Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 2:28: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:”
This verse would have been difficult for the Jews to accept. They saw themselves as God’s chosen people due to their being descendants of Abraham. They felt they could literally do whatever they wanted and still be secure. John the Baptist attacked this complacency: “God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (MT 3:9).
Jesus told the Jews, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (JN 8:39). A true child of Abraham does what Abraham did. True Abrahamic descent is traced spiritually. Natural descent from Abraham assures only one thing: inherent sin. Being a descendant of Abraham makes no one a child of God. Abraham received sonship by faith, as must everyone else. Descent from him is a matter of faith, not genes.
A natural Jew is a far distant grandson of Abraham. Only born again believers are sons of Abraham and heirs to the promise.
Romans 2:29 “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
This verse contradicted two attitudes current among the Jews of Paul’s day. It spoke against their emphasis on the external rite of circumcision, and blasted their love for the praise of men.
Jews were caught in a common trap of religion, a false sense of security caused by presuming on outward rites. The outcome was smugness, self-righteousness, a boasting which grew out of pride, not gratitude.
They lost sight of their sinfulness by making the fatal mistake of comparing themselves to each other. By this standard we can always find a way to make ourselves look good.
A Jew would have been aghast at being called a sinner. Through the centuries, though, the godliest believers have demonstrated the exact opposite reaction. As one progresses in genuine godliness, he more clearly sees how far short of being like Christ he really is. We must measure our life by Christ’s life. Such a comparison will remind us none is righteous.
Never be satisfied only with what pleases men. The world sees only outward show. Endeavor to satisfy the all-seeing eye of God. He sees even the deepest secrets of our hearts.
It is natural to enjoy praise. We see the desire for it in children, young people, and adults. It expresses itself in ambition and the quest for success or fame, but we must ever keep this desire in its proper perspective. The praise of God is of greater importance than the praise of men.
Paul uses an effective play on words in these verses. “Jew” means praise. It is an abbreviation of Judah, the most honored tribe of Israel. When Judah was born, his mother said, “Now will I praise the Lord” (GN 29:35). After the exile all Hebrews took on themselves the name of this tribe in which their religion remained pure the longest. This was the tribe from which Messiah was expected to come. Israel himself, on his deathbed, predicted, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise” (GN 49:8).
The Jews took this idea of praise too far. They praised themselves (RM 2:17-20) and were eager to be praised by other Jews (MT 6:1-8,16-18). Paul, however, said their praise should come from God, not man. The real Jew, one who is worthy of praise, pleases God, not men.
Romans 3:1 “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?”
Anticipating a strong reaction to his remarks, Paul clarifies himself. He hastens to say the natural Jew did have advantages over Gentiles. A Gentile did not begin at the same mark with a Jew. Hebrews knew more about God and His ways.
This advantage was not given to increase privilege, but rather to increase responsibility. God is not a partisan darling-maker. He does not have a pet ethnic group. He is no respecter of persons. The Jews had a head start toward the door of Heaven, but it is equally open to believing Jews and Gentiles, and equally shut to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. No lineage of itself assured or denied one’s status before God.
Unfortunately, their advantage made the Jews smug, proud, conceited, Pharisaical. The Jews stood condemned because they betrayed their opportunity and advantage. They were as bad as, and sometimes worse than, anyone else. They made their advantage a liability.
Mountains have a great advantage over the valleys in that they receive the first rays of the sun each morning. However, nothing will grow on the peaks. Hence, their barrenness makes their advantage null and void.
The same was true of Israel. They were the first to receive light from God, but their barrenness rendered them unworthy receivers.
Lord Dunsany miraculously escaped death in WWI and pondered, “I wonder what God means me to do with a life so specially spared?” This was the very thought which never struck the Jews. They saw their advantage as being for special honor rather than for special duty.
Romans 3:2 “Much every way: chiefly, that unto them were committed the oracles of God.”
Paul lists here the Jews’ main blessing and advantage. Unto them were committed “the oracles of God,” that is, the Old Testament. Here is a powerful phrase on the authority of Scripture. “Oracles of God” means revelations having God as their author. The appellation shows Paul considered the Old Testament as containing God’s mind and will.
The word Paul used here (logia) is the word used by the Septuagint
to describe the Urim and Thummin, which were used by the High Priest to determine the mind of God. The Scriptures are divine words sent from Heaven, “the treasure of celestial wisdom” (Calvin).
Stephen called them the “lively oracles.” They partake of the living nature of Him from whom they proceed. With “the oracles of God,” the Author is present.
This precious gift, which gives the truest revelation of God to man, and also provides an accurate revelation of man to himself, was entrusted to the Jews. The oracles teach us the laws by which our world is governed, our only hope of redemption, the path to a blessed life.
All this became a part of the Jew’s advantage. As day is more blessed than night, and order more desirable than chaos, so the possession of God’s Word is unspeakably better than being deprived of it.
Having the oracles “committed” to them involved three responsibilities. First, the Jews were to be depositories of Scripture. The Bible was written mainly in their language by their own men. Every writer of the Old Testament was Hebrew. The same is true of the New Testament, with one exception (Luke). God’s ultimate Word, Jesus Himself, was an Israelite, as were all His disciples.
The Old Testament was committed to them as trustees for following ages and the Church. It was placed in their hands to be carefully preserved pure and incorrupt for posterity.
In preserving the letter of the Scripture, they were “letter-perfect.” The Dead Sea scrolls have helped confirm the accuracy of their transcriptions of the Old Testament. The scribes were meticulously precise. We can be grateful to God for this.
Second, Jews were to be demonstrators of Scripture. Having the Word was an advantage, but its ultimate privilege came only in practicing the lifestyle it prescribed. The Word helps those who believe it and live it.
The value of circumcision and other religious rites is not in the signs themselves, but rather in the Word expressed through godly living. Apart from a life conformed to the Word, religion is no advantage.
Third, the Jews were to be dispensers of Scripture. They were to be librarians. They had the Word, not to keep, but to publish. They were to hold the oracles in honor and transmit the message of God for the advantage of the world. But alas! They who were entrusted with the means of salvation tried to monopolize them.
The Jews were not the last to try to keep a close rein on the Word of God. A priest told William Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the Pope’s.”
Tyndale replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause the boy which driveth the plow to know more of Scripture than you do.” Tyndale had the attitude God meant for the Jews, and for present day believers. Spread the Word.