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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 2

 

 

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Verses 1-29


The Failure of the Jews

In Romans 1 St. Paul showed that the Gentiles were under God's judgment on account of sin. Now he is about to turn to the Jews. He asserts first, that God's judgment will fall impartially upon all sinners (Romans 2:1-11). Each man will be judged by the light which he has (Romans 2:12-16). The privileges and knowledge of the Jews only aggravated the guilt of their flagrant disobedience (Romans 2:17-24); and circumcision would not protect them, for God looks at the heart and life (Romans 2:25-29).

1-11 The Jew would agree in condemning the sins mentioned in Romans 1, yet he himself was equally guilty, and must be judged, like the Gentiles, by his deeds, whether good or bad.

Note. There is no contradiction here to the doctrine of justification by faith, for (1) St. Paul is speaking of men apart from the gospel; (2) 'faith is present in a more or less rudimentary state in every upward effort or aspiration of man' (Hort, quoted by Gore); (3) good works are the fruit and evidence of faith.

Paraphrase. '(1) Perhaps you condemn such sinners. In doing so, you condemn yourself, for you too are guilty. (2) We all know that God's judgment against evildoers is unerring and impartial. (3) Do you think you are different from others, and exempt from judgment? (4) or do you think God is too kind to punish you, not understanding that His kindness is meant to move you to repent? (5) Seeing that you do not repent, you are daily incurring a heavier judgment. (6) For God will judge every man by his deeds, (7-10) whether he be Jew or Gentile, giving eternal life to those who do good, while there will be wrath for all who persist in evil; (11) for God judges impartially.'

1. Inexcusable] RV 'without excuse': cp. Romans 1:20. Judges] cp. Galatians 2:15. The same things] of the same kind, if not so glaring.

2. Are sure] RV 'know,' i.e. by reason and revelation.

5. After] i.e. in accordance with.

Against] RV 'in.'

8. Contentions] RV 'factions,' i.e. upholding their ideas and traditions against God's voice: cp. John 5:44.

Indignation] RV 'shall be indignation.'

9. Jew first] privilege increases responsibility.

11. Respect of persons] i.e. regard for the outward circumstances of a man instead of his real character; here of the partiality of an unjust judge: cp. Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1.

12-16. All men are under a law of some kind, whether revealed law or the light of nature; and by the law that they have they will be judged.

Paraphrase. '(12) I say God is impartial, for He will punish every man who sins against the light, whether, as with Gentiles, it be the light of conscience, or, as in the case of the Jews, the light of law. (13) It is not because a man has a law, but because he keeps it that he will be justified. (14) This applies to Gentiles as well as Jews. For Gentiles have an inner law of nature, as is shown by their good deeds, (15) which testify to a sense of right and wrong; their conscience shows the same thing; and so does the fact that they blame or praise one another's actions. (16) By this law they will be judged at the last.'

12. Without law] i.e. without a revealed law of right and wrong. In the law] RV 'under law.' By the law] RV 'by law.' The expression 'the law' means the Law of Moses; 'law,' without the article, means law in general, 'the will of God for man's conduct.' St. Paul regards the pre-Messianic period as essentially a period of law, both for Jew and for Gentile' (Sanday and Headlam).

13. The law] RV 'a law.' Justified] i.e. declared righteous at the Judgment.

14. Not the law] RV 'no law.' By nature] i.e. without a revelation.

15. Which] RV 'in that they.' The work of the law] i.e. the effect of the law in marking what is right from what is wrong.

Conscience] the faculty by which we reflect upon the character of our actions. It may be more or less enlightened, cp. 1 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Corinthians 8:10. it may become corrupt through sin, cp. Titus 1:15, and give no light, cp. Matthew 6:23. Therefore a man's appeal to conscience is not decisive, unless he has taken pains to inform it and keep it pure.

16. My gospel] i.e. the message I am commissioned to preach: cp. Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8. Judgment by Christ is a distinctive doctrine of the gospel: cp. Matthew 25:31.; Acts 17:31; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10.

17-24. Here, first, the Jew is expressly addressed. He relied upon God's favour and his knowledge of God's will. Yet his wickedness was a matter of common knowledge. (St. Paul is speaking generally; there were bright exceptions.)

Paraphrase. '(17) I turn to the Jew, proud of his religious superiority, (18) and of the knowledge of God's will and the high ideal of conduct which he derives from the Law of Moses, (19, 20) thinking that he is in the light and all other peoples in darkness. (21-23) How shameful, then, is the conduct which is so contrary to his profession, (24) and which brings such dishonour upon the name of God among the heathen!'

17. Jew] the national name. Restest in] RV 'restest upon,' i.e. feeling secure of God's favour from the mere possession of the Law.

Of God] i.e. as peculiarly bound to the Jew.

18. Approvest, etc.] i.e. able to distinguish delicately between the more and the less good.

20. Form] i.e. perfect embodiment.

21. Cp. Matthew 3:7; Mark 12:40; John 8:7.

22. Commit sacrilege] RV 'rob temples': cp. Acts 19:37.

24. Cp. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:21.

25-29. The Jew thought that because he was circumcised, i.e. a member of the covenant people, he was sure of God's favour. But circumcision implied a surrendered life, which is the only thing acceptable to God.

Paraphrase. '(25) You trust in circumcision, and it is good to be a Jew; but if you are not obedient to God's Law, you are no better than an uncircumcised heathen, (26) while a heathen who, according to his lights, does what your law requires will be accepted by God although he is uncircumcised, (27) and will be in a superior position to you, seeing that you break the Law in spite of your advantages. (28) For the true people of God are those who are so, not by race or profession only, (29) but by obedience of heart and life. They may not be called Jews, but they are praised by God.'

25. Profiteth] cp. Romans 3:1.; Romans 9:1.; Keep] i.e. as a habit, opposed to habitual transgression.

26. The uncircumcision] i.e. the uncircumcised man. Righteousness] RV 'ordinances': cp. Acts 10:35.

27. Judge] cp. v.

1. By the letter] RV 'with the letter,' i.e. with written law.

28. Cp. Romans 9:6.; Philippians 3:3.

29. Heart] cp. Deuteronomy 10:16; Acts 7:51. Letter] i.e. outward conformity to the literal command, contrasted with the spiritual change which it represented.

Praise] The word 'Jew' is derived from 'Judah,' which means 'praised': cp. Genesis 29:35.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Romans 2:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/romans-2.html. 1909.

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