I worked out a long time ago that God did not need to be appeased for human sin. It was the spiritual powers of evil that needed to propitiated.

My favourite epistle when I first became a Christian was Ephesians, which given that I am a Gentile, was the right place to start. I got from this letter a strong sense that I had been rescued from the spiritual powers of evil by Jesus death on the cross. This was confirmed in the letter to the Colossians.

When you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him (Col 2:13-15).
He made us alive. He destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil by paying the ransom that they demanded for our freedom. There is nothing here about us needing to appease God's wrath.

I have never studied the first few chapters of Romans in detail. For some reason, I have always tended to focus on chapters 8 to 16 in the latter part of the book, which deals with the status of the Jews and political issues. Recently, I began to look at the first few chapters in more detail. They are quite difficult to interpret.

Different Approach

When I started reading through Romans in detail, I was struck by a note that I had previously written in the margin of Romans 1:32, in which I noted this passage must have been addressed to the Jews because only they had a revelation that God had declared that the penalty for some sins was death. Looking at the verse in isolation, my note made sense.

However, when I read the entire passage, I realised that my note was wrong, so I rubbed it out. Roman 1:18-32 is addressed to all humans, not just to the Jews. But that does not make sense either. The passage says that God's will is revealed through creation, and that all men know his will. That does not seem to be correct, because, the Jews had to receive the Torah through Moses to fully know his will. Furthermore, in Romans 1:32, the writer claims that God has revealed that sin is worthy of death, but this does not make sense, because there is nothing in creation that indicates that God has declared that death is the penalty for sin. In creation, death seems to be a normal part of life.

Trying to sort these contradictions, I decided to read Romans right though with an open mind. I assumed that if Paul had written argument and counter-argument, the pattern would be evident to an averagely intelligent person who had not been trained to understand Paul through the eyes of wrath. I was surprised by what I found. Jarring contradictions seemed to stick out all through the letter and the most sensible way to deal with them was to read them as argument and counter-argument. To identify the parts of the letter that expressed the Jewish Judger's view, I looked for internal contradiction, contradictions with the Torah and contradictions with Paul's teaching in the rest of the letter. Using this approach, the arguments of the Jewish Judgerer stood out quite clearly.


Paul says that he wanted to preach the gospel to the Christians in Rome (Rom 1:15). This is odd, because the gospel would normally be preached to those who were not Christians. We need to seek the reason to understand the purpose of the letter.

The reason Paul wanted to preach the gospel to the Christians was that many of them believed theology described in Romans 1:18-32. They had accepted a judgmental theology, which makes it seem like sin was a human choice. It also blames sin on God by saying "He gave them over to it". This judgmental theology ignores the role of the spiritual powers of evil in manipulating people to sin.

In his letter, Paul challenges a teacher who had been spreading this false theology amongst the Roman house churches. His opponent is unnamed, but he was probably a Jewish Christian arguing that gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the sabbath in accordance with the Torah. He has a very harsh view of God's actions on earth.

Paul presents his arguments in the form of a dialogue, in which he summarises what the Jewish Judger is saying, and then refutes it by expounding his own gospel. There are no quote marks or italics in the Greek text to delineate the two views, so the main challenge for interpreting the first few chapters Romans is discerning when the Jewish Judger's voice is being summarised and when Paul is speaking his own view.

The letter was intended to be read aloud to church meetings by the person who delivered it; probably a businesswoman named Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2). Paul would have explained the contents to her, so she would have emphasized the different voices to her listeners during her reading of the letter. We do not have that advantage, so we have to discern the different voices from the text itself.

The people in Rome that Paul wrote to had heard the Jewish Judger speaking, so they would have recognised his words when Paul quoted them. They had probably written to Paul asking how to counter his claims. They did not need Paul to highlight the Jewish Judgers word's, because they would have stood out to them like a sore thumb. The Jewish Judger would probably be listening when the letter was read out in Roman church he was active in, so his response would confirm that Paul was challenging him.

Paul's understanding of God was changed dramatically when he had an encounter with Jesus. Meeting Jesus revealed Gods rightness and goodness to him. Jesus saw sinners as needing a doctor, not condemnation. Paul realised that his previous understanding of God as angry and vengeful was wrong. His gospel was a message about God's mercy, kindness and long-suffering love; the mercy and love that enabled God to rescue him when he was angrily killing Christians. The person that Paul was confronting was stuck with the view of God that Paul had before he met with Jesus. He was stuck with a God who is full of anger and wrath. Therefore, any parts of the letter that are obsessed with anger and wrath are most like the message of the Jewish Judger that Paul was opposing.

I believe the main indication of the Jewish Judger is that Paul states his arguments in a way that exposes contradictions. The arguments that are not Paul's are full of contradictions that any reader with a logical mind would recognise as contradictory, and therefore not Paul's view. Sometimes a statement is made in contradiction with the Torah, something that the Jewish Judger wants to push. The obvious contradictions expose the parts of the letter that are stating the position of the Jewish Judger, and do not represent Paul's views. They are actually exposing views that Paul considers to be wrong.

I will note all these contradictions as I go through, but an obvious one is in Romans 3:19-20. This statement begins by saying that the law applies to those who are "under the law". It then concludes that the purpose of this is to silence every mouth and bring the entire world before the bar of God's judgment. This does not make sense. Laws that only apply to those who are "in the law", the Jews, cannot be used to indict people who are not under the law. That would be unjust, so this passage contains a huge contradiction. It says the law applies only to the Jews, but then uses it to condemn the people of the world. God would not do that. It is the Jewish Judger who seems to do that, so these verses are not the message of Paul.

The second issue that an interpreter of the letter to the Romans has to decide is where the dialogue begins. I think the clue is in Romans 2:1-3.

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
In these verses, Paul vigorously challenges his opponent. He refers to him as "O Man, whoever you are who judge", which was a bit of put down. Paul criticises him for judging, but at first glance, it is not obvious who or what he is judging. By judging others, this Jewish Judger is putting himself under the judgment of God.

A closer examination reveals that Paul did expose the nature of the judgment that the Judger is making. Paul says twice that this Judger "practice(s) the same things", or that he is "practicing such things". This refers back to the last verse of the previous chapter, which condemns people who approve of people who "practice such things." The things that are being judged are the practices that are listed in Romans 1:18-32. The use of the same expression (practising such things) links the two chapters, so the obvious conclusion is that the Jewish Judger that Paul is criticising is the one who is pronounced the judgment summarised in Romans 1:18-32.

This link is highlighted by the first word of chapter 2. The word "Therefore" indicates that Romans 2:1-4 is directly connected to the judgment in the previous chapter. There should not be a chapter break at the word "therefore". This word confirms that the dialogue begins at Romans 1:18.

In Romans 1:17, Paul had just made the statement that God's rightness has been revealed through his grace towards people receiving salvation through faith, both Jew and Greek. God's rightness being revealed is an important theme in the letter. Everything that God does is right. He proves his rightness by "bringing salvation to everyone who trusts in Jesus".

Salvation is a strong, positive word. Its meaning includes deliverance and restoration. Everything that was wrong is put right.

The statement in Rom 1:18-32 comes as a jarring intrusion against Paul's message of God's grace and rightness.

Intrusion of Wrath

In the first chapter of Romans, a clashing interuption occurs between verse 17 and verse 18. Paul has been describing his gospel and explaining that it reveals the rightness of God's actions and character.

In the gospel the rightness of God is revealed (Rom 1:17).
God's response to the human condition is grace and mercy. He wants to rescue his people from the mess they have got into. (This truth is repeated for emphasis in Romans 3:21 and 26). The following verse is a shocking intrusion.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven (Rom 1:18)
This is not good news. The Jewish Judger sees humans as being under the wrath and condemnation of God and wants to ram that home. This is a harsh message compared to Paul's message of grace and salvation. Paul focusses on God being right in everything he does, whereas the judge claims that God is angry and hostile to the people of the world. This is a shocking distortion of the gospel, but modern Christians are not shocked, because we have been trained to be comfortable with the wrath of God.

I was once part of this problem, because when I first became a Christian and a preacher, I was comfortable speaking about the wrath of God. I think that I was a bit of a Pharisee, better at seeing other people's faults, than see my own, especially my judgmental attitude. I presume that was driven by personal pride and a false belief that I was better than others whom I considered to be under the wrath of God. Strangely I had never felt that I was under God's wrath before I had decided to follow Jesus.

The first jolt to my comfort with wrath was when a friend challenged me to read James 2:3.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.
I presume that he thought I was overly judgmental and lacking in mercy, and in hindsight, he was right, but it took a long time for this truth to sink in.

More recently, God gave me greater insight into the role of the spiritual powers of evil. I came to realise that Wrath is a powerful evil spirit that pretends to be doing God's work, but he actually loves wrecking God's earth and doing harm to humans. Seeing that really changed my thinking about wrath.

I realised that the common belief that we serve a God of Love, who is also a God of Wrath is an enormous contradiction. Love and Wrath are opposites. Wrath demands vengeance. Love motivates mercy and forgiveness. A person cannot be full of wrath and full of love, even if they are as big as God, because when wrath overwhelms, love inevitably gets squeezed out. When love prevails, anger has to dissipate. Wrath and love cannot remain together.

"Wrath" is not an aspect of God's character. It is the name of an evil spiritual power that seeks to dominate the world.

Getting back to Romans 1:18, the claim that God's wrath is being revealed through Jesus represents a massive graunch of the gears of anyone who has not become comfortable with the ugly idea of God's wrath. It might not shock Jewish listeners, but it would be a huge shock to Roman listeners. Wrath was what the Roman Emperors and the Roman army did, and it was ugly. Their wrath was revealed when they killed and destroyed without qualms.

For Romans, wrath was cruel, so saying that God was doing what was right and that his wrath was being revealed in the next sentence was an enormous contradiction. It would have jarred the Romans. They only reason that it does not jar us is that we have been trained to be comfortable with the idea of God's wrath, which is really sad, because it grossly misrepresents God's love and mercy.

Judgment Message

The statement in Romans 1:18-32 comes as a jarring intrusion against Paul's message of God's grace and rightness. It has a strong emphasis on wrath and judgment. All people on earth are condemned for rejecting God, who is angry and hostile towards them. This is just the kind of statement that would be made by the critical Jewish Judger that Paul is challenging in the first part of his letter. There are several things about the condemnation passage that distinguish it from Paul's message.

Jewish Judger

At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul explains that the Jewish Judger is wrong in his condemnation of people. He declares that the Judger had been judging people unfairly. This is a reference back to Romans 1:18-32.

Paul explains that he is actually putting himself under God's judgment. Paul's message is consistent with Jesus behaviour. He was happy to dine with ordinary sinful people and he healed their diseases and cast out the demons who were harassing them. Jesus was only really critical of people who used the requirements of the law to condemn people and lay a burden on them. He understood that the law could be a burden for people who had struggled with life, and he got angry with those who did not help them deal with this burden. Paul was copying Jesus when he spoke angrily about the Jewish Judger.

Paul declared that the Judger was guilty of some of the sins that he had put on the list. He was guilty of injustice, deceit, cunning, arrogance, self-importance. He is unfeeling and uncaring. This is the type of behaviour that God really does hate, so Paul was correct in saying that the Jewish Judger was placing himself under God's judgment.

Paul drives the nail home by saying that he was ignoring the aspects of God's character that make him right/correct in what he has done.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance (Rom 2:4)?
This is an amazing statement, that cuts right across the Jewish Judger's rant in Rom 1:18-32. When God thinks about the people of the world, his attitude is kindness, forbearance and patience. Paul repeats the word "kindness" to emphasize its importance. God is not interested in whacking sinful people; he just wants a change of heart. This a massive contrast with the judger, who wants people to see themselves under God's wrath and subject to serious punishment.

Forbearance is an interesting word to ascribe to God. It means "restraint". This is the basis for our salvation. God's immediate response to sin is not to punish, but to restrain himself, and attempt to work out a solution, that will set his people free from the mess that they are in (Rom 3:25). Paul understood this, because he had experienced it himself. Paul was blunt with the Jewish Judger, because he did not want the views he himself held before he encountered Jesus being brought into the church by Jewish Christians who did not understand the radical nature of Jesus revelation of God.

The thing that really upsets Paul is stubbornness and unrepentance that insists on portraying God as harsh and cruel when he is actually kind. Paul has blunt words for him.

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the right judgment of God (Rom 2:5).
Paul tells the Jewish Judger that he will get what he wants: "wrath in the day of wrath". I think that Paul is using hyperbole to expose his challenger's harshness, because he concludes that the day will reveal God's righteousness, not his wrath, ie "revelation of the right judgment of God". Paul uses the Jewish Judger's own words to turn his ugly harshness back on his own head.

The thing that really upsets God is stubbornness and unrepentance that insists on portraying God as harsh and cruel, when he is actually kind (Rom 2:5). Condemning people who are enslaved by sin and evil is what brings judgment. This is was the judger's mistake, and it really upset Paul, I presume because that is who he was before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road.

This is a warning to anyone who attempts to preach from the first few chapters of Romans. Which message are we pushing? If we are saying that God is angry with sinners and that they deserve judgemnt, we are backing the wrong horse. If we want to be with Paul, we should be proclaiming the kindness and patience of God.

A judgment approach to Paul's gospel does not work. Paul demolishes the Jewish Judger's argument. He would demolish the argument of any Christian judger's argument too. When we start judging, we joining with the Pharisees.

Paul's gospel is about the rightness of God, not about wrath against those who cannot help it. The message of the epistle is that we are stuck in sin until God recues us. Being wrathful towards people who have been entrapped by sin is mean, as wrath is a mate of satan.

Another Exaggeration

In Rom 2:7-11, Paul gives another exaggeration/contradiction of the Jewish Judger. He first says that people who pursue glory and honour and immortality will get eternal life (v. 7). They will get peace (v.10). This is not true. We are not told in the scriptures to seek glory and honour. Even immortality is a by-product, not something we should be seeking. The law did not promise eternal life. It promised life in the land, in peace and plenty, for those who applied God's Instructions for Economic Life. Eternal life is a New Testament promise for those who trust the gospel of Jesus.

On the other hand, the Jewish Judger says that when people act out of selfishness and reject the truth (the one that he said earlier that they are supposed to know), they will face "anger, fury, trouble and distress (vv. 8,9). He really lays it on. People who fall into sin are in a really bad place. This is the same old message of wrath that contradicts Paul's message of God's rightness being revealed (Rom 1:18).

The one correct thing in these few verses is that God shows no partiality (v.11). This is true. God will always do what is right, so he will treat everyone fairly, without any favouritism.


The correct message is given in Romans 2:12-13. God does not show partiality, so people will be judged on the basis of what they know. People who do not know the law will be judged on the basis of what they know. In contrast, with the judger's rant, they are not expected to know what God requires. The worst that can happen to them is that they will perish (annihilation). They will not face the torment of God's wrath as the Jewish Judger had implied.

People under the law will be judged according to the law (v.12). If they obey the law they will be put right. This is true. The sacrifices described in the Torah actually worked, because they were intended to appease the spiritual powers of evil and prevent them from attacking the people of God. If the Jews implemented the requirements of the law, they would have spiritual protection.

The aim of the law was not to make people righteous before God. Only Jesus could do that. The law had a different purpose: spiritual protection. As long as the people trusted God, and implemented these sacrifices, they lived in peace and safety in the land. They believed the law and they were kept right (v.13).

The truth of the gospel is that people will be judged on the basis of their response to Jesus, not on their good deeds. Those who have given allegiance to him will receive eternal life. Their names are written in the book of life. Those who have rejected the gospel will perish (John 3:16).

In Romans 2:12, Paul confirms that those who sin "outside the law" will "perish" (apollumi). He does not agree that they will experience "indignation and wrath" and "tribulation and anguish" as claimed by the Jewish Judger in Romans 2:8-9. This latter claim was an expression of his fascination with Wrath.


Paul responds by accusing the Jewish Judger (Rom 2:17-20). This man is a Jew. His hope is in the law. He uses the law to make moral distinctions. He believes that he can be a teacher of people living in darkness; those who are foolish and blind. He claims to be able to do this because he has an outline of knowledge of truth.

Paul responds by saying that the Jewish claim that they can teach the nations is invalid because they were not applying it himself (Rom 2:21-24). He cites some events that had actually happened in Rome, where Jewish teachers had dishonoured God and put his people at risk, by stealing and committing adultery. God had given the Jews his wisdom for how the people of the community could live at peace with each other (Rom 3:2), but they had failed to do that. That unfaithfulness does not undermine God's rightness (Rom 3:4). Instead, they had undermined their testimony by disobeying the good laws that God had given to them.

The remainder of the chapter deals with the Jewish Judger's claim that Gentile Christians need to be circumcised. The purpose of circumcision was to keep God's people separate from the rest of the world. This was an important aspect of their protection from the spiritual powers of evil. It was a sign that they belonged to God and that these evil powers could not attack them.

Following Jesus defeat of the spiritual powers of evil on the cross, our spiritual protection is different, so circumcision is no longer so important. It reminds Jews that they are Jews, but has no value for those who are not.

Paul then playfully suggests that some who are not circumcised can fulfil the law. This was a shocking claim because it turned the Jewish Judger's ideas upside down. If Gentiles could fulfil the law, the special status of the Jews is undermined. The Jewish Judger would struggle to accept that people who are not circumcised could fulfil the law, while those who are could not. This contradiction undermines his arguments about the circumcision and the law.

God is Unjust

In Romans 3, Paul answers some questions that the Jewish Judger would have asked. In Romans 3:5, Paul says that he is speaking as "a man". This is an indicator that he is addressing the person whom he referred to earlier as "O Man".

His argument about God's wrath comes up again in Rom 3:5-8. He suggests that if God is wrong to judge, he should not be the judge at the end of the age. This is foolish. The problem is not with God being judge, but declaring that his attitude is one of wrath. Paul undermines this argument, by treating it as foolish. He says that it is as stupid as saying that "we should do evil so that good may come". Paul calls this blasphemy and says that people who think like that deserve what they will get (v.8). God is right in everything he does, so he is the perfect judge.

Real Problem

In Romans 3:9-18, Paul explains the real problem faced by the people of the world. The problem is the same for Jew and for Gentile (v.9). Everyone is under the power of sin; literally "under sin" (Rom 3:9). This is the problem on earth. Due to sin, the spiritual powers of evil are able to dominate everyone who lives on earth. This is the issue that Jesus came to deal with. The world did not need God's wrath, because it is under the control of a spirit called Sin and another called Wrath. It needed the deliverance and healing of the salvation that God provided through Jesus.

Paul describes the consequences of being under sin with a series of quotes from the Old Testament (vv.10-18). There is a lot of nasty stuff listed, but the basis is different from the rant in Romans 1:18-32. There the evil was supposedly done by people who knew what God wanted, but deliberately chose to do the opposite. Here, evil occurs because people are under the power of sin. There is futility, deception, bitterness and disaster, because these are the things that the spiritual powers of evil like to inflict on humans. They lead people astray, and when they have a hold on their lives, they work evil to destroy them. The solution to this problem is not condemnation. They need to be rescued. Paul describes how that happens in Romans 3:21-26, which is the heart of his gospel.

We are reminded of our need for rescue in Rom 3:23.

All have sinned and lack the glory of God.
We need to be clear about this verse. It should not be translated like another condemnation by the Jewish Judger, who would like to say that we are the problem because we have fallen short. We have sinned, but the problem is that this shuts us off from God's glory, which then gives the spiritual powers of evil access into our lives, which allows them to hurt and harm us (for Israel, God's glory was the cloud by night and the fire by day, that went in front of them to protect them from evil). That is the problem that Jesus had to rescue us from. Without God's presence, which is glorious, we are vulnerable to spiritual attack. Jesus rescues us from this problem so that we can walk in the shadow and protection of the glory of God again.

"Wrath" is not a revelation of God's character, it is an evil spiritual power who has dominated the world for long period of time. He has worked with another powerful spirit called destruction to work terrible evil on earth. God sent Jesus to deliver us from his power.

God's Rescue

God accomplishes his rescue "apart from the law", although the law and the prophets gave testimony to it (v.21). The law was given to help people live in relative peace with each other, and to obtain safety from the spiritual powers of evil, prior to the cross. But it was not a perfect solution, as sin gives the evil powers a way to get back in and destroy peace. Jesus bought a more permanent and effective solution, a solution that confirmed God's rightness.

God's rightness is displayed (v.21). This is where Paul began. The gospel displays the rightness of God. God is right in what he does, and Jesus is faithful to him, so he willingly dies for our rescue.

All are put right by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We are put right by grace. It is a gift and it comes by Jesus our messiah. The gift that we receive is not the declaration of a judge, it is redemption by a deliverer. Redemption is a economic/legal term. A ransom is needed to redeem people from slavery. Redemption is the payment of the ransom to someone who holds us captive. We are held captive by sin and evil, but the death of Jesus rescues us and sets us free.

Paul then explains what God did through Jesus.

