“But corresponding to your stubborn and unrepentant heart…” The Greek can also be translated as “your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart.” Modern versions are divided on how to render the phrase.
The teaching of Rom. 2:5-6 is that God’s judgment is just, and that a sinner’s punishment is in proportion to the crime committed. The amount of wrath a person stores up for himself corresponds to the amount he hardens his heart. This is similar to the truth taught in Matthew 7:2, “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (ESV); and Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
“corresponding to your stubborn...” The word “corresponding” comes from kata (#2596 κατά), which in this context serves as a “marker of norm of similarity or homogeneity, according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to.”a This is the same meaning as in Romans 2:2: God’s judgment is “according to truth,” i.e., God’s judgment corresponds to what is truly deserved. Many English versions have the word “because,” and say something such as, “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath”). But that translation does not capture what the verse is saying. The word kata is pointing out that the wrath that person will receive on the Day of Wrath is proportional to the sin they have committed due to their stubborn and unrepentant heart. The word “because” simply does not communicate that proportional relationship.
We can understand why many theologians do not understand what the verse is saying. If a theologian believes that an unsaved person is thrown into the Lake of Fire and burns forever, then there is no difference between sinners who are genuinely horrible egregious sinners and sinners who were “regular people” but just never wanted to get saved. Both categories of people would have the same punishment: everlasting torment. But if people are burned up and annihilated in the fire after a time of burning, then the Bible would tell us that some sinners suffer longer than others in the fire, and that is exactly what Scripture teaches. Thus, Romans 2:5 is not asking, “Why will the person receive wrath?” This question would be answered with “because of the hardness of his heart.” The question being asked in the verse is “How much wrath will a person receive?” The answer is, as much as they deserve. In other words, the wrath that any person receives is “in accordance with” (in proportion to) his own hardness, and the unrepentance of his own heart. This is hard to understand by Christians who think that all the unsaved burn forever (thus equal punishment) and all the saved are in the presence of Christ forever (thus equal reward).
The unsaved are thrown into the Lake of Fire and are burned up (Rev. 20:13-15), but the time they spend being punished before they are consumed is different from person to person. This can be seen in examples such as when Jesus spoke of the people of Capernaum. Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment it would be “more tolerable” for Sodom than for Capernaum. Yet the people of Sodom were not righteous in the sight of God, and the destruction of Sodom is a picture of the future destruction of the wicked in the fire (2 Pet. 2:6). Therefore, Jesus’ statement that it would be “more tolerable” for Sodom than Capernaum is a very strong reproach indeed (Matt. 11:20), and reflects that the people of Capernaum will be punished more severely than even the people of Sodom before they are annihilated. Another example of punishment being proportional to the crime committed is in Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and his explanation of the parable (Matt. 18:23-35). The unforgiving servant is punished for his evil. Jesus taught the parable and said that when the servant would not forgive others, “his lord was enraged, and handed him over to the torturers, until he paid back all that was owed.” Then Jesus made the powerful statement: “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35). In the parable, the evil servant is not punished “forever,” but he is punished until he has paid for his crime. Similarly, in the Lake of Fire, people do not suffer forever, but only until their sin is paid for at which time they are completely burned up; annihilated.
The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), but we must be careful not to take that one verse out from the context of the whole Bible. Romans 6:23 never says that the wages of sin is immediate death. Before people die in Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, they are punished in proportion to their sin. The Bible says in many different places that people will be repaid for what they have done on earth (cp. Job 34:11; Psalm 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Ezek. 33:20; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:8). This is one reason the Bible says that for the wicked there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
As encouragement for Christians, just as punishments differ for the wicked, so the rewards Christians will receive in the future kingdom are different from person to person and are based on the works each one has done. See commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10.b
[For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 4: “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]
“stubborn.” The Greek is sklerotes (#4643 σκληρότης), and it is a noun, meaning “hardness, stubbornness.” It is from skleros, which means “dried,” “stiff,” “rough,” or “hard.” It is the picture of a branch that has dried out and is hardened and stiff. It is a noun, standing on its own, not an adjective describing heart. Too many people are “hard” in their lives, being stiff, rough, unchanging, unyielding, and unrepentant toward God.
“unrepentant.” The Greek is ametanoetos (#279 ἀμετανόητος), and refers to not being repentant (the Greek verb “repent” is metanoeo.) Thus it is unrepentant, not turning to God, refusing to turn to God. Louw-Nida’s lexicon states, “In a number of languages it is difficult to speak of ‘a hard and unrepentant heart.’ A more satisfactory equivalent of this expression in Romans 2:5 may be ‘but you are stubborn and refuse to repent’ or ‘refuse to turn to God.’”c Some versions read “impenitent” instead of “unrepentant,” but that does not seem as accurate here because impenitent means, “not penitent, without shame, regret, or remorse.” While it is true that those who do not repent usually have no shame, regret, or remorse, the primary meaning here is that the people have hearts that refuse to repent, i.e., they will not change their ways and turn to God.
“storing up.” The Greek verb is thesaurizo (#2343 θησαυρίζω), and it means to gather and store up, to heap up, to treasure up,d to accumulate riches. The noun form of the verb is thesaurus (#2344 θησαυρός) and is a treasury or storehouse, or the treasure that is put there (cp. Matt. 6:19, 20 “treasure”). This phrase makes the verse contain the figure of speech irony, for who would store, as a treasure for themselves, wrath? Yet this is the picture being presented to them. As a greedy man stores up wealth for himself, these hard and unrepentant people store up more and more wrath for themselves, which they will receive at the Day of Judgment.
“day of wrath...God’s righteous judgment.” The day of wrath and the righteous judgment are not two separate events. The day of wrath is the day “when” the righteous judgment of God is revealed. The Greek kai (usually “and”) can be understood as a “when” occasionally when it connects an expression of time with something that occurs in that time (BDAG; cp. Matt. 26:45; Mark 15:25). In this verse, the wrath of God and the “righteous” judgment of God are intertwined. The wrath of God is not unrighteous. It is not “a necessary evil.” Rather, it is part of the righteous nature of God to honor mankind’s free will and give people the judgment that they have asked for via their words and behavior. The genitives (“of wrath;” “of the righteous judgment;” “of God”) without the definite articles emphasize the quality of the noun,e but we put them in our version for clarity.