“How Will God Judge the World?”

A study of Romans chapter 2

Paul can hear the objections from the pseudo Jews, or former Jews who had become Christians. There is no basis for their sense of superiority resulting in their judgmental attitude. Paul now launches into a condemnation of the judgmental who hypocritically criticize others while doing the very things they condemn. They, like all the rest of humanity, will be exposed to God’s judgment in His Day of Wrath. In the process he deals with one of the Bible’s major themes: “How Will God Judge the World?” [Romans 3:6 KJV]

Romans 2:1, 2 -- The Judgmental Defenseless

1 Therefore, O [Jew], you are without a defense! For you judge yourself when you are judging everyone else as guilty if you habitually practice the same things you are judging. 2 Because we know that God’s judgment -- upon those who habitually practice such things -- is in harmony with truth. [21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures - NCMM]

The Greek is literally, “O, man (or, human),” but it is clear Paul addresses his Jewish protagonist. The singular “you” follows, indicating Paul is not criticizing all Jews but an individual type. The context makes it clear his audience is Jewish at this point. He tells his “Jew” that he is “without a defense.” The Greek word for “defense” is APOLOGIA (from which the English apology or apologetics comes). Paul says this Jew has “nothing to say in your own defense.” [TCN] Why?

Because “you, [the Jew], judge yourself when you are judging everyone [else].” The Jews were notorious for their judgmental attitude of all the non-Jews. This thought echoes the Nazarene when he teaches, “For you will be judged with that ‘judgment’ by which you are judging!” [Matthew 7:2 NCMM] [Compare notes on Romans 2:9, 9:20, and 14:10.] The word judgment is a major theme dominating the epistle to the Romans. It is the self-righteous, religious hypocrite who “habitually practices the same thing being condemned.” The very word “hypocrisy” comes from two words: under + judge. [See notes on Romans 2:21.]

Paul means by “such things” those he has already listed above in Romans 1:18-32]. These vices or sins have degrees of gravity, ranging from God-hater and murderer to whisperer. Some sins are grave when done only once while others become increasingly more serious the more habitual they become. So that given time the habitual whisperer has done as much damage as the murderer. Virtually everyone is guilty of at least one on this Pauline list, and some continue to fail in a number of them. On the practice of sin see notes on 1 John 3:4, 9.

When God makes a judgment - whether of a Jew or non-Jew - it is always “in harmony with truth.” There is a factual reason or governing principle behind all of God’s judgments or judicial decisions. The sinner may not understand why a sin is so grave, but a study of each one makes it clear there is a universal principle behind it. Isaiah 11:3 speaks of Judge Messiah, “(The Messiah) will not judge on just what the eyes see; nor will he rebuke just because of rumors.” In time God’s judgments will be revealed to every human being who ever existed.

Romans 2:3-11 -- God’s Judgment Revealed

Paul begins to introduce one of his major themes -- God’s judgment -- and he will go on to use several words related to judgment. Here he has taken on an unknown Jew who we can presume is a hypocritical, self-righteous critic of others while doing the very things he condemns. Nothing in Paul’s language would not apply to a Christian. Paul divides the worshippers of The God (ho theos) into two classes: those persisting in badness (which is generally that which harms others) and those enduring in goodness, that which seeks the highest good for others. The reward for both will be quite different and based on their conduct. Paul draws on Moses at Deuteronomy 10:17 is discussing God’s judgment:

3 But, is this your logic, O Jew: Do you think you can escape the judgment of The God while you continue to do the same things as those you judge who habitually practice such things? 4 Or, do you despise the rich kindness [of The God] -- His restraint and tolerance? Not realizing that the kindness of The God is [trying] to lead you to repentance? 5 However, in harmony with your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in a day of wrath when the righteous judgment of The God is revealed. 6 [The God] ‘will reward each one in harmony with [their] works’ [Psalm 62:12]. 7 Indeed, to those who endure in good works -- glory, honor, and incorruption to those searching for ageless life. 8 But, to those who out of selfishness disobey the truth, obeying rather unrighteousness --- wrath, anger, 9 oppression and distress -- upon every human soul who persists in working harm to others -- first to the Jew, but also to the Greek. 10 But, glory, honor, and peace to everyone who continues to work at good --- to the Jew first, but also to the Greek. 11 ‘For there is no partiality or favoritism of persons with The God.’ [Deuteronomy 10:17]

Paul continues to talk to his individual Jewish protagonist. (Romans 2:17) Paul asks this Jew: “Do you think you can escape the judgment of The God?” The hypocrite is without logic in that he is critical of those who practice the vices listed above, and at the same time continues in these vices himself. He convinces himself that he will escape the judgment of God while these others will not. [Compare Matthew 23:33; 1 Timothy 5:24.] It is interesting that some modern Christians reason the same way: because they have been “saved” no matter what they do will condemn them, while all others stand condemned for these same actions.

