VERSE 17: THE JEWS A STUMBLING BLOCK TO THE GENTILES
“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the Law, and makest thy boast of God”
“Behold” (Grk.-–ide)–Literally: “Look! See! Listen! Here is, here are.” We might say it this way: “But look here,” or, “now you look.” Having just stating the general principles on which God would judge the world, and having shown how they condemned the Gentiles; and having removed all objections to them, Paul now proceeds to another part of his argument.
Paul now begins to show how they applied to the Jews. By the use of the word, “behold” he calls their attention to it as to an important subject; and he states their privileges, before he shows them how those privileges might enhance their condemnation . He admits all their claims to pre-eminence in privileges and then goes on to show how, if these are abused, these privileges might deepen their final destruction.
“thou art called a Jew”
Literally: “You are called a Jew .”–You are named Jew, implying that this name was one he himself is called. To Paul the word Jew had a meaning much like Christian to us. It meant to him one of God's people. This is the first thing mentioned on which the Jew accented the idea of language.
Already, in the argument of vv. 1-16, Paul has shown that ALL men, whether they be a Jew or Gentile, will be judged according to their deeds, whether they have the Mosaic Law or not. He now applies the argument directly to the Jew, in order to show him his need of the gospel as much as the Gentile. Verses 17-20 state what the Jew claimed for himself. God is going to judge religious people, the Jews in particular, because theirs was a God-given religion.
What Paul had said in the preceding verses being sufficient to enforce conviction on the conscience of the Jew; but now he throws off the cover, and openly argues with the Jew in the most plain manner; asserting that his superior knowledge, privileges, and profession, served only to increase or worsen his condemnation.
“and restest in [the] Law”
Literally: “and rest on Law”–The Jew leaned on, or rested on the Law for acceptance or favor; on the fact that he had the Law, and on his obedience to it. It does not mean that he relied on his own works, though that was true, but that he leaned on the fact that he did have the Law, and was thus distinguished above others. The Law here means the entire Mosaic economy; or all the rules and regulations which Moses had give in the Law.
REST: “to lean upon; to refresh one’s back upon, repose.” There is no article “the” before "law" in the Greek. A.T. Robinson say, “It is a picture of blind and mechanical reliance on the Mosaic law.” This implies the strongest confidence of safety and security. The Jew had Law of Moses for his foundation. Paul says place your whole trust and confidence in this Law; you depend on it, though it can only condemn you. You rest on the Law and with a blind trust in God as your Father and Protector.
“makes thy boast of God”
Literally: “and boast in God.” —You do boast, or glory, that you have the knowledge of the true God, as your God; to the exclusion of others, while other nations are in darkness.
BOAST: (Grk.–kauchaomai)–Literally: “boast about; take pride in; boast; brag.” This implies the idea of exulting in anything, as being a proper object of hope and dependence: and, when referred to GOD.
The Jew felt himself elevated far above all other people, and despised them. It was true that they had the only true knowledge of God, and that He had declared Himself to be their God (Deut. 4:7; Psa. 147:19-20); but this was not a ground for boasting, rather for gratitude.
This passage shows us that it is much more common to boast of privileges than to be thankful for them, and that it is no evidence of piety for a man to boast of his knowledge of God. A humble, ardent thankfulness that we have that knowledge–a thankfulness which leads us not to despise others, but to desire that they may have the same privilege–this is evidence of piety.
“And knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the Law”
“And knowest His will”
Literally: “And knows the will.”--Has been favored with a revelation immediately from God Himself of His own will, As revealed in the O.T. Scriptures.
To a Jew such a passage as this would have come as a shattering, and at least a shocking experience. They were certain that God regarded them with special favor, because of their descent from Abraham and because they bore the mark of circumcision on their bodies. But Paul produces an idea he will return to time and again. He tells them that Jewishness is not a matter of race and that it has nothing to do with circumcision. He contends that it is a matter of conduct. This leads to the conclusion that many a Jew, who may be a descendant of Abraham and who has the mark of circumcision on his body, is not really a Jew at all; and at the same time, Gentiles, who never heard of Abraham and who would never dream of being circumcision, are really Jews in the true sense of the term. To any Jews this would had sounded like the wildest of heresies and leave them angry and astounded.
