CHAPTER 2: THERE IS NO SALVATION UNDER THE LAW OF THE OLD COVENANT

 

Beloved and eternal Father,

You have given us the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of our salvation'a gift of grace beyond all price and a gift which cannot be bought or earned'only a truly righteous God does for His children what they cannot do for themselves.  Lord, in honor of Your servant St. Thomas Aquinas we now make his prayer of faithfulness to You our prayer, as St. Thomas prayed: "Grant O merciful God, that I may ardently desire, carefully examine, truly know and perfectly fulfill those things that are pleasing to You and to the praise and glory of Your holy name.  Direct my life, O my God, and grant that I might know what You would have me to do and for me to fulfill it as it is necessary and profitable to my soul. Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not be found wanting in prosperity or in adversity and that I may not be lifted up by one nor cast down by the other.  May I find joy in nothing but what leads to You and sorrow in nothing but leads away from You.  May I seek to please no one or fear to displease anyone save only You.  Grant to me O Lord God a vigilant heart that no subtle speculation may ever lead me from You; a noble heart that no unworthy affection may draw me from You; an upright heart that no evil purpose may turn me from You.  Give me a steadfast heart that no tribulation may shatter and a free heart that no violent affection may claim as its own. And finally, grant me O Lord my God a mind to know You, diligence to seek You, wisdom to find You. Given me a way of life pleasing to You; perseverance to trust and await You in Confidence that I shall embrace You at the last." St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

 

It is our petition Lord, that You send us Your Holy Spirit to guide us as we study Your message of salvation as given to Your servant St. Paul.  We pray in the name of our One Holy and Eternal God'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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"Men sit as judges of the external things only.  It is God who judges things hidden.  For Scripture says: 'Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.'  When Christ judges, then God is the judge."  Apollinaris of Laodicea, AD 310 - 392 [quoting 1 Samuel 16:7].

 

" Planning to make known the way of heavenly salvation, he went further and from the start manifested himself to our first parents.  Then, after their fall his promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved (cf. Genesis 3:15) and from that time on he ceaselessly kept the human race in his care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (cf. Romans 2:6-7).  Then, at the time he had appointed, he called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (cf. Genesis 12:2).  Through the patriarchs and after them through Moses and the prophets, he taught this people to acknowledge himself the one living and true God, provident Father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries." The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Dei Verbum 1, 3

 

 

 

After the greeting in his letter to the Church in Rome, a church composed of both Gentile and Jewish Christians, St. Paul announces the theme of his letter in Romans 1:16-17'salvation through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which God makes available to everyone, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul then describes in Romans 1:18-32 the sad human condition apart from the influence of the saving power of the Gospel.  He begins in the positive, asserting God's righteousness and justice in Romans 1:16 and 17 and then moves to the negative, asserting that without the Gospel of salvation man becomes a slave to sin and becomes estranged from God.  The result of this willful rejection of God's sovereignty, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 is to incur God's righteous wrath / judgment. 

Question: In Romans 1:17 what word does Paul repeat to link God's righteousness in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to His righteous wrath in Romans 1:18?

Answer: Paul connects God's righteous goodness as expressed in the saving power of the Gospel to His righteous wrath with the word "revealed" in 1:17 and 1:18:

The word "revealed" in the Greek is the word apokalupto [ap-ok-al-oop'-to], a verb meaning "to uncover, disclose, to reveal."  The noun is apokalupsis [ap-ok-al'-oop-sis], meaning "revealed, revelation" [see Strong's Concordance #s 601-602].  Perhaps you recognize this word in the name of the last book of the New Testament, "The Apocalypse" or "The Revelation." In the first century AD this word was also used to describe the moment the Jewish Bridegroom lifted the veil of his virgin Bride at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and the beginning of their intimate life together as man and wife. In using the word "revealed" to link these two passages Paul is revealing to us the truth of the nature of God'because He is all truth and all justice to those who live by righteousness in faithful obedience He reveals His righteous judgment just as He reveals to the unrighteous and rebellious His wrathful judgment. 

 

In Romans 1:18-32 of his letter Paul is focusing on God's righteous wrath as a reaction to humanity's failure to recognizing the revealed truth of God in the signs He gave through the mystery of creation.  Therefore, the topic of Romans 1:18-32 is God's righteous judgment as a reaction to human wickedness and unrighteousness.  For St. Paul the reverse of the positive revelation of God's love is the righteous wrath or judgment of God visited on those who persist in rebellious unbelief.  This perspective is perfectly in keeping with the Jewish sense of the whole world in the Last Age of man moving toward a final and imminent judgment where God's righteousness will manifest itself in righteous wrath poured out in all its divine retribution against all human wickedness. 

