NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part II)
Bible scholar Charles Hodge makes an important observation that relates to the context in which this verse is to be understood. He writes: “The connection between this chapter and what precedes, as indicated by the particle, ‘wherefore’ (or, ‘that’s why’), is somewhat doubtful. Some suppose the inference to be drawn from the doctrine taught from verse 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… It is not so much the inexcusableness of sinners as their 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.”1
However, a more recent commentator points out, the context in which this is said does connect with what was stated in the previous chapter. He writes: “‘That’s why’ (v. 1) connects with the idea of God’s judgment mentioned by Paul in 1:18-19, a judgment that encompasses all of humanity. You have no excuse (or ‘no defense’) picks up the idea from 1:20, where people have no defense before God on the day of judgment, for everyone suppresses and rejects the knowledge of God they have from creation. God’s judgment rightly (lit., ‘according to the truth’) comes upon people. That is, it comes upon them ‘according to the truth,’ according to the facts of how they actually live.”2 Needless to say, this must have been hard for these church leaders in Rome to swallow. But as good medicine often does, it may taste bad, except it is so good for you.
John Stott has this to say: “Many commentators (perhaps most) believe that having portrayed and condemned Gentile society in 1:18–32, Paul now turns his attention to Jewish people. This is an understandable viewpoint, since the classification of the human race into Jews and Gentiles is mentioned on numerous occasions throughout the letter, and one of the apostle’s main purposes in writing is to demonstrate that Jews and Gentiles are equal in sin and equal in salvation.”3 Stott goes on to say, that this may be more of a guess than actual fact since it takes until verse 17 before Paul involves a Jew in direct conversation. However, Paul has just finished giving a graphic picture of the ancient Gentile world. Not to condemn them, necessarily, but to show how those converted Jews who feel that simply because they bear circumcision as a mark of being chosen by God as heirs of His promise to Abraham, does not make them morally no better than their non-Jewish neighbors since all men are in need of salvation. Both Jews and Gentiles.
Verses 2-3a: God judges all who do such things, and we know His judgment is right. And since you do the same things as those people you judge, surely you understand that God will punish you as well.
Here Paul strikes out at an unfortunate human trait, and by so doing speaks against an attitude prevalent in our own day. How many people have quickly condemned a person who murdered with a knife or gun, while they are attacking other people’s reputations with hate and envy; jealousy and pride; ridicule and rejection, to the point they no longer feel alive? How many are quick to judge a robber while they plagiarize and misappropriate, and act with greed and covetousness toward what others have? How many speak evil of those caught in adultery while they commit adultery every day in their hearts? Paul says that God will judge everyone with justice according to the evidence of their wrongdoing, but these false accusers will get twice the penalty.
Abraham learned this principle of how punishment must fit the crime when he bargained with God to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because his nephew Lot and his family lived there. We read: “Then Abraham approached the LORD and asked, ‘Will you destroy the good people while you are destroying those who are evil? What if there are fifty good people in that city? Will you still destroy it? If that happened, those who are good would be the same as those who are evil – both would be punished. As the judge of the whole world, surely you would do the right thing!”4 And as we know, not even ten good people could be found in those twin cities so God did exactly what He said He would do.
This same sense of being fair and balanced in judgment was ascribed to God by Elihu in his speech to Job: “Can someone be a ruler if he hates justice? God is not only powerful, but He is fair.”5 And in one of David’s psalms, he sings: “You listened to me from your throne like a good judge, and you decided that I was right… The LORD set up His throne to bring justice, and He will rule forever. He judges everyone on earth fairly. He judges all nations honestly.”6 And in another psalm, David says: “The LORD always does what is right, and he loves seeing people do right. Those who live good lives will be with Him.”7 Then David soars with poetry as he describes God’s judicial ethics: “Your goodness is higher than the highest mountains. Your fairness is deeper than the deepest ocean.”8
This knowledge of God’s fairness in judgment led the Prophet Jeremiah to admit: “LORD if I argue with you, you are always right.”9 But some in Israel didn’t see it that way. So God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: “You people might say, ‘The LORD isn’t fair!’ But listen, family of Israel. I am fair. You are the ones who are not fair! If good people change and become evil, they must die for the bad things they do. And if evil people change and become good and fair, they will save their lives. They will live!”10 Even a pagan king recognized God’s superiority: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, give praise, honor, and glory to the King of Heaven. Everything He does is right. He is always fair, and He is able to make proud people humble!”11 And the prophet Zephaniah came to this conclusion: “The LORD… continues to be good. He does not do anything wrong. He continues to help His people. Morning after morning He makes good decisions for them. Not a day passes without His justice. He never gives a decision that is crooked or is something to be ashamed of.”12 Why is it so easy then for people today to blame God for everything that goes wrong in their lives, while those who do not acknowledge Him seem to be getting by handsomely? We could say, it is like a western rancher who feeds his prize stallion the same thing he gets for his wild horses because he knows that one they too will be tamed and serve him as he pleases.