God placed Jesus as a mercy seat through his faithfulness by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his rightness (Rom 3:25).
The mercy seat was the part of the covenant box in the tabernacle where God dwelt. Blood was sprinkled on it to symbolise peace with God. Jesus death and shedding on blood rescues those who believe from the power of the spiritual powers of evil and opens the way to God. Paul is emphatic that God does this to demonstrate his righteousness, not to appease his wrath. It is the spiritual powers of evil who demanded blood and who have to be appeased (One was named Wrath).

God's attitude was different from the harsh view projected by the Jewish Judge.

In his forbearance, God passed over sins committed beforehand—he did it to demonstrate his rightness at the current time, so as to be right and the one who puts those who trust in Jesus (Rom 3:27).
This is a mind-blowing statement by Paul. I wish as many sermons had been preached on it, as on the misleading version of Romans 2:20.

The starting place for Paul is God's "forbearance" (anoche). This word means "tolerance" or "restraint". Contrary to the Jewish Judger, God is not full of wrath and anger, and eager to punish humans have made a mistake. He is tolerant and holds back, waiting until he has worked out his plans to rescue his people.

He passes over sins that were committed beforehand, ie before he died on the cross. This is amazing. God passed over all the sins that occurred before the cross go and decided that they did not matter. I presume that he saw people being manipulated and controlled by the powers of evil, so was not surprised or offended by their sin. He realised they needed to be rescued, not punished, so he focussed on doing that.

God took this action to demonstrate his rightness for all the world to see. He proved his rightness, by putting right those who trusted in Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate justice or wrath, because the situation that humans had got themselves into was unfair. The powers of evil were manipulating them and making it look like humans were at fault. They even tried to enlarge the barrier between God and the people he created by making it look like he was angry with them.

God and his people come out of the cross looking good. Jesus death and resurrection demonstrated that God has been right/correct all along. Humans who trust in Jesus are put right by his death and resurrection. Only the powers of evil are left looking bad.

Law of Faith

Paul then deals with the Jewish Judger's failure to understand the role of the Jews and the law. Mimicking the Judger, he asks what is the basis for boasting, and responds, there is none. Mimicking again, he asks about the law and responds that we are saved by the "law of faith". I find this expression interesting because the Mosaic law requires faith. The spiritual protection that it provided pointed to Jesus, so the people offering sacrifices were not earning righteousness, they were being kept safe by faith in God. This is why Paul is able to say in Romans 3:31, that "faith establishes the law".

Paul then goes on to explain in the remainder of Romans 3 that we are made right in God's eyes by faith (Rom 3:28-30). This promise applies to the Jews and the Gentiles. We are united by receiving salvation in the same way.

Dik- Words

In the book of Romans, three words based on the same root are common (adjective: dikaios, noun: dikaiosune, verb dikaio). These words link to a similar word in the Hebrew Old Testament (tsedk). The dik- words can be made negative by adding a suffix "a-"; righteous becomes unrighteous.

The dik- words are hard to translate because they do not have obvious English counterparts. Many translations of Romans use justice-based words for the dik- words, ie justify, justification, justice, just. There are several problems with this approach.

The core meaning of the dik- words refers to being "right" or "correct". The adjective means being "right" or doing things correctly. With regard to us, it means having done God's will. It can be translated "just", but that is a special narrow sense, and is not the basic meaning. The noun refers to the status of having done things right or done things correctly. For us, it means we have done things the way God wants them to be done, ie, correctly. The verb means to be considered "right". In contract law, it means having access to a property that is unassailable. In the passive form of the verb, which Paul uses frequently, it means "being put right" or "being made right".

When I edited a document in which I had inserted Romans 1-4, replacing the existing translations with these words, it made a whole lot more sense.

When Paul says that the "righteousness of God" has been revealed, he was saying that God has been correct in everything he has done. He has always done things right. The "rightness of God" has been revealed.

When Paul says that we have been "put right", he means that God any barrier between us and him is gone. His Holy Spirit is content to come and live in us.


When we think about the judicial passages in Romans, we tend to think of a criminal court, but this concept is a modern one, which did not exist in biblical times. In our times, a crime is an offence against the state. In the UK, the court case is "The Crown v the offender". In the United States, it is the "The State of Florida v the offender". So, when a person is convicted of stealing, they have to pay a fine to the state, ie the payment goes to the government, not to the person who was robbed. Any reparation to the victim depends on the generosity of the state. It should not be taken for granted.

In biblical times, courts were more akin to commercial courts. The contest was between two people: the offender and the victim. If a person was convicted of theft, restitution was paid to the person whose stuff was taken, not to the king. Even murder was treated as an offence against the family of the victims. They have been robbed of their means of support and any potential inheritance. That is why they could choose a ransom payment because it would restore their economic position.

Many cases would be a dispute between two people who had a contractual arrangement with each other, or had an obligation of trust. One person has failed to comply with their contractual or fiduciary obligation to another, who would ask a judge to enforce the contract or trust and remedy the victim's situation (Luke 18:2-3). If a person has failed to carry out their obligation to a dependent, they could ask a court to put their situation right (Luke 12:13-14). Sometimes, the dispute might be about the ownership of a slave. More often, one person would be in debt to another and unable to pay what they owed. The creditor would ask the judge to rule that debtors and his family be made his slaves until the debt was paid (Matt 18:23-34).

The dispute is not between the offender and the judge. Rather, the judge was theoretically independent arbiter between the two parties to the dispute. Of course, many were corrupt and looked out for their friends.