 

But in chapter 2-3 Paul will change his focus to God's judgment on the failed attempt of the Jews to seek holiness in God's sight only by observance of the Law of Moses.  The result of which is God's judgment manifested against those who try to work out their own salvation'just as the pagans had'apart from grace and faith but unlike the pagans by only observing the imperfect Law of Moses as a formula for salvation.

 

Question: Why is it that the Law of Moses could not offer salvation to the people of God in the Old Sinai Covenant?  What was the purpose of the Law of Moses?  See CCC #1961-64

Answer:

In Romans chapter 7 St. Paul will in fact declare that the only function of the Law of Moses was to reveal sin and to train the Covenant people to recognize and avoid sin.

 

Question: What was the imperfect remedy offered for sin in the Old Covenant Law of Moses?  Why was this remedy imperfect? See Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:7, 22.

Answer: Animal sacrifice.  No animal could be a perfect enough sacrifice to remove sin.  Only Jesus the Messiah, the sinless Son of God was a perfect enough sacrifice to free mankind from slavery to sin and death:

 

In Romans chapters 1 through 3 Paul distinguishes between and contrasts the unrighteousness status of humanity, for both the Gentile and the Old Covenant Jew clinging to the Old Covenant sacrifices and sacraments apart from without the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ'a dangerous status which places mankind under the wrath of God in contrast to the saving power of the Gospel which places humanity under the right-ness or righteousness of God [see Romans 3:21-31].

 

Please read Romans 2:1-10: The Dangers of judging others

1"So no matter who you are, if you pass judgment you have no excuse.  It is yourself that you condemn when you judge others, since you behave in the same way as those you are condemning.  2 We are well aware that people who behave like that are justly condemned by God. 3 But you-when you judge those who behave like this while you are doing the same yourself'do you think you will escape God's condemnation?  4 Or are you not disregarding his abundant goodness, tolerance and patience, failing to realize that this generosity of God is meant to bring you to repentance? 5 Your stubborn refusal to repent is only storing up retribution for yourself on that Day of retribution when God's just verdicts will be made known.  6 He will repay everyone as their deeds deserve.  7 For those who aimed for glory and honor and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life; 8 but for those who out of jealously have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution. 9 Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil'Jews first, but Greeks as well; 10 glory and honor and peace will come to everyone who does good'Jews first, but Greeks as well.  There is no favoritism with God."

 

Question: Instead of continuing to address God's righteous judgment as he did in Romans 2:1-10, what kind of judgment does Paul address and what is his warning? 

Answer: Human judgment; those who judged will themselves also be judged by God for the same sins they point out in others.

Question: In Paul's diatribe against sin in Romans 1:18-32 what group seemed to be Paul's focus?  Is his focus Jews and Gentiles'that is all humanity, or is he referring only to the unrighteousness of Gentiles?  What is the focus stated in Romans 2:9? In 2:12-3:31?

Answer: Bible scholars are divided on the focus of the text.  Some scholars believe Paul is referring to all humanity in Romans 1:18-32, but in Romans 2:9 he comes back to the duality of the Jews and the Greeks and then he narrows his focus to the Jews alone in 2:12-3:31.  Therefore, other scholars believe the focus in 1:18-32 is on the sinful condition of pagan Gentiles. 

 

It is possible they are both correct.  The Gentile Christians were probably inclined to believe that this passage is directed to the sins of all humanity but the Jewish Christian audience, who know in their righteous superiority that they have been trained in holiness through obedience to the Law of Moses, surely think Paul must be decrying the sins of the heathen Gentiles.  Every vile sin he lists was acceptable in the Gentile world; even sexual sins like the ritual prostitution of girls and boys was practiced in pagan temples.  But what about the sin of idolatry: "they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation, for the image of a mortal human being, or of birds, or animals, or crawling things"? Weren't the Israelites guilty of worshiping the golden calf, an Egyptian representation of the god Osiris that the Israelites fashioned to represent a visually and physically present Yahweh [see Exodus 32:3-6]?  And didn't the Israelites take the Bronze serpent that Moses had fashioned in the wilderness journey to cure the people of snake bites [Numbers 21:4-9] and years later begin to offer sacrifices to it as a worshipped idol so that it had to be destroyed [called the Nehushtan, see 2 Kings 18:4; Wisdom 16:6-7] ?  And weren't they guilty of such sins as arrogance, greed and malice among others?  Probably not in their own minds'in the same way that the Pharisees in their arrogance challenged Jesus and could not see their own sins. 

