Romans 2
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

The following extracts from the Talmud are from the late Dr A. M Caul’s Old Paths. The original Rabbinic, as well as the reference, is there given in each case.

(On the Talmud as evidence to opinion in St Paul’s day, see just below, Appendix B.)

“Every one of the children of men has merits and sins. If his merits exceed his sins, he is righteous. If his sins exceed his merits, he is wicked. If they be half and half, he is an intermediate person, בינוני.” p. 125.—“Circumcision is equivalent to all the commandments that are in the Law.” p. 230.—“The wise men have said, that Abraham our father sits at the door of hell (Gehinnom), and does not suffer any one that is circumcised to be cast into it.” p. 229.—“Amongst all the commandments, there is not one that is equivalent to the study of the Law. Whereas the study of the Law is equivalent to all the commandments; for study leads to practice. Therefore, study always goes before good deeds”. p. 131.—“What is a sojourning proselyte? A Gentile, who has taken upon himself the commandments given to the sons of Noah, but is not circumcised nor baptized. Such a one is received, and is of the pious of the nations of the world. And why is he called a sojourner? Because it is lawful for us to let him dwell among us in the land of Israel.… But a sojourning proselyte is not received except during the celebration of the year of jubilee” (p. 34); i.e., during one year in fifty. But elsewhere the Talmud says that there has been no jubilee since the Captivity of the Ten Tribes (p. 35). Full proselytism is thus the only real hope for a Gentile.—“What constitutes a Stranger (i.e. a full proselyte)? Sacrifice, circumcision, and baptism. At the present time, when there is no sacrifice, circumcision and baptism are necessary; and when the Temple is rebuilt, he must bring a sacrifice. A Ger (Stranger) is not a Ger until he is both circumcised and baptized.” p. 154.

These extracts may aid us, in some measure, in estimating the kind of prejudice against which St Paul aims in Romans 2 &c.

The work from which the extracts are taken, The Old Paths, (נתיבות צולס), is itself no mean illustration of the prophecies of Romans 11. It was originally a serial, circulated (1836–7) among the Jews of London, as “a comparison of Modern Judaism with the religion of Moses and the Prophets;” and it is a deeply earnest while most temperate appeal by a Gentile Messianist to Jews.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Ch. Romans 2:1-16. Human sin, continued: Jews and Gentiles equal in guilt and peril: gradual approach to the Jewish question

1. Therefore] It is difficult to state the precise bearing of this word; the exact premiss to which it refers. It is, perhaps, best explained by a brief statement of the apparent general connexion here.

St Paul has described the great fact of Human Sin. He has done so in terms which point specially to heathendom, but not exclusively. Two points, the universality of sin, and the universality of conscience (v. 18, 32), are plainly meant to be true of all men, idolaters or not. But now, in our present verse, he has it in view to expose specially the state of Jewish sinners; but to do this by leading gradually up to the convincing point, which is not reached till Romans 2:16. Really, but not explicitly, therefore, he here addresses the Jew, as included in the previous condemnation, but as thinking himself all the while the “judge” of heathen sinners. In words, he addresses any self-constituted “judge;” while in fact he specially, though still not exclusively, addresses the Jew. And he addresses him as “inexcusable,” because of his sin, and because of his conscience, a conscience in his case peculiarly enlightened.

The “therefore” thus points mainly to the words just previous; to the fact of a knowledge of God’s penal statute against sin, while yet sin is committed and abetted.

doest the same things] The reference is doubtless to the passage from about Romans 1:26. External idolatry had vanished among the Jews since the captivity; but other forms of the subtle “worship of the creature” had taken its place; a gross immorality was far from rare; and sins of “strife, craft, and malignity,” were conspicuous.

But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
2. we are sure] This is spoken as by the Apostle, not as by the Jew. He solemnly repeats the thought that man knows that judgment is to come.

judgment] The original word is almost always in N. T. used of adverse decision, and in most cases of the execution of the sentence, as in the next verse.

according to truth] Rather, according to reality; in awful earnest and fact.

And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
3. that thou shalt escape] “Thou” is, of course, emphatic. We must remember how often the Jews of that age clung to national privilege as if it were personal immunity. It was a saying, that to live in Palestine was “equal to the observance of all the commandments.” “He that hath his permanent abode in Palestine,” so taught the Talmud, “is sure of the life to come.” (Edersheim’s Sketches of Jewish Life, p. 5.) The tendency betrayed in such thoughts is deep as the fall of man, but it has its times and ways of special manifestation.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
4. the riches] A frequent word with St Paul, in reference to Divine goodness and glory. See Romans 9:23, Romans 10:12, Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:7-8; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16; Php 4:19; Colossians 1:17; Colossians 2:2.

goodness] Specially the goodness of kindness. So the same original is rendered 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4.

to repentance] See, as an illustrative parallel, 2 Peter 3:9; where perhaps render “willing to receive all to repentance.” The Gr. of “repentance,” here as elsewhere in N. T., means far more than alarm or grief; rather, a change of thought and will. See especially 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:25.

The point of this verse is specially for the (still unnamed) Jew. He thought his spiritual privilege and light, so long and lovingly continued, a mere honour, instead of a peculiar call to conscience.

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
5. after] according to, in a way traceable to.

hardness] insensibility, whether to love or reason.

treasurest up] Possibly this word alludes to the “riches” of Romans 2:4; q. d., “the Divine store of loving-kindness is exchanged by the sinner for the Divine store of holy wrath”.

unto thyself] Emphatic; more than merely “for thee.” The wrath is pure retribution, the result of sin. The sinner is the cause of his own doom.

against the day of wrath] Lit. in the day of wrath; a pregnant phrase; “which will take effect in the day.” On “wrath,” see note on Romans 1:18 : “The day:”—i.e. the definite time of the Lord’s Appearing, to raise the dead (John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54; John 11:24); to judge the world (John 12:48; Acts 17:31); and to receive the saints to final glory (2 Timothy 4:8). In one remarkable passage (1 Corinthians 4:3) the Greek of the word “judgment” (in E. V.) is lit. “day;” and a probable account of this use of the word is the inseparable connexion of thought, in the early church, between the day and the judgment of the Lord.

revelation of the righteous judgment of God] The “wrath” is as pure, just, and Divine as the mercy. Its “revelation” will be only the revelation of the absolute equity of “the Judge of all the earth.” This deep righteousness of the Divine anger is its most awful element.

Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
6. who will render to every man, &c.] According to the promise, Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12. (Note that the very phrase used here of the Father, is used there of Himself by the Son).

To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
7. to them who by patient continuance, &c.] More lit., to those who according to patience of (i.e. in) a good work seek, &c.; i.e., who, in that method, by that path, seek for eternal bliss. “Patience” here, as often in N. T., practically means active patience, perseverance. (Cp. Luke 8:15; Hebrews 10:36; Hebrews 12:1). “Work” is here, as often, used in the singular as a summary of the Christian’s whole course of obedience.

It is very remarkable to find here, in the first pages of this great Treatise on Gratuitous Salvation, the distinct mention of the blessed result of “good work.” (See specially, by way of contrast, Romans 4:2; Romans 4:6, Romans 11:6; and also Ephesians 2:9-10.)—It must be remembered that St Paul expressly teaches that man’s knowledge and love of God in this life, and by consequence its practical results, are as much His gift, a gift perfectly free and special, as is the bliss of the life to come; and that the two are inseparably connected. Divine mercy gives the “patient continuance in well-doing” as well as the “glory, honour, and immortality.” It is most true that the just freedom of Scripture language frequently leaves this connexion out of explicit statement; but this whole Epistle tends to remind us that it is among the very foundations of truth.

seek] As a traveller on his homeward road seeks for (aims at, moves toward) his home. Cp. Hebrews 13:14.

glory] The heavenly state, on its side of exaltation; the dignity of the vision and the likeness of God. See ch. Romans 5:2 for its deep connexion with His presence: it is “the glory of God.”

honour] Often associated with “glory.” See 1 Peter 1:7 for an instructive parallel. St Paul here speaks of “perseverance in good works;” St Peter there of the “fiery trial” of faith; both as preliminary to the Master’s welcome.

immortality] Lit. incorruptibility. Same word as 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 2 Timothy 1:10. (E. V., “immortality.”) It indicates perpetuity not merely of existence but of purity and power, the immortality of heaven. See further, next note.

eternal life] On these two most weighty words we can only summarize thus. (1) “Life,” beyond question, may, and very often does, mean more than bare existence. A “lifeless” tree, or body, yet exists, though in another state than before. In regard of spiritual life, it is clear that existence may be strong and conscious where there is no such “life.” See John 6:53; Ephesians 2:1. Existence, to be in this sense “life,” must contain happiness and holiness, whether in the germ (as here), or in maturity (as hereafter). (2) “Eternal.” Much has been written on the Greek of this word; aionios. But its connexion with duration, in derivation and usage, is certain. For N. T. usage in this respect, see e.g. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. And it is equally clear that its ruling idea is duration unending in respect of the period referred to. If used e. g. with regard to the present world, or a human lifetime, it naturally means unending while that world, or lifetime, lasts. When applied to the unseen and ultimate world, it appears equally naturally to mean unending while that world lasts. “Everlasting” is thus no arbitrary equivalent for it, for both words have much the same consistent elasticity of meaning.

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
8. contentious] Lit. out of partisanship, or factiousness; (the same construction as “of the truth;” John 18:37). The phrase implies connexion and attachment; as here, “those who belong to, can be classed under the character of, the factious.”

The “faction” in question is that of the sinful soul against the humbling terms of the Divine peace and love. Cp. Romans 10:3 for a special example of this in the case of the Jews. A pointed, though not explicit, reference to Jewish opponents of the Gospel lies in the word here.

do not obey] The Gr. is sometimes rendered, “disbelieve.” In all cases, however, the resistance of the will is implied in it; the element of disobedience in unbelief towards God. See, for a suggestive example, Hebrews 4:6, compared with the history there referred to.

the truth] The revelation of the eternal reality of the glory of God. (See on Romans 1:18; Romans 1:25.) It is Truth, not in mere generality, but in that speciality which attaches to the Truth of truths. See, for an important parallel, 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; where “the truth” and “unrighteousness” are contrasted, as here. See also John 8:32.

obey unrighteousness] Yielding the will to the impulse of sin; “having pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Cp. Romans 6:6; Romans 6:16, &c.; Titus 3:3. “Unrighteousness” here, as often, means sin in its largest sense. All wrong, civil, social, moral, personal, overt, secret, violates the eternal rights, even when it least seems to touch temporal and human interests.

indignation and wrath] See on Romans 1:18 and Romans 2:5.

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
9. tribulation and anguish] Both words, in Greek as well as in English, indicate the crushing and bewildering power of great grief or pain. “Anguish” is the stronger of the two; for see 2 Corinthians 4:8, where the original of “distressed” is cognate to that of “anguish” here.

It is remarkable that the antithesis here to “eternal life” is the conscious experience of the effects of Divine anger.

doeth] The Gr. is somewhat emphatic; practiseth, worketh, worketh out. A habit of sin is intended. Same word as “worketh” in next verse.

of the Jew, &c.] Lit. both of the Jew, first, and of the Greek. The phrase is as if St Paul had been writing simply “of the Jew and of the Greek,” “of Jew and Greek alike;” and then, as by a verbal parenthesis, inserted the word “first” to emphasize what was all along most in his view in the simple phrase; viz., the special accountability of the Jew. On Jew and Greek, see on Romans 1:16.

But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
10. glory, honour, and peace] A beautiful return to the thought of Romans 2:7, as if out of an abundance of inspired love and hope. “Peace” may here bear a special reference to the peace of acceptance, of which the Epistle is to say so much. Not that this would exclude the larger meaning of all safety and happiness.

to the Jew first] See on Romans 1:16.

For there is no respect of persons with God.
11. for there is no respect of persons] “For” points to the last words of Romans 2:10, and shews that though St Paul has just emphasized the special privilege of the Jew, (“to the Jew first,”) as balanced with his special accountability, yet his main emphasis of thought is on the position of the Gentiles as side by side with the Jews. See Acts 10:34-35, where St Peter at length admits the equal acceptability of pious Jews and pious Gentiles before God.

with God] The Greek construction is one often used in judicial connexions;=before God; “in His court, at His bar.” It may, however, mean no more than “with,” “in the case of;” French chez, German bei.