In the process of this self-deceptive thinking - this deep religious rationalization - Paul asks his Jewish friend: “Do you despise the rich kindness [of The God] -- His restraint and tolerance?” Or, “Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy.” [PME] [Read Psalm 86:5 and see notes on Ephesians 1:7.] By this hypocritical, self-righteous judgmental attitude, the self-appointed judge really shows scorn and disdain for the Judge Himself. While God is patiently restraining Himself this critic exercises no such mercy and compassion toward those he judges, mainly non-Jews.

This does not mean that this Jew is automatically lost even if he is “not realizing that the kindness of The God is [trying] to lead you to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9] But, despite God’s patient kindness this Jew remains “hard and unrepentant” in his heart. He is has a deep obstinacy and stubbornness when it comes to feeling regret for his own sins. As a result of this deeply ingrained attitude this Jew is “storing up wrath for [himself] in a day of wrath.” By the expression “day of wrath” Paul means that future judgment of God. [Compare James 5:5.] Each new criticism and self-righteous opinion goes on the record to be accounted for in that Day.

The Nazarene taught the same: “Out of the good person’s heart comes a treasure of goodness; and expelled out of the wicked person’s wicked treasure comes wickedness. But I tell you that every fruitless word human’s speak will be held to account on Judgment Day. For by your words you will be declared ‘Not Guilty,’ and by your words you will be accursed.” [Matthew 12:35-37 NCMM] Paul agrees with his Lord that this would be “when the righteous judgment of The God is revealed.” Or, “when God will reveal to the sight of men the righteousness of His judgment.” [CON] It will be then that every Jew and non-Jew will find that “God will reward each one in harmony with [their] works.” This is a strong allusion to Psalm 62:12, “O Yehowah, mercy and kindness are yours, for You will reward every person in harmony with each one’s work.” [NCMM] The judgment of God is based on conduct in this life.

This same verse in the Psalm 62:12 is alluded to three times in the Bible’s final mention of God’s judgment: “Then I saw the Dead, the great and the small, standing in sight of the (white) Throne [of Messiah]. Little ‘books were opened’ [Daniel 7:10] and another Little Book was opened, the ‘Book of Life’. [Psalm 69:28] The Dead were judged out of the things written in the Little Books, ‘according to their works’. [Psalm 28:4] The Sea gave up its dead and The Death and the Hades gave up their dead. They were all ‘judged according to their works’. [Psalm 62:12] … Look! I am arriving suddenly. ‘My reward is with me to give back to each one according to his works’.” [Isaiah 50:10; Psalm 62:12] [Revelation 20:12, 13; 22:12 NCMM] Compare also Job 34:11, Ezekiel 18:30, and notes on Proverbs 24:12. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000© on the subject “God and Judgment”.] No where does Paul teach about some probationary period of judgment for humanity.

Paul now compares those who do good works and those who disobey the truth out of selfishness. Nothing in Paul suggests “works” are of no value in God’s judgment. Obviously, “good works” include the opposites of those vices listed above in Romans 1:18-32 . (1 Timothy 2:10) These “good” persons will attain to “glory, honor, and incorruption.” The Greek for “incorruption” is APHTHARSIAN, literally non-decayable, or non-rotting. It is contrasted with “immortality” in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53. This means an ageless or everlasting life to those searching for such. It seems apparent that immortality and endless life is not a natural attribute of the human soul but must be search for if it is to be realized. (Ezekiel 18:20; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10)

On the other hand “those who out of selfishness disobey the truth and instead obey unrighteousness” will experience “wrath, anger, tribulation and distress.” When Paul mentions “unrighteousness” he has in mind that list of his in Romans 1:21-32 above. Note, the unrighteous and disobedient are not described as being punished by hell-fire torment. Paul never uses the word “hell” in his epistles. Many of these apostate Jews would live to experience the holocaust of the Roman war between 66-73 CE. However, at the very latest this would befall them during God’s Day of Judgment for all humanity.

