Saturday, December 09, 2017

4. Concentrated Romans (2:1-3:20)

Study notes on Romans continue.

I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
C. Jews have sinned too (2:1-29)
  • Paul now turns the tables on any self-righteous person who might be a little too happy about the fate of sinful Gentiles. He thus targets the hypocrite, which could be a Jew who boasts in having the Law.
  • 2:1-16. Paul looks to the Day of Judgment. "God will repay each person for what they have done" (2:6; Ps. 62:12).
  • 2:2. When God judges the person of Romans 1, his judgment is righteous, because he is righteous and not a hypocrite.
  • 2:4. God in his mercy lets us repent for our sins. How would we then condemn others for wrongs of which we ourselves are guilty? Read slightly differently than Paul probably meant it, you might read this verse to say that it is God's empowerment inside us that causes us to repent or his prevenient grace that empowers us to repent. Again, this is probably not precisely what Paul was saying.
  • 2:5 makes it clear that God's wrath is not merely him letting us experience the consequences of our sins. There is a Day of Wrath coming as well. 
  • There is a Day of Judgment coming. Some will receive glory and honor and peace on that day (2:10). Others will experience trouble and distress, wrath and anger (2:8-9). 
  • God will not show favoritism on that day. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, the judgment will be the same.
  • 2:13. It is not those who hear the Law (e.g., Jews) who are righteous in God's sight (i.e., justified). It is those who actually do the Law.
  • 2:14-15. Paul now introduces a radical possibility. What if there would be a Gentile who, although not growing up knowing the Law (they do not "by nature" have the Law), nevertheless keep the Law?
  • N. T. Wright suggests that Paul has in mind a Gentile believer and this would seem to be the best interpretation. The other possibility is that Paul is setting out a scenario that could never be the case. If there were such a Gentile, that person who kept the Law would be more righteous than a Jew who did not.
  • The Law in question here must be some subset of the whole Jewish Law. In particular, it must not include the "Jew-specific" parts of the Law like circumcision. It would make no sense to speak of a Gentile keeping circumcision without having the Law.
  • The love command in the Law, discussed in Romans 13:8-10, is likely the essence of the Law Paul has in mind. In 8:4, Paul speaks of a person fulfilling the "righteous requirement" of the Law because of the Holy Spirit. These images all likely fit together.
  • So Paul speaks of a Gentile believer who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keeps the righteous requirement of the Jewish Law (love) even though he or she does not have the Law "by nature."
  • There is some debate about what the phrase, "by nature," goes with. Is Paul talking about a Gentile keeping the Law "by nature"? More likely Paul is talking about the fact that a Gentile does not have the Law "by nature." That is to say, Gentiles do not normally know the Jewish Law. It is not something they grow up with normally.
  • Such Gentile believers have the Law written on their hearts, possibly an allusion to the new covenant passage of Jeremiah 31 (cf. Heb. 8).
  • 2:16. In Paul's understanding of the good news, God will use Jesus on the Day of Judgment to judge everyone's secret thoughts.
  • 2:17-29. Paul now addresses a self-righteous Jew directly. It does not matter if you are even a teacher of the Law if you do not do it. You might know and preach about stealing or adultery, but if you do the same things, you are no better than someone who does not know not to do these things.
  • Such hypocrisy in the end is a bad witness. It causes non-Jews among the Gentiles to malign the God of Israel (2:24).
  • 2:26-29. So true circumcision is circumcision of the heart, not the flesh. A Gentile who loves his or her neighbor may as well be circumcised physically, and a Jew who does not might just as well be uncircumcised. 
  • John Wesley had a well-known sermon on the circumcision of the heart. 
D. All have sinned (3:1-20)
  • We now come to the bottom line. The implication of Romans 1 was that Gentiles have sinned. But we learned in Romans 2 that Jews sin too. We are building to the conclusion of 3:23--"All have sinned," that is, both Gentile and Jew. Both "races" stand under the condemnation of sin and thus all humanity has a problem. "The wages of sin is death" (6:23).
  • As Krister Stendahl pointed out in a famous article called, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," Paul's argument here is about Jews and Gentiles. Paul also believes that all individuals have sinned, but his point is focused on two groups. All--that is both Gentile and Jew--have sinned.
  • 3:1-8. Paul anticipates a question he will explore in greater detail in chapters 9-11. What's the point of being a Jew if it does not help you be right with God? Paul's answer seems to be the honor of the things God has entrusted to the Jews (9:1-5) but perhaps also the fact that Jews have a greater default knowledge of God--they have the Scriptures (3:2).
  • But the faithlessness of many Jews does not negate God's faithfulness (3:3).
  • 3:7-8. Some have accused Paul of teaching that the more we sin, the more glory God gets for his graciousness. They have accused him of encouraging sin because of claiming that works of Law cannot make a person right with God. Paul vigorously rejects this accusation and will strongly push back on it in Romans 6-8.
  • 3:9-10. Rather, the Law makes us aware that we are sinners already (3:20). No one will be declared right with God on the basis of the Law. The Law silences every human being's pretense to self-righteousness. 
  • 3:9. Jew and Gentile alike are under the power of Sin. In this respect, there is no advantage to being a Jew.
  • 3:10-18. In these verses Paul strings together a number of passages from the Old Testament whose words relate to human sinfulness. These passages include Psalm 14:1-3 or Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; and Psalm 36:1.
  • In Old Testament context, these passages were not referring to all humanity but specifically to the wicked, even to fools who do not believe in God. Nevertheless, Paul paints a picture of the human default that is all too familiar.
  • This passage is the basis for the doctrine of total depravity, the idea that humanity is thoroughly corrupted and unable to choose God in its own power. The teaching that humans can choose God in their own power is called Pelagianism.
  • However, Paul never says here that there is absolutely no good in a human being. Indeed, since we remain in the image of God, it would seem wrong to read Paul to teach an absolute depravity. He is rather speaking of a thorough depravity. Perhaps we might say that there is no area of human existence that is not marred by sin.

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