Exposition of Romans 3:13-19, Plan on lacking words before God

Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.

If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?

(ESV) Romans 3:13-19

Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.

The venom of asps is under their lips.

14 Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13-14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15-17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”[1]

C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is striking.[2] Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someones death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a terrorist cell!

For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people that they need something which they do not need. Consider how children defend their conduct to parents and what adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!

While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.”[3] That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.

NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?

Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16-17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7-8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15-17 falls right into place.

Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:

The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13-17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.[4]

Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word law (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of “law” probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase under the law.

When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. Shutting the mouth connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”[5]

The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.”[6] Oh my!

So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!

The longest day

How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!

1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?

2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before Gods throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 202.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 194.

[3] BDAG-3, pikria, bitterness, anger, harshness, q.v.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 167.

[5] Moo, Romans, 205.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 168.

Exposition of Romans 3:5-8, Twisted arguments cannot defend our sin

The popularity of gymnastics in the Olympic Games is legendary. Many of us follow those events closely, and they always get prime-time positioning on television.

Much less attractive are the verbal gymnastics of special-interest groups who portray issues as if their side had a corner on the truth and the opposition was working for the devil. Those gymnastics often come to center stage when religious views are discussed.

Is it fair or sensible in such an argument to pit the special interests of a group against the interests of God?

(ESV) Romans 3:5-8

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come? as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Paul had to deal with some serious arguments in explaining the gospel — such as God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel — but he also had to contest some fundamentally silly arguments raised by special-interest groups. Grant Osborne describes the basic counterargument from Paul’s Jewish opponents: “If sin does highlight the righteousness of God (v. 5) and bring him glory (v. 7), then we should try to sin even more so as to bring even more good out of it (v. 8).”[1]

This is similar to a systemic or even ecological argument that goes like this: sin is part of the whole ecological system of God and man, and sin even serves a constructive purpose in the system by making God look good by comparison. So, it would be unrighteous of God to inflict wrath on us as sinners since we are actually doing him good.

Wow! Using this type of reasoning, we could argue that cancer is a good thing because it keeps so many oncologists employed.

The real problem is not that such arguments are silly and may rightly be mocked. The real problem is that such ideas constitute blasphemy by attacking God’s character! Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

Now you may be thinking it unlikely that anyone would make such an argument. If so, you underestimate the ingenuity of the ancient rabbis. Paul has just quoted Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4b. That Psalm contains David’s remorse for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Samuel 11). C.E.B. Cranfield describes how the rabbis explained David’s sin. They argued that the young king looked back to Genesis 8:21 where God said, “. . . the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” David reasoned — as the ancient rabbis imagined — that if he did not take the beautiful Bathsheba, then God’s statement would be falsified! So, David took her and murdered her husband only to protect God![2]

Since Paul is dealing with the Jews, his most theologically powerful opponents — both inside the church and outside of it — his reference in 3:5 to “our unrighteousness” probably refers to the failure of the Jews to live up to their covenant obligations. I will apply these ideas to contemporary Christians at the end of the lesson.

The phrase “righteousness of God” in 3:5 also needs clarification, because it does not mean the same thing as it did in 1:17. Douglas Moo says, “God’s righteousness here designates God’s faithfulness to his own person and word, particularly, as v. 4b reveals, as this is revealed in his judgment of sin.”[3]

Paul points out that if God does not inflict his wrath on the unrighteous (3:5), then he is in no position to judge the world (3:6). If God allowed the Jews to rebel against him without experiencing his wrath — presumably on the basis of possessing the law and circumcision — this would be such a breach of justice as to disqualify God from judging the Gentiles. But all Jews held that God must judge the Gentiles in keeping with Old Testament revelation (e.g. Gen. 18:25). Paul relies on that universally-held doctrine in 3:6.

Verses 3:7-8 make clear that the Jewish objectors were angry about the idea that God would judge them for their sins and also at Paul for teaching a doctrine that they thought encouraged the practice of sin. In their view, how could those sinners who put their faith in Jesus Christ succeed when law-keeping Jews had failed? Paul says, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8).

To be sure, Paul will return to give a much deeper answer to those who challenged God’s faithfulness to Israel in Romans 9-11. For now he continues on track to show that all Jews and Gentiles are sinners before Gods justice.

Are Christians exempt?

Moo speaks of our situation in plain terms: “All too often we Christians have presumed that God’s grace to us exempts us from any concern about our sin. . . .We want to stand on the promises — and this is entirely appropriate. But we must not forget that God promises (in the NT as well as the OT) to rebuke and chastise his people for sin as well as to bless them out of the abundance of his grace.”[4] Ouch! It seems that Christians also take part in religious gymnastics.

