Who would be rewarded on the day of God’s wrath against the Jew and the Greek?

Generative AI summary:

In Romans 2:7, Paul addresses Jews who judge Greeks, stressing that God’s judgment is impartial and based on deeds. Those who seek “glory, honor, and imperishability” through good works will gain eternal life, while those who reject the truth and practice evil will face wrath. Paul indicates this judgment is historical, reflecting Old Testament themes. He argues that “imperishability” should be understood as moral integrity, contrasting with idolatry. Greeks who honor the imperishable God, avoiding idol worship, will be rewarded. This emphasizes that both Jews and Greeks are judged equally, and righteous Greeks will share in the age to come.

Read time: 6 minutes

Paul makes reference in Romans 2:7 to people who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” (ESV). Who are they, what are they seeking, and what do they get on the day of God’s wrath? I ask because the question came up in an X/Twitter exchange, and I want to take the opportunity to clarify how I think this passage needs to be read.

Here’s my translation of the passage. I have translated aphtharsian “imperishability” rather than  “immortality” for reasons which I will get to.

But according to your hardness and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath on the day of wrath and of revelation of the righteousness of God, who will pay back each according to his works; to those, on the one hand, seeking glory and honour and imperishability according to perseverance of good work eternal life, to those, on the other, out of self-seeking disobeying the truth but letting themselves be persuaded by unrighteousness wrath and fury. Affliction and anguish upon every soul of man working evil, Jew first, then Greek; but glory and honour and peace to everyone working good, Jew first, then Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Rom. 2:5-11*)

Paul turns at the beginning of chapter two to address the Jew who “judges” the Greeks around him on account of all the religious and moral failings that Paul has just catalogued (1:18-32). We Jews know, he says, that the judgment of God will fall on those who do these things (2:2), but he warns his rhetorical interlocutor that the Jews are also storing up wrath for themselves on a coming day of wrath, “when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (2:5). They have no special exemption.

On this day of judgment, God will “pay back each person according to his or her works” (2:6*). The faith of a small number of people in Jesus does not come into consideration here: this is a judgment of the masses on the basis of what they have done.

Two groups and two outcomes are described.

There are people who patiently seek “glory and honour” and aphtharsian, which the ESV translates “immortality.” They will receive “eternal life” (ESV) and “glory and honour and peace” (2:7, 10).

Then there are those—no doubt the majority—who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” and “do evil” (Rom 2:8-9), who will be paid back with “wrath and fury… tribulation and distress.”

Paul appears to think that there will be Jews and Gentiles in both categories: “the Jew first and also the Greek… the Jew first and also the Greek”—the reason being that “God shows no partiality” (2:11). This will be an indiscriminate judgment of the Greek-Roman world regardless of its ethnic composition.

So how do we account for the language of “immortality” and “eternal life,” which seems to point to a more conventional post mortem judgment of humanity? On what grounds can we claim that this is an event in history and not at the end of the world?

1. In the Old Testament the “wrath” (orgē) of God always has reference to events in history, when God acts to punish the wicked in Israel or the enemies of his people. In a passage in which a sharp distinction is made between the Jewish world and the Greek world, Paul gives us no reason to think that he means the term differently.

2. Good works and glory and honour are very social virtues or qualities. Paul seems to have in mind what we might regard as rather superficial types of behaviour, but it underlines the point that this is precisely a judgment of societies, in which public perceptions—shame, honour, reputation—count for a great deal.

3. To translate aphtharsian as “immortality” in this context may be misleading. It suggests that these righteous people are seeking personal immortality, life after death; but the word basically means “imperishability”—the quality of not being subject to decay. Now if a person is no longer subject to decay, that would equate to immortality. But that aspect is not self-evident, and a much more relevant context is at hand.

Paul has just said that the Greeks did not “honour” God but “exchanged the glory of the imperishable (aphthartou) God” for images of a “perishable” (phthartou) human or of animals. So all three terms from 2:7 are found in this statement, and I think that those seeking “glory and honour and imperishability” are primarily Greeks who do not worship idols and instead seek to honour and glorify God (cf. Acts 17:27), who is not in the likeness of perishable creatures.

