Centered on Christ
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Centered on Christ

What the Jews Overlooked About Circumcision

A person reading the Hebrew Old Testament.
Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash

For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? (Romans 2:25–27)

Paul has been making the point that the Jews were equally as guilty of sin as the Gentiles.

Even though the Jew didn’t see his sins in the same light as the Gentile, they would also stand before the righteous, impartial Judge of all the earth.

Not only did the Jews think that possessing the Law of Moses gave them a “pass” from God’s judgment, but they also believed circumcision was a sure sign that God would treat them differently. Paul points out that they had overlooked something important about circumcision.

Circumcision is profitable if you keep the law.

Circumcision was considered the identifying mark for the Jews. The command to circumcise their male children went all the way back to Abraham (Genesis 17:9–27).

Remember, the Jews thought that God would treat them differently for two main reasons that Paul addresses in Romans 2.

  • They had the Law of Moses and knew what it taught.
  • They had the mark of circumcision, which was evidence that they were God’s own special people — and they thought that meant they would be treated differently at the judgment.

Paul said that circumcision is profitable if they kept the law — but if they did not keep the law, it was if they had become “uncircumcised.” Essentially Paul is saying, “If you don’t obey the law God gave you, what does it matter if you’ve been circumcised?”

In the context of being judged by God, what good is it to be God’s own people if you haven’t lived as His people should live?

The covenant of circumcision didn’t only mark the Jew out as a privileged one, it marked him out as one under obligation! See Galatians 5:11. The Jew was peculiarly God’s but part of that blessed peculiarity was the burden laid on him to glorify God in the keeping of his will. The Jew was to be a showcase for God! They were God’s elect; not the elite! — McGuiggan, Romans, 106

Paul paints a picture of the Jew and Gentile and wants the Jew to really think about it.

  • The Gentile has not been circumcised but lives according to the truth God has given (Romans 1:18–21).
  • The Jew has been circumcised but does not live according to the law of Moses.

The Jews in this scenario thought they were standing as judges over the Gentile, but Paul says it’s really the Gentile who stands as a judge over you!

At no time in this context does Paul speak of the Gentile being justified before God much less does he speak of him being justified before God by doing honorable things which accord with the law. That would be contrary to his avowed position of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No, he is simply stressing the Jewish plight. The Jew has been trusting in the mere possession of the law and of the covenant of circumcision. The Jew must be shown that he is no better off than the Gentile. — McGuiggan, Romans, 107

It’s important to keep in mind Paul’s point here.

Paul’s main point seems to have been that a relationship with God depends on more than external features of the Law, especially circumcision. — Pollard, Truth for Today Commentary, 97

Paul tells the Jew, “Ok, so you have the Scriptures, and you know them. You also have the covenant of circumcision. But what about your life? Is your life devoted to God? Have you sinned?”

The Jew thought they were in a superior position to the Gentile. In order to proclaim the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16–17) to the Jew, they must first see that they are no better off than anyone else.

This would have been a painful, perhaps rage-inducing lesson for some of the Jews the apostle Paul was teaching. There’s a reason the Jews tried to have Paul killed multiple times — he was not well-liked in some Jewish circles for proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

But this same gospel message might even be uncomfortable for some Christians to hear.

Is it possible that some Christians believe that simply because they read their Bible and have been a member of a local church for decades God will treat them differently at the judgment? They may care little about living their life for God because “I’ve been a member of this church for 40 years!”

We’re all well acquainted with this picture. There’s nothing more gutless and godless than a self-righteous, churchgoing, Bible-quoting, hymn-singing, prayer-muttering, money-giving hypocrite. His “piety” becomes putrefaction, his creed contemptible, and his “righteousness” ridiculous. Better that he said nothing about Christ. From those “in the world” we expect nothing better but the religiousness of the actor sets the world on a stink. — McGuiggan, Romans, 106

If we are not careful, we allow the same mentality that Paul is condemning in the Jews in Romans 2 into our own minds and hearts.

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