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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 14

Verse 14. For when. The apostle, in Ro 2:13, had stated a general principle, that the doers of the law only can be justified, if justification is attempted by the law. In this verse and the next, he proceeds to show that the same principle is applicable to the heathen; that though they have not the written law of God, yet that they have sufficient knowledge of his will to take away every excuse for sin, and consequently that the course of reasoning by which he had come to the conclusion that they were guilty is well founded. This verse is not to be understood as affirming, as an historical fact, that any of the heathen ever did perfectly obey the law which they had, any more than the previous verse affirms it of the Jews. The main point in the argument is, that if men are justified by the law, their obedience must be entire and perfect; that this is not to be external only, or to consist in hearing or in acknowledging the justice of the law; and that the Gentiles had an opportunity of illustrating this principle as well as the Jews, since they also had a law among themselves. The word when (otan) does not imply that the thing shall certainly take place, but is one form of introducing a supposition, or of stating the connexion of one thing with another; Mt 5:11; 6:2,5,6,16; 10:19.

It is, however, true that the main things contained in this verse, and the next, actually occurred, that the Gentiles did many things which the law of God required.

The Gentiles. All who were not Jews.

Which have not the law. Who have not a revelation, or the written word of God. In the Greek the article is omitted, "who have not law," i.e., any revealed law.

By nature. By some, this phrase has been supposed to belong to the previous member of the sentence, "who have not the law by nature." But our translation is the more natural and usual construction. The expression means clearly by the light of conscience and reason, and whatever other helps they may have without revelation. It denotes simply, in that state which is without the revealed will of God. In that condition they had many helps of tradition, conscience, reason, and the observation of the dealings of Divine Providence, so that to a considerable extent they knew what was right and what was wrong.

Do the things. Should they not merely understand and approve, but actually perform the things required in the law.

Contained in the law. Literally, the things of the law, i.e. the things which the law requires. Many of those things might be done by the heathen, as, e.g., respect to parents, truth, justice, honesty, chastity. So far as they did any of those things, so far they showed that they had a law among themselves. And wherein they failed in these things, they showed that they were justly condemned.

Are a law unto themselves. This is explained in the following verse. It means that their own reason and conscience constituted, in these things, a law, or prescribed that for them which the revealed law did to the Jews.

{w} "a law unto" 1 Co 11:14

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