What Law is Paul Talking About?

Question from a Site Viewer

It is NOT those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.
Romans 2:13

What law?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for the question on Romans 2:13. Romans 1:18-3:20 develops Paul’s argument that the whole world (both those under the law, that is the Jews, and those without the law, that is the Gentiles) sins and needs a Savior. In Romans 2:1-11 Paul explains that there is no partiality with God, but those who do good will be rewarded (verses 7, 10) and those who do unrighteousness will be punished (verses 8-9). He then states in verse 12 that those who sinned without law will perish without law, and those who sinned in the law will be judged by the law. He explains in verse 14 that it is the Gentiles who do not have the law. He explains in verse 17 that it is the Jews who rest on the law. He also explains in verses 14-16 that the Gentiles, those who do not have the law, have the works of the law written in their hearts. In the immediately preceding verse, Romans 2:12, Paul speaks of those who sinned without the law and those who sinned in the law. In the context, those who sinned without the law are the Gentiles (see verse 14). The other people, those who sinned in the law, would be the Jews (verses 17-24). The law that the Jews had and the Gentiles did not have was the law of Moses.

Accordingly, I believe that Paul had in mind the law of Moses when he makes the statement found in verse 13. I think it is the law that is in context throughout this passage. This would include the 10 commandments as well as the rest of the commandments for the people of Israel found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

If you follow through the passage, Paul argues that one is not righteous by knowing the law, but by doing the law. Yet, no one fully does the law. James states it very clearly in James 2:10 that if we stumble in one point we have violated the whole law. And all those under the law have stumbled at some point. (The law included the command to love God with all of our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.) So, Paul’s conclusion in Romans 3:9 is that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin. He states in Romans 2:19 that the law makes all guilty before God. He states in Romans 2:20 that by the law is the knowledge of sin. He says in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned.

Stated another way, if we want to obtain righteousness from the law, it is not enough to know the law, we must practice the law. If we offend any of the requirements of the law, and everyone has except Jesus, then we are guilty as sinners and we cannot then be justified by the law. This is why we need a savior and this is why Jesus came. The answer to our failure to keep the law is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 24-26).

I hope this helps.

May the Lord Jesus guide you into His truth and love,

a fellow servant,


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