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Romans 2:25-29 by Robert Dean
In Romans, Paul tells us what we believe and why we believe it. As we get into verse 17, Paul begins to address the Jews and their boastfulness. What does Paul mean when he uses the term ?Jew?? What does it mean to be a Jew? This lesson breaks down the history of Judaism and takes a look at the different ways this term (and other terms for Israel) have developed, as well as what Paul is saying about the significance of circumcision.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 51 secs

Spiritual Circumcision
Romans 2:25–29
Romans Lesson #026
July 14, 2011

What does Paul mean when he uses the term “Jew”? What is a Jew? If we go through the New Testament the term “Jew” is used with several different meanings and it is important to understand the different senses and the different meanings that we find. Here are several terms that are used in the Scripture that are used to the Jewish people. They are referred to as Hebrews, as Israelites, and as a Jew—IOUDAIOS. The term IOUDAIOS in the Greek has its etymological derivation from the name of the founder of the tribe of Judah. Judah was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Because it is the largest tribe in the south it becomes identified with the southern kingdom after the division of the kingdom. In the period of the united kingdom the nation is referred to as Israel. In the divided kingdom Judah was the southern kingdom and Israel was the northern kingdom. After the demise of the northern kingdom in 722 BC the term “Israel” is used a few times to refer to the southern kingdom but it is still referred to primarily as Judah, and then in the Roman period of the New Testament it is referred to by its Roman credential name of Judea. The term “Jew” comes from the first syllable of the word Judah and was applied by the Jewish people to themselves as a common term that was used as a reference to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Today we have a number of different terms that derive from that and they have to be distinguished. We have the terms “Jew, Jewish, Jewry, Judaic, and the Judaism.” Judaism is really an interesting thing to get our hands on because what is going on with the Pharisees and Sadducees who believed different things at the time of Christ is not the same as modern Judaism. Pharisaism is a sort of Granddaddy of modern Judaism but it is not quite the same. Everything shifted with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The Sadducees, because they are really the religious liberals, are a lot like modern liberals; they really don’t believe that God is i9nvolved in human affairs or human history, they are just the religious rationalists of that era. They don’t have anything in their theology or beliefs that enable them to survive the destruction of the temple. But the Pharisees do, and it is the Pharisees who come together in the AD 90s at the Council of Jamnia to answer the question: How are we going to survive in terms of our religious beliefs in an era when we don’t have an ark of the covenant, an altar on which to sacrifice, or a temple to worship God? They restructured their beliefs so that the Jews in the diaspora could survive and go forward, and that is the groundwork that is laid for modern Judaism. The survivors of the Jewish rebellion are the Pharisees and their theology.

Historic Orthodox Judaism dominated from the Council of Jamnia up to the mid to late 1700s and it is at that point when there was the first break-out away from Orthodoxy in Judaism, and that becomes known as Reformed Judaism. Reformed Judaism is equivalent to liberal Protestantism, it is a rejection of the idea that God could speak to man, a rejection of objective truth, and completely influenced by Enlightenment rationalism. So it rejects the historic traditions of the Jews, rejects Orthodoxy, and they go all the way to the left hand of the spectrum. There were some in the early 1800s who weren’t happy with Orthodoxy but they didn’t want to be as liberal as Reformed Judaism. They come back about halfway and are called “conservative.” They are not conservative in relation to Orthodoxy, they are conservative in relation to Reformed; they are not as liberal as Reformed. When we look at these terms like “Orthodox, conservative and Reformed” in terms of how they are used in an evangelical Protestant tradition they have a completely different meaning. Conservative Protestantism holds rigorously to the inspiration and infallibility of the text. When we use the term “Reformed” in Christianity we refer to those who followed the thinking of Calvin, Zwingli, of the Reformation, especially as it played itself out in Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, etc., so that is still a very biblically orthodox tradition. So these terms have completely different nuances when applied to Judaism.

