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 unto themselves:
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(14) A sort of parenthesis begins here. Romans 2:16 refers back to the main subject of the paragraph, and not to the particular point on which the Apostle digresses in Romans 2:14-15, the virtual operation of law among the Gentiles as well as Jews.

By nature.—Spontaneously; of their own motion; not acting under the coercion of any external rule, but simply by the promptings of their own conscience left to itself.

The things contained in the law.—Literally, the things of the law. In this one instance the article is used, meaning, however, not “the law of Moses,” but “of this law,” or “of such law”—i.e., the ideal law spoken of just before.

Romans 2:14-15. For when the Gentiles — That is, any of them who have not the law — Not a written revelation of the divine will; do by nature — That is, by the light of nature, without an outward rule, or by the untaught dictates of their own minds, influenced, however, by the preventing grace of God, which hath appeared to all men, Titus 2:11; or, the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world: the things contained in the law — The moral duties required by the precepts of 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 was to the Jews, they are by the light and grace of God to themselves, namely, a rule of life. All the ancient Greek commentators, as Whitby has shown, interpreted this passage not of the Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity, but of those Gentiles who had not been favoured with a revealed law, and therefore were neither proselytes to Judaism nor Christianity. Who show — To themselves and others, and, in a sense, to God himself, the work of the law — In its most important moral precepts, in the substance, though not in the letter of them; written in their hearts — By the same divine hand which wrote the commandments on the tables of stone; their conscience also bearing witness — For or against them, or testifying how far they have complied with their light or law. There is not one of all its faculties which the soul has less in its power than this. And their thoughts — Or their reasonings or reflections upon their own conduct; the meanwhile — Or, as the expression, μεταξυ αλληλων, is translated in the margin, between themselves, or by turns, according as they do well or ill; accusing — Checking and condemning them when they have acted contrary to their light; or else excusing — Approving and justifying them when they have conformed to it. Hence the apostle meant it to be inferred, that it was not the having, or knowing the law, (Romans 2:13,) nor the condemning others for the transgression of it, could avail a man, but the doing of it, or walking according to it. We may observe further on this verse, that, as the law in this context signifies divine revelation, the work of the law must be men’s duty, which revelation discovers by its precepts, which is also in part discovered by men’s natural reason and conscience, influenced by the light and grace of God; on which account it is said to be written on their hearts. Thus, in the compass of two verses, the apostle hath explained what the light of nature is, and demonstrated that there is such a light existing. It is a revelation from God written originally on the heart or mind of man; consequently is a revelation common to all nations; and, so far as it goes, it agrees with the things written in the external revelation which God hath made to some nations. We are compelled, however, when we come to consider matters of fact, to acknowledge that this light of nature has been dreadfully obscured and corrupted, even in the most learned and civilized heathen nations upon earth, as the apostle has proved at large in the latter part of the preceding chapter. And long before the ages referred to by him, All flesh had corrupted its way, Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:11; darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, Isaiah 60:2; there was none that understood, (Romans 3:11;) and all were alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, Ephesians 4:18, &c.

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.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.

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. Here he preoccupates the Gentiles’ plea. They might object, that having not the law, they could not transgress, nor be culpable in judgment: see Romans 4:15. To this he says, that though they had not the law written in tables of stone, as the Jews had, yet they had a law written in their hearts, which was a copy or counterpart of the other, and had in a manner the effects of it; for thereby they were instructed to do well, and debarred from doing evil, which are the two properties of all laws.

Do by nature; nature is opposed to Scripture and special revelation: by the direction of the law, and light of nature, they did many things which the law of Moses commanded, and forbore many things which it forbade.

Are a law unto themselves; i.e. they have in themselves such principles of reason and rules of equity, as are to them instead of a law, prescribing what they ought to do and avoid.

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.

Romans 2:14. Ὅταν] quando, supposes a case which may take place at any time, and whose frequent occurrence is possible, as “eventus ad experientiam revocatus” (Klotz, a[643] Devar. p. 689): in the case if, so often as.

γάρ] introducing the proof that the proposition of Romans 2:13 also holds of the Gentiles. See above.

ἔθνη] not to be understood of the Gentiles collectively, to which Reiche, de Wette, Köllner, Philippi refer it—for this must have been expressed by the article (against which view neither Romans 9:30 nor Romans 3:29, nor 1 Corinthians 1:23, is to be adduced), and the putting of the case ὅταν.… ποιῇ with respect to the heathen generally would be in itself untrue—but Paul means rather Gentiles among whom the supposed case occurs.

