For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
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How can someone sin without the law, when Paul says that everyone is subject to the law of nature? By “law” he means the law of Moses, to which the Jews are bound although they do not believe. The Gentiles are also under the judgment of the natural law, but only insofar as they have chosen not to attach themselves to it. Thus the Gentile unbelievers are doubly in trouble, because they have neither assented to the law given through Moses, nor have they received the grace of Christ. Therefore it is quite right that they should perish. So just as the person who sins without the law will perish, so also the one who has kept the law without knowing it will be justified. For the keeper of the law maintains his righteousness by nature. For if the law is given not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, whoever does not sin is a friend of the law. For him faith alone is the way by which he is made perfect. For others mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God, so that they may be righteous on both counts. For the one righteousness is temporal; the other is eternal. The Gentiles even if they keep the natural law will perish if they do not accept the faith of Christ. For it is a greater thing to confess faith in the one Lord, since God is one, than it is to avoid sinning (for the first of these has to do with God, the second with us). The Jews who live under the law will be accused and judged by the law, insofar as they have not accepted the Christ promised to them in the law. And if you wonder about this, the fate of the Jews will be worse than that of the Gentiles, for it is worse to lose what was promised than not to receive what was not hoped for in the first place. The unbelieving Gentile has not entered the kingdom of God, but the unbelieving Jew has been removed from it. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles.