Romans Chapter 2

2:1       Therefore, you are defenceless, oh person! Everyone who judges, for in that which you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, for you who are judging are committing the same things!

Paul contrasts the judgment by people who hypocritically do the things they judge others for, and God’s judgement based on truth. In both instances, the judging party is judging against the action; in this statement Paul does not refer to the sinner approving when others do like sins to their own, but rather those who condemn another for sins they themselves commit. God judges against those who commit unrighteousness without distinction, whereas ‘o man’ judges others but not himself. God will judge both.

Paul also declares that the ones judging others while committing the same sins have no defence themselves, because they clearly already know the deeds are wrong, evidenced by their judgment of others. Their condemnation of another for a deed they commit themselves is a de facto condemnation of themselves; in fact doubly so, as they condemn their own erroneous actions, as well as their judgment of the other party. These are the classic hypocrites; who pretend to be upright by their judgment of others, while engaging in those things against which they exercise judgment.

2:2       We recognize that the judgment of God is according to truth on those who commit such (things).

God judges everyone by the same measure, which is His perfect nature and His purpose for His creation. He will judge the above-described hypocrite by the same judgment as those whom the hypocrite presumes to judge. God doesn’t have different measures for different people or different circumstances.

Whereas God judges according to truth, those whom he rebukes judge based on having turned the truth of God into a lie. God does not accept that exchange, but continues to judge according to the same truth that existed at the beginning, which these men chose to reject when he jettisoned knowledge of God.

2:3       Yet you reckon this, oh man who judges the ones committing such, and who are doing the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God! (this does not appear to be a question in the original, despite being written as a question in the KJV and other English versions)

(Rhetorical question; Paul knows that everyone hearing his question already knows the answer. He is inviting – in fact demanding – that the guilty choose to think.)

Having declared that “we” know God’s judgment is according to truth against all who commit the offenses, Paul confronts these others who believe themselves to somehow be safe from God’s judgment of their sins even when they know enough better to be able to rightly judge others guilty when committing those same sins. Anyone who knows enough to judge others, by definition, must also know that God must likewise judge him. Yet these are so self-deceived as to expect themselves to get away with those things they know are wrong.

How often do any of us presume to consider some offense committed by others as somehow more grievous than those which we commit?

There are a few common errors in response to Paul’s words: some people have wrongly read Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus admonishes His hearers to not judge, otherwise they will come to judgment. But Paul’s letters in particular, and all instructions from Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and Jude, require that we judge both actions and men in order to encourage, correct, avoid, teach, or otherwise respond to that which has been said or done. Jesus did not finish His instruction in Matt 7:1 with that sentence, but rather told those listening to ‘first remove the plank from their own eye’ in order to be capable of seeing to remove the speck from their brother’s eye. Until we have our own house and heart in order, we are unqualified to advise others about the condition of their lives. Paul told the Corinthians that a spiritual man – one who abides in Christ – judges everything. In our fifth chapter of that same letter, Paul fully instructs the church to judge ‘those within’ and requires them to disassociate with any who are guilty of a number of named offenses. (Whether this requirement is limited to these specific offenses is not under discussion at this time; it is sufficient to recognize that Paul has required these Christians to both judge the actions or words of others in their company, and to respond to those offenses by withdrawing themselves from fellowship with those who are guilty of them.) So yes, Christians are absolutely to evaluate and recognize sin where they find it, including in the lives of those who claim to belong to the body of Christ.

But many people, including professing Christians, have the perception of a list of offenses that are ‘worse than’ other offenses. The predictable list of murder, rape, child abuse, adultery, homosexuality and other sexual offenses, and a few select others, are considered by most people to be of greater offense than those more commonly-committed offenses such as lying, slander, gluttony, selfishness, disrespect, and laziness, to name a few. Consequently, while most of us are offended by someone else’s laziness, we are inclined to excuse our own. When someone lies to us, we are incensed, but it is easy to embellish when it’s convenient to our own purpose. While we would not allow ourselves to engage in a sexual relationship outside of our marriage, most are not above flirting, or daydreaming about some more ‘perfect’ specimen of the opposite gender for fun, affection, and sex. Jesus was very clear when He told the disciples that adulterous thoughts are as evil as out-right adulterous acts, that unjustified anger against another person is as serious a sin as murdering them. Our scale of right and wrong has many distinctions that enable us to delude ourselves into believing that we are not as guilty as those around us, because we don’t do ‘those things’ done by others. But whenever we participate in thoughts, words, or deeds that emanate from the same evil desires as the actions of others we know enough to condemn, we are not only guilty of the sin itself, but of the sin of hypocrisy through the justification of our own wrong-doing while condemning another person for the same offence. God doesn’t see adultery, or lies, or malice, or idolatry on a scale; each one either is or is not, and every time one ‘is’, we are completely guilty, and utterly condemned.

Moreover, God has created the universe for Their pleasure in such a manner as to glorify Themselves. Whenever a member of creation lifts itself in opposition to God, Their pleasure is denied, and that member has failed to glorify God as God. As Paul described earlier, men who know God refuse to glorify God as God. This is an affront to God’s being and nature that is grievous in both the fact of the offense and the implication that a creature considers itself outside of the jurisdiction of the Creator, such that they think they can do whatever they please simply because they are able: “Because I can.” God as Creator has all jurisdiction, and is entirely entitled to all submission and obedience. He has the right to set any standard, establish any purpose, require any activity, and restrict any behaviour that fails to conform to those standards, purposes, and character He desires for what belongs to Him. As created beings, and therefore subject to our Creator as sovereign, our obligation is to comply. If we do otherwise, we are guilty of setting ourselves against the Supreme Authority, and bring ourselves under His judgment.

2:4       or you despise the riches of His kindness, and the forbearance and the patience, being ignorant that the kindness of God leads / is leading you to repentance.

