Thursday

08 March 2012

"All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged under the law." (v. 12)

Background

In the first part of the letter to the Romans, the writer Paul kept the focus primarily on non-Jews. In the passage today he dramatically shifts the focus. It is almost as if he has been getting his Jewish Christian readers on side, only to turn the tables on them.

The term "sinned" is used for the first time in the letter, and the readers would have understood this, in the light of the Jewish experience and scriptures, as acting against God's will. At the same time the concept of "the law" is introduced. This is a shorthand term for the rules for living given to the Jewish people by God, and contained within the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Those who are "apart from the law" are non-Jews; those who are "under the law" are the Jews.

Paul argues that just to be a 'hearer of the law' (v. 13), in other words being Jewish, did not put them in any better position with God than non-Jews. To be justified is a legal term meaning acquittal; in this context it is to be judged as blameless for any wrongdoing by God. He speaks out against a hypocritical view of the world where people set themselves up as knowing best and yet do not practise what they preach. Any outward show of religion must be substantiated with a life that is changed. Otherwise the consequence is much worse than no religion at all. Interestingly in verses 21-23 Paul chooses sins that are blatant, ones which any Jew could be expected to keep. Perhaps in this he is echoing the standard that Jesus sets in Matthew 5:27-28, where the sin is committed in the heart without any outward act necessary.

The quote in verse 24 is from Isaiah 52:5. This was originally made in the context of the nation of Israel being overpowered, exiled and shamed by other nations. Paul applies it to leave the responsibility of the blasphemy with the religious hypocrite. The Jewish punishment for blasphemy was stoning to death (Leviticus 24:10-16). Before his conversion Paul approved of, and was present at, the stoning of Stephen for blasphemy (Acts 6:117:58).

To Ponder

Can you identify any areas of your life where you are hypocritical? How could you change this and make your heart life and outward life match?

What actions of yours cause God to be blasphemed? And, again, how might you change this?

Bible notes author: Dr Andy Dye

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