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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Romans 2:15

 

 

in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

Adam Clarke Commentary

Which show the work of the law - In acting according to justice, mercy, temperance, and truth, they show that the great object of the law, which was to bring men from injustice, cruelty, intemperance, and falsity, is accomplished so far in them: their conscience also bearing witness - that faculty of the soul, where that Divine light dwells and works, shows them that they are right; and thus they have a comfortable testimony in their own souls of their own integrity: their thoughts, the mean while, accusing, or else excusing one another; or rather, their reasonings between one another accusing or answering for themselves. As if the apostle had said: - And this point, that they have a law and act according to it, is farther proved from their conduct in civil affairs; and from that correct sense which they have of natural justice in their debates, either in their courts of law, or in their treatises on morality. All these are ample proofs that God has not left them without light; and that, seeing they have such correct notions of right and wrong, they are accountable to God for their conduct in reference to these notions and principles. These seems to be the true meaning of this difficult clause. See below.


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These files are public domain.

Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/romans-2.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Which show - Who thus evince or show.

The work of the law - The design, purpose, or object which is contemplated by the revealed Law; that is, to make known to man his duty, and to enforce the obligation to perform it. This does not mean, by any means, that they had all the knowledge which the Law would impart, for then there would have been no need of a revelation, but that, as far as it went, as far as they had a knowledge of right and wrong, they coincided with the revealed will of God. In other words, the will of God, whether made known by reason or revelation, will be the same so far as reason goes. The difference is that revelation goes further than reason; sheds light on new duties and doctrines; as the information given by the naked eye and the telescope is the same, except, that the telescope carries the sight forward, and reveals new worlds to the sight of man.

Written in their hearts - The revealed Law of God was written on tables of stone, and then recorded in the books of the Old Testament. This law the Gentiles did not possess, but, to a certain extent, the same requirements were written on their hearts. Though not revealed to them as to the Jews, yet they had obtained the knowledge of them by the tight of nature. The word “hearts” here denotes the mind itself, as it does also frequently in the Sacred Scriptures; not the heart, as the seat of the affections. It does not mean that they loved or even approved of the Law, but that they had knowledge of it; and that that knowledge was deeply engraved on their minds.

Their conscience - This word properly means the judgment of the mind respecting right and wrong; or the judgment which the mind passes on the morality or immorality of its own actions, when it instantly approves or condemns them. It has usually been termed the moral sense, and is a very important principle in a moral government. Its design is to answer the purposes of an ever attendant witness of a man‘s conduct; to compel him to pronounce on his own doings, and thus to excite him to virtuous deeds, to give comfort and peace when he does right, to deter from evil actions by making him, whether he will or no, his own executioner: see John 8:9; Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16; Romans 9:1; 1 Timothy 1:5. By nature every man thus approves or condemns his own acts; and there is not a profounder principle of the divine administration, than thus compelling every man to pronounce on the moral character of his own conduct. Conscience may be enlightened or unenlightened; and its use may be greatly perverted by false opinions. Its province is not to communicate any new truth, it is simply to express judgment, and to impart pleasure or inflict pain for a man‘s own good or evil conduct. The apostle‘s argument, does not require him to say that conscience revealed any truth, or any knowledge of duty, to the Gentiles, but that its actual exercise proved that they had a knowledge of the Law of God. Thus, it was a witness simply of that fact.

Bearing witness - To bear witness is to furnish testimony, or proof. And the exercise of the conscience here showed or proved that they had a knowledge of the Law. The expression does not mean that the exercise of their conscience bore witness of anything to them, but that its exercise may be alleged as a proof that they were not without some knowledge of the Law.

And their thoughts - The word “thoughts” ( λογισμῶν logismōn) means properly reasonings, or opinions, sentiments, etc. Its meaning here may be expressed by the word “reflections.” Their reflections on their own conduct would be attended with pain or pleasure. It differs from conscience, inasmuch as the decisions of conscience are instantaneous, and without any process of reasoning. This supposes subsequent reflection, and it means that such reflections would only deepen and confirm the decisions of conscience.

The mean while - Margin, “Between themselves.” The rendering in the margin is more in accordance with the Greek. The expression sometimes means, in the mean time, or at the same time; and sometimes afterward, or subsequently. The Syriac and Latin Vulgate render this mutually. They seem to have understood this as affirming that the pagan among themselves, by their writings, accused or acquitted one another.

Accusing - If the actions were evil.

Excusing - That is, if their actions were good.

One another - The margin renders this expression in connection with the adverb, translated “in the mean while,” “between themselves.” This view is also taken by many commentators, and this is its probable meaning. If so, it denotes the fact that in their reflections, or their reasonings, or discussions, they accused each other of crime, or acquitted one another; they showed that they had a law; that they acted on the supposition that they had. To show this was the design of the apostle; and there was no further proof of it needed than what he here adduced.

(1)They had a conscience, pronouncing on their own acts; and,

(2)Their reasonings, based on the supposition of some such common and acknowledged standard of accusing or acquitting, supposed the same thing. If, therefore, they condemned or acquitted themselves; if in these reasonings and reflections, they proceeded on the principle that they had some rule of right and wrong, then the proposition of the apostle was made out that it was right for God to judge them, and to destroy them; Romans 2:8-12.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/romans-2.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Romans 2:15

Which show the work of the law written in their hearts.

The work of the law written in the heart

“I know and approve the better, and yet follow the worse,” said one of the wisest heathens; yet it did not require any superlative wisdom to arrive at that conclusion. Dr. Livingstone tells us that he found the rudest tribes of Africa ready to admit that they were sinners. Indeed they hold almost everything to be sin which, as such, is forbidden by the Word of God. Nor is it possible to read his clear statement on that subject without arriving at this interesting and important conclusion, that the decalogue is but the copy of a much older law--that law which his Maker wrote on Adam’s heart, and which, though sadly defaced by the Fall, may still, like the inscription on a time-eaten, moss-grown stone, be traced on ours. See how guilt reddens in the blush, and consciousness of sin betrays itself in the downcast look of childhood. Even when they wallow in sin as swine in the mire, there is a conscience within men which convicts of guilt and warns of judgment. Dethroned, but not exiled, she still asserts her claims, and fights for her kingdom in the soul; and resuming her lofty seat, with no more respect for sovereigns than beggars, she summons them to the bar, and thunders on their heads. Felix trembles; Herod turns pale, dreading in Christ the apparition of the Baptist; while Cain, fleeing from his brother’s grave, wanders away conscience-stricken into the gloomy depths of the solitudes of the unpeopled world. Like the ghost of a murdered man, conscience haunts the house that was once her dwelling, making her ominous voice heard at times even by the most hardened in iniquity. In her the rudest savage carries a God within him, who warns the guilty, and echoes those words of Scripture, “Depart from evil and do good.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The law written and rewritten in the heart

The moral law is interwoven in man’s moral constitution. Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27); so in knowledge and holiness (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). The expression “written” is an allusion to the two tables of stone (Exodus 32:15-16), perhaps also to Roman laws written on brass. God’s law is rewritten in the renewed heart (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). In creation it is written as a light to direct and convict; in regeneration it is rewritten as a power to govern and transform. In creation it is written so as to be known and felt; in regeneration it is rewritten so as to be known and loved. (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Their conscience also bearing witness.

The witness of conscience

At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be established. The three in regard to men are God, the Bible, conscience. The latter is--

I. An inward witness. Other witnesses are outside, and so may be set aside. One witness may be produced against another, or circumstances may destroy the testimony given, but it cannot be so with the witness within. A man may as soon fly from God or himself as from conscience. Now that which is thus within a man has the greatest influence upon him either for comfort or terror: so that we had better have all men and all devils for our enemies than our own conscience!

II. A knowing and intelligent witness. None can know what conscience knows but He who knows all things. Human witness are sometimes set aside on account of intellectual feebleness, but conscience penetrates into the secret windings of our hearts; and as--Its discernment is clear, so its judgment is generally true, and what it once knows it never forgets.

III. An authorised and credible witness. Witnesses are sometimes disallowed on the ground of moral blemish; but conscience is the King’s witness, so that he who heareth conscience, heareth God (Romans 9:1).

IV. A faithful and true witness. It will not be bribed: like its Master it accepts of no man’s person. It deals impartially with the monarch and the slave; and though it may sometimes speak amiss, yet never contrary to its judgment.

V. A loud witness. The deaf shall hear the voice of conscience. Like the voice of God, it is terrible and full of majesty. Cain found it so. The cry of conscience was as loud as that of his brother’s blood. Judas thought it so when he went and hanged himself. How loud does it sometimes speak on a sick and dying bed! The law thunders, and conscience is but the echo of its voice. The law speaks by terrible things in righteousness, and conscience does the same. The law says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die”; and conscience says, “Thou art the man!” Many endeavour to drown it in riot, and the hurry of business, but their efforts will be ineffectual. When God bids it speak, it will speak to purpose; and those who would not hear the voice of parents, ministers, providences, or even of the Divine Word, yet shall hear the voice of conscience.

VI. A sufficient witness. It will silence all pleas and excuses, put an end to all subterfuges and evasions, and leave a man self-judged and self-condemned, It is sufficient now; there is no refuting its testimony, or setting aside its verdict, and it will be so at the last day.

