Expositor's Greek Testament
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.Romans 2:1-16. The Apostle has now to prove that the righteousness of God is as necessary to the Jew as to the pagan; it is the Jew who is really addressed in this chapter from the beginning, though he is not named till Romans 2:9. In Romans 2:1-10 Paul explains the principle on which God judges all men, without distinction.
Romans 2:1. διό: The Jew is ready enough to judge the Gentile. But he forgets that the same principle on which the Gentile is condemned, viz., that he does evil in spite of better knowledge (Romans 1:32), condemns himself also. His very assent to the impeachment in chap. Romans 1:18-32 is his own condemnation. This is the force of διὸ: therefore. ἐν ᾧ = in that in which. τὰ αὐτὰ πράσσεις, not, you do the identical actions, but your conduct is the same, i.e., you sin against light. The sin of the Jews was the same, but their sins were not.
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.Romans 2:2. κατὰ ἀλήθειαν is predicate: God’s judgment squares with the facts—this is the whole rule of it. τοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντας: those whose conduct is such as has been described. For the text, see critical note.
And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?Romans 2:3. σὺ has strong emphasis. The Jew certainly thought, in many cases, that the privilege of his birth would of itself ensure his entrance into the kingdom (Matthew 3:8-9): this was his practical conviction, whatever might be his proper creed. Yet the σὺ indicates that of all men the Jew, so distinguished by special revelation, should least have fallen into such an error. He is “the servant who knew his Lord’s will,” and whose judgement will be most rigorous if it is neglected.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?Romans 2:4. ἤ states the alternative. Either he thinks he will escape, or he despises, etc. χρηστότης is the kindliness which disposes one to do good; ἀνοχὴ (in N.T. only here and in Romans 3:26) is the forbearance which suspends punishment; μακροθυμία is patience, which waits long before it actively interposes. τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ summarises all three in the concrete. It amounts to contempt of God’s goodness if a man does not know (rather, ignores: cf. Acts 13:27, 1 Corinthians 14:38, Romans 10:3) that its end is, not to approve of his sins, but to lead him to repentance.
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;Romans 2:5. The δὲ contrasts what happens with what God designs. θησαυρίζεις σεαυτῷ ὀργήν: contrast our Lord’s many sayings about “treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:19 ff; Matthew 19:21). ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ὀργῆς = in the day of wrath. The conception was quite definite: there was only one day in view, what is elsewhere called “the day of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 1:14), “the day of judgment” (Matthew 11:22), “the last day” (John 6:39), “the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12), “that day” (2 Timothy 1:12), even simply “the day” (1 Corinthians 3:13, Hebrews 10:25). This great day is so defined in the Apostle’s imagination that the article can be dispensed with. But see Psalm 110:5. (109:5. LXX.) It is a day when God is revealed as a righteous judge, in the sense of Psalm 61:13 (LXX).
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:Romans 2:6. The law enunciated in the Psalm, that God will render to every one according to his works, is valid within the sphere of redemption as well as independent of it. Paul the Christian recognises its validity as unreservedly as Saul the Pharisee would have done. The application of it may lead to very different results in the two cases, but the universal moral conscience, be it in bondage to evil, or emancipated by Christ, accepts it without demur. Paul had no feeling that it contradicted his doctrine of justification by faith, and therefore we are safe to assert that it did not contradict it. It seems a mistake to argue with Weiss that Paul is here speaking of the Urnorm of the Divine righteousness, i.e., of the way in which the destiny of men would be determined if there were no Gospel. The Gospel does not mean that God denies Himself; He acts in it according to His eternal nature; and though Paul is speaking to men as under the law, the truth which he is insisting upon is one which is equally true whether men are under the law or under grace. It is not a little piece of the leaven of a Jewish or Pharisaic conception of God, not yet purged out, that is found here; but an eternal law of God’s relation to man.
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:Romans 2:7. καθʼ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ: cf. the collective ἔργον—“life-work”: S. and H.—in Romans 2:15 : “by way of stedfastness in well-doing”. δόξαν = the glory of the future life, as revealed in the Risen Saviour. τιμήν = honour with God. ἀφθαρσίαν “proves that the goal of effort is nothing earthly” (Lipsius). ζωὴ αἰώνιος comprehends all these three: as its counterpart, θάνατος in Rom 2:32, involves the loss of all. ζωὴν is governed by ἀποδώσει.