Paul continues his rebuke of those who condemn in others behaviours which they themselves practice by proposing that, if they aren’t guilty of thinking they will escape God’s righteous judgment, then they are guilty of potentially turning their noses up at those benevolent and gracious characteristics of God that offer mankind the opportunity to change. God uses man’s conscience among other tools to show men the condition of their own lives – to recognize the sin in themselves by being able to rightly recognize the same sin in others – and to draw them to change. When we can see that someone else is doing something wrong and know that they should change, the logical and honest conclusion is that we likewise must change if we are likewise guilty. When our eyes are open to the one, our minds are shown the other; this is how God has made the human being, although some appear to not realize that God has put these things in us for our protection and assistance.

But when we see God’s work to change us and refuse to listen, we effectively spit in His face. God’s goodness, patience, and kindness expose to us what we are truly like: when measured by God’s holy character, we are shown to be inadequate.

Moreover, when we see that a good God also exercises patience toward us in our failings, not immediately destroying us or abandoning us to the just consequences of our sins, we see His kindness and tremendous grace.

It is His kindness that should cause us to reject our sin – when we observe and begin to comprehend the grace and patience and kindness of God, and appreciate Who this God is Whom we have offended and Who nevertheless deigns to offer us a means to be reconciled, we should be drawn to change our minds toward such a benevolent deity. When we recognize that we deserve the penalty – as we all recognize others deserve when we see they have done wrong – we should likewise recognize the grace extended to us by God in not exacting that penalty as soon as it is earned.

When someone chooses to disregard God’s initial kindness toward them by refusing Him, they are effectively despising – counting as small, valueless, or unimportant – the kindness He has demonstrated. God has no obligation to those who offend Him to make a means by which the offence can be remedied; He would be entirely within what is right to leave every sinner to their own devices until each one came to present both recompense and repentance – which could never happen as we can never meet the requirements of justice for our sins, other than through death and expulsion from God’s kingdom. However, God Who is entirely just is also kind, patient, and understanding of human weakness. God desires man’s salvation, and prefers to draw men away from sin and to Himself rather than leaving us in our present condition, condemned and destined to eternal damnation.

Repentance is not popular with many people today, but repentance is imperative if we are to receive Christ’s atonement for our sins. Until we look at ourselves through the same lens through which God views us, we have a faulty idea of our own condition before Him

Most of us are familiar with Charlie Brown’s famous expression: “Good grief!” Most of us don’t think of grief as being ‘good’, but equate the term with sorrow or trials. But when we witness the grace, love, patience, and provision of God, especially in view of our own unfaithfulness and disobedience, we should be moved with sorrow for our sins and a tremendous love and gratitude toward Him. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 7:9-10 “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance … for godly sorrow works repentance to salvation…”

2:5       Yet in accordance with your hardness and unrepentant heart, you store up for yourself indignation in the day of indignation and revelation of the just judgment of God

Verse 5 contrasts God’s wrath against those who are unrepentant with God’s patience, kindness, and goodness in drawing sinful men to Himself (v 4). God offers a benevolent solution to sin, but man will receive the full measure of justice for his own sin if he disdains God’s mercy and kindness.

“You” are hard; unwilling to bend. Unrepentant: unwilling to change. The heart is the seat of who we are (out of the heart flow wickedness or goodness:   Mt 15:18-20; Lk 6:45; Mt 12:35; Lk 8:15; Rom 10:9-10. The unrepentant man has a heart problem. When we follow a hard heart, we garner for ourselves God’s wrath. A day is coming when God must execute a final judgment, when all that has been done by all men through all ages will come up for recompense, and all who, because of their stubborn refusal to acknowledge God, to turn from their sin and receive His forgiveness, will experience His just anger against all their sin.

Paul is warning those who presume to judge others’ sins while continuing in their own, that they shall not escape God’s judgment. In fact, when they condescend to judge others without first addressing their own sins, they are heaping up judgment from God upon themselves and there is nowhere to hide. The Jew cannot hide behind the Law claiming impunity because of his relationship to the Abrahamic covenant; every Jew who sins will be judged by the Law he claims as his exemption from judgment. The Gentile cannot claim clemency because he is outside of the Law of Moses; God will judge him for his own sins and he will be found guilty of all, because as Paul explained at the beginning, every one has known God, and their rejection of Him is wilful. Whether under the Law or outside of it, the testimony of the deity and almighty power of God fills all the world, and men are without excuse and guilty before God whenever they sin against Him.

“The day of indignation and revelation of the just judgment of God” – there is an appointed day in which God will reveal His righteous judgment and His indignation against sin. Some believe there is one ‘great day’ at the end of natural time in which all men are judged at one time. Others believe each person has his own ‘day’ at the time he dies. There can be arguments made for either one, but the most important fact is that there is a day, whether individually or corporately accomplished, in which every person who has or will ever live will experience the judgment of God, and receive for eternity the recompense of their actions, in accordance with their faith or lack of it, toward Christ Jesus.

God’s judgment is based on truth and is impartial as to persons. People usually base their judgment on their own ideas, preferences, and experiences, making exceptions for favoured individuals or special circumstances. God always judges all people and all actions by the same immutable criteria, without regard to qualifiers; God shows no partiality, lays no favourites, and is not random in His judgment.

2:6       Who shall pay each according to his acts:

God will recompense every person, which will be determined by each person’s deeds.

2:7       to those indeed according to endurance (patience) of good work, glory and honour and incorruption, are seeking eternal life.

Those who seek eternal life will be those who perform the good works which God is able to approve. It is important to make the distinction here of cause and effect; Paul is not arguing that eternal life is gained through good work, but rather that God will reward those who seek eternal life, according to their good deeds, as opposed to those who are ‘un-persuadable to the truth’ and therefore follow unrighteousness. The motivation for the actions is the first qualifier; the actions themselves are those which will reap the reward. Good work reaps glory, honour, and incorruptibility. Unrighteousness reaps fury and indignation.

