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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


The Apostle, after having convicted the Gentiles, in the preceding chapter, of the grossest violations of the natural law, undertakes, in this, to prove that the Jews, notwithstanding their boasted privileges, were no less chargeable with grievous violations of the Law of Moses. In order to avoid offence, he alleges in a general way, however, without any express mention of the Jews, charges equally applicable to both Jews and Gentiles, and probably equally intended for both (verses 1–16).

At verse 17, expressly applying himself to the case of the Jews in particular, he shows how much they abused the prerogatives and exalted favours of which they boasted, and how grievously they sinned against the law. The consequence of which was, that they dishonoured God and brought His holy religion into contempt among the idolatrous Gentiles (verses 17–25).

The Apostle points out, in the next place, what the circumcision is, and who the Jew is, that are of any value in the sight of God.


1. (As, then, the philosophers were inexcusable, and deserving of death for their sins, having a knowledge of God and his justice), thou art no less inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest or condemnest the faults of others, whilst committing the same thyself; for, by the very fact of passing sentence on others, thou condemnest thyself, since thou dost perpetrate the very crimes condemned by thee in others.

2. For, it is a matter well known and indubitable, that the judgment of God will be exercised agreeably to justice, and the real merits of the case, against those who commit the crimes of which thou art not less guilty than they are whom thou condemnest.

3. Can it be that thou art persevering in the commission of these crimes which thou art condemning in others from the delusive hope of escaping the just judgment of God?

4. Is not thy present impunity the effect of God’s boundless goodness, of his great patience in bearing with thee, and of his long-suffering in deferring thy punishment, all of which thou art slighting and despising by persevering in sin? Art thou not aware that this benignity on the part of God is shown thee for no other purpose than to induce thee to return to penance?

5. But, according to thy hardness and obduracy of heart, callous to the motions and impressions of grace, and thy impenitence, from which neither allurements nor threats can awaken thee, thou art stirring up for thyself a treasure of wrath against the terrible day of vengeance, when God shall display the righteousness of his judgment, and will pour forth all his vengeance on the wicked.

6. Then he shall render to every man according as his works deserved it, whether reward or punishment.

7. To those who, by patient perseverance in good works, seek honour, glory and immortality, he will give eternal life:

8. But on the contentious, and those who obey not the truth, but follow their iniquity, will be inflicted heavy and condign punishment.

9. Tribulation and anguish shall be the just portion of every man that doeth evil, of the Jew first (who resisted greater lights and graces), and also of the Gentile;

10. On the other hand, glory, honour, and peace shall be given in reward to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

11. For with God, whether in rewarding or punishing, there is no respect paid to persons; he solely regards men’s deserts, and the merits of the case.

12. For those who have sinned without having the written law proposed to them, shall be punished, not as transgressors against the Law of Moses, but for having violated the natural or unwritten law; and those who have sinned in the Law of Moses shall be punished and condemned for the transgression of this law.

13. For it is not those who merely receive and hear the law that are regarded as just before God, but those only who observe and fulfil the law, whether they received it in writing, like the Jews, or had it imprinted on the heart, like the Gentiles, that will really become just and be reputed as such in his sight.

14. For when the Gentiles, who have not received the Mosaic Law, by the natural and free motion of their own will, prevented and animated by divine grace and enlightened by divine faith, fulfil the precepts of the law, such persons are a law to themselves.

15. Since by performing without the impulse of a law, what the law exteriorly inculcates, they show that they have the precepts or mandates of a law engraven on their hearts, to the existence of which the dictates of their conscience urging them to perform one thing and avoid another, bear testimony; and this is still further confirmed by the applauses and remorses which they alternately experience, when they turn their thoughts to examine the nature of the actions.

16. And these applauses or remorses have reference to the punishments or rewards to be administered, on the day of judgment, when God will judge through Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Judge, the most secret and private actions of men, which will then be publicly exposed according to the gospel which I preach.

17. (It is thus God will judge the Gentiles), but if thou, O Jew! enjoyest singular prerogatives, instead of alleviating thy punishment, they will only heighten thy damnation, shouldst thou violate the written law. Thou feelest complacency in being called a Jew, and congratulatest thyself for the blessing of possessing the law, and makest it thy boast to have the true God as thy God, to be thyself his special people.

18. And knowest what he wishes thee to do, and what to avoid, and being instructed by the law, knowest to discern good from bad, and the more perfect from what is less perfect.

19. And persuadest thyself that thou art a guide of the blind and canst hold forth the light of knowledge to the ignorant, who wander and err.

20. That is to say, that thou art the teacher of the ignorant and the instructor of the inexperienced, having in the law the perfect rule of faith and conduct, not only for self-direction, but also for the instruction of others.

