The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Romans 2

Rom 2:1

Rom 2: The question is asked: How can justification take place without the works of the law, even though James says: 'Faith without works is dead'? In answer, the apostle distinguishes between the law and faith, the letter and grace. "The 'works of the law' are works done without faith and grace, by the law, which forces them to be done through fear or the enticing promise of temporal advantages. But 'works of faith' are those done in the spirit of liberty, purely out of love to God. And they can be done only by those who are justified by faith... Paul does not say that faith is without its characteristic works, but that it justifies without the works of the law. Therefore justification does not require the works of the law; but it does require a living faith, which performs its works" (ML).

YOU, THEREFORE, HAVE NO EXCUSE...: The implication in the opening verse is that a Jewish listener, heartily endorsing the verdict rendered concerning the Gentiles, fails to realize his own plight. True judgment rests on the ability to discern the facts in a given case. If one is able to see the sin and hopelessness of the Gentile, he should logically be able to see himself as being in the same predicament. But he is so taken up with the faults of others that he does not consider his own failures (cf Mat 7:2,3). The charge that he who passes judgment does the same things he sees in others is enlarged in Rom 2:17-24.

WHO PASS JUDGMENT: Which is contrary to Christ's commandments: Mat 7:1; Luk 6:37; Rom 14:3,10,13; 1Co 4:3,5.

"Hypocrisy is a real killer. Often it seems not nearly so obvious to the hypocrite themselves, yet others (and especially children and teenagers) can spot it a mile off. Hypocrisy happens when our word and actions don't match. There are two ways we are shown in this chapter that warn us against having mismatched words and actions.

"The first is by passing judgement on someone else when we ourselves do the same thing. It is important to look at ourselves critically as we look at other people, because if we do that we will become much more humble and realize that we too, all too often, fall under the same condemnation as we dish out to them.

"The second concerns our teaching. Paul put it best: 'You then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?' Let us always be sure that our words and our actions go hand in hand so that God's name is not blasphemed" (RP).

Rom 2:3

GOD'S JUDGMENT: Gr "krima" = the great and terrible "day of the LORD", when Christ shall be the righteous judge of the world, on behalf of the Father (Act 17:31). Cp v 5n.

Rom 2:4

DO YOU SHOW CONTEMPT: "Kataphroneo": the think lightly of. The KJV has "despisest", but the Jew did not despise His God; he rather treated Him lightly, or disesteemed Him.

THE RICHES OF HIS KINDNESS: Cp "RICHES of his glory" (Rom 9:23), and "the depth of the RICHES of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom 11:33).

The kindness, or goodness, of God is revealed in the Hope of Israel: the gospel of salvation. Isa 63:7 describes His goodness to a rebellious house of Israel.

TOLERANCE: Demonstrated in 400 years, more or less, of tolerance until the sin of the Amorites reached its full measure (Gen 15:16), and the 40 further years He waited while Israel filled up "the measure of the sin of your forefathers" (Mat 23:32).

But God's tolerance, or forbearance, can actually produce a scornful attitude with his people Israel, as though that forbearance were but a confirmation of their security, if not a sign of weakness on God's part. "Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is fully set to do evil" (Ecc 8:11).

PATIENCE: "Macrothumia", slowness in avenging wrongs. As in the time of Noah (1Pe 3:20).

LEADS YOU TOWARD REPENTANCE: God desires repentance and not (only) sacrifice (1Sa 15:22). Repentance ("metanoia") sig a change, a reversal -- the sorrow for sins committed in a secondary aspect of true "repentance"; there must be a desertion of the past way of life.

Rom 2:5

STUBBORNNESS: "Sklerotes": callous, hard. Stubbornness was a natural characteristic of Israel (Isa 30:8,9). See Exo 14:12; Act 13:44-46.

UNREPENTANT: Gr "ametanoetos": lit, without change (in ct v 4).

Hard-heartedness is first seen in Pharaoh (Exo 4:21; 7:3,13; 8:15,32; 9:12,34; 10:1,20,27; 11:10; 14:4,8). So when this description is used of anyone in Israel, it is very pointed: 'You are being like the oppressing Egyptians from whom I have delivered you!' Cp Deu 15:7; 2Ch 36:13; Psa 95:8; Isa 63:17; Mark 10:5; 16:14; John 12:40; Rom 2:5.

