ROMANS CHAPTER 2
The just judgment of God
Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are that judge; for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself! For you that judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those that practice such things. 3 And do you think (O man who judges those that practice such things and yet you do the same) that you shall escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But after your hardness and impenitent heart you treasure up for yourself anger in the day of anger and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his works. 7 To them that by patience in welldoing seek for glory and honour and incorruption- eternal life. 8 But to them that are factious and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, anger and indignation- 9 tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that works evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek. 10 But glory and honour and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned outside of law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law. 13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14 For when Gentiles that do not have the law, do by nature the things of the law, these not having the law, are the law to themselves- 15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them 16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.
The hypocrisy of the Jews
17 But if you bear the name of a Jew and rely upon the law and boast in God, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those that are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth- 21 you therefore that teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You that preach a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You that say a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You that dread idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law actually dishonour God through your transgression of the law. 24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written.
25 For circumcision indeed profits, if you be a doer of the law; but if you be a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? 27 And shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you- who with the letter and circumcision are a transgressor of the law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.2:1 Inexcusable- - s.w. only in Rom. 1:20, where lesbians and homosexuals are described as “without excuse”, inexcusable. The whole point is that those who are judgmental, in the sense of condemning ahead of time, are in the same category. The point is very powerful and telling. Perhaps Paul purposefully talks about lesbianism in Romans 1 because he knows it will shock and encourage his readers to condemn lesbians etc., and thus he has set them up for ‘condemnation’. Remember that Paul isn’t merely playing mind games with his readership- he’s building us up to a crescendo of conviction of sinfulness, which will form the backdrop for the good news of God’s amazing grace; and this, rather than ranting about sin for the sake of it, is the theme of Romans. “Inexcusable” is a Greek legal term, without defence / legal answer to make. As if whenever we judge others, we are ourselves standing condemned and speechless at the judgment seat of God. The rejected in the last day will be speechless, without any legal answer to make (Mt. 22:12). If we judge others, then we right now are condemning ourselves, speechless and ashamed before the Divine judgment seat. In this sense “wherein”, or insofar as, we judge others- we condemn ourselves. We “do the same things”, not literally, but insofar as by being judgmental or unmerciful (the context is Rom. 1:31), we are sinning in the same category of mortal sins which they are; for judgmentalism is as bad as the list of major moral failures Paul has been listing at the end of Romans 1.
O man- Paul is writing with at least some reference to himself personally. To be judgmental and feel spiritually superior to others would’ve been frequent temptations for him. Paul often writes assuming his readers’ response being in a certain way. Here he assumes that having read his talk of lesbianism and a whole catena of other sins in 1:29-31, that we will be shaking our heads and judging those sins. But here in 2:1 he plays on that expected response from us [“Therefore...” is without referent unless it is to our assumed response to 1:29-31] and basically says: “Thou art the man!”. He confidently asserts that we who judge [in the sense of condemn] are doing the same things. He may mean that we all at times commit the sins of 1:29-31 and so are guilty. Or he may be saying that the very act of judging / condemning others is as bad as ‘doing those same things’. We must of course ‘judge’ in the sense of having an opinion; but to condemn people in the way that only God can is just as bad as lesbianism or whatever other sin in 1:27-31 we may wish to condemn.
Wherein you judge- the implication could be that if you condemn a person for a sin [in the sense of prejudging God’s personal condemnation of them], then you are counted as having performed the very sin which you so despise and condemn.
Condemn yourself- By condemning others we are as it were playing judge, and whilst at it, we’re reading out our own sentence of condemnation. The practical result of all this must be faced- there will, presumably, be some otherwise good living, upright Christian folk who come to the day of judgment and are condemned to darkness and gnashing of teeth simply because they in their brief lifetimes condemned some of the other sinners who are with them thrown out into condemnation. It may appear bizarre- hardened sinners like lifetime perverts and lesbians are there on the left hand side of the judgment seat along with the upright, righteous pillars of church life who never smoked, got drunk, had a telly or broke the speed limit. But they condemned their sinful brethren, those with whom they share condemnation. And that’s why they are there. This reality needs far more than some passing grunt of approval or sober nod of the head from us as we consider it. All this is not to say that we in this life can’t tell right from wrong- that’s the point of v. 2. We are indeed sure of what the judgment of God is about these gross sins, but we are sure of what God’s judgment is- and that, surely, is where the emphasis should be: “the judgment of God”.
We know right now the principles on which God will judge us. We can judge what is acceptable to the Lord (Eph. 5:10- judgment day language). We can judge / discern those things which are excellent in His eyes (Phil. 1:10). We are sure of what the judgment of God is going to be against persistent sinners (Rom. 2:2); and yet if we condemn them, we can be equally sure that even now we are condemned of ourselves, seeing that if we condemn, we will be likewise (Rom. 2:1). The wrath of God is right now revealed, constantly disclosed, against sin (Rom. 1:18).
It is difficult to read Rom. 2:1 without seeing an allusion to David's condemnation of the man who killed his neighbour's only sheep: "Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself”. Surely Paul is saying that David's massive self-deception and hypocrisy over Bathsheba can all too easily be replicated in our experience.
2:2 We are sure- again, it is only the believer, the person who knows God’s word, who is aware and certain of the judgment of God. We can be certain that judgmentalism, lack of mercy and all the moral sins in the list at the end of Romans 1 will all lead to condemnation; yet we still do them, especially the sin of condemning others. This is the paradox Paul is bringing out- that we can be sure, intellectually and spiritually persuaded, that sin [including judging and being unmerciful to others] will result in condemnation- but this doesn’t seem to mean we stop doing them. This is all part of Paul’s build up to the crescendo of conviction of human sinfulness which so urgently necessitates our acceptance of God’s grace.
