Who is a Jew? What do you think of when you hear the word "Jew"? Some may think of someone who is cheep or frugal. That moniker has been given to Jews. Some may think of those who killed Christ. Some may think of those who wear funny little black hats on their heads. What comes to your mind when you hear the word "Jew"?
According to the web site, "Judaism 101":
A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.
It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox.
What do the Scriptures say about who is a Jew? That is what we want to look at this morning. In verses 17-29 of chapter 2 Paul confronts the Jews in their security, showing them that having the Law and circumcision won't save them from Divine judgment. The apostle continues with his imaginary debater. In verses 17-24 they've jousted over Jewish superiority--possessing the Law. And Paul strips away any claim to exemption from God's wrath because of the possession of the Law. Now in verses 25-29 Paul goes after the last weapon in the Jew's spiritual arsenal: circumcision. Surely, circumcision counted for more than anything else. Surely, God would not overlook one circumcised like Abraham and Moses. Next to the Mosaic Law, the Jews boasted almost equally in their circumcision.
Let's look at some background on Judaism and circumcision. The Jews believed that they alone were the people of God. Remember, for 1600 years God dealt solely with the Jewish nation. If you wanted to come to God, you had to come through Judaism. They believed that they maintained a covenant relationship with God that secured their salvation. The proof of their identity and belonging was a mark. They bore a mark as the children of Abraham naturally, which they thought affirmed their right to be called the children of God supernaturally. The Jews held on to that mark, and by it they assumed that they were secure with God. That mark is called circumcision. To the Jews of Jesus' and Paul's day, circumcision not only distinguished them from the Gentiles, but also served as their "trump card" that would cover them in the end from God's wrath.
Listen to what their rabbis taught in that era. Rabbi Levi said: "In the Hereafter Abraham will sit at the entrance to Gehenna, and permit no circumcised Israelite to descend therein. What then will he do to those who have sinned very much? He will remove the foreskin from babes who died before circumcision and set it upon them [the sinners] and then let them descend into Gehenna."
The Talmud was a collection of Jewish writings that the Jews wrongly came to hold more sacred than the Scripture. The Talmud said, "The commandment of circumcision is more important than all the injunctions of Scripture." That shows the value they placed on circumcision. The Jews believed that if a Jew was so vile and so evil that he was sent to Hell, before he could enter Hell, there were angels at the gate that removed his circumcision. The most important thing a Jew could do to secure his relationship with God was to be circumcised.
The English word "circumcision" comes from a Latin word which means: "to cut around," it describes the original biblical reference to a surgery that was performed on little boys and often on adult males. The simple surgery removes the foreskin from the male organ. Where did the idea of circumcision come from? God Himself established the practice:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; 2 and I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; Genesis 12:1-2 NASB
This is the Abrahamic Covenant. God promises to make of Abraham a great nation. Then in chapter 15, the covenant is inaugurated. God meets with Abraham:
And he said, "O Lord GOD, how may I know that I shall possess it?" Genesis 15:8 NASB
Abraham is asking, "God, how do I know that your promise will take place?"
So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 And God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 "But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 "And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 "Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." 17 And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. Genesis 15:9-17 NASB
When people made a covenant, they would take animals and split them in half and the two parties would walk in between the pieces and shake hands. The idea of walking between the dead animals was: "May God do this to us if we break this covenant." This covenant was different, Abraham wasn't involved. God walked through the pieces Himself because this was a unilateral covenant. God promises Abraham that he would be a blessing. In this Abrahamic covenant is the promise of a Redeemer. That Redeemer is Christ. That is how Abraham is going to be a blessing to all nations- through Christ. The book of Galatians makes it clear that this promise was in reference to the coming Redeemer, Christ. This is the Abrahamic Covenant. Then in chapter 17, God gives Abraham a symbol of the covenant so he won't forget the promise that was made:
God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. Genesis 17:9-11 NASB
God has already made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. So we have two covenants. This covenant is a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant:
"And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 "A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 "But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant." Genesis 17:12-14 NASB
To be "cut off" meant to be put to death or physically separated from the people. He was a physical Jew, but if he was uncircumcisied he was cut off and had no right to go to Jerusalem to worship. If you can't worship God, you're spiritually dead:
"But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 "The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you." Exodus 12:48-49 NASB
In order for one to participate in the Passover meal, which every Israelite male was commanded to do, one had to be circumcised. Strangers (Gentiles, for all practical purposes) could participate, but only after being circumcised.
