Inclusivism (5): The Gentiles in Romans 2:12-16

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For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”

Apparently the Gentiles have the law written on their hearts, can follow the law by nature (would you call such a nature totally depraved?), and their conflicting thoughts may EXCUSE them on the day when God judges the hearts of men by Jesus Christ. Hmmmm…

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15 Responses to “Inclusivism (5): The Gentiles in Romans 2:12-16”

  1. David Says:

    Yeah, that bit about the gentiles being excused sorta confused me for a while. But it’s obvious that it’s their own consciences that are excusing them, and so Paul doesn’t seem to be talking about any sort of final judgment or pronouncement by God on the last day. In fact, the bit about the “secrets” of men fits better with the fairly straightforward interpretation that, on the last day when God and his judgments are finally and plainly revealed to all, those unrighteous things which the unbeliever did will clearly convict him, while his conscience will excuse him of those righteous things that he did in accordance with the law. There could also be reference to the conscience of the unbeliever accusing and excusing him now, as well as on the last day (or at the very least we could make such an inference regarding the workings of the unregenerate conscience).But in any event, taking Romans 1-3 as a whole, making a case for inclusivism based on these few verses alone is shaky at best.

  2. MG Says:

    David–This passage is clearly talking about an actual eschatological event (see Schreiner’s Romans commentary or Gathercole’s Where is Boasting?). It seems unlikely to me that the thoughts of the Gentiles are not excusing them *in God’s eyes*. This entire passage is about what is happening *in God’s eyes*. It seems much more plausible that men’s thoughts and consciences are excusing them before God. This also fits best with Gentiles doing by nature what the law requires; it looks like they actually are doing what the law requires, and hence being excused by God.When you say that an unbeliever can do righteous things in accordance with the law, what do you mean?What is it about Romans 1-3 that makes inclusivism implausible? That all men are depraved? But that doesn’t imply they are totally depraved; and besides, inclusivists say God saves some of them (those that respond in faith to God’s grace) not that they pull themselves out of depravity. If humans were trying on their own to be saved apart from Christ, they would fail miserably. Is it that its hard to imagine how they could ever come to faith if all the negative evaluations of humanity in Romans 1-3 apply to them? But then its hard to see how Christians can have faith. Looks like we will have to exert lots of effort and try really hard to be saved (Luke 13:24). Nothing about inclusivism conflicts with Paul’s negative evaluations of humanity in Romans 1-3, as far as I can tell.

  3. Ben Says:

    Blogged this here: http://daretodecide.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/god-fearers-inclusivism-election-and-universalism/

  4. MG Says:

    Thanks for the linking Ben!

  5. MG Says:

    David–Don’t you think its suspicious that the doers of the law will be justified, (2:13) and those who have not heard the law (unevangelized, outside-of-Israel Gentiles) can be doers of the law (2:14)?

  6. Sean Daily Says:

    Romans 2:14 is translated wrong. It ought to read, “For when Gentiles who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires …” The comma is put in the wrong place! The Gentiles spoken of in this text are living the Law of God and are believers in Jesus. But they did not have the Law by nature (ie. given to them at Sinai because they are not Jews.) Yet, even though they did not have it as part of their ancestry, they are actually living it out in contrast to the Jews, who do have the Law by nature, but are not living it out.The common translation makes no sense in context because how can the pagan Gentiles be living the Law? While some pagan cultures do show a morality that is similar to the Mosaic Law and a philosophical argument can be made along those lines, I do not believe that Paul is heading in that direction in Romans 2. He is writing to Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome who are not getting along. The Jews are not happy with the way the Gentile believers are “living out the Law” and want them to do it their way. In their arrogance, they are attempting to put themselves on a higher plain with God because of their having the Law naturally, and therefore they know better. Paul’s contrast is not who received the Law naturally, but who is living it out properly. The Gentiles in Rome in this case were living it out. (Later he also warns the Gentiles not to get arrogant either.) From the comment above: “Don’t you think its[sic] suspicious that the doers of the law will be justified, (2:13) and those who have not heard the law (unevangelized, outside-of-Israel Gentiles) can be doers of the law (2:14)?” Exactly. And yet, that is what is preached. The translation I give is not only a possible translation from the Greek, it is used in this way in other New Testament texts. If anyone cares, I can demonstrate that, but if you don’t know Greek, you’d be taking my word for it.Sean DailyClick on my name above to see some articles in full on this topic.

