Equality doesn’t dissolve ethnicity
An examination of Romans 2
2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.2 And we know that the judgment of G-d rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
It is important to note that Paul is using the singular here, “you—singular—have no excuse.” In chapter 1 of Romans Paul addresses everyone, but as he begins the diatribe/rhetoric of Romans 2 he changes tack, specifically challenging individuals. There can now be no standing on the side lines, he is addressing you directly.
“For a person who keeps the entire Torah (Instruction) yet fails to keep one of the least of its commands, is guilty of breaking all of them.” Yaakov (James) 2:10
Paul ends Chapter one with an extensive list of sinful actions, his readers/hearers will most assuredly judge those who do these things to be lost—not of the Way. But Paul now says that those among his hearers—Roman ecclesia—who judge these acts to be wrong have no excuse either. The bad news is, that by living a lifestyle of hypocrisy we condemn ourselves. We have already agreed that G-d’s judgment upon these actions is just. Our sin is pride. We can’t stand outside of humanity, we are human and live among the wicked, full of our own evil thoughts and desires, and we too must turn from sin toward Messiah.
One of the overarching core concepts of Romans is faith. Pistis the Greek for faith can also be translated faithfulness: this equates to the Hebrew word emunah (faithfulness.) We believe and continue faithfully, our belief, received from G-d, keeps us sober. Through salvation (Yeshua) in the Spirit of G-d, we are born to self-examination and are disciplined while we are being made Holy—set apart.
“Rabbi Eli’etzer said, ‘Repent one day before you die.’ His talmidim (disciples) asked him, ‘who knows on what day he will die?’ He answered them, ‘All the more reason to repent today, because you might be dead tomorrow!’” –Shabbat 153a
3 But consider this, human being, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, do you think you will escape the judgment of G-d? 4 Or do you take for granted the riches of His kindness/grace (chesed) and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness/grace (chesed) of G-d leads you to returning (repentance/tishuvah)—to G-d?
We must not take the completed work of Messiah for granted. This is not a threat to our salvation but an illuminating of our hearts: a challenge to soberly examine ourselves. Those in Rome who have become followers of Messiah are more than aware that G-d’s chesed (loving kindness) has brought them to faith (emunah) faithfulness.
5 But because of your stubbornness and unreturning heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of G-d, 6 Who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth (Yeshua), but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Romans 1:18-19 tells us that the wrath of G-d is being poured out against the wicked actions of humanity. Storing up wrath is the practice of continual rebellion. This wrath will be swallowed up by victory for all who return to G-d in Messiah.
These are not new concepts, they are found in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Gospels. In the Hebrew mind faithfulness (emunah) is the combining of faith and fullness, the fullness is the action born of faith which perpetuates faith. This is what emunah means. As I have said previously, faith and works are not opposed to one another. Faith and good works together oppose rebellion and bad works. Job 34:11, Matthew 16:27, John 5:29
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of humanity who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with G-d.
Paul wants to make it clear to all, including devout Jews that religious observance alone cannot save them. In order to show how good the Good News really is he must first remind his hearers of the fact that no one is righteous, except of course the Tzadek (Righteous One.)
Because G-d is just and impartial (He shows favor but doesn’t show partiality) He renders judgment sequentially according to the birth order of His chosen and adopted children, firstly the Jew and also the Greek. In the following verses Paul will show the equity with which G-d judges.
12 For all who have sinned outside the framework of the Torah—Instruction—will also perish outside the Torah, and all who have sinned in connection with the Torah will be judged by the Torah;
We must ask the question, “Why do those who sin outside the Torah perish while those within the framework of the Torah are judged?”
The Scripture says, “For HaShem so loved the world that He gave is only begotten Son, that whoever believes (continues in faith) in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” –Yochanan/John 3:16
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fully fill them.” –Mattitiyahu/Matthew 5:17
Yeshua Himself is the continuity and filling of the Torah, He is the d’var (Word) of HaShem. Therefore Paul uses the rabbinical technique called remez (a hint of something more profound) to show that Yeshua is the living Torah and that those who sin outside of His saving work (not outside of Him, because in Him all things move and breathe and have their being) will perish. On the other hand, all those who sin within the framework of Yeshua’s saving work will be judged and redeemed.
This profound remez doesn’t detract from Paul’s p’shat (intended literal, contextual and cultural reading) of the text which specifically refers to a distinction between Jew and Greek.
13 for it is not the hearers of the Torah who are just before G-d, but the doers of the Torah who will be justified. 14 For when ethnicities who do not have the Torah do instinctively the things of the Torah, these, not having the Torah, are a Torah to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Torah written in their hearts, (Jeremiah 31:32, Hebrews 8:8-12) their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, G-d will judge the secrets of human beings through Messiah Yeshua.
Our every action is our representation of what we think G-d looks like. The use of the term hearer is important because some Jews of the time may have heard the Torah read/chanted in the synagogue but did not have access to Torah scrolls themselves.
The doer of the Torah is the one who by faith, of G-d, receives the gift of salvation (Yeshua), this faith becomes faithfulness and produces good works which are the proof of the gift of G-d.
“The day when… G-d will judge the secrets of human beings through Messiah Yeshua.” Can refer either to the day of individual salvation or to the Day of Judgment at the end of history.
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Torah and boast in G-d, 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Torah, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Torah the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Torah, through your breaking the Torah, do you dishonor G-d? 24 For “the name of G-d is blasphemed among the Goyim—nations—because of you,” just as it is written.
Both the bad news and the Good News are first for the Jew. Paul organizes his letter to follow this pattern of instructional discipline. He is beginning with himself and his own people, then he will move on to the Goyim (nations), specifically the Greeks.
The person Paul is speaking to sounds an awful lot like the man he used to be. (Acts 22:3, 26:5, Gal 1:13-14) Israel has been called to be a light to the Goyim, (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6) when she fails in that calling she is a false witness to the true character of G-d, hence the quote from Isaiah 52:5. The irony here is that today many Christians misrepresent the Messiah to Jewish people who subsequently reject their false gospel of hypocrisy.
It is important to note that Paul is again using the singular here, “you (singular) bear the name Jew.” He is speaking to a certain type of person among the Jewish believers of Rome. Some have suggested that this diatribe/rhetoric is not meant for members of the Roman ecclesia (believers) but for some other imaginary opponent. What nonsense. No one writes a letter to a specific group of people and then proceeds to speak to an entirely different audience. If there were not cause for Paul to suspect that this type of hypocrisy was present in the Roman ecclesia then he would not have written to address it. This is after all a letter, not a philosophy paper. Western scholarship loves to think of Paul as a Greek. He is not. He is a Jew, we are a people devoted to protecting ourselves from assimilation, this guides our consciousness, we think, eat, breathe, bathe, pray, walk and feel in Hebrew regardless of the colloquial language we may use to convey our thoughts, concepts, philosophies and emotions.
“Those who lie freely to non-Jews and steal from them, are worse than ordinary criminals. They are blasphemers; for it is due to their guilt, that some say, ‘Jews have no binding Torah, no moral standards.’” –Rabbi Moses of Coucy
25 For indeed the covenant of circumcision is of value if you practice the Torah; but if you are a transgressor of the Torah, your covenant of circumcision has become a foreskin--without covenant. 26 So if the fore-skinned man keeps the requirements of the Torah, will not his foreskin--lack of covenant—be regarded as circumcision--a covenant? 27 And he who is physically fore-skinned, if he keeps the Torah, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Torah and the covenant of circumcision are a transgressor of the Torah? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from G-d.
Paul is specifically addressing a hypocritical Jewish person, regarding inward and outward Jewishness he is speaking to Jews, not Gentiles. True Jewish observance in Messiah is inward, as is true Gentile observance, however here the Jew and not the Gentile is being addressed.
In verse 25 Paul explains that circumcision is of value if you honor the Torah, this refers to a life style born of heart circumcision rather than a single action. Romans 3:1-2, 9:4-5, 11:11-32. It is important to note that circumcision is a blood covenant between G-d and the people of Israel. Two types of covenant are being alluded to here, a physical one and a spiritual one. Yeshua embodies both covenants and is the author and finisher of the renewed covenant which circumcises the heart.
The imagery of heart circumcision comes from Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 9:24-25.
Notice that Paul doesn’t fault Authentic Judaism, rather he faults the one who is not Jewish inwardly, spiritually. Y’hudi (Jew) means praise, thus “don’t let your praise come from human beings who see only your outward performance, but let your praise come from G-d Who sees your heart.”
This does not mean that Gentile Christians become Jews. Paul teaches in Galatians 3:28 that Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free are equal in the sight of G-d regarding salvation (Yeshua), made one in Messiah, however, equality doesn’t dissolve physicality, genealogy, sociology or gender. A woman may be equal in standing with a man before G-d, this doesn’t mean that the two sexes trade their defining physical parts and become asexual in Messiah. We remain who we are as unique representations of creation and culture and together we share and delight in the beauty of our diversity, be it seen in gender, sociology or ethnicity. We are not assimilated into some sort of hive mind, rather we are welcomed into a family who are like minded.
Throughout Romans Paul makes a clear distinction between the physical people of Israel chosen by G-d for His purposes and the ecclesia adopted by G-d through the Messiah (a Jew.) A Jew can be both a physical Jew and become a follower of Messiah, a Gentile can become a follower of Messiah and become one who gives praise (Y’hudah) to G-d inwardly but will never be a physical Jew. This is an important distinction that stops the false teaching of supersessionism/replacement theology in its tracks. G-d has orchestrated a wonderful plan for the salvation of humanity, this doesn’t negate the promises that He has made to a specific people group, namely Israel. We know that G-d cannot lie, therefore we know He will keep the promises He has made to Israel (the physical nation) that are yet to be fulfilled.
Regarding the four key modes of Rabbinical exegesis:
· P’shat – simple sense/literal-contextual
· Remez – a hint of something more profound
· Drash – an allegory or homiletic
· Sod – secret meaning
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.