Wrath 6

God’s impartial judgment of everyone, Jews and Gentiles, brings to the fore a reference to “wrath” in Romans 2:5:

1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” 3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be anguish and distress for everyone 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.

Wrath here refers to the day of wrath — the day of God’s judgment. Whether or not a person experiences God’s wrath depends on works (v. 6).
Since the alternative to wrath is “glory and honor and immortality” (7) and eternal life, we are led to conclude with confidence that “wrath” here is “eternal wrath.” A post-mortem condition in which a person whose works are inadequate (because they are “self-seeking” and do not “obey the truth” and do “wickedness and evil”) experiences God’s wrath. The text does not say how long one will endure God’s wrath.
This “wrath and fury” leads to “anguish and distress”; those who escape God’s wrath experience “glory and honor and peace.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • mariam

    This verse gets at the heart of what I believe is meant by repentance. It is this: when we truly face God (and often this is the result of the traumatic consequences of our sin, or the sin of someone who has hurt us) we see that we have no right to judge the sins of others. When we are truly honest with ourselves we realize how short we have fallen, what poor stewards we have been of the gifts God has given us, how often we have taken the easy and selfish way. Paul repeats Jesus’ message here: Judge not and you will not be judged. If God mercy is extended to us it is extended to others and we throw God’s grace back in His face, when we think that we have some exclusive right to it. When we judge others and ignore our own faults we bring judgment upon ourselves. And, also, echoing Jesus’ message we are not judged for what we believe, but what we do.

  • http://fightingthelongdefeat.blogspot.com Ben Wheaton

    I think that Paul’s point here is that if we judge others while doing the same thing, we are merely storing up wrath for ourselves. However, he goes on to give a more general warning to all people about the day of judgment when Christ returns. Contra mariam, this passage is not concerned with making moral judgments per se, but making moral judgments hypocritically.

  • Scott M

    I don’t know Greek (classical or modern) and there’s no such thing as an English translation which is not influenced by the particular views of the team translating it. Still, I have read a pretty broad array of English translations. And I notice that it does not appear to be God’s wrath at people here before the judgment seat of Christ. God gives life. That’s stated as an action. But for those who have stored up wrath for themselves, there will be wrath and fury, tribulation and anguish.
    Yes, this is judgment based on the things we have done, on the totality of our lives (there isn’t any other sort ever described in Scripture), but at the same time no Christian tradition has ever taught that we can attain life on our own without the operation of God’s grace in our lives (though that word ‘grace’ is another for which you discover Christians have wildly varying definitions). Furthermore, we know that God is quick to mercy and that it is his will to give life to all.
    So why then is he able, through the energies of grace, to give life even to those who turn to him very late, as for instance the thief on the cross, and yet others stand before God’s judgment and experience only wrath and anguish — especially when we know it is not God’s will that any should perish? It seems the difference lies in allowing ourselves to be reshaped by the working of God’s grace in our lives into people who can stand before God and receive life rather than people who have so “reimaged” ourselves that we can experience only torment standing in the glory of the one we were created to reflect.

  • http://irregularchristian.blogspot.com Casey Taylor

    I’m new to this conversation but it strikes an interesting comparison/contrast to the reading of Paul I’ve encountered in Douglas A. Campbell’s The Quest for Paul’s Gospel . Campbell’s convinced that the reading of Paul that emphasizes this “turn or burn” theology isn’t Paul at all: it’s his Palestinian opponents who stirred up controversy in Galatia! Romans 1:18-3:20 would then be an imaginary back and forth between Paul and these opponents. Ironically, those parts attributed to Paul traditionally are really, then, his opponent. For example, storing up wrath is the “turn (to the Torah) or burn” opponent, not Paul. Paul’s preaching liberation through the coming of Jesus.
    I couldn’t begin to unpack his stuff in this comment, but I will say he’s responding to the challenges of reading Paul laid down by E.P. Sanders in the 70′s. In response to Sanders, evangelical scholars seem to mostly repeat the old arguments w/out engaging the new challenges. Folks like N.T. Wright claim to be offering something new with their salvation-historical readings but I don’t think Wright’s take on Paul is much different than the traditional Protestant read. Anyway, Campbell’s compelling take on Paul – which is far more Christ-centered than the traditional read and more Trinitarian – will be further explained in his forth coming The Deliverance of God.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    I don’t know, Casey. The only place in which I see evidence that Paul is quoting someone is in verse 2. The rest of the passage seems to be Paul’s turning the argument of verse 2 on to whoever made the claim.
    Like in the Synotpic passages addresses earlier, I can see this “wrath” as expressed historically, i.e. “death.” “Wrath,” “fury,” “anguish,” and “distress” could be ways of describing people who die and are not resurrected. These people did not pursue immortality and therefore did not find it.
    This is just a thought. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time. :)

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    I have just a couple of observations. Firstly this sentence:
    “Since the alternative to wrath is “glory and honor and immortality” (7) and eternal life, we are led to conclude with confidence that “wrath” here is “eternal wrath.”
    When one look at the text, the words do not support this sort of direct comparison. “glory and honor and immortality” are what is being sought after (those who by perseverance in doing good SEEK for glory and honor and immortality). Aionion life is the reward for those who are seeking these good thing, as opposed to aionion wrath for those seeking after evil things. The comparison here is between aionion life and aionion wrath, not immortality and eternal wrath. There is an argument to be made for the idea that aionion actually means eternal, however, there is a very strong argument to be made that it is properly rendered “age-long”. Given the numerous scriptures which contradict the idea of eternal punishment as well as early church teachings, I would argue that “age-long” is not only an acceptable translation, but accurate. At any rate, the comparison here between immortality and aionion wrath doesn’t stand in light of the text, it seems to me.
    My other thought, which I won’t get into fully here is that this issue of judgement is probably pretty profound. I think it is inadequate to say that Paul is only speaking of hypocrisy here. If this were the case, then we could “earn” the “right” to be as judgemental as our human hearts could desire by simply avoiding those sins we wish to criticize (the reason homosexuality is such a fun target perhaps?). However, I think the larger issue here goes back to the root of human sin. We often overlook that what brought death into the world wasn’t simply the disobedience of Adam and Eve. It was the result of eating the “fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. This was driven by a desire to know right and wrong as God knows right and wrong. To me, this indicates that there is a way that God views what is right and wrong which is somehow different or at least separate from our own. Refraining from judgement is an act of subservience and respect to God’s exclusive right to make such judgements according to His view of things rather than insisting on substituting our own understanding. Trying to do so was cause for God’s wrath at the very beginning and will be a source of that same wrath at the end, it seems.

  • mariam

    Rebeccat,
    Very good point in your last paragraph about refraining from judgment as respecting God’s exclusive right to judgment. I find references to this throughout the scriptures and there are good reasons why we should be very humble about our capacity to judge the actions of others. I hadn’t thought about how it mirrors the Eden story, but that also strengthens that notion.
    Ben, I disagree with you, of course. I think God’s prohibition on judging others is consistent and firm. You say that we can’t judge others only if we ourselves don’t follow God’s laws, but last time I checked only one person in history could claim being completely obedient to God’s will. If you think you are without sin and therefore qualified to judge the hearts and actions of others I want to fly to Ontario to shake your hand – but first I need a letter of reference from your mother:)


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