, ‘judgeth,’ but even the present tense might point to the great day of judgment.

The secrets of men. In order to justify the doers of the law (Romans 2:13), the moral quality of their actions must be determined; this is not known to men, it belongs to the secret things.

According to my gospel. This cannot refer to a writing called Paul’s Gospel. It was the gospel he preached, ‘my’ pointing either to the fact that he preached it, or to his special message to the Gentiles. The gospel of the free grace of God in Christ for the salvation of all that believe, revealed to him directly by Christ at his conversion and call to the Apostleship; comp. Galatians 1:7-9; Galatians 1:11; Galatians 1:16. ‘According to’ may refer only to the fact of judgment, which his gospel declares; but this seems a weak thought in this connection. Paul was so assured of the truth of the gospel he preached that he conceives of it as presenting the standard of judgment in the great day. Nor is this an inappropriate thought. The principle of Romans 2:13, it is thus indicated, accords with the gospel; furthermore, the gospel is about Jesus Christ (chap. Romans 1:3-4), and the judgment is through Jesus Christ, who is not only Mediator in the gospel, but Judge in the great ‘day’ (comp. Acts 17:30-31); and many similar passages. The Saviour is Judge; good news for those who accept Him, but a warning to those who refuse Him. Since He is the Judge, and God renders ‘to every man according to his works’ (Romans 2:6), our good works also are through Jesus Christ, and His salvation must result in such works.

Verse 17

Romans 2:17. But if. The addition of a single letter in the Greek gives this sense, which is without doubt the correct one. The construction is modified by the change; Romans 2:17-20 form the conditional part of the sentence, and Romans 2:21-24 the conclusion (apodosis) in the form of successive questions (but see on Romans 2:23). ‘If’ is, of course, rhetorical; there could be no doubt as to the position and feelings of the Jew.

Thou. Emphatic, as the original indicates.

Bearest the name of. ‘Art called,’ is incorrect, ‘art named’ is not so exact as the full paraphrase we give.

A Jew. The name of Judah had a religious sense, and the title ‘Jew’ was regarded as highly honorable. The title ‘Christian’ may also become a mere title.

Bestest upon the law. The article is omitted, but the Mosaic law is, of course, meant

Boastest in God. The verb may be rendered ‘boast’ or, ‘glory.’ The former word suggests a false glorying, arising from bigotry and conceit, and this is the sense here; but ‘glory’ would preserve the correspondence with the passage where the word retains its good sense.

Verses 17-29

2. The Jew is Condemned; His External Circumcision does not Avail.

This section contains the direct application to the case of the Jew, in the form of an indignant outburst (Romans 2:17-24), much of the vehemence of which has been lost through the incorrect reading followed in the E. V.; the general principle is then applied to circumcision (Romans 2:25-29); preparing the way for the thought of chap. 3. The stronghold of Jewish pride was the sign of circumcision, and a reference to it could not well be omitted in this rebuke of Jewish pride. Romans 2:17-24 virtually resume the thought of Romans 2:1-3, but this thought had been enforced in the intervening verses, so that there is no abrupt change of subject. (Romans 2:17-20 form the minor proposition; Romans 2:21-24, the conclusion of the syllogism introduced by the last section.) No man must condemn another, for the judgment is on moral grounds and according to light (Romans 2:1-16); the Jew condemns others, proud of his religious privileges (Romans 2:17-20); which but makes his immorality the more inexcusable (Romans 2:21-24), and there is no escape through circumcision, since true circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:25-29).

Verse 18

Romans 2:18. And knowest his will; lit, ‘the will,’ evidently God’s will, as revealed in the law.

Approvest the things that are excellent; or, ‘dost distinguish the things that differ.’ Both translations are verbally exact, the latter being more in accordance with usage. But it gives so tame a sense here, in this glowing rebuke, that the other is to be preferred.

Being instructed, etc. This was the means by which the will of God was known, and the excellent things approved. There is a reference to the public reading and exposition of the law in the synagogue.

Verse 19

Romans 2:19. And art confident. Romans 2:19-20 set forth the attitude of the Jew toward the Gentile, not only regarding himself as superior, but con-descending to make proselytes. This attitude grew out of the facts indicated in Romans 2:18, as is suggested by the connective used in the Greek.

