1:32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
(Rom 1:32-2:2; NASB; 1995 update)
The sudden switch in Paul’s tone to pointed accusation is made all the more forceful by his switch in pronouns from “they” third person plural to “you” second person singular. He is quite literally singling out individuals. It is even more surprising given the total moral dissoluteness he describes in 1:32, a loss of all moral discrimination. While in the first two verses in Chapter 2 Paul attributes continuing moral discernment to his readers–and condemns them for it. He turns vehemently against them” “You, you,” index finger pointing, eyes aflame, outrage barely contained, “have no excuse.” “You condemn yourself because you do the same thing yourself. And since your act of judgment makes it very clear that you agree that God’s condemnation is just, then you agree that your condemnation is just.”
Just these verses alone merit an extended meditation. Instead, I’ll jump to the question that always occurs to me when I study this chapter of Romans: where does Paul prove his indictment of those who judge? Although this begins with a broad description of the offenders by verse 17 at least we know that Paul is primarily thinking of Jews, maybe also of proselytes and God-fearers. Paul argues in 4-16 that even though the Jews are God’s covenant people they cannot expect to be exempt from judgment, and ultimately the basis of judgment for Jews and Gentiles is the revelation each group has received. But, a bare assertion that the one who judges is condemned because he or she practices the same things still hangs out the without evidence. This is very much unlike the meticulous teacher Paul. He described the origin of and the ultimate foundation of idolatry to prove that idolators are without excuse. I would actually argue that Paul intended for that prosecutor’s argument against idolatry to apply universally rather than just to the Gentiles. Yet with this dramatic shift to a personal accusatory tone, I would expect Paul to offer evidence to support his accusations.
When I have asked friends, who are well-known evangelical scholars, they have generally not seen the problem. Some have argued that Paul has said they do the same things they condemn others to do that is sufficient. Paul’s apostolic authority is enough for us to believe that they did do these evil things, but hypocritically. That answer just does not sit well with me. It does not sound like the Paul I have lived with for forty years. The next answer is to point to 2:17-24. Clearly this is where Paul spells out his indictment of the Jews. I think that contains the answer, but it deserves picking apart. I really doubt that a first century Jew would have seen himself or herself in 2:17-22. Would an observant Jew, the kind Paul is addressing in this chapter, really have been guilty of stealing, committing adultery, or robbing temples? Somehow I doubt it. Paul’s pointing finger might have missed it’s mark. I believe all these verses wre introduction to 23 and, especially, 24:
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.
Paul quotes Ezekiel 36:20 as it was applied to the exiles in the Babylonian captivity, that is, to the shameful dishonor God’s people brought to God’s name by not fulfilling the Sinaitic covenant and by being so debased. The prosecutor’s charge against the contemporary Jews is that they continue in captivity debasingly serving a foreign power. They have done the same as the idolater, even worse, rather than failing to honor God they have dishonored Him, they have caused His name to be blasphemed. This is much worse! It deserves Paul’s harsh tone.
So, Paul finally provides the evidence for his strong indictment, “You are without excuse,” in verses 23 and 24. The Jews remain a debased people, held in captivity by a foreign power. Paul appeals to Scripture for the final word. And when he quotes Scripture, he uses a passage he will use later to define a true Jew. This is the meticulous Paul I know!