The Adam Clarke CommentaryChapter 2
The apostle shows that the Jew, who condemns the Gentiles, and considers them utterly unworthy of the blessings of the Gospel, is inexcusable, because he is guilty of the same crimes; and therefore shalt not escape the righteous judgment of God, 1-3. It is an awful thing to despise the goodness and long-suffering of God, which lead to repentance, 4,5. God, the impartial judge, will render to every man according to his works, 6-11. The Jews and the Gentiles will be judged according to their respective advantages and disadvantages, 12,13. In some cases, the Gentiles, who had no law, have shown a better disposition than the Jews, 14-16. The Jews, by their unfaithfulness, have been a stumbling-block to the Gentiles, 17-24. Jewish rites and ceremonies of no advantage, unless productive of change of heart and conduct, 25. The Gentiles, who attend to the small light which they have received from God, are in a better state than the unfaithful Jews, with all their superior privileges, 26,27. What constitutes a real Jew in the sight of God, 28,29.
Notes on Chapter 2
Dr. Taylor makes the following sensible observations at the commencement of this chapter.
"The representation of the moral state of the heathen world, in the foregoing chapter, is a demonstration of the necessity of the Gospel for the reformation and salvation of man. And how rich is the favour wherewith God has visited the world! To have destroyed a race of apostate rebels, who had abused their understandings and every gift of a bountiful Creator, would have been justice; to have spared them would have been lenity and goodness; but to send his only begotten Son from heaven to redeem us from all iniquity and ungodliness by his own blood; to grant us a free pardon for all our sins; to put us in a state of mercy and salvation; to take us into his kingdom and family; to give us an inheritance among his saints; to bless us with immortality and all spiritual blessings in heavenly places;-this is most wonderful and exuberant favour. Rightly is the doctrine which teaches it called the Gospel, or glad tidings. One would think it could not possibly have met with opposition from any part of mankind. But the JEW opposed it! He abhorred the Gentile, and contradicted the grace that honoured and saved him. The apostle pleads and defends our cause. His business is to confound the Jew, and to prove that we have as good a right as he to all the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom. And, by his description of the vicious state of the Gentiles, in the former chapter, he has wisely made his advantage of the prejudices of the Jew; for nothing could please him more than the preceding discourse, in which the Gentiles are reduced to so vile and abject a state. Thus the apostle gives him an opportunity to condemn the Gentiles; but he does this that he may the more effectually humble him in this chapter; in which he proves that the Jews, having in an aggravated manner despised the goodness and broken the law of God, were as obnoxious to his wrath as the Gentiles; and if so, how could they, with any conscience or modesty, arrogate all the Divine mercy to themselves, or pretend that others were unworthy of it, when they had done as much or more to forfeit it! Must they not exclude themselves from being the people of God under the Gospel, by the same reason that they would have the Gentiles excluded! But this was an argument highly ungrateful to the Jew; and it would be very difficult to fix any conviction upon his mind. Therefore the apostle addresses him in a covert way:-Thou art therefore inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; not giving out expressly that he meant the Jew, that the Jew might more calmly attend to his reasoning, while he was not apprehensive that he was the man. This point secured, the apostle, very judiciously and with great force of reasoning, turns his thoughts from his present superior advantages to the awful day of judgment, Romans 2:5,6, when God, in the most impartial equity, will render to all mankind, without exception, according to their works. Thus the apostle grounds his following argument, very methodically and solidly, in God's equal regards to all men, in all nations, who uprightly practise truth and godliness; and his disapproving, and at last condemning, all men, in any nation, however privileged, who live wickedly. This was a blow at the root, and demolished, in the most effectual manner, the Jew's prejudices in favour of his own nation, and the unkind thoughts he had entertained of the Gentiles. For, if a Jew could be convinced that a sober, upright heathen might be blessed with eternal salvation, he must be persuaded that it was no absurd matter that believing Gentiles should now be pardoned, and taken into the visible Church. Thus the apostle advances with great skill, insinuating himself, by degrees, into the Jew's conscience. It is reasoning is well adapted to encourage the Gentile, humbled by the dismal representation in the preceding chapter; for he would here see that he was not utterly abandoned of God, but might, upon good grounds, hope for his mercy and kindness." Verse 1.
