Monthly Archives: June 2015

Romans 3:9-20 – None Righteous

Romans 3:9–20 (ESV) — 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

In our text today, Paul brings to a close the arguments he began in 1:16.

  • It might do us good to outline Paul’s points up until now.
  • Reference Outline.

 

Outline:

1:16-17 – Saving Righteousness of God

  • Divine Activity – Covenant Faithfulness

 

1:18-32 – Judging Righteousness of God on Gentiles

  • 18-23 – Reason
    • Failing to Glorify God
  • 24-32 – Results
    • Spiritual Corruption
    • Physical Corruption
    • Fellowship Corruption

 

2:1-5 – Judging Others Incurs God’s Judging Righteousness

  • Why?
    • Hypocrisy – “Practice” What is Judged
    • Tread on God’s Patience

 

2:6-11 – “Apodidimi” (Reward) of God is Impartial

  • Judging Righteousness Given to Unrighteous
  • Saving Righteousness Given to Glory Seekers

 

2:12-13 – Future Justification (?)

 

2:12-3:8 – Judging Righteousness of God on Jews & Undercutting of Jewish Privilege

  • 12-16 – Gentiles Have Law – “By Nature” Law
    • “doers of the law” vs. “hearers of the law”
  • 2:17-23 – “Boast in” Law but Lawbreakers
    • Dishonors God
  • 2:24-29 – “Circumcision” Law
    • Circumcision of Flesh (man-centered)
    • Circumcision of Heart (God-centered)
  • 3:1-8 – Jews as Unfaithful “Entrustees”
    • Given Much & Entrusted But Failed
    • But…God is Faithful

 

 

Armed with this summary…

  • We can now better understand Paul’s closing arguments.

 

 

Verse 9:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

 

“Already Charged”:

Paul has clearly been teaching that…

  • Gentiles fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • Jews fall under God’s judging righteousness.
  • So to say that he has “already charged” is an understatement.
  • He has pounded home this point over and over.

 

“Better Off”:

What is less clear is what Paul means with the first part of this verse.

  • What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.

 

The reason this should cause us pause and demand our attention is this…

  • In verses 1-2, Paul says this, “…what advantage has the Jew…Much in every way”.

 

This seems to be a contradiction.

  • Are Jews Better Off/Advantaged?
  • No, not at all” vs. “Much in every way”.

 

What is the solution to this apparent problem?

 

We need only look at our outline to make the necessary distinction.

  • Paul is talking about two different things.
  • Jews were privileged as God’s elect – in that they were given much.
  • However, this made them no “better off” – i.e. righteous and justified.
    • God’s judgment is impartial toward Jew and Gentile.

 

Douglas Moo sums it up well:

“Whatever historical privileges the Jews may have, these do not place Jews in a superior position in God’s judgment” – Doug Moo.

 

BTW – Robert Jewett provides another option here.

  • He says given Greek grammar options vs. 9 can rightly be translated with a negative connotation.
  • In other words, instead of Jews “better off” – its Jews “not better off”.
  • Supporting his case is the literal meaning of the Greek word translated “better off”.
  • It literally means “to be outdone”, “bettered” or “excelled” by something or someone (BDAG & Jewett).
  • In our context, the something else would be the Gentiles.

 

This option plays out as follows:

  • Paul is revealing that his diatribe “opponent” (the judge from 2:1) has begun to come around.
  • He has understood that the Jew is not better off than the Gentile.
  • And this, coupled with the fact that they have blasphemed the name of God and so failed as “entrustees”, leads the opponent to ask – are Jews “outdone” or “excelled” by Gentiles.
  • Paul’s answer, No!
  • Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat – all are “under sin” (vs. 9), “none is righteous” (vs. 10).

 

“Under Sin”:

In the NT, “under sin” is uniquely Pauline.

  • He uses it twice in Romans and once in Galatians.
  • Remember, Paul has to redefine Judaism in light of Jesus Christ.
  • This Greek phrase could be evidence of this endeavor.

 

So what does Paul mean that Jews and Greeks are “under sin”?

  • Most are in agreement that it means at least two things.
  • (1) Paul is speaking of the sin as an act – disobedience.
  • (2) Paul is speaking of sin ontologically as a thing with power!

 

It is the second meaning that is unique to Paul.

“Paul’s understanding that all people, Jews as well as Gentiles, were not just sinners but helpless pawns under sin’s power, distinguished him sharply from his Jewish contemporaries” – Douglas Moo.

