The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans Chapter 2

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 24, 2011

Portions of this commentary were previously posted. Notes in red (if any) are my additions.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 31:27;  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).

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 ff.; 1 Cor 3:13-15; 9:17; 2 Cor 5:10; 9:6 ff.; 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).

7. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life:
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; 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. A brief definition of Quietism can be found here. A somewhat longer treatment which begins with the its 17th century manifestation and then moves to examine its earlier ones can be found here.

9. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek:
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.

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.


A Summary of Romans 2:12-16~The Jews shall be judged according to their own written Law. And although the pagans had not the Law of Moses, yet they were not without a rule of conduct which they were obliged to follow, and this was the law of nature written on each one’s heart. It was this natural law that clearly indicated to them what things God had forbidden under pain of death (Rom 1:32), and that made them responsible for having failed to render to God the honor which was His due (Rom 1:18-28). By the law of nature, therefore, the Gentiles shall be judged on the last day.

12. For whosoever have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law; and whosoever have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.

To show the impartiality of God’s justice the Apostle here says that all men will be judged according to their knowledge; and hence the Gentiles, who have sinned without the law, i.e., without the written Law of Moses, will be judged by another, namely, the natural law, written on every man’s heart
(Rom 1:18-28, 32). On the other hand, the Jews will be judged according to the Law of Moses, which they have violated.

The term law, νομου, without the article means here the Jewish Law as distinguished from the natural law of the Gentiles.

In the Vulgate et should precede peribunt, to agree with the Greek και.

13. For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Paul now explains how the Jews can be condemned, although they have the Law of Moses. Every Sabbath they heard this Law read to them in the synagogues, but it was not given to be heard only; it was to be put into practice. Therefore, those who did not practice the precepts of the Law could not be considered just before God.

The Apostle is not saying here that justification comes from the Law; he is speaking only of God’s future judgment, without at present making any allusion to justification or to the manner by which it is effected. He will later (Rom 3:20 ff.) show that justification comes not from the works of the Law, but from faith, and from works performed through the grace of Christ’s redemption. Hence the doers of the law shall be justified only on condition that they act through faith and with the aid of grace; without faith in Christ and the help of God’s grace “no flesh shall be justified before him” (Rom 3:20).

14. For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves:

Having pointed out (verse 13) how the Jews can be condemned in spite of their having the Law, St. Paul now goes on to show in this and the two following verses, how the Gentiles can be saved, although they have not received the Law. The Jews held that it was the Gentiles’ fault that they had not the Mosaic Law, and that, consequently, they were bound to observe its precepts (Apoc. Bar. 48:40, 47). But while St. Paul admits the culpability of the Gentiles, he does not reproach them for not having received the Law. He takes it for granted that the Law is not their express rule; but he supposes, nevertheless, that in certain instances, by following the light of reason, they have fulfilled its essential obligations and thus have become a law unto themselves (Lagr.).

By nature does not here mean that the Gentiles could observe all the moral precepts of the Law without the supernatural aid of grace, but only that they were able to do this without the written Law of Moses. The Apostle is speaking of those Gentiles, like Job, Melchisedech and Cornelius, who, assisted by God’s grace, were able, without any help from the written Law, to know the true God, to observe the precepts of the natural law and thus attain to salvation.

Nature, i.e., the light of natural reason, in the absence of the Mosaic Law, dictated to the Gentiles what they should do and what they should avoid. Thus “The Apostle shows that even in early times before the giving of the Law, mankind had the benefit of a perfect Providence” (St. Chrys.).

The Pelagians used this verse to prove that man without grace can observe all the precepts of the natural law. Baius was condemned (Denzing., 1022) for teaching that it was Pelagian to interpret this text of those Gentiles who had not received the grace of faith.

15. Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another,

That the Gentiles who obeyed the moral precepts of the Law were therefore a law unto themselves, is manifest in the first place from their good moral lives, of which their own consciences were witnesses. The law inscribed on their hearts gave them a knowledge of moral good and evil, and by the help of grace they were able to do the former and avoid the latter. The second proof that they were a law unto themselves comes from the thoughts and judgments which they formed concerning one another’s lives and actions. The common and impartial judgment of men regarding good or evil is a proof of the reality of natural obligation.

According to this interpretation, which is that of S. H., Lipsius, etc., there are two guaranties of the certitude of the natural law: (a) the conscience of each one; (b) the verdict of man. According to Cornely and others, however, there is here given only one witness, i.e., the conscience, and St. Paul explains how it asserts itself, namely, in the struggle of the thoughts (λογισμων), of which some condemn, others approve. Our English translation here should read: “accusing them, or also defending them,” i.e., the thoughts accuse or condemn, not themselves, but their subject or possessor (Cornely). This interpretation agrees better with the following verse.

16. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

This verse is a conclusion to what has been said in the two preceding verses. The existence of the natural law having been proved for the Gentiles, they, like the Jews, are in a condition to be judged. The dictates of conscience which condemn or approve the actions of the pagans will be manifested on the day of judgment, when there shall be needed no other witness for their condemnation or justification than the voice of their own conscience.

The secrets, etc. Only God can read the heart with certainty, and hence He only can judge the secret sins which the Gentiles committed against the law written on their hearts. For the Jew it sufficed to refer to the text of the Law, which condemned also secret sins; but for the pagan there was only the testimony of his conscience.

The incredulous Jews judged only those things which were external, and so they condemned all pagans as not obeying the Law simply because the latter had not the external written Law; but God, who is no respecter of persons (verse 11), will judge all, Jews and Gentiles, not according to things external, but according to what is written in the heart and conscience. This He will do through Jesus Christ whom He has constituted judge of all men (Matt 10:31; John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31).

According to my gospel means according to Paul’s preaching, which was not different from that of the other Apostles, and clearly indicated that Jesus Christ would judge men by the secrets of their hearts (1 Cor 3:13; 4:5; 14:25). We are not, therefore, to understand Paul’s preaching as the manner or norm according to which God will judge, since Paul himself has plainly insisted that this norm will be the law, natural or written, as obeyed or disobeyed according to each one’s conscience.


A Summary of Romans 2:17-24. Paul now openly addresses the Jews, and vehemently denounces their delusion in thinking that they could be saved by the sole fact that they had received a written law from God. At first he enumerates (verses 17, 18) the privileges which they had in possessing the Law, thereby knowing God’s will and things right and wrong, and then he ironically relates (verses 19, 20) certain claims and prerogatives on which they prided
themselves, in order, in the following verses (21-24), to show more clearly the disagreement between their doctrine and their lives.

17. But if thou art called a Jew and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

In verses 17-20 we have a case of anacoluthon—a protasis without an apodosis; but the irregularity is lessened if we read  ιδε in place of  ει δε (Lagrange). Still, the particle of contrast seems to be proper, since the thought is now passing from the Gentile to the Jew with the latter’s special conditions (Parry).

Called a Jew, i.e., called by a praised and honored name. In St. Paul’s time the term “Jew” was more in esteem than at present. It signified the Lord’s people, the worshippers of the true God, the chosen race to whom the Messiah was promised.

Restest in the law. The principal benefit conferred on the Jews by God was the giving of the Law, which taught them what to do and what to avoid, and in which they could rest with assurance and safety. They could boast of God, because they were God’s people, bound to Him by alliance and special privileges and benefits.

18. And knowest his will, and approvest the more profitable things, being instructed by the law,

The Jews, being instructed by the Law, knew God’s will and the things that pleased Him, as well as the things that displeased Him.

In the Vulgate, eius after voluntatem is not represented in the Greek.

19. Art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of
them that are in darkness,
20. An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, having the form
of knowledge and of truth in the law.

Guide . . . light . . . instructor . . . having the form, etc. Here the Apostle ironically enumerates certain claims to excellence in which the Jews gloried. Their morals in many respects were not above those of the Gentiles, and yet they considered themselves immeasurably superior to the latter. It was true, indeed, that the Gentiles, being deprived of God’s revelation through the Law, were to a great degree “blind” and “in darkness,” “foolish” and “infants,” as regards the true knowledge of God and their consequent duties toward Him. On the contrary, the Jews, possessing the Law, had the truth, and were in a position to guide, enlighten and instruct the Gentiles; but their error lay in this, that they thought the mere possession of the Law, without its practice on their part, to be all that was required of them.

21. Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest not thyself: thou that preachest that men should not steal, stealest:

The Apostle now interrupts his enumeration of the Jews’ privileges and prerogatives to call attention to the difference between their boasted pretensions and their own lives. Their possession of the Law, their better knowledge of God and their obligations to Him only increased their sins and culpability in failing to practice what they taught and preached to others. The Jews were often guilty of stealing, especially in business and commercial affairs.

