Romans 2:14
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves:
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For when - The apostle, in Romans 2:13, had stated a general principle, that the doers of the Law only can be justified, if justification is attempted by the Law. In this verse and the next, he proceeds to show that the same principle is applicable to the pagan; that though they have not the written Law of God, yet that they have sufficient knowledge of his will to take away every excuse for sin, and consequently that the course of reasoning by which he had come to the conclusion that they were guilty, is well founded. This verse is not to be understood as affirming, as an historical fact, that any of the pagan ever did perfectly obey the Law which they had, any more than the previous verse affirms it of the Jews, The main point in the argument is, that if people are justified by the Law, their obedience must be entire and perfect; that this is not to be external only, or to consist in hearing or in acknowledging the justice of the Law; and that the Gentiles had an opportunity of illustrating this principle as well as the Jews, since they also had a law among themselves. The word "when" ὅταν hotan does not imply that the thing shall certainly take place, but is one form of introducing a supposition; or of stating the connection of one thing with another, Matthew 5:11; Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5-6, Matthew 6:16; Matthew 10:19. It is, however, true that the main things contained in this verse, and the next, actually occurred, that the Gentiles did many things which the Law of God required.

The Gentiles - All who were not Jews.

Which have not the law - Who have net a revelation, or the written word of God. In the Greek the article is omitted, "who have not law," that is, any revealed law.

By nature - By some, this phrase has been supposed to belong to the previous member of the sentence, "who have not the law by nature." But our translation is the more natural and usual construction. The expression means clearly by the light of conscience and reason, and whatever other helps they may have without revelation. It denotes simply, in that state which is without the revealed will of God. In that condition they had many helps of tradition, conscience, reason, and the observation of the dealings of divine Providence, so that to a considerable extent they knew what was right and what was wrong.

Do the things - Should they not merely understand and approve, but actually perform the things required in the Law.

Contained in the law - Literally, the things of the Law, that is, the things which the Law requires. Many of those things might be done by the pagan, as, e. g., respect to parents. truth, justice, honesty, chastity. So far as they did any of those things, so far they showed that they had a law among themselves. And wherein they failed in these things they showed that they were justly condemned. "Are a law unto themselves." This is explained in the following verse. It means that their own reason and conscience constituted, in these things, a law, or prescribed that for them which the revealed law did to the Jews.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, etc. - Nor does it follow that the Gentiles who have not had a Divine revelation, shall either perish, because they had it not; or their unrighteous conduct pass unpunished, because not having this revelation might be considered as an excuse for their sins.

Do by nature the things contained in the law - Do, without this Divine revelation, through that light which God imparts to every man, the things contained in the law - act according to justice, mercy, temperance and truth, the practice of which the revealed law so powerfully enjoins; these are a law unto themselves - they are not accountable to any other law, and are not to be judged by any dispensation different from that under which they live.

Rabbi Tanchum brings in the Supreme Being as saying: When I decreed any thing against the Gentiles, to whom I have not given laws and statutes, and they know what I have decreed; immediately they repent; but the Israelites do not so. Tanchum, fol. 43. 2.

For when the Gentiles which have not the law,.... The objection of the Gentiles against their condemnation, taken from their being without the law, is here obviated. The apostle owns that they had not the law, that is, the written law of Moses, and yet intimates that they had, and must have a law, against which they sinned, and so deserved punishment, and which they in part obeyed; for these men

do by nature the things contained in the law. The matter and substance of the moral law of Moses agrees with the law and light of nature; and the Gentiles in some measure, and in some sort, did these things by nature; not that men by the mere strength of nature without the grace of God, can fulfil the law, or do anything that is acceptable to God; and indeed, what these men did was merely natural and carnal, and so unacceptable to God. Some understand this of nature assisted by grace, in converted Gentiles, whether before or after the coming of Christ; others expound the phrase, by nature, freely, willingly, in opposition to the servile spirit of the Jews, in their obedience to the law; though it rather seems to design the dictates of natural reason, by which they acted: and so

these having not the law, the written law,

are a law to themselves; which they have by nature and use, and which natural reason dictates to them. So Plato distinguishes the law

"into written and un written (q): the written law is that which was used in commonwealths; and that "which was according to custom or nature", was called unwritten, such as not to go to market naked, nor to be clothed with women's clothes; which things were not forbidden by any law, but these were not done because forbidden by the unwritten law;''

which he calls "unwritten", because not written on tables, or with ink; otherwise it was written in their minds, and which by nature and use they were accustomed to.

