Romans, Part 9

The warning Paul gave those with stubborn and unrepentant hearts breaks quite naturally into two columns.

He will reward each one according to his works:

Romans 2:6 (NET)

…eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality…

Romans 2:7 (NET)

…but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness.

Romans 2:8 (NET)

…but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek.

Romans 2:10 (NET)

There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek…

Romans 2:9 (NET)

For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:11 (NET)

…and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Romans 2:12b (NET)

For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law…

Romans 2:12a (NET)

The Jews of Paul’s day may have wanted to label the left column “Jews” and the right column “Greeks” or “Gentiles.”  We might want to do something similar with “Church Folk” and “Unchurched Folk” or “Religious” and “Irreligious.”  But Paul was quite careful to label the columns himself:  For it is not those who hear (ἀκροαταὶ, a form of ἀκροατής)[1] the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος)[2] who are righteous (δίκαιοι, a form of δίκαιος)[3] before God, but those who do (ποιηταὶ, a form of ποιητής)[4] the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος) will be declared righteous (δικαιωθήσονται, a form of δικαιόω).[5]

He will reward each one according to his works:

Romans 2:6 (NET)

those who do (ποιηταὶ, a form of ποιητής) the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος)

Romans 2:13b (NET)

those who hear(ἀκροαταὶ, a form of ἀκροατής) the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος)

Romans 2:13a (NET)

…eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality…

Romans 2:7 (NET)

…but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness.

Romans 2:8 (NET)

…but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek.

Romans 2:10 (NET)

There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek…

Romans 2:9 (NET)

For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:11 (NET)

…and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Romans 2:12b (NET)

For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law…

Romans 2:12a (NET)

Paul continued to explain why the two columns should not be labeled “Jew” and “Gentile” rather than “Doer” and “Hearer” of the law.  For whenever the Gentiles (ἔθνη, a form of ἔθνος),[6] who do not have (ἔχοντα, a form of ἔχω)[7] the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος), do (ποιῶσιν, another form of ποιέω)[8] by nature (φύσει, a form of φύσις)[9] the things required by the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος), these who do not have (ἔχοντες, another form of ἔχω) the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος) are a law (νόμος) to themselves.  They show that the work (ἔργον)[10] of the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος) is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, on the day when God will judge (κρίνει, a form of κρίνω)[11] the secrets (κρυπτὰ, a form of κρυπτός)[12] of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.[13]

The word translated do in those who do the law will be declared righteous is the Greek word for poetFor in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets (ποιητῶν, another form of ποιητής) have said, “For we too are his offspring,”[14] Paul preached in Athens.  It is derived from ποιέω, to make, to do.  Our word poet bears no trace of a relationship to making or doing.  A poet of the law might be indistinguishable to me from a hearer of the law.  I might imagine that a poet of the law, rather than doing the law, writes pretty sonnets about the law, or worse, writes his own laws to establish his own righteousness.

If I recall how often Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites[15] (ὑποκριταὶ, a form of ὑποκριτής, actor)[16] and assume that Paul was very sensitive to this, his choice of words becomes clearer.  It relates to the Greek theater.  The actor wore a mask, with a megaphone built in to artificially amplify his voice.  He played a part and spoke lines written for him by a poet.  But when a poet performed on stage, he wore no mask.  He spoke his own lines with his own voice from his own heart.

I believe it is important, especially in the how-to portion of Romans, to keep it straight that fulfilling the law, becoming a doer or poet of the law, was Paul’s point.  This focus can protect me from stumbling over the things he wrote that are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.[17]

One of the things that made it more difficult for me to fully embrace Paul’s teaching was that I never heard anyone quote Paul’s concept—you are not under law but under grace—as a means to an end of fulfilling the law or becoming a doer of the law, not even as a reason why sin will have no mastery over you.[18]  It was always quoted as justification for some sin the speaker wished to continue indulging.  Whenever I asked my elders about the things I thought I was learning from Paul, they assumed I wanted to indulge some secret sin and responded with something like, “No, you really have to do it!”  They had no way of knowing, I suppose, that they were encouraging me to keep on trying to have my own righteousness derived from the law.[19]

Though Paul and James may not have agreed fully on all aspects of the law and its relationship to believers in Jesus Christ, on these two things—becoming a doer rather than a hearer, and not judging—they were in complete agreement.  And I quote James to demonstrate these two points and conclude this essay.

By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message (λόγῳ, a form of λόγος)[20] of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters!  Let every person be quick to listen (ἀκοῦσαι, a form of ἀκούω),[21] slow to speak (λαλῆσαι, a form of λαλέω),[22] slow to anger (ὀργήν, a form of ὀργή).[23]   For human anger (ὀργή) does not accomplish (ἐργάζεται, a form of ἐργάζομαι)[24] God’s righteousness (δικαιοσύνην, a form of δικαιοσύνη).[25]  So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message (λόγον, another form of λόγος) implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.  But be sure you live out (ποιηταὶ, a form of ποιητής) the message (λόγου, a form of λόγος) and do not merely listen (ἀκροαταὶ, a form of ἀκροατής) to it and so deceive yourselves.  For if someone merely listens (ἀκροατής) to the message (λόγου, a form of λόγος) and does not live it out (ποιητής), he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror.  For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was.  But the one who peers into the perfect (τέλειον, a form of τέλειος)[26] law (νόμον, another form of νόμος) of liberty (ἐλευθερίας, a form of ἐλευθερία)[27] and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener (ἀκροατής) but one who lives it (ἔργου, a form of ἔργον) out (ποιητής) – he will be blessed in what he does (ποιήσει, a form of ποίησις).[28]

Do not speak against (καταλαλεῖτε, a form of καταλαλέω)[29] one another, brothers and sisters.  He who speaks against (καταλαλῶν, another form of καταλαλέω) a fellow believer or judges (κρίνων, a form of κρίνω) a fellow believer speaks against (καταλαλεῖ, another form of καταλαλέω) the law (νόμου, a form of νόμος) and judges (κρίνει, another form of κρίνω) the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος).  But if you judge (κρίνεις, another form of κρίνω) the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος), you are not a doer (ποιητής) of the law (νόμον, another form of νόμος) but its judge (κριτής).[30]