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Philo, Natural Law and the Torah- Understanding Romans 2:13-16


Philo, Natural Law and the Torah
Understanding Romans 2:13-16
By
James Scott Trimm



Paul writes to the Romans:

13 For the hearers of the Torah are not righteous before Eloah, but the doers of the Torah are justified.
14 For if the Goyim (whom the Torah is not to), from their nature do [acts] of the Torah, (while the Torah is not to them), to their nefeshot [there] is a Torah.
15 And they show the work of the Torah, as it is written upon their heart, and their conscience bears witness concerning them, as their own reasoning [will] rebuke or defend one another,
16 In the day that Eloah judges the secret things of the sons of men, according to my Good News, by the hand of Yeshua the Messiah
(Rom. 2:13-16 HRV)

Now especially within Torah Observant circles we have wrestled with what Paul is really saying here.  Recently while studying the writings of the first Century Jew Philo of Alexandria, I discovered the answer to what Paul is actually expressing here.

Philo of Alexandria taught the concept of Natural Law.  Philo taught that the universe is an effect that must have a cause, i.e. a Creator, and that this Creator has a preference for order as opposed to chaos, as expressed by the order of the universe itself.  Philo taught that implicit to the order of the universe.

(1) Of other lawgivers, some have set forth what they considered to be just and reasonable, in a naked and unadorned manner, while others, investing their ideas with an abundance of amplification, have sought to bewilder the people, by burying the truth under a heap of fabulous inventions. (2) But Moses, rejecting both of these methods, the one as inconsiderate, careless, and unphilosophical, and the other as mendacious and full of trickery, made the beginning of his laws entirely beautiful, and in all respects admirable, neither at once declaring what ought to be done or the contrary, nor (since it was necessary to mould beforehand the dispositions of those who were to use his laws) inventing fables himself or adopting those which had been invented by others. (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (4) Accordingly no one, whether poet or historian, could ever give expression in an adequate manner to the beauty of his ideas respecting the creation of the world; for they surpass all the power of language, and amaze our hearing, being too great and venerable to be adapted to the sense of any created being.
(On Creation 1-4)

And:

…for he [Moses] was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words.
(On the Life of Moses 2, 48)

To Philo, the Torah of Moses is identical with the Natural Law which is revealed in the very order of the universe which is the Creator’s work.  Paul speaks of this very principle earlier in Romans when he writes:

17 For the righteousness of Eloah is revealed in it, from Trust to Trust; as it is written, The righteous will live by trust. (Hab. 2:4)
18 For the wrath of Eloah is revealed from heaven, upon all the iniquity and the wickedness of men--those who hold the truth in iniquity,
19 Because the knowledge of Eloah is revealed among them, for Eloah revealed it among them.
20 For the hidden things of Eloah, from the foundations of the world, by His creations; by [His] wisdom, were made evident and power, and Godhead, which is eternal: that they might be without excuse. (See Wisdom 13:1, 5, 8)
21 Because they knew Eloah, and they did not glorify Him as Eloah, and give thanks to Him: but were made vain in their reasoning, and their heart was darkened, without understanding.
22 And while they were thinking in their nefeshot that they were wise, they were fools.
23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible Eloah, into the likeness of the image of a son of man: who is corruptible, and into the likeness of birds, and of four-footed [animals], and of creeping things of the earth. (See Wisdom 11:15; 12:24-27; 13:10; 14:8)
24 Because of this, Eloah released them, to the defiled lust of their heart: that they might dishonor their bodies by them.(see Wisdom 14:12, 24-27)
25 And they changed the Truth of Eloah into a lie! And they reverenced and served the created, more than their Creator, (See Wisdom 14:29) to whom be our praises, and our blessings forever and ever. Amen
26 Because of this, Eloah released them to the passions of shame: for their women changed the use of their sex, and did that which was not natural.
27 And also their men, thus forsook the use of women, and ran riotously in lust for one another. And man with man, they behaved in disgrace, and the reward that was just, to their error, in themselves, [they] received.
28 And since they had not determined in their nefeshot to know Eloah, Eloah released them to a mind of vanity, that they might do that which is not proper;
29 Being filled with all iniquity, and sexual immorality, and bitterness, and evil, and greed, and envy, and slaughter, and treachery, and deceit, and evil reasoning,
30 And murmuring, and slander. And [they are] haters of Eloah: insolent, prideful, boasters, inventors of evil, mindless, who are not obedient to their parents,
31 And who have no stability, and no love, nor tranquility, and no tenderness.
32 [They are] those who, although they know the judgment of Eloah (that those who act like these, He condemns to death), not only do these, but also fellowship with those who do them.
(Rom. 1:17-32 HRV)

Paul is therefore saying that the Creation itself reveals the Natural Law of the Creator, which is itself the Torah.  Paul is saying that when the Goyim follow this Natural Law which is evident in the Creation, they are showing the Torah (at least to some degree) written in their hearts, and that such persons may perform acts of the Torah without having heard the Torah.

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