Romans 2:27
And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
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(27) Judge thee.—Comp. Matthew 12:41-42, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it,” et seq. The idea is that of “putting to shame by contrast.”

By the letter.—The preposition here marks the condition or circumstance under which the action is done, and might be paraphrased, “with all the advantages of the written Law and of circumcision.”

Here, again, the sentence may not be a question, but an affirmation.

2:25-29 No forms, ordinances, or notions can profit, without regenerating grace, which will always lead to seeking an interest in the righteousness of God by faith. For he is no more a Christian now, than he was really a Jew of old, who is only one outwardly: neither is that baptism, which is outward in the flesh: but he is the real Christian, who is inwardly a true believer, with an obedient faith. And the true baptism is that of the heart, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Ghost; bringing a spiritual frame of mind, and a willing following of truth in its holy ways. Let us pray that we may be made real Christians, not outwardly, but inwardly; in the heart and spirit, not in the letter; baptized, not with water only, but with the Holy Ghost; and let our praise be, not of men, but of God.Which is by nature - Which is the natural state of man; his condition before he is admitted to any of the unique rites of the Jewish religion.

If it fulfil the law - If they who are uncircumcised keep the Law.

Judge thee - Condemn thee as guilty. As we say, the conduct of such a man condemns us. He acts so much more consistently and uprightly than we do, that we see our guilt. For a similar mode of expression, see Matthew 12:41-42.

Who by the letter ... - The translation here is certainly not happily expressed. It is difficult to ascertain its meaning. The evident meaning of the original is, "Shall not a pagan man who has none of your external privileges, if he keeps the law, condemn you who are Jews; who, although you have the letter and circumcision, are nevertheless transgressors of the law? '

The letter - The word "letter" properly means the mark or character from which syllables and words are formed. It is also used in the sense of writing of any kind Luke 16:6-7; Acts 28:21; Galatians 6:11, particularly the writings of Moses, denoting, by way of eminence, the letter, or the writing; Romans 7:6; 2 Timothy 3:15.

26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the … law, &c.—Two mistaken interpretations, we think, are given of these words: First, that the case here supposed is an impossible one, and put merely for illustration [Haldane, Chalmers, Hodge]; second that it is the case of the heathen who may and do please God when they act, as has been and is done, up to the light of nature [Grotius, Olshausen, &c.]. The first interpretation is, in our judgment, unnatural; the second, opposed to the apostle's own teaching. But the case here put is, we think, such as that of Cornelius (Ac 10:1-48), who, though outside the external pale of God's covenant, yet having come to the knowledge of the truths contained in it, do manifest the grace of the covenant without the seal of it, and exemplify the character and walk of Abraham's children, though not called by the name of Abraham. Thus, this is but another way of announcing that God was about to show the insufficiency of the mere badge of the Abrahamic covenant, by calling from among the Gentiles a seed of Abraham that had never received the seal of circumcision (see on [2184]Ga 5:6); and this interpretation is confirmed by all that follows. Uncircumcision which is by nature; a periphrasis of the Gentiles, who want circumcision, or are by nature without it.

Fulfil the law; here is another word; before it was keep, but now it is fulfil the law: though the word be varied, yet the sense is the same: see Jam 2:8.

Judge thee; i.e. rise up in judgment against thee; or else, shall he not do it by his example? as in Matthew 12:41,42, the men of Nineveh, and the queen of Sheba, shall judge the Israelites. The meaning is, the obedient Gentile shall condemn the disobedient Jew.

By the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law; i.e. the outward literal circumcision; or, by the letter understand the law; see 2 Corinthians 3:6. The sense is, by means of the law and circumcision, and resting in them, as pledges of the love of God, {so Romans 2:17} they are the more secure and bold in sinning against God; it is to them an occasion of transgression.

