Having shown that the Gentiles are the objects of God’s wrath because of their sinful practices, the apostle now directs his attention to the Jews, and states that they are without excuse when they practice some of the very evils they condemn in others. Let not the Jew think that because he has not been abandoned by God to a life of most scandalous immorality, God must be very pleased with him. Rather, let him take to heart the fact that God’s kindness toward him should bring him to conversion (2:1-4).
Paul continues, “But by your hard and unconverted heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every person according to his deeds … and who does not show partiality” (verses 5-11).
“All who have sinned in ignorance of the law will perish even though they did not know the law, and all who have sinned knowing the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight but it is the doers….”
The apostle then reveals that even the Gentiles, who do not have the written law, do have a conscience which at times condemns and at times commends them. God will take all this into consideration. He will judge with absolute fairness, not showing any partiality. All this will become clear on the day of the final judgment, when God, through Jesus Christ, will judge men’s secrets (verses 12-16).
The next paragraph may be condensed into this one big question, “Do you, who are a Jew, really practice what you preach?” More in detail, Paul asks, “Do you, who call yourself a Jew and rely on (the) law … and consider yourself a light for those in darkness, try to live in accordance with the law?” … “You, then, who teach someone else, don’t you teach yourself; you who preach that people should not steal, do you steal?” etc. He concludes this section with the accusation, “As it is written [see Isa. 52:5] ‘Because of you [i.e., your wickedness] the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles” (verses 17-24).
The Jew was of the opinion that because he had the law and had been circumcised, all was well for time and eternity. Paul answers, “Circumcision does indeed profit, but only if you put the law into practice … He is not a (real) Jew who is one only on the outside, nor is (true) circumcision something external and physical. But he is a (real) Jew who is one inwardly; and (real) circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from man but from God.” (verses 25-29).
At this point the apostle seems to hear an objection. It is as if someone is saying, “But Paul, do you mean that the Jews have no advantages, the most priceless of them being that the oracles of God have been entrusted to them?” (3:1, 2).
The question naturally arises, “But what if some of the Jews are unfaithful to that trust? Their unfaithfulness will not nullify God’s faithfulness, will it?” Paul answers, “By no means. Let God be true, and every person a liar. As it is written,
” ‘That thou mayest be proved right in thy words
And prevail in thy judging.’ ”
Since God is faithful, those Jews who are faithful to him and to their trust will certainly receive the promised goods. Human unfaithfulness, far from invalidating divine faithfulness, causes it to stand out in bold relief; just as, for example, David, by means of his wholehearted confession (Ps. 51), caused God’s righteousness in judging him to shine forth all the more brilliantly on the dark background of the adulterer’s own sinfulness. See II Sam. 11, 12.
This answer, however, leads to the question, “Since this is true, namely, that man’s unrighteousness brings out more sharply God’s righteousness, should not God be happy about that turn of events, instead of inflicting wrath on man for his sins?” This question is asked first in 3:5 and then, in a slightly different form, in verse 7. In both cases it amounts to, “Does not the end-namely, the revelation of God’s glorious attributes-justify the means, namely, man’s sinfulness?”
Paul’s answer is, “Perish the thought, and let the people who so wickedly misrepresent our gospel receive the punishment they deserve” (verses 3-8).