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Romans 2.13; ‘Doers of the Law will be Justified’

tom schreiner romans 2

Romans 2.13, For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In Romans 2.1-16, Paul’s flow of thought goes something like this:

2.1-5: Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

2.6-11: God is not partial; he will bless those who do good and judge those who do evil. He “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

2.12-16: Schreiner observes, “Jews can scarcely use the Torah as a talisman, for anyone (whether Jew or gentile) who observes the law will be vindicated before God on the day of Jesus Christ” (126). Jews will be judged by the law, and gentiles will be judged by a “fair standard” (126).

Is Paul really saying that people will be judged according to their works? In Romans 3 Paul argues that no one is righteous (3:10) and all have sinned (3:23). The knowledge of sin comes through the law (3:20). How could any law-doer ever hope to be justified if “no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (3:20)?

Yet even Solomon, David, and Jeremiah all speak of God repaying one according to their works.

Proverbs 24:12: If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’
won’t he who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t he who protects your life know?
Won’t he repay a person according to his work?

Psalm 62:12: and faithful love belongs to you, Lord.
For you repay each according to his works.

Jeremiah 32:19: the one great in counsel and powerful in action. Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways and as the result of his actions. (see Jer 17.10; 25.14; Job 34.11; Psalm 28.4).

So, at least looking at what we have so far, if someone keeps the law, he (or she) will be declared righteous by God (Rom 2.13). Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (121). Schreiner says that verse 13 above reiterates the essence of verse 6: “those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

It was not enough for the Jews to own the law and only hear it; they also had to keep it. They wouldn’t get away with condemning gentiles for their sins only to turn around and commit the same sins against God’s kindness without repentance (2.4-5). But how could Paul say that those who do the law will be justified? Schreiner says that Paul did accept the idea that “those who perform the required works will be rewarded” (128).

Tom schreiner romans second edition

So is Paul speaking hypothetically? Is he saying, “If someone could keep the law, then, yes, that one would be justified before God, (but, in reality, all sin and no one can keep the law)”? Or does he mean that “gentiles know the law in their hearts, [but] they are condemned since they don’t keep it perfectly” (129)? Or does he mean that gentile Christians show that they have God’s Spirit in them by obeying the law?

In the next post I’ll look at how Paul’s argument continues in Romans 2.14-16.

(There are more interpretations on what Romans 2.13 means. You can read more on the different interpretations on this blog). 

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