Then, there was the time when Paul was in Athens where he spoke to the philosophers and Areopagus council members on Mar’s Hill and said to them: “God has decided on a day when He will judge all the people in the world in a way that is fair. To do this, He will use a man He chose long ago. And He has proved to everyone that this is the man to do it. He proved it by raising Him from death!”13 Of course, Paul was talking about Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Later, when Paul wrote to the believers in Thessaloniki, he told them how proud he was of their faith under persecution and suffering through hard times. Then says: “This is proof that God is right in His judgment. He wants you to be worthy of His kingdom. Your suffering is for that kingdom. God will do what is right. He will punish those who are causing you trouble. And He will bring relief to you who are troubled.”14 So we see how Paul arrives at God’s fairness in judgment so he can tell the believers in Rome about their conduct in dealing with those around them, be they Jews or Gentiles.
But the main point Paul wants to drive home is that they needed to stay away from the old mindset: “Don’t do as I do, do as I say do.” Wise man Job was dealing with this, and his friend Elihu said to him: “Job, it is not fair for you to say,‘I am more right than God,’ because you also ask Him, ‘What’s the use of trying to please You? What good will it do me if I don’t sin?’”15 So the LORD asked Job where did he get such foolish ideas? He then cautioned Job, prepare yourself for the questions I’m going to ask you.16 Then God goes on to ask Job who he believed created everything on earth and in the universe. Job was intimidated and felt so ashamed.17 So God continues to ask more questions. Finally, Job confesses: “I know You can do everything. You make plans, and nothing can change or stop them. You asked, ‘Who is this ignorant person saying these foolish things?’ I talked about things I did not understand. I talked about things too amazing for me to understand.”18
It is evident that Paul did not want some of these Roman believers to develop the same attitude that they knew better than anyone else what should or should not be said or done. Especially, when they all ought to rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to guide them in their decisions. It would be far easier to just say nothing and let things work themselves out. I’m sure Paul recalled what God said through the Psalmist: “You sit around talking about people, finding fault with your own brothers. When you did these things, I said nothing. So you thought that I was just like you. But I will not be quiet any longer. I will correct you and make clear what I have against you.”19
It also might remind us of the time when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Temple guards came to arrest Him, Peter pulled out a dagger because he thought his way of handling this situation was the best way. But Jesus quickly intervened and said to Peter: “Put your sword back in its place. People who use swords will be killed with swords. Surely you know I could ask my Father and He would give me more than twelve armies of angels. But it must happen this way to show the truth of what the Scriptures said.”20
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
2 Michael Vanlaningham, Moody Bible Commentary, loc. cit.
3 John Stott: On Romans, loc. cit.
4 Genesis 18:23-25
5 Job 34:17
6 Psalm 9:4,7-8
7 Ibid. 11:7
8 Ibid. 36:6; See Psalms 96:13; 98:9
9 Jeremiah 12:1
10 Ezekiel 18:25-27
11 Daniel 4:37
12 Zephaniah 3:5
13 Acts of the Apostles 17:31
14 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7
15 Job 35:1-3
16 Ibid. 38:1-3
17 Ibid. 40:4
18 Ibid. 42:1-3
19 Psalm 50:20-21
20 Matthew 26:52-54