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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Romans 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Romans 2:1. Therefore, &c. — The apostle, having shown that the Gentiles could not entertain the least hope of salvation, according to the tenor of the law of nature, which they violated, proceeds next to consider whether the law of Moses gave the Jews any better hope; an inquiry which he manages with great address. For, well knowing that on reading his description of the manners of the Greeks, the Jews would pronounce them worthy of damnation, he suddenly turns his discourse to the Jews, by telling them that they who passed such a judgment on the Gentiles were equally, yea, more guilty themselves, in that, with the advantage of the greater light of divine revelation, they were guilty of crimes as great as those he had charged on the Gentiles; and that therefore, by condemning the Gentiles, they virtually condemned themselves. Thou art inexcusable, O man — Seeing that knowledge without practice only increases guilt; whosoever thou art, that judgest — That censurest and condemnest; for wherein thou judgest another — Greek, τον ετερον, the other — Namely, the heathen, and pronouncest them worthy of condemnation and wrath; thou condemnest thyself — As deserving the same: for thou that judgest doest the same things. According to Josephus, quoted here by Dr. Whitby, the Jews of that age were notoriously guilty of most of the crimes imputed to the Greeks and Romans in the preceding chapter. “There was not,” observes he, “a nation under heaven more wicked than they were. What have you done,” says he, addressing them, “of all the good things required by our lawgiver? What have you not done of all those things which he pronounced accursed? So that,” adds he, “had the Romans delayed to come against these execrable persons, I believe either the earth would have swallowed them up, or a deluge would have swept away their city; or fire from heaven would have consumed it, as it did Sodom, for it brought forth a generation of men far more wicked than they who suffered such things. It was sport to them to force women: and they exercised and required unnatural lusts, and filled the whole city with impurities. They committed all kinds of wickedness, omitting none which ever came into the mind of man; esteeming the worst of evils to be good, and meeting with that reward of their iniquity which was proper, and a judgment worthy of God.” The apostle, Mr. Locke thinks, represents the Jews as inexcusable in judging the Gentiles, especially because the latter, with all the darkness that was on their minds, were not guilty of such a folly as to judge those who were not more faulty than themselves, but lived on friendly terms with them, without censure or separation, thinking as well of their condition as of their own. For he considers the judging, which Paul here speaks of, as referring to that aversion which the Jews generally had to the Gentiles, in consequence of which “the unconverted Jews could not bear with the thoughts of a Messiah that admitted the heathen equally with themselves into his kingdom; nor could the converted Jews be brought to admit them into their communion, as the people of God, now equally with themselves; so that they generally, both one and the other, judged them unworthy the favour of God, and incapable of becoming his people any other way than by circumcision, and an observance of the ritual law; the inexcusableness and absurdity of which the apostle shows in this chapter.”


Verses 2-4

Romans 2:2-4. But we are sure — Greek, οιδαμεν, we know; though men may judge partially and perversely, yet God will judge uprightly; that the judgment of God — The sentence that he will pronounce upon persons, whether Jews or Gentiles, is according to truth — According to the true state of every man’s case; or according to the true character of persons, and the true quality of the actions and dispositions; (Romans 2:5-11;) against them who commit such things — However they may behave toward their fellow-creatures. Dr. Macknight, who understands the expression, according to truth, as signifying, “according to the true meaning of God’s covenant with the fathers of the Jewish nation,” observes, “By this declaration, the apostle reprobates the erroneous opinion confidently maintained by the Jews, who, fancying that by their natural descent from Abraham, they were entitled to the promises made to his seed, firmly believed that no Jew would be damned.” And thinkest thou this, &c. — Canst thou then, by the sentence which thou passest upon others, think to evade that which goeth forth against thyself? Or despisest thou — Dost thou go further still, and, from hoping to escape his wrath, dost thou proceed to abuse his love? The riches — Or the abundance; of his goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering — Exercised for such a length of time toward thee, who not only hast sinned, but dost sin, and wilt sin. The word, καταφρονεω, here rendered despise, also signifies to think against, to think wrong, or misconstrue; and the clause may be fitly translated, Dost thou misconstrue, or form a wrong opinion of, the goodness of God? God’s goodness, of which the Jews formed a wrong opinion, or which they despised, consisted chiefly in his having made them his church and people, in his having frequently, in an extraordinary manner, protected them against or delivered them from their enemies, conferred upon them innumerable blessings, temporal and spiritual, especially the latter, having from time to time raised up among them divinely-inspired prophets, to reveal his will to them, to instruct, warn, caution, and exhort them, and having intrusted with them his holy oracles. From these marks of the divine favour they vainly inferred that God would punish no descendant of Abraham for his sins in a future state. But in this they grievously erred, for the goodness of God, together with his other attributes here mentioned, was not intended to make sinning safe to the Jews, but to lead them to repentance for their sins. Forbearance (Greek, ανοχη) is that disposition in God by which he forbears to punish sin immediately upon its being committed; long-suffering — Or slowness to anger, signifies his deferring for a long time to punish; and here it seems chiefly to intend his patiently bearing long the ill use which the Jews made of the privileges they enjoyed as his church and people, and of the various blessings he had conferred upon them.


