To the Romans 2:1-29

2  Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are,+ if you judge; for when you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things.+  Now we know that God’s judgment is in harmony with truth, against those who practice such things.  But do you suppose, O man, that while you judge those who practice such things and yet you do them, you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you despise the riches of his kindness+ and forbearance+ and patience,+ because you do not know that God in his kindness is trying to lead you to repentance?+  But according to your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God’s righteous judgment.+  And he will pay back to each one according to his works:+  everlasting life to those who are seeking glory and honor and incorruptibleness+ by endurance in work that is good;  however, for those who are contentious and who disobey the truth but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and anger.+  There will be tribulation and distress on every person who works what is harmful, on the Jew first and also on the Greek; 10  but glory and honor and peace for everyone who works what is good, for the Jew first+ and also for the Greek.+ 11  For there is no partiality with God.+ 12  For all those who sinned without law will also perish without law;+ but all those who sinned under law will be judged by law.+ 13  For the hearers of law are not the ones righteous before God, but the doers of law will be declared righteous.+ 14  For when people of the nations, who do not have law,+ do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. 15  They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them, and by* their own thoughts they are being accused or even excused. 16  This will take place in the day when God through Christ Jesus judges the secret things of mankind,+ according to the good news I declare. 17  If, now, you are a Jew in name+ and rely on law and take pride in God, 18  and you know his will and approve of things that are excellent* because you are instructed out of the Law,+ 19  and you are convinced that you are a guide of the blind, a light for those in darkness, 20  a corrector of the unreasonable ones, a teacher of young children, and having the framework of the knowledge and of the truth in the Law— 21  do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself?+ You, the one preaching, “Do not steal,”+ do you steal? 22  You, the one saying, “Do not commit adultery,”+ do you commit adultery? You, the one abhorring idols, do you rob temples? 23  You who take pride in law, do you dishonor God by your transgressing of the Law? 24  For “the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations because of you,” just as it is written.+ 25  Circumcision+ is, in fact, of benefit only if you practice law;+ but if you are a transgressor of law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26  If, therefore, an uncircumcised person+ keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, his uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision, will it not?+ 27  And the physically uncircumcised person will, by carrying out the Law, judge you who are a transgressor of law despite having its written code and circumcision. 28  For he is not a Jew who is one on the outside,+ nor is circumcision something on the outside, on the flesh.+ 29  But he is a Jew who is one on the inside,+ and his circumcision is that of the heart+ by spirit and not by a written code.+ That person’s praise comes from God, not from people.+

Footnotes

Lit., “between.”
Or “and discern the things that are important.” Or possibly, “and test the things that differ.”

Study Notes

Repent: The Greek word used here could literally be rendered “to change one’s mind,” signifying a change in thinking, attitude, or purpose. In this context, “repent” refers to a person’s relationship with God.​—See study notes on Mt 3:8, 11 and Glossary, “Repentance.”

fruit that befits repentance: Refers to evidence and actions that would indicate a change of mind or attitude on the part of those listening to John.​—Lu 3:8; Ac 26:20; see study notes on Mt 3:2, 11 and Glossary, “Repentance.”

Repent . . . and turn around: The Greek word me·ta·no·eʹo, “to repent,” literally means “to change one’s mind,” signifying a change in thinking, attitude, or purpose. In this context, repentance involved a person’s wanting to repair or restore his relationship with God. A sinner who genuinely repents deeply regrets his wrong course and is determined not to repeat his sin. (2Co 7:10, 11; see study notes on Mt 3:2, 8.) Moreover, true repentance moves a sinner to “turn around,” abandoning his wrong course and pursuing a course that is pleasing to God. Both in Hebrew and in Greek, the verbs for “to turn around” (Hebrew, shuv; Greek, streʹpho; e·pi·streʹpho) mean “to return; to turn back (around)” in a literal sense. (Ge 18:10; 50:14; Ru 1:6; Ac 15:36) When used in a positive spiritual sense, however, this may denote turning to God from a wrong way.​—1Ki 8:33; Eze 33:11; see study notes on Ac 15:3; 26:20.

