Romans 2:17-29

Aug 25, 2008


This pericope advances Paul’s argument regarding the wrath of God on all men by specifically beginning to address Jews (as opposed to his initial focus on Gentiles).  He first demonstrated the guilt of the Gentiles in 1:19-32, then he advanced the argument in 2:1-16 by showing Gentile hypocrisy and liability under God’s judgment.  The second half of that judgment section was then enlarged to include both Jews and Gentiles, both of whom are on a level playing field when it comes to the Law as a standard of righteousness and judgment.  In that section, the Gentiles bear responsibility because of the standard that resides within them.  The next section, this pericope, begins to balance out Paul’s argument by focusing on Jewish hypocrisy.  Here he utilizes a similar strategy as he did in 2:1ff (there regarding Gentiles) to demonstrate hypocrisy on the part of the Jews. The ambiguous reference to Gentiles doing what the Law requires and showing the work of the Law in their hearts in 2:12-16 is shown in all probability to be a set up for this section’s clearer reference to Gentile Christians (2:26-29).  Note that here again, a level playing field is argued, but this time it is Gentiles who stand to benefit over Jews as regards to their obedience to the righteous requirements of the Law and consequently their being reckoned as circumcision (covenant people) in that day of judgment!  The actual structure of 2:17-29 is a combination of an overall ABA’B’ parallelism and two ABB’A’ chiastic structures that occupy each half. Thus the two types of structures overlap.  Note that the first chiastic structure turns on the Jews lack of performance verses their mission objectives.   The second chiasm turns on the afore mentioned reversal of fortunes that both Jew and Gentile can expect based on obedience (or lack there of).  I included a little key in the outline to show that this second chiasm includes  a smaller chiasm that alternates between positive and negative aspects in the outer terms of that structure. Note that this last chiasm is extended (v. 29b) so as to end the pericope with an inclusio contrasting Jewish self-praise based on reliance on the Law (v. 17) with God’s praise  for non-written code based Christianity on judgment day.