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Charles Hodge’s Commentary on Romans: Romans 2


The Object Of This Chapter Is To Establish The Same Charges Against The Jews, Which Had Just Been Proved Against The Gentiles; To Show That They Also Were Exposed To The Wrath Of God. It Consists Of Three Parts. The First Contains An Exhibition Of Those Simple Principles Of Justice Upon Which All Men Are To Be Judged, Vers. 1-16. The Second Is An Application Of These Principles To The Case Of The Jews, Vers. 17-24. The Third Is An Exhibition Of The True Nature And Design Of Circumcision, Intended To Show That The Jews Could Not Expect Exemption On The Ground Of That Rite, Vers. 25-39.

Romans 2:1-16


That men so impious and immoral, as those described in the preceding chapter, deserved the divine displeasure, and could never, by their own works, secure the favor of God, the Jew was prepared readily to admit. But might there not be a set of men, who, in virtue of some promise on the part of God, or of the performance of some special duties, could claim exemption from the execution of God's purpose to punish all sin? To determine this point, it was necessary to consider a little more fully the justice of God, in order to see whether it admitted of impunity to sinners on the ground supposed. This first section of the chapter, therefore, is employed in expanding the principle of ver. 18 of the first chapter. It contains a development of those principles of justice which commend themselves at once to every man's conscience. The first is, that he who condemns in others what he does himself, does thereby condemn himself, ver. 1. The second, that God's judgments are according to the truth or real state of the case, ver. 2. The third, that the special goodness of God, manifested towards any individual or people, forms no ground of exemption from merited punishment; but being designed to lead them to repentance, when misimproved aggravates their condemnation, vers. 3-5. The fourth, that the ground of judgment is the works, not the external relations or professions of men: God will punish the wicked and reward the good, whether Jew or, without the least respect of persons, vers. 6-11. The fifth, that the standard of Judgment is the light which men have severally enjoyed. Those having a written law shall be judged by it, and those who have only the law written on their hearts, (and that the heathen have such a law is proved by the operations of the, conscience, vers. 13-15,) shall be judged by that law, ver. 12. These are the principles according to which all men are to be judged in the last day, by Jesus Christ, ver. 16.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


VERSE 1. In order to appreciate the force of the apostle's reasoning in this and the following verses, it should be remembered that the principal ground on which the Jews expected acceptance with God, was the covenant which he had made with their father Abraham, in which he promised to be a God to him and to his seed after him. They understood this promise to secure salvation for all who retained their connection with Abraham, by the observance of the law and the rite of circumcision. They expected, therefore, to be regarded and treated not so much as individuals, each being dealt with according to his personal character, but as a community to whom salvation was secured by the promise made to Abraham. Paul begins his argument at a distance; he states his principles in such general terms, that they could not fail to secure the assent of the Jew, before he was aware of their application to himself. That the Jews are addressed in this chapter is evident from the whole strain of the argument, and from the express application of the reasoning to the case of the Jews, from ver. 17 onward. This view of the passage is now generally adopted, though many of the earlier commentators supposed either that no particular class of persons is here addressed, or that the apostle has in view the better portion of the heathen, or at least those who did not seem to approve of the crimes mentioned in the preceding chapter, but rather condemned them.

The connection between this chapter and what precedes, as indicated by the particle διὸ, wherefore, is somewhat doubtful. Some suppose the inference to be drawn from the doctrine taught from ver. 18 of the preceding chapter. God is just, and determined to punish all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men; wherefore they are without excuse who commit the sins which they condemn in others. In this case, however, the conclusion is not exactly in the firm suited to the premises. It is not so much the inexcusableness of sinners as the exposure to punishment, that follows from the justice of God. Most commentators, therefore, consider the inference as drawn from the last verse of the preceding chapter. It is there said that all men knew that those who sin are worthy of death; and the inference is, that they which commit sin are without excuse, however censorious their self-conceit may render them towards others.

Every one who judges. Though from what follows it is plain that the Jews are here intended, yet for the reasons above stated the proposition is made general. Κρίνων, judging; but by implication, condemning.

For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself. Wherein (ἐν ᾧ,) either in the thing which, or thereby, i.e., in the same judgment, or whilst See Mark 2:19; John 5:7. The reason of this assertion is given in the following clause, for thou that judgest doest the same things. It is the thing done which is the ground of condemnation; and therefore he who condemns the act, condemns the agent, whether the agent be himself or someone else, whether he be a Jew or a Gentile.

VERSE 2. But we know. That is, however perverse and partial may be the judgment you pass on yourself, we know, etc.

We does not refer to the Jews, as peculiarly instructed, but to all men. Everyone knows. The proposition contained in this verse is: The judgment of God is against those who do such things. That is, however they may excuse themselves, God will judge them. The words κατὰ ἀλήθειαν, therefore, do not form the predicate of the sentence, as though the sense were, The judgment of God is according to truth. The meaning rather is, the judgment of God, which is according to truth, is against those, etc. There are two things therefore asserted, the certainty of this divine judgment, and its being according to truth, i.e., without error, without respect of persons. It is not founded upon mere appearances or professions, but upon the real truth of the case. Comp. Proverbs 29:14, ἐν ἀληθείᾳ κρίνων πτωχούς, and John 8:16, ἡ κρίσις ἡ ἐμὴ ἀληθής ἐστιν. This verse, then, contains the second general principle of justice, according to which all men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are to be judged. The whole hope of the Jews was founded on the assumption that the judgment of God regarding them would be guided by some other rule than truth. He was not to judge them according to their real merits, but according to their national and ecclesiastical relations, just as men now hope to be saved because they belong to the true Church.

VERSE 3. But thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest, etc. The truth that God's judgment is just, and will fall on those who themselves commit the sins which they condemn in others, is so plain, that the apostle exclaims at the folly of those who seem to deny it. The emphasis lies on the word thou, in the middle of the verse. Dost thou think that thou, a Jew, and because a Jew, shalt escape the righteous judgment of God?

Shalt escape, ἐκφεύξῃ. "Every one," says Bengel, "who is arraigned, φεύγει, tries to escape; he who is acquitted, ἐκφεύγει, escapes." In ver. 1, the apostle had shown that the man who did what he condemned in others, condemned himself. "If then," as Theophylact says, "he cannot escape his own judgment, how can he escape the judgment of God? If forced to condemn ourselves, how much more will the infinitely Holy condemn us?" The ground on which this false and absurd expectation rested is mentioned in the following verse:

VERSE 4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering? That is, admitting the general principle, that those who do what they condemn in others are themselves exposed to condemnation, do you expect exemption on the ground of the peculiar goodness of God? That this was the expectation of the Jews is plain from the apostle's argument here and in the following chapter, and from chap. 9 and 11. Comp. also Matthew 3:9, "Think not to say, We have Abraham to our father," and John 8:33.

Despisest. To despise, καταφρονεῖν, is to form a low estimate of. They despise the goodness of God, who form such a wrong estimate of it, as to suppose that it gives them a license to sin; who imagine that he will not punish, either because he long forbears, or because his goodness towards us is so great that we shall escape, though others perish. The words χρηστότης, ἀνοχή, and μακροθυμία, express the Divine goodness under different aspects. The first means kindness in general, as expressed in giving favors; the second, patience; the third, forbearance, slowness in the infliction of punishment. The reason why the Jews, as referred to by the apostle, and men in general, thus abuse the goodness of God, is expressed by the clause, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. ᾿Αγνοῶν, not knowing, not understanding; and here, not comprehending the true nature and design of. Men abuse the goodness of God, because they do not rightly apprehend that instead of indicating a purpose not to punish, it is designed to lead them to forsake their sins. The goodness of God leads us to repentance, because it allows us our duty towards a Being who is so kind, and because it gives us ground to hope for acceptance. "The word ἄγει, leads," says Dr. Wordsworth, Canon of Westminster, in his elegant and scholarly work on the Greek Testament, "intimates not only the will of God, but the will of man. God leads, but man may refuse to be led: 'Deus ducit volentum duci' as Bengel says, 'Ducit suaviter non cogit.'" Very true; but who gives the will to be led? Is there no preventing grace? Does not God work in us to will, as well as to do. Surely there is such a thing as being made willing without being forced. There is a middle ground between moral suasion on and coercion. God supersedes the necessity of forcing, by making us willing in the day of his power. The apostle, however, is not here speaking of gracious influence, but of the moral tendencies of providential dispensations.

