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Romans Chapter 2, Verse-by-Verse

by Karl Kemp  
4/20/2014 / Bible Studies

INTRODUCTION. Much of the content of this article was taken from my forty-eight page paper titled "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism," which is on my internet site, for one place ( I highly recommend that paper. I'll list the chapter headings in that paper: 1. INTRODUCTION; 2. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED, AND REQUIRED, TO KEEP THE LAW OF GOD, INCLUDING THE MORAL LAW CONTAINED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, EXCLUDING THE CEREMONIAL LAW; 3. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED, AND REQUIRED, TO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD/CHRIST; 4. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED, AND REQUIRED,TO OBEY GOD/CHRIST (including His Word/Law/Commandments); 5. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED, AND REQUIRED, TO LIVE/WALK IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, which means living/walking in the will of God, according to His Word/Law/Commandments; 6. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED, AND REQUIRED, TO BE HOLY/TO LIVE IN HOLINESS, which includes living in the will of God, according to His Word/Law/Commandments; 7. CHRISTIANS ARE ENABLED TO DO THE WORKS THAT ARE REQUIRED ACCORDING TO GOD'S WORD/LAW/COMMANDMENTS by His grace/Spirit through faith; the works are required; 8. DOESN'T THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACH THAT THE MOSAIC LAW/OLD COVENANT HAS BEEN SET ASIDE AND THAT CHRISTIANS AREN'T UNDER THIS LAW? AND DOESN'T IT TEACH THAT NO ONE WILL BE JUSTIFIED/SAVED BY DOING WORKS OF THE LAW?; 9. LEGALISM

I'll quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Frequently I will make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious.

It is necessary to see that the apostle Paul, though he is writing an epistle to the Christians at Rome, is dealing mostly with the Jews and their need for salvation through Christ Jesus in Rom. 2:1-3:20. See, for example, Rom. 2:17-29. In Rom. 1:18-32 Paul shows why the Gentiles need salvation through Christ, and in Rom. 2:1-3:20 he shows why the Jews need this same salvation: All people (all people apart from new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus) are sinners, and are without excuse. In Rom. 3:9, which is a key summarizing verse, Paul says, "...we have already charged [referring back to Rom. 1:18-3:8] that both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] are all under sin." Paul loved the Jews and the Gentiles (cf., e.g., Rom. 9:1-5; 1 Cor. 9:19-22); he wasn't attacking them, but it was necessary for him to help them see that they needed Christ. The gospel (good news) doesn't sound like good news until we see our need for salvation; then it is good news indeed. According to the gospel Paul preached, Christ is God's only answer (and the complete answer) to the sin problem.

ROMANS 2:1. "Therefore you have no excuse [[Paul begins to speak to the Jews here. For one thing, there is a contrast with what the apostle Paul said regarding the Gentiles in Rom. 1:32: The Gentiles not only sin "but also give hearty approval to those who practice [sin]." The Jews, by contrast, tended to judge/condemn the Gentiles for their sins (cf. Rom. 2:17-20). The trouble was, it is hypocrisy to judge others for sinning when you are sinning yourself, and as Paul points out in this verse, there was much sin among the Jews (cf. Rom. 2:22-27). They too needed the Savior from sin. The Jews may not have been sinning in some of the ways the Gentiles were, or to the same extent, but God required more of them because of the light and blessings He had given them. The Jews tended to minimize their sin; didn't they descend from Abraham; didn't they have the Bible (Old Testament); didn't they have the temple, the sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, circumcision, etc? Christians very often make the same mistake, and it can be a catastrophic mistake.]], everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. [[This verse has sometimes been wrongly applied to Christians, which is a serious misunderstanding of what Paul said here. His gospel, as He presented it in Romans (for one place), includes (he even puts a strong emphasis on) victory over sin for Christians (by grace through faith). Paul has already brought this up in Rom. 1:16, 17, which contains the theme for his epistle to the Romans. (Romans 1:16, 17 are discussed in my two-part article titled "Introduction to My E-Book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin" that is on my internet site.) A primary purpose for Romans chapter 2 was to help the Jews see that they needed new-covenant salvation, so they could begin to walk/live in the righteousness of God with the victory over sin; Paul certainly didn't write this verse to teach Christians that they couldn't walk in this victory.

