“Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” Romans 2:17-24
In our last study we learned more about how God will judge Jews and Gentiles “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:5-6)
The Apostle Paul turned his attention squarely toward his fellow Jews in Romans 2:17.
If you compare what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Jews at the beginning of Romans 2 and what he says beginning with verse 17, it’s obvious that he is turning up the heat on them. It’s important to remember that Paul “loved” his fellow Jews.
[Spoiler alert: this is what Paul wrote about Jews later in his letter to the Romans]
“I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” Romans 9:1-5
Let’s keep that in mind as we look at what Paul wrote to the Jews in Romans 2:17-24.
“Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God …”
ιδε συ ιουδαιος επονομαζη και επαναπαυη τω νομω και καυχασαι εν θεω
ιδε συ ιουδαιος (ide su ioudaios) “if however you a Jew”
επονομαζη και επαναπαυη τω νομω (eponomazé kai epanapaué to nomó) “name yourself and rely on the law”
και καυχασαι εν θεω (kai kauchasai en theó) “and boast in God”
Paul begins by telling the Jews something he knows about them. They call themselves Jews, rely on the Mosaic Law and “boast” in God. Boasting is something the Jews did a lot, and for good reason. God chose them to be His people. He had called them out of slavery in Egypt and given them His Law through His prophet Moses. The Jewish people failed God most of the time during their history as a chosen nation, but they still boasted about their special relationship to God.
Paul is about to make a point about Jews that will hit them hard, but it’s important to remember that Paul wrote from experience. He had been like them prior to meeting Jesus Christ, so he understood them and knew what they needed to hear from him.
“and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law”
και γινωσκεις το θελημα και δοκιμαζεις τα διαφεροντα κατηχουμενος εκ του νομου
και γινωσκεις το θελημα (kai ginóskeis to theléma) “and know the will”
και δοκιμαζεις τα (kai dokimazeis ta) “and approve the things”. The word dokimazeis is a verb that means “put to the test, prove, examine.”
διαφεροντα (diapheronta) is a verb that means “excel, carry through, surpass, differ.”
κατηχουμενος (katéchoumenos) is a verb that means “instruct orally, teach, inform.”
εκ του νομου (ek tou nomou) “out of the law”
Look at how Paul is moving the evidence: the Jews “knew” God’s will, had “proven” the things that were excellent, had been “instructed” out of the Mosaic Law. They were definitely a privileged group.
“and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness”
πεποιθας τε σεαυτον οδηγον ειναι τυφλων φως των εν σκοτει
πεποιθας (pepoithas) verb that means “persuaded, urged”
τε σεαυτον οδηγον ειναι (te seauton odegon einai) “you yourself a guide are” .. the word odegon is a noun that means “leader, teacher, guide.”
τυφλων (tuphlón) is an adjective that means “blind” physically or mentally.
φως των εν σκοτει (phos tón en skotei) “a light to those in darkness”
Paul continues to build his case against the Jews. They viewed themselves as a guide to the blind and a light in the darkness and that’s what they should have been given all of the direct instruction they had received from God for more than a thousand years earlier (at the time Paul wrote Romans).
I’m reminded about what Jesus said to the Pharisees –
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?” Matthew 23:16-17
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24
In the famous Messianic passage of Isaiah 42, God said –
“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” Isaiah 42:6-7
Jesus spoke these words in the synagogue at Nazareth –
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Jesus healed many blind people during His ministry in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. Jesus was more than a guide to the blind – He was their healer.
“an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.”
παιδευτην αφρονων διδασκαλον νηπιων εχοντα την μορφωσιν της γνωσεως και της αληθειας εν τω νομω
παιδευτην (paideutén) is a noun that means “instructor, trainer”
αφρονων (aphronón) is an adjective that means “foolish, senseless”
διδασκαλον (didaskalon) is a noun that means “teacher”
νηπιων (népión) is an adjective that means “infant, child, unlearned”
εχοντα την μορφωσιν (echonta tén morphósin) “having the embodiment” .. morphósin is a noun that means “form, outline”
της γνωσεως (tés gnóseós) “of knowledge” (knowledge that comes from first-hand experience, wisdom)
και της αληθειας (kai tés alétheias) “and of the truth” (truth to fact, reality)
εν τω νομω (en tó nomó) “in the law”
Paul told the Jews what they believed about themselves – instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law – but he’s about to burst their bubble with a powerful series of questions. Jews had many spiritual advantages, but had wasted them on personal aggrandizement and self-righteousness. Paul will use a very interesting approach to show the Jews how they fell short of God’s expectations for them.
“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?”
ο ουν διδασκων ετερον σεαυτον ου διδασκεις ο κηρυσσων μη κλεπτειν κλεπτεις
ο ουν διδασκων ετερον (ho oun didaskón heteron) “you then teaching another”
σεαυτον ου διδασκει (seauton ou didaskei) “yourself not do you teach”
ο κηρυσσων μη κλεπτειν κλεπτεις (ho kerussén mé kleppeis) “you preaching not to steal do you steal”
Paul is digging into the hypocrisy of the Jews. They didn’t practice what they preached.
“You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?”
ο λεγων μη μοιχευειν μοιχευεις ο βδελυσσομενος τα ειδωλα ιεροσυλεις
ο λεγων μη μοιχευειν (ho legón mé moicheuein) “you saying not to commit adultery”
μοιχευεις (moicheueis) “do you commit adultery”
ο βδελυσσομενος τα ειδωλα (ho bdelussomenon ta eidóla) “you abhorring idols” .. bdelussomenon means “detest, loathe, abhor” .. eidóla means “false god, an idol”
ιεροσυλεις (ierosuleis) “do you rob temples” .. one idea of ierosuleis here is that the Jews had taken plunder, treasures, riches from pagan temples. Another idea is that the Jews had failed to pay the Jewish temple tax.
Paul asks one more pointed question to the Jews.
“You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?”
ος εν νομω καυχασαι δια της παραβασεως του νομου τον θεον ατιμαζεις
ος εν νομω καυχασαι (hos en nomó kauchasai) “you who in law boast” (glory, boast)
δια της παραβασεως του νομου (dia tés parabaseós tou nomou) “through the transgression of the law” .. parabaseós means “deviation, overstepping, transgression”
τον θεον ατιμαζεις (ton theon atimazeis) “God dishonor you” .. atimazeis is a verb that means “disgrace, insult, dishonor”
Paul’s last question sounds like an accusation. It’s almost a summary of the earlier questions. Jews boasted in the law, but were actually insulting God by breaking the law in which they boasted.
Paul is done with questions. It’s time to take the Jews to the woodshed.
“For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.”
το γαρ ονομα του θεου δι υμας βλασφημειται εν τοις εθνεσιν καθως γεγραπται
το γαρ ονομα του θεου (to gar onoma tou theou) “the indeed name of God”
δι υμας βλασφημειτα (di umas blasthémeita) “through you is blasphemed” .. blasthémeita is a verb that means “speak evil against”
εν τοις εθνεσιν (en tois ethnesin) “among the gentiles”
καθως γεγραπται (kathós gegraptai) “as it has been written”
These words would sting a Jew and Paul knew it. The Jews, who believed themselves to be the chosen people of God in the world, had actually brought dishonor on God’s name and caused Gentiles to speak evil of God because of them (the Jews).
Let’s not miss the power of Paul’s words. Paul accused Jews of causing blasphemy to be spoken by outsiders because of their actions. God would not stand for any Jew to blaspheme His name –
“And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.” Leviticus 24:16
Paul certainly had the Jews attention with his questions and accusation. Gentiles believed in many gods and their response to those gods was often based on the behavior of the people who worshipped the gods. Paul pointed to the hypocrisy of the Jews and told them that the Gentiles blasphemed Yaweh because of the behavior of the Jews. Strong words indeed.
Paul didn’t mention which Scripture he was referring to when he wrote – “as it is written.” It may have been Isaiah 52:5; 2 Samuel 12:14; Ezekiel 36:22 or some other reference in the Old Testament, but the Jews who read Paul’s words would have recognized it.
“While God and his law were an honour to them, which they boasted of and prided themselves in, they were a dishonour to God and his law, by giving occasion to those that were without to reflect upon their religion, as if that did countenance and allow of such things, which, as it is their sin who draw such inferences (for the faults of professors are not to be laid upon professions), so it is their sin who give occasion for those inferences, and will greatly aggravate their miscarriages. This was the condemnation in David’s case, that he had given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, 2 Sa. 12:14. And the apostle here refers to the same charge against their forefathers: As it is written, v. 24. He does not mention the place, because he wrote this to those that were instructed in the law (in labouring to convince, it is some advantage to deal with those that have knowledge and are acquainted with the scripture), but he seems to point at Isa. 52:5; Eze. 36:22, 23; and 2 Sa. 12:14. It is a lamentation that those who were made to be to God for a name and for a praise should be to him a shame and dishonour. The great evil of the sins of professors is the dishonour done to God and religion by their profession. “Blasphemed through you; that is, you give the occasion for it, it is through your folly and carelessness. The reproaches you bring upon yourselves reflect upon your God, and religion is wounded through your sides.” A good caution to professors to walk circumspectly.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Romans, 1706
In the next part of our study we will look at how Paul raised a key point in the thinking of the Roman Jews that was at the heart and soul of their belief system.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.