(q) Laertii Vit. Philosoph. l. 3. in Vita Platon.

{6} For when the Gentiles, which have {i} not the law, do by {k} nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

(6) He prevents an objection which might be made by the Gentiles, who even though they do not have the law of Moses, yet they have no reason why they may excuse their wickedness, in that they have something written in their hearts instead of a law, as men do who forbid and punish some things as wicked, and command and commend other things as good.

(i) Not that they are without any law, but rather the law of the Jews.

(k) Command honest things, and forbid dishonest.

13-15. For not the hearers, &c.—As touching the Jews, in whose ears the written law is continually resounding, the condemnation of as many of them as are found sinners at the last involves no difficulty; but even as respects the heathen, who are strangers to the law in its positive and written form—since they show how deeply it is engraven on their moral nature, which witnesses within them for righteousness and against iniquity, accusing or condemning them according as they violate or obey its stern dictates—their condemnation also for all the sin in which they live and die will carry its dreadful echo in their own breasts.2:1-16 The Jews thought themselves a holy people, entitled to their privileges by right, while they were unthankful, rebellious, and unrighteous. But all who act thus, of every nation, age, and description, must be reminded that the judgment of God will be according to their real character. The case is so plain, that we may appeal to the sinner's own thoughts. In every wilful sin, there is contempt of the goodness of God. And though the branches of man's disobedience are very various, all spring from the same root. But in true repentance, there must be hatred of former sinfulness, from a change wrought in the state of the mind, which disposes it to choose the good and to refuse the evil. It shows also a sense of inward wretchedness. Such is the great change wrought in repentance, it is conversion, and is needed by every human being. The ruin of sinners is their walking after a hard and impenitent heart. Their sinful doings are expressed by the strong words, treasuring up wrath. In the description of the just man, notice the full demand of the law. It demands that the motives shall be pure, and rejects all actions from earthly ambition or ends. In the description of the unrighteous, contention is held forth as the principle of all evil. The human will is in a state of enmity against God. Even Gentiles, who had not the written law, had that within, which directed them what to do by the light of nature. Conscience is a witness, and first or last will bear witness. As they nature. Conscience is a witness, and first or last will bear witness. As they kept or broke these natural laws and dictates, their consciences either acquitted or condemned them. Nothing speaks more terror to sinners, and more comfort to saints, than that Christ shall be the Judge. Secret services shall be rewarded, secret sins shall be then punished, and brought to light. 2:14 When Gentiles, which have not the law. No revelation, such as the Jews had. They had a law of nature (Ro 1:18,32).

Do by nature the things contained in the law. Paul has shown how the general principle that God will render to every man according to his works (Pr 24:12 Mt 16:27 2Ti 4:14) applies to the Jews; they will be judged by law, and only law-doers will be justified. He now shows that the same principle applies to the Gentiles. They have no revealed and written law like the Jews, but in case Gentiles, without it, should keep the things contained in the law, the moral principles of the law of Moses, they

are a law to themselves. Their consciences and moral sense are a law. The apostle does not say that this was the rule among the Gentiles, but applies the principle to the very rare instances of Gentiles of pure character.

Verses 14, 15. - For when Gentiles, which have not law, do by nature (or, having not law by nature, do; cf. ver. 27, ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία) the things of the Law (i.e. the Mosaic Law), these, not having law, are law unto themselves; which (οἵτινες, with its usual significance of quippequi) show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness (or, bearing witness therewith), and their thoughts betwixt each other accusing or else excusing (not, as in the Authorized Version, meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another, μεταξὺ being used as a preposition, governing ἀλλήλων). The "for" at the beginning of ver. 14 connects it with the preceding one thus: "Not hearers but doers of law will be justified." The Jew, therefore, has no advantage in the way of justification over the Gentile from being in a peculiar sense a hearer. For Gentiles also may be doers, though not of a positive revealed law, yet of the law of conscience. It is not, of course, implied that on the ground of any such doing they "shall be justified;" only that, so far as they do, they will, equally with the Jews, be rewarded. Nor is it said that any, in fact, do all that law enjoins. We observe the hypothetical form of expression, ὅταν ποιῇ, and also, τὰ τοῦ νόμου, i.e. any of the Law's requirements. The Law, for instance, says, "Thou shalt not steal;" and if a Gentile, though knowing nothing of the ten commandments, on principle refrains from stealing, his conscientious honesty will have its own reward as much as that of the Jew who refrains in obedience to the revealed commandment. A few of the expressions in these verses call for consideration.

