Monday, August 03, 2009

Romans 2:17-29:
"True Covenant Membership"

[Crossposted to Street Prophets. The index for the series is here.]

I am using the pastor's - in this case Matt Bowen - titles for these posts. The appropriate links are:

The text is:

(NET) Romans 2:17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law36 and boast of your relationship to God37 18 and know his will38 and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law,39 19 and if you are convinced40 that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth – 21 therefore41 you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who tell others not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor42 idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law! 24 For just as it is written, “the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”43 25 For circumcision44 has its value if you practice the law, but45 if you break the law,46 your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore if the uncircumcised man obeys47 the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised man48 who keeps the law judge you who, despite49 the written code50 and circumcision, transgress the law? 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart51 by the Spirit52 and not by the written code.53 This person’s54 praise is not from people but from God.


36 sn The law refers to the Mosaic law, described mainly in the OT books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

37 tn Grk “boast in God.” This may be an allusion to
Jer 9:24.
38 tn Grk “the will.”
39 tn Grk “because of being instructed out of the law.”

40 tn This verb is parallel to the verbs in vv. 17–18a, so it shares the conditional meaning even though the word “if” is not repeated.

41 tn The structure of vv. 21–24 is difficult. Some take these verses as the apodosis of the conditional clauses (protases) in vv. 17–20; others see vv. 17–20 as an instance of anacoluthon (a broken off or incomplete construction).

42 tn Or “detest.”
43 sn A quotation from
Isa 52:5.

44 sn Circumcision refers to male circumcision as prescribed in the OT, which was given as a covenant to Abraham in
Gen 17:10–14. Its importance for Judaism can hardly be overstated: According to J. D. G. Dunn (Romans [WBC], 1:120) it was the “single clearest distinguishing feature of the covenant people.” J. Marcus has suggested that the terms used for circumcision (περιτομή, peritomē) and uncircumcision (ἀκροβυστία, akrobustia) were probably derogatory slogans used by Jews and Gentiles to describe their opponents (“The Circumcision and the Uncircumcision in Rome,” NTS 35 [1989]: 77-80).

45 tn This contrast is clearer and stronger in Greek than can be easily expressed in English.
46 tn Grk “if you should be a transgressor of the law.”

47 tn The Greek word φυλάσσω (phulassō, traditionally translated “keep”) in this context connotes preservation of and devotion to an object as well as obedience.

48 tn Grk “the uncircumcision by nature.” The word “man” is supplied here to make clear that male circumcision (or uncircumcision) is in view.

49 tn Grk “through,” but here the preposition seems to mean “(along) with,” “though provided with,” as BDAG 224 s.v. διά A.3.c indicates.

50 tn Grk “letter.”
51 sn On circumcision is of the heart see
Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; Ezek 44:9.

52 tn Some have taken the phrase ἐν πνεύματι (en pneumati, “by/in [the] S/spirit”) not as a reference to the Holy Spirit, but referring to circumcision as “spiritual and not literal” (RSV).

53 tn Grk “letter.”

54 tn Grk “whose.” The relative pronoun has been replaced by the phrase “this person’s” and, because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started in the translation.

Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

From the Note Sheet:
  • Going deeper in the word:
    1. What are the things that make you feel secure
    2. What do you tend to rest in for security before God?
    3. Are there any steps of obedience to what you already know that would help close the gap between knowledge and behavior for you?
    4. How is God calling you to be a light in your world?
    5. What outward marks do you think distract you from the more important inward attitudes God is looking to cultivate in your heart?
  • Further reading:

My comments: The NET Bible, which I am using as the basis of the text, gives the heading of this section as "The Condemnation of the Jews" - which I think is wrong. This is not a condemnation of Jews in general, but a condemnation of those Jews who believe that the outward show of faith (in this case circumcism) will please God if there is no real inward signs (in this case your heart being circumcised).

Matt Bowen, who taught this lesson instead of Carl Palmer, made his major focus

False confidence

  • In Knowledge (the Law): The law which the Jews studied and taught was only meaningful in terms of staying the judgment of God if the law was followed. Our knowledge alone neither averts God's judgement or earns God's favor.

    Matt talked about the focus of churches in America. He delineated three general foci:
    • Feelings: how do we feel about God here?
    • Doing: What do we do for God here?
    • Knowing: what do we know about God here?
    All of these are important, and good churches find a balance of all three. However, if you focus on one too much over the others you can get mis-shaped.

    I agree with him that Evangelical churches tend to focus on the last - right knowledge/doctrine. If we get "mis-shaped" that tends to be the reason.
    Knowledge without transformation is empty

  • In covenant membership: the outward sign of covenant membership (circumcision) means nothing unless it is accompanied by an inward change - a heart circumcised by the Spirit. Matt extends this to current rituals in the church like baptism and the Lord's Supper. These only have meaning if it is part of a transformed heart.
    An outward mark can be shown to be false by an inward disposition

  • Next: 3:1-8 -- "Faithlessness and Faithfulness"

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    How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
    1. The Golden Rule
    2. You cannot read minds
    3. People are not evil
    4. Debates are not for winning
    5. You make mistakes
    6. Not everyone cares as much as you
    7. Engaging is hard work
    8. Differences can be subtle
    9. Give up quietly