That then thyself art, etc. These proud designations were not uncommon among the Jews, who deemed the Gentiles ‘blind’ and ‘in darkness.’ In proselyting they presented themselves as ‘guides’ and ‘lights.’ The history in the Acts shows how they held themselves toward the Gentiles.

Verse 20

Romans 2:20. A trainer of the foolish. ‘Instructor’ is too weak; ‘corrector’ is possibly too strong.

A teacher of babes. These figurative expressions correctly represent the proud attitude of the Jews as religious instructors.

Having in the law. The change of order gives clearness. This clause gives, in effect, the reason of the Jewish attitude, just described. (The article is here used with ‘law,’ because the whole law as a book is spoken of.)

The very form of knowledge and of the truth. Not the ‘mere form,’ (as in 2 Timothy 3:5), but the exact model, pattern, representative. Religious knowledge and truth had found their embodiment and expression in the law. Paul honored the law (chap. Romans 3:21; Romans 3:31, etc.), and would not speak of it as a mere appearance. Further, the severe rebuke of the following verses implies actual, not seeming, religious privilege. Because the Jew had such privileges, his sin was all the greater: to belong to the true church, to hold the true doctrine, to be able to expound it to others should make us better men; but when these things are joined with unholiness, they but add to our condemnation. At the close of the verse a semicolon should be substituted for the period (comp. Romans 2:17).

Verse 21

Romans 2:21. Thou therefore. ‘ Therefore’ sums up what has been previously said. ‘Being such an one, to thee, I say,’ etc. The questions imply surprise at such a state of things, and rebuke it.

Teachest thou not thyself. This is the general accusation, that the conduct of the Jew did not agree with his knowledge and assumed position, set forth in Romans 2:17-20. These specifications follow, with a summing up of the result in Romans 2:23.

Dost thou steal. In this charge there is probably a reference ‘to the passionate and treacherous method of transacting business adopted by the Jews; James 4:13.’ (Lange.)

Verse 22

Romans 2:22. Commit adultery. The loose practices in regard to divorce (Matthew 19:8-9; Joshua 4:4), amounted to this sin, and the Talmud charges adultery upon some of the most celebrated Rabbins.

Abhorrest idols. The noun corresponding to the verb here used is ‘abomination’(Matthew 24:15, etc.), a term applied to idols.

Dost thou rob temples; or, as in the E. V., ‘commit sacrilege.’ The passage has occasioned much discussion. ‘Commit sacrilege’ seems to stand in no necessary connection with abhorring idols, whereas the robbing of heathen temples, thus making personal gain of the ‘abominations,’ would be a grievous sin. The objection that the Jews, not regarding the idol temples as sacred, would not deem it a special sin to rob them, does not seem valid; nor can the crime be deemed so singular that it would not be mentioned here. In Deuteronomy 7:25 the destruction of graven images is commanded, but the robbery of the gold and silver on them is strictly forbidden. The words used in the prohibition (in the LXX.) being similar to ‘abhor’ here. Various less literal interpretations have been suggested: Embezzlement of their own temple taxes, etc.; avarice; even robbing God by seeking salvation by works (Luther). The sense we advocate makes the Jew partaker in idolatry by making gain of heathen idol worship: there is a climax, theft, adultery, idolatry, three sins so often associated in the Scriptures and in practice.

Verse 23

Romans 2:23. Thou that boastest in. Comp. Romans 2:17.

Through the transgression of the law dishonorest thou God? or, ‘thou dishonorest God.’ It is difficult to decide whether this verse is a question, forming a climax to the interrogative charge, or an answer given by Paul himself to his own questions, Romans 2:21-22. The sense remains substantially the same whichever construction be accepted. The general similarity of form in the verses favors the usual view, but a slight variation in the original is urged in support of the affirmative construction. It is an open question which is the more forcible. The ‘transgression of the law’ points to the infraction of the law as a whole, rather than to single forms of transgression. (‘The transgression’ is equivalent to ‘thy transgressions.) here is a summing up of the charges of Romans 2:21-22. ‘God’ is dishonored, because it is His law which they transgress. See next verse.

