Today we're going to relook at Romans 2:6-11, but from another angle.
Romans 2:6-11 (KJV)
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
For there is no respect of persons with God.
Previously, our discussion was on Paul's idea of the basis for God's judgment, but for today we're going to concentrate on his comments about Jews and Gentiles.
In verses 6 to 10 Paul described how mankind will be recompensed according to its deeds. Those who do good will receive glory, honor, eternal life, and peace, but those who do evil (sin) will receive tribulation and anguish. He added that this principle of recompense was "of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile."
During the days of Paul, the difference between Jews and Gentiles was very stark. From the Jewish perspective, only Jews really mattered, because it was only the Jews that were God's chosen people, that were able to participate in the World to Come. Therefore, any attempts by Gentiles to become closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were met with the requirement of becoming Jews by conversion before acceptance was allowed in the community. But this was not an easy process, especially for a man, who would have to ungo circumcision. Many Gentiles, then hung around the edges of Jewish society, not fully being accepted.
Cursorily, it seems that Paul may have been acknowledging that Gentiles were just second class citizens. But look at verse 11. Paul ended this section by claiming that God was no respecter of persons. In other words, to God it didn't matter if a person was Jew or Gentile, both could be accepted by God and the recompense based on deeds would be applied to both Jews and Gentiles.
David H. Stern, (Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., Clarksville, MD, 1992, p. 329-330), refers to three different ways in which "of the Jew first," applies.
1. Historical Priority. The message of God was initially given to the Jews, but ultimately would spread to the rest of the world.
Acts 1:8 (KJV)
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
2. Covenant Priority. John Murray in his commentary on Romans wrote:
"Salvation through faith has primary relevance to the Jew. . .aris[ing] from the fact that [he] had
been chosen by God to be the recipient of the promise of the Gospel and that to him were
committed the oracles of God."
3. Present Priority. There should be a priority of spreading the Gospel message among this covenanted people of God. Stern asks, "Could it be that one reason for the "present priority" of preaching the Gospel to the Jew espcially is that neglecting Jewish evangelism delays the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth?"
In summary, it appears that there is something special about the Jews. Yet, God has given equal status to both the Jews and Gentiles and all are held to the same standards of behavior, leading to either punishment or blessing. Since Paul's epistle to the Romans concerns the side-by-side nature of Jews and Gentiles, he will certainly have more to say as we progress in this study.