There are not many commands for circumcision in the Bible, because the people did it. They were very good at doing the outward things. Circumcision was to be much more than just an outward sign. It was to be the outward sign of an inward reality, but they lost the true meaning and kept only the outward sign. They missed the spiritual aspect because all they focused on was the physical. But the physical was to be a sign of a spiritual circumcision. Look at what Jeremiah says:
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My wrath go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds." Jeremiah 4:4 NASB
Here God is talking to men who have been physically circumcised and says, "Circumcise... your heart." This spiritual aspect is seen in:
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised- Jeremiah 9:25 NASB
How can they be circumcised and yet be uncircumcised? They were physically circumcised, but not spiritually circumcised. They missed the reality and clung to the sign.
Physical circumcision pointed to man's spiritual need. Nowhere, or at no point, is man's depravity more manifest than in the procreative act. We know man is a sinner by what he says and by what he does; we know he's a sinner by the attitudes that he carries. How do we know that man is a sinner at the very base of his character? How do we know that man is a sinner at the root of his existence? By what he creates, whatever comes from the loins of man is wicked. So nowhere is depravity so manifest: When man procreates, he produces a sinner. Remember, Jesus Christ had no human father, He was sinless.
The male organ, then, is the point at which human depravity is most demonstrated. You see the nature of sin passed on to the next generation. When God demanded that the male be circumcised, He was giving them a symbol that the outward part of man's procreative organ was cleansed to remind them that man needed to be cleansed of sin at the deepest root of his being. Man needed a spiritual surgery to cleanse him. Every time they circumcised a person they were reminding themselves of the fact that man was a wicked sinner and in need of a cleansing. Even the bloodshed that occurred in circumcision symbolized the need for sacrifice to accomplish that cleansing. So there was even a picture of the pain and sacrifice needed to cleanse the sinner in circumcision.
The symbol means nothing without the reality. The Jews were circumcised on the outside, but not the inside. Circumcision is the external symbol depicting the need for a total cleansing from sin, but Israel had reduced it to a tribal tatoo. They felt as long as they were circumcised, they had God's blessing. In our text for today Paul shatters their false confidence in circumcision.
In 2:25-29 Paul develops the idea that he has hinted at in the beginning of chapter 2. This idea that there were a people who did not have the Law or circumcision, but who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law by faith in Jesus Christ. To shatter their false security Paul writes:
For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Romans 2:25 NASB
They would have considered themselves as obedient to the Law. What does he mean by "practice the Law" and "transgressor of the Law"? Practicing the Law is trusting in the Messiah Jesus that the Law promised. And rejecting Jesus as Messiah makes Jews transgressors of the Law.
In the Greek this second part of verse 25 is interesting: "If you are a lawbreaker, your circumcision has become a foreskin." Paul is saying that because of their rejection of the promised Messiah they are considered uncircumcised even though they have been physically circumcised:
So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Romans 2:26 NASB
Their circumcision was considered as uncircumcision and the uncircumcised who keeps the Laws requirements is considered as circumcised. What do you see in this verse that is strange, almost comical? How can the uncircumcised man keep the requirements of the Law when one of the Laws requirements, as we have seen, was that you be circumcised? Paul makes this much clearer as we progress through the book.
This uncircumcised man who keeps the requirements of the Law is the same idea that we saw in:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, Romans 2:14 NASB
They don't have the Law, but they do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Gentile Christians, they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. In the same way the Gentile Christian, who is physically uncircumcised keeps the requirements of the Law by faith in Jesus Christ, which shows that he has been circumcised in heart.
The phrase "the requirement of the Law" in 2:26 is the same Greek phrase as in:
so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4 NASB
All that the Law required, including circumcision, is fulfilled in us (Christians) by the Spirit through our union with Christ.
In Verse 26 Paul expounded a radical shift from the covenant of Moses, which commanded a physical circumcision.
And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? Romans 2:27 NASB
This would sting the Jews. The physically uncircumcised are judging the circumcised transgressors of the Law. Paul refers here to the "letter" of the Law. With this he is making a contrast between the New Covenant and the Old:
who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 NASB
Those holding to the Old Covenant once the New had arrived are transgressors of the Law.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. Romans 2:28 NASB
Here Paul makes a distinction between the outward/physical and the inward/spiritual.