  7. MG Says:

    Sean–Hey, thanks for posting. I would like to hear what you have to say (its very interesting to say the least, and reminds me of N. T. Wright to some degree…) and to respond to your comment. I’m sorry to do this to you, but is there any chance you could copy what you wrote here and post it on our new blog, under the same entry (“Inclusivism…”)? If not thats okay we can stay here to discuss; but I would prefer to discuss it over there.

  8. Sean Daily Says:

    Romans 2:14 is translated wrong. It ought to read, “For when Gentiles who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires …” The comma is put in the wrong place! The Gentiles spoken of in this text are living the Law of God and are believers in Jesus. But they did not have the Law by nature (ie. given to them at Sinai because they are not Jews.) Yet, even though they did not have it as part of their ancestry, they are actually living it out in contrast to the Jews, who do have the Law by nature, but are not living it out.

    The common translation makes no sense in context because how can the pagan Gentiles be living the Law? While some pagan cultures do show a morality that is similar to the Mosaic Law and a philosophical argument can be made along those lines, I do not believe that Paul is heading in that direction in Romans 2. He is writing to Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome who are not getting along. The Jews are not happy with the way the Gentile believers are “living out the Law” and want them to do it their way. In their arrogance, they are attempting to put themselves on a higher plain with God because of their having the Law naturally, and therefore they know better. Paul’s contrast is not who received the Law naturally, but who is living it out properly. The Gentiles in Rome in this case were living it out. (Later he also warns the Gentiles not to get arrogant either.)

    From the comment above: “Don’t you think its[sic] suspicious that the doers of the law will be justified, (2:13) and those who have not heard the law (unevangelized, outside-of-Israel Gentiles) can be doers of the law (2:14)?”

    Exactly. And yet, that is what is preached. The translation I give is not only a possible translation from the Greek, it is used in this way in other New Testament texts. If anyone cares, I can demonstrate that, but if you don’t know Greek, you’d be taking my word for it.

    Sean Daily
    Click on my name above to see some articles in full on this topic.

  9. MG Says:

    Sean–

    If your suggestion is correct, it does seem that our argument would be undercut.

    Here are a couple of questions that I have initially (not intended as criticism, but merely a request for information from someone who seems to be more studied on this topic):

    1. Are there any examples of this reading in early Christian theology? Do any Church Fathers translate Romans 2 this way?

    2. Are there any modern biblical scholars who translate Romans 2 this way?

    3. Considering that some of the members of this blog do know Greek (though I am admittedly not one of them) would you mind supporting your case from other New Testament texts?

    There are responses that I can think of, but they may be superfluous, depending on how you answer the above.

    There is one point I would like clarification on. When you say “The common translation makes no sense in context because how can the pagan Gentiles be living the Law? While some pagan cultures do show a morality that is similar to the Mosaic Law and a philosophical argument can be made along those lines, I do not believe Paul is heading in that direction in Romans 2…” what do you mean by “philosophical argument”? This seems like it would be not a philosophical argument, but an exegetical conclusion. There is nothing about this conclusion that makes it in principle impossible to arrive at it from exegetical considerations. There wouldn’t need to be any extra-biblical sources of authority or knowledge to support this interpretation if it can be argued for cogently from the biblical text.

  10. bríde Says:

    Sean –

    I’m not really sure why I should accept your re-translation, or your interesting interpretation of the verse’s context.

    First, your contextual argument.

    You say, “The common translation makes no sense in context because how can the pagan Gentiles be living the Law?”

    In response, St. John Chrysostom tells us in his Homilies on Romans (V) that it is “not only possible without hearing to be a doer, but even with hearing not to be so.” This seems to be well in line with the verse where St. Paul tells us “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” After all, St. Paul obviously makes a distinction between hearing and doing at this point, and so it is plausible to think, based on the construction, that there is a set of “doers of the law” that overlaps with, but is not entirely contained by, the set of “hearers of the law”.

    You should be able to see the direction I’m going with this.

    Second, your assertion of mistranslation.

    I am not a Greek scholar of any kind. Any knowledge of Greek I have has been picked up in a fairly haphazard manner, as I have received no formal education in Greek. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone – Pastor Bob, Strong, or even a Doctor with a degree from Oxford – could understand Greek better than a native speaker who, further, was the recipient of a formal education in Greek literary and rhetorical conventions. Let’s also make this person a speaker of Koine Greek that is much like that of the Bible, the main exceptions being the introduction of some Latin terms.

