Romans 2
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verses 1-29. - (b) Those who judge others, not excepting the Jews. Here a new stage of the argument, in proof of the position propounded in Romans 1:18, begins, and is continued to the end of the chapter. The position to be proved is that all mankind is guilty before God (see note on ver. 18). So far this has been shown with regard to the mass of the heathen world; its general moral corruption, prevalent and condoned, having been pointed out finally as a glaring proof; the main point of the argument having been to trace this state of things to man's own fault, in that he had refused to retain and act on a knowledge of God originally imparted to him through nature and through conscience. From such refusal had ensued idolatry; thence, as a judicial consequence, profligacy; thence a general prevalence of abominable practices; and at last (in many at least) the "reprobate mind," lost to moral restraint, and approving of vice as well as practising it. Thus it is sufficiently proved that the heathen world, regarded as a whole, is under sin, and liable to the wrath of God. But the required proof that the whole of mankind is guilty is not yet complete. It might be said that there are many still who disapprove of all this wickedness, and sit in judgment on it, and who are, therefore, not themselves implicated in the guilt. To such persons the apostle now turns, his purpose being to show that their judging others does not exempt themselves, unless they can show that they are themselves sinless. All, he argues, are tainted with sin, and therefore implicated in the guilt of the human race, while the very fact of their judging others condemns them all the more. It is usually said by commentators that, the sin of the heathen world having been established in the first chapter, the second has reference exclusively to the Jews. But this is surely not so. The expressions, ἄνθρωπε and πᾶς ὁ κρίνων (vers. 1, 3), seem evidently to include all who judge others; and it is not till ver. 9 that any distinction between Jew and Gentile comes in. Nor would the argument have been complete without refutation of Gentile as well as Jewish judgers of others. For the philosophical schools especially claimed superiority to the mass of mankind, and would be likely to resent their own inclusion in the general condemnation. Notably the Stoics, whose philosophy was at that time, as well as that of the Epicureans, extensively professed by educated Romans. Seneca was a contemporary of St. Paul. The Stoics might be suitably designated as οἱ κρίνοντες: for they affected to look down from a position of calm philosophical superiority on those who followed their mere natural impulses, professing to be themselves guided by right reason, and superior to the passions of ordinary humanity. It was a home-thrust at them to ask - Are you, who thus judge others, as exempt as you profess to be from the vices you condemn? If the accounts that have come down to us of Seneca's own life be true, he certainly was not a paragon of virtue. Now, be it observed that the sort of people now addressed are not concluded to be sunk into all the depths of sin spoken of above; their very affecting to judge others implies, at any rate, theoretic approval of the right. Nor does St. Paul anywhere suggest that there is no difference between man and man with regard to moral worth before God; nay, in this very chapter he forcibly declares the moral excellence of some, without the Law as well as with the Law, and eternal life as its reward (vers. 7, 10, 14, 15). All he implies of necessity is that none whatever are so exempt from sin as to be in a position to judge others; and it is the judgment of others that he here especially attacks, as increasing, rather than exempting from, condemnation. For it involves in itself the sin of presumption, unless those that judge are sinless. But it may be said that the universal sinfulness of mankind is still not proved. For

(1) it is not actually demonstrated that all of those who judge "do the same things." The answer to this objection is, that this does not admit of rigid proof, and that therefore the apostle deems it enough to appeal to the consciences of the judgers themselves as to how the matter stands with them. But it may be said

(2) that the sinfulness of such persons as are spoken of in vers. 7, 10, 14, 15, 29-such, namely, as sincerely strive after good without setting themselves up as judges - is still unproved. So it is in this chapter; and, for logical completeness, the proof must be taken as implied. It was, we may suppose in the writer's mind, and afterwards, in ch. 7, where the inner consciousness of even the best is analyzed, the missing link of the argument is supplied. Verses 1, 2. - Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou doest (rather, dost practise; the word is πράσσεις, see Romans 1:32) the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit (or, practise, as before) such things. As has been observed above, the fact that πᾶς ὁ κρίνων "does the same things," is not proved; it is incapable of patent proof, and so the argument takes the form of an appeal to the consciences of such persons. "Porro quia ipsos interioris impuritatis insimulat, quae ut humanos oculos latet, redargui convincique nequeat humanis testimoniis, ad Dei judicium provocat, cui nec tenebrae ipsae sunt absconditae, et cujus sensu tangi peceatoribus, velint nolint, necesse est" (Calvin). On κατὰ ἀλήθειαν, in ver. 2, Calvin also remarks, "Veritas porro haec judicii in duobus consistit: quod sine personarum respectu delictum puniet, in quocunque deprehenderit homine; deinde quod externam speciem non moratur, nec opere ipso contentus est nisi a vera sinceri-tate animi prodeat."