Verses 5-7

Romans 2:5-7. But after thy hardness — Greek, κατα τηυ σκληροτητα, according to thy obduracy, or insensibility of mind; and impenitent αμετανοητον, inconsiderate, unreflecting, and unrelenting heart, by reason of that stubbornness and obstinacy in sin which thou hast contracted; treasurest up wrath — Although thou thinkest thou art treasuring up all good things; unto thyself — Not to him whom thou judgest: that is, Thou provokest God more and more to aggravate thy punishment. In our language, a treasure signifies a collection of things useful or precious. But the Hebrews gave that appellation to a heap, or an abundance of any thing, whether good or bad. Hence, Proverbs 10:2, we read of treasures of wickedness. Reader! think what a treasure of good or evil, of felicity or misery, a man may lay up for himself in this short day of life! Against the day of wrath — The day of retribution, when God will fully execute wrath on impenitent sinners. Wrath is here, as often elsewhere, put for punishment, the effect of wrath. The apostle calls the day of retribution the day of wrath, to make the wicked sensible that as men greatly enraged do not suffer their enemies to escape, so God, highly displeased with the wicked, will assuredly punish them in the severest manner at length. Probably the apostle had in view, 1st, The awful vengeance which the divine wrath was about to bring on the Jews in the destruction of their city and temple, the depopulation of their country, and the dissolution of their commonwealth, which, 1 Thessalonians 2:16, he calls, wrath coming upon them to the uttermost. 2d, It appears, however, by what follows, that he spoke principally of the day of final judgment; and revelation of the righteous judgment of God — When God will make manifest to all the world the justice of his proceedings, both toward the righteous and the wicked. Bengelius reads, wrath, and revelation, and righteous judgment: just opposite to the three gracious attributes above mentioned; wrath opposed to goodness; revelation, when God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, opposed to his present forbearance; and righteous judgment, when he will no longer defer to punish, opposed to his present longsuffering. Who will render to every man — Both good and bad, both Jew and Gentile; according to his deeds — Not according to his external privileges, or his pretences and presumptuous expectations, but according to the real nature and quality of his works. To them who by patient continuance in well-doing — By persevering in a constant course of holiness and righteousness, notwithstanding all the oppositions and difficulties they meet with; (see Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:10;) seek for glory — That state of splendour and brightness in which the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, Matthew 13:43. Honour — Approbation, commendation, and praise from God and Christ, and all the heavenly host, mentioned 1 Peter 1:7. And immortality αφθαρσιαν, incorruptibility, everlasting life, health, and vigour of both body and mind. The words include the consummation and perfection of all those glorious qualifications and enjoyments which are bestowed on the saints in heaven. This the saints seek for; that is, desire and labour after; for, though love to God and Christ is the principal spring of their obedience, yet that love does not exclude the faith which is the evidence of things not seen, or that hope of heavenly glory and felicity which is as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast; and which, partly at least, influenced Christ himself amidst all his labours and sufferings, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame. Eternal life — Which God will render to such.