οκρινων, the judger; thou assumest the character of a judge, and in that character condemnest others who are less guilty than thyself.
We are sure that the judgment of God, impartial, and will punish sin wheresoever he finds it. Transgression in a Jew is not less criminal than iniquity in a Gentile.
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness
Wilt thou render of none effect that marked benevolence of God towards thee which has given so many superior advantages, and that forbearance which has tolerated thy many miscarriages, and that long-suffering which, after repeated provocations, still continues to bear with thee?
αγνοων, not acknowledging that this goodness of God, which has so long manifested itself in forbearance and long-suffering, leadeth thee to repentance-was designed to accomplish this blessed end; which thy want of consideration and acknowledgment has rendered, hitherto, ineffectual. This was a maxim among the Jews themselves; for, in Synopsis Sohar, it is said:-The holy blessed God delays his anger against the wicked, to the end that they may repent and be converted.
But after thy hardness
Occasioned by thy long course of iniquity. And impenitent heart-produced by thy hardness, through which thou art callous to the calls and expostulations of conscience. Treasurest up-continuest to increase thy debt to the Divine justice, which will infallibly inflict wrath-punishment in the day of wrath-the judgment day, in which he will render to every man according to his works. The word treasure the Hebrew uses to express any kind of store or collection:-Treasure or plenty of rain. Deuteronomy 28:12: The Lord shall open unto thee his good TREASURE, to give the RAIN unto thy land. Treasure of punishment. Deuteronomy 32:34,35: Is not this sealed up among my TREASURES? To me belongeth VENGEANCE and RECOMPENSE. Treasures of mines, i.e. abundance of minerals. Deuteronomy 33:19: They shall suck of the ABUNDANCE of the seas, and of TREASURES hid in the sand. So treasures of gold, silver, corn, wine, oil, mean collections or an abundance of such things: the word is used by the Greek writers precisely in the same sense. By wrath we are to understand punishment, as in Romans 1:18; and it is used by the very best Greek writers. See Kypke.
The treasure of wrath, in this verse, is opposed to the riches of goodness, in the preceding. As surely as thou despisest, or neglectest to improve the RICHES of God's GOODNESS, so surely thou shalt share in the TREASURES of his WRATH. The punishment shall be proportioned to the mercy thou hast abused.
Who will render
Who, in the day of judgment, will reward and punish every man according as his life and conversation have been.
To them, day, dispense punishments and rewards: 1. He will give eternal life to them who, in all the trials and difficulties of the present state, have persevered in well doing-seeking for and expecting glory, honour, and immortality.
But unto them, indignation, and inflict wrath-punishment, on all who are contentious-who obstinately dispute against the truth, and obey unrighteousness-who act under the influence of the principle of sin, and not under the influence of the Spirit of God.
Tribulation and anguish
Misery of all descriptions, without the possibility of escape, will this righteous Judge inflict upon every impenitent sinner. The Jew first, as possessing greater privileges, and having abused greater mercies; and also on the Gentile, who, though he had not the same advantages, had what God saw was sufficient for his state; and, having sinned against them, shall have punishment proportioned to his demerit.
But glory, honour, and peace
While the finally impenitent Jew and Gentile shall experience the fullest effects of the righteous indignation of the supreme Judge, even man that worketh good-that lives in a conscientious obedience to the known will of God, whether he be Jew or Gentile, shall have glory, honour, and peace; i.e. eternal blessedness.
For there is no respect of persons with God.
The righteous Judge will not act according to any principle of partiality; the character and conduct, alone of the persons shall weigh with him. He will take no wicked man to glory, let his nation or advantages be what they may; and he will send no righteous man to perdition, though brought up in the very bosom of Gentilism. And as he will judge in that day according to character and conduct, so his judgment will proceed on the ground of the graces, privileges, and blessings which they had received, improved or abused. And as there is no respect of persons with God in judgment, so there can be none in the previous administration of his saving blessings. He that will be condemned for his unrighteousness, will be condemned on the ground that he had sufficient grace afforded him for the salvation of his soul; and his condemnation will rest on the simple principle, that he abused the grace which was sufficient to save him, by acting in opposition to its dictates and influence. No man, in that great day, shall be brought to heaven through any partiality of the Judge; and no man sent to hell because God did not afford him sufficient grace, or because he had made a decree which rendered even his use of it ineffectual to his salvation. In reference to the great design of God, in the salvation of man, it shall be said,-in time, at the day of judgment, and throughout eternity,-
- THERE IS NO RESPECT OF PERSONS WITH GOD.