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,Romans 2:8. τοῖς δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας: for the use of ἐκ, cf. Romans 3:26, τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ; Galatians 3:7, οἱ ἐκ πίστεως; Ch. Romans 4:14, οἱ ἐκ νόμου. Lightfoot suggests that it is better to supply πράσσουσιν, and to construe ἐξ ἐριθείας with the participle, as in Php 1:17 it is construed with καταγγέλλουσιν: but it is simpler not to supply anything. By “those who are of faction” or “factiousness” (Galatians 5:20, 2 Corinthians 12:20, Php 1:16 f., Romans 2:3, Jam 3:14; Jam 3:16) the Apostle probably means men of a self-willed temper, using all arts to assert themselves against God. The result of this temper—the temper of the party man carried into the spiritual world—is seen in disobedience to the truth and obedience to unrighteousness. See note on ἀλήθεια, Romans 1:18. The moral import of the word is shown by its use as the counterpart of ἀδικία. Cf. the same contrast in 1 Corinthians 13:6. To those who pursue this course there accrues indignation and wrath, etc.
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;Romans 2:9. ὀργὴ is wrath within; θυμός wrath as it overflows. θλίψις and στενοχωρία, according to Trench, Synonyms, § 55, express very nearly the same thing, under different images: the former taking the image of pressure, the latter that of confinement in a narrow space. But to draw a distinction between them, based on etymology, would be very misleading. In both pairs of words the same idea is expressed, only intensified by the reduplication. Supply ἔσται for the changed construction. κατεργαζομένου τὸ κακόν: who works at evil and works it out or accomplishes it. The Jew is put first, because as possessor of an express law this is conspicuously true of him.
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:Romans 2:10 f. εἰρήνη is probably = שָׁלוֹם, a comprehensive term, rather = salvation, than peace in any narrower sense. The Jew still comes first, but it is only order that is involved: the same principle underlies the judgment for Jew and Gentile. It would amount to προσωπολημψία in God, if He made a difference in the Jew’s favour because of his birth, or because he possessed the law. This is expanded in Romans 2:12-16 : mere possession of the law does not count. Men are judged according to their works, whether they have or have not had such a special revelation of the Divine will as was given to Israel.
For there is no respect of persons with God.
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;Romans 2:12. ἀνόμως means “without law,” not necessarily “without the law”. In point of fact, no doubt, there was only one law given by God, the Mosaic, and Paul is arguing against those who imagined that the mere possession of it put them in a position of privilege as compared with those to whom it was not given; but he expresses himself with a generality which would meet the case of more such revelations of God’s will having been made to man. As many as sin “without law” shall also perish “without law”. Sin and perdition are correlative in Paul. ἀπώλεια (Romans 9:22, Php 1:28; Php 3:19) answers to ζωὴ αἰώνιος: it is final exclusion from the blessedness implied in this expression; having no part in the kingdom of God. Similarly, as many as sin “in law” shall be judged “by law”. The expression would cover any law, whatever it might be; really, the Mosaic law is the only one that has to be dealt with. The use of the aorist ἥμαρτον is difficult. Weiss says it is used as though the writer were looking back from the judgment day, when sin is simply past. Burton compares Romans 3:23 and calls it a “collective historical aorist”: in either case the English idiom requires the perfect: “all who have sinned”.
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.Romans 2:13. This is the principle of judgment, for not the hearers of law (the Mosaic or any other) are just with God, but the law doers shall be justified. ἀκροαταὶ tends to mean “pupils,” constant hearers, who are educated in the law: see Romans 2:10. But no degree of familiarity with the law avails if it is not done. The forensic sense of δικαιοῦσθαι is apparent in this verse, where it is synonymous with δίκαιοι εἶναι παρὰ τῷ θεῷ: the latter obviously being the opposite of “to be condemned”. Whether there are persons who perfectly keep the law, is a question not raised here. The futures ἀπολοῦνται, κριθήσονται, δικαιωθήσονται all refer to the day of final judgment.
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 unto themselves:Romans 2:14. There is, indeed, when we look closely, no such thing as a man absolutely without the knowledge of God’s will, and therefore such a judgment as the Apostle has described is legitimate. Gentiles, “such as have not law” in any special shape, when they do by nature “the things of the law”—i.e., the things required by the law given to Israel, the only one known to the Apostle—are in spite of not having law (as is the supposition here) a law to themselves. ἔθνη is not “the Gentiles,” but “Gentiles as such”—persons who can be characterised as “without law”. The supposition made in τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα is that of the Jews; and the Apostle’s argument is designed to show that though formally, it is not substantially true.
