By David Brown
CHAPTER II. 1-29.—THE JEW UNDER CONDEMNATION NO LESS THAN THE GENTILE.
From those without, the apostle now turns to those within, the pale of Revealed Religion—the self-righteous Jews, who looked clown upon the uncovenanted heathen as beyond the pale of God's mercies—deeming themselves, as the chosen people, secure, however inconsistent their life might be. Alas! what multitudes wrap themselves up in like fatal confidence who occupy the corresponding position in the Christian Church.
1. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man. The apostle, it will be observed, addressing himself now to a new party, changes the form of address from the third person plural ("they"), when speaking of the Gentiles, to the second person singular ("thou")—the Jew—and supposed to be present, as one of the same nation, whom the writer daily met. whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another (Gr. 'the other,' the Gentile party), thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise1 the same things. In penning these words the apostle doubtless had in his eye our Lord's precept, Matt. vii. 1-3. 2. Now we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practise such things—whether Jews or Gentiles. 3. And thinkest ('reckonest') thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? (Compare Matt. iii. 9.) 4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness. . . not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth (that is, 'is designed,' and 'is adapted, to lead') thee to repentance (see 2 Pet. iii. 9). 5. But, aiter thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath in the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The awful idea here expressed is, that the sinner is amassing, like hoarded treasure, an ever-accumulating stock of Divine wrath, to hurst upon him in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. And of whom is this said? Not of monstrous sinners, but of those who boasted of their purity of faith and life. 6. who will render to every man according to his works. This great truth (taken from Fro v. xxiv. 12, as in the LXX.), which is the key to the whole reasoning of this chapter, is in the next four verses applied to the two classes into which all mankind will at the great day be found to have ranged themselves, shewing that the final judgment will turn upon character alone.
7. to them that by patience in well-doing (or 'perseverance 'in it) seek for glory and honour and immortality (Gr. 'incorruption'), eternal life. The enduring character of personal religion is the surest test of its reality. Whatever fails to stand this test proves itself to have had no root from the first (compare Luke viii. 13, 14; Matt. xxv. 3 with 8-12; 1 John ii. 19). 8-10. but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey (the word means 'refuse to obey') the truth—pointing to the acrimony with which his own Gospel message had been resisted by his own countrymen from first to last (see Acts ix. 29, xiii. 45, 46, xiv. 2, 19, xvii. 5, 13, xviii. 6, xxi. 27, 31, xxii. 22, xxiii. 12), wrath and indignation,2 tribulation and anguish. The first of these pairs—" wrath and indignation"—are in the bosom of the sin-avenging God; the next pair, "tribulation and anguish," are the effects of those dreadful affections in the Divine mind on and in the sinner himself: of the Jew first, and also of the Greek: but glory. . . to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; for there is no respect of persons with God. As first in reward, if faithful, so also if unfaithful, the Jew will be first in condemnation.
But how, might the Jew ask, can Jew and Gentile be judged by the same standard, of character alone, when the one has a written Revelation of duty, and the other wants it? The following digression is intended to meet this.
Digression on the standard of judgment for Jew and Gentile respectively (12-16):—12. For as many as have sinned without the (written) law shall also perish without the (written) law; and as many as have sinned under the (written) law shall he judged by the (written) law. In this weighty statement two things are to be noted. (1) "As many as have sinned" plainly means 'as many as will at the great day he found in sin.' (2) To "sin without the law" means evidently 'without the advantage of that positive Revelation of duty which the Jews enjoyed.' Hence also to "perish without the law" must mean 'exempt from the charge of rejecting or disregarding it.' Their character, on which the judgment will turn, will meet with its appropriate award. Applying this equitable principle to those who enjoy a fuller form of Revelation than even the Jews before Christ possessed, their judgment will of course turn on the use they will be found to have made of their superior opportunities (see Matt. xi. 20-24).3 13. for not the hearers of the law. . . but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature (by the natural promptings of conscience) the things of the law. The statement is quite a general one, having no reference to those deeper springs of holy obedience which Revelation alone calls into action, and stamps with a character of its own. these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; 15. in that they shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts ('reasonings') one with another accusing or else excusing them. Since even in the heathen breast there is a voice for righteousness, commending or condemning according to the treatment it receives, the final condemnation of the evil-doers will carry its dread echo within themselves. 16. in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. This verse neither connects very well with ver. 15, nor with ver. 12, as if all the intervening verses were a parenthesis (which the A. V. makes them). It is better to suppose that having from the outset of the chapter summoned the Jews to the bar of God, and from them passed on to the Gentiles, as there also to appear for judgment—the dread day hovering in his thoughts throughout this long expostulation—he now, without any close connexion with what immediately precedes, winds up with three announcements of what will take place "in that day:"—(1) that God will be Judge Himself; (2) that the judgment will turn, not on the bare actions, much less the empty professions, but upon "the secrets of men" (perhaps pointing to those depths of envenomed hypocrisy with which he himself had to deal); (3) that the immediate Agent in this process of Divine judgment will be "Jesus Christ," as the Father's co-equal Delegate, as expressly announced before by Christ Himself (John v. 22, 23, 27; Acts xvii. 31; and see Note on ver. 6); (4) that this had been what the apostle ever and everywhere taught in his preaching of the "Gospel" (compare xvi. 25; Gal. i. 8, 9).
Expostulation with the Jew resumed (17-20):—17. But if4 thou bearest the name of a Jew—and claiming superiority on that ground (compare Rev. ii. 9, iii. 9). . . . approvest the things that are excellent (Gr. 'more excellent'). The words may equally well mean 'puttest to the test the things that differ '—the right from the wrong, the true from the false: but as the one is the natural result of the other, the former is probably what is intended. (See the same phrase in Phil. i. 10, in the same ambiguous sense.) having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth—not being left, like the heathen, to vague conjecture on Divine things, but favoured with definite and precise information from heaven. 21. thou therefore that teachest another teachest thou not thyself. We have here the piercing application of this eloquent succession of appeals. 22. thou. . . . that abhorrest idols—as the Jews after their captivity certainly did, though bent on them before, dost thou rob temples. We wonder not that the A. V. departs from the proper meaning of this word, since no allusion to any such act is found in the N. T.; and that it takes the sense that seems nearest to it, "commit sacrilege," which the R. V. puts in the margin. But since in Deut. vii. 24, 25, where they were commanded on entering the promised land, when they "burned the graven images with fire," not to desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto them, nor to bring an abomination into their house, but utterly detest and abhor it, as a cursed thing; and since ver. 24 implies that their conduct brought their religion into disgrace among the heathen, it may be that their covetousness, which was itself idolatry, went the length of so quenching their abhorrence of idols as to tempt them to spoil (or act as resetters of theft from) the heathen temples, when they had a chance, in the countries of their dispersion (compare also ver. 21—"dost thou steal? "and Acts xix. 37). We have not thought it right at least to change the plain meaning of the word. 24. For the name of God. is blasphemed among the Gentiles through ('because of) you, even as it is written (Ezek. xxxvi. 20-23: compare 2 Sam. xii. 14; Isa. lii. 5). 25. For circumcision profiteth. To be a circumcised Jew, born within the pale of Revealed Religion, overshadowed from infancy by Divine ordinances, and daily familiarized with the most quickening, elevating, and sanctifying truths —this is an advantage not to be over-estimated (ch. hi. I, 2, ix. 4, 6). if thou be a doer of the law (see footnote to ver. 2)—if thou yield thyself to these gracious influences, and the light that shines around thee be reflected in thy character and walk: but if thou be a breaker of the law—if thy Judaism be all outside, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision—in that case thou art in the sight of God an uncircumcised heathen. 26. If therefore the uncircumcision keep the requirements of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? The general principle here expressed is clear enough, that as circumcision will not protect the unrighteous from the consequences of their bad life, so the want of it will not invalidate the claims of true righteousness. But whether the apostle is here putting a real or only a hypothetical case, is a question of some difficulty, on which critics are not agreed. Those who take the apostle to mean such a keeping of the law as justifies before God—a complete and perfect obedience to the requirements of the moral law—pronounce the case here supposed a purely hypothetical one. But as that impossibility was just as true of Jews as of Gentiles, it seems wide of the mark. To us it appears that it is reality in personal religion which the apostle has here in view; and that what he affirms is, that as circumcision—considered as the mere external badge of the true Religion—will not compensate for the want of subjection in heart and life to the law of God, so neither will the absence of circumcision invalidate the standing before God of the man whose heart and life are in conformity with the spirit of His law. But this suggests another question. Is such conformity in heart and life to the law of God—or such personal religion as He will recognize—possible without the pale of Revealed Religion? Now, though the apostle probably had no one class of mankind in view while penning this verse, it is scarcely natural to suppose that he was putting a case which he knew could never be realized. What sort of case, then, would sufficiently meet his statement? That he was thinking of heathen men who 1 act up to the light of nature,' as people speak, we cannot think; for this is plainly inconsistent with the apostle's own teaching. But just as in the days of Melchisedec and Job men were found beyond the pale of the Abrahamic covenant, yet not without a measure of revealed light, so might there occur innumerable cases of heathens—especially after the Babylonish captivity—benefiting so far by the dispersed Jews as to attain, though but in rude outline, to right views of God and of His service, even though not open proselytes to the Jewish Religion. Such cases—without referring to that of Cornelius (Acts x.), who, outside the external pale of God's covenant, had come to the knowledge of the truths contained in it, manifested the grace of the covenant without the seal of it, and exemplified the character and walk of Abraham's children, though not called by the name of Abraham—such cases seem sufficient to warrant and explain all that the apostle here says, without resorting to the supposition of a purely hypothetical case. (Some, as Godet, suppose the reference to converted Gentiles, who though uncircumcised had thus become the true Israel. But this seems unnatural. ) 27. and (in that case) shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who with the letter and circumcision—who, in spite of those strong fences, "the letter" of Revelation "and circumcision" the badge of it, art a transgressor of the law—breaking through both of them. 28, 29. For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly: neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, etc. So ch. ix. 6, 7. This had been held forth to the Jews from the beginning. Circumcision was never intended to be the sign of a mere external separation of Israel from other nations, but from the first designed to be "a seal" of the covenant of grace (Gen. xvii. 7, 10), as stated in ch. iv. 11; and if there could be any doubt about it, such passages as Deut. x. 16, xxx. 6, Jer. iv. 4, Joel ii. 13, with Isa. lxvi. 2, should settle the point.
