Romans Chapter Two

Overview

The letter to the Romans is a detailed explanation of the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached, which Paul was unashamed to preach also, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [trusts]; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [hellēn 1672]” (Rom 1:16). The gospel is God’s power to save everyone that trusts, whether Jew or Greek. And Paul was the apostle sent to the Greeks, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” (Act 16:9-10). Therefore, “my gospel” (v. 16) as he will call it here in chapter two, is the gospel he was sent to preach specifically to the Hellenes, “the Gentile [hellēn 1672]” (vs. 9,10), and generally to all ethnicities, “the Gentiles [ethnos 1484]” (vs. 14,24).

Paul endeavored to substantiate two main truths by his teaching in this chapter: (1) that although the Jews were given privilege over all other people, God is no respecter of persons in judgment and will render to everyone according to their actions; (2) that the gospel he was sent by Christ to preach to the Gentiles is that they can fulfill the righteous requirements of the law without circumcision and all that pertains to it.

Furthermore, he affirmed that “the gospel of Christ” which is “the power of God unto salvation” is by hearing and doing the righteousness of the law, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (v. 13). The gospel of Christ and the gospel Paul preached isn’t hearing and believing, but hearing and doing, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24,26).

Moses and the prophets said, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev 18:5), “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Neh 9:29), “which if a man do, he shall even live in them” (Eze 20:11,13,21). And in answering a lawyer’s question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luk 10:25), Jesus affirmed his understanding of the law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (Luk 10:27-28). To live or to inherit eternal life, we must keep the moral righteousness embodied in the two great commandments of loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This was true under the Old Covenant and is still true under the New. God’s standard of moral righteousness hasn’t changed.

The gospel Paul explained in this chapter is doing, keeping, and fulfilling the righteousness of the law, “the doers of the law shall be justified” (v. 13), “do by nature the things contained in the law” (v. 14), “keep the righteousness of the law” (v. 26), “if it fulfil the law” (v. 27). Therefore, his message later in chapter four concerning “Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (4:3), isn’t about simply believing as it’s being taught today. Christ’s gospel and his gospel was hearing and doing the righteousness of the law.

Thou art inexcusable, O man

This chapter begins with Paul concluding what he had just stated at the end of the previous chapter, “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (1:32 NKJV), “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man [anthrōpos 444], whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (v. 1). God’s own people “are without excuse” (1:20), “thou art inexcusable,” because they know what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven” (Gen 19:24). And they know what He said about homosexuality, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Lev 18:22), “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Lev 20:13).

When Paul said “thou that judgest doest the same things,” he wasn’t saying that they actually were doing the same things but that they were just as guilty before God when they “approve of those who practice them” (1:32 NKJV). When they approved of others doing evil, they judged that evil as good and became just as guilty as if doing those evil things themselves. Those that know God’s judgment, “Who knowing the judgment of God” (1:32), yet “approve of those who practice them” (1:32 NKJV), make themselves judges.

People today cry out “Don’t judge me!” But it’s nothing new—it’s what the men of Sodom said to Lot, “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge” (Gen 19:9). The “Don’t judge me!” exclamation is simply a false accusation. Those that agree with God’s judgment aren’t the ones judging, it’s those that disagree with His judgment that are. Those that falsely accuse us of judging are actually the ones judging because they’re judging their evil actions of homosexuality and lesbianism as good. We’re not the ones judging because we’re simply agreeing with God’s judgment that their evil actions are evil.

When Paul called them “O man [anthrōpos 444]” (vs. 1,3), it was a subtle jab at the pride of God’s own people to remind them that they’re just as human as all other people. They viewed Gentiles as worthy of God’s judgment because of doing such things, yet they were just as guilty of doing the same things. In fact, since they had been made God’s priority over all other people, then their judgment will also be made His priority, “of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile” (v. 9). And His judgment upon all will be completely equitable and just without discrimination, “For there is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11).

According to truth

“But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man [anthrōpos 444], that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (vs. 2-3). Paul now states that God’s judgment is “according to truth,” “in accordance with truth” (NET), “based on truth” (NIV). This is what the law and the prophets said: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25); “And he shall judge the world in righteousness” (Psa 9:8); “he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psa 96:13); “with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psa 98:9); “O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?” (Eze 18:25); “O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?” (Eze 18:29).

Since God’s own people are human beings just like all other people, then the truth by which God will judge the world applies to them the same. What makes them think they won’t be judged by the truth, or that they won’t even be judged at all but escape judgment completely? Again, “O man” is a reminder to them that all men will be judged by the same standard.

The longsuffering of the Lord

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (v. 4). We hear people sometimes say, “Well, I sinned and God didn’t strike me with lightning!” But that’s simply a way of claiming that there really isn’t a God, or that He doesn’t judge sin. But Paul explained that “his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering … leadeth thee to repentance.” God doesn’t judge our sin immediately because He is giving us time to repent.

God’s own people knew His judgment upon the world when He rained the flood from heaven, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). However, He didn’t bring the flood immediately. He warned Noah first and instructed him to build an ark, “By faith [faithfulness] Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” (Heb 11:7). Then He waited patiently while the ark was being built, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1Pe 3:20). And Noah was likely preaching to the people during this time, giving them opportunity to be saved as well, “And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2Pe 2:5). His longsuffering in not bringing judgment immediately was so that the godly would be saved and that the ungodly would have time to repent.

The same is true today with the return of the Lord, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Pe 3:9), “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2Pe 3:15). This is the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached, “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mat 24:37), “And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luk 17:26). The last days will be like the flood in that the ungodly won’t believe God’s judgment is coming and therefore won’t be prepared. They’ll be carrying on with their daily activities until the very day it comes, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark” (Mat 24:38), “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark” (Luk 17:27). But it will be too late for them. The godly will be prepared and will be saved.

This was the point of Christ’s parable of the Ten Virgins. Five of them didn’t prepare for the bridegroom’s coming, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (Mat 25:5). And once he came it was too late to prepare. On the other hand, the five that were prepared, “they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut” (Mat 25:10). Like the door of the ark, “the door was shut.” It’s God’s “goodness and forbearance and longsuffering” that He hasn’t judged the world yet. He is giving us time to repent and be saved.

Hardness of heart

“But after thy hardness [sklērotēs 4643] and impenitent [ametanoētos 279] heart treasurest up [thēsaurizō 2343] unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (v. 5). The Greek noun sklērotēs and its adjective form sklēros are where our English sclerosis is derived. Merriam-Webster defines sclerosis as a “pathological hardening of tissue,” and its History and Etymology as “Middle English sclirosis tumor, from Medieval Latin, from Greek sklērōsis hardening, from sklēroun to harden, from sklēros.” When used for our hearts, it’s a metaphorical hardening.

God ordained in the beginning that men’s hearts would be like a garden that must be continually cultivated and nurtured, “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed … to dress it and to keep it” (Gen 2:8,15). Man being placed in a literal garden “to dress it and to keep it” was figurative of how it is in our daily lives.

The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached is that the heart of man is like different types of soil—wayside, stony, thorny, and good. The wayside is those that hear the gospel message Jesus and His apostles preached but won’t listen, “then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Mat 13:19). They don’t have ears to hear, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mat 13:9). We have a saying, “It went in one ear and out the other!” These are people that won’t listen.

Stony soil is those that listen but don’t last, “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Mat 13:21). Planted in soil filled with rocks, the garden of their heart tries to grow but just can’t bring forth fruit from it. These people begin compromising the truth to avoid suffering. When conflicts of interest come, they start doing what’s in their own best interest rather than in their Lord’s interest. Therefore, their hearts become hardened so that they don’t finish what they started.

The thorny soil is those that are overgrown by temptations for the things this world has to offer, “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word” (Mat 13:22). Rather keeping it their first priority to enter God’s Kingdom, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Mat 6:33), other things in this life begin taking priority. Rather than loving God first, “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exo 20:6), “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deu 6:5), they begin loving other things, “thou hast left thy first love” (Rev 2:4).

The good soil, on the other hand, “heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit” (Mat 13:23). They listen to the Lord and understand His message. That they “beareth fruit” is that they overcome all things to bear fruit in the “garden” of their heart. They endure whatever tribulation or persecution comes against them, and don’t succumb to the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.

Jesus Himself addressed seven churches in Asia and punctuated each message to them the same: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches … To him that overcometh” (Rev 2:7); “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches … He that overcometh” (Rev 2:11); “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches … To him that overcometh” (Rev 2:17); “And he that overcometh … He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches” (Rev 2:26,29); “He that overcometh … He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:5,6); “Him that overcometh … He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:12,13); “To him that overcometh … He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [breath] saith unto the churches” (Rev 3:21,22). We must listen to Him to overcome all that the enemy throws against us.

The Greek adjective ametanoētos in “But after thy hardness and impenitent [ametanoētos 279] heart,”

is a compound of the negative particle alpha and verb metanoēo which means “to change” or “to turn.” It’s translated in some Bible Versions as “unrepentant” (HNV, NET, NIV). The “hardness and impenitent heart” is a heart that has hardened and refuses to repent. These are people that don’t want to change, they don’t want to turn from a life of sin.

The Greek verb thēsaurizō in “treasurest up [thēsaurizō 2343] unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” and its noun form thēsauros, Jesus used in His Sermon on the Mount, “Lay not up [thēsaurizō 2343] for yourselves treasures [thēsauros 2344] upon earth … But lay up [thēsaurizō 2343] for yourselves treasures [thēsauros 2344] in heaven” (Mat 6:19,20). It means “to lay up,” “to store up,” or “to accumulate” something. Paul used it here for the ungodly “storing up” judgment against themselves. Just because God hasn’t judged sin, doesn’t mean that He won’t. Unrepentant sin is being stored up for judgment later.

