Misunderstandings of Judgment

This is the message needed for revival.Judgment2

Enoch's secret word


Why does God allow such things to happen?


Questions about judgment and tragedy

Romans: Laying a Solid Foundation

Romans: Laying a Solid Foundation

The Bible Teacher's Commentary

Paul J. Bucknell

Commentary on Romans 2:12-29

The False Confidence of the Religious

Romans 2:12-16 Possession| Romans 2:17-24 Heritage | Romans 2:15-29 Rite
Romans 2:12-29 Handout |Bible Study Questions


Although the focus on the Jews is further developed in these verses, we need to be careful to remember that the Jews are being condemned not because they have certain covenantal privileges, but because they do “the same things” as the Gentiles do and so deserve the judgment. The Law and circumcision are not everything. There is in a sense a covenant behind the covenant. Paul denies “covenantal nomism” where everyone in the covenant is saved and adopts “covenantal pistism” which states it is faith within the covenant which makes them saved.

(1- Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Moo, p. 126. Covenantal pistism is from the Greek word for faith. In other words, they are saved by the faith which enables them to be part of the covenant.)

In this section Paul resumes the diatribe from 2:1-5 and sharpens its cutting edge.

“Just as then, Epictetus contests the claims of some to be “true Stoics” because they do not live the philosophy they teach, so Paul questions whether one who does not obey the law has any right to claim the title “Jew.” (2- Moo, p. 154.)

Paul addresses three false confidences of the self–righteous Jew. These things are good in and of themselves but were used wrongly by the Jews just as many religious Christians wrongly use the gifts of God. These religious activities were never to excuse the Jew from simple obedience. Unfortunately, the Christian church is filled with those who think their relationship with God has been taken care of because they own or read a Bible because they belong to the church or have been baptized. Paul knocks these false confidences down, one by one: the possession of the Law, their heritage as a Jew and their rite of circumcision.

1. From the Possession or Knowledge of the Law (Ro 2:12-16)

“For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 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, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-16).

Paul is trying to be inclusive in his arguments. The ‘for’ {γαρ} connects this section with the previous one. He is cutting away the excuses that man has known and utilized for the last millenniums. Basically his argument for this section is that judgment will be fair for it is based on the degree of knowledge that they are conscious of.

(3- “Paul’s point is that the law must be allowed its function as a universal standard set by God, and not be reduced to the level of an identity marker which distinguishes Jew from Gentile or be characterized too superficially by a rite like circumcision which separates the Jewish “us” from the Gentile “them.”” Dunn, Vol 38A, p. 77.)

They are held accountable to what they know.

We must remember that Paul is reinforcing his former statement. Anyone who has fallen short of this righteous life will perish. “This paragraph defends the equality of all people before God’s judgment seat against the charge that the Jews’ possession of the law gives them a decisive advantage. This is not the case. Paul argues, because

(1) it is doing, not hearing or possessing, the law that matters (v. 13); and

(2) even the Gentiles, who do not have God’s law in written form, have it in a different sense (vv. 14-15).” (4- Moo, p. 142.)

Paul speaks of two categories again in verse 14. The word “without the Law” (ανομος) does not refer to law breakers but to the Gentiles as a group which never received God’s covenant. Paul made this distinction in the previous section, that is, the distinction between those who do good and those who do not.

Here Paul focuses on the two general backgrounds: the Jew and the Gentile. The Gentiles are those who have sinned without the Law and will perish without the Law.

(5- “From earliest times, three basic alternatives have been proposed: Gentiles who fulfill the law and are saved apart from explicit faith in Christ; Gentiles who do some parts of the law but who are not saved; and Gentile Christians.” Supporters of view 1 include Pelagius, Chrysostom. 2nd view: Moo, Calvin, Hodge, Murray, Kasemann. 3rd view: Cranfield, Augustine. -Moo, pp. 144-145.)

In other words, what they know will incriminate them. They do not need the Old Testament Law to condemn them for their societal norm will condemn them. But those who had the Law will be judged by the Law. God’s specially delivered set of standards given on Mount Sinai is that much more demanding. The Jew will be judged on completion of the Law and not whether they are part of the covenant. This is different than the New Covenant where the Law is perfectly fulfilled and implemented within the believers’ hearts.


The ramifications of this argument is significant. God is just. Many a person believes God is unfair to send a person to hell, especially their loved ones. God is just. There is one judgment of everlasting fire but according to this teaching we are forced to conclude that judgment will differ in that place. It is based on what a person knows and how he responds.


These truths about accountable knowledge are critical to being able to properly evangelize. People are different. They will be judged differently. Paul spoke to those at Athens with a different approach because their situation differed from the Jews who had the law. We need to be sensitive to these various approaches.

Everyone has a body of truth to which they are accountable whether it is through instruction or embedded in them through their conscience. We can assume that those we speak to have some knowledge of truth. We should find out what level of truth they are aware of and step into their lives at that point. Those without religion and law at least have their conscience to bear witness to their sin, that is, they do what they know they should not do and do not do what they know they should do. Although this standard is imperfect, it leaves each of us acknowledging that we have not reached that righteous life that we should.

2. From their Jewish Heritage (2:17-24)

“But if you bear the name “Jew,” and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.” (Romans 2:17-24).

Our greatest challenge is the ability to penetrate the prideful hearts of the moralists. This problem of the Jews has certainly spilled over into other religions, cultures and even infiltrated the Christian church.

Paul in 2:17-20 describes how a number of Jews thought about their Jewishness. They bear the name Jew.