None who “persists in working harm to others” will escape God’s condemnation. This would include the Jew first, but also the Greek. [Note the phrase elsewhere. (Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10) The word “Greek” is a surrogate for “non-Jew” (Gentile).] Paul repeats his phrase when he mentions again “everyone who continues to work at good.” Jesus had taught the same when he said both the good and vile would be resurrected with two different outcomes: “Do not wonder about this, because the hour is coming in which all ‘those in the memorial tombs’ [Isaiah 26:19 LXX] will hear [the Son’s] voice and those having done good things will come out unto ‘a resurrection of Life’. [Daniel 12:2 LXX] ‘Those who have habitually done corrupt things unto a resurrection of condemnation’. [Daniel 12:2] [John 5:28, 29 NCMM]

Thus Paul emphasizes the need to lead a good life in order to attain a righteous judgment from God. For “there is no partiality” with God. This is a strong allusion to Deuteronomy 10:17. (2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34) “For God pays no attention to this world’s distinctions.” [WEY] Both Jew and non-Jew will face God’s judgment. But how will this occur?

Romans 2:12-16 -- Doers of Law Pronounced Innocent

All humankind will be judged by God on judgment day. The two groups of humankind will be judged in two different ways: Jews will be judged by the Law of Moses, while the non-Jews will be judged by their implanted conscience. The function of the conscience and logical thought is something of a demonstration of how God places his laws within the hearts of the Saints in New Israel according to the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-35. The subject of judgment is a major part of Paul’s Gospel as he now explains:

12 For all those who sinned without the Law will also be destroyed without the Law; and, all those who sinned under the Law will be judged by that Law. 13 Because, the innocent before The God are not those who just hear the Law. Rather it is those who keep the Law who will be pronounced innocent. 14 For when non-Jews, though not having the Law, naturally keep the Law, they are a law unto themselves. 15 They demonstrate the Law’s work ‘written within their hearts’ [Jeremiah 31:33] -- the combined testimony working between their conscience and their logical thoughts either prosecuting or defending them. 16 According to my good news through Christ Jesus [this is how] it will be in the day The God judges the secret things of all humankind.

Paul says that those non-Jews “who sinned without the Law” will not be judged according to Jewish Law and so if they be sinners “will be destroyed without the Law [of Moses].” Paul introduces his next major theme -- law. Since he later says ‘that without law there is no sin’ it seems he must mean here The Law of Moses. Paul will use the word “law” in half a dozen different ways in the epistle to the Romans. It is not always easy to determine which “law” he has in mind. Here he means the non-Jews who were not under the Law Covenant given through Moses. Many translations will capitalize Law to indicate that law given to Israel as Yehowah’s chosen people. [See the notes on Ephesians 2:12.] Likely Paul may mean that in the judgment these non-Jews will be judged without the Law of Moses. He goes on to explain the manner by which they will be judged though not having the Law of Moses.

On the other hand all those Hebrews and Jews will be “those who sinned under the Law [of Moses] will be judged by that Law.” That is, the Jews themselves under their Mosaic Law will be judged before God on Judgment Day. [See the notes on Romans 3:19.] As Paul goes on to explain, in the coming day of judgment all the Jews raised on that Day will be judged by their own Law. [See notes on Romans 7:9.]

For it is not enough to “just hear the Law [of Moses].” That is those Jews who heard Moses read every Sabbath in the synagogue. (Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15) Only those who “keep the Law [of Moses] will be pronounced innocent before The God.” The Greek here for “innocent” is DICAIOTHESONTAI [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #1344] and is traditionally rendered justified or declared righteous. It is a legal word from the court-room which infers “not guilty.” This word will become one of Paul’s favorites and will occur many times in the epistle to the Romans. [Compare Acts 13:39; Galatians 3:11.] However, for two thousand years there has been much confusion over the delicate nuances of his meaning. It is doubtful Paul means in an absolute sense as he later argues that none can be declared innocent by keeping the Law. He seems to mean in a general since it is the law-abiding person is found “not-guilty” before the law, whether Jewish or non-Jew.

What about the non-Jews? Those who were not exposed to the law of Moses as God’s chosen people. Paul says these non-Jews did not have such a Law. [Compare notes on Ephesians 2:12; Psalm 147:20.] These multitude of international nations, peoples, tribes, tongues of non-Jewish peoples have, unknown to themselves ‘naturally kept a form the Law [of Moses] because they are a law unto themselves’. The non-Jewish nations, including tribes and all peoples, have had their laws, including taboos, whether oral tradition or written, which contain the essential principles of the moral Law of Moses -- theft, murder, adultery, false witness. No peoples have been purely anarchistic without some law to govern themselves. But, Paul has also another law or principle in mind - the conscience.