Judged according to our actions

“Who will render to every man according to his deeds [ergon 2041]” (v. 6). Paul was quoting from the book of Job, “For the work of a man shall he render unto him” (Job 34:11). The Greek noun ergon simply means “actions,” whatever actions are imposed by the context. Here, it’s either good or evil actions as indicated by the next two verses, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing [ergon 2041]” (v. 7), “every soul of man that doeth [katergazomai 2716] evil … every man that worketh [ergazomai 2038] good” (vs. 9,10). The verbs katergazomai and ergazomai are both from the root ergon.

Jesus told all seven churches in Asia, “I know thy works [ergon 2041]” (Rev 2:2,9,13,19, 3:1,8,15). He didn’t say, “I know which of you truly believe and don’t believe!” He also said, “I will give unto every one of you according to your works [ergon 2041]” (Rev 2:23), “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work [ergon 2041] shall be” (Rev 22:12).

At the end of Revelation, we’re told that the dead will be judged according to their actions written in the books, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works [ergon 2041]” (Rev 20:12). Both “small and great” indicates there won’t be respect of persons in God’s judgment. It won’t matter how rich, famous, or powerful anyone was in this life. Everyone will be judged by the same objective standard—their actions recorded in the books.

In addition to the books with actions recorded, the book of life was opened with names recorded: “whose names are in the book of life” (Phl 4:3); “his name out of the book of life” (Rev 3:5); “whose names are not written in the book of life” (Rev 13:8); “whose names were not written in the book of life” (Rev 17:8); “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27). It seems the actions written in the books will justify the names being written or not written in the book of life, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).

Jesus told the church in Sardis, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev 3:5). He had told His disciples, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Mat 10:32-33), “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luk 9:26). Our names being written and remaining written in the book of life is only through being unashamed of Christ and His words before men.

“And the angel [messenger] of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Gen 22:11-12). The Messenger of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Son of God, saw Abraham’s actions and concluded that he feared God. Abraham then named that place accordingly, “And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh [Yᵊhōvȃ 3068] [rā’ȃ 7200]: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD [Yᵊhōvȃ 3068] it shall be seen [rā’ȃ 7200]” (Gen 22:14). The Hebrew verb rā’ȃ means “to see” or “to look at.” The Son of God saw his actions and confessed his name from heaven. And James used Abraham as our example, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works [ergon 2041], when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (Jas 2:21). His obedient actions of doing what God told him, “because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:18), justified him before the Son of God, “for now I know that thou fearest God.”

James also used Rahab as an example of actions, “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works [ergon 2041], when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (Jas 2:25). Everyone in Jericho feared the God of Israel, “I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you … And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Jos 2:9,11). However, Rahab was the only person in Jericho that took action. By harboring and helping the two spies, she joined herself with God’s people and justified her fear God more than the king of Jericho.

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith [faithfulness], and have not works [ergon 2041]? can faith [faithfulness] save him?” (Jas 2:14). James’ point was that it accomplishes nothing to simply say we’re faithful servants of the Lord yet we’re not being faithful to the Lord. It’s not what we say but what we do that counts. It’s our actions that justify our faithfulness, “shew me thy faith [faithfulness] without thy works [ergon 2041], and I will shew thee my faith [faithfulness] by my works [ergon 2041]” (Jas 2:18). Abraham’s faithfulness was shown by his actions, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works [ergon 2041]” (Jas 2:21), because his actions are what was seen, “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me … In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” (Gen 22:12,14).

Patient continuance in good actions

“To them who by patient continuance in well [agathos 18] doing [ergon 2041] seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (v. 7). Paul wasn’t teaching eternal life by faith but by “patient continuance in well doing,” “persistence in doing good” (NIV). The doctrine today that “The just shall live by faith” (1:17) means salvation by faith or believing, can’t be reconciled with Paul’s teaching in this chapter about actions. This is why we almost never hear sermons on these next two verses that eternal life is by “patient continuance in well doing” (v. 7), and wrath is to those that “do not obey the truth” (v. 8). It’s a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong with the teaching of salvation by faith.

Now, Paul certainly didn’t mean that we can do good on our own without Christ because he will teach later, “if so be that the Spirit [breath] of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit [breath] of Christ, he is none of his” (8:9), “if ye through the Spirit [breath] do mortify the deeds [praxis 4234] of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). That “ye shall live” is that we will have eternal life when we mortify or “put to death” (NET, NKJV, NIV, NLT) the praxis or practices of the body by God’s indwelling breath in Christ Jesus. We must belong to Christ to have God’s indwelling breath and be able to persistently do good thereby putting to death the practices of the body. He listed such practices when writing to the Colossians, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry … anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds [praxis 4234]” (Col 3:5,8,9).

He repeatedly told Timothy and Titus to remind God’s people to continue in good actions: “with good works [ergon 2041]” (1Ti 2:10); “Well reported of for good works [ergon 2041]” (1Ti 5:10); “that they be rich in good works [ergon 2041]” (1Ti 6:18); “prepared unto every good work [ergon 2041]” (2Ti 2:21); “thoroughly furnished unto all good works [ergon 2041]” (2Ti 3:17); “unto every good work” (Tit 1:16); “shewing thyself a pattern of good works [ergon 2041]” (Tit 2:7); “zealous of good works [ergon 2041]” (Tit 2:14); “to be ready to every good work [ergon 2041]” (Tit 3:1); “might be careful to maintain good works [ergon 2041]” (Tit 3:8); “learn to maintain good works [ergon 2041]” (Tit 3:14).

That eternal life is “by patient continuance in well doing [ergon 2041],” is that the focus isn’t on what we don’t do but on what we do. Eternal life isn’t simply by not doing evil but by doing good. When writing to the Galatians, Paul contrasted the actions of the flesh with the fruit of the breath, “Now the works [ergon 2041] of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Gal 5:19-21), “But the fruit of the Spirit [breath] is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith [faithfulness], Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23). The law of Moses included commandments against all such actions of the flesh. But against the fruit of the breath, there are no commandments because these are things we do, not things we don’t do. Like fruit produced from good soil, they’re the effect, outcome, or result of God’s breath in our hearts.

The contentious, stubborn, and unyielding

Paul now describes the actions of those that perish, “But unto them that are contentious [eritheia 2052], and do not obey [apeitheō 544] the truth, but obey [peithō 3982] unrighteousness, indignation and wrath” (v. 8). The Greek noun eritheia means “contention,” “dispute,” or “strife.” It’s used six other times in the New Testament: “lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes [eritheia 2052], backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults” (2Co 12:20); “Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife [eritheia 2052]” (Gal 5:20); “The one preach Christ of contention [eritheia 2052], not sincerely” (Phl 1:16); “Let nothing be done through strife [eritheia 2052] or vainglory” (Phl 2:3); “But if ye have bitter envying and strife [eritheia 2052] in your hearts … For where envying and strife [eritheia 2052] is” (Jas 3:14,16).

The Greek verb apeitheō is the negative form of the verb peithō which means “to listen to,” “to yield to,” or “to comply with.” It appears 16 times in the New Testament. In the King James Version, it’s rendered nine times as either “believe not” or “unbelieving” but seven times as either “obey not” or “disobedient.” It’s adjective form apeithēs appears six times and is always translated as “disobedient,” “the disobedient [apeithēs 545] to the wisdom of the just” (Luk 1:17); “I was not disobedient [apeithēs 545] unto the heavenly vision: (Act 26:19); “disobedient [apeithēs 545] to parents” (Rom 1:30; 2Ti 3:2); “being abominable, and disobedient [apeithēs 545]” (Tit 1:16); “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient [apeithēs 545]” (Tit 3:3). The point is that this word isn’t about unbelief but about disobedience.

God’s “indignation and wrath” will be to those “contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (v. 8). Jesus Christ taught the truth: “grace [favor] and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jhn 1:17); “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jhn 8:32); “And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe [trust] me?” (Jhn 8:46); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jhn 14:6); “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (Jhn 18:37); “the truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:21). Those contending with Him, and not obeying Him, will face God’s wrath.

We must ask ourselves this simple question, “Can anyone contend with the Savior and still be saved by Him?” The answer is obvious. To contend with Him is tantamount to saying that He taught falsehood, that He’s wrong and we’re right, that we know better than Him! Those that contend with the Savior, and that won’t obey Him, won’t be saved by Him. John wrote, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2Jn 1:9). To belong to God, we must abide by what His Son taught. Those that transgress or don’t abide by His teaching don’t have God.

The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached is that He was begotten of God: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son … the only begotten Son of God” (Jhn 3:16,18); “I proceeded forth and came from God” (Jhn 8:42); “I came out from God. I came forth from the Father” (Jhn 16:27,28). It’s His own words “begotten,” “proceeded forth,” and “came out from God” about Himself that attest to His begetting and His beginning as a person. Many times He called Himself the Son of God but never once called Himself “God.” Rather, He called His Father “the only true God” (Jhn 17:3). He also called His Father, His God before He died, after He was resurrected, and after He was seated next to Him: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34); “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (Jhn 20:17); “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God” (Rev 3:12).

Moses said, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deu 18:18-19). God put His words in His Son’s mouth, and He commanded, preached, and taught only what His Father sent Him to speak. To not listen to God’s Son is to not listen to God Himself. Once we come to know and understand what God’s Son taught, God requires it of us, “I will require it of him.”

As a Trinitarian myself for almost 30 years, I was wrong about God and His Son Jesus Christ because I had been deceived by false teaching. But once I came to the knowledge and understanding of what Christ taught about God and about Himself, I was no longer deceived and God required it of me. God is longsuffering toward us when we’re sincerely ignorant, confused, and deceived. He gives us time to come to the knowledge of the truth. But once we’ve come to know the truth, He requires us to not be ashamed of it but publicly confess it before men. Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel Jesus Christ Himself preached, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [trusts]” (1:16). We must be unashamed of the gospel message preached by Jesus Christ to be saved by Him.

