A Commentary by John Stott
That the judgment of God will be righteous (according to what we have done, 6-8) and impartial (as between Jews and Gentiles, without favouritism, 9-11) Paul now develops in relation to the Mosaic law, which is mentioned here for the first time and has a prominent place in the rest of the letter.
Jews and Gentiles appear to differ fundamentally from one another, in that the Jews *hear the law* (13), possessing it and listening to it being read in the synagogue every Sabbath day, whereas the Gentiles *do not have the law* (14). It was neither revealed to them nor given to them. Nevertheless, Paul insists, this difference can be exaggerated. For there is no fundamental distinction between them in the moral knowledge they have (since *the requirements of the law are written on all human hearts*, 15), or in the sin they have committed (by disobeying the law they know), or in the guilt they have incurred, or in the judgment they will receive.
Verse 12 puts Jews and Gentiles into the same category of sin and death. Paul makes two parallel statements, beginning with the words *All who sin*. The verb is in the aorist tense, however, and should be translated ‘All who sinned’ (*hemarton*). Paul is summing up their life of sin from the perspective of the last day. The point he is making is that all who have sinned *will also perish* or *will be judged*, irrespective of whether they are Jews or Gentiles, that is, whether they have the Mosaic law or not. All who have sinned *apart from the law* (Gentiles) *will also perish apart from the law* (12a). They will not be judged by a standard they have not known. They will perish because of their sin, not because of their ignorance of the law. Similarly, all who have sinned *under the law* (Jews) *will be judged by the law* (12b). They too will be judged by the standard they have known. God will be absolutely even-handed in judgment. The way people have sinned (in knowledge or ignorance of the law) will be the way they will be judged. ‘The ground of judgment is their works; The rule of judgment is their knowledge,’ and whether they have lived up to their knowledge. *For 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* (13). This is a theoretical or hypothetical statement, or course, since no human being has ever fully obeyed the law (cf. 3:20), So there is no possibility of salvation by that road. But Paul is writing about judgment, not about salvation. He is emphasizing that the law itself did not guarantee the Jews immunity to judgment, as they thought. For what mattered was not possession but obedience.