A Question I Was Asked:

"For it is Not Those who Hear the Law who are Righteous in God's Sight, but it is Those who Obey the Law who will be Declared Righteous." Romans 2:13.

True or False?

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Romans 2:13. True or false?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, you have asked the question in a somewhat unusual manner so I am just wondering if the question is meant to trick me.

First of all, it is dangerous to attempt to answer a Bible question based on just one verse; one always needs a broader context; what overall point was Paul making here? For example, I could quote Ephesians 2 where the same Paul also writes,

8. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9. not by works, so that no one can boast. 10. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Or, I could go down a few verses to verses 14-15:

14. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15. by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:14-15).

In those verses, plus also in much of Romans and Galatians, the topic of 'law' seems to get a 'bad press' with Paul, so it is essential to get the correct meaning when looking at Romans 2:13.

Paul is Addressing Judaic Legalistic Religionists

Right from the start of Romans 2 Paul the Apostle is complaining about the Jewish legalists, please read the first 12 verses of this chapter! In verses 12-13 Paul finally states,

12. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Romans 2:12-13).

So Paul is answering the legalists according to their own approach and viewpoint. They were assuming their own 'righteous' standing with God as a people who had received the law - note: I said received. Then Paul states,

14. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16. This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

The law Paul was referring to here was obviously the great spiritual law behind the commandments, that great law of the heart and spirit, or the law of Christ, which Jesus expounded in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). So Paul was making it plain that the more ritual elements of law, including the ten specific commandments (which the religionists of Jesus' day were so proud to possess) did not necessarily put them in a stronger position on judgement Day. Having received that explanation, now pop up just one paragraph and read verses 14-16 again!

Paul's point in verse 13 was that even the Jews accepted that '..it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.' He was on the attack and He (Jesus) intensifies that attack in the remainder of the chapter. Let us look at it:

17. Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18. if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19. if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20. an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - 21. you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22. You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23. You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24. As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." 25. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27. The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. (Romans 2:17-27).

This was a very, very strong attack on these legalists! Finally, Jesus delivers the coup-de-gras on these people who were so proud of their religiosity and Judaic nationhood:

28. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God. (verses 28-29).

This, of course, is a play on the meaning of 'Judah' which is 'praise.'

These religionists would soon be replaced by those coming from the 'highways and byways' - the Gentiles! Their time had come! So in Verse 13 Jesus was applying the legalists own reasoning to them, since they were not even correctly keeping the law which they claimed was so precious to them.

Paul continues His attack throughout chapter 3 before coming to words which must have caused the Judaic religionists to almost vomit:

21. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24. and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - 26. he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:21-26).

So when considering Romans 2:13 we must consider the entire context; this was part of a substantial attack on the religionists of Jesus' day. He was telling them that they did not even properly keep the law which had been granted to them (they legally 'sat in Moses' seat'; Matthew 23:2), their authority, however wrongly used at times, would sit with them a little longer until the crucifixion and resurrection: Romans 3:31.

Throughout chapter 4 of Romans, Paul continues to hammer away at the point of the inadequacy of law, for example,

13. It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:13-15).

Robin A. Brace. February 1st, 2018.