No respect of persons with God

“Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God” (vs. 9-11). That “Tribulation and anguish” is to “the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” is that since the Jews were blessed and entrusted with more, then more is required of them. And that “glory, honour, and peace” is to “the Jew first, and also to the Gentile,” is that salvation was first preached to the Jews but then later to the Gentiles. It’s not about belief or unbelief but about “worketh good” or “doeth evil.” Under the Old Covenant, God’s people were never required to believe anything, but required to obey everything. The same is still true for God’s people under the New Covenant whether Jew or Gentile.

God is no respecter of persons: “For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deu 10:17); “for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts” (2Ch 19:7); “How much less to him that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor” (Job 34:19); “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Act 10:34); “God accepteth no man’s person” (Gal 2:6); “your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Eph 6:9); “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work” (1Pe 1:17).

Peter taught that God’s judgment will be without respect of persons but according to every person’s actions, “without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work [actions]” (1Pe 1:17). And the actions by which everyone will be judged are actions of either obedience or disobedience to the gospel, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1Pe 4:17-18). Other versions render it, “if the righteous is difficultly saved” (DBY), “if the righteous are barely saved” (NET, NLT), “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved” (NIV). Jesus taught that most will perish while only few will be saved, “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat … narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:13,14). The righteous are few, and even they just barely make it in.

With or without law

“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (v. 12). Paul will later reveal, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses” (5:13-14). Everyone has sinned whether they lived under the law of Moses or not. However, God doesn’t impute or count sin against those who didn’t live under the law. When they died, they perished and will never live again. Paul taught the Gentiles at Ephesus that when they were separated from Israel, they were without God and without hope, “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). There was no hope of salvation apart from Israel.

The Jewish people, on the other hand, had been given the knowledge of the true God: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3); “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deu 6:4); “we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (Jhn 4:22). And only they had been given the hope of eternal life by keeping God’s commandments: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD” (Lev 18:5); “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Neh 9:29); “which if a man do, he shall even live in them” (Eze 20:11,13,21). Jesus Christ Himself affirmed that eternal life was by keeping the commandments, “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mat 19:17), “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” (Luk 10:27-28).

Along with the hope of eternal life through keeping the law, came also God’s judgment upon those not keeping it, “as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” That they shall be “judged by the law” is that they will be resurrected, not to eternal life, but to judgment for having not kept it. However, since “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13), then everyone else that were without law will “perish without law” (v. 12).

The doers of the law

The gospel Paul preached, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (v. 13). And this is the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24,26).

Moses stated just before his death, “Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? … Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deu 30:12,13-14). Paul later quoted this, “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith [faithfulness], which we preach” (10:8), and summarized his understanding of it as, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe [trust] in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (10:9). Therefore, salvation is by hearing and doing what Christ said, “heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them” (Mat 7:24).

Under the Old Covenant, God’s people had to be doers of Moses’ law. Under the New, God’s people must be doers of Christ’s law. And Paul had already laid this groundwork of the gospel before teaching about Abraham in chapter four. The point is that he wasn’t teaching later that Abraham was saved by faith.

Uncircumcised Gentiles keep the law

“For when the Gentiles [ethnos 1484], which have not the law, do by nature [physis 5449] the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” (v. 14). The Greek ethnos translated here as “Gentiles” is the same as “nations” at the beginning of his letter, “for obedience to the faith [faithfulness] among all nations [ethnos 1484], for his name” (1:5). It’s all ethnic people outside the ethnic Jewish people. Paul’s purpose in introducing Gentiles at this juncture was to prove, “For there is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11). God saves and judges all ethnic people by the same standard.

Paul is continuing to substantiate his earlier premise, “the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [trusts]; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16), and is using Gentiles as his example. The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached is God’s power to save, not just Jews, but also Gentiles. Paul’s argument will be that if uncircumcised Gentiles are keeping the moral righteous requirements of the law but circumcised Jews aren’t, then those Gentiles will be saved while those Jews won’t be.

That Gentiles “do by nature [physis 5449] the things contained in the law” has nothing to do with some kind of innate quality or essence. Paul told us a little later exactly what it is, “uncircumcision which is by nature [physis 5449]” (v. 27). The natural born state of every man is uncircumcised. Therefore, to “do by nature” is to do what the law requires but in the natural born state of uncircumcision.

The law written in our hearts

“Which shew the work [actions] of the law written in their hearts” (v. 15). Jeremiah prophesied that God would make a New Covenant with His people in which He would “write” His law in their hearts, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). And this was quoted in the New Testament, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb 8:10).

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “written not with ink, but with the Spirit [breath] of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2Co 3:3), it was that the same moral standard of righteousness embodied within the law on stone tablets is within the hearts of God’s people by His breath. Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets and his face shining, “And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments … Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him” (Exo 34:28,29), “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” (2Co 3:15-16). That “vail” was taken away on the Day of Pentecost when thousands of Jewish men turned to the Lord, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Act 2:41). Those men acknowledged that justification before God is by calling upon the name of the Lord and keeping the moral righteousness He commanded.

The “work [actions] of the law written in their hearts,” is doing the good actions taught by Christ embodied within the law, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mat 7:12). When James taught “For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill” (Jas 2:11), it wasn’t about what Moses said but what Jesus Christ said, “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause” (Mat 5:21-22), “Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:27-28). The gospel Jesus Christ preached is that hatred in the heart and lust in the heart are equivalent to the actions of murder and adultery. And He taught, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man” (Mat 15:19-20), “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mar 7:21-23). Therefore, fulfilling the righteousness of the law begins with a pure heart, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat 5:8).

Their conscience bearing witness

“Which shew the work [actions] of the law written in their hearts, their conscience [syneidēsis 4893] also bearing witness [symmartyreo 4828], and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (v. 15). The Greek syneidēsis translated “conscience” is literally “with knowledge.” To do something with conscience is to do it with knowledge, awareness, or regard, “we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one … Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience [syneidesis 4893] of the idol” (1Co 8:4,7). Although Paul and many of the Corinthians knew there was “none other God but one,” but because the people in Macedonia had grown up in gross idolatry, even after coming to the knowledge of the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, many still regarded idols as other lesser gods that actually existed. Therefore, meat from animals that had been sacrificed to these “gods” carried a worship significance in their regard that compelled them to avoid.

Paul continued later in his letter, “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience [syneidēsis 4893] sake” (1Co 10:25), “If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience [syneidēsis 4893] sake” (1Co 10:27), “But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience [syneidēsis 4893] sake” (1Co 10:28). His instruction was that if the Corinthians didn’t know the meat they were buying or eating came from a sacrificed animal, they wouldn’t be culpable for knowledge they didn’t have—therefore, they shouldn’t even ask. But if they were to come to that knowledge without having asked, then they shouldn’t eat it for the sake of how others might regard it.

The point is that “conscience” is our knowledge, awareness, or regard. None of us lives in a vacuum. Our actions, including what we say, how we look, what we eat and drink, where we go, our attitude and demeanor, affects people around us. Being conscious of others means that our actions are always with knowledge, awareness, and regard for them. That “their conscience also bearing witness” is that our awareness and regard for others in everything we say and do bears witness of God’s law written in our hearts.

Later in Romans when speaking of submitting to authorities, Paul instructed, “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience [syneidēsis 4893] sake” (13:5). We’re to obey the government and civil authorities, “not only for wrath,” not just because we don’t want to get fined or arrested, “but also for conscience,” with knowledge, awareness, and regard for God. It’s because we’re aware that government was established by God and that resisting the government is tantamount to resisting Him, we obey with conscience toward Him. Our model citizenship bears witness of God’s law written in our hearts.

Furthermore, we obey laws, not only with conscience toward God but toward others as well. When driving, for example, we obey speed limits with awareness and regard for everyone’s benefit—our own safety and the sake of our family that depend upon us, and for the safety of others around us and their families. Another example is substance abuse. People who abuse substances sometimes claim that they’re only hurting themselves. But that’s not true. They’re hurting their family and burdening society. Substance abuse affects their productivity on the job, turns many to criminal activities, and causes unnecessary health issues that burden the health system.

In context of the COVID pandemic, that “their conscience also bearing witness” is that we should always do what’s in the best interest of others—with knowledge, awareness, and regard for them. We should get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash our hands regularly, and social distance. We do these things not just for ourselves and the sake of our families but with conscience toward others. Our actions of love toward others bear witness of God’s law written in our hearts.

That “their conscience also bearing witness” can also be understood by Samuel’s challenge to God’s people: “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand.” (1Sa 12:3-4). Samuel always walked with knowledge, awareness, or regard toward God and man so that nobody could bear witness of any wrongdoing on his part. The people were his witnesses because he always lived with conscience toward them.

Paul appealed the same of himself to his churches: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” (Act 20:33-34); “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience [syneidēsis 4893] void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Act 24:16); “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience [syneidēsis 4893] that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace [favor] of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward” (2Co 1:12); “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe [trust]” (1Th 2:10).

Peter said, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience [syneidēsis 4893] toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 3:21). The flood of Noah was figurative and prophetic of baptism, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Baptism into the name of Christ is putting away the evil imaginations and thoughts of our hearts to begin living with a good conscience toward God. Peter had taught earlier: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience [syneidēsis 4893] toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully … For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1Pe 2:19-21), “if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake … Having a good conscience [syneidēsis 4893]” (1Pe 3:14,16). It’s not getting wet that saves us but what we do after getting dried off—following Christ’s example of suffering wrongfully with conscience toward God in all we do.

