The hypocrisy of those who teach the law but do not follow it not only dishonors God but it harms the witness of God and his word because those who claim to be followers are, instead, sinful hypocrites who judge others for actions they themselves also do.
Paul continues from Romans 2:21, chastising the competing Jewish “authorities,” who fancied themselves teachers of wisdom and excellent models of keeping the law, for breaking the very law they claim to represent. They use this law to judge others, but fail to apply it to themselves. Paul culminates his critique in Romans 2:24 when he states that their law breaking is giving God a bad reputation.
Here he asserts they commit adultery. Although Paul does not give specifics, we can get an idea what he might be referring to, that would have been common enough knowledge such that specifics would not have been necessary. In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus addresses the Pharisees with respect to divorce “for any reason.” Some say the Pharisees were able to divorce a wife just by pronouncing they were divorced, and then they were free to marry another. Jesus is clear that this is simply an attempt to justify adultery.
Paul then says these Jewish “authorities” claim to abhor idols, but “rob temples.” Here is the first instance where apparently Paul thought specifics were needed to validate his accusation. How is robbing a temple equivalent to idolatry? The phrase “rob temples” is a translation of a single Greek word hierosyleō, which means to commit sacrilege. To rob a temple would be to commit sacrilege to that deity. Paul does not explain what he has in mind here. But we might gain insight from when Jesus cleansed the temple. He said the religious authorities had made it into a den of thieves. Historians say that the temple authorities created temple money that had to be used to purchase “approved” sacrifices, and of course the authorities pocketed a substantial profit on the exchange. Jesus seemed to consider this a desecration of the temple of God, and it is specifically mentioned that Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers.
Paul asks a rhetorical question that he will answer a resounding “yes” to in the next verse, Romans 2:23: “Do you, competing Jewish “authorities,” dishonor God through your breaking of the law?” The answer of course is “Yes” God is dishonored when religious authorities say one thing and do another. Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul systematically answers specific objections to his gospel, but his first counter argument to the Jewish “authorities” is “You don’t really do what you say.”
Consequently, prior to answering the specific allegations they make against Paul, Paul is undermining the credibility of these competing Jewish “authorities” by pointing out their hypocrisy.
Paul began this letter in chapter 1 claiming righteousness comes by faith, quoting Habakkuk 2:4 as his theme verse, that “…the righteous shall live by faith” (1:16-17). Paul also made clear that prideful living brings very adverse consequences. Here in chapter 2, Paul introduces law for the first time (verse 12), and now is vehemently asserting that these competing Jewish “authorities” who claim to bring righteousness to others by teaching them the law are, in fact, lawbreakers. In verse 2:24, we see they are not only lawbreakers; they also are giving God a bad name among the Gentiles because of their hypocrisy.
It is important to note that although this is still a part of Paul’s letter to the Gentile believers in Rome (whose faith is being proclaimed throughout the world), in chapter 2 Paul redirected his immediate attention elsewhere. He addresses “O man” whoever you are who judges others (but not yourself). Then we learned in Romans 2:17 that Paul has particularly in mind some Jews who self-proclaim to be teachers of wisdom from the law, a gift from God to point people to the light of God. The problem is, Paul says, that they are doing just the opposite. They are, due to their hypocrisy, causing Gentiles to actually blaspheme rather than follow God.
“Just as it is written” in verse 24 means Paul is referencing scripture from the Bible, which at that time was primarily what we call the Old Testament. What Paul says here is a capsulation of the message in Ezekiel 36:19-21. This means there is a precedent that hypocrisy like this has happened by Israel previously, and God was not pleased; one of Israel’s assigned duties is to be a witness to other nations, and their hypocrisy is causing a bad witness.
Paul is clearly undermining the teaching of these competing Jewish “authorities.” This is vital because these “authorities” are actively slandering the teaching of Paul and attempting to thwart his ministry in Rome, the center of the world, among believers renowned throughout the nations for their faith.
22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.
Check out our other commentaries:
Genesis 21:9-13 meaningSarah wants Abraham’s son, Ishmael, sent away from their house. She wants her own son, Isaac, to be the sole heir of Abraham. Abraham worries......
2 Timothy 4:19-22 meaningPaul asks that Timothy greet old friends Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. He repeats his request that Timothy try as hard as......
Matthew 10:26-27 meaningJesus tells His disciples that they should not be afraid of what people say against them for following Him. Their words don’t matter. God will......
Hebrews 10:23-25 meaningWe should be fully committed to confess our hope in God. We should love and do good for our fellow believers. We should meet with......
Daniel 3:1-2 meaningKing Nebuchadnezzar builds a golden statue and summons his sub-rulers to come see it.......