Verse 24

Romans 2:24. For. This word is not found in Isaiah 52:5, the passage here quoted (from the LXX.). Paul inserts it to show that he has applied it in his own way. That he does not cite it as a fulfilled prophecy appears further from the unusual position of ‘as it is written,’ after the Old Testament words. This verse confirms the statement of Romans 2:23, that God was dishonored through the transgression of the law by the Jews, and is appropriate, whatever view be taken of the construction of that verse.

The name of God, etc. The original passage is: ‘and my name continually every day is blasphemed.’ The reference was to the dishonor put upon God’s name by the enslaving of the Jews; but, as already indicated, Paul applies the words to different circumstances.

Among the Gentiles because of you. (‘Through you’ is incorrect.) The LXX. has these words, though the order is different from that of the Apostle’s language. The sense of the verse is plain: ‘The Gentiles judged the religion of the Jews by the scandalous conduct of the Jews themselves, and thus were led to blaspheme their God, Jehovah. The Jews boasted of the law, and reflected disgrace on the lawgiver’ (Lange). For the Jews were ‘the Gentiles’ Bible.’ It was as true then as now, that ‘the greatest obstructors of the success of the Word, are those whose bad lives contradict their good doctrine’ (Henry).

As it is written. He had quoted the language of the Old Testament, but not in its historical application. But Ezekiel 36:23 expresses Paul’s thought: ‘I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them.’

Verse 25

Romans 2:25. For circumcision. The statement of Romans 2:23-24, which summed up the charge against the sinful Jew, is now corroborated: ‘what I have said is true in spite of circumcision, for circumcision without the keeping of the law is of no avail; true circumcision and true Judaism are not outward matters but of the heart’ (Romans 2:28-29). This turn of thought is not abrupt, for the Jew would at once answer the preceding indictment by adducing his privilege as one circumcised. The naturalness of this defence appears from the constant tendency to deal in the same manner with the sacraments, and means of grace in general. The reference here is to the actual rite, which was a sign of membership in the people of God.

Indeed profiteth. This implies that the Jew would say: ‘my circumcision profits me, even if I am guilty as you charge.’

If thou keep the law. The original points the constant practice to habitual obedience as a characteristic. Circumcision is the sign and seal of a covenant, and the covenant had for its condition on the part of the Jew, the keeping of the law (Genesis 17:1; Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 5:3). A further use of circumcision is pointed out in chap. Romans 4:11, but here this docs not come into view. Nor is perfect obedience suggested here, but rather such sincere and hearty obedience as the pious Jew could and did render, prompted by trust in Jehovah, the covenant God, who gave blessings and promises to His people.

Is become uncircumcision. ‘Has lost, for thee, every advantage which it was designed to secure to thee over the uncircumcised, so that thou hast now no advantage over the latter, and art, just as he is, no member of God’s people’ (Meyer). The unholy Jew virtually becomes a Gentile. The same principle applies to Christian baptism, the initiatory rite of the New Dispensation; it avails nothing; in fact, becomes a ground of condemnation, if the baptized person violates the duties implied in the covenant of which it is the sign and seal.

Verse 26

Romans 2:26. If therefore. The unholy Jew virtually becomes a Gentile (Romans 2:25), does not the obedient Gentile virtually become a Jew?

The uncircumcision. The Jewish expression for ‘the uncircumcised;’ comp. Galatians 2:7.

Keep the ordinances of the law. ‘Righteousness’ is misleading here; the righteous requirements of the law are meant (comp. Romans 1:32); moral, not ceremonial, for the chief ceremonial observance, circumcision, is necessarily excluded. Complete fulfilment of the law is not meant; nor is any hint given as to the way in which a Gentile could ‘keep the ordinances of the law,’ though, as Godet thinks, the Apostle probably had in mind the fulfilment of the ordinance of the law by Gentile Christians (comp. chap. Romans 8:4), not proselytes of the gate, as Philippi suggests.

Shall not. The form indicates that an affirmative answer is expected.

His uncircumcision. ‘His’ takes up the concrete idea of ‘uncircumcision’ in the previous clause.

Be reckoned for circumcision. The phrase is precisely the same as in the well-known one: ‘reckoned for righteousness’ (chap. Romans 4:3; Romans 4:9; Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6), except that here the future is used, probably pointing to the day of judgment. At that time the uncircumcised Gentile, who has kept the ordinances of the law, shall be regarded precisely as though he were circumcised, i.e., as a member of God’s covenant people.