These non-Jewish peoples throughout the millennia have “demonstrated the Law at work as ‘written within their hearts’” or conscience. In their primitive way the non-Jews are a demonstration of what the prophet Jeremiah meant when he foretold a new covenant with Israel and a law written on hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33) Paul explains this mechanism as “the combined testimony working between their conscience and their logical thoughts.” Paul echoes the mechanism fore-viewed in Jeremiah 31:33: the conscience and the thought process combine to make inner judgments of the heart. The Greek word for “conscience” is SYNEIDESEOS, or literally “with + idea (or, knowledge)”. The English “conscience” also means “with + knowledge”. “Conscience” is a word Paul uses most often in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10.

Thus, this was what the Nuremberg judges called “the universal human conscience.” This conscience “either prosecutes or defends them.” Like prosecuting and defending attorneys, the conscience and the logical process makes its judgments. Thus, no non-Jew can beg that he was “under orders” or that “everyone was doing it” when, in fact, their own conscience condemned wrong actions and thoughts.

The subject of salvation is not the only theme included in Paul’s gospel. Judgment and punishment are also part of his good news. We have been introduced to certain key words associated with his Gospel: judgment, law, punishment. These will all come to a conclusion “in the day The God judges the secret things of all humankind.”

We may infer from the above that in the judgment (Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:12-14) the non-Jews will be judged according to their implanted conscience and the Jews by their own Law. (Luke 8:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:5) All humankind will rise in the judgment to receive their payment for what they have done in their lives. (See notes on Matthew 12:36, 37; Hebrews 9:27) This becomes a major theme in Paul’s Gospel and is discussed in further chapters. Judgment Day is among the Bible’s prime subjects. Paul lists judgment among the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ at Hebrews 6:2. Though some would place salvation as the theme of the Bible, judgment must come first before salvation can occur.

Given the above, what will be the outcome for a judgmental Jew?

Romans 2:17-24 -- Judgmental Jews Guilty

Again Paul challenges his “Jew” with a series of questions, no doubt with a degree of sarcasm. Hypocrisy is the charge. Paul knows from his own experience that the self-righteous legalists were often the most guilty in their secret transgressions of the Law. Often the most critical are the biggest hypocrites. Paul quotes Isaiah 52:5 to show how all of this brings dishonor to God.

17 But, if you are a Jew in name and rely upon the Law, boasting in God, 18 knowing His will, approving of excellence, educated in the Law, 19 convinced you are ‘a guide to those blind’ [Isaiah 42:7], ‘a light to those in darkness’ [Isaiah 49:6], 20 an educator of the foolish, a teacher of babes, possessing the framework of ‘The Knowledge’ and ‘The Truth’ within the Law -- 21 hence the [Jew] teaching others, do you not teach yourself? The [Jew] preaching, “Do not steal,” [Exodus 20:15] do you steal? 22 The [Jew] saying, “Do not commit adultery,” [Deuteronomy 5:18] do you commit adultery? The [Jew] abhorring idols, do you rob temples? [Jeremiah 7:11] 23 You [Jew], are you boasting about the Law but by transgressing the Law are you dishonoring The God? 24 Just as it has been written, “For the Name of The God is being blasphemed among the non-Jews because of you [Israelites].” [Isaiah 52:5]

Paul becomes sarcastic, or righteously indignant, with that “Jew in name” who relies on the Law of Moses and continues to make his boast in God from this standpoint. Paul launches into one of his lists, possibly with a degree of bitterness in his voice.

This Jew had his own self-righteous judgments in “approving what is excellent.” Or, “a sense of what is vital in religion.” [MOF] Here self-righteousness flourishes as it does among other religions that pride themselves in their unique opinions. He also thinks himself “a guide to those blind.” This is a possible allusion to Isaiah 42:7. He also claims to be a light to those in darkness.” A possible allusion to Isaiah 49:6.

This “Jew in name” preaches according to the Ten Commandments, “Do not steal,” and yet does steal. From the Ten Commandments at Exodus 20:15 indicating Paul’s use of the word “law” here includes these commandments and not just the ceremonial law. [Compare also notes on Romans 7:1.] This “Jew in name” preaches, “Do not commit adultery,” but violates this law also.

As much as the Jew wishes to adhere to the Law of Moses “by transgressing the Law are you dishonoring The God.” Any transgression of the Law dishonors God. And Paul confirms this by quoting from Isaiah 52:5. Paul here quotes the Jewish Greek Septuagint at Isaiah 52:5. The differences between the Greek and Hebrew Texts is an interesting study. One of the ways in which God’s Name is defamed is by transgression of Law. [Compare also Ezekiel 36:23 in the Hebrew Text.]