Verses 8-11

Romans 2:8-11. But unto them that are contentious — Like thee, O Jew, who thus fightest against God. The character of the unbelieving Jews was disobedience, stubbornness, and impatience. Mr. Locke thinks the original expression, οι δε εξ εριθειας, the contentions, here spoken of, are Jews who refused to obey the gospel. “But as the apostle is speaking of the punishment of the wicked Gentiles, as well as of the wicked Jews, εριθεια, contention, must be a vice common to both. Accordingly, εριθειαι, contentions, are mentioned among the works of the flesh, to which wicked men in general are addicted, Galatians 5:20. And Suidas tells us, that εριθεια, contention, is η δια λογου φιλονεικια, contention by words, by keen disputing. Wherefore the contentious are persons who spread evil principles, and maintain them by keen disputings. This was the vice of many of the heathen, who disputed themselves into a disbelief of the plainest principles of morality, and argued even in support of atheism. Agreeably to this account of the contentious, the apostle represents them here as enemies of the truth, and as friends of unrighteousness.” — Macknight. Who obey not the truth — Both those who did not walk according to the light of nature, chap. Romans 1:18, and those who disobeyed the gospel, are here intended. The former, because, as truth is here opposed to unrighteousness, it must signify not only the truths discovered by revelation, but those likewise respecting religion and morality, which are discoverable by the light of nature, and which, among the heathen, were the only foundations of a virtuous conduct. The truth, as it is in Jesus, or the gospel, however, seems to be especially intended, this being styled, the truth of God, Romans 3:7; Romans 15:8; the word of truth, Ephesians 1:13, and elsewhere; the knowledge of it being the knowledge of the truth, 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:3; the belief of it, the belief of the truth, 2 Thessalonians 2:13; obedience to it, obedience to the truth, Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:7; walking according to it, walking in the truth, 1 John 2:4; the gospel itself being emphatically styled the truth, Ephesians 4:21; and to know it being to know the truth, 1 John 2:21. This being so, they that are here said not to obey the truth seem to be especially, first, the unbelieving Jews, and, secondly, the Gentiles, who spake against the truth, and rejected it. And both these obeyed, and gave themselves up to error and falsehood; the Gentiles by changing the truth of God into a lie, Romans 1:25, and the Jews by adhering to their vain traditions, which made void the commands of God, supposing them to be derived from Moses, when they were indeed only the doctrines of men. But obey unrighteousness — Live in known sin; acting contrary to the clear dictates of reason and conscience. Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish — He seems to allude to Psalms 78:49, He cast upon them, the Egyptians, the fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation, and trouble, and finely intimating that the Jews would, in the day of vengeance, be more severely punished than even the Egyptians were, when God made their plagues so wonderful. Upon every soul of man that doeth evil — That contradicts the light of his dispensation, or holds in unrighteousness the portion of truth made known to him. Of the Jew first — Here we have the first express mention of the Jews in this chapter. And it is introduced with great propriety. Their having been trained up in the true religion, and their having had Christ and his apostles first sent to them, were circumstances which placed them in the foremost rank of the criminals that obeyed not the truth.

It must be observed, however, that “in this and the following verse, the apostle, by using the most general expression possible, every soul of man, and by twice introducing the distribution of Jew and Greek, which, according to the ideas of the Jews, comprehended all mankind, (see note on chap. Romans 1:16,) has left his reader no room to doubt that he is discoursing of the judgment of all nations, of heathen as well as of Jews and Christians. Therefore, not only what he says of the punishments, but what he observes of the rewards to be distributed at that day, must be understood of the heathen, as well as of those who have enjoyed the benefit of revelation.”

