Romans 2:17-29

Thursday Evening Bible Study

April 24, 2008



A guy goes into the doctor’s office. There’s a banana stuck in one of his ears, a carrot stuck in one nostril, and a cucumber in the other ear. The man says, “Doc, this is terrible. What’s wrong with me?” The doctor says, “Well, first of all, you’re not eating right.”

Hopefully tonight we’ll be eating right…

In chapter 1, Paul talks about how obvious it is that there is a God – all you have to do is open your eyes and look at the creation around you. But when people reject the knowledge of God, something happens and they begin to go downhill morally.

This is what is happening in our society today – we have rejected the knowledge of God, and the bottom has dropped out of our morality.

Chapter 2 starts with Paul catching his readers about judging people who do bad things like those listed in the previous chapter. When he was criticizing those who judged others, he was a bit vague as to who he was talking about. Most likely he was talking about both Jews and Gentiles. Now Paul narrows his focus on the Jewish readers.

:17-20 The boast of the Jew

:17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,

calledeponomazo – to put a name upon, name; to be named

JewIoudaios – Jewish, belonging to the Jewish nation; religion; comes from the name of the tribe of Judah.

restepanapauomai – to cause to rest upon anything; to settle upon, fix its abode upon

boastkauchaomai – to glory (whether with reason or without); to glory on account of a thing; to glory in a thing

Paul is going to start a list of the kinds of things that a typical Jewish person was proud of about their religion.

The Jewish person “rested” on the law – they counted on the keeping of the Law to get them into heaven.

They boasted in their nation’s connection with God.

:18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,

His willthelema – what one wishes or has determined shall be done; will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure

approvedokimazo – to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals; to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy

things that are excellentdiaphero – to bear or carry through any place; to differ, to test, prove, the good things that differ,; to distinguish between good and evil, lawful and unlawful, to approve of things that excel, to differ from one; to excel, surpass one; impersonally, it makes a difference, it matters, is of importance

Originally, "test the things that differ." The verb was used for assaying metals. You run all the metals through the test, but only the things that survive the test are the ones that you accept, the “excellent” ones.

In other words, the Jews knew how to discern right from wrong. They knew how to say, “This is a good thing”. That’s something we all need help with, as Paul prayed:

(Phil 1:9-10 NKJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, {10} that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,

instructedkatecheo (“catechism”) – to sound towards, sound down upon, resound; to teach orally, to instruct; to inform by word of mouth

Again, part of the pride of the Jews was that they knew God’s will based on the Law, they knew how to discern right from wrong, they had found instruction from the Law.

:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,

confidentpeitho – be persuaded; to trust, have confidence, be confident

guidehodegos (“the way” + “to lead”) – a leader of the way, a guide; a teacher of the ignorant and inexperienced

It had been God’s desire that the nation of Israel to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Is.42:6; 49:6; 60:3), but rather than being a light that leads people in the right way, they were just proud that they were “better” than “those pagan Gentiles”.

:20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.

instructorpaideutes – an instructor, preceptor, teacher; a chastiser; based on the word for “child” (pais), seems to imply the teaching or raising of children

foolishaphron – without reason; senseless, foolish, stupid; without reflection or intelligence, acting rashly – this is how a Jew regarded a Gentile.

babesnepios – an infant, little child; a minor, not of age; metaph. childish, untaught, unskilled

This was the belittling way that some of the Jews looked down on those who converted to Judaism. In a way, a new believer is indeed a “babe” in Christ, but we shouldn’t be looking down at them in any way.

formmorphosis – a forming, shaping; the mere form, semblance

The Jew has only a shadow, a form of the knowledge and truth of God in the law.

They were settling for part of the truth and not the whole truth.

Real knowledge and truth of God are found in Jesus Christ.


The danger of spiritual pride

vs. 17 & 23, two times the word “boast” is used – a hint that pride is at the root of the matter.
The contrast of being a “guide” to the “blind”, a “light” to those in “darkness”, being a teacher of children for the foolish, a teacher of babes… all speak of looking down the nose at the poor stupid Gentiles.
May we be careful of that same pride.
Against unbelievers – we are not better than they are, we too are sinners. We have found grace and we long for them to find it too.
Against other believers – it’s very easy for one church or denomination to think they are better than another.
Real maturity as a Christian is not becoming better than others, but learning to serve others more.
(Mark 10:42-45 NKJV)  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} "And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

This is the example that Jesus gave.  It’s the example we ought to be following.

:21-24 The result of hypocrisy

:21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?

:22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

abhorbdelusso – to render foul, to cause to be abhorred; abominable; to turn one’s self away from on account of the stench

rob templeshierosuleo (“temple” + “rob or despoil”) – to commit sacrilege, to rob a temple

The Jews that Paul was addressing were caught in hypocrisy.

They said one thing, but did another.

It may be that Paul is talking about them actually, physically stealing and committing adultery. He could also be talking about the truth of these commandments as Jesus taught them:

(Mat 5:21-22 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' {22} "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.
(Mat 5:27-28 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' {28} "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

We’ll be seeing this on Sunday mornings as we continue to study the Ten Commandments. If you are hoping to get to heaven merely by doing the Ten Commandments, you haven’t realized yet how hard it is to do that.

:23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?

boastkauchaomai – to glory (whether with reason or without); to glory on account of a thing; to glory in a thing

This is the second time that “boast” is used by Paul. Perhaps PRIDE is one of the underlying themes here.

breakingparabasis – a going over; metaph. a disregarding, violating; of the Mosaic law; from parabaino – to go by the side of; to go past or pass over without touching a thing; to overstep, neglect, violate, transgress

It’s not taking the stone tablets and breaking them, it’s walking around them, going alongside them, passing over without touching them.

dishonoratimazo – to dishonor, insult, treat with contempt; whether in word, deed or thought; from time – a valuing by which the price is fixed; honor which belongs or is shown to one


It’s not what church you belong to, but what has happened in your heart that counts

The Jewish people Paul was addressing were proud and haughty over the fact that they were Jews, blessed with the heritage of Judaism, yet they didn’t buy into the heart of Judaism, only the outer trappings.
It’s like the person who has grown up in a church, was baptized as an infant, and feels like they don’t have to worry about going to heaven because they were born and raised in the church. Don’t base your hope for eternity upon anything other than what God says.
God doesn’t say that infant baptism saves you. He says that trusting in Jesus saves you:
(John 1:12 NKJV) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
(John 3:16-18 NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. {17} "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Your hope of spending eternity in heaven should be based only on the fact that you are trusting Jesus to take you to heaven.
Paul is making the point that it’s not the POSSESSION of the Law that counts, but the PRACTICE of the Law that counts.
For us – it’s not just going to a church that tells you the truth about how to go to heaven, but it’s actually putting your trust in Jesus that gets you to heaven.

:24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

blasphemedblasphemeo (“injure” + “report or fame”) – to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, calumniate, blaspheme; to be evil spoken of, reviled, railed at


What do unbelievers think of your God after watching your life?

It is thought that Paul is probably quoting:
(Isa 52:5 NKJV) Now therefore, what have I here," says the LORD, "That My people are taken away for nothing? Those who rule over them Make them wail," says the LORD, "And My name is blasphemed continually every day.
But there’s another parallel in Scripture, where the concept started. It was when David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He tried to cover it up by having her husband come home from the war and trying to get him to make love to his wife. When that didn’t work, he had the husband killed. When the baby was born, David was confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan:
(2 Sam 12:13-14 NKJV) So David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. {14} "However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die."
When Paul writes Timothy and gives him a list of what kinds of qualities to look in a man before making him an elder in the church, he writes,
(1 Tim 3:7 NKJV) Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Eldership, maturity, is linked with having your acts match your words, with having your walk match your talk, with being a person who not only talks about doing the right thing, but actually lives it as well.

:25-29 The True Jew

:25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

circumcisionperitome (“around” + “sharp”) – circumcised

profitableopheleo – to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit

keepprasso – to exercise, practice, to be busy with, carry on

breakerparabates – a transgressor; a lawbreaker; from parabaino – to go by the side of; to go past or pass over without touching a thing; to overstep, neglect, violate, transgress (related word to “breaking” in verse 23).

Uncircumcisionakrobustia – having the foreskin, uncircumcised; it comes from a word used to describe the foreskin

Circumcision was one of the great marks of the Law of Moses.

The world to the Jew was divided among those who were circumcised and those who were uncircumcised.

It actually began with Abraham (Gen. 17).

Circumcision is removing a man’s foreskin, a “cutting of the flesh”.
It was originally intended to be the symbol of a man who was choosing to live for God instead of after his own flesh.
Even in Moses’ day, it was clear that circumcision was to affect a man’s heart, not just his sex organ.
(Deu 10:16 NKJV) "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.

Circumcision is a valuable thing to a Jew if he lives a life of real obedience. Then the thing that identifies him as a Jew (circumcision) becomes a testimony of what God’s ways are like.

Christians also have rituals that identify us as Christians. Communion and baptism are like this. They are valuable as a testimony to the world if you are following Christ and showing people what He is like in your life.

But a Jew who is boasting that he is a circumcised son of Abraham, yet lives like the devil, is really no better than an uncircumcised heathen Gentile.

