Romans 2:15
Which show 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;)
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(15) Which.—Rather, Inasmuch as they.

The work of the law.—The practical effect or realisation of the law—written in their hearts as the original Law was written upon the tables of stone, (Comp. Jeremiah 31:33; 2Corinthians 3:3.)

Also bearing witness.—Or, witnessing with them, as margin. There is a double witness; their actions speak for them externally, and conscience speaks for them internally.

The mean while.—Rather, literally, as margin, between themselvesi.e., with mutual interchange, the thoughts of the heart or different motions of conscience sometimes taking the part of advocate, sometimes of accuser.

This seems, on the whole, the best way of taking these two words, though some commentators (among them Meyer) regard this quasi personification of “the thoughts” as too strong a figure of speech, and take “between themselves” as referring to the mutual intercourse of man with man. But in that mutual intercourse it is not the thoughts that accuse or defend, but the tongue. The Apostle is speaking strictly of the private tribunal of conscience.

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.Which show - Who thus evince or show.

The work of the law - The design, purpose, or object which is contemplated by the revealed Law; that is, to make known to man his duty, and to enforce the obligation to perform it. This does not mean, by any means, that they had all the knowledge which the Law would impart, for then there would have been no need of a revelation, but that, as far as it went, as far as they had a knowledge of right and wrong, they coincided with the revealed will of God. In other words, the will of God, whether made known by reason or revelation, will be the same so far as reason goes. The difference is that revelation goes further than reason; sheds light on new duties and doctrines; as the information given by the naked eye and the telescope is the same, except, that the telescope carries the sight forward, and reveals new worlds to the sight of man.

Written in their hearts - The revealed Law of God was written on tables of stone, and then recorded in the books of the Old Testament. This law the Gentiles did not possess, but, to a certain extent, the same requirements were written on their hearts. Though not revealed to them as to the Jews, yet they had obtained the knowledge of them by the tight of nature. The word "hearts" here denotes the mind itself, as it does also frequently in the Sacred Scriptures; not the heart, as the seat of the affections. It does not mean that they loved or even approved of the Law, but that they had knowledge of it; and that that knowledge was deeply engraved on their minds.

Their conscience - This word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the morality or immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. It has usually been termed the moral sense, and is a very important principle in a moral government. Its design is to answer the purposes of an ever attendant witness of a man's conduct; to compel him to pronounce on his own doings, and thus to excite him to virtuous deeds, to give comfort and peace when he does right, to deter from evil actions by making him, whether he will or no, his own executioner: see John 8:9; Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; Romans 9:1; 1 Timothy 1:5. By nature every man thus approves or condemns his own acts; and there is not a profounder principle of the divine administration, than thus compelling every man to pronounce on the moral character of his own conduct. Conscience may be enlightened or unenlightened; and its use may be greatly perverted by false opinions. Its province is not to communicate any new truth, it is simply to express judgment, and to impart pleasure or inflict pain for a man's own good or evil conduct. The apostle's argument, does not require him to say that conscience revealed any truth, or any knowledge of duty, to the Gentiles, but that its actual exercise proved that they had a knowledge of the Law of God. Thus, it was a witness simply of that fact.

Bearing witness - To bear witness is to furnish testimony, or proof. And the exercise of the conscience here showed or proved that they had a knowledge of the Law. The expression does not mean that the exercise of their conscience bore witness of anything to them, but that its exercise may be alleged as a proof that they were not without some knowledge of the Law.

And their thoughts - The word "thoughts" (λογισμῶν logismōn) means properly reasonings, or opinions, sentiments, etc. Its meaning here may be expressed by the word "reflections." Their reflections on their own conduct would be attended with pain or pleasure. It differs from conscience, inasmuch as the decisions of conscience are instantaneous, and without any process of reasoning. This supposes subsequent reflection, and it means that such reflections would only deepen and confirm the decisions of conscience.

The mean while - Margin, "Between themselves." The rendering in the margin is more in accordance with the Greek. The expression sometimes means, in the mean time, or at the same time; and sometimes afterward, or subsequently. The Syriac and Latin Vulgate render this mutually. They seem to have understood this as affirming that the pagan among themselves, by their writings, accused or acquitted one another.

Accusing - If the actions were evil.

Excusing - That is, if their actions were good.

One another - The margin renders this expression in connection with the adverb, translated "in the mean while," "between themselves." This view is also taken by many commentators, and this is its probable meaning. If so, it denotes the fact that in their reflections, or their reasonings, or discussions, they accused each other of crime, or acquitted one another; they showed that they had a law; that they acted on the supposition that they had. To show this was the design of the apostle; and there was no further proof of it needed than what he here adduced.

