Bible Passage: Romans 2:1-29

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

 2 Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.

 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?

 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

 6 God 'will repay each person according to what they have done.' a

 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.

 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;

 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

 11 For God does not show favouritism.

 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.

 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

 17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God;

 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law;

 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark,

 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth -

 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself ? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?

 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law?

 24 As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.' b

 25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.

 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?

 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the c written code and circumcision, are a law-breaker.

 28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.

 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Following creation and the fall, God chooses Abraham as the start of a new family, through whom the effects of the fall would begin to be reversed (Gen 12:1-3). Abraham’s descendants, rescued from slavery in Egypt by God, were given the privilege of being his chosen people. They were given the sign of circumcision (gen 17:10), the law to obey (Ex 19:5), and the task of representing God to the world (Exodus 19:6). However, God’s people failed to live for God, causing his name to be profaned by the surrounding nations (Isa 52:5, Ezekiel 36:22). In Jesus’ ministry, the promise to the gentiles is fulfilled – they are welcome to come to him on equal footing (e.g. the feeding of the 4000 as well the 5000 in Matthew 14-15). The early church emphasised this teaching (Acts 15:1-41). No wonder, then, that the heavenly gathering will include people from every tribe, nation and tongue (Revelation 7:9).


Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Romans was probably written in Corinth in about AD 57, while Paul was in Corinth (see Acts 20:2-3). Two significant things are going on. First, Paul is looking for a church that will support him on his missionary journey to Spain (see 15:25). Secondly, he knew that the church in Rome was facing tension between Jew and Gentile – it seems that Claudius has expelled Jews from Rome from AD 49 to his death in AD 54, so it’s possible they have recently returned. His two intentions in writing the letter are to prepare the church to be mission partners, and teach them to live in harmony with one another. The way that he will do that is to teach and apply the gospel, which will build humility, and so prayerfully produce unity and mission-mindedness.


Structure of the passage

The passage breaks down into two halves, one of which undermines our confidence in our morality, and the other of which undermines our confidence in our religiosity, as Paul emphasises the universal need for a saving gospel.

No comfort in comparisons (1-11)

For the person who is feeling self-satisfied on reading the sinful excesses of 1:18-32, Paul has news. Whoever condemns someone else, ends up displaying a judgementalism which is in itself condemning (1-3). There’s no point assuming that God is approving of the things we do just because he doesn’t seem to be judging us now – in fact, he’s merely delaying judgement because of his patience (4-5). In fact, all of us face trouble and distress on the last day, because God has no favourites (6-11).

No refuge in being religious (12-29)

The religious Jewish person might feel particularly safe after reading chapter 1 – after all, they have the sign of circumcision, the law to guide them, and the remit to be a light to the nations. Sadly, there is no safety from God’s judgement in those things. Having the law makes no difference because those who have the law will be judged according to the law (12-16). In fact, the law offers no defence, because it simply highlights our hypocrisy and displays it to the pagan world (17-24). What mattered most was always a circumcision of the heart (Deut 30:6), and that involves inward not outward change (25-29).


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What is verse 7 talking about? Can someone be saved by doing everything right?

This is a very vexed issue, and people come down on both sides of the argument. Some commentators (e.g. Christopher Ash) think it must be talking about a Christian, saved and transformed through faith. Others (e.g. Douglas Moo) think it’s talking about the hypothetical possibility of being saved through total obedience, although none of us will ever achieve this. On balance, I’m with the second category. Verses like 3:9 seem to point us in that direction.


Summary of author’s main point

God shows no favouritism towards the morally upright or religious person, who must repent in the light of God’s patience and certain judgement.

Aim/purpose for original audience

To be confronted with the dangers of self-satisfaction and judgementalism, and turn to repentance in the light of God’s patience and certain judgement.

Aim/purpose for us today

To be confronted with the dangers of self-satisfaction and judgementalism, and turn to repentance in the light of God’s patience and certain judgement.


Key area of application

Self-righteousness, criticism, and false assurance from religious observance all demonstrate that we haven’t understood the rescue gospel of 1:16-17. Those qualities will divide churches and detract from evangelism. Only a repentant, humble, ‘circumcised’ heart will unite Christians and be met with God’s praise.