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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Romans 2:0


The Righteous Judgment of GodGod's Righteous JudgmentJews Under JudgmentGod's JudgmentThe Jews are Not ExemptFrom the Retribution of God
Romans 2:1-16Romans 2:1-16Romans 2:1-11Romans 2:1-16Romans 2:1-11
The Jews and the LawThe Jews Guilty as the GentilesBasis For JudgmentThe Jews and the Law (Romans 2:17-8)The Law Will Not Save Them
Romans 2:12-16 Romans 2:12-16
Romans 2:17-8Romans 2:17-24Romans 2:17-24Romans 2:17-24Romans 2:17-24
Circumcision of No Avail Circumcision Will Not Save Them
Romans 2:25-29Romans 2:25-29Romans 2:25-29Romans 2:25-29



This is a study guide commentary ,which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Romans 2:0 and 3 complete the literary unit started in Romans 1:18. This section deals with:

1. the lostness of all mankind

2. God's judgment on sin

3. mankind's need for God's righteousness through Christ by means of personal faith and repentance

B. In Romans 2:0 there are seven principles concerning God's judgment

1. verse 2, according to the truth

2. verse Romans 2:5, accumulated guilt

3. verses Romans 2:6 and 7, according to works

4. verse Romans 2:11, no respecter of persons

5. verse Romans 2:13, lifestyle

6. verse Romans 2:16, the secrets of men's hearts

7. verses Romans 2:17-29, no special national groups

C. There is much discussion among commentators about who was being addressed in Romans 2:1-17. It is obvious that Romans 2:12-29 deals with the Jews. Verses Romans 2:1-17 serve the dual purpose of speaking both to moral pagans like Seneca (societal norms) and to the Jewish nation (Mosaic Law).

D. In Romans 1:18-21, Paul asserted that humans can know God through creation. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul also asserted that all humans have an inner moral conscience given by God. These two witnesses, creation and conscience, are the basis for God's condemnation of all mankind, even those who have not been exposed to the OT or the gospel message. Humans are responsible because they have not lived up to the best light they have had.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How does the Jews' unfaithfulness affect God's promise (Romans 3:3-4)?

2. Is there any advantage before God for being Jewish (Romans 3:1-8)?

3. What is a diatribe?

4. What is the point of the supposed diatribe in Romans 2:5-8?

5. Does how one lives really count if justification is by grace through faith apart from works (Romans 3:8)?

6. What is the theological concept of total depravity (Romans 3:10-18)?

7. What is the purpose of the Mosaic law, or law in general (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24-25)?

8. Why is Satan not mentioned at all in Romans 1-3 which deal with man's lostness?

9. Are the OT promises conditional or unconditional?

10. What is the purpose of the Mosaic Law in the life of: (1) the non-Jew; and (2) the Jew?

11. Outline in your own words Paul's arguments in Romans 1:18-20 paragraph by paragraph.

Verses 1-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Romans 2:1-11 1Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.9There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:1

NASB"you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment" NKJV"you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge" NRSV"you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others" TEV"You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For then you judge others" NJB"So no matter who you are, if you pass judgment you have no excuse."

This is literally "no legal defense" (cf. Romans 1:20). It was placed first in the Greek sentence to magnify its significance. Verses Romans 2:1-16 seem to relate both to the self-righteous Jewish legalists and the Greek moralists. By their judging others they condemn themselves.

This same phrase is used in Romans 1:20, but the pronoun is "they"; here "you." Obviously Paul is addressing different groupings of sinners/rebels. Of one of the groups he was once a zealous member! There are two problems.

1. rejecting and perverting the knowledge of God

2. turning it into a set of rules and becoming judgmental and self righteous

Also note that the "they" of chapter 1 becomes "you" in Romans 2:1-8. It is universalized from Jews and Greeks into "every soul of man" in Romans 2:9-11. Though there are different groups (either two or three groups) in the end it makes no difference, all are under judgment (cf. Romans 3:23).

Romans 2:2 "we know" This pronoun probably referred to fellow Jews although it could possibly refer to Christians. In Romans 2:2-4, Paul returns to his common technique of a question and answer format, called diatribe (i.e., Romans 2:1-11, Romans 2:17-29), which was a presentation of truth by means of a supposed objector. It was also used by Habakkuk, Malachi, and the rabbis, as well as the Greek philosophers (such as Socrates and the Stoics).

The phrase "we know that" is used several times in Romans (cf. Romans 2:2; Romans 3:19; Romans 7:14; Romans 8:22, Romans 8:28). Paul assumes his hearers have some degree of knowledge, unlike the immoral pagans of Romans 1:0.

"the judgment of God" The Bible is clear on this truth. All humans will give an account to God for the gift of life (cf. Romans 2:5-9; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15). Even Christians will stand before Christ (cf. Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Romans 2:3 The grammatical form of Paul's rhetorical question expects a "no" answer.

"do you suppose" This is the Greek verb logizomai. Paul uses it often (Romans 2:3, Romans 2:26; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:3, Romans 4:4, Romans 4:5, Romans 4:6, Romans 4:8, Romans 4:9, Romans 4:10, Romans 4:11, Romans 4:22, Romans 4:23, Romans 4:24; Romans 6:11; Romans 8:18, Romans 8:36; Romans 9:8; Romans 14:14; Galatians 3:6, ten times in I and 2 Corinthians, and twice in Philippians). See notes at Romans 2:3 and 8:18.

"O man" This matches the same idiom in Romans 2:1. In Romans 9:20 it refers to Jews.

Romans 2:4 This is also a question in Greek.

NASB"think lightly of" NKJV, NRSV, TEV, REB"despise" NJB"disregarding" NIV"show contempt" NET"have contempt for"

By comparing English translations interpreters get a feel for the semantic range of the verb. This is a strong term for willing rejection. See its use in

1. Jesus' words, Matthew 6:24; Matthew 18:10

2. Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:22; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:2

3. Hebrews (of Jesus), Romans 12:2

4. Peter, 2 Peter 2:10

5. the noun in Acts 13:41

"the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience" Humans have often misunderstood God's grace, mercy, and patience and have turned them into an opportunity to sin instead of to repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

Paul often describes the attributes of God as "the riches of" (cf. Romans 9:23; Romans 11:33; Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19).

The noun "forbearance" is used only twice in the NT, both times by Paul in this literary unit (Romans 1:18-31), here and Romans 3:26. Both referring to God's patience with sinners.

"leads you to repentance" Repentance is crucial for a faith-covenant relationship with God (cf. Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3, Luke 13:5; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21). The term in Hebrew meant a change of actions, while in Greek it meant a change of mind. Repentance is a willingness to change from one's self-centered existence to a life informed and directed by God. It calls for a turning from the priority and bondage of self. Basically it is a new attitude, a new worldview, a new master. Repentance is God's will for every fallen child of Adam, made in His image (cf. Ezekiel 18:21, Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 18:32 and 2 Peter 3:9).

The NT passage which best reflects the different Greek terms for repentance is 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.

1. lupeô, "grief" or "sorrow" in Romans 2:8 (twice), 9 (thrice), 10 (twice), 11

2. metamelomai, "regret" or "after care," in Romans 2:8 (twice), 9

3. metanoia, "repentance," or "after mind," in Romans 2:9, Romans 2:10

The contrast is false repentance (metamelomai) (cf. Judas, Matthew 27:3 and Esau, Hebrews 12:16-17) versus true repentance (metanoeô).

True repentance is theologically linked to

1. Jesus' preaching on the conditions of the New Covenant (cf. Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, Luke 13:5)

2. the apostolic sermons in Acts (kerygma, cf. Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21)

3. God's sovereign gift (cf. Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25)

4. perishing (cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

Repentance is not optional!


Romans 2:5-9 These verses describe (1) the stubbornness of fallen mankind and (2) God's anger and judgment.

Romans 2:5 "stubbornness" This noun is found only here in the NT. Israel is described in this same way in Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:13, Deuteronomy 9:27 (also note Hebrews 3:8, Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 4:7).

"heart" See Special Topic at Romans 1:24.

"in the day of wrath" This was called "The Day of the Lord" in the OT (cf. Joel, Amos). This is the concept of Judgment Day, or for believers, Resurrection Day. Mankind will give an account to God for His gift of life (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15).

Notice that it is the sinners themselves ("you" and "yourself") that store up wrath. God simply, at some point, allows this stored wrath to become evident and run its full course.