YOU ARE STORING UP: "Thesaurizo", from a root meaning a "treasure" (cp AV translation). There is an intended irony: the only "treasure" such men and women will have is the wrath of God. The faithful, on the other hand, store up treasures of wisdom and spiritual riches (Mat 6:20).

WHEN HIS RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT WILL BE REVEALED: The theme of condemnation, running through Romans, and esp Rom 1:16 to Rom 3:20, is directed against the Judaizers. This condemnation falls upon all that cling to Law as a means of justification from sin; both Israel after the flesh and Israel after the Spirit.

The future day of judgment: 2Pe 3:7,10.

Rom 2:6

// Mat 16:24-28; Rev 22:12.

Rom 2:7

PERSISTENCE IN DOING GOOD: "All progress begins one step at a time. There is no sudden leap to greatness. Good work done little by little becomes a great work. The house of success is built brick by brick.

"You can do what you want to do, achieve what you want to achieve, attain any reasonable objective you may have in mind. Not all of a sudden, nor in one sweeping act of achievement. You will do it gradually, day by day and play by play. If you want to do it, if you work to do it, you will accomplish your goal over a sufficient period of time.

"Your big accomplishments will be a series of little accomplishments. Many strokes overthrow the tallest oak" (MT).

PERSISTENCE: Gr "hupomone": a remaining under, hence a bearing up under hardship. Note the patience and persistence of Christ: 2Th 3:5; 1Th 1:3; Heb 12:1,2; Mat 24:13; Heb 10:36; Jam 5:7-11. Consider also Jam 5:11 and Heb 6:15.

Can one EARN eternal life? "At the very least, it is safe to say that [Paul] is not contradicting what he says later about the impossibility of having salvation by means of the works of the law (Rom 3:20). Far from teaching a system of salvation by works, the statement of v 7, rightly understood, teaches the opposite. 'The reward of eternal life... is promised to those who do not regard their good works as an end in themselves, but see them as marks not of human achievement but of hope in God. Their trust is not in their good works, but in God, the only source of glory, honor, and incorruption' (Barrett). Paul is simply portraying the motivation and the tenor of the life that will culminate in eternal fellowship with God... The good works the believer performs do not bring him salvation, but they attest the salvation he has received by faith (Rom 6:22), and therefore have an essential function (cf Eph 2:8-10)" (EBC).

Rom 2:8

REJECT: "Apeitheo": to be disobedient: cp 1Pe 3:1; 4:17. The opposite of "peitheo", to be persuaded or won over, signifying a habitual course of action. One who knows the Truth, but knowingly and willingly refuses to act upon it.


WRATH AND ANGER: "Thumos" and "orge": hot anger of passion, and a settled, lasting emotion.

Rom 2:9

TROUBLE: "Thlipsis": affliction, a pressing or pressure, that which burdens the spirit. Hence the English "depression". Cp 2Th 1:6.

DISTRESS: "Stenochoria", lit narrowness of place. No possibility of escape.

DOES: Gr "prasso", to practice or perform habitually: cp 1Jo 3:4,9; John 3:20,21; 5:29.

EVIL: Gr "kakos", generically bad. It embraces every form of evil whether moral and physical, and denotes that which is useless, incapable or bad.

Rom 2:10

PEACE: "Eirene": rest in ct to strife. As influenced by the Heb "shalom", sig a state of health or wellbeing, a peace with God (Phi 4:6-9). Yahweh is the God of peace: Rom 15:33; 16:20p; 1Th 5:23; Heb 13:20.


Rom 2:11

FOR GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM: This is the truth that Peter learned in the Cornelius incident (Acts 10:34; see also 1Pe 1:17; Eph 6:9; Col 3:2; Jam 2:1). Paul explains this in the following verses.

Rom 2:12

"As many as have sinned (in disobeying the truth, v 8) outside covenant relationship, will perish when Christ comes. Their doom is sealed. But as many as have sinned in covenant relationship will be judged, for they have stood related to a possible reception of glory, honor and immortality" (CRom 29).

APART FROM LAW: Or "without law": that is, those outside covenant relationship but possessing a knowledge of the Truth (cp v 8: "reject the truth").

UNDER THE LAW: This is better than the KJV "in the law". "Under" here points to those who came within the scope of the privileges, responsibilities and judgments of a Law.

