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Commentary on Romans
« Prev Romans 2:17-24 Next »

Romans 2:17-24

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

17. Ecce, tu Iudæus cognominaris, et acquiescis in Lege, et gloriaris in Deo,

18. And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

18. Et nosti voluntatem, et probas eximia, institutus ex Lege;

19. And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

19. Confidisque teipsum esse ducem cæcorum, lumen eorum qui sunt in tenebris,

20. An instructer of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

20. Eruditorem insipientium, doctorem imperitorum, habentem formam cognitionis ac veritatis in Lege:

21. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

21. Qui igitur doces alterum, teipsum non doces; qui concionaris, non furandum, furaris;

22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

22. Qui dicis, nom mœchandum, mœcharis; qui detestaris idola, Sacrilegium perpetras;

23. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

23. Qui de Lege gloriaris, Deum per Legis transgressionem dehonestas:

24. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. 7676     These texts are referred to, Isaiah 52:6; Ezekiel 36:20.

24. Nomen enim Dei propter vos probro afficitur inter gentes, quemadmodum scriptum est.

17. Behold, thou art named a Jew, etc. Some old copies read εἰ δὲ, though indeed; which, were it generally received, would meet my approbation; but as the greater part of the manuscripts is opposed to it, and the sense is not unsuitable, I retain the old reading, especially as it is only a small difference of one letter. 7777     Griesbach has since found a majority of MSS. in favor of this reading, and has adopted it. But the difficulty is to find a corresponding clause. There is none, except what begins in Romans 2:21; εἰ δὲ and οὖν do not well respond, except we render the first, though indeed, and the other, yes or nevertheless somewhat in the sense of an adversative. It will admit this meaning in some passages. See Matthew 12:12; Matthew 26:64; Romans 10:14. — Ed.

Having now completed what he meant to say of the Gentiles, he returns to the Jews; and that he might, with greater force, beat down their great vanity, he allows them all those privileges, by which they were beyond measure transported and inflated: and then he shows how insufficient they were for the attainment of true glory, yea, how they turned to their reproach. Under the name Jew he includes all the privileges of the nation, which they vainly pretended were derived from the law and the prophets; and so he comprehends all the Israelites, all of whom were then, without any difference, called Jews.

But at what time this name first originated it is uncertain, except that it arose, no doubt, after the dispersion. 7878     This is not quite correct. They were called Jews even before the captivity, and during the captivity, but most commonly and regularly after it. The words Jews, first occurs in 2 Kings 16:6. See Esther 4:3; Jeremiah 38:19; Daniel 3:8; Ezra 4:12; Nehemiah 2:16. — Ed. Josephus, in the eleventh book of his Antiquities, thinks that it was taken from Judas Maccabæus, under whose auspices the liberty and honor of the people, after having for some time fallen, and been almost buried, revived again. Though I allow this opinion to be probable, yet, if there be some to whom it is not satisfactory, I will offer them a conjecture of my own. It seems, indeed, very likely, that after having been degraded and scattered through so many disasters, they were not able to retain any certain distinction as to their tribes; for a census could not have been made at that time, nor did there exist a regular government, which was necessary to preserve an order of this kind; and they dwelt scattered and in disorder; and having been worn out by adversities, they were no doubt less attentive to the records of their kindred. But though you may not grant these things to me, yet it cannot be denied but that a danger of this kind was connected with such disturbed state of things. Whether, then, they meant to provide for the future, or to remedy an evil already received, they all, I think assumed the name of that tribe, in which the purity of religion remained the longest, and which, by a peculiar privilege, excelled all the rest, as from it the Redeemer was expected to come; for it was their refuge in all extremities, to console themselves with the expectation of the Messiah. However this may be, by the name of Jews they avowed themselves to be the heirs of the covenant which the Lord had made with Abraham and his seed.