VERSE 5. The goodness of God, so far from being a ground of reasonable expectation that we shall ultimately escape punishment, becomes, when abused, an aggravation of our guilt. This principle the apostle here applies to the Jews, who, through their abuse of the peculiar mercy of God, were treasuring up wrath for themselves. Κατὰ δὲ τὴν σκληρότητό σου, after thy hardness, i.e., as might be expected from thy hardness; agreeably to its nature and degree—καὶ ἀμετανόητον καρδίαν, heart incapable of repentance. "᾿Αμετανόητος, vim activam habet, animus, qui resipicere non potest, poenitere nescius. Enervat hunc locum Grotius quum explicit, animus, qui poenitentiam non agit." Fritzsche.

To treasure up is to lay up little by little, and thus accumulate a store of anything, whether good or evil. The abusers of God's goodness accumulate a store of wrath for themselves. ᾿Εν ἡμέρᾳ ὀργῆς is commonly rendered unto the day of wrath; but this unnecessarily gives ἐν the force of εἰς. It is better, with De Wette, Meyer, and others, to connect ἐν with ὀργὴν, 'wrath at or on the day of wrath.' They treasure up for themselves wrath at that day when wrath shall be manifested. That day is further described as the day ἀποκαλύψεως δικαιοκρισίας τοῦ Θεοῦ, of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Some manuscripts insert καί between ἀποκαλύψεως and δικαιοκρισίας; which reading is preferred by Bengel, Wetstein, Mill, and Knapp. The sense then is, the day of revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God. The day of revelation, viz., of Christ, whose second coming is always associated in Scripture with the final judgment; and therefore the day of revelation may well express the day of judgment. But as the phrase, "day of revelation" nowhere else occurs in this sense, and as the oldest manuscripts are in favor of the common text, it should be allowed to stand.

VERSE 6. Who will render to every man according to his works. This is the fourth important principle which the apostle teaches us regulates the judgment of God. He will judge men neither according to their professions nor their relations, but according to their works. The question at his bar will be, not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, whether he belongs to the chosen people or to the heathen world, but whether he has obeyed the law. This principle is amplified and applied in what follows, in vers. 7-11. The question has been asked, how the declaration that God will render to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, according to his works—to the good, eternal life, to the wicked, indignation and wrath—is to be reconciled with the apostle's doctrine, that no man is justified by works, that righteousness and life are not by works, but by faith, and through grace. In answering this question, two things are to be born in mind. The first is, that notwithstanding the doctrine of gratuitous justification, and in perfect consistency with it, the apostle still teaches that the retributions of eternity are according to our works. The good only are saved, and the wicked only are condemned. "For we must all appeal before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether good or bad," 2 Corinthians 5:10, Ephesians 6:8.

"Reproborum," says Calvin, "malitiam justa ultione si puniet Dominus, rependet illis quod meriti sunt. Rursum quia sanctificat, quos olim statuit glorificare, in illis quoque bona opera coronabit, sed non pro merito."

With this accord the words of Bernard: "Bona opera sunt via regni, non causa regnandi." The wicked will be punished on account of their works, and according to their works; the righteous will be rewarded, not on account of, but according to their works. Good works are to them the evidence of their belonging to that class to whom, for Christ's sake, eternal life is graciously awarded; and they are, in some sense and to some extent, the measure of that reward. But it is more pertinent to remark, in the second place, that the apostle is not here teaching the method of justification, but is laying down those general principles of justice, according to which, irrespective of the gospel, all men are to be judged. He is expounding the law, not the gospel. And as the law not only says that death is the stages of sin, but also that those who keep its precepts shall live by them, so the apostle says, that God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. This is perfectly consistent with what he afterwards teaches, that there are none righteous; that there are none who so obey the law as to be entitled to the life which it promises; and that for such the gospel provides a plan of justification without works, a plan for saving those whom the law condemns. He is here combating the false hopes of the Jews, who, though trusting to the law, were, by the principles of the law, exposed to condemnation. This he does to drive them from this false dependence, and to show them that neither Jew nor Gentile can be justified before the bar of that God, who, while he promises eternal life to the obedient, has revealed his purpose to punish the disobedient. All, therefore, that this passage teaches is that, irrespective of the gospel, to those who either never heard of it, or who, having heard, reject it, the principle of judgment will be law.

VERSES 7, 8. The principle laid down in ver. 6, is here amplified. God will render eternal life to the good, indignation and wrath to the wicked, without distinction of persons; to the Jews no less than to the Gentiles. Though the sense of these verses is plain, there is great difference of opinion as to the grammatical construction. The explanation adopted by our translators is perhaps the most natural, and is the one which is most generally followed. To the verb ἀποδώσει of ver. 6, belong the two accusatives ζωὴν αἰώνιον, and θυμὸν καὶ ὀργήν and the two datives, τοῖς μὲν—ζητοῦσι and τοῖς δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας. The accusatives δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν then of course depend on ζητοῦσι, and καθ᾿ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ is an adverbial qualification. The passage then reads: "To those who through perseverance in good works, seek glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are contentious, indignation and wrath." Another construction, adopted by Bengel, Fritzsche, and others, supposes that τοῖς μὲν καθ᾿ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ (scil. οὖσι) are to be taken together, to those who are according to perseverance, i.e., to those who persevere; (comp. οἱ κατὰ σάρκα = οἱ σαρκικοί, and οἱ κατὰ Πνεῦμα = οἱ πνευματικοί). The following clause, δόξαν—ζητοῦσι, is then in apposition with the preceding: "To those who persevere in good works, seeking glory, honor and immortality, he will render eternal life." This view of the passage is recommended by the correspondence thus established between the τοῖς μὲν καθ᾿ ὑπομονήν of ver. 7, and the τοῖς δε ἐξ ἐριθείας of ver. 8. It is opposed, however, by the following considerations:

1. The interpretation of the phrase οἱ καθ᾿ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ is hardly born out by a reference to the phrases of οἱ κατὰ σάρκα and οἱ κατὰ Πνεῦμα.

2. The second clause of ver 7, if a mere amplification of the first clause, should be introduced by καὶ, as in ver. 8: Τοῖς δὲ ἐριθείας, καὶ ἀπειθοῦσι.

Luther, after Oecumenius, translates thus:

"Welcher geben wird Preis und Ehre und unvergägliches Wesen denen, die mit Geduld in guten Werken trachten nacn dem ewigen Leben:"

"Who will give glory, honor, and immortality to those who, in patient continuance in well-doing, seek eternal life." According to this view, the accusatives δόξαν, τιμὴν, ἀφθαρσίαν, depend upon ἀποδώσει, and ζωὴν αἰώνιον on ζητοῦσι. But this the position of the words will hardly bear. Luther's fluent and forcible version is effected by an entire transposition of the clauses. The construction therefore first mentioned is on the whole to be preferred. In the English version of the words καθ᾿ ὑπομονήν, κατά is rendered through. So also Grotius, De Wette, and others. See 1 Corinthians 12:8; Ephesians 3:3, 7. Others translate it by the Latin preposition secumdum, according to, or in virtue of ᾿Υπομονή is rendered patience by the Vulgate, and Luther; patiens expectatio, by Beza; constancy, or patient continuance in our version. In illustration of the combination ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ comp. ὑπομονὴ τῆς ἐλπίδος, 1 Thessalonians 1:3. The sing. ἔργου is used collectively for ἔργων, as in Galatians 6:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; and elsewhere. What is immediately afterwards expressed by eternal life, is here expressed by the three words, glory, honor, and immortality. The manifested excellence or splendor of the future condition of the saints is expressed by δόξα; the honor due such excellence by τιμή and the endless nature of their blessedness by ἀφθαρσία.