 

The implication of this truth – that all are under the power of sin – is profound.

  • Anyone who has “not experienced the righteousness of God by faith is ‘under sin’” – Douglas Moo.
  • There is nothing a person can do to remove him or herself from its power.
  • There is no escape from sins power without “intervention” – Robert Jewett.

 

Remember, Paul is heaping this truth upon all that he has taught thus far.

  • The law doesn’t put right.
  • Circumcision doesn’t put right.
  • Obedience doesn’t put right.
  • Why – because all are under sin!
  • We are all in “Union with Sin” and its power and dominion – including death.

 

 

Verses 10-18:

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 

Paul then goes on to quote from six OT passages to show the evidence that all our “under sin”.

  • Importantly he begins this litany of despair with a concept he has mentioned before.
  • The righteousness of mankind.

 

Paul has had much to say about God’s righteousness – both the saving and judging varieties.

  • But what is the righteousness of man?

 

One might be tempted to say that the righteousness of man is the opposite of verses 11-18.

  • So perhaps the righteousness of man is:
    • Understanding and Seeking God.
    • Turning to God.
    • Good Works.
    • Speaking Holy Things.
    • Doing Holy Things.
    • Fearing God.

 

There are a couple of obvious problems with this, however.

  • This would imply that the righteousness of man comes from things man can do.
  • And Paul has already said that, “None is righteous, no, not one” (vs. 10).
  • We simply don’t do righteous things.

 

The other problem with this approach is that Paul has just declared that all are “under sin”.

  • In Romans 6 he will expand on this.
  • He will say that we are slaves to sin’s power and dominion.
  • So, the righteousness of man is not something that those “under sin” can have!

 

It’s almost as if Paul is talking about something that doesn’t actually exist.

  • And yet, it is something we need to avoid God’s judging righteousness.

 

At this point, we should be feeling very troubled and almost without hope.

  • How do we “get righteousness” or get “in the right” with God? (N.T. Wright)
  • Clearly, to get the righteousness that we don’t have, we need someone else’s.

 

And how does that happen?

  • We need the “intervention” that we mentioned earlier.
  • We need to be justified!
  • We need to be removed from the power of sin and imputed with God’s alien righteousness
  • Praise God for Romans 3:21 and following!

 

 

Verses 19-20:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

Paul changes it up a bit in these last two verses.

  • He has something very important to say about the law.
  • And he couches his comments in law court language.

 

The courtroom scene plays at as follows:

  • Those “under the law” – the Gentiles and their “by nature” law and the Jews and their “boast in” law – are in the dock (N.T. Wright).
  • The dock is where the accused sits in a trial.

 

Shockingly, the law stands in as a witness against those who are under it.

  • The law actually “speaks” (vs. 19) or testifies against them – Gentile and Jew.
  • And “whatever the law says” (vs. 19) it demonstrates irrefutably the guilt of those in the dock.

 

So if anyone is going to rely on the law to be declared right before God, there is a serious problem.

  • “If ‘the Jew’ [for example] appeals to the covenant status which is marked out by possession of the law, the law itself replies, ‘You have broken me’” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul goes on to say that because of the law’s testimony…

  • every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

 

“Every Mouth May Be Stopped”:

It is important here to fully appreciate “every mouth may be stopped” (vs. 19).

“In Paul’s world, if you were on trial and had nothing more to say in your defence, you put a hand over your mouth as a sign. Sometimes court officials would strike the prisoner on the mouth to indicate that their mouths ‘should be stopped’, in other words, that they were obviously guilty and should not be attempting to defend themselves (this happened to Jesus in John 18:22, and to Paul in Acts 23:2). So when Paul says ‘that every mouth may be stopped’ he is imagining not only that the Jews have joined the Gentiles in the dock but that all of them together are left without any defence.” – N.T. Wright.

 

We actually see this elsewhere in the N.T.

  • John 18:22 (ESV) — 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”
  • Acts 23:1–2 (ESV) — 1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

 

The point here is that when the law speaks our guilt becomes plainly evident and there is no recourse!

  • As a result, we are all “held accountable to God” (vs. 19).
  • The righteousness of man is shown to be a manmade illusion!
  • Galatians 3:21b (ESV) — 21b For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

 

Having lost our case in the law court – undone by the very thing we thought would save us…

  • Paul declares our final fate.
  • Because of the testimony of the law, none “will be justified in his sight” (vs. 20).
  • We have no righteousness; we sin and we are under sin’s dominion.
  • Obedience, “works of the law” (vs. 20), as a basis for justification is non-existent.
  • Our only fate is God’s judging righteousness, wrath and condemnation.

 

BTW – How do we reconcile the following statements?

  • …by works of the law no human being will be justified” (vs. 20) / “…but the doers of the law who will be justified” (2:13).

 

There seem to be only two viable answers.

  • (1) 2:13 is referring to future justification and 3:20 is referring to present justification (N.T. Wright).
  • (2) 2:13 is a theoretical; Paul doesn’t mean it.
    • We need to insert an unstated assumption of Paul between the two, “no one can do the law” – Douglas Moo.

 

 

Conclusion:

Where do we go from here?

  • What is the remedy for this hopeless situation?
  • We will end with Paul’s own words.
  • Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

 

 

Romans 3:1-8 – God Is Faithful

Romans 3:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

 

The last few weeks Paul dismantled any hope of finding privilege/righteousness in the Law.

  • The “Boast in” Law – 2:17-23
  • The “Circumcision” Law – 2:24-29

 

In today’s text, Paul asks a fair question that any Jew would have at this point.

  • What “advantage has the Jew” and his circumcision (vs. 1)?

 

 

Verses 1-2:

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

 

What does he mean by advantage?

  • T. Wright says Paul is simply asking what then is the “point of being Jewish”.
  • Tom Schreiner says it means “saving advantage”, so Paul is asking does the Jew really lack a “saving advantage”.
  • Paul will go into much more detail about this in Romans 9; we will deal with it then.

 

To his advantage question, Paul’s answer is “much” (vs. 2).

  • He then spells out what he means by the “much”.
  • He says, “to begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (vs. 2).

 

What are the oracles of God?

  • This is the only time in all his letters Paul uses the word for “oracles”.
  • It’s pretty clear that Paul is referring to the OT Scriptures and the truth and message they contain – Tom Schreiner.
  • But many ask why did he use this word.

 

N.T. Wright takes a stab at a reason:

“…perhaps to recognize the fact that, whereas the Gentiles were not expecting anything like the Jewish law, they were often eager for ‘oracles’ from some divinity or other” – N.T. Wright.

  • In other words, he used it as a way to relate to Gentile sensibilities.

 

And crucial to the understanding our text, Paul says the “much” is not just the “oracles”…

  • It is also the fact that Israel was “entrusted” with the “oracles”.

 

What does it mean to be entrusted with the “oracles”?

  • Again, the meaning here is crucial for our text!

“The point about being ‘entrusted’ is that the thing that’s been given to you isn’t actually for you; it’s for the person to whom you are supposed to deliver it” – N.T. Wright.

  • This is a massive point to get!

 

God’s work in redemptive history (Creation, Scripture, Spirit, etc.) was channeled through Israel.

  • It was given to them so that they might care for it and pass it on; spread it.
  • This means that the “entrustee”, Israel, isn’t the most important part.
  • The thing entrusted – God’s Work – is the important part.
  • It is the message that is the thing, not the messenger – Israel.

 

BTW – it is interesting that though Paul seems to begin a list in verse 2 of the advantages…

  • He says, “to begin with”…
  • He never gets to the second thing on his list.
  • Its as if he was distracted.

 

Most think, however, that the rest of Paul’s thought can be found in Romans 9.

  • Romans 9:4–5 (ESV) — 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

 

 

Verses 3-4:

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

 

Paul cuts off his thought about the “much” with a rhetorical question concerning two facts.

  • (1) God chose Israel from among all the nations and gave them “much” (vs. 2).
  • (2) Yet, the Israelites were failures with the “much” – Paul calls it “their faithlessness” (vs. 3).

 

Given these two things, Paul raises a question.

  • Does Israel’s unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God?” (vs. 3)

 

First we need to understand, in context, what Paul is saying.

  • We saw earlier that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God.
  • It is here that the importance of the entrusting comes in to play.
  • For now Paul is making it clear that in their capacity as “entrustees” they have failed.
  • They became “entrustee” focused instead of message focused.

 

They failed to properly care for and deliver to the world the “oracles” of God.

  • Remember, in 2:24, Paul stated that the name of God was “blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
  • This is a description of this failure.

 

Paul continues his train of thought with his answer to the nullification of God’s faithfulness question…

  • By no means!” is God’s faithfulness nullified (vs. 4).

 

Israel’s failure does not mean God failed.

