Romans 2:17 – 3:8
- Religious Knowledge (of the Law) Cannot Shelter the Jew (2:17-24)
- Religious Ceremony (Circumcision) Cannot Shelter the Jew (2:25-29)
- Religious Argument (Theology) Cannot Shelter the Jew (3:1-8)
Religious Knowledge (of the Law) Cannot Shelter the Jew (2:17-24)
Five Distinct Privileges of the Jew (vv.17-20)
¶ 17 But if (1) *thou* art named a Jew, and (2) restest in the law, and (3) makest thy boast in God, 18 and (4) knowest the will, and discerningly approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; 19 and (5) hast confidence that thou thyself art a leader of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and of truth in the law: vv.17-20 Here we have five things given by God that the Jews falsely rested in, but that also made them extremely responsible:
- A special name. The name is the shortened form of Judah, connected with the promised Messiah.
- A moral law. God never gave the law for man to “rest” in. He gave it for man to feel his guilt (Rom. 5:21, Gal. 3:19). Nevertheless it was a privilege because it showed man his need of a Savior outside of himself.
- A covenant relationship. They alone had a relationship with God, not personally like Christians, but they had an external relationship through the law.
- A Knowledge of God’s will. The knew the moral will of God in the issues of life. The conscience of man is like a pair of calipers; it measures my behavior from my moral standard. The law was a “more excellent” standard than what the Gentiles had.
- A place of responsibility among the nations. This was a place intended for them by God which they had fallen far short of (Matt. 15:14). It was God’s mind that the Jews would be His instrument to instruct the Gentiles in things pertaining to the kingdom of God. the Jews were much more responsible than the Gentiles, because those who teach the Word of God must practice the things that they teach. The Jews had utterly failed to practice what they preached, a fact proven by their captivity, etc. Yet one day this privilege will be restored to the Jews again (Rom. 11:25-26). They had “the form”. It is good to have “a form” an outline of the truth (2 Tim. 1:13) but this was an empty form. God will approve of a right spirit without the form, but not the form without a right spirit.
Five Rhetorical Questions to Show the Jews’ Inconsistency (vv.21-24)
- With regard to reality. The application of truth in their practical life was wanting. When teaching is truly received it eventually is practiced (good or bad). The question with the Jews was, were they even receiving the truth?
- With regard to social behavior. The Jews’ ability to come out of a business deal on top was well known.
- With regard to morality. See Matt. 19:9. The Pharisees were putting away their wives for younger models, but keeping a good face through the “divorce clause” in the law; but it was really adultery.
- With regard to idolatry. Sacrilege is trafficking in idols. The Jews at this time were making or selling idols (see Acts 19:37, robbers of idol’s temples) while having no interest in them themselves. They really had no concern for God’s view on idolatry, but they kept up a clean facade.
- With regard to testimony. The spirit of the religious man brings shame down on God. They liked telling the Gentiles about their relationship with God (Matt. 23:17), but their open disobedience to the law showed the true disposition of their hearts.
Religious Ceremony (Circumcision) Cannot Shelter the Jew (2:25-29)
As we find in Genesis 17, circumcision was the sign of God's covenant with Abraham, just as the rainbow was the sign of God's covenant with Noah. Circumcision itself did nothing inward for the soul. It was an outward sign of God's covenant pertaining to outward blessing. The sign was consequent on God’s unconditional promises made to Abraham and his descendants. Those promises will be fulfilled ultimately by Christ, because God is faithful. The sign of circumcision was not given to Abraham as a legal thing, but rather how Abraham might respond to the grace of God.1 Many years later, when the law was given with its conditional promises, it included circumcision as part of the ceremonial law. This linked circumcision with the moral law; "for I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law" (Gal. 5:3). Israel, in breaking the law, disqualified themselves from any outward blessing, and so circumcision became of no profit, and has no place in Christianity.
Quite strongly in Galatians, Paul shows that circumcision for religious purposes2 is expressly prohibited, because sets aside the work of Christ; "that if ye are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing" (Gal. 5:2). Even for a Jew, God never intended circumcision to be rested in without faith. In Romans 2, Paul addresses the issue of Jews who clung to circumcision as an irrevocable pledge of God’s blessing on them regardless of obedience to the law, and believed that it was impossible that God would judge them. The Jews were mistakenly trusting in the rite of circumcision, which has to do with temporal blessing, and were imagining that it secured their eternal blessing. Paul shows that for a Jew, the outward sign of circumcision was not all God was looking for; "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither that circumcision which is outward in flesh; but he is a Jew who is so inwardly; and circumcision, of the heart, in spirit, not in letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Rom. 2:28-29).Their bold and sinful argument was that they could disobey the moral law, but keep the ceremonial law, and they would still be blessed because God was locked in by the covenant with Abraham. Paul shows that this conclusion is false, that the Jew is under the judgment of God, and that the ceremony of circumcision makes him just that much more responsible. Read more…
- Nationally. The Jews as opposed to the Gentiles who are the uncircumcision (vv.26-27; Gal. 2:8-9).
- Medically. A literal procedure to cut off physical flesh (v.28; Gen. 17:1).
- Spiritually. A life of faith that is separated to God from the desires of “the flesh” (v.29; Phil. 3:3).
Religious Argument (Theology) Cannot Shelter the Jew (3:1-8)
vv.1-8 The Jewish mind objected to Paul’s teaching that they were under God’s judgment along with the Gentiles. This is why they continually persecuted him. Naturally, they would raise arguments to prove Paul wrong and to discredit his gospel. Paul knew what these objections were and the Spirit of God uses him to answer them. These questions are the Jew’s attempt to twist the gospel into being a truth that finds fault with God and charges Him with unrighteousness. Paul writes to show that the Gospel actually reveals His righteousness (Rom. 1:17). The Jew also objected to the Mystery because it states that Gentiles brought into the Church are equally blessed in Christ.