Wrath, like all human words to describe God, are only analogously (anthropomorphically, see Special Topic at Romans 1:18) applied to deity! God is eternal, holy, and Spirit. Humans are finite, sinful, and corporeal. God is not emotionally angry, as in a rage. The Bible presents Him as loving sinners and wanting them to repent, but also as having a settled opposition to human rebellion. God is personal; He takes sin personally and we are personally responsible for our sin.

One additional thought about the wrath of God. In the Bible it is both in time (temporal, cf. Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:28) and at the end of time (eschatological, cf. Romans 2:5-8). The Day of the Lord (Judgment Day) was one way the OT prophets warned Israel to repent at the present time so that their future would be blessed, not judged (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). The OT prophets often took a crisis of their day and projected it into the end-time future.

Romans 2:6 This is a quote from Psalms 62:12 (cf. Matthew 16:27). It is a universal principle (see note at Romans 2:1, 2nd paragraph) that humans are responsible for their actions and will give an account to God (cf. Job 34:11; Proverbs 24:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 32:19; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:6; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8; Galatians 6:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 22:12). Even believers will give an account of their lives and service to Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). Believers are not saved by works but are saved unto works (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10 [esp. Romans 2:14-26]; James and 1 John). A changed and changing life of love, service, and selflessness is evidence of true salvation.

Romans 2:7 "to those who" There is a contrast between the persons described in Romans 2:7 and those in Romans 2:8 ("but to those who").

NASB"to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality; eternal life" NKJV"eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" NRSV"to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life" TEV"Some men keep on doing good, and seek glory, honor and immortal life; to them God will give eternal life" NJB"For those who sought renown and honor and immortality by always doing good there will be eternal life"

This referred to people like Cornelius (cf. Acts 10:34-35). This passage may sound like works righteousness (obtaining righteousness through human effort), but that would go against the major theme of the book of Romans. Remember that either Romans 2:1-16 or Romans 2:1-11 are a paragraph. The theological point of the whole is that God is no respecter of persons (v. Romans 2:11) and that all have sinned (Romans 2:12). If people lived up to the light they had (natural revelation for the Gentiles, special revelation for the Jews, cf. Romans 10:5) then they would be right with God. However, the summary of Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:23 shows that none ever have, nor can they! A believer's changed godly life is seen as confirming and validating his initial faith response. A changed life is the evidence of the indwelling Spirit of God (cf. vv. Romans 2:10, Romans 2:13; Matthew 7:0; Ephesians 2:8-10; James 2:14-26 and 1 John). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NEED TO PERSEVERE at Romans 8:25.

"eternal life" This is a characteristic phrase of John's writings and is used sparingly in the Synoptic Gospels. Paul seems to derive the phrase from Daniel 12:2 (cf. Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7), where it denotes the life of the new age, life in fellowship with God, resurrection life. He first uses it in Galatians 6:8. It is a common theme in the doctrinal section of Romans (cf. Romans 2:7; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:22, Romans 6:23). It also occurs several times in the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Timothy 1:16; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7).

Romans 2:8

NASB"those who are selfishly ambitious" NKJV, NRSV"those who are self-seeking" TEV"other people are selfish" NJB"those who out of jealousy"

The term originally meant "work for hire" (cf. Tob. Romans 2:11).

Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 104, list two usages of this term.

1. "selfish ambition," using Romans 2:8 noting "wanting to be better than someone else," which fits this context

2. "hostility," using Philippians 1:17 noting "rivalry" as a translation option (see also 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 2:3; James 3:14, James 3:16)

"and do not obey the truth," The term "truth" (aletheia) was used in its Hebrew sense (emeth) of truthfulness and trustworthiness. In this context, it had a moral, not intellectual, focus. See Special Topic: Truth in Paul's Writings at Romans 1:18.

Romans 2:9 "for every soul of man" Paul used the Greek term pas translated "all" or "every" so often in these opening chapters of Romans to show the universal implications of both the "bad news" (mankind's lostness and God's no-partiality judgment) and the "good news" (God's offer of free salvation and complete forgiveness in Christ to all who repent and believe).

This context strongly implies a universal judgment and its resulting consequences. This truth demands a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (cf. Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).

If verses Romans 2:6-11 are a chiasma, then Romans 2:8-9 are the key verses which denote judgment or evil doers.

Romans 2:9-10 "the Jew first" This is repeated for emphasis. The Jew was first in opportunity because they had God's revelation (cf. Romans 1:16; Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Acts 3:26; Acts 13:46), but also first in judgment (cf. Rom. 9-11) because they had God's Revelation (cf. Romans 9:4-5).

