Answering the Critic
Paul occasionally adopts a literary device of debating with an imaginary challenger in Romans. This unseen critic raises objections, asks questions, and forces Paul to defend his statements with fuller explanations. Greeks called this type of moral debate a "diatribe." This device enabled Paul respond to anticipated objections.
Romans 2 Outline
God's judgment and the moralist
Dangers of passing judgment
Misconceptions about God
Impartiality of God
Unwritten law of conscience
Failure of the Jews
Circumcision of the heart
Verses 1-16 focus on the impartiality of God, and present an unseen critic dubbed "the moralist." A moralist teaches morality, practices morality, and wants to regulate the morality of others. The moralist could be a Jew or a gentile.
At the end of Romans 1, Paul cataloged the vices of pagans, and asserted that God gave them over to their own evils. At Paul's conclusion, one can almost hear the moralist heartily agree, "Yes, God was right to reject those wicked people. As for me, I'm better than they for I am a good person."
Remember the greater context of Paul's letter. He is trying to explain God's rescue plan, and to do that he must first prove that all of us need to be rescued.
With the words "you are without excuse" Paul targets the moralist. Anyone who forms a moral judgment is without excuse (2:1). Knowing the difference between right and wrong doesn't prevent transgression. Don't think you can escape God's judgment because you judge others (2:3). It is a mistake to believe God won't condemn you because he is patient, kind, and compassionate (2:4). God demonstrates kindness to lead you to repentance (2:4).