We see also, by these two verses, (Romans 2:9-10,) and Romans 1:16, that the apostle carefully lays it down as a fundamental position that there was now, under the gospel, no other national distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, save only a priority of right in the Jews to the offer of the gospel, and the allotment of rewards or punishments, according as they obeyed or not. But glory, (just opposite to wrath,) — From the divine approbation; honour, (opposite to indignation,) — By the divine appointment; and peace — Implying a secure and quiet possession of all good, now and for ever, opposed to tribulation and anguish. To every one that worketh good — Sincerely performs his duty to God and man; to the Jew first, &c. — To one as well as another. For there is no respect of persons with God — That is, in passing their final sentence, and in distributing rewards and punishments, he is determined by their real characters, and will reward every one according to his works, not according to their outward condition; such as their country, kindred, sex, dignity, office, wealth, and profession of religion. This declaration concerning God, as Judge, the apostle made to show the Jews their folly in expecting favour at the final judgment, because they had Abraham for their father, and were themselves members of God’s church. And it must appear the more important and seasonable, considering that the Jews thought no Israelite should be deprived of future happiness, whatever his faults had been; unless he were guilty of apostacy, idolatry, and a few other very enormous crimes. But this impartial and equitable proceeding at the final judgment is very consistent with God’s distributing to persons here advantages and opportunities of improvement, according to his own good pleasure.


Verse 12

Romans 2:12. For as many as have sinned — And have not repented and brought forth fruit worthy of repentance; as many as have lived and died in the commission of known sin: he speaks as of the time past, for all time will be past at the day of judgment; without law — Without having had any written law, any express and outward revelation from God; shall also perish — Be condenmed and punished; without law — Without regard had to any written law, or supernatural revelation, being proved guilty by the law written in their hearts. The expression, shall perish, shows the agreement of the manner of suffering with the manner of sinning. He could not so properly say, shall be judged without law. Some understand it of the annihilation of the heathen; but both reason and Scripture assure us they shall be punished for their sins, though in a less degree than those who disobey the greater light of revelation. Since none of mankind ever lived without the law of nature, it is evident the expressions, ανομως, without law, in this clause, and εν νομω, in, or under law, in the following clause, cannot be understood of that law. Neither can they be understood of the law of Moses, seeing it is affirmed in the latter clause, that as many as have sinned in or under the law, shall be judged by the law. For the Jews are not to be judged by the law of Moses. See note on Romans 2:13. In this context, therefore, νομος, law, signifies divine revelation in general. Thus, the oracles of God, with which the Jews were intrusted, Romans 3:2, have the name of ο νομος, the law, often given to them in Scripture; as Psalms 19:7; John 10:34; John 12:34; John 15:25; Romans 3:19; in all which passages, and many others, the law signifies the whole of the divine revelations, taken complexly, as they stand recorded in the Jewish Scriptures. But when these Scriptures are distinguished into parts, as Luke 24:44, where the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms are mentioned; the law, in that division, denotes the five books of Moses only, as it does likewise, Romans 3:21, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. In this restricted sense, the word νομος, generally, though not always, has the article prefixed, the law. And as many as have sinned in, or under, the law — That is, revelation, whether the patriarchal, the Jewish, or the Christian, shall be judged by the law — By the revelation wherewith they were favoured. Though the word κριθησονται sometimes signifies, shall be condemned, in this passage it is rightly translated, shall be judged, because the apostle’s intention is to show, that all who have enjoyed the benefit of an external revelation shall be more severely punished, if wicked, than the Gentiles, who have not had that advantage: an idea which is better conveyed by the expression, shall be judged, than it would have been by shall be condemned. For judgment implies an accurate consideration of all circumstances, whether of aggravation or of alleviation, and the passing such a sentence as appears to the judge equitable, upon due consideration of the whole case. And the meaning here is, that their guilt being aggravated by the advantages which they enjoyed, they shall be punished in proportion to it. See Macknight.