 

Which brings us to the question:

Question: What was Paul's desire for every Christian community composed of New Covenant Jews and Gentiles?

Answer: Christian unity.

Question: And what was the greatest hindrance to Christian unity in these communities of both Jewish and Gentile Christians?

Answer: Jewish criticism of the Gentile Christians'judgmental condemnation, an

unbrotherly lack of charity, and demands that Gentiles follow them in observance of the Law of Moses, in the sacrament of circumcision, and other purity rites.

 

And so perhaps Paul has sprung a very eloquent trap.  He has listed all sorts of sin of which the Jews believe the Gentiles are guilty and then he preaches about the danger of judging others in the tradition of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7'with the Jewish Christians of course nodding their heads in agreement until the reader of Paul's letter comes to Romans 2:9-13 where they realize that Paul is talking about them: "Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil'Jews first, but Greeks as well; glory and honor and peace will come to everyone who does good'Jews first, but Greeks as well.  There is no favoritism with God."

Question: Why does Paul say that judgment will come to the Jews first?

Answer: Because they should know better, having been trained in the Law of Moses they are the older brothers in the Covenant, and because they are guilty of uncharitable judgment of Gentile Christians who are younger children in the family of God'judgment of sins for which they are not exempt.

 

But, returning to the teaching on the danger of judging others in Romans 2:1-10:

Question: Notice that there has been a change in Paul's address to this audience.  What is the change?  To whom is Paul addressing this part of his letter?

Answer: The change is from the less personal third person "those, them and they" to the very personal "you".  He is addressing the Jewish Christian and Paul has returned to the theme of those who judge being judged by God for the same fault they have found in others'in this case, the Jews who have been trained by the Law of Moses to avoid unrighteous behavior being guilty of the same sins they are so quick to judge in Gentiles.

 

 

Question: What teaching did Jesus give in the Sermon on the Mount that is similar to this teaching?  See Matthew chapter 7.

Answer: In Matthew 7:1 Jesus commands us to "stop judging that you may not be judged"

 

Question: Does this mean we must never judge others and that we must be tolerant of every kind of behavior no matter how personally repugnant or harmful to the community?  Remember the rule in correctly interpreting a Biblical passage: Scripture must be studied in light of other Scripture; interpretation must not conflict with or contradict other Bible passages nor can interpretation conflict with the doctrine of the Church passed down to us through the Apostles and interpreted by their successors, the Magisterium.  What is it that Jesus is not teaching concerning judgment in Matthew chapter 7 and what is Paul not advocating concerning human judgment in Romans chapter 2 and in his other letters?

Answer:   

 

 

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-3, St. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication of an unrepentant sinful brother or sister and in his letter to the Church in Rome and in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica he warns the faithful concerning members of the community who have gone astray into false teaching or immoral behavior:

We are responsible for the conduct of those within the Church; those outside the Church are to be disciplined by God [1 Corinthians 5:13] and by the civil authority [Matthew 22:21].  

 

Question: What then does Jesus mean when He tells us not to judge?  What does Paul teach?  Do we or do we not have a duty to judge between right and wrong and between good and evil?

Answer: If we do not judge between what is good and what is evil how can we strive to "... be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" Matthew 5:48?  After all, isn't the search for holiness the primary purpose in our lives?  Perhaps the key word is "judge".  We are to assess sin and then critically examine the consequences of sin, but we are not to judge the person committing the sin.  That is a judgment reserved for the one true judge'God.  St Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and applied the teaching of Jesus in this passage in Romans 14:4: "Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant?  Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand."  The point is we can critically analyze and judge actions but we cannot judge hearts and motives'only God, the single truly righteous Judge'can judge the intent of a human heart and judge the eternal destination of the human soul.

 

Question: But if we do judge the behavior of a person, whether for proper or improper motives, what warning does Jesus give us in Matthew 7:1-2 and St. Paul repeats in 2:1-5?

Answer: If we judge a person we too will fall under judgment and will be closely examined for the same sin in our own lives.  If we take on the responsibility of judge then we cannot plead ignorance if we fall into the same sin; in fact, we will be judged more harshly.  Jesus' command not to judge, therefore, is not a command to be ignorant or blind but a plea to be merciful because there for the grace of God we might also tread.  Father Luis de Leon writes in his commentary on the life of Job, "God measures out according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others." [quoted from the Navarre Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 80].

 

Please note that Paul is also aware that as he condemns the Gentiles and Jews who seek salvation outside of the Gospel that he is condemning himself if he behaves as they behave [see verses 1-5 and 17-24].

