Romans 2
Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.
Romans 2:1-5 They that condemn sin in others, and are guilty of the

like themselves, cannot escape God’s judgment,

Romans 2:6-13 which will be according to every man’s deserts,

without distinction of Jew or Gentile.

Romans 2:14-16 The Gentiles are not left without a rule of conduct.

Romans 2:17-24 The Jew, who boasteth of greater light, is doubly

criminal in sinning against it,

Romans 2:25-29 nor will circumcision profit him, except he keep the law.

It is much disputed to whom the apostle directs his discourse in the beginning of this chapter. Some think that having discovered the sins of the Gentiles in the former chapter, he here useth a transition, and turneth himself to the Jews, and lays open their more secret wickedness and hypocrisy. But the particle therefore in the front of the chapter, doth seem to intimate, that this is inferred from what went before, and is a continuance of the same argument. It is of the Gentiles then that he is still discoursing, and he begins by name to deal with the Jews, Romans 2:17. Some think he speaks more particularly of such as were judges and magistrates amongst the Gentiles, who, though they made laws for to judge and punish others for such and such crimes, did yet commit the same themselves. Some think he intends more especially such as were philosophers, and men renowned for virtue, as Socrates, Aristides, Fabricius, Cato, Seneca, &c., which last, as is said, was well known to the apostle. These, in their speeches and writings, did censure the evil manners of others, and yet were as bad themselves. As Cato is said to have used extortion, prostituted his wife, and to have laid violent hands upon himself; and yet he was affirmed by Velleius to be homo virtuti simillimus, a most virtuous man. But the received opinion is, that the apostle in general doth tax all such as censure and find fault with others, and yet are guilty of the same things themselves.

Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: q.d. Thou art without all excuse, that dost assent and subscribe to the righteous judgment of God, that they who do such things as are mentioned in the foregoing chapter, are worthy of death, and yet doest the same thyself; if not openly, yet secretly and inwardly thou art guilty of the same or as great sins. Thou canst make no apology or pretence, why the sentence of death and condemnation, which is due to others, should not likewise pass upon thee.

For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; i.e. in that very thing, or by that very law, whereby thou censurest and condemnest others, thou pronouncest sentence against thyself; thy own mouth condemns thee in the person of another: see Matthew 7:3 21:40,41,45 Joh 8:4,9.

But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
We know assuredly, and it is evident, both from Scripture and reason, that God’s judgment, both here and hereafter, is true and upright; see 1 Samuel 16:7. He judgeth righteous judgment; he judgeth of persons and things, not as they are in appearance, but as they are in reality.

Against them which commit such things; this indefinite manner of speaking includeth both those that judge others, and those who, for the aforementioned sins, are subject to the censures of others.

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?
When other men’s facts escape not thy censure, who art but a man; what folly and madness is it to imagine, that thine own evil deeds should escape the judgment of God! See 1Jo 3:20.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
Here he taxeth such as thought God approved of their persons and courses, at least that he would not regard or punish their evil actions, because he had hitherto forborne them, and heaped up abundance of worldly blessings upon them, as he did upon the Romans especially, above other people. It is common for men to grow secure, and promise themselves impunity, when God forbears them, and gives them outward prosperity: see Psalm 50:21 55:19 Ecclesiastes 8:11 Hosea 12:8.

Despisest thou? the word signifies, to think amiss; he despiseth the goodness of God, who thinks otherwise of it than he should, that it is extended to him for other ends than it is: or, to despise the goodness of God, is, to turn it into wantonness.

The riches of his goodness; i.e. The abundance of his goodness: see Romans 9:23 Ephesians 1:7,18 2:4,7 3:8.

Forbearance and long-suffering; God’s long-suffering is a further degree of his forebearance: the Scripture speaks much of this attribute of God, and of his abounding therein, Exodus 34:6 Numbers 14:11,18 Psa 86:15 Matthew 23:37 Romans 9:22 1 Timothy 1:16 1 Peter 3:20.

The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance; that is one great end of God’s goodness and forbearance; see Hosea 11:4 2 Peter 3:9. God’s goodness is abused when it is not used and improved to this end.

