14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
1901 ASV Translation:
14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;
In verse 14, the Textus Receptus has the third person singular of the verb "do" (which is not fitting for the plural subject ("the Gentiles") and the Nestle/Aland 26 has the linguistically "correct" third person plural. In respect to "meaning" there is no difference as the difference only consists of a "grammar anomaly".
I. At issue...
A. Paul has argued that God is no respecter of persons so that all who stand for His judgment in the Day of Wrath will be held accountable on the basis of "law".
B. He has argued that, in that day, only those who have accomplished the requirements of "law" will be justified.
C. Thus, he must show what "law" will be applicable on that day.
1. Is in an indisputable fact that not all men had equal access to the divine Law as given at Sinai.
2. If, therefore, all will stand under "law" in the Day of Wrath, how is it "just" to subject everyone to the same standard?
II. Paul's Argument...
A. His claim is that, though the "nations" did not have the specific form of "law" that was given at Sinai [the Law], they were not without a clear awareness of many of that Law's moral precepts.
B. This claim is rooted in the reality that those "law-less" nations "naturally do" the things written in that Law.
1. Whence this "natural" accomplishment of the written Law of Moses?
a. The word translated "by nature" is a word that refers to the function of an entity as that function arises automatically from the entity's inherent attributes.
b. The "nature" of an entity is its constitution -- the attributes that are built into it at its beginning, or the attributes it possesses as elemental parts of its "being".
c. Thus, the "natural" accomplishment of the Law signals the reality that man does not come into being as a "blank" to be written upon, but, rather, comes with writing already present.
2. He argues that the precepts of the Law of Moses are actually written on the hearts of those who are of the nations.
3. If, then, The Law is actually written upon the hearts of men who have never sat under the teaching of that Law, why was that Law written down? Paul's argument in Romans 1-3 is that the writing did not produce a greater obedience in Israel than is found among the nations. In fact, it produced a form of hypocrisy that caused the nations who were observing Israel's actions to actually blaspheme the God of Israel (Romans 2:24).
4. And, if the precepts of that Law are actually written in the hearts of men, how do they violate it so excessively and flagrantly? Does not what is written on the heart make itself evident in the activities of men -- as Paul argues in 2:15?
a. Apparently, the content of the Law is not the only thing written in the hearts, nor is it the most potent.
b. Paul claimed that he had the ability to mentally agree with the Law, but not the ability to perform its requirements (Romans 7:18). This has to mean that there is "another" law written on the heart. He calls it "the Law of Sin" (Romans 7:23).
C. Thus, Paul claims that the "nations" are legitimately subjected to the law in the Day of Wrath.
1. Since they possess a clear understanding of "law" (as a statement of what is acceptable behavior and what is not), they are subject to law.
2. The problem with "law" as "mandated precept" is that is stands outside of us demanding of us without providing for us the ability to meet the demand.
3. Another problem with "law" is that it establishes true guilt on the basis of two realities: genuine knowledge and actual, active, violation of that knowledge. Law does not take into consideration whether the person has the ability to do what it requires; it only considers whether the person knew what is right and whether he/she did what they knew.
a. This introduces the greatest problem man has with the way the universe is established: how can it be legitimate for one to be held accountable for what he cannot control? The only final answer given to this question is that of the apostle Paul in Romans 9:19-21. God has the right and power to create His universe anyway He sees fit. That man uses this as a reason to refuse to yield to His prerogative only proves that man is fundamentally corrupt in both understanding and volition (How can anyone argue that the creature has a legitimate basis for rebellion against the Creator?). For man to rebel against God is for man to assume to himself the "nature" of deity and to deny to God that identity. Such rebellion is indefensible on any grounds. Men know the potter's right to do as he pleases with his clay. That they adamantly refuse to yield this very right to God puts them in an indefensible position.
b. Culpability without capability is the reality of "Law" and cannot be overcome by any means inherent within creatures. The message that He Who stands behind the Law is also He Who offers grace is man's only "out"...and his refusal to appeal to grace only compounds his judgment under Law.