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 F17: the written law is that which was used in commonwealths; and that (kata eyh) (ginomenov) , "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.
F17 Laertii Vit. Philosoph. l. 3. in Vita Platon.