Romans 2:27-29 Commentary

Romans 2:27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps (PAPFSN) the Law, will he not judge (3SFAI) you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: kai krinei (3SFAI) e ek phuseos akrobustia ton nomon telousa (PAPPSN) se ton dia grammatos kai peritomes parabaten nomou.

Amplified: Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the Law will condemn you who, although you have the code in writing and have circumcision, break the Law. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God's law will be much better off than you Jews who are circumcised and know so much about God's law but don't obey it. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: Moreover, is it not plain to you that those who are physically uncircumcised, and yet keep the Law, are a continual judgment upon you who, for all your circumcision and knowledge of the Law, break it? (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: And the uncircumcision which by nature is fulfilling the law will judge you who with the advantage of the letter and of circumcision are a transgressor of law. 

Young's Literal: and the uncircumcision, by nature, fulfilling the law, shall judge thee who, through letter and circumcision, art a transgressor of law.

Romans 1:18-3:20 Romans 3:21-5:21 Romans 6:1-8:39 Romans 9:1-11:36 Romans 12:1-16:27
God's Holiness
God's Grace
God's Power
God's Sovereignty
Jew and Gentile
Gods Glory
Object of
of Sin
of Grace
Demonstration of Salvation
Power Given Promises Fulfilled Paths Pursued
Restored to Israel
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
Slaves to Sin Slaves to God Slaves Serving God
Doctrine Duty
Life by Faith Service by Faith

Modified from Irving L. Jensen's excellent work "Jensen's Survey of the NT"

AND HE WHO IS PHYSICALLY UNCIRCUMCISED: kai krinei (3SFAI) e ek phuseos akrobustia:

Physically (5449) (phusis/physis from phúo = to bring forth) refers to a condition or circumstance as determined by birth and thus a natural condition. Phusis is the nature of something as the result of its natural development or condition.

Uncircumcision (203) (akrobustia from ákron = the extreme + búo = cover) means uncircumcised or uncircumcision and thus referred to the prepuce or foreskin. What Paul is picturing is that the physical rite of circumcision without any internal transformation equates with a foreskin! Akrobustia was also used as a term of scorn and derision by Jews, for they equated "uncircumcision" with being a pagan Gentiles. Can you imagine how a self-righteous Jew must have felt when he read Paul's argument!

He who is physically uncircumcised - This is another synonym for Gentiles in this verse. In the OT Gentiles are often referred to as "the peoples" (eg, Ex 15:14, 19:5, Lev 20:24 "separated you from the peoples", Lev 20:26 "set you apart from the peoples", etc) "the nations" (Ge 17:4 - Abraham would be "the father of a multitude of nations", Ge 22:18 - "in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed", Psalm 2:1, etc)

If a physically uncircumcised Gentile were to keep the work of the law within his heart, would he not be justified, instead of the physically circumcised Jew who did not keep the law? A Gentile who obeys what the Law requires, even though he does not know the Law (Ro 2:14) is in God’s sight similar to a circumcised Jew. This thought would be revolutionary for Jews who considered themselves far superior to Gentiles (cf. Ro 2:17, 18, 19, 20, 21).

Denny explains Paul's logic this way...

“Here the inference is drawn from the principle laid down in verse 25. This being so, Paul argues, if the uncircumcision maintain the just requirements of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be accounted circumcision, because it has really done what circumcision pledged the Jew to do?… As he has done what circumcision bound the Jew to do, he will be treated as if in the Jew’s position: his uncircumcision will be reckoned as circumcision.”

IF HE KEEPS THE LAW, WILL HE NOT JUDGE YOU: kai krinei (3SFAI) e ek phuseos akrobustia ton nomon telousa (PAPFSN):

If he keeps - This is the proverbial "big" (impossible) if!

Keeps (5055) (teleo from telos = goal, an end, a purpose, an aim, a fulfillment, an achievement; See discussion of related words - Mature = teleios; Maturity [perfect] = teleiotes) means to bring to an end (e.g., Jesus finished speaking - see below) as one brings a process, a course, a task or an undertaking to the end.

Related Resources:

It means to make an end or to accomplish and complete something, not merely by bringing it to end but bringing it to perfection, in the context of Romans 2:27 signifying that one keeps the law perfectly. And note the present tense which means one keeps the law continually, as one's lifestyle, which of course is impossible (unless you are Jesus!)

Teleo means to accomplish an obligation or demand in the sense of to bring about a result by effort. The idea is to achieve a goal or to conclude it successfully. This meaning is especially poignant in the context of Jesus' life purpose which was to die on the Cross, the purpose He pointed to and which He accomplished ("It is finished" John 19:30). This same meaning of fulfilling or bringing about the completion or achievement of a goal or objective is also a prominent meaning in the Revelation (e.g. Re 11:7-note; Re 17:17-note)

Teleo in some contexts (Mt 17:24, Ro 13:6-note) means to pay, and in the NT uses refers to payment of obligatory taxes or tolls.

Secular uses of teleo include the idea of carrying out instructions, of fulfilling obligations and religiously of carrying out religious acts including consecrating initiates (as into a mystery cult). This latter sense is not used in the NT but is used in the LXX translation of Numbers 25:3, 5 where Israel joined themselves to (consecrated themselves) the pagan idol Baalpeor.

