We left off
seeing the thought flow of this first major theme, namely that the
grossest-sinner-and-unbeliever is in the same exact boat as the
moral-and-upright-unbeliever. This category of moralist includes, of
course, the Jew (as aforementioned). The Jew stood on the side of God
judging the sins of the people around him, clamoring at the evil found
This Jew found comfort, Paul would point out, on the fact of the Law
and the special relationship the Jew had with God (v17). The moralistic
Jew would boast in this relationship and in the knowledge of God’s will
regarding morality because the Jew received instruction from the very
They had an immensely important role these Jews who God chose to be the
recipients of his Law and of the prophets and those “superior things”
(v18). God wanted them to be a special nation, a set-apart people for
the purpose of being an example to be a light to those in darkness.
The Jew was convinced of these things and of their role to be an
educator of the senseless and a teacher of little children simply
because they had this fundamental, essential knowledge (v19-20).
The problem was that although they had all these things, they
ignored the fact that God required the teachers to be holy on the
inside as well as being an example on the outside. Paul fires off a
list of questions to this moralist Jew who is standing on the law: You
preach against stealing, he asks, do you steal? You tell others to
commit adultery do you commit adultery? You abhor idols do you rob
temples? He points out that the Jew who boasts in the law dishonors God
by transgressing the Law!
It’s not too hard to draw a parallel with our own churches if but
for a moment. Do our own churches boast in our position in Christ to
the point of ignoring the hypocrisy in our churches? Do we rely on our
special role and ignore the inner reality of our lives? We can
even bring to the light those churches who are of Christ only by name
and who justify any of their actions and inactions by their position
before the word of God. Like an authority in the matters of God they
may attest to such a positional standing before God and ignore the
reality that they are committing the same things they profess against.
This is not the conclusion that Paul is drawing in this passage, of
course, as if the only purpose of him writing this is to tell the
moralist Jew to stop his hypocrisy. No, Paul’s conclusion comes to a
climax a bit later, but for now he is illustrating that this hypocrisy
isn’t only giving God a bad reputation but is in effect resulting in
blasphemy at the lips and actions of the Gentiles.
Paul quotes a passage from Isaiah 52, poetic in genre, which focuses
on the captivity of Israel as being for “no reason”. We of course know
that Israel went into captivity because of their constant sin, and yet
that is not the current focus of the poetry passage in Isaiah. The
focus of the writer in this poem is to illustrate how the wicked that
hold the Israelite captives blaspheme God and taunt Him because His
people are wearing iron chains on their hands. He subsequently goes on
to point out how His people will know Him when He says, “Here I am”
still speaking poetically. Why? Because news will come over the
mountain tops bringing good news that “Our God Reigns!” That is
the future reality the prophet is saying, but currently, under
captivity and in weakness the nations laugh and taunt.
Paul draws a parallel to those happenings by illustrating that the
Jew in a spiritual bondage of his heart is justifying the blasphemy at
the lips of the Gentiles. How does Paul illustrate this but in the very
symbol of the circumcision.
The circumcision, given to Abraham and his children, was to be the
sign of being set apart for God. Paul points out that if a Jew who is
circumcised on the outside foreskin lives a life that is contrary to
the law, his actions illustrate that the foreskin of his heart is yet
to be circumcised. The Jew ignoring the written code and claiming to be
on God’s side is making God out to be a point of derision to those
Paul also uses a contrast to illustrate his point. He puts forward a
question: if one who is uncircumcised physically goes on to keep an
unwritten code does his uncircumcision prove to be a circumcision? In
other words, if the Gentile does what the Jew should be doing is he
then a Jew by the Spirit instead of by the flesh?
Now tread carefully here. Some of us may excitedly jump to the
conclusion that we Gentiles?our hearts circumcised by God?are now the
Jews in this new age, a nation of priests and for whom all the previous
promises of Israel currently apply. Tread very carefully and make sure
to follow the thought flow of the passage. In the same way that Paul
uses a hypothetical to illustrate a point elsewhere, he may be using it
here as well. Or, if you will, Paul may be using a contrast not to
prove the point of a new Jew but rather to prove the point of the Jew’s
condemnation? Where would we possibly find a clue to the idea that Paul
is not making a point of change of the Jewish nation?
Note that in the very first verse of chapter three, the next verse in this section underneath the same thought flow is this: “what advantage does the Jew have or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way! (3:1)”
If there was a change of the Israelite nation is Paul here now
speaking to the new Israel? What advantage does the New Israel have or
what is the value of circumcision of the heart? Especially when we see
the answer to the questions posited.
No, Paul wasn’t describing a new Israel and a change of relational
rewards. Paul was illustrating the point of the Jews being just as
guilty as the Gentiles and in bondage of the sin that enslaved the
Gentiles. In the next chapter, Paul states the point clearly and we
will see that next time.