Commentary on Romans 2:1-11

Notes in red (if any) are my additions. The commentary is prefaced by a short summary.


A Summary of Romans 2:1-11~After having shown that the wrath of God is upon the Gentiles for their sins, St. Paul now turns to the state of the Jews, which he finds to be even worse. If the pagans have not followed their lights, and have thus become responsible for their sins, the Jews who, with greater lights, commit the same sins, are not only inexcusable, but are really in a more serious condition than their offending neighbors whom they condemn. Father Callan here touches upon an important point found in the Old Testament; with greater gifts come greater responsibilities and a more stringent judgment. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities (Amos 3:2 RSVCE). In the New Testament we find this idea concerning Christians in relation to the gifts received by them in contrast to what was given in the Old Law: Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the message declared by angels  (i.e., the Mosaic Law) was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Heb 2:1-3 RSVCE).

Rom 2:1. Wherefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself. For thou dost the same things which thou judgest.

Wherefore (διο = dio) connects this with the foregoing chapter as an inference from what is stated there.

O man. This fictitious person represented not the philosophers, nor the Greco-Roman leaders and magistrates, but men in general, and the Jews in particular. In order to gain the good will and attention of the latter, St. Paul refrains from speaking to them directly until verse 17 (St. Thomas, Julicher, Lagrange, etc.). Cornely, Kuhl and Zahn, however, think that as far as verse 17, Paul is addressing the whole world, both Jew and Gentile.

The same things, i.e., the same misdeeds. This does not mean that all the Jews were guilty of exactly the same excesses as the pagans, but only that they committed many grave faults.

Rom 2:2. For we know that the judgment of God is, according to truth, against them that do such things.

We know, i.e., we as men, guided by the light of reason, know, etc.; or, according to the Vulgate reading, we as Jews, better instructed regarding the justice of God, know that the divine judgment will be in accordance with the truth and reality of things. Man’s judgment is often extremely false, owing to ignorance or perversity; but God’s judgment is always just, because it is in accordance with facts.

Rom 2:3. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them who do such things, and dost the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

There were some among the Jews who came so to pride themselves on being sons of Abraham that they believed they would all finally be saved and have part in the promises made to Israel, no matter what their faults (cf. Matt 3:7-9). St. Paul here reminds them that since they judge others who commit grave faults they know that those faults are culpable, and that, consequently, they themselves will also be judged for committing the same sins. It needs hardly to be pointed out that hypocrisy knows no boundaries, cultural, religious, moral, or intellectual.

Rom 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and patience, and longsuffering? Knowest thou not, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?

In this verse the Apostle admonishes the Jews not to mistake God’s patience and goodness in delaying punishment for their sins; God does not have to endure them. In showering upon them so many blessings He is only patiently waiting so that they may do penance and be saved (Wis 11:24).

In the Vulgate it is better to replace an by aut.

Rom 2:5. But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up to thyself wrath, against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God.

By reason of their stiff neck and “impenitent heart” (Deut 31:27Deut 9:27) the sinful Jews, who despised (verse 4) the riches of God’s graces, were laying up for themselves punishments which will be made manifest on the day of wrath, the day of the General Judgment (Ezek 22:24; Zeph 2:2, 3; Rev 6:17), when God’s just judgment will be revealed and will award each one according to his deeds (verse 6; Ps 62:13; Matt 16:27).

Rom 2:6. Who will render to every man according to his works.

Paul is here pointing out to the Jews the necessity of making their lives conform to their doctrine. On the last day they will be judged according to their life and works. Be it observed, the Apostle does not say that God on the day of judgment will render to everyone according to his faith, but according to his works. From this it is rightly concluded, against the Lutheran doctrine, that faith alone does not justify. St. Paul was by no means disposed to grant in favor of the Christians an exception which he refused to Jews (Gal 6:7-8 ff.; 1 Cor 3:13-15; 1 Cor 9:17; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Cor 9:6-7; Eph 6:8; Col 3:25). Modern Protestantism does not dare to make use of certain of Luther’s words concerning works. The Lutherans now only pretend that one is saved secundum testimonium operum, non propter opera, i.e., non propter meritum operum (Weiss, cited by Lagrange).

Rom 2:7. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life:
Rom 2:8. But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation.

God will give eternal life to those who persevere in good works to the end (Matt 10:22; Matt 24:13).

Glory and honour, etc. These are the hope and aspiration of all the just. But for those who are rebellious, who resist the truth and refuse obedience to God’s law, like those Jews who opposed Moses and the Prophets and the Gospel of Christ, there is reserved severe punishment and eternal chastisement.

From verse 7 it is clear that it is right and commendable to do good for the sake of eternal reward (against Quietism). Cf. Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. de Just., cap. 11, 31. Some background on Quietism can be found here.

Rom 2:9. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek: Rom 2:10. But glory, and honour, and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

These verses repeat under other form what was already said in the two preceding verses. Here, however, the application is distinctly made to the Jews and Gentiles, although the text continues in the singular. The Jew is placed first for punishment, because his evil deeds, committed against greater light, were more culpable; and he is also put first for rewards, since his good actions were more perfect by reason of a more perfect revelation and knowledge of God.

Tribulation and anguish are expressive of spiritual torture.

Rom 2:11. For there is no respect of persons with God.

God rewards and punishes according to one’s deserts, whether one be a Jew or a Gentile (Deut 10:17; 2 Chron 19:7; Job 34:19; Wis 6:8; Sir 35:15; Acts 10:34; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; 1 Pet 1:17). If the Jew is first in reward or punishment, it is only because his merits or demerits are greater than those of the Gentile.


April 3~Rom 2:12-16.
April 10~Rom 2:17-24.
April 17~Rom 2:25-29.
April 24~Rom 3:1-8.

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