VERSE 8. To those who are of contention, that is, the contentious. Comp. οἱ ἐκ πίστεως believers; οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς, the circumcised; οἱ ἐκ ἀκροβυστίας, the uncircumcised; οἱ ἐκ νόμου, those who belong to the law, legalists. Instead of the ordinary derivation of ἐριθεία from ἔρις, Rückert traces it to ἔριθος, a hireling, which derivation is sustained by Tholuck, "Beiträge zur Spracherklärung des Neuen Testaments," p. 25, and Fritzsche, Excursus to his Commentary on the second chapter of this epistle, and is now generally adopted. The signification of the word, as determined by its etymology and its classical usage is, work for hire, selfishness, ambition, party spirit, malice. In the New Testament it is used several times in the same sense as in Philippians 1:16, οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἐριθείας, some of rivalry, or malice; the antithetical expression is οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἀγάπης. In Philippians 2:3; it is connected with κενοδοξία vain glory. In James 3:14, 16, it is connected with ζῆλος, envy. In 2 Corinthians 12:20, it is distinguished from ἔρις. These passages show that the scriptural usage of the word agrees with the classical. Still in the present case it seems to have a somewhat wider meaning. It is not envy, or rivalry, but malicious opposition to God and his requirements that is here expressed. This is plain from the explanatory causes that follow. The disposition expressed by ἐριθεία is manifested in disobeying the truth, and obeying unrighteousness. Bretschneider therefore explains οἱ ἐξ ἐριθείας to mean qui malitia ducti Deo, i.e. rei divinae, adversantur: "those who through malice oppose themselves to God." The same interpretation is given by Reiche and De Wette, as well as by the older commentators. Who obey not the truth. ᾿Απειθέω is to refuse belief, to disbelieve, as well as to disobey. This clause therefore means, who refuse assent and obedience to the truth. ᾿Αλήθεια is divine truth; what is true and right as to faith and practice. See Romans 1:18. "Saepe," says Bengel, "haec duo (ἀλήθεια and ἀδικία) inter se opponuntur: veritas continet justitiam, et injustitia connotat mendacium."

Who yield themselves to, or follows unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath, (shall be rendered). The words θυμὸς καὶ ὀργή should regularly be in the accusative, as depending on ἀποδώσει of ver. 6; but as they are in the nominative, ἔσται or ἀποδώσεται must be supplied. There may be, as some suppose, force in the change of construction and omission of the verb. God gives eternal life; indignation and wrath come as earned by man, so to speak, Deo nolente. God wills all men to be saved. Comp. Romans 6:23. Both words are used for the sake of intensity. As to their specific difference, both ancient and modern philologists differ. The majority make θυμός express the momentary impulse of anger, ὀργή the permanent feeling. Others make ὀργή to include the desire of vengeance, and therein to differ from θυμός. The former distinction is more in accordance with the primary meaning of the words; as θυμός means the mind as the seat of the emotions, and hence is used for any strong passion, and ὀργή means disposition, habit of mind.

VERSE 9. Tribulation and anguish; θλῖψις, (from θλίβω, to press,) means pressure, affliction; στενοχωρία straitness of place, anguish. They are often associated; see Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 6:4. The latter is the stronger of the two terms, as may be inferred from its always following the other, and especially from 2 Corinthians 4:8, θλιβόμενοι, ᾿αλλ᾿ οὐ στενοχωρούμενοι, troubled but not distressed;

Every soul of man, that is, every man. Comp. Acts 2:43; Romans 8:1, and the Hebrew אָדָם כָּל־נֶפֶשׁ; Rückert, Meyer, and others, give ψυχή its full force, upon every soul that belongs to a man, to express the idea that the soul and not the body is to suffer the penalty. But in 13:1, ψυχή evidently stands for the whole person: 'let every soul,' means let every person; and such is a common scriptural meaning of the word, "if a soul sin," "if a soul lie," "if the priest buy a soul with his money," etc.

Of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. It becomes now apparent that the apostle, in laying down these general principles of justice, had the Jews specially in view. God, he says, will render to every man according to his works, to the good, eternal life; to the evil, tribulation and anguish. And lest the every man should fail to arrest attention, he adds expressly, that the Jew as well as the Greek is to be thus judged. The word πρῶτον may express either order or preeminence. If the former, the sense is what is expressed by Calvin, "Haec universalis est divini judicii lex, qua a Judaeis incipiet, et comprehendet totum orbem." The judgment shall begin with the Jews, and extend to the Gentiles. If the latter, the sense is, The Jew shall not only be punished as certainly as others, but more severely, because he has been more highly favored. "The Jew first," is equivalent then to the Jew especially. The same remark applies to the following verse. If the Jew is faithful, he shall be specially rewarded. What is true of all men, is specially true of those to whom God has revealed himself in a peculiar manner.

VERSE 10. But, glory, honor and peace, to every one doing good; to the Jews first, and also to the Greek. This verse completes the statement of the principle of law announced in ver. 6. The law, while it threatens death to the transgressor, promises life to the obedient; and it matters not in either case, whether it is a Jew or Gentile who receives its award. Glory, honor and peace are descriptive terms for eternal life. It is a life glorious in itself; an object of reverence or regard to others, and a source of unspeakable blessedness or peace.

VERSE 11. For there is no respect of persons with God. He is righteous and impartial, looking not at the person, but the conduct of those whom he judges. This is the ground of the assurance that he will judge Jews and Gentiles according to their works. The words προσωποληψία, προσωπολήπτης, προσωποληπτὲω, are all peculiar to the New Testament, and all owe their origin to the phrase πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν, which is used in the sense of the Hebrew phrase, נָשָׂא פָנִים, to lift up, or accept the face of any one, that is, to be favorable to him. This is sometimes used in a good sense, as Genesis 32:20, "Peradventure he will accept of me," literally, lift up my face. Genesis 19:21; Job 42:8. Most frequently in a bad sense, for partiality. Hence judges are forbidden to accept the face of any one, Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 10:17. In the New Testament, all the expressions above mentioned are used in the sense of unjust partiality. All προσωποληψία, respect of persons, is denied to God, and forbidden to men. See Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1.

VERSE 12. In the preceding verse it was stated that God is just and impartial in all his judgments. This is confirmed not only by the previous assertion, that he will judge every man according to his works, but also by the exhibition of that important principle contained in this verse. Men are to be judged by the light they have severally enjoyed. The ground of judgment is their works; the rule of judgment is their knowledge. For as many as sinned without law. That is, God is impartial, for he will judge men according to the light which they have enjoyed. Our Lord teaches the same doctrine when he says, "The servant which knew his lord's will,... shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." Luke 12:47, 48.

By law, is here meant a written or supernaturaly revealed law. In 1 Corinthians 9:21, the heathen are called ἄνομοι, without law, as distinguished from the Jews, who were ὑπὸ νόμον under law. Νόμος, as used by the apostle, means the rule of duty, the will of God revealed for our obedience; commonly, however, with special reference to the revelation made in the Scriptures. ᾿Ανόμως is equivalent to χωρὶς νόμου, without law, and is not to be taken in its moral sense, without restraint, i.e. recklessly. ᾿Ανόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται, shall also persist without law, that is, their punishment shall be assigned without reference to the written law. Καί before ἀπολοῦνται says Rückert and Tholuck, indicates the relation between the cause and effect, or premise and conclusion; or as Fritzsche says, "necessitatem indicat, quâ τὸ ἀνόμως ἀπόλλυσθαι ex τῷ ἀνόμως ἁμαρτάνειν consequatur." Neither of these explanations seems to express the true force of the particle; it rather serves to indicate that as the sinning is ἀνόμως, so also is the punishment. ᾿Απόλλυμι is to destroy, to put to death, spoken of physical death, and also of eternal death, Matthew 10:28; Luke 4:34; and in the passive form, Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:15, 16; 1 Corinthians 8:11. The word is strong in its own import; and as explained by other passages, it here teaches that those who sin without a written revelation—although they are to be judged fairly, and are to be treated far less severely than those who have enjoyed the light of revelation—are still to perish.

"Vide igitur, quale patrocinium suscipiant, qui praeposterâ misericordiâ gentes evangelii lumine privatas ignorantiae praetextu Dei judicio eximere tentant." Calvin.

VERSE 13. For not the hearers of the law. This verse is connected with the last clause of the preceding, and assigns the reason why the Jews shall be judged or punished according to the law; the mere possession or knowledge of the law would not avail, for it is not the hearers, but the doers of the law that are just before God. The expression hearers instead of readers, is explained by the fact that the law was read in the presence of the people, and by hearing rather than by reading, their knowledge of it was obtained. Comp. Matthew 5:21; John 12:34; Galatians 4:21; James 1:22.

To be just before God, and to be justified, are the same thing. They are both forensic expressions, and indicate the state rather than the charter of those to whom they refer. Those are just in the sight of God, or are justified, who have done what the law requires, and are regarded and treated accordingly; that is, are declared to be free from condemnation, and entitled to the favor of God. In obvious allusion to the opinion, that being a Jew was enough to secure admission to heaven, the apostle says, It is not the hearers but the doers of the laws that are justified. He is not speaking of the method of justification available for sinners, as revealed in the gospel, but of the principles of justice which will be applied to all who look to the law for justification. If men rely on works, they must have works; they must be doers of the law; they must satisfy its demands, if they are to be justified by it. For God is just and impartial; he will, as a judge administering the law, judge every man, not according to his privileges, but according to his works and the knowledge of duty which he has possessed. On these principles, it is his very design to show that no flesh living can be justified.