For, having known God, they did not honour him as God… and they changed the glory of the imperishable God into the likeness of an image of a perishable person and of birds and four-footed animals and reptiles. (1:21-23*)

those on the one hand seeking glory and honour and imperishability (2:7*)

4. These Greeks (primarily) will receive “glory and honour and peace,” which again are social rewards, they indicate the public esteem that they will receive in the age to come (2:10). They have done the right thing (that is, they are “justified”) by swimming against the tide of their decadent culture in seeking the honour and glory of God; therefore, fittingly, they will receive honour and glory—repayment in kind.

5. They will also be rewarded with a counterpart to the imperishability of the God whom they have been seeking: “eternal life” or the “life of the age” (zōēn aiōnion). I would argue that this is the life of the age that will come after the end of the age of second temple Judaism or the age of classical paganism, depending on your point of view. Righteous gentiles will find a place in the new order of things.

So what is in view here is more or less the judgment on the Greek-Roman oikoumenē that Luke has Paul announce in Acts 17:29-31. The “judge” will be Jesus Christ, but no account is taken of the part played by the churches in the events. Jews will be implicated in the judgment because the Law has not engendered in them a level of righteousness that sets them apart from the host culture. They will be swept away along with the pagans whom they had so smugly condemned, and a new monotheistic social order will ensue.

Judgment will be fair, however, and Greeks who have not worshipped idols but have sought after the imperishable God will not be consigned to the rubbish heap of history. They will have a share in the life of the age to come.


Thank you for writing. Here’s my response:

1. Notwithstanding the argument that “wrath” (orgē) of God always references events in history in the OT, let’s not lose sight of the fact that for Paul, it culminates in “…the day of wrath and revelation (ἀποκαλύψεως) of the righteous judgment of God…” (2:5). This day is uniquely marked by this apokálupsis, which encompasses not only the revelation of judgment but therefore also necessarily the revealing of the sons of God (8:18 is the only other use of the term in a future context, in the epistle). And said revelation in turn cannot be disassociated from the redemption of the body (8:23); this will be the greatest event in man’s history besides Christ’s resurrection, having no fulfilment in ordinary historical events. As such, 2:7 (and the chapter at large) is eschatological: judgment will be rendered at the final assize to Jew and Greek alike without partiality (2:6-16).

2. While good works, glory and honor are indeed social virtues/qualities, in Paul’s thought they also accompany the eschatological revealing of the sons of God on Judgment Day through the glorification of their bodies, and stand in contrast to the evil doing, condemnation and shame of the enemies of the cross (Rom 8:18; Phil 3:18-21).

3. Translating aphtharsian as “immortality” fits the context hand-in-glove, as per #1 above. The word/its inflections are only used 8 times in the NT (all by Paul). Of the other seven references besides Romans 2:7, five are references to the state of the bodily-resurrected from the dead (see 1 Cor 15; 2 Tim 1:10). The other 2 are references to the quality of “sincerity” (Eph 6:24; Tit 2:7). Paul has both senses in mind in Romans 2:7, because it is those who seek after glory, honor and sincerity, who will inherit immortality, an earnest of which is found in the writing of the Spirit on their hearts (2:29). This writing is unmistakably an eternal feature of the resurrected. And the seeking of the faithful is in stark contrast to that which is devoid of eternal value, i.e., the insincere worship of idols that concords with stricken consciences and dishonors the Creator (1:18, 21-23). Further, idolatry results in death as opposed to the eternal life that issues from devotion to God (2:7; 6:22-23).

But there’s also a larger thematic point that should not go unnoticed: Paul’s over-arching concern in Romans, besides the revelation of the mystery and the restoration of table-fellowship through an exposition of the righteousness of God, is to highlight God’s immutable intention to confer the life that issues out of said righteousness to all of creation, first and foremost to the sons of God (5:21). These are called to be “joint heirs” with Christ, that they may be “glorified together” with Him (8:17). This glory, in context, is intimately tied to Christ’s resurrection from the dead, who will also give life to mortal bodies (8:11). And in turn, peace characterizes the One who has conquered death and intends to share it with His people (16:20). 