In the first century it is a conservative view of the text but it is one that is somewhat similar to what we see in Roman Catholicism—the Scripture plus tradition. Whenever we look at the authority of Scripture and add something to it, whatever we add to it ultimately dominates and takes over and controls Scripture. So when we say it is Scripture plus some sort of mysticism, Scripture plus tradition, Scripture plus reason, whatever is plus takes over and ultimately changes Scripture alone. That is why in the Reformation one of the slogans was Sola Scriptura, meaning by the Scripture alone. It rejected the Roman Catholic view that the tradition of the early church fathers gave an oral tradition that had equal authority to the written teaching of the Scripture and that the written teaching of the Scripture, that authority and revelation from God, continued through the papacy and through the church fathers so that their traditions could be used to reinterpret what the Scriptures said.

That was the same kind of thing that they had in Judaism in the first century. They had tradition that had built up after the return from the captivity in Babylon and this tradition has the initial acceptable goal of trying to preserve and protect the people from going back into idolatry. But immediately that does what every human-based religion does, it forgets to trust in God, rejects His authority alone, and sets up human traditions and guidelines as the ultimate authority. That is what led to the development of Pharisaism some time around the middle of the second century BC to the middle of the first century BC. And they were the religious conservatives, the religious moralists in Judaism. So when we think of what it means to be a Jew it is important to understand those distinctions because they do play a role in how that term “Jew” is used by different writers ion the Scriptures.

In the Bible the term “Israel” becomes identified with the northern kingdom. First of all the term “Israel” comes from God as a name or title that He gave to Jacob at Peniel because he wrestled with God and then came to be one who was a prince with God. It is interesting that when Jacob is referred to as Israel the text is usually focusing on his more positive spiritual attributes, and when the text uses the term “Jacob” it is usually referring to his function on the sin nature apart from God. The term “Judah” applies to the southern kingdom and stays with that after the Babylonian captivity. Following the Babylonian captivity the term Judah or Judea referred to those inhabitants of Judea and it was shortened to Jews. Israel was the formal and preferred name but Jew was the common self-designation.

Each Gospel writer gives us the term a little differently. Mark and Luke don’t really use it much, other than the title for Jesus as the King of the Jews. Matthew is more consistent with a rabbinic preference, using the term “Israel” as the more formal name and the use of the term “Jews” as a more common one for the people.

In some cases the term “Jews” is also used for the Jewish people as a whole but in other contexts only those Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. It was not just simply an ethnic or regional term, it also was used to refer those of Israelite descent who had rejected Jesus. John is the one who uses it most. Thus that term becomes associated with post-temple Judaism. That term begins to put down roots in the second century in Christian writings.

The term “the Jews” is also used to refer to the religious leadership of the Jewish people who are steadfastly committed to the Pharisaical traditions of the people. John refers to it that way a number of times and it is not used in an ethnic sense at all.

Paul uses the term to refer sometimes to the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, e.g. in Romans chapter one, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In that sense he is using it as an ethnic term but in other places he uses it simply to refer to those who hold to the religious viewpoint of those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah by emphasizing the traditions of Pharisees as the means of salvation and acceptance with God. That is how he begins to use the term in Romans 2:17ff.

In Romans 2:21 Paul starts driving home a set of five rhetorical questions. He is asking each question in order to make a point. NASB “you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” No, you are not teaching yourself, you are really ignorant of the meaning of Scripture. “You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?” Implication: Yes, you do steal. [22] “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” Implication: Yes, you do. “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” Yes, you do. The idea there was that they robbed the temple in that they robbed the temple of the glory of God because they substituted human works for divine dependence. [23] “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” Example: Mark chapter seven.