2:8       but to those out of strife and being un-persuadable indeed to the truth, but being persuaded to unrighteousness: fury and indignation;

These are described as ‘un-persuadable to the truth’. It may also be understood as ‘un-persuadable by the truth’. In either case, someone refuses to accept the truth as true, but finds themselves persuaded to unrighteousness. They choose which presentation they will accept, with predictable consequences.

It has become popular among many to preach only the love of God, without mentioning God’s anger against sin. God is not merely disappointed that men don’t prefer to know, acknowledge, love, believe, or follow Him. When men commit unrighteousness, we are guilty of defiling the perfect creation which God made for His pleasure and glory. We are responsible for bringing and continuing degradation of that which does not belong to us, and increasing what is wrong in the created order. When men commit unrighteousness, they rebel against an wholly-good, and fully-sovereign God, as though God were some school mate whom we may choose to consider or not. Moreover, every time we choose to commit offense, we influence others negatively whether in attitudes or actions, perpetuating and increasing all that is wrong through a system that God designed to be ‘very good’. God is rightfully incensed against the unconscionable and inexcusable wickedness committed by men who have decided they don’t want to know God as god, but want to do ‘their own thing’ regardless of its moral value or its affect on the rest of God’s jurisdiction.

God does not delight in the death of the wicked; but continued rebellion without repentance requires judgment. God hates the state of affairs that makes necessary the exercise of punitive recompense; God is love, and love does not desire injury. Rather love ‘rejoices in the truth’. When truth is denied, anger must replace rejoicing.

2:9       affliction and distress on every soul of man of those doing evil, both of Jew first and of Greek;

Paul reinforces his point that negative consequences await all who do what is wrong, Jew or Gentile; there is no difference.

The Jew ‘first’ because to the Jew was given the Law. The Jew being the offspring of Abraham, who spoke to God face-to-face as a man speaks to his friend, who knew God in a personal and intimate way, necessarily had even less covering for their unfaithfulness and wilful disobedience, being the child of him who knew God so well, and being of that family who witnessed God’s mighty deeds and heard His prophetic word. The Jew had even more reason to know God as God and to trust and desire God as God, having such deep historical knowledge and experience of the God Who is and does.

However again, Paul emphasizes that the non-Jew was not exempt; while he may not have been among the direct recipients of God’s words, and demonstrations of Their power, history shows that Israel’s neighbours were with knowledge of the living God, and all people are of the lineage of Noah and his sons, who received the very word of God, who were carried in the ark, protected from the ravages of a storm miraculously brought to bear upon all the earth, who saw the power of God, the judgment of God upon sin, and who therefore could not claim lack of knowledge either. Every people group descends from these men, and every people group began with the knowledge of the God Which is and what God is like. Therefore all people are subject to the same judgment for sin on the same basis, for all know better.

2:10     but glory and honour and peace to every one working good, both to Jew first, and to Greek;

There is no difference in outcome between Jew and Gentile. Those who do good will receive glory, honour, and peace; those who do evil will experience affliction and distress. The word “soul” in Greek is psuche, which refers to that ‘natural’ aspect of the life of a man as contrasted to the spiritual. Psuche sometimes refers just to worldly life, sometimes the mortal aspect of man, sometimes to the natural personal element. Paul says the ‘soul’ of every man who does evil will suffer affliction and distress, while that of everyone who does good will experience glory, honour, and peace.

God has ensured through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the activity of human conscience, that we will lose our peace whenever we are outside of God’s perfect design for His creation. We call it conscience, and Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment; God has both equipped the human entity with the mechanism to recognize and repel us from sin, and extended Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit to ensure that no one can engage in wickedness with the excuse that they just didn’t know better. Most of us have had that experience in which some action or some event has stimulated in us the strong negative sense or inclination that it ‘just isn’t right’. Most of us have also learned that, when we have those urges, we should follow them, and refrain from the action or avoid the event, because it was indeed wrong for us to participate. When we ignore them, we experience that ‘distress’ that God causes to accompany wrongful choices. But when we live godly lives out of love and faith towards God, we receive a tremendous peace that is the direct result of God’s Spirit confirming His blessing in and on our lives.

The fact that there is no difference between God’s treatment of Jew or Gentile defies the traditional, historical Jewish ideology that a non-Jew cannot be ‘good’, please God, or receive ‘glory, honour, and peace’. The Jewish perception was that all those outside of national Israel were defiled, rejected by God through their parentage, and beyond any desire on God’s part to engage or redeem. Jews were perceived as superior in God’s esteem, and specially appointed to benefits not offered to anyone else. This perception was false and was always false; even under the Law given to Moses, the ‘stranger within their gates’ who desired to follow the living God was invited into the congregation of the people of God through the means by which anyone could be identified as belonging to the LORD God Almighty – through the observance of the Law and the repudiation of foreign idols. (Ex 12:48-49; Num 9:14; 15:14-29)

But the Jews carried their historical prejudices into the church of Jesus Christ, and Paul worked diligently to dispel this error among both people groups. In the Roman congregation, the problem was apparently quite pronounced, as evidenced by the extent to which Paul aggressively and particularly explains what is true about both the initial condition of each group before God and the identical means by which God has arranged to reconcile members of both groups to Himself.

2:11     for partiality is not with God.

God’s judgment is based in truth and is without consideration of anything unique to the person themselves. God judges each action on its own merits, by the criterion of His nature and His purpose for His creation, irrespective of anything any person might desire to have considered in their favour. God’s judgment is the only truly and fully just judgment, because it is always applied the same upon the same basis; there are no favourites. The Jew is not better because of Abraham, nor is the Gentile better because they had no law either to break or to instruct them.

The implication of this is that to choose some of a group, there must be a criterion for making the choice; a machine uses an electronic  sequence to trigger a sort of random selection process, but a mind cannot be random. The mind does not cease to think or consider, and therefore cannot produce a thought-less decision. Random necessarily means mind-less which by definition is arbitrary, irrational, purposeless, and without intention.