VERSE 14. For whenever the Gentiles, not having the law. In the preceding verse the apostle had said, That not the hearers but the doers of the law are justified before God; and then adds, For whenever the Gentiles, not having the law, do by nature the things of the law, they are a law unto themselves. But the fact that the Gentiles are a law unto themselves, has nothing to do, either as an illustration or confirmation, with the general proposition contained in ver. 13. Those who insist on establishing such a connection, suppose that ver. 14 refers to the last clause of ver. 13, and is designed to prove either that with regard to the Gentiles as well as Jews, doing is the thing required; or that there are doers of the law who may be justified, among the heathen. 'The doers of the law,' says the apostle, 'shall be justified; but the heathen do the law, therefore they shall be justified.' This, however, is not the conclusion at which the apostle is aiming. He is not teaching the method of justification, or arguing to prove that the Gentiles as well as the Jews may be doers of the law, and thus be justified in the sight of God. He is expounding the law; he is showing the principles by which God will judge the world, Gentiles as well as Jews. Those who are without the written law, he will judge without any reference to that law; and those who are under the law, he will judge by that law. This general proposition he confirms first by saying, in ver. 13, that the mere possession of the law is not enough; and secondly by saying, in ver. 14, that the Gentiles have a law by which they may be judged. The logical connection of ver. 14, therefore, is not with ver. 13, but with ver. 12. Thus Calvin, who says, "Probationem prioris membri (ver. 12) nunc repetit. Probat enim frustra obtendi a gentibus ignorantiam, quum factis suis declarent, nonnullam se habere justitiae reguam. Nulla enim gens unquam sic ab humanitate abhorruit, ut non se intra leges aliquas contineret." When, whenever or as often as, which may be the sense of the particle in this case, 'Whenever, or as often as the heathen do so or so.' Or it may have the sense of while, because: 'Because, or since the heathen do so or so.' Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:27. As ἔθνη is without the article, many would render it heathen, that is, some heathen. But in the first place, it is evident from the context that this is not what the apostle means to say. His object is to show that the heathen world have a rule of duty written on their hearts; a fact which is not proved by some heathen obeying the law, but which is proved by the moral conduct of all men. Men generally, not some men, but all men, show by their acts that they have a knowledge of right and wrong. And secondly, this word has, without the article, in virtue of its frequent occurrence, a definite sense. Comp. Romans 3:29; 9:24, and especially ver. 30: ἔθνη.....κατέλαβε δικαιοσύνην; the heathen attained righteousness.

Do by nature the things of the law. There are two misinterpretations of the phrase, τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιεῖν. The one is, that it means to fulfill the law; the other, to do the office of the law, i.e., to command and forbid. The former is unnecessary, and is in direct opposition to the express and repeated declaration of the apostle, that none, whether Jew or Gentile, has ever fulfilled the law. To do the things of the law, is indeed to do what the law prescribes (comp. Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12); but whether complete or partial obedience is intended, depends upon the context. The man who pays his debts, honors his parents, is kind to the poor, does the things of the law; for these are things which the law prescribes. And this is all the argument the apostle requires, or his known doctrine allows us to understand by the phrase, in the present instance.

This being the case, there is no need of resorting to the second interpretation mentioned above, which was proposed by Beza, and adopted by Wetstein, Flatt, and others. Though ποιεῖν τὰ τοῦ νόμου might mean to do what the law does, prescribe what is good and forbid what is evil, it certainly has not that sense elsewhere in Paul's writings, see Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; and is especially out of place here, in immediate connection with the phrase ποιηταὶ τοῦ νόμου, in the sense of doers of the law. The heathen do φύσει, by nature, the things of the law. The φύσις of anything is the peculiarity of its being, that in virtue of which it is what it is; it is that which belongs to its original constitution, and is opposed to what is taught, acquired, or made. The word is sometimes used for a disposition or sentiment arising out of our nature, as opposed to mere arbitrary rules, as in 1 Corinthians 11:14. In the present case, the opposition is to νόμος. It is by nature, not by an external law, that the Gentiles are led to perform moral acts. Comp. Galatians 4:8; Ephesians 2:3. The proper connection of φύσει with τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῆ, they do by nature the things of the law, is retained in our version, and by the great majority of commentators. Bengel, Rückert, and a few others, connect it with μὴ νόμον ἔχοντα, not having the law by nature; but this saying very little to the purpose of the apostle. His object is to show that φύσις supplies to the Gentiles the place of νόμος.

These not having the law, are a law unto themselves. Νόμον, without the article, may be rendered either, a law, "not having a law," by implication, a written, external law; or the law, i.e., the Jewish law, since that word is often used without the article for the law of the Jews; that is, the law of God, as revealed in the Scriptures. The Gentiles, then, are law unto themselves; they have in their own nature a rule of duty; a knowledge of what is right, and a sense of obligation. As the absence of all moral acts among the lower animals shows that they have no sense of right and wrong, that they are not under a moral law, so the performance of such acts by the Gentiles, shows that they have a law written on their hearts.

VERSE 15. Who show the work of the law written on their hearts. Here, as in Romans 1:25, and often elsewhere, the relative has a causal force: 'They are a law unto themselves, because they show the work of the law,' etc. Wolf, Tholuck, and others make ἔργον τοῦ νόμου a periphrase for the law itself; Grotius, the effect of the law, that is, a knowledge of right and wrong; most modern commentators make τὸ ἔργον equivalent to τὰ ἔργα. The same works which the Jews have prescribed in their law, the Gentiles show to be written on their hearts. It is by doing the things of the law, that the Gentiles show they have this inward rule of duty; their conscience also bearing witness. Grotius, Koppe, and Tholuck, take συμμαρτυρεῖν in the sense of the simple verb. Comp. Jeremiah 11:7, in the LXX., Romans 9:1; 8:16. 'Their conscience bearing witness,' that is, to the fact that there is a law written on their hearts. But as συμμαρτυρεῖν is properly una testari, and as the context presents no reason for departing from the common meaning of the word, the great majority of commentators give the σύν its proper force. That with which conscience joins its testimony is the honestas vitae, the moral acts of the heathen; and the fact to which this joint testimony is born, is that they are a law unto themselves. The apostle appeals not only to their external conduct, but to the inward operations of their moral nature. Συνείδησις is the conscientia consequens is, the inward judge, whose acts are described in the following clause: Their thoughts alternately accusing or even excusing. Our version takes, μεταξύ as an adverb, and makes ἀλλήλων the object of the following participles, 'And in the meanwhile, their thoughts accusing, or else excusing one another.' Köllner defends this interpretation, and declares that, μεταξύ, between, cannot mean vicissim. It is used, he asserts, only of time, between two portions of time, i.e., during; or of space, between two places, persons, or things. It is not, however, so much the signification of the word μεταξύ, as the sense of the phrase μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, that is expressed by the translation, vicissim, sive alternate sententiâ. 'Between one another,' implies reciprocal or alternate action; comp. Matthew 18:15. The order of the words is obviously opposed to the separation of ἀλλήλων from μεταξύ, and to making the former the object of the following participles; which are rather to be taken absolutely. Their thoughts alternately accusing and excusing, viz., their conduct. The inward monitor acquits or condemns, as the case demands. Bengel remarks on the ἢ καί, or even, that καί is concessive, and shows "cogitation's longe plus habere quod accusent, quam quod defendant."

