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Paul's Epistle to the Romans - Chap 2:17-29

Romans 2:1-29 – God’s Righteous & Impartial Judgment toward Jew & Greek

Part 2 - The Guilt of the Self-Confident Jew– Their Inconsistency Exposed & Their Circumcision Nullified vs 17-29

 

1. The Hypocrisy of the Self-Righteous [Jew] vs 1-16

2. The Guilt of the Self-Confident Jew vs 17-29

   a. Their Inconsistency Exposed 17-24

       1. The Confidence of the Jew 17-20

       2. The Shame of the Jew 21-24

   b. Their Circumcision Nullified 25-29

       1. The Real Circumcision 25-27

       2. The True Jew 28-29

 

2. The Guilt of the Self-Confident Jew vs 17-29

   

  a. Their Inconsistency Exposed vs 17-24

 

      1. The Confidence of the Jew vs 17-20

 

Continuing with the diatribe form of address, Paul now directly in name confronts the Jew as to their Misplaced Confidence vs 17-20 and their Blatant Hypocrisy vs 21-24. It is important for us to keep in mind that he is addressing an Old Covenant Jew in the New Covenant era. Remembering this will help us negotiate through these verses. That the Jew had an advantage and status over Gentiles Paul affirms at chapter 3 vs 1-2, they were after all God’s covenant  

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people, but Jewish self-confidence in possessing the law, knowing the law and teaching the law gave them an illusion of a Superior Status v 17, a Superior Knowledge v 18 and a Superior Role vs 19-20.

 

          2. The Shame of the Jew vs 21-24

 

Thus Paul demonstrates how their confidence in all that it meant to be a Jew as detailed in vs 17b-20 only made them stand out all the more as hypocritical and deservedly condemned because the very truth they taught and preached along with idolatry which they claimed to find repugnant are the very things in which they themselves were guilty – vs 21-22. Most of what Paul says in vs 17-24 is fairly straightforward, however the expression – ‘rob temples’ requires some explanation and for that I appeal to R.C.H Lenski who says this about their committing of sacrilege:

 

      The point to be considered is not the stealing, which is already fully covered. It is the violation of the first principle of Judaism itself, its

      abhorrence of all idols. To snatch some jewel, gold, or silver, or other valuable from an idol temple, to buy it from another, to work it up

      into something else, to sell it, yea, even to touch it and in any way to possess it, really destroyed a Jew’s Judaism. For this reason Paul

      selects this crime and places it last; it cancels the very first favorable assumption, “if thou denominatest thyself Jew.” What a Jew!

      (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans)

 

So the tragedy was that these self-righteous Jews dishonoured God and caused His name to be ‘blasphemed among the Gentiles’ (v 24) because of their law breaking and covenant unfaithfulness just as the OT scriptures state at Isaiah 52 v 5 and at Ezekiel 36 vs 22-23.

As we have considered previously the Jew was equally guilty with the Gentile having the same attitude of rebellion, ingratitude, and self-will, though with the Jew it was covered with a cloak of self-respectability and professed religiosity. Their hearts were full of wickedness, their worship was vain and their lives hypocritical. Just like the Lord in His ministry (Matt 23 vs 1-39), Paul would afford unrighteous Jews ‘no quarter’; they must be confronted with their hypocrisy and the reality of their sin.

 

     b. Their Circumcision Nullified vs 25-29

 

        1. The Real Circumcision vs 25-27

 

Paul hasn’t finished, he now addresses the matter of the external circumcision of the flesh and how it identifies a Jew. He approaches this issue of circumcision at two levels. First at the level of the Conditional Value of External Circumcision to the Flesh and second, this being the climax to what he has been teaching throughout this chapter, the Spiritual Value of Internal Circumcision of the Heart – vs 28-29. Indeed what Paul says in these verses is perhaps among the most important statements in this chapter if not the entire epistle for He clarifies the character of a true Jew under the law and at the same time expressing the unchanging principle or truth that characterizes those who truly obey and serve God and it is this truth that Paul goes on to develop in relation to the full theology of the gospel. As previously observed this circumcision of heart is what the Lord always desired and required from His covenant people – Deut 10 v 16; 30 v 6; Jer 4 v 4.