It is no wonder we don't see more faith for victory over sin in the Body of Christ when we so seriously misunderstand (misinterpret) the New Testament. ((There is a gigantic difference between a Christian minister mentioning that there is a lot of sin in the Christian church of our day and his saying that the New Testament teaches that all Christians continue in sin and "practice the same [sinful] things" (Rom. 2:1) that everybody else is doing. The apostle Paul wouldn't agree with that statement at all.)) It is true, of course, that to the extent Christians are living in sin, what Paul says here would apply to them too, even though Paul wasn't addressing that issue here.]] (2) And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (3) But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (4) Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? [[The point here in Rom. 2:4 is that when God is kind, forbearing, and patient, as He had been with the Jews in those days, giving them much time to repent, people often wrongly assume that there isn't much need for repentance (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9). Intense judgment wasn't far off for Israel. About fifteen years after Paul wrote Romans, Jerusalem, the temple, and much of Israel were destroyed by the Romans, and judgment day is yet to come for all mankind.]] (5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart [especially referring to their rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel that the apostle Paul (and others) was sent to preach] you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God [The next verse helps explain the RIGHTEOUS judgment of God. There will be no partiality in God's judgment for Jew, Gentile, or Christian (see Rom. 2:11).], (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS [WORKS] [[Cf. Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29; Rom. 14:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10; 11:15; Gal. 6:7-9; Eph. 5:6, 7; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:12, 13; and 22:12. A major point Paul makes in this chapter is that it won't be good enough to depend on your Jewishness to suffice to open the doors of heaven; the same thing is true for Christians, but I find a lot of Christians confused in this area. It is true, of course, that true Christians are forgiven when they ask for forgiveness (and forgiven sins will not be held against us on judgment day), but it is also true that our Christian life (our works) must reflect the reality of our salvation. (True Christian faith will necessarily bring forth good works [a righteous lifestyle] by God's grace/Spirit; we'll discuss the need for works of righteousness (by grace through faith) in a later section of this paper (referring to a later section of my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism"; I recommend you read that paper).]]: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality [[The apostle is speaking of Christians here; all true Christians are enabled, and required, "[to persevere] in doing good." (Paul makes this point repeatedly in the book of Romans, including Rom. 1:16, 17; 2:26-29; 3:21-26; most of Romans chapter 5; all of Romans chapter 6; and Rom. 8:1-14; 9:30-33; 10:2-13; 12:1, 2, 9-21; and 13:8-14. See my e-book "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin," for a start [available at].)

