15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
1901 ASV Translation:
15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them);
There are no variations between the texts of the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in verse 15.
I. "Which shew the work of the law...".
A. Paul would consider anyone "hopeless" who refused to see the connections between what is, and what caused it to be.
1. In Romans 1:20 Paul declared himself on the issue of cause and effect. He said that cause and effect is such a fundamental reality that it leaves men inexcusable for their attitude toward God. Inexcusable.
2. And in the verse before us, he claims that when people "by nature" do the things written in the law, they are making it very clear that the law is at work within them.
3. The "work" of the law is related to the "production of activities". It is because of people's activities that the "work" is made manifest.
a. One question that this raises is this: if the law is within, making its presence known by its "productions" without, why are men not more consistent in their "productivity"? How is it that a person can "by nature" tell the truth on one occasion (revealing the work of the Law within) and then turn around and tell a lie on a different occasion?
b. Paul would say the answer is obvious: the Law is not the only thing "within" producing "works" that lead to overt productivity. There is something else "within" that vies with the inner Law for "production rights". What that "something" is, is not hard to discover by reading Paul's writings. In one place he claims that there is a "Law of Sin" within that produces the ungodliness that breaks out in the activities of men (Romans 7). In another place, he says that there is a "spirit" within that produces disobedience -- "the prince of the powers of the air" (Ephesians 2).
B. Paul, also, would not accept the reasoning of anyone who tried to conclude from the "natural" production of the precepts of the Law that people are "naturally" good and law abiding.
1. The Law is present within, but it is not the only thing present.
2. The Law's presence within is not a commentary on the "character" of the person in whom it exists; rather, it is a commentary on the "character" of the Creator Who put it in there. He did not leave Himself without a witness to mankind.
3. The biblical conclusion is that it is the presence of that "other thing" within that has made man "naturally" wicked. Anticipating Paul's next phrase, the biblical record is that man's heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" -- notwithstanding the indisputable presence of the Law of God within it.
II. "...written in their hearts..."
A. Here Paul directly places the "inner presence of the Law" in the "heart".
1. This placement is rooted in the multiple biblical declarations that man is as the Scriptures declare -- governed by his "heart".
2. This is why he can easily argue that men's actions reveal the presence of writing upon the heart.
B. Here Paul also directly contradicts all who claim to believe that a person's actions spring out of what he has "learned" with his mind, or what he "wills" with his volitional capacity. Both mind and will are governed by the heart and the heart will determine what comes out of the body regardless of what the "mind" knows, or the "will" chooses.
C. Here also Paul declares that his conception of the "heart" is not the physical organ in the chest of man which pumps the blood through his entire body.
1. Why does the Bible talk so much about the "heart" and not mean the "heart"?
2. The biblical methodology of instruction is to take what man can know from the physical creation and use it as a metaphor and a point of reference for the non-physical realities of man's being.
3. As in the physical creation where the "heart" pumps physical life throughout the entire body (without exception -- if any cell in the entire body is cut off from the flow of the heart's pumping action, that cell will die in short order), there is, in man, a non-physical "heart" that has just as comprehensive an impact upon his non-physical "life" as the physical heart has upon the physical life of man.
4. According to Paul's "metaphor", the non-physical heart of man is very much like a tablet (that can receive "writing"). But, it is far more than a mere tablet because what is written on it actually governs the physical activities of that man. So, in addition to being like a tablet, the non-physical heart of man is very much like a garden hose which directs the flow of water very precisely so that it goes here, and does not go there. The "heart" of man totally dominates his behavior just as every particular cell in a man's body is dominated by whether, or not, it receives the nourishment his heart pumps into his blood vessels.
D. Thus, what is "written in the heart" invariably shows up in the actions taken.
III. "...their conscience also bearing witness...".
A. Here Paul inserts another non-physical participant into the mix.
1. A person's actions spring from his "heart".
2. But, those actions do not go by unnoticed by the person.
B. Man has a "conscience". But, what is it?
1. According to our text, it is a "fellow observer".
a. The word "conscience" is a composite word that means "to observe together with another".
b. So the first matter of identification for the "conscience" is that of being able to perceive a matter in harmony with something else that is able to perceive.
c. This means that man has within himself a monitor that observes his actions in harmony with a second monitor that also observes his actions.
1) The first monitor is the "conscience".
2) The second monitor is Paul, and anyone like him who can see in a man's behavior the "work of the inner Law".
d. Thus, there is both an inner monitor and at least one outer monitor, both of which are making observations of the deeds a man does.
2. According to our text, it is also a "witness".
a. Paul uses a second composite term to describe this function.
b. The composite term involves both bearing witness and being in harmony with something else that bears witness.
c. In other words, there is a witness that is backed up by a second witness -- and the second witness is what the AV calls a "conscience".
1) So, what is the first witness?
a) In order to answer this, we must know what is being "witnessed".
b) The grammar is tricky. The question is whether the word "their" (which is a translation of a form that literally means "of them" -- it can be taken as "their" as in "the house of them" meaning "their house") modifies "conscience" as the translators believed, or whether it modifies the earlier word "works".
c) If the "their" is a possessive pronoun, it refers to "their conscience", but if it is a modifier of the word "works", it refers to the conscience bearing witness "of them" -- that is, of those works.
d) It seems to me that Paul is talking about the conscience bearing witness regarding the nature of the works because he immediately goes into the processes of the reasonings that "accuse" or "excuse". In other words, the "works" have "two" witnesses as to what the true nature of the "works" is. On the one hand, the internal "Law" makes a moral judgment as to the nature of the "works", and the "conscience" makes a second moral judgment as to that nature. They "bear witness together" regarding the moral legitimacy of the works that have erupted from the body. If the combined witness is that the works were "immoral", there is "accusation". If the combined witness is that the works were "moral", there is "exculpation" (I wanted to use "excusation" to go with "accusation", but I couldn't find it in the dictionary).
e) Thus, I conclude that the "first witness" is the Law itself that is written on the heart (though not. obviously, the only thing written there -- thus bringing in the need for a "witness"), and the second witness is the "conscience".
C. So, I conclude that when a man does anything, he is producing a "work". This work, once accomplished, is readily observable as to its moral quality. There is an inner observer (known as the conscience), and there are as many outer observers as there are people who have first-hand experience of the work. But, the inner observer is also a collaborator with the inner Law that is written upon the heart. The two combine together to make a judgment regarding the moral legitimacy of the work done. If it is "worthy", it is accepted as such. If it is "unworthy" an accusation is made by both law and conscience upon the perpetrator -- attempting to fix his guilt.
IV. "...and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another".
A. The AV's translation "one another" is rather poor. The word means "between two". It can be understood literally in the sense given in Acts 12:6 where Peter slept "between" two soldiers, or it can be used in the way it is in John 4:31 ("meanwhile") as "between two times". The translators obviously wanted to take it in the sense of "meanwhile" ("...their thoughts the mean while...") but also wanted to add "one another" without any textual justification (there is no word in the text to validate "one another".
B. Paul's point is that between the time the "works" erupt from the body of a man, and the time that the man settles on whether to be satisfied with those works or not, he engages in a "reasoning process" that deals with the problem of being accused or the satisfaction of being excused.
1. This is a dangerous time for cause: if the man's works are blameworthy, but he won't accept the blame, he is in serious danger of self-delusion in the direction of self-righteousness. On the other hand, if he senses approval, he is in some danger of becoming proud of himself.
2. In either case, at some point the man "settles" his permanent attitude toward the works that have erupted from his body.