The Pastoral Relevance of Romans 2

Paul’s remarks lambasting his imaginary Jewish opponent for hypocrisy and an acute sense of self-superiority are not abstract. It does not apply exclusively to the Jews or just to moralizing pagan philosophers. Paul’s arguments are applicable to Christians too. In fact, what Paul says in Romans 2 against hypocrisy and a superiority complex provide the premise for cultivating an ethic of mutual acceptance within the Roman congregations in Romans 14–15. According to Robert Jewett, Paul here has the goal of “creating an argument that provides the premise for an ethic of mutual tolerance between the competitive house and tenement churches in Rome, which could enable them to participate with integrity in the Spanish mission.”[1] It would seem that certain pockets of the Roman churches were divided over the question of the degree of law observance required to live faithfully in a pagan city. Factions may have developed over Jewish and Gentile approaches to ethics and interpretative disputes arisen about how the Jewish law could be applied to their situation. It was a setting ripe precisely for the kind of hypocrisy and judgementalism that Paul so passionately censures in Romans 2. In the course of the letter, Paul scuttles any refuge for hypocrisy or self-righteous moralism by setting forth the equality principle of the gospel and the moral imperatives for unity. In this approach, as Jewett comments, Paul opens a way to overcome cultural and religious bigotry by means of righteousness through faith in Christ crucified.”[2]

[1] Jewett, Romans, 197.

[2] Jewett, Romans, 203.

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