Have you ever found yourself presuming that (1) God's grace to us exempts us from concern about our sin, or (2) God's grace excuses our sin so it is not that bad? How does either of those concepts show up in your life?

Peter agrees with Pauls conclusions when he says:

For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners?
(1 Pet. 4:17-18, NET)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 84.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 183, footnote 5.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 190.

[4] Moo, Romans, 196-197.


Exposition of Romans 3:1-4: God is reliable; humanity is not

The Jews misunderstood the Law of Moses as their assurance of salvation when in fact it was given to bring their flaws to the surface of their awareness. But instead of running to God for mercy, they reduced the law to a one-sided promise and wrapped themselves in a cloak of self-righteous pride.

By tearing away this faade, Paul brings out countercharges from his opponents that God is being both unfaithful and inconsistent. Are the Jews of Paul’s day right to object? God’s faithfulness and constancy means just as much to us as it did to them.

(ESV) Romans 3:1-4

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.

The first eight verses of Romans 3 are considered some of the most challenging in the entire letter. Paul continues his imagined argument with a Jewish or Jewish-Christian opponent, a style known as diatribe.

Osborne does a great job summarizing the biblical text that includes this lesson’s verses as well as the verses for the next lesson:

The basic issue is this: if there is no advantage in being Jewish, and if God can reject one of his covenant people, then how can it be said that God is faithful to his covenant promises? Paul’s lengthier response in Romans 9-11 is anticipated here: God’s response in judgment also constitutes being faithful to his promises. The covenant contained blessings and curses (= salvation and judgment here), and both are proper depending on the actions of the covenant people.[1]

Since the Jew has no special advantage over the Gentile during the judgment of God — thus has Paul argued in Romans 2 — why then would anyone think it preferable to be a Jew (3:1)? In light of all that is said in the Old Testament about the privilege of being God’s people, Cranfield points out a serious issue: “The question raised is nothing less than the question of the credibility of God.”[2]

The NET Bible does a great job translating Rom. 3:2 by saying, “Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” It is no accident that Paul begins with God’s revelation in words because that is the gateway to so much more! Cranfield explains that the phrase “the oracles of God” is virtually identical to “the Word of God.”[3] But possession of that treasure makes the holders all the more responsible to heed the words!

The other advantages held by the Jews are not taken up in this context, but Rom. 9:4-5 names many more: “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. . . . the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever!” (Rom. 9:4-5, NET).

Paul’s question in 3:3 is a rhetorical method of putting the blame where it belongs, but translators are unsure how to punctuate the sentence.

(ESV) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

(NET) What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?

For complex reasons, the NET Bible’s punctuation should be preferred here.[4]

Cranfield points out the heavy density in 3:23 of words based on the Greek root underlying the noun for faith and the verb for bothbelieve and entrust. Moo brings this insight to bear on 3:3 by saying, “These words point up the contrast between Israels ‘faithlessness’ and Gods ‘faithfulness.'”[5]

In case Paul’s rhetorical questions tend to confuse you more than help you, the NLT fairly renders them as statements: “True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful?” (Rom. 3:3, NLT).

Cranfield summarizes 3:3 by saying, “It is unthinkable that God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel should be rendered ineffective even by the Jews’ unbelief.”[6] Romans 9-11 shows how God will fulfill the covenant, just as he promised.

Humanity — here epitomized by unbelieving Jews — always has an excuse, a justification, an argument to shield itself from judgment. Paul seizes instead on the Old Testament’s assertion that God is faithful at all times. Osborne says, “Behind the term true is the Old Testament term [in Hebrew] for faithful (emet), meaning God is true to his promises.”[7]

By their unbelief the Jews had failed to keep the covenants provisions, yet they still wanted its blessings! Paul says it was God who was keeping the terms of the covenant by invoking the curses on covenant breakers. Osborne says, “God cannot be faithful to his covenant until he judges Israel; only then will he be proved right to his promises (and warnings).”[8] God’s judgments will in all cases be vindicated.

Semper Fi Ultra!

Christians have a critical stake in the issue of God’s faithfulness toward the Jews. If God has broken his promises to the Jews, then his promises to us are meaningless. Not to worry! Paul makes it plain that doubting God’s reliability is pointless; worse, those who accuse God of breaking his promises are liars.

1. Name one or two key promises from God are you relying on.

2. Over the centuries believers have had to resolve the issue of Gods reliability; how do you suppose they did so? How did you resolve the issue for yourself?

David had it right: “I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name, because of your loyal love and faithfulness, for you have exalted your promise above the entire sky” (Psalm 138:2, NET).


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 79.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 177.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 178-179, footnote 1.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 183-184.

[5] Moo, Romans, 184.

[6] Cranfield, Romans, 181.

[7] Osborne, Romans, 82.

[8] Osborne, Romans, 83.

Exposition of Romans 2:28-29, Seek this: heart touched by Spirit

One of the fascinating things about professional football is that on Monday morning the great performances and the poor ones are first presented as matters of physical reality — touchdowns scored or fumbles — and then attributed to something inside the athletes. We may hear that our team played like they did not care or that a certain star showed tremendous heart.

Why is this so? Because we know from experience that what is true on the inside determines what is seen on the outside.

(ESV) Romans 2:28-29

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

While Romans 2:28 is fairly clear as it stands, some grammar helps us understand it better. The sentence breaks into two clauses — each stated negatively — whose subjects are Jew and circumcision. The first clause represents the Jewish view during the first century: circumcision identifies the Jews, those assured of heaven.

James Dunn presents the reasoning of that day:

Even though it was known that other peoples practiced circumcision . . . circumcision was nevertheless recognized to be a rite which marked out the Jews . . . . This can only be a reflection of the high evaluation placed on circumcision by the Jews themselves in defining their national and religious distinctiveness.[1]

To the correctness of the Jews’ belief Paul very clearly says, “No!” To understand why, we must first notice that one word is repeated: “outwardly . . . outward” (2:28). The underlying Greek word was used in 1:19 for those things God made plain to all humanity. To put the religious concept of circumcision into our time, imagine that all a man had to do to get to heaven was have a simple surgical operation and recover for two or three days. Does that make sense as a way to be acquitted of guilt before God? Not only is the idea ridiculous on its face, it makes no provision whatever for women. That is a rather significant omission. (Smile)

Douglas Moo explains the literary relationship of verse 28 to verse 29: “Paul argues by means of a contrast, with two denials in v. 28 being matched by two assertions in v. 29.”[2] The true Jew is the one changed inwardly. The true circumcision is the one of the heart done by the Spirit.

The word “inwardly” (“a Jew is one inwardly” 2:29) translates a Greek phrase that means “in the hidden place or in secret.”[3] That is exactly how the same phrase was used by Jesus for giving in secret (Matt. 6:4) and praying in secret (Matt. 6:6). So, a deeper way of looking at one contrast between 2:28 and 2:29 is that it compares what is in the open (fleshly circumcision; 2:28) with what is in secret (the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit; 2:29).

Dunn does the best job of presenting the contrasts in 2:28-29, and his Greek phrases will be presented in English for the sake of comprehension:

in the open in the flesh by the letter (from man)

in secret of the heart by the Spirit (from God)

Dunn skillfully observes:

As the summation of his indictment of the Jewish [opponent], this is what constitutes Paul’s critique of his own native religion: it puts too much stress on the outward and visible, on the physical kinship and ritual and in consequence treats the law superficially. What makes the true Jew, the Jew whom God praises, is precisely that which can never be measured in physical, visible and ritual terms — it is something hidden, of the heart, by the Spirit.[4]

Looking more broadly at Paul’s theology in all his letters, Pauline scholar Herman Ridderbos says, “For Paul, even when he speaks of being a Jew in the heart and the Spirit, faith in Christ and his gift of grace are all-important, and therefore natural descent from Abraham is no longer a determinative factor for belonging to the people of God.”[5]

God sees in secret.

Grant Osborne points the way for application of this lesson: “The message is just as important for our day as it was for Paul’s. It is just as easy today to center on the external (church attendance, activity or external piety) rather than on one’s relationship to God.”[6]

What are some possible reasons that both the first-century Jews and some of us today focus on external things rather than our relationship to God?

God has a word for those who are just going through the motions: “You will sow but not reap; you will press olives but not anoint yourself with oil; and you will tread grapes but not drink the wine” (Micah 6:15, HCSB).

But for those who seek God with a whole heart, he says: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19). Let your actions show you belong in the latter group.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 120.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 173.

[3] BDAG-3, kruptos, hidden, q.v.

[4] Dunn, Romans, 124.

[5] Herman Ridderbos, Paul, Trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 334-335.

[6] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 78-79.

Exposition of Romans 2:26-27, We will reap what we sow

The Bible repeatedly teaches that people’s deeds deserve more attention than their words. For example, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12, HCSB).

When Jesus taught the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), he made clear that behavior that pleased God was not the exclusive preserve of the Jews. But they did not take the point. Are we doing any better?

(ESV) Romans 2:26-27

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

These two verses are harder than they look. Thomas Schreiner presents the issue like this: “Is the obedience of the Gentiles (1) hypothetical, (2) the obedience of those who have responded to the light they have received, or (3) the obedience of Christian Gentiles?”[1] Clearly the case involves both Jews and Gentiles who have some knowledge of the Law of Moses, including the well-known rite of circumcision.

Douglas Moo takes view (1) by saying, “Paul’s way of putting the matter in this context could, of course, suggest there actually are people who meet this requirement for salvation, but his later argument quickly disabuses us of any such idea (cf. 3:9, 20).”[2] Many agree with Moo out of concern that no basis be granted for salvation based on human works rather than on God’s grace.

But such theological considerations may be taken too far even though they are motivated by sound doctrine. Schreiner, joined by C.E.B. Cranfield,[3] takes view (3) that Paul is speaking of believing Gentiles:

The Spirit’s work on the heart logically precedes the observance of the law by the Gentiles. Autonomous works are rejected, but works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work are necessary to be saved. Paul is not speaking of perfect obedience, but of obedience that clarifies that one has been transformed.[4]

I join Schreiner’s conclusion by way of view (2) leading to (3). Some among the Gentiles respond to what they know about God: examples include Rahab (Josh. 2), Ruth (Ruth), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Lydia (Acts 16:14). God responds to such people with more of his light and grace. Like Abraham, David, Paul and many others, these people are not perfect, nor did any of them keep the law in every point. Instead, what happened to them is exactly what is described in Rom. 2:26; they were regarded by God as belonging to the people of God. This is an act of God’s mercy and grace.

The Greek verb (logizomai) translated “be regarded” (2:26) occurs nineteen times in Romans. In 2:26, the verb logizomai means, “as a result of a calculation evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider.”[5] Schreiner analyzes the form of logizomai used in 2:26 in the following way: “The future tense of [the verbal form] implies that such a reckoning will occur on the day of judgment, while the passive voice intimates that God does the reckoning.”[6]

Because of God’s act of reckoning [logizomai], what we have in 2:26-27 is not salvation by works but salvation by God’s gracious dealing with those who seek him. Consider these verses:

(NET) But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).

(ESV) Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6b).

In his conclusion (2:27), Paul returns to his theme that Jew and Gentile stand before God on the same basis; circumcision and law make no difference unless one adds faith that leads to obedience.

The fix is not in

God is paying attention to our actions because his judgment is not whimsical. His judgment is based on reality and truth. Paul says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NET).

1. Think in detail about the activities of your life over the last three days. How would God assess each of the actions you have taken?

2. The fact that all of our deeds are judged impartially affects what we believe, how we worship and whom we consider to be believers. For example: no one will go to heaven simply because they believe in the trinity or because they are Baptists or Roman Catholics or because they are nice people. Discuss the implications of this idea.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 139.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 171.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 173.

[4] Schreiner, Romans, 145; see 140-145 for the entire argument.

[5] BDAG-3, logizomai , look upon as, q.v.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 141.

Exposition of Romans 2:24-25, Some people want a magic bullet

“Hey, I was baptized as a baby! Surely, that’s good enough.”

“I go the church most of the time, and I figure God knows that.”

“My mother was a real Christian, and she never worried about me going to heaven; so, I’m doing fine!”

Many formerly relied on being born in America, but that does not seem to be as widely claimed in recent years. Do gold stars from Sunday School count?

(ESV) Romans 2:24-25

For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

In his ongoing argument against Jewish superiority, Paul pulls out a powerful weapon by quoting the Old Testament (Isa. 52:5) in support of his point. It is important to realize that the Word of God has always been considered authoritative by the people of God. Neither ancient Jewish posturing nor contemporary opinions can stand if they conflict with what God has revealed to his people in the Bible. “As it is written . . .” (2:24) settles issues among the faithful.

Paul is being ironic by saying that the very people whose conduct should have caused God to be praised became the cause for God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (2:24). How did this come about? Isaiah spoke for God against the idolatry that led to the Jews being taken away into Gentile captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah was removed by Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell.

In the thinking of the ancient world, a deity who could not protect his own people was no deity at all! Because God allowed his people to experience judgment due to their idolatry, the name of God was scorned by the powerful nations who took the Jews into slavery. Peter similarly warns Christians not to dishonor God by their conduct (2 Pet. 2:2).

Of course, the prevalence of idolatry in Israel and Judah is direct proof that the people were not keeping the Law of Moses; they ignored the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Exodus 20:4-6 commanded that no images be made in all Israel. No Jew could deny the historic failure of his people to keep these commands.

Paul applies this truth to the Jews who hear his arguments. Circumcision, an essential sign of the covenant people, was required of all Jewish males (Gen. 17:10-14). James Dunn says, “The irreducibly fundamental importance of circumcision for the Jew of Paul’s time can be easily documented.”[1] When Paul says circumcision is indeed of value (2:25a), all right-thinking Jews would be nodding yes; but his argument tightens when he adds “if you practice the law” (2:25b, NET).

Douglas Moo points out the necessity of deciding what is meant by the phrase “if you practice the law” in 2:25 by saying: “Two interpretations fit the context: (1) a heartfelt, faith-filled obedience to the stipulations of the covenant, (2) a perfect conformity to the letter of the law. If the former is adopted, then Paul would presumably regard this kind of doing the law as possible.”[2] After noting that the decision is difficult, Moo prefers the second; I prefer the first. Great scholars fall on both sides.

Through over-emphasis on circumcision, many Jews did little more. Paul says they are no better than the uncircumcised Gentiles. That view again places Jew and Gentile on the same footing in relation to God’s judgment.

Short cuts not wanted!

Christians must beware of making the same mistake the Jews made! Grant Osborne tells how: “Those who think they are going to heaven because of being baptized but who are not committed to Christ face the same tragic consequence — they too are under God’s wrath.”[3]

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. When Jesus speaks of all I have commanded you, what do you think he expects of those who become his disciples?

2. Baptism for Christians is similar in significance to circumcision for Jews. If you have not been baptized at an age when you fully understood its spiritual significance, what would it take for you to arrange for water baptism through your church? Baptism is not the end of Christian responsibility, but it is very important.

Gaming the system with God has been popular throughout the ages. The only problem is that God is not playing games! The good news is that we have plenty of notice about this issue, so pleasing our Lord can become our main concern.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 119.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 168.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 77.

Exposition of Romans 2:14-16, Conscience-judged behavior sometimes pleases God

The fact that all people are sinners does not mean they are as bad as they could possibly be. Sometimes conscience — given by God in creation — may guide even the unsaved to meet God’s requirements in limited situations.

It is a mistake to elevate ourselves by demonizing others. Sometimes they get it right and we do not.

(ESV) Romans 2:14-16

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:14 clearly says one thing: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires. What is less clear is how to position the phrase “by nature.” English translations all agree with ESV that by nature modifies the verb “do.” Other authorities think Paul is saying that Gentiles “do not have the law by nature,” letting by nature modify the verb “have.” While the former view seems more likely, the real point is not lost either way: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires.

Douglas Moo correctly summarizes: “Paul pursues his policy of putting the Jews and Gentiles on the same footing. The Jew does not have in the law a decisive advantage when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, Paul suggests; for Gentiles have some of the same benefits.”[1]

Looking at the Gentiles, Paul says (2:15) that the work of the law, the conscience and the thoughts mix in a complex way that often accuses and sometimes excuses them. Grant Osborne says, “Their minds form a type of law court in which actions are judged.”[2] But it is vital to realize that even within the court of their own minds the Gentiles are not exonerated; so, they will certainly stand guilty before a holy God.

C.E.B. Cranfield discusses the concept of conscience by saying, “The basic idea conveyed is that of knowledge shared with oneself.”[3] Sometimes this information is shared after the behavior and sometimes before; the verdict reached is by no means guaranteed to be the same that God would reach!

In Romans 2:16, Osborne correctly points out that Paul elsewhere uses “the day” to refer to the Day of the Lord at the end of history (e.g., Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10).[4] No matter what Jews and Gentiles think about their own behavior, God has set a day when he will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (2:16).

Romans 2:16b closely resembles Paul’s speech in Athens: “he [God] has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, NET).

Humanity’s good is not good enough

The Jews have been busy justifying their own righteousness by wrongly relying on their possession of the law. The Gentiles have sometimes managed to meet God’s requirements as evaluated by their own conscience, but they too fall short.

1. Why do you think people spend so much effort justifying themselves and their group by comparison with other groups, races, classes, genders or ethnicities? How do people try the same thing with God?

2. If you were convinced that self-justification was futile, what would you do next to become acceptable to God?

Perhaps these questions seem contrived, but they are not. Various cultures have spent millennia trying to figure out how human works relate to acceptance before God. The sad thing is that our culture does not even want to know. By God’s grace, you can prove to be an exception!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 151.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 70.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 159-160.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 70.