Commit- Gk. ‘to practice continually’, rather than occasional failure.
Judgment... against them- Language of the law court, whereby a judgment [the contents of the judgment, rather than the act of judgment; a noun rather than a verb] is read out against a person. The oft made distinction between the person and the sin doesn’t seem Biblical- God’s judgment is against persons, not abstractions. It is individuals and not concepts which come before God’s judgment.
2:3 Do you think…? There is the strong sense in human nature that ‘this won’t happen to me, yes it will happen to most people who do that, but not to me’. This aspect of our nature is at its most acute when it comes to committing sin. Others will die, for sure, truly, definitely, for doing those things (2:2)- but I will not. No wonder the sin within us is at times described as ‘the devil’, a liar, a deceiver. Yet this whole process of thought is described here as a ‘reckoning’ [AV “thinkest…?”], a process of discussion with ourselves. But it all takes place deep in the subconscious; for we don’t literally have this kind of conversation with ourselves. We see here how the Bible tackles sin at its root- deep in the heart, within the subconscious thought processes, rather than blaming some supernatural cosmic dragon. Such an explanation is utterly primitive and has no praxis, compared to the Biblical definition of sin and the devil.
Does the same- I suggested under 2:1 that this may refer to effectively doing the same, by condemning the individuals.
Escape the judgment- Gk. ‘to flee’. The rejected will ultimately flee from God’s presence at judgment day. Paul appears to be playing on that idea- they think they can run away from it, and in the end they shall run from it in condemnation. All the same, apart from this word play, Paul is highlighting the basic human tendency to think that ‘It won’t happen to me. I can do the same as they do, they may suffer the consequences of it, but in my case, I will not’. Paul is addressing himself to our deepest psyche and internal thought processes: “Do you think [logizomai, to reason out] this [within yourself], O man... ?”. This sense that ‘I in my case can get away with it and not pay the price’ is especially pronounced in spiritual matters; the idea is that we can sin and not die because of it. The psychology of criminal behaviour has emphasized this facet of the human mind, but in fact we all have it.
The rejected going away into... (Mt. 25:46) is only a reflection of the position they themselves adopted in their lives. They thought that they could flee away from the judgments of God (Rom. 2:3 Gk.)- and so they will flee from His judgment seat, although so so unwillingly.
2:4 Despises- we can despise God’s grace if we condemn others; for who are we to say that God in the end will not save the sinners of 1:26-31? By condemning others [which is the burden of 2:1-3] we are despising God’s grace, limiting it, counting it as not very powerful nor wonderful. And by condemning others we fail to realize that God’s limitless grace and goodness- the very grace we wish to limit by condemning others- is in fact leading us personally to repentance from the sins which will in their turn condemn us too.
Forbearance- Gk. self-restraint. God restrains Himself by His grace. Not condemning us is a struggle for Him, and we despise that characteristic of His, ignore and downplay His marvellous internal struggle, if we simply write people off as ‘condemned’.
Leads- Gk. ‘is leading you’, continuous present- all the while we are despising His grace, thinking others can’t possibly be saved by it, He by grace is trying to patiently lead us to repentance. The only other time in Romans the word is used is in Rom. 8:14, where we learn that all the children of God are “led by the spirit of God” [just as God leads, same word, His children unto glory, Heb. 2:10]. This leading is therefore specifically to repentance, to actual concrete change in our lives in specific areas, not just a general sense that we are ‘led on the journey of life’. It’s amazing that God tries to lead even the self-righteous, proud and judgmental of others to repentance. In Rom. 8:14 we read that all God’s true children are led of the Spirit. Here in Rom. 2:4 it is the goodness, the kindness, the grace of God which leads us- to the end point of repentance. We are being led somewhere- to change, not just led on some road to Wigan Pier, to nowhere, led for the sake of being led… a journey for the sake of a journey. It’s common to speak of ‘being on a journey’, but the question is, are we arriving anywhere, are we coming to radical change, metanoia, or not?
Repentance- from being judgmental? For that is the context of 2:1-3.
The context of Paul’s challenge about whether we despise God’s rich grace is his plea for us not to be judgmental and unmerciful. If we consider our brethren condemned by God and refuse to show them mercy and sympathy, then we are despising God’s goodness; we’re saying that all the riches of His grace aren’t enough to save that person. Thus our condemning of others is effectively a limiting and despising of God’s saving grace. All the time we are despising God’s grace like this, God’s grace is leading [continuous present tense] us to repentance of the sins which shall condemn us. The implication is that focusing upon judging others results in little attention to ones own need for repentance. This would explain why those so publically judgmental of others are so often exposed in due course as having hypocritically harboured some secret vice or moral failure in their own lives. Psychologically, this situation develops because their focus is so upon the failures of others that they perceive “sin” to be something purely external to themselves.