And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature,.... That is, the Gentiles, who are by nature uncircumcised; for as circumcision was by the command of God, and performed by the art of men, uncircumcision is by nature, and what men naturally have. Now

if it, such persons,

fulfil the law in Christ, they will

judge thee, the circumcision: and condemn, as Noah condemned the old world, Hebrews 11:7, and the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south will condemn the men of that generation, in which Christ lived, Matthew 12:41.

Who by the letter and circumcision transgress the law; that is, either by the law, which is "the letter", and "by circumcision", or "by circumcision which is in the letter", Romans 2:29, sin being increased by the prohibitions of the moral law, and the rituals of the ceremonial law, and the more so by a dependence upon an obedience to either of them, or both, for justification.

And shall not {s} uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the {t} letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

(s) He who is uncircumcised by nature and race.

(t) Paul often contrasts the letter against the Spirit: but in this place, the circumcision which is according to the letter is the cutting off of the foreskin, but the circumcision of the Spirit is the circumcision of the heart, that is to say, the spiritual result of the ceremony is true holiness and righteousness, by which the people of God are known from profane and heathen men.

Romans 2:27 is regarded by most modern expositors, including Rückert, Reiche (undecidedly), Köllner, Fritzsche, Olshausen, Philippi, Lachmann, Ewald and Mehring, as a continuation of the question, so that οὐχί is again understood before κρινεῖ. But the sequence of thought is brought out much more forcibly, if we take Romans 2:27 as affirmative, as the reply to the question contained in Romans 2:26 (as is done by Chrysostom, Erasmus, Luther, Bengel, Wetstein and others; now also by Tholuck, de Wette, van Hengel, Th. Schott, Hofmann). In this case the placing κρινεῖ first conveys a strong emphasis; and καί, as often in classic authors (Thiersch, § 354, 5 b.; Kühner, a[712] Xen. Mem. ii. 10, 2) is the simple and, which annexes the answer to the interrogative discourse as if in continuation, and thus assumes its affirmation as self-evident (Ellendt, Lex. Soph. I. p. 880). And the natural uncircumcision, if it fulfils the law, shall judge, i.e. exhibit in thy full desert of punishment (namely, comparatione sui, as Grotius aptly remarks[713]), thee, who, etc. Compare, on the idea, Matthew 12:41; the thought of the actual direct judgment on the last day, according to 1 Corinthians 6:2, is alien to the passage, although the practical indirect judgment, which is meant, belongs to the future judgment-day.

ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβ.] The uncircumcision by nature, i.e. the (persons in question) uncircumcised in virtue of their Gentile birth. This ἐκ φύσεως, which is neither, with Koppe and Olshausen, to be connected with ΤῸΝ ΝΌΜ. ΤΕΛ., nor, with Mehring, to be taken as equivalent to ἘΝ ΣΑΡΚΊ, is in itself superfluous, but serves to heighten the contrast ΔΙᾺ ΓΡ. Κ. ΠΕΡΙΤ. The idea, that this ἈΚΡΟΒΥΣΤΊΑ is a ΠΕΡΙΤΟΜΉ ἘΝ ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΙ, must (in opposition to Philippi) have been indicated in the text, and it would have no place in the connection of our passage; see Romans 2:29, where it first comes in.

ΤῸΝ ΔΙᾺ ΓΡΆΜΜ. Κ. ΠΕΡΙΤ. ΠΑΡΑΒ. ΝΌΜΟΥ] who with letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law. διά denotes the surrounding circumstances amidst which, i.e. here according to the context: in spite of which the transgression takes place.[714] Compare Romans 4:11, Romans 14:20; Winer, p. 355 [E. T. 475]. Others take διά as instrumental, and that either: διὰ νόμου.… προαχθείς (Oecumenius; comp Umbreit) or: “occasione legis,” (Beza, Estius, and others; comp Benecke), or: “who transgressest the law, and art exhibited as such by the letter,” etc. (Köllner). But the former explanations introduce a foreign idea into the connection; and against Köllner’s view it may be urged that his declarative rendering weakens quite unnecessarily the force of the contrast of the two members of the verse. For the most natural and most abrupt contrast to the uncircumcised person who keeps the law is he, who transgresses the law notwithstanding letter and circumcision, and is consequently all the more culpable, because he offends against written divine direction (γραμμ.) and theocratic obligation (ΠΕΡΙΤ.)