This is how we should read Romans. The human problem is not that we have offended God. If the dispute was with him, he would have to recuse himself from the case, because he could not be a just/independent judge when he is one of the parties to the dispute. Rather, the dispute was between the spiritual powers of evil and humans. When Adam and Eve sinned, they unwittingly enslaved themselves to the evil spiritual powers. The evil powers demanded an impossible ransom for setting humans free.

The dispute is between humans and the spiritual powers of evil. God is the disinterested judge, not the person offended. The spiritual powers of evil were telling God that if he were to let humans off free, then he should let them off, too. They said that humans freely enslaved themselves, so if humans want to be free, they would have to pay the ransom demanded. They claimed that life for life is a fair demand.

The dispute was resolved when Jesus, a perfect human, surrendered himself to the spiritual powers of evil in exchange for the rest of humanity, and died as they had demanded. Once the ransom payment was made, humans were liberated from their bondage. God declared that ransom paid was sufficient. He judged humans to be in the right, and the spiritual powers of evil to be wrong. He declared that they had no case to make, against anyone who is united with Jesus. They cannot call his people to court.

Reading commentaries on Romans, it seems that they see the human problem as guilt before God. So, I did a search of five different translations of the letter and was supplied by the result. The only place where the English words "guilt" or "guilty" is used is in the NKJV translation of Romans 3:19. However, other translations do not use word guilty in that verse as it is not in the Greek text. The word used is "upodikos", which means "subject to just judgment" of God. Funnily enough, different translations used the word guilt or guilty in the headings they inserted on chapter 1, 2 or 3, which suggests that they assume the letter is about guilt, even though the word for guilt is not used.

Faith and Law

The traditional Christian view of the old covenant is that it was a covenant of works in which God's people were expected to earn his favour by living righteous lives. The usual corollary is that everyone failed to comply with God's standard of righteousness, so Jesus had to come and die on their behalf to satisfy God's requirements. In this view, the Old Testament covenant of works-righteousness is contrasted with the New Testament good news of salvation by faith.

The problem with this view is that the Torah does not describe a covenant of works and it does not set out a standard of personal righteousness that people should strive to obey. The truth is that the old covenant was a covenant of grace and faith, just like the new covenant. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them into the promised land by a massive act of grace. This was before he had given the Torah and before they had done anything to earn his favour. Grace came first. Faith followed because they had to trust that God knew what he was doing when he led them out into the wilderness. Their obedience to God was their response to his grace and their faith in him.

The fundamental point is that both the old and the new covenants were covenants of faith. Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 3:30. God shall declare righteous the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through the faith.

Both those who are circumcised under the law and those who are not circumcised are put right with God through faith. The people under the old covenant needed faith in God's grace, just like everyone else.

Paul amplifies this point in Roman 4. He explains that the covenant that God made with Abraham was a faith covenant, not a works covenant. Abraham received an amazing promise from God that all nations would be blessed through him. Paul is clear that Abraham did not receive this promise because he had done good works. On the contrary, he received the promise because they trusted God.

For if Abraham was declared righteous, by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rom 4:2-3).
If Abraham had to be righteous to be blessed by God, he would have failed. He made mistakes throughout his life, repeating the same one twice (pretending that Sarah was his sister). However, God is gracious and decided to call Abraham and bless him with amazing promises, despite his frequent failures, and Adam trusted God's promise to bless the nations through him.

The promise to Abraham was made 400 years before the law was given (Rom 4:13-15). This means that God introduces blessing through grace, faith and trust before he gave the law, so it would not make sense for him to go back to forcing people to earn their righteousness by good works when he gave the law.

Abraham lived before the law was given, but David lived under the law. He also received God's blessing through faith, not by good works.

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered" (Rom 4:6-7).
If David could not earn God's favour by living a righteous life under the law. He needed the forgiveness that comes through trust in God's promises. One of the best people who lived under the law trusted in grace.

Abraham and David were two of the biggest heroes of the Old Testament, yet they could not earn God's favour and blessings by their own personal righteousness. They both experienced the blessings of God, so clearly, they were not dependent on good works for his favour. They received the blessing of God through their trust in his gracious love. That confirms that the Old Covenant was not a covenant of works righteousness, but a covenant of grace. God did not expect the people living under that covenant to earn his favour and blessing by living a righteous life.

Heirs of Abraham

In Romans 4, Paul uses the example of Abraham to demonstrate that he was rescued by this faith. Jews and Gentiles who trust in Jesus are descendants of Abraham, according to the promise.

The last verse of the chapter has an interesting comment about Jesus.

He was handed over because of our deviations and was raised to life to make us right (Rom 4:25).
We deviated and lost our way, but his resurrection "makes us right" because if we are in Jesus by faith, then we share in his new life, which allows us to live correctly, by walking in the Spirit.

Demonstrated Love

In the early chapters of Romans, Paul says several times that the gospel demonstrates the rightness of God. In Romans 5:8, he explains that the gospel also demonstrates his love.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus death demonstrates God's love. This contrasts with the Romans 1:18-32 tirade, which claims that God's anger is being revealed in Jesus' death.

Death and Wrath

Paul explains in this chapter that the source of our problem changes. Prior to the giving of the law, the world was dominated by a powerful cosmosdominator called Death (Rom 5:12-14). Together with a spirit called Destruction, he wrought terrible troubles on earth. The giving of the law with penalties for crimes increased the power of the Satan the accuser, and he was able to regain top spot.

Paul explains that the spirit called Death even reigned over people who had not broken a command (because they did have the law). The spiritual powers of evil were able to control them, even when they did not realise that they had sinned (Rom 5:14). This contrasts with the ranting of the Jewish Judger in Romans 1:18-32, who said that everyone knew that they had disobeyed God and therefore deserved to be punished.