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)Romans 2:15. οἵτινες ἑνδείκνυνται: the relative is qualitative: “inasmuch as they shew”. τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου is the work which the law prescribes, collectively. “Written on their hearts,” when contrasted with the law written on the tables of stone, is equal to “unwritten”; the Apostle refers to what the Greeks called ἄγραφος νόμος. To the Greeks, however, this was something greater and more sacred than any statute, or civil constitution; to the Apostle it was less than the great revelation of God’s will, which had been made and interpreted to Israel, but nevertheless a true moral authority. There is a triple proof that Gentiles, who are regarded as not having law, are a law to themselves. (1) The appeal to their conduct: as interpreted by the Apostle, their conduct evinces, at least in some, the possession of a law written on the heart; (2) the action of conscience: it joins its testimony, though it be only an inward one, to the outward testimony borne by their conduct; and (3) their thoughts. Their thoughts bear witness to the existence of a law in them, inasmuch as in their mutual intercourse (μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων) these thoughts are busy bringing accusations, or in rarer cases (ἢ καί) putting forward defences, i.e., in any case, exercising moral functions which imply the recognition of a law. This seems to me the only simple and natural explanation of a rather perplexed phrase. We need not ask for what Paul does not give, the object to κατηγορούντων or ἀπολογουμένων: it may be any person, act or situation, which calls into exercise that power of moral judgment which shows that the Gentiles, though without the law of Moses, are not in a condition which makes it impossible to judge them according to their works. The construction in Romans 9:1 suggests that the συν views the witness of conscience, reflecting on conduct, as something added to the first instinctive consciousness of the nature of an action. συνείδησις does not occur in the Gospels except in John 8:9; twice only in Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, both times in speeches of St. Paul; twenty times in the Pauline epistles. It occurs in the O.T. only in Ecclesiastes 10:20 (curse not the King, ἐν συνειδήσει σου = ne in cogitatione quidem tua): the ordinary sense is found, for the first time in Biblical Greek, in Sap. 17:11. It is a quasi-philosophical word, much used by the Stoics, and belonging rather to the Greek than the Hebrew inheritance of Paul.
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.Romans 2:16. The day meant here is the same as that in Romans 2:5. Westcott and Hort only put a comma after ἀπολογουμένων, but a longer pause is necessary, unless we are to suppose that only the day of judgment wakes the conscience and the thoughts of man into the moral activity described in Romans 2:15. This supposition may have some truth in it, but it is not what the Apostle’s argument requires. The proof he gives that Gentiles are “a law to themselves” must be capable of verification now, not only at the last day. Hence Romans 2:16 is really to be taken with the main verbs of the whole paragraph, ἀπολοῦνται, κριθήσονται, δικαιωθήσονται: the great principle of Romans 2:6—ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ—will be exhibited in action on the day on which God judges the secret things of men through Christ Jesus. A final judgment belonged to Jewish theology, and perhaps, though this is open to question, one in which the Messiah acted as God’s representative; but what Paul teaches here does not rest merely on the transference of a Jewish Messianic function to Jesus. If there is anything certain in the N.T. it is that this representation of Jesus as judge of the world rests on the words of our Lord Himself (Matthew 7:22 f., Matthew 25:31 ff.). To assert it was an essential part of the Gospel as preached by Paul: cf. Acts 17:31. (Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, . 85 f., thinks that in the circles of Jewish Pietism, in the century before Christ, the Messiah was already spoken of as the Divine judge, and as sharing the titles and attributes of Jehovah.)