 

Question: In Romans 2:3 Paul strongly chastises those in the community he identifies as "you judge those who behave like this while you are doing the same yourself." What sin is Paul accusing these "judges" of and what link do you see between similar accusations made by Jesus during His ministry?

Answer: Paul accuses members of the community of being hypocrites.  Jesus often accused the Pharisees, and other Jews, of hypocrisy [see Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; and 7 times in Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51; Mark 7:16; Luke 11:44; and 12:56.

 

Question: What does Paul mean when he refers to "that Day of Retribution" in Romans 2:5?  Hint: see Amos 5:18; 1 Corinthians 1:7-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Revelation 20:11-12;   1 Corinthians 3:10; CCC# 1021; 1038.

Answer: The "Day of Yahweh" will be a day of judgment and a day of salvation.  There are, in fact, two days of judgment:  first there is our individual judgment which the Catechism calls the Particular Judgment [see CCC# 1021-22] which will occur after our physical death and in the Second Advent of Christ there will be a general Last or Universal Judgment [see CCC# 1038-1041]. 

 

The Individual or Particular Judgment: "... human beings die only once, after which comes judgment.., Hebrews 9:27.

·        "For at the judgment seat of Christ we are all to be seen for what we are, so that each of us many receive what he has deserved in the body, matched to whatever he has done, good or bad." 2 Corinthians 5:10

·        CCC# 1022: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers to his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven'through a purification or immediately'or immediate and everlasting damnation." [also see CCC# 1021]

[For additional references in Scripture see: Matthew 16:26; 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Philippians 1:23]

 

The Return of Christ and the Day of the Last Judgment: "At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and only after shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air.  This is the way we shall be with the Lord forever." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

 

 

 

 

 

Other Bible passages concerning the judgment of man include:

·        Dead shall arise, 1 Corinthians 15:12-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

·        Judgment is in God's impartial court, Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17.

·        Judgment of living and the dead, 2 Timothy 4:1; Acts 10:42; 1 Peter 4:5

·        Judgment according to deeds/works, 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 11:15; Ephesians 6:8; Matthew 16:27; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; 20:12; 22:12

·        Judgment for the righteous will be salvation, freedom, reward, honor, praise glory, and eternal rest: 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:23; Matthew 5:12; Revelation 11:18; 1 Peter 5:6; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 8:18ff; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Colossians 3:4; Matthew 13:43; and Acts 3:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Hebrews 4:5-11.

 

 

In Romans 2: 5-11 Paul writes that "God's just verdicts will be made known.  He will repay everyone as their deeds deserve..."

Question: How is it that on the Day of Judgment God will "repay everyone"?  Will anyone be exempt from this judgment? How will people be judged?  Hint: see Daniel 7: 9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation: 20:4-15; CCC #1470

Answer:  Every individual's deeds or works will be judged by God. "While I was watching, thrones were set in place and one most venerable took his seat.  His robe was white as snow, the hair of his head as pure as wool.  His throne was ablaze of flames, its wheels were a burning fire.  A stream of fire poured out, issuing from his presence.  A thousand thousand waited on him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.  The court was in session and the books lay open." Daniel 7:9-10
There are two kinds of books or scrolls from which the righteous and the wicked will be judged:

  1. The Scroll(s) or Book(s) of Works, which records human deeds [also see Jeremiah 17:1; Psalm 40:8; 56:8; Malachi 3:16; Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12].

 

  1. The Scroll or Book of Life, the last to be opened, is the list of those destined for eternal life [also see Daniel 7:10; 12:1; Luke 10:20; Acts 13:48; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27]

·        "There are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes unstained, and they are fit to come with me, dressed in white.  Anyone who proves victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot that name out of the book of life, but acknowledge it in the presence of my Father and his angels." Jesus to the Church at Sardis in Revelation 3:4-5

·        Vision of the heavenly Jerusalem: "And the city did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of God, and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it.  The nations will come to its light and the kings of the earth will bring it their treasures.  Its gates will never be closed by day'and there will be no night there'and the nations will come bringing their treasure and their wealth.  Nothing unclean may come into it: no one who does what is loathsome or false, but only those who are listed in the Lamb's Book of Life." Revelation 21:23-27

 

The condemnation of the wicked in the Last Judgment is called "the second death": Jesus in his message to the Church at Smyrna said, "Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The victor shall not be harmed by the second death." Revelation 2:11. [Also see Revelation 20:6, 14-15; 21:8].

 

Please read Romans 2:12-16, There is no salvation in the Old Covenant Law'only judgment:

"12  All those who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law; and those under the Law who have sinned will be judged by the Law. 13 For the ones that God will justify are not those who have heard the Law but those who have kept the Law. 14 So, when gentiles, not having the Law, still through their own innate sense behave as the Law commands, then, even though they have no Law, they are a law for themselves. 15 They can demonstrate the effect of the Law engraved on their hearts, to which their own conscience bears witness; since they are aware of various considerations, some of which accuse them, while others provide them with a defense...on the day when, 16 according to the Gospel that I preach, God, through Jesus Christ, judges all human secrets."

 

Romans 2:12 "All those who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law; and those under the Law who have sinned will be judged by the Law." 

Question: In Romans 2:6-11 Paul stated the basic principle that God will deliver judgment strictly according to what standard?

Answer: Judgment will be according to deeds or works for both Jew and Gentile. For the Jew judgment will be harsher because, having been trained in holiness under the Law of Moses they known what is expected of them in living a life of righteousness'they have no excuse. 

 

Paul makes the point that it is the Law of Moses that convicts the Jew'it is the Law that functions as an instrument of justice. Whether you sin under the Law or apart from the Law, the judgment will be equally swift and sever.  Paul tells the Jews in verse 12 that contrary to acting as a vehicle for salvation, the Law of Moses was only meant to guide the Covenant people to salvation and in that sense the Law can only condemn them of the sins which they are commanded to avoid.  In the same way that the Law of Moses guides the Jew, the Gentiles can be guided by their conscience through the natural law as a means to show them the way to salvation.  The Gentile who responds to God in faith and obedience through the natural law is equal to the Jew responding to God in faith and obedience through the Law of Moses.

 

Question: According to verse 13 who is righteous before God and how is this verse connected to Romans 1:5

Answer: This verse is connected to Paul's theme of faithful obedience: it is the "doers" not just the "hearers" who will be justified before God.  It is interesting that Paul should contrast "hearers" with "doers".  Hearing this passage the Jewish Christians would have probably made the connection to the profession of faith Jews were required to repeat three times a day known as the Shema', named for the first word of the prayer: "Hear O Israel, Yahweh, your God, Yahweh is One."  They are, of course, the "hearers" who should be the "doers" who are being a good example for their younger Gentile brothers and sisters in the faith.  One wonders if at this time Jewish Christians had discerned the Trinitarian nature of the Shema', the prayer given to God's Covenant people Israel in the Sinai Covenant [Yahweh (1), your God (2), Yahweh (3) is one]?

 

Romans 2:13: "For the ones that God will justify are not those who have heard the Law but those who have kept the Law." For the Catholic Christian justification if both a state and a process.  See CCC# 1987-1995 on the different aspects of "justification."   Justification is imputed to us as an act of grace in response to our faith in the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Initial justification" has been merited for us through the grace of God by the Passion of Jesus who offered Himself as a living victim for the sake of our salvation.  The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us'to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" and through our Baptism into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  In our Baptism we are raised with Him to new life in the Spirit'becoming infused with new life as righteous sons and daughters of God.  Our initial justification is only the first step in a life-long process of justification in which we continually turn away from sin and turn back to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in which we are strengthened through the other Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  We are continually justified when we submit ourselves to God as He pours faith, hope and charity into our hearts and uses us to bring His righteous mercy and charity to the world.  These works become the deeds of the Saints which form the texture of the bridal dress of the Bride of Christ in Revelation 19:8 "His Bride is ready, and she has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the Saints."

 

Question: In Romans 2:13 what does Paul establish as the criterion for on going justification in the life of the Christian?

Answer: Those who are doers and not only hearers will be justified and made righteous through the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is obvious in this passage that Paul fully embraces the principle of justification according to one's works'not works alone but justification through works which are not our works but instead the works of God working in us as the fruit of a life lived in obedience of faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Question: What teaching of Jesus is found in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus links faithful obedience to works and final judgment?  Hint: see Matthew 25:31-46

Answer: In Jesus' last homily before the events of the Last Supper He preaches that He will recognize the faithful that belong to Him through their acts of mercy and love done in His name, "Then the upright will say to him in reply, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you?  When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?' And the King will answer, 'In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.'  Then he will say to those on his left hand, 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink...[...] Then he will answer, 'In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.'  And they will go away to eternal punishment and the upright to eternal life.'" [Also see Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:21-23]

 

Question: Then in Romans 2:14-15 Paul writes about the Gentiles deprived of the Law of Moses, who turn to God through natural or moral Law and live in righteousness.  What does he mean by "natural law"?