God is not mindless; God does not engage without purpose or intention. God works all things “after the purpose of His will” (Eph 1:11); He does nothing without thought, purpose, or intention.

Justice is the execution of an equal and appropriate consequence to any action or event, and to apply the same standard as well as the same outcome to all subjects regardless of any characteristic that does not bear directly on that for which justice is being exercised. To randomly pick one individual here and one there among equals under equal condemnation, to whom mercy is applied, is to effectively favour some individuals over others. Absolute justice requires – demands – equal application of equal consequence to equal event, good or bad. To pick an equally guilty individual out of a large group and make an exception to that individual by covering their guilt and paying their fine is to thwart justice. Calvin’s concept of pre-destination requires an un-equal application of justice by preferring some over others in the outworking of just recompense. By definition, Calvin’s concept of election and predestination are based upon God’s choice to fail to execute His judgement equally on all subjects; some who are equally guilty, or even more guilty of more and / or more serious offenses are picked from the mass of sinful humanity without any reason whatever or any motivating action or attitude on their part, to receive exceptional benefit from God through His taking their penalty upon Himself in the death of Christ, and applying that death-payment to the sin-debt incurred by those ‘chosen’ individuals, again for no reason associated with the individuals themselves. Many guilty of far more grievous crimes are saved while many guilty of those ‘minor’ offenses die unsaved, so that those guilty of offenses justifying more stripes are given leniency without merit while those guilty of fewer stripes receive the full measure of punishment.[1] This, by definition, is showing partiality, and is both contrary to the expressed word of God and to God’s holy and righteous nature.

If the penalty for sin is death, justice requires that all who are guilty of sin die. If the authority, not wanting all to die, makes an exception, pulling a few out of the sentencing box for No Reason, saying ,’I won’t condemn you. I’ll free you instead”, he by definition has shown preference for those selected over those left. That is what it means to prefer one over another – it is not necessary for preference to based on some aspect of the party preferred, but can be based solely on the desire of the agent who is showing preference. It is nevertheless showing preference, and showing preference is contrary to justice. Consequently, for God to preselect from among sinners without cause or qualification, a tiny fraction to be changed by Him rather than be submitted to the just penalty God has already prescribed against all sin, God would rightly be accused of being unjust.

Paul’s entire presentation clearly describes a God Who ‘rewards’ ‘every man’ according to what he has done, with no exceptions, emphasizing that fact by his clarification in verse 7 that God shows no ‘respect of persons’, or partiality. All men are treated equally – perfect justice. Verse 12 further reinforces this conclusion: “whoever” means all who sin under the Law are judged by it and all who sin apart from law perish without law. Since Paul concludes a bit later that all have sinned, the point to which he has drawn his readers is that all are judged, and all are equally subject to that ‘indignation, wrath, tribulation, and anguish’ upon every soul of man who does evil. Justice for all leaves all condemned.

2:12     for whoever sinned without law, without law also shall perish; and whoever sinned in Law, through Law shall be judged,

The Jew was not free from God’s judgement by virtue of possessing the Law. Rather he was condemned by the Law for his failure to keep it. By claiming his identity and connection to God on the basis of the Law, the Jew pronounces his own guilt.

The Gentile however was not free from God’s judgement by virtue of not having received the Law. Rather, he is judged for his sin as one not under the Law.

2:13     for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Knowledge is not equivalent to right outcome. Knowledge of facts does not equal knowledge of God. And lack of formal knowledge does not necessarily lead to a lack of desirable outcome. Neither how much nor how little one knows, nor what tradition one has been born into, has any bearing on whether we may be justified before God. The Jew believed – and many continue to believe – that they are justified before God on the basis of their identity as a Jew and their possession of the Law handed down by Moses, but Paul declares without qualification that everyone under the Law who sins, shall be judged by that Law and perish.

Only those who keep the Law shall be justified. Notice that Paul does not say that the doers of the Law ‘are just’, but that they ‘shall be justified’. “Justified” means to demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid, or to demonstrate a sufficient legal reason for some action or conclusion.  If any person commits an offence, he is automatically no longer ‘righteous’, and legally subject to appropriate negative consequences. His persistence in keeping a code of conduct cannot erase the fact or responsibility of his wrongful actions.

Had the Jews – or any particular Jew – maintained a faithful performance of the Law given at Sinai, God would have declared them just on the basis of that faithfulness. But keeping the Law is a one-hundred percent proposition; it is not enough to keep most of the Law, or part of the Law, or usually keep all of the Law. Only by complete observance of that Law may any man hope to be found righteous in God’s eyes. Just as a man who keeps every traffic law except that he fails to stop at the light is guilty of breaking the law, anyone who keeps all the Law except one requirement is guilty of breaking the law. (Jas 2:10)

Paul has already shown that no Jew has ever achieved legal perfection. Paul does not develop this particular point, but because the first and greatest command is to love YHWH God with all of the heart, soul, strength, and mind, and every person fails at this first and most important command, the rest of the “performance” standards become superfluous when the individual fails to love God with one hundred percent of his being.

2:14     for whenever the nations (ethne) not having the law, by nature do the things of the Law, these not having Law are law to themselves,

Paul describes those who may “do the Law” “by nature” who are not under it. To do something ‘by nature’ means to live according to one’s own predisposition. The Gentiles were not given the standard of the Law nor were they obligated to it, for which reason Paul can say of those Gentiles who live consistently with the Law that they do not possess, that they do those things “by nature”. We might use the phrase “that’s just the kind of person he/she is.” The Gentile who, having not received that Law, lives in accordance with the principles of the Law, demonstrates by his conduct that God’s principles are written, not on tablets of stone, but upon his heart. They do not require a written code of conduct, because the righteousness that drives obedience to a written code is intrinsic to who they are, which is sufficient to result in right conduct before God without a set of ‘rules’ to follow.