By this course of action “the Name of God is blasphemed” by the non-Jews. Isaiah 52:4 shows that this “name” is YEHOWAH [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #3068]. Compare also Exodus 6:4 and Psalm 83:18. A study on the word “name” will show much more is involved than just the actual name of God. Clearly, to be honest and fair, there are two kinds of Jews. And, one kind has resulted in blaspheming of God throughout the generations, just as so-called “Christians” have done throughout the past two millennia.

Romans 2:25-29 -- The Inner Jew

Finally, Paul deals with circumcision and that feeling of superiority of being a unique and chosen people related to the Hebrew Abraham. Merely belonging to a “chosen (covenant) people” is not enough. What is important is obeying the Law. What appears to be a Jew on the outside may not be one at all. The real Jew is the spiritual one who has undergone circumcision of the heart. The praise of God ought to concern us, not human praise.

25 For, indeed, the Law benefits only if you observe it. However, if you are a transgressor of the Law your “circumcision” has become “uncircumcision.” 26 Therefore, if the uncircumcised observe the judicial decrees of the Law his “uncircumcision” will not be reckoned; for his uncircumcision will be accounted in the log as circumcision. 27 And so those who are physically uncircumcised but are fulfilling the Law will judge you as a transgressor who are circumcised and have the Writings. 28 For the true Jew is not manifest in the fleshly circumcision; 29 but, in the secret Jew (with a) spiritual “circumcision” of the heart and not in writing. His praise is not from humans but from The God.

If a Jew, observant of the Law of Moses, is actually hypocritical then his “circumcision” has become “uncircumcision.” [Compare Acts 7:51.] On the other hand, if a non-Jew - not bound to the Law of Moses - does by nature the things of the Law, such a person is truly circumcised. Paul undermines the pride of the Jew and the circumcision that separated them from the non-Jews in general. True circumcision is only of value if one observes the Law. If a Jew is a habitual transgressor of the Law then his circumcision is really useless. There is an important lesson here for Christians who may be in a sect or organization and so feel that this is enough. They feel they could transgress and still remain in favor with God. This example of the Jews shows this cannot be the case and such are misguided.

In contrast, the ‘uncircumcised [non-Jewish] observe the judicial decrees will judge [the Jew who have the Writings] as a transgressor [of the Law of Moses].’ Paul is shocking the Jew by stating that a non-Jew who is uncircumcised but keeps the Law by a natural course -- see Romans 2:15, 16 -- will be reckoned or judged as if circumcised. Paul argues that the non-Jew who naturally keeps such laws against theft, adultery or idolatry will judge the Jew who is the transgressor of the revealed Law of Moses. This echoes something of the Nazarene who teaches the non-Jews will be raised in the judgment and condemn a generation of Jews. (See notes on Matthew 12:41, 42.)

The “true Jew” -- that is, “the secret Jew” -- is the one who has experienced a spiritual circumcision of the heart without any written code. The Greek is literally “manifest Jew.” [Or, KJV: outwardly; RHM: in appearance.] Compare the notes on Romans 9:6. (Galatians 3:29; 6:16) “The secret Jew” is taken from the Greek CRYPTO [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #2927]. [Or, IB: private Jew; TCN: real Jew; PME: true Jew.] Note a similar use of CRYPTOS regarding the godly woman at 1 Peter 3:4.

There is a “spiritual circumcision of the heart” that does not rely on some written code with hundreds of commandments. It is a “true circumcision achieved in the heart.” [KNX] Such a circumcision involves a faith operating out love. [Galatians 5:6] It is the result of a “new creation.” [Philippians 3:3] It involves the very thing Jesus taught - worshipping god in spirit and truth. [John 4:22-24; Colossians 2:11] [Compare Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16.]

We rejoice in learning “how God will judge the world”! Are we not glad we have come to understand His mercy, justice, and wisdom?

Review Questions on Chapter Two

  1. Define “hypocrisy.”
  2. God’s judgments are always in harmony with what?
  3. What questions does Paul ask this unknown Jew?
  4. How is God’s judgment described?
  5. What two groups are highlighted?
  6. What is the hope of those who endure in goodness?
  7. Regarding law and judgment what two groups does Paul define?
  8. How are Jews and non-Jew to be judged?
  9. How do the non-Jews demonstrate a principle regarding Jeremiah 31:33?
  10. 4.What does Paul include in his Gospel?
  11. How did the Jews view themselves?
  12. How was their hypocrisy revealed?
  13. What Scriptures does Paul quote or allude to?
  14. How may one dishonor the Name of God?
  15. How does Paul compare the circumcised transgressor with the uncircumcised law-keeper?
  16. What is the real “circumcision”?
  17. Whose praise should we really seek?

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