Answer: Paul is writing about a "natural moral Law" which God has revealed to all mankind.  Read CCC # 1950-60.  The principal precepts of natural moral law are expressed in the 10 Commandments and that is why the 10 Commandments are carried over into the New Covenant.  "The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed.  It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount." From CCC# 1965; for the Sermon on the Mount see Matthew chapters 5-7.

 

Question: What is Paul teaching concerning Gentiles who have never heard the Gospel of salvation in Romans 2:14-15?  Is salvation possible for the Gentile who has never heard of the Law of Moses or of the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Hint: see CCC# 839-48

Answer:  In CCC# 847 the Church teaches, ".... Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience'those too may achieve eternal salvation." However, to have to rely on one's conscience for salvation is very, very difficult.  A conscience can become damaged to the point that a person can become unable to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to him through a conscience distorted by the ravages sin.

 

Question: The Catholic Church has always taught that "outside the Church there is no salvation", and since there is only one Church founded by Jesus Christ through His Apostles and we believe that Church is the Catholic Church what about the salvation of non-Catholic Christians?  Hint: see CCC# 845; CCC# 813-22; 846.

Answer: In essence the Church teaches that we are bound by the teachings of Jesus Christ and that salvation is only through Him [Acts 12:4] and through the Church He founded through His Apostles'this is why we are One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  However, although we are bound to what He has given us, He is not bound and may save anyone He desires to save'but no matter how that individual's salvation occurs, whether by obedience to God through the revelation of natural and moral Law, or through the New Covenant of the Gospel--salvation is still through Christ and through His Church.  Furthermore, any "Christian" church which practices the sacrament of Baptism by water and the Spirit in the correct Trinitarian formula is a member of the Body of Christ but perhaps not fully incorporated through the Sacraments Christ gave His Church.  There is and can only be one universal= Catholic Church which is unified as the Body of Christ.  It is as St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote circa 107AD on his way to martyrdom: "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church."  Unity is the essence of the Church as expressed in Jesus' high priestly prayer to God the Father in John 17:21, "May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be [one] in us."  In the 2nd century AD the great Christian theologian St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, "What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same, there is also one virgin mother, and I should like to call her 'Church.'" It is "mother" Church who guides us, teaches us, chastises us when we fail, and encourages us on the road to salvation.

 

Romans 2:16: "... according to the Gospel that I preach, God, through Jesus Christ, judges all human secrets." Paul closes the discussion concerning the tension between obedience to the Law verses obedience to the conscience with the reminder that nothing can be hidden by God and whatever our motives or intentions, all will be revealed on the Day of Judgment by God from whom nothing can be hidden.

 

Please read Romans 2: 17-24, The Jews are not exempt from the retribution of God:

"17 If you can call yourself a Jew, and you really trust in the Law, and are proud of your God, 18 and know his will, and tell right from wrong because you have been taught by the Law;19 if you are confident that you are a guide to the blind and a beacon to those in the dark, 20 that you can teach the ignorant and instruct the unlearned because the Law embodies all knowledge and all truth' 21 so, then, in teaching others, do you teach yourself as well?  You preach that there is to be no stealing, but do you steal? 22 You say that adultery is forbidden, but do you commit adultery?  You detest the worship of objects, but do you desecrate holy things yourself?  23 If, while you are boasting of the Law, you disobey it, then you are bringing God into contempt.  24 As Scripture says: It is your fault that the name of God is held in contempt among the nations."

 

Question: What Scripture passage is Paul quoting in Romans 2:24?  Hint: see Isaiah 52:5-6 and Ezekiel 36:20-22

Answer: Paul is quoting the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah 52:5 "..because of you my name is continually blasphemed among the Gentiles."  He is applying the words of the prophet Isaiah to the Jew's transgression of the Mosaic Law.  When the Jews boast of their privileged position in covenant with Yahweh as His "holy people" while at the same time failing to obey His will, the Gentile people are disgusted by their hypocrisy and are prevented from coming to known God because of the Jews bad example.  To hinder the faith of those Yahweh is mercifully calling into covenant by claiming to be a holy people while engaging in sinful acts will bring down God's righteous wrath on the offender.  After all Israel's vocation was to be a light to the Gentile nations and to bring them to salvation. But their bad example instead of sanctifying God's name has dishonored His name. 