VII. An eternal witness. If all other witnesses were dead, conscience lives, and will hereafter bear its testimony unrestrained. Its language will be, “Son, remember”! (Proverbs 5:12). Conclusion:

1. Let us take care of sinning against conscience. It is an enemy that no bolts nor bars can keep at a distance. The approbation of conscience, next to God’s, is the greatest blessing this side of heaven.

2. Let us endeavour to keep conscience tender, then attend to its motions, and hearken to its remonstrances. Tenderness is its perfection. God takes notice of it (2 Chronicles 34:27).

3. Above all, let us have our hearts purged from an evil conscience by the blood of Christ.

4. Let wicked men remember that if conscience be ever so silent now, it will be vociferous enough at the great day. As the spectre said to Brutus, “I will meet thee at Philippi,” so conscience says, “I will meet thee at judgment seat!” Good men, who at times suffer much from the lashes of their own consciences, learn the importance of having always “a conscience void of offence” (1 John 3:21). (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Conscience

The apostle is explaining how the heathen, who had not the written law of God, were yet amenable to an unwritten law impressed on the hearts of all mankind. Their conscience is a witness for or against them.

I. Its nature and office.

1. God has given man a written law as the supreme standard, whose object is to educate and confirm him in his duty to God and man. This law, however, is--

2. But the existence of a written moral law implies an already existing moral sense, or unwritten law. Without this our obedience to any law would want a moral character. It would be either mere training and discipline, or submission to force. There would be no sense of obligation to keep it, no choice of the will and heart in doing so.

3. An unwritten law of God, however, does exist. In every race there is an instinct which--

II. Hindrances to its healthful vigour.

1. Ignorance. In savage life, obscured and limited in its range by circumstances. Imperfect conception of relative duties from the struggle for self-preservation. Now long reign of selfish passion. Violence and hereditary darkness. In criminal life amongst ourselves. The child of a thief, what can it know of right and wrong in some directions?

2. Perversion. Education colours our estimate of the character of acts in many eases. Pascal speaks of morality as varying with latitude and longitude. This is seen--

3. The seared conscience. The religious faculty may be well-nigh extirpated by neglect; like eyes of cave insects and fishes.

4. The weak conscience. A failing that leans to virtue’s side. Troubles itself and others by making a principle of what is really indifferent. The disputes in Paul’s Epistles, new moons, eating flesh, Levitical laws, etc. So some object to matters of no moral moment.

III. Characteristics of a healthy conscience.

1. It accepts and acts on principle, not its accidental illustration. It guards itself in great matters by fidelity in all. Its rule is, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.”

2. It is not content with profession, but carries its convictions into practice; not “go” and “went not.”

3. It is always humble. Feeling its own weakness and constant need of strength.

4. It is manly. Will not yield to custom, favour, gain.

5. It bases its action on the law of Christ as the ideal of morality.

6. It keeps the example ever before it, and remembers its obligations to honour Him by loyal duty. Conclusion: One may strengthen and enlighten conscience. In any case it grows with the wider realisation of the breadth and sweep of God’s law. In our own day it has widened its sphere. Needs still further quickening in each walk of life; especially in the vital matters of the soul. The deputy of the Almighty. Bring your soul before it. As it asks you, “Guilty, or not guilty?” answer. If guilty, repentance and a holy life, looking to the great salvation of Christ, will reverse the verdict. (C. Geikie, D. D.)

Conscience

I. Its offices.

1. It is an ever present, true and helpful friend. One who will not be afraid to speak plainly, and whose counsels will be to the point, and, as a rule, wise, kind, true, and good.

2. It is an ever observant and faithful witness--one out of whose sight we can never get, who is diligent to record, careful to remember, and ultimately faithful to bear its testimony.

3. It is an impartial judge. It not only bears witness, but acquits or condemns.

4. In regard to the impenitent, it will be the righteous executioner fulfilling the behests of the Great Judge of all, and the punishment itself--the worm that never dies.

II. The seasons at which it executes its several offices.

1. To an extent at all times--with more or less efficiency.

2. To a more powerful degree--

III. The circumstances which may for a time interfere with its efficient action.

1. It may be misinformed or ignorant. Conscience can only condemn a man for what he himself believes to be wrong.

2. It may be warped or swayed--

Tampering with conscience will enfeeble its action. A watchdog gave notice of danger to the inhabitants of a log hut; they were disturbed by his bark, and, annoyed, they silenced him--but only when too late. The Indians were upon them, their hut was burned, and their lives sacrificed. Conclusion:

1. Do not trifle with conscience.

2. Seek its enlightenment.

3. Remember that conscience after all is less rigid than the law of God (1 John 3:20).

4. Let it lead you not only to tremble, but to the Cross. (G. J. Adeney, M. A.)

Conscience

We all know that the word comes from con and scio, but what does that con intend? Conscience is not merely what I know, but what I know with some other; for the prefix cannot be esteemed superfluous, or taken to imply merely that which I know with or to myself. That other knower whom the word implies is God. His law making itself known and felt in the heart; and the work of conscience is the bringing of the evil of our acts and thoughts as a lesser, to be tried and measured by this as a greater--the word growing out of and declaring that awful duplicity of our moral being which arises from the presence of God in the soul--our thoughts, by the standard which that presence implies, and as a result of a comparison with it, “accusing or excusing one another.” (Abp. Trench.)

Conscience quickened by the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is to the moral sense what the warm breath of spring is to the hidden seeds of things. This brings them out, this unfolds them into flower and fruit, this makes of a barren expanse a landscape of beauty, fertility, and gladness. (T. Griffith.)

Conscience: its power

This is--

I. Discriminating. By it man--

1. Discovers the reality of moral law.

2. Determines his character according to it.

II. Binding. Conscience--

1. Tells us that we are under obligation to God’s law.

2. Produces consciousness of obligation.

III. Judicial.

1. As a witness.

2. As a judge.

Inferences:

1. The reality of conscience.

2. Its originality.

3. Its universality. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Conscience: susceptible of improvement and injury

I. It may be improved.

1. By use.

2. By reflecting on the moral character of our actions.

3. By obedience to its admonitions, or conscientious acting.

4. By meditating on characters of preeminent moral excellence.

II. It may be injured.

1. By disuse.

2. By neglecting to reflect on the moral character of our actions.

3. By disobedience to its admonitions, or want of conscientiousness.

4. By frequent meditation on vicious characters and actions. “Vice seen too oft, familiar with its face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” (T. Robinson, D. D.)

Conscience

Nothing has done so much to perplex men’s speculations about conscience as certain fundamental mistakes respecting its proper nature and functions.

1. In the first place, conscience is not a law, but a faculty; not the decision pronounced in a particular case, but the faculty which pronounces the decision.

2. Again, this faculty is susceptible of instruction and improvement, like other faculties of the human mind; like the understanding, for example, or the taste.

3. There is also another important distinction to be made in respect to conscience. Its authority is sometimes said to be supreme and final. And so it is, in a certain sense; that is to say, it is supreme over every other kind of human motive and inducement; should a conflict arise, our sense of what is right ought to prevail, in all cases, over our sense of what is expedient or agreeable. But the authority of conscience is not final in such a sense as to forbid conscience itself from, if need be, reversing its own past decisions. I may appeal at any time from my conscience less instructed to my conscience more instructed, and under these circumstances what was right to me yesterday may become wrong to me today; and what is right to me today may become wrong to me tomorrow.

4. But if conscience itself is an Improvable faculty, and if, in its legitimate action today, it can revise and reverse its own decisions of yesterday, the question naturally arises, Is there anything in conscience which is fixed and absolute? I answer, Yes. The things which are fixed and absolute in conscience--that is to say, the things which are the same in all consciences, and the same in every conscience at all times--would seem to be these three. In the first place, all consciences make a distinction between actions as being right or wrong secondly, the notion of right, as such, or of wrong, as such, is identical to all minds; and, thirdly, all concur in the feeling that they ought to do what they believe to be right. Each man’s conscience is a special development of our common moral nature; and each man’s duty in respect to it is, to take care that this special development shall be more and more complete, and more and more effective; in short, that he may have a better conscience to obey, and obey it more faithfully.

5. It remains to consider the means by which this two-fold improvement in conscience and in conscientiousness may be promoted. The first condition is, a habit of attending to the moral aspects of things, and especially of our own dispositions and conduct; in one word, moral thoughtfulness. A second necessary condition of the moral progress required--of progress in both conscience and conscientiousness--is found in a determination to do right, cost what it may; in other words, to moral thoughtfulness we must add an invincible moral purpose. The progress insisted on in this discourse supposes another condition; namely, that we not only obey conscience, but obey it as an echo of the Divine will: in other words, to moral thoughtfulness and a moral purpose we must add a sense of the authority and sanctions of religion. One condition more. To make us more observant of conscience, and, at the same time, to make conscience what it ought to be, we must take our standard of righteousness from the New Testament. (James Walker.)

The law of conscience

(with John 8:9):--Like every other mental and moral power, conscience has its own distinct function. It is that faculty of our moral nature Which perceives the right and wrong in our actions, accuses or excuses, and anticipates their consequences under the righteous government of God.

I. Conscience is an original law in man’s moral nature. Being so, it is the same in all men, civilised and uncivilised. It cannot be educated any more than the eye can be taught to see, or the ear to hear. The only training a man can be given is in applying the law of conscience to the conduct, and in the art of subjecting the other powers of the soul to its authority. When conscience is spoken of as enlightened and unenlightened, there is applied to it what properly belongs to some of the other powers with which it is associated, particularly the understanding. Being intended for all classes the Scriptures are written not in metaphysical, but in popular language, and therefore, while it is proper to make such distinctions as those we have just indicated, we shall at present treat of conscience in the popular, that is in the Bible, sense. “Their own conscience” is an expression which suggests these two things, viz., that every man is endowed with this faculty, and that it is an essential part of his being, so really his own as to be inseparable from him, and indestructible. But conscience is not now in any man what it originally was. In consequence of sin, the moral law written at first on the fleshly tables of the heart had lost much of its clearness and certainty, like a scarcely legible inscription on a decaying gravestone. It had therefore to be deeply graven by the finger of God on tables of stone, and afterwards given in the imperishable Book, which could be read in every tongue throughout the habitable globe. But while conscience is not now in anyone what it once was, and has in some reached its lowest possible degree of weakness, in different persons it may exist in different states. Paul speaks of some who had their conscience seared with a hot iron. As that part of the flesh becomes insensible to pain, so conscience, under the habit of sinning, comes to be so familiar with evil that its accusing voice is, if at all, but faintly heard. It is past feeling. Jude speaks of some ungodly men in his day as being twice dead, implying that their conscience had been once quickened, but that it had again sunk into its previous condition of torpor and paralysis, which was little different from death. Having been dead before, it was thus twice dead. The man whose conscience is in this condition will practise lying, dishonesty, intemperance, and uncleanness, without often thinking he is doing wrong, and without at all dreading the consequences of his wrong-doing. A more hopeful condition of conscience is that which is described as a pricking in the heart. This was how the first converts on the day of Pentecost were affected. A more appropriate phrase could not easily be found to portray the same moral change in any who undergo it. Piercing sorrow, sharp mental pain, is what it points to. Yet, distressing though it be, this is an interesting and hopeful state of mind. The thunder is not a more certain presage of a pure and settled atmosphere; the storm is not the more certain forerunner of a calm; the opening buds and genial breezes of spring are not the surer signs of retreating winter than are those prickings of heart, the signs of a spiritual winter breaking up in the soul, and of a spring of life and growth and beauty having come. Then there is also the peaceful conscience. True peace can come from only one source, When a man sees that Jesus Christ has by His obedience unto death borne the penalty of his sin, and when he accepts of God’s forgiveness through Christ, his fears leave him, his conscience is pacified, hope springs up in his breast. He may now and again have his regrets and his fears, but as his knowledge of the Saviour and of His work with his own purity of heart and life increases, so does his peace become fuller and more settled.

II. It is by conscience that conviction of sin is produced. There are no doubt other powers which cooperate with it to bring about this result. There is the understanding. Truth and duty must be known before they can be believed and practised. A man cannot rightly realise his sinfulness until he knows what God’s law requires of him, nor believe the gospel, which is God’s great revelation to us, before he knows what it means. Without a knowledge of its truths there cannot be faith, and without an increasing knowledge of its truths there cannot be much progress in goodness. There is also the will. The renewal of our moral nature presupposes as one of its conditions the subduing of the will, and the bringing of it into harmony with the will of God. There are, it is true, preliminary steps in this inward change, such as the enlightening of the mind with regard to sin and salvation, and the melting of the heart into penitence and contrition, but there is, besides, the bending of the will to choose and to follow the Divinely appointed way of deliverance. And, humanly speaking, it is here the greatest difficulty in the work of conversion is met with. The hardest of all struggles is to conquer a man’s self-righteous pride, that he may humbly and thankfully accept eternal life as God’s free gift to the undeserving who believe in His Son.

III. It is by the truth of the gospel that conscience is awakened. The teachings of science and philosophy are powerless here. Only the truth as it is in Jesus can work its way into the deep recesses of man’s nature, stir into life its slumbering activities, meet all its wants, and satisfy its highest aspirations. No other truth can give us a fixed and unchanging standard of duty outside of ourselves and not subject to our variations, show us how far we come short of it, and set before us with certainty the fixed and indissoluble connection there is between cause and consequence in the moral universe. No other truth has the same self-evidencing power. (James Black, D. D.)

Conscience: its uses and perversions

The world is under a solemn economy of government, discerning, approving, or condemning. Now it was requisite there should be something in the soul to recognise this; a faculty to feel obligation to, and apprehension of a greater power. And that which makes a man feel so is a part of himself, so that the struggle against God becomes a struggle with man’s own soul. Therefore conscience has been often denominated “the God in man.”

I. This internal judge has not been altogether in vain.

1. Many men have wished they could be rid of it, and in most it may be presumed, therefore, that conscience has had some restraining effect. Criminals would have been still more criminal but for this. It has been one dissentient power among man’s faculties, as if among a company of gay revellers there should appear one dark and frowning intruder whom they could neither conciliate nor expel. It has struck on the soul, and said, “Listen to that!--that belongs to thee!”

2. It has often compelled confessions of great importance to truth and justice. Very generally, in the last scene of life, it has constrained even bad men to give testimony to religion and the guilt and wretchedness of trifling with it.

3. It has often been made effectual to urge men to a persevering application to Divine mercy, as acting through the mediation of Christ. The guilt is too deep for Divine justice to pardon. There must be some grand expedient as a medium of mercy, and here it is.

4. In good men it has been mighty in trial and temptation, consolatory under injustice, and a sublime energy under persecution.

II. But there is a darker side of the subject, i.e., the view of its perversions and frustration.

1. With by far the greatest number of men conscience has been separated from all true knowledge of God. Now God is both the essential authority of conscience and the model for its rectitude. What is its condition then where the one true God is lost from human knowledge? and instead, a tribe of deities whose characters exemplify all varieties of iniquity, dictating absurdities and abominations, blended, indeed, with some better things which are spoiled in such combination. Or (paganism being disclaimed), there is a falsified notion of God, and a perverted apprehension of His will, Think what an authority for conscience to acknowledge. What should it do but correspond to its authorities? “He that killeth you shall think he doeth God service.” A perpetrator in the St. Bartholomew massacre said, “God was obliged to me that day.”

2. Conscience has often been beguiled to admit trifling ceremonies as an expiation of great sins, when, had it been in its right state, it would have shaken the whole soul.

3. Conscience may suffer itself to be very much conformed to prevailing customs and notions. That which ought to ever look to the throne and law of God may be degraded to this most irreligious homage to man. So that the superior and eternal order of principles is nearly out of sight, as in some countries they rarely see the sun or the stars.

4. Conscience is extremely liable to be accommodated to each man’s own interests, passions, and tastes. What will he not do to reconcile it or make it submit to them? He will not part with them, and consequently has great advantages against his conscience. The favourite interest or inclination he sets in the fairest light; palliations of what is wrong in it multiply; it is far less culpable than many things in others which they think very venial, and there is such and such good to which it will turn to account. Now it is not strange if, by this time, his conscience has come to speak in a much more submissive voice. And, melancholy as the fact is, there are few things that gratify a corrupt mind more than to have gained a victory over conscience.

5. Conscience may, in a great degree, be turned to a judgment on bare external actions. Now conscience has a great advantage as a judge over outward observers. It is seated, with its lamp, down in the hidden world among the thoughts, motives, intentions, and wishes. The greater the grievance I but how to obviate it? Labour to think that what is practical is of far greater importance than feelings and thoughts. These are varying and transient; actions substantial and permanent. Inward principles within do injury to none; the right actions do much good. Thoughts and movements within are much involuntary; the outward conduct is the result of will and effort. Look so much on the best parts of conduct as to become emboldened to make the inference--“the case is not so wrong within as conscience had attempted to charge,” for “by their fruits shall men be known.” Thus, in a measure, may conscience be beguiled out of its inward watching place, to be content to look only at the outside.

6. When conscience is seriously alarmed, it may be quieted by delusive applications. “There will be time enough yet.” Sometimes these alarms are frustrated by treacherous presumptions as to the way of propitiating the Divine Justice; men may reconcile God by repentance; satisfy His demands by a reformed conduct; secure final safety by a careful obedience instead of faith in Christ. This last is a deadly treachery practised on conscience; for it is quieting its alarms by inducing it to abjure that very law which is its appointed standard, and of which it is its very office to be the representative and sanction.

7. Conscience can be reduced to a state of habitual insensibility. This is attained by tampering and equivocating with it; by a careful avoidance of all that might alarm it; continual neglect of its admonitions; a determined resistance and repression; and habits of sin. The result of this will be a deep torpor and stupefaction. Think of the advantage of being able to look at others who are troubled by a wakeful, interfering conscience! But why does this dead stillness appear an awful situation? Because it will awake! and with an intensity of life and power proportioned to this long sleep, as if it had been growing gigantic during its slumber. It will awake!--probably in the last hours of life. But if not, in the other world there is something which will certainly awake it.

III. The right treatment of conscience.

1. It should be regarded with deep respect--even its least intimations attended to, not slighted as scrupulous impertinencies, blown away, etc.

2. We should diligently aim at a true judgment of things, because our judgment is the rule by which conscience will proceed, There must be much reflection and retirement.

3. We shall recollect always that the most judicial conscience is less rigid and comprehensive than the Divine law. “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” Therefore in consulting conscience we should endeavour to realise to ourselves the Divine presence, and implore that our consciences may ever be in the Divine keeping rather than our own.

4. As we often speak of improvements in the Christian life be it remembered that one of them is an improvement in the discerning sensibility, and extent of jurisdiction of conscience. And if this involves an increase of solicitudes, pains, penitential emotions, so much the more desirable will appear that better world where there is no possibility of sin, where the continued improvement of spiritual perception will be a continually augmented exquisiteness of the felicity. (John Foster.)


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Bibliography
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 2:15". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/romans-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Which show the work of the law written in their hearts,.... Though the Gentiles had not the law in form, written on tables, or in a book, yet they had "the work", the matter, the sum and substance of it in their minds; as appears by the practices of many of them, in their external conversation. The moral law, in its purity and perfection, was written on the heart of Adam in his first creation; was sadly obliterated by his sin and fall; upon several accounts, and to answer various purposes, a system of laws was written on tables of stone for the use of the Israelites; and in regeneration the law is reinscribed on the hearts of God's people; and even among the Gentiles, and in their hearts, there are some remains of the old law and light of nature, which as by their outward conduct appears, so by the inward motions of their minds,

their conscience also bearing witness; for, as the Jews sayF18T. Bab. Chagigah, fol. 16. 1. & Taanith, fol. 11. 1. נשמתו של אדם מעידה בו, "the soul of a man witnesses in him"; for, or against him:

and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another; and this the Heathens themselves acknowledge, when theyF19Hierocles in Carmina Pythagor. p. 81,206,209,213,214. speak of

"tameion dikasthrion kai krithrion thv suneidhsewv, "the conclave, tribunal and judgment of conscience"; and which they call δικαστην δικαιοτατον, "the most righteous judge": whose judgment reason receives, and gives its suffrage to, whether worthy of approbation or reproof; when it reads in the memory as if written on a table the things that are done, and then beholding the law as an exemplar, pronounces itself either worthy of honour or dishonour.'


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Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-2.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Which shew the work of the law l written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

(l) This knowledge is a natural knowledge.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/romans-2.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing — that is, perhaps by turns doing both.


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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/romans-2.html. 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

In that they (οιτινεςhoitines). “The very ones who,” qualitative relative.

Written in their hearts (γραπτον εν ταις καρδιαις αυτωνgrapton en tais kardiais autōn). Verbal adjective of γραπωgraphō to write. When their conduct corresponds on any point with the Mosaic law they practise the unwritten law in their hearts.

Their conscience bearing witness therewith (συνμαρτυρουσης αυτων της συνειδησεωςsunmarturousēs autōn tēs suneidēseōs). On conscience (συνειδησιςsuneidēsis) see note on 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:25.; 2 Corinthians 1:12. Genitive absolute here with present active participle συνμαρτυρουσηςsunmarturousēs as in Romans 9:1. The word συνειδησιςsuneidēsis means Corinthians-knowledge by the side of the original consciousness of the act. This second knowledge is personified as confronting the first (Sanday and Headlam). The Stoics used the word a great deal and Paul has it twenty times. It is not in the O.T., but first in this sense in Wisdom 17:10. All men have this faculty of passing judgment on their actions. It can be over-scrupulous (1 Corinthians 10:25) or “seared” by abuse (1 Timothy 4:12). It acts according to the light it has.

Their thoughts one with another accusing or also excusing them (μεταχυ αλληλων των λογισμων κατηγορουντων η και απολογουμενωνmetaxu allēlōn tōn logismōn katēgorountōn ē kai apologoumenōn). Genitive absolute again showing the alternative action of the conscience, now accusing, now excusing. Paul does not say that a heathen‘s conscience always commends everything that he thinks, says, or does. In order for one to be set right with God by his own life he must always act in accord with his conscience and never have its disapproval. That, of course, is impossible else Christ died for naught (Galatians 2:21). Jesus alone lived a sinless life. For one to be saved without Christ he must also live a sinless life.


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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/romans-2.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Which shew ( οἵτινες ἐνδείκνυνται )

Rev., better, in that they shew, the double relative specifying the class to which they belong, and therefore the reason for what precedes. Shew, properly, in themselves ( ἐν ).

The work of the law

The conduct corresponding to the law.

Their conscience also bearing witness ( συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν τῆς συνειδήσεως )

For conscience, see on 1 Peter 3:16. The force of ούν with the verb is therewith; i.e., with the prescript of the law, respecting the agreement or disagreement of the act with it. So Rev.

The meanwhile ( μεταξὺ )

Rev. renders with one another. Their thoughts one with another. The phrase μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων is variously explained. Some alternately, now acquitting and now condemning. Others, among themselves, as in internal debate. So Alford, “thought against thought in inner strife.” Others again, accusations or vindications carried on between Gentiles and Gentiles. As the other parts of the description refer to the individual soul in itself and not to relations with others, the explanation expressed in Rev. - the mutual relations and interchanges of the individual thoughts - seems preferable.


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Bibliography
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/romans-2.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Who show — To themselves, to other men, and, in a sense, to God himself.

The work of the law — The substance, though not the letter, of it.

Written on their hearts — By the same hand which wrote the commandments on the tables of stone.

Their conscience — There is none of all its faculties which the soul has less in its power than this.

Bearing witness — In a trial there are the plaintiff, the defendant, and the witnesses. Conscience and sin itself are witnesses against the heathens. Their thoughts sometimes excuse, sometimes condemn, them.

Among themselves — Alternately, like plaintiff and defendant.

Accusing or even defending them — The very manner of speaking shows that they have far more room to accuse than to defend.


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Bibliography
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/romans-2.html. 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

The work of the law; the work or duty required by the law.--Their conscience also bearing witness. All the writings of the ancient pagans show, most decisively, that, notwithstanding the great prevalence of practical iniquity, there was a clear and universal understanding among them of the great distinctions between right and wrong. The vices and crimes enumerated by the apostle, though every where practised, were still every where understood to be vices and crimes. As such, they were denounced by the philosophers, satirized by poets, and forbidden by the laws; and thus there is abundant evidence that when the people committed such iniquity themselves, or encouraged it in others, they did or encouraged what they distinctly and certainly knew to be wrong.


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Bibliography
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/romans-2.html. 1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

15.Who show the work of the law (73) written, etc.; that is, they prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a discrimination and judgment by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what is honest and dishonest. He means not that it was so engraven on their will, that they sought and diligently pursued it, but that they were so mastered by the power of truth, that they could not disapprove of it. For why did they institute religious rites, except that they were convinced that God ought to be worshipped? Why were they ashamed of adultery and theft, except that they deemed them evils?

Without reason then is the power of the will deduced from this passage, as though Paul had said, that the keeping of the law is within our power; for he speaks not of the power to fulfill the law, but of the knowledge of it. Nor is the word heart to be taken for the seat of the affections, but only for the understanding, as it is found in Deuteronomy 29:4,

“The Lord hath not given thee a heart to understand;”

and in Luke 24:25,

“O foolish men, and slow in heart to believe.”

Nor can we conclude from this passage, that there is in men afull knowledge of the law, but that there are only some seeds of what is right implanted in their nature, evidenced by such acts as these — All the Gentiles alike instituted religious rites, they made laws to punish adultery, and theft, and murder, they commended good faith in bargains and contracts. They have thus indeed proved, that God ought to be worshipped, that adultery, and theft, and murder are evils, that honesty is commendable. It is not to our purpose to inquire what sort of God they imagined him to be, or how many gods they devised; it is enough to know, that they thought that there is a God, and that honor and worship are due to him. It matters not whether they permitted the coveting of another man’s wife, or of his possessions, or of any thing which was his, — whether they connived at wrath and hatred; inasmuch as it was not right for them to covet what they knew to be evil when done.

Their conscience at the same time attesting, etc. He could not have more forcibly urged them than by the testimony of their own conscience, which is equal to a thousand witnesses. By the consciousness of having done good, men sustain and comfort themselves; those who are conscious of having done evil, are inwardly harassed and tormented. Hence came these sayings of the heathens — “A good conscience is the widest sphere; but a bad one is the cruelest executioner, and more fiercely torments the ungodly than any furies can do.” There is then a certain knowledge of the law by nature, which says, “This is good and worthy of being desired; that ought to be abhorred.”

But observe how intelligently he defines conscience: he says, that reasons come to our minds, by which we defend what is rightly done, and that there are those which accuse and reprove us for our vices; (74) and he refers this process of accusation and defense to the day of the Lord; not that it will then first commence, for it is now continually carried on, but that it will then also be in operation; and he says this, that no one should disregard this process, as though it were vain and evanescent. And he has put, in the day, instead of, at the day, — a similar instance to what we have already observed.

Another view of the latter clause is given by [Doddridge ] , [Macknight ] , [Haldane ] , and [Chalmers ] The last gives this paraphrase of the whole verse, — “For they show that the matter of the law is written in their hearts — both from their conscience testifying what is right and wrong in their own conduct, and from their reasonings in which they either accuse or vindicate one another.”

But to regard the two clauses as referring to conscience and the inward workings of the mind, appears more consistent with the context. The Gentiles are those spoken of: God gave them no outward law, but the law of nature which is inward. Hence in the following verse he speaks of God as judging “the secrets of men,” as the inward law will be the rule of judgment to the Gentiles — Ed.


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Bibliography
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/romans-2.html. 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Ver. 15. Their thoughts meanwhile] Or, between whiles: or in every interim of this life, μεταξυ. Other faculties may rest; an obscene dream by night shall not escape conscience’s record; it is index, iudex, vindex, informer, judge and defender, God’s spy and man’s overseer; and it is better to have it sore than seared.


