The Sinfulness of the Jews; Their Need of the Gospel.
SUMMARY.--He who Condemns Others Condemns Himself. God's Judgments According to Truth; without Respects of Persons or Race. Having the Law does not Justify without Obedience to the Law. The Jews Condemned by their own Law. Circumcision Cannot Save. The True Circumcision that of the Heart.
1-16. Therefore thou art inexcusable. Paul has just shown that the Gentiles are great sinner, and are without excuse before God ( 1:32 ). The Jew, however, would pronounce that conclusion just, but would excuse himself. Hence Paul makes the application to them also. Whosoever thou art. Verse 17 shows that the Jews are in the apostle's mind. Besides, the Jews, filled with spiritual pride, were greatly given to judging others. Another. The Greek says "the other;" the other division of the world, the Gentiles. Thou condemnest thyself. Because he practices the very thing he condemns in others. 2. The judgment of God is according to truth. According to the facts, to character. God does not show partiality. All guilty persons are under condemnation alike, whether Jew or Gentile. 3. Thinkest thou. It seems to us strange folly for the Jew to regard Gentile sinners under condemnation, but fancy that he might do the same things, and yet escape the judgment of God. Still this error is not confined to the Jews. Many a sinner persuades himself that his own sins, the very sins he condemns in others, will go unpunished. 4. Or despisest thou? Dost thou go further still, and not only expect to escape God's wrath for sin, but dost thou even abuse his love? The riches. The overflowing abundance. Long-suffering. Shown in long bearing with the sinner. Leadeth thee to repentance. The purpose of God's goodness and forbearance is not to encourage sin, but to appeal to man's better nature, give him further opportunity, and lead him to repentance. 5. But. Instead of being led to repentance by God's mercy, the sinner has abused it with a hard and impenitent heart, and thus has aggravated his sin. Treasured up . . . wrath. By continuing in sin he has made his guilt and condemnation greater. Against the day of wrath. The day, surely to come, when God's judgments will be inflicted. Revelation of the righteous judgment. This will only be fully revealed at the day of judgment. That day is meant. 6. Who will render. Sinners escape punishment for a time, and hence think they will escape altogether, but God will render, at the final day of judgment, to every man according to his works, whether he be sinner or saint, Jew or Gentile. 7. To them. First, the apostle speaks of the reward that shall be given to those that live holy lives. By patient continuance. No one can please God who only lives a holy life at times. The Christian life is not spasmodic. There must be constant effort, patient perseverance, a constant seeking. Luke 8:15 , in the parable of the sower, says the good ground represents those "who have the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." Seek. Future salvation is thus described as an object of pursuit. It is "glory," because of a glorious life; "honor," because it is a reward. Immortality. This is rendered by the Revision, "Incorruption;" it is not subject to decay. Eternal life. This sums up what God bestows on those who seek glory, etc., by "a patient continuance in well doing." 8. But unto them. God rewards the righteous according to their works as described in verse 7 ; so also the wicked, as this verse describes. Contentious. Who seek their own way, instead of God's way, and contend against God. Do not obey the truth. God's law is truth. Sinners fight against God and "obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness." This verse describes the character of the wicked. The next verse declares God's judgment upon them. 9. Tribulation and anguish. God, the righteous ruler, is displeased and indignant, and hence sends the sore punishment of "tribulation and anguish." "One refers to the external weight of affliction; the other to the inward sense of that weight." Upon every soul. Upon every evil doer, whether Jew or Gentile. Of the Jew first. The Jew stood first in opportunity ( 1:16 ); hence is first in responsibility. The Greek. The whole Gentile world is meant, as in 1:16 ; the great race whose culture had spread over the world being taken as the representative of all but the Jews. The emphatic thought is that the Jew, as well as the Gentile, shall be rendered unto according to his works. 10. Glory, honor, peace. The blessed reward of those who work good, in contrast with him that "worketh evil," is presented in these terms. See notes on verse 7. Peace. Full content. He whose cup of blessing is full enjoys peace in its fullest sense. 