ON THE USE OF THE WORD 'LAW" IN THE EPISTLE.
To account for the use of this word—sometimes with and sometimes without the (Greek) article—the following rule has been laid down—that with the article it always means "the written law, the Old Testament, at least; "that "it seems never to be quoted otherwise: "whereas without the article it means 'law' considered "as a principle, exemplified no doubt chiefly and signally in the Mosaic law, but very much wider than this in its application." 'The first part of this rule is but very partially correct; for though in one or two places—such as Matt. v. 17 and Gal. iv. 21—it obviously means the Old Testament Scriptures, yet in the Epistle to the Romans (where the word appears to be used 37 times, according to the received text, and according to the text of the Revised Version 33 times), and in the corresponding Epistle to the Galatians (where it is so used apparently II times)—in neither of these great Epistles, with the single exception in Galatians just noted, is it ever used in the general sense of the Old Testament Scriptures, but always in the definite sense of the 'moral law '—possessed in a written form by the Jews, and by the heathen as written in their hearts. The only question is, whether, or how far, the other part of the rule is correct—that when used without the article it always means 'law, considered as a principle,' or 'the legal principle.' Now if this is understood of the Divine law exclusively, it expresses a great truth, and one of vital importance. But in this case, do we gain anything by the supposed distinction? For if the law of God (written or unwritten, as Jew and Gentile alike have it) is exclusively in the apostle's view, and if obedience to that law, as a ground of acceptance with God, is what he always means in speaking of it, is 'the legal principle 'more clearly expressed without the article than with it? So far from that, it seems to us, when expressed in English, only to confuse the reader. Thus in Rom. ii. 13 (as in the Revised Version): "For not the hearers of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified." This, no doubt, is a literal rendering of the Greek; but it expresses what we cannot imagine the apostle to have meant. For men are not justified before God by the "doing of a law;" nor is it the use of the indefinite
5) Bishop Lightfoot, Galatians, note on ch. ii. 19. article that expresses "the legal principle "in this case; it is dependence on our "doings" that expresses the legal principle, and therefore the Authorised Version, by departing here from the form of the Greek, and using the definite article in both clauses, has only the more clearly expressed what seems plainly to be the apostle's meaning.
How Bishop Lightfoot's rule breaks down in a number of places may be shewn by a single example—Gal. vi. 13, where, though the article is wanting before the word "law," even the Revised Version, which usually follows Bishop Lightfoot's rule, inserts it, thus: "For not even they who receive circumcision do themselves keep the law." But how does Lightfoot paraphrase these words? "They are no rigorous observers of law regarded as a principle"! Can anything be more unnatural than this? Manifestly what the apostle means is to make the same charge against his countrymen which in our Epistle he expresses by the question, "Thou who gloriest in the law, through transgression of the law dishonourest thou God?" (Rom. ii. 23).
As to the omission of the article before "law," there are certain cases where no reader of the Greek Testament expects it—for example, where it is governed by another noun which itself wants the article—as in Rom. iii. 20, 28, ix. 32; Gal. ii. 16 (three times), iii. 2, 5, 10. On the other hand, when the governing noun has the article, the governed one has it too—as Rom. ii. 15 ("the work of the law"), xiii. 12; Gal. v. 19. Cases also there are where no Greek rule is involved, but where euphony, or the writer's conception of it, or his love of variety in his mode of arranging his words, may help to explain such a peculiarity in the use of the article as the one which has occasioned this note. And one additional suggestion has occurred to us, namely, that having to do with the unique fact that the same "law" could be spoken of as possessed equally by those who had it in a written form and those who had not—insomuch that he might say of the heathen that they "had no law "(as in the Revised Version of Rom. ii. 14), and that they "had the work of the law written in their hearts "(ver. 15)—it is not impossible that this may have had its own influence in diversifying his use of the word in the way we see.
1) Though the two Greek words "to do" and "to work" are sometimes used indiscriminately—as in John iii. 20, 21—the strict meaning of the former word is simply to "do" an action, without any reference to the continuance of it; whereas the latter word properly denotes a course of conduct, and is so used in ch. i. 32, and in this and the two following verses.
2) Such appears to be the original order of these words.
3) It will be observed that we have inserted the article before "law "in the translation of this verse, though the Authorised Version follows the Greek in omitting it in the first clause, and the Revised Version in both clauses. On this point see separate note at end of this, chapter.
4) Beyond doubt this is the true reading. Both words (the one of three, the other of four letters) being pronounced alike, the one would easily be mistaken for the other; and such Itacisms (as they are called) were common.