And restest in the law, and gloriest in God, etc. He means not that they rested in attending to the law, as though they applied their minds to the keeping of it; but, on the contrary, he reproves them for not observing the end for which the law had been given; for they had no care for its observance, and were inflated on this account only, — because they were persuaded that the oracles of God belonged to them. In the same way they gloried in God, not as the Lord commands by his Prophet, — to humble ourselves, and to seek our glory in him alone, (Jeremiah 9:24,) — but being without any knowledge of God’s goodness, they made him, of whom they were inwardly destitute, peculiarly their own, and assumed to be his people, for the purpose of vain ostentation before men. This, then, was not the glorying of the heart, but the boasting of the tongue.

18. And knowest his will, and approvest things excellent, etc. He now concedes to them the knowledge of the divine will, and the approval of things useful; and this they had attained from the doctrine of the law. But there is a twofold approval, — one of choice, when we embrace the good we approve; the other of judgment, by which indeed we distinguish good from evil, but by no means strive or desire to follow it. Thus the Jews were so learned in the law that they could pass judgment on the conduct of others, but were not careful to regulate their life according to that judgment. But as Paul reproves their hypocrisy, we may, on the other hand, conclude, that excellent things are then only rightly approved (provided our judgment proceeds from sincerity) when God is attended to; for his will, as it is revealed in the law, is here appointed as the guide and teacher of what is to be justly approved. 7979     There are two expositions of the words, δοκιμάζεις τὰ διαφερόντα, which may be sustained according to what the words signify in other places. The first word means to prove, or test, or examine, and also to approve; and the second signifies things which differ, or things which are excellent. “Thou provest, or, distinguishest things which differ,” is the rendering of Beza, Pareus, Doddridge, and Stuart: “Thou approvest things excellent or useful,” is the rendering of Erasmus, Macknight, and others. The first is the most suitable to the context, as knowledge, and not approval, is evidently intended, as proved by the explanatory clause which follows, — “being instructed out of the law.” — Ed.

19. And believest thyself, etc. More is still granted to them; as though they had not only what was sufficient for themselves, but also that by which they could enrich others. He grants, indeed, that they had such abundance of learning, as that others might have been supplied. 8080     Calvin has passed over here several clauses: they are so plain as to require no remarks, except the two last. “The instructor of the unwise — insipientium,” ἀφρόνων, of such as were foolish from not understanding things rightly. “The teacher of the ignorant — imperitorum,” νηπίων, babes, that is, of such as were ignorant like babes. But these and the foregoing titles, “the guide of the blind,” and, “light to those in darkness,” were such as the Jewish doctors assumed, and are not to be considered as having any great difference in their real meaning. There seems to be no reason to suppose, with Doddridge and some others, that “the blind, foolish, ignorant” were the Gentiles, for the Jews did not assume the office of teaching them. It is to be observed that Paul here takes the case, not of the common people, but of the learned — the teachers.

20. I take what follows, having the form of knowledge, as a reason for the preceding; and it may be thus explained, — “because thou hast the form of knowledge.” For they professed to be the teachers of others, because they seemed to carry in their breasts all the secrets of the law. The word form is put for model (exemplar — pattern); 8181     The same word occurs only in 2 Timothy 3:5, “μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας — the form of godliness.” It is taken here in a good sense, as meaning a sketch, a delineation, an outline, a representation, or a summary. Chalmers renders the words thus, — “The whole summary of knowledge and truth which is in the law.” Some understand by knowledge what refers to morals or outward conduct, and by truth what is to be believed. Others regard them as an instance of Hebrewism, two substantives being put, instead of a substantive and an adjective; the phrase would then be, “true knowledge.” — Ed. for Paul has adopted μόρφωσιν and not τύπον: but he intended, I think, to point out the conspicuous pomp of their teaching, and what is commonly called display; and it certainly appears that they were destitute of that knowledge which they pretended. But Paul, by indirectly ridiculing the perverted use of the law, intimates, on the other hand, that right knowledge must be sought from the law, in order that the truth may have a solid basis.