VERSE 16. The greatest difficulty in relation to this verse is to determine its connection with the preceding context. In the common copies of our Bible, vers. 13, 14, 15, are marked as a parenthesis, and ver. 16 is placed in connection with ver. 12: 'The heathen shall be judged without the law, and the Jews by the law, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.' Thus the passage is arranged by Griesbach and Knapp; a mode of connection adopted also by Beza, Grotius, Reiche, and others. The objections to this explanation are, first, the distance at which this verse stands from ver. 12; and secondly, that the intervening verses have not the nature of a parenthesis, but are intimately connected with the idea contained in ver. 12. Calvin, Bengel, Rückert, Fritzsche, De Wette, Meyer, Tholuck, etc., connect this verse with ver. 15. The difficulty then is, that the verb and participles of ver. 15 are in the present tense, whereas κρινεῖ of this verse is future: 'Their thoughts accusing or excusing in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.' To meet this difficulty, Calvin proposes to give ἐν ἡμέρᾳ, the force of εἰς ἡμέραν, in the sense of until, or in reference to the day. Tholuck modifies this by making ἐν include εἰς, 'until on that day.' Not only does conscience now exercise its office, but will do so especially on the day of judgment. Rückert, De Wette, and others, suppose that the apostle thought only of the present when he wrote ἐνδείκνυνται, but extends the reference to the future, in the latter part of the verse. That is, the present participles express what will be present on the day of judgment: 'The heathen show the work of the law written on their hearts, and their conscience also bearing witness,' etc., on the day of judgment. But the main objection to this connection is, that the sense thus expressed is not suited to the apostle's object. He designs to prove that the Gentiles are a law to themselves. This is proved by the present operation of conscience, which approves or condemns their conduct. But it seems forced to bring that proof from what conscience will do on the day of judgment. It seems best therefore to refer this verse back to ver. 12. God, it is said, will judge the secrets of men; the things which have escaped the knowledge of others; those hidden deeds of the heart and life, which are the surest criterion of character. The searching character of this judgment; its justice, as not guided by mere external appearance; and its contrast with mere human judgments, are all intimated by this expression. The clause, according to my gospel, is not to be connected with κρινεῖ, as though the gospel was to be the rule of this divine judgment; for this would contradict the apostle's doctrine, that men are to be judged by the light they possess. It refers to the fact of a final judgment, which is declared to be in accordance with the gospel, or a part of that message which Paul was commissioned to deliver.

By Jesus Christ is to be connected with κρινεῖ. God will judge the world through Jesus Christ, agreeably to our Savior's own declaration, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." Sometimes this judgment is referred directly to the Messiah, as in 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; sometimes indirectly, as though he were but the representative of God, as in Acts 17:31. These representations, however, are perfectly consistent. The preposition διά in such cases only expresses the idea that the power or authority which belongs to the Godhead is specially exercised through the Son. Thus sometimes it is said, God created all things through the Son, Hebrews 1:2; and sometimes that the Son himself is the Creator, Colossians 1:16.

Such then are the principles on which Paul assures us that all men are to be judged. They commend themselves irresistibly to every man's conscience as soon as they are announced, and yet every false hope of heaven is founded on their denial or neglect. It may be proper to repeat them, that it may be seen how obviously the hopes of the Jews, to which Paul, from ver. 17 onward, applies them, are at variance with these moral axioms.

1. He who condemns in others what he does himself, ipso facto condemns himself.

2. God's judgments are according to the real character of men.

3. The goodness of God, being designed to lead us to repentance, is no proof that he will not punish sin. The perversion of that goodness will increase our guilt, and aggravate our condemnation.

4. God will judge every man according to his works, not according to his professions, his ecclesiastical connections or relations.

5. Men shall be judged by the knowledge of duty which they severally possess. God is therefore perfectly impartial. These are the principles on which men are to be tried, in the last day, by Jesus Christ; and those who expect to be dealt with on any other plan, will be dreadfully disappointed.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. The leading doctrine of this section is, that God is just. His judgments are infinitely removed above all those disturbing causes of ignorance and partiality, by which the decisions of men are perverted, vers. 1, 16.

2. The refuge which men are always disposed to seek in their supposed advantages of ecclesiastical connection, as belonging to the true Church, etc., is a vain refuge. God deals with men according to their real character, vers. 2, 3.

3. The goodness of God has both the design and tendency to lead men to repentance. If it fails, the fault must be their own, ver. 4.

4. It is a great abuse of the divine goodness and forbearance to derive encouragement from them to continue in sin. Such conduct will certainly aggravate our condemnation, vers. 3-5.

5. None but the truly good, no matter what the professions, connections or expectations of others may be, will be saved; and none but the truly wicked, whether Gentile or Jew, Christian or heathen, will be lost, vers. 6-10.

6. The goodness which the Scriptures approve consists, in a great degree, in the pursuit of heavenly things: it is a seeking after glory, honor and immortality, by a persevering continuance in well-doing. It is the pursuit of the true end of our being, by the proper means, ver. 7.

7. The responsibility of men being very different in this world, their rewards and punishment will, in all probability, be very different in the next. Those who knew not their Lord's will, shall be beaten with few stripes. And those who are faithful in the use of ten talents, shall be made rulers over ten cities, vers. 9, 10.

8. The heathen are not to be judged by a revelation of which they never heard. But as they enjoy a revelation of the divine character in the works of creation, Romans 1:19, 20, and of the rule of duty in their own hearts, vers. 14, 15, they are inexcusable. They can no more abide the test by which they are to be tried, than we can stand the application of the severer rule by which we are to be judged. Both classes, therefore, need a Savior, ver. 12.

9. The moral sense is an original part of our constitution, and not the result of education, ver. 14.

10. Jesus Christ, who is to sit in judgment upon the secrets of all men, must be possessed of infinite knowledge, and therefore be divine, ver. 16.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. The deceitfulness of the human heart is strikingly exhibited in the different judgments which men pass upon themselves and others; condemning in others what they excuse in themselves. And it not infrequently happens that the most censorious are the most criminal, vers. 1, 3.

2. How does the goodness of God affect us? If it does not lead us to repentance, it will harden our hearts, and aggravate our condemnation, vers. 4, 5.

3. Genuine repentance is produced by discoveries of God's mercy, legal repentance by fear of his justice, vers. 4.

4. Any doctrine which tends to produce security in sin, must be false. The proper effect of the enjoyment of peculiar advantages is to increase our sense of responsibility, and our gratitude to God, and not to make us suppose that we are his special favorites. God is no respecter of persons, vers. 3-10.

5. How vain the hopes of future blessedness, indulged by the immoral, founded upon the expectation either that God will not deal with them according to their works, or that the secrets of their hearts will not be discovered! vers. 6-10, 16.

6. If God is a just God, his wrath is not to be escaped by evasions, but in the way of his own appointment. If we have no righteousness of our own, we must seek that of the Savior, vers. 1-16.

7. He who died for the sins of men is to sit in judgment upon sinners. This is a just ground of fear to those who reject his offered mercy, and of confidence to those who trust in his righteousness, ver. 16.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Romans 2:17-29


This section consists properly of two parts. The first, vers. 17-24, contains an application of the principles laid down in the former section, to the case of the Jews. The second, vers. 25-29, is an exhibition of the nature and design of circumcision. The principal grounds of dependence on the part of the Jews were,

1. Their covenant relation to God.

2. Their superior advantages as to divine knowledge.

3. Their circumcision.

Now if it is true that God will judge every man, Jew or Gentile, according to his works, and by the law which he has enjoyed, what will it avail any to say, We are Jews, we have the law, ver. 17; we have superior knowledge, ver. 18; we can act as guides and instructors to others? ver. 19. This may all be very true; but are you less a thief, merely because you condemn stealing? less an adulterer, because you condemn adultery? or less a blasphemer, because you abhor sacrilege? vers. 21, 22. This superior knowledge, instead of extenuating, only aggravates your guilt. While boasting of your advantages, you by your sins bring a reproach on God, vers. 23, 24. According to the first principles of justice, therefore, your condemnation will be no less certain, and far more severe than that of the Gentiles. As to circumcision, to which the Jews attached so much importance, the apostle shows that it could avail nothing, except on condition of obedience to the law or covenant to which it belonged, ver. 25. If the law be broken, circumcision is worthless, vers. 25, latter clause. On the other hand, if the law is obeyed, the want of circumcision will not prevent a blessing, ver. 26. More than this, if those less favorably situated than the Jews are found obedient, they will rise up in judgment against the disobedient, though favored people of God, ver. 27. All this proves that an external rite can, in itself, have no saving power; because God is a Spirit, and requires and regards spiritual obedience alone. This principle is stated, first negatively, he is not a Jew who is such in profession merely, ver. 28; and then affirmatively, he is a Jew who is one inwardly, ver. 29.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


VERSE 17. Instead of ἰδέ, behold, which is in the common text, most of the ancient manuscripts, many of the versions, and of the Fathers, read εἰ δέ, but if; which reading is adopted by Bengel, Griesbach, Knapp, and Lachmann, and is followed by almost all the recent commentators. We have then the protasis of a sentence of which the apodosis does not follow: 'But if thou art called a Jew, and hast the law, thou shouldest act according to it;' comp. 2 Peter 2:4. Or the answering clause may be found in ver. 21, 'If thou art called a Jew,' etc., 'teachest thou then (ουν) not thyself?' Winer, § 63, 1:1.

