Arguments for the proposition, 1:18-5:21

Argument #1

Part 4


Argument #1: The impartial nature of God's righteous condemnation of universal sin, 1:18-3:20.

Part 4: The possession of the law does not protect a person from the impartial judgment of God.


Having established the universality of sin and the impartial judgment of God, Paul now introduces the role of the law of Moses in the righteous judgment of God. When it comes to God's judgment, benefit is gained by "doing good", but the simple fact is, that the possession of the law does not of itself promote "doing good." Even a person who never had the privilege of living under the Mosaic law is able to understand ethics and begin to live an exemplary life. Yet, in the day when God will judge the secret thoughts of all humanity, those under the law will find themselves condemned by the law; they will stand condemned in exactly the same way as those without the Mosaic law stand condemned by their failure to follow the leading of their conscience.


i] Context: See 2:1-11. Continuing with his argument that those committed to the Torah, the Law of Moses (inclusive of nomist believers, Jew and Gentile) are in a state of sin with the rest of humanity and therefore face judgment under the Law, Paul now makes the point that consequent on this fact, the Law serves only to condemn, v12-29. The argument presents in four parts:

iThose who seek God's blessings by obedience to the law, will be accused by that law and judged accordingly, v12-13.

iThose who seek God's blessings by obedience to their conscience, a law written on the heart, will be accused by that law and judged accordingly, v14-16.

i The law is powerless to shape the qualities in a person that would make them worthy of God's blessings, v17-24;

iCircumcision is powerless to render a person worthy of God's blessings, v25-29.


ii] Background: The Nomist heresy, 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: God judges by a fair standard

Live by the law; judged by the law, v12-13;

Live by the conscience, judged by the conscience, 14-16.


iv] Interpretation:

As already indicated in the introductory notes, in Romans, Paul wrestles with the issue discussed at the Jerusalem Council, namely, the heresy of nomism and its undermining of gospel truth, cf., Acts 15. The members of the circumcision party / the judaizers may think that the Law of Moses promotes godliness, that it provides the wherewithal for a superior spirituality, but as far as Paul is concerned, the Law's prime function is to exposes sin, even making sin more sinful. To bind oneself to the law entails binding oneself to judgment - the divine condemnation of universal sin. The law doesn't serve to promote moral living, to purify. People without the law are quite capable of living moral lives simply by following the leading of their conscience. Yet, they fail their conscience, just as the self-righteous fail to properly apply the law. So, the law serves only to condemn, to curse, and it serves this end, whether it be the law of Moses or the law written in the heart.


What is the point of Paul's comparison between those who live "under the law" v12, and those Gentiles who "who do not have the law", v14? A person may be guided by their conscience, or by the Law of Moses; either way, we all stand accused and must face "the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ."

Most commentators take the view that the person en nomw/, "under the law", is an unconverted Jew. Although Paul's comments can apply to any moral person committed to the Mosaic law, it is likely that he particularly has in mind "the weak", nomist believers, the righteous, those committed to the law of Moses for the purpose of furthering the promised Abrahamic blessings.

As for the "Greeks / Gentiles", the majority of commentators take the view that they are unconverted Gentiles. Although Paul's comments can apply to moral people in general, it is likely that he particularly has in mind Gentile believers who walk by the Spirit rather than by the dictates of the Mosaic Law - "converted Gentile Christians whose fulfilment of the law will be confirmed at the last judgment", Jewett, cf., Barth, Cranfield.

None-the-less, although it is certainly true that those under grace, "apart from the law", fulfil the law in Christ, this is not the point of Paul's argument here. Paul's point is that the Mosaic law does not function to promote moral living - it does not purify. Many people without the Mosaic law live exceptionally moral lives. This is particularly so for Gentile believers uncommitted to the Mosaic law, but committed to the leading of the Spirit. The law, whether it be the Mosaic law, or the law of a heart-felt conscience, serves but to expose sin and apply sin's curse. A person would have to do the law to gain some benefit from it, but too often we hear it, and don't do it.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 2:12

Argument #1 Part 4: The possession of the law does not protect a person from the impartial judgment of God - due to universal sin and the impartial judgment of God, the law serves but to condemn, v12-29: It is unclear whether v11 draws together Paul's previous argument that God's condemnation of sin is impartial, v6-10/11, or whether it introduces the next step in his argument. Either way, the passage before us draws out a logical conclusion from the propositions established in the letter so far (first, sin is universal; second, God's judgment is impartial), namely that those under the Mosaic Law, as well as those without the Law (ie., those under the law of the heart), equally face the curse of the law.