(1) They had a conscience, pronouncing on their own acts; and,

(2) Their reasonings, based on the supposition of some such common and acknowledged standard of accusing or acquitting, supposed the same thing. If, therefore, they condemned or acquitted themselves; if in these reasonings and reflections, they proceeded on the principle that they had some rule of right and wrong, then the proposition of the apostle was made out that it was right for God to judge them, and to destroy them; Romans 2:8-12.

15. their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing—that is, perhaps by turns doing both. By the work of the law, either understand the sum of the law, which is, To love God above all, and our neighbour as ourselves; or the office of the law, which consists in directing what to do, and what to leave undone; or the external actions which the law prescribes.

Written in their hearts; this seems to be a covenant promise and privilege, Jeremiah 31:33; how then is it predicated of the Gentiles?

Answer. Jereramiah speaks there of a special and supernatural inscription or writing in the heart by grace; and the apostle here, of that which is common and natural.

Their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; interchangeably, now one way, anon another. Not as though the thoughts did, at the same time, strive together about the same fact; nor is it meant of divers men, as if good men were excused, and bad men accused, by their own thoughts; but in the same persons there were accusing or excusing thoughts and consciences, as their actions were evil or good. Which show the work of the law written in their hearts,.... Though the Gentiles had not the law in form, written on tables, or in a book, yet they had "the work", the matter, the sum and substance of it in their minds; as appears by the practices of many of them, in their external conversation. The moral law, in its purity and perfection, was written on the heart of Adam in his first creation; was sadly obliterated by his sin and fall; upon several accounts, and to answer various purposes, a system of laws was written on tables of stone for the use of the Israelites; and in regeneration the law is reinscribed on the hearts of God's people; and even among the Gentiles, and in their hearts, there are some remains of the old law and light of nature, which as by their outward conduct appears, so by the inward motions of their minds,

their conscience also bearing witness; for, as the Jews say (r) , "the soul of a man witnesses in him"; for, or against him:

and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another; and this the Heathens themselves acknowledge, when they (s) speak of

"tameion dikasthrion kai krithrion thv suneidhsewv, "the conclave, tribunal and judgment of conscience"; and which they call , "the most righteous judge": whose judgment reason receives, and gives its suffrage to, whether worthy of approbation or reproof; when it reads in the memory as if written on a table the things that are done, and then beholding the law as an exemplar, pronounces itself either worthy of honour or dishonour.''

(r) T. Bab. Chagigah, fol. 16. 1. & Taanith, fol. 11. 1.((s) Hierocles in Carmina Pythagor. p. 81, 206, 209, 213, 214.

Which shew the work of the law {l} written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

(l) This knowledge is a natural knowledge.

Romans 2:15. Οἵτινες κ.τ.λ[653]]. quippe qui. See on Romans 1:25. The οὗτοι of Romans 2:14 are characterised, and consequently the ἙΑΥΤΟῖς ΕἸΣῚ ΝΌΜΟς, just asserted, is confirmed: being such as show (practically by their action, Romans 2:14, make it known) that the work of the law is written in their hearts, wherewithal their conscience bears joint witness, etc.

That ἐνδείκνυνται should be understood of the practical proof which takes place by the ποιεῖν τὰ τοῦ νόμου (not by the testimony of conscience, Bengel, Tholuck) is required by the ΣΥΝ in ΣΥΜΜΑΡΤΥΡΟΎΣΗς, which is not a mere strengthening of the simple word (Köllner, Olshausen; comp Tholuck, following earlier expositors; see, on the other hand, Romans 8:16, Romans 9:1), but denotes the agreement of the internal evidence of conscience with the external proof by fact.[655] It is impossible to regard the ἐνδείκνυνται as taking place on the day indicated in Romans 2:16 (Hofmann), since this day can be no other than that of the last judgment. See on Romans 2:16.

τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου] The work relating to the law, the conduct corresponding to it, fulfilling it. The opposite is ἁμαρτήματα νόμου, Wis 2:12. Compare on Galatians 2:16. The singular is collective (Galatians 6:4), as a summing up of the ἔργα τ. νόμου (Romans 3:20; Romans 3:28, Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:10). Compare τὰ τοῦ νόμου above. This stands written in their hearts as commanded, as moral obligation,[656] as ethical law of nature.

γραπτόν] purposely chosen with reference to the written law of Moses, although the moral law is ἄγραφος (Plato. Legg. p. 481 B, Thuc. ii. 37, 3, and Krüger, in loc[657] p. 200; Xen. Mem. iv. 4, 19; Soph. Ant. 450; Dem. 317, 23, 639, 22; Dion. Hal. vii. 41). Compare Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, and the similar designations among the Rabbins in Buxtorf, Lex Talm. p. 852, 1349. The supplying of ὄν serves to explain the adjective, which is used instead of the participle to denote what continues and is constant. Compare Bornemann, a[658] Xen. Mem. i. 5, 1; Symp. 4, 25. See the truly classic description of this inner law, and that as divine, in Cicero, de Republ. iii. 23; of the Greeks, comp Soph. O. T. 838 ff., and Wunder, in loc[660]

συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν συνειδήσεως, καὶ μεταξὺ κ.τ.λ[661]] While they make known outwardly by their action that the ἔργον of the law is written in their hearts, their inner moral consciousness accords with it; namely (1), in reference to their own, personal relation: the testimony of their own consciences; and (2), in regard to their mutual relation: the accusations or vindications[662] that are carried on between Gentiles and Gentiles (μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων) by their thoughts, by their moral judgments. This view of the sense is required by the correlation of the points αὐτῶν and μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων placed with emphasis in the foreground (μεταξὺ occurring in Paul’s writings only here, and therefore all the more intentionally chosen in this case); so that thus both the personal individual testimony of conscience (αὐτῶν) and the mutual judgment of the thoughts (μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων), are adduced, as accompanying internal acts, in confirmation of the ἐνδείκνυνται. The Gentiles, who do the requirement of the law, practically show thereby that that requirement is inscribed on their hearts; and this is attested at the same time, so far as concerns the actors themselves, by their (following) conscience, and, so far as concerns their relation to other Gentiles, by the accusations or the vindications which they reciprocally practise in their moral thoughts, the one making reflections of a condemnatory or of a justifying nature on the other.[663] The prominence thus given to αὐτῶν and μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, and the antithetical correlation of the two points, have been commonly misunderstood (though not by Castalio, Storr, Flatt, Baumgarten-Crusius), and consequently κ. μετ. ἀλλ. τῶν διαλογ. κ.τ.λ[664] has been taken merely as an explanatory description of the process of conscience, in which the thoughts accuse or vindicate one another (i.e. one thought the other); so that ἀλλήλων is referred to the thoughts, and not, as is nevertheless required by the αὐτῶν standing in contradistinction to it, to the ἜΘΝΗ. This view ought even to have been precluded by attending to the fact that, since ΣΥΜΜΑΡΤ.… ΣΥΝΕΙΔΉΣΕΩς must, in harmony with the context, mean the approving conscience, what follows cannot well suit as an exposition, because in it the κατηγορούντων preponderates. Finally, it was an arbitrary expedient, rendering ΜΕΤΑΞῪ merely superfluous and confusing, to separate it from ἀλλήλ., and to explain the former as meaning at a future time, viz. ἐν ἡμέρᾳ Κ.Τ.Λ[665] (Koppe), or between, at the same time (Köllner, Jatho).

[653] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[655] Where συμμαρτυρεῖν appears to be equivalent to μαρτυρ., it is only an apparent equivalence; there is always mentally implied an agreement with the person for whom witness is borne, as e.g. Thuc. viii. 51, 2; Plat. Hipp. Maj. p. 282 B: συμμαρτυρῆσαι δέ σοι ἔχω ὅτι ἀληθῆ λέγεις, if what is meant is not a testimony agreeing with others (as Xen. Hist. Gr. vii. 1, 2, iii. 3, 2), or, as here, one that agrees with a thing, a phenomenon, a proof by fact, or the like. Compare Isoc. p. 47 A. In the passage, Plat. Legg. iii. p. 680 D, ξυμμαρτυρεῖν is expressly distinguished from μαρτυρ.; for, after the τῷ σῷ λόγῳ ἔοικε μαρτυρεῖν preceding, the ναί· ξυμμαρτυρεῖ γάρ must mean: he is my joint-witness, whose evidence agrees with what I say. If the reference of συμ. in our passage to the proof by fact be not adopted, then αὐτοῖς would need be supplied; but wherefore should we do so? According to Tholuck συμ. indicates merely the agreement of the person witnessing with the contents of his testimony. This is never the case, and would virtually deprive the συμ- of all significance.

[656] This inward law is not the conscience itself, but the regulative contents of the consciousness of the conscience; consequently, if we conceive the latter, and with justice (in opposition to Rud. Hofmann, Lehre vom Gewissen, 1866, p. 54, 58 f.), as presented in the form of a syllogism, it forms the subject of the major premise of this syllogism. Comp. Delitzsch, bibl. Psychol. p. 136 f.

[657] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

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

[660] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[661] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[662] The καί added to the is based on the view taken of the moral state of the Gentiles, that the κατηγορεῖν forms the rule. See Baeumlein, Partik. p. 126.

[663] Compare Weiss, bibl. Theol. p. 277: “It is testified by the conscience, which teaches them to judge the quality of their own and others’ actions.”