Verse 13

Romans 2:13. For not the hearers of the law — Those who are only hearers; are — Even now; just δικαιοι, righteous, that is, accounted and dealt with as righteous persons; before God — Here the apostle condemns the folly of the Jews, who thought themselves sure of eternal life, because God had favoured them with a revelation of his will: as Dr. Whitby has shown by many important quotations, in a note on this verse. But the doers of the law — Whether natural or revealed, that is, they who walk according to the light of the dispensation they are under, “who steadily and universally, in the tenor of their lives, act agreeably to its precepts; they, and they only, shall be justified [acquitted and rewarded] — In the day of final audit and account; whether their knowledge of it were more or less express.” So Doddridge. A most sure and important truth this, which respects the Gentiles also, though principally the Jews. The apostle speaks of the former, Romans 2:14, &c.; of the latter, Romans 2:17, &c. It must be observed, however, that the apostle does not speak of a perfect, unsinning obedience, either to the law of nature, or to any revealed law, whether patriarchal, Jewish, or Christian; but of that obedience of faith, productive of holiness, or that sincere obedience to the dispensation men are under, which, on the ground of the covenant of grace, established for all mankind immediately after the fall, God is pleased graciously to accept instead of that unsinning obedience, which to man, in his fallen state, is impossible. This obedience of faith, with regard to the heathen, implies their believing that God is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and on the ground of this faith, coming to him in prayer for his favour and blessing, and with praise for his benefits, and diligently seeking an acquaintance with him, and with his will concerning them. And with respect to Jews and Christians, it implies a true and lively faith in, and sincere obedience to, the truths, precepts, and promises of the dispensation they are under. The reader must observe, therefore, that merited justification, whether of Jews or heathen, spoken of Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; or, justification according to the tenor of the law, by performing all the deeds or works enjoined thereby, without the least failure, is not here intended; but a gratuitous justification, founded, not on the accused person’s innocence, or righteousness, but proceeding merely from the mercy of his Judge, who is pleased, out of pure favour, to accept of his faith, producing sincere love and obedience, in the place of perfect righteousness, and to reward it as if it were that righteousness, and all for the sake of Christ.


Verse 14-15

Romans 2:14-15. For when the Gentiles — That is, any of them who have not the law — Not a written revelation of the divine will; do by nature — That is, by the light of nature, without an outward rule, or by the untaught dictates of their own minds, influenced, however, by the preventing grace of God, which hath appeared to all men, Titus 2:11; or, the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world: the things contained in the law — The moral duties required by the precepts of the law, the ten commandments being only the substance of the law of nature. These, not having the written law, are a law unto themselves — That is, what the law was to the Jews, they are by the light and grace of God to themselves, namely, a rule of life. All the ancient Greek commentators, as Whitby has shown, interpreted this passage not of the Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity, but of those Gentiles who had not been favoured with a revealed law, and therefore were neither proselytes to Judaism nor Christianity. Who show — To themselves and others, and, in a sense, to God himself, the work of the law — In its most important moral precepts, in the substance, though not in the letter of them; written in their hearts — By the same divine hand which wrote the commandments on the tables of stone; their conscience also bearing witness — For or against them, or testifying how far they have complied with their light or law. There is not one of all its faculties which the soul has less in its power than this. And their thoughts — Or their reasonings or reflections upon their own conduct; the meanwhile — Or, as the expression, μεταξυ αλληλων, is translated in the margin, between themselves, or by turns, according as they do well or ill; accusing — Checking and condemning them when they have acted contrary to their light; or else excusing — Approving and justifying them when they have conformed to it. Hence the apostle meant it to be inferred, that it was not the having, or knowing the law, (Romans 2:13,) nor the condemning others for the transgression of it, could avail a man, but the doing of it, or walking according to it. We may observe further on this verse, that, as the law in this context signifies divine revelation, the work of the law must be men’s duty, which revelation discovers by its precepts, which is also in part discovered by men’s natural reason and conscience, influenced by the light and grace of God; on which account it is said to be written on their hearts. Thus, in the compass of two verses, the apostle hath explained what the light of nature is, and demonstrated that there is such a light existing. It is a revelation from God written originally on the heart or mind of man; consequently is a revelation common to all nations; and, so far as it goes, it agrees with the things written in the external revelation which God hath made to some nations. We are compelled, however, when we come to consider matters of fact, to acknowledge that this light of nature has been dreadfully obscured and corrupted, even in the most learned and civilized heathen nations upon earth, as the apostle has proved at large in the latter part of the preceding chapter. And long before the ages referred to by him, All flesh had corrupted its way, Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:11; darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, Isaiah 60:2; there was none that understood, (Romans 3:11;) and all were alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, Ephesians 4:18, &c.