11. There is no respect of persons. Greek, as well as Jew, if he works good, shall have the same blessed rewards. Compare Acts 10:34 Acts 10:35 . God is impartial in the blessings conferred, as well as in his punishments. 12. For as many as have sinned without law. As many as shall be found in sin, at the judgment, without a special revelation of the law of God. While the Mosaic law is in the mind of the apostle, the statement is general. The principle is one of universal application. Those have sinned who have not lived up to their light. Shall perish without law. They shall be judged and condemned without reference to the standards of revealed law. Law, in this verse, has no article in the Greek. When so used it means law in general. When, as occurs so often in Romans, it has the Greek definite article before it, the Mosaic law is meant. Observe that the Revision omits the article (the) in this verse. As many as have sinned under the law. Under a revelation of God's will. These shall be judged by it, and condemned for disobedience to its commands. 13. For not the hearers of the law. Not the law, but a law, as in the Revision. The possession of a revelation will not save, but obedience to it. While a general statement is made, Paul has an eye upon the Jews. Their law could not make them righteous unless it was obeyed. Justified. Accounted righteous; not held to be guilty. 14. When Gentiles, which have no law. No revelation, such as the Jews had. They had a law of nature ( Romans 1:18 Romans 1:32 ). Do by nature the things of the law. Paul has shown how the general principle that God "will render to every man according to his works" applies to the Jews; they will be judged by law, and only law-doers will be justified. He now shows that the same principle applies to the Gentiles. They have no revealed and written law like the Jews, but in case Gentiles, without it, should keep the things contained in the law, the moral principles of the law of Moses, they are a law unto themselves. Their consciences and moral sense are a law. The apostle does not say that this was the rule among the Gentiles, but applies the principle to the very rare instances of Gentiles of pure character. 15. Which shew. Such Gentiles, not having the law, are a law to themselves, for they show forth in their lives that the essential principles of the law are written in their hearts. Not only do their outward acts testify, but their consciences, which condemn or approve their own acts, or those of others. That is, their consciences testify as to distinctions between right and wrong. They have a moral sense. 16. In the day. These principles of judgment shall prevail in the day when God shall judge the world. The secrets of men. Men's lives are often hidden from their fellow-men, but at the judgment every secret shall be made manifest. He now adds that this judgment, which all are ready to admit, will be through Jesus Christ. He shall be the Judge; and it will be according to the gospel which Paul preached. The gospel will save or condemn men. By the words of Christ shall men be judged.
17-24. Behold, thou art called a Jew. Already, in the argument of verses 1-16 , Paul has shown that all men, Jew or Gentile, will be judged according to their deeds, whether they have the law or not. Now he applies the argument directly to the Jew, in order to show his need of the gospel as well as the Gentile. Verses 17-20 state what the Jew claimed for himself. Called a Jew. To him the word "Jew" had a meaning much like "Christian" to us. It meant to him one of God's people. Rested upon law. There is no article before law in the Greek. The Jew had law, in this case the law, for his foundation. Makest thy boast of God. Boasted of God's favor to his race. 18. Knowest his will. As revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures in the hands of the Jews. Approvest the things that are more excellent. Instructed in the law, the Jew approved by word its excellent moral principles. 19. A guide to the blind. It was God's purpose that in choosing Israel the Israelites should become teachers of the truth; but their sin was that while they boasted of this privilege they failed to do their duty. Such a boast as this was current among the Jews of Paul's time. He heaps phrase on phrase to exalt their claims, in order to show in what follows how far short their lives fell of their professions. 20. Which hast the form of knowledge. In the law they had the form, the pattern, of knowledge and of the truth. The truth in its fulness came with Jesus Christ ( John 1:17 ), but the law was the pattern, the typical form, of this truth. 