The apostle Paul (who received his gospel by revelation) didn't believe there were any people on the earth so righteous that they could bypass repentance and salvation through Christ Jesus, which salvation came to make believers righteous with the imputed and imparted righteousness of God. Paul was sent to preach the gospel to ALL people, since all people (all people with the exception of true Christians) are spiritually dead and in bondage to sin (see Rom. 3:9, for example). The apostle is dealing here with the people of his generation to whom the gospel was being proclaimed. He wasn't suggesting that all the Jews who lived in the days before the Lord Jesus came and conquered spiritual death and sin were condemned to experience God's "wrath and indignation" (Rom. 2:8).]], eternal life [[When judgment day comes, those "who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality" will be ready to stand before God, and they will inherit eternal life. God "will render" (see Rom. 2:6) eternal life to them. See Rom. 6:22, 23. All those interested in doing good and inheriting eternal life will be interested in the gospel, which gives God's only answer (and the complete answer) to the sin problem.]]; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth [the truth of the gospel (compare Rom. 10:16 [KJV]), the truth that includes the righteousness and holiness of God (see Eph. 4:24)]], but obey unrighteousness [God "will render" (Rom. 2:6) to them], wrath and indignation [instead of "eternal life" (Rom. 2:7)]. (9) There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek ["Greek" here and in verse 10, and often in the New Testament, equals "Gentile"], (10) but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good [As in Rom. 2:7, Paul is speaking of true Christians here, whether from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds. Note the words "glory and honor" in both verses.], to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (11) for there is no partiality with God. [[Cf., e.g., Acts 10:34; Col. 3:25; and 1 Pet. 1:17. This verse proclaims essentially the same truth as Rom. 2:6. The words of verse 11 apply to all people. The apostle goes on in verse 12 to show that those who reject God's new-covenant salvation and continue on in sin will be condemned. On the other hand, those who repent and submit to God's new-covenant salvation in faith, will inherit "eternal life" (see Rom. 2:7; cf. 2:13). As the apostle shows in Rom. 1:16, 17; 2:7, 26-29; chapter 6; and 8:1-4, for example, those who repent and submit to the gospel are forgiven AND they live in the righteousness of God and keep the requirements of His moral law in their daily lives, by God's sufficient enabling grace, through faith.]] (12) For all who have sinned without the Law [speaking of non-Christian Gentiles] will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law [speaking of the Jews who did not repent and submit (in faith) to God, and His Son, and His gospel] will be judged [condemned] by the Law [The apostle Paul wants to demonstrate, as he does throughout most of Romans chapters 1-3, that all people need to submit to the Lord Jesus and new-covenant salvation in Him.]; (13) for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just ["are righteous," or, "will be righteous"] [[There is no verb in the Greek here in 2:13; it must be supplied in the English translation; the Greek just has the adjective "dikaios" translated "just," which is normally translated "righteous." I prefer "will be righteous." Paul is looking forward to judgment day (cf. Rom. 2:5-12, 16); it is significant that he uses the future tense in the verb at the end of this verse. This Greek verb "dikaioo," which is translated "will be justified" at the end of this verse, is closely related to the Greek adjective "dikaios"; it was derived from the adjective.]] before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified [that is, they WILL BE FOUND RIGHTEOUS and THEY WILL BE DECLARED RIGHTEOUS; no smoke and mirrors will be needed here; "there is no partiality with God" (Rom. 2:11); God knows our hearts; it is also true that what is in our hearts, including what we believe, will determine what we do]. [[One significant point that the apostle made here is that it isn't good enough for the Jews to be "hearers of the Law"; if they want to be found righteous and declared righteous on judgment day, they must be DOERS OF THE LAW - they must be RIGHTEOUS. Therefore, the Jews needed to receive Christ so they could become righteous/doers of the Law. The apostle Paul was sent to call all people to repent and submit to the gospel. (As I mentioned this did not mean that all the Jews who lived in the days before new-covenant salvation became available were lost. The apostle was concerned with the Jews who were powerfully confronted with the Lord Jesus and the gospel but rejected and continued to reject that salvation.) It really isn't Paul's point here, but it must be observed that Paul would be engaged in great hypocrisy if he was telling the Jews that they must actually be righteous/doers or the Law unless the same truth also applies to Christians - it does apply (but many Christians don't know it).

We have been set free from spiritual death and slavery to sin! We have been redeemed out of the kingdom of sin, darkness, and Satan. In Rom. 2:26, 27 and 8:4 (which are three ultra-important verses; we'll discuss 2:26, 27 as we continue, and I'll briefly comment on 8:4), Paul says that Christians keep the Law/the requirement(s) of the Law. As this entire paper (referring to my paper "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism") shows, Paul (along with the rest of the New Testament) consistently makes it clear that Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk/live in the righteousness and holiness of God, which includes being doers of God's moral law. (The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not required to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. See my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism.") On the need to be doers of God's Word/Law/commandments, cf., e.g., Matt. 7:24-27; John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Cor. 6:19; James 1:21-25; 2:8-13; and 1 John 2:3-6; 5:3.]] (14) For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, (15) in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing of else defending them [[It's important to see that Paul is speaking of non-Christian Gentiles here. He is making two important points. For one thing, he shows that God has a basis, a standard, by which to judge the Gentiles on judgment day. They have a law in their heart, their conscience, given by God. It's also true that they have many basic truths regarding right and wrong in their cultures; some of these basic truths, based on God's earlier revelations, have been passed down through the generations. Paul doesn't say that the Gentiles had the same light that the Jews did (with their Law, etc.), but he does say that they have enough light to be judged by God. They don't have an excuse for their sin.

It is very important that we don't confuse the "work of the Law written in their hearts [the hearts of non-Christian Gentiles]" with the glorious prophecy of Jer. 31:31-34, where God prophesied that there would be a new covenant and that a major feature of this covenant was that He would write His Law on the hearts of His people (believers). Jeremiah's prophecy speaks of God's transforming His people in their hearts (through new-covenant salvation) that they might begin to fully do His will (His Law) from their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 are discussed in the paper on selected prophecies from the Book of Jeremiah on my internet site, for one place.)

The work of the Law written in the hearts of non-Christian Gentiles speaks only of their conscience; it certainly doesn't speak of their being transformed, or of their fully keeping God's Law. Note that Rom. 2:15 shows that often their conscience tells them they have sinned. I'm quite sure that Paul didn't believe there were any non-Christian Gentiles so fully living in the will of God that they didn't need to repent and submit to the Savior from sin. Remember that the primary thing Paul is doing in this part of Romans is showing that all people, all Jews and all Gentiles, are sinners and therefore need new-covenant salvation (cf. Rom. 3:9, 23, for example).

A second point Paul makes here in verses 14, 15 is that the Jews shouldn't overestimate the significance of their having the Law. It was a blessing all right, but the Gentiles have a law too. The real need, as Paul shows in verse 13, is to be/become righteous/a doer of God's law.]], (16) on the day [the day of judgment] when, according to my gospel [which Paul received from Jesus Christ], God will judge the secrets of men [including their motives, and the sins they know about in their hearts] through Christ Jesus [cf., e.g., Matt. 16:27; John 5:22, 27; and 2 Cor. 5:9, 10]. (17) But if you bear the name 'Jew' and rely upon the Law and boast in God, (18) and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, (19) and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, (20) a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, (21) you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? (22) You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? [F. Godet ("Epistle to the Romans" [Zondervan, 1969 reprint], page 129) points out that "Adultery is a crime which the Talmud (a Jewish document) brings home to the three most illustrious Rabbins, Akiba, Mehir, and Eleazar."] You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (23) You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? (24) For 'THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,' just as it is written. (25) For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. (26) IF THEREFORE THE UNCIRCUMCISED MAN [my capitalization in this sentence and in verse 27 for emphasis] [[Paul is speaking of a GENTILE CHRISTIAN here, a true Christian who is living (by grace though faith) as Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to live. Throughout this paper ("The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" and in quite a few other writings), I demonstrate that the New Testament shows that Christians (and only Christians, born-again Christians, those who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit [cf. Rom. 8:9] and who walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis [cf. Gal. 5:16]) are called and enabled to keep the Law of God and live in His imparted righteousness, by grace through faith.

As I showed above under Rom. 2:1-16, a primary purpose for Paul's writing Rom. 2:1-3:20 was to demonstrate that, though the Jews had the Law, they weren't fully keeping the Law (they weren't doers of the Law), and therefore they too (along with the Gentiles) needed Christ. What he says here in Rom. 2:26, 27 of a Gentile Christian's keeping the Law/the requirements of the Law would also be true of a Christian from a Jewish background, but Paul makes his point (that Jews need Christ too) more forcefully by contrasting the circumcised non-Christian Jew with an uncircumcised Gentile Christian who is keeping God's Law (His moral law).]] KEEPS THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? [[It is clear that Paul is excluding the keeping of the ceremonial parts of the Law, since the Gentile Christian had not been circumcised. On judgment day this Gentile Christian (being physically uncircumcised), who has been transformed by the powerful sanctifying grace of God in Christ and lives in the righteousness and holiness of God (in other words he "keeps the requirements of the Law"), will have his "uncircumcision...regarded as circumcision," in the sense that he will be regarded as righteous since all that was sinful and defiling had been cut away from his heart and life by the new-covenant circumcision wrought by the Spirit, which Paul speaks of in Rom. 2:29.