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;
Treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath; this passage seems to respect Deu 32:34,35, or Job 36:13. You have a parallel place, Jam 5:3. The meaning is, Thou provokest more and more the wrath of God against thee; by heaping up sins, thou heapest up judgments of God upon thyself: just as men add to their treasure of wealth, so dost thou add to thy treasure of punishment.

Revelation of the righteous judgment of God; this is a periphrasis of the day of judgment, or of the last day: then will God visit for those sins that here escape punishment; then the justice and equity of his proceedings shall appear, and all shall have reason to approve thereof.

Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
This proves what he had said, that the judgment of God, in that day, will be according to righteousness, or most righteous judgment. Parallel places you will find, Psalm 62:12 Matthew 16:27 2 Corinthians 5:10 Revelation 22:12. The papists from hence infer the merit of works; but the reward to the godly is a reward of grace, and not of debt. The word apodounai imports not only a just retribution, but a free gift, as in Matthew 20:8, and elsewhere. Good works are the rule of his proceeding, not the cause of his retribution: see Luke 17:10.

To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
What he had laid down in general, he amplifies more particularly.

Patient continuance; or perseverance in well doing, which implies patience: see Matthew 10:22 24:13 Hebrews 10:36.

Immortality; or incorruption: he adds this to show, that the

glory and honour he speaks of was not such as the Gentiles usually sought, who made worldly glory the scope of their actions; but it was eternal in the heavens, and such as never fades away.

Eternal life; i.e. God will render eternal life to such: the word render must be supplied out of the former verse.

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
That are contentious; or, that are of contention: so, they of the circumcision, for such as are circumcised, Acts 10:45 Galatians 2:12. By contentious, understand such as are refractory and self-willed; that, from a spirit of contradiction, will not be persuaded; that strive and kick against the righteousness of God, from an opinion of their own righteousness, Hosea 4:4.

Do not obey the truth: see Romans 1:18, and the note there.

But obey unrighteousness; that are the servants of sin, and of corruption, Romans 6:12 2 Peter 2:19.

Indignation and wrath; these two differ only in degree: thereby understand the judgments of God upon the wicked, which are the effects of his anger: the cause is commonly put for the effect.

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
Tribulation and anguish; the word render is here again understood, he shall render tribulation and anguish. Some refer the former to the punishment of sin, the latter to the punishment of loss; or the one to the unquenchable fire, the other to the never dying worm: it seems to be a rhetorical exaggeration: see Psalm 11:6 Mark 9:43-48.

Every soul of man; a double Hebraism: first, the soul is put for the person, as Genesis 12:5 14:21 17:14 36:6 46:26. Secondly, every soul of man, is put for the soul of every man; as before, Romans 1:18, all unrighteousness of men, is put for the unrighteousness of all men. The soul of man shall not be punished only, but chiefly.

Of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; the Jew is first placed in order of punishment, because he better knew God’s will, and had more helps: see Matthew 11:22,24 Lu 12:47.

But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
Peace; what he called immortality, Romans 2:7, he now calls peace; which word, according to the usual acceptation of it amongst the Hebrews, is comprehensive of all good and happiness, both here and hereafter.

To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile; as the ungodly and unbelieving Jews shall have the first place in punishment, so those that believe and are godly amongst them shall have the first place in reward, though yet, for the reason mentioned in the next verse, the godly and believing Gentiles shall share with them therein.

For there is no respect of persons with God.
This seems to be borrowed from 2 Chronicles 19:7, and Deu 10:17. You have the same again, Acts 10:34: see Job 34:19 Galatians 2:6 3:28 Ephesians 6:9 1 Peter 1:17. Obj. God loved Jacob, and hated Esau, when they were yet unborn, and had done neither good nor evil.

Answer. This was not properly a respecting of persons, because God did not this as a judge, but as an elector: so the apostle states it, Romans 9:11-13. God is gracious to whom he will be gracious, and may do what he will with his own.

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;
By the former he means the Gentiles, by the latter, the Jews; the like distribution he makes, 1 Corinthians 9:20,21.

In the law; i.e. under the law, or against it.