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
12. For as many as have sinned] The equality of Jew and Gentile is here pursued, not (as might have been expected from Romans 2:11) in the direction of privilege, but in that of responsibility and judgment. The reason for this direction is, no doubt, that the main subject of the Epistle here is sin and its results.—“Have sinned” is literally in the Greek sinned; an aorist, not a perfect. It is not safe to press far the distinction of these tenses in N. T. Greek. (See on Romans 1:19.) But the aorist, if taken strictly, would here point to the time when earthly life is closed, and judgment is come; to the sinner’s actions as looked back upon from that point.

sinned without law] Lit. lawlessly. The context here shews that the word means “in the absence of a law;” and that this means “in the absence of an explicit, revealed law;” other law than the law of conscience. Similarly, the context proves that to “perish without law” means to perish not “arbitrarily,” but “without an explicit code as the standard of guilt.” This verse no doubt implies the truth, elsewhere so clear, that no man shall be condemned for ignorance of what was in no wise revealed to him; but its main purpose is to teach the awful truth that even without the revealed law there is yet real sin and real doom.

perish] “Be doomed to death;” lose the soul. The Gr. word, which some have held to imply annihilation of being, by no means does so. Its true import is rather ruin and loss in regard of condition. The Latin perditio exactly renders the idea.

in the law] Where it is revealed; within range of its explicit precepts.

judged by the law] To “judge” here means practically, as so often when the context is clear, to “condemn:” so e.g. Hebrews 13:4.—“By the law,” as the instrument of the doom; as used in determination of the doom.

The whole argument of this passage sufficiently decides what is meant by the Law. It is the Moral Law, the revealed Divine Will concerning right and wrong in respect both of God and man. That it is not specially the Ceremonial Law (which was a divinely-given but temporary and special code) is plain from Romans 2:14 of this chapter, where the witness of conscience must, of course, concern not the legal ceremonies but the principles of duty.

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
13. for not the hearers] A parenthesis is usually begun here, and continued to the close of Romans 2:15. We prefer to dispense with it, for reasons to be given there. The present verse is naturally connected with the close of Romans 2:12.—“The hearers of the law:”—as we too speak of “hearers of the Gospel,” even now when reading is so vastly prevalent.

before God] See last note Romans 2:11. The Gr. is the same here.

the doers of the law shall be justified] See Galatians 3:12. For the express citation cp. Leviticus 18:5 : “Ye shall keep my statutes … which if a man do, he shall live in them; I am the Lord.” How deep the tendency of the Jew was to build safety upon privilege and knowledge, appears from Matthew 3:9; John 7:49. See on Romans 2:3, and Appendix A.

shall be justified] The future tense, perhaps, refers to Leviticus 18:5 just quoted; “shall live.” Supposing the law kept, this stands in God’s word as the promised result.

The meaning of the verb “to justify” will be fully illustrated as we proceed. Here it is enough to remark that it signifies not amendment, but acquittal; or, rather, a judicial declaration of righteousness. See for an excellent illustration from the O. T., Deuteronomy 25:1. (The LXX. there employ the same Gr. word as St Paul’s here). The present verse does not, of course, assert (what would be so clearly contradicted by e.g. Romans 3:20) that the law ever is, or can be, so kept as to justify the keeper. It merely states the conditions of legal justification, whether fulfilled in fact or not.

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
14. For when the Gentiles, &c.] The connexion marked by “for” is not easy to state. We take it to refer (over Romans 2:13, which is an explanation of the previous words) to Romans 2:12, and to be connected with the words “shall perish without law.” How this shall be St Paul now suggestively states, by explaining that Conscience is to the heathen a substitute for Revelation, in regard of responsibility. Q. d., “Heathen sinners shall be justly condemned; for though without the law, they have a substitute for it:”

by nature] This phrase here has to do with a contrast not of nature and grace, but of nature and law. “Nature” here means impulses which, however produced, are not due to known Revelation, or indeed to any precept ab extra. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:14.

the things contained in the law] Lit. the things of the law. It is just possible to explain this as “things both commanded and forbidden by the law.” But far more naturally it means the “principles of the law,” i.e. the grand Difference of right and wrong; and thus the whole phrase = “to act on the principles of the law.” Nothing is here stated as to perception, or love, of holiness by heathen; but it is certainly stated that they had conscience, and could, up to a certain point, act upon it. It is scarcely needful to say that this is fully illustrated by ancient literature, while the same literature illustrates fully the mysterious limits of conscience and tremendous force of evil. See Appendix E.

having not the law] i.e. “though not having it.” Their lack of the law gives special importance to the fact of conscience.

a law unto themselves] This may mean “each to himself,” or “each and all to the community.” As to facts, both explanations would hold. Without individual conscience, there could be no public moral code. But we believe the main reference here to be to the public code; to the general consciousness and opinion of heathens that right and wrong are eternally different, and that judgment is to be accordingly hereafter. This consciousness and opinion St Paul regards as influencing heathen minds mutually; as “shewn” in intercourse of thought and speech; as “witnessed to” by individual consciences; as coming out in “reasonings” philosophic or popular, concerning right and wrong; and as all pointing to a great manifestation of the truth of the principle at the Last Day.