Romans 8:4 is a very important cross-reference; it speaks of "the requirement (using the same Greek noun as Rom. 2:26) of the Law" being fulfilled by Christians as they walk after the Spirit (which Christians are required to do). (Romans 8:1-14 are discussed in some detail in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and in my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both books are available at These super-important verses are also discussed in my recent article, "Romans 8:1-14 Verse-by-Verse." I consider Romans 8:1-14 to be some of the most important verses in the Bible.]] (27) AND WILL NOT HE WHO IS PHYSICALLY UNCIRCUMCISED, if he keeps the Law [[This is even richer in the Greek in that there is no "if" here. I would translate "KEEPING THE LAW," instead of "if he keeps the Law." The NIV doesn't have an "if" here: "The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker."]], will he not judge [[I would translate "condemn," with the NIV. The idea is that this Gentile Christian who has become a doer of the Law will condemn, by contrast, the Jew who wasn't a doer of the Law. (Cf. Matt. 12:41, 42.) Paul's purpose here is not to ridicule the Jew (all people are sinners apart from the grace of God in Christ), but to help him see his need for Christ, along with the rest of fallen mankind. (It isn't love to flatter people with lies; true love shares the truth.) I must point out that many Christians are far from being doers of the Law, but not because the grace of God is insufficient. Many Christians don't believe it is possible for them to really be righteous and live in the will of God; however, the apostle Paul (and the other writers of the New Testament) did. What's really important is for us to know, to believe, and to live in line with is what God says in His Holy Word.]] you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? (28) For [[This "For" at the beginning of verse 28 ties verses 28, 29 to verses 26, 27. Here in verses 28, 29 Paul shows, as he so often does, that the only way for people to become fully righteous and holy is through new-covenant salvation in the blood of Christ, since it is only the new covenant that brings the new birth and transformation to righteous and holy living by the indwelling Holy Spirit.]] he is not a [real] Jew who is one outwardly [that is (as the apostle will go on to state in the next verse), we must have the new-covenant, inward ("of the heart") work of the Spirit]; neither is [real] circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. (29) But he is a [real] Jew who is one inwardly; AND [REAL] CIRCUMCISION IS THAT WHICH IS OF THE HEART, BY THE SPIRIT, NOT BY THE LETTER [["not by the letter" of the Mosaic Law. The old covenant, which was established on the basis of the Mosaic Law, was from God, and it was obviously good; however, it could not accomplish the life-giving, sanctifying work of the Spirit reserved for the new covenant. See, e.g., Rom. 6:14; 7:1-8:14 (these verses are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin"); 2 Cor. 3:6-18; and Gal. 3:1-29 (these verses are discussed in my "A Paper On Faith"); especially see Gal. 3:21. I'll quote Gal. 3:21, "Is the Law [the Mosaic Law] then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life [but no such law has been given by God], then righteousness would have indeed have been based on law." We must be born again and indwelled by the promised Righteous, Holy Spirit of God, through the Lord Jesus and His all-important atoning death, in order to walk in the imparted righteousness of God.]]; and his praise is not from men, but from God." There's always the danger of people (very much including Christians) seeking the praise of people, especially their religious peers, more than they seek the only really important praise (using praise in the sense of acceptance/approval), the praise of God (cf., e.g., John 5:44; 12:43; 1 Cor. 4:5; and 2 Cor. 10:18). To fully appreciate what Paul says in Rom. 2:26-29, we must know that the meaning of the word "Jew," which derives from "Judah," means "praise."

May the will of God be fully accomplished through this article and His people be edified!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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