i] Those who seek to progress their lives by God's law will be accused by that law and judged accordingly, v12-13. For the righteous to be right before God requires obedience to the law.

gar "-" - for. Possibly causal, explaining why God shows no favouritism, "because ....", or better serving to introduce a conclusion from the propositions established in the letter so far; "For this is how things stand", Cassirer.

oJsoi pro. "all who" - as many as [without law]. Here the pronoun serves to introduce a relative conditional clause; "all who ..... will be ...."

hJmarton (hJmartanw) aor. "sin" - sinned. The aorist is probably constative, expressing the action in its entirety.

kai "also" - and = also [will perish]. Adjunctive, as NIV; "will also perish without the law", ESV.

anomwV adv." apart from the law" - lawlessly = without law, not having the law = unaware of the law. This verse contains the first reference to nomoV, "law" in the epistle, and here, as elsewhere in Romans, we are left wondering what Paul means by "law". On most occasions, when Paul refers to the "law", he is referring to "the law of Moses / the Torah", but occasionally he is referring to the law written on the heart of a believer, cf., 7:21-25, 8:2, or "the law" in the sense of Old Testament scriptures, or even sometimes of "the law" as a principle, a rule or standard. Given the context, the verse before us may refer to law in general, "the will of God as a rule of duty, no matter how revealed", Hodge, but this seems unlikely. "The incidental introduction of the term 'law', which the Gentiles are without, clearly refers to the Mosaic Law", Dumbrell.

en + dat. "under" - [and as many as sinned] in [law]. Local, sphere, "within the sphere of the law", but usually taken here to mean "under", in the sense of "with the law to guide them", Cassirer, or "knowing the law", Phillips, Barclay, or possibly better "committed to the law." As is often the case with the word "law", there is no article. The reason is unclear, although it may support those who argue that Paul means "law in general." "In the area of the law", Morris, "in their relationship to the law."

kriqhsontai (krinw) fut. pas. "will be judged" - will be judged. Obviously a theological passive; God does the judging.

dia + gen. "by." - by [law]. Instrumental, expressing means; "through, by means of the law."


There is no eternal value in a person's commitment to the law; the only value lies in completely doing it. The trouble is, the law is not designed to help people obey its precepts.

gar "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why those who sin under the law will be condemned, "because" it is only those who obey the law who will be accounted right before God.

oiJ akroatai (hV ou) "those who hear" - [not] the hearers. Hearing was the usual way a person would take in the law; "it is not those who merely listen to what the law says (and nod in agreement)", Cassirer.

nomou (oV) gen. "the law" - of the law. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective. Generic, of a particular class of hearers, those who consider carefully what the law has to say.

dikaioi adj. "righteous" - are righteous, just. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative predicate of an assumed verb to-be. The sense is "right before God", "in a right relationship with God", "approved before God."

para + gen. "in [God's] sight" - from beside [god]. Spatial, expressing space, metaphorical; "in he sight of, before God."

all (alla) "but" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ....., but ...".

oiJ poihtai (hV ou) "those who obey" - the doers [of law]. Of course, commentators are all over the place on whether anyone actually has "done" the law, and if so, who. Most see it as a theoretical possibility only, so Morris, etc. Cranfield posits the rather strange idea that it is something that new Christians do before being introduced to the law proper, see v26. The argument doesn't stand, although there is some truth in it. (I didn't know the full extent of sin in my life until after my conversion. I was kindly given a book to help me live the Christian life. It successfully turned my gaze from the cross to the law and shaped me into a guilt-ridden pietist).

dikaiwqhsontai (dikaiow) fut. pas. "will be declared righteous" - will be justified. One suspects the future tense is gnomic, expressing an eternal reality, but possibly eschatological. Usually understood in the sense of "judged right before God." Note how Barrett happily goes with "made right" since made right does not mean "made virtuous", but rather "granted a verdict of acquittal." When it comes to "made" or "declared", what God says so is so. If he says we are "right", then in reality we are "right", even though, in ourselves, we are anything but right.


ii] Those who seek to progress their lives by their conscience, a law written on the heart, will, in the day of judgment, be accused by that law and judged accordingly, v14-16. Covenant law / the Mosaic law is not designed to promote morality / purity. An eqnh (a moral person not subject to the Mosaic law / a believing Gentile, see eqnh below) is well able to live a good life guided by their God-breathed conscience. On many occasions their conscience will approve their behaviour, but sometimes it will accuse them, and this will be confirmed "when God judges people's secrets." By comparing two moral people, one with the law and one without the law, Paul makes the point that both take their devotee to the same end, condemnation. The law's task is to condemn, not purify.