repent: The Greek word used here could literally be rendered “to change one’s mind,” signifying a change in thinking, attitude, or purpose. In this context, the admonition to “repent” is connected with the expression and turn to God and is therefore referring to a person’s relationship with God. For a person to be genuinely repentant, he must do works that befit repentance. In other words, his actions would give evidence that a real change of mind or attitude had taken place.​—See study notes on Mt 3:2, 8; Lu 3:8 and Glossary, “Repentance.”

forbearance: Or “tolerance.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Greek noun a·no·kheʹ appears only here and at Ro 3:25. It literally means “a holding back” and could also be rendered “restraint.” A related Greek verb is used in a number of verses, where it is rendered “put up with” or “patiently endure” in connection with difficult circumstances. (Mt 17:17; 1Co 4:12; Eph 4:2) The verb is also used in the Greek Septuagint in reference to Jehovah’s showing restraint. (Isa 42:14; 64:12; LXX) Throughout human history, God has shown extraordinary kindness, tolerance, and patience by putting up with the blaspheming of his name, the cruel torture and execution of his Son, and the mistreatment of his loyal worshippers. God shows these qualities because he “is trying to lead [people] to repentance.” The apostle Peter also pointed this out.​—2Pe 3:9.

repentance: Lit., “change of mind.” In Biblical usage, the term refers to a change of mind accompanied by heartfelt regret over a former way of life, wrong actions, or what one has failed to do. In this context, “repentance” refers to a person’s desire to build or restore a good relationship with God. Genuine repentance produces fruitage, a changed course of action.​—See study notes on Mt 3:2, 8; Ac 3:19; 26:20 and Glossary.

every person: Or “the soul of every human.”​—See Glossary, “Soul.”

the Greek: In the first century C.E., the Greek word Helʹlen (meaning “Greek”) did not necessarily refer only to natives of Greece or people of Greek origin. When Paul here talks about everyone having faith and mentions “the Greek” together with “the Jew,” he is apparently using the term “Greek” in a broader sense to represent all non-Jewish peoples. (Ro 2:9, 10; 3:9; 10:12; 1Co 10:32; 12:13) This was doubtless due to the prominence and preeminence of the Greek language and culture throughout the Roman Empire.

the Greek: Here referring to Gentiles, or non-Jews, in general.​—See study note on Ro 1:16.

is not partial: The Greek phrase for “is not partial” could literally be rendered “is not one who takes (receives; accepts) faces.” God, who is impartial, does not judge by outward appearance, favoring people because of their race, nationality, social standing, or any external factors. Imitating God’s impartiality means, not making surface judgments, but paying attention to the character and qualities of others, particularly qualities that reflect those of our impartial Creator.

no partiality with God: The Greek expression for “partiality” (pro·so·po·lem·psiʹa) could literally be rendered “acceptance of faces.” (A related word is discussed in the study note on Ac 10:34.) The expression is modeled on the Hebrew phrase na·saʼʹ pa·nimʹ, which literally means “to lift up the face,” and at Le 19:15 is rendered “show partiality.” An Oriental way of greeting a superior was to bow humbly with one’s face turned toward the ground. As a sign of acknowledgment and recognition, the superior lifted up, or raised, the face of the one who had bowed. The expression came to be used disparagingly to refer to partiality when corrupt individuals abused this custom to show preferential treatment. Paul’s point is that God has no favorites, that he does not lift up the faces of some but not others. He accepts Jews and Greeks alike. This is a recurring theme in Paul’s letters.​—Eph 6:9.

the Law . . . the Prophets: “The Law” refers to the Bible books of Genesis through Deuteronomy. “The Prophets” refers to the prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, when these terms are mentioned together, the expression could be understood to include the entire Hebrew Scriptures.​—Mt 7:12; 22:40; Lu 16:16.

in your Law: Here referring to the entire Hebrew Scriptures, not just to the Law of Moses. The quote that follows is taken from Ps 82:6. “Law” is used in the same sense at Joh 12:34; 15:25.

the law of the spirit . . . the law of sin and of death: In this context, “law” does not refer to a particular law, or rule, such as those found in the Mosaic Law. Rather, the term is here used in the broader sense of a principle that guides a person’s actions​—a powerful influence that like a law inclines people to act in a certain way. (See study note on Ro 2:12.) Paul contrasts the law, or strong influence, of God’s spirit that leads to life with the law, or strong influence, of the fallen flesh that leads to sin and death. Of course, all descendants of Adam feel within themselves the strong influence of “sin’s law” inclining them toward what is wrong. (Ro 7:23) But they can choose to follow the law of God’s spirit, not fleshly desires, to influence their actions in a positive direction.​—Ro 7:21-25.