Verse 27

Romans 2:27. And shall not the uncircumcision. As in Romans 2:23, the main question here is whether the verse is interrogative or affirmative. Here, however, the original is more decisively in favor of the affirmative than in the previous instance. We would then render: ‘And the uncircumcision,’ etc. ‘shall judge thee,’ etc.

Which is by nature; i.e., the Gentile; ‘by nature’ = by natural birth.

If it fulfil the law; lit, ‘fulfilling the law,’ but it introduces the condition more fully stated in Romans 2:26.

Shall judge. This verb stands in emphatic position. (Comp. Matthew 12:41-42, and similar passages.) The reference is not to the direct, but to the indirect, judgment of the last day, when the conduct of the Gentile will, by comparison, show the true moral attitude of the sinning Jew.

Who with the letter and circumcision, etc. ‘With’ refers to the circumstances in which the action takes place; ‘here according to the context: in spite of which the transgression takes place’ (Meyer). ‘Letter’ points to the law as written by God; there is no implied opposition to ‘spirit.’ ‘Circumcision’ points to the covenant obligation of the Jew to keep the law. Hence the aggravated guilt of one who in such circumstances is a transgressor of this law

for that the Mosaic law is meant is plain enough. The absence of the article here (in the original) ought to be conclusive against the notion that Paul omits the article only when he means ‘law’ in general

Verse 28

Romans 2:28. For. This introduces the proof of the previous positions, Romans 2:27.

He is not a Jew who is one outwardly. This gives the sense of the original; but in this and the succeeding verse the construction is peculiar. The one who shows only the outward marks of a Jew is not a true Jew.

Which is outward. The same phrase just rendered ‘outwardly.’

In the flesh. This is a further explanation of ‘outward,’ and is to be taken literally.

Verse 29

Romans 2:29. Who is one inwardly; in his secret inner life.

And circumcision is that of the heart, etc. The E. V. preserves the parallelism, which is not so marked, however, in the original. The difficult construction of the original has led to other renderings: ‘And circumcision is of the heart,’ etc.; ‘And circumcision of the heart is (resides, rests) in the spirit,’ etc. The sense remains substantially the same. Circumcision of the heart is demanded in the Old Testament. (See references). The same principle applies to baptism, the sign and seal of regeneration.

In the spirit, not in the letter. The ‘letter’ refers to the command, viewed as a written form, which required outward circumcision. But various explanations have been given of ‘spirit.’ (1.) The Holy Spirit, through whose power true circumcision takes place. This is the preferable sense, agreeing with chap. Romans 7:6. (The exact reference is to the indwelling Holy Spirit. See Excursus under chap. 7) (2.) The human spirit. Objectionable, since unless the human spirit is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, it does not form a proper contrast with ‘letter.’ (3.) Other views, the true spirit of the law, the true spirit of the Jew, etc. All these give to ‘spirit’ an unusual sense. Observe: Paul does not make an absolute antagonism between letter and spirit. He does not object to the rite which the ‘letter’ commanded. The Holy Spirit caused the ‘letter’ to be written; even in the indefinite sense so often given to spirit, there is no opposition, since we reach a knowledge of the spirit of a command through the letter. Most objectionable is the use of this qualified antithesis to make an antagonism between the literal and spiritual sense of Scripture.

Whose praise, etc. Either the praise of true Judaism and true circumcision, or, of the true Jew. The former is more grammatical. ‘This praise is the holy satisfaction of God (His being well pleased) , as He has so often declared it to the righteous in the Scriptures. Observe how perfectly analogous Romans 2:28-29, in the tenor of thought, are to the idea of the invisible church’ (Meyer). The whole section is a declaration that religious privilege (from birth, knowledge, ritual observances) increases the guilt of those whose morality does not correspond. This position does not detract from, but rather enhances our estimate of these privileges. ‘What a remarkable parallelism, that of this whole passage with the declaration of Jesus (Matthew 8:11-12): “ Many shall come from the east and the west,” etc. Yet there is nothing whatever to indicate that Paul has imitated. The same truth has created for itself in each case an original form’ (Godet). Here is the warrant for the Protestant distinction between the visible and the invisible church, and also between the church and the kingdom of God.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/romans-2.html. 1879-90.
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