τὰ μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα] they who have not the law; a more precise definition bearing on the case, and bringing forward the point on which here the argument turns. See Winer, p. 127 [E. T. 174]. Observe the distinction between μὴ νόμον ἔχ. and ΝΌΜΟΝ ΜῊ ἜΧ. The former negatives—while the contrast of the ΦΎΣΕΙ floats before the mind—the possession of the law, instead of which they have merely a natural analogue of it (compare Stalb. a[644] Plat. Crit. p. 47 D); the latter negatives the possession of the law, which is wanting to them, whilst the Jews have it.

φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῇ] Most expositors uphold this connection, including Rückert, 2nd ed. On the other hand Bengel and Usteri join ΦΎΣΕΙ to ΜῊ ΝΌΜ. ἜΧΟΝΤΑ, but thus make it superfluous and even unsuitable, and deprive it of all weight in the connection, especially as the word ΦΎΣΙς has here no other sense than nativa indoles, i. e. the original constitution given with existence, and not moulded by any extraneous training, culture, or other influence beyond the endowments of nature and their natural development (comp on Ephesians 2:3); ΦΎΣΕΙ: “quia natura eorum ita fert,” Stalb. a[646] Plat. Phaedr. p. 249. The dative denotes the mediating cause. And that it is the moral prompting of conscience left to itself, which Paul means by φύσει in contrast to the divine leading of the law, is plain from Romans 2:15. The φύσει ποιεῖν lies beyond the sphere of positive revelation and its promptings, leadings, etc. It takes place in virtue of an indoles ingenita, not interventu disciplinae divinae formata, so that the thought of an operation of grace or of the Logos taking place apart from Christ is quite foreign to this passage, and its affirmation is not in harmony with the truncus et lapis of the Formula Concordiae. See the later discussions of dogmatic writers as to this point in Luthardt, v. freien Willen, p. 366 ff.

τὰ τοῦ νόμου] what belongs to the law, i.e. its constituent elements, its precepts. Paul does not say simply τὸν νόμον; for he is thinking not of Gentiles who fulfil the law as a whole, but of those who in concrete cases by their action respond to the particular portions of the law concerned. Compare Luthardt l.c[647] p. 409. The close relation, in which the ποιεῖν τὰ τοῦ νόμου here stands to ΠΟΙΗΤΑῚ ΝΌΜΟΥ in Romans 2:13, is fatal to the view of Beza, Joh. Cappell., Elsner, Wetstein, Michaelis, Flatt, and Mehring, who explain it as quae lex facit, namely, the commanding, convincing, condemning, etc.

ἑαυτοῖς εἰσὶ νόμος] They are the law unto themselves, i.e. their moral nature, with its voice of conscience commanding and forbidding, supplies to their own Ego the place of the revealed law possessed by the Jews. Thus in that ποιεῖν they serve for themselves as a regulator of the conduct that agrees with the divine law. For parallels (Manil. v. 495, al[648]: ipse sibi lex est, Arist. Nicom. Romans 4:14 : νόμος ὤν ἑαυτῷ al[649]) see Wetstein; compare also Porph. a[650] Marc. 25, p. 304.

Observe further that here, where the participle stands without the article—consequently not οἱ νόμ. μὴ ἔχοντες (as previously ΤᾺ ΜῊ.… ἜΧΟΝΤΑ)—it is to be resolved by since they, because they; which however does not convey the idea: because they are conscious of the absence of the law (as Hofmann objects), but rather: because this want occurs in their case. See Buttmann’s neut. Gr. p. 301. The resolution by although (Th. Schott) is opposed to the connection; that by while (Hofmann) fails to convey the definite and logical meaning; which is, that Gentiles, in the cases indicated by ὅταν Κ.Τ.Λ[651] would not be ἑαυτοῖς νόμος, if they had the positive law.

The οὗτοι comprehends emphatically the subjects in question; Kühner, II. 1, p. 568; Buttmann l.c[652] p. 262 f.

[643] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[644] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[646] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[647] .c. loco citato or laudato.

[648] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[649] l. and others; and other passages; and other editions.

[650] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[651] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[652] .c. loco citato or laudato.

Romans 2:14-16. The οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου δικαιωθήσονται just asserted did not require proof with regard to the Jews. But, as the regulative principle of the last judgment, it could not but appear to need proof with regard to the Gentiles, since that fundamental rule might seem to admit of no application to those who sin ἀνόμως and perish ἀνόμως. Now the Gentiles, though beyond the pale of the Mosaic law and not incurring condemnation according to the standard of that law, yet possess in the moral law of nature a certain substitute for the Mosaic law not given to them. It is in virtue of this state of things that they present themselves, not as excepted from the above rule οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου δικαιωθ., but as subjected to it; namely, in the indirect way that they, although ἄνομοι in the positive sense, have nevertheless in the natural law a substitute for the positive one—which is apparent, as often as Gentiles do by nature that which the positive Mosaic law not given to them enjoins. The connection may therefore be paraphrased somewhat thus: “With right and reason I say: the doers of the law shall be justified; for as to the case of the Gentiles, that ye may not regard them as beyond reach of that rule, it is proved in fact by those instances, in which Gentiles, though not in possession of the law of Moses, do by nature the requirements of this law, that they are the law unto themselves, because, namely, they thereby show that its obligation stands written in their hearts,” etc. It is to be observed at the same time that Paul does not wish to prove a justification of the Gentiles really occurring as a result through the fulfilment of their natural law—a misconception against which he has already guarded himself in Romans 2:12,—but he desires simply to establish the regulative principle of justification through the law in the case of the Gentiles. Real actual justification by the law takes place neither among Jews nor Gentiles; because in no case is there a complete fulfilment, either, among the Jews, of the revealed law or, among the Gentiles, of the natural law—which in fact is only a substitute for the former, but at the same time forms the limit beyond which their responsibility and their judgment cannot in principle go, because they have nothing higher (in opposition to Philippi, who refers to the πλήρωμα νόμου, Romans 13:10).

The connection of thought between Romans 2:14 and what precedes it has been very variously apprehended. According to Koppe (compare Calvin, Flatt, and Mehring) Romans 2:14-16 prove the condemnation of the Gentiles asserted in Romans 2:12, and Romans 2:17 ff. that of the Jews; while Romans 2:13 is a parenthesis. But, seeing that in the whole development of the argument γάρ always refers to what immediately precedes, it is even in itself an arbitrary proceeding to make ὅταν γάρ in Romans 2:14, without any evident necessity imposed by the course of thought, refer to Romans 2:12, and to treat Romans 2:13, although it contains a very appropriate reason assigned for the second part of Romans 2:12, as a parenthesis to be broken off from connection with what follows; and decisive against this view are the words ἢ καὶ ἀπολογουμένων in Romans 2:15, which place it beyond doubt that Romans 2:14-16 were not intended as a proof of the ἀπολοῦνται in Romans 2:12. Philippi regards Romans 2:14 as establishing only the first half of Romans 2:13 : “not the hearers of the law are just before God, for even the Gentiles have a law, i.e. for even the Gentiles are ἀκροαταὶ τοῦ νόμου.” But we have no right to exclude thus from the reference of the γάρ just the very assertion immediately preceding, and to make it refer to a purely negative clause which had merely served to pave the way for this assertion. The reference to the negative half of Romans 2:13 would only be warranted in accordance with the text, had Paul, as he might have done, inverted the order of the two parts of Romans 2:13, and so given to the negative clause the second place.[640] And the less could a reader see reason to refer the γάρ to this negative clause in the position in which the Apostle has placed it, since Romans 2:14 speaks of Gentiles who do the law, by which the attention was necessarily directed, not to the negative, but to the affirmative, half of Romans 2:13 (οἱ ποιηταὶ κ.τ.λ[641]).[642] Such a mode of presenting the connection is even more arbitrary than if we should supply after Romans 2:13 the thought: “and therewith also the Gentiles” (Köllner and others), which however is quite unnecessary. Our view is in substance that given already by Chrysostom (οὐκ ἐκβάλλω τὸν νόμον, φῆσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐντεῦθεν δικαιῶ τὰ ἔθνη), Erasmus, and others; more recently by Tholuck, Rückert, Reiche, Köllner, Fritzsche, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Reithmayr, van Hengel, Ewald, Th. Schott, though with very various modifications.

[640] Only thus—but not as Paul has actually placed it—could the negative clause be regarded as the chief thought, for which Philippi is obliged to take it, p. 54 f. 3rd ed.

[641] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[642] These reasons may also be urged against Hofmann, who, substantially like Philippi, takes vv. 14–16 as a proof, that in the matter of righteousness before God nothing can depend on whether one belongs to the number of those who hear the law read to them.

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.