I’ve heard some people say that if you’re going to break the law while you’re driving, then you shouldn’t have a Christian sticker on the back of your car. I would like to adjust that a little and say that if you have a Christian sticker on your car, then drive like a Christian should. Don’t take off the sticker, change your driving.

:26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?

righteous requirementsdikaioma – that which has been deemed right so as to have force of law; a righteous act or deed; literally “a work of righteousness”

keepsphulasso – to guard; to watch, keep watch; to guard i.e. care for, take care not to violate; to observe

be countedlogizomai – to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over

Paul is saying that an uncircumcised Gentile who actually lives a life that reflects God’s ways will be counted before God as circumcision.

A circumcised Jew would have a hard time listening to Paul say this.

:27 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?

judgekrino – to separate; to approve, esteem; to be of opinion, think; to judge

physicallyphusis – nature

fulfillsteleo – to bring to a close, to finish, to end; to perform, execute, complete, fulfil, (so that the thing done corresponds to what has been said, the order, command etc.)

writtengramma – a letter; any writing, a document or record; the sacred writings (of the OT)

transgressorparabates – a transgressor; a lawbreaker (related to words used in vs. 23, 25, “breaking”); the idea of stepping around the law

Paul is saying that a person who wasn’t a Jew, but obeyed the Law, would stand in judgment over a Jew who trusted in their circumcision, but didn’t obey the law.

I think that in practicality, he would have to be talking about us Gentile Christians.

It’s only through trusting in Jesus that anyone can fulfill the requirement of the Law.
(2 Cor 5:21 NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

As we are putting our faith in Jesus, God puts His righteousness on us by exchanging our sins for Jesus’ righteousness.

:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;

outwardlyphaneros – apparent, manifest, evident, known; manifest i.e to be plainly recognized or known

:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter;

inwardlykruptos – hidden, concealed, secret

Earlier Paul had taught that God will judge the secrets of a man’s heart (Rom. 2:16). Here he clarifies that the issue of what God will be judging will be what lies at the most secret, inner part of man, the heart.


A real Christian

Some people know just enough about Christianity to be dangerous.
They go to church like real Christians. They sing songs in church like real Christians. They learn Bible verses like real Christians.

These things don’t make you a Christian any more than driving through MacDonalds makes you a hamburger.

God says,

(Isa 29:13 NKJV) Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,

God isn’t looking for a person to just talk the talk, He’s looking for someone who is going to be open and honest with Him.
The real step of becoming a Christian, of knowing God, comes when you put your life into God’s hand, ask Jesus to pay for your sins, pledge to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, and to allow God to make the changes that God wants to make in your life.
Please don’t misunderstand me here – it’s easy for preachers to make anybody feel guilty about anything.
It’s not uncommon for us preachers to make Christians doubt whether or not they are saved, and then get “saved” all over again.
Paul wrote,
(2 Cor 13:5 NKJV) Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?; unless indeed you are disqualified.
Have you truly once and for all put your trust in Christ? Let tonight be the night that you trust in Christ.
(1 John 5:11-13 NKJV) And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. {12} He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. {13} These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
Pray – write the date in your Bible.

:29 whose praise is not from men but from God.

JewIoudaios – Jewish, belonging to the Jewish nation; from – [email protected] – “praised”

Remember how Judah got his name in the first place:

(Gen 29:35 NKJV) And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Now I will praise the LORD." Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.

This meaning of the name is repeated again at the end of Jacob’s life:

(Gen 49:8 NKJV) "Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's children shall bow down before you.

praiseepainos – approbation, commendation, praise


Whose praise are you looking for?

In our society, all we care about is what others think. Just like the Jewish rulers in Jesus’ day:
(John 12:42-43 KJV) Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: {43} For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Our age finds it difficult to come to grips with figures like Winston Churchill. The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of inner values.
The modern political leader rarely ventures to comment in public without having tested his views on focus groups, if indeed he does not derive them from a focus group. To a man like Churchill, the very concept of focus groups would have been unimaginable. Thus in the space of a generation, Churchill, the quintessential hero, has been transformed from the mythic to the nearly incomprehensible.

-- Henry Kissinger in the New York Times Book Review, from his review of Churchill, by Norman Rose (July 16, 1995).

Be careful to not live your life for the applause of others.
Martin Luther wrote,

If you perhaps look for praise and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it--if you are of that stripe, dear friend--then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way, you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey hears. Affliction is the best book in my library.

There’s one set of clapping hands we ought to be yearning to hear:
(Mat 25:21 NKJV) "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

For the person who chooses to trust in Christ, who chooses to look for God’s approval instead of man’s – these are the words they will indeed hear.