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Bibliography
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/romans-2.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Romans 2:15. In their hearts, &c.— This is the force and stress of the Apostle's argument. He is proving that the Gentiles have a rule of action; and where is that rule?—It is written in their hearts, inscribed upon their mental faculties; a sense of moral good and evil is common to all mankind; and a secret power offered by divine grace to embrace the one and to avoid the other. The last clause literally rendered is, and their reasonings between one another, accusing or else defending. This interpreters in general understand of the workings of the conscience in one and the same person, alternately accusing the actions which are bad, and justifying those which are good. But here it is proper to observe, I. That κατηγορουντων, accusing, and απολογουμενων, defending or answering for themselves, are forensic terms, and correspond to plaintiff and defendant in legal process. Now plaintiff and defendant suppose a disputation, and are correlates, which exist together at the same time; but to say that the single principle of conscience forms two litigant parties in itself, the one accusing, the other defending, is incongruous. Conscience is a law, not a litigant, unless it be with a different principle, lust, (of which the Apostle says nothing here,) but never with itself, or its own reflections upon a person's conduct. II. The copulative και, and, as it stands here, points to a distinct head; "their conscience also bearing witness, that the work of the law is written in their hearts; and their reasonings between one another, accusing or answering for themselves, bearing witness that the work of the law is written in their hearts." This is the proper structure and construction of the Greek. But if this last clause be understood of the workings of conscience, it will be a tautology; for the Apostle must be supposed to say, their conscience bearing witness, and the workings of their conscience, alternately accusing or defending, bearing witness. III. The phrase μεταξυ αλληλων, between one another, denotes the litigant parties, accusing or else defending; and who should those be but the Gentiles, the persons concerning whom the Apostle is arguing? The word ' Αλληλοι, one another, always, it is conceived, denotes parties existing at the same time. But we cannot suppose that litigant parties exist at the same time in the conscience, one accusing, and the other excusing a man's conduct. To whom then does the word αυτων, their, in the preceding clause refer, but to the Gentiles? — And not only the sense, but the like position of the words, directs us to refer αλληλων, one another, to the same antecedent: for the words lie in this order, their consciences bearing witness, and their between-one-another-debates [bearing witness]. IV. The Greek word λογιζω signifies to reckon, reason, debate; (see Mark 11:31. 2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Corinthians 10:18.); agreeably whereto the original word λογισμων, in the present passage, should have been rendered,—their reasonings, debates, disputes one with another, when one party was plaintiff, and the other defendant. This proves that they both had, and knew they had, a law or rule of action among them: for as plaintiff and defendant necessarily suppose each other, so do they necessarily suppose a law, determining some actions to be true, just, and good; others to be false, unjust, and evil: for if there were no difference of actions, there could be no accusation of wrong, nor defence of right. The Apostle says, accusing or else answering for themselves; because either of these is sufficient to his purpose: either their accusing others of wrong, or defending themselves as in the right, (whichever of the parties was really in the right or in the wrong,) proved that they had a law among them,—a law written in their hearts


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Bibliography
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/romans-2.html. 1801-1803.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

15.] ἐνδείκν., by their conduct shew forth,—give an example of.

τὸ ἔργ. τοῦ νόμου = τὰ τοῦ νόμου above: but sing. as applying to each of the particular cases supposed in the ὅταν.… ποιῶσιν. If it had here been τὰ ἔργα τοῦ νόμου, it might have been understood to mean the whole works of the law, which the indefinite ὅταν prevents above.

γραπτὸν ἐν τ. κ. αὐτ.] Alluding to the tables of stone on which the law was written: see a similar figure 2 Corinthians 3:3.

συμμαρτ. αὐτ. τ. συνειδ.] This is a new argument, not a mere continuation of the ἔνδειξις above. Besides their giving this example by actions consonant with the law, their own conscience, reflecting on the thing done, bears witness to it as good.

συμμ., not merely = μαρτ., as Grot., Thol., nor = una testatur, viz. as well as their practice,—but confirming by its testimony, the συν signifying the agreement of the witness with the deed, as con in contestari, confirmare:—perhaps also the συν may be partly induced by the συν in συνειδήσεως,—referring to the reflective process, in which a man confers, so to speak, with himself.

καὶ μετ. ἀλλ. κ. τ. λ.] and their thoughts (judgments or reflections, the self-judging voices of the conscience, which being corrupted by sinful desires are often divided) among one another (i.e. thought against thought in inner strife) accusing, or perhaps excusing (these two participles are absolute, describing the office of these judgments,—and nothing need be supplied, as ‘them,’ or ‘their deeds’). Notice the similarity of this strife of conscience, and its testimony, as here described, to the higher and more detailed form of the same conflict in the Christian man, ch. Romans 7:16.


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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/romans-2.html. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 2:15. οἵτινες κ. τ. λ(653)]. quippe qui. See on Romans 1:25. The οὗτοι of Romans 2:14 are characterised, and consequently the ἑαυτοῖς εἰσὶ νό΄ος, just asserted, is confirmed: being such as show (practically by their action, Romans 2:14, make it known) that the work of the law is written in their hearts, wherewithal their conscience bears joint witness, etc.

That ἐνδείκνυνται should be understood of the practical proof which takes place by the ποιεῖν τὰ τοῦ νόμου (not by the testimony of conscience, Bengel, Tholuck) is required by the συν in συ΄΄αρτυρούσης, which is not a mere strengthening of the simple word (Köllner, Olshausen; comp Tholuck, following earlier expositors; see, on the other hand, Romans 8:16, Romans 9:1), but denotes the agreement of the internal evidence of conscience with the external proof by fact.(655) It is impossible to regard the ἐνδείκνυνται as taking place on the day indicated in Romans 2:16 (Hofmann), since this day can be no other than that of the last judgment. See on Romans 2:16.

τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου] The work relating to the law, the conduct corresponding to it, fulfilling it. The opposite is ἁμαρτήματα νόμου, Wisdom of Solomon 2:12. Compare on Galatians 2:16. The singular is collective (Galatians 6:4), as a summing up of the ἔργα τ. νόμου (Romans 3:20; Romans 3:28, Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5; Galatians 3:10). Compare τὰ τοῦ νόμου above. This stands written in their hearts as commanded, as moral obligation,(656) as ethical law of nature.

γραπτόν] purposely chosen with reference to the written law of Moses, although the moral law is ἄγραφος (Plato. Legg. p. 481 B, Thuc. ii. 37, 3, and Krüger, in loc(657) p. 200; Xen. Mem. iv. 4, 19; Soph. Ant. 450; Dem. 317, 23, 639, 22; Dion. Hal. vii. 41). Compare Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, and the similar designations among the Rabbins in Buxtorf, Lex Talm. p. 852, 1349. The supplying of ὄν serves to explain the adjective, which is used instead of the participle to denote what continues and is constant. Compare Bornemann, a(658) Xen. Mem. i. 5, 1; Symp. 4, 25. See the truly classic description of this inner law, and that as divine, in Cicero, de Republ. iii. 23; of the Greeks, comp Soph. O. T. 838 ff., and Wunder, in loc(660)

συμμαρτυρούσης αὐτῶν συνειδήσεως, καὶ μεταξὺ κ. τ. λ(661)] While they make known outwardly by their action that the ἔργον of the law is written in their hearts, their inner moral consciousness accords with it; namely (1), in reference to their own, personal relation: the testimony of their own consciences; and (2), in regard to their mutual relation: the accusations or vindications(662) that are carried on between Gentiles and Gentiles ( μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων) by their thoughts, by their moral judgments. This view of the sense is required by the correlation of the points αὐτῶν and μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων placed with emphasis in the foreground ( μεταξὺ occurring in Paul’s writings only here, and therefore all the more intentionally chosen in this case); so that thus both the personal individual testimony of conscience ( αὐτῶν) and the mutual judgment of the thoughts ( μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων), are adduced, as accompanying internal acts, in confirmation of the ἐνδείκνυνται. The Gentiles, who do the requirement of the law, practically show thereby that that requirement is inscribed on their hearts; and this is attested at the same time, so far as concerns the actors themselves, by their (following) conscience, and, so far as concerns their relation to other Gentiles, by the accusations or the vindications which they reciprocally practise in their moral thoughts, the one making reflections of a condemnatory or of a justifying nature on the other.(663) The prominence thus given to αὐτῶν and μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, and the antithetical correlation of the two points, have been commonly misunderstood (though not by Castalio, Storr, Flatt, Baumgarten-Crusius), and consequently κ. μετ. ἀλλ. τῶν διαλογ. κ. τ. λ(664) has been taken merely as an explanatory description of the process of conscience, in which the thoughts accuse or vindicate one another (i.e. one thought the other); so that ἀλλήλων is referred to the thoughts, and not, as is nevertheless required by the αὐτῶν standing in contradistinction to it, to the ἔθνη. This view ought even to have been precluded by attending to the fact that, since συ΄΄αρτ.… συνειδήσεως must, in harmony with the context, mean the approving conscience, what follows cannot well suit as an exposition, because in it the κατηγορούντων preponderates. Finally, it was an arbitrary expedient, rendering ΄εταξὺ merely superfluous and confusing, to separate it from ἀλλήλ., and to explain the former as meaning at a future time, viz. ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κ. τ. λ(665) (Koppe), or between, at the same time (Köllner, Jatho).


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Bibliography
Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/romans-2.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Romans 2:15. ἐνδείκνυνται, they show) [demonstrate] to themselves, to others, and, in some respects, to God Himself.— τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου, the work of the law), the law itself, with its practical [active] operation. It is opposed to the letter, which is but an accident [not its essence].— γραπτὸν, written), a noun, not a participle, much less an infinitive [to be written]. Paul, by way of contrast, alludes to the tables of Moses. This writing is antecedent to the doing of those things, which are contained in the law; but afterwards, when any one has done, or (has not done) the things commanded, [the demonstration, or] the showing [of the work of the law] follows, and that permanent writing [viz., that on the heart] becomes more clearly apparent— συμμαρτυρούσης, simultaneously bearing witness) An allegory; the prosecution, the criminal, the witnesses are in court; conscience is a witness; the thoughts accuse, or also defend. Nature, and sin itself, bear witness: conscience bears witness along with them.— αὐτῶν) of themselves, or their own.— τῆς συνειδήσεως, the conscience) The soul has none of its faculties less under its own control, than conscience. So συνείδησις and λογισμός are joined, Wisdom of Solomon 17:11-12.— μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, between one another) as prosecutor and criminal. This expression is put at the beginning of the clause for the sake of emphasis, inasmuch as thoughts implicated in the trial with thoughts, are opposed to conscience referred to the law.— τῶν λογισμῶν κατηγορούντων, their thoughts accusing) Some explain [analyse] the words thus: the thoughts, which accuse, testifying simultaneously [taken from συμμαρτυρούσης]; but thoughts accusing [ τῶν λογισμῶν κατηγορούντων] is an expression, which stands by itself.— καὶ, or even) The concessive particle, even, shows that the thoughts have far more to accuse, than defend, and the defence itself (comp. 2 Corinthians 7:11, defending or clearing of yourselves) does not extend to the whole, but only to a part of the conduct, and this very part in turn proves us to be debtors as to the whole, Romans 1:20.— ἀπολογουμένων, [excusing] defending). We have an example at Genesis 20:4.


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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/romans-2.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

By the work of the law, either understand the sum of the law, which is, To love God above all, and our neighbour as ourselves; or the office of the law, which consists in directing what to do, and what to leave undone; or the external actions which the law prescribes.

Written in their hearts; this seems to be a covenant promise and privilege, Jeremiah 31:33; how then is it predicated of the Gentiles?

Answer. Jereramiah speaks there of a special and supernatural inscription or writing in the heart by grace; and the apostle here, of that which is common and natural.

Their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; interchangeably, now one way, anon another. Not as though the thoughts did, at the same time, strive together about the same fact; nor is it meant of divers men, as if good men were excused, and bad men accused, by their own thoughts; but in the same persons there were accusing or excusing thoughts and consciences, as their actions were evil or good.


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Bibliography
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/romans-2.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

The work of the law; its effect in producing a conviction of duty, and of guilt in not doing it.

Accusing-excusing; as they have done or not done what they thought to be right. No man will be condemned for want of light, or for violating a law which he never had; but for neglecting the light which God gave him, and doing what he knew to be wrong.


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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Family Bible New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/romans-2.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

15. οἵτινες explains the preceding phrase.

ἐνδείκνυνται, ‘give proof of’; cf. Romans 9:17; cf. 2 Corinthians 8:24; Ephesians 2:7; i.e. by their actions. The fact that moral goodness is found in Gentiles is assumed throughout this argument as much as the fact that all sin.

τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου. Not the law itself, but that effect which is produced by the law in those who have it. Not = “the course of conduct prescribed by the law” (S. H.); that could hardly be described as ‘written in the heart’; but “the knowledge of GOD’S will, of right and wrong,” which is found in all human consciousness, and in a heightened degree in those who have an external law; cf. Romans 7:7 f.; |[88] therefore to Romans 1:19; Romans 1:21, and different from Romans 3:20; Romans 3:28; cf. Galatians 5:19; perhaps James 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Matthew 11:19. (Ewald, de voce συνειδήσεως p. 17, after Grotius, qu. S.H.)

γραπτὸν ἐν τ. κ. α. Cf. for the metaphor 2 Corinthians 3:2. On καρδία the seat of knowledge and will, see above, Romans 1:24. cf. Weiss, Theol. p. 250.

συνμαρτυρούσης κ.τ.λ., explain the nature of the ἔνδειξις; cf. Romans 1:21. The cpd v[89] only here and Romans 8:16, Romans 9:1. In the two latter places the force of the συν- is clear from the context. Here apparently the other witness is ‘their actions’; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12. It is possible, however, that the συν- is merely ‘perfective.’ cf. Moulton, p. 113.

τῆς συνειδήσεως. The primary idea of the word is [1] ‘consciousness’ as due to reflection, on the model of the use of the verb συνειδὲναι ἑαυτῷ τι, ‘to be conscious of an experience good or bad’; on this follows the meaning [2] ‘experience’ as the sum of reflective consciousness or self-knowledge, subjective always; and [3] so the ‘feeling’ which admits or rejects as alien a new candidate for admission into a man’s sum of experience; then [4], as a special development of the last meaning, ‘conscience’ as suggesting moral judgments. See Add. Note, p. 208. Here = [2] ‘their conscious experience’; the effect of the law is recognisably part of their mental equipment or consciousness, their stock of ideas; the next clause then explains how their consciousness bears this witness.

μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων = as between each other, in mutual intercourse: it is the mutual intercourse of men which arouses the moral judgment, even when that moral judgment is exercised upon the man’s own experience, as here; cf. S.H. This is an instance of the development of personality by social relations. cf. Ward, The Realm of Ends [1911], p. 366.

τῶν λογισμῶν. Their thoughts exhibit moral judgments, presupposing that knowledge which is the effect of the law. For λογισμοί cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5 only, freq. in LX[90]. Here = reflexion passing moral judgment on the contents of consciousness. (In 4 Macc. = reason as master of the passions and champion of piety.) This interpretation seems to be necessitated not only by the regular use of λογισμός but also by the context; n. esp. τὰ κρυπτὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, 16.

ἤ καὶ ἀπολογουμένων. The approval of conscience rarer than the condemnation, but not unknown.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

A. συνείδησις, c. Romans 2:15

The word is found only in the Pauline writings (Romans , 1 and 2 Corinthians , 1 and 2 Tim., Tit., 1 Pet., Heb.) except [John 8:9], and Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16 (speeches of S. Paul). The verb (σύνοιδα) only in 1 Corinthians 4:4. In the LXX[341] it occurs only in Wisdom of Solomon 17:11 (R.V. conscience), Ecclesiastes 10:20 (R.V. heart), and perhaps Sirach 42:18 (R.V. knowledge). The verb, Job 27:6; Leviticus 5:1; 1 Maccabees 4:21; 2 Maccabees 4:41. The two passages which make clear the use of the word are Job l.c[342], οὐ σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ ἄτοπα πράξας, and Wisdom l.c[343], πονηρίαἀεὶ προσείληφεν τὰ χαλεπὰ συνεχομένη τῇ συνειδήσει. In both these passages it is the state of mind which is conscious of certain actions in their moral aspects.

The customary meaning of the substantive follows the use of the verb. σύνοιδά τινί τι = to be privy to the action of another; σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ τι or τι πράξας = to be privy to an action or thought of my own; but, as a man in general cannot help being privy to his own thoughts and actions, the phrase is used with the special meaning of the recognition or feeling of the character, and especially the moral character, of one’s own thoughts or actions. So we get first the simple meaning, the feeling or knowledge that we have done or thought certain things imputed to us, and, secondly, the more definite meaning, the feeling or knowledge that such thoughts or actions are right or wrong. This feeling can be appealed to as a witness to character, either by the man himself appealing to his self-consciousness in support of a statement, or by others appealing to the man’s own consciousness of himself. So Wisdom of Solomon 17:11, R.V. “Wickedness, condemned by a witness within, is a coward thing, and being pressed hard by conscience (τῃ συνειδήσει) always forecasts the worst lot,” the consciousness of being wrong makes a coward of the man. Here the conscience or consciousness is an incorruptible witness before whose evidence the man trembles. Cf. Polyb. XVIII. 26.13, οὐδεὶς οὔτως μάρτυς ἐστὶ φοβερὸς οὔτε κατήγορος δεινὸς ὡς ἡ σύνεσις ἡ ἐγκατοικοῦσα ταῖς ἑκάστων ψυχαῖς, where the last phrase = ἡ συνείδησις. It is rather as a witness than as a judge that ἡ συνείδησις is regarded in ordinary Greek use: and it is only as a witness that it is appealed to in N. T.

In Romans the word occurs three times, Romans 2:15, Romans 9:1, Romans 13:5. In Romans 2:15 and Romans 9:1 it is used of a man’s knowledge of himself, his motives and thoughts, called as a witness to his true character. In Romans 2:15 the Gentiles’ self-consciousness, knowledge of their own minds, witnesses to their possession, in a sense, of law, and so confirms the evidence of their acts. In Romans 9 :1 S. Paul’s knowledge of himself, as controlled by the ‘Holy Spirit, witnesses to the pain and distress he feels for Israel, and confirms the witness of the assertion which he makes as in Christ. In Romans 13:5 there is no idea of witness, but the consciousness of their own motives and feelings as shown in the fact that they willingly pay tribute, is appealed to as an argument for obedience.

