Romans 2 Study Notes
2:1 Some interpreters think Paul is speaking about Gentile moralists in vv. 1-16, and then Jews beginning at v. 17. The majority of scholars, however, see the Jew as the subject throughout chap. 2. Judgment and condemnation follow sin as night follows day. Not all people commit the same sins, but all show by their judging and criticism that they do not live up to the moral law they know. No one is without excuse.
2:2 The coming judgment will be based on God’s truth, which no amount of human opinion or protest can alter.
|Greek pronunciation||[PRAHSS oh]|
|Uses in Romans||10|
|Uses in the NT||39|
|Focus passage||Romans 2:1-3|
In ancient Greek, the verb prasso had a variety of meanings, such as to practice, effect, transact, negotiate, manage, achieve, accomplish, and make. The term could also mean to mind one’s own affairs or business. In general, prasso meant to do or to act and could refer to almost any action. The corresponding noun praxis means deed, action, or practice; the plural form of this term is the first word of the Greek name for the book of Acts (Praxeis Apostolon, “Actions of [the] Apostles”).
Prasso in the NT ordinarily follows standard Greek usage. The term commonly emphasizes the experience in an action rather than just the action itself. It can refer to doing good (Ac 26:20; Rm 2:25; Php 4:9; 1Th 4:11), but most often it refers to habitual evil actions (Lk 22:23; 23:15,41; Jn 3:20; Ac 3:17; 19:19,36; 2Co 12:21; Gl 5:21), especially in Romans (1:32; 2:1-3; 7:15,19; 13:4).
2:3 There will be no escape from God’s coming judgment. Human systems of justice often break down. Stalin killed more than twenty million people and yet died in his own bed at age seventy-four. Death offered him no escape from God’s justice. All humans, great and small, will be raised to stand before God’s judgment (14:10; Rv 20:11-15). The wise course is to settle your case with God before the judgment (Mt 5:25-26).
2:5 Like water pooling up behind a dam, people accumulate a debt of wrath as they continue to reject God’s grace. One day the dam will break, and the flood of divine wrath will sweep up individuals and entire societies.
2:6-10 This is a controversial passage. The most likely interpretation is that works are the outcome of a person’s faith. Christians are declared righteous by faith. At the moment of that declaration, the person is joined to Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, becoming a new creation (2Co 5:17) created for good works (Eph 2:10). As Paul wrote, “what matters is faith working through love” (Gl 5:6). Thus the person of faith who seeks glory, honor, and immortality and continues to do good demonstrates that he is truly regenerate and thus is assured of eternal life. To the person who obeys unrighteousness and disobeys truth, however, wrath is his destiny.
2:11 No one should think that God’s judgment is tainted with favoritism. He is a just Judge of both Jews and Gentiles.
2:12 This verse introduces the Mosaic law into the discussion of the coming judgment. The law will be considered throughout the remainder of Romans. The Jews saw the Mosaic law as key in the difference between Jews and Gentiles; Paul teaches that the law does not save a person but only reveals sin as people fall short of the law’s requirements. Thus in the judgment, the possession of the law will be a basis of condemnation.
2:13 Deuteronomy 6:4 calls Israel to listen to the declaration of God’s identity, but Dt 6:5 states that mere listening is not enough. One must love God with the whole heart, which entails obedience. And yet no one will be justified by obeying the law, for no one obeys the law perfectly (Rm 3:20,23; Gl 2:16; Jms 2:8-11). The only righteous doer of the law was Jesus.
2:14-15 The Gentiles do not have the Mosaic law as a moral guide, but they do have an inner law that informs their conscience. All humans have this as a component of their being created in God’s image (Gn 1:26). Immanuel Kant spoke of “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” This moral law will accuse or even excuse daily moral choices, but ultimately demonstrates that all people fall short of God’s holiness.
2:16 God knows every secret, and Jesus will be the final Judge (Jn 5:22-30; Ac 17:31). The coming judgment will be according to truth, proportional to the rejection of revelation received, according to deeds done, without partiality, and in response to the gospel.
2:17-20 Jew was the name given to people who returned to Judea from exile, but later it was extended to cover all Hebrew people (Israelites) wherever they lived. Paul listed eight grounds on which Jews rested their sense of moral superiority over the Gentiles; three times he cited the law as a grounds. The Jews believed that God had granted them special privileges and given them a mission to bring light to the Gentiles (Is 42:6-7). True enough. And yet Jesus taught, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected” (Lk 12:48). Furthermore, Jesus warned the religious leaders, “on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt 23:28). Mere possession of the law does not win divine favor.
2:21-23 Following Jesus’s example, Paul exposed Jewish hypocrisy. He did so with a series of five rhetorical questions that indicted his people for lacking essential righteousness. Paul did not mean that every Jew committed all these sins but that all transgress the law and lack the righteousness to enter God’s presence. Jesus taught that even the thought of adultery violates the law (Mt 5:27-28). Paul knew from his own experience that his heart was full of covetousness (Rm 7:7-10) and therefore unrighteous. There are examples of all five literal violations from contemporary accounts, including a famous case in Rome of sacrilege. The history of the Jewish nation was full of unrighteous acts. Stephen asked, “Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?” (Ac 7:52). The religious leaders of the nation were instrumental in putting Jesus to death, Stephen was stoned by the Sanhedrin, and James the Just (half brother of Jesus) was killed in the temple area.
2:24 Paul cited Is 52:5 from the Greek OT (the Septuagint, or LXX) as support that Jewish sin resulted in God’s name being dishonored among the pagan nations when the Jews were defeated and exiled. To pagan perception, the Lord seemed powerless since he did not protect his people.
2:25-29 Circumcision was a sign and seal of a covenant that God made with Israel (Ex 12:44-49). The rite went back to Abraham and the covenant God made with him (Gn 17:9-14). Circumcision became a badge of Jewish identity and, it was thought, a guarantee of salvation. Some later rabbis even taught that Abraham sat at the entrance to Gehenna (“hell”) and would not permit any circumcised Jew to enter there. By implication, the way you lived made no difference. In a similar way, some Christian groups have believed that the rite of baptism saves, and so baptism was delayed until the end of life to make sure all sins were “washed.” But Paul declared that circumcision (and by extension, baptism) without obedience is empty. Furthermore, Abraham was a man of faith who was accepted by God long before he was circumcised (Gn 15:1-20). The true Jew is one who has a spiritual circumcision . . . of the heart.