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
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?
Verses 3, 4. - And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which practise such things, and doest the same, that thou (σὺ, emphatic) shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? Two possible mental attitudes of ὁ κρίνων are supposed - that of really calculating (λογίζῃ) on escaping the judgment, or that of obduration, consequent on God's long forbearance towards him, in that "sentence is not executed speedily." (For a similar view of God's merciful purpose in delaying the final judgment, and of man's abuse of his forbearance, cf. 2 Peter 3:9.)
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee 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;
Verse 5. - But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The "day of wrath" is the day of judgment, the final display of eternal righteousness, when the "forbearance" will be over; ever represented, notwithstanding the world's redemption, under a terrible aspect for the persistently impenitent (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9). It may be here observed again that it is ὁ κρίνων against whom these indignant denunciations are hurled, and this on the very ground of his thus setting himself up to judge while being himself guilty. Of him it is implied, not only that he shares the guilt of mankind, but also that he especially will not escape the final judgment. Of others who, conscious of their own failings, seek sincerely alter good, this is not said, however liable to condemnation on their own mere merits they may be. Indeed, the contrary is emphatically asserted in the verses that follow; nay, even eternal life is assured to such, whoever they may be, and under whatever dispensation, though it does not fall within the scope of the argument to explain in this place why or how. It is important for us to see this clearly for an understanding of the drift of the chapter, and of St. Paul's whole doctrine with respect to human sin and its consequences.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
Verse 6. - Who will render to every man according to his works. This assertion is no contradiction of the main portion of the Epistle as it proceeds, as to justification being not of works; the phrase here being, not on account of his works, but according to them. "Nequaquam tamen quid valeant, sed quid illis debeatur pretii pronunciat" (Calvin). The ground of justification is not here involved. All that is asserted is what is essential to any true conception of God's justice, viz. that he has regard to what men are in assigning reward or punishment; it is what is given in Hebrews 11:6 as a first principle of faith about God, "that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him." It is further evident from ἑκάστῳ, and still more from all that follows, that all such will be so rewarded, whether before Christ or after his coming, whether knowing him or not knowing him. Nor is the inclusion of the latter inconsistent with the doctrine that salvation is through Christ alone. For the effect of his atonement is represented as retrospective as well as prospective, and as availing virtually for all mankind (cf. Romans 3:25; Romans 5:15, 18, 20). Hence the narrow doctrine of some divines, who would confine the possibility of salvation to those who have had in some way during life a conscious faith in the atonement, is evidently not the doctrine of St. Paul.
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
Verses 7-9. - To them who by patient continuance in well-doing (literally, good work, ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ, with reference to ἔργα preceding) seek for glory and honour and immortality (literally, incorruption, ἀφθαρσίαν), eternal life. But unto them which are contentious (so Authorized Version; in Revised Version, factious. As to true meaning, see below), and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth (rather, worketh, ἐργαζομένῳ, with reference again to ἔργα in ver. 6) evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (literally, Greek). The expression, τοῖς ἐξ ἐριθείας, is rendered in the Authorized Version "them which are contentious," ἐριθεία being translated "contention" also in 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; Philippians 2:3; James 3:14, 16. So, too, the Vulgate, qui sunt ex contentione; and similarly Origen, Chrysostom, OEcumenius, Theophylact, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin, etc. This, however, is not the classical sense of the word, which is not connected with ἕρις ("strife"), but with ἔριθος, which means originally a day labourer, or a worker for hire, being so used in Homer. Hence ἐριθεία meant

(1) labour for wages, and came to mean

(2) canvassing or intriguing for office, and

(3) faction, or party-spirit (cf. Arist., 'Pol.,' 5. 2, 6; 3, 9).

