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The Jews and the Law December 11, 2010

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 2:17-29.

Summary: In this passage, Paul explicitly addresses the Jews, and based on the principles outlined in the preceding passage, concludes that they will also be judged by God for the sins that they have committed. He begins by granting that the Jews have much to be proud of, especially their covenant relationship with God and their knowledge of His will (particularly via special revelation). He notes that since the Jews have the law, they are in a position to help others distinguish between truth and falsehood. Then, he turns the tables on the Jews by asserting that they actually commit the sins that they judge in the Gentiles, including stealing, adultery, and irreverence towards God. Moreover, the sins that the Jews themselves commit bring dishonor to God’s name. Next, he asserts that even though the Jews cling to circumcision as a means of guaranteeing their salvation in spite of their sins, circumcision actually has no intrinsic value. Instead, we see that to be one of the “people of God,” we need to have an internal moral principle that guides us to Him; the possession of this internal principle is demonstrated by living an obedient life. He concludes by asserting that in fact, God will only praise those who are Jews “inwardly”; that is, the Holy Spirit has set apart those with the aforementioned internal moral principle to be God’s people and to glorify Him.

Thoughts: Jews, especially those whom Paul was addressing in this letter, were boastful of their covenant relationship with God. In some sense, Paul reminds them in this passage that this covenant included a provision whereby the Jews were subject to punishment if they were to violate any of its terms. Verses 21-24, then, show that the Jews are actually guilty of violating the terms of this covenant; thus, they are subject to God’s judgment, despite all of the real privileges that they enjoy.

For the Jews, verses 25-27 are meant to hammer home the message that is presented in verses 1-16, namely that if anyone were able to obey the law, they would be able to “condemn” those who possess the law yet disobey it. Thus, the value of circumcision, at least as an external rite, is superseded by the nature of the Jews’ actions during their time on earth. It bears repeating that the Jews were not to be judged on the basis of their “ecclesiastical connections or background.” This remains an extremely difficult concept for Jews to accept, as can be seen in writings such as the Midrash Tillim.

Verse 29 shows that the Holy Spirit plays a critical role in a person being declared “righteous” in God’s sight. In fact, here we see that the Holy Spirit’s work produces a person who receives God’s praise. This remains another difficult concept for Jews to accept, as it is evident that Paul is assigning greater value to internal, unseen things as opposed to external, tangible things. To bolster this concept, in his commentary, Hodge cites Deuteronomy 30:6 as evidence that this notion of God circumcising the hearts of men even appears in the Old Testament.

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