Structure of Romans 1:16-2:29

This is part of a series of posts on Romans. Click here for the contents page.

After considering the internal structure of Romans 5-8 (the central D section), we will now consider the internal structure of 1:16-2:29 (the B1 section).

The B1 section can be split into two parts:


This division is apparent from the internal structures of both of these sections, as will now be demonstrated, beginning with the B1-A1 section (1:16-2:11):

Structure of Romans 1v16-2v11.PNG

Language such as “the Jew first and also the Greek” only appears in the B1-A1-A sections and does not appear elsewhere in the whole letter. The words ‘Jew’ and ‘Greek’ do not appear between the B1-A1-A sections. ‘Without excuse’ does not appear anywhere in the letter other than the B1-A1-B sections. In this part of the letter, ‘wrath’ appears only in the B1-A1-B sections (1:18, 2:5(x2), 2:8). ‘God gave them over’ appears only in the B1-A1-C and B1-A1-D sections.

The B1-A1-A2 section (2:6-11) forms a chiastic structure of its own:


In Romans 1:18-2:5, Paul is showing that ‘both Jews and Greeks are all under sin’ (3:9). The typical ethnic Israelites of Paul’s day would have considered Paul to have been speaking about Gentiles in 1:18-32, and would have considered God to be just in revealing his wrath to them and giving them to their sin. These ethnic Israelites would not consider themselves to be in the same situation as these Gentiles. However, Paul goes on to turn this around against these ethnic Israelites by showing that, in passing judgement against such people, while actually doing the same things, they have condemned themselves. Paul’s strategy is similar to Nathan’s in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan tells a story about which David agrees judgement should be given to the man in the story. Nathan then turns it around on David and shows that the man in the story represents David, who therefore deserves judgement by David’s own admission.

The B1-A1-A sections surround this, making two points about God not showing partiality. First, in 1:16-17, Paul states that God does not show partiality in the gospel: it is for everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek (i.e. Gentile). Second, in  2:6-11, Paul states that God does not show partiality in who he judges and who he blesses. Some Jews and some Greeks will be judged (2:9), and some Jews and some Greeks will be blessed (2:10). The judgement/blessing is therefore not based on ethnicity but on who does evil and who does good. Fitting the two sections together, those who do good (2:10) are those who obtain righteousness by faith (1:16). The desire and ability to do good works comes from the new heart which is given to those who trust in Christ. Paul does not say that a Christian only ever does good works, but good works are what characterise a Christian. When a Christian sins, they are acting in a way that is associated with their old way of life before they trusted in Christ.

A structure of the B1-A2 section (2:12-29) is:

Structure of Romans 2v12-29.PNG

In Romans 2:12-28, the arrangement is similar to Romans 1:16-2:11 in that the main teaching comes in the two outer sections. First, in 2:12-13, Paul explains that the doers of the law will be justified, not the hearers of the law. He then gives an example of Gentiles “doing the things of the law” despite not having the law. Gentiles “do the law” by trusting in Christ. This is what the law truly requires. Paul goes on to explain this in Romans 3:21-22 – the ‘righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe’ is ‘witnessed by the Law and the Prophets’. This is what Paul refers to as the ‘law of faith’ in 3:27. Paul gives more detail of this in 10:6-13.

A second example of a Gentile “keeping the law” is provided in 2:26-27. These Gentile sections surround two sections about Jews breaking the law in 2:17-24 and 2:25. The Jews who break the law are those who use the law incorrectly and try to obtain righteousness by their own actions, rather than by trusting in the One witnessed by the law. In trying to do the law themselves, they fail to meet its requirements, as shown by their sin.

The second main teaching in 2:28-29 is that being a “Jew” is not about outward matters (e.g. circumcision) but is an inward matter. The true “Jews” are those who have circumcised hearts.

In the next post, we will look at the structure of the C1 section of Romans (3:1-4:25).

This was first published at the Predestination Station, where comments can be made.


4 thoughts on “Structure of Romans 1:16-2:29

  1. Pingback: Romans blog series – Contents | The Predestination Station

  2. Pingback: Structure of Romans 5-8 | The Predestination Station

  3. Pingback: Structure of Romans 3:1-4:25 | The Predestination Station

  4. Pingback: Structure of Romans 1:16-4:25 | The Predestination Station

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