 

Circumcision was another way of saying you’re a Jew, it was the covenant sign given to Abraham the man of faith and his descendants as we have previously discussed. This is Paul’s first mention of circumcision in Romans. He is addressing in stages the things of which the Jew boasted. First the law, now circumcision. Specifically and surely he is destroying their arrogant self-confidence and hypocritical self-righteousness. So when Paul writes at v 25 that ‘circumcision verily profits if thou keep the law’ he is in effect saying that being a Jew with this covenant sign of circumcision is only of value if one puts the law into practice, that is, if you are an obedient Jew. There were two sides to the Old Covenant, God’s faithfulness (Rom 3 v 3) and His people’s ‘true’ obedience. Break the law carelessly, willfully and continually and your circumcision and Jewish identity are worth nothing – ‘your circumcision has become uncircumcision’ (v 25). But Paul says more. First he asks ‘if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?’ (V 26). Paul seems to be going further and saying more regarding the Gentiles than he did at vs 14-15. His question has the implication to the Jew that such a man is not only as much of a Jew as you are, he is in fact more of a Jew than you are. In other words such a man belongs to God’s true covenant community and is, and will be manifestly counted among His people. We must be careful of reading more into these verses than Paul actually says, yet in light of vs 28-29 being ‘counted for circumcision’ seems to indicate a deeper meaning than just stating a mere point of argument. The implication is that what God required from his people – a repentant heart and submitted will – he has found among believing Gentiles. The word ‘counted’ is used with regard to imputed righteousness in chapter 4 v 3 etc. and the phrase ‘the righteous requirements of the law’ is found at chapter 8 v 4 in relation to the Spirit led and empowered believer. Some therefore interpret vs 26-27 as referring especially to ‘Gentile Christians.’ This means that Paul is here anticipating the theological truth he will go on to develop in relation to the fullness of the gospel as the epistle proceeds. However, true as this is we must remember that what Paul writes here has always been the character of a faithful and obedient believer who knows acceptance with God. We must not rob either true Jewish believers of their justification by faith who lived under the Old Covenant and expressed their obedience through it nor must we deny that there were believing Gentiles who responded to God and with a circumcised heart lived a life pleasing to Him. Consider, for example, what the Lord said through His prophet Isaiah:

 

      Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed

      is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand

      from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly

      separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep

      my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within

      my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also

      the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one

      that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them

      joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called

      an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, yet will I gather others to him, beside those

      that are gathered unto him. (Isa 56 vs 1-8 KJV)

 

At any rate, according to the verb tenses Paul uses, the uncircumcision who fulfill the righteousness of the law will in the future be ‘counted’ for uncircumcision (v 26) and in the future will ‘judge’ the circumcision who are law breakers (v 27). Again he appears to have in mind God’s ultimate Day of Judgment and so Paul continues to keep the focus on works according to God’s standard of righteousness. He probably does not mean that Gentiles will sit as judges to the Jews, rather that they will appear as witnesses for the prosecution, so to speak, on that solemn day. The Lord spoke of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South who would ‘rise in judgment’ and ‘condemn’ the Jews who saw His miracles and heard His word yet did not repent – Matthew 12 vs 28-42. The obedience of Gentiles condemn the disobedient Jews. How powerful the impact of these words to a self-righteous and self-confident Jew. What a shock for one who glories in his status and possession of the law to realize that not only is he no better than a Gentile, there is in fact no value in his Judaism before God whatever for it has no reality.

 

          2. The True Jew vs 28-29

 

The climax of Paul’s argument is reached as we have noted at vs 28-29 - the Spiritual Value of Internal Circumcision of the Heart. This is what constitutes a true Jew and this is what constitutes a true believer. Being a Jew as God intended is not by an outward identity in name nor by a ritual in the flesh. He is one whose heart has been spiritually circumcised as opposed to merely outward circumcision done in conformity to the letter of the law as prescribed at Lev 12 v 3. To circumcise the heart is the evidence of repentance from sin, the work of the Holy Spirit and submission to the will of God. It is one who has cut off the desires of the flesh, who is dedicated to God and who loves Him in truth and righteousness. This Jew has the approval of God and such Jews would be ‘doers of the law.’ In the Old covenant era their outward circumcision and life of a true Jew under the law had meaning and reality before God and now in the New Covenant era they must and will, along with Gentiles, believe in Jesus – Romans 3 vs 26 for He is the fulfilment of all that the law pointed to (Rom 10 v 4; Gal 3 v 24). Moreover, as this is the character of a true Jew (Deut 10 v 16; 30 v 6; Jer 4 v 4) so it is the character of believing Gentiles.  

 

AJC