What does Romans 2:27 mean?
ESV: Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
NIV: The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
NASB: And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a violator of the Law?
CSB: A man who is physically uncircumcised, but who keeps the law, will judge you who are a lawbreaker in spite of having the letter of the law and circumcision.
NLT: In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.
KJV: And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
Paul has painted a picture of two men. One is Jewish and circumcised and under the law of Moses. He breaks the law. The other is Gentile, uncircumcised, but he keeps the law of Moses. He obeys it. In what would have been a deeply offensive shock to his Jewish readers, Paul said that circumcision is of no use to the Jewish lawbreaker. Worse, he suggested that a lack of physical circumcision is no hindrance to the Gentile law-keeper. The first will be regarded by God as if he were not circumcised and not Jewish; the second will be regarded as if he were circumcised and Jewish, even though he's not.
Now Paul concludes that the Gentile law-keeper will condemn the Jewish law-breaker, even though he has been given the law by God and has been circumcised. The only difference between them is whether they kept the law or not. Only later will Paul reveal that nobody, Jewish or Gentile, is able to keep the law, after all (Romans 3:10). All are sinners and must be forgiven for their sin in order to be saved from God's wrath (Romans 3:22–25).
Romans 2:12–29 describes two groups of people, with an emphasis on how their sin relates to their knowledge of God's written Law for the nation of Israel. Here, ''Gentiles'' are those who sin apart from the law, while ''Jews'' are those who sin under the law. Paul shows how, in both cases, God will judge people based on whether they kept the law and were circumcised in their hearts. Even Gentiles who follow the law out of sincerity would be regarded by God as truly Jewish. Meanwhile, God will discount the Jewishness and circumcision of someone under the law who breaks the law and does not have a sincere heart. Paul will show in the following chapter that, in truth, no one can keep the law.
Romans 2 springs a trap on any religious person who read Paul's lists of sins at the end of Romans 1 and thought it wasn't about them. Paul calls them out for making themselves judges when they are also guilty. He shows that God will judge everyone, including those under the law, based on their works. This prefaces this letter's theme of salvation by grace, through faith, rather than by works. Many benefits come with having the law, but only if those under the law keep it. Jewishness—circumcision—must be an inner state, not just an outer one. Paul will show in the following chapter that none of us really meets those conditions.
Having just concluded a list of terrible sins humanity indulges in as a result of rejecting God, Paul turns to religious people and says, ''This applies to you, too.'' Nobody can judge arrogantly, because we are all guilty. Even God's people the Jews will stand before Him in judgment based on their works. Having the law only matters if someone can keep the law. Paul asks his Jewish readers why they don't and shows that they must be Jewish and circumcised in their hearts for it to matter. In the following chapter, he will show that nobody can keep the law.
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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