4. The justification of the doers who have been blessed with the writing of the law on their hearts by the Spirit of God will undoubtedly receive public esteem. But again, this esteem cannot be disjoined from their ultimate vindication, which is the conquering of death by their union with Christ. As Paul says in 1 Cor 6:2, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?”, a privilege which undoubtedly presupposes the esteem of all. This is a future event, with no historical precedent in the current age.

5. As such, the reward of faithful Jews and Greeks is not merely that of a counterpart to the imperishability of God, but rather a sharing in the immortality (proper) of God Himself in Jesus Christ. To insist that only the secondary connotations of the word are in view would be to commit the exegetical fallacy of semantic disjunction and restriction.

“And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” – Hebrews 9:27

“…God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil…” – Romans 2:6-9


Messenger/Grace for the Prize (YouTube)


Thanks for the detailed response.

1. There is no reason why the righteous judgment of God should not be revealed in historical developments. This, after all, is precisely what the quotation from Habakkuk in 1:17 is about: ‘For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”’ In fact it’s what the whole of the Old Testament and the Synoptic Gospels and Acts and Revelation are all about. So why not Paul? The righteousness of God is revealed in the fact that he puts things right in history.

We can cautiously connect this apokalypsis with the apokalypsis of Romans 8:18-19, but my argument here would be that the “sons of God” will be revealed when the created thing—the idol—is liberated from its bondage to a corrupt and corrupting religious system. See my article “The Subjection of the Creature to the Futility of Idolatry: The Scope and Application of Romans 8:19–22.”

The expectation is that those who suffered and died for the sake of Christ will be vindicated and will share in a limited resurrection of the dead at the time of the anticipated victory of Greek-Roman paganism. This is not a final resurrection of all the dead; there is no cosmic dimension to it. It is more like Daniel 12:2-3 than Revelation 20:11-15.

2. Yes, but as I say, I think this has to do with an event in history, not a final event at the end of history. So the social values remain relevant in the new state of affairs.

3. The aphthartos word group appears only twice in Romans, in the two passages that I have discussed. In both cases, it appears alongside the terms “glory” and “honour.” I don’t think that can be easily dismissed, and you haven’t given me a reason for doing so. You also have to consider the adjective, which is used for the resurrection body, the kingdom of the age to come, God, the future inheritance, the word of God, and the beauty of a gentle spirit.

The “sons of God,” who are joint heirs with him, are those who are persecuted for bearing witness to the coming judgment and rule of Christ over the nations. The “provided that” (eiper) in Romans 8:17 restricts the group of those who are fellow heirs with Christ, who are conformed to his image, who are his brothers, strictly to those who suffer as he suffered. This is the glory of the early martyrs, not of the church throughout the ages.

4. Yes, the saints will judged the new world that will come into being after the overthrow of idolatry.

@Andrew Perriman:


Thank you for the exchange.

1. Historical developments are indeed part and parcel of the righteous judgment of God. The variance here is history unfolding in a fractal-like manner towards a climactic event, the revealing of the sons of God, in which bodies will be physically raised up at the second coming of Christ. That climax need not be seen as final in the sense of temporal finality, but rather as a decisive milestone in the maturing kingdom of God on earth (Ecc. 1:4).

2. The social values and the granting of immortality are not mutually exclusive on my reading.

3. There’s no need to dismiss your point (well-taken) re aphthartos: it’s a both-and, not an either-or. For purposes of translation, I would still translate it as immortality, but with a footnote indicating that Paul has both senses in mind. 