KNOW: (Grk.–ginōskō)–Literally: “know; have knowledge of; sexual relations, learn, understand; discern.” The Jews not only had the Law, but they professed to know what it requires.
Literally: “and approve.”–Putting to the test for the purpose of approving.
APPROVE: (Grk.–dokimazō)—This Greek word is may have two different interpretations. It may mean to distinguish, or to approve. This word is usually applied to the process of testing or trying metals by fire. To put to the test for the purpose of approving, and finding that the person or thing being tested meets the specifications laid down, to put one’s approval upon it. And so it comes to be used in a general sense to try or to distinguish anything; to ascertain its nature, quality, etc., (Luke 12:56).
This is probably its meaning here, referring rather to the intellectual process of discriminating, than to the moral process of approving. Probably it could not be said appropriately that the Jew approved or loved the things of God; but the scope of the passage is, that the Jew valued himself on his knowledge of that which was conformable to the will of God.
“things that are more excellent”
Literally: “the things excelling.”–The things that differ—that revelation which God has given of himself makes the nicest distinctions between right and wrong; between vice and virtue; showing how you should walk so as to please God, and, consequently, acquire the most excellent portion that human spirits can have on this side heaven: for all these blessings you acknowledge to receive from your law, being instructed,
EXCELLING: (Grk.–diapheronta)—Meaning, “the things that differ.” The Jew put to the test things that differ, and then puts his approval upon those that met his specifications. Vincent, in his Word Studies in the New Testament, says, “thou dost test with nice discrimination questions of causitry,” making the Jew a discriminator of truth.
The word here translated excelling denotes the things that differ from others, and then also the things that excel. It has an ambiguity similar to the word translated “approved.” If the interpretation of that word above given is correct, then this word here means those things that differ from others. The reference is to the rites and customs, to the distinctions of meats and days, etc., prescribed by the Law of Moses. The Jew would pride himself on the fact that he had been taught by the law to make these distinctions, while all the heathen world had been left in ignorance of them. This was one of the advantages on which he valued himself and his religion.
“being instructed out of the Law”
Literally: “Having been instructed out of the Law.” That is, in regard to the one God, His will, and the distinguishing rites of His worship. Religion was no longer a crutch for the Jews. It caused them to be proud and self-sufficient. Light created an added responsibility, which brought a greater condemnation.
INSTRUCTED: (Grk.–katechēo)—Being instructed in the Law, the Jew approved by word its excellent moral principles Being systematically instructed through catechetical and synagogue instruction. The formal instruction is the basis of the critical discrimination.
“And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness”
“And art confident”
“Having been persuaded.”–This expression denotes the full assurance of the Jew that he was superior in knowledge to all other people.
CONFIDENT: (Grk.–pepoithas)—Literally, “to persuade” and in the past perfect tense meaning a process of thought in past time that has been completed, in which the person has come to a settled persuasion regarding something. No amount of persuasion would move him from that position.
It is a remarkable fact that the Jews put the fullest confidence in their religion. Though proud, wicked, yet they were not speculative infidels. It was one of their characteristics, as shown through all their history, that they had the fullest assurance that God was the Author of their institutions, and that their religion was His appointment.
“thyself a guide of the blind”
Literally: “Yourself to be a guide of blind ones.” A figurative expression to denote an instructor of the ignorant.
The blind here properly refers to the Gentiles who were thus regarded by the Jews. The meaning is that they esteemed themselves qualified to instruct the heathen world (Matt. 15:14; 23:16). Blind, in darkness, ignorant, babes—These were the titles which the Jews generally gave the Gentiles.
Paul is really saying that in consequence of all these religious advantages, you believe that you are able to teach others, and to be guides and lights to the bewildered, darkened Gentiles; of those who may become proselytes to your religion. It was God's purpose that in choosing Israel the Israelites should become teachers of the truth; but their sin was that while they boasted of this privilege and therefore failed to do their duty (see Matt. 15:14). Such a boast as this was current among the Jews of Paul's time. He heaps phrase upon phrase to point out their claims, in order to show in what follows how far short their lives fell of their professions.