The NIV, as with many commentators, eg., Mounce, treat v14-15 as a parenthetical remark, although we are best to include v16 with such an approach to the text. It is unlikely that Paul is suggesting that perfection is possible by following the leading of the conscience, given that sometimes the conscience serves to accuse - universal sin applies to those under the law as well as those without the law.

A technical righteousness, apart from the law, is argued by some, achieved by a believer through faith in Christ, so Cranfield. Cranfield argues that unlike the Jews who, having sinned under the law, stand condemned by the law, Gentile believers, having not actually received the Torah as a birthright, are "declared righteous" through faith apart from the law. This is true, but surely not Paul's point here.

gar "Indeed" - for. The NIV has opted for an emphatic usage, but more likely expressing reason, expanding on the statement made in v13b as it relates to the eqnh, "Gentiles". Dumbrell argues that v13 is an aside and so at this point Paul picks up on the argument commenced in v12.

oJtan + subj. "when [...... do]" - whenever. Introducing an indefinite temporal clause.

eqnh (oV) "Gentiles" - gentiles. Nominative subject of the verb "to do." The lack of an article indicates "certain" Gentiles are in Paul's mind. Usually understood as unbelieving Gentiles who have the unrealised potential of living a moral life (even some actually do live a moral life, but not a perfect moral life) on the basis of the revelation available to them. Possibly, like Abraham and other Old Testament saints, pre-Christian Gentiles ("righteous Gentiles") who rest in faith on the available knowledge of God's mercy.

Paul may have in mind "Gentile believers", who, under the regulations of the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15, were not constrained by the demands of the Old Covenant law since, in Christ, through the Spirit, the new covenant law is written on their hearts, Jer.31:33. The view that they are "Gentile Christians" is by no means innovative, eg., it was proposed by Augustine. It has also been accepted by some modern theologians, eg., W. Mundle, F. Fluckiger, Barth, J.B. Soucek. See also "Gentiles or Gentile Christians?", A. Konig, Journal of Theology for South Africa 15, 1976. Jewett and Cranfield also accept the "Christian Gentile" theory.

Whoever Paul has in mind, his point is that although the eqnh may often do by nature what the covenant law requires (a Gentile believer may even do a better job than those "under the law", so undermining the idea that the Mosaic law promotes a superior spirituality), inevitably, on many issues, their conscience accuses them, which accusation God will confirm in the day he judges people's secrets, ie., universal sin and God's impartial judgment of sin catches both those under the law and those without the law.

ta mh .... exonta (exw) pres. part. "who do not have [the law]" - not having [law]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Gentiles"; "when the Gentiles, who do not have the law."

fusei (iV ewV) dat. "[do] by nature" - [practice, do] by nature. The dative is usually regarded as instrumental, means / basis, when "by / on the basis of nature" is taken with "do the things required by the law" (ie., natural law), but it is more likely local and taken with "who do not have the law", so Bengel, Cranfield, ie., the Gentiles did not naturally possess the law of Moses as a birthright,.

ta tou nomou (oV) gen. "things required by the law" - the things of the law. The article ta serves as a nominalizer, forming a nominal phrase, accusative object of the verb "to do." The genitive "of law" is adjectival, possessive, limiting "the things" = "the requirements."

eJautoiV dat. reflex. pro. "[they are a law] for themselves" - [these a law not having] to themselves [are a law]. Dative of interest, advantage, "for themselves." "They have an inner direction that serves the same purpose as law", Junkins.

mh econteV (ecw) pres. part. "even though they do not have [the law]" - not having [a law]. The participle is adverbial, probably concessive, "although they are not bound by a set of covenant regulation as were the people of Israel", but possibly causal, "since they do not have the law."


oJtineV ind. rel. pro. + ind. "since" - who, what. Introducing a relative clause, as NIV; "What they gave proof of", Cassirer. The NIV has drawn out the causal implication that can be present with the construction oJtineV + ind.; "since such demonstrates ...."

endeiknuntai (endeiknumi) pres. "they show" - they show forth, demonstrate. Possibly a futuristic present tense if viewed eschatologically, although it is surely a "now" reality, but then v16 becomes a problem in that it does seem to refer to the eschaton, see v16.