That said, it is crucial that to get the identity of the sons of God right. I’m afraid there’s no exegetical basis to restrict the heirs of Christ to those who suffer as He suffered. For Paul, as for Jesus, there is an unmistakable nexus between suffering and glorification. In fact, the latter depends on the former. While there certainly is a difference of degree between the suffering of the apostles, martyrs and that of other believers down through the ages, the call to suffer with Christ nevertheless remains the distinctive identifier of all those who are truly His.

a. Rom. 8:17 stresses: “provided we suffer with Him”: this clause is on the heels of Paul confirming (in v. 16)  the witness of the Spirit to the Roman believers that they are children of God, as he is a child of God himself. As such, the “we” in v. 17 cannot be restricted to Paul/apostles/martyrs only.

b. The content of this suffering in v.17 is made evident in 31-38: persecution (presumably by authorities and the pagan world), tribulation, distress, famine, poverty, and even execution. That this has been the lot of Christians since the early church is historical fact: it wasn’t so long ago that pitchforks and drownings were taken to Anabaptists on European soil. And it’s a reality even today for countless believers across the entire world. I think of the ruthless killing of believers in Africa, the suppression of the faith in Asia and the Far East and its growing counterpart in the West. Who would ever think that silent praying would result in arrest? So, we should not mistake the brief respite we’ve had in the last few hundred years for some sort of exemption from our calling.

Paul bluntly states elsewhere: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Phil. 1:29-30; cf. 2 Th. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:14; Rev. 2:10). So, putting aside for a moment your view that the Beatitudes were historically circumscribed, it seems quite clear that this calling to suffer is universal, even as Jesus indicates in His warning to Laodicea: they are to go buy gold refined in the fire, a direct pointer to tribulation (Rev 3:18).

c. The leitmotif of the athletic race/fight in Paul’s teaching also bears witness to the universal call to suffer, a reality that the church has sadly been increasingly oblivious to since the days of Luther (this is also the basis of my prophetic ministry, Grace for the Prize). 

In 1 Cor. 9, Paul states matter-of-factly: “Don’t you know that all run the race but only one wins the prize…”, implying that all are expected to suffer, even if it’s to one degree or another. And the result of this suffering is the awarding of the prize, which is none other than the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, i.e., the resurrection out of (exanastasis) the dead, as you astutely pointed out in your paper “The Pattern of Christ’s Sufferings”. And to attain this prize, believers are to “… join in following my example…” (Phil. 3:17). This exhortation is repeated to Timothy, who is told to “Fight (agōnizou) the good fight of faith”, which evidently involves suffering/agony.

And contra the idea that a physical resurrection might not be in view here, does not Paul say that “we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…” (Phil. 3:21)?

Surely this hasn’t taken place yet, even as many pagan nations have indeed acclaimed Jesus as Lord, since the days of Paul. Now, I won’t get into the differences between the exanastasis and the other resurrection, for lack of time and space, but that’s very much worth a rethink as well.

4. Yes, agree re new world and the overthrow of idolatry, but not without the evidence of physical resurrection for those who have been faithful in their walk with Christ. What God has joined, we should not separate.


- Messenger


3.a No, I think you have misread this:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, also heirs; heirs of God on the one hand, on the other heirs-together of Christ, if indeed we suffer-together in order that we might be glorified-together. (Rom. 8:16-17*)

The men… de… construction differentiates between “heirs of God” and “heirs-together with Christ.” Note also the distinction between klēronomoi of God and synklēronomoi with Christ.

Those who have the Spirit are children and heirs of God—for example, they will have a share in the world to come (Rom. 4:13). But being an “heir-together with Christ” is something different, and the difference is specified by the eiper clause: “provided that we suffer-together (with him) and are glorified-together (with him).”

To be “children and heirs” of God is to be in the position that Israel was in—a people living under the Law in covenant relationship with YHWH. Except now, the children walk by the Spirit and not by the Law.

But Christ is the “prototype” or “image” for those children of God who must also suffer as he suffered and be glorified—held in high esteem—as he was glorified. Resurrection doesn’t become a universal theme until long after—a thousand years after—the deadly clash with Greek-Roman paganism.

3.b Some Christians are persecuted, not all, and I think in any case that Paul’s horizon is “wrath” against the Greek.

Yes, Paul expected the Philippians to replicate his sufferings, but Paul is in prison wondering whether he will be executed. This is a very limited definition of suffering.