For as many as have sinned without law, viz. the Gentiles, who shall be found to have transgressed against the mere light of nature, or rather, that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, John 1:9, shall not come under the same rule with those, the Jews, who have in addition to this enjoyed an extraordinary revelation; but they shall be dealt with according to the inferior dispensation, under which they lived: while those, the Jews, who have sinned against the law-the positive Divine revelation granted to them, shall be judged by that law, and punished proportionably to the abuse of such an extraordinary advantage.
For not the hearers of the law, follow, because one people are favoured with a Divine revelation, that therefore they shall be saved; while the others who have not had that revelation, shall finally perish: this is not God's procedure; where he has given a law-a Divine revelation, he requires obedience to that law; and only those who have been doers of that law-who have lived according to the light and privileges granted in that revelation, shall be justified-shall be finally acknowledged to be such as are fit for the kingdom of God.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, Nor does it follow that the Gentiles who have not had a Divine revelation, shall either perish, because they had it not; or their unrighteous conduct pass unpunished, because not having this revelation might be considered as an excuse for their sins.
Do by nature the things contained in the law
Do, without this Divine revelation, through that light which God imparts to every man, the things contained in the law-act according to justice, mercy, temperance and truth, the practice of which the revealed law so powerfully enjoins; these are a law unto themselves-they are not accountable to any other law, and are not to be judged by any dispensation different from that under which they live.
Rabbi Tanchum brings in the Supreme Being as saying: When I decreed any thing against the Gentiles, to whom I have not given laws and statutes, and they know what I have decreed; immediately they repent; but the Israelites do not so. Tanchum, fol. 43. 2.
In the day when God shall judge
And all this shall be farther exemplified and proved in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ; which judgment shall be according to my Gospel-according to what I am now laying down before you, relative to the impartiality of God, and his righteous procedure in judging men, not according to their opinions or prejudices, not according to revelations which they never possessed, but according to the various advantages or disadvantages of their political, religious, or domestic situation in life.
Much stress has been laid on the word, φυσει, by nature, in Romans 2:14, as if the apostle designed to intimate that nature, independently of the influence of Divine grace, possessed such principles as were sufficient to guide a man to glory. But certainly the term cannot be so understood here. I rather think that the sense given to it in Suicer's Thesaurus, vol ii. col. 1475, reipsa, revera, CERTAINLY, TRULY, is its sense here: for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, φυσειποιη, TRULY, or in effect, DO the things contained in the law, Galatians 4:8: When ye knew not God, ye did service to them which φυσει, CERTAINLY are no gods; i.e. are false gods. Suicer quotes Cyril of Alexandria, (sub Anathematismo iii. in Actis Ephesinis, p. 212,) speaking of the union of the two natures in Christ; he calls this union φυσικην, natural; that is, says he, αληθη, true, or real. He adds, that the word should be thus understood in Ephesians 2:3: We were by nature, φυσει, children of wrath; and says, φυσει αντιτουαληθως. φυσει is here used for αληθως, TRULY; We were TRULY, INCONTESTABLY, the children of wrath, even as others. That is, like the rest of mankind, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, and, consequently are exposed to punishment. Some think that this text refers to the natural corruption of man; but, although it is true that man comes into the world corrupt, and that all men, since the fall, are very far gone from original righteousness, yet it is not clear that the text in Ephesians 2:3, speaks of any other thing than the effects of this degeneracy.
