“THOU THAT ABHORREST IDOLS, DOST THOU COMMIT SACRILEGE?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Romans 2:22 says, “Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” What are we to make of the terminating expression, “thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?”
The larger context is chapter 1 and verse 18, all the way to chapter 3 and verse 20. God is condemning mankind as nothing but sinners worthy of His wrath. Judgment—the Tribulation period—was on its way when our Dispensation of Grace interrupted Israel’s prophetic timeline. With a new program beginning with the Apostle Paul’s conversion and commission (Acts chapter 9), there is a new Gospel message as well. That Gospel message—called “the Gospel of the Grace of God” in Acts 20:24—begins in Romans chapter 3 and verse 21 and continues until chapter 5 and verse 21.
Romans 1:18-32 is directed toward the wicked, idolatrous Gentiles (or nations) JEHOVAH God had given over to Satan at the Tower of Babel over 2,000 years earlier. Paul would later preach to these idol-worshipping pagans, telling them the reason for their awful condition.
Acts 14:15-17: “ And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:  Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.  Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Acts 17:28-30: “ For in him [God] we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.  Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.  And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:….”
Since these pagan Gentiles are cohorts of Satan, they are deserving of God’s wrath. However, God has delayed that wrath, and sent Paul to preach to them all about how Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). They could, by faith, have a relationship with the one true God their ancestors had rejected back at the Tower of Babel. Ultimately, in Christ, they would avoid that wrath altogether (including Hell and the Lake of Fire). After centuries upon centuries of spiritual ignorance, utter darkness, these Gentiles could come into the light of God’s grace! We will stop here and back up a bit.
Ephesians 2:11-13 contrasts the “time past” and “but now” arrangements: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Verse 13 is Paul’s ministry—“but now.” The period known as “time past” was when Israel had a relationship with God while the Gentiles were without Him.
The Jews scorned the Gentiles for their pagan idolatry, but there was one problem. Whether Jew or Gentile, they had all come from one father—Adam! So, God the Holy Spirit began in Romans chapter 2 to show the Jews that they were just as worthy of His wrath as the Gentiles of chapter 1. We see the “Jews” named in verse 17 of chapter 2, but they are implied in verse 1 of chapter 2 and go all the way to verse 20 of chapter 3. By the time chapter 2 winds down and chapter 3 has begun, God begins to lump Jew and Gentile into one pitiful group. Whether unsaved Jew or unsaved Gentile, they are all under sin and Satan’s control!
The following quotes from Romans chapter 3 summarize: “ What then? are we [Jews] better than they [Gentiles]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;  As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:  There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:  Their feet are swift to shed blood:  Destruction and misery are in their ways:  And the way of peace have they not known:  There is no fear of God before their eyes.  Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world [Jew and Gentile] may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” And, of course, how could we forget verse 23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “All” have sinned means “Gentiles and Jews.”
We will forgo any further background comments, and proceed to answering your question. Romans chapter 2 reads: “ Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,  And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;  And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,  An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”
The nation Israel had such self-confidence, boastful of knowing God’s Word and will (namely, the Mosaic Law) whereas the Gentiles were given over to spiritual ignorance (cf. Romans 9:4-5 and Ephesians 2:11-12). You can see the Gentiles in Romans chapter 2 (above) described as “the blind… them which are in darkness… the foolish… babes.” The Jews need not get smug (self-righteous) here. Actually, the Holy Spirit through Paul will now issue proofs of His charges against the Jews. He will pose a series of four questions that outright condemn Israel, to counter her pomposity. These questions are God’s way of trying to convert unsaved Jews during Paul’s Acts ministry. The last question is the one with which you are struggling. We need to look at all four separately to get the full picture. The first three will establish a pattern that we can use to interpret the final one (your baffling question).
Romans 2:21a: “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”
This question is the primary one, with the last three being derivatives. The Jews that teach others, do they not teach themselves? This is basically another way of saying, “Do you practice what you preach? You tell others to do something and to learn something, but have you yourself done that something and learned that something?” (Of course, the answer is “NO.” Watch the following questions.)
Romans 2:21b: “thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?”
“Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15) is the Eighth Commandment. It was part of the most fundamental portion of the Mosaic Law. Israel had entered this contractual agreement with JEHOVAH God at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19:1-9). She was expected to keep it perfectly or be cursed/punished severely. As Paul writes, the Jews condemned the Gentiles as thieves (“You Mosaic-Law breakers, you anti-God sinners!”). Yet, Paul asked, “Do you Jews steal?” (The implication is they do.) In effect, the Holy Spirit says, “Then, you have no right to look down on those Gentiles. You are guilty of the same sin!” Or, to say it more bluntly, “You Jews are hypocrites!”
Romans 2:22a: “Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?”
This was another one of the 10 Commandments—the Seventh, specifically. “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” said Exodus 20:14. Yet, according to Romans chapter 2, the Jews committed adultery as often as their Gentile neighbors. To wit, the Israelites lost their testimony, ignoring Moses’ warnings many centuries earlier in Deuteronomy chapter 4: “ Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.  Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.  For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?  And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?”
The Israelites were to use God’s Word in life to show themselves to be different. They were to behave in God’s land like they were God’s people. Yet, they tossed aside that Word and became like everyone else in thought, word, and deed. Remember, this is the whole case the Holy Spirit is laying out in the second chapter of Romans. Israel cannot be self-righteous because she is just as evil and deserving of divine wrath as the Gentiles she criticizes. She needs Paul’s Gospel just as much as the pagan Gentiles to whom he is now preaching in Acts. Without Paul’s ministry, the wrath of God would fall upon all those evildoers.
Israel had the Law, the eternal words of the eternal God, but that did not make them any less sinful than the Gentiles who did not have the Law. Possessing the words of God, and believing and doing the words of God, are two separate matters. Romans chapter 3 opens with the following: “ What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?  Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Israel had the Word of God, and yet acted like they did not!
Romans 2:22b: “thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?”
This is the problematic question. “Abhor idols… commit sacrilege?” Again, we set the tone by using the inquiries that have preceded this. The Jews condemned the Gentiles for stealing—they also were thieves. They censured the nations for committing adultery—they too were adulterers. They Jews condemned the Gentiles for being unclean idolaters—they too committed sacrilege. Idolatry and sacrilege are paired, please note.
As per The Oxford English Dictionary, “sacrilege” means “violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred.” It is taken from the Latin sacrilegium, from sacrilegus ‘stealer of sacred things’, from sacer, sacr- ‘sacred’ + legere ‘take possession of.’ The idea of sacrilege then is something “holy” being stolen and used for “unholy” purposes. The Greek word rendered “sacrilege” appears one time in the King James Bible—here in Romans 2:22. It is hierosuleo (hieron, “temple;” sylao, “to rob”).
In the Law, God taught Israel that idols were unclean. They were not to get involved with either idol-making or idol-worship (see Exodus 20:1-6, Exodus 34:13-17, et al.). On one hand, to feel religious, Israel “abhorred” (hated, detested) the idols and criticized the Gentiles for associating with such false deities. Yet, as Paul said, the Jews would rob temples. The tone has already been set, so we can just come out and say it. Israel would greedily seize the idols of the Gentiles! They would take the holy vessels and other objects of the pagan temples and set them up for themselves! Being sinners as well, Israel did not mind touching those filthy objects, dirty instruments used in the offering of unclean animals and blood. (And yet, Israel denounced the Gentiles for being ceremonially unclean and idolatrous!!!)
Romans 2:24 is a stinging reprimand, a most fitting way to conclude this study: “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you [Israel!], as it is written.”