Paul summarises his argument of Romans chapters 1 and 2 by saying that there he has accused / charged (in a legal sense) all men and women, Jews and Gentiles, of being “under [judgment for] sin” (Rom. 3:9 Gk.). With typically devastating logic, he has demonstrated the universal guilt of man. Twice he stresses that whoever we are, we are without excuse (1:20; 2:1). All men have a conscience which is dynamically equivalent to the specific knowledge of God’s law; in this sense they are a “law unto themselves” (2:14- although this phrase is used in a different sense in modern English). “By nature” (Strong: ‘native disposition, constitution’) they have the same moral sense that God’s law teaches. This is why human beings have an innate sense of right and wrong- it’s why, e.g., there is protest at ethnic cleansing. God is understood / perceived by what He has created, namely our own bodies. But through, e.g., sexual perversion, man has distorted the image and glory of God which he was intended to be, and has worshipped the created body rather than the creator (1:20-23). Fashion, adverts and power clothing all do this, as well as the present obsession with sexual expression. The Lord Himself taught that because we are in the image of God, therein lies an imperative to give our bodies to Him. The goodness of God can lead all men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God has set a sense of the eternal in the human heart (Ecc. 3:11 AVmg.). An awareness of judgment is alive as a basic instinct in people. God is “not far from every one of us…forasmuch as we are [all] the offspring of God” (Acts 17:27-29- stated in a preaching context), being created in His image.
2:5 Hardness- Judging / condemning others is because of hardness of heart. Hardness implies that the mortal sin being spoken about is a hardness of heart, a condemning of others (2:1-3). Later in Romans, Paul associates hardness of heart with Pharaoh, who was in turn hardened by God in response to his own hardness.
Impenitent- Continuing impenitently condemning others’ impenitence is what will lead to our condemnation; for so long as we continue condemning, we are treasuring up condemnation to ourselves. The paradox is huge and crucially relevant. The wrath and indignation for which these people are condemned (2:8) is surely wrath and indignation against those whom they condemn, claiming to have the “wrath” of Divine condemnation against others, a wrath which only properly belongs to Him. God is leading people to repentance (2:4), but some remain impenitent. In this they fight against God. He leads people by His grace to repent of their judgmentalism and condemnation of others, but not all accept His leading.
Treasures up wrath- Every continuance in condemning others and being unmerciful is a treasuring up of condemnation in the last day, adding to it bit by bit. Each act of condemnation, each incident of rejecting others, is as it were heaping up a piece of condemnation for ourselves in the last day. Our life is a laying up of treasure against the day of judgment (Mt. 6:19,20). The Greek orge translated “wrath” is elsewhere translated ‘anger’, ‘indignation’. These are exactly the feelings of those who condemn others- anger and indignation. There is therefore a direct, proportionate correspondence between human condemnation, anger and indignation against the weakness of their brethren; and the anger, indignation and condemnation of God against those who condemn in this way. Wrath... day of wrath- your wrath with others now (2:8) is going to be related to God’s wrath against you at the last day. Again the implication is that it is because people have shown wrath, i.e. Divine condemnation, that they will suffer wrath in the day of wrath which is to come. The point is that the day of judgment is the day of God’s wrath, not ours; and the day for wrath is then, and not now. It will be “revealed” only then- not now. The emphasis is upon the judgment and wrath being “of God”, then- and not of man, nor now in this life.
Revelation of the righteous judgment- the Greek means ‘the verdict’, the judgment given. This will not be decided upon at the last day- it has already been created in this life, and we have created it ourselves- for we are our own judges. What happens at the last day is that it is revealed. The day of judgment is a metaphor- a human court sits down to assess evidence and pass a verdict. This isn’t the case with Divine judgment, as God knows the end from the beginning, and isn’t passive nor unaware of human behavior and the reasons for it- all at the very time it occurs.
There are several allusions to Job in Romans, all of which confirm that Job is set up as symbolic of apostate Israel. A simple example is Elihu's description of Job as a hypocrite heaping up wrath (Job 36:13), which connects with Paul's description of the Jews as treasuring up unto themselves "wrath against the day of wrath" (Rom. 2:5).
2:6 Who will render- the emphasis is perhaps on “will”, for Paul is addressing the subconscious mentality that we ourselves can escape judgment (see on 2:3). “Render” is the same word translated “to give account”- we shall “give account” at the day of judgment (Mt. 12:36; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 4:5), “render” [s.w.] to God the fruits of our lives (Mt. 21:41). So God’s rendering of account to us is really our rendering of account to Him- we are our own judges, we are working out the verdict now by our attitudes and actions.
Render- ‘to give account’. It would seem that in some sense, there will be a ‘going through’ of all our deeds, and an account given by God related to each of them. How this shall happen is unclear (e.g. through the past flooding before our eyes like a movie, which is frequently stopped for us to comment upon). But in some sense it will happen, in that not one human deed performed or thought by those responsible to Divine judgment will as it were slip away unnoticed. This isn’t only sobering, but also comforting.
It is God who will render to each person their account- therefore we should not sit as judges (the context of 2:1).
The judgement of works must be squared against the fact that we each receive a penny a day, salvation by grace. Our salvation itself is by grace, but the nature of our eternity, how many cities we rule over, how brightly we shine as stars, will be appropriate to our deeds in this life. Or it may be that in the context here, the “deeds” which will be judged are our condemnation of others. This, as explained in 2:1-3, is as bad as the “deeds” being condemned by us; and so there’s a telling appropriacy in styling such condemnations “deeds”, as if they are the actual deed performed.
2:7 Doing- s.w. “deeds” in 2:6. Yet how can the right deeds be rewarded with eternal life, given Paul’s teaching about salvation by grace rather than works? Surely the answer is in the fact that salvation itself is by grace, the “penny a day” of the parable which all believers will receive; but our works aren’t insignificant, and they will be judged and will affect the nature of the eternal life, the salvation, which by grace we shall be given. Or it could be that the “well doing”, the ‘good deeds’, spoken of here are in fact a non-judgmental, merciful life. The good deeds are what we avoided doing, i.e. condemning others, which is the theme of this section of Romans.
Immortality- To those who earnestly seek for perfection, who would so love to be given moral perfection, who would so love never to sin again- they will be given eternal life in that state. Note the difference between the “immortality” which we seek, and the “eternal life” which we are given in response. The Greek for “immortality” is also translated “incorruption”, “sincerity”- it has a distinct moral sense to it. If we seek to live in moral incorruption, if our desire to be in the Kingdom of God is because we so yearn to live without sin and corruption- then we will not only be given that but also an eternity of life like that. But the essence is to seek to live in moral incorruption- and then the eternity will come as a natural part of that.
Glory and honour- terms frequently applied by Paul to the Lord Jesus. The righteous seek His glory and honour, and shall be given eternal life in which to do so. Or should we seek glory, honour- for others? For love doesn’t seek her own things (1 Cor. 13:5 s.w.). Paul could write of how he ‘sought’ others’ salvation (2 Cor. 12:14).
Paul tells the Hebrews [if he indeed was the author] and Romans to have the patient, fruit-bearing characteristics of the good ground (Lk. 8:15 = Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36).
2:8 Contentious- Gk. ‘factious’. The section is talking about those who condemn others (2:1) and who are unmerciful (1:31). It is this which creates faction-for if one person condemns another, they expect others to condemn them too, and cause faction over it. It’s significant that causing faction by being judgmental is chosen here as the epitome of wrong doing- despite Paul having spoken of sins such as lesbianism in the context. His argument seems to be that condemning those who commit such sins and causing faction over the matter is in fact a far worse sin. To be contentious – to be divisive, endlessly creating strife (Gk.), is the very epitome of those who will not be saved. Yet sadly, contention against other believers is falsely painted as ‘spiritual strength’. This category of people are later in this verse called indignant and angry- confirming the view that this group are people within the ecclesia who are angry, indignant and contentious against others whom they judge (2:1-3 sets the context).
Do not obey the truth- As we have shown in comments on 2:2 that Paul has in view here those who know the Truth. The emphasis should therefore here be placed upon their disobedience to the Truth which they know. And that Truth requires mercy, grace and non-condemnation to be shown to sinners. That is obedience to the Truth. Or “the truth” may bea reference to the Law of Moses, as in Rom. 2:20; 3:7? Or to the Gospel, as elsewhere in Paul's thought.
Obey... but... obey- Paul introduces the paradox he develops so strongly in chapter 6- that we are slaves, and we obey either the flesh or the spirit. For all our fiercely claimed independence, we are presented by Paul as slaves with only two possible masters to whom we can yield obedience. What's telling in the figure is that the 'master' of the flesh is actually our own internal passions of wrath, indignation, unrighteousness. "Obey" is from a Greek word which really means to persuade. We are persuaded either by our own anger, or by the Truth of the Gospel. The same word recurs in 2:19.
Obey... indignation and wrath- As commented on under 2:5, it is those who condemn others who do so with indignation and wrath, thus heaping upon themselves Divine wrath and indignation at the last day. We all have latent wrath and indignation within us- but we are not to obey those passions in a wrong way. When we encounter the sinfulness of others, it seems that indignation and wrath are aroused and this leads some to condemn others. But if we obey those passions- we shall receive God’s wrath and condemnation.
The rejected will want to be accepted. "When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you (quoted in Rom. 2:8 re. the judgment). Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me" (Prov. 1:27,28).
2:9- see on Rom. 2:23.
Tribulation- we have the choice of tribulation now for the sake of living the truly Christian life (e.g. Mt. 13:21), or tribulation at the hands of God and His Son and their Angels at the last day. Tribulation wasexactly what the apostate Christians were trying to avoid will come upon them at judgment day. The 'persecution' or 'chasing' is perhaps a reference to the Angel of the Lord chasing the rejected like chaff away from the judgment seat- the Angel will "persecute" the rejected along dark and slippery paths (Ps. 35:6).
Anguish- lit. 'narrowness of room'. They will have no place to run, compared to the sense of largeness and freedom which will be [and is with] God's accepted people. The anguish will not just be upon 'men' but upon every individual psuche (s.w. heart, life, mind) of man who has been disobedient. The suggestion is that the punishment will be psychological, a mental trauma.
That does evil- 1:32 has warned that those who don't so much do the evil but vicariously agree with it are just as culpable. The 'doing' is therefore as much mental as physical.
The Jew first- because the Jews have or had greater responsibility to Divine judgment?
2:10 Honour- the Greek word really refers to money, a financial price. There could be an allusion to the parable of the talents, whereby the faithful receives the one talent which the unfaithful hadn't used (Mt. 25:28).
The 'working good' in the context of 2:1-3 is not condemning our brother.
2:11 No respect of persons- i.e. both Jew and Gentile will be accepted in God's Kingdom. The spirituality of the Gentile believers will be rewarded just as much as that of Jewish believers. That the Jew-Gentile equality is such a theme in Romans would suggest that the ecclesia featured both Jews and Gentiles- hence Paul's many OT allusions in Romans, whilst at the same time making it clear in places that he is specifically addressing Gentiles ["ye Gentiles"].
2:12 Perish- i.e. in condemnation at the last day? For this is how the word is used in Jn. 3:18; 2 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 13:4. "Judged" is being used in the sense of "condemned". Not only those who knew the Mosaic law will appear at judgment day; some will be condemned there because of their disobedience to that law, but others will be condemned because of disobedience to other principles.
Watch out for the use of figures of speech. How we interpret the Bible accurately depends upon grasping these. Ellipsis and metaphor are the most common. Ellipsis is where as it were a gap is left in the sentence, and we have to fill in the intended sense. Thus: "For as many as have sinned without law, shall perish also without [being judged by] law" (Rom. 2:12).
2:13 Not the hearers- there would have been a great tendency in the first century as in our own to think that regular attendance at a place of worship and simply hearing God's law read was enough for salvation.
Doers of the law... justified- Yet Paul elsewhere teaches that no works can bring about justification, it is not of works but of faith in God's grace. I've observed several times in these notes so far in Romans that Paul tends to use the idea of 'doing' with reference to mental attitudes rather than deeds. Or it may be that Paul is here quoting a rabbinic maxim, and agreeing with it only so far- to demonstrate that even passive religionists are all the same liable to a very real condemnation.
Mt. 7:21 = Rom. 2:13. Paul saw the "Lord, Lord" people of the parable as the Jews of the first century who initially responded enthusiastically to the Gospel.
2:14 Gentiles- Gentile believers in Christ. There's no article- it's not a reference to the Gentiles as a whole.
By nature- nobody seems to be naturally obedient to "the things contained in the law", rather is obedience and spirituality an hourly struggle. It's therefore tempting to seek to interpret this verse in the light of the immediate context- which is condemning some [Jewish?] members of the Rome ecclesia for doing that which is "against nature", i.e. lesbianism and homosexuality (Rom. 1:26). The Gentile believers in that context of homosexuality were "by nature" doing God's will in that area. Again, we see Paul teaching that nobody is 'born gay', such behaviour is not natural. Perhaps it is in this context that we can understand the rest of 2:14 and 2:15, which seem to suggest that conscience naturally rebels against such things. This is indeed the natural reaction to such perversion.
It’s easy to get discouraged in our preaching by the apparent lack of response. But all the witnesses that we make, the points we get across, the bills we distribute, adverts we place… the people who receive them don’t treat them as they would say a commercial advertisement.Everyone out there has a religious conscience- let’s remember that. They know, deep down, what they ought to be doing. And our preaching invites them to do it. If there is no immediate conversion, well don’t worry. You have touched peoples’ hearts by your witness. Paul describes our witness in terms of the burning of aromatic spices during the triumphant procession of a victorious general, in our case, the Lord Jesus. His victory train goes on and on and on; and each generation of preachers is the aroma. But in Paul’s image, the aroma strikes the bystanders in only one of two ways: some find it pleasing and life-giving, whereas others find it nauseating and deadly (2 Cor. 2:14-16). The point is, the fragrance of our witness penetrates everywhere (2 Cor. 2:14), and it is an odour which cannot be ignored. It is either repulsive, or life-giving. Our hearers will react in only one of those two ways, whatever their apparent indifference to us.
2:15 Also bearing witness- Along with the witness of God's law, their conscience also happened to agree with God's law about homosexuality. 1 Cor. 4:4 warns that our conscience isn't so reliable as to justify us at the last day; but in the 'natural' revulsion of the conscience against homosexuality, conscience is a joint witness with God's law. Again, it's apparent that Paul didn't believe the 'born gay' story.
Thoughts- Gk. 'logismos'. The internal words, the conscience, accused or excused [both are legal words] the behaviour; our internal words 'bear witness' as in a court, for or against us. Judgment is ongoing; and we are at times our own accusers.
2:16 Secrets - The focus upon our innermost thoughts and words spoken only within our own minds continues when we read that God will judge the "secrets" of men in the last day. It's our thoughts which are the essence of us as persons. These will be judged- and the context of 2:1-3 is of internal attitudes like judgmentalism being worthy of condemnation at the last day.
According to my [preaching of the] gospel- the Gospel as preached by Paul includes judgment to come as part of the good news. But the teaching about the judgment seat of Christ is only good news for those sure of their redemption in Christ, those who are now suffering, those who now in their thoughts and hearts are with the Lord but are condemned by others... for the day of judgment will be a turning of tables, a replacing of the external with the internal.
2:17 You [singular] are called a Jew- it's as if Paul is in the middle of giving a lecture and then suddenly addresses himself to one individual in the audience.
Rests in [RV "upon"]- the Greek idea is of remaining. Again it seems Paul is addressing himself to Christian Jews in the Rome ecclesia who had chosen to remain in the Mosaic law.
make your boast- as in 2:23, a reference to Jewish glorying in having and obeying the Mosaic law. But Paul uses the same word another three times in Romans, about how "we" boast in our reconcilliation with God (Rom. 5:11), in the hope we have of salvation (5:2), and also in our humiliations which prepare us for that time (5:3). Our witness to others is part of this confident boasting about God's grace. But we can only confidently boast of salvation and reconcilliation if by faith we have assured ourselves that these things are present realities, and not merely possible futures for us.
2:17-23 Paul's rebuke of the Jews in Rom.2 for their reliance on a mixture of worldly wisdom and that of the Mosaic law has many similarities with Job:
"Thou art called a Jew... and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and triest the things that differ (AVmg.), being instructed out of the law;
A fair description of Job before his trials. Cp. Job's constant reasoning with God about things which differed from his previous concept of God; "Doth not the ear try words?" (12:11)
and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an
"I was eyes to the blind" (29:15)
instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?
"Thou hast instructed many ... thy words have upholden him that was falling... but now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest" (4:3-5).
Thou that preachest a man should not steal... commit adultery... (worship) idols... dost thou?
These were the 3 main things of which the friends accused Job.
Thou that makest thy boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonourest thou God?"
Elihu, on God's behalf, says that Job's boasting of his righteousness implied God was doing wickedly in punishing Job (34:10)
Their belief that they possessed such great wisdom led the Jews to be self-righteous, in that they reasoned that if they were wicked, then their wisdom would reveal this to them. Job and the Jews were in this sense similar.
2:18 know His will- the very same Greek words which were spoken to Paul at his conversion by Ananias (Acts 22:14). This is yet another example of where Paul's conversion experience is alluded to him constantly, consciously and unconsciously, throughout his writings. Paul goes on to talk about how this individual Jew of whom he speaks could approve or prove or judge / discern excellent things- this surely is an allusion to the rabbinical process of casuistic interpretation of Scripture with which Paul had been brought up, and which dialectic is so evident in his Christian writing and reasoning. Surely the individual Jew whom Paul started addressing in 2:17 is in fact Paul himself. Perhaps he also has in mind the Lord's teaching (using the same Greek words) in Lk. 12:47, where in the context of responsibility to final judgment, the Lord warns that those who know His will shall be punished more severely than those who don't. Hence Paul's earlier comments about "to the Jew first".
2:19 This verse and 2:20-23 sound so similar to Paul. He is the Jew out of the audience whom he starts addressing in 2:17. Like Peter, his teaching of others is shot through with reference to his own failure and salvation by grace; and he is at pains to apply the exhortations, appeals and warnings he makes to himself personally.
Confident- persuaded. The same word is [mis]translated "obey" in 2:8. There we read that we are persuaded either of the Gospel, or by anger, judgmentalism etc. Who did the persuading? Presumably Paul's own pride and / or the peer opinion of others in the Jewish peer group.
Guide of the blind- this and the other similar phrases here and in 2:20 were all used by the Rabbis to describe their attempts to make Gentiles into Jews by proselytizing. However each phrase can equally be understood with reference to the true preaching of Christ as the light of the world.
As the Lord was the light of those that sat in darkness (Mt. 4:16), so Paul writes as if all the believers are likewise (Rom. 2:19).
Paul points out the humility which we should therefore have in our preaching: there are none that truly understand, that really see; we are all blind. And yet we are "a guide of the blind, a light to them that sit in darkness" (Rom. 2:19). Therefore we ought to help the blind with an appropriate sense of our own blindness. See on Mt. 13:16.
2:20 “Instructor of the foolish… teacher of babes” are Rabbinic terms used for Rabbis and Jewish orthodox missionaries bringing forth ‘babes’ of Gentile converts to Judaism. Such people had the “form of knowledge and truth” [another Rabbinic phrase] in the Jewish Law. Paul’s hypothetical “O man” (2:1) is narrowing down to himself; for very few if any of the initial readership of Romans would’ve been former Rabbis, let alone Rabbis involved in missionary proselytizing. The only Christian former Rabbi and travelling proselytizer we meet in the New Testament is Paul himself. The allusion by Paul to himself rather than pointing the finger at any of his readership would’ve set them at ease, that there were no hidden messages nor hints that he was addressing a specific situation or person in Rome. He was applying his principles to himself, and by so publically doing so he appeals to each of his readers to likewise personalize the principles to ourselves.
2:21 Paul was teaching the Romans. Thus the allusion to himself is clear- he who teaches others must teach himself, must apply to himself the principles which pass his lips so easily. He may be referring back to his theme in 2:2,3- that we have a tendency to assume that Divine truths aren’t relevant to us personally, that punishment for sin and condemning others isn’t, actually, going to come on me, although we know it will surely come on others. And so Paul is saying that he too must be aware of this- that he places himself in the audience of those whom he is teaching. See on Rom. 3:19.
Not steal- Stealing was felt to be a crime which could and should be openly, publically rebuked.
2:22 Sexual double standards is perhaps the most obvious example of hypocrisy. Remember the context of this passage- the list of awful sexual sins at the end of chapter 1 lead Paul in to a discourse on the sin of condemning others for their sins, his point being that to do so was a despising of God’s grace; and that by condemning others for their sin we are in fact guilty of that same sin. And so Paul could be meaning that if we condemn individuals for adultery, it is as if we have ourselves committed adultery, for this would be in harmony with what he has taught earlier in this section (see on 1:32).
You who abhors idols- Jewish Rabbis like Paul were well known for their obsession with making any image of God.
Do you commit sacrilege?- Gk. ‘temple robbery’. The theme which connects the three examples given by Paul is that of stealing, taking that which isn’t yours. ‘Do you steal?’ (v.21) connects with ‘Do you commit adultery?’ because adultery is a stealing of that which isn’t yours but which belongs to your neighbour (1 Thess. 4:6); and robbing temples is likewise stealing. Stealing was and is seen in the Middle East as the social evil and crime which could be shouted out against the most. Indeed in many cultures there is some equivalent of the English “Stop thief!”.
Temple robbery was something Jews were accused of (Acts 19:37)- according to Josephus they were renowned for it, justifying it on the basis that the gods who ‘owned’ the treasures did not in fact exist (Antiquities 4:8, 10). So it’s appropriate Paul would choose this example- condemning others, in this case for idolatory, but to our own personal advantage.
2:23 You who makes your boast of the law- Again, this is surely a reference by Paul to himself, who boasted of his Jewish roots and knowledge of the Law. The Jews boasted in God (2:17 s.w.) and in His law. Later in Romans Paul talks of how the Christian believer boasts in God on account of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 5:11 s.w.; AV “joy in God”). The Jewish boast in God was proven empty because of human sin and hypocrisy; whereas the Christian can boast in God because s/he is confident in His grace in Christ.
You dishonour / shame God- The same word has been used by Paul in Rom. 1:24 about homosexuals dishonouring their bodies. Relentlessly, Paul repeats his point- the apparently grosser sins such as homosexuality are just as bad and ‘dishonouring’ as those who know the Law, even boasting of it, and yet condemn others for sins like homosexuality.
There's a definite link between shame and anger. Take a man whose mother yelled at him because as a toddler he ran out onto the balcony naked, and shamed him by her words. Years later on a hot Summer evening the man as an adult walks out on a balcony with just his underpants on. An old woman yells at him from the yard below that he should be ashamed of himself. And he's furiously angry with her- because of the shame given him by his mother in that incident 20 years ago. Shame and anger are clearly understood by God as being related, because His word several times connects them: "A fool's anger is immediately known; but a prudent man covers his shame" (Prov. 12:16); A king's anger is against a man who shames him (Prov. 14:35). Or consider 1 Sam. 20:34: "So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month... because his father had done him shame". Job's anger was related to the fact that he felt that ten times the friends had shamed him in their speeches (Job 19:3). Frequently the rejected are threatened with both shame and anger / gnashing of teeth; shame and anger are going to be connected in that awful experience. They will "curse [in anger]... and be ashamed" (Ps. 109:28). The final shame of the rejected is going to be so great that "they shall be greatly ashamed... their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten" (Jer. 20:11). Seeing they will be long dead and gone, it is us, the accepted, who by God's grace will recall the terrible shame of the rejected throughout our eternity. Their shame will be so terrible; and hence their anger will likewise be. Because Paul's preaching 'despised' the goddess Diana, her worshippers perceived that she and they were somehow thereby shamed; and so "they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:27,28). It's perhaps possible to understand the wrath of God in this way, too. For His wrath is upon those who break His commands; and by breaking them we shame God (Rom. 2:23); we despise his desire for our repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Break… the law?- The chapter has been arguing against judgmentalism and condemning of sinners. This is perhaps the rank breaking of the Law which Paul is talking about.
2:24 The Jews were so sensitive to honouring God’s Name that they wouldn’t even pronounce it. And yet their hypocrisy led to it being blasphemed world-wide. This is Paul’s point- that hypocrisy is as bad a sin as the crudest, most widely spread blasphemy.
It is written- In Is. 52:5, where God says that Judah in Babylon had caused His Name to be blasphemed, but (the prophesy continues) because of that He would reveal His Name to His people as it is in His Son, and they would ultimately accept Him and thus the blasphemy of God’s Name would cease. Yet Paul is writing in Romans to Jewish Christians. Clearly they had not really grasped Christ as intended.
2:25 Circumcision indeed is of profit if you obey the law- The corollary of this is that Christ will “profit” [s.w.] nothing if we chose to be circumcised (Gal. 5:2). The analogy of a wedding ring is perhaps helpful to explain Paul’s sense here. A wedding ring, a ritualistic external token, is helpful as a sign of marriage; but if one breaks the marriage covenant, the wedding ring [cp. Circumcision] becomes bereft of meaning and just a pointless external physicality.
Circumcision is made uncircumcision- Humanly speaking in the first century, this was impossible. Once the flesh was cut off, this was irreversible. But in God’s opinion- and that surely is Paul’s point- circumcision no longer counts if the covenant which defines the Law is broken. The Jew is therefore as the Gentile, the circumcised becomes uncircumcised because the Law, the old covenant which defined the whole relationship, has been broken.
2:26 Throughout Romans, the point is made that the Lord counts as righteous those that believe; righteousness is imputed to us the unrighteous (Rom. 2:26; 4:3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,22,23,24; 8:36; 9:8). But the very same Greek word is used of our self-perception. We must count / impute ourselves as righteous men and women, and count each other as righteous on the basis of recognising each others’ faith rather than works: “Therefore we conclude [we count / impute / consider] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law... Likewise reckon [impute] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 3:28; 6:11). We should feel clean and righteous, and act accordingly, both in our own behaviour and in our feelings towards each other.
The readership in the Roman ecclesia appears to have been mixed, Jew and Gentile. The Gentile world of darkness doesn’t keep the righteousness of the Law. “The uncircumcision” here must surely refer to the uncircumcised Christian believers, especially those in the Roman ecclesia. Indeed, “the circumcision” in Acts 10:45; 11:2; Tit. 1:10 and Gal. 2:12 refers to the circumcised believers in Christ; and so it’s likely that here in Romans it has the same meaning. The Gentile believers were counted as Jews, under the new definition of ‘Israel’ which there now was in Christ: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
2:27 Judge you- The Christian Gentile believers, who were uncircumcised, would judge / condemn the Jewish Christian believer who trusted in keeping the letter of the Law and in his circumcision rather than in Christ. They would ‘condemn’ them in that at the last day, those rejected will as it were be compared against other human beings and be relatively ‘condemned’ by their example (Mt. 12:39-41). Paul has been emphasizing the need not to condemn our brethren (2:1 etc.)- he’s saying that it is God who will use us to condemn others, of His choosing, at the last day judgment. The very existence of believing Gentiles judges the Jews as condemned (Rom. 2:27), just as Noah's very example was a condemnation of his world (Heb. 11:7) and the very existence of the repentant Ninevites condemned first century Israel (Mt. 12:41). The faithful preaching of the Corinthians would judge an unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:24). The fact the Pharisees' children cast out demons condemned the Pharisees (Mt. 12:27). This is why the rejected will be shamed before the accepted; they will bow in shame at their feet (Rev. 3:9; 16:15). Perhaps it is in this sense that "we shall judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3)- rejected ecclesial elders, cp. the angels of the churches in Rev. 2,3? The point is, men's behaviour and conduct judges others because of the contrast it throws upon them. And this was supremely true of the Lord. No wonder in the naked shame and glory of the cross lay the supreme "judgment of this world"
"Shall not uncircumcision (i.e. the Gentiles)... judge thee (first century Israel), who... dost transgress the law?" (Rom. 2:27) is an odd way of putting it. How can believing Gentiles “judge" first century Jews who refused to believe? Surely there must be some connection with Mt. 12:41, which speaks of Gentiles such as the men of Nineveh rising "in judgment with this generation (first century Israel), and shall condemn it: because they repented...". I can't say there is a conscious allusion being made here. But the similarity is too great to just shrug off.
