SUMMARY.--He who Condemns Others Condemns Himself. God's Judgments According to Truth; without Respects of Persons or Race. Having the Law does not Justify without Obedience to the Law. The Jews Condemned by their own Law. Circumcision Cannot Save. The True Circumcision that of the Heart.
17-24. Behold, thou art called a Jew. Already, in the argument of verses 1-16 , Paul has shown that all men, Jew or Gentile, will be judged according to their deeds, whether they have the law or not. Now he applies the argument directly to the Jew, in order to show his need of the gospel as well as the Gentile. Verses 17-20 state what the Jew claimed for himself. Called a Jew. To him the word "Jew" had a meaning much like "Christian" to us. It meant to him one of God's people. Rested upon law. There is no article before law in the Greek. The Jew had law, in this case the law, for his foundation. Makest thy boast of God. Boasted of God's favor to his race. 18. Knowest his will. As revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures in the hands of the Jews. Approvest the things that are more excellent. Instructed in the law, the Jew approved by word its excellent moral principles. 19. A guide to the blind. It was God's purpose that in choosing Israel the Israelites should become teachers of the truth; but their sin was that while they boasted of this privilege they failed to do their duty. Such a boast as this was current among the Jews of Paul's time. He heaps phrase on phrase to exalt their claims, in order to show in what follows how far short their lives fell of their professions. 20. Which hast the form of knowledge. In the law they had the form, the pattern, of knowledge and of the truth. The truth in its fulness came with Jesus Christ ( John 1:17 ), but the law was the pattern, the typical form, of this truth. 21. Thou therefore who teachest another. Having just described the proud claims of the Jews, he next inquires how their practice corresponds. He who teaches others how to live, does he teach himself how to live? Dost thou steal? Some of the essential principles of the law which the Jews supposed to teach to others. The decalogue forbade stealing, but the Jews were already proverbial for their tricky methods of trade. 22. Commit adultery. In spite of the strictness of their decalogue and moral code, the lax divorce practices of the Jews permitted adultery ( Matthew 19:8 Matthew 19:9 ), and the Talmud says that some of the most celebrated rabbis were guilty of the same sin. See also John 4. Thou that abhorrest idols. The question that follows has caused much discussion. The best rendering is, Dost thou rob temples? or, Are you a temple robber? Schaff suggests that the meaning is as follows: "Dost thou abhor idols, according to thy law, and yet engage in traffic whereby thou makest gain off the temples where this idol worship is practiced?" Macknight says that the reference is to robbing the temple at Jerusalem of what was due it. I think not. The apostles refers to practices which dishonor God among the Gentiles. 23. Dishonorest thou God? The first part of this verse is a summary of the claims of the Jews as given in verses 17-20 ; the last part is a decisive answer, in an interrogative form, of the four reproachful questions just asked. Through the whole passage privilege and practice are contrasted. 24. For the name of God. The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles on account of the vices of the Jews. They make the religion which God has revealed contemptible among the heathen. They judged their religion by the scandalous conduct. Outsiders always judge a religion by the conduct of its votaries. As it is written. In Isa. 52:5 is found the passage to which Paul refers.
25-29. For circumcision verily profiteth. The Jew was wont to fall back on his circumcision, as some still do on some outward ordinance. His answer to Paul is, Are we not the circumcised? Are not the circumcised the people of the covenant? He replied, "I admit that circumcision availeth, if one keeps law. The outward observance profits if one be a law-doer; that is, complies with its moral commandments. But if he fails to do this, his circumcision is as worthless as though he was uncircumcised." The effect of habitual transgression is to annul the covenant. 26. The converse of this is also true. If the Jewish law-breaker can annul his circumcision thus, then if the uncircumcision (the Gentiles) keep the righteousness of the law, his uncircumcised state will not be counted against him. He supposes the possible case of a Gentile who might render such an obedience to the moral precepts of the law as a pious Jews could render, and argues that his uncircumcision would not make his obedience less acceptable. Circumcision is not, then, the thing that the Gentile needs, but righteousness. The disobedient Jew virtually becomes a Gentile, and the obedient Gentile virtually becomes a Jew. 27. Uncircumcision which is by nature. The Gentiles, who are of uncircumcised races. If such an one keeps the essential principles of the law, his obedience is a rebuke to the Jewish transgressor who has covenanted to keep the law. 28. For he is not a Jew. He is not a Jew, in the religious sense of one of God's chosen people, who is one outwardly alone. Neither is that circumcision, the true circumcision, that which makes one a member of God's covenanted church, "which is outward in the flesh." 29. But he is a Jew, such a Jew as just described, who is one inwardly, whose heart is given to God; and circumcision is that of the heart. Circumcision of the heart is a figurative expression for inward purity, as old as the book of Deuteronomy. See Deuteronomy 10:16 Deuteronomy 30:6 also Jer. 9:26 . This circumcision is not an outward mark in the flesh of the body, but is in the spirit. The spirit of man is under the influence of the Spirit. Not in the letter. Not literal. Whose praise is not of men. The Jew, as we have seen, made his boasts, and praised his privileges, but though the true Jew, such as Paul describes, shall be ill-spoken of by men, but shall have praise of God. The whole section shows that religious privileges, resulting from birth, the revelation of God's will, ritual observances and knowledge, increase the guilt of those whose morality does not correspond. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, were very eager for the praise of men, but the true Jew, the real child of Abraham's by faith, will have what is infinitely better, the praise of God.