Paul continues to show the contrast between the condition of the Jews as those who had been given The Law to follow – which they had promised they would obey – but it worked nothing beneficial among many of them, with non-Jews who, having not been given the Law, yet lived a righteous life out of their inclination to do what is good, and at least an awareness of the God Who is. Paul wants his audience to be completely clear that being Jew does not justify anyone in God’s eyes, because being a Jew is not defined as knowing, obeying, trusting, or loving God. Likewise, he wants them perfectly clear that not being a Jew does not condemn any person in God’s judgment, because not being a Jew does not necessarily mean that any individual fails to know, obey, trust, or love God. In fact, it is possible that a Gentile would come to know and desire God in such a way as to live his life consistently with the Law that had been given to the Jews, even though that Gentile had no legislated reason for living that way.

God’s desire is that all humans will know and trust God, and desire to live in loving fellowship with God. Christ declared that “all the Law and the Prophets” are summed up in the commands to love God fully, and one’s neighbour as oneself. It is reasonable to expect that a Gentile who by nature follows the principles of the Law is a Gentile who acknowledges the true and living God, and has faith and love toward Him.

It is also possible, knowing that the role of the Holy Spirit in the world is the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, that Paul may be referring to right-living Gentiles who are making choices based on the convicting of the Holy Spirit working in his conscience; we see this exemplified by the many unbelievers we meet who hold biblically-consistent moral and ethical standards, who love others, and perform charitable works for others’ benefit. Whether Paul’s intention is to highlight God-fearing Gentiles, or behaviourally-moral Gentiles with or without faith in God – or both – he is using the fact that some Gentiles perform more uprightly without a written prescription than the Jews who had possessed that written code for centuries.  (choppy to here; needs rework)

Paul is not saying that some Gentiles are behaviourally perfect. Rather, he is demonstrating that a Gentile may perform righteous deeds because that is the kind of person they are, despite lacking the Law to instruct and obligate them. As doers, they are functionally righteous more than the Jews who have the Law but don’t follow it.

For Paul’s statement to be meaningful, it is necessary that it be possible for Gentiles to perform good actions and that they may by nature do what is right – Paul did not say “if” but “when”. If by nature, their nature must incline them to righteous acts. Indeed Paul’s earlier statements clearly say that man knows God and knows good and those who reject God also choose to do other than good. In order for him to choose at all, there must be more than one choice. The Gentiles have the choice to live lawfully or unlawfully, and like the Jews, some choose each way.

2:15     who show (display) the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience witnessing together (with them), and between one another of the thoughts accusing or also defending (them).

“They show” the work of the Law written in their hearts. The ‘work’ of the Law was the conviction of sin. The behaviour of the Gentiles who ‘by nature do the things of the Law’ demonstrate by their actions the presence of the knowledge of God’s righteous standard within their very being. Paul is not suggesting by this statement that the Gentiles are innocent of all wrong-doing, but is speaking about their character and attitude toward what is right and wrong. Their conscience, which informs their behaviour, is informed by a law outside of themselves and apart from the list of regulations given to and through Moses to the Jews, working to either accuse or acquit according to what they do. Jesus stated that the work of the Holy Spirit in the world was conviction of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Contrary to the Jews’ perception that all non-Jews were necessarily evil in mind and manner by virtue of not being a descendant of Abraham, God works the same thing among all humans to move them towards Himself, bringing a knowledge of what is right and wrong directly into their conscience by the convicting of the Holy Spirit. In the case of such Gentiles, they were sensitive to that work, and lived accordingly.

Paul is showing particularly to the Jews in his audience that God judges all men by the same criteria, and all stand or fall based on that judgment. Believing themselves to be approved because of having received the Law, Paul makes clear that possession does not justify anyone without conformance. Then he shows that ‘good’ Gentile is likewise judged according to his performance to what is right; if indeed he follows the law of righteousness out of ‘natural inclination’, despite neither possessing nor necessarily even knowing about that Law, he will still be judged by God based on how he lives, just like the Jew, and may be found guilty of far less offence despite his lack of a written code to follow.

The lens through Whom God will consider every man’s life will be Jesus Christ. Christ laid down His life for the sins of humanity (John 3:16) God will judge each person based on whether that Jew or that Gentile has come under the blood of Christ.

2:16     in (a) day when God shall be judging the hidden (things) of humans according to my gospel through Jesus Christ.

God will judge what is openly seen and what is unknown to anyone but the individual and God, whether or not that individual knows God. (1 Tim 5:24, Mt 10:26(-8?), Lk 2:35; cf 1 Cor 3:13) There is nothing hidden that will not be made known. (1 Cor 1:25; Ec 12:14; Lk 12:2 – 3, Heb 4:13;) Jesus Christ knew the thoughts of those in His presence; when He comes to judge the world, everything will be exposed – we will have no secrets. He will need no witnesses to testify against us; He knows all we do and think, and when that last day arrives, all those will come up for judgment along with everything we did openly.

Paul qualified his statement further, that God will judge ‘according to my gospel through Jesus Christ.” We will not stand judgment exclusively on our own, but rather God will judge us “through Jesus Christ”. If we have received Jesus Christ, God will consider our debt covered, and we will be released to eternal life; if we have refused Christ, we will stand judgment for all of our offenses, whether open or hidden, and we will be compelled to also bear our own sentence for every wrong of which we are guilty. Men who are so foolish as to reject the grace God has offered in and through Christ, will be judged harshly as evil-doers, idolaters, blasphemers, and haters of God. There will be no escape, nor place to hide.

