12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law
Paul continued his argument about positive or negative volition toward the revelation that people possess in this verse.
We can see God’s impartiality in judgment (v. 11) by the way He deals with both the Gentile and the Jew.
The word “for” demonstrates how God judges impartially (v.11), that He judges everyone on how they respond to the revelation they receive.
as many as have sinned without law [Gentiles—all non-Jewish people]
Those who sin (the aorist indicates timelessness) are those who sin in the present, past, or future.
God did not give the revelation of the Law to Gentiles but to Jews. God does not judge Gentiles, therefore, according to revelation in Scripture.
will also perish without law,
God will not use the Law given to Israel as a nation to judge Gentiles. He will use a different standard of judgment for them. He will judge them for their understanding of God in general revelation and their conscience.
The words “without law” occur only in this verse in the New Testament. Gentiles were ignorant of revelation in the Law of Moses. That is, God did not give Gentiles special revelation as it is found in the Bible; He gave them general revelation found in creation.
The word “perish” is the ultimate fate of those who reject divine revelation (Jn 3:16; 1 Co 1:18). This is the eternal loss of those who go negative toward God’s truth. It is their eternal “ruin.” This is not loss of being but of well-being. The idea is destruction but not annihilation. People perish because they do not respond to the revelation they have.
and as many as have sinned in [in the sphere of] the law [Jews]
God chose Moses as the giver of the revelation of His Law (Jn 1:17). Jews sinned with full knowledge (in the sphere of the law) of God’s revelation in the Old Testament.
will be judged by [through] the law
Possession of the Law is no safeguard against God’s judgment. Simply because the Jew had revelation through the Law does not make him any better than the person who does not have the Law. The issue is whether he goes positive in volition toward the Law. God will judge him according to the revelation he has, according to a higher standard of revelation. Jews possess greater culpability because they have the greater revelation.
God judges all people according to the revelation they have.
People sin against the revelation they have, not by the revelation they do not have. God will judge people according to the light they have (1:19-20), not according to the light they do not possess.
God operates under no false distinction. There is no advantage to the Jew for mere possession of the Law when it comes to how God judges sin. He will judge both Jew and Gentile equally and by a fair standard. God’s judgment measures lives based on actuality. In this case, He will judge Gentiles based on their conscience and Jews based on the Law.
Jn 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
This is fascinating, but I’m a bit confused.
You say, “God did not give the revelation of the Law to Gentiles but to Jews. God does not judge Gentiles, therefore, according to revelation in Scripture . . . [but] for their understanding of God in general revelation and their conscience.”
Do you mean that we Gentiles living today (in countries that have access to the Bible) will NOT be judged by Scripture but by negative or positive volition to God apart from Scripture–in creation and conscience alone? Hasn’t the Bible been given as divine revelation today to ALL people?
Your principle is that God judges all according to the revelation they have, but isn’t the Word revelation to Jews and non-Jews alike today?
The first chapter dealt with people who have never heard the gospel or do not have access to the gospel. God has given Scripture to all people but not all have it as yet. In that case, if a person today who never heard the gospel goes positive volition, then God will send a missionary with the gospel and the Bible.
Ro 10:14 “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’”
People cannot become Christians without the gospel but God will honor their positive volition by sovereignly sending a missionary.
In chapter two (which cannot be separated from the issue of revelation in chapter one), the issue of the Jew’s privilege of receiving revelation verses the Gentile who did not receive special revelation arises from chapter one. As the argument continues in the chapter, it becomes clear that God will judge both Jew and Gentile by the same standard, by what caused the gospel to come into being—God’s very own righteousness. That is, all will be judged by the revelation of the gospel.
The problem with this passage is that it is a very tightly woven argument that does not stand on the initial theses. The argument develops point-by-point until the full argument becomes full-blown. If you read through this commentary till the end of the chapter (or, at least, until verse v.16), it will become more apparent that God intended Scripture for both Jew and Gentile and both will be judged by it.
This core of this particular verse is that the Jew has no safeguard against judgment simply because he traditionally received revelation formally.
Thanks, Grant. That’s clarifying and reminds me that your commentary follows the “progressive revelelation” of the Bible text. I’d been away from reading Romans for a while and forgot to link this verse to what I know is coming. It’s a lesson to me about not reading out of context!
So…if a person dies today never having heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but can be assumed to have sinned against the knowledge of God….or law…that he was given, what then do you believe will be the nature of his eternal condition?
Mark, yes, note my study on Romans 1, especially 1:18.
I do not think Noah (called as righteous by God) and Job (blameless) have understanding of Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet God declared them as righteous. Melchizedek, Enoch and Rachel in the book of Genesis were God’s people even when they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How do you reconcile that? Before missionaries go to China or America, many of the natives do not know the Gospel of Christ. After the missionaries preached to them many became Christian. So those who were born at the wrong time/places (before Gospel of Christ reach them) have no Salvation? Or will God judge them according to what God had revealed to them at that time on whether they have faith in God’s words?
Joseph, The doctrine of progressive revelation indicates that a person is only responsible for the revelation he has at the time. Gen 15:6 indicates that Abraham was born again and even justified (as indicated in Romans 4).
Grant, you have not clarified the above question well. All the patriarchs of the old that died before the coming of Jesus Christ and not Jews his will they be judged?
More explanation about Romans 2:21 is required
Olawale, did you advance to the next study by clicking on the hyper-link for the next study?
Grant, what is the doctrine of progressive revelation and where can it be found in the Bible?
I do not see any hyper-link anywhere here to further my study!
Olawale, just click on the right to move forward or the verse on the left to move backward.
Olawale, another way to find a verse is on the right column 1) click on a book of the Bible, 2) then when the verses pop up, keep scrolling down to find the verse you want. On your smartphone you have to go down to the bottom of the page to find 1) book and 2) verses
I had reached this conclusion before coming to compare with commentaries: Those who died without the Law will be judged by their Conscience(natural law of right and embedded in their heart ) and whatever was approved or disapproved by their societies in their time and age before CHRIST. On the other hand, people of this generation shall be judged by the Law which found fulfillment in CHRIST; to this I suppose with exception of the unreached tribes in the Amazon, lost tribes of Galumjina in Nigeria, and such in other places. My thinking on these special group is that the Gospel must also get to them before the coming of CHRIST, to fulfill the righteousness of the Great Commission. Honestly, the foolishness of GOD is wiser than men!
In my opinion God judges Jews as per law: the gentiles and who did not heard of Jesus as per conscience: those who heard the word of Jesus as per Bible( basing on accepting Jesus as saviour and confessing their sins)