posted on Sep, 20 2019 @ 05:01 PM
The first chapter of this letter established that humanity in general has departed from God’s will, and is vulnerable to his wrath.
The first intended solution to this problem is law, which sets out a version of God’s will for people to follow.
So Paul now turns to addressing the Jews, who are custodians of the law.
We may guess from other parts of the New Testament that many Jews of this time thought of themselves as the teachers of the world, with a duty of
sharing the Law with other nations.
Jesus commented on how far the Pharisees would go to make a proselyte (Matthew ch23 v15). Paul’s travels brought him to synagogues which were
surrounded by a penumbra of “interested” Gentiles.
These aspirations left them open to criticism for their shortcomings as a teaching community.
That’s implied in the rebuke to Nicodemus; “Are you a teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?” (John ch3 v10)
And the writer of Hebrews told the Jewish Christians that they ought to have become teachers by now, but they were failing to learn the basics
and were in danger of dropping out of the class themselves (Hebrews ch5 v12).
The teaching function carries with it a temptation to “judge”.
Up to a point, that’s inescapable. Comparison, at least, goes with the territory, because the teacher must be offering something which the
prospective pupils have not got.
In this case, the law.
So when Paul says “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, when you judge another” (ch2v1), he is already addressing the Jews. Though he postpones
the moment when he makes this clear, to give them a chance of recognising themselves.
“Therefore”, because the excuse is removed by the statement in the previous verse, that everybody knows God’s decree about the fate which
Then he spells out why the judges will be susceptible to judgement to the same degree as everybody else.
It is because the judges are doing the same things. Since the judgement of God falls upon those who do these things, they cannot hope to escape.
They are complacent. God’s judgement has not come down on them, so they think they are not going to be judged at all.
They need to be aware that judgement is only being postponed. God is treating them with kindness and forbearance, because he is hoping that this will
lead them into repentance. But if they refuse to repent, they will come to the day of wrath and meet the righteous judgement just like everybody else
Then he explains how the judgement will be carried out.
Some find it puzzling that Paul, of all people, should say (quoting the Psalm) “he will render to every man according to his works” (v6).
But at this point, Paul is still expounding the logical position before the revelation of the gospel.
His immediate task is to explain the consequences and the drawbacks of dependence upon the law.
When this case is complete, he can move on to introducing the gospel as the alternative solution
Just as, in Revelation, the dead are judged by the books which record what they have done, before a final decision is made by reference to the book of
life (Revelation ch21 vv12-15).
Even so, the judgement which Paul describes here is based more upon attitude than upon details of conduct.
On the one hand, the reward of eternal life goes to those who seek for it “by patience in well-doing”. In other words, those who “hunger and
thirst for righteousness”.
On the other hand, wrath and fury falls upon “those who are factious and do not obey the truth”.
He has already told us (ch1 v16) that the power of God for salvation comes to the world “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”. Now he says the
same thing about both aspects of the judgement.
The two groups will be judged on equal terms without any partiality (vv9-11).
At this point, the Jew will object that he must have the advantage, from knowing the law which expresses God’s will.
The Gentile does not know, and so he cannot meet, the standard which the law demands.
So Paul now explains why simply knowing the law makes no difference (vv12-16).
Those who sin “without the law” (i.e. without having knowledge of the revealed law) will perish on equal terms with those who sin “under the
Conversely, they have an equal chance of being found righteous.
Because righteousness comes from doing the law, not just from hearing it.
Now the Gentiles do not have the Law provided by Moses, but they do have a version of the law within themselves, written on their hearts. They do not
know the formal commandments, but they know the basic principles, the parts that matter..
This makes it possible for them to do “by nature” what the law requires.
So on that day when God judges the secrets of men’s hearts, their own consciences will be able to endorse the verdict.
Some commentators question whether the reference to God’s judgement (v16) really belongs in this passage, but I don’t see the problem. It does
make sense that the self-examination would be prompted by God’s examination.
Paul adds “according to my gospel”, because the judgement “by Christ Jesus” will be new teaching as far as the Jews are concerned.
That supports my theory that Paul really is expecting the Jews in Rome to have a chance of reading this explanation.
Paul has shown that the Gentiles may keep the essence of the law without knowing the Law.
The other side of the coin is that the Jews may know the Law without keeping it.
The Jews have a great sense of their own importance as custodians and teachers of the Law.
They boast of their “special relationship” with God, and rely upon that status.
But they should be examining themselves, to see if they are not breaking all the laws which they are teaching.
Circumcision is the outward symbol of knowing the Law. It identifies the Jew as a member of the community which knows the law.
So a reliance on their knowledge of the Law has evolved, in practice, into a reliance on the fact of circumcision.
Paul turns this on its head by redefining circumcision in terms of keeping the law, changing it from a physical status to a spiritual status
So the uncircumcised man who keeps the law has become circumcised, in the sense that matters.
Conversely, the circumcised man who breaks the law has become uncircumcised, in the sense that matters.
Then the first man will been entitled to condemn the second man in the same way that the Jews now condemn the Gentiles.
The logical conclusion of all this is that Paul is also redefining what it means to be a Jew (just as, at the end of Galatians, he redefined the
phrase “the Israel of God”).
The true Jew is not the man circumcised in his body, but the man who is circumcised in his heart.
In other words, the true Jew is the man, whether Jew or Gentile, who keeps the law, and rests on God’s judgement rather than his own.