There is a group of Gentiles in Paul’s eschatological narrative who do not have the Law of Moses, who nevertheless do the work of the Law, and who “will be justified” on a day of judgment and earn “glory and honour and peace” (Rom. 2:12-16). The question of the religious or rhetorical status of these Gentiles came up for discussion at last week’s research conference at the London School of Theology.
Critical scholars mostly think that these are unbelieving Gentiles, which is the view that I took in The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom. The preference of more conservative scholars would be to suppose either that Paul is speaking only of a hypothetical pagan righteousness for rhetorical purposes, or that these are Christian Gentiles who have been regenerated by the Spirit. I’ve thought through my position again in light of the discussion and I’ve come to the same conclusion, with one or two novelties picked up along the way. This is a fairly sketchy presentation of my reasons, beginning with a translation that attempts to show the syntactic structure of the passage….