Here are the 28 NT uses of teleo...

Matthew 7:28 (note) The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching;

Matthew 10:23 "But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 11:1 And it came about that when Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Matthew 13:53 And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there.

Matthew 17:24 And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, "Does your teacher not pay (teleo) the two-drachma tax?"

Matthew 19:1 And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee, and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan;

Matthew 26:1 And it came about that when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples,

Luke 2:39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.

Luke 12:50 "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!

Luke 18:31 And He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.

Luke 22:37 "For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, 'And He was numbered with transgressors'; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment."

John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I am thirsty."

John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.

Acts 13:29 "And when they (the Jews in Jerusalem and their rulers) had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.

Romans 2:27 (note) And will not 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 transgressor of the Law?

Romans 13:6 (note) For because of this you also pay (teleo - present tense = continually!) taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

2 Corinthians 12:9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected (teleo - present tense = this principle is continually active; passive voice = this effect [empowerment] is brought about by an a source other than the subject, in this case the Spirit of Christ) in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Galatians 5:16 (note) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

2 Timothy 4:7 (note) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course (dromos = a race track or course), I have kept the faith

Comment: Paul pictures his Christian life as a race and is saying he has broken the barrier at the finish line, having fulfilled the purpose for which he was created and then "re-created" in Christ. The perfect tense points to the permanent effect of his finish. The finish line has been crossed and the results would last forever. He has now entered his eternal rest.

James 2:8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.

Revelation 10:7 (note) but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished (accomplished), as He preached to His servants the prophets.

Revelation 11:7 (note) And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.

Comment: From a timing perspective, this is one of the most important events in the Revelation as it occurs in the middle of the 7 year Tribulation and marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Revelation 15:1 (note) And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.

Comment: When the bowl judgments are poured out in the Great Tribulation, God's wrath against Israel is over, for it has accomplished the refining and purifying that He desired, and the one third of the Jews who have believed in Messiah will enter the Millennial Kingdom.

Revelation 15:8 (note) And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Comment: Another allusion to the completion of the horrendous 3.5 year period known as the Great Tribulation.

Revelation 17:17 (note) "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose (Do not miss this faith buoying truth that God is sovereign and in control even of the drama of these evil players! Absolutely nothing happens outside of His control! And this is true in your life beloved child of God!) by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled (accomplished).

Revelation 20:3 (note) and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

Revelation 20:5 (note) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.

Revelation 20:7 (note) And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison

Teleo is used 14 times in the Septuagint (LXX) (Nu 25:3, 5; Ruth 2:21; 3:18; Ezr. 1:1; 5:16; 6:15; 7:12; 9:1; 10:17; Neh. 6:15; Ps. 106:28; Dan. 4:33; Hos. 4:14)

Ruth 2:21 (note) Then Ruth the Moabitess said, "Furthermore, he said to me, 'You should stay close to my servants until they have finished (Hebrew = kalah = to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished; Lxx = teleo) all my harvest.'"

Ruth 3:18 (note) Then she said, "Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled (KJV = "have finished"; Hebrew = kalah = to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished; Lxx = teleo) it today."

Ezra 6:15 And this temple was completed (Hebrew = yetsa = to bring to an end, to finish; Lxx = teleo) on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

Ezra 10:17 And they finished (Hebrew = kalah = to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished; Lxx = teleo) investigating all the men who had married foreign wives by the first of the first month.

Nehemiah 6:15 So the wall was completed (Hebrew = shalem = to be complete or sound, to be at peace {related noun = shalom}; Lxx = teleo) on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.

Law (3551) (nomos from némo = divide among, parcel out, allot) is etymologically something parceled out, allotted, what one has in use and possession; hence, usage, custom.

Judge (2919) (krino) primarily signifies to distinguish, separate or discriminate and then, to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, without necessarily passing an adverse sentence, though this is usually involved. Krino means to sift out and analyze evidence. Passing judgment, by implication, means condemning.

A Gentile’s humble obedience to the law should serve as a stern rebuke to a Jew who, in spite of his great advantages, lives in disobedience. Circumcision (or baptism - or any ritual in itself) doesn't save anyone; Egyptians circumcised their boys, and Ishmael, the son of the flesh, was circumcised

Paul is not saying that uncircumcised Gentiles can keep the Law, but rather that if they do they will be reckoned as "circumcised" in a spiritual sense. Moreover, they then could be called to bear witness in judgment against the circumcised who have transgressed the Law. Paul’s argument was devastating! One of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call another Jew “an uncircumcised one,” and this is what Paul had done in no uncertain terms. Circumcision alone does not justify a man. His actions must be in keeping with his profession of faith.

In applying this truth to ourselves, all we have to do is substitute for the word “circumcision” any of the following: Church membershipbaptismconfirmationMethodistBaptistPresbyterianand so on. The great mistake of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews when asked about their relationship to God is to cite their religious affiliation as evidence of their relationship.

Are you a believer?” “Of course. I’ve been a member of First Church for twenty-five years.”

