12 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;
1901 ASV Translation:
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law;
There are no differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in Romans 2:12.
I. Romans 2:12-15 is Paul's explanation of "how" the lack of "repect of persons with God" works out in light of the fact that "judgment" that is according to "works" must have some kind of "law" behind it and it is indisputable that most of humanity did not have access to the Law of Moses, nor did the majority of humanity submit to the Covenant of Law to which Israel was subjected at Sinai.
II. The first issue, then, is that one which is raised in 2:12: how will God pursue his "lack of respect of persons" in view of the fact that some appear to be "without law" while others were indisputably "under law"?
A. In the statement, "as many as have sinned without law" there appears to be a tacit acknowledgement that there are those who are "law-less" (they are under no law).
1. However, the "appearance" is misleading.
a. Before the ink dried on 2:12, Paul was thoughtfully writing 2:15 wherein he says that those "without law" are not "without law" in any final sense because they, by their actions, reveal the existence of a "law" that is written on their hearts.
b. By the same token, in 5:13 the apostle says that where there is no law, sin is not imputed, but the destruction of sin was still visited upon men from Adam to Moses (5:14) -- indicating that some form of "law" had to be in place or there could not be a legitimate visitation of that destruction.
2. The acknowledgement, then, is not an acknowledgement that any are "law-less", but that some are without a specific form of "law" -- i.e., the Mosaic form.
a. In God's dealings with men, there has never been a time when certain "laws" have not been in effect. It is impossible to physically "be" without all kinds of "laws" in place to enable "being". A thing as mere as existence yet requires certain "laws" being in place and working in order to maintain that existence.
b. But, also, in God's dealings with men, there are specific instances of God subjecting certain men to certain, more specific, "laws" that are more far reaching than those laws to which all others are subjected. For example, Abram was subjected to "circumcision" as a law and there were benefits and consequences assigned to those under that "law" that were not assigned to those who were not subject to it.
c. It seems, from a general consideration of "law", that the "point" of "law" is to make a greater participation possible between the Law-giver and the recipient of it. The less "laws" there are, the less participation is possible; the more "laws" there are, the greater participation is possible. But, by the same token, the greater the possibilities for participation there are, the greater are the consequences for rejection of the laws that make that participation possible. In other words, to whom much is given, much is expected.
1) This "point", obviously, depends heavily upon the definition of "law".
2) A crucial issue regarding "law" is its ontological identity.
a) In terms of "principles that absolutely govern the way reality unfolds for its participants", "law" is inescapably present because those "principles" are the very essential attributes of God. In other words, God is Law.
b) Therefore, "law" is inescapable. There is no conceivable situation that can stand outside of the determining impact of God and that impact derives from Who He is. Creation is never deity that stands apart from God.
3) A second issue regarding "law" is its derived identity.
a) If God is, then Law is inescapable.
b) What God, then, does is the application of Law as the expression of His attributes. This is what I am calling its derived identity.
c) This derived identity -- the expression of God by His actions -- is what we know as creation.
4) A third issue regarding "law" is the explanation of itself: the manifestation of its "workings" for the purpose of illuminating the ignorant who are subject to it.
a) Unless there are "observers" of God in action, there is no need for explanation: omniscience doesn't need to have anything explained.
b) If there are "observers", then there are "creatures".
c) If there are "creatures" who "observe", then there are "intelligent" beings who are not omniscient.
d) If there are "ignorant" (i.e., not-omniscient) creatures, it stands to reason that they could be subject to "illumination by explanation" so that they might grow in their knowledge of the God Who made them.
5) This raises a fourth issue: the "intentionality" of "law" as explanation. Why does "law", as explanation, exist and why is it set before men?
a) Those who take "law" to signify "regulation" tend to "create" an entire "universe of mis-understanding" (a whole world of function that is at odds with Reality under God).
b) Those who take "law" to signify "revelation" tend to fall into the divine purpose of generating life by understanding.
6) Summary: God is Law. There is no escape from God; there is no escape from Law. Law as the expression of the divine Being is one thing. Law as the explanation of that expression is a second thing. Law as expression is inescapable; Law as explanation depends entirely upon whether it is essential to God's character to attempt to share Himself with any who do not share His essential deity. The effectiveness of the explanation is entirely dependent upon the condition of those creatures who are less than omniscient. Can they learn? Do they wish to? Why do they wish to? If they seek to know "law" so they can compete with God over the issues of dominion, there will be Death in the relationship between them and God. But, if they seek to know "law" so they can understand God for the purpose of relating to Him, there will be a flow of Life from God to them and they will reciprocate by "living".
B. In the statement, "as many as have sinned without law", there is at least a tacit admission that Paul does not expect that there is any such thing as one who has not "sinned".
1. He does not just come right out and say that "all have sinned" (he waits until 3:23 to say that).
2. But, in 2:12-15, he does not address what will happen under God's lack of respect of persons in respect to any who are guiltless. This implies that his statements in 2:7 and 10 were hypothetical in regard to anyone being given eternal life in the Day of Wrath. In fact, just calling it a Day of Wrath implies that no one will be a recipient of benefit in that day. This reinforces the point that 2:7 and 10 were simply statements of the "laws" that would be in place on that Day for the righteous condemnation of those who would appeal for eternal life on the basis of their works.
C. In the statement, "as many as have sinned...shall also perish", there is a clear indication of the relationship of "sin" to "consequence" in the form of "destruction" of some kind.
1. The definition of "perishing" has already been given in 2:8-9: being subjected to "indignation and wrath and tribulation and anguish". This is not "annihilation" or "cessation of existence".
2. The definition of "sinning" has also already been given in 2:8-9: "being contentious, not obeying truth, obeying unrigheousness, and doing evil". This is, in its most simple form, going against the essential character of God -- i.e., opposing Law.
D. Then there is the antithesis: those who had an established relationship to "Law" will be judged by the Law.
1. The issue here is the greater degree of understanding that "Law as explanation" provides.
2. The greater the understanding, the greater the culpability. To whom much is given, much is required.