Calvin On Romans 2:13 In His Institutes

That they indeed quote Paul in the same sense does them very little good: “The doers of the law, not the hearers, are justified” [Rom. 2:13 p.]. I do not intend to evade the question through Ambrose’s solution: that this was said because fulfillment of the law is faith in Christ.15 For I see this as a mere evasion, quite needless where the way lies open. Here the apostle is casting down the foolish confidence of the Jews, who claimed for themselves the sole knowledge of the law, even while they were its greatest despisers. Lest, then, mere skill in the law should please them so much, he warns that if righteousness be sought from the law, not knowledge but observance of it is sought. We assuredly do not question that the righteousness of the law consists in works, and not even that righteousness consists in the worth and merits of works. But it has not yet been proved that we are justified by works unless they produce some one man who has fulfilled the law.

That Paul meant precisely this is sufficiently attested by the context of his utterance. After having condemned Gentiles and Jews together for their unrighteousness, he then gets down to details and says: “Those who have sinned without law will perish without law,” which has reference to the Gentiles; and “those who have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” [Rom. 2:12], which concerns the Jews. Now, since they, winking at their own shortcomings, plumed themselves on the law alone, Paul adds something especially fitting: the law was not laid down merely that men might be made righteous by hearing its voice; but only if and when they obeyed it. It is as if he said: “Do you seek righteousness in the law? Do not claim to have heard it, something of little weight in itself, but bring works whereby you may declare that the law was not laid down for you in vain.” Since they were all lacking in these works, it followed that they were bereft of boasting about the law. Paul’s meaning, then, requires us, rather, to frame the opposite argument: the righteousness of the law lies in perfection of works; no one can boast that he has fulfilled the law through works; consequently, there is no righteousness arising from the law.

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 3.17.12.


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One comment

  1. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that if one wants to argue for an eschatological aspect of justification (even if it isn’t the same way Shepherd argued for it) they won’t find it in Romans 2. It’s disappointing that it has been in the proof-texts of a few Reformed Scholastics.

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