Are you a believer?” “I’m a ____(name of denomination)! Does that answer your question?”

Are you a believer?” “Why yes, I was baptized right here in Christian Church.”

There are as many answers as there are affiliations and rites, but none will convince God—they are all outward "circumcisions" so to speak.


Circumcision (4061) (peritome from perí = around + témno = cut off) refers literally to cutting and removal of the foreskin. (See related discussion on Circumcision)

Peritome 36x in the NT --

Jn. 7:22, 23; Acts 7:8; 10:45; 11:2; Ro 2:25, 26-notes, Ro 2:27, 28, 29-notes; Ro 3:1-note, Ro 3:30-note; Ro 4:9, 10, 11, 12-notes; Ro 15:8-note; 1 Co. 7:19; Gal 2:7, 8, 9, 12; 5:6, 11; 6:15; Ep 2:11; Php 3:3, Php 3:5; Col 2:11; 3:11; 4:11; Titus 1:10.

There are only 4 uses in the Septuagint (LXX) - Ge 17:13; Ex 4:25, 26; Je 11:16.

Transgressor (3848) (parabates from from pará = beyond or contrary to + baíno = to go) (see study of related word parabasis) describes one who goes beyond and thus is a violator of the law. A transgressor is one who goes beyond the line. So, also, trespass, which is transpass, from the Latin trans, across, and passus, a step.

Here are the 5 uses of parabates - Ro 2:25, 27; Gal 2:18; Jas 2:9, 11.

Paul speaking of the letter of the Law writes

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, (the Mosaic Law kills because, of itself, it could not give life was meant to make men conscious of sin - see Purpose of the Law) but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:5-6-note)

See Related Resource:

Romans 2:28 For he is (3SPAI) not a Jew who is one outwardly *, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: ou gar o en to phanero Ioudaios estin, (3SPAI) oude e en to phanero en sarki peritome;

Amplified: For he is not a [real] Jew who is only one outwardly and publicly, nor is [true] circumcision something external and physical. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish ceremony of circumcision. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: I have come to the conclusion that a true Jew is not the man who is merely a Jew outwardly, and a real circumcision is not just a matter of the body. (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: For, not he who is so in an outward fashion is a Jew, nor even that which is in an outward fashion in flesh is circumcision. 

Young's Literal: For he is not a Jew who is so outwardly, neither is circumcision that which is outward in flesh;

FOR HE IS NOT A JEW WHO IS ONE OUTWARDLY: ou gar o en to phanero Ioudaios estin (3SPAI):

Jew (2453)(ioudaios) is summarized in Easton's Bible Dictionary as follows...

The name derived from the patriarch Judah, at first given to one belonging to the tribe of Judah or to the separate kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16:6; 25:25; Jeremiah 32:12; 38:19; 40:11; 41:3), in contradistinction from those belonging to the kingdom of the ten tribes, who were called Israelites.

During the Captivity, and after the Restoration, the name, however, was extended to all the Hebrew nation without distinction (Esther 3:6,10; Daniel 3:8,12; Ezra 4:12; 5:1,5).

Originally this people were called Hebrews (Genesis 39:14; 40:15; Exodus 2:7; 3:18; 5:3; 1 Samuel 4:6,9, etc.), but after the Exile this name fell into disuse. But Paul was styled a Hebrew (2Corinthians 11:22; Phil 3:5).

The history of the Jewish nation is interwoven with the history of Palestine and with the narratives of the lives of their rulers and chief men. They are now [1897] dispersed over all lands, and to this day remain a separate people, "without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image [RSV 'pillar,' marg. 'obelisk'], and without an ephod, and without teraphim" (Hosea 3:4). Till about the beginning of the present century [1800] they were everywhere greatly oppressed, and often cruelly persecuted; but now their condition is greatly improved, and they are admitted in most European countries to all the rights of free citizens. In 1860 the "Jewish disabilities" were removed, and they were admitted to a seat in the British Parliament. Their number in all is estimated at about six millions, about four millions being in Europe.

There are three names used in the New Testament to designate this people,

Jews, as regards their nationality, to distinguish them from Gentiles.

Hebrews, with regard to their language and education, to distinguish them from Hellenists, i.e., Jews who spoke the Greek language.

Israelites, as respects their sacred privileges as the chosen people of God. "To other races we owe the splendid inheritance of modern civilization and secular culture; but the religious education of mankind has been the gift of the Jew alone." 

(Smith's Bible Dictionary adds that) The force of the title "Jew" is seen particularly in the Gospel of St. John, who very rarely uses any other term to describe the opponents of our Lord. At an earlier stage of the progress of the faith it was contrasted with Greek as implying an outward covenant with God, (Romans 1:16; 2:9,10; Colossians 3:11) etc., which was the correlative of Hellenist [HELLENIST], and marked a division of language subsisting within the entire body, and at the same time less expressive than Israelite , which brought out with especial clearness the privileges and hopes of the children of Jacob. (2 Corinthians 11:22; John 1:47)

Outwardly (5318) (phaneros from phaino = give light; make to shine or to cause to appear) pertains to that which is clearly and easily known and thus is manifest, plain or apparent. In other words being a true or genuine Jew is not a matter of outward or external things that are clearly seen (such as wearing phylacteries, paying tithes, or being circumcised).

