NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part XI)
Reformer John Calvin says that he sees a division of the whole human race into two classes. God had separated the Jews from everyone else, but the condition of all Gentiles races was universal. Yet, Calvin says this makes no difference in determining that both groups are equally guilty of sin. He writes: “The word person is taken in Scripture for all outward things, which are customarily regarded as possessing any value or esteem. When, therefore, you read that God is no respecter of persons, understand that what He regards is purity of heart or inward integrity; and that He has no respect for those things which are traditionally highly valued by men, such as kindred, country, dignity, wealth, and similar things.”
Understanding this, respect of persons is to be taken here for the distinction or the difference between one nation and another. All this leads Calvin to say: “There is a twofold acceptation of men before God; the first, when He chooses and calls us from nothing through unmerited goodness, as there is nothing in our nature which can be approved by Him; the second, when after having regenerated us, He confers on us His gifts, and shows favor to the image of His Son which He recognizes in us.”1
John Bengel proposes, that by using the word but at the beginning of this sentence, Paul is comparing wrath with glory; indignation with honor; tribulation and anguish with peace mentioned in the previous three verses. Says Bengel, when it comes to things which bring joy, they should be viewed as proceeding from God, while those that bring sorrow are felt by man. He goes on to say: “In this passage, we must carefully attend to the word peace, which is here opposed to sorrow, that is, to tribulation and anxiety. But in Isaiah 65:13, joy [rejoice] (and honor) is opposed to shame [ashamed] (and grief), and each part of the sentence being concisely expressed, is to be supplied from its opposite. Besides, in the class of blessings, honor is greatest, and in the class of penalties, sorrow [is the greatest].”2
Henry Alford corroborates that what Paul says here, serves as a transition to what follows in the next verses, as well as, confirms what went before in the previous verses. As to what preceded this verse, Alford points out that although Jews had a significant advantage, they will be rightly judged for their use of them and not treated as a favorite of heaven. As to what follows, it introduces a comparison between Jews and Gentiles to show how justly God will judge.3
Wesleyan scholar Adam Clarke makes these points: “For there is no respect of persons with God – The righteous Judge will not act according to any principle of partiality; the character and conduct, alone of the persons shall weigh with Him. He will take no wicked man to glory, let his nation or advantages be what they may; and He will send no righteous man to perdition, though brought up in the very bosom of Gentilism. And as He will judge on that day according to character and conduct, so His judgment will proceed on the ground of the graces, privileges, and blessings which they had received, improved or abused.
Clarke goes on: “And as there is no respect of persons with God in judgment, so there can be none in the previous administration of His saving blessings. He that will be condemned for his unrighteousness, will be condemned on the ground that he had sufficient grace afforded him for the salvation of his soul; and his condemnation will rest on the simple principle, that he abused the grace which was sufficient to save him, by acting in opposition to its dictates and influence. No man, in that great day, shall be brought to heaven through any partiality of the Judge; and no man sent to hell because God did not afford him sufficient grace, or because he had made a decree which rendered even his use of it ineffectual to his salvation. In reference to the great design of God, in the salvation of man, it shall be said, – in time, at the day of judgment, and throughout eternity, – There Is No Respect of Persons with God.”4
Respected Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge offers these insights: “This completes the statement of the principle of law announced in verse 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… God 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.”5
Charles Spurgeon made this clear in his preaching: “The great Judge Himself shall give the decision: He shall pronounce sentence upon the wicked, and execute their punishment. No partiality shall there be seen; there shall be no private conferences to secure immunity for nobles, no hushing up of matters, that great men may escape contempt for their crimes. All men shall stand before the one great judgment-bar; evidence shall be given concerning them all, and a righteous sentence shall go forth from his mouth who knows not how to flatter the great.”6
F. F. Bruce also points to the fact, that God shows no partiality. He writes: “Cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17. Our Lord stated the same truth graphically when he described how the Father in heaven ‘makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:45).”7
And Jewish scholar David Stern notes: “Paul starts in vv. 9–10 by relating the summary in the preceding two verses to the Jew first, then to the Gentile — to the Jew first and foremost because his Torah knowledge ought to make him more aware of how God functions; also see 1:16. On ‘shalom’ see Mt 10:12. Since God is impartial (v. 11), the criterion He uses in judgment is not whether an individual’s life situation places him within the framework of Torah as a Jew, but whether or not he has sinned (v. 12).”8 Another Jewish writer adds this: “Paul shows that ‘all have sinned’ applies to Jews as well. (Again the Shema9 is at the heart of this teaching.) As the gospel and its blessings are to the Jew first, judgment is as well, as the Jews have the Torah.”10
Verse 12: Sinners who don’t have the law are already lost because they have no law, while those who do have the law will be judged by the law as sinners under the law.
The Apostle Paul calls those who accept the Law of God, and those who are not aware of such a Law, common sinners. He indicates that when they stand trial, in the end, only those who live by the law will be judged by the Law. Jesus drew the same line between those cities in which He performed miracles,11 who claimed to know God, and those pagan cities where no miracles were performed. He said: “I tell you, it will be better for Tyre and Sidon on the day men stand before God and are told they are guilty than for you.”12 Our Lord reiterates this same principle when He talks about the harsher punishment of servants who know what their master wants but don’t do anything, and a lesser punishment for those who don’t do anything because they are not aware of what their master wants.13
The Apostle Paul echoes this same tenet when speaking to the Greeks on Mars’ Hill in Athens about those who ignorantly worship God through idols and those who make idols through which to worship Him through ignorance. Paul told them: “God overlooked and disregarded the former ages of ignorance; but now He commands all people everywhere to repent [that is, to change their old way of thinking, to regret their past sins, and to seek God’s purpose for their lives].”14 Let’s put it another way. A policeman at an intersection blows his whistle and tells people who are waiting to cross to stay where they are until he gives the signal. But to his surprise, two men start crossing in spite of his order. Both are arrested. One man is fined because he disobeyed the command, and the other is only given a warning. Why? Because the man fined was able to hear the policeman’s order, while the other man was found to be deaf.
We find this principle all the way back to the days of Moses. The people were asked by the Levites to take an oath of allegiance to the Law. As each law was read, the people were to say, “Amen.” We read where the Levites said: “‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them [keeping them, taking them to heart as the rule of his life].’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”15 However, the apostle Paul brings it up to date. He wrote the Corinthians: “The old agreement that judged people guilty of sin had glory. So surely, the new agreement that makes people right with God has much greater glory. That old agreement had glory. But it really loses its glory when it is compared to the much greater glory of the new agreement. If the agreement that was brought to an end came with glory, then the agreement that never ends has much greater glory.”16
Paul recognized that many Jews who converted to Christianity were still trying to dodge the accusations of fellow Jews because they no longer accepted the Torah as their guideline. So when he wrote the Galatians, he told them this: “We Jews came to Christ to be made right with God, so it is clear that we were sinners too. Does this mean that Christ makes us sinners? Of course not. But I would be wrong to begin teaching again those things that I gave up. It was the law itself that caused me to end my life under the law. I died to the law so that I could live for God. I have been nailed to the cross with Christ.”17 Paul’s emphasis of codependency on the law, within the Roman community of believers, must have been severe enough that he felt the need to confront it directly.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 225-226
3 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 17
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
5 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. Vol. 6, p. 96
8 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 The Shema is one of only two prayers that are specifically commanded in Torah. It is the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, recited morning and night since ancient times. It consists of three biblical passages, two of which explicitly say to speak of these things ‘when you lie down and when you rise up.’ This commandment is fulfilled by including the Shema in the liturgy for evening services and morning services. The Shema is also to be read at home before going to bed at night. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
10 Messianic Bible, YashaNet, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Chorazin and Bethsaida
12 Matthew 11:22
13 Luke 12:47-48
14 Acts of the Apostles 17:30 – Amplified Bible
15 Deuteronomy 27:26 – Amplified Bible
16 2 Corinthians 3:9-11
17 Galatians 2:17-19