Chapter 2 part 2
Scripture taken from the NRSV translation
Paul has established two central truths……
1. All mankind did engage in and continues to engage in rebellion and depravity.
2. Gentiles are clearly guilty of disobeying the truth.
We need to remember that Paul’s key audience are the Jewish leaders of this church and they must begin to see themselves under the same condemnation of sin as the Gentiles.
Romans 2: 17-24
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God
18 and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law,
19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth,
21 you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?
22 You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples?
23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?
24 For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’
We need to remember that not all members of this church were Jews, but there is still a Jewish factor in the church. Now Paul very carefully attacks that key factor of Jewish self-righteousness. We get a sense of what Paul’s dealing with here, we should look at the discussion between Jesus and Pharisees in John’s gospel. The Pharisees were unbelieving men, even though they thought of themselves to be very righteous men. They clung to their heritage as their basis for salvation, after all they would be saved just because they were Jew, descended from Abraham.
John 8: 31-44
31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’
33 They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever.
36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.
38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.’
39 They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did,
40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
41 You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’
42 Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Jesus is telling them that they are not who they think they are; they are not God’s children, but in fact, they are slaves of sin, and are condemned by their sin. Jesus calls them out repeatedly for their hypocrisy, even as they declare their innocence. The Pharisees are dismayed at Jesus accusation, since they see themselves as the height of righteousness after all they are born of Abraham, they bear the name Jew, as Paul says in Romans, and as such, they are saved and automatically going to heaven. Jesus clearly contradicts that logic, saying that their physical birth gives them no automatic place in heaven. And so Paul says that if you bear the name Jew, you better not rest on that alone. Have you noticed that we still do this today, but in a Christian version of the same error.
We already talked about the name Jew, those who relied on their birth heritage from Abraham. Now Paul moves through a list of assumed advantages of being a Jew, they rely upon law, they boast in God, they know His will, and approve the things that are essential. And with these advantages, the Jews secured a superior attitude. They were the ones leading the blind Gentile nation into the truth, and they can correct the foolish and disciple the immature concerning how to please God, and based on their having access to a form of God’s knowledge of truth. In these statements, Paul simply repeats the prevailing attitudes and beliefs common to the Jewish culture. Even though Paul gave careful argument for how all men are corrupt by nature and under condemnation, the Jews still didn’t get it.
Paul asked them to consider the various ways in which they fall short of the very rules and standards they claim are their advantage. As Jews, they claim to be an authority on righteousness for others. Paul ask them a list of questions, do Jews steal, do they commit adultery, do the take idols from temples for their own use? So the Jews are breaking the very Law that they brag about. How is this an honor to God? Then Paul quotes Isaiah 52:5 to them, through a Jewish prophet, God spoke to them saying that he behavior of the Jewish nation didn’t reflect righteousness. It shamed the name of God among the Gentile nations.
Romans 2: 25-29
25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
26 So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical.
29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
Paul now introduces the final, and perhaps the most personal symbol of righteousness within the Jewish culture – circumcision. Circumcision was an outward sign given to the Jewish of the Abraham Covenant. Paul says that if the sign was going to signify righteousness, it would only be because the person was completely obedient to the Law. But if someone has a label of uncircumcised, but they were to live according to the Law, so it’s the ones who are actually righteous who wear the label of righteousness.
That last verse does shed some insight on where Paul is headed in his letter. True circumcision was never meant to be an act in the flesh of the human body. God gave men the physical circumcision to observe a covenant and to point to a redeemer. But the Jews came to think that circumcision automatically gave them righteousness and eternal security. But Paul says that there is a kind of circumcision that does grant righteousness. There is circumcision of the heart, given by the Spirit.