[712] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[713] Not so, that God in judging will apply the Gentile obedience of the law as a standard for estimating the Jewish transgression of it (Th. Schott), which is gratuitously introduced. The standard of judgment remains the law of God (ver. 12 f.); but the example of the Gentile, who has fulfilled it, exposes and practically condemns the Jew who has transgressed it.

[714] Th. Schott arbitrarily: who with the possession of the law and circumcision does not cease to be a transgressor and to pass for such.

27. uncircumcision which is by nature] Better, the uncircumcision, &c.; a phrase not easy to explain exactly. Perhaps (though the Gr. of the two passages is not quite parallel) we may illustrate by Galatians 2:15 : “Jews by nature,” Jews born and bred. Here thus the sense would be “Gentiles born and bred, with no physical succession to Jewish privilege.”

if it fulfil] Lit. fulfilling; as e.g. Cornelius did in the sense pointed out above.

judge] criticize and condemn. Perhaps the phrase arises from the solemn words of the Saviour Himself, Matthew 12:41-42. A stronger Gr. verb is used in that passage, however.

by the letter and circumcision] The phrase is a verbal paradox. The “letter and circumcision” are properly the means to a knowledge of the law, to obligation to it, and obedience under it; here they are, by paradox, the means to the wilful breaking of it, and not mere obstacles overcome by the transgressor.—“The letter” is the “letter of the law” of circumcision: q. d., “thou usest thy literal circumcision as a means to transgression,” a salve to thy conscience.

Romans 2:27. Κρινεῖ, shall judge) Those, whom thou now judgest, will in their turn judge thee at the day of judgment, Romans 2:16. Matthew 12:41; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3.—τελοῦσα, keeping (if it fulfil): a word of large meaning. Therefore ἐὰν, if, Romans 2:26, has a conditional meaning, and does not positively assert.—σὲ, thee), who art its judge [the self-constituted judge of the uncircumcised].—τὸν) the article does not properly belong to παραβάτην, but τὸν διὰ is used as ἡ ἐκ.—διὰ [by, or] with) Thou hast the letter, but thou even abusest it; there is an antithesis between by nature, and with the letter; then follows a Hendiadys, by the letter and circumcision. Concerning the letter and spirit, see ch. Romans 7:6.

Verses 27-29. - And shall not the uncircumcision which is by nature (i.e. men in a state of nature, Without any distinct revelation, or sign of a peculiar covenant) judge thee (thou presumest, in virtue of thy position, to judge them; nay, rather, they shall judge thee), who by (rather, with, i.e. though in possession of) the letter and circumcision dost transgress the Law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter (or, in spirit, not in letter. Both the nouns, πνεύματι, and γράμματι, here are without the article, so as to bring out their inherent significance. See above as to ὁ νόμος and νόμος). Whose praise is not of men, but of God. In these two concluding verses we observe the double sense in which the term Ἰουδαῖος may be used. It denotes here one possessed of the true spirit of Judaism; in which sense the Gentile might be the better Jew. In a like double sense we may use the word "Christian" (cf. John 1:47, ἀληθῶς Ἰσραηλίτης; John 8:39, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham;" also ch. 4. and Galatians 3:7). So, too, περιτομή for spiritual circumcision (περιτομὴ ἀχειροτοίητος Colossians 2:11), in the sense of inward dedication to God's service, and "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh" (Colossians 2:11; see also Philippians 3:2, 3). Such ethical significance of the rite appears even in the Old Testament. We read there of "uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6:12, 30), or "ears" (Jeremiah 6:10), or "hearts" (Leviticus 26:41); and in Deuteronomy 30:6 we find the significant words." The LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live;" and in Jeremiah 4:4, "Circumcise yourselves to the Loan, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem." (Cf. Isaiah 3:1, "Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.")

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