A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Jew Under the Sentence of Condemnation (Romans 2:17; 3:8)
What class of people is the Holy Spirit dealing with in this section? Look at verse 17: "Behold, thou art called a Jew" (2:17). In the ASV: "But if thou bearest the name of a Jew." Look at verse 28: "For he is not a Jew" (3:1). Four times the word Jew appears. Certainly that should identify the group to whom he is addressing this argument.
When Paul started to condemn the world, the Jew claimed to be exempt from condemnation on three grounds. Paul knew this, for he himself was Jew. These were the three grounds:
1. Because he was a son of Abraham. When Christ was condemning those Jews, they replied, "We are Abraham's seed" (John 8:33).
2. Because he had the law. The Jew rested his hope on possession of the law.
3. Because he was circumcised. The old rabbinical writings of the Jews contain such statements as this: "No circumcised man will be lost." In the days of Paul there was a saying that Abraham stood at the gates of Hades or Hell, seeing that no circumcised man was ever lost into Hell.
Since these three claims had a basis of truth, the apostle Paul needed to deal with each one in showing that the Jew is condemned with the rest of the world.
Three words are the key words. In the first section the emphasis is on the law: "resteth in the law" (v. 17); "instructed out of the law" (v. 18); "the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law" (v. 20); and "Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" (v. 23).
In the second section the emphasis is on circumcision: "circumcision verily profiteth ... thy circumcision is made uncircumcision" (v. 25). Paul uses this word in 26 and 27, too.
The third section emphasizes lineage: "He is not a Jew ..." (v. 28), "but he is a Jew ..." (v. 29).
Now then, take those three ideas, and with them let us make our outline for the section. It would be something like this:
1. The law cannot save the Jew (vv. 17-24).
2. Circumcision cannot save the Jew (vv. 25-27).
3. Birth cannot save the Jew (vv. 28-29).
Paul deals with exactly the three things that the Jew would rest his hopes upon.
The Law Cannot Save the Jew
The apostle Paul first states the position of the Jew (2:17-24). There were five advantages upon which the Jew based his hope.
The name "Jew" is from "Judah" and means "one who is praised." The Jew was proud of that name, believing anyone who bore that name was praised of God. "Whose praise is not of men, but of God" (2:29). Paul was thinking of the meaning of that name when dealing with the Jew.
He trusted in the law. He trusted that the law would save him.
The Jew boasted that the God of the Jew was the true God. Certainly He was. That is an Old Testament doctrine. From the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, last verse, can be seen that the Jew was commanded to glory in God, and that is the word here. But there is a boasting in God which is good, and there is a boasting in God which is nothing less than blasphemy! And the latter is what the Jew and the Pharisee had done. But Paul is not discussing that here.
"And knowest His will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law" (2:18). The word "His" is in italics. We can drop it out then. The real word that is in the Greek is he article "the". It reads, "And knowest the will." There is only one will - the divine will.
His confidence involves four roles he believed were his: "a guide for the blind," "A light of them which are in darkness," "An instructor of the foolish," and "A teacher of babes" (2:19-20).
Paul's words carry just a touch of sarcasm. "Thou art confident," he says to this Jew. Paul knew the religious Jew and that is exactly what that Jew thought in those days. He thought that the Gentile was blind in darkness, and that he was a fool and did not know anything. The Gentile was considered immature, only a babe. The Pharisee believed he had to get the blind Gentile, and guide him, enlighten him, and instruct him.
Every one of these five aspects of the Jew's role revolves about the law. The Jews name came from the law. His trust was in the law. He boasted in the true God, who was revealed in the law. He knew the will of God; it was shown in the law. The Jew was confident that he was a teacher of the law.
When Paul reaches verse 21, he begins to ask some searching questions. First of all, Paul affirms the Jewish role: "Thou therefore which teachest ... thou that preachest ... thou that sayest ... thou that abhorest ... thou that makest thy boast." On the basis of these attitudes and actions, Paul is going to ask questions. He says, "Do you teach yourself? Do you steal? Do you commit adultery? Do you desecrate temples?" (For that is what "commit sacrilege" means.) "Do you break the law?" Paul does not accuse him of these things; he merely inquires about them. Paul did not say, "You are a thief"; Paul says, "Are you a thief?" He arouses the conscience by searching questions.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 25)