The "outward Jew" is a transgressor of Torah since he is not honoring Torah of the heart, which is only done by having faith in the Gospel of Jesus and receiving the promised Spirit.
Once the New Covenant arrived, the only true Jews were those who trusted in the Christ. All other Jews were covenant breakers, no matter what rites they held to:
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:29 NASB
In this context, Paul uses "Jew" as the people of God, those chosen by Him, those shown God's favor, and those in covenant with God; which is different from how he used it in 2:17:
But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God, Romans 2:17 NASB
Here Paul uses it of the national/physical Jew, those physically decedent from Abraham. Whereas, in 2:29 he uses it of Christians--any Jew or Gentile who has trusted in Jesus the Messiah.
The point of verse 29 is that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes uncircumcised Gentiles into circumcised Jews, namely, by circumcising their hearts. Circumcision, Paul says, is, in essence, an internal change of heart, not an external change of the sexual organ.
The Jews outwardly sought to receive praise from men, but a true Jew receives praise from God. The word "Jew" comes from Judah, and Judah means: "praised." "Whose praise is not of men but God" is a play on words. He is a true Jew for he lives up to his name. He is praised by God. That is a true Jew.
In the First Testament and second temple Jewish literature there was the expectation that God would come, by His Spirit, and circumcise the hearts of His people so that they would keep the Law. Paul's reference to the "circumcision of the heart by the Spirit" would signify that the eschatological promises had become a reality. The nations are now circumcised in heart, having Torah written in their hearts in fulfillment to the New Covenant. The New Age had dawned. The Old Covenant was fading away and about to disappear. For the Jew to resist what God is doing through Christ by the Spirit makes him a transgressor of the Torah. Only those who trusted in Messiah would escape the coming judgment of God.
What Paul says here in Romans, he says throughout the New Testament. Look at what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3 NASB
Paul says, "For we are the true circumcision." The "we" is a reference to Paul and the Philippian Christians. But what Paul says of them is true of all Christians. Theologically, this is very significant. This is Paul's description of the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the "true circumcision."
As it developed down through the history of Israel and even into the time of our Lord, it became very clear that "the circumcision" was a title, a technical designation of the children of Israel. Jews were synonymously called "the circumcision." There are many passages in Acts and some in Paul's letters in which instead of saying, "Israel" or "the Jews," they are simply called "the circumcision."
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- Ephesians 2:11 NASB
The circumcision" was simply a way of saying "Israelites" or "Jews." The "uncircumcisied" were the Gentiles. The term "the circumcision" was a technical designation for Israel. The significance of this should not be lost in Philippians 3:2-3. Paul says, "These Jews are not 'the circumcision' they are in fact the mutilators."
Who then is "the circumcision"? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:3, it is those who "worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." This is the Church, Christians, true believers. Paul is saying that the Church is the "true circumcision," the true Israel, and the true Jew.
Paul seems to be telling us that the "true circumcision" is not determined by ethnic derivation, not determined by the blood flowing in your veins, but rather by the faith that is in your heart. It's a matter of circumcision of the heart.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Romans 9:6 NASB
"All are not Israel who are from the nation Israel." There is a true Israel, a believing remnant, within the nation Israel. He was telling them that physical decent didn't mean that they were the true people of God.
Look at what Jesus said:
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. John 10:16 NASB
Jesus is talking here to the Jews, and the other sheep that He says He has are the Gentiles. There is only one flock made up of Jews and Gentiles who form one body, the true people of God. Jesus saw the realization of Israel's true destiny in the circle of His disciples; they are not a new Israel, they are not a different body, but the true Israel, the believing remnant.
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19 NASB
Jesus was not prophesying some completely different body of believers cut off from the Old Covenant people. Who were the people to whom He spoke these words? Who made up the early church? Jews made up the nucleus. They played a very important function in redemptive history. Not only were they the believing remnant of Old Testament Israel who accepted Christ, but they were also the nucleus of the emerging church and those to whom the promises of Israel were fulfilled.