21. With all these boasted prerogatives thou art not, in the smallest degree, the better of them. Thou, then, that teachest another, teachest not thyself to perform the things thou prescribest for others; thou that teachest men not to steal, thyself committest theft.

22. Thou that forbiddest men to commit adultery, committest the same crime thyself. Thou that holdeth idols in abhorrence, committest the kindred sin of sacrilege.

23. Thou that makest the law the subject of thy boasting, by the violation of this law dishonourest God.

24. For, through your fault in publicly transgressing the law, the name of God is spoken of reproachfully and irreverently among the idolatrous Gentiles, as has been charged upon your fathers before you, by Isaias, and the other prophets.

25. Indeed circumcision (the seal of the covenant) profiteth, provided it to be accompanied with the observance of the law, of which observance it is an external profession; but if thou become a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision will be of no more avail than uncircumcision. By thy prevarications thou losest all thy advantage over the Gentiles, and becomest only their equal.

26. On the other hand, if the uncircumcised Gentile observe the precepts of the moral or natural law, to the observance of which justification is attached, will not he, really and in truth, be reputed before God as circumcised?

27. And shall not the Gentile remaining in the natural state of uncircumcision in which he was born, if he observe the precepts of the law, judge and condemn by contrast, thee, who dost violate the law, although written for thee, and although thou hast circumcision to remind thee of thy obligation to observe it?

28. Most undoubtedly; for, he is not so much the Jew before God, who is such externally and by profession: neither is that the real circumcision, pleasing to God, which is externally made in the flesh.

29. But, he is truly a Jew, in the proper sense of the word, who interiorly, and by possession of the interior virtues, is such; and that is true circumcision pleasing to God, which is of the heart, consisting in the cutting away of the corrupt passions and affections, which circumcision of the heart cannot proceed from the helps held out by the letter of the Mosaic law, but comes from the spirit of grace; the praise of which interior Jew and real circumcision of the heart, is not from men, who only see the exterior, but from God, who sees the heart, and judges justly of merit and demerit, and the several degrees of each.


1. “Wherefore.” Commentators are perplexed about the connexion of this particle. It may be regarded as a mere particle of transition; or, it may be connected with the foregoing in this way: since the philosophers were inexcusable (chap. 1 verse 20), and deserving of death (verse 32), for having deprived God of his glory, and for having committed sin and approved of it in others; thou art, therefore, no less inexcusable, whosoever thou art, be thou Jew or Gentile, that condemnest thy neighbour, and committest the same crimes thyself. In this sense the particle is a connecting link deducing an inference from what is asserted in the foregoing chapter. “Thou art inexcusable,” &c.; this is confined by some to the Jews who condemned in the Gentiles the crimes of which they themselves were also guilty. It is, however, more probable, that it expends to the Gentiles also, and includes all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who condemn in others what they themselves are guilty of. In fact, the proposition is announced as a universal proposition, “whosoever thou art,” &c.

2. Such persons will suffer from God the judgment of condemnation which their crimes deserve. “For we know,” as a matter of undoubted certainty, the Jews know it for certain, from the Law of Moses, the Gentiles, from the light of reason, “that the judgment of God is according to truth,” i.e., that God will judge with impartial justice, those “that do those things.” i.e., both those who condemn in others what they themselves commit, and those who approve of them (chap. 1:32).

3. This form of interrogative, addressed to the sinner in the second person, adds great force to the style. “And thinkest thou,” &c., i.e., thou art greatly mistaken if thou imaginest that thou, who sinnest knowingly, wilt escape the judgment of God, or, if thou construest God’s present forbearance into approbation of thy conduct.

4. “The riches of his goodness,” i.e., his rich and immense goodness in bestowing so many favours on thee, “and patience” in bearing with and tolerating the wicked; “long-suffering” in deferring punishment. These, the sinner “despises,” when presuming on them, he sins with the hope of impunity. “Knowest thou not,” i.e., thou shouldst be aware, although thou appearest ignorant of it, “that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance.” The design of God in showering his blessings on thee, and in patiently enduring thy sins, is not to encourage thy continuance in sin, but to lead thee to do penance for them by a change of life.

5. “But according to,” i.e., by reason of “thy hardness” inresisting the impressions of divine grace, which hardness the infinite goodness of God cannot soften; “and impenitent heart,” deaf to the allurements of mercy and the threats and menaces of divine justice, “thou treasurest up.” This word, strictly speaking, is understood of what is good; but sometimes also, as here, James chap. 5 verse 3, and elsewhere, of what is evil. “Wrath,” i.e., vengeance “against the day of wrath and revelation,” &c., i.e., against the day of judgment, which is called “the day of wrath,” because on that day there will be no place for mercy, “and of revelation,” because on it everything will be exposed, “and of just judgment,” because, then, each one will be treated according to his deserts.

