April 4, 2020 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Never Avenge Yourself (12:19)

The last two characteristics Paul lists here are both reiterations. He again denounces returning evil for evil, declaring, Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. If a wrong has been done to us, no matter how serious and harmful it may have been, we are never qualified for or have a right to render punishment for the offense ourselves. We are to leave that to the wrath of God. Quoting from the Mosaic law (Deut. 32:35), the apostle reminds his readers that it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (cf. 2 Sam. 22:48; Nah. 1:2; Heb. 10:30). In His divine time, the wrath of God will come (Col. 3:6), and just retribution awaits the unforgiven.[1]


19 This peace-loving attitude may be costly, however, because some will want to take advantage of it, figuring that Christian principles will not permit the wronged party to retaliate. What is to be done in such a case? The path of duty is clear: We are not to take vengeance. This would be to trespass on the province of God, the great Judge of all: “Leave room for God’s wrath.” Such matters are best left with the God who always does what is right. Here Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, where the context indicates that the Lord will intervene to vindicate his people when their enemies abuse them and gloat over them. God’s action will rebuke not only the adversaries but also the false gods in which they have put their trust.[2]


19  After this excursus in which Paul exhorts Christians to relate positively to the world (vv. 17b–18), Paul returns to admonish us about the way we are to react to the pressure that the world brings upon us. “Do not avenge yourselves” moves one step beyond “do not repay evil for evil” (v. 17a). Confronted with someone who is wronging us, we might be tempted to harm our adversary by doing a similar wrong to him. But the temptation becomes more subtle when we seek to “baptize” such a response by viewing it as a means by which to execute a just and deserved judgment on our oppressor. Perhaps because he understands the strength of this temptation, Paul reminds us that we are “beloved”: people who have quite undeservedly experienced the love of God. Rather than taking justice into our hands, we are to “give place to wrath.” Paul does not explicitly say whose wrath this is, and it is possible to think that he refers to the wrath of the adversary, or our own wrath,85 or the wrath executed by governmental authorities (see 13:4). But Paul certainly intends to refer to the wrath of God, as the definite “the wrath” and the OT quotation that follows show.87 It is not our job to execute justice on evil people; that is God’s prerogative, and he will visit his wrath on such people when he deems it right to do so. The prohibition of vengeance is found in both the OT89 and Judaism, but it tends to be confined to relations with co-religionists.91 Paul’s prohibition of vengeance even upon enemies is an extension of the idea that reflects Jesus’ revolutionary ethic.

Paul buttresses his exhortation to defer to God in matters of retributive justice with an OT quotation highlighting God’s determination to exact vengeance. The words are from Deut. 32:35, but the theme is quite widespread, and it might be that Paul has in view some of the other texts enunciating this theme as well.94 This may explain the cumbersome addition at the end of the quotation, “says the Lord,” since these words appear in some of the prophetic announcements of God’s vengeance.[3]


19 After an excursus in which Paul exhorts Christians to relate positively to the world (vv. 17b–18), Paul returns to admonish us about the way we are to react to the pressure that the world brings upon us. “Do not avenge yourselves” moves one step beyond “do not repay evil for evil” (v. 17a). Confronted with someone who is wronging us, we might be tempted to harm our adversary by doing a similar wrong to him or her. But the temptation becomes more subtle when we seek to “baptize” such a response by viewing it as a means by which to execute a just and deserved judgment on our oppressor. Perhaps because he understands the strength of this temptation, Paul reminds us that we are “beloved”: people who have quite undeservedly experienced the love of God. Rather than taking justice into our hands, we are to “give place to wrath.” Paul does not explicitly say whose wrath this is, and it is possible to think that he refers to the wrath of the adversary, or our own wrath,240 or the wrath executed by governmental authorities (see 13:4). But Paul certainly intends to refer to the wrath of God, as the definite “the wrath” and the OT quotation that follows show.242 It is not our job to execute justice on evil people; that is God’s prerogative, and he will visit his wrath on such people when he deems it right to do so. The prohibition of vengeance is found in both the OT and Judaism,245 but it tends to be confined to relations with co-religionists. Paul’s prohibition of vengeance even upon enemies is an extension of the idea that reflects Jesus’ revolutionary ethic.