Closely parallel to Romans 9:1 is 2 Corinthians 1:12, where the consciousness of motive is alleged as a witness to the truth of his confident assertion.

With Romans 13:5 may be grouped the passages in which an epithet is attached (Acts 23:1, ἀγαθή, Acts 24:16, ἀπρόσκοπος; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19, 1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 3:21, ἀγαθή; 1 Timothy 3:9, 2 Timothy 1:3, καθαρά. Cf. Hebrews 9:14, καθαριεῖ τὴν συνείδησιν; Hebrews 13:18, καλή; Hebrews 10:22, πονηρά). In all these passages it is clear that the word indicates the self-consciousness which includes good or bad contents, as matter of feeling and experience, as simply a matter of self-knowledge, without any direct thought of judgment. So 1 Peter 2:19, διὰ συνείδησιν θεοῦ, a remarkable phrase, seems to mean, owing to a feeling of or about GOD, bringing Him as it were into the field of conscious motive. This feeling or consciousness can be dulled by evil courses (1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15). External ordinances leave it untouched (Hebrews 9:9), but it can be cleansed (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:21-22).

In 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11 the Apostle appeals, for the recognition of his claim, to the conscious experience (συνείδησις) which others have acquired of his character and life, their inner knowledge of him; in this use we have the substantival form of the verbal phrase σύνοιδά τινί τι. And it is possible that we have the same use in 1 Corinthians 10:28-29, where the συνείδησις may = the weak brother’s knowledge of and feeling about the acts of the strong.

In 1 Corinthians 8:7-12 we have the remarkable epithet ἀσθενής, where if we translate συνείδησις as ‘conscience,’ we have the paradox of calling a sensitive conscience weak. We can hardly get a nearer translation here than ‘feelings.’ The man ‘feels’ that to eat εἰδωλόθυτα, is wrong. This ‘feeling’ cannot be justified by reason; it is due to association (τῇ συνηθείᾳ ἕως ἄρτι τοῦ εἰδώλου), and he cannot shake it off: it is called ‘weak,’ because in it the man is not really master of himself. The argument of the passage is directed to gaining from the strong a tender consideration for those who are in this weak state of feeling. It is a pity that the true character of many ‘conscientious objections’ of the present day is obscured by their association with our modern term ‘conscience,’ when they should be really described as συνείδησις ἀσθενής.

On the whole, then, we may say that in the N.T., as in common Greek use, συνείδησις describes rather a state of consciousness, than a faculty or act of judgment: some uses of the word ‘conscience’ correspond to this meaning of συνείδησις; but in more cases than not the meaning will be adequately given by such renderings as ‘consciousness,’ ‘self-knowledge,’ or even simply ‘heart.’


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"Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/romans-2.html. 1896.

Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans

Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.

The work of the law. — We have here a distinction between the law itself, and the work of the law. The work of the law is the thing that the law doeth, — that is, what it teaches about actions, as good or bad. This work, or business, or office of the law, is to teach what is right or wrong. This, in some measure, is taught by the light of nature in the heart of every man.

There remains, then, in all men, to a certain degree, a discernment of what the law requires, designated here the ‘work’ of the law; the performance or neglect of which is followed by the approbation or disapprobation of the conscience. It has no relation to the authority of the lawgiver, as the principle of the law itself; but solely to the distinction between actions, as right or wrong in themselves, and the hope of escaping future punishment, or of obtaining future reward. The love and the reverential fear of God, which are the true principles of obedience, have been effaced from the mind; but a degree of knowledge of His justice, and the consciousness that the violations of His law deserve and will be followed by punishment, have been retained. Written in their hearts. — This is an allusion to the law written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and afterwards recorded in the Scriptures. The great principles of this law were communicated to man in his creation, and much of it remains with him in his fallen state. This natural light of the understanding is called the law written in the heart, because it is imprinted on the mind by the Author of creation, and is God’s work as much as the writing on the tables of stone. Conscience witnessing together, — together with the law written in the heart. But it may be asked, Are not these two things the same? They are not. They are different principles. Light, or knowledge of duty, is one thing, and conscience is another. Knowledge shows what is right, — the conscience approves of it, and condemns the contrary. We might suppose a being to have the knowledge of duty, without the principle that approves of it, and blames the transgression. Their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing between one another. — Not alternately, nor in turn. Their reasonings (not thoughts) between one another, condemning, or else defending. What is the object of their condemnation or defense? Not themselves, but one another; that is, those between whom the reasonings take place. The reference evidently is to the fact that, in all places, in all ages, men are continually, in their mutual intercourse, blaming or excusing human conduct. This supposes a standard of reference, — a knowledge of right and wrong. No man could accuse and condemn another, if there were not some standard of right and wrong; and no man could defend an action without a similar standard. This is obviously the meaning of the Apostle. To these ideas of right and wrong are naturally joined the idea of God, who is the sovereign Judge of the world, and that of rewards and punishments, which will follow either good or bad actions. These ideas do not fail to present themselves to the sinner, and inspire fear and inquietude. But as, on the other hand, self-love and corruption reign in the heart, these come to his support, and strive, by vain reasonings, to defend or to extenuate the sin. The Gentiles, then, however depraved, lost, and abandoned, and however destitute of the aid of the written law, are, notwithstanding, a law to themselves, having the law written in their hearts. They have still sufficient light to discern between good and evil, virtue and vice, honesty and dishonesty; and their conscience enables them sufficiently to make that distinction, whether before committing sin, or in the commission of it, or after they have committed it. Besides this, remorse on account of their crimes reminds them that there is a God, a Judge before whom they must appear to render account to Him of their actions. They are, then, a law to themselves; they have the work of the law written in their hearts.

That the knowledge of the revealed law of God has not been preserved in every nation, is, however, entirely to be attributed to human depravity; and if it was restored to one nation for the benefit of others, it must be ascribed to the goodness of God. The law of God, and the revelation respecting the Messiah, had been delivered to all men after the flood by Noah, who was a preacher of the everlasting righteousness, 2 Peter 2:5, which was to be brought in, to answer the demands of that law. But all the nations of the earth had lost the remembrance of it, not liking to retain God in their knowledge. God again discovered it to the Jews in that written revelation with which they were favored. If it he asked, Why was the law vouchsafed in this manner to that nation and not also to the Gentiles? Paul explains this mystery, ch. 11: It is sufficient then to say that God has willed to make known, by this abandonment, how great and dreadful was the fall of the human race, and by that means one day to magnify the glory of the grace which He purposed to bestow on men by Jesus Christ. He willed to leave a great part of men a prey to Satan, to show how great is His abhorrence of sin, and how great was the wrath which our disobedience had kindled against the world. But why did He not also abandon the Jews? Because He chose to leave some ray of hope in the world, and it pleased Him to lay the foundation of redemption by His Son.

But why was the greater part abandoned? Because then was the time of Divine wrath and justices and sin must be allowed to abound that grace might super abound. Why, in fine, choose the nation of the Jews rather than any other nation? Because, without any further reason, it was the sovereign good pleasure of God.


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Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hal/romans-2.html. 1835.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

15. Work of the law… hearts—The work of the law may mean either the practice which the law enjoins, or the operation of the law itself. The former makes the clearer sense. The work of the law is the deed or duty marked out by the law. The written law or decalogue is mostly prohibitory; the unwritten law of the heart is positive, enjoining a course and a work. The heart is, as it were, a tablet; and as the non-work was written on the tablet of stone, so the positive work is written on the tablet of the heart.

In the human consciousness a just philosophy finds a standard of right and wrong, a moral sense, which affirms the right and disaffirms its opposite.

Their conscience also—Three elements are found here in man’s moral nature: First, a law written on the heart, that is, the natural sense, idea, standard, or rule of right and wrong. Second, the conscience, bearing witness; that is, the moral consciousness testifying whether our volitions or actions, or even our emotions and mental states, agree or disagree with this standard or rule. Third, the accusations, excusations, or commendations, moral judgment, pronouncing the subject condemnable or otherwise. These three elements are at the present day usually comprehended under the complex term conscience.

By the English translation the thoughts are made to accuse or excuse one another; that is, thoughts to accuse thoughts. And this makes the better sense. The moral thought does accuse the wicked thought, feeling, or volition. But commentators generally understand it of thoughts accusing the men themselves.

The existence and power of this conscience is often beautifully and forcibly attested by later classic writers. The Greek historian Polybius says: “No witness is so fearful, no accuser is so terrible, as the conscience dwelling in every individual soul.” The Roman poet Juvenal says: “Do you expect those to escape whom the mind, conscious of direful crime, holds confounded? By night and by day they carry the witness within their own breasts.”


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/romans-2.html. 1874-1909.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Romans 2:15. Who: or, ‘being such as.’ This is virtually the proof that they are a law unto themselves.

Shew the work of the law. By their doing of it show what is the work of the law = the sum of ‘the things of the law’ (Romans 2:14).

Written in their hearts. They show that this work of the law is written in their hearts. That is, the Gentiles, in the case assumed, are a law unto themselves, as is evident from their showing by their acts that what the law enjoins is written in their hearts.

Their conscience also bearing witness. Their conscience adds its testimony to that of their act; ‘witnesses together with.’ The practical proof (‘show,’ etc.), is confirmed by this internal use.