In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle brings to a point the argument for which he has been clearing the way in Romans 2:1-16. The Jew makes much of the possession of the law, but when we pass from possession to practice, he is not a whit better than the “lawless” Gentile. The construction is not quite regular, but the meaning is clear. The natural order would be: If thou bearest the name of Jew, and restest upon the law, and yet in thy conduct settest the law at nought, art not thou equally under condemnation with sinners of the Gentiles? But the construction is interrupted at the end of Romans 2:20, and what ought in logic to be part of the protasis—if in thy conduct thou settest the law at nought—is made a sort of apodosis, at least grammatically and rhetorically: dost thou, in spite of all these privileges, nevertheless set the law at nought? The real conclusion, which Paul needs for his argument, Art not thou then in the same condemnation with the Gentiles? is left for conscience to supply.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,Romans 2:17. Ἰουδαῖος ἐπονομάζῃ: bearest the name of “Jew”. The ἐπὶ in the compound verb does not denote addition, but direction: Ἰουδαῖος is not conceived as a surname, but a name which has been imposed. Of course it is implied in the context that the name is an honourable one. It is not found in the LXX, and in other places where Paul wishes to indicate the same distinction, and the same pride in it, he says Ἰσραηλεῖται (Romans 9:4, 2 Corinthians 11:22). The terms must have had a tendency to coalesce in import, though Ἰουδαῖος is national, and Ἰσραηλείτης religious; for the religion was national. ἐπαναπαύη νόμῳ: grammatically νόμῳ is law; really, it is the Mosaic law. The Jew said, We have a law, and the mere possession of it gave him confidence. Cf. Micah 3:11, ἐπὶ τὸν Κύριον ἐπανεπαύοντο. καυχᾶσαι ἐν θεῷ: boastest in God, as the covenant God of the Jews, who are His peculiar people. καυχᾶσαι = καυχᾷ: the longer form is the usual one in the κοινή.
And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;Romans 2:18. τὸ θέλημα is God’s will. Lipsius compares the absolute use of ὁδός, θύρα and ὄνομα. Cf. Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23; Acts 14:27; Acts 5:41. Also 1 Corinthians 16:12, where God’s will is meant, not the will of Apollos. The words δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφέροντα κατηχούμενος ἐκ τοῦ νόμου are to be taken together. In virtue of being taught out of the law (in the synagogue and the schools) the Jew possesses moral discernment: he does not sink to the νοῦς ἀδόκιμος, the mind which has lost all moral capacity (Romans 1:28). But a certain ambiguity remains in δοκιμάζειν τὰ διαφέροντα: it may mean either (1) to distinguish, by testing, between things which differ—i.e., to discriminate experimentally between good and evil; or (2) to approve, after testing, the things which are more excellent. There are no grounds on which we can decide positively for either.
And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,Romans 2:19 f. πέποιθάς τε κ.τ.λ. The τε indicates that this confidence is the immediate and natural result of what precedes: it is not right, in view of all the N.T. examples, to say that πέποιθας suggests an unjustifiable confidence, though in some cases, as in the present, it is so. Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7, Luke 18:9. The blind, those in darkness, the foolish, the babes, are all names for the heathen: the Jew is confident that the Gentiles must come to school to him. παιδευτὴς has reference to moral as well as intellectual discipline: and ἄφρονες are, as in the O.T. (Psalm 13:1, LXX), persons without moral intelligence. For the other figures in this verse, cf. Matthew 15:14, Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:9; Isaiah 42:6. The confidence of the Jew is based on the fact that he possesses in the law “the outline of knowledge and truth”. Lipsius puts a strong sense upon μόρφωσιν—die leibhaftige Verkörperung: as if the Jew conceived that in the Mosaic law the knowledge and the truth of God were incorporated bodily. Possibly he did, and in a sense it was so, for the Mosaic law was a true revelation of God and His will: but the only other instance of μόρφωσις in the N.T. (2 Timothy 3:5 ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας) rather suggests the same disparaging note which here belongs to πέποιθας. The μόρφωσις τῆς γνώσεως is in point of fact only a form: valuable as the outline or definition of truth was, which the Jew possessed in the law, it was in reality ineffective, so far as the practical authority of the law in the Jew’s conduct was concerned.
An 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 that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?Romans 2:21. Here the grammatical apodosis begins, the οὖν resuming all that has been said in Romans 2:17-20. κηρύσσων and λέγων are virtually verbs of command: hence the infinitives. The rhetorical question implies that the Jew does not teach himself, and that he does break the law he would enforce on others.
Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?Romans 2:22. βδελυσσόμενος properly expresses physical repulsion: thou that shrinkest in horror from idols. Cf. Daniel 9:27, Mark 13:14. ἱεροσυλεῖς: dost thou rob temples, and so, for the sake of gain, come in contact with abominations without misgiving? This is the meaning, and not, Dost thou rob the temple, by keeping back the temple dues? as has been suggested. The crime of ἱεροσυλία is referred to in Acts 19:37, and according to Josephus, Ant., iv., 8, 10, it was expressly forbidden to the Jews: μὴ συλᾶν ἱερὰ ξενικά, μηδʼ ἂν ἐπωνομασμένον ᾖ τινὶ θεῷ κειμήλιον λαμβάνειν.
Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?Romans 2:23. Here again the construction is changed, and probably the use of the relative instead of the participle suggests that the sentence is to be read, not as interrogative, but as declaratory. “Thou who makest it thy boast that thou possessest a law, by the transgressing of that law dishonourest God: that is the sum of the whole matter, and thy sole distinction in contrast with the heathen.”
For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.Romans 2:24. And this is only what Scripture bids us expect. The Scripture quoted is Isaiah 52:5, LXX. The LXX interpret the Hebrew by inserting διʼ ὑμᾶς and ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν. Both insertions are in the line of the original meaning. It was owing to the misery and helplessness of the people of God, in exile among the nations, that the heathen scoffed at the Divine name. “The God of Israel is not able to deliver His people: He is no God.” Paul here gives the words quite another turn. God, he says, is now blasphemed among the nations because of the inconsistency between the pretensions of the Jews and their behaviour. As if the heathen were saying: “Like God, like people; what a Divinity the patron of this odious race must be”. It is surely not right to argue (with Sanday and Headlam) that the throwing of the formula of quotation to the end shows that Paul is conscious of quoting freely: “it is almost as if it were an after-thought that the language he has just used is a quotation at all”. The quotation is as relevant as most that the Apostle uses. He never cares for the context or the original application. When he can express himself in Scripture language he feels that he has the Word of God on his side, and all through this epistle he nails his arguments so, and insists on the confirmation they thus obtain. What the closing of the sentence with καθὼς γέγραπται suggests is not that it occurred to Paul after he had finished that he had almost unconsciously been using Scripture: it is rather that there is a challenge in the words, as if he had said, Let him impugn this who dare contest the Word of God.
In Romans 2:25-29 another Jewish plea for preferential treatment in the judgment is considered. The μὲν in Romans 2:25 (περιτομὴ μὲν γὰρ ὠφελεῖ) implies that this plea has no doubt something in it, but it suggests that there are considerations on the other side which in point of fact make it inapplicable or invalid here. It is these considerations which the Apostle proceeds to explain, with a view to clenching the argument that the wrath of God revealed from heaven impends over Jew and Gentile alike.
For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.Romans 2:25. περιτομή: the absence of the article suggests that the argument may be extended to everything of the same character as circumcision. ὠφελεῖ: Circumcision was the seal of the covenant, and as such an assurance given to the circumcised man that he belonged to the race which was the heir of God’s promises. That was undeniably a great advantage, just as it is an advantage now to be born a Christian; but if the actual inheriting of the promises has any moral conditions attached to it (as Paul proceeds to show that it has), then the advantage of circumcision lapses unless these are fulfilled. Now the persons contemplated here have not fulfilled them. ἐὰν νόμον πράσσῃς: the habitual practice of the law is involved in this expression: as Vaughan says, it is almost like a compound word, “if thou be a law doer”. Similarly παραβάτης νόμου a law transgressor. The law, of course, is the Mosaic one, but it is regarded simply in its character as law, not as being definitely this law: hence the absence of the article. γέγονε: by the very fact becomes and remains.
Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?Romans 2:26 f. Here the inference is drawn from the principle laid down in Romans 2:25. This being so, Paul argues, if the uncircumcision maintain the just requirements of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be accounted circumcision, sc., because it has really done what circumcision pledged the Jew to do? Cf. Galatians 5:3. ἡ ἀκροβυστία at the beginning of the verse is equivalent to the Gentiles (ἔθνη of Romans 2:14), the abstract being put for the concrete: in ἡ ἀκροβυστία αὐτοῦ, the αὐτοῦ individualises a person who is conceived as keeping the law, though not circumcised. As he has done what circumcision bound the Jew to do, he will be treated as if in the Jew’s position: his uncircumcision will be reckoned as circumcision. λογισθήσεται may be merely a logical future, but like the other futures in Romans 2:12-16 it is probably more correct to refer it to what will take place at the last judgment. The order of the words in Romans 2:27 indicates that the question is not continued: “and thus the uncircumcision shall judge thee,” etc. κρινεῖ is emphatic by position: the Jew, in the case supposed, is so far from being able to assert a superiority to the Gentile that the Gentile himself will be his condemnation. Cf. Matthew 12:41 f. ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία should properly convey one idea—“those who are by nature uncircumcised”. But why should nature be mentioned at all in this connection? It seems arbitrary to say with Hofmann that it is referred to in order to suggest that uncircumcision is what the Gentile is born in, and therefore involves no guilt. As far as that goes, Jew and Gentile are alike. Hence in spite of the grammatical irregularity, which in any case is not too great for a nervous writer like Paul, I prefer to connect ἐκ φύσεως, as Burnes does (Moods and Tenses, § 427), with τελοῦσα, and to render: “the uncircumcision which by nature fulfils the law”: cf. Romans 2:14. τὸν διὰ γράμματος καὶ περιτομῆς παραβάτην νόμου. The διὰ is that which describes the circumstances under which, or the accompaniment to which, anything is done. The Jew is a law-transgressor, in spite of the facts that he possesses a written revelation of God’s will, and bears the seal of the covenant, obliging him to the performance of the law, upon his body. He has an outward standard, which does not vary with his moral condition, like the law written in the pagan’s heart; he has an outward pledge that he belongs to the people of God, to encourage him when he is tempted to indolence or despair; in both these respects he has an immense advantage over the Gentile, yet both are neutralised by this—he is a law-transgressor.
And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:Romans 2:28 f. The argument of the foregoing verses assumes what is stated here, and what no one will dispute, that what constitutes the Jew in the true sense of the term, and gives the name of Jew its proper content and dignity, is not anything outward and visible, but something inward and spiritual. And the same remark applies to circumcision itself. The most natural way to read the Greek seems to me to be this. “Not he who is so outwardly (ὁ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ) is a Jew (in the true sense), nor is that which is outward, in flesh, the true circumcision; but he who is inwardly a Jew (is the true Jew), and heart circumcision, in spirit, not in letter (is the true circumcision).” Thus in the first pair of clauses there is not anything, strictly speaking, to be supplied; the subject is in each case involved in the article. But in the second pair the predicate has in both cases to be supplied from the first—in the one case, Ἰουδαῖος; in the other, περιτομή. Heart circumcision is an idea already familiar to the O.T. From the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 10:16, for the meaning comp. Deuteronomy 30:6) it passed to the prophetic writings: Jeremiah 4:4. The contrary expression—uncircumcised in heart and in flesh—is also found: Jeremiah 9:26, Ezekiel 44:7. A difficulty is created by the expression ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι. After Romans 2:28 we rather expect ἐν πνεύματι οὐ σαρκί: the circumcision being conceived as in one and not another part of man’s nature. Practically it is in this sense most commentators take the words: thus Gifford explains them by “a circumcision which does not stop short at outward conformity to the law, but extends to the sphere of the inner life”. But there is no real correspondence here, such as there is in ἐν πνεύματι οὐ σαρκί; and a comparison of 2 Corinthians 3, a chapter pervaded by the contrast of πνεῦμα and γράμμα, suggests a different rendering. πνεῦμα and γράμμα are not the elements in which, but the powers by which, the circumcision is conceived to be effected. “Heart circumcision,” without any qualifying words, expresses completely that contrast to circumcision in the flesh, which is in Paul’s mind; and what he adds in the new words, ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι is the new idea that heart circumcision, which alone deserves the name of circumcision, is achieved by the Spirit of God, not by the written law. Whether there is such a thing as this heart circumcision, wrought by the Spirit, among the Jews, is not explicitly considered; but it is not a refutation of this interpretation to point out that πνεῦμα in 2 Cor. is characteristically the gift of the New Covenant. For the very conclusion to which Paul wishes to lead is that the New Covenant is as necessary for the Jew as for the Gentile. οὗ ὁ ἔπαινος κ.τ.λ. The οὗ is masculine, and refers to the ideal Jew. The name Ἰουδαῖος (from Judah = praise, Genesis 29:35) probably suggested this remark. οὐκ ἐξ ἀνθρώπων: the love of praise from each other, and religious vanity, are Jewish characteristics strongly commented on by our Lord (John 5:44; John 12:42 f.).
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.