Art called, ἐπονομάζῃ, called after, or in addition to; a sense insisted on here by Theodoret, who says, "οὐκ εἶπεν ὀνομάζῃ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπονομάζῃ." Bengel, Köllner, Meyer, and others, take the same view of the meaning of the word: 'Besides your proper name, you call yourself a Jew.' But as the compound word is used for the simple one in Genesis 4:17, 25, 26, and elsewhere, and as Jew was then the common name of the people, it is better rendered, thou art called. ᾿Ιουδαῖος, a descendant of Judah, in the New Testament applied to all the Israelites, as inhabitants of Judea. It was considered a title of honor, not only on account of its etymology, יְהוּדָה, meaning praised, Genesis 49:8, but because it designated the people of God. Comp. vers. 28, 29, and Revelation 2:9: "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not." To be a Jew in this sense was to be one of the covenant people of God, a member of the theocracy, or of the true Church. As this was the principal ground of the false confidence of the Jews, the apostle mentions it before all others. It was not enough that they were the children of Abraham; if they sinned, they were exposed to the displeasure of that God who will render to every man according to his works, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

And restest on the law. That is, Thou placest thy confidence upon the law. In the Septuagint, the word occurs in Micah 3:11, a passage illustrative of the one before us, "The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us."

The law here means the whole Mosaic system, the civil and religious polity of the Jews. This they relied upon; the fact that they were within the Church, were partakers of its sacraments and rites; that they had a divinely appointed priesthood, continued in unbroken succession from Aaron, and invested with the power to make atonement for sin, was the ground on which they rested their hope of acceptance with God. Within that pale they considered all safe; out of it there was no salvation. Such was the false confidence of the Jews; such has been and is the false confidence of thousands of Christians.

And makest thy boast of God. See Winer, § 13:2, on the form of the word καυχᾶσαι. To boast, or glory in any person or thing, is to rejoice in him or it as a source of honor, happiness, or profit to ourselves. We are forbidden thus to glory in ourselves, or any creature, as the ground of our confidence and source of our blessedness. "Let no man glory in men; but he that glories, let him glory in the Lord." This glorying in God may be right or wrong, according to the reasons of it. If it proceeds from a sense of our own emptiness, and from right apprehensions of the excellence of God, and from faith in his promises, then it is that glorying which is so often commanded. But if it arises from false notions of our relation to him, as his peculiar favorites, then it is vain and wicked. The Jews regarded themselves in such a sense the people of God, as to be secure of his favor, let their personal character be what it might. They boasted that he was their God, that they monopolized his favor, all other nations being his enemies.

VERSE 18. And knowest the will, etc., of God. Superior knowledge was another of the peculiar distinctions of the Jews. The particulars to which the apostle refers in this, as well as in the preceding and succeeding verses, constituted real and great privileges, by which the Jews were distinguished from all other people. To be the people of God, to have the law, to know the divine will, were indeed great advantages; but these advantages only increased the obligations of those who enjoyed them. They did not of themselves constitute any ground of continence of acceptance with God; much less did the mere possession of these distinguishing favors give exemption from those principles of just retribution, according to which God will judge the world. The apostle, however, grants the Jews all they claimed: he grants that they were the people of God; that they had the law, knew the divine will, etc., and then shows that they were, nevertheless, exposed to condemnation. If real advantages, such as distinguished the Jews above all other nations, were of no avail to their justification or acceptance before God, what is to be said or thought of those who place their confidence in fictitious advantages, in mere imaginary superiority to their fellow men or fellow Christians; as belonging to the true Church, having the true succession, the real sacraments, when in fact in these respects they are even less favored than those whom they look upon as outside the Church and the covenant?

And approvest the things that are more excellent. Δοκιμάζειν is to try, to examine, as in 1 Corinthians 3:13; and then, to regard as tried, i.e., to approve, as in 1 Corinthians 16:3. Διαφέρειν means to differ, as in Galatians 2:6; and also, to excel, as in Matthew 10:31. See also Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:7, etc. This is the most common meaning of the word in the New Testament. We have then the choice of the two interpretations, Thou approvest the things that are more excellent, or, Thou dost distinguish the things that are different. Our version gives the former; both here and in Philippians 1:10, where the same words occur. The latter is adopted by Theodoret, who explains διαφέροντα by ἐναντία ἀλλήλοις, δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἀδικίαν; and Theophylact, τί δεῖ πρᾶξαι καὶ τί μὴ δεῖ πρᾶξαι. The same view is taken by most of the recent commentators. It is suitable to the context, in as much as the apostle is here speaking of the peculiar advantages of the Jews, one of which was their superior knowledge, and their ability to do what others could not, that is, decide what was and what was not consistent with the will of God. On the other hand, however, to approve of what is right, to discern it to be right, is a higher attainment than merely to discriminate between good and evil. And as the apostle is here conceding to the Jews everything they could claim, it is better to give his words their highest sense. He admits that theoretically they were right in their judgments. It was not their moral judgments, but their moral conduct that was in fault.

Being instructed, κατηχούμενος, (orally instructed, as the word literally means,) out of the law, i.e., the Scriptures, as νόμος often means. The word or law of God was a light to their feet, to which they could, at all times, refer to guide their steps.

VERSES 19, 20. And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind. The apostle, in these verses, states the effect which the peculiar advantages of the Jews produced upon them. They considered themselves to be greatly superior to all other nations; capable of instructing them; and of being the guides and light of the world. This idea is presented in different lights, in what follows—a light of them which are in, darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes. They looked upon themselves as qualified to act as the instructors of others, ἔχοντα, having, i.e., because they had the form, etc.

Having the form of knowledge and of truth in the law. Μόρφωσις occurs in the New Testament only here and in 2 Timothy 3:5. In the latter passage it is opposed to the reality (δύναμις), and means mere appearance. This, however, cannot be its meaning here; for the clause in which it occurs, assigns the reason which the Jews felt themselves to have, and which they had in fact, for their superior knowledge. They supposed themselves to be able to guide others because they had the form of knowledge in the law. It, therefore, here means, forma quae rem exprimat, as Grotius expresses it. The form of knowledge, is knowledge as represented or expressed in the law. In other words, the exhibition of knowledge and truth in the law is given in a form which expresses their true nature. The words γνῶσις and ἀλήθεια do not essentially differ. The former, says De Wette, is truth as known; the latter, truth in itself.

VERSES 21, 22.Thou therefore that teachest another. We have here the virtual apodosis of ver. 17. 'If thou, although a Jew, and related to God as one of his peculiar people, and well instructed out of the law, violate the law, and do the things thou condemnest in others, how canst thou escape the judgment of that God who will render to every man according to his works.' It is evident the apostle means to assert that the Jews were guilty of the crimes here specified; and it matters little whether the several classes be read interrogatively or affirmatively. The former, as the more forcible is generally preferred. To set ourselves up as instructors, and yet not to apply our principles to ourselves, is not only an inconsistency, but offensive arrogance and hypocrisy. To steal and to commit adultery are great sins, but for those who preach against them and condemn them in others, to commit them, is to quadruple their guilt. The Jews, therefore, who committed the sins which they so loudly condemned in the heathen, were more guilty in the sight of God than the heathen themselves. While flattering themselves that they were secure from the divine wrath, in the enclosure of the theocracy, they were the special objects of God's displeasure; so that publicans and harlots were nearer to the kingdom of God than they.

Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples? That the Jews, subsequently to the captivity, did abhor idols, is a well known fact; that they robbed the temples of idols is not known, besides, robbing the temples of idols was not sacrilege; for in the mind of the Jew there was no sacredness in those temples. It was to him robbery, and nothing more; probably something less. The objurgatory character of these several clauses requires that the thing here charged should be of the same name with idolatry, not its opposite. The Jew taught that men should not steal, yet he stole himself; he said, Commit not adultery, yet he was guilty of that crime; he abhorred idols, yet was guilty of idolatry. It is something analogous to idolatry that is here charged, not the despoiling of heathen temples, which would be the natural expression of the abhorrence of idols. The essence of idolatry was profanation of God; of this the Jews were in a high degree guilty.