I prefer this sense, in the passage in question, to that which says the light of nature, or natural instinct, is here meant; for I know of no light in nature that is not kindled there by the grace of God. But I have no objection to this sense: "When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do, by the influence of God upon their hearts, the things contained in the law, they are a law unto themselves; that light and influence serving instead of a Divine revelation." That the Gentiles did really do the things contained in the law, in reference to what is termed natural justice, and made the wisest distinctions relative to the great principles of the doctrine of civil RIGHTS and WRONGS, every man conversant with their writings will admit. And in reference to this the word φυσει may be legitimately understood thus-they incontestably did the things contained in the law,
The passage in Romans 2:15, Their thoughts-accusing or excusing one another, certainly does not refer to any expostulations or operations of conscience; for this is referred to in the preceding clause. The words accusing, κατηγορουντων, and excusing, απολογουμενων, answering or defending one another, μεταζυαλληλων, among themselves, are all forensic or law terms, and refer to the mode of conducting suits of law in courts of justice, where one is plaintiff, who produces his accusation; another is defendant, who rebuts the charge and defends himself; and then the business is argued before the judges. This process shows that they have a law of their own, and that to this law it belongs to adjust differences-to right those who have suffered wrong, and to punish the guilty.
As to the phrase written in their hearts, it is here opposed to the Jewish laws, which were written on tables of stone. The Jews drew the maxims by which their conduct was regulated from a Divine revelation: the GENTILES theirs from what God, in the course of his providence and gracious influence, had shown them to be right, useful, and necessary. And with them this law was well known and affectionately regarded; for this is one meaning of the phrase, written in the heart. It was from this true light, enlightening the Gentiles, that they had so many wise and wholesome laws; laws which had been among them from time immemorial, and of which they did not know the origin. Thus Sophocles, in the noble speech which he puts in the mouth of Antigone:-
"Not now, nor yesterday, but evermore These laws have lived: nor know we whence they came." Antig. ver. 463-4.
These are the laws, νομινα, which the Spirit of God wrote originally on their hearts; and which, in different forms, they had committed to writing.
Behold, thou art called a Jew
What the apostle had said in the preceding verses being sufficient to enforce conviction on the conscience of the Jew, he now throws off the cover, and openly argues with him in the most plain and nervous manner; asserting that his superior knowledge, privileges, and profession, served only to aggravate his condemnation. And that, in fact, he who, under all his greater advantages, transgressed the law of God, stood condemned by the honest Gentile, who, to the best of his knowledge obeyed it. Dr. Taylor.
And restest in the law
Thou trustest in it for thy endless salvation. The word επαναπαυη, implies the strongest confidence of safety and security. Thou reposest thy whole trust and confidence in this law.
And makest thy boast of God
That thou knowest his nature and attributes, which are not known to the Gentiles. The word, καυχασαι, implies the idea of exulting in any thing, as being a proper object of hope and dependence: and, when referred to GOD, it points out that HE is the sure cause of hope, dependence, joy, and happiness; and that it is the highest honour to be called to know his name, and be employed in his service. As if the apostle had said: You rejoice in God as the object of your hope and dependence; you praise and magnify him; you account it your greatest honour that HE is your God, and that you worship him.
Knowest his will
Hast been favoured with a revelation of his own will, immediately from himself.
The things that are more excellent
ταδισφεροντα, The things that differ-that revelation which God has given of himself makes the nicest distinctions between right and wrong; between vice and virtue; showing how you should walk so as to please God, and, consequently, acquire the most excellent portion that human spirits can have on this side heaven: for all these blessings ye acknowledge to receive from your law, being instructed, κατηχουμενος, being catechized, from your infancy, in the knowledge of Divine things.
And art confident, religious advantages, ye believe that ye are able to teach others, and to be guides and lights to the bewildered, darkened Gentiles, who may become proselytes to your religion.
An instructer of the foolish, Gentiles to be babes and fools when compared with yourselves; that ye alone possess the only true knowledge; that ye are the only favourites of Heaven; and that all nations must look up to you as possessing the only form of knowledge, μορφωσιντηςγνωσεως, the grand scheme and draught of all true science, of every thing that is worthy to be learned: the system of eternal truth, derived from the law. If, therefore, ye act not as becomes those who have such eminent advantages, it must be to your endless disgrace and infamy.
