Romans 2, Part 3
Oct 14, 2010
Romans 2:16 does not make sense unless you punctuate it properly and go back to the start of the sentence in verse 14. Here is the full sentence:
For when the ethnos 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 them or else defending them) on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
In other words, at the day of judgment, when God judges the secrets of men, the ethnos will be judged according to the knowledge that they had. If they had not been exposed to the Law of Moses, they will be judged according to the light that they did have.
Note the parenthesis, which explains "the Law written in the hearts." Paul was NOT saying that their conscience would accuse or defend them at the Great White Throne Judgment.
Also, Paul's use of the term "according to my gospel," is not a reference to another gospel, but is rather his emphasis on the fact that Jesus Christ will be the judge. While this may raise no eyebrows today, it was certainly disputed in Jewish circles in Paul's day, for it identified the "Ancient of Days" in Dan. 7:9-10 with Jesus the Judge in John 5:27-30 and Rev. 20:11-15.
This is the end of a paragraph, and then Paul turns to address Jews more specifically. It is as if he were talking directly to a typical Jewish rabbi standing in front of him. The discussion centers on the purpose of the Law and what it means to be a Jew. The discussion continues to the end of chapter 8.
(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?
As custodians of the Scriptures, the rabbis believed that they were all of these things, as Paul well knew--for he had been among their ranks as a rising star many years earlier. Paul does not question the Scriptures, but focuses his attention on their understanding of the Law. He does not question their historic place in the divine plan as the custodians of the Word and as those called to be the organ of revelation to teach all nations. Instead, Paul questions the outworking of that calling. He implies that they have failed because they have misunderstood the Law and the Scriptures in general.
Their misunderstanding, combined with their hardness of heart, has caused them to reject the Messiah, because He did not fit their idea of His character or ministry. While they were looking for a miracle-working military general who would set them free from Rome, He came instead as a lamb to the slaughter. In rejecting Him, they missed the whole point of all the sacrifices in the temple, which had prophesied of the only Sacrifice that could actually remove sin and death.
Ferrar Fenton translates verse 21,
(21) You teacher of another--should you not teach yourself?
In other words, the rabbis need a better understanding of the Law--obviously, to learn a New Covenant understanding of the Law. Paul then proceeds to instruct this hypothetical Jewish rabbi.
(21) . . . 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? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
It may seem strange and even offensive for Paul to be accusing a rabbi of theft and adultery. But Jesus did the same in His "Sermon on the Mount." The legalistic teaching of the rabbis was often designed to find a way around the spirit of the Law. (So it is today with modern lawyers arguing the case of their clients in court.) For every law, there is a way of escape, and therefore the lawlessness in society continues in spite of the multitude of laws that are written.
And so the Jews, who abhorred adultery, were also guilty of adultery by the spirit of the Law (Matt. 7:28). Likewise, by allowing men to marry one day and divorce the next, they had legalized fornication. In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus gives the example of how they had legalized theft and thereby dishonored their parents in violation of the fifth commandment.
The spirit of modern Zionism is based upon this entire mindset that Jews are privileged to steal land from Palestinians and to murder them if they stand in the way of this theft. It is based upon the idea that God is partial in His judgments, that Jews are the only true "men," and that all others are on the level of "beasts," and that therefore the Law of God applies only to the manner in which a Jew treats a fellow Jew in good standing.
This idea of Jewish superiority prevailed more in Paul's day than today, because many Jews today have a more enlightened view of humanity, having become more "worldly." But among the traditionalists and Orthodox, one only has to read their literature to see very quickly how they despise all others. I recommend reading Dr. Israel Shahak's books: Jewish History, Jewish Religion and Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Not only does he show the bigotry of Jewish religion, but also provides in himself the contrast that is seen in many Jews who have revolted against such bigotry.
(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 ethnos because of you, just as it is written.
Paul was quoting from Isaiah 52:5 and again in Ezekiel 36:20 and 23. When anyone is known to be of a particular religion, others look to that person as an example of his God's teaching. If the person is a liar and a thief, then his God is blamed. Men are fruit inspectors. If the fruit is evil, then they conclude that the God who planted that fruit is also evil.
In Paul's day, the dividing wall in the temple established a division of humanity and gave Jewish men the right to come closer to God than women or converts among the ethnos. This division held true in all the synagogues as well, where proselytes were not citizens of the Kingdom, but a servant class, following the presumed precedent in Joshua 9:27,
(27) But Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place which He would choose.
Both Jesus and Paul corrected this overblown Jewish nationalism and religious bigotry, which was certainly the well-known reason why the ethnos were repulsed by Judaism. Unfortunately, the God of the Bible was blasphemed as well. Joshua's treatment of the Gibeonites in the verse above was because of special circumstances involved in that case. In part this was to fulfill Noah's curse upon Canaan in Gen. 9:25-27, where Canaan was to be made a servant. Secondly, it was due to their deception in pretending to be from a far country (Joshua 9:6).
The rabbis, however, turned this into a general principle, thinking this was how to treat all theethnos only because were non-Jews. Thus, the lawful judgment of Joshua was used as a precedent to justify racial bigotry. This, Paul argued, was a violation of the Law.
This is the third part of a series titled "Romans 2." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones