Failure to See Sin (Romans 2:17-3:8)

Paul continues to show how the wrath of God is revealed against the Jewish people. Though they were outwardly righteous, Paul confronts the Jews’ sinful state by unmasking three actions that characterised them and in turn blinded them.



Paul starts off by highlighting the privileges the Jews had (2:17-18; cf. 3:1-2 and 9:4-5). Sadly these privileges led them to believe that they were superior to others. They rightly saw themselves as “a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness” (2:19; cf. Is. 42:6-7). However, their privileges were not carried out in their practices, as they did not practice what they preached (2:21-22). This kind of hypocrisy dishonours and blasphemes the name of God (2:23-24).



Because of their commitment to religious rituals, many Jewish people believed that this made them righteous. This was their second blinding action. The religious ritual in view here is circumcision. Circumcision was an outward sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed (cf. Gen. 17). Though circumcision was a physical act, it was not the ritual that was of value, it was the reality behind the ritual. Paul’s point is that if a Jew is committed to serving the Lord, the outward ritual has meaning, but if he has not been changed from within, the outward ritual is meaningless (2:25). In a way that would jolt Jewish readers, Paul argues that an uncircumcised Gentile believer is righteous by virtue of obedience, which of course results from a new nature (2:26-29).



The final blinding action of the Jewish people in this passage is their religious objections. After demonstrating that religious rituals do not make the Jewish people righteous, does this mean that God’s election of Israel is nullified? In 3:1-8 Paul asks a series of questions that are objections to what he has said, and then provides answers to these objections. The first objection is concerning whether there is any advantage or benefit to being a Jew (3:1). Paul responds by revealing the great privilege the Jews had been entrusted with (3:2). The second objection asks if Jewish unbelief abolishes God’s faithfulness (3:3). Paul responds by rejected this and affirms God’s faithfulness (3:4). The third objection accuses God of being unrighteous in His act of judgment (3:5). Paul concludes by revealing how God is just in judgment (3:6-8). These objections are dealt with in more detail in later portions of the book.

Study Questions:

  1. How is the Jew described in 2:17-20?
  1. What is meant by the question “Do you practice what you preach?” How does Paul expose the Jews failure to see their sin in 2:17-24?
  1. How does Paul argue that religious rituals by themselves are meaningless to save? See 2:25-29. How does this relate to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
  1. Paul has unmasked the problem of Jewish hypocrisy and rituals. What advantage is there in being a Jew? See 3:1-2
  1. Why is it fair for God to reject the Jew who refuses to repent and believe? See 3:3-8

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