Dr. Taylor has paraphrased this and the three following verses thus: "What signify your pretensions to knowledge, and the office of teaching others, if you have no regard to your own doctrine? What are you the better for preaching against theft, if you are a thief yourself? Or for declaring adultery unlawful, if you live in the practice of it? Or for representing idolatry abominable, if you are guilty of sacrilege? What honours or singular favours do you deserve, if, while you glory in the law and your religious privileges, you dishonour God, and discredit his religion, by transgressing his law, and living in open contradiction to your profession? And this is more than supposition; notorious instances might be produced of the forementioned crimes, whereby the Jews of the present age have brought a reproach upon religion among the Gentiles; as well as those Jews of former times, of whom the Prophet Ezekiel speaks, Ezekiel 36:23: And I will sanctify my great name, which was PROFANED among the HEATHEN, which ye have PROFANED in the midst of them."
That the Jewish priesthood was exceedingly corrupt in the time of the apostle, and that they were so long before, is fully evident from the sacred writings and from Josephus. The high-priesthood was a matter of commerce, and was bought and sold like other commodities. Of this Josephus gives many instances. The rapine of Eli's sons descended to several generations. Dr. Whitby well observes that of all these things mentioned by the apostle the Jewish doctors were notoriously guilty; and of most of them they were accused by our Lord. 1. They said and did not; and laid heavy burdens upon others, which they would not touch with their own fingers, Matthew 23:3,4. 2. They made the house of God a den of thieves, Matthew 21:13; ; John 2:16. 3. They were guilty of adultery by unjust divorces, Matthew 19:9. 4. Their polygamy was scandalous: even their rabbins, when they came to any place, would exclaim, Who will be my wife for a day? As to idolatry, they were perfectly saved from it ever since the Babylonish captivity but to this succeeded sacrilege, as is most evident in the profanation of the temple, by their commerce transacted even within its courts; and their teaching the people that even their aged parents might be left to starve, provided the children made a present to the temple of that which should have gone for their support. According to Josephus, Bell. Jud. l. vi. c. 26, They were guilty of theft, treachery, adultery, sacrilege, rapine, and murder. And he adds, that new ways of wickedness were invented by them; and that of all their abominations the temple was the receptacle. In his Antiquities of the Jews, lib. xx. c. 8, he says: The servants of the high priests took away, by violence, the tithes of the priests, so that many of them perished for want of food. Even their own writers acknowledge that there were great irregularities and abominations among the rabbins.
So Bereshith rabba, sect. 55, fol. 54: "Rabbi Abun proposed a parable concerning a master who taught his disciples not to pervert justice, and yet did it himself; not to show respect of persons, and yet did it himself; not to receive bribes, and yet received them himself; not to take usury, and yet took it himself. The disciple replied:-Rabbi, thou teachest me not to take usury, and yet thou takest it thyself! Can that be lawful to thee which is forbidden to me?"
For the name of God is blasphemed, Debarim rabba, sect. 2, fol. 251, it is said:-"The rulers destroy the influence of their own words among the people; and this is done when a rabbin, sitting and teaching in the academy, says, Do not take usury, and himself takes it; do not commit rapine, and himself commits it; do not steal, and himself steals." That they were exceedingly lax in their morals, the following fact proves:- "Rabbi Ilai said, If a man see that his evil propensities are likely to prevail against him, let him go to some place where he is not known, and let him put on black clothes, and cover his head with a black veil; and then let him do whatsoever he pleases, lest the name of God should be publicly profaned." Moed katon, fol. 17. 1. In Sohar Levit. fol. 31, col. 122, it is said:-"On three accounts the Jews are obliged to remain in captivity-1. Because they openly reproach the Shechinah-2. Because they profane themselves before the Shechinah-3. Because they turn away their faces from the Shechinah."
But it would be endless to collect from their history the proofs of the charges brought here against them by the apostle. See Whitby, Schoettgen, and others.
For circumcision verily profiteth
It is a blessing to belong to the Church of God and wear the sign of the covenant, provided the terms of the covenant are complied with.
But if thou be a breaker of the law
If thou do not observe the conditions of the covenant, the outward sign is both without meaning and without effect. This was a maxim of the rabbins themselves; for they allowed that an apostate or ungodly Israelite must go to hell, notwithstanding his circumcision.
