Let us bear in mind that when Paul wrote to the Romans he did not divide his letter into chapters and verses. He wrote a letter, the result of a thought process. Later readers and scholars made the divisions based on what they discerned to be themes in his thoughts.
So, it is easier for us to study the epistle as themes which may cover different chapters. When we look at chapter 2, the chapter, along with chapter 3, form part of a theme that covers 1: 18- 3: 20 which we labeled “need for redemption”. We need to note too, that how different themes are identified and labeled may not be uniform with every scholar.
Anyway, in chapter 2, we are still discussing the them of redemption.
Having laid the charge of Godlessness for all humanity, Paul now proceeds to challenge the Jewish unbelievers and their perceived reasons for their salvation: Circumcision, The Law, Abraham. He does not mention Jews until we come to verse 17.
“You”, in verse 1: Who is being addressed? “You have no excuse, you who pass judgment”. Note that in 1:20 Paul used the same expression, “men are without excuse”. Every indictment in 1:18 -32 would make Jews feel good. They know that the sins Paul charges humanity with are sins that Gentiles would commit – why? Because they do not have the Law.
Note how many times the word judgment appears in this section. Also, pay particular attention to the two types of judgment: human judgment and God’s judgment.
Why do we judge others? To feel good about ourselves, to raise ourselves up and put others down.
What is wrong with human judgment? First, the motivation is self-seeking (selfish). Secondly, human judgment is partial. It lacks truth – another important word in this passage. Thirdly, we are not better than those we judge since we are all sinners.
God’s judgment, on the other hand, is based on truth. There is also kindness, tolerance and patience in God’s judgment.
Judging others amounts to showing contempt to these attributes of God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive our sins as we too forgive those who sin against us”.
God’s attributes of kindness, tolerance and patience call for repentance on our part – another important word.
What is repentance? The Greek word, metanoia, means change of attitude, or way of thinking, a turn-around. It is not simply feeling sorrow or remorse.
What does it mean to store up wrath in verse 5? It means that sinning is cumulative.
God’s wrath is part of God’s righteous judgment: On the one side we have God’s loving kindness, mercy, patience, tolerance and on the other there is God’s wrath. God’s holiness cannot co-exist with sin.
In verses 6 -11 Paul shows that there will be eternal life for those who persistently do good seeking (God’s, not their own) glory, honor and immortality on the one side and wrath and judgment, for those who are self-seeking.
There are many churches that avoid teaching about judgment, and there are churches that see only judgment in God. God’s righteousness is balanced.
What is the significance of the expression first for the Jew, then for the Gentile? All (humanity) are culpable. Furthermore, those who have been enlightened with knowledge of God, including Christians, have a special responsibility, higher accountability, if you like.
Verse 11 expresses another attribute of God, that of impartiality. There is an expression people use, which I personally do not favor, but it is true, “God is no respecter of people”. It does not mean God is indifferent but rather that God does not show favoritism.
Verse 12 introduces the term law, which will appear 72 times in Romans alone. There are at least three meanings of the word in Paul’s usage:
The first meaning is in reference to the Hebrew Torah, which means “Teaching”, or the Five Books of Moses (in Greek, The Pentateuch).
The second meaning is in reference to what theologically we call works, sometimes used as a compound term, works of the law. Actually this is the most common usage in Romans; we will need to pay special attention to it. This second meaning means obedience motivated by anything but love for God: Motivation out of fear, merit, pride or self-promotion.
The third meaning is principle, as in the principle of sin and death and love of God and life: Thus the law of sin and death, and the law of spirit and eternal life. In everyday language we speak of the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics, for example. Using the latter, an airplane is able to fly and counter the former.
Note the contrast in verse 13 between hearing and obedience; hearing also means knowledge.
Being declared righteous, is in contrast to earning or meriting righteousness. We will see in chapter 4 that righteousness is imputed or credited.
A persons conscience in verse 15 acts to convict or to defend. An individual’s conscience is a secret, known to the individual and God only. Those secrets, known to the individual and God alone, will provide indictments on judgment day.
In verse 17 Paul mentions the Jews directly as he points out specific functions of the law.
First the law is for knowledge, of God’s requirements.
Secondly, the law is for guidance. Guidance of the one who possesses the knowledge and to show light to those who lack the knowledge, in this case, Gentiles.
Thirdly, the law is for instruction, or teaching, just as its definition, Torah.
In verses 17 – 24 Paul charges Jews of acting contrary to the knowledge and responsibility they have.
But were the Jews stealing and committing adultery and worshiping idols? Not outwardly, but in their hearts.
One may not physically steal, yet hate the person who owns the item of desire. One may lust after a woman but not actually sleep with her. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her” (Mt. 5: 28).
Similarly, fixation on anything besides God is idolatry. Examples of fixations: money, power, prestige, possessions.
Verse 24 begins with the phrase, “As it is written” – where is it written? Paul quotes the Hebrew Bible repeatedly in Romans especially, where we have no less than 50 references. That was the Scripture in Paul’s time. The quotation in 2:24 is from Is. 52: 5 and Ezekiel. 36: 22.
The concept of the law will appear again and again throughout Romans, as already pointed out above.
Verses 25 – 29 deal with circumcision, another central mark of Jewish identity. Paul argues that circumcision ought to be an external sign of something spiritual, something in the heart. Circumcision is simply another work of the law if it lacks the spiritual significance.
In chapter 3 Paul argues that circumcision, like the Law given on Mt. Sinai, came after righteousness had been imputed to Abraham, not before. We will discuss this next.
- Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Romans 2:1-11 (stjoeofoblog.wordpress.com)