Romans - The Gospel of God Chap 2 - An Introduction to a Difficult Chapter
As previously pointed out Paul’s theme from Chap 1 v 18 to chap 5 v 21 is the The Need for the Gospel. His approach is of necessity twofold. He first of all presents the evidence for why humanity is under divine Condemnation (1:18-3:20) and then he expounds the only hope for humanity which is Justification through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-5:21). From chap 1 v 18 to chap 3 v 20 Paul deals with The Guilt of Humanity and the Righteous Judgment of God. First of all he writes about The Gentiles and God’s Righteous Wrath in chap 1 vs 18-32 then he deals with The Jews and God’s Impartial Judgment from chap 2 v 1 to chap 3 v 8. Paul then finally sums up the evidence by declaring The World under God’s Universal Condemnation in chap 3 vs 9-20.
With regards then to The Jews and God’s Impartial Judgment, chap 2 is about Their Guilt Exposed followed by Their Objections Answered in chap 3 vs 1-8. Chap 2 divides into two main sections. In vs 1-16 the focus is on The Hypocrisy of the Self-righteous and in vs 17-29 the focus is on The Guilt of the Self-confident. These of course are just simple summary titles to help us negotiate the content of these chapters.
How the Different Themes Relate
Paul is writing in chaps 1 and 2 to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles ‘are all under sin’ (chap 3 v 9), that is under God’s condemnation because of their sin. He has dealt with the Gentiles in chap 1 and now in chap 2 the Jew comes into particular focus. The overarching theme of both chapters is divine judgment. In chap 1 vs 18-32 he has emphasised the present revelation of wrath against ‘all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ In chap 2 vs 1-16 his emphasis is upon the future revelation of the righteous judgment of God according to the works of men. To have a proper understanding of this difficult chapter we must keep in our minds this theme – God’s impartial judgment according to works. Paul deals first in chap 2 with The Hypocrisy of the Self-righteous and the certainty of God’s righteous judgment in vs 1-16 and then in vs 17-29 he focuses on The Guilt of the Self-confident and highlights why the Jew just like the Gentile is deserving of God’s righteous judgment.
In chap 1 vs 18-32 Paul’s pronouncements against the Gentiles are entirely negative, however in chap 2 vs 1-16 in remarks directed toward the Jew he writes concerning the revelation of the righteous judgment of God not only as being retributive toward the unrepentant, but also as rewarding ‘eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality’ (v 7). That God will reward those who ‘do good’ (v 10) along with the idea that ‘the doers of the law will be justified’ (v 13) might seem to conflict with what he writes in chap 3 vs 9-31. The key to avoiding confusion or misunderstanding is to distinguish what is different. Paul’s sweeping statements of the universal guilt and condemnation of mankind in Romans 3 vs 9-20 sum up what he has previously proven in chaps 1 and 2 that man, both Jew and Greek, naturally and wilfully without God is a wretched sinner and this reality demonstrates, as Paul shows, that the only possible means of righteousness is by grace through faith – ‘There is no difference’ between Jew and Greek ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3 vs 22-23 KJV). However, what Paul states in relation to the universal guilt of men and the just condemnation of God upon the world does not negate nor diminish the works of the righteous to which Paul refers in chap 2 vs 7, 10 and 13. He is recognizing in chap 2 that there are those who have turned to God in repentance and faith as opposed to those, no doubt the majority of people, who persist in wilful rebellion against God. Paul quotes in chap 3 vs 10-18 from the writings of the Old Testament penned by righteous men concerning the wicked as proof that man by nature and practice is a sinner. The idea in light of these statements of chap 3 that the references in chap 2 vs 7, 10 and 13 must suggest only an ideal standard unreachable and unrealized by any is not borne out by the testimony of the saints from Abel on. It should be obvious that ‘there is none righteous’ (chap 3 v 10) by nature and practice, but there certainly are and have always been those declared righteous by grace through faith. This is made evident in chap 4 vs 1-8.
