Ouch! Paul pulls no punches in this second chapter of Romans. He started out in chapter one by praising the Roman Christians, and then spoke about how sinful the world is. Now he lowers the boom on the Roman Christians.
You may be saying, “What terrible people you have been talking about!” But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing them and not judge you when you do them, too? Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin? – Romans 2:1-4
I have to wonder, does he know about something specific, or is he simply laying out a foundation for more later?
As further chapters will reveal, that is exactly what he is doing – establishing groundwork for a discussion.
But, what about the Romans reading this letter. Would they have known nothing of Jewish laws and customs that Paul would write to them as if they were wholly ignorant?
In his Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus mentioned that in about 40AD 8,000 Roman Jews had sided with someone in a lawsuit. Since women and children were not permitted to take part in a lawsuit, that would mean that there were upwards of 40,000 Jews living in Rome around the time Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. From inscriptions on ancient tombstones in the Jewish catacombs it can be determined that there were at least 12 different synagogues in and around the city of Rome. So it is not like there was no knowledge or awareness of Jewish laws and customs among the Roman Christians. Further, statistical probability would indicate that not all of the new converts were of non-Jewish origin.
From this evidence it is clear that there certainly should have been knowledge of Jewish laws among the Roman believers.
I think the following verse supports my thought that Jews were part of the Roman church.
If you are a Jew, you are relying on God’s law for your special relationship with him. You boast that all is well between yourself and God. – Romans 2:17
Paul is clearly working on ensuring that the foundation of the Roman Christians’ belief system is one that conforms to what he understands to be the truth as revealed to him personally by the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters, I solemnly assure you that the Good News of salvation which I preach is not based on mere human reasoning or logic. For my message came by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. No one else taught me. – Galatians 1:11-12
Therefore, since Paul knew exactly what it was to be a Christ-follower, he wanted to ensure that these converts, that he had no personal involvement with, would receive the truth as it was revealed to him; not as Jewish converts would have them believe.
For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not a cutting of the body but a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. Whoever has that kind of change seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29
The truth is that an inward change, a change of heart produced by God’s Holy Spirit is the mark of being a believer.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Paul’s tenacity. It is because of his determination to ensure the complete truth was shared that we know what it really means to believe in your son Jesus. In his name, Amen.