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.”