Dr. Barnhouse's paraphrase

For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is that “church membership” which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and “church membership” is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.

They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel! In other words, not all the physical descendents of Abraham are automatically "spiritual" descendents. (cf Gal 3:29). As John the Baptist had pronounced many years earlier, God could raise up physical descendants of Abraham from stones if He so chose (Mt 3:9).

Be careful who you read in any commentary (including the one you are reading!). Below is a comment from the well known commentary by Adam Clarke regarding who the "Jew" is in this passage. Clarke writes that the Jew is...

A member of the Church of God,
who has only an outward profession

Now this may be an application but it is not the correct interpretation. Can you see the error he has made and which so many still continue to make? His mistake was to interpret the passage in light of what he had been taught to believe about Israel and the Church and not let the text speak in context - Paul's context in Romans 2, especially in the last section, is clearly directed primarily at the Jews. Clarke "replaces" the Jew with the Church (a false theology referred to as "replacement theology"). The point is that one must be a Berean, (Acts 17:11-note) when reading the commentaries, no matter how well known the commentary is. A safe rule in inductive study is to always carefully observe the Scriptures and allow the context to guide the interpretation.

Now by way of application one might ask how do we see this truth today? And it might be some who say they are saved by having godly parents and knowing what they taught them, or because they have been faithful members of the corner church all their life, or because they have received water baptism as an infant, a child or an adult. In each of these situations they are in need of a circumcision of their hearts by God's Spirit Who alone births new life from above. Let us warn those around us (in love) to flee from the wrath to come lest they be deceived as so many of the Jews in Paul's day were. We must each consider the question, "Where does our confidence lie?" Does it rest on our knowledge of God’s Word, our religious affiliation, our experience of baptism, etc? If so, we are deluded, dead and doomed to eternal destruction unless we come to repentance and faith in the Gospel! True salvation and eternal life is a matter of the heart. God’s Word is surgical. It is meant to pierce hearts (He 4:12,13-note; Heb 4:13-note). If God has spoken to you and revealed your need and your heart is troubled, there is hope for you. Now receive the Word implanted which is able to save your soul (James 1:21).

J. C. Ryle has some pithy comments from his sermon entitled Formalism (click for entire sermon):

"[I.] We learn, first, that formal religion is not true religion, and a formal Christian is not a true Christian in God's sight.

[II.] We learn, secondly, that the heart is the seat of true religion, and that the true Christian is the Christian in heart.

[III.] We learn, thirdly, that true religion must never expect to be popular. It will not have the "praise of man, but praise from God....

Two hundred years have passed away since a mighty Puritan preacher said, "Formalism, formalism, formalism is the great sin of this day, under which the whole country groans. There is more light than there was, but less life; more profession, but less holiness." (Thomas Hall, on 2Ti 3:5 [see note] the year was 1658). What would this good man have said if he lived in our times?"

NEITHER IS (physical) CIRCUMCISION THAT WHICH IS OUTWARD IN THE FLESH: oude e en to phanero en sarki peritome:

Circumcision (4061) (peritome from perí = around + témno = cut off) (Click study of peritome) refers literally to cutting and removal of the foreskin. (See related discussion on Circumcision) In this particular verse however Paul is referring to a figurative circumcision as mentioned several times in the Old Testament (click), so this is a truth concerning which the Jews should not have been ignorant.

Here are the 36 uses of peritome in the NT --Jn. 7:22, 23; Acts 7:8; 10:45; 11:2; Ro 2:25, 26-notes, Ro 2:27, 28, 29-notes; Ro 3:1-note, Ro 3:30-note; Ro 4:9, 10, 11, 12-notes; Ro 15:8-note; 1 Co. 7:19; Gal 2:7, 8, 9, 12; 5:6, 11; 6:15; Ep 2:11; Php 3:3, Php 3:5; Col. 2:11; 3:11; 4:11; Titus 1:10

There are only 4 uses in the Septuagint - Ge 17:13; Ex 4:25, 26; Je 11:16;

Flesh (4561) (sarx) (Click study of sarx) is used 147 times in the NT and has a range of meanings but in the present context refers to the physical part of the human body. Paul contrast their physical circumcision with circumcision of the heart, a teaching which should not have been "new" to any Jew well-schooled in the Law and the Prophets.

God had instituted circumcision as a mark of His covenant with Abraham and his descendants, declaring that “every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations” (Ge 17:10, 11, 12). Many commentators feel that this "surgical procedure" was symbolic of the sinfulness of man that was passed from generation to generation (by the seed of man), so that the very organ needed to be cleansed of a covering. So man at the very center of his nature is sinful and needs cleansing of the heart. This graphic symbol of the need for removing sin became the sign of being a Jew. But as important as circumcision was as an act of obedience to God and as a reminder to Jews of their covenant relation to Him, the rite had no spiritual power and was only an outward symbol. And rather than freeing Jews from God’s law, circumcision made them even more responsible for obeying it, because that ritual testified to their greater knowledge of sin, of God, and of His will in regard to them.