Those disciples who made up the nucleus of the emerging church, stand in direct continuity with Old Testament Israel. We are not to think that the church is a temporary interruption in God's prophetic purpose for Israel. It is, in fact, the progressive continuation of that purpose. The church is not some new, entirely different, and distinct covenant body of people, but rather the maturation of the believing remnant of Israel.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; Romans 11:17-20 NASB
What I want you to see here is that there is only one olive tree, there is only one root. The natural branches, which stands for ethnic Israel, have been broken off because of their rejection of Jesus Christ. But the unnatural branches, which are the Gentiles, have been grafted in. God did not go out and plant another tree, He put us in the one olive tree of true Israel. We, Gentiles, were grafted in with them, Israel, and with them partake of the root of the olive tree. Paul taught that the Gentiles in the Church shared in the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant with Israel.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB
The promises were to one Seed, who was Christ. Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham:
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 NASB
If you by faith belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed and an heir according to the promise. It doesn't matter who's blood you have in your veins, but who's faith you have in your heart. It is covenant, not race, that makes one a Jew.
Who is a true Jew? Is it ethnic background that makes you a Jew? Is it who your mother is who makes you a Jew? NO! Many people today still consider the Jewish people as a race, but there is no Jewish race today. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, after the flesh, was scattered throughout the earth and lost all tribal relations. This scattering was made immutable due to the fact that all tribal genealogical records were destroyed with the Temple in A.D. 70.
If you are familiar with Dispensational theology, which most of churcheanity holds to, you know that it teaches that God has two peoples, Israel and the Church, with two separate destinies, one earthly and one heavenly. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Church is not a separate and distinct entity from Israel, but we are the Israel of God.
Let me share with you where this gets very practical. I believe that there is a direct connection between the Church's view of Israel and terrorism. I say this because I believe that our view of Israel has affected our foreign policy.
It is my belief that a wrong view of who Israel is affected all Americans on September 11, 2001. I believe that the attack on the twin towers in New York city and all the lives that were lost that day were a result of a faulty view of Israel.
It seems that Osama Bin Laden agrees with me that our view of Israel is connected to terrorism. Listen to what he said: "Our terrorism is a good accepted terrorism, because it's against America, it's for the purpose of defeating oppression so America would stop supporting Israel, who is killing our children."
So Bin Laden says that terrorism is connected to America's support of Israel. And I say that America's support of Israel is tied to a faulty theology. Because of Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, most American Christians believe that we have a biblical mandate to stand with and protect Israel.
Zionism is a political movement built on the belief that the Jewish people deserve, by right, to possess the land of Palestine as their own. Do they? No! Modern unbelieving Jews have absolutely no theological, and therefore, no historical and legal right to the land of Palestine. There are no racial Jews today, and those who hold to the Jewish religion are anti-Christ.
Christian Zionism is blasphemy. Christians have no theological stake whatsoever in the modern state of Israel. Religious Israelites are anti-God because they are anti-Christ. Judaism is a cult, and unless they turn to Christ, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. Look at what Jesus said about the Jews who rejected Him:
'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9 NASB
Who would say they are Jews? Only a physical Jew would say this. Jesus said that an unbelieving Jew was of the synagogue of Satan--now that's strong language. A true Jew, a true Israelite is one who has trusted in Jesus Christ and has been circumcised in heart.
Those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are not those who are Jews ethnically or outwardly. But those who are the Israelites of God's prophetic purpose are those who are Jews spiritually and inwardly:
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Galatians 6:15-16 NASB
What is the "rule" that we are to walk by? The "rule" ties directly to the previous verses. Paul has no boast except in the cross. That is the "rule" of his life. There is only one walk that we are to walk, and that is the way of the cross, which is metonymy for justification by faith alone. We are to walk by that rule. It is a very narrow path and very few find it. Those who find it are the remnant chosen by grace whom God has drawn.
We, believers, are the Israel of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Every Jew and Gentile who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ can say, "I am a Jew. These are my promises. This is my story. This is my Messiah. This is my God" (Jeremiah 31:33).
Is it important for you to be a true Jew? All of God's saving blessings come to the world through the rich root of the olive tree, the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be their God. There is no salvation outside Israel.
So Paul destroys all the securities that the Jews clung to. And immediately the question pops up in chapter 3 verse 1, "Then what advantage has the Jew?" And we'll look at that next time.
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