Rom 2:13

Vv 13-15 are parenthetical. V 12 may be followed by v 16 for continuity of argument.

We have a reminder in Jam 1:22-24 of the ease with which the Jew could hear the law read and still go away without any effect on his life and conduct. Those who will be "declared righteous" are the doers of the law (v 13). This is the first occurrence in Romans of the important expression "be declared righteous", which will be elaborated in Rom 3.

NOT THOSE WHO HEAR THE LAW: See Mat 7:15-21; Act 10:35; 1Jo 2:29; 3:7,10.

THOSE WHO OBEY THE LAW: See Jam 2:22-24.

Rom 2:14

DO BY NATURE: No one by nature is righteous (see Rom 1:18-32). This passage relates to CONVERTED Gentiles, whose minds have taken on the teaching of God. Such Gentiles keep God's law, not by any outward show of formalism, but by a new nature which is begotten by the gospel which enlightened their consciences.

THEY ARE A LAW FOR THEMSELVES: That is, the law is a part of them. They are the embodiment of God's law. Now, when they sin, their consciences can accuse and correct their actions (v 15). A believing Gentile, then, is more "righteous" than a natural Israelite because the former absorbs into his conscience the things which he hears, whereas the Israelite has paid no heed.

Rom 2:15

THEIR THOUGHTS NOW ACCUSING, NOW EVEN DEFENDING THEM: Their IMMEDIATE judge (the enlightened conscience) can inform them as to what their ULTIMATE judge will say about their actions -- giving them an opportunity for self-correction before it is too late.

Rom 2:16

ON THE DAY WHEN GOD WILL JUDGE MEN'S SECRETS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST: "We commend to the serious consideration of everyone interested, the sobering fact that there is a day appointed when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked. It is a fact that will encourage, strengthen, and sustain every person who, having been enlightened and joined the brotherhood of Christ, is working with a single eye, as seeing him who is invisible: and it is a fact that, vividly realized, will correct and purify those who, in a similar position, may be suffering themselves to be diverted from the path of truth and duty by considerations of a temporal nature. The record of the judgement seat is written now in the lives of those who will appear there" (XdmAst 87).

THE DAY: Psa 75:2; Ecc 12:14; Heb 9:27; 2Ti 4:1; Mat 12:36; Joh 12:48; 1Co 4:5.

SECRETS: 1Co 4:5; Ecc 12;14; Heb 4:13. Many an act that seems entirely praiseworthy to those who observe it may actually be wrongly motivated, and contrariwise some things that seem to men to merit stern disapproval may pass muster in this supreme court because the intention behind the deed was praiseworthy.

Rom 2:17

Vv 17-24: Here Paul begins to engage in dialogue with a representative Jew, and his razor-sharp irony is superb for its deftness. He proceeds to build up the Jew, citing his various distinctions and appearing to appreciate them (vv 17-20), only to swing abruptly into a frontal assault by exposing the inconsistency between his claims and his conduct (vv 21-24). The Jew was characterized by his reliance on the law, given by God through Moses. It came as the result of a relationship with God enjoyed by no other people. In Paul's time some of the leaders of Judaism were making such extravagant statements about the law as to put it virtually in the place of God. Many Jews were trying to keep the law for its own sake, to honor the law rather than its giver. This tendency was even more developed after the fall of Jerusalem, when the law became the rallying point for a nation that had lost its holy city and its temple.

Paul concedes that the use of the law will bring knowledge of God's will and a recognition of its superior teaching. But this is not all, for the Jew thinks that this advantage makes him superior to the Gentile. To paraphrase Paul: 'You come to the Gentile and propose yourself as a guide for his blindness (when, as a matter of fact, as I have already shown, he has a light and a law as well as you). You come to the Gentile as though he were dumb and childish, giving you the whip hand, which you thoroughly relish. To you they are mere infants, knowing next to nothing.' By employing terms actually used by the Jews for the Gentiles, one after the other, not once suggesting that the Gentile has anything to his credit, but invariably magnifying the Jew, Paul has succeeded in exposing Jewish pride and boasting as utterly ridiculous.

IF YOU CALL YOURSELF A JEW: With all the heritage and exclusiveness which that name carried.

IF YOU RELY ON THE LAW: "In the Law the Jew saw the Magna Carta which gave him his assurance of salvation" (Meyer).

