"For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without
law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the
law" ( Rom.2:12 ). "There you have it !" say some.
"Those who do not know God or Christ or the word of God, will
perish in hell! Or, God will judge them by their own law and
conscience as verses 14 and 15 show. They will get to heaven
or hell, a different way than those who do know the Lord."
This is a common explanation of Rom.2:12-16. But do these verses
really say the above teaching that some proclaim ?
First notice, verse 12 does not say "have sinned without the
knowledge of God, or Christ, or the Bible." It does not say,
"shall perish in hell." The word hell or eternal punishment or
heaven does not appear in verse 12. Nor do these words appear in
verses 14 and 15. The words used are, "sinned without law" and
"shall also perish without law." The use of those words does not
teach what some want to teach.
Secondly, there is nothing stated in verses 14, 15 that says
anything about people governed by their ideas and conscience
(even if some do hit upon some laws of God) going to heaven or
being cast into ever-burning hell.
Thirdly, we should understand that Paul has a parenthetical
thought in this section of his letter.
The end of verse 12 should continue with verse 16 ".... shall be
judged by the law. In the day when God shall judge the
secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel."
Now, with that background - with getting out of our mind words
that are not there, let us be willing to understand what Paul
is saying from the context.
He has been talking about individuals who did know God in chapter
one - notice it in verse 21, and 28. "Because that, when they
knew God, they glorified Him not as God.....And as they did
not like to retain God in their knowledge......." He goes on in
chapter two to warn those who know but will not do, and condemn
others, that they shall not escape God's judgment. He warns
them that unless repentance is forthcoming they will experience
the wrath of God. Paul tells them that it makes no difference who
they are - Jew or Gentile - all people will be dealt with on
equal terms by God ( verses 1-11 ). So you know God - you know
His will - you know His law, and are vainly confident you can
teach others who are in darkness, Paul says to the enlightened.
But he is also telling them that they are hypocrites -
understanding but not doing gets no favor with God. Paul is here
hitting the physical Jews right between the eyes. They had the
knowledge of God and His law but they were not repentant or
obeying the law - they HEARD but they were not DOING. They had
the physical sign (circumcision) of the flesh that they belonged
to God, but their heart and mind did not belong to Him. And that,
Paul tells them is the real proof of being a true Jew as far as
God was concerned - it was real repentance and a willingness to
do the law of God that counted. If the Gentile was willing to
repent and obey God would he not be accepted as the genuine child
of God, even though he was physically uncircumcised - sure he
would be Paul tells them. And the repentant Gentile would bring
judgment against the unrepentant Jew ( verses 17-29 ).
This whole section of Paul's letter is to is WARN those "in the
know" as we say. Paul is admonishing - rebuking - those who know
God and His law, that they stand in grave danger of receiving the
wrath of God when on judgment day they stand before Jesus Christ.
THIS IS Paul's MAIN purpose through this section of his letter.
He wanted those who knew better to REPENT!!
Paul was not here entering a theological exposition on, "Will
those who do not know God, Jesus and the law, be saved by living
a good life in their particular societies?" Paul was not at all
here trying to teach or convey that a "good" Moslem, Communist,
Buddhist, or member of a demon worshipping tribe in Africa, would
"get to heaven" if they lived a "good life" by the standards
of their laws, even if some of their laws happen to be some of
God's laws. That is not the point Paul was getting at.
Paul was trying to get some people who were "in the know" about
God and His law to realize it was no good at all to be a physical
Jew as far as eternal life was concerned if there was no
genuine REPENTANCE and a doing from the heart the law of God. For
he told them, ".....there is no respect of persons with God. For
as many as have sinned WITHOUT LAW (not knowing God's law) shall
also PERISH (a common Greek word here meaning - to die) without
law......." (verses 11,12). God is quite fair to all people -
those not called in this lifetime to know the Eternal and His law
(1 Cor.1:26; John 6:44, 45 and request the in-depth article "The
White Throne Judgment") will die in ignorance - will die the
first death neither saved nor lost. But Paul goes on to warn
those "in the know" that, "as many as have sinned IN THE LAW
(knowing the law of God) shall be judged by the law (their
attitude towards repenting and doing the law will be made
evident). In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by
Jesus Christ (at the last trump - first resurrection and return
of Jesus to this earth - Rev.11:15-18; 1 Cor.15:50-54
........... " ( verses 12, 16 ).
Those now called by the Father to know Jesus and the law are
having their opportunity for eternal life (verse 7), but if they
willfully sin and will not repent - if they will only hear but
will not DO (Heb.10: 26-31), they will be judged before Christ at
the first resurrection as sinners - will not even be in the first
resurrection, but will face indignation and wrath in the lake of
fire and the second death ( Rev.20: 14, 15 ).
Paul's parenthetical thought in verses 13-15 is again to shame
those in the know and hammer the point home some more. He tells
them they are only hearing and not doing. They are Jews and have
been given the great privilege of knowing God and His law but to
their shame they do not do the law - verse 13. And to make their
shame worse, the Gentiles, who were not given the knowledge of
the law in the way the Jews were given it, do by common sense
some of the things contained in the law of God, and are more
conscious in their hearts of breaking these laws. This
puts the unrepentant, hypocritical, hear but don't do Jew, in
real bad shape as far as eternal life is concerned. Paul uses the
example of the Gentiles being more conscious of law than those
Jews he is addressing to shame them and show them what a
spiritual mess they are in, and NOT to teach that people who do
not know God or His law, but live a "good life" by the standards
of their particular society, will make it to God's Kingdom,
at the coming of the Messiah in glory.
There is no contradiction here by Paul with what Jesus taught
when He said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter he shall be
saved......" John 10:9. And, "All that the Father GIVES ME
shall come to me......no man can COME TO ME, EXCEPT the
Father......DRAW HIM......no man can come to me except it were
given to him of my Father" (John 6:37, 44, 45).
There is no contradiction here by Paul with what Peter taught
when he said concerning Jesus, "Neither is there salvation in any
other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men
whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
There has from the beginning been only ONE WAY to eternal life.
Come to KNOW the true God and His law - REPENT of sin - in FAITH
look to the atoning SACRIFICE of Jesus, and be willing to
DO the commandments of God.
Further studies on the plan of salvation for mankind are found in
my articles PREDESTINATION and THE WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT.
All articles and studies by Keith Hunt may be copied, published,
e-mailed, and distributed as led by the Spirit. Mr. Hunt
trusts nothing will be changed without his consent.