[664] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[665] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.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.15. which shew] The relative pronoun is the same as in Romans 1:25, where see note. It marks a condition: “they are a law to themselves, inasmuch as, &c.”

shew the work of the law written in their hearts] “The work of the law” has been explained as if collective for “works;” but this is ill-supported by real parallels. It is better to explain it as “what the law does,” than as “what is done for the law’s sake;” and thus it means the teaching of the Difference of right and wrong (see Romans 3:20). This “work,” done in an intense degree by the law, is done in a lower degree by conscience alone; but the work is the same in kind. The sense of wrong and right, which it is the law’s work to produce fully, is somehow and in some measure, without the law, “written” in heathen “hearts.” (On the word heart see note to Romans 1:21.)—“They shew:”—this word may of course refer to subjective discovery; each man shewing it to himself, finding it in his experience. But it better suits the word to take it of mutual manifestations: language and conduct, in heathen communities, shewing the objective reality of the convictions which individuals are aware of.—“Written:”—for this metaphor, no doubt suggested by the tablets of Sinai, cp. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.

their conscience also bearing witness] Lit. bearing witness with, bearing concurrent witness. What is the concurrence? It may be “of conscience with itself,” in its different verdicts. But, on our view of the passage, it is “with the common conviction.” Individual consciences affirm the common conviction of moral distinctions which they find around them.

In Romans 9:1 the witness of conscience is again appealed to, with the same verb: lit. “bearing witness with me” See note there.

and their thoughts, &c.] Better, and between one another their reckonings (or reasonings) accusing, or, it may be, defending. The Gr. of “thought” specially means reasoning thought, not intuition. It can hardly be a mere synonym of conscience, which (at least in practice) is intuitive. The meaning is either “their consciences are ratified in their verdicts by their private reasonings on particular cases;” or, as seems better on our view, “the fact of their moral sense is evinced by their reasonings on right and wrong;” e.g. by Treatises and Dialogues in which ethical questions are discussed. “Between one another” thus refers not to one mind’s balance of thought with thought, but to arguments of man with man. St Paul says nothing of the Tightness of these reasonings in particular cases, but of the moral significance of the fact of them.Romans 2:15. Ἐνδείκνυνται, they show) [demonstrate] to themselves, to others, and, in some respects, to God Himself.—τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου, the work of the law), the law itself, with its practical [active] operation. It is opposed to the letter, which is but an accident [not its essence].—γραπτὸν, written), a noun, not a participle, much less an infinitive [to be written]. Paul, by way of contrast, alludes to the tables of Moses. This writing is antecedent to the doing of those things, which are contained in the law; but afterwards, when any one has done, or (has not done) the things commanded, [the demonstration, or] the showing [of the work of the law] follows, and that permanent writing [viz., that on the heart] becomes more clearly apparent—συμμαρτυρούσης, simultaneously bearing witness) An allegory; the prosecution, the criminal, the witnesses are in court; conscience is a witness; the thoughts accuse, or also defend. Nature, and sin itself, bear witness: conscience bears witness along with them.—αὐτῶν) of themselves, or their own.—τῆς συνειδήσεως, the conscience) The soul has none of its faculties less under its own control, than conscience. So συνείδησις and λογισμός are joined, Wis 17:11-12.—μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, between one another) as prosecutor and criminal. This expression is put at the beginning of the clause for the sake of emphasis, inasmuch as thoughts implicated in the trial with thoughts, are opposed to conscience referred to the law.—τῶν λογισμῶν κατηγορούντων, their thoughts accusing) Some explain [analyse] the words thus: the thoughts, which accuse, testifying simultaneously [taken from συμμαρτυρούσης]; but thoughts accusing [τῶν λογισμῶν κατηγορούντων] is an expression, which stands by itself.—ἤ καὶ, or even) The concessive particle, even, shows that the thoughts have far more to accuse, than defend, and the defence itself (comp. 2 Corinthians 7:11, defending or clearing of yourselves) does not extend to the whole, but only to a part of the conduct, and this very part in turn proves us to be debtors as to the whole, Romans 1:20.—ἀπολογουμένων, [excusing] defending). We have an example at Genesis 20:4.Which shew (οἵτινες ἐνδείκνυνται)

Rev., better, in that they shew, the double relative specifying the class to which they belong, and therefore the reason for what precedes. Shew, properly, in themselves (ἐν).

The work of the law

The conduct corresponding to the law.

Their conscience also bearing witness (συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν τῆς συνειδήσεως)

For conscience, see on 1 Peter 3:16. The force of ούν with the verb is therewith; i.e., with the prescript of the law, respecting the agreement or disagreement of the act with it. So Rev.

The meanwhile (μεταξὺ)

Rev. renders with one another. Their thoughts one with another. The phrase μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων is variously explained. Some alternately, now acquitting and now condemning. Others, among themselves, as in internal debate. So Alford, "thought against thought in inner strife." Others again, accusations or vindications carried on between Gentiles and Gentiles. As the other parts of the description refer to the individual soul in itself and not to relations with others, the explanation expressed in Rev. - the mutual relations and interchanges of the individual thoughts - seems preferable.

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