The Sins of the Jews

The Jews saw themselves as teachers of the truth (Romans 2:17-20)

            Proving that God is impartial, Paul now focuses on the Jews. The Jews saw themselves as superior because of their birth (Galatians 2:15), their dependance on the law, their pride in their God (Deuteronomy 4:7; Isaiah 45:25), and their knowledge of God’s will (Psalms 147:19-20). The Jews saw themselves as able to make moral judgments, approving of those things that are righteous (Philippians 1:10). They had training in the law and were confident of being able to teach others. They saw themselves as leaders (guides, lights, corrector, and teachers) to the lost Gentiles (blind, in darkness, foolish, and babes).

            They had form of knowledge. The Greek word morphosis means an overall view with emphasis on the outward form. It can be used in a bad sense, as in II Timothy 3:5, where it means a shallow knowledge. It can also be used in a good sense to mean having an overall outline of something. But in either case, the implication is general sense of the law without depth. Paul concedes they knew the truth in the law.

Class Discussion:

1.         Did the Jews see themselves accurately? (See Matthew 15:14; 23:16; John 9:40-41).

2.         Could they have misapplied verses like Isaiah 49:6 and applied it to themselves?

3.         How might Christians fall into the same trap?

The Jews sin in similar ways to what they taught against (Romans 2:21-24)

            The Jews’ knowledge and view of themselves makes Paul’s charges against them that much worse. They could apply the law to others, but they failed to apply it to themselves.

Class Discussion:

1.         In what ways can a person teach against something, yet do it?

            Paul’s charges are very similar to the charges God made against Israel in Psalms 50:16-21. In particular Paul charges them with:

          Not heeding instruction (Matthew 23:3-4)

          Stealing (Malachi 3:8; Isaiah 56:11; Ezekiel 22:12-13; Matthew 21:13)

          Committing adultery (Psalms 50:18; Jeremiah 5:8; Matthew 5:28; 12:39)

          Robbing temples (Malachi 1:8, 12-14; 3:8-9; Mark 11:17)

          Dishonoring God (Jeremiah 8:8-9; James 1:22-27; 4:16-17)

Notice that Paul does not charge them with idolatry, but not showing honor to God by treating Him as God.

            The result is that while the Jews talked of following God, it was clear to the Gentiles that they did not do so in reality. The Gentiles saw Judaism as a religion of hypocrisy (Ezekiel 36:20-23).

Literary Style: The Use of Questions

            To get someone who is confident in what he knows to think carefully about his situation requires getting him engaged in the examination. Paul uses a series of questions to challenge his confident readers. Questions beg an answer, which requires consideration. But in these questions there is no doubt that a point is being made and driven home. Paul is not hiding behind his questions, but challenging those he is addressing to answer them honestly.

Class Discussion:

1.         What impact did David’s sin have on others? (II Samuel 12:14)

2.         Can Christians be guilty of the same things the Jews were? I find it interesting the highest levels of divorce is among southern “Christian” denominations that argue so strongly for the sanctity of marriage. What other examples can you think of?

3.         If a person claims to follow God, what responsibility does that lay on them? (I Timothy 5:14; 6:1; Titus 2:5, 8)

Being a Jew is only of value if following the law (Romans 2:25-29)

            Circumcision was a sign or witness that a person was under the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). It meant that a person was obligated to keep the laws of that covenant (Galatians 5:3). But being under a covenant doesn’t benefit a person if he is not obedient to that covenant. If you break the laws, you might as well not have the sign of the covenant because you are not acting any differently from those without the covenant (Jeremiah 9:26; Amos 9:7).

            But if a Gentile, an uncircumcised man, keeps the law, then that man’s actions will be counted as righteousness, despite the fact that he doesn’t carry the sign of the covenant with him (Romans 2:13-15; Acts 10:34-35). His keeping of the law, though uncircumcised, will be a judgment against those who were circumcised but failed to keep the law that they had written out for them (Matthew 12:41-42). 

            Therefore, a true Jew – that is a child of God – is the one who follows God by his character (I Samuel 16:7). An outward form of following God is not enough (John 8:39). The sign that makes the true distinction between a follower of God and a non-follower is not an outward mark or a name, but the change in a person’s heart (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). It is a change in the spirit of a person and not outward rule keeping (Psalms 51:16; 50:7-23; Philippians 3:3).