under law . . . by law: In Paul’s letter to the Romans, these are the first two occurrences of the Greek word for “law” (noʹmos). The expression without law in this verse renders the Greek word a·noʹmos. In this context, the term “law” refers to the Mosaic Law, as is true of most occurrences in the book of Romans. As used throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term “law” can refer to (1) a single or particular law, (2) God’s Law given through Moses, (3) all of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures or parts thereof, or (4) law as a guiding principle.​—See study notes on Mt 5:17; Joh 10:34; Ro 8:2.

conscience: The Greek word sy·neiʹde·sis is drawn from the words syn (with) and eiʹde·sis (knowledge). Thus, the Greek term literally means “coknowledge” or “knowledge with oneself.” Here Paul explains that even a human who knows nothing about God’s laws has a conscience, that is, a capacity for looking at himself and rendering judgment about his own behavior. However, only a conscience that is trained by God’s Word and that is sensitive to God’s will can correctly judge matters. The Scriptures show that not all consciences operate properly. A person can have a conscience that is weak (1Co 8:12), one that is seared (1Ti 4:2), or one that is defiled (Tit 1:15). Regarding the operation of his conscience, Paul says: “My conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit.” (Ro 9:1) Paul’s goal was to “maintain a clear conscience before God and men.”​—Ac 24:16.

instructed: The Greek verb ka·te·kheʹo literally means “to sound down,” and it may include the idea of oral instruction. When the truths of God’s Word are repeatedly sounded down into the mind and heart of a learner, he becomes qualified to teach others.​—Compare Ga 6:6, where the same Greek word is used twice.

instructed: Or “orally instructed.” The Greek verb ka·te·kheʹo literally means “to sound down” and may include the idea of oral instruction.​—See study note on Ac 18:25.

young children: In this context, that expression may refer to people who need to grow in knowledge, understanding, and maturity.

framework: The Greek term morʹpho·sis, here rendered “framework,” carries the thought of a form, a sketch, or an outline. In this context, it apparently refers to the basic, or essential, features of the knowledge and the truth contained in the Mosaic Law. The Law provided just a framework because it was not the final word on God, his will, and his purpose. Much more was provided later, through Jesus. (Joh 1:17) Still, faithful Jews were able to know Jehovah and his righteous ways by studying the principles contained in the Law. For many centuries, this gave them an advantage over all other people. (De 4:8; Ps 147:19, 20) Even though the Mosaic Law was only a “framework,” it was necessary in order to understand Jehovah and his purposes fully.

sexual immorality: The Greek word por·neiʹa is a general term for all sexual intercourse that is unlawful according to the Bible. It includes adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexuality, and bestiality.​—See Glossary.

commits adultery against her: Jesus here rejects the prevailing Rabbinic teaching that allowed men to divorce their wives “on every sort of grounds.” (Mt 19:3, 9) The concept of committing adultery against his wife was alien to most Jews. Their rabbis taught that a husband could never commit adultery against his wife​—only a woman could be unfaithful. By putting the husband under the same moral obligation as the wife, Jesus dignifies women and elevates their status.

commit adultery: That is, commit marital sexual unfaithfulness. In the Bible, adultery refers to voluntary acts of “sexual immorality” between a married person and someone who is not his or her mate.​—Compare study note on Mt 5:32, where the term “sexual immorality,” rendered from the Greek word por·neiʹa, is discussed, and study note on Mr 10:11.

circumcision . . . of the heart: “Circumcision” is used figuratively in both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See Glossary, “Circumcision.”) “Circumcision . . . of the heart” was a divine requirement even for the Israelites who were already circumcised in the flesh. According to a literal translation of De 10:16 and 30:6 (see ftns.), Moses told Israel: “You must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts,” and “Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.” In his day, Jeremiah reminded the wayward nation that they should do the same. (Jer 4:4) To “circumcise [the] heart” means to “cleanse” it by getting rid of anything in one’s thinking, affections, or motives that is displeasing and unclean in Jehovah’s eyes and that makes the heart unresponsive. Similarly, ears that are not sensitive or responsive to Jehovah’s guidance are spoken of as being “uncircumcised.”​—Jer 6:10, ftn; see study note on Ac 7:51.