Romans 2:29 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 God. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: all' o en to krupto Ioudaios, kai peritome kardias en pneumati ou grammati, ou o epainos ouk ex anthropon all' ek tou theou.

Amplified: But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and [true] circumcision is of the heart, a spiritual and not a literal [matter]. His praise is not from men but from God. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not a cutting of the body but a change of heart produced by God's Spirit. Whoever has that kind of change seeks praise from God, not from people. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: The true Jew is one who belongs to God in heart, a man whose circumcision is not just an outward physical affair but is a God-made sign upon the heart and soul, and results in a life lived not for the approval of man, but for the approval of God. (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: But he who is so in the sphere of the inner man is a Jew, and circumcision is of the heart, in the sphere of the spirit, not in the sphere of the letter, concerning whom the praise is not from men but from God. 

Young's Literal: but a Jew is he who is so inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, of which the praise is not of men, but of God.

BUT HE IS A JEW WHO IS ONE INWARDLY: all o en to krupto Ioudaios:

Inwardly (2927) (kruptos from krúpto = keep secret) means hidden, concealed, and thus secret where one cannot be seen by others. The phrase "en to krupto" literally reads in the hidden part and thus inwardly.

God has always been more interested in the inward than the outward...even as He explained to Samuel declaring

the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance (the man who God would select as king of Jesse's sons) or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1Sa 16:7)

Comment: God's method is clearly not that commonly followed by either pulpit committees or political parties, but it ultimately is the best method and selects the best man.

A true Jew in the fullest sense is one who is a physical Jew but who by faith in Christ has become a child of God (Jn 1:11, 12) and is now not just a physical descendant of Abraham but now is the true spiritual seed of Abraham. (Ro 4:16, Gal 3:29). All who do not have this "mark" are "uncircumcised" [Jer 9:25,26 Acts 7:51]

Note: Paul does not intend that national and ethnic distinctions are eliminated by the gospel so that one no longer distinguishes between Israel and the church. Otherwise, Paul would not have so lucidly affirmed a continuing place for Israel in the redemptive purpose of God (Ro 9:4, 5; 10:1, 2; 11:1, 2, 25, 26). Rather, the apostle's design is to provoke physical, unregenerate Israel to a recognition of its dire plight by warning that the true essence of being is an inward reality of the heart wrought by the Spirit of God, not an outward cutting of the physical flesh. The physical Jew who believes in his Messiah for salvation becomes part of the remnant of born again Jews who compose what Paul termed the true Israel of God (Gal 6:16), a phrase which many misinterpret as "the church" (see topic Israel of God)


Circumcision (4061) (peritome [word study] from perí = around + témno = cut off) here refers to figurative circumcision. (See the "Excursus on Circumcision of the Heart" below)

Note that circumcision is used in three senses in this passage: (1) it stands for the Jews (notice that the "uncircumcised" in Ro 2:27 means Gentiles; see also Ge 17:10); (2) it indicates the physical rite commanded in the law (Ro 2:25a and Lev. 12:3); (3) it represents, as here, a life that is separated from the flesh and unto God (Ro 2:27 and Dt. 10:16).

For the purposes of applying Paul's teaching in these verses note that in the place of "circumcision", one can substitute a number of equivalent activities such as baptism, confirmation, church membership, communion, mother's prayers, godly family, etc. Just as literal circumcision does not bring about present salvation nor guarantee future salvation, neither do any of these activities unless accompanied by a heart circumcised by the Spirit (i.e., regeneration, salvation)


Ray Stedman - "I have often said to someone, "Well, are you a Christian?" And the answer I get is, "Well, I am a Catholic," or, "I am a Baptist," or "I was raised a Methodist," or, "I've been baptized." In the case of the Jews, it was circumcision. But, as Paul is pointing out here, God isn't fooled one bit by this. There are many uncircumcised (as Paul also points out), and also many unbaptized, unconfirmed, unpasteurized, unsimonized individuals who behave just as well as those who have been baptized, circumcised, simonized, or whatever it is. Do you see? These things do not add anything to a person -- that is the point -- they don't do a thing for you. Regardless of what you have been taught, there is no value in an outward ordinance or outward ritual -- none whatsoever. "Well," you say, "what is a religious ritual, anyway? Why are these things here?" And the answer is: A ritual or rite is saying something to God in actions instead of words... Don't insult the God who loves you by muttering some meaningless mumbo-jumbo before him, or play-acting some religious hocus-pocus that leaves you uninvolved, and, therefore, unchanged -- this is what Paul is saying." (Read the full sermon text Red Herrings)

 Excursus on Circumcision
Of the Heart

Genesis 17:9 God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 "And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 "A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 "But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