Verse 16

Romans 2:16. In the day, &c. — This relates to Romans 2:12, the intermediate verses, from the 13th, being a parenthesis; when God shall judge the secrets of men — Not only their outward actions, good and evil, which are manifest to all men, but their most secret and hidden ones, with their internal desires and designs, their intentions, purposes, schemes, contrivances, with the various workings of their passions, imaginations, and thoughts; for he will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil, Ecclesiastes 12:14; will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart, 1 Corinthians 4:5. On secret circumstances depends the real quality of actions, frequently unknown to the actors themselves, Romans 2:29. Men generally form their judgments, even of themselves, merely from what is apparent. By Jesus Christ — To whom the Father hath committed all judgment; according to my gospel — According to the tenor of that gospel which is committed to my trust, and is preached by me: or as I testify in my preaching the gospel, Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 2:8. For it is not the apostle’s intention to signify that all men shall be judged by the gospel, but only that the gospel teaches such a judgment.


Verses 17-20

Romans 2:17-20. Behold — Here he applies the matter he had discussed in the preceding verses more closely to the Jews, and proves, that, notwithstanding all their pretences and privileges, they were transgressors of the law, and so could not be justified by works, any more than the Gentiles. And here therefore he refutes the highest point of Jewish glorying, after a further description of it, interposed Romans 2:17-20, and refuted Romans 2:21-24. The description consists of twice five articles; of which the former five, Romans 2:17-18, show what he boasts of in himself; the other five, (Romans 2:19-20,) what he glories in with respect to others. The first particular of the former five answers to the first of the latter; the second to the second, and so on. Thou art called a Jew — A professor of the true religion, and a worshipper of the true God. Dr. Macknight is of opinion that in this and the following verses, the apostle intended to address chiefly the men of rank and learning among the Jews; a supposition to which he thinks it is no objection that probably there were no doctors of the law, nor Jewish scribes and priests at Rome, when this letter was written; because, “as the apostle was reasoning against the whole body of the nation, his argument required that he should address the teachers of every denomination, to whom the things written in this and the following verses best agree. Besides, as he had addressed the heathen legislators, philosophers, and priests, in the first chapter, for the purpose of showing them the bad use they had made of the knowledge they derived from the works of creation, it was natural for him in this to address the Jewish scribes, priests, and doctors, to show them how little they had profited by the knowledge which they had derived from revelation. Of the Jewish common people the apostle speaks, Romans 3:20, &c., where he proves that they also were extremely vicious.” And restest in the law — Dependest on it alone, and on the having of it, for justification and salvation, though it can only condemn thee. And makest thy boast of God — As thy God; as belonging only to you Jews, and being yours in a peculiar manner; the founder of your commonwealth; your lawgiver, protector, and Saviour. And knowest his will — By special revelation, and more fully than the Gentiles. And approvest the things that are more excellent — Hast attained to a considerable degree of understanding in the law, so as to place a proper value upon things according to their worth, and to distinguish between things lawful and unlawful. The original words, δοκιμαζεις τα διαφεροντα, may be rendered, and triest, or, approvest on trial, the things that differ. Being instructed, &c. — Or, as Beza interprets κατηχουμενος εκ τον νομου, Being educated, or instructed from thy childhood, out of the law, 2 Timothy 3:15. And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind — Vainly presumest that thou hast knowledge enough to teach others. The Jewish doctors, in contempt of the Gentiles, were wont to speak of them as blind — in darkness — ignorant — babes — and boasted of themselves as guides, to whose direction the Gentiles, in matters of religion, ought implicitly to submit. This boasting of the Jews the apostle introduced here, to show that their sins were greatly aggravated by the revelation of which they boasted. Who hast the form of knowledge — A system, body, or model of that knowledge, which is scattered up and down in the law, and of the truths which are there delivered. For the original word, μορφωσις, seems to bear this meaning: and the apostle may be considered as comparing the law to a looking-glass, which exhibits exact images of things, as the Apostle James likewise does, James 1:25. This implies that they not only considered themselves as having a sketch, or the outlines, of the truth contained in the law, but the most accurate knowledge of it. And this they counted sufficient to save them, though they lived in a loose and ungodly manner.