21. Thou, who then teachest another, teachest not thyself, etc. 8282     This clause, and those which follow, are commonly put in an interrogatory form, that is, as questions: but some, as Theophylact, Erasmus and Luther, have rendered the clauses in the form here adopted. There is no difference in the meaning.
   It is worthy of notice, that the Apostle, after the Hebrew manner, reverses the order as to the points he mentions; he, as it were, retrogrades, and begins to do so at Romans 2:21. The passage may be thus rendered, —

   17. Seeing then, thou art named a Jew, And reliest on the law, and gloriest in God,

   18. And knowest his will, And decernest things which differ, being taught by the law,

   19. And art confident that thou art A leader to the blind, a light to those in darkness,

   20. An instructor to the foolish, a teacher to babes, Having the form of knowledge and of truth according to the law:

   21. Yet thou, who teachest another, teachest not thyself, Thou, who preachest, “Steal not,” stealest,

   22. Thou, who sayest, “Commit no adultery,” committest adultery, Thou who detestest idols, committest sacrilege,

   23. Thou who gloriest in the law, by transgressing the law dishonorest God; For the name of God, as it is written, is through you blasphemed by the Gentiles.

   Romans 2:21, and part of the 22nd, refer to what is contained in Romans 19 and the 20th; and the latter part of the 22nd to the 18th verse; and 23rd to the 17th. The latter part of the 22nd helps us to fix the meaning of the latter part of the 18th; the man who hated idols and committed sacrilege proved that he did not exercise his boasted power of making a proper distinction between right and wrong. Then the man who is said, in Romans 2:17, to rely on the law and glory in God, is charged, in Romans 2:23, with the sin of dishonoring God by transgressing the law — Ed.
Though the excellencies (encomia — commendations) which he has hitherto stated respecting the Jews, were such as might have justly adorned them, provided the higher ornaments were not wanting; yet as they included qualifications of a neutral kind, which may be possessed even by the ungodly and corrupted by abuse, they are by no means sufficient to constitute true glory. And hence Paul, not satisfied with merely reproving and taunting their arrogance in trusting in these things alone, employs them for the purpose of enhancing their disgraceful conduct; for he exposes himself to no ordinary measure of reproach, who not only renders useless the gifts of God, which are otherwise valuable and excellent, but by his wickedness vitiates and contaminates them. And a strange counselor is he, who consults not for his own good, and is wise only for the benefit of others. He shows then that the praise which they appropriated to themselves, turned out to their own disgrace.

Thou who preachest, steal not, etc. He seems to have alluded to a passage in Psalm 50:16, where God says to the wicked,

“Why dost thou declare my statutes, and takest my covenant in thy mouth? And thou hatest reform, and hast cast my words behind thee: when thou seest a thief, thou joinest him, and with adulterers is thy portion.”

And as this reproof was suitable to the Jews in old time, who, relying on the mere knowledge of the law, lived in no way better than if they had no law; so we must take heed, lest it should be turned against us at this day: and indeed it may be well applied to many, who, boasting of some extraordinary knowledge of the gospel, abandon themselves to every kind of uncleanness, as though the gospel were not a rule of life. That we may not then so heedlessly trifle with the Lord, let us remember what sort of judgment impends over such prattlers, (logodœdalis — word-artificers,) who make a show of God’s word by mere garrulity.

22. Thou who abhorrest idols, etc. He fitly compares sacrilege to idolatry, as it is a thing of the same kind; for sacrilege is simply a profanation of the Divine Majesty, a sin not unknown to heathen poets. On this account Ovid (Metamor. 3,) calls Lycurgus sacrilegious for despising the rites of Bacchus; and in his Fasti he calls those sacrilegious hands which violated the majesty of Venus. But as the Gentiles ascribed the majesty of their gods to idols, they only thought it a sacrilege when any one plundered what was dedicated to their temples, in which, as they believed, the whole of religion centered. So at this day, where superstition reigns, and not the word of God, they acknowledge no other kind of sacrilege than the stealing of what belongs to churches, as there is no God but in idols, no religion but in pomp and magnificence. 8383     “Sacrilege,” mentioned here, is by some taken literally as meaning the robbing of God as to the sacrifices he required, and the profanation of sacred rites; “many examples of which,” says Turrettin, “are recorded by the Prophets, and also by Josephus, both before and during the last war.” But some extend its meaning to acts of hypocrisy and ungodliness, by which God’s honor was profaned, and the glory due to him was denied. The highest sacrilege, no doubt, is to deprive God of that sincere service and obedience which he justly requires. “They caused,” says Pareus, “the name and honor of God to be in various ways blasphemed by their wicked hypocrisy; and hence they were justly said by the Apostle to be guilty of sacrilege.” He then adds, “we must notice, that idolatry is not opposed to sacrilege, but mentioned as a thing closely allied to it. Indeed all idolatry is sacrilegious. How then can the Monks, Priests, and Jesuits clear themselves from the charge of sacrilege? for they not only do not detest idolatry, being in this respect much worse than these hypocrites, but also greedily seek, like them, sacred offerings, and under the pretense of sanctity devour widows’ houses, pillage the coffers of kings, and, what is most heinous, sacrilegiously rob God of his due worship and honor and transfer them to saints.” Yet the world is so blind as not to see the real character of such men! — Ed.

Now we are here warned, first, not to flatter ourselves and to despise others, when we have performed only some portions of the law, — and, secondly, not to glory in having outward idolatry removed, while we care not to drive away and to eradicate the impiety that lieth hid in our hearts.

23. Thou who gloriest in the law, etc. Though every transgressor dishonors God, (for we are all born for this end — to serve him in righteousness and holiness;) yet he justly imputes in this respect a special fault to the Jews; for as they avowed God as their Lawgiver, and yet had no care to form their life according to his rule, they clearly proved that the majesty of their God was not so regarded by them, but that they easily despised him. In the same manner do they at this day dishonor Christ, by transgressing the gospel, who prattle idly about its doctrine, while yet they tread it under foot by their unbridled and licentious mode of living.

24. For the name of God, etc. I think this quotation is taken from Ezekiel 36:20, rather than from Isaiah 52:5; for in Isaiah there are no reproofs given to the people, but that chapter in Ezekiel is full of reproofs. But some think that it is a proof from the less to the greater, according to this import, “Since the Prophet upbraided, not without cause, the Jews of his time, that on account of their captivity, the glory and power of God were ridiculed among the Gentiles, as though he could not have preserved the people, whom he had taken under his protection, much more are ye a disgrace and dishonor to God, whose religion, being judged of by your wicked life, is blasphemed.” This view I do not reject, but I prefer a simpler one, such as the following, — “We see that all the reproaches cast on the people of Israel do fall on the name of God; for as they are counted, and are said to be the people of God, his name is as it were engraven on their foreheads: it must hence be, that God, whose name they assume, is in a manner defamed by men, through their wicked conduct.” It was then a monstrous thing, that they who derived their glory from God should have disgraced his holy name; for it behoved them surely to requite him in a different manner. 8484     On this remarkable passage Haldane has these very appropriate, just, and striking observations, —
   “The Apostle, in these verses, exhibits the most lively image of hypocrisy. Was there ever a more beautiful veil than that under which the Jew presents himself? He is a man of confession, of praise, of thanksgiving — a man, whose trust is in the Law, whose boast is of God, who knows his will, who approves of things that are excellent, a man who calls himself a conductor of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of babes; a man who directs others, who preaches against theft, against adultery, against idolatry, and to sum up the whole, a man who glories in the commandments of the Lord. Who would not say that this is an angel arrayed in human form — a star detached from the firmament, and brought nearer to enlighten the earth? But observe what is concealed under this mask. It is a man who is himself untaught; it is a thief, an adulterer, a sacrilegious person; in one word, a wicked man, who continually dishonors God by the transgression of his law. Is it possible to imagine a contrast more monstrous than between these fair appearances and this awful reality?”

   No, certainly; but it is a contrast which still exists, with various modifications, in many instances. — It ought to be observed, that when the author calls the Jew “a man of confession, of praise, of thanksgiving,” he alludes to the import of the word, Jew, in Hebrew, which is derived from a verb, which includes these ideas: and it is supposed by some, that there is an allusion in the last words of this chapter, “whose praise,” etc., to what the name signifies. — Ed.


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