Romans 2:11

NASB, NKJV"for there is no partiality with God" NRSV"For God shows no partiality" TEV"For God judges everyone by the same standard" NJB"There is no favoritism with God"

Literally this is "to lift the face," which was a metaphor from the judicial system of the OT (cf. Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17). If a judge saw to whom he was administering justice there was a chance of bias. Therefore, he was not to lift the face of the one who stood before him.


Verses 12-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Romans 2:12-16 12For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:12 "for all who have sinned without the Law" God will hold all humans responsible even if they have never been exposed to the OT or the gospel. All people have some knowledge of God from creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20; Psalms 19:1-6), and an innate moral sense, (cf. Romans 2:14-15). The tragedy is that all have willfully violated the light they have (cf. Romans 1:21-23; Romans 3:9, Romans 3:19, Romans 3:23; Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22).

"the Law" There is no article with the term "law." This grammatical structure usually emphasized the quality of the noun. However, in Romans Paul uses "the law" to refer to several different things.

1. Roman Law

2. Mosaic Law

3. the concept of human societal mores in general

Context, not the article, must reveal which one. This context emphasized that all humans have some knowledge of God's natural revelation of Himself in their hearts (cf. Romans 2:15).

Romans 2:13 "for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God" The term "hearers" can refer to (1) rabbinical usage which had a specialized sense of rabbinical students of the Torah or (2) those who heard the Scriptures read in synagogue. Remember the writers of the NT were Hebrew thinkers writing in Koine Greek. Therefore, word analysis must begin with the Septuagint, not a Greek lexicon.

The term "just" or "justified" (dikç in all its forms) is a crucial term in Paul's theology (cf. Romans 3:4, Romans 3:20, Romans 3:24, Romans 3:26, Romans 3:28, Romans 3:30; Romans 4:2, Romans 4:5; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:9; Romans 6:7; Romans 8:30, Romans 8:33). The words "just," "justify," "justification," "right," and "righteousness" are all derived from dikaios. See Special Topic: Righteousness at Romans 1:17. In Hebrew (tsadag, BDB 843) it originally referred to a long straight reed (15 to 20 feet) which was used to measure things, such as walls or fences, for plumb. It came to be used metaphorically of God as the standard of judgment.

In Paul's writings the term had two foci. First, God's own righteousness is given to sinful mankind as a free gift through faith in Christ. This is often called imputed righteousness or forensic righteousness. It refers to one's legal standing before a righteous God. This is the origin of Paul's famous "justification by grace through faith" theme.

Second, God's activity of restoring sinful mankind into His image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), or to put it another way, to bring about Christlikeness. This verse-like Matthew 7:24; Romans 2:1 and 11:28; John 13:17; James 1:22-23, James 1:25-urges believers to be doers not just hearers. Imputed righteousness (justification) must result in righteous living (sanctification). God forgives and changes sinners! Paul's usage was both legal and ethical. The New Covenant gives humans a legal standing but also demands a godly lifestyle. It is free, but costly.

"but doers of the Law" God demands a new obedient lifestyle (cf. Leviticus 18:5; Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28; John 13:17; James 1:22-25; 2:14-28). In many ways this concept mimics the Hebrew term shema (BDB 1033), which meant to hear so as to do (cf. Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:4; Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 20:3; Deuteronomy 27:9-10).

Romans 2:14

NASB"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves" NKJV"for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves" NRSV"When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves" TEV"The Gentiles do not have the Law, but whenever of their own free will they do what the Law commands, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law" NJB"For instance, pagans who never heard of the Law but are led by reason to do what the Law commands, may not actually 'possess' the Law, but, they can be said to 'be' the Law"

All cultures have an inner moral law, a societal norm. They are responsible for the light they have (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21). This verse was not meant to imply that they can be right with God if they live in light of their culture, but that they are responsible for their innate knowledge of God.

Romans 2:15 "their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them" There is an inner moral voice. But only Scripture, enlightened by the Spirit, can be fully trusted. Fallenness has affected our conscience. However, creation (Romans 1:18-20) and this inner, moral law (Romans 2:14-15) are all the knowledge of God that some humans possess. There was no Hebrew term that was equivalent to the Greek word for "conscience" (syneidesis). The Greek concept of an inner moral sense of right and wrong was often discussed by the Stoic philosophers. Paul was familiar with the Greek philosophers (he quotes Cleanthes in Acts 17:28; Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33; and Epimenides in Titus 1:12) from his early education in Tarsus. His hometown was known for its excellent schools of Greek rhetoric and philosophy.

Romans 2:16 "on the day" See note at Romans 2:5.

"according to my gospel" In context this referred to Paul's preaching of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The pronoun "my" reflected Paul's understanding of the stewardship of the gospel that had been entrusted to him (cf. Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 15:1; Galatians 1:11; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 2:8). It was not uniquely his, but as the Apostle to the Gentiles he felt an awesome sense of responsibility for spreading the truth about Jesus in the Greco-Roman world.

"God will judge the secrets of men" God knows the hearts of all people (cf. 1 Samuel 2:7; 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 6:30; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 44:21; Psalms 139:1-6; Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 21:2; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12; Luke 15:16; Acts 1:24; Acts 15:8; Romans 8:27; Revelation 2:23). The Father, through the agency of the Son, will bring both motive and action into judicial review (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15).

"through Christ Jesus" Jesus did not come to act as judge (cf. John 3:17-21). He came to reveal God the Father, die a substitutionary death, and to give believers an example to follow. When people reject Jesus they judge themselves.

However, the NT also teaches that Jesus will act as the Father's representative in judgment (cf. John 5:22, John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1). The tension between Jesus as Judge and/or Savior can be seen in John's Gospel (cf. Romans 2:1 versus 9:39).

Verses 17-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Romans 2:17-24 17But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," just as it is written.

Romans 2:17 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's point of view or for his literary purposes. This condition extends to Romans 2:20 but has no conclusion, therefore, TEV translates them as assumed affirmations which Jesus would make. The Jews were trusting in their lineage, traditions, and performance to provide salvation (cf. Matthew 3:9; John 8:33, John 8:37, John 8:39).

"boast in God" Many Jews were relying on (1) their racial lineage to Abraham and (2) their personal performance of the Mosaic Law as the means of being accepted by God. However, their self-righteous legalism separated them from God (cf. Matthew 5:20; Galatians 3:0). What tragic irony!

Paul develops the idea of boasting in 1 Corinthians. Paul faced an arrogant Israel and an arrogant Greek intellectualism. The bottom line is no flesh will glory before God.


Romans 2:18 "approve" This is the Greek verb dokimazô in its present active indicative form. See Special Topic on Testing following.


"the Law" Verses Romans 2:17ff. deal with the Jewish people, therefore, the term "the Law" must refer in this context to the Mosaic Law. This is confirmed by Romans 2:25 which deals with circumcision.

Romans 2:18-20 The Jewish leaders believed their way (their sect of Judaism) was the right way, the only way to God. They were confident that they were the true teachers about religious matters (cf. Matthew 15:14). Privilege brings responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48).

Notice the parallel phrases related to their confidence (cf. Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:24; Luke 6:39).

1. a guide to the blind, Romans 2:19

2. a light to those in darkness, Romans 2:19

3. a corrector of the foolish, Romans 2:20

4. a teacher of the immature, Romans 2:20

5. having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, Romans 2:20

Romans 2:21-24 If one trusts in personal obedience, then that obedience must be complete (cf. Matthew 5:20, Matthew 5:48; Galatians 3:10, which is a quote from Deuteronomy 27:26, and James 2:10). This is an impossibility for fallen mankind. Paul asks poses rhetorical questions to his Jewish readers/hearers in Romans 2:21-23.

Romans 2:22 It is difficult to know to what Paul was referring in Romans 2:22-23. Since the description does not fit most Jews of Paul's day it is possible that these sins are used in a spiritual sense similar to how Jesus interpreted the Law in Matthew 5:20-48. George Ladd in A Theology of the New Testament, says "Paul must be referring to robbing God of the honor due him, spiritual adultery, and profaning the devotion due God alone by exalting themselves as judge and lord over their fellow creatures." p. 505.

Romans 2:22 "abhor idols" The turning away from something because of stench is the root meaning of this term.

"do you rob temples" It is uncertain historically to what this referred but it was somehow related to idolatry.

Romans 2:23 "boast" See SPECIAL TOPIC: BOASTING at Romans 2:17.

Romans 2:24 This is a quote from Isaiah 52:5 in the Septuagint. God's blessing of Israel for covenant keeping (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28) was meant to be a witness to the world. However, Israel never kept the covenant, therefore, the world saw only the judgment of God (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-32). Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (cf. Exodus 19:5-6), to bring all the world to faith in YHWH (cf. Genesis 12:3; Ephesians 2:11-13). See Special Topic: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN at Romans 1:5.

Verses 25-29

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Romans 2:25-29 25For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. 2Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Romans 2:25 "circumcision" Paul is still using diatribe. Someone will raise the statement that, well at least we are circumcised (cf. Genesis 17:10-11). We are in the line of Abraham. Paul plainly and boldly dismantles this cherished Jewish claim (cf. Matthew 3:7-10; John 8:31-59).

All of Israel's neighbors except the Philistines were circumcised. It was not the act itself that was significant; it was the continuing faith of the recipient (cf. Romans 2:26-27; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6). This is true of all religious rituals. Religious people often want the blessings of God's covenant but without the responsibilities.

Romans 2:25-26 "if. . .if. . .if" These are three third class conditional sentences which refer to possible future action. Obedience (cf. Deut. 27-30) is the key in Paul's argument in Romans 2:0, but not in Romans 3:21-31 (cf. Galatians 3:0). Obedience is the result of salvation but grace is the basis (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10).

Romans 2:26-27 These verses hold out hope that some Gentiles have responded to the light they have (grammar expects a "yes" answer in Romans 2:26). The only possible biblical example of this would be Cornelius of Acts 10:0. Yet he does not quite fit this verse because he was a God-fearer and worshiped at the local synagogue.

These verses are in reality a counterpoint to Paul's argument about the need of salvation for the Jews. Romans 3:23 is the summary that all humans are spiritually lost without Christ. If there are Gentiles who live up to the light they have from creation and an inner moral sensitivity, God will provide an opportunity for them to respond to Christ- somehow, someway, sometime.

Romans 2:28-29 "For he is not a Jew. . .he is a Jew" This is an extremely important discussion because some modern theological groups attempt to separate or capsulize the OT people of God from the NT people of God. There is only one covenant and one people (cf. Romans 9:6; Galatians 3:7-9, Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 3:6). The new covenant is a development and fulfillment of the old. The people of God have always been so by faith, not lineage. They are a "heart people" not ritual or racial people. Faith, not the parent, is the key. Covenant mind, not covenant sign, is the mark.

"flesh" See Special Topic at Romans 1:3.

Romans 2:29 The covenant sign of circumcision (cf. Genesis 17:14) was a metaphor in the OT for one's openness to God. It developed metaphorically in several ways

1. heart circumcision (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 9:24-25)

2. ear circumcision (cf. Jeremiah 6:10)

3. lip circumcision (cf. Exodus 6:12, Exodus 6:30)

The Law was never meant to be an external code, but a life transforming daily relationship with YHWH that revealed His character and promises to all the children of Adam. See Special Topic: Paul's Views of the Law at Romans 13:9.

NASB"that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter" NKJV"that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter" NRSV"a matter of the heart -- it is spiritual and not literal" TEV"which is the work of God's Spirit, not of the written Law" NJB"in the heart - something not of the letter but of the spirit"

This phrase is ambiguous in Greek. Some translations take it to refer to the spiritual versus the literal (cf. NRSV, the Twentieth Century New Testament, the Knox translation, the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta, the Williams translation and the New Berkeley Version). Other translations see the contrast as between the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6, where a similar construction occurs) and the written text (cf. NASB, NKJV, NEB, NIV and TEV). The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 299, gives the suggestion that based on 2 Corinthians 3:6 it was Paul's metaphorical/literary way of referring to the Old Covenant and the New Covenant; the first characterized by an external code and the second by an internal new mind and new spirit given by the Holy Spirit in the new age of the Spirit.

Paul has been discussing the fact that some Gentiles might act pleasing to God apart from the Law. If this is true then the children of God included more than those who had been only physically circumcised (cf. Galatians). God's family is wider than racial Jews (cf. Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5); Job, Melchizedek, Jethro, Caleb, Rahab, and Ruth were not racially Jewish. Even the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were half Egyptian (cf. Genesis 41:50-52).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Romans 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/romans-2.html. 2021.
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