Circumcision (cutting away the male foreskin) was not entirely new in this period of history, but the special religious and theocratic significance then applied to it was entirely new, thus identifying the circumcised as belonging to the physical and ethnical lineage of Abraham (cf. Acts 7:8; Ro 4:11). Without divine revelation, the rite would not have had this distinctive significance, thus it remained a theocratic distinctive of Israel (cf. v13). There was a health benefit, since disease could be kept in the folds of the foreskin, so that removing it prevented that. Historically, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of cervical cancer. But the symbolism had to do with the need to cut away sin and be cleansed. It was the male organ which most clearly demonstrated the depth of depravity because it carried the seed that produced depraved sinners....This cleansing of the physical organ so as not to pass on disease... was a picture of the deep need for cleansing from depravity, which is most clearly revealed by procreation, as men produce sinners and only sinners. Circumcision points to the fact that cleansing is needed at the very core of a human being, a cleansing God offers to the faithful and penitent through the sacrifice of Christ to come. (MacArthur, J. J. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Word Pub) (Bolding added)

Circumcision was God’s appointed “sign of the covenant” (Ge 17:11), which signified Abraham’s covenanted commitment to the Lord—that the Lord alone would be his God, whom he would trust and serve. It symbolized a self-maledictory oath (analogous to the oath to which God had submitted himself; see Ge 15:17): “If I am not loyal in faith and obedience to the Lord, may the sword of the Lord cut off me and my offspring (Ge 17:14) as I have cut off my foreskin.” Thus Abraham was to place himself under the rule of the Lord as his King, consecrating himself, his offspring and all he possessed to the service of the Lord. (NIV Study Bible. Zondervan)

Leviticus 26:41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies-- or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then (Don't miss these critical expressions of time in your Bible reading!) I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Deuteronomy 10:16 "Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more."

Physical circumcision was important as the sign of the covenant (cf. Gen. 17:10 and Gen. 17:9, note), and was intended as an outward act bearing eloquent witness to the cutting away of the hardness of sin from the heart of man (cf. Jer. 6:10; Ex. 6:12). (Criswell, W A. Believer's Study Bible: New King James Version. 1991. Thomas Nelson)

The proper response to their election by the sovereign Lord was to circumcise their hearts (cf. Dt 30:6). An uncircumcised heart means a will that is hardened against God’s commands. It is another way of saying the person is stiff-necked or stubborn (cf. Dt 9:6KJV, Dt 9:13KJV; Dt 31:27KJV). Thus the command to circumcise their hearts assumes that human hearts are naturally rebellious and need correction. Though human hearts are slow to change, Moses warned the nation that no bribe or anything less than an inward transformation could satisfy the Lord, who is the great God. God’s treatment of the helpless (the fatherless . . . the widow, and the alien) further illustrates His absolutely just character (showing no partiality) and highlights His requirement for Israel to be just. (Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible knowledge commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) (Bolding added)

Deuteronomy 30:6 "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.

(Deut 30:1-5 prophesies of) The gathering of Jews out of all the countries of the earth (that) will follow Israel’s final redemption. Restoration to the Land will be in fulfillment of the promise of the covenant given to Abraham (see Ge 12:7; 13:15; 15:18, 19, 20, 21; 17:8) and so often reiterated by Moses and the prophets. (Circumcision of their heart is a) work of God in the innermost being of the individual is the true salvation that grants a new will to obey Him in place of the former spiritual insensitivity and stubbornness (cf. Jer. 4:4; 9:25; Ro 2:28, 29). This new heart will allow the Israelite to love the Lord wholeheartedly, and is the essential feature of the New Covenant. (MacArthur, J. J. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Word Pub) (Bolding added)

The promise that the Lord your God will circumcise your hearts (cf. Dt 10:16) means that God will graciously grant the nation a new will to obey Him in place of their former spiritual insensitivity and stubbornness. After returning to the Promised Land with a new heart they will remain committed to the Lord and therefore will experience abundant blessing (live). Loving Him wholeheartedly (cf. Dt 30:16, 20; see Dt 6:5), they would not fall back into apostasy as they had done before. A new heart is an essential feature of the New Covenant (cf. Ezek. 36:24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32-see notes), which will not be fulfilled for Israel as a nation until the return of Jesus Christ (cf. Jer. 31:31, 32, 33, 34). (Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible knowledge commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) (Bolding added)

Jeremiah 4:4 "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds."

Here the meaning of circumcision is the idea of purifying, separating from the sinful tendency of the flesh, that propensity inherited from Adam in which the unregenerate seeks only to please self, never God. In other words, God desires that the inward condition match one's outward profession, which pf course is not just an OT idea related to circumcision. God's intent has always been that the outward symbols (e.g., circumcision, baptism) should be signs of an inward reality of a new heart willing to and now able to obey Him. Mere outward conformity to the standards of the covenant does not please God

(MacArthur writes) This surgery (Ge 17:10, 11, 12, 13, 14) was to cut away flesh that could hold disease in its folds and could pass the disease on to wives. It was important for the preservation of God’s people physically. But it was also a symbol of the need for the heart to be cleansed from sin’s deadly disease. The really essential surgery needed to happen on the inside, where God calls for taking away fleshly things that keep the heart from being spiritually devoted to Him and from true faith in Him and His will. Jeremiah later expanded on this theme (Jeremiah 31:31, 32, 33, 34; cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Ro 2:29). God selected the reproductive organ as the location of the symbol for man’s need of cleansing for sin, because it is the instrument most indicative of his depravity, since by it he reproduces generations of sinners. (The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Word Pub) (Bolding added)

Jeremiah 9:25 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised (now he lists several examples of ancient nations that practiced circumcision and to Judah's dismay placed her right in the middle of the loathed Gentiles!)--26 Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the sons of Ammon, and Moab, and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart."