We may again need to read in an ellipsis when we read that uncircumcision fulfills the Law. The Gentile Christians fulfilled [the essence of] the Jewish Law. This was a paradox- the Law demanded circumcision, so how could the uncircumcised fulfill the Law? Another explanation is to understand that they ‘fulfill the Law’ in that God counts them as having done so. And as soon as we think about fulfilling the Law, our minds surely go to the fact that the Lord Jesus was the One who fulfilled the Law by His life of perfect obedience. And Rom. 8:4 makes the point that the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled “in us” because of the fact that the Lord Jesus died His representative death for us. Thereby, His righteousness is counted to us. He, the circumcised, perfect keeper of God’s law, died as our representative. If we identify with Him by faith and baptism into Him, then women and uncircumcised men alike are all counted to be as Him. And in this way, uncircumcised, disobedient, law-breaking believers in Christ will as it were condemn those who have attempted to justify themselves by the circumcision ritual and obedience to the letter of the Law.
By the letter- Gk. ‘gramma’, s.w, “Scriptures”. Neither the Scriptures nor circumcision in themselves make a person break the Law of Moses. So we must read in an ellipsis here. By trusting in our obedience to these things we can put ourselves in a position where we are coming before God on the basis of justification by our own obedience rather than our faith in Christ. In this lies the danger of ‘Biblicism’ when it’s used the wrong way. If we are obsessed with obedience to the letter of God’s Word and external, ritual signs such as circumcision, then we shall end up condemned as law breakers- because perfect obedience to God’s word is actually impossible.
2:28 He is not a Jew who is one outwardly was a radical, hard hitting statement. And coming from a Hebrew of the Hebrews like Saul of Tarsus, it really was stinging. Self-identity in the Mediterranean world of the first century was all tied up with who one was externally. The new identity in Christ challenges our self-perceptions to the absolute core.
Rom. 2:28 explicitly states the principle of our real spiritual self being hidden, by saying that the true believer will "inwardly" (same word translated "hidden" in 1 Pet. 3:4) circumcise his heart. The works of the flesh are "manifest", but by inference those of the Spirit are hidden (Gal. 5:18,19). Mt. 6:4,6,18 gives triple emphasis to the fact that God sees in secret. He alone truly and fully appreciates our spiritual self. This is sure comfort on the many occasions where our spirituality is misunderstood, both in the world and in the ecclesia. Yet it also provides an endless challenge; moment by moment, our true spiritual being is known by the Almighty, "Thou whose eyes in darkness see, and try the heart of man". The spiritual man which God now knows ("sees") and relates to, will be what He sees at the day of judgment. God dwells in "secret", i.e. in the hidden place, as well as seeing in "secret". God is a God who hides Himself (Is. 57:17) due to human sinfulness. If we fail to see the spiritual man in our brethren, this must be due to a lack of real spiritual vision in us. It is human sin which is somehow getting in the way.
2:29 It was indeed a radical thing for Paul to re-define self-identity from the outward and visible to the internal and invisible. External appearances were and are what define a person, both within society and to him or her self. By becoming “in Christ”, this all changes- radically. “Inwardly” is the same word translated “secrets” when we read a few verses earlier that God will judge the secrets, the internal things (Rom. 2:16). This is what He looks upon.
It’s significant that circumcision was in any case a private matter. The Canaanite tribes each had various markings or tattoos, usually on the face or somewhere public and visible, just as many African tribes do today. It was immediately obvious that the person was from whatever tribe. God’s people, however, had a body marking on the most hidden and intimate place on a man’s body, which was not on public display. This in itself reflected how relationship with God was and is something intimate, personal and not immediately visible, in a sense, to the world around us. We who line up in a supermarket look, smell, talk and chose our shopping in a virtually identical way to the world around us. Our separation unto God is internal, intimate and not externally visible. Note that Paul has been talking about not judging; and from that he moves on to talk about circumcision. The connection is in the fact that we cannot judge others because we can only view them externally; God will judge the “secrets” (2:16), the internal things, because the sign of our covenant connection with God is by its very nature internal and personal to the believer and God. We cannot possibly, therefore, judge others- for we see only the visible and external.
Circumcision under the new covenant doesn't refer to anything outward, visibly verifiable. For now "he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:29)- seeing we can't judge the secret things of others' hearts, how can we tell who is circumcised in heart or not? The 'sealing' of God's people today, the proof that they are the Lord's (2 Tim. 2:19), is not anything external, but the internal matter of being sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30), or being sealed with a mark in the mind / forehead, as Revelation puts it (Rev. 7:3; 9:4).
Praise- We will be praised by God in that He will ‘go through’ all our good deeds, when we fed the hungry and visited those in prison (Mt. 25:36). He will rejoice over us, glory in us, in the way that only a lover can over the beloved whom He views through eyes of love, counting perfection to us in His eyes (1 Cor. 4:5). This is the real meaning of being ‘Jewish’- for Paul is making a word play on the word ‘Jew’ coming from ‘Judah’, the praised one (Gen. 49:8).
The Case For Grace: A Commentary On Romans 1-8
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