Their thoughts one with another. ‘Meanwhile’ is incorrect. The question arises, whether ‘one with another’ refers to ‘thoughts’ or to the persons spoken of. The latter view (which would be better expressed by placing ‘one with another’ at the close of the verse) indicates that their moral judgments upon one another also attest that the law is written in their hearts. The former view, which is preferable, makes the whole of the latter part of the verse refer to the moral process which takes place in the heart of man after a good or bad act: the conscience sits in judgment, rendering sentence in God’s name according to the law; the ‘thoughts’ are the several moral reflections which appear as witnesses in this court of conscience.

Accusing or even excusing them. ‘Even’ is preferable to ‘also,’ since it suggests that the conscience finds more accusing than excusing thoughts. It is also true, that adverse judgments of other persons are more common, but we adopt the view that the judgment spoken of is that of a man upon his own acts and feelings. ‘This judicial process, which takes place here in every man’s heart, is a forerunner of the great judgment at the end of the world’ (comp. Romans 2:16). ‘How can we fail to admire here both that fine analysis with which the Apostle reveals in the heart of the Gentiles a true hall of judgment where are heard the witnesses against and for the accused, then the sentence of the judge,

and that largeness of heart with which, after having traced so repulsive a picture of the moral deformities of the Gentile life (chap. 1), he brings out here in a manner not less striking the indestructible moral elements of which that life, although so profoundly sunken, offers now and then the unexceptionable signs.’ (Godet)


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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/romans-2.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Romans 2:15. οἵτινες ἑνδείκνυνται: the relative is qualitative: “inasmuch as they shew”. τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου is the work which the law prescribes, collectively. “Written on their hearts,” when contrasted with the law written on the tables of stone, is equal to “unwritten”; the Apostle refers to what the Greeks called ἄγραφος νόμος. To the Greeks, however, this was something greater and more sacred than any statute, or civil constitution; to the Apostle it was less than the great revelation of God’s will, which had been made and interpreted to Israel, but nevertheless a true moral authority. There is a triple proof that Gentiles, who are regarded as not having law, are a law to themselves. (1) The appeal to their conduct: as interpreted by the Apostle, their conduct evinces, at least in some, the possession of a law written on the heart; (2) the action of conscience: it joins its testimony, though it be only an inward one, to the outward testimony borne by their conduct; and (3) their thoughts. Their thoughts bear witness to the existence of a law in them, inasmuch as in their mutual intercourse ( μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων) these thoughts are busy bringing accusations, or in rarer cases ( καί) putting forward defences, i.e., in any case, exercising moral functions which imply the recognition of a law. This seems to me the only simple and natural explanation of a rather perplexed phrase. We need not ask for what Paul does not give, the object to κατηγορούντων or ἀπολογουμένων: it may be any person, act or situation, which calls into exercise that power of moral judgment which shows that the Gentiles, though without the law of Moses, are not in a condition which makes it impossible to judge them according to their works. The construction in Romans 9:1 suggests that the συν views the witness of conscience, reflecting on conduct, as something added to the first instinctive consciousness of the nature of an action. συνείδησις does not occur in the Gospels except in John 8:9; twice only in Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, both times in speeches of St. Paul; twenty times in the Pauline epistles. It occurs in the O.T. only in Ecclesiastes 10:20 (curse not the King, ἐν συνειδήσει σου = ne in cogitatione quidem tua): the ordinary sense is found, for the first time in Biblical Greek, in Sap. 17:11. It is a quasi-philosophical word, much used by the Stoics, and belonging rather to the Greek than the Hebrew inheritance of Paul.


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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/romans-2.html. 1897-1910.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Romans 2:15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing {them} );

"Written in their hearts"-they weren"t born with it on their minds, any more than Christians are born with the new covenant on their minds. (Hebrews 8:6-13) See Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3. While they didn"t have two tablets of stone, they did know right from wrong, and hence were without excuse!

"Accusing or else excusing them"-

"Paul could observe the Jews and the Gentiles accusing one another. When they were doing this they were acknowledging a standard which the other had allegedly violated. He heard them excuse one another. The very fact that they bothered to "excuse" themselves or another establishes the fact that they see themselves as having lived up to (not violated) a law. All of this is said to show that the Gentile indeed had a law and couldn"t plead ignorance."

Anytime a group of people make accusations or attempt to defend themselves they have just admitted one important fact, they are accountable to God!


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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/romans-2.html. 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

shew = shew forth. Greek. endeiknumi.

written. Greek. graptos. Only here.

conscience. See Acts 23:1.

also. Omit.

bearing witness = bearing witness therewith. Greek. summartureo. Here, Romans 8:16; Romans 9:1. Revelation 22:18.

thoughts = reckonings. Greek. logismos. Only here and 2 Corinthians 10:5.

excusing. Greek. apologeomai. See Acts 19:33.


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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/romans-2.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Which show the work of the law written in their hearts - deeply engraven on their moral nature,

Their conscience also bearing witness , [ summarturousees (Greek #4828) autoon (Greek #846) tees (Greek #3588) suneideeseoos (Greek #4893)] - 'their conscience blending its witness,' i:e., with the law,

And their thoughts the mean while , [ metaxu (Greek #3342) alleeloon (Greek #240): cf. Acts 15:9] - rather, 'and their thoughts between themselves' (as in margin), or, 'one with another,'

Accusing or else excusing ('them'). Since there is a voice within the breasts even of the pagan which witnesses for righteousness and against iniquity, condemning or commending them by turns, according as they violate or obey its stern dictates, their final condemnation for all the sin in which they live and die will carry its dreadful echo in their own breasts.


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/romans-2.html. 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

Their conduct shows. Their actions show that they do have this Law written in their hearts. Their consciences also demonstrate this by showing they know right from wrong. They have a sense of moral values. The codes of law in the ancient Gentile world showed this also.


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Bibliography
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "The Bible Study New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/romans-2.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(15) Which.—Rather, Inasmuch as they.

The work of the law.—The practical effect or realisation of the law—written in their hearts as the original Law was written upon the tables of stone, (Comp. Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3.)

Also bearing witness.—Or, witnessing with them, as margin. There is a double witness; their actions speak for them externally, and conscience speaks for them internally.

The mean while.—Rather, literally, as margin, between themselves—i.e., with mutual interchange, the thoughts of the heart or different motions of conscience sometimes taking the part of advocate, sometimes of accuser.

This seems, on the whole, the best way of taking these two words, though some commentators (among them Meyer) regard this quasi personification of “the thoughts” as too strong a figure of speech, and take “between themselves” as referring to the mutual intercourse of man with man. But in that mutual intercourse it is not the thoughts that accuse or defend, but the tongue. The Apostle is speaking strictly of the private tribunal of conscience.


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Bibliography
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/romans-2.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
written
1:18,19
their conscience, etc
or, the conscience witnessing with them.
9:1; John 8:9; Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 5:11; 1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:15
the mean while
or, between themselves. accusing.
Genesis 3:8-11; 20:5; 42:21,22; 1 Kings 2:44; Job 27:6; Ecclesiastes 7:22; 1 John 3:19-21

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/romans-2.html.

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians

Who show the work of the law written on their hearts. Here, as in Romans 1:25, and often elsewhere, the relative has a causal force: ‘They are a law unto themselves, because they show the work of the law,' etc. Wolf, Tholuck, and others make ἔργον τοῦ νόμου a periphrase for the law itself; Grotius, the effect of the law, that is, a knowledge of right and wrong; most modern commentators make τὸ ἔργον equivalent to τὰ ἔργα. The same works which the Jews have prescribed in their law, the Gentiles show to be written on their hearts. It is by doing the things of the law, that the Gentiles show they have this inward rule of duty; their conscience also bearing witness. Grotius, Koppe, and Tholuck, take συμμαρτυρεῖν in the sense of the simple verb. Comp. Jeremiah 11:7, in the lxx, Romans 9:1; Romans 8:16. ‘Their conscience bearing witness,' that is, to the fact that there is a law written on their hearts. But as συμμαρτυρεῖν is properly unâ testari, and as the context presents no reason for departing from the common meaning of the word, the great majority of commentators give the σύν its proper force. That with which conscience joins its testimony is the honestas vitae, the moral acts of the heathen; and the fact to which this joint testimony is born, is that they are a law unto themselves. The apostle appeals not only to their external conduct, but to the inward operations of their moral nature. συνείδησις is the conscientia consequens is, the inward judge, whose acts are described in the following clause: Their thoughts alternately accusing or even excusing. Our version takes, μεταξὺ as an adverb, and makes ἀλλήλων the object of the following participles, ‘And in the meanwhile, their thoughts accusing, or else excusing one another.' Köllner defends this interpretation, and declares that, μεταξύ, between, cannot mean vicissim. It is used, he asserts, only of time, between two portions of time, i.e., during; or of space, between two places, persons, or things. It is not, however, so much the signification of the word μεταξὺ, as the sense of the phrase μεταξὺ ἀλλήλων, that is expressed by the translation, vicissim, sive alternate sententiâ. ‘Between one another,' implies reciprocal or alternate action; comp. Matthew 18:15. The order of the words is obviously opposed to the separation of ἀλλήλων from μεταξὺ, and to making the former the object of the following participles; which are rather to be taken absolutely. Their thoughts alternately accusing and excusing, viz., their conduct. The inward monitor acquits or condemns, as the case demands. Bengel remarks on the ἢ καί, or even, that καί is concessive, and shows "cogitation's longe plus habere quod accusent, quàm quod defendant."


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Bibliography
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 2:15". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hdg/romans-2.html.

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