For All Have Sinned (f) The New Testament Jew
In this 2nd Chapter of Romans Paul is concerned with proving that the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, were under sin and in need of the Gospel of Christ. From v17-24 he deals with the Jewish excuse that they were superior to the pagans on account of the law (v17). This objection is dealt with as Paul’s proclaims the Jew too is a person who has broken the very law that he professed to accept and maintain (v23). Now Paul, as the former Pharisee, foresees another Jewish excuse as to why they did not require Jesus Christ; they had been circumcised. In dealing with this objection through the final lines of chapter 2 Paul concludes his argument by teaching who the New Testament Jew actually is. In so doing he defines the essence of New Testament Christianity.
1: The Jew Classified
Circumcision was an ancient feature of Judaism which had its roots in antiquity being first given to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14). Therefore by maintaining this external ritual in obedience to the ancient command the Jew believed himself to be a child of God.
In v29 Paul referred to the true Jew as one who was praised by God. This was a play on words as the ‘Jew’ is derived directly from ‘Judah’ which means praise (Gen 29:35 and 49:8). Therefore the Jews believed that they received the praise of God because they circumcised their male children on the 8th day of their young lives.
2: The Jew Deceived
In Paul’s thinking such an argument by the Jew was in reality self deception. Circumcision was intended to be a sign or token of something much deeper. It was the mark of God’s covenant made with the children of Abraham. The law, however, was an indispensable part of the covenant. The covenant people were required to honour the law (Gal 4:24-25). With the promises and special privileges afforded to the Jew came stern responsibilities. Therefore the badge of circumcision can only be considered honourable and blessed when considered within the Jewish attitude to the law. The Jew was therefore deceived in their thinking that circumcision conferred God’s grace. Their transgression of the law nullified circumcision, the sign of the covenant.
In the New Testament the sign of the New Covenant is twofold; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both these signs are sacraments and are means of grace when received by faith. In and of themselves, without a work of grace done in the hearts these sacraments are meaningless. Tragically there are many who like the Jew are dependent on ritual alone which will never suffice in the day of judgement.
3: The Jew Authenticated
Carefully Paul explains that the true Jew is one who has been changed in his heart. This heart transformation is the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision. This work wrought in the soul is none other than regeneration. This is the law written upon the inner man which grants the individual the desire to keep and maintain God’s law (Heb 10:16, 2 Cor 3:3, 6).
Therefore God is looking for the heart more than the ritual and this alone is what pleases him (1 Sam 16:7).
In so arguing Paul is inferring, what he states more clearly in other passages, that Christian Gentiles can also be the Israel of God and be the children of Abraham even though they were never circumcised (Gal 3:7).