Verses 17 and following obviously talk about the Jew. “…if you call yourself a Jew;…” this is a first class conditional statement (assumed to be true), “…if you rely on the law” – with a definite article ‘the law’; probably refers to the Mosaic Law. “…and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior…” – ‘approve’ here is the word for test with a view toward approval. “…if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children,…” – this is obviously sarcasm. “…because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” – what Paul is saying here is, ‘You brag about how much you keep the Commandments but your life also reflects a fallenness, a deviation from the standard; it’s hypocrisy, it’s profession without performance, it’s a lip service without heart relationship – that’s the problem! Notice as it continues in verse 22, “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols,…” – the word ‘abhor’ is the word to turn away from something because of its stench. “…do you rob temples? – that’s strange. We’re not sure what that means at all. This could refer literally to robbing temples (cf. Josephus) because large amounts of wealth were often stored in pagan temples. Or it could refer to sacrilege in general. “You who boast in the law, † do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (cf. Isaiah 52:5)”. I wonder how true this is of the church today, because we have fellow Christians who think that coming to church 2-3 hours on Sundays is all that God requires of them. There is an abuse and hypocrisy so rampant in our culture today that is so evident in the ‘so-so’ commitment to Jesus Christ that doesn’t touch the life of the Gospel.
Now notice in verse 25, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law,…” – i think it’s crucial that we realize that circumcision (sign of God’s covenant with Israel) or any ritual for that matter is only effective when the heart is right with God. The Jews claim their superiority because they had the Oracles of God; they claim their superiority because they were circumsized inside the Covenant. The Jews believed that if a man was circumsized he’d never got to hell; that Abraham would keep him out of hell just because he had the physical mark. Paul says, ‘NO! It’s a mark on the heart. It’s a spiritual attitude toward God’. It isn’t an outward ritual, or being possessors of the Law, or hearers of the Law, or knowers of the Law. I’m sorry to say the ugliest and Godless people i know are conservative Christians who boast of their conservative knowledge, and hate their brothers. May God help us! If we know Jesus, our life is going to be impacted by love. Now the word ‘if’ in verse 25 is a third class conditional (potential action), “…but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. – which means your circumcision is no better that uncircumcision. Remember that all of Israel’s neighbors were circumsized except the Philistines at different times and for different purposes, but physically the mark was on all of them. If you can just read down through verse 28, it’s very obvious what it’s trying to say. “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.” – real circumcision is heart circumcision – a spiritual and not a literal thing. I think it’s very, very important to know that it is not a matter of race, but of faith. Not all Israel are from Israel (cf. Romans 9:6) but those who are of faith are likewise the sons of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7-9). If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s offspring (cf. Gal. 3:29). You might want to see Galatians 6:16 where it says “the Israel of God’, which definitely refers to all Christians, that is to say the Church. Therefore, it’s not a matter of ritual, but it’s a matter of heart circumcision – our relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me give you a couple of Old Testament passages which provide you a perspective about circumcision and its true value; you might want to read Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4. Now notice as it says in the last phrase of verse 29, “Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” – many have assumed the word ‘praise’ is a play on the Hebrew words for Judah, but it’s kind of a real loose thing. I agree there’s a connection etymologically, but i’m not sure Paul thought about that when he wrote this.