Many wrongly think that Christians will not stand judgment. Peter warned that judgment begins with the house of God, and we only barely escape. (1 Pe 4:17-18) Every one will appear before the seat of judgment, to be judged for the things we have done, whether bad or good. (2 Cor 5:10) The saved will be judged as much as the condemned, and the truth of our conduct will be laid bare. But we may rejoice that, while we will be found guilty of much and condemned, our sentence has been served by Christ and if we receive Him in faith and humility, it will be applied to our record and we will go free. While we stand judgment along with those who refused Christ, we will be redeemed from the penalty because of our faith in Christ.

2:17     look! You are called a Jew, and are resting on the Law and boasting in God

Paul now focuses his admonition toward the Jews in his audience. The word “Jew” literally means Judaan, or citizen of Judah, which was the southern kingdom, the original kingdom of David. The name Judah means “praise”. The word “Jew” was used in the New Testament to refer generally to Israelites of any tribe, or occasionally to the religious leaders in particular. In this letter, it is evident that Paul’s use is general toward any member of the nation of Israel.

The Jew historically considered himself to be “God’s man”, of higher esteem in God’s eyes because of his lineage as offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because of his possession of the Law, the Ark of the covenant, and of the Temple, all of which had become talismans to the average Jew, as evidenced for example by the attitude of those who took the Ark into battle in order to win against their enemies.[2] This was by no means an isolated example of the Jews many centuries past who considered that these things somehow brought the esteem, blessing, approval, and power of God to effect on their behalf. In general, that nation did not understand the tremendous honour God had conveyed upon either their first father Abraham, or upon his progeny in offering nationhood and the presence and provision of the Lord GOD almighty. They failed to comprehend the nature of the call to be a people based, not on some special rituals and knowledge, but on the knowledge and faith of the living and true God – which their father Abraham having expressed, obtained for himself the blessings they believed were theirs because through the symbols, they became approved by God.

2:18     and know (His) will and test that of consequence (what is important), being instructed out of the Law

Verse 21 of chapter 1 applied to Adam and Eve, and equally to successive generations, but it applied particularly to the Jew in Paul’s time. The heritage of Abraham both in history and in spiritual experience ensured that the Jew “knew God” whether or not he trusted or followed god. The record of Scripture as well as extra-biblical historical sources shows a continual pattern of unfaithfulness and disobedience. Despite God’s direct communication and miracles, witnessed by many thousands throughout centuries, Israel’s national condition has been typified by a lack of faith. Neither abundance nor nature of God’s interaction with them was sufficient for them as a people to live in faithful submission to God’s divine leading.

This point is exceptionally significant in discussions with unbelievers who insist that God has not ‘done enough’ to prove to them that He exists or of what sort He is. Adam and Eve – God’s direct creation, first humans with direct personal interaction with God, were still capable and willing both to disbelieve Them, and to disobey His direct prohibition. The nation of Israel began through a divine promise that brought a natural-born child to an ancient man and his wife, and sustained that child and his progeny through generations, with many incidences of divine providence throughout that history. Their release from Egyptian captivity was accomplished with many exceptional miracles, including God’s verbal communication to and through Moses and Aaron, which continued throughout their journey through the wilderness of Sinai until they came to their own land in accordance with God’s promise to Abraham. What greater signs could any man need in order to affirm willingly that God is, Who God is, and how God is? Yet the first human couple, and the ancient nation whose very existence is a miracle, were not persuaded either to trust or to obey based on the amazing miracles they had witnessed through centuries.

“Modern” man’s root problem is not lack of evidence any more than it was for Abraham’s progeny, or Adam and Eve. The root in the beginning was self-will and wilful rejection of God Who is God – a refusal to trust, a refusal to acknowledge God as God, and a refusal to submit to Him to Whom submission is a right. That root has continued through to the present generation; man is no different today than our first father, Adam, or than the children of Israel. All the evidence in the world will not persuade a mind set on its own purposes and desires above God, above truth, and above good. As Adam and Eve, and their successive generations, they knew God, but refused to glorify Him as God or be thankful for His provision.

It is ironic that the nation as a whole has persisted in claiming special consideration by God, and special status with God, based on the external indicators of the conditional covenant offered to Abraham’s descendants on the basis of the 2 characteristics generally missing from their national experience.

Bringing this situation forward, Paul begins to address the disparity between the self-perception among most Jews and the real-life evidence regarding their relationship with God. While English translations present vv 21-23 as questions – evidently rhetorical based on Paul’s assertion in v. 24- the Greek rather makes statements; rather than “do you rob temples?”, Paul writes, “You rob temples.” While in the English, he appears to be leading his readers to self-conviction, the indicative statements as presented in the Greek are Paul’s bold conviction as a man who knows the national experience and the Jewish mind regarding their ‘favoured’ status with God irrespective of a living faith.

Paul takes this tack to begin his presentation of a gospel equally needed by Jew and Gentile, the same gospel provided equally to both Jew and Gentile. It is necessary to pay close attention to Paul’s development as he alternates his attention between Jew and Gentile, circumcision and uncircumcision, the possess or lack of the Law as an identifier, and its role from both God’s perspective and man’s.

The Jew, he says, knows what God’s will is, and has the tool of the Law by which he may test everything for rightness and for value.

2:19     You have confidence besides (in) yourself to be a guide of the blind; a light of those in darkness,

2:20     corrector of the foolish, teacher of children, having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law,

Those who consider themselves spiritually superior generally consider others as foolish and immature. The Jews considered all who were outside of their community as those ‘in darkness’, people who didn’t know what was right, and undeserving of consideration in any matter of importance.

2:21     You then teaching others, are you not teaching yourself? You proclaiming to not steal, do you steal? (KJV phrases as a question: Do you steal? Text doesn’t structure as a question: “You then teaching others, yourself not you are teaching. The one proclaiming not to steal, you are stealing.”)

In the three verses, the Greek suggests a statement rather than questions: You who teach others, you do not teach yourself. You proclaim not to steal; you do steal. You say to not commit adultery; you commit adultery! You who abhor idols, you plunder their shrines! Who in the Law are boasting, through the breaking of the Law you dishonour God!”

2:22     You saying not to commit adultery, are you committing adultery? You who abhor the idols, you plunder their shrines (translated as a question: Do you rob / plunder temples?)

2:23     … who in the Law are boasting, through the breaking of the Law you dishonour God!

If these were presented as questions, how could anyone answer other than ‘yes’? The conflict reflected here has continued to the present: individual Christians and whole denominations insist on our obligation to “obey the Law” or at the least, the wisdom of our attempting to replicate the precepts of the Law in our daily lives and exercise of faith by following rules laid out to give the impression of righteousness. But what does the world really see among those who make so much public noise about being good?

The nation of Israel was the historical example of this: having received the Law from God Who spoke audibly and worked miracles in their sight, they continued to stray in terms of faith and fail in terms of observance. With an identity rooted in a Law from God claimed as their seal, their failure to observe its tenets gave an impression of inadequacy of their Deity to the nations around them which witnessed their failure.

It is notable that many pagans more consistently follow the requirements of their religion, however harsh or costly. They believe in their gods and expect them to act if not obeyed. Fear and devotion have far exceeded the Jewish examples during most of history; it is no wonder that the heathen spoke ill of God because of the conduct of God’s people who claimed superiority of both their deity and their nation, but lived as wicked men among wicked men, publicly failing to do the things they publicly claimed they were supposed to.

The situation continues dire to the present, as many people who claim to know the living God continue to live as though they do not. Many continue to follow their own agendas and desires, are thoroughly taken up with the world’s priorities rather than God’s, continue to live in fear of what may happen under this or that circumstance, and continue to hesitate to express with their mouths the faith they profess to possess, demonstrating that, regardless of what they claim to believe, they do not really believe that the God they profess either is capable or willing to either take care of their most basic needs, or preserve them through trials, nor is He worthy of their trust or obedience. Their conduct shows that they do not fear any wrathful consequences for lack of either faith or obedience, and that God is not the governing quantity in their life. Unlike the pagans who have continued throughout history to sacrifice their wealth, their time, their bodies, and their most precious possessions including their children, upon the requirement of their deities, the Jews of history, and many present-day ‘Christians’, live like their God either doesn’t exist, or that their God lacks either the power or the greatness to deserve their utmost devotion and complete submission and sacrifice.

2:24     for the name of God, because of you, is blasphemed among the nations, as it has been written.

Because of “you”. Paul’s comments are directed at the Jews in his audience. The world rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob partly because the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived no better than the people around them whom they condemned. God became guilty by association.[3]

Are we who profess Christ also guilty of the same thing? Do we verbally condemn the practices of sin in the world around us, while partaking of those sins that most please us and making excuses for why we are exempt from obedience? Do we also live as though the God we profess either doesn’t really exist, or doesn’t possess the attributes of character worthy of allegiance? While many people will accuse us of wickedness when we live righteously, how many have justifiably concluded that the God we profess is either unreal or unworthy because they observe wickedness in those who publicly claim to be God’s people?

2:25     For circumcision indeed benefits if you practise the Law. But if you are a breaker of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

Circumcision was instituted by God to Abraham and his descendants, as the sign that God had accepted Abraham and given him covenants because of his faith in God. Jewish identity was originally shown through circumcision, and all men were obligated to be circumcised to be included in the community of Israel; any who were not circumcised were ‘cut off’ from the nation, excluded, rejected as members of ‘the people of God’.

What Paul has argued is that circumcision – the sign of membership in this family – had no merit if it was not accompanied by the life that membership in that family required. God’s covenant with Abraham’s progeny was predicated on their faithfulness to God’s decrees. There was no advantage to having the physical alteration as a token of family membership, unless the rest of the requirement was met. The earthly blessings to Israel were dependant upon their following of God’s Law; if they as a nation, or any member as an individual, failed in the latter, the former was irrelevant; they ceased to be part of the family by the breaking of the Law, circumcision notwithstanding. They were no different than those who had never been circumcised. Circumcision counted for them as nothing.

2:26     Then if the uncircumcision keeps the righteousness of the Law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?

If the ‘uncircumcision’ keeps the ‘righteousness of the Law; Paul did not say “keeps the Law” but keeps the “righteousness” of it. God gave that Law to Israel at Mount Sinai, after having spoken ten life-principles to them by which they would live before Him as His people, and after they as a community rejected direct interaction with God, insisting that God speak to Moses, and deliver to him a list of expectations which he would communicate to them, but that God should not speak to them any more, or they might die.

It is important to recognize what happened during this interaction. God invited that people to come to Him, so that He could speak to them, and told them that, living according to those principles, which were simply the description of righteous living, they would enjoy God’s presence and become ‘God’s people’. They did not take upon themselves the presumption of approaching to God, but were called by Him, invited into His presence to hear His voice. But when they did hear, His presence terrified them, because they were sinful people, who had grumbled and complained and questioned and challenged everything done either by God or His agents throughout their history to the present time. Their hearts were not right before God, and consequently their terror was sufficient motivation for them to insist that He keep His distance. They rejected His invitation into fellowship with their God, preferring a list of do’s and don’ts by which they could feel comfortable that they had managed to not get into trouble with God, while going about their daily lives. [4]

God’s covenant to Abraham was a protection over Abraham’s unfaithful children, insofar as God had conditioned some of His terms exclusively on Abraham’s faith. Because God is always true, His word is always good, and this people was assured that His provision on the basis of His promise to their forefather was confirmed despite their own unfaithfulness.

But the root of Israel’s failure at Sinai was the same as that through the rest of their history: they could not follow the Law because they did not enter into fellowship with the God of that Law. Like their first parents, they were not thankful, nor were they faithful, and therefore were unable to follow a law that was rooted in loving YHWH their God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. [5]

If Abraham’s righteousness was conferred by God on the basis of his faith in God, and the root of Israel’s failure was a lack of love for and faith in YHWH, then any person lacking circumcision, not born into the physical lineage of Abraham, but who exercises faith in the true God, thereby performs the ‘righteousness of the Law’, because that righteousness is based in love and faith toward God.

Because God is a righteous judge, He is obligated to judge all men alike. Consequently, if a man who has not received the physical alteration lives righteously through faith in God, God will – is in fact obligated by His own nature to – regard that man as though he had been circumcised into the people of God. In effect, his uncircumcision will be irrelevant to God’s consideration of that man’s place in the family of God; he will receive the same benefits under the same judgment as the man who had been circumcised, based on the same righteousness that is conferred by God upon anyone who is in faith.

2:27     And the uncircumcision by nature, fulfilling the Law, shall be judging you who, through letter and circumcision, are transgressor of Law.

A common misconception was that God approved Jews because they were Jews, that their possession of the Law and circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, was sufficient to earn them favour in His eyes, no matter what they thought about Him or how they lived. Paul declares to those Jews who believe their favour with God is based in outward signs, that God is concerned not with the form, but with the person. What good is it to know the rules if you break them? What good is a symbol if it does not represent the reality of one’s heart? If a man insists upon his identity based on outward things that he has no control over, but lives in contradiction to the defining terms of that identity, whatever his protest, he is not what he claims.

However, a man who lives consistently with the defining terms of any identity, regardless of what superficial signs may be lacking, he is ultimately more rightly so identified than the man living contrary to the identity in question.

A Jew was a citizen of Jerusalem, literally the city of God’s peace, or a native of Judah, the land of God’s praise. If he neither knows God, nor trusts Him, nor honours Him through obedience, he neither resides in God’s peace nor His praise. Whatever else he may be, a man is not a Jew before God because he was born into a family, or bears the physical sign imposed by his parents, or has knowledge of the rules and history of the Jews. Rather he is a Jew when he lives as a man who knows God, loves God, and lives faithfully according to God’s purpose.

The Jew tended to sit in judgment over the peoples of the world who were not Jews, because they were not Jews. For Paul, a Jew, to suggest that the ‘uncircumcised philistine’ might possibly be judging the Jew, would have been offensive in the highest degree. But the Jews in his audience needed to understand that, if a man who had not had the benefit of being born into the ‘favoured nation’, but nevertheless came to love the God of the nation, and live a life reflective of that love, the very fact of his righteousness without benefit of the Law or covenants would stand judgment upon those who, having received all the benefits through inheritance, lived unfaithful, unrighteous lives.

2:28     for the Jew is not in the appearance, nor yet the circumcision in the appearance of the flesh

What does it mean to be a “Jew”? The word is first used in Scripture in the book of 2 Kings. It is derived from the name of Judah, and was used to refer to the descendants of Judah, to the inhabitants of the land of Judah, to the citizens of Jerusalem specifically, and ultimately became equated in most people’s minds to the population of the nation of Israel. There is significance in all these associations of the word: Israel was God’s chosen nation in Abraham. The name “Judah” means “praise”, and Judah’s was the family through whom the Messiah would come. Jerusalem means “city of peace”, was appointed by God as the capital of His chosen people, to which they must come to worship at appointed times. The “new Jerusalem” of Christ’s revelation to John is the representation of the church of Jesus Christ, the new dwelling place of the living God, and the bride of Christ.

Being a son of praise, a citizen of the City of Peace, or a member of God’s princely nation, is not evidenced by any physical appearance whether born or caused. Circumcision of the flesh no more makes a man a Jew than cutting of the hair makes a woman a man. God did not call men to circumcision; He called them to faith.

2:29     but the Jew (is) in the hidden (inwardly) and circumcision is of the heart in spirit, not letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.

Cf Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4

The call of God to Abraham was based on Abraham’s faith. Had Abraham refused God, he would not have received the promises God gave him. The root problem for humanity was the failure to believe God, which itself was rooted in a failure to acknowledge God as God, just as Paul had written earlier in this letter. Only the person who, knowing Who God is, receives Them as they are, could possibly please God. (Heb 11:6)

The Jews claimed identity based on things to be seen by men, and desired recognition by men as a special people, with special privilege from God. They wanted to be noticed and honoured by their neighbours, and claimed those superficial indicators as the basis for that expectation. But God sees who we really are. He wants the person of the person, not the claims, nor the symbols, nor the pretences. When God sees, He sees clearly and accurately.

The summary of the matter is that God is not interested in how a person looks; He is interested in who a person is. If our heart is toward God, He will receive us. If our heart is opposed to God, it doesn’t matter what form our body presents, we cannot please Him. Israel sought recognition among the nations for being the people of the Law; many professing Christians today are the same; they attempt to establish their won righteousness through observance of various rituals, moral positions, good deeds, seeking the recognition of others which they use as the benchmark of their success. But we are not to concern ourselves with human approval; if we seek God with our whole heart, He will ensure that we find Him, and He will teach us and lead us by His Spirit. Then our hearts will be right toward Him, and He will be pleased with us.

Knowing that the development of his argument could incite some animated responses, and had potential to be misunderstood to suggest that God somehow had rejected the people of His Abrahamic covenant, Paul focuses his attention on the identity and history of the Jews.

[1] The penalties in the Law support the proposition that God also considers some offences of greater wickedness or severity than others. For some, recompense is permitted, while for others only punishment, even to death.

[2] 1 Samuel 4 When Israel was losing battle to the Philistines, they believed they needed to bring the Ark of the covenant with them into the battle, as it is recorded “Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.” When the ark was captured, and the news came back to the wife of Phineas that the ark had been captured, she named the child she bore Ichabod, meaning “no glory” because, as she believed, “The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.” Their trust was in the object, rather than the living God Who gave them the object as a symbol.

[3] 2 Kings 18:22-35; 19:10-13

[4] Exodus 19 – 20:19

[5] Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 30:16; Joshua 23:11; Matthew 22:36-38s