AND BRAG ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD: As though that gave him an exclusive claim to His favor. Cp Deu 4:7; Psa 135:4; Isa 48:1; Jer 7:4.

Rom 2:18

APPROVE OF WHAT IS SUPERIOR: AV mg has "triest the things that differ". Being able to discriminate between good and evil (cp Phi 1:10), they could intelligently reject the vain philosophy of the Greeks.

YOU ARE INSTRUCTED BY THE LAW: "Katecheo", orally instructed, taught by word of mouth. By the constant reading and hearing of the law in the synagogues (and some homes) the Jew was more familiar with its contents.

Rom 2:19

A GUIDE TO THE BLIND: But it was not always so (Mat 15:14), and of course that was the point!

A LIGHT: Psa 119:105; Isa 49:6,9,10.

Rom 2:20

A TEACHER OF INFANTS: Those young in understanding (1Co 3:1; Heb 5:13; 1Pe 2:2). But, again, this is ironic!

THE EMBODIMENT OF KNOWLEDGE AND TRUTH: But if the Jew failed to see Christ in the words of Scripture, then he would have only the FORM of godliness whilst denying the POWER (2Ti 3:5).

Rom 2:21

Vv 21-24: Abruptly the shadow-boxing turns aggressive and the blows become lethal as the Jew is confronted by the disparity between what he teaches others as the will of God and his own manner of life. The thrust loses nothing of its forthrightness by being posed in a series of questions, for the effect is to turn the complacent Jew back on himself to search his own soul.

The indictment is summarized by the general charge of breaking the very law the Jew boasts of (v 23). In fact, the failure is so notorious that even non-Israelites notice the discrepancy. At this point Paul introduces a quotation from Isa 52:5. God has been obliged to chasten his disobedient people by permitting them to go into captivity, where their captors make sport of their God who was apparently unable to prevent their deportation (cf Eze 36:20,21). But there also the fault lay not with God but with his people who had refused to take His law seriously.

YOU, THEN, WHO TEACH OTHERS, DO YOU NOT TEACH YOURSELF?: Thus showing, by your own actions, your hypocrisy: Mat 7:3; 23:3.

DO YOU STEAL?: By withholding from God what was rightfully His (Mal 1:8; 3:8; Mar 11:17).

Rom 2:22

DO YOU COMMIT ADULTERY?: The Jew was so quick to seek out and condemn the adulterous woman (John 8:3-11), and yet he could secretly (Mat 5:27,28) and hard-heartedly (Mat 19:8) commit with impunity the same offence (Mat 5:31,32).

DO YOU ROB TEMPLES: "A cognate of the same word occurs in Acts 19:37, where it covers sacrilege in the general sense of desecrating sacred things. But in this passage in Romans a precise, strong contrast is intended. The Jew who has been taught to abhor idols is charged with laying hands on them for the sake of profit. This may sound inconceivable, but if the robbery was directed at the offerings brought to the idol, this was tantamount to robbing the idol and thereby desecrating the temple. Ancient temples were repositories of treasure and were therefore a source of temptation to the avaricious (cf Jos Ant 4:207)" (EBC).

Rom 2:23

A statement of summary to the previous verses. " 'How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?" (Jer 8:8,9).

Rom 2:24

Paul quotes from Isa 52:5, where, on account of Israel's continual sins against Yahweh's Law, the nations were caused to blaspheme Israel's God. David's sin against Uriah brought the same result: "By doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt -- or blaspheme!" (2Sa 12:14).

Rom 2:25

"Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law" (Gal 5:3).

BUT IF YOU BREAK THE LAW: And ALL did! Rom 3:23.

AS THOUGH YOU HAD NOT BEEN CIRCUMCISED: Because cursed by the very law that established circumcision (Gen 17:14).

Rom 2:26

"Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts" (1Co 7:19). "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal 5:6). "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation" (Gal 6:15). "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2Co 5:17).

Rom 2:29

CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART: Cf Deu 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:25,26.

PRAISE: The word Jew, coming from the Heb "Judah", sig "praise" (Gen 49:8). But the Jew loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43). To them circumcision was the occasion for glorying in their own flesh (Gal 6:12,13)... in direct contrast to the principle of the gospel of Christ: "so that no one may boast before him" (1Co 1:29).

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