  • Paul says God is “true” even if “every one were a liar” (vs. 4).
  • Meaning, God will fulfill all of His promises made through Israel in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness!
  • God is covenant faithful!
  • God is righteous!

 

Paul then quotes Psalm 51:4 (LXX) to show that history will bear out God’s faithfulness.

  • You may be justified in your words” and you will “prevail when you are judged” (vs. 4).

 

Paul is citing a Psalm of David.

  • “Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, in order that you might be justified in your words and triumph when you judge” – Tom Schreiner.
  • In other words, King David is saying that God’s faithfulness isn’t in jeopardy because of David’s failure.
  • In fact, God is justified and triumphs in King David’s failure.

 

So what is Paul saying here?

  • How is God justified and how does He triumph when Israel is unfaithful?
  • How does this show that God’s faithfulness isn’t nullified?
  • Paul unpacks this in verses 5-6.

 

 

Verses 5-6:

5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

 

Paul alludes again to King David’s words from Psalm 51 (LXX).

  • …our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God” (vs. 5).
  • Israel’s failure, like David’s, magnifies God’s righteousness!
  • And then Paul goes on to answer all the questions we just raised.

 

How?

  • Paul rhetorically says that God is certainly not unrighteous to “inflict wrath on us” (vs. 5).
  • If God were unrighteous, “how could God judge the world?” (vs. 6)
  • The implication here is that God’s judgment is righteous and no Jew would deny that God will judge the world.
  • God is creator and He rightly judges His creatures.

 

To dig into the “how” more, we need to remember what Paul has been teaching thus far in his letter about God’s righteousness.

  • As we learned some weeks ago, God’s righteousness is expressed as both a saving righteousness and a judging righteousness.

 

Therefore God’s covenant faithfulness – His righteous divine activity – can take two forms.

  • (1) Redemption in His saving righteousness.
  • (2) Condemnation, judgment and wrath in His judging righteousness.

 

So therefore for the unfaithful Jew to come under God’s judging righteousness is an expression of God’s faithfulness and righteousness.

  • Faithfulness both to His promises (which included judgment) and Himself – His holiness.
  • In the words of King David, God’s judging righteousness justifies God and shows that He prevails.

 

Paul affirms this in verse 6.

  • He asks rhetorically – does God’s judging righteousness on the unfaithful Jew with his “boast in” and “circumcision” law make God out to be unrighteous?
  • His answer, “by no means!” (vs. 6) for the reasons we have just seen.

 

So, God shows His faithfulness both in His wrath (judging righteousness) and in his promise and covenant fulfillment (saving righteousness) in the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  • In fact, “The only explanation for any Jews being included in the covenant is God remaining true to his promises despite the sin that plagues the Jews” – Tom Schreiner.
  • Paul can affirm “that Israel is still guilty for its sin, while affirming that the promises of their salvation will still be fulfilled” – Schreiner.

 

Importantly, Paul speaks from personal experience.

  • He was an unfaithful Jew.
  • And now he is a faithful “entrustee” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the new covenant.
  • Paul is participating in God’s promise and covenant fulfillment.
  • Paul is extolling the name of God to the world!

 

 

Verses 7-8:

7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

 

Paul then tells us that all of this – Israel’s failure and God’s condemnation of it – also means that “God’s truth abounds to his glory” (vs. 7).

  • Again, in agreement with King David’s take on God’s judging righteousness.

 

Paul then indicates that some have apparently sought to twist this truth to justify their unfaithfulness.

  • The twisters of truth ask, if God is shown to be faithful then why condemn us “as a sinner” (vs. 7)?
  • In fact, “why not do evil that good may come?” (vs. 8)
  • Wright paraphrases it this way, “why not simply do what is wrong, so that God, in putting it right, can be seen to be all the greater?” – N.T. Wright.

 

Paul tells us this is not the truth he has been teaching; it is slander.

  • And those that have twisted the truth this way deserve judgment – “Their condemnation is just” (vs. 8).

 

This is directly related to the grace in which we stand from Romans 5:2 and the freedom it gives us.

  • Does grace mean obedience is nullified?
  • Absolutely not!

 

 

Conclusion:

As we read Romans, we need to understand that Paul has layering important truths upon one another.

  • I love how Wright puts it:

“Romans is like a great symphony. The present passage is a little flash of music which looks ahead to a much fuller statement for which the themes that come in between will have prepared the way” – N.T. Wright.

 

Finally, we also need to understand what Paul is not doing as he plays us his great symphony.

  • Paul is not throwing Judaism under the bus!

