What does Romans 2:29 mean?
ESV: But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
NIV: No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.
NASB: But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God.
CSB: On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart--by the Spirit, not the letter. That person's praise is not from people but from God.
NLT: No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
KJV: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Verse Commentary:
Paul concludes this section by defining what is required to be truly Jewish. Paul was born Jewish, lived as a devout Pharisee (Philippians 3:4–7), and was converted to faith in Christ for his salvation. He is more than fully qualified to address this issue. Paul has recently indicated that true Jewishness is not about mere birth and circumcision. Circumcision, likewise, is not "outward and physical."

Now he states the positive side of this claim. True Jewishness, to be included in the people of God, happens inwardly. True circumcision is about the sincere heart of a person. That circumcision is "by the Spirit, not by the letter."

Bible scholars disagree about whether the word spirit in this verse should be capitalized. In other words, is it talking about Holy Spirit or not? If so, then Paul is saying that this heart circumcision, this being set apart as a member of God's family, is carried out by God's Holy Spirit. That fits with other passages that describe the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. If Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, this is his first mention of Christian salvation.

The alternative is that Paul is referring to someone being circumcised in their own spirit, not by following the mechanical requirements: "the letter of the law." Or, perhaps Paul means that this heart circumcision is about following the spirit of the law and not about the letter of the law.

In any case, true Jewishness is about what happens inside a person and not just about being born an Israelite and being circumcised. Paul insists that Jewishness must be sincere from the inside out. This basic principle applies to Christian faith, as well. Labels and behaviors are not what matter; it is faith which identifies us as a true believer.

When it is sincere, when a person is circumcised in their heart and set apart with God's people, that person is praised by God. After all, God knows our hearts. Otherwise, this person receives praise only from men who see the outside actions of a person that may or may not be sincere. The praise of men is far less valuable than to be praised by the God who truly knows us.
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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.
Book Summary:
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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