Notwithstanding the weight of ancient authority for its bearing the sense of "contention" in the New Testament, that of "faction" seems more likely and suitable in the passages where it occurs; and certainly so here, the idea seeming to be that the persons spoken of factiously renounced their allegiance to "the truth," obeying ἀδικία instead. We observe how expressions are here heaped up, significant of the Divine indignation against high-handed sin, unrepented and unatoned for, of which the apostle, in very virtue of his view of the eternal δικαιοσύνη, had an awful sense (see above on Romans 1:18; and cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:8, etc.; and also Hebrews 10:27; Hebrews 12:29). Still, neither this verse nor ver. 5 is of necessity inconsistent with other well-known passages, where St. Paul seems to contemplate God's reconciliation in the end of all things to himself in Christ (see Romans 5:15, et seq.; 1 Corinthians 15:24-29; Ephesians 1:9, 10, 22, 23; Colossians 1:20). The "indignation and wrath" spoken of in the passages before us (being, as was said under Romans 1:18, inseparable from a full conception of the eternal righteousness) may still be conceived as having a corrective as well as a punitive purpose. Nor is the doctrine which has been called that of "eternal hope" of necessity precluded by statements which imply no more than that sin, unrepented and unatoned for, must inevitably undergo its doom in the unknown regions of eternity. The thought, at the end of ver. 9, for the first time passes distinctly to the Jew's assumed exemption from the condemnation of the rest of mankind; and to this exclusively the remainder of the chapter is devoted. The "indignation," etc., it is said, will be upon the Jew first (cf. ch. 1:16), which may mean either in the first instance, or principally. His priority in Divine favor involves priority in retribution, while his pre-eminence in privilege carries with it corresponding responsibility (cf. Luke 12:47, 48; also Psalm 1:3-8 and 1 Peter 4:17). Then in ver. 10 a like priority is assigned to the Jew with respect to reward, the general assertion of ver. 7 being repeated (with some differ-once of expression) in order to complete the view of his prior position in both respects. For the covenant was with the Jews; the promises were to them: the Gentiles were as the wild olive tree, grafted in, and made partakers of the root and fatness of the olive tree (Romans 11:17). "Judaei particeps Graecus" (Bengel).
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
Verses 10, 11. - But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile (literally, Greek, as before): for there is no respect of persons with God (cf. Acts 10:34). This, with what follows, is important, as bringing out in a striking way the clear doctrine of the New Testament that the Jews had no monopoly of Divine favour with respect to final salvation. Whatever advantages certain races of mankind seem undoubtedly to have above others in this world (and that this has been, and is so, with other races as well as the Jews is obvious), all men are described as standing on an exactly equal footing at the bar of eternal equity.
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;
Verse 12. - For as many as have sinned without Law (ἀνόμως) shall also perish without Law (ἀνόμως). Their perdition, if it ensues, will not be due to transgression of a code they had not, but to sin against such light as they had; if without knowledge of Law they sinned, without reference to Law their doom will he, And as many as have sinned in Law (or, under Law. Ἐν νόμῳ denotes the condition in which they were; cf. ἐν περιτομῇ and ἐν ὀκροβυστίᾳ, Romans 4:10) shall be judged by Law. The requirements of the Law which they knew they will be held accountable for transgressing - κριθήσονται here, instead of ἀπολοῦνται, because a definite standard of judgment is supposed (cf. Psalm 1.).
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Verse 13. - For not the hearers of Law are just before God, but the doers of Law shall be justified; In this verse, as in the previous one, νόμου is anarthrous according to the best-supported readings, though the Textus Receptus has τοῦ before it. It has, therefore, been rendered above simply as Law, not as either the law, or a law, as the same word will be below, whenever it stands by itself without either the article or any modifying genitive. Much has been written by commentators on the senses in which this word νόμος is to be understood, as used by St. Paul with or without the article. In an Appendix to the Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans in the 'Speaker's Commentary' will be found a summary of the views taken by critics of repute, with exhaustive references to the usage of the word in the Septuagint, in the New Testament generally, and in the writings of St. Paul. It has not been thought necessary in this Commentary to discuss further what has been so amply discussed already. It may suffice to state certain principles for the reader's guidance, which appear plainly to commend themselves to acceptance.

(1) νόμος, with the article prefixed, always means the Mosaic Law.