The context of Mark 7:10-13 is one of conflict over authority with the Pharisees. Starting in verse 6 NASB “And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.’” Hypocrisy is when we have an external standard that we don’t ever apply internally, and that is our official position. It is lip service. It is going to a worship service and reading through the Scripture without ever thinking about what it means or thinking yes, I really believe that; it is just going through the motions. [7] “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.” We can think of numerous Christian denominations that fall under the category of hypocrisy because what they teach as commandments is the tradition of men; they are no longer teaching Scripture; they are no longer teaching the Word of God as the ultimate authority; they have fell into the same authority trap that the Pharisees fell into, i.e. they are putting their authority on human tradition, not the Word of God. [8] “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. [9] He was also saying to them, ‘You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.’” Jesus sets this up: it is either the Word of God or tradition, it is not both.

Mark 7:10 “For Moses said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER’; and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH’; [11] but you say, ‘If a man says to {his} father or {his} mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given {to God}),’ [12] you no longer permit him to do anything for {his} father or {his} mother; [13] {thus} invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” Jesus cites from these two mandates to point out the Scriptures are extremely serious about the command to honor and respect parents and to take care of them as they get older. Notice how Jesus goes back and forth” “You say,” but “Moses said”—the contrast between the Scripture and tradition.

Corban was a loophole. The Pharisees developed all kinds of loopholes in the way they interpreted the law. Let’s say you have money and your parents are really going to suck up a lot of that money if you have to take care of their medical bills. You could say you had promised my estate to the church, so you really can’t help them. That was the idea here. They would dedicate all of their money to God and say they really couldn’t touch that money to help their parents. So Jesus said they no longer permitted that person to do anything for his parents. They basically undercut the Law and were making the law of God of no effect through their tradition which they handed down. Because of this the Word of God is really being blasphemed because people think that tradition is what the Bible says. It’s not but that is what they think because your claim is that this is biblical. That is Paul’s conclusion. Romans 2:24 NASB “For ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,’ just as it is written.” He is drawing this from Isaiah 52:5 NASB “Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?” {Again} the LORD declares, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long.” Little Paul says in these chapters is new. He is basing this on what is said in the Hebrew Scriptures, he is not inventing theology.

He is going to give an explanation of this. Romans 2:25 NASB “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” It begins with “For,” the Greek word gar [gar] which always introduces an explanation. Then it has the un-translated word men [men] which has a couple of functions. One is to indicate that there is something else coming, so it creates a level of expectation in the reader. It is the idea that on the one hand this but on the other hand that. The word “if” is a third class condition, which means maybe you do [keep the Law] and maybe you don’t. Usually the third class condition is weighted a little more towards the positive: you probably will. So he is assuming that they will keep the Law; it is the more likely. He says circumcision is profitable, there is value to it. But then he says but if you are a breaker of the Law, assuming that to be true, then your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

He is talking about circumcision because in Pharisaic Judaism circumcision as a ritual had been identified as that which was a sine qua non (without which nothing) for getting into heaven. If you weren’t circumcised you couldn’t get into heaven. So if you just go through the external ritual you are okay. It is not any different from people who say that if you just get baptized you’ll make it into heaven, and that it is just that external ritual that gets you into heaven. Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and it was a ritual that had a spiritual teaching point. The spiritual teaching point was that in terms of justification and our relationship to God there is a severing of our relationship with the flesh. So the severing of the foreskin from the flesh is a picture that Paul develops in Romans chapter six that when we are saved we are no longer under bondage to the sin nature; we are set free. That is the spiritual implication. The ritual has no meaning unless there is a spiritual reality.

Leviticus 26:41 NASB “I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity…” Circumcision represents a spiritual reality, something that has to do with the soul, something that is removed; and it is related here to humility and accepting guilt, recognizing personal sin. There is a command in Deuteronomy 10:16 NASB “So circumcise your heart [your soul], and stiffen your neck no longer.” When God commands the Jews to be circumcised He recognizes that every one of them needs this. (Modern Judaism says there is no such thing as total depravity) In Deuteronomy 30:6 NASB “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live,” that is, before the kingdom comes, before God establishes the kingdom and restores the Jews to the land of Israel. This is the new covenant. Ezekiel 36:25-28 NASB “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”