Verses 21-24

Romans 2:21-24. Thou therefore which teachest another — And valuest thyself upon thy ability to do it, trusting therein for acceptance with God; teachest thou not thyself? — He does not teach himself, who does not practise what he teaches. This, and what follows, is mentioned, to show that the knowledge, which the scribes and doctors pretended to derive from the law, had had no manner of influence on their spirit and conduct; so that their boasting in the law, and their claim to be the teachers of the Gentiles, were very little to be regarded by the Gentiles. Dost thou steal — commit adultery — commit sacrilege — Sin grievously against thy neighbour, thyself, God. St. Paul had shown the Gentiles, first, their sins against God, then against themselves, then against their neighbours. He now inverts the order, for sins against God are the most glaring in a heathen; but not in a Jew. Thou that abhorrest idols — Which all the Jews did, from the time of the Babylonish captivity: thou committest sacrilege — Dost what is still worse, robbing him, who is God over all, of the glory which is due to him. None of these charges were rashly advanced against the Jews of that age. For (as their own historian relates) some even of the priests lived by rapine, and others in gross uncleanness. And as for sacrilegiously robbing God and his altar, it had been complained of ever since Malachi. So that the instances are given with great propriety and judgment. Thou that makest thy boast of the law — As so excellent, and thinkest it such an honour to be acquainted with it, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? — Dost thou act as if thou wert studying the declaration of his will, only to show him in a more presumptuous and contumacious manner, that thou dost not regard it? For the name of God is blasphemed — Spoken evil of, as if it countenanced and encouraged such wickedness as that in which you live, and his holy religion is brought into contempt thereby; as it is written, in your own Scriptures, concerning your fathers, whose evil deeds you so generally imitate. See the margin. We find Josephus frequently accusing the Jews of what is here laid to their charge by the apostle, saying, “What wickedness do you conceal, or hide, which is not known to your enemies? You triumph in your wickedness, strive daily who shall be most vile, making a show of your wickedness as if it were virtue.” “And thinkest thou this, O man, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God, who punishes the Gentiles, when thou art as guilty as they of acting against thy conscience, and doing that for which thine own mouth condemns thee, or, which is as bad as that which thou condemnest in them, and which also causes them to blaspheme that holy name by which thou art called! Surely after these things, so scandalously done, it will be of no advantage to thee that thou art called a Jew, or hast received the sign of circumcision.” — Whitby.