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
This and the two following verses are included in a parenthesis, and they serve to obviate an objection against what was said, Romans 2:12. The Jews might plead, that they were superior to the Gentiles, and should be exempted or privileged, in judgment, forasmuch as they knew and professed the law of God, which the Gentiles did not. To this he says, that to know and learn the law was not sufficient, unless in all things they yielded obedience to it, which they neither did nor could. The scope of the apostle is not simply to show how sinners are now justified in the sight of God; but to show what is requisite to justification according to the tenor of the law, and that is, to do all that is written therein, and to continue so to do. And if there be any man that can bring such perfect and constant obedience of his own performing, he shall be justified by God; but inasmuch as no man, neither natural nor regenerate, can so fulfil the law, he must seek for justification in some other way. The text, thus expounded, doth no way militate with Romans 3:30, and Galatians 3:11, which at first reading it seems to do. And it further shows, that the Jews are comprehended under the general curse, as well as the Gentiles, and are bound to have recourse to the righteousness of God by faith.

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:
Here he preoccupates the Gentiles’ plea. They might object, that having not the law, they could not transgress, nor be culpable in judgment: see Romans 4:15. To this he says, that though they had not the law written in tables of stone, as the Jews had, yet they had a law written in their hearts, which was a copy or counterpart of the other, and had in a manner the effects of it; for thereby they were instructed to do well, and debarred from doing evil, which are the two properties of all laws.

Do by nature; nature is opposed to Scripture and special revelation: by the direction of the law, and light of nature, they did many things which the law of Moses commanded, and forbore many things which it forbade.

Are a law unto themselves; i.e. they have in themselves such principles of reason and rules of equity, as are to them instead of a law, prescribing what they ought to do and avoid.

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;)
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.

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
These words may be referred to Romans 2:12, and so they express the time when Jews and Gentiles shall be judged. Though some annex them to the words immediately preceding: q.d. Now the consciences of men do testify for or against them, and their thoughts accuse or excuse them; but in the day of judgment they will do it more especially. Shall judge the secrets of men; so that the most secret sins shall not escape the notice and censure of the Judge: see Ecclesiastes 12:14 1 Corinthians 4:5.

My gospel; i.e. the gospel which I preach. So, John 12:48, our Saviour calls his word, his disciples word. He calls it his gospel, not as the author, but as the publisher of it; it was not his in respect of revelation, but in regard of dispensation, Romans 16:25 1 Corinthians 9:17 2 Corinthians 5:18,19 2 Timothy 2:8. As for the fiction of a Gospel written by Paul, as was by Matthew, Mark, &c., the papists themselves begin to be ashamed of it.

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
He now comes to deal more particularly and expressly with the Jews, reciting their privileges, in which they trusted, and of which they boasted; and shows, that notwithstanding them, they stood in as much need of the righteousness of God as the Gentiles did.

Thou; he speaks in the singular number, that every one might make the readier application of what he said.

Art called a Jew; so called from Judah; as of old, Hebrews from Heber, and Israelites from Israel: the title was honourable in those days, and imported a confessor or worshipper of one God. Thou art so called, but art not so indeed: see Romans 2:28, and Revelation 2:9.

Restest in the law; puttest thy trust in it.

Makest thy boast of God; that he is thy God, and in covenant with thee; and that thou hast a peculiar interest in him: see John 8:41. The phrase seems to be borrowed from Isaiah 45:25.

And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
Ver. 18,19. Art confident; thou dost proudly arrogate all that follows to thyself, and conceitest that thou hast all the points of the law in thy breast, and full knowledge of all the secrets thereof.

And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
See Poole on "Romans 2:18"

An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
Babes; such as have little or no knowledge.

The form of knowledge; a scheme or system of notions, a compendious model or method, which is artificially composed; such as tutors and professors of arts and sciences, do read over again and again to their pupils and auditors.

Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
Teachest thou not thyself? q.d. Dost not thou thyself do what thou pressest upon others? see Matthew 23:3.

Dost thou steal? the Jews were infamous of old for this sin, Psalm 50:18 Matthew 23:14.

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
Dost thou commit adultery? to this sin also the Jews were greatly addicted: see Psalm 50:18 Jeremiah 5:8.

Dost thou commit sacrilege? Here he varies the crime; he does not say: Dost thou commit idolatry, but sacrilege. The Jews, after their return out of captivity, kept themselves free from idolatry; but it seems they were guilty of a sin that was near akin to it. Here it may be questioned, what the sacrilege was that the Jews were guilty of. Some think, their covetousness is here taxed, which is a kind of idolatry. The Jews took those things which were consecrated to idols, and which, by the law of God, should have been destroyed, and turned them to their private advantage. Others think, that their sacrilege consisted in withholding from God that which they should have consecrated and offered up to him; see 1 Samuel 2:13 Malachi 3:8,9: they converted to their own use such things as were dedicated to God. Much to the same purpose is their opinion, that think it consisted in robbing God of his due. By the imperial law in the code, it is declared sacrilege to take from the emperor any thing that is his; it ought to be much more accounted sacrilege to deal so with God. Some think their sacrilege lay in polluting the worship of God, and making his commands of no effect, through their corrupt additions and traditions.

Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
Dost thou bring a reproach upon religion, and give occasion to the Gentiles to blaspheme his name? So it follows in the next words. See Romans 2:24.

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
Through you; because of your and your forefathers’ sins.

As it is written: the apostle doth not tell them where it was written; he supposeth they were not ignorant of it: see Isaiah 52:5 Ezekiel 36:20,23.

For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
The Jews might object: If the former privileges availed not to righteousness and salvation, yet circumcision at least might stand them in some stead. In answer whereunto you have,

1. A concession; circumcision indeed is profitable.

2. A limitation; if thou keep the law; which is illustrated by a large antithesis, Romans 2:26,27.

3. A distinction; circumcision is of two sorts, outward and literal; inward and spiritual; the latter stands in force, and hath acceptation with God, Romans 2:28,29.

If thou keep the law; if thou keep it perfectly, to which circumcision obligeth, Galatians 5:3; or if thou use thy utmost care and endeavour so to do.

But if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision; i.e. if otherwise thou transgress the law, thy circumcision avails thee nothing, it gives thee no privilege above the uncircumcised. A wicked Jew is to God as an Ethiopian, Amos 9:7. The apostle corrects the carnal confidence and hypocrisy of the Jews, who valued themselves upon the account of this outward ceremony, and thought it sufficient to be circumcised in the flesh. Some think the apostle hath respect in these words to the time of the law, whilst circumcision was an ordinary sacrament of the covenant; then indeed it was profitable and available; but now, in the times of the gospel, it is abrogated: see Galatians 5:2,6.

Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
The uncircumcision; i.e. the uncircumcised; a figurative and frequent way of speaking: see Romans 3:30 4:9.

Keep the righteousness of the law; which none of them ever did; but admit they could, or else, which some of them have done, in sincerity, though with manifold imperfections; such as the two centurions, one of which is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, the other in the Acts: if in this sense the uncircumcised keep the righteousness of the law, shall they not be all one in the account of God as if they were circumcised? See Romans 4:10.

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?
Uncircumcision which is by nature; a periphrasis of the Gentiles, who want circumcision, or are by nature without it.

Fulfil the law; here is another word; before it was keep, but now it is fulfil the law: though the word be varied, yet the sense is the same: see Jam 2:8.

Judge thee; i.e. rise up in judgment against thee; or else, shall he not do it by his example? as in Matthew 12:41,42, the men of Nineveh, and the queen of Sheba, shall judge the Israelites. The meaning is, the obedient Gentile shall condemn the disobedient Jew.

By the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law; i.e. the outward literal circumcision; or, by the letter understand the law; see 2 Corinthians 3:6. The sense is, by means of the law and circumcision, and resting in them, as pledges of the love of God, {so Romans 2:17} they are the more secure and bold in sinning against God; it is to them an occasion of transgression.

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
He is not a Jew; a right or true Jew, who is heir of the promises made to the fathers.

That is one outwardly; the word only is to be understood: see 1 Corinthians 1:17.

Neither is that circumcision; the right and true circumcision, which God principally requires, and is available unto salvation: that circumcision is not much to be accounted of which is only the cutting off an outward skin.

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.
He is a right and true Jew, an Israelite indeed, that hath taken away the foreskin of his heart, Jeremiah 4:4; that is cleansed from all corrupt affections, and hath laid aside all superfluity of naughtiness; that worshippeth God in the Spirit, rejoiceth in Christ Jesus, and hath no confidence in the flesh. Such are the circumcision and Jews indeed: see Philippians 3:3.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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