4.3 Romans -- God's Wrath, cont.
In Chapter 2, Paul passes to judgment itself. The actions of chapter 1 earn the judgment of God. Even those who judge sinners are themselves liable to judgment if they act likewise. This was probably a slam at Pharisaical Jews, who knew the Law and felt morally superior to those who did not. On the day of God's wrath,
"God 'will give to each person according to what he has done'" (Rom 2:6).
This is a quotation from the Old Testament (Ps 62:12, Prov 24:12). The judgment may be positive or negative, depending on one's behavior, or we might also say, character. Paul reworks the traditional Jewish view that law-observing Jews go to Abraham's bosom, and sinners and Gentiles go to Sheol. Instead,
"There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism" (Rom 2:9-11).
This is a striking innovation -- to mention Jew and Gentile in the same sentence, and to use the same standard for both! And there's that same word Peter used in Acts 10:34 -- "prosopoleptes, " a way of showing distinction to certain members of elite classes. But God does not do this -- anymore!
Paul's conclusion is that all men are judged:
"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" (Rom 2:12).
The mere knowledge of the Law is no advantage. In fact, Paul says, some Gentiles "who do not have the law" may unknowingly obey the Law -- it is written on their hearts. But how? How can people who are unconscious even of the existence of the Law be obedient to it? Paul's answer: their conscience either excuses or condemns them (Rom 2:15).
"It can be maintained that the function of conscience in the Gentile is parallel to the function of the law for the Jew" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol 10, p.31).
This ties back to what Paul just said in chapter 1 -- that the essential character of God has been revealed in His Creation. So also, a moral order exists in all human societies and in the individual soul:
"Despite the great differences in laws and customs among peoples around the world, what unites them in a common humanity is a recognition that some things are right and others are wrong" (Expositor's, op.cit, p. 31).
I am not sure that modern anthropologists would agree that there are ethical absolutes. But more significantly, Paul's Jewish contemporaries would have been scandalized at his putting the pagan conscience on a par with the Divine Torah. To them, the sin of the Gentiles was due to their lack of knowledge of and obedience to the Mosaic Law. And as we have seen in our study of Acts, even the Jerusalem believers kept trying to spread the influence of the Law to the Gentile converts.
Paul introduces a radical concept -- judgment and justification apart from the Law. Even for the Jew, the Law is no longer the solution to the sin problem. This is the subject of his next section, Rom 2:17-29, Rom 3:1-20.
First, though, we must note that Paul's doctrine of sin is profoundly anti-racial. There was a tendency in Judaism to make the Law a badge of honor, an emblem of the superiority of Israel. To be outside the circle of Israel was itself to be in sin. Paul disagrees and declares the universality of sin, both inside and outside Israel. This is the consequence of his belief in what the Commentary calls a "common humanity," the term itself a restatement of Acts 17:26 "from one" (blood). If all mankind has a common origin and nature, then the sin problem must afflict all people.