“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is oneoutwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:25-29
The Apostle Paul put the Jews in Rome through some tough questioning in this letter. We saw in our last study that he first told them he knew what they thought of themselves –
- rest on the Law
- make their boast in God
- know His will
- approve the things that are excellent
- being instructed out of the Law
- confident that they 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
Then Paul asked the Jews pointed questions for the purpose of showing them that they were not at all what they thought they were, especially in the eyes of God.
- 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?
Paul then drove his point home with this startling accusation –
“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” Romans 2:24
Paul followed his piercing accusation with a powerful declaration that cut to the heart and soul of Judaism.
“For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
περιτομη μεν γαρ ωφελει εαν νομον πρασσης εαν δε παραβατης νομου ης η περιτομη σου ακροβυστια γεγονεν
περιτομη (peritomé) “circumcision”
God gave circumcision to Abraham as part of the ‘Seed’ covenant. The Seed covenant began in the Garden of Eden –
“So the Lord God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:14-15
Eve, the wife of Adam and mother of Cain and Abel, said this after she gave birth to Seth –
“For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” Genesis 4:25
Eve believed God for the ‘Seed’ He promised in the Garden and believed Seth would be that ‘Seed.’ She was correct in that Abraham was a descendant of Seth (genealogy of Seth to Abraham in Genesis 5) and Jesus was a descendant of Abraham (genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1 and Luke 3).
God called Abram out of paganism (see Joshua 24:2) to leave his home and travel to a land that God would give him –
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3
God promised Abram a child who would be the promised ‘Seed,’ even though Abram and his wife were old and had not been able to have children.
“And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:4-6
Even though Abram believed God, his wife didn’t and talked Abram into sleeping with an Egyptian slave woman so they would have a child. Abram named his son with Hagar, Ishmael. When Ishmael was 13 years old, God appeared to Abram and said –
“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”” Genesis 17:1-14
We see in this portion of God’s Word why circumcision was so important to Jews. It was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and with “every male child in your generations.” If a male child was not circumcised, “that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
But what about the ‘Seed’ of promise? Was it Ishmael? Abraham circumcised Ishmael, so he must have been the promised lineage of the ‘seed.’ Right? Not exactly.
Abraham did have a son with his wife Sarah and called him Isaac. Here’s what God said about Isaac and his older half-brother Ishmael –
“So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.’ And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.” Genesis 21:8-13
So, there are now two ‘seeds.’ How does that work since they were both circumcised. God made it clear to Abraham that “in Isaac your seed shall be called,” but He also promised to “make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”
Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Galatia several years before he wrote to the Romans and explained the ‘two seeds’ of Abraham clearly –
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.’ Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” Galatians 4:21-31
Paul used the word “promise” twice because that is the heart of the covenant to Eve and Abraham. Paul told the Galatians – “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” Though both of Abraham’s sons were circumcised, Ishmael and Isaac, only one son was ‘promised’ and that was Isaac.
Just one more verse about the ‘Seed’ – “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:18) I invite you to read Genesis 22:1-19 as it contains great insight to the original promise of God from Genesis 3:15 and its fulfillment in Christ.
It’s important that we have this background to “circumcision” so we can understand the impact of how Jews would have heard Paul’s words in Romans 2:25 – “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
Let’s continue –
περιτομη μεν γαρ ωφελει (peritomé men gar óphelei) “circumcision indeed profits” .. óphelei is a verb that means “help, benefit, do good, profit”
εαν νομον πρασσης (ean nomen prassés) “if the law you practice” .. prassés is a verb that means the process of “accomplishing” a deed
εαν δε παραβατης νομου ης (ean de parabatés nomou és) “if however a transgressor of law you are” .. parabatés is a noun that means “lawbreaker, violator, transgressor”
η περιτομη σου (hé peritomé sou) “the circumcision of you”
ακροβυστια γεγονεν (akrobustia gegonen) “uncircumcision has become” .. the word akrobustia is used figuratively in the sense that a person would be outside of God’s covenant even if they had been circumcised in the flesh. The person who was ‘uncircumcised’ would not belong to the promised ‘Seed’ through whom the promises of God would come.
This is truly powerful, but Paul is just getting started.
In the next part of our study, Paul builds a strong case for Jews to help them comprehend a new and different way of looking at ‘circumcision’ and ‘uncircumcision.’
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.