Accusing or else defending

“Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts [logismos 3053] the mean while accusing [katēgoreō 2723] or else excusing [apologeomai 626] one another” (v. 15). The noun logismos is a counting, reckoning, or concluding. Its verb form logizomai is later used in “Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was counted [logizomai 3049] unto him for righteousness” (4:3). It’s about what we count, reckon, or conclude about others. God’s judgment will be against those falsely accusing the good of doing evil, or defending the evil of doing good.

Many times Jesus Christ’s enemies tried to find accusations against Him: “And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Mat 12:10); “And when he was accused [katēgoreō 2723] of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing” (Mat 27:12); “And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Mar 3:2); “And the chief priests accused [katēgoreō 2723] him of many things: but he answered nothing” (Mar 15:3); “Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Luk 11:54); “And they began to accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Luk 23:2); “And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Luk 23:10); “I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Luk 23:14); “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Jhn 8:6).

The last few chapters of Acts record the false accusations brought against Paul from his own Jewish brethren along with his defense. What’s the purpose of these events if not to serve as a validation of the gospel message he preached? That nobody could find any legitimate accusations against him, it bolstered the validity of his motives for what he preached: “wherefore he was accused [katēgoreō 2723] of the Jews” (Act 22:30); “Tertullus began to accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Act 24:2); “whereof we accuse [katēgoreō 2723] him” (Act 24:8); “I do the more cheerfully answer [apologeomai 626] for myself” (Act 24:10); “Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse [katēgoreō 2723] me” (Act 24:13); “Who ought to have been here before thee, and object [katēgoreō 2723], if they had ought against me” (Act 24:19); “go down with me, and accuse [katēgoreō 2723] this man, if there be any wickedness in him” (Act 25:5); “While he answered [apologeomai 626] for himself” (Act 25:8); “but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse [katēgoreō 2723] me” (Act 25:11); “before that he which is accused [katēgoreō 2723] have the accusers face to face” (Act 25:16); “Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself [apologeomai 626]” (Act 26:1); “I shall answer for myself [apologeomai 626]” (Act 26:2); “And as he thus spake for himself [apologeomai 626]” (Act 26:24).

The secrets of men

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets [kryptos 2927] of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (v. 16). The Greek adjective kryptos is something that’s “secret,” “hidden,” or “concealed.” Jesus Christ used the good actions of giving alms, praying, and fasting as examples for how these actions should and shouldn’t be done. He taught that the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees did these things for the wrong reason: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Mat 6:2), “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Mat 6:5), “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Mat 6:16). They did these actions openly to be noticed, recognized, and seen by people so that they would get glory and praise from them. That was their intent, motive, or reason for doing those things and that was the reward they receive for doing them, “They have their reward.”

The gospel message Christ preached is, “That thine alms may be in secret [kryptos 2927]: and thy Father which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927] himself shall reward thee openly” (Mat 6:4), “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret [kryptos 2927]; and thy Father which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927] shall reward thee openly” (Mat 6:6), “That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret [kryptos 2927]: and thy Father, which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927], shall reward thee openly” (Mat 6:18). Those that aren’t hypocrites but true servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, do those same good actions but for the right reason—they give to truly help people, and pray to sincerely talk with God, and fast to discipline themselves before God. They don’t do these things to receive any advantage, benefit, or glory from people. They patiently continue to do these good actions, seeking glory from God and eternal life, “To them who by patient continuance in well [good] doing [actions] seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (v. 7). Rather than getting reward now, they patiently continue day after day getting apparently nothing for their labors.

Although they grow wearisome in continually doing good without getting rewarded, they trust they’ll be rewarded by God in due season: “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Mat 10:42); “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Mat 24:45); “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mar 9:41); “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” (Luk 12:42); “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal 6:9); “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1Co 15:58); “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing” (2Th 3:13); “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb 6:10).

At the end of this chapter, Paul used the same Greek word again, “inwardly [kryptos 2927]whose praise is not of men, but of God” (2:29). But rather than “secretly,” it’s mistranslated as “inwardly,” “inside,” or “within” in virtually every English version except for just a few: “but the Jew in the hidden thing is a Jew” (DLNT); “The ‘Jew’ is the one in secret” (NTE); “The true Yehudi is so in [Hashem’s] hidden way” (OJB); “but he that is a Jew in hid” (WYC). It concerns the intent, motive, or reason for our actions, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds [actions]” (v. 6), whether our good actions are done openly to receive praise from men, or in secret to receive praise from God.

Called a Jew

“Behold, thou art called a Jew [ioudaios 2453]” (v. 17). The name “Jew” is an abbreviation for the name “Judah” which means “praise,” “And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah [yᵊhûḏȃ 3063]” (Gen 29:35), “Judah [yᵊhûḏȃ 3063], thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise” (Gen 49:8). Because all 12 tribes of Israel submitted to King David from the tribe of Judah, and to Jesus of Nazareth from Judah as the King, Christ, or Messiah ruling forever on David’s throne, therefore God’s people are called by that name. And being called by the name “praise” meant living up to that name by which they were called.

The Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exo 20:7), wasn’t commanding against God’s name being used in profanity, although that certainly should never be done. It was commanding God’s people to live up to God’s name by which they were called. Being called by His name—as belonging to Him and representing Him—carried the duty of conducting themselves worthy of that distinction. That “the LORD will not hold him guiltless” is that unlike all other people, God’s people bore a responsibility for which they will be held accountable. Being true to His name would bring great reward, but taking His name in vain would incur severe judgment.

This principle also applies to them being “called a Jew” or “praise.” God’s people didn’t acquire that name by chance. God purposed they would be called by the name “Jew” and would walk worthy of that name. Jesus Christ of the tribe of Judah certainly did in every way.

Paul will conclude his point at the end of this chapter, “For he is not a Jew [ioudaios 2453] … But he is a Jew [ioudaios 2453] … whose praise [epainos 1868] is not of men, but of God” (vs. 28,29). Although “called a Jew” or “a praise,” God’s people weren’t walking worthy of that name when their praise came from men. It’s only when God Himself was praising them that they were truly “a Jew” or “a praise.” Paul wrote to the Gentiles in Ephesus, “That we [Jews] should be to the praise [epainos 1868] of his glory [doxa 1391], who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye [Gentiles] also trusted” (Eph 1:12-13), “we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ … And now you Gentiles” (NLT). The Jews, not only in Jerusalem but all over the Roman Empire, were given the first opportunity to trust in Christ, “to every one that believeth [trusts]; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16). And they could only be “to the praise of his glory” by trusting in Christ, the Son of God. Nobody receives praise from God that rejects His Son.

When questioned about Jesus, the parents of the man born blind that was healed, deflected the issue back to their son because they didn’t want to be put out from the synagogue, “the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue” (Jhn 9:22). Their son, however, did confess Him and consequently was removed, “And they cast him out” (Jhn 9:34). The synagogue had become the determining factor of one’s salvation with Jesus Christ Himself being the conflict. Although many recognized Jesus as the Christ, they remained silent to remain in the synagogue, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed [trusted] on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise [doxa 1391] of men more than the praise [doxa 1391] of God” (Jhn 12:42-43).

This same conflict is true today among Trinitarian groups. Roman Catholics trust that their salvation is within the Church, and that they’ll be anathematized if ever removed. Likewise, Protestants are instilled with the Trinitarian view of God as essential for salvation. And although many of them doubt and even disbelieve in the Trinity, they stay silent about it because they don’t want their membership removed and to lose fellowship with everyone.

As with the Jews back then, so it is with “Christians” today, “they did not confess him … they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” We can’t be ashamed of the gospel Christ preached and still be saved, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [trusts]; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16). We can’t be trusting Him for salvation while also seeking honor from people rather than from God, “How can ye believe [trust], which receive honour [doxa 1391] one of another, and seek not the honour [doxa 1391] that cometh from God only?” (Jhn 5:44).

Boasting of God

“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast [kauchaomai 2744] of God” (v. 17). The Greek verb kauchaomai means “to boast” or “to brag.” Paul used this same word just a few verses later, “Thou that makest thy boast [kauchaomai 2744] of the law” (v. 23). Bragging about ourselves indicates a lack of trust in God that He will reward us for being faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. We brag because we want reward now—praise, admiration, and respect from people—rather than from God in due season, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Mat 24:45), “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?” (Luk 12:42).

Bragging can be very subtle and almost undetectable. Anytime we’re talking about ourselves to make ourselves look good in some way, we’re bragging. Some are skilled at bragging about their “humility” which is actually just pride. Being viewed by others as humble is a good thing, so people say things that will cause others to view them that way.

The gospel message Jesus Christ preached is, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works [actions], and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mat 5:16). Rather than bragging about ourselves to look good, we’re to let our “light so shine” to others simply by our continued actions of faithfulness to the Lord. And we understand this principle in daily life. It has been said, “What you’re doing speaks so loudly, I can’t hear a word you’re saying!” James wrote about a man that “say he hath faith [faithfulness], and have not works [actions]” (Jas 2:14). It’s a man that boasts and brags about his faithfulness to the Lord but his actions say otherwise. James went on to say, “Thou hast faith [faithfulness], and I have works [actions]: shew me thy faith [faithfulness] without thy works [actions], and I will shew thee my faith [faithfulness] by my works [actions]” (Jas 2:18). Rather than talking about our faithfulness, we should simply be faithful to the Lord and let our actions speak for themselves. This is letting our light shine.

The Jews of whom Paul was speaking “makest thy boast of God” and “makest thy boast of the law.” They boasted and bragged of knowing God and keeping the law but their actions disagreed, “They profess [declare] that they know God; but in works [actions] they deny him” (Tit 1:16). It’s not our boasting or bragging but our actions that are going to be judged, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds [actions]” (v. 6), “the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works [actions] … they were judged every man according to their works [actions]” (Rev 20:12,13).

