About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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To The Jews And The Law  (ch. 2:17 – 29)


As we see in verse 17, Paul is now addressing the Jews.  Note the word "if" that he begins each phrase. 


The first "if" is "if you call yourself Jews".  They were Jews, but, even Jesus, in John 8, hinted that real Jews who were those who followed the faith of Abraham.  He went on to say that their father in fact was not Abraham but the devil.  A lot of people can draw lots of conclusions from this remark of Jesus.  This is one passage where those who believe in Replacement Theology point to as proof that real Jews are those who follow Jesus by faith and not those who are national Jews.  I can understand how you draw that conclusion, but, in light of Old Testament prophecy and the Abrahamic Covenant, I do not believe that God has replaced the Jews with Christians.


The next "if' phrase is, "If you rely on the law and brag about your relationship with God".  Even though the word "law" in the NIV is not capitalized, I believe it's clear that the law Paul had in mind was the Law of Moses.  Jews, especially the Pharisees and Jewish leadership, bragged about their special relationship with God based on their perception that they indeed did obey the Law of Moses. 


The next "if' phrase as seen in verse 18 is, "If you know His will and approve what is superior because you are instructed by the law".  Clearly, the Jews felt they knew God's will because they knew the Law of Moses.  That should be the case.  God's will was demonstrated in the Law of Moses.  The meaning to "that which is  superior" is that the Law of Moses was the superior way for a culture to live when compared with the pagan culture that surrounded the Jews.


The next "if' phrase as seen in verses 19 and 20 is, "If you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind … a light … an instructor … a teacher … because you have  … the truth".  There is no doubt that the Jews did possess the truth in the Law of Moses.  They were convinced that they were capable teachers of the Law.     


So, Paul lists all of the claims the Jews made of themselves.  They could boast of having the Law, a relationship with God, and among other things, being a teacher of the ways of God, but all of these "if's" tell us that there is something wrong here. 


In verses 21 to 23 Paul tells these religious Jews that they are hypocrites.  They don't practice what they preach.  They break the laws they tell others to obey.  I'' will comment on just one of the laws Paul says that these Jews do not obey, and that is the law to not commit adultery.  The Pharisees' interpretation of the divorce law found in Deuteronomy 24 made it possible for them to divorce their wives for any and every reason as we see Jesus comment on in Matthew 19.  Jesus basically told these Pharisees that their liberal interpretation of Deuteronomy 24 was wrong and in fact led them to commit adultery when they married their knew wives.        

Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:5 in verse 24 when he concludes by saying that God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of them.  It appears that even Gentile pagans could see through the Jewish leaders hypocrisy which dishonored the very God they claimed to serve.     


I remind you of what I said about “the name of God” in earlier pages.  This phrase is more than words added to the end of a prayer.  We are representatives of God to the world.  The Jews were not good representatives.  The way they lived actually did more harm than good.  God Himself was blasphemed by Gentiles because of their poor representation of Him.  It reminds me of the church today.  In many cases the church has done more harm than good because of our poor representation of the Lord to the world.  God is often mocked because of the way we live as Christians.  The church claims a standard of high morals yet we have problems with priests sexually abusing children.  This is just one example of how we are misrepresenting our Lord to the world and how the church has received a bad name.  Even worse, the world views our Lord in a negative light because of our behaviour. 


The whole point to verses 17 to 24 is hypocrisy on the part of the Jews.  Who they claim to be, they aren't.  What they teach, they don't live out in their own lives.  Therefore, they do not represent God.  They defame His holy name instead.    


We now come to the practice of circumcision.  This will be one of Paul’s sticky points with the Jews.  Many Jewish Christians believed that to be a true Christian one had to be circumcised.  Paul desperately opposed this thinking as we will see later.  The Jews put a great emphases on circumcision and that was understandable from their history and the command of God to Abraham.  


One important thing to remember is that circumcision was first practiced as a command of God to Abraham, hundreds of years before God gave the Law to Moses.  With this in mind Paul says in verse 25 that if you keep the Law circumcision, that is fine, but, if you disobey the law in one point, circumcision is meaningless.      


Concerning circumcision, it is important to know that even though it was an outward act of obedience, what God really wanted, even in Old Testament days, was a circumcised heart as seen in Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4.  Heart felt obedience is not just a New Testament concept.


In verse 26 Paul says that if one who is not circumcised, meaning a pagan Gentile, obeys the law, and to be consistent, this must mean the Law of Moses, then his not being circumcised is as good as being circumcised.  What Paul is implying here is that circumcision is not the big deal.  Obeying the Law is the big deal.  Then, in verse 27 he states that the one who is not circumcised but obeys the Law will show up, in fact, will condemn, the Jews who are circumcised, yet disobey the Law. 


I don't actually believe that Paul believed a pagan Gentile could actually obey the intent of the Law.  He is simply using this possibility as an argument against the Jews claiming that their circumcision makes them special in the eyes of God.  We will see Paul say later that all are condemned, both Jews and Gentiles.       


Again, Paul is speaking of the importance of the Law here.  It's the keeping of the Law that is what really matters to God, not an outward physical operation of the flesh.  Remember, Paul is building a case here.  What he is doing in this portion is stating the importance of the Law of Moses.  This must be understood before he carries on to his next point. 


Paul closes off this section, verses 28 and 29, by making a dramatic point.  He says that a real Jew is not one who is one outwardly, who has been simply circumcised in the flesh.  These were real fighting words to the Jews.  The real Jew as Paul said was one who had been circumcised inwardly, in his heart by the Holy Spirit.  Here is the first hint in Paul's letter to the Romans of better things to come in the life in the Holy Spirit.  


Verses 28 and 29 have stirred up much controversy over the years.  Some people believe that Jews and the Jewish nation have no special significance in the sight of God as they once did in Old Testament days because of this verse. They believe that Israel is like any other nation.   Other’s think that Paul is only saying that Jews are no longer special in God’s eyes concerning salvation only.  Both Jews and non-Jews are eligible to be saved, yet when it comes to prophetic history, Israel still has an important roll to play.  I believe that events taking place in the Middle East, and in Israel in particular, have great prophetic meaning.  The former group believes that whatever is happening in the Middle East has no significance in prophetic history.   


Because of my understanding of the
things promised the Jews in the Abrahamic
Covenant, which we will see Paul say later are irrevocable, I believe these promises still
apply to the Jews.  The Old Testament prophets confirmed these promises throughout the Old Testament.  In short, when it comes to personal salvation, there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles.  When it comes to national salvation,
there is a difference between Israel and the nations of the world. Israel still has prophetic significance in the eyes of God.  


One thing that I believe is not well understood by Christians, and especially by those who believe in Replacement Theology, is that the Bible distinguishes between individual Jews and the nation of Israel.  The Abrahamic Covenant that cannot be revoked, as Paul will say in chapter 11, addresses the nation of Israel.  This salvation Paul is speaking of here and in the chapters to come, addresses individual Jews, and Gentiles, not the nation of Israel.  This is why I believe that Paul can say there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to faith but later say that the nation of Israel still has prophetic and historic significance.       


Getting back to circumcision, we need to understand that it was to be an outward expression of an inward reality of love for God as seen in Deuteronomy 30:6 and Romans 4:11.  Paul calls circumcision a sign or a seal in chapter 4 verse 11.  The problem with the Jewish people is that they mistook the sign as being the reality, when in fact the condition of the heart is what mattered most to God. 


Another point to note before we end this session is that the word Jew means “praise“.  This word implies that God’s people should be an expression of God’s praise. Were the Jews that expression?  Is the church today an expression of praise to Jesus?  The Jews weren't, and, the church isn't that much better. 


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