14. For when the Gentiles, &c.] The connexion marked by “for” is not easy to state. We take it to refer (over Romans 2:13, which is an explanation of the previous words) to Romans 2:12, and to be connected with the words “shall perish without law.” How this shall be St Paul now suggestively states, by explaining that Conscience is to the heathen a substitute for Revelation, in regard of responsibility. Q. d., “Heathen sinners shall be justly condemned; for though without the law, they have a substitute for it:”

by nature] This phrase here has to do with a contrast not of nature and grace, but of nature and law. “Nature” here means impulses which, however produced, are not due to known Revelation, or indeed to any precept ab extra. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:14.

the things contained in the law] Lit. the things of the law. It is just possible to explain this as “things both commanded and forbidden by the law.” But far more naturally it means the “principles of the law,” i.e. the grand Difference of right and wrong; and thus the whole phrase = “to act on the principles of the law.” Nothing is here stated as to perception, or love, of holiness by heathen; but it is certainly stated that they had conscience, and could, up to a certain point, act upon it. It is scarcely needful to say that this is fully illustrated by ancient literature, while the same literature illustrates fully the mysterious limits of conscience and tremendous force of evil. See Appendix E.

having not the law] i.e. “though not having it.” Their lack of the law gives special importance to the fact of conscience.

a law unto themselves] This may mean “each to himself,” or “each and all to the community.” As to facts, both explanations would hold. Without individual conscience, there could be no public moral code. But we believe the main reference here to be to the public code; to the general consciousness and opinion of heathens that right and wrong are eternally different, and that judgment is to be accordingly hereafter. This consciousness and opinion St Paul regards as influencing heathen minds mutually; as “shewn” in intercourse of thought and speech; as “witnessed to” by individual consciences; as coming out in “reasonings” philosophic or popular, concerning right and wrong; and as all pointing to a great manifestation of the truth of the principle at the Last Day.

Romans 2:14. Ὅταν, when) After Paul has finished the refutation of the perverse judgment of the Jews against the Gentiles, he next proceeds to show the true judgment of God against the latter. He treats here of the Gentiles more directly, for the purpose of convicting them; and yet, what is granted to them in passing, is granted with this end in view, that the Jew may be dealt with the more heavily; but Romans 2:26 treats of the Gentiles quite incidentally, in order to convict the Jew. Wherefore, ὅταν, when, is used here [Romans 2:14]; ἐὰν, if, there [Romans 2:26].—γὰρ for) He gives the reason, why the Gentiles should also be required to be the doers of the law; for when they do ever so little of it, they recognise their obligations to obey it. And yet he shows, that they cannot be justified by the law of nature, or by their ownselves. There are four sentences beginning with the words: when—these—who—the conscience bearing witness along with. The second is explained by the third, the first by the fourth.—ἔθνη) Not, τὰ ἔθνη; some individuals of the Gentiles; and yet there is no man, who does not fulfil some of the requirements of the law (ἐκ τῶν τοῦ νόμου). He did not choose to say ἐθνικοὶ, which is usually taken rather in a bad sense.—μὴ νόμον· νόμον μὴ,—not the law: the law not) Not even here is the change in the arrangement of the words without a reason; in the former place, the not is the emphatic word, so that greater force may be given to the, have not; in the latter place, the word νόμον, the law, contains the emphasis, thus forming an antithesis to the ἑαυτοις, unto themselves. So also, νὁμος, law, has sometimes the article, and sometimes not, and not without a good reason in each instance, Romans 2:13; Romans 2:23; Romans 2:27; Romans 3:19-21; Romans 7:1., etc.—φύσει, by nature) The construction is, μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα φύσει, not having the law by nature.[29] [But Engl. vers. joins nature with do, not with having] precisely as in Romans 2:27, ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία, the uncircumcision by nature, contrary to the Syriac version of Romans 2:27, which connects the word nature with doing, “doing by nature the law.” The Gentiles are by nature (that is, when left to themselves, as they are born, not as individuals, but as nations), destitute of the (written) law; the Jews are by nature Jews, Galatians 2:15, and therefore have by nature the (written) law, ch. Romans 11:24, the end of the verse. Nor yet, however, is there any danger, that the force of the construction, which most follow, do by nature those things, which are of [contained in] the law, should be lost; for what the Gentiles, who have not the law, do, they in reality do by nature. The term law, in the writings of the apostle, does not occur in the philosophical, but in the Hebrew use; therefore, the phrase, natural law, is not found in sacred Scripture; Romans 2:12 shows, that the thing itself is true.—ποιῇ do), not only in actual performance, but also in their inmost thoughts, Romans 2:15, at the end.—οὗτοι, these) This little word turns the collective noun ἔθνη, Gentiles, to a distributive sense [so far to wit as they really do it.—V. g.]—νόμος, a law) What the law is to the Jews, that the Gentiles are to their ownselves.

[29] It may be thought by this interpretation, that the clause which precedes the words, von Natur, in the German version should be omitted to avoid the ambiguity, although, perhaps, the Author knowingly and willingly made use of the ambiguous [equivocal] punctuation.—E. B.

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 2:14When (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.

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