Circumcision: The Mosaic Law required that a male worshipper of Jehovah be circumcised. (Le 12:2, 3; see Glossary.) Even foreigners had to get circumcised before they were allowed to eat the Passover meal. (Ex 12:43-49) In the year 49 C.E., however, just seven years before Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, the governing body in Jerusalem concluded that non-Jews who accepted the good news did not need to get circumcised and submit to the regulations of the Jewish Law. (Ac 15:1, 2, 28, 29) When Paul wrote to the Romans, he supported that spirit-inspired decision, and under the guidance of holy spirit, he clarified the matter further here and in subsequent verses. Even under the Law covenant, circumcision had to be accompanied by obedience to the Law.​—Le 18:5; De 30:16; Jer 9:25; see study note on Ro 2:29.

a Jew . . . circumcision: Here Paul uses these terms figuratively to show that nationality or fleshly descent is of no consequence in the Christian congregation.​—See Glossary, “Jew”; “Circumcision.”

uncircumcised in hearts and ears: This figurative expression for being stubborn and unresponsive has its background in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Le 26:41, ftn.; Jer 9:25, 26; Eze 44:7, 9) At Jer 6:10 (ftn.), the literal phrase “their ear is uncircumcised” is rendered “their ears are closed.” So hearts and ears that are not sensitive to or responsive to God’s direction are spoken of as being uncircumcised.

a Jew: The Greek term I·ou·daiʹos corresponds to the Hebrew term Yehu·dhiʹ, meaning “Of [Belonging to] Judah,” which is rendered “Jew(s); Jewish” in the Hebrew Scriptures. Particularly after the Jewish exile, “Jew” became synonymous with a member of the nation of Israel. (See Glossary, “Jew.”) At Ge 29:35, the name Judah is connected with the Hebrew verb rendered “praise,” so the name is understood to mean “Praised; Object of Praise.” It has been suggested that Paul may be using a play on words, based on the meaning of the Hebrew term for “Jew; Judah.” He may have done so to show that a real “Jew” is one who receives praise from God by having a circumcised heart and serving Him with clean and pure motives. (See study note on circumcision . . . of the heart in this verse.) Paul says that God’s approval, the greatest praise a human can receive, is extended impartially; it is not based on fleshly descent. Such a person among the first-century Christians was a spiritual Jew, a member of “the Israel of God.”​—Ga 6:16.

circumcision . . . of the heart: “Circumcision” is used figuratively in both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See Glossary, “Circumcision.”) “Circumcision . . . of the heart” was a divine requirement even for the Israelites who were already circumcised in the flesh. According to a literal translation of De 10:16 and 30:6 (see ftns.), Moses told Israel: “You must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts,” and “Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.” In his day, Jeremiah reminded the wayward nation that they should do the same. (Jer 4:4) To “circumcise [the] heart” means to “cleanse” it by getting rid of anything in one’s thinking, affections, or motives that is displeasing and unclean in Jehovah’s eyes and that makes the heart unresponsive. Similarly, ears that are not sensitive or responsive to Jehovah’s guidance are spoken of as being “uncircumcised.”​—Jer 6:10, ftn; see study note on Ac 7:51.

Media

Synagogue in the City of Ostia
Synagogue in the City of Ostia

Shown here is a photograph of the remains of a synagogue in Ostia, the port city of Rome. Though the building underwent renovation and alteration, the original structure is thought to have been built as a synagogue in the latter half of the first century C.E. The presence of the synagogue indicates that Jews lived in the vicinity of Rome for a long time. Although the Jews were expelled from the city of Rome by Emperor Claudius about the year 49 or 50 C.E., it is possible that Jewish communities remained in the area. (Ac 18:1, 2) After the death of Claudius in 54 C.E., many Jews returned to the city of Rome. When Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome, about the year 56 C.E., the congregation was composed of Jews as well as Gentiles. This explains why Paul addressed matters related to both groups, helping them to see how they could live together in unity.—Ro 1:15, 16.

1. Rome

2. Ostia