Romans 2:1-16
Impartiality In God's Judgment

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In October 1999

1.  The scripture passage given to us today is the same as last week's.  This week I'd like to concentrate within that passage but especially from verses twelve on.  Last time I read you the words in verse eleven, "God does not exclude anyone [or show favoritism]."  This is not simply a way of saying, "All people are equal," or "All humankind is one family."  I am being repetitious from last week but what is being related here is very severe.  The major principle of God's stern judgment is being related, which is, the only question that you will be asked by God is "How did you live your life before him?"  If you dare call [this] equality, then [understand that] it is about an impartiality in God's judgment.  Let's go a little deeper into this point in our reflections today.

The Jews And The Law

2.  Please begin by looking at verses twelve and thirteen.

"Everyone who has committed a sin without knowing the law will perish even without being connected to this law and everyone who committed a sin while under the law will be judged according to the law.  Because the person who hears the law is not righteous before God, but the one who practices [the law] is justified," (2:12-13).

3.  The words, "starting with the Jew and also the Greek," are repeated in verses nine and ten.  In this text a Greek is not defined as a person who speaks what you would call the Greek language, but instead indicates all the Gentiles in general, a person outside of Jewry.  Even the words, "without knowing the law" and "while under the law" are in the same manner speaking in reference to Gentiles and Jews respectively. To put it another way, in verse twelve another way of saying words for Gentile or Jew is used based on one's relationship to the law.

4.  We understand clearly as we look at the kind of history1 the law had which expressed the will of God for the Jews and as we look at how they handled the Bible, the book they had written.  The word "law (Torah)" in a broad sense means revelation or instruction, but when the word "Torah" is used in a narrow definition it refers to the Pentateuch of Moses, that is the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy.  There are opinions on when the Torah was canonized; generally speaking we should regard [the Torah as a completed document] in the fifth century before the common era [or 500 B.C.].  This body of scripture or canon was handed down for generations.  If you wonder how it was passed down from them, since they certainly did not have any kind of printing press technology, they reproduced it by writing it by hand.  There were men called scribes who did the work of [copying texts by hand].  And ever since the time of Paul2 these scribes were called "sofrim."  If we render that [Hebrew word] into our own tongue, we would call them "counters, i.e. persons who count."  What did they count?  They counted each letter [of the scriptures]. For example, in Genesis they counted how many letters were written in that entire book.  In addition, they counted things like how many words were written and how many times a form of one word was used.  They would determine what was the exact center character and the exact center word [of a book]. What did they do that for?  They did it in order to hand it down accurately. There were men who in a certain sense gave their life to hand down accurately the book of the law, God's revelation.  (Thanks to those men, we are also able to take a Bible into our hands.)  Now coming up to this century, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered.  Their antiquity goes back to the third century before the common era, [or 300 B.C.].  Until then the manuscripts we had collected only went back at best to about the ninth century of the common era [A.D. 900].  But then unexpectedly, in one sweep about one thousand years of antiquity appeared.  So, it became evident how surprisingly accurate the transmission [of the biblical texts] have been.

5.  They were also fervent in hearing the word of God which they had so [accurately] transmitted.  The core of a child's education was of course instruction in Torah.  They used to say, "Just as you fatten up cows in the barn, you must fatten up children with Torah."  At generally the age of thirteen they finished up their studies which were focused on memorization and then they were considered adults.

6.  The mindset of the Jews for the law is something that goes beyond our imaginations.  For them there was no greater pride than being given the word of God and God's law.  It was the very fact that the will of God was being made known to them that was the foundation of their lives.  At that level of pride it was a wonderful pride.  However, it was also true that from that pride came the idea to hold the Gentiles in derision.  I suppose this is reasonable when you think about everything I've said so far.  For them the difference between [Jews] and Gentiles was definite and sharp.  Subsequently, because the Gentiles were not given the law of God and did not know God's will, [the Jews] considered Gentiles to be in unrighteousness, depravity, and defilement [uncleanness].  They thought that the Gentiles were totally in the dark and would ultimately be the burning stock of hell from their continual practice of evil.

7.  Paul himself was a Jew.  He absolutely respected the law and lived treasuring the scriptures.  But, [though he has such a high regard for scripture] he presents one truth here with a cool dispassion, which is, the truth that whether you have the law or not does not really have final significance or conclusive determination [for your soul's destiny].  "Because the person who hears the law is not righteous before God, but the one who practices [the law] is justified."  Since the beginning the law is defined as saying that.  Of course, when you come to think of it, that's very much what you'd expect..

The Gentiles And The Law

8.  Then, what does "practicing the law" mean to the Gentile who did not actually have a written law?  That problem remains.  Then he begins to speak from verse fourteen on as follows:

9.

"Even if the Gentiles who do not have the law can naturally go about in what the law commands, then even though they do not have the law, they themselves are the law.  Such persons demonstrate that the conditions required by law are recorded in their hearts.  Their consciences also bear witness to this and the thoughts of their hearts even show forth the same thing as they blame each other and defend each other.  This matter will become clear on the day God, according to the gospel I am revealing, judges through Christ Jesus the hidden conditions of the people," (2:14-16).

10.  As I have already mentioned, the Jews thought the Gentiles without the law were in a depraved and decadent darkness, but I don't suppose it's possible to say that all the Gentiles were actually like that; because, for example, it was definitely possible to find a highly ethical philosophy among the Stoic philosophers.  While I'm on the subject, through out the world on various scenes they frown on modern Japanese calling them things like economic nuts or sex crazy animals, but some preachers who once came to Japan said they were surprised at the height of the ethical system of its citizens.  I suppose the preachers at that time did not expect the shape of this country they encountered because they had come intending to preach to barbarians roaming through darkness surely without knowledge of either the Bible or Christ.

11.  Well, the moral outlook of modern Japan's citizens may be quite different from the days of old.  Assuming that this situation was so, if I argued that "Such a condition existed because the citizens did not know the Bible," I suppose we must be ready to face a lot of resistance.  Because many will surely say "Aren't there lots of good people even though they don't know the Bible?" And I would truly agree.  I think there are lots of people who have never picked up a Bible and are fine and highly moral people.

12.  Even Paul did not deny there were good works among Gentiles who didn't have the law and had never even touched a Bible.  If I were to say to Paul, "Aren't there lots of good people even though they don't know the Bible?," Paul would have answered, "You're right!"  It seems on that point he had a difference in opinion from traditional Jews.  For example, he has recorded the following in The Epistle To The Philippians.  "Finally, o brothers, everything true, everything sublime, everything righteous, everything pure, everything we should love, everything honorable and if it has value for virtue and praise, keep them in your hearts," (Philippians 4:8).  This matter of "everything true, everything sublime and so on" which Paul says here, is the list of virtues which the Greek philosophers used to praise and recommend.  In other words, Paul was recognizing that these [qualities] existed in the sphere of Greek culture.  And he was recommending to the people of the church to keep them in their hearts.

13.  Actually, the existence of such virtues was nothing all that surprising for Paul because he knew that the law and the will of God were not given only to the Jews in just written books.  The reality is that it is the law written on the heart that exists and not something written on paper.  Since men and women are creations of God, the conditions which the law requires, that is, the conditions which God requires from humanity are already recorded on the heart.  The Jews only possessed it as a specially written book.  Therefore, Paul recorded the following in verse fourteen.  "Even if the Gentiles who do not have the law can naturally go about in what the law commands, then even though they do not have the law, they themselves are the law.  Such men and women demonstrate that the conditions required by the law are recorded in their hearts."  In other words, Paul is saying, "Doesn't the fact of the Gentiles naturally carrying out what God requires even without the law clearly express that truth?"