Judgment according to works in no way contradicts or negates the absolute need for justification by faith. The reason God judges and will judge men according to their works is because man is always morally accountable before Him. Sinners who are never justified are responsible for their sins. Having a fallen nature as a descendant of Adam is not my fault, but persistence in sin is. Therefore the disobedience and works of the unrighteous prove the depths of their rebellion against God and how they are deserving of His wrath. However, in contrast, the obedience and works of the righteous prove the reality of their justification by faith. As James wrote: ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2 v 26). Paul never says that works don’t count with God, they absolutely do, but he does say that the idea of meriting or earning righteousness through works apart from faith is impossible. So let us keep clearly in our minds as we proceed these two themes; God’s impartial judgment according to works and God’s free gift of righteousness according to faith which, is always the foundation of works that please God.
Another important thing to remember is that God’s revelation to man of the truth of redemption has been progressive over time as scripture demonstrates. The Bible records, as the title of William Scroggie’s book indicates, the Unfolding Drama of Redemption. It was only ‘when the fullness of the time had come’ and God had ‘sent forth His Son’ who was ‘born of a woman’ and ‘born under the law’ (Gal 4 v 4) that the full revelation of His divine plan and purpose became clear and the promise of the gospel was fulfilled (Rom 1 vs 1-4). However, that ‘the just shall live by faith’ has ever been the way of acceptance with God in every dispensation, but the how and why of this was not fully made known until the Gospel of God fully revealed it. Paul’s letter to the saints in Rome is the definite explanation of that gospel. Therefore in light of God’s full gospel revelation the statements of Paul that ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ (Rom 1 vs 16-17) and that ‘the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ’ (Rom 3 vs 21-22) are no surprise. Justification has always been by faith as the many saints before the Cross and Resurrection of Christ show, but the how and why were not fully made known until the full revelation of the gospel.
Issues of Identity & Style
In chap 2 Paul now turns his attention toward the person rightly and often identified as the ‘moralist.’ This was the type of individual who with an air of moral superiority and an attitude of self-righteousness readily agreed with Paul’s indictment against, and God’s wrath upon those who were guilty of such a flagrantly corrupt lifestyle as described in chapter 1. The problem was – such moralists were hypocrites. Paul now confronts this arrogance and exposes such blatant hypocrisy. He destroys the moralist’s ‘fortress’ of self-righteousness showing it to be nothing more than ‘a castle of sand.’ According to Paul, those who judge others hypocritically must also face the reality and consequences of their own sinful duplicity and stupidity. The first issue to address before proceeding is – to whom is Paul speaking specifically? Who is this ‘man’ in vs 1 & 3? R.C.H. Lenski in his commentary entitles this chapter – ‘the self-convicted moralist’ while John A Witmer writing on Romans in The Bible Knowledge Commentary summaries the two classes of moralists he considers being addressed by Paul:
'In any generalization such as the preceding blanket indictment of pagan humanity (1:18–32) exceptions to the rule always exist. Obviously some pagans had high ethical standards and moral lifestyles and condemned the widespread moral corruption of their contemporaries. In addition the Jews morally stood in sharp contrast with the pagan world around them and freely condemned the Gentiles. Both groups of moralists might conclude that God’s condemnation did not apply to them because of their higher planes of living' (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, An Exposition of the Scripture by Dallas Seminary Faculty).
Similarly, Alva McClain in his commentary suggests that the ‘man’ Paul is addressing could be either Jew or Gentile. He writes:
'Precisely to whom is the apostle referring, and who falls beneath this ban of judgment? Some commentators and expositors declare that the apostle is talking to the Jew here, but they say that the apostle was approaching the subject very carefully and therefore does not name the Jew until the seventh verse. Let the Word settle the identity of those to whom God is speaking here through Paul: “O man, whosever thou art that judgest.” Then to whom is he talking? Any man (it does not matter who he is) who judges … this passage is addressed to any man, whosoever he may be (Jew or Gentile) in the whole world that judges’ (The Gospel of God’s Grace – Romans pp 69-70. Alva J. McClain, BHM Books).
The individual is only imaginary in the sense that it is not an actual individual who is being addressed, but a category or type of persons. Thus Paul’s uses ‘O man’ and ‘a Jew’ as a representative person from the category of those who were self-righteous Jews. He employs this style of confrontational address in order to challenge, convict and instruct.
One other thing worth considering before moving on. When Paul’s letter arrived with the Roman saints it would surely have been read multiple times in their gatherings with other copies eventually being made. No doubt present in their meetings would have been unconverted Jews and Gentiles. What Paul writes and the style he adopts would have surely impacted and convicted such people?