In Romans 4:15, Paul had explained that the giving of the law also stirs up an evil spirit called Wrath.

The law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression.
The law empowered Satan, because it gave him a basis for accusing people of transgression. When Satan was able to accuse someone, Wrath was able to have a go at them. The law provided spiritual protection for the children of Israel, but those who wandered away left themselves vulnerable to attack by Satan and Wrath.

The same point is made in Romans 5:9.

Much more then, having now been made right by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Once Jesus had come and died on the cross for our failure, Satan could no longer accuse us of breaking the law. This mean that Wrath has right to attack us.

One Man

The gift is not like the offence. One man's sin caused the problem. His choice lets the spiritual powers of evil in. This was not the choice of all men. The first man made a free choice.

His descendants made the same mistake, but the game was stacked against them, because they were born under the power of the spiritual powers of evil.





One man's offence
      many died

One man Jesus
      gift of grace
      abounded to many


One sinned

Free gift
      put right from many offences


One man's offence
      death reigned by the one

Jesus, the One
      those receiving grace
      reign in life.


One man's offence
      judgment came to all

One man's righteous act
      free gift to all
      righteousness of life.


One man's disobedience
      many made sinners

One man's obedience
      many put right


Law entered
      offence abounded

Grace abounded much more


Sin reigned in Death

Grace reigns through
      righteousness to eternal life

Freed from Slavery

Romans 6 describes how we have been freed from slavery to Sin. It is a spiritual power the gained hold of humans when Adam and Eve sinned. Those who died with Jesus are set free from its hold.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:6-7).
For slaves of sin, their wages are death. Sin gives the Spirit of death a hold on our lives (Rom 6:20,23). Those who are set free from the power of sin, receive the gift of life now, and in the age to come (Rom 6:23).

This message is confirmed in Romans 7. Although the law is good, sin grabbed the opportunity given by it, and subject us to death (Rom 7:10-11).

The spirit of sin took away our freedom.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Rom 7:18-20).
The person who knows the law, but not Jesus, knows what they want to do, but they are not capable of doing, because sin has a hold on them. This is the exact opposite of the Jewish Judge in Romans 1:18-32 because he said that people deliberately chose to disobey God. They chose to sin, but if they had wanted to, they could have chosen not to. In Romans 7, Paul explains that this is not right. They are actually enslaved by sin without choice.

In Romans 7:24, Paul gives a desperate cry for help.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

The good news is that Jesus has delivered us from our slavery to sin.

Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom 8:2).

Clouded by Slavery

In the first half of Romans, the most common theme is "slavery" to evil. Humans are slaves who needed to be set free. The spiritual powers demanded "death" of the person as their ransom. This was harsh, but they had the power to do it, because humans had freely submitted to them. Therefore, the main purpose of Jesus was to "redeem" people who were trapped in sin by the powers of evil. He paid the ransom demanded by willingly dying on the cross.

In the season following the Reformation when the scriptures were made accessible to everyone through English translations, and for many years in America, slavery continued to be an acceptable part of the Christian culture. This ambivalence towards slavery made Christians reluctant to deal with passages in the scriptures that condemned slavery. Exodus was an account of God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt, and establishing them in a land of their own with his good laws to enable them to live in freedom and at peace with each other, without the need to enslave people.

The foundation of the protestant understanding of Romans was laid by men who supported slavery, so when they studied the letter, they avoided the obvious reading that Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from slavery to the spiritual powers of evil. They preferred a message that God was angry with his people and needed to be appeased. They focussed on Jesus' death as a sacrifice that dealt with God, and ignored the major theme that Jesus delivered his people from slavery to the spiritual powers of evil.

If they had emphasised Paul's message that deliverance from slavery to evil, they would have had to face up to their own practice of slavery, and they did not want to do that. Now after slavery has been ended in the Western world, the same emphasis on God being offended has continued, and the message of deliverance from slavery is still being ignored.

The main theme of Romans is that we have been released from bondage to sin, death and fear (Rom 8:15) and been adopted as children of God.

You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-17).

Jewish Judger Again

In Romans 9-11, Paul addresses the situation of Israel. They had many advantages, especially the covenants and the law (Rom 9:4). He explains that God's word has not failed. His law has not failed. God had two purposes for the law. The first was to provide spiritual protection for his people by warding of the spiritual powers of evil with animal sacrifices. The second purpose was to give a set of laws that would allow a nation of people to close live together in relative peace and harmony. The Israelites had not always applied these laws correctly, but these laws had not failed. They were successful when applied.

Paul then explains that Israel's calling is certain, but that does not mean everyone will be rescued. He explains in Romans 9:6-14 that the children of promise will be saved, using Isaac an example of one who was promised in advance.

The Jewish Judger then intrudes in Roman 9:10-13, by adding to Paul's argument by raising the example of Jacob and Esau, and twisting it for his purposes. He insinuates that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born, which is not true. Malachi was actually describing the consequences of their behaviour.

Paul counters by suggesting that the Jewish Judger is claiming that God is unjust. He then quoted Moses to demonstrate that God is merciful.

For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (Rom 9:15-16).
All God's dealings with people are driven by his mercy.

After explaining God's mercy, Paul addresses a question that must have been circulating.

Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will (Rom 9:19)?
Paul confirms the source of this question in his response.
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God (Rom 9:20)?
By calling his challenger "O Man", Paul confirms that he is answering the questions of the Jewish Judger again. He tells him that he has no right to answer back to God. He explains that just as a potter can smash his clay and start his pot again, God as the creator can do what he chooses with the people that he created (Rom 9:19-21).

The voice of the Jewish Judger comes through again in Romans 9:22.

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
This is the Jewish Judger's favourite theme. He claims that God is wanting to display his wrath and show off his power. He has created some people to be objects of wrath. They have no other purposes, but to be destroyed. This is the opposite of Paul's message. God does not view people as objects of wrath. He looks upon people with love and mercy. He is sad when they reject his love and blessing. It is true that some will perish, but that is not God's preference. It is the inevitable outcome for people who refuse to have anything to do with God. If they staunchly separate themselves from the God who sustains everything, they cannot continue to exist.

Pauls message comes out in the next sentence, which gives a different "what if".

What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom 9:23).
God does not demonstrate the riches of his glory by creating objects of wrath. He sees humans as objects of mercy. God displays his glory by showing mercy. Love, kindness and mercy is the heart of his character; not wrath and unforgiveness.

Paul confirms this message by quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea. People who believe they are not God's people will become his people (Rom 9:25).

Paul's dominant theme is that God is merciful. He had personally experienced God's mercy when he was persecuted Christians. Paul wanted everyone to know that God is merciful.

Paul explains that not everyone obeyed the gospel (10:16), but he is clear about the reason. He quotes Isaiah to demonstrate that the problem was not with God. He says,

All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contentious people (Rom 10:21).
Paul's conclusion is emphatic. He asks,
Did God push away his people? By no means (Rom 11:1)!
God has not chosen some people and rejected others. He has not pushed away those that he did not like. He reaches out to everyone, but some are disobedient and push him away.

Conquer Evil with Good

Romans 12 is an amazing passage that echoes Jesus' sermon on the mount. We are to bless those who harm us and overcome evil by doing good. Towards the end of the passage, Paul quotes the Jewish Judger again, after saying that we should not take revenge.

Not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it hath been written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay", says the Lord; "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom 12:19-20).
Although it does not come through in most English translations, the first word of this statement is "no/not". This suggests that it is an alternative voice. This voice is concerned about God's wrath and brings through a different motivation. Paul had been emphasising that we be kind to those who harm us. The motivation for this is love. The alternative voice says that we should be kind to those who harm us, because that will enable God to get them, ie being kind to them we are actually harming them. This sounds like the Jewish Judger to me.

Paul responds to this nasty idea with an emphatic "No".

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
The first word of this verse is "no/not", so Paul is saying that he disagrees with the vengeful sentiment expressed in the previous two verses by Proverbs out of context.

Government Power

I have completed a detailed study of Romans 13 (see Understanding Romans 13) in which I explain that Paul was supporting the powers of government, but was confirming the continues of the system of local judges applying God's law, which God had given to the people through Moses. However, I have noticed that Romans 13:4-6 does not fit the tone of the rest of Romans.

I am not sure about this, but I wonder if these verses are the voice of the Jewish Judger, because he is obsessed with wrath.

But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath... And for this reason, you pay taxes, since the authorities are God's servants, continually attending to this very thing (Romans 13:4-6).
Wrath is one of the spiritual powers of evil that controls the people of the world. This verse says that human governments are avengers of wrath, which is probably true because they are dominated by powerful government-spirits that loving doing evil. However, if they are serving the spirit of wrath, they cannot be servants of God, so this passage sounds like the Jewish Judger, who insists that God loves revealing his wrath. Paul has proven over and over again, that God is revealing his rightness, not his wrath, so a government that is an avenger that brings wrath on people, it cannot be a servant of God.

Taxes were extremely punitive in Paul's time. Roman tax collectors would take every cent they could squeeze out of poor people, even if it left them poor and hungry. If the tax collectors were instruments of wrath, this would make sense. The people pay so much tax because the servant of wrath is squeezing them.

Paul counters with a totally different message.

Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom 13:9).
This is an amazing statement totally different from the previous verses and consistent with the last verse of Romans 12. God's law does not need wrath to be fulfilled. It can be fulfilled by love.

We owe love. We do not owe taxes to governments that are instruments of wrath, who are avenging people who have fallen into the hands of evil powers.

Paul ends the discussion about government power with a bold statement that exposes the Jewish Judger's contradiction.

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10).
God's law is fulfilled by love, not by wrath. Love does not impose wrath on neighbours. The response to neighbours must not be driven by wrath.

Final Challenge

Paul gives a final challenge to the Jewish Judger in Romans 14.
Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way (Rom 14:13).
This is a direct message to the Judger. Stop judging people incorrectly. Rather, think about how to avoid putting stumbling blocks in the way of fellow believers. This reflects Jesus' criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:2-4). They were using the law to place a burden on people, when they should have been using it to liberate them.

Paul then reiterates his point by saying,

Discover how to build each other. Don't pull down God's work (Romans 14:19-20).
God was at work in Rome building something special. The Jewish Judger was in danger of pulling God's work down.

Getting toward the end of the letter, Paul states God's purpose once again.

The Messiah became a servant... in order to demonstrate the truthfulness of God's promises (Rom 15:8).
The gospel is a revelation of the goodness of God, not of his wrath.
Therefore, do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil.
Christians should be careful about how they speak about God. They should not slander his character by calling him full of wrath, if he is not.