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;)
15. which shew] The relative pronoun is the same as in Romans 1:25, where see note. It marks a condition: “they are a law to themselves, inasmuch as, &c.”

shew the work of the law written in their hearts] “The work of the law” has been explained as if collective for “works;” but this is ill-supported by real parallels. It is better to explain it as “what the law does,” than as “what is done for the law’s sake;” and thus it means the teaching of the Difference of right and wrong (see Romans 3:20). This “work,” done in an intense degree by the law, is done in a lower degree by conscience alone; but the work is the same in kind. The sense of wrong and right, which it is the law’s work to produce fully, is somehow and in some measure, without the law, “written” in heathen “hearts.” (On the word heart see note to Romans 1:21.)—“They shew:”—this word may of course refer to subjective discovery; each man shewing it to himself, finding it in his experience. But it better suits the word to take it of mutual manifestations: language and conduct, in heathen communities, shewing the objective reality of the convictions which individuals are aware of.—“Written:”—for this metaphor, no doubt suggested by the tablets of Sinai, cp. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.

their conscience also bearing witness] Lit. bearing witness with, bearing concurrent witness. What is the concurrence? It may be “of conscience with itself,” in its different verdicts. But, on our view of the passage, it is “with the common conviction.” Individual consciences affirm the common conviction of moral distinctions which they find around them.

In Romans 9:1 the witness of conscience is again appealed to, with the same verb: lit. “bearing witness with me” See note there.

and their thoughts, &c.] Better, and between one another their reckonings (or reasonings) accusing, or, it may be, defending. The Gr. of “thought” specially means reasoning thought, not intuition. It can hardly be a mere synonym of conscience, which (at least in practice) is intuitive. The meaning is either “their consciences are ratified in their verdicts by their private reasonings on particular cases;” or, as seems better on our view, “the fact of their moral sense is evinced by their reasonings on right and wrong;” e.g. by Treatises and Dialogues in which ethical questions are discussed. “Between one another” thus refers not to one mind’s balance of thought with thought, but to arguments of man with man. St Paul says nothing of the Tightness of these reasonings in particular cases, but of the moral significance of the fact of them.

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
16. in the day, &c.] This sentence is often connected with the close of Romans 2:12. But the parenthesis is thus, even in the style of St Paul, highly difficult and peculiar; and Romans 2:13 stands in close natural connexion with Romans 2:12. Meanwhile the sequence of Romans 2:16 on Romans 2:15 is not hard to trace; the allusion to the Great Day is anticipatory; q. d., “These moral convictions and verdicts have their good and final confirmation in the day, &c.;” “all that was true in them will be recognized and carried out in Divine action then.”

the secrets of men] i.e. of men in general, heathens as well as Jews. The “secret things” are here named, as implying also of course the judgment of all that is “open beforehand.” Perhaps the word alludes too to the “cloke” of Jewish formality, and faith in privileges.

by Jesus Christ according to my gospel] The word “Gospel” is here used (a deeply significant use) of the entire contents of the Apostle’s teaching; of holy principles and threats of condemnation as well as holy promises of life.—“My Gospel:”—same word as Romans 16:25. The original of the phrase is not strongly emphatic, but certainly not without point. It indicates on one hand St Paul’s deep certainty of his direct Divine commission and its precise import, and on the other his consciousness (much more strongly expressed in the Galatian Epistle) of opposition to his position and doctrine. Cf. e.g. Galatians 1:6-12.—“By Jesus Christ:”—the words emphatically close the sentence; perhaps with implicit reference to the rejection, by the unbelieving Jews whom the Apostle now more distinctly addresses, of Him who is to judge the world.