21. Thou therefore who teachest another. Having just described the proud claims of the Jews, he next inquires how their practice corresponds. He who teaches others how to live, does he teach himself how to live? Dost thou steal? Some of the essential principles of the law which the Jews supposed to teach to others. The decalogue forbade stealing, but the Jews were already proverbial for their tricky methods of trade. 22. Commit adultery. In spite of the strictness of their decalogue and moral code, the lax divorce practices of the Jews permitted adultery ( Matthew 19:8 Matthew 19:9 ), and the Talmud says that some of the most celebrated rabbis were guilty of the same sin. See also John 4. Thou that abhorrest idols. The question that follows has caused much discussion. The best rendering is, Dost thou rob temples? or, Are you a temple robber? Schaff suggests that the meaning is as follows: "Dost thou abhor idols, according to thy law, and yet engage in traffic whereby thou makest gain off the temples where this idol worship is practiced?" Macknight says that the reference is to robbing the temple at Jerusalem of what was due it. I think not. The apostles refers to practices which dishonor God among the Gentiles. 23. Dishonorest thou God? The first part of this verse is a summary of the claims of the Jews as given in verses 17-20 ; the last part is a decisive answer, in an interrogative form, of the four reproachful questions just asked. Through the whole passage privilege and practice are contrasted. 24. For the name of God. The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles on account of the vices of the Jews. They make the religion which God has revealed contemptible among the heathen. They judged their religion by the scandalous conduct. Outsiders always judge a religion by the conduct of its votaries. As it is written. In Isa. 52:5 is found the passage to which Paul refers.
25-29. For circumcision verily profiteth. The Jew was wont to fall back on his circumcision, as some still do on some outward ordinance. His answer to Paul is, Are we not the circumcised? Are not the circumcised the people of the covenant? He replied, "I admit that circumcision availeth, if one keeps law. The outward observance profits if one be a law-doer; that is, complies with its moral commandments. But if he fails to do this, his circumcision is as worthless as though he was uncircumcised." The effect of habitual transgression is to annul the covenant. 26. The converse of this is also true. If the Jewish law-breaker can annul his circumcision thus, then if the uncircumcision (the Gentiles) keep the righteousness of the law, his uncircumcised state will not be counted against him. He supposes the possible case of a Gentile who might render such an obedience to the moral precepts of the law as a pious Jews could render, and argues that his uncircumcision would not make his obedience less acceptable. Circumcision is not, then, the thing that the Gentile needs, but righteousness. The disobedient Jew virtually becomes a Gentile, and the obedient Gentile virtually becomes a Jew. 27. Uncircumcision which is by nature. The Gentiles, who are of uncircumcised races. If such an one keeps the essential principles of the law, his obedience is a rebuke to the Jewish transgressor who has covenanted to keep the law. 28. For he is not a Jew. He is not a Jew, in the religious sense of one of God's chosen people, who is one outwardly alone. Neither is that circumcision, the true circumcision, that which makes one a member of God's covenanted church, "which is outward in the flesh." 29. But he is a Jew, such a Jew as just described, who is one inwardly, whose heart is given to God; and circumcision is that of the heart. Circumcision of the heart is a figurative expression for inward purity, as old as the book of Deuteronomy. See Deuteronomy 10:16 Deuteronomy 30:6 also Jer. 9:26 . This circumcision is not an outward mark in the flesh of the body, but is in the spirit. The spirit of man is under the influence of the Spirit. Not in the letter. Not literal. Whose praise is not of men. The Jew, as we have seen, made his boasts, and praised his privileges, but though the true Jew, such as Paul describes, shall be ill-spoken of by men, but shall have praise of God. The whole section shows that religious privileges, resulting from birth, the revelation of God's will, ritual observances and knowledge, increase the guilt of those whose morality does not correspond. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, were very eager for the praise of men, but the true Jew, the real child of Abraham's by faith, will have what is infinitely better, the praise of God.