7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor
and immortality, he will give eternal life;
8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth,
but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil,
the Jew first and also the Greek,
10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good,
the Jew first and also the Greek.
11 For God shows no partiality.
These verses form a unit whose purpose is to affirm what Paul has already said about the equality of Jews and Gentiles before God. There is only one standard God uses to judge every human being: the person’s works—what he or she does. However, no one’s conduct can fulfill the standard’s requirements, because its criterion is God’s righteousness (1:18). This clearly established biblical truth means that everyone is equally under God’s judgment and subject to his wrath. If here it appears Paul is saying the opposite for some people, we will see if that is true.God by his grace has provided one way to escape judgment and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, the exemplar of divine righteousness. These two alternatives—judgment or salvation—are the same ones Jesus set forth in John 3:
“When people reject Jesus they judge themselves” (Robert Utley). It can be seen that Paul follows Jesus is saying what condemns people is their works. All the above truths underpin these verses and guide their interpretation.Style and structure
For this passage, the apostle temporarily steps away from his dialogue partner. Now he speaks in third person, writing in an objective expository style with a chiastic structure. Chiasm is a rhetorical device found often in Scripture. It is an artful arrangement of ideas that uses contrast, reversal, and repetition, usually for emphasis of a key theme. (Here is a good site to learn about chiasms in the Bible).
Paul contrasts humanity’s two alternative destinies: (1) eternal life and glory for those who do good (7 and 10) or (2) wrath for those who do evil (8–9). Often the main point is found in the middle of a chiasm, Douglas Moo says, but here Paul begins with the main point. The aphorism in verse 6 that God judges everyone according to his or her works echoes Psalm 62:12, and the concept recurs often in both OT and NT. Paul restates God’s impartiality at the end (verse 11).
Although most scholars view the structure as chiasm, Richard Longenecker thinks it is better understood as “antithetic Hebrew parallelism.” Noting its hymnic quality, Longenecker calls it “a single unit of Jewish Christian devotional or catechetical material—which, in turn, was rooted in Jewish piety—that both Paul and the Christians at Rome knew and that Paul quotes here.”Paul’s language in verses 7 and 10
Cranfield translates the phrase “by patience in well-doing” (ESV) to mean “by steadfast perseverance in good works.” He thinks “the reference is to goodness of life, not however as meriting God’s favour but as the expression of faith.”
Moo thinks verses 7 and 10 set forth the traditional theological language of “the law.” He says Paul lays out “the biblical conditions for attaining eternal life apart from Christ.” “It is a continual seeking after eternal rewards, accompanied by a persistent doing of what is good, that is the condition for a positive verdict at the judgment.” More of Moo’s thinking comes later.
Colin Kruse supposes the meaning of well-doing in verse 7 is the opposite of the negative behaviors in verse 8. In that case, he says the implication is that “‘doing good’ may be understood as seeking God, accepting the truth of his revelation, and eschewing evil practices—the opposite of self-seeking, rejecting the truth, and following evil.”Blow to Jewish pride
Previously Paul singled out the Jews as first in the sequence of salvation (1:16), and he repeats that here in verse 10. But he also puts them first in the sequence of judgment (verse 9). With this “ironic twist,” as Moo puts it, Paul highlights “the Jew as the hidden target of his polemic.” Because Jews thought their election guaranteed a more favorable outcome—salvation first and judgment last—they have most to lose on a level playing field.
Paul will soon begin discussion of law and the Jews’ endeavor to fulfill it. Anyone who chooses to work for good standing with God will earn wages of eternal death, because sin strips merit from all works (6:23).Justification by works?
To anyone familiar with how a person becomes justified—faith alone through God’s grace—a problem is readily apparent. How can “well-doing” lead to eternal life (verse 7) or doing good yield “glory and honor and peace” (verse 10)? Is Paul endorsing works as an alternative means of justification? Were he to do so, he would contradict himself so severely as to put his claim to apostleship in jeopardy. Charles Cranfield lists at least 10 attempts to explain this issue. Moo, who cites seven, narrows the most likely explanations to these two:
2. “Paul is thinking in these verses specifically of Christians. They, and only they, are those who, through union with Christ, are able to produce works acceptable to God in the judgment.”
The second one, Moo says, is gaining popularity. For example, Joseph Fitzmyer sees Paul “implicitly referring to Christians, whose conduct (good deeds) is to be understood as the fruit of their faith.” Everett Harrison: “The good works the believer performs do not bring him salvation, but they attest the salvation he has received by faith (6:22).”
Charles Cranfield likewise views good works “as the expression of faith and repentance.” He points to similarity with Jesus’ remark in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Paul would also include OT believers, Cranfield says.
Moo reaches his conclusion on verses 6–11 on how they fit within the context of the progression of Paul’s argument in the first three chapters. Paul is laying out evidence for his conclusion in 3:9 that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” and the whole world will be held accountable to God (3:19–20). Because Paul’s focus here is on works as the standard for salvation or condemnation and he does not introduce grace until later in chapter 3, Moo is hesitant to bring grace into the interpretation of 6–11.
So although Christians do fulfill the conditions in verses 7 and 10, Moo believes the context strongly suggests Paul is not directly describing them. Thus Moo chooses the first explanation in his list. “It becomes clear,” he says, “that the promise can, in fact, never become operative because the condition for its fulfillment—consistent, earnest seeking after good—can never be realized.”
Following Paul’s conclusion that all are under sin comes the good news that all who believe in Christ are justified by his grace (3:12–14)—grace that abounds with renewal of souls now able to fulfill the conditions in verses 7 and 10. Believers reading those verses are surely entitled to enjoy this hors d’oeuvre at the hand of Paul before he serves up in chapters 5 and following the meat of the gospel’s empowerment to do good works. In that sense perhaps we can affirm the validity of both explanations listed by Moo.