 

The other passage where this quotation is found is in Ezekiel 36:20-22.  It is important to remember that whenever an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament you cannot properly interpret the New Testament passage without reading the entire Old Testament text when the Old Testament verse is found.  Ezekiel was God's holy prophet during the early years of the Babylonian exile just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.  God's promise to the sorrowing exiles in Ezekiel chapter 36 is that the day will come when He will gather Israel back from the Gentile nations where they have been scattered.  He will purify them from all uncleanness with water the cleansing water of baptism and that He will take away their hearts of stone and replace them with a new heart and a new spirit which will enable them to give faithful obedience to all His statues and ordinances: "For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries, and bring you home to your own country.  I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead.  I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practice my judgments." Ezekiel 36:24-28.  The Jews and Gentile Christians listening to Paul's letter would have understood that this prophecy is fulfilled in them and now it is their responsibility to live the promise because they have received through the miracle of baptism by water and the Spirit, circumcised hearts that beat in union with the heart of the indwelling, living Jesus Christ. 

 

Question: What are the implications of Paul's criticism for us today?

Answer: As New Covenant believers we are now God's holy people and serve as His light to the peoples of the earth who do not know of His merciful love and gift of salvation through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If by our failure to lead holy lives of mercy and charity we hinder the spread of the Gospel, we too will experience the wrath of God.

 

Please read Romans 2:25-29, Circumcision does not assure salvation:

"25 Circumcision has its value if you keep the Law; but if you go on breaking the Law, you are no more circumcised than the uncircumcised.  26 And if an uncircumcised man keeps the commands of the Law, will not his uncircumcised state count as circumcision?  27 More, the man who, in his native uncircumcised state, keeps the Law, is a condemnation of you, who, by your concentration on the letter and on circumcision, actually break the Law.  28 Being a Jew is not only having the outward appearance of a Jew, and circumcision is not only a visible physical operation.  29 The real Jew is the one who is inwardly a Jew, and real circumcision is in the heart, a thing not of the letter but of the spirit. He may not be praised by any human being, but he will be praised by God."

 

The practice of circumcise was not unknown in the ancient world.  It was often practiced in the cultures of the ancient Near East; however, there is little evidence that it was practiced by the Canaanites and in Egypt the practice was apparently reserved for members of the pagan priesthood.  The oldest depiction of circumcision is found on a relief from the tomb of Ankhmahor, vizier of Pharaoh Teti who ruled Egypt circa 2345-2333 BC.   In Jeremiah 9:24-25 the prophet Jeremiah lists the circumcised peoples of the Levant and the term "uncircumcised" became for the Hebrews a title of contempt [the Philistines were, for example, the contemptuous-- "the uncircumcised"].  The rite of infant circumcision was, however, unique to the Hebrews.  Other people who were neighbors of Israel practiced circumcision as a rite of passage into manhood at about age 13 [the age at which Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar the Egyptian slave girl, was circumcised in Genesis 17:23-27].

 

Question: Why did God require circumcision as a condition of the covenant with Abraham and later continued in the Sinai Covenant with Israel?  

1. It was a blood sacrifice that was a sign of obedience to God in all matters

2. Sign of belonging to a Covenant people.

3. Symbolically circumcision also represented the "cutting off of the sinful old life and the spiritual union with Yahweh.  As a sacrament of the Old Covenant circumcision was an external sign that represented an internal condition:  To be "circumcised of heart" is signified by a new life bonded in the covenant union with God; a commitment that was from the core of one's being:

·        Leviticus 26:41: "I in my turn will go against them and bring them into the land of their enemies.  Then their uncircumcised hearts will grow humble and then they will accept the punishment for their guilt."

·         Deuteronomy 10:16: "Circumcise your heart then and be obstinate no longer; for Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, triumphant and terrible, free of favoritism, never to be bribed." [note: sacrifice to pagan gods was a bribe to secure some favor for the offerer. Sacrifice to Yahweh was worship which signified a turning away from sin and restoring fellowship between God and the offerer or an act of thanksgiving in worship of the one true God.  See the list of "The Levitical Sacrifices of the Old Covenant" in the Charts section].

·         Jeremiah 4:4: "Circumcise yourselves for Yahweh, apply circumcision to your hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will leap out like a fire and burn with no one to quench it, in return for the wickedness of your deeds."

Foreigners who were both uncircumcised of heart and flesh could not be admitted to the Israelite Temple [Ezekiel 44:7]. Also see Deuteronomy 30: 1-2, 6; Romans 2:25; Leviticus 26:41; Colossians 2: 9­13; Philippians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 7:18-19.

 

From the time of Abraham, infants in the community of the children of God were brought into the Covenant with Yahweh through circumcision on the 8th day of their lives. [Today medical science has discovered that an infant's blood does not clot properly until after an infant is 7 days old.]   The designation for circumcision on the 8th day is Biblically significant: 

Question: Circumcision as a covenant sign pointed to what Sacrament in the New Testament?