tou nomou (oV) gen. "[the requirements] of the law" - [the work] of the law. The genitive is best treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "work", "[what they gave proof of (by the actions prompted by their conscience) is] the work which the law requires", Cranfield, but it may also be taken as verbal, subjective, "the work / deed produced by the law." Note "work" is singular here; "works" plural often has a negative overtone.

en + dat. "on]" - [written] in [the hearts of them]. Local, expressing space / sphere. The accusative construction "written in the hearts of them" serves as the complement of the direct object "the law" of the verb "to show forth", standing in a double accusative construction and asserting a fact about "the law". Obviously alluding to Jer.31:33, so Cranfield, Jewett, although denied by many commentators, eg., Barrett. Presumably it is the "requirements" which are written on the heart, rather than the actual Mosaic law.

thV suneidhsewV (iV ewV) gen. "[their] consciences" - the conscience [of them]. Genitive, standing in a genitive absolute construction; see the participle below. The word may imply that the conscience functions as if a law within, but Cranfield argues that the word expresses inward rational thought rather than the prompting of an innate moral core; the word was commonly used "of knowledge shared with oneself whether of one's having done wrong or of one's innocence", Cranfield.

summarturoushV (sumarturew) gen. pres. part. "bearing witness" - bearing joint witness / testifying. Forming the first of two genitive absolute constructions, temporal; "they show the effect of the law written in their hearts when their conscience bears witness and when their conflicting thoughts accuse, or even sometimes excuse them." Both meanings for this word are suggested. If "bearing joint witness" then who is the other witness? Barrett suggests the Gentiles themselves, although possibly "the law" is intended. Cranfield argues for "bear witness, testify", the testimony of "the law's requirements written on their heart", the heart of the individual Gentile Christians.

kathgorountwn (kathgorew) gen. pres. part. "now accusing" - [and of = their thoughts] accusing [or even defending]. For the syntax, see above. Referring to the action of the conscience which serves to assess evidential issues of morality against one's own actions and pass judgment accordingly, so "accuse", or apologoumenwn, "defend" = "excuse", Barclay, or better, "pronounce innocent". The determination of "innocence", of action that is right and proper, is modified by kai; possibly adjunctive, "also", but better ascensive, "even", given that our most noble motivations cannot tolerate close inspection, ie., rarely can we excuse ourselves.

metaxu + gen. "-" - between [one another]. This prepositional phrase refers to the mental conflict always present when a person is faced with a moral issue; "conflicting thoughts", ESV.


The sense of this verse is disputed. It is argued that what seems to be a reference to the great assize doesn't fit the present experience of "accusing" and "excusing", but at the assize, what we know to be right and true will serve to condemn us "on the day when God judges the hidden things .....". "All this will be made plain on the day of judgment", Leenhardt. So, it is likely that v16 follows on from v15, making the point that "one's conscience will bear witness on the day when God judges the things that they have kept secret", Mounce.

"This will take place" - The lack of a verb, here supplied by NIV, may indicate that Paul is still working with the same time frame, a durative present. None-the-less, it is more likely that his view has changed to the great assize, the day of judgment, although an ellipsis is certainly evident; "We may be sure that all this will be taken into account in the day of the true judgment when ....", Phillips.

en + dat. "on" - on [a day]. Temporal use of the preposition. The lack of an article for hJmera/, "a day", may indicate that Paul is not speaking about "the day of judgment", the last day, but this seems unlikely.

o{te "when" - when. Serving to introduce a temporal clause.

krinei (krinw) pres. "[God] will judge / judges" - [god] judges. Again, it can be argued that the present tense here supports the view that Paul is not thinking of a future judgment, but it is likely that a durative future is intended, as NIV, rather than NIV11.

twn anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "people's " - [the secrets, hidden things] of men. The genitive is adjectival, possessive / verbal, subjective.

dia + gen. "through" - through [jesus christ]. Instrumental, expressing means; "by means of ..." Christ is the agent of divine judgment.

kata + acc. "as [my gospel declares]" - according to [the gospel of me]. Expressing a standard; "in accordance with." This statement by Paul accords with "the gospel of me." The genitive mou, "of me", is probably possessive, "my gospel." Paul is suggesting that the gospel which he preaches is distinctive, it is "my gospel" (a possessive genitive), although since it is "through the agency of Christ", it is not heretical. Paul has a distinctive take on the gospel which contextualises the message for Gentiles. Cranfield opts for a subjective genitive, ie., the gospel which he preaches. Cranfield's "the gospel which I preach [together with other Christian preachers]" surely misses the point.


Romans Introduction.



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