forbearance: Or “tolerance.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Greek noun a·no·kheʹ appears only here and at Ro 3:25. It literally means “a holding back” and could also be rendered “restraint.” A related Greek verb is used in a number of verses, where it is rendered “put up with” or “patiently endure” in connection with difficult circumstances. (Mt 17:17; 1Co 4:12; Eph 4:2) The verb is also used in the Greek Septuagint in reference to Jehovah’s showing restraint. (Isa 42:14; 64:12; LXX) Throughout human history, God has shown extraordinary kindness, tolerance, and patience by putting up with the blaspheming of his name, the cruel torture and execution of his Son, and the mistreatment of his loyal worshippers. God shows these qualities because he “is trying to lead [people] to repentance.” The apostle Peter also pointed this out.—2Pe 3:9.
repentance: Lit., “change of mind.” In Biblical usage, the term refers to a change of mind accompanied by heartfelt regret over a former way of life, wrong actions, or what one has failed to do. In this context, “repentance” refers to a person’s desire to build or restore a good relationship with God. Genuine repentance produces fruitage, a changed course of action.—See study notes on Mt 3:2, 8; Ac 3:19; 26:20 and Glossary.
every person: Or “the soul of every human.”—See Glossary, “Soul.”
the Greek: Here referring to Gentiles, or non-Jews, in general.—See study note on Ro 1:16.
no partiality with God: The Greek expression for “partiality” (pro·so·po·lem·psiʹa) could literally be rendered “acceptance of faces.” (A related word is discussed in the study note on Ac 10:34.) The expression is modeled on the Hebrew phrase na·saʼʹ pa·nimʹ, which literally means “to lift up the face,” and at Le 19:15 is rendered “show partiality.” An Oriental way of greeting a superior was to bow humbly with one’s face turned toward the ground. As a sign of acknowledgment and recognition, the superior lifted up, or raised, the face of the one who had bowed. The expression came to be used disparagingly to refer to partiality when corrupt individuals abused this custom to show preferential treatment. Paul’s point is that God has no favorites, that he does not lift up the faces of some but not others. He accepts Jews and Greeks alike. This is a recurring theme in Paul’s letters.—Eph 6:9.
under law . . . by law: In Paul’s letter to the Romans, these are the first two occurrences of the Greek word for “law” (noʹmos). The expression without law in this verse renders the Greek word a·noʹmos. In this context, the term “law” refers to the Mosaic Law, as is true of most occurrences in the book of Romans. As used throughout the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term “law” can refer to (1) a single or particular law, (2) God’s Law given through Moses, (3) all of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures or parts thereof, or (4) law as a guiding principle.—See study notes on Mt 5:17; Joh 10:34; Ro 8:2.
conscience: The Greek word sy·neiʹde·sis is drawn from the words syn (with) and eiʹde·sis (knowledge). Thus, the Greek term literally means “coknowledge” or “knowledge with oneself.” Here Paul explains that even a human who knows nothing about God’s laws has a conscience, that is, a capacity for looking at himself and rendering judgment about his own behavior. However, only a conscience that is trained by God’s Word and that is sensitive to God’s will can correctly judge matters. The Scriptures show that not all consciences operate properly. A person can have a conscience that is weak (1Co 8:12), one that is seared (1Ti 4:2), or one that is defiled (Tit 1:15). Regarding the operation of his conscience, Paul says: “My conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit.” (Ro 9:1) Paul’s goal was to “maintain a clear conscience before God and men.”—Ac 24:16.
instructed: Or “orally instructed.” The Greek verb ka·te·kheʹo literally means “to sound down” and may include the idea of oral instruction.—See study note on Ac 18:25.
young children: In this context, that expression may refer to people who need to grow in knowledge, understanding, and maturity.
framework: The Greek term morʹpho·sis, here rendered “framework,” carries the thought of a form, a sketch, or an outline. In this context, it apparently refers to the basic, or essential, features of the knowledge and the truth contained in the Mosaic Law. The Law provided just a framework because it was not the final word on God, his will, and his purpose. Much more was provided later, through Jesus. (Joh 1:17) Still, faithful Jews were able to know Jehovah and his righteous ways by studying the principles contained in the Law. For many centuries, this gave them an advantage over all other people. (De 4:8; Ps 147:19, 20) Even though the Mosaic Law was only a “framework,” it was necessary in order to understand Jehovah and his purposes fully.
commit adultery: That is, commit marital sexual unfaithfulness. In the Bible, adultery refers to voluntary acts of “sexual immorality” between a married person and someone who is not his or her mate.—Compare study note on Mt 5:32, where the term “sexual immorality,” rendered from the Greek word por·neiʹa, is discussed, and study note on Mr 10:11.
Circumcision: The Mosaic Law required that a male worshipper of Jehovah be circumcised. (Le 12:2, 3; see Glossary.) Even foreigners had to get circumcised before they were allowed to eat the Passover meal. (Ex 12:43-49) In the year 49 C.E., however, just seven years before Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, the governing body in Jerusalem concluded that non-Jews who accepted the good news did not need to get circumcised and submit to the regulations of the Jewish Law. (Ac 15:1, 2, 28, 29) When Paul wrote to the Romans, he supported that spirit-inspired decision, and under the guidance of holy spirit, he clarified the matter further here and in subsequent verses. Even under the Law covenant, circumcision had to be accompanied by obedience to the Law.—Le 18:5; De 30:16; Jer 9:25; see study note on Ro 2:29.
a Jew: The Greek term I·ou·daiʹos corresponds to the Hebrew term Yehu·dhiʹ, meaning “Of [Belonging to] Judah,” which is rendered “Jew(s); Jewish” in the Hebrew Scriptures. Particularly after the Jewish exile, “Jew” became synonymous with a member of the nation of Israel. (See Glossary, “Jew.”) At Ge 29:35, the name Judah is connected with the Hebrew verb rendered “praise,” so the name is understood to mean “Praised; Object of Praise.” It has been suggested that Paul may be using a play on words, based on the meaning of the Hebrew term for “Jew; Judah.” He may have done so to show that a real “Jew” is one who receives praise from God by having a circumcised heart and serving Him with clean and pure motives. (See study note on circumcision . . . of the heart in this verse.) Paul says that God’s approval, the greatest praise a human can receive, is extended impartially; it is not based on fleshly descent. Such a person among the first-century Christians was a spiritual Jew, a member of “the Israel of God.”—Ga 6:16.
circumcision . . . of the heart: “Circumcision” is used figuratively in both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See Glossary, “Circumcision.”) “Circumcision . . . of the heart” was a divine requirement even for the Israelites who were already circumcised in the flesh. According to a literal translation of De 10:16 and 30:6 (see ftns.), Moses told Israel: “You must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts,” and “Jehovah your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.” In his day, Jeremiah reminded the wayward nation that they should do the same. (Jer 4:4) To “circumcise [the] heart” means to “cleanse” it by getting rid of anything in one’s thinking, affections, or motives that is displeasing and unclean in Jehovah’s eyes and that makes the heart unresponsive. Similarly, ears that are not sensitive or responsive to Jehovah’s guidance are spoken of as being “uncircumcised.”—Jer 6:10, ftn; see study note on Ac 7:51.