Paul buttresses his exhortation to defer to God in matters of retributive justice with an OT quotation highlighting God’s determination to exact vengeance. The words are from Deut. 32:35, but the theme is quite widespread, and it might be that Paul has in view some of the other texts enunciating this theme as well.249 This may explain the cumbersome addition at the end of the quotation, “says the Lord,” since these words appear in some of the prophetic announcements of God’s vengeance.[4]


19. Do not take revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath (of God); for it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The tender appeal—note the word “beloved” here in verse 19—reminds us of the similarly affectionate appellative “brothers” in verse 1. In this connection see also 1:7; 16:5, 9, 12; 1 Cor. 4:14, 17; 10:14; 15:58; 2 Cor. 7:1; 12:19; Eph. 5:1; 6:21; Phil. 2:12; 4:1; Col. 1:7; 4:7, 9, 14; 1 Thess. 2:8; 2 Tim. 1:2; and Philem. 1 and 16.

Striking is the repetition of basically the same exhortation, namely, in slightly varying forms, “Do not take revenge.” See verses 14, 17, 19, and 21. There must have been a reason for this, although exactly what it was has not been revealed. A suggestion would be that it resulted from (a) the fact that the members of the Roman church, or at least some of them, were greatly in need of this admonition; and (b) that the composer of this letter had been blessed, especially since his conversion, with an exceptionally sensitive and loving disposition. He was a man whose entire soul entered into the business of sympathizing and forgiving, in view of the pardon he had himself received from God.

After “Do not take revenge, beloved,” Paul continues, “but leave room for the wrath …” The words, “of God” are not in the original. Accordingly, some commentators have suggested that what the apostle meant was, “Leave room for the adversaries’ wrath.” Others would fill in the lacuna with the phrase “your wrath,” and still others with “the civil magistrate’s wrath.”

However, it is not necessary to deal separately with each of these guesses, and to show why it cannot be correct. One solid reason will do for all three, namely, in the other cases where, in the New Testament, the word “wrath” occurs without a modifier showing whose wrath is being referred to, we are dealing with God’s wrath. Moreover, it makes no difference whether the article (“the”) is used (hence “the wrath”) or is omitted (hence simply “wrath”). So it is altogether reasonable to believe, with most commentators, that also here, in Rom. 12:19, it is the wrath of God to which Paul refers.

When Paul says that those addressed—and ultimately all of us—must “leave room” for the wrath of God, he, in harmony with the entire context, is again emphasizing that we ourselves should not “play God,” should abstain from attempting to usurp the divine prerogative of pouring out wrath, of wreaking vengeance.

In substantiation of this charge the apostle, as so often previously, appeals to the Old Testament, this time to Deut. 32:35; really to that passage in light of its context; see especially verses 20, 34, 36–43.

Did not Jesus himself, though he was the object of deeper and far more agonizing suffering, unjustly laid upon him by sinners—from their side it was certainly unjust!—instead of taking vengeance, commit himself to the One who judges righteously? See 1 Peter 2:23. Cf. the similarly beautiful words of Ps. 37:1–17.

In view of the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, by his vicarious suffering, removed God’s wrath from us, should we not be happy to refrain from taking revenge? What, then, is our duty when we are being unjustly treated? Is it, perhaps, to ask God to pour out his wrath upon those terrible people who have been so cruel to us? Is that what Paul means when he says, “Leave room from the wrath (of God)”? Is it not rather that we ask God to grant to the persecutors the grace of true repentance and faith? Should we not leave any notion of retributive righteousness entirely to the all-wise and sovereign God? And will not every true child of God, who has experienced the love of God in his own life, respond in this manner?

Instead of wreaking vengeance it is the Christian’s duty and joy to return good for evil. The day of divine retribution has not yet arrived. Moreover, as indicated previously, the injured person has no right to assume the functions of an official magistrate.

The one who has suffered wrong should treat the one who hates him (not with concealed resentment or with a feeling of wrath but) with kindness.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 192). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 786–787). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 804–805). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 421–422). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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