“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 one outwardly, 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
In our last study we looked at verse 25 and Paul’s powerful declaration that “circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Circumcision was so important to Jews because it was the sign of God’s covenant to Abraham and his descendants. The idea of becoming “uncircumcision” (which is what they called Gentiles) would have been abhorrent to the Jews.
Paul now takes this idea to an even more powerful level – that of an obedient Gentile judging a Jew!
“Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?”
εαν ουν η ακροβυστια τα δικαιωματα του νομου φυλασση ουχι η ακροβυστια αυτου εις περιτομην λογισθησεται
εαν ουν η ακροβυστια (ean oun hé akrobustia) “if therefore the uncircumcision” .. akrobustia means “foreskin” and was a word Jews used for Gentiles.
τα δικαιωματα του νομου φυλασση (ta dikaiómata tou nomou phulassé) “the requirement of the law keeps” .. dikaiómata means “a thing pronounced to be just, righteous”
ουχι η ακροβυστια αυτου (ouchi hé akrobustia autou) “not the uncircumcision of him”
εις περιτομην λογισθησεται (eis peritomén logisthésetai) “for circumcision will be reckoned” .. logisthésetai means “reason, decide, conclude, reckon, count, charge with” .. it’s the idea of coming to a logical conclusion.
Paul’s logic here is that if uncircumcised Gentiles keeps the Law, they would be regarded as if circumcised. He’s not saying that Gentiles keep the law, but is making a point with the Jews. The Jews had the Law and the Covenant, but an uncircumcised Gentile who kept the Law would condemn the circumcised Jew who broke the Law. Reminds us of what Jesus said in Luke 11 –
“And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, ‘This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” Luke 11:29-32
Jesus used two Gentile groups (Queen of the South and men of Nineveh) to show the Jews they were an “evil generation.” Paul is saying something similar about Jews and Gentiles.
Jews had all the advantages (Law and Covenant) while Gentiles had none. However, Paul’s point was that a Law-abiding Gentile would be strong evidence against a Law-breaking Jew.
“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?
και κρινει η εκ φυσεως ακροβυστια τον νομον τελουσα σε τον δια γραμματος και περιτομης παραβατην νομου
και κρινει (kai krinei) “and will judge”
η εκ φυσεως ακροβυστια (hé ek pheuseós akrobustia) “the by nature uncircumcision” .. pheuseós means “inherent nature, birth origin”
τον νομον τελουσα (eon nomou telousa) “the law fulfilling” .. telousa means “accomplish, finish, fulfill”
σε τον δια γραμματος και περιτομης (se ton dia grammatos kai peritomés) “you who with the letter and circumcision”
παραβατην νομου (parabatén nomou) “are a transgressor of law” .. parabaten means “law-breaker, transgressor”
Paul reminded the Jews that they had received the letter (Law) and circumcision (Covenant) and yet had broken the Law. His point about Gentiles (physically uncircumcised) who fulfilled the Law judging Jews (physically circumcised) who had broken the Law was yet another stinging rebuke to Jews.
How could that be? What logical explanation could Paul possibly present to support such an outrageous statement?
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh”
ου γαρ ο εν τω φανερω ιουδαιος εστιν ουδε η εν τω φανερω εν σαρκι περιτομη
ου γαρ ο εν (ou gar ho en) “not indeed the one on”
τω φανερω ιουδαιος εστιν (tó phaneró ioudaios estin) “the outward a Jew is”
ουδε η εν (oude hé en) “neither the one outwardly”
τω φανερω εν σαρκι περιτομη (tó phaneró en sarki peritoué) “the outward in flesh is circumcision”
Paul is introducing an amazing concept to Jews who depended on their outward appearance (e.g. circumcision). True circumcision is not that which is outward in the flesh. This is God’s logic.
“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.”
αλλ ο εν τω κρυπτω ιουδαιος και περιτομη καρδιας εν πνευματι ου γραμματι ου ο επαινος ουκ εξ ανθρωπων αλλ εκ του θεου
αλλ ο εν τω κρυπτω ιουδαιος (all ho en tó kruptó ioudaios) “but he that is on the inward a Jew” .. kruptó means “inward nature, hidden, secret”
και περιτομη καρδιας (kai peritomé kardias) “and circumcision is of heart”
εν πνευματι (en pneumati) “in spirit”
ου γραμματι (ou grammati) “not in letter”
ου ο επαινος ουκ εξ ανθρωπων (hou ho epainos ouk ex anthrópón) “of whom the praise is not of men” .. epainos means “commendation, approval, praise”
αλλ εκ του θεου (all ek tou theou) “but of God”
Remember that Jews depended on their connection to God’s covenant with Abraham and the Law God gave Israel through Moses for their salvation. Paul has just destroyed their dependance as being wrong in God’s sight. Being a Jew is inward, not outward. It is circumcision of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter. Praise is from God, not from men. God decides who receives His praise.
Here are more thoughts about the meaning of what Paul wrote in Romans 2 –
“And circumcision is that of the heart – That is, that circumcision which is acceptable to God. and which meets the design of the institution, is what is attended with holiness of heart; with the cutting off of sins; and with a pure life. The design of circumcision was to be a sign of separation from the pagan world, and of consecration to the holy God. And this design implied the renunciation and forsaking of all sins; or the cutting off of everything that was offensive to God. This was a work especially of the heart. This design was often stated and enforced in the writings of the Old Testament; Deuteronomy 10:16, ‘Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked;’ Jeremiah 4:4; Deuteronomy 30:6.” Barnes’ Notes On The Bible
“But he is a Jew which is one inwardly,…. Who has an internal work of grace upon his soul: who has not only an outward name, but an inward nature; not the law of God in the hand, but in the heart; not an external righteousness only, but internal holiness; and who is not a mere outward court worshipper, but a worshipper of God in Spirit and in truth.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
“Which is one inwardly – Who has his heart purified, according to what God has uniformly prescribed by his prophets; see above: for circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, εν πνευματι by the Spirit of God, who is the author of all spiritual affections and holy purposes: or, every thing here is to be understood spiritually, and not literally; for without holiness none can please God, and without holiness none can see him.” Clarke’s Commentary
“He is a right and true Jew, an Israelite indeed, that hath taken away the foreskin of his heart, Jeremiah 4:4; that is cleansed from all corrupt affections, and hath laid aside all superfluity of naughtiness; that worshippeth God in the Spirit, rejoiceth in Christ Jesus, and hath no confidence in the flesh. Such are the circumcision and Jews indeed: see Philippians 3:3.” Matthew Poole’s Commentary
What Paul did in Romans 2 was to summarize what it meant to be a Jew. Any Jew of his day reading those words would have immediately understood the stinging rebuke.
Remember what Paul wrote the Christians in Philippi –
“If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. ” Philippians 3:4-6
The Apostle Paul had grown up depending on all of these ‘fleshly’ aspects of Judaism –
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which isthrough faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11
Paul was not an armchair academician. He was the real thing – a Jew whose confidence was no longer in his flesh, but in Christ Jesus his Lord.
We have completed our study of Romans 2. Next time we will move to Romans 3 where Paul defends God’s right to judge all of humanity.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.