(6 - “The name Ιουδαιος which originally referred to a person from the region occupied by the descendants of Judah, was applied to Israelite people generally after the Exile, when the territory occupied by the Jews encompassed not much more than the original Judah. By Paul’s day, the term had become a common designation of anyone who belonged to the people of Israel and connoted particularly their distinction from all other peoples, the Gentiles or Greeks.” -Moo, p. 156.)

They keep the sabbath and have been circumcised. By “relying on the Law”, Paul reproves them for it is not the keeping of the Law that makes them so different from the Gentiles (especially in moral ways - see previous verses) but by having the Law. They look on the outward rather than the more crucial inner person.

As a Jew, they claim to know all about God and having been taught by God’s Word. Notice the contrast between Romans 1:17 and Jeremiah 9:23-24 (c.f. I Cor 1:31). They have confidence of their relationship with God for in the law they have the embodiment of the knowledge of truth, the revelation of God. Their confidence in their Jewish heritage along with the associated Law, and knowledge of God is unfortunately not backed up with a clear obedience to the Law.

2:18 “Approve the things that are essential” has three alternative translations,

2:19 “And are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness” (Romans 2:19).

“A light to those who are in darkness” refers to the strong mission message in the Old Testament." (8- Moo, p. 158). It is interesting that when the Jews were to be examples to the whole world that Paul actually later challenged them to discrediting God’s name (2:24).

They lack precisely what should differentiate them from the Gentiles. So Paul continues his argument by crystallizing upon certain issues which they claim to have the answer to.

Generally, the principal can be summarized as in verse 21, “You, therefore who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” If they teach others or accuse others of stealing, are they also not accusing themselves because they steal. Paul enumerates some sins such as adultery, robbing temples 9 and other things in the Law. There are some things the Jews would ideally never do - such as to deny the covenant. But other acts are permissible perhaps because of necessity.

(9 “To rob a temple” ..does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, but the cognate ηιεροσιλοςs in Acts 19:37, where the Ephesian town official defends Paul and his companions as not being “temple-robbers” or “blasphemers.”” “There are three main possibilities. First, the word could have its natural, literal sense. While evidence that Jews engaged in the robbing of temples is scarce, there is some reason to think that the strictures against using the precious metals from idolatrous articles (Dt. 7:26) were being relaxed and disobeyed....A second possibility is that the word has an extended sense, referring to the holding back of money due from all Jews for the support of the Jerusalem Temple. The failure to pay this “temple tax” was, apparently widespread and frequently criticized. Third, it might be used metaphorically for sacrilege in a general sense, a meaning for which there is some evidence. For Paul’s accusation to make sense, this sacrilege would have to involve various acts (or attitudes of impiety toward the God of Israel.” The last two interpretations have difficulty trying explain the usage of idolatry. - Moo, pp. 160-161.)

They reason it is best to steal though they might call it something else. Paul evidently is very acquainted with the Jews’ weaknesses. He has seen their sin and is not apologetic for this generalization. He even quotes the Old Testament prophets, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Their inconsistency has even been noticed among the heathen!

We have a problem understanding how the three sins Paul pointed out might incriminate all Jews. There is no evidence that these sins among the Jews grew to such proportion. Paul yet proved his point through them that the Jews had no special relationship with God which excused them from judgment. The argument could be handled in two ways:

  1. The first would incriminate all Jews, but Paul’s usage of idolatry doesn’t seem to be a sin of all the Jews; or
  2. Paul clearly incriminates only some Jews. He might be saying that when we look at these Jews, it is obvious that they are sinners. So if some Jews because of disobedience disclaim their inheritance, then is it not true that anyone who breaks the Law will not be able to use their inheritance to avoid the judgment? If these Jews cannot get by with special privileges with God, then neither can others.

In other words, as Paul concludes in 2:28-29, it is not being part of the outward Jewish community which makes the difference but a life that lives in light of God’s moral law.


3. From their Religious Rite of Circumcision (Ro 2:25-29)

“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. If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And will not he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:25-29).

In verses 2:12-24 Paul has shown that the possession of the law and their Jewish heritage does not protect them from an impending judgment. In 2:25-29 he continues this argument affirming that circumcision is not able to protect them from God’s judgment.

Although Moo has spoken of the two different interpretations10 of the Jews the phrase “keeps the requirements of the Law” (2:26), and although the Jews generally considered the Law as ‘do-able,’ there is that sense in which Paul in this whole chapter has not been stating that everyone sins, but that no one cannot escape a fair judgment. Otherwise the usage of the above phrase is pointless to the discussion. Paul is generally accepting what the average Jew thought. His argument is on a different level.

“To become uncircumcised means to become like a Gentile and to forfeit any defense that one’s membership in the people of God might provide on the day of judgment… For in contrast to Jewish teachers, who held that only a radical decision to renounce the covenant invalidated one’s circumcision. Paul argues that simple transgressions of the law can have the same effect.” -Moo, p. 165.


Paul is making a two-pronged preparation for having the Jews accept the Gentiles as equals in their Christian faith. Firstly, all peoples will be equally judged, the Jew alongside of the heathen. Secondly, he shows how those not being circumcised can become one with God’s people (2:29). This circumcision of the heart refers to the process of being ‘born from above’ where the ‘flesh is cast off’ (Col 2:11). This topic is based on the Old Testament: Dt 30:6.


One of the big problems in our churches today is that religious people call themselves Christians because they were baptized and go to church, and yet live like the world. From the last two verses, how should we think and approach these religious people?

Moving our generation's heart and mind closer to God!