Does Paul mean that literally or was there something else deeper being said about this chapter?
We need to read the context. Romans 2:1 is talking to people who judge/condemn others for doing wrong things, but do the same wrong things themselves.
Other passages of Scripture, make it plain that we are required to make judgments about what is right and what is wrong, but we have to be careful not to judge wrongly. John 7:24 says:
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
Luke 12:57 says:
And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
Other verses that show we need to make judgments from time to time:
1 Cor 5:12-13; 1 Cor 6:1-5; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 1 Thes 5:21; 1 John 4:1
Making judgments is a very serious thing – something we should never do lightly or flippantly. Jesus emphasises the seriousness of making judgments in passages like:
Luke 6:37-38 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; (38) give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Some people mistakenly believe that we should not make judgments, based on the words of Jesus in passages like Luke 6 above and Matt 7:1:
Judge not, that you be not judged.
But if you look at the verses in context, you will notice that Jesus cannot literally mean for us to make no judgments at all. I believe he is warning against the hypocrisy so often displayed by people who judge the faults of others while manifesting the same faults themselves – just like Paul is warning in Romans 2. Further on in Matthew 7, (vs 15) we read that we must beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing. To decide someone is a false prophet, means a judgment has to be made about that person.
Some other types of situations the Scripture tells us we need to make judgments about:
- Sexual immorality -1 Cor 5:2,7,9; Eph 5:11-12
- False brethren – Acts 20:30; Rom 16:17-18; 2 Cor 11:13-15;
- False gospel – Gal 1:6-9; 2 Cor 11:4
- False prophets – Matt 7:15-20
- Those disobedient to God – 2 Thes 3:14-15
- The idle – 2 Thes 3:6-8
- Test things – Isaiah 8:20; 1 Thes 5:21
So, while making judgments is necessary, we have to be very conscious of our own weaknesses and temper judgment with mercy. James 2:13
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.