(2) Νόμος, without the article, may have, and often has, specific reference to the Mosaic Law; but, if so, the emission of the article is not arbitrary, but involves a difference of meaning. The article in Greek is prefixed to a word when the latter is intended to convey some definite idea already familiarized to the mind, and "the natural effect of its presence is to divert the thoughts from dwelling on the peculiar import of the word, and is adverse to its inherent notion standing out as a prominent point in the sense of the passage" (quoted from 'Grammar of the New Testament Dialect,' by T. S. Green, in Appendix to Introduction to Romans in the 'Speaker's Commentary '). Hence the omission of the article, where it might have been used, before a word has often the effect of emphasizing and drawing attention to the inherent notion of the word. We may take as an instance ver. 17 in this chapter, where the Textus Receptus has ἐπαναπαύῃ τῷ νόμῳ but where the preferable reading omits the article. In either case the Mosaic Law is referred to; but the omission of the article brings into prominence the principle of justification on which the Jew rested - viz. Law, which exacts entire obedience. In the following verse (the eighteenth), in the phrase, κατηχούμενος ἐκ τοῦ νόμου the article is inserted, the intention being simply to say that the Jew was instructed in the well-known Law of Moses. The same difference of meaning is intimated by the omission or insertion of the article in ver. 23 and elsewhere in other parts of the chapter and of the whole Epistle (see especially ch. 7.). The apostle, who, however spontaneous and unstudied might be his style of writing, by no means used phrases at random, would not surely have thus varied his expressions so often in one and the same sentence without intended significance.

(3) Νόμος without the article seems evidently in many passages to be used by St. Paul to denote law in the abstract, without any exclusive reference to the Mosaic Law at all, or to any particular code of law. Doubtless the Mosaic Law, in which he had been educated, and which he had painfully proved the impossibility of keeping perfectly, had been to him the grand embodiment and representative of law; but he had hence been led to an abstract conception, ever before his mind, of law as representing the principle of exaction of full obedience to requirements; and when he says, as he so often does, that by law no man can be justified, he means that none can be so on the principle of complete conformity being required to the behests of Divine righteousness, whether as revealed from Mount Sinai or through the human conscience, or in any other way; for by law is the knowledge of sin and consequent guilt, but not the power of avoiding sin. Those who ignore the distinction as above explained, saying, as some do, that νόμος, whether with or without the article, always means simply the Law of Moses, fail to enter into the depth and generality of the apostle's argument. The distinction will be observed in this translation throughout the Epistle (ὁ νόμος being translated "the Law," and νόμος "law"), and it will be found always to have a meaning. (For one instance in which it is hardly possible to suppose St. Paul to have omitted and inserted the article in the same sentence without a meaning, cf. Galatians 4:21.)
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:
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).
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;)
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Verse 16. - In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ. About this verse the main question is, what previous assertion the "when" refers to. The time denoted by "when" (whether we suppose κρίνει or κρινεῖ - i.e. the present or future tense - to have been intended by the writer) is certainly the ἡμέρα of 1 Corinthians 3:13, and ether passages - the day of doom, when "every man's work shall be made manifest." Hence immediate connection of this verse with the preceding one, which would otherwise have been the natural one, seems to be precluded; for in ver. 15 the present operation of conscience, during this present life, was described. One way of making the connection obvious is by understanding ver. 15 as itself denoting the manifestation reserved for the day of judgment, when all will stand self-convicted. But not only the verb ἐκδείκνυντααι in the present tense, but also the fact of the whole verse being so obvious a description of present human consciousness, seems to preclude this view. Some would connect ver. 16 with ver. 12, of which it is in itself a natural sequence; and this connection is intimated in the Authorized Version, which includes the three verses that come between in a parenthesis. The objection to it is the length of the parenthesis. Probably the apostle, in his characteristic way, paid little regard to precise logical sequence; he only desired to express, in this concluding verse, that in the great day full justice would be done, and all that he had been speaking of would be made plain. My gospel means "the gospel committed unto me to preach" (cf. Romans 16:25; 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:8). The idea that it means "the Gospel according to St. Luke," said to have been written under St. Paul's superintendence, is too improbable to call for serious notice.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
Verse 17. - But if (the true reading being certainly εἰ δὲ, not ἰδὲ, as in the Textus Receptus) thou (σὺ, emphatic) art named a Jew. The Israelites who had remained in Palestine, or who returned to it after the Captivity, seem thenceforth to have been designated Jews (Ἰουδαῖοι, though they included some of other tribes than that of Judah, notably that of Benjamin, of which St. Paul himself was, and of course of Levi. They are so called, whether resident in Palestine or elsewhere, throughout the New Testament, as well as by Roman writers. the term Ἑβραῖοι being applied in the New Testament (usually at least) to distinguish those Jews who adhered to the Hebrew language in public worship, and to national customs and traditions, from those who Hellenized (Ἑλληυισταί). It was the name on which the people prided themselves at that time, as expressing their peculiar privileges. The apostle, having at the beginning of this chapter addressed himself generally to "whosoever thou art that judgest," now summons the Jew exclusively to the bar of judgment, whose claims to exemption from the general condemnation have come to the front in the preceding verses. By the emphatic σὺ, he calls on him now to give an account of himself, and justify his pretensions if he can. The point of the argument is that the Jews were notoriously at that time no better than other nations in moral conduct - nay, their national character was such as to bring their very religion into disrepute among the heathen - and therefore doing, and not either privilege, knowledge, or profession, being according to the very Law on which they rested the test required, their whole ground for national exemption was taken away. And retest on law (νόμῳ, here without the article, so as to emphasize the principle on which the Jew professed to rest for acceptance), and makest thy boast of God. The Jew gloried, as against the heathen, in his knowledge and worship of the one true God.
And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
Verse 18. - And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent (δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφέροντα, a phrase capable also of the meaning, "provest the things which differ," i.e. distinguishest between right and wrong; for δοκιμάζειν may mean either "to prove," or "to approve" after trial, and τὰ διαφέροντα either "things which differ," or "things which surpass." Exactly the same expression occurs in Philippians 1:10, with the same uncertainty of meaning. The difference is unimportant, both interpretations coming to the same thing), being instructed (κατηχούμενος, which implies regular training, whether catechetically in youth, or through rabbinical and synagogic teaching) out of the Law. So far the Jew's own claims on the ground of his own position have been touched on; what follows expresses his attitude with regard to others. We may observe throughout a vein of irony.
And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
Verses 19, 20. - And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law. Here the form (μόρφωσις) does not mean the mere outward show, but the real representation in concrete form of knowledge and truth. The Jew had that; and the Law itself is by no means disparaged because the Jew presumed on it without keeping it (cf. Romans 7:12).
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?
Verse 21. - Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? The οῦν here does not involve an anacoluthon after the reading εἴ δὲ in ver. 17, though St. Paul would not have much cared if it had been so. It serves only to sum up the lengthened protasis, and introduce the apodosis: "If... dost thou then," etc.? In what follows it is not, of course, implied that all Jews who relied on the Law were, in fact, thieves, adulterers, etc., but only that the Jews as a nation were no more exempt from such sins than others; and it may be that those specified were not selected by the apostle at random, but as being such as the Jews had a peculiar evil notoriety for at that time. Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
Verse 22. - Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? The word (ἱεροσυλεῖς) thus rendered in the Authorized Version means literally "robbest temples," though it may bear also the general meaning of "sacrilege." Commentators differ as to what is meant. Some, considering that the word would not have been used except to denote something really sacrilegious - some offence against true sanctity - refer it to the withholding of gifts and offerings from the temple at Jerusalem, or of tithes from the priests, or embezzlement of the temple revenues. Malachi 3:8, etc., is adduced in illustration, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings," etc. (cf. also Malachi 1:7-14). A passage also is quoted from Josephus, 'Archaeol.,' B. 18, c. 5, where certain Jews are said to have appropriated to their own use purple and gold which had been given to them for the temple at Jerusalem by one Fulvia, a proselyte of theirs at Rome, in consequence of which the Emperor Tiberius, having been informed of the transaction by the lady's husband, had banished all the Jews from Rome. Others take the word in a general sense to denote any profanation of sanctity. So Luther, Calvin ("profanatio divinae majestatis"), and Bengel ("sacrilegium committi's, quia Deo non das gloriam, quae proprie Dei est"). Inasmuch, however, as definite malpractices of the Jews at that time, on account of which the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles (ver. 24), seem to be here alluded to, the word may, perhaps more probably, be understood in its proper sense of plundering temples, meaning heathen temples - a practice which Jewish zealots, in their professed abhorrence of idolatry, might be addicted to when they had opportunity. A writer, though himself attaching no idea of sanctity to such temples, might still use the current term ἱεροσυλεῖν. SO, among the ancients, Chrysostom and Theophylact understand it; the latter, however, limiting it to taking away the ἀναθήματα. He says, "For if they did abhor the idols, yet nevertheless, dominated by covetousness, they touched the idol-offerings for filthy lucre's sake." In doing this, he seems to imply, they broke the very Law which had enjoined their ancestors to "destroy the altars, and break down the images" of idolaters (Deuteronomy 7:5); for the sauna Law had forbidden them to "desire the silver and gold that is on them," or "take it unto thee, for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 7:25). A strong confirmation of the view that plundering of heathen temples is denoted by ἱεροσυλεῖς is found in Acts 19:37, when the town-clerk of Ephesus defended the Christians against the popular fury by declaring that they were not ἱεροσύλοι, that is (as he might mean) not temple-plunderers, such as ordinary Jews had the reputation of being. It has been objected against this view that there is a lack of recorded instances of such temple-plundering on the part of Jews, and that they could not have had much chance, as things then were, of thus displaying their zeal. But there may have been instances, notorious at the time, though not recorded; and, if so, the drift may be, "Thou displayest thy abhorrence of idolatry, enjoined by the Law, by acts of violence and greed, such as the very Law forbids."
Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
Verses 23, 24. - Thou that makest thy boast in law, through thy transgression of the Law dishonourest thou God? (or, thou dishonourest God). For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written. The reference is to Isaiah 52:5, where the LXX. has Δἰ ὑμᾶς διαπαντὸς τὸ ὄνομά μου βλασφημεῖται ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσι. The passage is not quoted as a prophecy now fulfilled, or as in its original reference exactly applicable, but only as serving to express well how the character of the Jews had brought their very religion into disrepute (el. Tacitus, 'Hist..' 5:4, etc.). The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a clear and final exposition of the principle, involved throughout all the previous verses, that Jewish privileges were of no profit in themselves, or without their meaning and purpose being understood and acted on. The thought now passes exclusively to circumcision, as being the original token of the covenant, and the Jew's rite of initiation into his whole privileged position (Genesis 17.). When Jew had come to be the peculiar designation of the children of the covenant, persons were said to become Jews by circumcision. Thus Esther 8:17, "And many of the people of the land became Jews," where the LXX. has, Καὶ πολλοὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν περιετέμνοντο καὶ Ἰουδάιζον. It may be here observed that the known fact of other races as well as the Jews having practised, and still practising, circumcision is not subversive of the scriptural view of its being a peculiarly Jewish rite. For to the Jew alone it had a peculiar significance.
For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
Verses 25, 26. - For circumcision verily profiteth (not justifieth, but only profiteth: it is of advantage, and no unmeaning rite, if thou understandest and carriest out its meaning; it introduces thee into a state of knowledge and opportunity, and certainty of Divine favour), if thou keep the Law: but if thou be a transgressor of the Law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. If therefore the uncircumcision keep the ordinances of the Law, shall not his uncircumcision he counted for circumcision? Here, again, as in vers. 10, 11, 14, 15, the impartiality of God's dealings with all men alike is distinctly declared.
Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
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?
Verses 27-29. - And shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature (i.e. men in a state of nature, Without any distinct revelation, or sign of a peculiar covenant) judge thee (thou presumest, in virtue of thy position, to judge them; nay, rather, they shall judge thee), who by (rather, with, i.e. though in possession of) 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: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter (or, in spirit, not in letter. Both the nouns, πνεύματι, and γράμματι, here are without the article, so as to bring out their inherent significance. See above as to ὁ νόμος and νόμος). Whose praise is not of men, but of God. In these two concluding verses we observe the double sense in which the term Ἰουδαῖος may be used. It denotes here one possessed of the true spirit of Judaism; in which sense the Gentile might be the better Jew. In a like double sense we may use the word "Christian" (cf. John 1:47, ἀληθῶς Ἰσραηλίτης; John 8:39, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham;" also ch. 4. and Galatians 3:7). So, too, περιτομή for spiritual circumcision (περιτομὴ ἀχειροτοίητος Colossians 2:11), in the sense of inward dedication to God's service, and "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh" (Colossians 2:11; see also Philippians 3:2, 3). Such ethical significance of the rite appears even in the Old Testament. We read there of "uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6:12, 30), or "ears" (Jeremiah 6:10), or "hearts" (Leviticus 26:41); and in Deuteronomy 30:6 we find the significant words." The LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live;" and in Jeremiah 4:4, "Circumcise yourselves to the Loan, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem." (Cf. Isaiah 3:1, "Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.")

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
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.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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