They had made his house a den of thieves. Instead, therefore, of taking the word ἱεροσυλεῖς literally, which the context forbids, it should be understood in a secondary sense. It expresses the sin of irreverence in its higher forms; either as manifested in withholding from God his due, which the prophet denounces as robbery—"Will a man rob God? yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings," Malachi 3:8; or it may be taken in the still more general sense of profanation, the irreverent disregard of God and holy things. This is all the context requires: 'You profess great reverence for God, in eschewing idolatry; and yet, in other forms, you are guilty of the greatest irreverence.'

VERSES 23, 24. Another striking instance of the inconsistency between their principles and their conduct was, that while they made a boast of the law, they so disregarded its precepts as to lead the heathen to think and speak evil of that God who gave the law, of whose character they judged by the conduct of his people. This charge he expresses in the language of their own prophets; see Isaiah 52:5, and Ezekiel 36:20, 23. In the former passage we find in the LXX., nearly the same words as those used by the apostle: "δἰ ὑμᾶς διαπαντὸς τὸ ὄνομά μου βλασφημεῖται ἐν τοῖς ἓθνεσι." Both Isaiah and Ezekiel, indeed, refer to that blaspheming of God by the heathen, which arose from the misery of his people, whose God they were thus led to regard as unable to protect his worshippers. This, however, does not render the reference of the apostle less appropriate; for it is the mere fact that God's name was blasphemed among the Gentiles, on account of the Jews, that the apostle means to confirm by this reference to the Scriptures. And besides, as their sins were the cause of their captivity, their sins were the cause also of the evil speaking of God, of which their sufferings were the immediate occasion.

VERSE 25. The apostle, in vers. 1-16 of this chapter, had proved that God would judge both Jew and Gentile according to their works; in vers. 17-24, that the Jews, notwithstanding their peculiar privileges, were no less sinful than the Gentiles; the obvious conclusion therefore was, that they were no less liable to condemnation. It is with this conclusion implied, but not expressed, that this verse is connected by the particle γάρ: "You are exposed to condemnation, for circumcision, in which you trust, profits only on condition that you keep the law.' Comp. Romans 4:2, and 4:9, and other places in which γάρ refers to a thought omitted. Circumcision is not here to be taken for Judaism in general, of which that rite was the sign, but for the rite itself. It is obvious that the Jews regarded circumcision as in some way securing their salvation. That they did so regard it, may be proved not only from such passages of the New Testament where the sentiment is implied, but also by the direct assertion of their own writers. Such assertions have been gathered in abundance from their works by Eisenmenger, Schoettgen, and others. For example, the Rabbi Menachem, in his Commentary on the Books of Moses, fol. 43, col. 3, says, "Our Rabbins have said, that no circumcised man will see hell." In the Jalkut Rubeni, num. 1, it is taught, "circumcision saves from hell." In the Medrasch Tillim, fol. 7, col. 2, it is said, "God swore to Abraham, that no one who was circumcised should he sent to hell." In the book Akedath Jizehak, fol. 54, col. 2, it is taught that "Abraham sits before the gate of hell, and does not allow that any circumcised Israelite should enter there." The apostle considers circumcision under two different aspects. First, as a rite supposed to possess some inherent virtue or merit of its own; and secondly, as a sign and seal of God's covenant. In the former view, Paul here as well as elsewhere, says, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing," Galatians 6:15; in the latter, it had its value. As a seal it was attached in the first place to the national covenant between God and the Jews. It was a sign of the existence of that covenant, and that the person to whom it was affixed was included within its pale. It was a pledge on the part of God that he would fulfill the promises of that covenant. If any Jew fulfilled his part of the national covenant, and in that sense kept the law, his circumcision profited him. It secured to him all the advantages of Judaism. But this rite was, in the second place, attached to the spiritual covenant formed with Abraham; that is, "it was a seal of the righteousness of faith;" it was designed as an assurance that Abraham was, in virtue of his faith, regarded as righteous in the sight of God. To all those Jews who had the faith of Abraham, and thus kept the covenant established with him, circumcision was in like manner profitable. It was the visible sign and pledge that all who believed should be justified. On the other hand, if either the national or spiritual covenant was broken, circumcision was of no avail. The fact that an Israelite was circumcised, did not save him from excision from the people, if he broke any of the fundamental laws of Moses; neither could circumcision save those who, being destitute of the faith of Abraham, appeared as sinners before the bar of God. Paul therefore teaches that circumcision had no inherent, magical efficacy; that it had no value beyond that of a sign and seal; that it secured the blessings of the covenant to those who kept the covenant; but to the transgressors of the law it was of no avail. This latter idea he expresses by saying, ἡ περιτομή σου ἀκροβυστία γέγονεν, thy circumcision has become uncircumcision. That is, it is of no use. It cannot prevent your being dealt with as a transgressor, or treated as though you had never been circumcised.

VERSE 26. Therefore, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law. This verse is an inference (οὖν) from the preceding. It was there taught that everything depends upon obedience to the law. God will judge every man according to his works. If a Jew, though circumcised, break the law, he shall be condemned; and if a Gentile, though uncircumcised, keep the law, he shall be justified. The one proposition flows from the other; for if circumcision is in itself nothing, its presence cannot protect the guilty; its absence cannot invalidate the claims of the righteous. Δικαιώματα decrees, perceives, what the law prescribes as right. The apostle does not mean to intimate that the Gentiles do in any case keep the righteousness of the law; contrary to his own explicit assertion, that there is none righteous, no not one. It is a mere hypothetical statement, designed to show that everything depends on obedience, and that circumcision cannot be the ground either of justification or condemnation.

Shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? The phrase λογίζεσθαί τι εἴς τι, in accordance with the Hebrew חָשַׁב לְ, 1 Samuel 1:13; Isaiah 29:17, often means to reckon or regard one thing as another. Uncircumcision shall be taken for circumcision.

VERSE 27. Calvin makes this verse a part of the interrogation begun in ver. 26, a mode of pointing followed by Koppe, Lachmann, Fritzsche, and many others. 'Shall not uncircumcision be reckoned circumcision, and condemn you who break the law?' Our translators supply οὐχί, before κρινεῖ, and make ver. 27 a distinct interrogation, 'and shall not the uncircumcision condemn you,' etc. Meyer takes ver. 27 categorically, and καί in the sense of even or moreover, so that ver. 27 is virtually an answer to the preceding question. 'Shall not uncircumsion be taken for circumcision? (Yes, verily), it will even condemn you,' etc. In either way the idea is, that the obedient uncircumcised heathen would be better off, he would stand on higher ground, than the disobedient circumcised Jew. It is only putting the truth taught in this verse into different words to say, 'the unbaptized believer shall condemn the baptized unbeliever.'

The uncircumcision which is by nature, ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία. The position of the article shows plainly that ἐκ φύσεως qualifies ἀκροβυστία, and is not to be connected with the following participle τελοῦσα. The sense is, "the uncircumcision which is natural," and not 'which by nature keeps the law.'

If it fulfill the law, i.e., provided it is obedient, and therefore righteous.

Shall judge, κρινεῖ, by implication, shall condemn; the judgment is by the context supposed to be a condemnatory one. Comp. Matthew 12:41.

Thee who by the letter, etc.; σὲ τὸν διὰ γράμματος, thee with the letter, i.e., the written law. In the present case it is not used in a disparaging sense, for the mere verbal meaning in opposition to the spirit. The context rather requires that γράμμα and περιτομή should be taken as expressing the real and substantial benefits of the Jews. Our version renders διά by, Beza also has per. He understands the apostle to mean that external circumcision being profaned only rendered the Jews so much the worse. But as διά with the genitive so often means with, as expressing the circumstances under which anything is done (as δἰ ὑπομονῆς; with patience, διὰ προσκόμματος with offense), the meaning is, Te, qui literas et circumcisionem habens, contra legem facis. Notwithstanding they had the law and circumcision, they were transgressors of the law. Calvin makes letter and circumcision to mean literal circumcision; but this is unnecessary, and unsuited to the context; for when speaking of the advantages of the Jews, the law is of too much importance to allow of the word which expresses it being merged into a mere epithet.