            It is the person who has had the circumcision of the heart, found in the Law of Christ, that is the true follower of God (Colossians 2:11-12). It is the person who gains the praise of God and not the praise of men who is the real child of God (I Corinthians 4:5; II Corinthians 10:18).

Class Discussion:

1.         Does baptism help a person if they continue to live in sin?

2.         Is Paul saying we should obey the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law?

3.         Looking at II Corinthians 3:6-8, what does “of the Spirit” and “of the letter” represent?

The advantages of being a Jew (Romans 3:1-4)

            If a Gentile could be counted as righteous without the Law and a Jew can be condemned because of the Law, then the natural question is: What benefit is there to being Jew? Why go through things like circumcision if it doesn’t offer any advantage.

            However, the Jews did have a huge advantage over the Gentiles. A Gentile could be counted as righteous if he happened to live in accordance with the Law. The odds of that happening are not very good. The Jews had the advantage because they had the Law to go by (Deuteronomy 4:7-8; Psalms 147:19-20). The “oracles of God” is just another way of referring to God’s Word (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; I Peter 4:11).

            The fact that some Jews did not believe God’s word and disobey does not detract from the greatness of the Law (Hebrews 4:2). God’s faithfulness does not depend on men (II Timothy 2:13; Psalms 33:4; Numbers 23:19). Yet God promised to be the God of Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 17:7). The Jews have been rejected because of their unbelief, so doesn’t that mean that men defeated the promise of God?

            Paul argues that it shouldn’t even be considered. God is always true (John 3:33). The fault lies in men, not God (Psalms 116:11). Paul quotes David in Psalms 51:4. The fact that men sin is a statement against men, not against God. But men will try to put the blame elsewhere (Job 40:8). What the Jews were overlooking is that God’s promises were not unconditional (Genesis 18:19). It is because God has been faithful to His promises, including their conditions, that the Jews were found wanting. If there is ever a question between what God said and what man says, we should choose God as being the one who is right.

A Little about Greek: The Middle Voice

            English has two voices: active and passive. Active is when the subject is doing something to an object. Passive is when the object is doing something to the subject. Greek has a third voice, called middle, which covers both the active and passive happening at the same time. In translation a middle voice phrase is typically rendered in English in the passive voice even though it isn’t fully accurate.

            The phrase “when You are judged” as translated in the NKJV and NASB is in the middle voice in Greek. It means God is found to be righteous or pure both when He gives judgment and when His judgments are examined.

Class Discussion:

1.         What is an oracle?

2.         Why would the Bible be referred to as the oracles of God? Why is this an appropriate description for the written word?

3.         Why did Paul say “some” instead of “all” did not believe?

4.         It is sometimes argued that the Bible cannot be true because no one can keep the teachings perfectly. How do Paul’s arguments apply in this case?

You cannot do evil to promote good (Romans 3:5-8)

            This might lead to a twist form of logic. Since man’s sins demonstrate God’s righteousness, then it is to God’s advantage that men sin and He shouldn’t hold men accountable for making Him look good. The conclusion that they should be judged sinful, but they shouldn’t be punished for that sin.

            The conclusion cannot be true, else God would not be able to judge anyone in the world (Genesis 18:25; Psalms 96:13; Ecclesiastes 11:9; 12:14). There cannot be one rule for the Jews and another for the Gentiles (Job 34:12).

            The flaw in the argument is the idea that good can be accomplished by doing evil. One could take it to an extreme and argue that we should actively and constantly sin to bring about the most good. Clearly this is false.

Literary Style: Personifying the Opponent

            Speaking as if you were another person helps the reader to see your arguments as another person might see them and gives you a chance to address the objections. This style of writing is used frequently (I Corinthians 4:6; 15:32; Ecclesiastes 3:19-22).

            There is a danger in doing this as it might be tempting to put words in your opponent’s mouth that he would not think of uttering (misrepresenting his position), or watering down his arguments to make them easier to argue against. Paul makes sure this doesn’t happen by quoting what has been said against Christians.

Class Discussion:

I.         Why did Paul add “I speak as a man” to Romans 3:5? What is meant by that phrase?