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Romans 2:17-3:8 (web)

The Guilt of the Self-Righteous

The Jews Do Not Obey the Law

2:17 Indeed you bear the name of a Jew, and rest on the law, and glory in God,
2:18 and know his will, and approve the things that are excellent,
being instructed out of the law,
2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind,
a light to those who are in darkness,
2:20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babies,
having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth.

2:21 You therefore who teach another, don't you teach yourself?
You who preach that a man shouldn't steal, do you steal?
2:22 You who say a man shouldn't commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
2:23 You who glory in the law, through your disobedience of the law do you dishonor God?

2:24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,"
just as it is written. (Isaiah 52:5; Ezek. 36:22)
2:25 For circumcision indeed profits, if you are a doer of the law,
but if you are a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

2:26 If therefore the uncircumcised keep the ordinances of the law,
won't his uncircumcision be accounted as circumcision?

2:27 Won't the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfills the law,
judge you, who with the letter and circumcision are a transgressor of the law?

2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly,
neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh;
2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart,
in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God.

Jews Do Not Believe the Oracles

3:1 Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the profit of circumcision?
3:2 Much in every way! Because first of all, they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

3:3 For what if some were without faith? Will their lack of faith nullify the faithfulness of God?
3:4 May it never be! Yes, let God be found true, but every man a liar.

As it is written, "That you might be justified in your words,
And might prevail when you come into judgment." (Psalm 51:4)
3:5 But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what will we say?
Is God unrighteous who inflicts wrath? I speak like men do.
3:6 May it never be! For then how will God judge the world?

3:7 For if the truth of God through my lie abounded to his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?
3:8 Why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say),
"Let us do evil, that good may come?" Those who say so are justly condemned.

Discussion Questions

Read this passage again substituting the words "Christian" in for "Jew", the word "Baptism" for "Circumcision", and the phrase "Christ's teachings" for "the law".
How does this affect your understanding of the application of this passage?
For example, how is baptism analogous to Circumcision?
Is it possible for God consider you to be a Jew even though you haven't been circumcised?
Is it possible for God consider you to be a Christian even though you haven't been baptized?
What does Paul say is the advantage of being Jewish?
What similar advantage do those who are born to Christian parents have?
Does vs 3:3,4 mean that unbelieving Jews will be saved? (xref Romans 10:1-3; Romans 9)
How might you answer the skeptics questions in 3:5,7,8?


A Judgement of the Religious Elite

Rom 2:17-20 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—

Jesus and here Paul speak of two classes of people - those who consider themselves right with God based upon being "good" and those who disregard God. Both need to be saved. But the common approach to preparing "good" people for the gospel is to show that they are sinners and thus need to be saved. Here Paul starts to really focus on the religious elite, the self-righteous with the same kind of tone Jesus used with regards to the religious elite to convict them of sin.

Today such is the case not only regards to Jews or Muslims, and even among Christians there are those who rely upon the law to justify them. That is today we could just as well replace the word "Jew" here with "Muslim" or "Christian".

However here he is not saying that these attributes are bad. For example with regards to bragging about one's relationship with God it says, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight." Jer 9:23,24

With respect to God's will it says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God‘s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will." Rom 12:2

With respect to being a light it says, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." 2Cor 4:6

With regards to teaching it says, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." 1Tim 5:17 

So all these activities of which he is speaking are commendable. But people who reckon themselves "good" are typically hypocrites.


Rom 2:21,22 
you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
You who preach against stealing, do you steal?
You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?
You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

Hypocrisy is what is used against allegedly "good" people to convict them of sin.  Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." Mt 23:1-3

Now consider also he says of them, "all their works they do to be seen by men" Mt 23:5a But if this is the case then how can they get away with doing evil and yet be reckoned "good"? How do "good" people get away with doing evil? Primarily they do it privately or legally. For example the chief priests planned behind closed doors to have Jesus legally executed. And even more privately one could commit adultery through the fact "that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mt 5:28 But legally they could also do evil publicly, which is where lawyers get their well deserved reputation. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses" Mt 23:14a

The issue about robbing temples is about covetousness. Consider a golden idol in a temple. While one may claim to abhor such an idol, one may lust for the gold. In fact such literally happened in the case of Achan in Joshua chapter 7 in which the city of Jericho and all in it were to be devoted to the Lord, yet he stole some gold bars for himself, and was condemned.

Hypocrisy causes Blasphemy

Rom 2:23,24 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: "God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

One of the most common excuses people give in rejecting the gospel is their pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians. Consequently the Bible warns Christians to behavior appropriately. To give a couple of examples, it instructs of young women, "to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." Titus 2:4,5 And of bondservants, "Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed."  1Tim 6:1

"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed." 2Pet 2:1,2

While it's not a legitimate excuse for one to blame God for the behavior of those who claim to know God, in what way may your behavior hinder others from becoming a Christian?