    The person I have just described is, again, St. John Chrysostom. I feel that his is probably a reliable testimony, so I will defer to it.

    In his Homilies on Romans, he quotes Romans 2:14 as saying, “For when Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” He goes on to use the verse in a way that accords perfectly with the interpretation given above by MG.

    I feel like you looked at the Greek, noticed a comma in relation to the words around it, and failed to note the remaining syntactical sense of the sentence. It seems like the kind of rookie mistake that would be expected of someone like . . . well, someone like me. ;p

  11. bríde Says:

    Oops – sorry. The above interpretation was given by Krause, who, by the way, does know Greek.

  12. Mark Krause Says:

    Sean,
    I’d have to see the argument for putting the comma in a different place. I’m pretty confident in standing with the ESV on this one as I find it to be a generally reliable (although there a few places where it admittedly drives me a little batty, but what translation is perfect?) Your suggestion seems pretty subjective (but many punctuation decisions just are when you’re dealing with a text that has no punctuation).

    Getting the law given extrinsically to you is not to have it by nature. This seems a very curious reading of what it means to have something by nature. I would assume that having something by nature means to have it as an intrinsic feature. I believe that St. Paul is trying censure the Jews here on their percieved advantage over the Gentiles showing them that, if anything, having the law given to them on Sinai will only mean that they can be judged more strictly than those around them. It doesn’t mean that no one else has access to the moral law. All humans have some access to the moral law because the moral law is discoverable via the inbuilt teleology of human nature. Thus, the law is an internal feature of human nature that is, in principle, accessable to some degree to all humans.

    It is doers of the who are justified not the hearers. Gentiles can do the law too, because they have access to it via their natures. Thus, all the possession of the written Mosaic law does for Jews is give them clarity such that they cannnot claim ignorance or confusion as the Gentiles might be able to do (see v. 16). This seems to be the correct interpretation, perfectly fitting St. Paul’s argument. I’m pretty convinced of this, although not dogmatically so, but it’ll take a pretty good argument to move me.

  13. Sean Daily Says:

    MG, bride, Mark Krause;

    Sorry for the delay. I don’t have the time I’d like to devote to responding. However, I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

    You asked: 1. Are there any examples of this reading in early Christian theology? Do any Church Fathers translate Romans 2 this way?
    I have not had the opportunity to comb over this material, so I do not know. Also, I only have one commentary in my possession that agrees with me, and that one does not make mention of your question. Others may…see next question.

    You asked: 2. Are there any modern biblical scholars who translate Romans 2 this way?
    Yes there are. Barnes says of this point: “By nature – By some, this phrase has been supposed to belong to the previous member of the sentence, “who have not the law by nature.” While Barnes doesn’t agree, he has seen it enough to make mention.

    The NET Bible commentary says,
    “tn Some (e.g. C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans [ICC], 1:135-37) take the phrase(phusei, “by nature”) to go with the preceding “do not have the law,” thus: “the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature,” that is, by virtue of not being born Jewish.”
    Then there is Tim Hegg’s commentary, the one I have in front of me, that spends a lengthy 2 pages single spaced on this topic. I really like his approach because he is fluent in Greek, has a solid grasp and knowledge of the Reformers (1500-1600) as well as modern commentators. In addition, he is very well versed in the historical setting and the Jewish teachings of the time.
    You asked: 3. Considering that some of the members of this blog do know Greek would you mind supporting your case from other New Testament texts?
    Quoting from Tim Hegg, “
    Rom 2:27 And will not he who is physically (out of nature = phusei) uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not be judge you who though having the letter {of the Law} and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
    Gal 2:15 We {are} Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
    Eph 2:3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
    In each of these cases, though one cannot be dogmatic, it appears that Paul uses the term phusei to designate one’s ethnic or familial connections. It certainly is a valid option in our verse…” Tim Hegg, Romans Commentary vol. 1 pg 47
    Lastly, you asked, “what do you mean by ‘philosophical argument’?” I spoke out of place here. You can most likely do a good job making that argument using other texts. I should have worded it differently. I simply felt, and do feel, that it’s not the argument that Paul is aiming at in these verses here.
    Next Post: by bríde
    “Paul obviously makes a distinction between hearing and doing at this point.”
    Yes he does. One thing to remember is that the Jewish people were “hearing” the Law or the Torah every week on the Sabbath. Most did not “read” it. They heard it for their whole lives, yet in this verse Paul is saying they are not doing it. There is a disconnect. Yet the Gentiles who have not “heard it,” as in from their youth and from generations, are actually doing it. It is being written on their hearts.
    Another quotes: “I feel like you looked at the Greek, noticed a comma” . . . while it is not unknown for me to do this, I did not in this case. Rather I picked it up from Tim Hegg who isn’t a rookie to the whole Greek and interpretive process.
    Mark Krause – (Hard to quote just one part of your post so here goes)
    You’re correct that Paul is stating that the Jews don’t have the advantage they think they do. Yet, in the Text it clearly states that the Gentiles spoken of here “have the work of the Law written in their hearts.” Having the Law written on their hearts is 1) only done by the Spirit; and 2) reminds us (and certainly any Jew reading the letter) of Jeremiah 31, where the New Covenant is the Torah written on your hearts. This is not simply some moral law or ethic. It’s the whole of the Law which Jeremiah is speaking and Paul is speaking. Therefore the Gentiles in this verse must be “regenerate” Gentiles, and not simply random pagans who “seem to live good lives.”