Therefore if the uncircumcision, Gentile be found to act according to the spirit and design of the law, his acting thus uprightly, according to the light which God has afforded him, will be reckoned to him as if he were circumcised and walked agreeably to the law.
And shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature
And shall not the Gentile, who is εκφυσεως, according to the custom of his country-who is, by birth, not obliged to be circumcised.
If it fulfil the law
If such a person act according to the spirit and design of the law; judge κρινει condemn thee, who, whilst thou dost enjoy the letter, the written law, and bearest in thy body the proof of the circumcision which it requires, dost transgress that law?
For he is not a Jew
A genuine member of the Church of God, who has only an outward profession.
Neither is that circumcision
Circumcision is a rite which represents a spiritual thing, viz. the change and purification of the heart, as may be seen, Jeremiah 4:4,6,10; ; 9:26; ; Ezekiel 44:7,9.
But he is a Jew
A true member of the Church of God.
Which is one inwardly
Who has his heart purified, according to what God has uniformly prescribed by his prophets; see above: for circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, ενπνευματι by the Spirit of God, who is the author of all spiritual affections and holy purposes: or, every thing here is to be understood spiritually, and not literally; for without holiness none can please God, and without holiness none can see him.
Whose praise is not of men
It has, with great probability, been conjectured that the apostle may here refer to the signification of the name Jew, or Judah, Yehudah, PRAISE, from Yadah, he PRAISED. Such a one is a true Israelite, who walks in a conformity to the spirit of his religion: his countrymen may praise him because he is a steady professor of the Jewish faith; but GOD praises him, because he has entered into the spirit and design of the covenant made with Abraham, and has got the end of his faith, the salvation of his soul. Sentiments like these, on the same subject, may be found in the ancient Jewish writers. Rabbi Lipman gives the opinion of their most ancient and pure writers in these words:-"A certain Christian mocked us, saying, 'Women, who cannot be circumcised, cannot be reckoned among Jews.' Such persons are ignorant that faith does not consist in circumcision, but in the heart. He who has not genuine faith is not a partaker of the Jewish circumcision; but he who has genuine faith is a Jew, although not circumcised." NIZZACHON, Num. 21, p. 19. It is a curious maxim of the Talmudists, That the Jews sit in the inmost recesses of the heart. NIDDA, fol. 20,2. This is exactly the sentiment of St. Paul: Circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit. In short, common sense, as well as their law and their prophets, taught every considerate man among them that God could be pleased with their rites and external performances no farther than they led to holiness of heart and righteousness of life.
1. WHAT the apostle says, in the preceding chapter, concerning the Gentiles doing by nature the things contained in the law, if properly considered, would lead certain persons from forming erroneous judgments concerning the Divine dispensations. We are not to suppose that God is not to be found where his written word does not appear; nor that the salvation of the nations yet unblessed with the light of the Gospel is impossible. God has never confined himself to any one particular way of communicating his salvation, any more than he has confined his saving grace to one people. His word is an indescribable blessing; but that word becomes effectual to salvation when accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was that Spirit which gave the word originally; and that same Spirit can speak without this word. It is through his influence alone that the Gentiles do the things contained in his own law; and it is not to be wondered at that the work is the same, both in the law and in the heart, when it has proceeded from the same Spirit.
2. God therefore will judge all nations according to the use and abuse they have made of this word, whether it was written in the heart, or written on tables of stone.
3. As he is no respecter of persons, all nations are equally dear to him; and he has granted and will grant to them such discoveries of himself as have been and will be sufficient for their salvation.
4. His WORD is an infinite blessing; and he has given it to one people that they may be the means of conveying it to another. Europe, and especially Christian Europe, has got the BIBLE; and God requires Europe to send the Bible throughout the earth. If this be not done, through their neglect, the Gentile nations will not be destroyed by a merciful God; yet the Europeans will have a most solemn and awful account to render to their Judge, that they have hidden the heavenly light under their own bushel. BRITAIN is shaking herself from the dust, and, by means of the BRITISH and FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY, is sending the holy Scriptures to every kingdom, and nation, and people, and tongue. The Gentiles are now learning from the written law more fully and savingly what the Spirit of God had before written on their hearts; and it seems as if the kingdom of God were now about to come with all-conquering power.