“The whole point, as we shall see later on in this chapter, is that in the Messiah, Jesus, God has found the way to be true to his original promises. Jesus, as Israel’s representative, has offered the faithful obedience which Israel should have offered but did not. The Messiah is the messenger who finally delivers the message” – N.T. Wright.

 

 

Romans 2:25-29 – “Circumcision” Law

In our text today, Paul continues in his diatribe against Jewish privilege and misuse of law.

  • Thus far he has argued for a “by nature” law of the Gentiles.
  • He has shown how the “boast in” law of the Jews dishonors Gods and reveals hypocrisy.
  • And today he drops the ultimate law bomb on the Jews’ “circumcision law”.
    • In line with Paul’s handling of “by nature” law and “boast in” law, I am calling this section “circumcision” law.

 

 

Our Text:

Romans 2:25–29 (ESV) — 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly [in public], nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

 

 

Necessary Background:

We have to remember, as N.T. Wright points out, that Romans is showing us how Paul is redefining previously understood Jewish concepts of what it means to be the covenant people of God.

  • In our text today, Paul addresses how this redefinition relates to circumcision.
  • Specifically, “The issue in this section is whether circumcision provides a status for Jews that Gentiles however righteous, simply lack” – Robert Jewett.

 

Why was it necessary for Paul to address “circumcision law”?

 

1) Abrahamic Covenant

  • To begin with, God gave circumcision to His people as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant.
  • Genesis 17:11 (ESV) — 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
  • Genesis 17:13 even says, “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant”.

 

And remember Joshua 5.

  • Joshua 5:2 (ESV) — 2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”
  • Taking a break from his Promise Land conquest, Joshua circumcises those born in the wilderness that had not yet been circumcised.

 

2) Historical Identity

  • During 2nd Temple Judaism, it appears that circumcision was elevated above just being a “sign” of the Abrahamic covenant.
  • We know this from texts like Jubilee 15:26.
  • It taught that, “Anyone…who’s own flesh is not circumcised on the eighth day is not from the sons of the covenant which the Lord made for Abraham since he is from the children of destruction” – Robert Jewett.

 

3) Historical Pride

  • In the 160’s BC, Antiochus Epiphanes was a Greek king who occupied Palestine.
  • Under his reign, “Jews…practiced circumcision at the risk of losing their lives (1 Macc 1:60–61; cf. 2 Macc 6–7)” – DHPL.
  • This elevated the practice of circumcision to one of patriotic proportions.
  • “Thus any diminution of the rite would naturally inflame both the cultural and religious passions of Jews” – DHPL.

 

What parallels are there to this and American Christianity?

 

4) Judaizer Movement

  • All of the previous elements contributed to the Judaizer problem that Paul faced.
  • “Paul’s insistence that circumcision not be imposed on Gentile converts led to one of the most serious and fundamental controversies in the early church” – DPHL.
  • Acts 15:1 (ESV) — 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
  • Acts 15 goes on to describe the convening of the Jerusalem Council to deal with this problem.

 

5) Life in Christ

  • Moreover, the new covenant in Christ had to be properly understood.
  • This whole thing was a huge issue for Paul!
  • Galatians 5:2–6 (ESV) — 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

 

With this background, we can now proceed into our text.

 

 

Verses 25-27:

Romans 2:25–27 (ESV) — 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

 

Paul is making a significant contrast in this text.

  • Paul is contrasting circumcision with uncircumcision.
  • And importantly, he is situating this contrast within his previously stated idea of obedience and justification.

 

What is “uncircumcision”?

  • “To label someone as uncircumcized means to designate somebody as not being a Jew and, therefore, outside of the promises” of God – Strongs.
  • In other words, the uncircumcised were not part of the covenant people of God.
  • Paul, however, turns this view on its head!

 

Verse 25:

He begins by attacking the “value” of circumcision as understood by too many Jews.

  • He says it is only of “value” if it is accompanied by obedience.
  • The “value”, in context here, is “membership in the Jewish covenant” – Robert Jewett.
  • So for “C” to be of advantage to the Jew, it must be accompanied by a life of obedience.

 

And then Paul drops a huge “but” into the conversation.

  • But if you break the law” you have no membership in the Jewish covenant.
  • You are not a member of the covenant people of God.

 

In fact, you – the Jew who prides yourself on “C” – actually become “uncircumcision”.

  • Paul has just declared that circumcision carries no value in and of itself.
  • With that he is also arguing that one can be circumcised and yet excluded – being no better off than the Gentile.
  • This is a massive reversal!
  • A reversal that would have been outrageously to the Torah Jew.

 

Moreover, some scholars believe Paul may have also had in mind the Jewish practice of “epipasmos” with his use of “uncircumcision”.

  • “The surgical restoration of the foreskin practiced by Jews who wished to assimilate into Gentile culture” – Jewett.
  • Again, what an outrageous notion for a Torah Jew.

 

Verse 26:

Then Paul heaps it on even more.

  • As he had done in Romans 2:13 when he stated that Gentiles could be justified “doers of the law”, Paul says that Gentiles can in effect be uncircumcised circumcised.
  • His “uncircumcision” can “be regarded as circumcision”.

 

In other words…

  • The Gentiles’ obedience is a sign (as circumcision was meant to be – a sign) of something much bigger.
  • That “something” is actually the thing that included them in God’s covenant people.

 

Therefore, the circumcised Jew’s disobedience was also a sign of “something” that excluded them from being part of the people of God.

  • Paul is about to get to this “something”.
  • But first Paul has even more heaping on to do.

 

Verse 27:

Then Paul drops another huge reversal on top of the circumcised law-breaker.

  • Whereas it was always understood that at the inauguration of the “age to come” the righteous/circumcised Jew would stand in condemnation of the Gentile…
  • Paul says quite the opposite.
  • The obedient uncircumcised will stand in condemnation of the disobedient circumcised!

 

This shocking event is spoken of in a couple of other places.

  • Matthew 12:41 (ESV) — 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
  • Hebrews 11:7 (ESV) — 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
  • In each of the above, the uncircumcised demonstrated righteousness and could stand with God in judgment of the unrighteous.

 

BTW – One might ask, is Paul rejecting God’s command about circumcision?

“Paul’s purpose in this section is not to indicate how circumcision is of value with respect to the covenant but to remove circumcision from the list of those things that the Jew might think would afford him an automatic pardon from the wrath of God” – Douglas Moo.

  • There certainly is, however, a new covenant implication for the disuse of circumcision.

 

 

Verses 28-29:

Romans 2:28–29 (ESV) — 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly [in public], nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

 

Finally, Paul finishes up this part of his diatribe with the biggest “circumcision” law bomb yet.

  • He begins to redefine – in anticipation of his coming thoughts on Christ – what it means even to be a Jew.
  • Or to put another way, Paul lays out who are actually the people of God.

 

Verse 28:

In order to redefine whom the people of God are, Paul makes an interesting statement.

  • He says “a Jew” (a people of God Jew) is not someone who is “merely one outwardly”.

 

The Greek word here actually means “in public” or “in the open” – BDAG.

  • In other words, inclusion in the people of God is not secured with a conformity done for public consumption.
  • Apparently, outward acts – including circumcision – were mainly done for “status acquisition” – Jewett.

 

In fact, Paul says, real circumcision is not a physical act – not an outward pubic act.

  • Nor is circumcision outward and physical”.

 

How much of our “obedience” is for “status acquisition”?

  • This is why even our obedience is tainted.
  • Praise God for the grace in which we stand!

 

Like Paul, Jesus was not a fan of this “outward” Judaism either.

  • Matthew 6:5–6 (ESV) — 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

Verse 29:

Paul then lays out the “something” that the sign of circumcision was supposed to point to – an inward reality.

  • If real circumcision is not “outward and physical” what is it?

 

Real circumcision is…

  • a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter”.
  • And unlike the Jew Jesus criticized in the Matt. 6 text, the inward reality circumcision seeks praise from God and not from man!
    • Why do we do what we do in church – for God or man?

 

In Galatians Paul speaks of this inward reality this way:

  • Galatians 6:15 (ESV) — 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
  • And in 2 Corinthians 3:6 he says, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.

 

What is this circumcision of the heart about which Paul speaks?

  • It is regeneration; it is new birth.
  • And from this authentic inner circumcision, obedience comes from “a transformed heart, without regard to reputation” – Jewett.

 

OT Gospel:

We must understand something here.

  • Paul is not teaching something new.
  • He is, however, stripping away centuries of cultural baggage that have obscured the truths he is teaching.
  • Truths, he will reveal, that find their grounding in Christ.

 

Jesus Himself understood that righteousness is a “matter of the heart”.

  • Matthew 5:27–28 (ESV) — 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

But, amazingly, the OT is ripe with the very truth Paul is teaching.

  • In fact, it is the following various OT texts to which Paul is alluding.

 

For starters, we have to go to Ezekiel.

  • Ezekiel 36:25–27 (ESV) — 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 

And for that matter, we need to throw in a little Moses.

  • Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV) — 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
  • Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV) — 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

 

And let’s not forget Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah 4:4 (ESV) — 4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”
  • Jeremiah 9:25 (ESV) — 25 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh—
  • Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV) — 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

 

So there did exist in Judaism (the Judaism expressed by Jesus in Matt 6):

  • “The expectation that God would one day circumcise the hearts of his people through the work of the Spirit” – Douglas Moo.
  • This expectation finds its fulfillment in Christ and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.

 

I love how George Ladd puts it.

“Like physical circumcision, spiritual circumcision is an event, a result of the death and resurrection of Christ, not a subjective experience or objective performance” – LBD.

 

So, the Gospel is in the OT!

  • The scarlet thread of Christ and the Gospel are woven throughout the OT.
  • The idea that the law does not provide righteousness is throughout the OT.
  • Righteousness has always been about the inward things – the heart!

 

The Finish:

I want to finish with one last observation.

  • The “by the letter” and “by the Spirit” contrast is unique to Paul (Moo, Jewett, etc.).
  • It is a contrast between a man-centered activity to secure righteousness and…
  • The divine activity that Paul introduced earlier in Romans – God’s “righteousing” of creation.

 

The circumcision of the heart is God at work – as Ladd said above – in a real, objective way.

  • It is an expression of his covenant faithfulness and righteousness.
  • To be the object of that work is to be a “Jew”.
  • Something Paul comes back to in Romans 9 when he deals with election.

 

At this point in Romans, Paul is exiting off the highway of the law so that he might enter the city that is Jesus Christ.

  • He is moving from “plight to solution” – Douglas Moo.
  • But before he does, he needs to acknowledge two things.
  • (1) Jews were set apart.
  • (2) Unrighteousness is the default position of humanity – we are all in Garden Exile.
  • We will get into these over the next few weeks.

 

 

Addendum:

Paul’s attack on circumcision was also a subversion of the patriarchal underpinnings of Judaism.

“The patriarchal family was the existing reality in the NT world, and what you discover when you compare what is in the NT and what is outside the NT, is that Paul and others are working hard to change the existing structures in a more Christian direction” – Ben Witherington III.

 

How did Paul’s view of circumcision subvert patriarchal underpinnings?

 

Circumcision was clearly a male-centered activity – to the exclusion of females.

  • How were women, then, to demonstrate an outward sign of the Abrahamic covenant?
  • For Paul, the truth of the circumcision of the heart solved this apparent inequality.
  • Galatians 3:28 (ESV) — 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

In Christ – circumcision of the heart – there is “no male and female”!

  • This undercuts both Jewish privilege and male privilege (not to mention “free” privilege over slave).
  • Women were now on equal ground both in their internal reality and their outward expression (the sign) of this reality.

 

 

Romans 2:17-23 – “Boast in” the Law

Review:

To demonstrate God’s impartiality in judgment, Paul has to deal with law as it relates to Gentiles and Jews.

  • Last week, he showed that the Gentiles, in fact, do have a law by which they will be judged.
  • They may not have the law, but they have a law written on their hearts – their conscience.

 

In our text today, Paul contends with the Jewish side of the equation.

  • “Paul takes up those two things that, more than any others, pointed to the Jews’ special status: the law and circumcision” – Douglas Moo.

 

Helpful Observation before we proceed:

  • “Paul’s target [diatribe against the “Jew”] is ostensibly far from his audience. They are invited to join Paul’s indictment of an insufferably arrogant bigot, not realizing that similar pretensions will later be exposed in their own behavior toward one another” – Robert Jewett.
  • This seems to me very helpful in trying to understand to whom Paul is writing in both today’s text and the previous verses as well.

 

 

Verses 17-23:

Romans 2:17–23 (ESV) — 17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.

 

Paul quickly dispatches the idea that Sinai has given the Jews an advantage.

  • He does this by showing at least two things.

 

1) First, Paul highlights the relationship Jews have with the law.

  • Rely on the law” – verse 17.
  • Instructed from the law” – verse 18.
  • Having in the law” – verse 20.

 

And in our text, Paul points out real benefits of the having, relying and being instructed from the law.

  • Know his will” – verse 18.
  • Approve what is excellent” – verse 18.
  • Guide to the blind” – verse 19.
  • Light to those in the darkness” – verse 19.
  • Instruct the “foolish” – verse 20.
  • Teach “children” – verse 20.
  • The embodiment of knowledge and truth” – verse 20.

 

There is no question that Paul affirms the value of the law.

  • Paul is not anti-law.
  • He is anti-misuse of the law!
  • In 3:19, for example, he shows that the law shuts the mouth of self-righteousness – “every mouth may be stopped”.
  • In 3:21, he says that the law bears witness to the righteousness of God.
  • And in Romans 7:12 (ESV) — 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 

Paul has to “rethink the role of Israel” around Jesus the Messiah – to be sure – N.T. Wright.

  • But, for Paul the law didn’t fail, “National Israel failed in its vocation” – N.T. Wright.

 

 

2) Second, Paul then shows why the problem is with the Jew and not the law.

  • To this end he uses the phrase in verse 19, “if you are sure that you yourself are a guide…”.
  • Some translations have “convinced” instead of “sure”.
  • The idea here is that the “you” in question is full of arrogance and cocksuredness – Robert Jewett.

 

Paul then rhetorically asks this arrogant, self-righteous Jew…

  • Haven’t you taught yourself what the law teaches?
  • Do you not teach yourself” – verse 21.
  • Jewett points out that at this point the audience in Rome is most certainly with Paul in his disdain for this arrogant “you”.
  • But as we pointed out at the beginning, this is part of Paul’s tactic to slowly bring his sites onto them as well.

 

He then answers the question by making some serious accusations.

  • You rightly preach against stealing, but you steal (vs. 21).
  • You rightly teach against adultery, but you commit adultery (vs. 22).
  • You rightly abhor idols, but you…? (vs. 22).

 

You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” – vs. 22.

  • This particular verse deserves further comment.
  • It appears the idea here is a charge of hypocrisy for financial gain.
  • “They claim to detest idolatry and spurn any association with idols, yet they are willing to be defiled by profiting from the very idols that they detest” – Tom Schreiner.

 

And about these sins, we need to consider Moo’s point.

“It is not, then, that all Jews commit these sins, but that these sins are representative of the contradiction between claim and conduct that does pervade Judaism” – Douglas Moo.

 

And then comes the “law-bomb”:

  • Romans 2:23 (ESV) — 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
  • The Jews claim special access to God’s saving righteousness because of the law.
  • But in fact, what they really have is an inside track on dishonoring God.
  • And this is simply because though they have the law, they break it.

 

We need to consider an interesting parallel here with Paul’s Romans 1 words to the Gentiles.

  • Romans 1:24–25 (ESV) — 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

“Just as the Gentiles failed to bring him glory by repudiating the revelation available from the created order, the Jews failed to honor him by practicing the law that was vouchsafed to them” – Tom Schreiner.

 

And then Paul heaps it on even more!

  • Romans 2:24 (ESV) — 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

 

Many think Paul has in mind Ezekiel 36:23.

  • We will see in verses 24-29 how the broader context of Ezekiel 36:23 ff. also fits very well with where Paul is headed in our text.
  • Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV) — 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

 

Wow!

  • Instead of being an advantage, by misuse of the law Jews have blighted the name of God.
  • And in pointing this out, Paul reveals that one reason this is a concern for God…
  • Other than the “holiness of my great name”…
  • Is that God’s name has been sullied before the Gentiles.

 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way – Jewish misuse of and reliance on the law.

“Many, including Paul himself, would have celebrated the fact that God had chosen Israel and given them his law in order to make them a beacon of virtue to the rest of the world. Before his conversion, Paul would have seen this calling of the nation of Israel as the rock on which he could stand firm” – N.T. Wright.

  • After all Isaiah 42:6 says the Jews were to be “a light for the nations”.
  • But now, as we pointed out earlier, Paul has to rethink everything around “Jesus is Lord” – including purpose of the law.

 

Finally, with respect to last week’s lesson:

  • Paul’s line of reasoning in verses 17-23 also does two more things.
  • (1) It provides further evidence of God’s impartiality from verse 11.
    • Jews are not advantaged because of the law.
  • (2) It provides further evidence that that “hearers of the law” are not justified “doers of the law”.
    • Quite the opposite, Jews are law breakers!

 

I mentioned earlier that Paul’s allusion to Ezekiel 36 fits well with his current line of thought.

  • Verses 25-29 will show us why as Paul dispatches the idea that the outward sign of circumcision shields one from God’s condemnation.
  • We will contend with this next week.