14.  Then, Paul relates that even the existence of a thing called the conscience testifies to this truth.  Please see verse fifteen.  "Their consciences also bear witness to this and even the thoughts of their hearts point out the same thing as they blame each other and defend each other."  Of course, the conscience within a person is not typically in perfect shape and gets perverted by the environment and context.  Therefore, I would say it is problematic calling the judgments of the human conscience righteous.  Instead, in the Bible it says a good conscience is something which hopes in and seeks for God, (First Peter 3:21).  However, notwithstanding, good consciences do exist, even if in different forms.  This is a curious thing when you think about it.  This was clearly not something produced by the enterprise of [any] person.  It means that because [people] have this thing called a conscience, even though one is a very young child he or she is able to hand down decisions about conduct related to children.  It is at work through out our life.  We continue to make judgments regarding our actions all the time.  Sometimes one thought blames us regarding a certain behavior; then another thought defends it.  Actually a kind of court room takes place within us.  And the very fact that a court room of sorts takes place shows forth quite well that we have "the law" right there within.  Therefore Paul says, "The thoughts of their hearts even show forth the same thing as they blame each other and defend each other."

15.  Well, what conclusion is to be drawn from the above statements?  It is that the terms are the same for both Jew and Gentile.  The question for the Jews who heard the law of God was "Are you able to stand before God in light of the law?"  [The text] says that if you committed a sin while under the law, God will judge you according to his law.  In the same way, the question directed to the Gentiles who never heard the law was "In light of the law inscribed on your hearts, are you truly a righteous person?"  You are probably a nice person.  You are probably a good person, too.  But the fact of the matter is "Can you say that you are truly all right after being judged by the law which is recorded on your own hearts?"  Even if we have never once heard the message of the Bible or the things of God this principle applies to us unchanged.  Even if we don't have the written word of God, if we commit a sin it is made clear in this passage that God will bestow his judgment on us.  The great principle of God's judgment is equality/impartiality.  This does not relate to just believers in God.  The judgment relates to people who don't believe in God.  "Everyone who has committed sin while not knowing the law will perish without a connection to this law and everyone who committed a sin while under the law will be judged according to the law."  That's the way Paul puts it.

16.  Furthermore, decisions pertaining to judgment will not be handed down simply by what gets on one's nerves or what appears on the surface.  Verse sixteen logically follows verse thirteen.  "This matter will become clear on the day God, according to the gospel I am revealing, judges through Christ Jesus the hidden conditions of the people."  Unrighteousness, which was already dealt with in chapter one and verses twenty-nine on, is mostly hidden from the eyes of humanity.  But, God, who has recorded his own law in the hidden places of men and women, will judge their hidden conditions by that law.  What only I and God know will become the target of judgment.  When we judge our own lives, we should not think of only what has been exposed to the public gaze.

17.  Paul said these things "according to the gospel I am telling forth."  We understand that Paul clearly saw preaching concerning God's judgment as part of the gospel.  In other words, unless we think about God's judgment, or unless we admit that the self will be unable to explain itself before God's judgment, we cannot understand salvation.  "God does not exclude anyone [or show favoritism]."  The message of Paul makes us stand before such a judge.  It makes us, who habitually take notice of the gaze of others, and who live only in comparison to others, and who only think of the hidden things as hidden things, stand before the final judge.  Our pride, prejudice, and all the different things we cling to will be stripped away and we will be made to stand before God.  "God does not exclude anyone."  With these words before us, everything that we use to differentiate ourselves from others will become powerless and we will stand as powerless people before God.  That indeed is our true shape, which we had better be aware of, because that is the shape of us who need salvation.

End Notes

1 Literally: existence

2 This is the only place in the sermon series I disagree with Takao and it is only a moot point.  I think it should say "Ezra" and not "Paul" here.  Actually, according to Adin Steinsaltz, trans. Chaya Galai, The Essential Talmud, New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1976 pp. 14-15, they were called sofrim before Paul, and started serving as counters and writers in the period of Persian rule over Palestine (c. 539-332 B.C.E.) . Sofer is the singular of sofrim.  My guess is perhaps the preacher is alluding to Post Jabneh Judaism with the closing of the Hebrew canon, the codification of the oral law, and the rise of Talmudic literature, which succeeded Paul chronologically.

 
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