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
17–29. Explicit exposure of Jewish responsibility, guilt, and peril

17. Behold] Better, But if. A single additional letter in the Gr. makes this difference; and it should certainly be so read. The framework of the sentence is thus somewhat altered: “But if thou art a Jew, and dost glory in the name and privilege,—say, dost thou act up to thy light?”

thou] Emphatic, “thou, my supposed hearer or reader.”

art called] Lit. art surnamed. Perhaps in the word “named” lies a slight reference to the contrast between external and internal “Judaism.” See Romans 2:28.

restest in] Lit. restest upon. The possession of the Law was the foundation-rock of the man’s peace and hope. On this he reposed himself, thanking God that he was “not as other men were.” The Divine exposure of his sin he perverted into a reason for self-righteousness!

makest thy boast of God] Lit. boastest, or gloriest, in God. A “boast” either most holy or most sinful according to the man’s view of God and of himself. See Isaiah 45:25, for the sacred promise perverted by Pharisaic pride.

And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
18. his will] Lit. the will. Cp. 3 John 1:7, where the original is “for the sake of the Name.” Possibly the phrase here was a “stereotyped” formula, which St Paul quotes. But in any case its form (as that of the parallel above) is one of peculiar solemnity and dignity.

approvest the things that are more excellent] Better, assayest, puttest to the test, things which differ. Exactly the same words occur Php 1:10. The Jew had the touchstone of Divine Revelation to apply to questions of wrong and right; he claimed to be a perfect casuist.

And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
19. thou thyself] Strongly emphatic. The person supposed is not only sure of the privileges of Jews in general, but of his own spiritual competency, by virtue simply of his position and light.

Surely the Apostle is recalling, in part, his own ideas as a Jewish Rabbi of “the straitest sect;” and we may be certain that in the mass of Rabbis and their followers of that time all the features of pride and blindness he here draws were at least as strongly marked as in his own past.—See Appendix A.

a guide of the blind] A very frequent and expressive metaphor. See Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:16, &c.

An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
20. the foolish] the thoughtless. Same word as Luke 11:40; 1 Corinthians 15:36; Ephesians 5:17, &c.

hast the form, &c.] Read, having in the law the form of knowledge and of truth.—“The form:”—same word as 2 Timothy 3:5, where certainly it means outward form as separate from inward life. Here the same meaning is present, but not as the only or chief one. The Greek word (not found in the classics) strictly means “shaping,” “moulding;” but this must not be pressed: it may well mean, practically, the result of shaping—i.e. form. And certainly in the derivation of the word there is no necessary idea of unreality; rather the opposite. The natural reference here is to the divinely-drawn outline and scheme, the delineation, of spiritual “knowledge and truth” in the Old Testament. But beneath the word, in this context, inevitably lies the thought that this delineation is (in the self-righteous Jew’s use of it) taken apart from life and love.

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
21. Thou therefore, &c.] In this and the following verses St Paul does not charge every individual Rabbinist with immorality. He exposes the spirit and principles of Rabbinism, as evinced and proved only too abundantly in multitudes of lives. Not every unconverted Rabbinist was a thief or adulterer; but in one aspect or another he did not “teach himself;” allowing in his own heart principles of self-righteousness and formalism which really cut at the root of his moral teaching of others. Meantime, the Jewish malpractices of that age were terribly real, frequent, and notorious.

preachest] Lit. proclaimest: e.g. in synagogue-discourses.

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
22. commit sacrilege] Lit. plunder sacred things, or plunder from sacred places. The Gr. word is the same as that translated “robbers of churches,” Acts 19:37. The idea of plunder is not necessary in the word, however; other forms of sacrilege may be included. Thus the reference may be to such profanations as that of the traders in the Temple (John 2:14, &c.), and the appeal will be, “Thou, who art so jealous for God against idolaters, dost thou worship self and mammon in His presence?” But if the special thought of robbery is kept (as is certainly more natural, with the derivation and usage of the Greek word in view), the reference probably is to Jewish thefts from pagan temples, where meanwhile the strict Jew professed not to dare to set his foot for fear of pollution. Scruple broke down before thievish avarice.

Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
23. dishonourest] disgracest. The crimes of Jews made their Lord’s “name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles;” as, alas, the name of Christ is, for exactly similar reasons, often blasphemed among the heathen now.

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
24. as it is written] In Ezekiel 36:20-23. In that passage the special reference is to the evil example of the dispersed Jews of the captivity.

