Thursday, August 20, 2009

Romans 2

This, according to Tom Wright, is the joker in the pack. Maybe. It's definitely a key spot at which to get your interpretation correct. The direction you take here will have big consequences. It's quite clear that in Romans 2 Paul is attacking a Jewish trust in covenant status, divorced from covenant obedience. To claim to be righteous with an attendant unrighteousness is absurd – and will lead to wrath. Therefore such people are in the same position as the unrighteous pagan. To be justified before God it is not enough merely to hear the Law, it must be obeyed (2:12). This is where some interpretations falter. To 'do' the Law is not to be morally perfect. The Law assumes the moral imperfection of the people of God – it provides for the confession of, and forgiveness of, sin within its rubric. We might best describe 'doing' the Law as covenantal obedience, living a life of obedient faith – a point that Paul goes on to stress.

Paul stresses that circumcision is of value to the one who practices the Law, but to the one who is a transgressor, it becomes uncircumcision (2:25). In the same way, the pagan who is obedient is justified, rather than the Jew who is a transgressor. 'Transgressor' here must be interpreted in as the antithesis of the 'doer' of the Law – it is the person who has no heart concern for obedience. Paul makes clear that this obedience is the sign of an inward change (2:29). Circumcision is of value, if it is followed by circumcision of the heart. The Law itself stresses this – circumcision of the heart, the Law in the heart, is the means to life (see Deut 10:16; 30:6, Cf. 6:4-6; 11:18).

As to who the Gentiles are who instinctively do the things of the Law (2:14,15), or the uncircumcised who keeps the Law (2:27), Paul could be referring to God-fearers (or theoretically to proselytes in the former case), but I think it likely that he here refers to Gentile Christians.

See also my former post on Romans 2.