6. “Who will render,” &c., to the wicked, eternal torments, and to the just, eternal life, as the reward of their good works, among which, sufferings for God’s sake are to be reckoned as being the most heroic deeds of merit.

7. “According to patience in good works,” by patiently persevering in good works, “who seek glory and honour, life everlasting,” in Greek, τοις ζητοῦσι δοξαν, &c., seeking glory, &c. The construction may also run thus, to those who seek life everlasting, he will give honour and glory and incorruption. These terms express “eternal life” differently; “honour and glory” express the dignity to which the just will be raised, together with the praiseworthy celebrity conferred on them, “and incorruption” expresses the never-ending duration of this bliss. This passage furnishes a proof of the Catholic doctrine of merit.

8. “But to them who are contentious, and obey not the truth,” i.e., who resist the divine truth of the Gospel announced to them, disbelieving its doctrines, and disobeying its precepts, “but give credit to iniquity,” i.e., adhere to the false teaching which favour their impure and iniquitous lives; “wrath and indignation,” i.e., heavy and severe punishment, such as is wont to be inflicted by an enraged and angry man. In the common Greek, the order of these two words is inverted, “indignation and wrath,” but the chief MSS. support the Vulgate. The words are in the nominative case, and hence, “will be inflicted,” or some such verb, is understood.

9. “Tribulation,” mental torture. “Anguish” expresses the straits to which the wicked will be reduced on the day of judgment, calling on “the mountains to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them.” “Of the Jew first,” because, having greater knowledge, he will be more guilty in sinning, “and also of the Greek,” i.e., the Gentile (see chap. 1 verse 16).

10. “Glory, honour,” &c., are a circumlocution for eternal life; “peace” expresses the quiet, uninterrupted, and secure possession of these blessings which they shall enjoy, “to the Jew first,” because, as the Jews were the principal objects of God’s predilection, they will be the first in the order of eternal rewards, if they correspond with divine grace. The Apostle places the Jews first in the order of remuneration, because he appeared to have lowered them before in placing them first for punishment (verse 9); “and also the Greek,” i.e., the Gentile; he refers to the faithful Gentile, both before Christ, such as Job, Melchisedech, &c., and to the faithful Gentile converts after he came, whose actions were performed under the influence of grace and faith; for, such actions alone are entitled to an eternal reward.

11. The charge of “respect of persons” has reference to the claims of justice, and is incurred when, in the distribution of justice, the dispenser of it regards circumstances extrinsic and quite foreign to the merits of the case, as if a judge were to look to the lace, appearence, dignity, &c., of the parties. Hence, as God owes nothing to his creatures—since all his gilts are quite gratuitous—the charge of having “respect of persons” can never be incurred by him; but even when, by his own free will, he gives his creatures a claim upon him, he never admits “respect of persons;” for, although the Jew is placed first in the order of merit, it is but perfectly just, since he receives greater graces and was first called, which graces and call were perfectly gratutious in the first instance, and established a claim on the ground of merit afterwards; and vice versa, he should be the first punished for having abused greater graces.

12. In this verse is proved, that with God there is no such thing as a “respect of persons,” but that his judgment is perfectly just, founded on men’s merits. The rule for guiding their conduct possessed by Jew and Gentile respectively will be the measure of God’s judgment regarding them, “for whosoever have sinned without the law,” i.e., receiving the written law of Moses (for no one can sin without violating some law, natural or revealed), and in this he refers to the Gentiles, “shall perish without the law,” in Greek, ανομως και απολοῦνται shall also perish, &c., will not be responsible, and will not have to render account for the law of Moses which they received not, although they shall “perish,” i.e., be condemned for their violation of the natural law, “and whosoever have sinned in the law,” i.e., the prevaricating Jews, will be held responsible and shall be judged by the Law of Moses which they violate, and will suffer all the punishments annexed to its violation.

13. This verse is connected in Paraphrase with verse 11. It is further evinced that with God there is no respect of persons (verse 11) if we look to the means of justifying both Jew and Gentile—a means within the reach of each—which he has fixed upon. That means is not the external hearing of the law, which means the Jew alone possessed, but the observance of the precepts of the law. That the Jews had this law needs no proof, and that the Gentiles had it, is proved next verse. It may be asked how can the general proposition, “the doers of the law shall be justified,” be verified regarding the Gentiles, or be applied at all to them, since without grace and faith no man can be justified? RESP.—It is clear from the following verse that the Apostle includes the Gentiles in the general proposition, and hence, he refers to the Gentiles before Christ, who, enlightened by divine faith, and assisted by grace, observe the precepts of the natural law. It also includes the Gentiles after Christ, who embrace the faith: and hence, faith alone does not justify, since, those who merely believe are only “hearers of the law,” and, therefore, not “doing the law,” or performing good works, they will not “be just or justified before God.”

14. It is needless to prove that the Jews have a law; and as to the Gentiles, by performing naturally the precepts which the law inculcates, they show that they are a law to themselves. If the words, “those things that are of the law,” comprise the entire natural law or moral law of the Jews, then, the words, “by nature” are opposed to the Law of Moses; and mean, that by the strength of nature, prevented and animated by grace, they perform the works of the law, without the Law of Moses. In this signification, grace and faith are implied; but if they are taken to mean some precepts of the law, then, “by nature” will refer to the sole aid of nature, unassisted by the Law of Moses; for, a Pagan can, by the sole aid of nature, unaided by grace, perform some actions morally good, which, though not deserving of an eternal reward, are not, still, deserving of punishment. It more probably refers to the faithful Gentiles, both before Christ, such as Job, Melchisedech, &c., and those after him converted to the faith: for this is shown from the context. In verse 13, it is said that “the doers of the law will be justified,” which must certainly refer to those who act from grace and faith, and it is to show how this applies to the Gentiles, that this verse is introduced. Moreover, he says, verse 16, “in the day,” &c., when no action of an unbelieving Pagan will be rewarded.

15. “Who show the work,” &c. They prove that they are to themselves a law (verse 14), because they show by their exterior actions the mandates of the law engraven on their hearts; and of the existence of this law, the dictates of conscience, and the applauses and remorses consequent on their actions, are a further proof and testimony (vide Paraphrase); “their conscience bearing witness,” refer to the internal dictates of conscience, pointing out certain things to be done as good, and certain things to be shunned as evil. “Their thoughts” (in Greek, τῶν λογισμῶν, their reasonings) “between themselves,” this is the proper rendering of μεταξυ αλληλων; “accusing them,” &c., refer to the remorses and applauses of conscience, consequent on the performance of good or bad actions, which are an additional proof of the existence of this natural law.

16. “In the day,” i.e., unto the day when God will judge, &c., as in verse 5, “against the day of wrath,” &c. The meaning is, that these remorses and applauses of conscience have reference to the great day of judgment—(Paraphrase). Others understand the words thus: This testimony of conscience will be made still more manifest on the day of judgment; others connect this verse with verse 12, “shall be judged by the law—on the day,” &c., including the verses 13, 14, 15, within a parenthesis. The interpretation and construction adopted in the Paraphrase are more simple and seem more probable; “my gospel,” the Gospel delivered to me (Gal. 1 verses 11 and 12).

17. In this verse, the Apostle expressly and openly addresses the Jews in particular, and proves them to be guilty of violations of the law, and of grievous sins, as he had shown in reference to the Gentiles in the preceding chapter. He, in the first place, admits the great advantages they possessed and of which they were justly proud, verses 17, 18, 19, 20, but t is to retort on them with greater effect, and show that the possession and enjoyment of these privileges only heightened their culpability in violating God’s law, verses 21, 22, &c. “But if thou art called a Jew.” In this reading, the sentence is, according to some Expositors, conditional and suspensive as far as verse 21. A’Lapide and others supply these words, “if thou art called a Jew” (and observest not the law, thy sentence and punishment will be more severe). The common Greek reading has for “but if,” ἴδε, behold! “thou art called a Jew,” &c., according to which the sentence is quite absolute and not suspensive. The chief manuscripts and ancient versions are in favour of the Vulgate, εἰ δε. “Called a Jew,” this was an honourable appellation implying that they were God’s people, as with us, the term, Christian, implies the same; “and restest in the law,” i.e., dost congratulate thyself on the blessing thou hast in possessing the law, “and makest thy boast of God,” whose special people thou art.

18. “His will,” (in Greek, τὸ θέλημα, the will), what he wishes thee to do and avoid, “and at provest the more profitable things,” according to the Greek, δοκιμαζεις τὰ διαφέροντα, canst distinguish things that differ.

19. Dost arrogate to thyself such a degree of knowledge as to be a guide to the blind and a beacon or light to those who are going astray. He probably refers to the high sounding titles often claimed by the Jewish rabbins and doctors.

