The True Jew:
Not Merely In Knowledge
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 12a of 83


17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, 18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;  19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, 20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. 21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? 22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? 23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? 24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. …” (Romans 2:17-29).

We are on a survey study of the epistle of Paul to the Romans. Sometimes we will have to cover just a few verses, and sometimes we will have to cover more verses. We do not want to do too detailed a study so that we see the flowers but not the beautiful landscape. We want to have the big picture, though occasionally we must pause to smell the flowers.

The Lord helping, we will, in this and the next two articles, be studying verses 17 to 29 of chapter 2.

We have seen that in the first three chapters of this letter, the apostle Paul is seeking to establish the fact that all men are guilty by nature. In chapter 1, he shows us that the Gentiles who do not know the written Law of God are guilty. In chapter 2, he shows us that those who know the law of God are also guilty. Those who know the law of God include Jews and Christians.

Now, as we come to the 17th verse, we see Paul addressing the Jews directly. He addresses them directly to show them that they are indeed guilty before God. In particular, he chides them in three areas. First, he chides them for their hypocrisy accentuated by knowledge (v. 17-24); second, he implicitly condemns them for putting their confidence in rites and rituals (v. 25-27) and Third, he warns them against externalism (v. 28-29).

1. Hypocrisy Accentuated
by Knowledge

The apostle says in verse 17:

17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, 18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law…” (Rom 2:17-18).

The Jews knew the law of God very well. They were catechised from young. The word translated ‘instructed’ (v. 18) is the Greek kathcevw. Literally it means ‘catechised.’ The Jews taught their children by catechising. To catechize is to teach by using interactive questions and answers. It was a method that ensured that Jewish children grew up knowing the Law of God very well.

They knew the Law so well that they were able to teach the ignorant and catechise their children (v. 19-20). And they taught with great confidence that they had the truth that no one else had.

This thorough knowledge of the Law of God was a matter of pride for the Jews. They rested in the Law and made their boast of God (v. 17). They felt that they were a chosen race because of their thorough knowledge of God’s Law. They relied on that knowledge, and they boast that they are God’s special people on account of that knowledge.

But the sad thing is that while they knew the Law, they did not observe the Law. Knowledge was paramount to them, but practice was secondary. They pride themselves of being able to teach and correct others, but they themselves would not practice what they teach (v. 21-22)!

·    They teach that a man must not steal, but they have no qualms about stealing. They steal from God, they steal from each other.

·    They teach that adultery is sin, but they continue to commit adultery. They commit adultery in the flesh, they commit adultery in the heart.

·    They abhor and condemn idolatry. But they commit sacrilege or as the original has it, they were prepared to rob temples and to keep religious artefacts. They say they hate idols, but they covet after idols. This is incongruous!

Paul seems to be generalising. But he is suggesting that too many of the Jews were like that. The Lord Jesus himself had a stinging indictment against the Jewish teachers in His days when He told His disciples:

“All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Mt 23:3)

Thus reminds me of a Burmese fable that I once heard. This fable is about a mamma crab and her baby crabs. One day the mamma crab gathered the children and admonishes them: “Children, you must not walk sideways.”

“Why mamma?” the baby crabs ask.

“Because it is wrong to walk sideways” says mamma. “It has always been so. My mamma taught me that. My grandma taught my mamma that, and my great grandma taught my grandma that… It is simply wrong to walk sideways.”

“But mamma,” replied the baby crabs, “you always walk sideways.”

“Well children, you must do what I tell you to do. You don’t have to follow what I do. It is more important for to know what is right so that you can teach your children next time,” says mamma.

“Thank you mamma,” resound the children, “we know now that it is wrong to walk sideway… we will be obedient.”

And so the little crabs began to go their way to play… and if you ever find them in the beach today, you will see them walking sideways.

For many generations, this was happening among the Jews. Generation after generation, good intellectual Jews were brought up. Occasionally there were a few who were obedient to the Law of God, at least outwardly. However, the greater majority grew up as religious hypocrites.

Will this be the case with the generations who will come forth from our own churches?

What is the result of the Jews placing emphasis on knowledge rather than practice? Paul makes it very clear (v. 23-24):

“Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom 2:23-24).

The Jews always pride themselves as the people,—who of all people in the world,— glorifies God and lives to His praise. But Paul tells them otherwise. By their knowing and teaching but failing to practice the law of God perfectly (as they claim they do), they dishonour God’s name. They thought themselves to be bringing honour to God, but by their hypocrisy, they blaspheme God’s name before the Gentiles, whom they regard as a godless and God-forsaken people.

Paul’s message is clear. The Jews demonstrated their guilt by their hypocrisy accentuated by knowledge – or by their knowing and teaching, but not doing. They were even guiltier than the ignorant and lawless Gentiles. Those who know and teach, but do not practice are surely guiltier than those who do not know. James says:

“My brethren, be not many masters [or teaches], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas 3:1).

This verse is very frightening for me as a preacher of the Gospel. However, it is equally applicable to all of us, for most of us, including the children, know the Law and the Gospel very well. I think some of our children can even correct the mistakes that ministers make.

However, remember that because you know God’s Word so well, you will blaspheme God’s name if you fail to keep God’s Word. Are you blaspheming God’s name? Remember: the world is watching. Every unregenerate person is watching. Your neighbours, your colleagues, your class mates, visitors to the church, your children who are still not regenerate. They are all watching you.

And the devil is watching you too. If you are a blasphemer of God’s name to the Gentiles because of your knowledge and disobedience, he will love you. He will make sure that you will have many opportunities to be seen and heard when you blaspheme God. Oh how many of us have served unwittingly as unpaid promoters of Satan because of our disobedience to God?

If we read Romans 2:17-24 and all we learn is that the Jews were guilty of hypocrisy, I think there will be no changes in our lives. We will continue to blaspheme God. The fact is we are all guilty. We must all repent!

…to be continued

JJ Lim