(1) What is meant by τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου, said to be "written in their hearts"? Τὸ ἔργον cannot be pleonastic, as supposed by Tholuck. One view is that it is equivalent to τὰ ἔργα τοῦ νόμου, which is an expression frequently used elsewhere (Romans 3:27, 28; Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2, 5, 10); and the singular number has been explained as collective, as in 1 Corinthians 3:13; Galatians 6:4, and ver. 7 above (so Meyer), or as "applying to each of the particular cases supposed in the ὅταν... ποιῶσιν (so Alford). The objection to this view is that it is not the works of the Law that can be said to be written, but rather the Law itself from which the works proceed. Seeing that γραπτὸν implies evident reference to the tables of the Law, it seems best to take ἔργον as denoting the efficacy of the Law, as opposed to the letter, which alone was written on the tables. So in effect Bengel: "Legem ipsam cum sua activitate. Opponitur literae, quae est accidens."

(2) How do they show (ἐνδείκνυνται) this ἔργον νόμου? Evidently, from the context of ver. 14, by doing τὰ τοῦ νὸμου; i.e. doing them (as is, of course, implied) as being the right things to do, and approving them. The very possibility of their doing this is evidence of an innate moral sense in the human heart, which, however it may often be obscured or perverted, remains as a characteristic of humanity, and is more or less operative in all communities. "Nulls enim gens unquam sic ab humanitate abhorruit ut non se intra leges aliquas contineret. Constat absque dubio quasdam justitiae et rectitudinis conceptiones, quas Graeci προλήψεις recant, hominum animis esse naturaliter ingenitas" (Calvin).

(3) What is exactly meant by the conscience witnessing, and the thoughts accusing or else excusing? Συνειδήσις is not the Law in the heart, but rather our consciousness, whereby wittingly, in accordance with that Law, we approve or condemn. The compound verb συμμαρτυρούσης seems to denote a joint witness of conscience. In Romans 8:16 and Romans 9:1, where alone the word occurs elsewhere, it is followed by a dative, and means certainly concurrent witness. But, if so here, with what? Probably with the ἔνδειξις already spoken cf. Right conduct on principle, and conscience approving, witness together to the inward law; or, conduct and conscience together witness to a man's merits or demerits in accordance with that law. Then, what is added about the λογισμοὶ shows how conscience operates. Reason comes into play, evoked by conscience, to reflect on its witness, and definitely condemn or approve what has been done. A kind of court of judicature is supposed. Man calls himself to the bar of his own moral judgment; his conscience adduces witness to the character of his deeds, or rather, with his deeds bears witness for or against himself; his thoughts are as advocates on both sides, arguing for condemnation or acquittal. "Observa quam erudite describat conscientiam, quum dicit nobis venire in mentem rationes, quibus quod recte factum est defendimus; rursum quae nos flagitiorum accusent et redarguant" (Calvin).


Romans 2:12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without …

Romans 3:1,2 What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision…

Deuteronomy 4:7 For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as …

Psalm 147:19,20 He shows his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel…

Acts 14:16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all …

Ephesians 2:12 That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the …

do by.

Romans 2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the …

Romans 1:19,20 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God …

1 Corinthians 11:14 Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, …

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are …

are a law.

Romans 2:12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without …

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things …

When (ὅταν)

Lit., whenever, supposing a case which may occur at any time.

The Gentiles

Rev., properly, Gentiles. There is no article. Not the Gentiles collectively, but Gentiles among whom the supposed case occurs.

Which have not the law (τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα)

The μὴ not negatives the possession of the law. Rev., which have no law.

Having not the law (νόμον μὴ ἔχοντες)

Here μὴ not negatives the possession of the law. Rev., having no law. It is difficult to indicate the proper emphasis in the English text, since the use of italics is limited to words not in the original.

2:14 For when the gentiles - That is, any of them. St. Paul, having refuted the perverse judgment of the Jews concerning the heathens, proceeds to show the just judgment of God against them. He now speaks directly of the heathens, in order to convince the heathens. Yet the concession he makes to these serves more strongly to convince the Jews. Do by nature - That is, without an outward rule; though this also, strictly speaking, is by preventing grace. The things contained in the law - The ten commandments being only the substance of the law of nature. These, not having the written law, are a law unto themselves - That is, what the law is to the Jews, they are, by the grace of God, to themselves; namely, a rule of life.
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