Answer: Baptism. Baptism is our entrance into the New Covenant family of God in which, by water and the Holy Spirit, we receive new life in Christ'no longer a child of Adam but reborn as a child of God.

 

Question: In Romans 2:25-29 why does Paul say that circumcision does not make the real Jew?  What are the key verses?   What link is Paul making to Old Testament passages about circumcision?

Answer: The key verses are Romans 2:28-29.  Paul is reminding the Jewish Christian who trusts circumcision as a true link to his place in the covenant with God that the Scriptures themselves emphasize that the important link is not a cut foreskin for membership in the covenant of the "chosen people" but rather God looks for what the outward sign only signifies, the interior transformed life and circumcision of the heart which represents the purified and holy motivation of all covenant conduct'not in the letter of the Law but in the spirit of the Law written on purified hearts.  Thus Paul is saying the real "Jew" [and perhaps Paul is making a play on the word "Jew" from the tribe of Judah, which in Hebrew is Yehuda, meaning "Yahweh's people"] is the one of purified heart whether he is born a Jew or a Gentile, and this is the faithful believer who is praised by God. 

 

Note: most Christian commentators translate "Judah" as "praise" from the Hebrew word yahad.  This is not the meaning given in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to describe the Solomon's tribe of Judah as Yahweh's people who bear His name: "...if my people who bear my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my presence and turn from their wicked ways, then I will listen from heaven and forgive their sins and restore their country." When the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the 10 tribes of Israel disappeared as a people after the 7th century BC but Judah continued, as God promised, and this is why the Old Covenant people are called Jews to this day.  In Strong's Concordance in the Hebrew lexicon between # 3050 = Yah and 3068 = YahVeh, are most of the words which pertain to Yah v(w)eh's people "who are called by His name".  It is true that there is a difference in vowel points between the words referring "Yah" and the words referring to "Yah Hudah" (Yehuda); however, these vowel points were not added until the 7th century AD by the Jewish scholars, known as the Masorites, who retranslated the Greek translation of the Old Testament back into Hebrew.  This addition of vowel points happened long after the Jews had decided that it was not proper to refer to Yahweh (Yah Veh) by His covenant name, either orally or in writing [this is why some English Bible translations substitute God's covenant name Yahweh as LORD in all capital letters].  This tradition is, I believe, reflected in the difference in vowel points between the name Yahweh and Yehudah (Yah Hudah).  The tradition of not using God's covenant name is, by the way, contrary to Yahweh's command in Genesis 29:24; Exodus 3:15; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 68:4; 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 42:8; 52:6; Jeremiah 33:2; Ephesians 3:15; and Revelation 14:1.  The restriction against using God's covenant name came about through a superstition that for an enemy to use one's name gave an enemy power and that God's name was too holy to repeat out loud, especially in the presence of non-covenant people.  The High Priest only voiced God's holy covenant name once a year on the Feast of Atonement.

 

Yahweh called us into His Covenant in our Baptism'He called us to a new life and a circumcised heart transformed by the Holy Spirit which identifies us as no longer children in the family of Adam but children in the family of God.  But to keep the holiness of our circumcised heart is a life-long process as we journey through the wasteland of this life to the Promised Land of heaven.  Our prayer for a circumcised heart should be the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 51:10-13, "God, create in me a clean heart, renew within me a resolute spirit, do not thrust me away from your presence, do not take away from me your spirit of holiness.  Give me back the joy of your salvation; sustain in me a generous spirit.  I shall teach the wicked your paths, and sinners will return to you."

 

Questions for discussion:

Question: In Scripture the "second death" is the final judgment upon the unrighteous in the Last Judgment when the wicked will be cast into the lake of eternal fire.  The fathers of the Church had a saying: "Born twice, die once; born once, die twice." What did they mean by this statement concerning our choice between eternal salvation or destruction?  See Revelation 20:12-25.

 

Question: To have one's name written in the Book of Life means that one's soul is destined for eternal life.  Is our salvation secure once our name is written?  Can we ever lose our salvation?  See Revelation 3:5; 1 John 5:16-17; CCC# 1861.  What is the only remedy for mortal sin?  See CCC#980; 1422-68.

 

Catechism references for Romans chapter 2 [*indicates verse quoted in citation]

2:14-16

1777*

2:24

2814

2:16

678*

 

 

 

Resources used in this lesson:

The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Pauline Books and Media, Boston 1999.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1994.

The Salvation Controversy

Romans, Joseph Fitzmyer

Romans, Brendan Byrne

Navarre Commentary'Romans

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture'Romans

Strong's Concordance  

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians", Karl Keating, Ignatius Press 1988.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.