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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 12
Verse 12. For. This is used to give a reason for what he had just said, or to show on what principles God would treat man so as not to be a respecter of persons.
As many. Whosoever. This includes all who have done it, and evidently has respect to the Gentile world. It is of the more importance to remark this, because he does not say that it is applicable to a few only, or to great and incorrigible instances of pagan wickedness; but it is a universal, sweeping declaration, obviously including all.
Have sinned, have been guilty of crimes of any kind toward God or man. Sin is the transgression of a rule of conduct, however made known to mankind.
Without law. anomwv. This expression evidently means without revealed or written law, as the apostle immediately says that they had a law of nature, (Ro 2:14,15.) The word law, nomov, is often used to denote the revealed law of God, the Scriptures, or revelation in general, Mt 12:5; Lu 2:23,24; 10:26; Joh 8:5,17.
Shall also perish. apolountai. The Greek word used here occurs frequently in the New Testament. It means, to destroy, to lose, or to corrupt; and is applied to life, (Mt 10:39) to a reward of labour, (Mt 10:42) to wisdom, (1 Co 1:19) to bottles, Mt 9:17. It is also used to denote future punishment, or the destruction of soul and body in hell, (Mt 10:28; 18:14; Joh 3:15, ) where it is opposed to eternal life, and therefore denotes eternal death. Ro 14:15; Joh 17:12. In this sense the word is evidently used in this verse. The connexion demands that the reference should be to a future judgment to be passed on the heathen. It will be remarked here, that the apostle does not say they shall be saved without law. He does not give even an intimation respecting their salvation. The strain of the argument, as well as this express declaration, shows that they who had sinned—and in the first chapter he had proved that all the heathen were sinners—would be punished. If any of the heathen are saved, it will be, therefore, an exception to the general rule in regard to them. The apostles evidently believed that the great mass of them would be destroyed. On this ground they evinced such zeal to save them; on this ground the Lord Jesus commanded the gospel to be preached to them; and on this ground Christians are now engaged in the effort to bring them to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. It may be added here, that all modern investigations have gone to confirm the position that the heathen are as degraded now as they were in the time of Paul.
Without law. That is, they shall not be judged by a law which they have not. They shall not be tried and condemned by the revelation which the Jews had. They shall be condemned only according to the knowledge and the law which they actually possess. This is the equitable rule on which God will judge the world. According to this, it is not to be apprehended that they will suffer as much as those who have the revealed will of God. Comp. Mt 10:15; 11:24; Lu 10:12.
Have sinned in the law. Have sinned having the revealed will of God, or endowed with greater light and privileges than the heathen world. The apostle here has undoubted reference to the Jews who had the law of God, and who prided themselves much on its possession.
Shall be judged by the law. This is an equitable and just rule; and to this the Jews could make no objection. Yet the admission of this would have led directly to the point to which Paul was conducting his argument, to show that they also were under condemnation, and needed a Saviour. It will be observed here, that the apostle uses a different expression in regard to the Jews from what he does of the Gentiles. He says of the former, that they "shall be judged;" of the latter, that they "shall perish." It is not certainly known why he varied this expression. But if conjecture may be allowed, it may have been for the following reasons.
(1.) If he had affirmed of the Jews that they should perish, it would at once have excited their prejudice, and have armed them against the conclusion to which he was about to come. Yet they could bear the word to be applied to the heathen, for it was in accordance with their own views, and their own mode of speaking, and was strictly true.
(2.) The word "judged" is apparently more mild, and yet really more severe. It would arouse no prejudice to say that they would be judged by their law. It was indeed paying a sort of tribute or regard to that on which they prided themselves so much—the possession of the law of God. Still, it was a word implying all that he wished to say, and involving the idea that they would be punished and destroyed. If it was admitted that the heathen would perish, and if God was to judge the Jews by an unerring rule, that is, according to their privileges and light, then it would follow that they would also be condemned, and their own minds would come at once to the conclusion. The change of words here may indicate, therefore, a nice tact, or delicate address in argument, urging home to the conscience an offensive truth rather by the deductions of the mind of the opponent himself, than by a harsh and severe charge of the writer. In instances of this the Scriptures abound.; and it was this especially that so eminently characterized the arguments of our Saviour.
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