Don't Make too much of Ceremony

Rom 2:25-27  Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker

Much like water baptism is the ceremony identifying that person as a Christian, so also circumcision is the ceremony identifying a person as a Jew. But with regards to covenants, neither is dependent on mere ceremonies. Under the Old Covenant Jews were reckoned righteous if they kept the Law of Moses, one commandment of which was circumcision. But if they broke the Law, they had broken that covenant and as such were as if they were not circumcised?

The Law was not intended to be about ceremony. Jesus said, "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Mt 7:12 And he said, "’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Mt 22:37-40

During much of Jesus' ministry we note that he teaches a great deal about the superiority of following the spirit of the law over that of the letter as reflected in the particular regulations, such as with regards to the observance of the Sabbath. Sadly much of the Christian community throughout history has failed to learn this lesson. Even among popular historic Christian figures not just among Catholic, but also among Protestants - like Calvin and his cronies killing of Servetus, the murdering of multitudes of anabaptists by the those in Reformed camp like Zwingli who said, "if any presume to re baptize those who were baptized before, they should be drowned;" Or Bullinger (1561), "We condemn the Anabaptists,who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized." So let's keep things in perspective. "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2Cor 3:6b
Who is the True Jew?

Rom 2:28,29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

Being circumcised in heart should not have been a new concept for Jews. The Law of Moses itself says, "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer" Deut 10:16 And concerning a foreshadowing of the New Covenant he says, "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." Deut 30:6, which Ezekiel also prophecies, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." Eze 36:26

Much of the later chapters of Romans will speak to this issue of true Judaism. But the point here is that God is not concerned with mere ceremony, nor ethnic boundaries. Yet today is not just Jews who make much of their Jewishness in contrast to actual behaving as the people of God should, but many Christians are likewise God's people in name only.

In fact in contrast to making much of the flesh Paul writes, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2Cor 4:16 and note his prayer, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being" Eph 3:16 Likewise in contrast to the whitewashed wall behavior of religous hypocrisy which is only about the outward appearance, those genuinely born of God produce fruits naturally, from the Spirit who lives in them.

The Advantage of the Jews

Rom 3:1,2 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

By "first of all" he means "primarily". Today those raised in  a Christian household have this same advantage if not more so. The advantage being access to the Word of God - the Bible. In fact given the internet such is more so worldwide than in the past. But with greater access come greater accountability. Though Jews have largely failed in their stewardship of the Word of God, let us Christians not fail in our stewardship of the Word of God. Paul writes, "we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts." 1Th 2:4

But concerning the Jews, Jesus, himself being a Jew, said to the Jews of his day, "Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate." Mt 23:32-38 Though such rhetoric we hear from the Jewish messiah would be categorized today as anti-semitic, and yet the prophets themselves used such rhetoric throughout the Old Testament. The problem was the Jews were largely circumcised on in flesh and not in heart, and did not have the Spirit.

Paul says, "Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" Php 3:2-8

God is Not Accountable for Misbehavior of His People

Rom 3:3,4  What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge." (Ps 51:4)

"Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me." Is 1:2 God is not accountable for the behavior of his people. In fact the quote from Ps 51 is from a prayer that King David said after he had committed murder and adultery. "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge." Ps 51:2-4

Now, lest there be those who misinterpret this to mean the unbelieving Jews are automatically saved, "Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness." Rom 10:1-3 and there are many like verses even that which I quoted previously concerning the Jewish religious elite, "How will you escape being condemned to hell?" Mt 23:31b And likewise of alleged Chistians, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself." 2Tim 2:13. There is no guarantee of salvation for those who don't remain faithful.

Stupid Objections

Rom 3:5-8  But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" Why not say— as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say— "Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.

Apparently these kind of hypothetical questions were floating around in Paul's day as also today, though they are not well thought out. For example the first claims that God would be unjust in exercising justice. For what is justice but to judge the wicked. Would not God be reckoned unjust by not judging the wicked? The human argument is by analogy that light is seen most clearly in a dark room. And the response by analogy is that light would not be light at all if it did not dispel darkness. So if God did not exercise justice, there would be no contrast between God's righteousness and our unrighteousness. And likewise with regards to the second objection concerning truth and falseness.

Conversely one could say that God's righteousness brings out our sinfulness more clearly by way of contrast. But does that mean that by doing so God is condoning sin? Paul asks this question rhetorically of Peter, "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!" Gal 2:17

Concerning the phrase "Let us do evil that good may result", this is a slanderous accusation not uncommonly made against Christian theology concerning salvation. For example such people would misread Paul in his saying later in Roman 5:20,21 "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." While it is good for God to deal with sin, it is not good to sin. While God's grace and justice is revealed by His dealing with evil, such would not be revealed if God simply overlooked sin. And, no, God doesn't overlook sin. That is not the sense in which God forgives sin, else Christ's death would have been unnecessary to satisfy God's judicial nature.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022