Conformity to the external standard of circumcision must be accompanied by "circumcision" of the heart to please God. To see how one can "circumcise the heart" see the teaching by Paul in Romans 2 and Colossians 2 (below).

Bible Knowledge Commentary - If personal achievement or ability would not please God (Jer 9:23), neither would outward conformity to religious rituals. God would punish those circumcised only in the flesh whether they were near or far (Ed: near = Jew; far = Gentile). Judah’s faith in her covenant sign (Ed: cp Ge 17:11) was a misplaced faith because people in some other nations also practiced this ritual-and they were not under God’s covenant. Judah’s actions exposed the fact that the nation was really uncircumcised of heart (cf. Jer 4:4).

Ezekiel 44:6 "And you shall say to the rebellious ones, to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Enough of all your abominations, O house of Israel, 7 when you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart (spiritual circumcision, a new heart) and uncircumcised in flesh, (physical circumcision) to be in My sanctuary to profane it, even My house (the Temple in Jerusalem), when you offered My food, the fat and the blood; for they made My covenant void-- this in addition to all your abominations. 8 "And you have not kept charge of My holy things yourselves, but you have set foreigners to keep charge of My sanctuary." 9 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary.

Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is 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 God.

Due to the passing down of teaching from one rabbi to another over the centuries ("traditions of men") the true meaning and requirement of circumcision had been lost. And so by the 1st century we find rabbinical "traditions" teaching such fallacies as:

No circumcised Jewish man will see hell” and “Circumcision saves us from hell.”

The Midrash says

God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised would be sent to hell. Abraham sits before the gate of hell and never allows any circumcised Israelite to enter.

Here Paul Paul corrects this serious error in rabbinical interpretation and also explains the somewhat enigmatic OT passages alluding to "circumcision of the heart", clearly stating that it is a spiritual circumcision performed by the Holy Spirit at the time one receives the Messiah as Savior. It is salvation by grace through faith -- in the OT it was placing one's faith in a prophesied, promised Deliverer as one looked forward to the Cross of Messiah and in the NT it is looking back to Messiah's finished work of redemption at Calvary. Colossians 2:11 (below) also amplifies the true meaning of the circumcision that God has always desired.

Colossians 2:9 (see notes Colossians 2:9-10, 2:11-12) For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Circumcision is a cutting away of something and therefore signifies a removal of that which has been cut away. In this verse Paul is clearly using the well known procedure of circumcision not to describe the physical act but ["without hands"] to describe spiritual circumcision. Here Paul uses the circumcision metaphor to explain the same spiritual transaction he discussed in Romans 6:1-11(notes) which describes in detail of the events that occurred when we placed our faith in Christ. At that very moment we were "circumcised with a circumcision made without hands", we were "baptized into Christ" (Galatians 3:27 = identified with Christ) and we experienced a death, burial and resurrection by virtue of our very real spiritual union with Christ. (Col 2:11, 12, 13-notes)

Regarding the "removal of the body of the flesh" the Greek verb gives us the picture of taking off and putting away clothes. And so by analogy "the body of the flesh" is taken off like an old garment (by the Spirit at the time of salvation when Galatians 3:27 teaches we "clothed ourselves with Christ", we exchanged our filthy rags of righteousness for His garment of righteousness). At the moment of salvation, the "body of the flesh" was put off in the sense that it was rendered inoperative (Ro 6:6-note) and now can no longer reign like a cruel dictator over believers as it did when we were unregenerate. The ruling power of this old sinful nature has been broken (Ro 6:7-note, Ro 6:12,13, 14-note , Ro 6:18-note, Ro 6:22- note). Note that the evil nature is not eradicated, for we still sin, but the power of Sin (our old "dictator") has been broken, and as we yield to and are led by the Spirit of Christ (Ro 8:14- note Romans 8:14) we are enabled to walk in the power of the Spirit (Ro 8:4, 5, 6- notes 8:4, 8:5, 8:6) and "by the Spirit" to put "to death the deeds of the body" (note on Ro 8:13). "The flesh" now can exert no more power over a believer than he or she allows it to have.

In short the distinguishing features of the circumcision made without hands are:

(1) not external but internal and not made with hands,

(2) It divests not of part of the flesh, but of the whole body of carnal affections (the power of sin has been rendered inoperative so now we truly can say "no") and

(3) this circumcision is not of Moses nor of Abraham but of Christ.

Ray Stedman writes:

"I will never forget an incident that occurred a number of years ago here at the church. A young man came to my office carrying a thick Bible under his arm, which he had been reading. Looking at me very earnestly, he said to me, "Would you circumcise me?" After I had picked myself up from the floor, I explained to him why, one, he did not need physical circumcision, and, two, what circumcision meant. I pointed out that it was an eloquent symbol when it was properly understood." (Beware! Colossians 2:8-15)

MacDonald on "circumcision made without hands")

"This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer (the moment we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior), but should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col 3:5-note). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3), in contrast to a party of Jewish legalists known as “the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).(MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments. Nashville: Thomas Nelson) (Bolding added)

BY THE SPIRIT, NOT BY THE LETTER: en pneumati ou grammati:

By the Spirit - The necessary dynamic that Jesus explained to Nicodemus declaring...

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-8)

Jesus' declaration and Paul's affirmation are both a fulfillment of God's prophetic promise in Ezekiel 36 where He declares...

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26,27-see notes)

See also the passages on Circumcision in the preceding table most of which speak of a circumcision by the Spirit and not by the Letter (the Law).

Not by the letter - Not by trying to keep the law.

In a passage which parallels Romans 2:29 Paul writes...

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider (here Paul disdains his own ability to reason, judge, or assess truth) anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (Our service is really the Spirit of God initiating and empowering and working through us rather than us working to please God with our feeble, fleshly efforts), Who also made us adequate as servants of a New Covenant, not of the letter (not of the Law = referring to the Old Covenant, the Covenant God cut with the nation of Israel at Sinai), but of the Spirit; for the letter kills (the Law kills because it cannot give life), but the Spirit gives life (cf John 6:63). (2Corinthians 3:5-6)

Salvation is all of God and results from the work of His Spirit in a dead, "uncircumcised", lifeless heart and is not based on men's efforts in the flesh (fallen flesh at that) to conform to God's law.

Writing to the church at Philippi Paul explained that believers now...

are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Php 3:3-note)

AND HIS PRAISE IS NOT FROM MEN BUT FROM GOD: ou o epainos ouk ex anthropon all ek tou theou:

Praise (1868) (epainos from epí = upon + aínos = praise) is an expression of high evaluation. It is excellence spoken of a person, object or event. It refers to the the act of expressing admiration, approval or recognition.

Not from men but from God - This is a further description of inward (man centered) religion as Paul rebukes the vainglory (excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one’s achievements) which prompted so much of the outward religion of the Jews (e.g., see Jesus' parable describing the two men praying in the Temple - one a proud Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer - Luke 18:9-14; cp the scribes and Pharisees who did all their deed to be noticed by men - Mt 23:5). Only that which obtains praise from God will be what men long to hear ("well done" Mt 25:21, 23,)

Jesus in explaining to His disciples that He had not come the first time to wear a crown but a cross told a story that illustrates future praise of those with circumcised hearts...

"And he (a "certain nobleman") said to him (one of the nobleman's ten slaves who had been told to do business with 10 minas -- each mina worth 3 months salary in Jesus' day -- until he came back), 'Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities.' (Luke 19:17)

Paul alluded to this future praise in his letter to the Corinthians exhorting them...

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time (the time of the bema or Judgment Seat of Christ - only for believers), but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. (1Co 4:5) (Comment: Note carefully that at the judgment seat of Christ all believers will receive some praise from God.)

Those who thus combine the outward sign and the inward grace receive God’s praise, if not man’s. There is a play on words in this last verse that is not apparent in the English. The word “Jew” comes from “Judah,” meaning praise. A real Jew is one whose character is such as to receive praise from God.

William Newell says that we should apply this same teaching to Christianity today writing...

So much for the Jew who was the "religious" man, when Paul wrote Romans. But the "religious" man today is the "professing Christian, " and "church-membership" as they call it, has taken the place, in the thought of Christendom, of the Jew's consciousness of belonging to the favored Israelitish race. If we should thus apply this passage (Romans 2:17-29), must it not read something like this?-

"If thou bearest the name of a Christian, and restest on having the gospel, and gloriest in God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the gospel; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, having in the gospel the form of knowledge and of the truth"-

Then would follow the searching questions of Romans 2:21, 22; for do we not know teachers that teach others, but refuse to follow their own teaching? And preachers that denounce stealing, but are accused by the world of being themselves money-grabbers? So it would read, "Thou who gloriest in the gospel, through thy disobedience to the gospel, dishonorest thou God? The name of God is blasphemed among non 'church-members' because of you! Church-membership indeed profiteth if thou be an obeyer of the gospel; but if thou be a refuser of a gospel-walk, thy 'church-membership' is become non 'church-membership.' If therefore a non 'church-member' obey the gospel, shall not his non 'church-membership' be reckoned for 'church-membership'? And shall not non 'church-members, 'if they obey the gospel, judge thee, who with the letter and 'church-membership' art a refuser of a gospel-walk? For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is that 'church-membership' which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and 'church-membership' is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Romans 2)

Seven Great Principles of God’s Judgment
Summary of Romans 2
William Newell

  1. It is according to truth (Ro 2:2-note).
  2. It is according to accumulated guilt (Ro 2:5-note).
  3. It is according to works Ro 2:6-note).
  4. It is without partiality (Ro 2:11-note).
  5. It is according to performance, not knowledge (Ro 2:13-note).
  6. It reaches the secrets of the heart (Ro 2:16-note).
  7. It is according to reality, not religious profession (Ro 2:17-29-note)
    Source: Romans 2