Approving the things that are excellent

“And knowest his will, and approvest [dokimazō 1381] the things that are more excellent [diapherō 1308], being instructed out of the law” (v. 18). Paul made this same statement to the church at Philippi, “That ye may approve [dokimazō 1381] things that are excellent [diapherō 1308]” (Phl 1:10), “decide what is best” (NET), “discern what is best” (NIV), “understand what really matters” (NLT). The Greek verb dokimazō as “approve” isn’t an accurate translation in these two places. It’s better rendered as “prove” or “try” as in: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove [dokimazō 1381] them” (Luk 14:19); “that ye may prove [dokimazō 1381] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2); “the fire shall try [dokimazō 1381] every man’s work of what sort it is” (1Co 3:13); “to prove [dokimazō 1381] the sincerity of your love” (2Co 8:8); “And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved [dokimazō 1381] diligent in many things” (2Co 8:22); “But let every man prove [dokimazō 1381] his own work” (Gal 6:4); “Proving [dokimazō 1381] what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph 5:10); “Prove [dokimazō 1381] all things; hold fast that which is good” (1Th 5:21); “And let these also first be proved [dokimazō 1381]” (1Ti 3:10); “When your fathers tempted me, proved [dokimazō 1381] me” (Heb 3:9); “though it be tried [dokimazō 1381] with fire” (1Pe 1:7); “but try [dokimazō 1381] the spirits whether they are of God” (1Jo 4:1).

Also, the Greek diapherō for “excellent” is a verb but translated in these two statements as an adjective. It conveys the meaning of value or worth as Christ Himself used it: “Are ye not much better than [diapherō 1308] they?” (Mat 6:26); “ye are of more value [diapherō 1308] than many sparrows” (Mat 10:31); “How much then is a man better than [diapherō 1308] a sheep?” (Mat 12:12); “ye are of more value [diapherō 1308] than many sparrows” (Luk 12:7); “how much more are ye better than [diapherō 1308] the fowls?” (Luk 12:24).

To “approvest the things that are more excellent” is to prove what’s most valuable or matters most through “being instructed out of the law.” God gave His people the law—commandments, judgments, ordinances, statutes, and testimonies—that were righteous and true above all the other surrounding nations: “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” (Deu 4:8); “He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Psa 147:20); “Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments” (Neh 9:13).

God’s law is faithful, perfect, pure, righteous, sure, and true: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psa 19:7-9); “when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments” (Psa 119:7); “because of thy righteous judgments” (Psa 119:62,164); “All thy commandments are faithful” (Psa 119:86); “I will keep thy righteous judgments” (Psa 119:106); “Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful” (Psa 119:138).

Because God’s people had been instructed by His law, they learned the things that mattered most, particularly the two greatest commandments: “thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deu 6:5), “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev 19:18). Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves are “the things that are more excellent.” No other nation had been blessed by God in this way.

The understanding of “approvest the things that are more excellent” is brought out more clearly by the context of Paul’s parallel statement to the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment [aisthēsis 144]; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence [aproskopos 677] till the day of Christ” (Phl 1:9-10). The Greek noun aisthēsis is “judgment,” “perception,” or “understanding” as used in its verb form, “But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived [aisthanomai 143] it not” (Luk 9:45). And aproskopos is to be without offense: “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence [aproskopos 677] toward God, and toward men” (Act 24:16), “Give none offence [aproskopos 677], neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1Co 10:32). Paul wanted the Philippians to mature in their judgment or perception of what’s most important or most valuable so that they would increase in their love toward others without causing offences, until the day Christ returns.

Guiding the blind

“And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness” (v. 19). It’s a very simple but powerful analogy—the blind must be led by someone else that can see, “they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mat 15:14), “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luk 6:39), “Woe unto you, ye blind guides” (Mat 23:16). As there’s no possibility the blind can successfully lead the blind, those breaking God’s commandments can never teach others how to keep them, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so” (Mat 5:19). It’s only the doers that can teach others to do, “but whosoever shall do and teach them” (Mat 5:19), “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat 28:20), “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers” (Heb 5:12).

The Jewish men of whom Paul spoke didn’t consider themselves blind. Rather, they were confident of “seeing” and serving as guides to the blind. But the only way anyone can “see” is by first learning the truth from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart … But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:18,20-21)

The form of knowledge

“An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [morphōsis 3446] of knowledge and of the truth in the law” (v. 20). The Greek noun morphōsis is used only one other time in Scripture, “Having a form [morphōsis 3446] of godliness” (2Ti 3:5). Paul was speaking of an outward appearance, display, façade, or pretense. The Jewish teachers of the law were confident that they were wise instructors of the foolish and mature teachers of babies. And they appeared to be the ones with the knowledge of the truth from the law. But it only appeared that way.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ taught His disciples about God’s righteousness as contrasted with the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mat 5:20). His disciples’ actions must be different from the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, “as the hypocrites” (Mat 6:2,5,16), whose actions were done “before men, to be seen of them … that they may be seen of men … that they may appear unto men” (Mat 6:1,5,16).

Christ later confronted the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in their actions: “But all their works [actions] they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi” (Mat 23:5-7), “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Mat 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29); “Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts” (Mar 12:38-39); “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets” (Luk 11:43); “Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts” (Luk 20:46).

Hypocrites are actors, imposters, and pretenders. They have a form or appearance of knowledge and godliness but their actions say otherwise. John said, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1Jo 2:3-4). It’s only those keeping Christ’s commandments that truly know God. Those that say they know Him but don’t keep His commandments, don’t know Him.

False teachers convey many things that are true yet the truth isn’t in them, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” What they teach sounds good but ultimately damns. There’s no possibility that others can know God through them because they don’t know God themselves. It’s only those that are keeping His commandments that know Him and can teach others to know Him too. Therefore, those that teach others must first teach themselves.

Teach ourselves first

“Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (vs. 21-22). Jesus Christ spoke of the scribes and Pharisees, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mat 5:20), that they were teaching others yet were breaking God’s commandments themselves, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so” (Mat 5:19), “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill” (Mat 5:21), “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Mat 5:27).

The scribes and Pharisees taught “Thou shalt not kill,” yet were breaking this commandment because they hated others and taught others to hate, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate [miseō 3404] thine enemy” (Mat 5:43), “Whosoever hateth [miseō 3404] his brother is a murderer” (1Jo 3:15). They also taught “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but were breaking this commandment in two ways: they were looking lustfully at women, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:28), and they were divorcing and remarrying without a cause, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Mat 5:31-32). Through divorce and remarriage, they were effectively wife-swapping amongst themselves to fulfil their lust.

Those that break God’s commandments shouldn’t be teachers, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:19). It’s only the doers that should be teachers. If we can’t even teach ourselves, we have no business teaching others.

Dishonoring God

“Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” (v. 23). False teachers of the law boasted and bragged about keeping the law but were actually breaking it and thereby dishonoring God. Though outwardly they appeared to be keeping “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exo 20:13-14), and were teaching others to keep them, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill” (Mat 5:21), “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Mat 5:27), but their hearts weren’t pure, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Mat 5:22), “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:28). Christ always kept God’s commandments. Therefore, what He said about His commandments is the truth. To honor God, we must honor His Son—submitting to Him and His teaching.

Blasphemy against the breath

“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (v. 24). Paul was quoting from Isaiah chapter 52, “my name continually every day is blasphemed” (Isa 52:5). And that chapter contains two prophecies about Paul’s ministry that he also quoted in this letter. It was his feet that trekked across the mountains of Asia and Macedonia to bring the gospel: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isa 52:7), “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (10:15). And he strived to preach the gospel to those that never heard: “that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (Isa 52:15), “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand” (15:20-21). That God’s name was “blasphemed among the Gentiles,” Isaiah was prophesying what would happen in Paul’s ministry.

In his ministry and travels throughout the Roman Empire, Paul always began preaching Christ’s gospel to the Jews first, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16). His repeated pattern in every city he entered was to preach in the synagogue first: “they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down” (Act 13:14); “in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews” (Act 14:1); “they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures” (Act 17:1-2); “Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews” (Act 17:10); “And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens … Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews” (Act 17:17); “Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth … And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Act 18:1,4); “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews” (Act 18:19).

In Antioch of Pisidia, after having preached to the Jews first in the synagogue, he then warned them, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe [trust], though a man declare it unto you” (Act 13:40-41). This was yet another prophecy about his ministry, “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (Hab 1:5). And Paul’s gospel itself had been prophesied by Habakkuk, “but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4 NIV), “The just shall live by faith [faithfulness]” (1:17). The gospel he preached to the Jews in Antioch was God’s faithfulness to keep the promise He made to their fathers in raising up Jesus Christ from the dead, “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Act 13:32-33). This was Paul’s gospel, “The just shall live by faith [faithfulness].”

Those Jewish leaders in Antioch, however, spoke against the gospel Paul preached, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against [antilegō 483] those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting [antilegō 483] and blaspheming [blasphemō 987]. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Act 13:45-46). The Greek verb antilegō means “to speak against” or “to gainsay” as it’s used in its nine other occurrences:  “a sign which shall be spoken against [antilegō 483]” (Luk 2:34); “the Sadducees, which deny [antilegō 483] that there is any resurrection” (Luk 20:27); “whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against [antilegō 483] Caesar” (Jhn 19:12); “But when the Jews spake against [antilegō 483] it” (Act 28:19); “we know that every where it is spoken against [antilegō 483]” (Act 28:22); “a disobedient and gainsaying [antilegō 483] people” (Rom 10:21); “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers [antilegō 483]” (Tit 1:9); “to please them well in all things; not answering again [antilegō 483]” (Tit 2:9).

The verb blasphemō, noun blasphēmia, and adjective blasphēmos are translated “rail,” “revile,” or “speak evil” in many places: “And they that passed by reviled [blasphemō 987] him” (Mat 27:39); “And they that passed by railed [blasphemō 987] on him” (Mar 15:29); “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed [blasphemō 987] on him” (Luk 23:39); “And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported [blasphemō 987]” (Rom 3:8); “Let not then your good be evil spoken of [blasphemō 987]” (Rom 14:16); “Being defamed [blasphemō 987], we intreat” (1Co 4:13); “For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of [blasphemō 987]” (1Co 10:30); “bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking [blasphēmia 988]” (Eph 4:31); “envy, strife, railings [blasphēmia 988], evil surmisings” (1Ti 6:4); “To speak evil of [blasphemō 987] no man” (Tit 3:2); “speaking evil of [blasphemō 987] you” (1Pe 4:4); “on their part he is evil spoken of [blasphemō 987]” (1Pe 4:14); “the way of truth shall be evil spoken of [blasphemō 987]” (2Pe 2:2); “they are not afraid to speak evil [blasphemō 987] of dignities” (2Pe 2:10); “bring not railing [blasphēmos 989] accusation against them before the Lord” (2Pe 2:11); “speak evil [blasphemō 987] of the things that they understand not” (2Pe 2:12); “despise dominion, and speak evil [blasphemō 987] of dignities” (Jde 1:8); “durst not bring against him a railing [blasphēmia 988] accusation” (Jde 1:9); “But these speak evil [blasphemō 987] of those things which they know not” (Jde 1:10).

This Greek word in its various forms transliterated into English as “blaspheme,” “blasphemy,” and “blasphemous” is simply a common word that means “to speak against” or “to speak evil of” either someone or something. Christ Himself used this word that way: “All manner of sin and blasphemy [blasphēmia 988] shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy [blasphēmia 988] against the Holy Ghost [breath] shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost [breath], it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Mat 12:31-32); “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies [blasphēmia 988] wherewith soever they shall blaspheme [blasphemō 987]: But he that shall blaspheme [blasphemō 987] against the Holy Ghost [breath] hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mar 3:28-29); “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth [blasphemō 987] against the Holy Ghost [breath] it shall not be forgiven” (Luk 12:10).

Christ made a distinction between “speaketh a word against the Son of man” which “shall be forgiven him,” and “speaketh against the Holy Ghost [breath]” which “shall not be forgiven him.” The difference isn’t about two different persons but two different aspects of the same person. The holy breath isn’t a conscious personal being but simply God’s breath from His mouth as Christ Himself demonstrated to His disciples, “he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost [breath]” (Jhn 20:22).

God’s breath

The first mention of God’s breath in the Scriptures is within the very first words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit [rûaḥ 7307] of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2). In its initial introduction, the rûaḥ of God belongs to God as His possession. It’s “the breath of God” or His breath. It wasn’t a person flying over the water like superman! It was simply God blowing His breath from His mouth across the surface of the water, “And the Spirit [breath] of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

In several places this word is used of God’s breath from His mouth or nose: “And with the blast [rûaḥ 7307] of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together” (Exo 15:8); “at the rebuking of the LORD, at the blast of the breath [rûaḥ 7307] of his nostrils” (2Sa 22:16); “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath [rûaḥ 7307] of his nostrils are they consumed” (Job 4:9); “by the breath [rûaḥ 7307] of his mouth shall he go away” (Job 15:30); “all the host of them by the breath [rûaḥ 7307] of his mouth” (Psa 33:6); “with the breath [rûaḥ 7307] of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isa 11:4). Its Greek counterpart pneuma was defined by Christ as breath by literally breathing from His mouth, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost [pneuma 4151]” (Jhn 20:22).

Prior to His death, Christ spoke of His coming advocacy at the right hand of His Father: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate [paraklētos 3875] … But the Advocate [paraklētos 3875], the Holy Spirit [pneuma 4151]” (Jhn 14:16,26 NIV), “When the Advocate [paraklētos 3875] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit [pneuma 4151] of truth who goes out from the Father” (15:26 NIV), “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father” (Jhn 16:10 NIV). But He wasn’t speaking of another person entirely. He was speaking of Himself figuratively, “Though I have been speaking figuratively” (Jhn 16:25 NIV). John was present when He spoke those words and later affirmed his understanding to be about Himself, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate [paraklētos 3875] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1Jo 2:1). He was speaking about Himself as our Advocate, but figuratively as if someone else.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted a prophecy from Joel, “I will pour out of my Spirit [pneuma 4151] upon all flesh … I will pour out in those days of my Spirit [pneuma 4151]” (Act 2:17,18). It’s not that God would “pour out” His breath but “pour out of” His breath. It was a prophecy of God’s Son seated next to Him at His right hand pouring out the gifts upon the 120 that day, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit [pneuma 4151] and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Act 2:33 NIV). Through Joel, God called His Son “my breath” figuratively. His Son seated next to Him is our Advocate, Intercessor, and Mediator before the Father.

It’s because Jesus Christ was given full agency and proxy over God’s breath that God called Him figuratively “my breath.” And after having been seated at His Father’s right hand, He even called Himself “the breath” at the conclusion of each message to the seven churches in Asia, “hear what the Spirit [pneuma 4151] saith unto the churches” (Rev 2:7,11,17,29, 3:6,13,22). Paul also, later in his letter to the Romans, will call Him “the breath” at God’s right hand advocating or interceding for us, “the Spirit [pneuma 4151] itself maketh intercession for usIt is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (8:26,34).

Speaking against the breath

At Jesus Christ’s trial, “Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (Jhn 19:10-11). Pilate’s power to either crucify or release Jesus Christ had been given to him by God, which Paul taught later in Romans, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (13:1). Pilate was simply acting in the position of authority which he had been given. Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, had the greater sin because he had delivered Jesus Christ to Pilate.

On the cross when Jesus asked His Father, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luk 23:34), His prayer included Pilate but not Judas and the evil men he conspired with. Peter would later declare, “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (Act 3:17). Pilate had nothing against Jesus Christ and was truly ignorant of what he was doing. Now, this doesn’t mean necessarily that he repented later and was forgiven but simply that he had that hope. Judas, however, delivered Christ willfully and deliberately, therefore had relinquished all hope of ever being forgiven.

Paul himself used to be a blasphemer against Jesus but was forgiven because he had been ignorant, “Who was before a blasphemer [blasphēmos 989], and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief [unfaithfulness]” (1Ti 1:13). When Christ said, “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost [breath], it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Mat 12:32), it wasn’t a distinction between two different persons but between two different aspects of the same person. Speaking against Him as a man in our ignorance can be forgiven. But speaking against Him as the breath seated at God’s right hand, with full knowledge of what we’re speaking, will never be forgiven.

In every city he entered, Paul preached to the Jews first the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating of Christ at God’s right hand. And once they were no longer ignorant of God’s breath but spoke against Him, they forfeited all hope of forgiveness and eternal life: “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming [blasphemō 987] … but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life” (Act 13:45,46), “And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed [blasphemō 987], he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads” (Act 18:6).

Those that contend with the truth and speak against it, “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath” (v. 8), face God’s indignation and wrath. Those that don’t love the truth but contend with it and speak against it, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2Th 2:10), will sadly perish.

On the other hand, when we’re sincerely ignorant of the truth Jesus Christ and His apostles preached, when we’re confused and deceived about the truth, we still have hope of forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus Christ at God’s right hand is our Advocate, Interceder, and Mediator, and as long as He asks God to forgive us, God always will. But if we ever come to a point where we’re blatantly speaking against Him and the truth He preached, we’re in danger of severing ourselves from Him and His intercession for us before God. Without Him interceding for our forgiveness, God never will forgive us.

Keeping God’s commandments is what matters

“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” (v. 25). God is going to “render to every man according to his deeds [actions]” (v. 6), and circumcision isn’t a man’s own actions but the actions done to him on the eighth day. Circumcision only has significance for “the doers of the law” (v. 13). As Paul taught the Corinthians, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God” (1Co 7:19), “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (NIV).

Paul taught the Galatians, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith [faithfulness] which worketh by love” (Gal 5:6). This “faithfulness” he stated earlier is “the faithfulness of the Son of God” in giving Himself on the cross for us, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 NET). And this “love” he stated a few verses later is Christ’s law, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal 5:14), “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mat 7:12), “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mat 19:19,22:39; Mar 12:31). Paul’s point is that “in Jesus Christ,” in accord with the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached, it doesn’t matter if we’re circumcised or not. What matters is His faithfulness to die for our sins, and our keeping of His commandment of love.

The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached, He spoke to a Samaritan woman: “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe [trust] me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father … But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit [breath] and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (Jhn 4:21,23). And Paul understood Him to be saying that circumcision isn’t what counts, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit [breath], and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phl 3:3-5).

It would have been easy to dismiss anything an uncircumcised Gentile said about circumcision as spoken out of self-interest. However, nobody could legitimately speak against anything Jesus Christ Himself or His apostle Paul said because they both had been circumcised on the eighth day, “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS” (Luk 2:21), “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh … Circumcised the eighth day.” As Paul emphasized to the Galatians, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” (Gal 5:2). He was essentially saying, “Look who’s talking to you. I Paul, could have even more confidence in the flesh than any of those false teachers trying to have you circumcised.” Paul’s own circumcision defended the message he preached so that nobody in good conscience could accuse him, “their conscience also beareth witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing [defending] one another” (v. 15).

Christ’s encounter with that Samaritan woman wasn’t by chance—He was doing the will of His Father in passing through Samaria, “And he must needs go through Samaria” (Jhn 4:4). And His words to her were a crucial part of His gospel message because He wasn’t speaking to a circumcised Jewish man, but to a Samaritan woman! By telling her, “Woman, believe [trust] me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem,” He was nullifying the requirement for men to observe the feasts in Jerusalem three times a year, “Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel” (Exo 34:23). Therefore, to be “baptized into Christ” is to submit to those things He taught, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28). That “the Father seeketh such to worship him” is that God the Father seeks anyone and everyone—including a Samaritan woman having had multiple husbands and relegated to the lowly duty of fetching water—to worship Him.

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new [renewed] creature [creation]” (Gal 6:15). The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached is that His words won’t pass away: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat 5:18); “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Mat 24:35); “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luk 16:17); “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (Luk 21:33). And the prophets declared: “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed” (Psa 102:25-26); “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isa 65:17); “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain” (Isa 66:22).

Paul’s point to the Galatians is that those trusting Christ’s words and keeping His commandments will be partakers of the renewed creation. As he told the Corinthians, “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new [renewed] creature [creation]” (2Co 5:16-17). Those that partake in the renewed creation are no longer known after the flesh—circumcised or uncircumcised. Although Christ was known as a circumcised Jew, “yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh,” but we no longer know Him that way, “henceforth know we him no more.” As Peter concluded after having been sent to the Gentiles, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all)” (Act 10:34-36). Christ isn’t just the Lord of the circumcised but “he is Lord of all,” “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (10:12). Therefore, “if any man,” circumcised or uncircumcised is “in Christ,” submitting to Him and His words, he partakes in the renewed creation. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

The two main distinctions of the law

“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” (v. 26). There are two main distinctions with the law of Moses: (1) the moral righteousness of the law, “the righteousness of the law” (2:26, 8:4); (2) the non-moral actions of the law, “the deeds [actions] of the law” (3:20,28), “the works [actions] of the law” (9:32, Gal 2:6,3:2,5,10). The moral righteousness of the law is expressed in the commandments “Thou shalt not commit adultery … Thou shalt not kill … Thou shalt not steal … Thou shalt not bear false witness … Thou shalt not covet” (13:9). Such morality is inherent and binding upon all people made after the image of God. But the non-moral actions of the law are special ordinances God imposed upon His people by circumcision: abstinence from unclean meats, keeping the Sabbath and other holy days, observing the annual feasts, tithing to the priests, and offering animal sacrifices.

In His Sermon on the Mount in particular, Jesus Christ affirmed and upheld the moral righteousness of the law: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20); “Thou shalt not kill” (Mat 5:21); “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Mat 5:27); “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Mat 6:33). And He stated that those breaking the law will not enter into the Kingdom, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven … I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [anomia 458]” (Mat 7:21,23), “workers of lawlessness” (DBY), “you lawbreakers” (NET), “you who practice lawlessness” (NKJV), “you who break God’s laws” (NLT). The Greek noun anomia is the negation of the noun nomos for “law.” It’s because He set us free from the actions of the law that many falsely conclude that He destroyed the righteousness of the law, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law [nomos 3551], or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mat 5:17), “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law [nomos 3551] and the prophets” (Mat 7:12).

God commanded His people against eating certain animals for the purpose of keeping them separate from all other people: “Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof” (Lev 11:4); “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify [qāḏaš 6942] yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44); “I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.” (Lev 20:24-26); “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation” (Act 10:28). The Hebrew verb qāḏaš means “to consecrate,” “to separate,” or “to set apart.” Abstinence from certain meats is a non-moral action of the law.

God also commanded the Sabbath Day upon His people to keep them separate, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy [qāḏaš 6942]. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work” (Exo 20:8-10). As circumcision was simply a sign or token, “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token [ôṯ 226] of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Gen 17:11), “And he received the sign of circumcision” (4:11), so was the Sabbath Day, “Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign [ôṯ 226] between me and you throughout your generations … Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign [ôṯ 226] between me and the children of Israel for ever” (Exo 31:13,16,17). The Sabbath Day is a non-moral action of the law.

Many times Jesus Christ Himself ate with Gentiles: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (Mat 9:11); “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Mat 11:19); “The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luk 7:34); “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luk 15:2); “That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner” (Luk 19:7).

Also, many times Jesus Christ Himself worked on the Sabbath Day and gave permission to others as well: “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (Mat 12:2); “Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mar 2:24); “And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him” (Mar 3:2); “Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?” (Luk 6:9); “And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day” (Luk 13:14); “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” (Luk 14:3); “The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.” (Jhn 5:10-11); “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day” (Jhn 9:16).

According to the commandment of Moses, “And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lev 12:3), Jesus Christ was circumcised on the eighth day, “And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child” (Luk 1:59), “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child” (Luk 2:21), “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal 4:4). Circumcision in His flesh bound Him to keep all the law. And although He ate with Gentiles and worked on the Sabbath Day, yet He was received up to glory and seated at the right hand of God. This was indisputable proof to the Jews that justification before God isn’t by the actions of the law required in circumcision. Christ never sinned. Therefore, it’s not a sin to eat all meats or to work on the Sabbath day.

All the apostles along with the elders of the church in Jerusalem addressed and settled the issue of circumcision, “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Act 15:1), “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Act 15:5), “Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law” (Act 15:24). The issue was about being circumcised with the intent of keeping the actions of the law as necessary for salvation, “ye cannot be saved,” “That it was needful,” “circumcised, and keep the law.” That the issue wasn’t about circumcision itself is indicated by Paul having Timothy circumcised immediately after that Jerusalem council, “Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek” (Act 16:3). Timothy’s circumcision had nothing to do with his salvation but was simply giving him access into Jewish areas while traveling with Paul.

Peter and the other Jews acknowledged that they were saved in the same way as Gentiles, “But we believe [trust] that through the grace [favor] of the Lord Jesus Christ we [Jews] shall be saved, even as they [Gentiles]” (Act 15:11), “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles … even we [Jews] have believed [trusted] in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith [faithfulness] of Christ, and not by the works [actions] of the law” (Gal 2:15,16). “Jews by nature” (DBY, KJV, NKJV) or “Jews by birth” (NET, NIV, NLT) refers to the eighth day from birth, “And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lev 12:3). Peter and Paul were both circumcised on the eighth day yet knew that by the actions of the law, specifically that Peter “did eat with the Gentiles” (Gal 2:12), nobody would be justified before God. They knew that Gentiles aren’t saved like Jews but that Jews are saved like Gentiles. Therefore, Gentiles don’t need to live like Jews.

Jesus declared, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30). He freed us from the yoke and heavy burden required by circumcision, “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Act 15:10), “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1).

The Gentiles in Galatia had been deceived by false teachers of circumcision after Paul had left. But he revealed to them the hidden message in the law, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal 4:21). Abraham’s two sons by two women contained a hidden figurative message of what would come later, “Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants” (Gal 4:24). Like Ishmael born from a bondmaid, God’s people would be born into bondage to the actions of the law, “the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar … is in bondage with her children” (Gal 4:24,25). And like Isaac born of a free woman, those trusting in Christ would be free from the yoke of the actions of the law, “we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (Gal 4:31). Paul then urges them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). Christ set us free from the bondage of the actions of the law.

The two distinctions of the law—the moral righteousness and the non-moral actions—however, are being conflated today by many “Christian” teachers. They misuse Paul’s teaching about the actions of the law to nullify his teaching about the righteousness of the law: “Therefore by the deeds [actions] of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (3:20), “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith [faithfulness] without the deeds [actions] of the law” (3:28), “Because they sought it not by faith [faithfulness], but as it were by the works [actions] of the law” (9:32); “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works [actions] of the law, but by the faith [faithfulness] of Jesus Christ, even we have believed [trusted] in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith [faithfulness] of Christ, and not by the works [actions] of the law: for by the works [actions] of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal 2:16).

That we’re not saved by “the works [actions] of the law,” is being misconstrued that we’re not saved by living morally righteous. Therefore, it’s claimed that we’re saved by faith alone and that morally righteous living has nothing to do with it. But that’s not the gospel message Jesus Christ and His apostles taught: “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:20); “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Mat 25:46); “Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law” (2:26); “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (8:4); “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” (1Pe 2:24); “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1Pe 4:18).

Whether under the Old Covenant or under the New, nothing has changed in God’s requirement for morally righteous living. What has changed is that the actions of the law are no binding as they once were. In fact, now that Christ has come, requiring the actions of the law guarantees we won’t be justified by Christ’s favor before God, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothingChrist is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace [favor]” (Gal 5:2,4). Whether binding the non-moral actions of the law or loosening the moral righteousness of the law, either error ensures we won’t be saved.

Keeping the righteousness of the law

“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” (v. 26). That “the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law” isn’t just in theory. Paul wasn’t speaking hypothetically of something that isn’t even achievable—that Gentiles can’t actually keep the moral righteousness the law requires, but what if they could? Rather, he was making a point by what was already being attained and practiced among Gentiles. Through the gospel he had been preaching, Gentiles were keeping the righteous moral standard required by the law. And if less advantaged Gentiles were keeping it, where does that leave the more advantaged Jews that weren’t keeping it?

The gospel message Jesus Christ Himself preached: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mat 5:17); “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mat 7:12); “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40). And Paul will write later in his letter, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” (8:4), “for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the lawThou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:8,9-10).

When Paul said “Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law,” he was speaking of Gentiles fulfilling the moral righteousness the law requires by keeping the one commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” And it’s not necessary to abstain from certain meats or to observe certain days in loving our neighbor.

Considered circumcised

“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted [logizomai 3049] for circumcision?” (v. 26). The Greek verb logizomai means “to consider,” “to esteem,” “to suppose,” or “to think” something: “And they reasoned [logizomai 3049] with themselves” (Mar 11:31); “And thinkest [logizomai 3049] thou this, O man” (Rom 2:3); “Therefore we conclude [logizomai 3049]” (Rom 6:11); “For I reckon [logizomai 3049]” (Rom 8:18); “to him that esteemeth [logizomai 3049] any thing to be” (Rom 14:14); “thinketh [logizomai 3049] no evil” (1Co 13:5); “I thought [logizomai 3049] as a child” (1Co 13:11); “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think [logizomai 3049] any thing” (2Co 3:5); “wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think [logizomai 3049] of us” (2Co 10:2); “let him of himself think [logizomai 3049] this again” (2Co 10:7); “Let such an one think [logizomai 3049] this” (2Co 10:11); “For I suppose [logizomai 3049]” (2Co 11:5); “lest any man should think [logizomai 3049] of me” (2Co 12:6); “think [logizomai 3049] on these things” (Phl 4:8); “I suppose [logizomai 3049], I have written briefly” (1Pe 5:12). When uncircumcised Gentiles “keep the righteousness of the law” by loving their neighbor as themselves, God considers them circumcised even though they’re not. He treats them with the same favor as His own people.

Paul wrote to the Gentile Christians in Colossae, “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:10-11), “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Col 2:16). That they were “complete in him” is that “in Christ” they weren’t lacking anything needed to be right before God. They didn’t need to adhere to the requirements of circumcision, mainly the ordinances concerning meats and drinks, keeping of feast days, and the Sabbath day. To be “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” is simply a figure of speech. Men’s hands literally cut the flesh of Jewish baby boys the eighth day from birth, imposing upon them the ordinances of meats, drinks, holy days, and the Sabbath day their entire lives. But “the circumcision of Christ” is that He freed us from that yoke of bondage so that God considers us along with those circumcised even though we’re not.

However, as Gentiles can be considered by God as circumcised even though they’re not, Jews can be considered uncircumcised even though they are. Speaking of his own Jewish people just a couple of verses later, “For he is not a Jew … But he is a Jew … and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit [breath]” (vs. 28,29), Paul taught that the benefits of circumcision is a matter of the heart. God had told this to His people through the law and the prophets: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deu 10:16); “And 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” (Deu 30:6); “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jer 4:4).

If our hearts aren’t right before God, circumcision and everything that pertains to it doesn’t matter. What does it matter that someone has never eaten anything unclean and has always kept the feast days and the Sabbath Day, yet they’re not loving God with all their heart and loving their neighbor as themselves? Circumcision of the heart is having the heart right first, “circumcise thine heart … to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart,” then circumcision and everything pertaining to it becomes relevant.

God’s Son freed us from circumcision and its accompanying bondages. For the circumcised to reject the uncircumcised as their brethren, or to require the uncircumcised to become circumcised, is to reject the teaching of God’s Son. Anyone rejecting what God’s Son taught certainly isn’t loving God with all their heart.

The writing on stone tablets

“And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter [gramma 1121] and circumcision dost transgress the law?” (v. 27). The Greek noun gramma means “a writing.” In context with the law of Moses, it’s God’s own writing of the Ten Commandments on stone tablets: “I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written” (Exo 24:12); “two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exo 31:18); “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables” (Exo 32:16); “And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exo 34:28); “not in tables of stone … for the letter [gramma 1121] killeth, but the spirit [breath] giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written [gramma 1121] and engraven in stones” (2Co 3:3,6-7).

Paul said that the writing on stone tablets was done away or abolished: “written [gramma 1121] and engraven in stones … was to be done away … which is done away … which is abolished” (2Co 3:7,11,13); “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15); “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances” (Col 2:14); “A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13).

Of course the writing included “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exo 20:8), and since the writing has been abolished, this commandment has been abolished along with it. Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that the moral righteousness codified in writing on the stone tablets such as “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3), “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exo 20:12), and “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exo 20:13-14), has been abolished. The two great commandments Jesus Christ enforced upon us embodies all the moral righteousness God required in the writing: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:37-40); “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mar 12:29-31).

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross … Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Col 2:14,16). The writing on stone tablets along with other ordinances was against the uncircumcised and contrary to them because it severed and cut them off from the circumcised: “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Exo 31:14), “I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean … have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev 20:24-26).

He is a “praise” which is one secretly

“For he is not a Jew [ioudaios 2453], which is one outwardly [phaneros 5318]; neither is that circumcision, which is outward [phaneros 5318] in the flesh: But he is a Jew [ioudaios 2453], which is one inwardly [kryptos 2927]; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit [breath], and not in the letter [gramma 1121]; whose praise [epainos 1868] is not of men, but of God” (vs. 28-29). Some mistake Paul’s statement “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly” to mean that Gentiles become some kind of “spiritual” Jews. But he was simply concluding his earlier point, “Behold, thou art called a Jew [ioudaios 2453]” (v. 17). The name “Jew” means “praise.” And it’s not those only called “Jew” or called “praise” that receive praise from God, but those that “keep the righteousness of the law” (v. 26). He wasn’t teaching that Gentiles become Jews, but rather identifying which Jews are and aren’t truly Jews, “For he is not a Jew … But he is a Jew.” That is, which Jews actually live up to their name, “praise.”

Paul was also vindicating that his gospel, “my gospel” (v. 16), that he had been preaching is indeed the gospel Jesus Christ Himself preached. In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught that the actions of “the hypocrites” (Mat 6:2,5,16), are done “before men, to be seen of them … that they may be seen of men … that they may appear unto men” (Mat 6:1,5,16). But the actions of God’s children are done secretly for only God to see, “thy Father which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927] himself shall reward thee openly [phaneros 5318] … thy Father which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927] shall reward thee openly [phaneros 5318] … thy Father, which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927], shall reward thee openly [phaneros 5318]” (Mat 6:4,6,18).

The specific actions, “when thou doest thine alms … when thou prayest … when thou fastest” (Mat 6:2,6,17), were simply three examples Christ used to convey the principle that applies to any and all good actions—that when our actions are done kryptos or “in secret” now, we’ll be rewarded phaneros or “openly” by God later. It’s about from whom we’re seeking to receive praise. Hypocrites do their good actions openly to receive praise from men now, “But all their works [actions] they do for to be seen of men” (Mat 23:5), but God’s children do their good actions secretly to receive praise from God later, “whose praise [epainos 1868] is not of men, but of God” (v. 29).

The Greek phaneros and kryptos rendered as “outwardly” and “inwardly” in “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly [phaneros 5318] … But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly [kryptos 2927],” are mistranslations. They are better understood as “openly” and “secretly” as in “thy Father which seeth in secret [kryptos 2927] himself shall reward thee openly [phaneros 5318]” (Mat 6:4). Christ and Paul both preached the same gospel, that the actions of Jews living up to their name aren’t done openly to be seen by men, but secretly to be seen only by their Father.

Christ’s statement “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat 6:21), cuts to the very root of the problem. Since our hearts will be wherever our treasure is, our hearts are changed only by changing our treasure. When we treasure the glory—approval, praise, and recognition—from people, “that they may have glory of men … that they may be seen of men … that they may appear unto men” (Mat 6:2,5,16), our hearts will be impure. Our motives for doing good things will be getting glory from people. The solution for this wrong condition of heart is changing our treasure. When we begin fearing God rather than people, treasuring approval, praise, and recognition from Him rather than people, our hearts will become pure. This is because the motives for our actions will be pure, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat 5:8).

Of the heart, in the breath

Circumcision is “of the heart, in the spirit [breath], and not in the letter [gramma 1121]” (v. 29). As explained earlier, “the letter [gramma 1121]” (v. 27) is simply “a writing.” In this context it’s God’s writing of the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. Commandments Four, Five, Six, and Seven in particular, “Remember the sabbath day,” “Honour thy father and thy mother,” “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exo 20:8,12-14), had been corrupted by the religious leaders through their teaching and traditions.

They rigidly enforced the Fourth Commandment at the expense of being unmerciful to people, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day … But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Mat 12:2,7). They also transgressed the Fifth Commandment by their tradition, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother … Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Mat 15:3-4,6). And what they said about the Sixth and Seventh Commandments pertained only to their actions before men, and was not with their hearts before God: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Mat 5:21-22), “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Mat 5:27-28).

In the sight of each other, they were keeping God’s commandments—remembering the Sabbath day, honoring their father and mother, not killing, and not committing adultery. But in God’s sight, however, they weren’t. Christ preached the gospel and revealed God’s standard of righteousness, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ … For therein is the righteousness of God revealed” (Rom 1:16,17). And God’s righteousness is attained through keeping His commandments from the heart by His indwelling breath.

True circumcision before God isn’t a cutting in the body but a condition of the heart. Circumcision of the heart is seeking praise from God, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” (Deu 10:16), “He is thy praise, and he is thy God” (Deu 10:21). He is our praise, our protector, and our rewarder, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen 15:1).

Circumcision in the flesh or in the breath?

Both literal circumcision in the flesh and figurative circumcision of the heart by God’s breath, “neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh … circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit [breath],” Paul abbreviates simply as “the flesh” and “the breath” later in his letter: “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [breath]” (8:1,4); “For they that are after the flesh … but they that are after the Spirit [breath]” (8:5); “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit [breath]” (8:9); “For if ye live after the flesh … but if ye through the Spirit [breath]” (8:13). Therefore, to walk “not after the flesh” but “after the Spirit [breath]” (8:1,4), is to not seek praise from men emanating from all that pertains to circumcision, but to seek praise from God with a pure heart indwelt by His breath.

Paul employed this same “flesh” and “breath” contrast when writing to the Gentiles in Galatia: “having begun in the Spirit [breath], are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3); “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit [breath]” (Gal 4:29); “Walk in the Spirit [breath], and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16); “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit [breath], and the Spirit [breath] against the flesh” (Gal 5:17). Again, “the flesh” and “the breath” are simply abbreviations for the issues involving and contrasting circumcision and God’s breath. False teachers of the law had deceived the Galatians into becoming circumcised. But it wasn’t out of love for them but seeking glory from men for themselves, “As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” (Gal 6:12-13).

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