VERSES 28, 29. For not he who is externally a Jew, is a Jew, etc. These verses assign the reason why the external rite of circumcision can avail so little. God looks upon the heart, and does not regard mere external circumstances. It is not, therefore, mere descent from Abraham, nor connection with the external theocracy or church, that can secure his favor; but the possession of those internal dispositions which eternal rites are intended to symbolize. Verse 28 contains the negative, ver. 29 the affirmative statement of this general truth. The word ᾿Ιουδαῖος is to be supplied in the first member of the sentence, as the subject is ὁ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ ᾿Ιουδαῖος, and the predicate ᾿Ιουδαῖος ἐστιν. The same remark may be made with regard to the following clause, where the subject is ἡ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ, ἐν σαρκὶ περιτομή, and the predicate περιτομή ἐστιν.

External circumcision in the flesh is not circumcision. Φανερός, apparent, visible, what falls under the observation of the senses, hence external. The word Jew is of course to be taken as the designation of the people of God. 'He is not one of the people of God who is such externally.' It is nothing external that constitutes or secures this peculiar relation to God. The affirmative statement is, ἀλλ̓ ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ᾿Ιουδαῖος [᾿Ιουδαῖός ἐστιν], but the Jew in secret is a Jew. As in the preceding verse, part of the subject is borrowed from the predicate, so here and in the following clause the predicate is to be borrowed from the subject; that is, ᾿Ιουδαῖός ἐστιν is to be supplied after the first clause, and περιτομή ἐστιν after the second clause of this verse, so that the whole reads thus: "But he who is inwardly a Jew is really a Jew; and the circumcision of the heart, in spirit and not in letter, is circumcision." This is the construction of the passage almost universally adopted. Κρυπτός hidden, and as opposed to φανερός, inward; hence ἐν τῶς κρυπτῷ, inwardly, in heart. Comp. 1 Peter 3:4. True circumcision is described as περιτομὴ καρδίας, ἐν πνεύματι, οὐ γράμματι. These latter words admit of different interpretations. The apostle contrasts πνεῦμα and γράμμα in Romans 7:6, and 2 Corinthians 3:6, much as he does here. In Romans 7:6, oldness of the letter may mean the condition and spirit of those who were under the law, now become old; and newness of the spirit may mean that new condition and temper which the Holy Spirit gives. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul says he was made a minister of the new covenant, οὐ γράμματος, ἀλλὰ πνεύματος, not of the letter, but of the spirit, i.e., not of the law, but of the gospel; not of a mere objective, legal covenant, but of that which derives its whole character from the Spirit, and therefore is spirit, or in the widest sense of the word, of spiritual. Comp. also Galatians 3:3. Guided by these passages, Rückert understands πνεῦμα here to mean the new principle of life imparted by the Holy Spirit, and ἐν to express instrumentality. Thus the sense is: The circumcision of the heart is not produced or effected by the law, but by this new divine principle of life. The same interpretation substantially is given by Köllner. It is not, however, strictly in accordance with the mode of representation adopted in the Scriptures, to speak of the circumcision of the heart, i.e., sanctification, as effected by anything implanted in us. Beza makes ἐν πνεύματι simply exegetical of καρδίας, and gives the sense thus: "Cujus vis est interior et in animo, sive qua circumcisi sunt affectus." Erasmus: "Quae Spiritu constant, referens ad Spiritum Sanctum, cujus unius opus es ista circumcisio ἀχειροποίητος. Mihi vero videtur ἐν πνεύματι additum partim propter antithesin γράμματος, partim ut explicaret, quid vocaret circumcisionem cordis." According to this view, ἐν πνευμ́ατι is in heart, and is tautological with the clause (circumcision of the heart) which it should explain. And besides, the opposition between πνεῦμα and γράμμα is thus destroyed. Others again take ἐν πνεύματι and εν̓ γράμματι adverbial, "after a spiritual, not after a literal or external way;" or adjectively, spiritual, not literal. The most common, and on the whole the preferable interpretation, refers πνεῦμα to the Holy Spirit, and gives ἐν the sense of by. The circumcision of the heart is then effected by the Spirit, and not by the letter, i.e., in obedience to the prescriptions of the law.

Whose praise is not of men, but of God. The relative ου is to be referred to ᾿Ιουδαῖος. The true Jew, or child of God, is one whose excellence is internal, seen and acknowledged by God; not in its nature external, securing the notice and approbation of men. If the relative οὗ be taken as neuter, then the idea is the same, but presented in another form: 'Of which (i.e., of this spiritual Judaism) the praise is of God.' As, however, ᾿Ιουδαῖος is the main subject in the context, the former explanation is the more natural. The spiritual import of circumcision was clearly taught in the Old Testament, as in Deuteronomy 30:6: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God." See Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4: "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart." The wicked are therefore called "the uncircumcised in heart," Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:9; Acts 7:51. Comp. Colossians 2:11: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands." This is what he calls "the circumcision of Christ," or Christian circumcision, that which Christ secures and gives. As circumcision thus signifies inward purification, and was a seal of the righteousness of faith, it was, as to its import and design, identical with baptism. Hence what in Colossians 2:11, Paul expresses by saying, "Ye are circumcised," he expresses in ver. 12 by saying, "Ye are buried with him in baptism." What, therefore, he teaches of the worthlessness of external circumcision, without internal purity, and of the possibility of the external sign being, received without the internal grace, is no less true of baptism. See 1 Corinthians 7:18, 19; Galatians 6:15.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. Membership in the true Church, considered as a visible society, is no security that we shall obtain the favor of God. The Jews, before the advent, were members of the true and only Church, and yet Paul teaches that they were not on this account the more acceptable to God. Multitudes of Jewish converts were members of the apostolic Church, and yet, retaining their former doctrines and spirit, were in the gall of bitterness, ver. 17.

2. Mere knowledge cannot commend us to God. It neither sanctifies the heart, nor of itself renders men more useful. When made the ground of confidence, or the fuel of pride and arrogance, it is perverted and destructive, vers. 18-20.

3. Superior knowledge enhances the guilt of sin, and increases the certainty, necessity, and severity of punishment, without in itself increasing the power of resistance. It is, therefore, a great mistake to make knowledge our sole dependence in promoting the moral improvement of men, vers. 21, 22.

4. The sins of the professing people of God are peculiarly offensive to him, and injurious to our fellow-men, vers. 22-24.

5. Here, as in the former part of the chapter, the leading idea is, that God is just. He asks not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, a Greek or Barbarian, bond or free, but what is his character? Does he do good or evil? vers. 17-24.

6. According to the apostle, the true idea of a sacrament is not that it is a mystic rite, possessed of inherent efficacy, or conveying grace as a mere opus operatam; but that it is a seal and sign, designed to confirm our faith in the validity of the covenant to which it is attached; and, from its significant character, to present and illustrate some great spiritual truth, ver. 25.

7. All hopes are vain which are founded on a participation of the sacraments of the Church, even when they are of divine appointment, as circumcision, baptism, and the Lord's supper; much more when they are of human invention, as penance, and extreme unction, vers. 26, 27.

8. Religion and religious services, to be acceptable to God, must be of the heart. Mere external homage is of no account, vers. 28, 29.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. The sins and refuges of men are alike in all ages. The Jew expected salvation because he was a Jew, so does the Roman Catholic because he is a Roman Catholic, the Greek because he is a Greek, and so of others. Were it ever so certain that the Church to which we belong is the true, apostolic, universal Church, it remains no less certain that without holiness no man shall see God, ver. 17, etc.

2. The possession of superior knowledge should make us anxious, first, to go right ourselves, and then to guide others right. To preach against evils which we ourselves commit, while it aggravates our guilt, is little likely to do others much good, ver. 18, etc.

3. Christians should ever remember that they are the epistles of Jesus Christ, known and read of all men; that God is honored by their holy living, and that his name is blasphemed when they act wickedly, vers. 23, 24.

4. Whenever true religion declines, the disposition to lay undue stress on external rites is increased. The Jews, when they lost their spirituality, supposed that circumcision had power to save them. 'Great is the virtue of circumcision,' they cried; 'no circumcised person enters hell.' The Christian Church, when it lost its spirituality, taught that water in baptism washed away sin. How large a part of nominal Christians rest all their hopes on the idea of the inherent efficacy of external rites! ver. 25, etc.

5. While it is one dangerous extreme to make religion consist in the observance of external ceremonies, it is another to undervalue them, when of divine appointment. Paul does not say that circumcision was useless; he asserts its value. So, likewise, the Christian sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, are of the utmost importance, and to neglect or reject them is a great sin, ver. 26, etc.

6. If the heart be right in the sight of God, it matters little what judgment men may form of us; and, on the other hand, the approbation of men is a poor substitute for the favor of God, ver. 29.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans