NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part XVII)
Adam Clarke gives his view on Paul’s teaching about Judgment Day: “This shall be further exemplified and proved in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ; which judgment shall be according to my Gospel – according to what I am now laying down before you, relative to the impartiality of God, and his righteous procedure in judging men, not according to their opinions or prejudices, not according to revelations which they never possessed, but according to the various advantages or disadvantages of their political, religious, or domestic situation in life.”1 He goes on to note: “As to the phrase written in their hearts, it is here opposed to the Jewish laws, which were written on tables of stone. The Jews drew the maxims by which their conduct was regulated from a Divine revelation: the Gentiles received theirs from what God, in the course of his providence and gracious influence, had shown them to be right, useful, and necessary.”2
Charles Hodge gives us this summary of the coming judgment: “Such then are the principles on which Paul assures us that all men are to be judged. They commend themselves irresistibly to every man’s conscience as soon as they are announced, and yet every false hope of heaven is founded on their denial or neglect. It may be proper to repeat them, that it may be seen how obviously the hopes of the Jews, to which Paul, from verse 17 onward, applies them, are at variance with these moral axioms. 1) He who condemns in others what he does himself, ipso facto condemns himself. 2) God’s judgments are according to the real character of men. 3) The goodness of God, being designed to lead us to repentance, is no proof that he will not punish sin. The perversion of that goodness will increase our guilt and aggravate our condemnation. 4) God will judge every man according to his works, not according to his professions, his ecclesiastical connections or relations. 5) Men shall be judged by the knowledge of duty which they severally possess. God is therefore perfectly impartial. These are the principles on which men are to be tried, in the last day, by Jesus Christ; and those who expect to be dealt with on any other plan will be dreadfully disappointed.”3
Charles Spurgeon comments: “You and I and all the myriad of our race shall be gathered before the throne of the Son of God. Then, when all are gathered, the indictment will be read, and each one will be examined concerning things done in the body, according to that he hath done. Then the books shall be opened, and everything recorded there shall be read before the face of heaven. Every sinner shall then hear the story of his life published to his everlasting shame. The good shall ask no concealment, and the evil shall find none.”4
Jewish writer David Stern has this for us to ponder: “‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25), even if these people have never heard of Yeshua? Yes, he will, although they will have no assurance of their salvation since they will not know that Yeshua has made a final atonement for their sins. I will not pursue the matter further, except for this one caution: no one reading the above can be in the condition of the person just described and therefore excused from trusting God and his Messiah Yeshua. For anyone reading the Jewish New Testament and this commentary is being presented with the Gospel, and he cannot evade responsibility for deciding what to do with it. If he rejects it, any reading of Mk 16:16 puts the blame for the eternal consequences on his shoulders alone.”5
Another Jewish writer offers his view: “There is an allusion here to Jeremiah 31:33 and the New Covenant, which is promised to Israel. Paul uses this language in the context of Gentile faithfulness, in that those who follow the One true God would share in the blessings, of the Millennium and World to Come, promised to Israel. Again, the theme of the Shema comes into play as there is One God (with His rewards) for faithful Jews and Gentiles. (That faithfulness being defined by His Torah.) Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the effect on the “conscience” of man when affected by self-righteousness and continued sin.”6
One modern commentator gives this summation: “Although Gentiles do not have the Old Testament law, they are still sinners and will still face condemnation from God. There are some who claim that God would give eternal life to someone who never hears about Jesus, as long as that person responds correctly to the light of God in creation, is sincere in his own religion, and is kind to other people. But Paul indicates otherwise. Such a Gentile is still a sinner, even on the basis of his own moral norms, and as a sinner will experience God’s judgment and wrath.”7
Verses 17-18: What about you? You say you are a Jew. You trust in the law and proudly claim to be close to God. You know what God’s will is. And you approve of what is important because you have learned the law.
Since verse 18 in chapter 1, Paul has spoken of the need of salvation for the non-Jews. Now here he begins to focus on the need of salvation for the Jews. If there was any question as to whom Paul targeted with his letter to the church in Rome, he eliminates any doubt here. Knowing this should help any scholar in deciphering Paul’s message up to this point. When speaking to Jewish Christians, Paul knew that they considered themselves as children of God before they were converted. Therefore, he need not spend time in describing God’s relationship with the Israelites nor defining the Laws of Moses by which they lived and worshiped. The Psalmist stated clearly: “Praise the LORD! The LORD chose Jacob to be His own. Yes, He chose Israel to be His own people.”8 As such, it was incumbent upon them to adhere to and follow such laws to please the One who chose them.9 So Paul wants to build on that knowledge and faith.
But this may prove no easier for Paul than it did for John the Baptizer. When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to where he was ministering, John was not fooled nor intimidated. So he said to them: “I know what you are thinking. You want to say, ‘but Abraham is our father!’ That means nothing. I tell you, God could make children for Abraham from these rocks.”10 And Jesus had even harsher words for them: “Many people will come from the east and from the west. These people will sit and eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in God’s kingdom. And those who should have the kingdom will be thrown out.”11
Besides that, Paul has been on both sides of the fence. He once told the Corinthians: “But if anyone dares to boast, I will too. (I am talking like a fool.) Are those people Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they from Abraham’s family? So am I.”12 To the Philippians, he made this point: “Even if I am able to trust in myself, still I don’t do it. If anyone else thinks they have a reason to trust in themselves, they should know that I have a greater reason for doing so. I was circumcised on the eighth day after my birth. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a true Jew, and so were my parents. The law was very important to me. That is why I became a Pharisee.”13 So if anyone in Rome had any doubts about whether Paul could speak to Jews about the subject of the law, he had a quick and efficient retort.
Paul is appealing to their upbringing and acquaintance with the laws and traditions of Judaism to make an important point about their supposedly superior position as believers in Christ. In other words, just because they were Jews they were, therefore, better Christians. This is not too far removed from those today who grow up in Christian homes. They feel a certain sense of being more genuine as a believing and practicing Christian than those who came into the faith from homes where the Bible was never read, gospel songs were never sung, God was not worshiped, and Christ was not exalted as Lord and Savior. The prophet Jeremiah faced a similar situation where he speaks to the children of Israel about their haughtiness in believing they were somehow exempt from the same scrutiny by which the behavior of non-Jews is judged.14
This is illustrated in the encounter between Jesus and an expert in the law when the lawyer stood up and asked Jesus: “Rabbi, what must I do to get eternal life?”15 Jesus went on and told him to follow the law. The expert said he did, but he wanted a more practical explanation. It was at this point that Jesus related the story of the good Samaritan.16 It was at this juncture the law expert found out that it wasn’t enough to have kindness in your heart if it didn’t make it into your hands. In other words, they thought that by knowing the law it would save them, but Jesus pointed out that it was actually by doing the law that such a promise was possible.17 The apostle Paul did not want the Jewish members of the congregation in Rome to replace active faith with passive bragging.
Anyone who listened to Jewish Rabbis and Scribes would be impressed with their confidence and assurance in being God’s choice children. The prophet Nehemiah spoke passionately of God’s special relationship with Israel and why they should never be embarrassed to praise Him.18 Knowing, was not enough. Doing, was what made knowing so valuable. This is the message Jesus passed on to His disciples after He washed their feet: “If you know these things, great blessings will be yours if you do them.”19 The Apostle Paul echoed this sentiment when he wrote the Corinthian believers: “It is certainly true that ‘we all have knowledge,’ as you say. But this knowledge only fills people with pride. It is love that helps the church grow stronger.”20 The Apostle James was more blunt: “All such boasting is wrong. If you fail to do what you know is right, you are sinning.”21
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Charles Hodge; On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Vanlaningham, Michael. Romans: From The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 708-711). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
8 Psalm 135:1, 4
9 See Isaiah 48:1-2
10 Matthew 3:9; Cf. John 8:33, 37, 39
11 Ibid. 8:11-12
12 2 Corinthians 11:21b-22
13 Philippians 3:4-5
14 See Jeremiah 2:1-10
15 Luke 10:25
16 Ibid. 10:30ff
17 See John 7:19
18 Nehemiah 9:5ff
19 John 13:17
20 1 Corinthians 8:1
21 James 4:16a-17