For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself,
because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.
3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
The focal point moves from Gentile sinfulness to those who judge others for things they also do. Although Jewish judgementalism toward Gentiles seems to be Paul’s primary concern, these verses also target hypocrisy in all eras and cultures. The apostle cautions us to stop judging others and ponder God’s judgment of us.
Later in the epistle we learn that Jews criticized Paul’s gospel for what they thought was an excusing of Gentile wickedness. The self-righteous hypocrite we encounter here is exhibit #1 why the Jews along with everyone else need that same gospel.The gospel’s good and bad news
In these opening chapters Paul seeks to answer this question: Why do both Gentiles and Jews need the gospel? To welcome the good news, morally obtuse humanity must first come to grips with the bad news—their perilous condition. Salvation is to eternal life. It is also from the consequence of human sin—eternal death, of which Paul warned in 1:32.
Having completed his indictment of Gentile wickedness, Paul now addresses those resistant to the good news because they think they have done nothing wrong. Attention shifts to the Jews, but Paul’s indictment applies to everyone living in a sense of false security.Condemnation of the self-righteous
Paul’s unsparing language about pagan sinfulness notwithstanding, many Gentiles in Paul’s era sought to live moral lives, as I noted at 1:21–23. These noble pagans also stand condemned. Paul “depicts man as he appears in the light of the cross of Christ. It is not a description of specially bad men only, but the innermost truth of all of us, as we are in ourselves” (Charles Cranfield).
Because the core of every unredeemed human being is corrupted by sin, even the most moral person, Jew or Gentile, cannot live up to God’s standard of holiness. Unlike God, most people consider gossiping (1:29) a minor annoyance. God peers into the heart where he regards an angry word as murder and lust as adultery (Matthew 5:21–23, 27–28).Stylistic changes—introducing diatribe
Paul alters his style as we begin chapter 2. Now instead of speaking about a corporate whole (Gentiles), Paul speaks to an individual. “You” is second-person singular in contrast with the plural “you” in chapter 1. Paul is not addressing the Christians in Rome. Rather, he employs a dramatic style made popular by Greek philosophers and rhetoricians. It is called diatribe. Ben Witherington III terms it “a rhetorical debate with an imaginary interlocutor.”
Diatribe is a lively style that includes “interjections by imaginary opponents, rhetorical questions, drastic examples, anecdotes, and apposite quotations” (J. L. De Villiers). Richard Longenecker asserts, “The clearest and most sustained instances of diatribe in the NT are in Romans, particularly in 2:1–5 and 2:17–24.”Because chapters 2 and 3 of Romans feature much diatribe, learning about this style can help us discern Paul’s intent. Drawing from what he regards as a persuasive study of diatribe by Abraham Malherbe and Stanley Stowers, Longenecker writes,
Paul’s lesson for us is that knowledge of right and wrong is self-condemning if we use that knowledge to point out the wrong in our neighbor yet fail to live by the right ourselves.Who is “you who judges”?
Eight-year-old Peter is enjoying a slice of pie when his mom and older brother Jeff enter the kitchen. Mother gasps. “Peter! I told you that is off-limits until tonight. Now no dessert for you after dinner!” Jeff chimes in, “Yeah! But he shouldn’t have dessert for a week!” His mom shakes her head and walks away. Seeing his chance, Jeff heads for the pie.
Along with countless others, Jeff fits this role. But whom exactly does Paul have in mind? He implies that the conversation partner endorses his condemnation of Gentile sin, but the person’s attitude is wrong. Fitting of this description is a typical Jew, but if that is Paul’s target he draws out the drama. Not until verse 17 does he explicitly identify Jews by his repetition of “you.”
Enlightened Gentiles were also known to say one thing and do another, as Longenecker points out: “The Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata (c. A.D. 120–200) was famous for mocking the philosophers of various schools for the wide gap between their lofty teachings and their vile practices—that is, for being models of sobriety and wisdom by day but given to drink and debauchery at night.”
In verse 2 Paul presumes his partner’s agreement (“we know”) with the aphorism that those who judge others are answerable to God for their own sin. But hypocrisy—the bedfellow of judging others (see Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1–5)—is not easily forsaken. Jesus and Paul witnessed this when confronted by Jews at numerous points in their preaching ministries.
Reflection point: Who might “O man” represent today? How might Paul view the tone and substance of much of today’s social and political discourse? Have social media become, for some people, self-condemnation zones?Equal need for salvation
To signal parallel culpability, Paul uses the same verb “do” of Gentiles in 1:32 and of Jews in 2:3. In this implied equating of Gentile wickedness and Jewish judgmentalism, Paul puts “a real sting in the allegation” against the high-minded Jews, says Everett Harrison.
Similarly, Douglas Moo understands the opening “therefore” to refer back to the revelation of God’s wrath (1:18) and the knowledge of God shown in creation, the consequence being that all humanity is without excuse (1:19–20). Both categories of humanity, Gentiles and Jews, are on equal footing before a Judge who shows no partiality.
As for “the very same things” that the Jews practice, Moo points back to 1:29–31: “Many of these sins—for example, pride, arrogance, gossiping, maligning others, and lack of affection—are as prevalent in the Jewish as in the Gentile world. In fact, Paul will accuse the Jews of some of these same sins in vv. 17–24.” Also see Isaiah’s accusation of his countrymen in 57:3–13.
At the end of chapter 3 Paul sums up the gospel’s judgment against all humanity—pagans in chapter 1 and moralists and lawkeepers (Jews) in 2 through 3:9. “There is no distinction,” Paul states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:22–24).
Only one individual has ever lived a life in complete fulfillment of divine standards. Jesus Christ is the good news.