20. He explains what is meant by their acting as guides and lights in the preceding verse. These prerogatives are exercised in instructing the ignorant or “foolish,” and teaching the inexperienced, “infants,” in point of knowledge; “having the form of knowledge and truth in the law,” i.e., having a rule of faith and conduct not only for self-direction, but also for the instruction of others, in the knowledge thou hast acquired from the study of the law. “Knowledge and truth,” i.e., true knowledge.

21. The Apostle now sums up their boasted privileges and perfections with a view to retort on them with greater force and show their great culpability; he commences with the last mentioned quality of teacher, “teachest not thyself,” because thou dost what thou teachest others not to do.

22. “Committest sacrilege.” The prevalence of the preceding crimes cannot be questioned; but what is meant by “committing sacrilege,” is not so clear. It refers to some disrespect shown the honour and worship of the true God—(which is nearly akin to the crime of honouring false gods, or idolatry, from which the Jews were at this time exempt)—to a profanation of holy things, such as the buying of their sacred office practised by the high priests; it may also refer to the practice of partaking of Idolothytes, which is denounced by the Apostle as idolatrous.—(1 Cor. 10)

23. The infraction of his law tends to the dishonour of the legislator. Verses 21–23 are read interrogatively in the Greek, which adds force to the style.

24. The name of God is blasphemed among the idolatrous Gentiles on account of the transgressions of the Jews; he is spoken of disrespectfully, as if he were negligent or unable to punish them, or even approved of their crimes. “As it is written.” Some refer this to Ezechiel, 36:20; others to Isaias, 52:5. Most likely, it is a mere allusion to these passages and other similar ones of the Holy Scripture, in which God complains of the dishonour reflected on Him among the Gentiles from the sins of the Jews. The words show that the sins referred to by the Apostle were externally committed; otherwise they could not be known among the Gentiles. The words of this verse are taken literally from Isaias, 52, according to the Septuagint Version. In Isaias, however, they refer to the blasphemies uttered against the name of God, in consequence of the temporal calamities which befell his chosen people. Hence, the Apostle quotes them merely in sensu accommodo, to convey his own meaning, as if he said, “the words of Isaias may be applied to your case.”—(Vide Beelen). To how many Catholics may not the same charge be applied? Their scandalous lives bring discredit on the holy spouse of Jesus Christ, among heretics and infidels.

25. The Apostle here anticipates an objection which the Jews might propose against what he had been saying—viz., that they had at least one great prerogative, circumcision, which was the seal of the covenant of God with Abraham, to which magnificent promises were attached, and which raised them far above the uncircumcised Gentiles. The Apostle admits that circumcision is of avail if accompanied by the observance of the law; for, then it will serve to remind the Jew of the internal circumcision, of the cutting away of the passions of which it is a sign. It was also a distinctive mark and seal of God’s people, and it gave a right to the promises, if the conditions of the covenant—that is, the observance of the law—accompanied it. “But if thou be a transgressor of the law,” then, the Jew breaks his part of the covenant; hence, it is not binding on the part of God, and then his “circumcision is made uncircumcision”—that is, he will be in precisely the same condition with the uncircumcised Gentiles, with whom no such covenant was entered into by God. When the Apostle speaks here of circumcision as profiting, he contemplates a period prior to the preaching of the Gospel. For, speaking of it after this period (Gal. 5:2–6), he declares the reverse.

26. If, on the other hand, the Gentile observe the precepts of the law, which render a man just, and also prescribes what is just, he will, doubtless, have observed the Jewish covenant as to its moral part, and thus shall enjoy the blessings annexed to the covenant with the Jews. “Circumcision” and “uncircumcision” mean the Jew and the Gentile, the abstract for the concrete. Circumcision was merely a sign of the covenant of God with Abraham requiring certain conditions, and these conditions—viz., the observance of the law failing, circumcision became a vanum signum. Whereas, if the Gentile comply with the stipulated conditions—that is to say, if he observe the moral law, which is a portion of the Jewish law, he certainly has the principal thing intended, the res significata, to which the promises were attached in the Jewish covenant.

27. “Judge thee” by the contrast.

28. (Most undoubtedly). These, or such words, are understood as an answer to the question in the preceding verse; “for he is the Jew,” in the true sense of the word, who observes the law, to the observance of which are attached the rewards, and in the observance of which consist the principal duties of Judaism. “For he is not the Jew, &c.”—that is, he is not so much the Jew, &c.; because, a Jew by profession may be a Jew also in reality or “inwardly,” by the performance of interior virtues signified by the circumcision in the flesh.

29. That man shall enjoy all the rewards of Judaism, who is interiorly gifted with the virtues, which become the people of God. External circumcision is only a sign of the interior circumcision of the heart, which alone is approved of by God, and can only come from the spirit of grace.

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