    I don’t harbor distain for the traditional interpretation. Most by far take that view. But after studying first century history and first century Jewish theology, I saw it differently. When reading Hegg, the pieces fit rather nicely. If I end up being wrong, oh well, life goes on. After all, “moral” law is universally known to some extent. Yet, I still see Paul speaking of the entire Mosaic Law, but more than that, it being written on the heart.

    I wish I had more time to devote to this discussion. Maybe more latter.

  14. Mark Krause Says:

    You make some interesting points and the Greek (after looking it over a couple of times) does seem like it could go both ways in regards to the comma.

    However, I would say that the bit in verse sixteen about the conflicting thoughts of the Gentiles and the over-all thrust of verses 15 and 16 seem to lend themselves to a read in which the Gentiles do not have the written law period, not just that they do not have the law according to their ancestry. Furthermore, I think that the “they do not have the law” which concludes verse 14 without mention to nature can be seen to parallel the “do not have the law” earlier in the verse, which may lend some plausibility to my reading. It seems to suggest that the concern is that they do not have the law, not that they do not have the law by nature.

    There is some question about the relationship between the moral law and the mosaic law. Many fathers would simply assert that the natural law and the mosaic law are one and the same. I could maintain that the Gentiles could follow the spirit of the law without having access to the letter. This seems fairly plausible. I think your bit about being a “regenerated Gentile” might be begging the inclusivism question. I think that one can read this passage as quite plausibly saying that their might not be a vast difference in the salvific status of a Jew following the law, and a Gentile following his conscience.

    In the end, I don’t think your view can be easily dismissed, but I still feel more comfortable with my reading. I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree 🙂 Thank you for the input though.

  15. MG Says:

    Sean–

    Thanks for the supplemental argument, that was very helpful.

    I don’t know Greek so its gonna be hard for me to make precise textual arguments here. But it seems peculiar to me to talk about the subject of divine judgment on Gentiles in verses 15-6 the way Paul does if he is talking about Christians. It just doesn’t seem like he would need to clarify that their thoughts would either accuse or excuse them if he were talking to Christians about Christians.

    Also, verse 12 is peculiar on your read; Paul seems to say (again, though, Im not a Greek scholar) that those who sin apart from the law will be judged apart from the law. Is he referring to Christian Gentiles here? This seems initially implausible to me. After all, on your read, Christian Gentiles do have the law in a very strong sense. They know of it, so it makes sense that God would judge them by the same standards as Christian Jews; after all if both know the law equally well, then both should be judged by an equal standard. But there seems to be two different standards, and this forms the context for verse 13 and then 14.

    Lastly, it seems (on second thought–Im retracting what I said in my first response to you: “it seems our reading would be undermined if you’re right”) that even if we read the verse “when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature (according to genealogical connections) do what the law requires…” we can still give an inclusivist spin to this translation. The Gentiles who do not have the law according to inheritance from their biological family can still refer to non-Christian Gentiles, who likewise clearly do not have the law from biological inheritance.

    I must admit though that your point about Jeremiah 31 is a good one. I don’t know what to think about that at the moment; it seems to be one piece of data that doesn’t fit with my reading. It is implausible at first glance that Paul would speak of non-Christian Gentiles–saved or not–in this way.

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