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
25. For circumcision verily profiteth] With this verse a minor section or paragraph begins. The thought is not in. strict sequence with what has just been said, though in full connexion with the same general subject.—“Profiteth:”—for comment on this word, see Romans 3:1. Circumcision was the gate to ample privileges; above all to the familiar knowledge of the written oracles. But these privileges would finally benefit only the personally pious Jew.

if thou keep the law] Lit. if thou do the law. The reference, probably, is not to absolute righteousness (q. d., “if thou act with sinless obedience”), but to practical sincere piety, as contrasted with neglectful or wilful disobedience. The emphasis here is on the destructive effect of this latter. In Galatians 5:2-3, where a widely different error is combated (not native Jewish pride, but Judaical ritualism creeping back amongst Christians), the Apostle emphasizes as he does not here the vast demands of the covenant of circumcision viewed as terms of justification.

is made uncircumcision] The benefits of thy circumcision are as if they had not been.

Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
26. Therefore, &c.] St Paul reasons from his last statement, as from what is self-evident to conscience.

the uncircumcision] i.e., probably, “the uncircumcised man;” for see below, “his uncircumcision.” The form of speech is most unusual; such a word as “uncircumcision,” when used personally, almost always referring to a class, not an individual. Perhaps even here it is so used, but then immediately (in the words “his circumcision”) an individual specimen is considered.

keep the righteousness, &c.] See above on Romans 2:25. Here again, practical piety, the will to do God’s revealed will, is in view; not sinless obedience. Cornelius (Acts 10:35) is a case exactly in point. He was not sinless; he needed “saving” (a significant word there); but he “feared God, and worked righteousness,” and the Divine welcome was his.

the righteousness] Better, the ordinances; the special precepts, of whatever kind.

And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
27. uncircumcision which is by nature] Better, the uncircumcision, &c.; a phrase not easy to explain exactly. Perhaps (though the Gr. of the two passages is not quite parallel) we may illustrate by Galatians 2:15 : “Jews by nature,” Jews born and bred. Here thus the sense would be “Gentiles born and bred, with no physical succession to Jewish privilege.”

if it fulfil] Lit. fulfilling; as e.g. Cornelius did in the sense pointed out above.

judge] criticize and condemn. Perhaps the phrase arises from the solemn words of the Saviour Himself, Matthew 12:41-42. A stronger Gr. verb is used in that passage, however.

by the letter and circumcision] The phrase is a verbal paradox. The “letter and circumcision” are properly the means to a knowledge of the law, to obligation to it, and obedience under it; here they are, by paradox, the means to the wilful breaking of it, and not mere obstacles overcome by the transgressor.—“The letter” is the “letter of the law” of circumcision: q. d., “thou usest thy literal circumcision as a means to transgression,” a salve to thy conscience.

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
28. he is not a Jew] Obviously, in the sense of exclusive privilege. Q. d., “If a Jew means (as the word would mean from Pharisaic lips) a member of a body which is specially entitled to salvation, then a Jew is not made by physical circumcision, for a title to salvation must be sought in things spiritual not physical.” See for similar forcible statements, Galatians 3:7, &c., Romans 6:15-16; Php 3:2-3; Revelation 3:9.

But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
29. inwardly] Lit. in that which is hidden, in secret; same word as Matthew 6:4, &c. Just above, “outwardly” is lit. in that which is open. The contrast is between an external seal on the body and an internal change in the soul. See 1 Peter 3:4 for an illustrative phrase, “the hidden man of the heart.”

in the spirit, and not in the letter] The same contrast appears Romans 7:6, and 2 Corinthians 3:6-8. Here practically the contrasted things are, (1) circumcision, a literal act done on the body; (2) that state of the soul, the result of a change spiritual and unseen, of which circumcision was a symbol. “In” this latter, in respect of it, in relation to it, the pious Gentile was “circumcised.” See further below on Romans 7:6.

whose praise] “Whose” refers to the man. The “praise” of such a “Jew in the hidden man,” his commendation as a true son of Abraham, may be refused by the Pharisees, but will be given by God when He gathers His Israel in. The whole two verses (28, 29) are more exactly rendered thus: For not the outwardly-sealed Jew is a Jew, and not the circumcision outwardly wrought in the flesh is circumcision; but the inwardly-sealed Jew, and the circumcision of the heart in spirit, not in letter; of whom the praise is not from men, but from God.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

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