Verses 25-27

Romans 2:25-27. For circumcision verily profiteth — He does not say justifieth. How far it profited is shown in the third and fourth chapters: if thou keep the law — Here, as in many other passages, the apostle speaks to the thoughts of the Jewish readers. They fancied that circumcision, by showing that they were descended from Abraham, and were members of God’s covenant, would ensure their salvation, though they were ever so wicked. But the apostle tells them their circumcision would avail them only if they practised the law; that is, performed the things required in the covenant with Abraham; (see Romans 2:12;) in which case, as the seal of that covenant, it would give them assurance of salvation. But, if they did not perform the precepts of that covenant, their circumcision would be of no use to them. If thou be a breaker of the law — Living in known sin, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision — Is so already in effect. Thou wilt have no more benefit by it than if thou hadst never received it. The very same observation holds with regard to baptism. Therefore, &c. — As if he had said, Since the stress of all lies upon keeping the law, therefore, if the uncircumcision — That is, a person uncircumcised; keep the righteousness of the law — Walk agreeably to it; shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision — In the sight of God? He shall be accounted a Jew spiritually, (Romans 2:29,) and accepted of God, rather than you carnal Jews, who continue to live in sin, and boast of your circumcision. The expression, τα δικαιωματα του νομου, rendered, the righteousness of the law, is in the plural number, and rendered by Locke, the rectitude of the law; considering Paul as using it “for all those precepts of the law which contain in them any part of the natural and eternal rule of rectitude, which is made known to men by the light of reason: a rule of their actions, which all mankind, uncircumcised as well as circumcised, had, and is that which (Romans 1:32) Paul calls δικαιωμα του θεου, [rendered there, the judgment of God,] because it came from God, and was made by him the moral rule to all mankind, being laid within the discovery of their reason. And this rule of morality Paul says the Gentile world did acknowledge.” Doddridge renders the expression, the righteous determinations of the law; and Macknight, the precepts of the law; referring to the above-quoted expression, Romans 1:32, which he considers as signifying the law of God written on men’s hearts; or, as he here terms it: the law of faith, “the precepts of which,” he says, “the Gentiles may both know and keep. For the light of natural reason dictates its two great precepts, namely, that men should believe in God, and obey him from love. Further, the precepts of this law are very properly expressed by words which literally signify righteousness of the law, because they who keep them are accounted righteous in the sight of God; that is, are treated by God as righteous persons for the sake of Christ.” And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature — Those who are, literally speaking, uncircumcised. “The words, by nature, are added by the apostle to show that he is speaking of persons without revelation, and not of the converted Gentiles, nor of those who should hereafter be converted:” if it fulfil the law, That is, as to the substance of it, namely, the law of faith above mentioned. “For though the Gentiles were ignorant of the covenant that was made at the fall, and of its promises, they might both know and perform its requisitions, Romans 2:6-7. Accordingly, many of the Gentiles believed in the true God, and obeyed him from a principle of faith and love.” Judge thee — Condemn thee by his example, and make thy condemnation appear to be just, in that thou hast more helps and advantages, and yet performest less duty: who by the letter and circumcision — By trusting so much to thy having the law in writing, and to thy being circumcised, as if these things were sufficient to save thee: or by trusting to the outward privilege of circumcision, which thou partakest of according to the letter of the law, but wantest the internal and spiritual part thereof. Dost transgress the law — Takest liberty thereupon to indulge thyself securely in sin, as if these things would preserve thee from punishment. The judgment which the Gentiles, who fulfil the law, are here said to pass on the wicked Jews, is the same with that which the Jews are said, Romans 2:1, to pass on the wicked Gentiles; namely, that they are worthy of death. But they passed this judgment on the Jews with much more reason than the Jews passed it on them; because, while they condemned the Gentiles, they expected to be saved themselves, though guilty of the very same crimes, abusing far greater privileges, and breaking through much stronger obligations.


Verse 28-29

Romans 2:28-29. For he is not a Jew — In the most important sense, that is, one of God’s beloved people; or a true child of Abraham, to whom the promise belongs, and one that God will own for a true member of his church; who is one outwardly — Only; or one of Abraham’s posterity, according to the flesh, and enjoys the outward privileges belonging to that relation. Neither is that circumcision — The chief and true circumcision, acceptable to God; which is outward in the flesh — Consists only in the outward ordinance, and the mark imprinted on the flesh. But he is a Jew — One of Abraham’s spiritual seed; who is one inwardly — Who inwardly possesses the disposition of Abraham, and imitates him in his faith and obedience. In this sense, the pious Gentiles, though uncircumcised, and members of no visible church, were really Jews, or children of Abraham, entitled to the blessings of the covenant which God made with him. It is of such as these that Christ speaks, in his epistle to the church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:9; I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. And circumcision is that of the heart — The circumcision which renders men the sons of Abraham, and the people of God, is of the heart, made by cutting off or mortifying its lusts. That this is the true circumcision, or the thing meant by that rite, is evident from the command of Moses to the Jews, Deuteronomy 10:16, Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and be no more stiff-necked; and from the promise made to the same people, Deuteronomy 30:6, The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. In the spirit — Seated in the inmost soul, renewed by the Spirit of God. Or the expression may mean, according to the spiritual sense of the law; and not in the letter — Not in an external ceremony, performed only according to the letter of it. Whose praise is not of men — Who look only on the outward appearance, and will probably be so far from esteeming, that they will despise and hate such; but of God — Who sees in secret, and approves of what is internally holy and spiritual. It is justly observed by Macknight here, that the apostle, by distinguishing between the spirit and the letter of the law of Moses, intimates that the rites enjoined in that law were typical, and had a spiritual or moral meaning, as Moses also expressly declared to the Jews, Leviticus 26:41, and in the passages of Deuteronomy above quoted. Jeremiah, likewise, Jeremiah 4:4, represents circumcision as emblematical; consequently all the other rites of the law were so likewise.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/romans-2.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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