NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part X)
Adam Clarke sees tribulation and anguish in a similar vein: “Misery of all descriptions, without the possibility of escape, will this righteous Judge inflict upon every impenitent sinner. The Jew first, as possessing greater privileges, and having abused greater mercies; and also on the Gentile, who, though he had not the same advantages, had what God saw was sufficient for his state; and, having sinned against them, shall have punishment proportioned to his demerit.”1 We do not know the full range of revelation that Paul received from God on this subject concerning the final judgment. But suffice it to say, that the fire of punishment will not burn any hotter for the unrepentant Jew than the unremorseful Gentile, nor will the length and glory of everlasting life be longer or brighter for one than the other.
John Bengel looks at retribution for evil deeds from a different angle. First, he says that tribulation is for the present, and anguish is for the future; tribulation weighs the individual down, and anguish is what follows. Says Bengel: “In these words, we have a proof of the avenging justice of God.” It is important that we understand what Bengel means by “avenging justice.” He explains: “For God’s wrath causes sinful man, experiencing wrath and all adversity, to hate himself, because he has opposed God; and as long as man shrinks from this most righteous hatred of self, he is under punishment.”2 In other words, the longer and more often the sinner tries to hide in the darkness of his wicked ways from the glaring light of God’s Word, the more he ensures himself of a terrible outcome. It’s another way of saying that when all is said and done, justice wins.
Henry Alford gives us this perspective: Tribulation signifies more the outward weight of objective infliction, while anguish is the subjective feeling of the pressure. In other words, when a person recognizes the reality of the way things really are, the more pressure they will feel to either ignore it, run from it, or acquiesce to it. Says Alford, the objective weight of infliction and the subjective weight of anguish coexist as burdens on every soul. But in this case, Paul says that because Jews had such an advantage over Gentiles, that battle began with them. After all, they knew about God’s divine will and had His commandments and laws.3 When we extrapolate this same principle to Christianity today, believers are the first to feel the burden of sin through conviction. Therefore, they should be the first to recognize they cannot go on until forgiveness is sought and is mercy given. That’s what the Apostle John points out.4
H. A. Ironside has this to say: “It is not that God will deal, therefore, in indiscriminate judgment with all men, but [the] light given will be the standard by which they are judged. None can complain, for if one but ‘follow the gleam’ he will find light enough to guide his steps and ensure his salvation. If by the light of nature, men realize their responsibility to their Creator, He will make Himself responsible to give them further light unto the salvation of their souls… No principle could be sounder. Men are held responsible for what they know or might know if they would. They are not condemned for ignorance unless that ignorance is the result of the willful rejection of light.”5
Verses 10-11: But let glory, honor, and peace be to everyone who does good – to the Jews first and also to those who are not Jews. God judges everyone the same. It doesn’t matter who they are.
As opposed to the punishment meted out on those who reject the Word of God as they seek to find their own way through a life filled with risks and pitfalls, Paul counters with words of encouragement for those who remain steadfast and uncompromising in their faith and fully committed to God and His Word. He prays that all those who are faithful will be blessed with glory, honor, and peace. This is similar wording to what Paul says in verse seven as the goal of all those who live their lives for God’s benefit.
The apostle Peter makes the same claim, only he says glory, honor, and praise. This was a common phrase used in Bible days as a form of doxology. Let’s look at three interesting words Paul uses here. The first, “glory,” in the Greek is “doxa.” It basically means the opinion or assessment one person has for another. Today we might say that such a person has a “glowing reputation.” Paul will use this same word again when writing to the Corinthians: “But we speak God’s secret wisdom that has been hidden from everyone until now. God planned this wisdom for our glory. He planned it before the world began.”6 And in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says this: “We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like Him. This change in us brings more and more glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”7 So, putting all of this in context, Paul is saying that those who remain unmovable in their faith in God, for God, and from God, will be held in high esteem by others who look to them as examples of good Christian living.
The next word is “honor.” The Greek word is “timē,” and in this context, it means “to have respect and reverence for.” The psalmist said that people who respect and revere the LORD are like a light shining in the darkness. He then gives them this glowing eulogy: “Such good people will never fall. They will always be remembered. They will not be afraid of bad news. They are confident because they trust in the Lord, They remain confident and without fear, so they defeat their enemies. They freely give to the poor. Their goodness will continue forever. They will be honored with victory.”8
And Solomon says of Wisdom: “With her right hand, Wisdom offers long life – with the other hand, riches and honor. Wisdom will lead you to a life of joy and peace.”9 He also says: “Love wisdom, and she will make you great. Hold on to wisdom, and she will bring you honor. Wisdom will reward you with a crown of honor and glory.”10
We see this clearly illustrated when Jesus visited His hometown of Nazareth. It was there He made the statement that a prophet is honored everywhere except in his own country.11 But later, when speaking to His disciples, Jesus make this claim: “Whoever serves me must follow me. My servants must be with me everywhere I am. My Father will give honor to anyone who serves me.”12 So, not only is it an honor to serve our God, but by serving Him with honor, He will see to it that we are honored for being trustworthy and dependable agents of truth, kindness, and love.
The last word used here by Paul is “peace.” This is translated from the Greek word “eirēnē,” which, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, in this context, it means: “the blessed state of devout and upright men after death.” If taken that way, Paul would be saying more or less that those who stand for what is right against all odds and remain faithful to the end will be able to depart this life in peace.13 Paul uses this word the same way when he says: “If your thinking is controlled by your sinful self, there is spiritual death. But if your thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.”14
Again, the apostle Paul puts the Jews first in line for these blessings followed by the non-Jews. We need not think of this as God’s formula for blessing, but rather that Paul was connecting this to how the Gospel was being spread in those days. Every time Paul went into a new city, first, he would head for the Jewish synagogue. Only when he was not welcomed did he then go among the non-Jews in that same city. In fact, many of the non-Jews he met were already proselytes to Judaism. But he did not favor one over the other. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he told them, “When someone belongs to Christ Jesus, it is not important if they are circumcised [Jews] or not. The important thing is faith—the kind of faith that works through love.”15 And that is the same thought he expresses here.
Early church scholars have various opinions on what Jesus is saying here. Apollinaris of Laodicea says: “Paul is right to put the Jew first here and then the Greek. For those who are closer to the Lord and to His rebukes are honored above others, and they enjoy their rewards more than others.”16 Then in the writings of Ambrosiaster, we read: “Just as Paul mentioned three woes for unbelievers, so now he mentions three benefits for believers: genuine honor as sons of God, unchanging glory, and peace.”17 And the great preacher Chrysostom questions: “Which Jews and Greeks are Paul talking about here? Those before Christ’s coming! For he has not yet gotten to the time of grace in the development of his argument but is still dwelling on earlier times.… For if there was no difference before, … how can there be any now? This is why he puts so much emphasis on this point.”18
We also have commentary from Pelagius who writes: “Glory is opposed to wrath and honor to displeasure. What Paul called ‘immortality’ above he calls ‘peace’ here. The word first is emphatic and means ‘indeed,’ because God does not play favorites.”19 And then, Theodoret of Cyr says: “God did not promise eternal life to those who worshiped idols but to those who even apart from the law led a Mosaic life, embraced godliness and the worship of God, and were concerned about righteousness.”20 And finally, St. Jerome makes this comment: “We are all born equal, emperors and paupers, and we die as equals. Our humanity is of one quality.”21 To this I add, that there is another place, between birth and death, where all mankind regardless of race, color, ethnicity, education, wealth, position, or power are made equal, and that is at the foot of the cross of Christ Jesus.
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
2 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 225
3 John Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 17
4 1 John 1:8-9
5 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 1 Corinthians 2:7; See 1 Corinthians 11:7, 15
7 2 Corinthians 3:18
8 Psalm 112:6-9
9 Proverbs 3:16-17
10 Ibid. 4:8-9; See 8:18
11 John 4:44
12 Ibid. 12:26
13 See Isaiah 57:2
14 Romans 8:6
15 Galatians 5:6
16 Apollinaris of Laodicea: Pauline Commentary on Romans, loc. cit.
17 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
18 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, loc. cit.
19 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
20 Theodoret of Cyr: Interpretation of Romans, loc. cit.
21 Jerome: Homilies on the Psalms 14