NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part XVI)
Verse 16: All this will happen on the day when God will judge people’s secret thoughts through Jesus Christ. This is part of the Good News that I tell everyone.
The apostle Paul now draws a line in the future when all such excuses will be forever dismissed, much like a judge who overrules the defence lawyer’s objection to something being offered into evidence. Such judging was set up a long time ago. As the Psalmist said: “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.”1 When it says He will judge fairly, that is an inference that God will give equal time to those who have His laws and those who don’t. The Psalmist Asaph made this clear in one of his Psalms: “God is the Judge, and the skies tell how fair He is. Selah.”2 By using the skies as a witness, Asaph indicates that whether it rains or shines, it does so on both those who believe in Him and those who do not.3
Solomon was a very practical King, he always chose wisely. He said he had come to realize that there is a right time for everything.4 And as a result of this, he came to a conclusion: “I said to myself, ‘God has planned a time for everything, and He has planned a time to judge everything people do. He will judge good people and bad people.’”5 That’s why he sent this message to the youth in his kingdom: “Young people, enjoy yourselves while you are young. Be happy. Do whatever your heart leads you to do. Do whatever you want, but remember that God will judge you for everything you do.”6 This was another way of saying: Be yourself, follow your dreams, be all that you can be, but whatever you do, don’t be foolish or irresponsible. That’s why Solomon concludes his exhortation by saying; “The most important thing a person can do is to respect God and obey His commands, because He knows about everything people do – even the secret things. He knows about all the good and all the bad, and He will judge people for everything they do.”7
This is why the Apostle Paul warned the believers to be cautious when judging. He told the Corinthians: “Don’t judge anyone now. The time for judging will be when the Lord comes. He will shine light on everything that is now hidden in darkness. He will make known the secret purposes of our hearts. Then the praise each person should get will come from God.”8 And one reason why judgment is withheld until the appropriate time is because, as the apostle says: “Everyone must die once. Then they are judged.”9 But there is no reason to wait until death before you present yourself to God for judging so that when you die you know all is well with your soul. As King David wisely said: “Examine me, God, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.”10
When the Apostle Peter was comparing the way believers and unbelievers lived, he felt led to tell his readers: “Your ‘friends’ think it is strange that you no longer join them in all the wild and wasteful things they do. And so they say bad things about you. But they will have to face God to explain what they have done. He is the one who will soon judge everyone – those who are still living and those who have died. Some were told the Good News before they died. They were criticized by others in their life here on earth. But it was God’s plan that they hear the Good News so that they could have a new life through the Spirit.”11
That’s why Peter was able to then tell them this: “So you see that the Lord God knows how to save those who are devoted to Him. He will save them when troubles come. And the Lord will hold evil people to punish them on the day of judgment.”12 Of course, this was all made possible because God sent His Son to earth ahead of Judgment Day. Jesus made this plain in His teaching when He said: “I assure you, anyone who hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life. They will not be judged guilty. They have already left death and have entered into life.”13 That’s why the apostles were able to go out and preach: “Jesus told us to go and speak to the people. He told us to tell them that He is the one God chose to be the Judge of all who are living and all who have died. Everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through His name.”14
We know that the courts of law here on earth are designed to judge the known and visible evidence that exists in order the make a judgment as to innocence or guilt. But God’s way of judging involves even the secret things hidden in men’s hearts and minds. In Jewish writings, we find that when Solomon’s words, “For God will bring to judgment everything we do, including every secret, whether good or bad,”15 were being read, it says, “Rabbi Johanan, when he came to this verse, wept.”16 In the footnotes it explains that these hidden things consist of “unintended errors.”17 British scholar and theologian John Gill gives his take on this. He says: “Yes, for those things which are hidden from him, which he has committed through ignorance, will He bring him into judgment; everything, even the least thing in a literal sense, but not for such silly trifling things they mention in the same place; doubtless the Holy Ghost means the secrets of men’s hearts and actions, and the hidden things of darkness which are contrary to the holy law of God.”18
Paul explains that this is part of his Good News that he brought to people everywhere, which he will also bring to the believers in Rome. The question by some is what does Paul mean by “his Good News.” Church historian Eusebius gives one explanation. He says: “They say that Paul meant to refer to Luke’s Gospel wherever, as if speaking of some gospel of his own, he used the words, ‘according to my Gospel.’”19 In other words, since Luke was a companion of Paul, and since Luke composed his own version of the life and teachings of Christ, that Paul used Luke’s Gospel in his teachings. However, it is also possible that Paul was referencing the gospel preached by others, such as the Judaizers in Galatia, and how it differed from the one given to him by Christ during his time in the desert.20
Several early church scholars have various points of view on this part of Paul’s writing. For instance, Ambrosiaster notes: “There are two thoughts inside a man which will accuse each other—the good and the evil. The good accuses the evil because it has denied the truth. The evil accuses the good because it has not done what it knows to be right… Other thoughts will excuse, insofar as one has done what is expedient to do. He will say inwardly: ‘In my mind I have always thought it expedient to do what I have done. This was my faith.’ He will have a better case, even though he will still have to be corrected, because his conscience will not accuse him on the day of judgment. This is how the secret things of men will be judged by Jesus Christ our Lord on the day of judgment.”21
Others, like Chrysostom, say: “Paul says the ‘secrets of men’ and not the sins of men, in order to add to their fear.… For men sit in judgment on overt acts alone. If a secret deed of any one of us were brought into the open right now, in the midst of the church, what would we do except pray for death and have the earth swallow us up, rather than have so many witnesses of wickedness?”22 Then, Bishop Theodore makes note: “Paul continually preached that there will be a day of judgment and that it will be necessary to have believed in Christ in order to escape punishment.”23 And Pelagius adds: “Paul says that there is a mental debate when we decide after long deliberation what we should and should not do. On the day of the Lord we shall be judged by this. This proves that we were not ignorant of good and evil. Or perhaps it means that on the day of judgment our conscience and our thoughts will appear before our eyes like history lessons to be learned; they will either accuse us or excuse us.24”25
John Calvin comments: “Paul adds, according to my gospel, intimating, that he announced a doctrine, to which the judgments of men, naturally implanted in them, gave a response: and he calls it his gospel, on account of the ministry; for the authority for setting forth the gospel resides in the true God alone; and it was only the dispensing of it that was committed to the Apostles. It is indeed no matter of surprise, that the gospel is in part called the messenger and the announcer of future judgment: for if the fulfillment and completion of what it promises be deferred to the full revelation of the heavenly kingdom, it must necessarily be connected with the last judgment: and further, Christ cannot be preached without being a resurrection to some, and a destruction to others; and both these things have a reference to the day of judgment. The words, through Jesus Christ, I apply to the day of judgment, though they are regarded otherwise by some; and the meaning is, — that the Lord will execute judgment by Christ, for he is appointed by the Father to be the Judge of the living and of the dead, — which the Apostles always mention among the main articles of the gospel. Thus the sentence will be full and complete, which would otherwise be defective.”26
Also speaking of the judgment, John Bengel says that on that day, that part of the Law written on men’s hearts will be revealed as having also united with it some defense of uprights acts. As such, the man may be found guilty of wrong doing, and of all things, with himself being the accuser. It also implies in this life (reasoning from greater to lesser), the exercise, through accusation or defence, either the future judgment itself is already represented in man or is a foretaste of it in the conscience without his even knowing about it.27
1 Psalm 9:7-8
2 Psalm 50:6
3 Cf. Matthew 5:45
4 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
5 Ibid. 3:17
6 Ecclesiastes 11:9
7 Ibid. 12:13-14
8 1 Corinthians 4:5; See 2 Corinthians 5:10
9 Hebrews 9:27
10 Psalm 139:23-24 – Complete Jewish Bible
11 1 Peter 4:4-6
12 2 Peter 2:9
13 John 5:24
14 Acts of the Apostles 10:42-43; Cf. 17:31
15 Ecclesiastes 12:14
16 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Hagigah, folio 5a
17 Ibid. footnote (25)
18 John Gill: Commentary on the Whole Bible, loc. cit.
19 Eusebius: Church History, Bk. 3, Ch. 4
20 See Galatians 1:9
21 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Chrysostom: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Pauline Commentary, Greek Church, op. cit., loc. cit.
24 Psalm 49:20
25 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
26 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
27 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 229