22. Thou that sayest, men should not commit adultery, committest adultery: thou that abhorrest idols, committest sacrilege:

Sacrilege (ιεροσυλεις) . The Greek word ἱεροσυλέω properly signifies to despoil, to pillage the temples. St. Paul wishes to say that some Jews, who were so hateful of idols that they would not even touch them, had no scruples about robbing the temples of idols for the pecuniary gain they thus acquired (cf. Acts 19:37. As I’m sure most are aware, such blatant hypocrisy-a kind of double standard-is widespread among humanity in religion, secularism, business, sports etc.). “The Jews were severely forbidden to touch the wealth lying in the temples of idols, as being an abomination (Deut 6:25-26; 2 Macc 12:4); but the tyranny of love of money induced them to trample on this law” (St. Chrys.).

23. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, by transgression of the law dishonourest God.

The Jews knew very well that the crimes of which they were guilty were a reproach to their religion. Their sins dishonored the Law of which they were so proud; and they themselves dishonored God, the Lawgiver, whose representatives in declaring and interpreting the Law they boastfully pretended to be.

24. (For the name of God through you is blasphemed among the Gentiles, as it is written.)

The Jews, by their disorderly and sinful lives and actions, caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the idolatrous Gentiles. As the observation of the Law of God causes both God and the Law to be praised, so its transgression causes it and its giver to be despised.

As it is written refers to Isaiah 53:5, according to the Septuagint. The same thought is found in Ezek 36:20-23.

There is no reason for parentheses here.

Per vos of the Vulgate should be propter vos; hence through you means “on account of you.”


A Summary of Romans 2:25-29~ St. Paul has so far shown that the Jews, by having a knowledge of God’s revealed Law, instead of escaping the divine judgment, shall rather be held more responsible than the pagans, who were without that special help. But they also relied on their particular privileges as the chosen people, and appealed especially to circumcision as a sure sign of their election and eternal salvation. To disengage them from such a fatal delusion the Apostle now shows that circumcision of the flesh amounts to nothing without the observance of the Law of God; whereas fidelity to the divine precepts counts for that circumcision which alone is true and salutary.

25. Circumcision profiteth indeed, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

This verse in the Greek is connected with what precedes by γαρ, “for”, which is not expressed in the Vulgate.

Circumcision was the seal of the covenant between the Jew and God (Gen 17). By it the Jew promised to observe the whole Law (Lev 18:5; Gal 5:3), in consequence of which he would enjoy a more complete knowledge of God and many spiritual privileges; but if he did not observe the Law, both in its moral and in its ceremonial precepts, he became as if uncircumcised, just like any Gentile. The many privileges, therefore, attached to circumcision were to be enjoyed only on condition that the circumcised observed the Law. Without a practice of the Law and true circumcision of the heart (Acts 7:8) God was not bound by His part of the covenant, and the transgressing Jew lost all his privileges and was no better off than a pagan.

26. If, then, the uncircumcised keep the justices of the law, shall not this uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

If, then, the uncircumcised, i.e., the Gentiles. The Rabbins taught that a seriously culpable Jew could be lost, but they would not admit that a Gentile who observed the natural law could be saved. Paul here asks a question, but the response is evidently affirmative. ‘Eav with the subjunctive can indicate a fact already realized, or, more naturally, a hypothesis, and this latter is the case here (Lagrange). If a Gentile, with the help of grace, observed all the precepts of the natural law, he had in fact the circumcision of the heart, to which the promises were chiefly attached, and there was nothing to prevent him’ from entering into eternal life; thus his uncircumcision was counted for circumcision.

27. And shall not that which by nature is uncircumcision, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law?

This is not a new interrogation, but rather a continuation, a further affirmation of what went before.

If the uncircumcised, i.e., if the Gentile, keeps the precepts of the natural law, the Ten Commandments, he will judge and condemn, in the Last Judgment, the transgressing Jew who, with his circumcision, failed to keep those precepts. The Apostle is not saying that a good Gentile is superior to a good Jew, but only that a good Gentile is better than a bad Jew. A virtuous Jew who observed his Law was naturally superior to a good Gentile, but a bad Jew was worse than a bad Gentile. The question here, as in the preceding verse, is theoretical, and the response here, as there, is clearly affirmative.

28. For it is not he is a Jew, who is so outwardly; nor is that circumcision which is outwardly in the flesh:
29. But he is a Jew, that is one inwardly; and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

The Apostle now concludes what he has been saying. The true Jew is one who is so internally as well as externally, one whose faith is religious and whose works are good, as becomes a true member of God’s people. Likewise true circumcision is not that of the body, consisting only in an external sign and in the external and literal observance of the Law, but that of the heart (Jer 9:26; Ezek 44:7, 9), which effects complete separation from sin and operates under the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. The true Jew without any external sign of his Judaism like circumcision, but pure and good in the sight of God, has praise, not of men, but of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: