Tag Archives: law

Romans 10 Setup – Renovating the Law

73_introduction-to-the-torah (1)

Romans 10 Setup – Renovating the Law




In 10:1-4, we saw that Paul reiterated a desire that his fellow Jews be saved.

  • The problem, of course, is that they stumbled over Christ.


Paul told us that they were ignorant of the way to righteousness.

  • As a result, they established their own way to be right with God.


Their way involved an abuse of the law.

  • They attempted to make the law (and membership badges)…
  • The way to be made right with God.


But Paul argued that Christ is the goal and the finish line of the law.

  • Righteousness comes through Christ, not obedience to the law…
  • Or any other man-made entryway into the people of God.
  • To be right with God is to be right with Christ. Period.


In Deuteronomy 10:5-8…

  • Paul unpacks this “law-righteousness-Jesus” thing a bit more.


Specifically, Paul contrasts:

  • Righteousness “out of” the law.
  • Righteousness “out of” faith.


Before we can dive into Paul’s contrasts…

  • I think it will be helpful to deal with our misconceptions of the law.


We will do this by exposing our Christian caricatures of the law.

  • And we will expose them by looking at two contrasts of the law.



The Law – Caricature 1:

Let’s start with Romans 7:22-23:

  • Romans 7:22–23 (ESV) — 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 25b So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


Some months ago, we learned in this passage, that Paul never threw the law under the bus.

  • He lamented the fact that the “law of sin” corrupted the law.


In other words, his experience of the law before Christ…

  • Was in the domain of sin.
  • A domain that warped and corrupted the law.


Paul teased this out by discussing the tension he saw with law in his own life.

  • (1) His good intentions with the law.
  • (2) Evil’s grasp of the law (within the domain of sin and death).


N.T. Wright helped us understand this tension.



Good Intentions with the Law:

Of the first, Wright said:

  • “Imagine Paul as a young man praying Psalm 19 or Psalm 119, studying Torah prayerfully day and night, longing to wrap it around him like a cloak, to make it his way of life, his every breath. Not only is there nothing wrong with that; it is exactly what Israel was meant to do” – N.T. Wright.


This reflects the zeal Paul had for the law as a good Jew.

  • The zeal he spoke of in Romans 10:2 that his fellow Jews shared.
  • …I bear witness that they have a zeal for God…


But Paul’s good intentions with the law before Christ…

  • And the experience of his fellow Jews who were also living under the “law of sin”.
  • Didn’t play out as hoped…and it wasn’t the law’s fault.



Evil’s Grasp of the Law:

Under the “law of sin”, the God’s law is under the power of “evil’s grasp”:

  • “But the closer you hug the law to yourself, if you are still ‘in Adam’, the more the law is bound to say ‘But you’re a sinner!’ Worse: it will not only accuse, it will tempt…[and bring death]. It looks as though the law has developed a shadowy copy of itself, a negative identity which seems to be fighting on the side of sin against what the ‘I’ longs to do” – N.T. Wright.


This reflects the condition of the Jew Paul laments over in Romans 9 and 10.

  • The Jew that stumbled over Christ.


The kingdom of darkness – the power of sin and death – corrupted a right relationship with the law.

  • The law itself became the servant of sin and death.
  • As a result, the law became a tyrant.
  • A brutal taskmaster.



Saving the Law – Killing Caricature 1:

But the law was never intended to be a tyrant and taskmaster.

  • It was mean to be a joy and delight.
  • In fact, the law was never the problem.


The law was corrupted by the kingdom of darkness…

  • Of being “in Adam” and being “under sin”.


Why is this important to understand?


Christians look at the law itself as problematic…this is simply wrong.

  • We have caricatured the law to artificially magnify the Gospel.


OT Scholar Christopher Wright calls our mischaracterizations of the law:

“…a distorted theology that tries unnecessarily to gild the gospel by denigrating the law” – Christopher Wright.


Such a view does injustice to a right view of the law.


Look at the Psalmists view of the law.

  • Psalm 119:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!


Again…lets look at Christopher Wright:

“The frequent claims by various psalmists to have lived according to God’s law are neither exaggerated nor exceptional. They arise from the natural assumption that ordinary people can indeed live in a way that is broadly pleasing to God and faithful to God’s law, and that they can do so as a matter of joy and delight.”


Yes…the law could be followed in such a way that it brought “joy and delight”.

  • This will be helpful when we get into Paul’s use of Deut. 30 next week.


But to clarify, Wright follows this with a helpful observation:

“This is neither self-righteousness nor a claim to sinless perfection, for the same psalmists are equally quick to confess their sin and failings, fully realizing that only the grace that could forgive and cleanse them would likewise enable them to live again in covenant obedience.”


This joyful experience of the law was only possible in a grace.

  • In a place outside of evil’s ability to warp and corrupt the law.
  • It was God’s grace that “powered” a right relationship with the law.


And Wright finishes his point:

“Obedience to the law in the ot, as has been stressed repeatedly, was not the means of achieving salvation but the response to a salvation that was already experienced” – Christopher Wright.


Note he says, “a response to a salvation that was already experienced”.

  • This is the crucial bit.
  • The law in the context of grace was a beautiful thing.


Again, the is why the Psalmist can say:

  • Psalm 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.


Remember Paul – “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2).

  • To stand in grace, is to no longer stand “in the way of sinners”.


In this place, the law is a delight.

  • The law is worth meditating on day and night.
  • Even for the Christian.


Do we think the law – the instruction of God – is worth meditating on day and night?

  • If not, why?


The Law – Caricature 2:

The second caricature concerning the law – God’s instruction…

  • Arises from a basic mishandling of how we approach the law.


Generally, there are (from OT scholar Scott Booth/Eric Smith)…

  • Two ways God’s law or instruction can be approached.


It can approached as:

  • (1) Statutory Law
  • (2) Common Law (Ancient Near Eastern Context)


As we unpack these two…

  • It will become readily apparent which one produces the caricature…
  • And which one is in line with Paul’s view of the law.



Statutory Law:

So what is a statutory approach to law?


For purposes of our conversation…

  • The statutory law view is one that literally…
  • Takes the text – the words – of the law to be the law (Scott Booth/Eric Smith).
  • To abide by the law is to literally do what the text says.


Here is an example from the state of Virginia law code:

  • “If any person commit robbery by partial strangulation, or suffocation, or by striking or beating, or by other violence to the person, or by assault or otherwise putting a person in fear of serious bodily harm, or by the threat or presenting of firearms, or other deadly weapon or instrumentality whatsoever, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in a state correctional facility for life or any term not less than five years.” (18.2-58)


Couple of questions:

  • So, literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


Let’s look at one more example…just for fun.

  • “If any person, armed with a deadly weapon, shall enter any banking house, in the daytime or in the nighttime, with intent to commit larceny of money, bonds, notes, or other evidence of debt therein, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony.” (18.2-93)


Same questions:

  • So, literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


I think we get the point.

  • The text itself is the law.
  • And to abide by the law is to literally abide by the text.



ANE Common Law:

We now need to contrast this with the ANE view of law.

  • So what is the ANE approach to the law?


I great way to start is to take a couple of NT and OT examples of law/instruction…

  • And show how the statutory approach misses the mark.



(1) Our first example comes from Deuteronomy.

  • Deuteronomy 25:4 (ESV) — 4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.


On a statutory approach…

  • Literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


If the statutory approach is the correct way to approach this law…

  • Does this law have any use outside of Ox users?


On this approach…

  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to delight and meditate on this example of God’s instruction.


Now, let’s look at what happens when we take a different approach.


Let’s take the approach that does not see the text as the literal law itself.

But, instead, lets approach this as if the text is an “application of some specific principal” – Eric Smith.


In other words, on the ANE approach…the law is really a greater principal behind the text.

  • The law is not primarily the text itself.
  • It is just an example of the greater principal – God’s wisdom – played out.
  • The text is just an application of the greater principal.


In taking this approach, we have to figure out what the greater principal is.

  • But…alas…this requires some effort on our behalf!


However, when we do this, we are taking the ANE approach to the law.

  • So let’s see what this looks like.


Fortunately, the apostle Paul is going to help us out with this first example.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:9–12 (ESV) — 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.


Aha…now we can grasp what an ANE/Biblical approach to God’s law and instruction looks like.

  • Given what Paul tells us, what is the greater principal behind the oxen law?



Reflect Time:

So on the ANE approach…Paul’s approach:

  • What we are after is the wisdom of God…
  • The wisdom that is the source of the application found in the specific text.
  • A wisdom that can have an enormous range of application.


This is awesome stuff!

  • Why?


This is how we can delight in the law and instruction of God.

  • And thus delight in God Himself.


Importantly, what happens to this law if we come at it with a statutory approach?

  • Comparatively speaking, it becomes lifeless.
  • Not something we can delight in and meditate on.
  • But something easily corrupted into legalism.


And the worst part?

  • It doesn’t bring us into a deeper contact and appreciation of Yahweh and His wisdom.


BTW – On a side note, taking the statutory approach also does something else problematic.

  • It makes Paul out to be a loose and lousy OT interpreter.



(2) Our second example comes from Peter.

  • 1 Peter 3:3 (ESV) — 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—


So, once again, on a statutory approach…

  • Literally, what is the “law” in this example?
  • What does breaking this law entail?


If the statutory approach is the correct way to approach this law…

  • Does this law have any use outside of wives/women who wear jewelry?


Like our previous example, on this approach…

  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to delight and meditate on this example of God’s instruction.
  • It is just a to-do list one checks off.


In fact, quite honestly…

  • It comes across as a bit controlling and dehumanizing to the wife/woman.
  • “Hey wifey. You’re not allowed to wear that stuff. Take it off and look plain!”


Moreover, any single dude would just blow right through this…

  • Looking for the stuff where Peter talks about guns and ammo.


So, again, lets approach this as if the text is an “application of some specific principal” – Eric Smith.

  • What is the greater principal?
  • What is the wisdom God is displaying behind this text?


To really unpack it, we need to know something about the cultural context.

  • So we have to do some work.


Which, again, is why the easy and lazy way to deal with the law…

  • Is to come at it from a statutory approach.


So what is the cultural context that will help us?

  • Like today, women (and men) back then wore jewelry for a number of reasons.
  • A common one was to demonstrate a certain level of status.


But, unlike today in the west, the jewelry a woman wore…

  • Also represented her value in the economy of marriage.


In other words…

  • It often times was part of the dowry her paternal family gave to her new husband.


This dowry – i.e., the jewelry – demonstrated that the marriage was a “good one”.

  • The marriage brought her husband additional honor and status.
  • And the marriage transaction gave the wife value.


This system of marriage…

  • Was extremely dehumanizing to women and wives.


All of this stuff, then, is the context we need to get at the general principal behind Peter’s instruction.

  • It will help us see God’s wisdom.
  • A wisdom that any person – married/unmarried or female/male – can delight in.


So what is the principal and wisdom behind Peter’s instruction?


For the Christian, there is a new marriage economy.

  • And it does not revolve around the wife finding meaning in the extent of her dowry.
  • Or by the husband finding the wife adequate due to her dowry.
  • Their value and identity are no longer wrapped up in marriage economics.


On an ANE Common Law approach to this instruction of God:

  • Peter actually humanizes the wife.
  • He turns the old economy of marriage on its head.


Very simply…in Christian marriage:

  • The wife’s identity, worth and value are no longer found in…
  • What her father gave…
  • Or what her husband received…
  • Or what she brought to the table.


Her identity and worth are now found in Christ.


But we can’t stop there.

  • If all this is true…the wisdom behind Peter’s instruction is not just for the wife.


It also leverages God’s wisdom against the husband.

  • Is the Christian husband to continue seeing the wife’s value in her dowry or status?
  • Absolutely not!
  • What must happen to him?


But wait…there’s more!

  • If you compare the statutory approach to the ANE approach using Peter’s instruction…
  • You actually make a surprising discovery.


If we take the statutory approach to this instruction…

  • We can actually violate the general principal and wisdom behind the text.


Scott Booth puts it like this:

“By doing the statutory law we could risk violating what Peter is actually instructing; we could actually be dehumanizing towards wives/women/our daughters” – Scott Booth.


In other words, if we say to our wives…

  • Do not wear jewelry or make your hair pretty.
  • What have we done?


We have corrupted the principal, by bringing to the foreground…

  • The act of jewelry wearing.


The point now becomes:

  • “I am pleasing to my husband and a secure in my wifehood because I don’t wear jewelry.”


Doing this bulldozes right over the principal of Peter’s words.

  • Namely, to foreground the beauty of the saved heart!


Or as Peter puts it in the very next verse:

  • 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV) — 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.


The wife’s new adorning is Christ.

  • This means the husband gets a new adorning too – Christ.


So let me ask you, on an ANE approach…does Peter’s instruction apply only to women/wives?

  • No way!


BTW – Now we can make sense of what seems like an obvious contradiction between Peter’s instruction and any decent study Bible.

  • Peter says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear”
  • NIVZ Study Bible says, “Peter does not forbid wearing fine clothing, jewelry, and going to the salon”.



Saving the Law – Killing Caricature 2:

Now we can begin to kill off this second caricature we make of the law.

  • The statutory approach that sees the text as the


We can now embrace God’s instruction and law…

  • As a source of happiness and delight in God.
  • As a fount of wisdom and principals from God.


We can now see why to grasp God’s instruction…

  • We must meditate on it.
  • Which happens well when we understand its context.


The following clip (just a couple minutes) will be a great way to finish off this lesson:

  • It ties together everything we have discussed.
  • And impresses upon us the need to delight in God’s law…like Paul did.




The bottom line is this:

  • If we don’t love and know the law like Paul did, we can’t know and love Christ like Paul did.


And now that we have exposed our Christian caricatures of the law

  • We are now better equipped to understand this.


We can now navigate Paul’s use of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in Romans 10…

  • Without caricaturing Paul’s talk of the law.


Romans Law – Obedience or Badges

When we dealt with Romans 7:1-4 we learned the following:

  • We have been freed from the demands of the law.
  • This happened because we died to the law.
  • We died to the law by virtue of our participation in the death of Christ.
  • But, importantly, we are also united to His life and resurrection.
  • And so because we have gone through this death-resurrection-life process, we can now “bear fruit for God”.


Simple enough.

  • But then we saw that Paul made a rather startling claim about the law, in verse 5.
  • Romans 7:5 (ESV) — 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

Paul is saying that though God gave the law to the Jews it did not lead to righteousness.

  • In fact, it didn’t even bear fruit “for God”.
  • It lead to the bearing of fruit for the master of the dominion of sin – what Paul calls here “death”.


Or to put in the language of Romans 5’s Adam and Christ:

“Paul is making the striking and controversial claim that the law, when given to Israel, formed a bond between Israel and … not God, as one might have supposed, but rather Adam” – N.T. Wright.


The rest of Romans 7 follows on the heels of this controversial claim.

  • But today I want to back up a bit.
  • We need a bigger picture of what is going on in Paul’s ministry.



Paul’s Law Context:

We can piece together the story with the Bible’s help.

  • Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver aid to Jewish Christians.
  • Acts 19:21 (ESV) — 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”


Apparently, there was a severe grain shortage in Jerusalem brought on by failed crops in Egypt.

  • This shortage brought on a huge increase in the price of grain.


Ben Witherington III says this:

  • “There is considerable evidence that poverty and food shortages were ongoing problems the early church in Jerusalem had to cope with…”
  • The grain shortage made things worse.


Paul tells us the same thing.

  • Romans 15:25–26 (ESV) — 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.


Paul goes on to say:

  • It is right that Gentiles, who have been privileged to share in the Jew’s spiritual blessings, are right to share their physical blessings with those in need in Jerusalem.


But, Paul has a concern about the reception he and his Gentile aid will get in Jerusalem.

  • Romans 15:30–31 (ESV) — 30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,


So Paul has two concerns:

  • (1) Unbelieving Jews who “see him as a traitor, a blasphemer, someone who has led Jewish people astray and destroyed the grip of the law of Moses on their lives” – N.T. Wright.
  • (2) Believing Jews who “may well find it difficult to accept money raised from non-Jewish sources” – N.T. Wright.

Upon Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem, Luke gives us more detail – he also blurs the lines between the two distinctions above.

  • Acts 21:17–22 (ESV) — 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.


So what?

  • Most believe that the Jewish Christians at Rome were part of the “zealous for the law” crowd.
  • So Paul, especially in Romans 7, is addressing their concerns.
  • Namely, that he is teaching that Jews should “forsake Moses”.
  • Interestingly, it is possible that in addressing the Jews’ concerns in Romans 7, Paul is fleshing out his response to his critics in Jerusalem.


BTW – The issues raised here are HUGE!

  • It involves the clash between the “New Perspectives on Paul” crowd with the “Traditional Martin Luther Reformation” crowd.
  • I will be greatly over simplifying…sorry.



Jews and the Law:

So to get behind what Paul is teaching about the law in Romans 7 we need to know more about the law.

  • What does it mean to be “zealous for the law”?


On paper, “zealous for the law” is easy enough to understand.

  • It means to be a loyal adherent to the law – BDAG.
  • And to forsake this would mean Paul is an apostate – he is a heretic.


But, attempts to understand this get complicated real fast.

  • What Luke means to say depends entirely on how the law related to salvation.
  • We can simplify two approaches that unpack this.


Ethical Obedience and Law:

It is quite possible that the traditional take on Jews’ “law talk” is correct.

  • That is to say, Paul’s law-talk (“works of the law”) referred to obedience as the way “in” to salvation.
  • Obedience to the law was the way to obtain right standing (righteousness) before God.


And since the law was given to the Jews, it was easy to lay on top of this a sense of ethnic superiority.

  • Jews were the gatekeepers to any access one had to be right with God.
  • To get to the law you had to go through Judaism.


Ethnic Badges and Law:

But there is a second idea of how all this “law talk” played out.

  • Essentially, to speak of the law was to speak of, not obedience…
  • But of the badges of membership in the people of God.
  • The badges of membership were circumcision, Sabbath keeping, ritual observance (like food laws), etc.


The badges, not obedience, made you right with God.

  • Why? Because they demonstrated whom the members of the Abrahamic covenant were.
  • And to be saved was to be a member of the covenant.
  • “Salvation came not through achieving a certain number of meritorious works but through belonging to the covenant people of God” – DPL (EP Sanders).


On this view…

  • Obedience did not secure salvation.
  • Obedience was the natural offshoot of “belonging to the covenant people of God”.


Ben Witherington III sums this view up well:

“The obedience one reads about in the OT and early Jewish religion was not obedience in order to obtain right-standing with God, but obedience in response to the divine initiative which was prior”.


This view, even more than the first, was susceptible to ethnic superiority.

  • After all, the badges of membership were all Jewish.



So when Luke speaks of the law in Acts 21 and Paul speaks of the law in Romans 7…

  • To which versions of the law are they referring?


If the first…

  • Then Paul is only fending off a works based salvation.


If the second…

  • His polemic, “is not directed against gaining salvation by doing good works but against believing that salvation was, at least in part, contingent upon belonging to national Israel and observing the Law as a badge of that status” – DPL (Dunn).



Common Sense Time:

Why should we restrict the range of Paul’s beliefs as a Jew (before Christ)?

  • Like all of us, his views surely evolved, changed, slide around, changed emphasis, etc., as he grew and learned.
  • To think that Paul or any other Jew believed the same thing and only the same thing throughout their life is a bit unrealistic.


In fact, a huge critique of Paul is that he seems to be inconsistent when speaking about the law.

  • If he were speaking always and only on one view of the law, this is a fair charge.
  • But I don’t think he is.


Which view – obedience or badges – of “works of the law” is this verse attacking?

  • Romans 2:28–29 (ESV) — 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, 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.
  • Doesn’t this verse attack the ethnic dimensions of Judaism – the badges?


And this one:

  • Romans 2:21–23 (ESV) — 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.
  • Obedience?


How about this one – which view works here?

  • Galatians 2:16 (ESV) — 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [obedience or badges?] but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
  • Don’t both views work here?


And this one?

  • Romans 2:25 (ESV) — 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.


What about our text from Acts?

  • you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs” – Acts 21:21.
  • Badges?



Big Picture:

The main point for Paul in all of his law-talk is this…“But now, the righteousness of God…

  • However Jews thought, including himself, Paul is redefining the whole story around Christ.
  • In Christ, we can say so much for ethnic (badges) or ethical (obedience) roads to God!
  • Only in Christ is the righteousness of God to be found and appropriated.


Romans 2:17-23 – “Boast in” the Law


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.



  • 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.