THYSELF: (Grk.–seauton)—A reflexive pronoun. The sense is, “You have persuaded yourself that you are a guide to the blind.”
GUIDE: (Grk.–hodēgas)—From the Greek verb hēgomai, meaning, “to lead,” and hodos, meaning, “a road”–put them together and you get the meaning of, “one who leads along a road.” Figuratively, it means, “a teacher of the ignorant and inexperienced.” God meant for the Jews to be guides for the Gentiles, for salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22); but this intention of God about the Jews had resulted in a conceited arrogance on their part.
“a light of them which are in darkness”
Literally: “a light for those in darkness.”–A light for those in spiritual darkness, or of things pertaining to God.
So much for the Jew who was the “religious” man when Paul wrote Romans. But the “religious” man today is the “professing Christian,” and those in “church membership,” as they call it, have taken that place in the thought of so-called Christendom. These have taken the place of the Jew’s consciousness of belonging to the favored Israelite race.
“An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge of the truth in the Law.”
“An instructor of the foolish”
Literally: “And corrector of foolish ones.” The word foolish is used in the Scriptures in two significations:
1. To denote those who are void of understanding, and,
2 To denote the wicked.
Here it is clearly used in the former sense, signifying that the Jew esteemed himself qualified to instruct those without knowledge.
INSTRUCTOR: (Grk.–paideutēs)—Vincent suggest that this better rendered as, “corrector.” This might be a better rendering because it is emphasizing the element of discipline or training. The Greeks used this word paideutēs of a slave who had charge of a young child, taking him to school and brining him home again; that is, a paidagōgos (pedagogue). In fact, this is the root word for our English word, “pedagogue.”
FOOLISH: (Grk.–aphrōs)—Literally: “without reason; senseless, stupid, foolish, without reflection or intelligence.” Robertson says, “ Aphrōn is a hard word for Gentiles, but it is the Jewish standpoint that Paul gives.”
“a teacher of babes,”
Literally: “a teacher of infants”–Paul is saying. You believe the Gentiles to be babes or fools when compared with yourselves; that you alone possess the only true knowledge; that you are the only favorites of Heaven; and that all nations must look up to you as possessing the only form of knowledge; the grand scheme and draught of all true science; of everything that is worthy to be learned: the system of eternal truth, derived from the law. If, therefore, you act not as becomes those who have such eminent advantages, it must be to your endless disgrace and infamy.
BABES: (Grk.–nēpiōn)—Literally: “that which does not talk,” meaning, “an infant.” This is the literal meaning of nēpiōn. The expression is figurative, and denotes those who were as ignorant as children–an expression which they would be likely to apply to all the Gentiles.
This was a term used by the Jews to designate proselytes or novices. Paul uses this of one who is immature (Gal. 4). The writer to the Hebrews used it of one spiritually immature (Heb. 5:13), as also did Paul (I Cor. 3:1).
This expression is figurative, and denotes those who were as ignorant as children–an expression which they would be likely to apply to all the Gentiles. It is evident that the character here given by Paul to the Jews is one which they claimed, and of which they were proud. They are often mentioned arrogating this prerogative to themselves, as being qualified to be guides and teachers of others (Matt. 14:14; 23:2, 16, 24).
You believe the Gentiles to be babes and fools when compared with yourselves;
1. That you alone possess the only true knowledge
2. That you are the only favorites of Heaven; and,
3. That all nations must look up to you as possessing the only form of knowledge, (morphōsin tēs gnōseōs), that is, the grand scheme and draught of all true science, of everything that is worthy to be learned: the system of eternal truth, derived from the law. Therefore, if you do not act as becoming to those who have such eminent advantages, it must be to your endless disgrace and infamy.
UNDERSTAND: the Jews considered themselves to be qualified to teach all the world, and hence evinced great zeal to make proselytes. Probably their rabbis were accustomed to give the names “foolish” and “babes” to the ignorant proselytes which they had made from the heathen.
“which hast the form of knowledge of truth”
Literally: “Having the form of knowledge and of the truth.”
FORM: (Grk.–morphōsis)—Denoting a delineation or picturing of a thing. It is commonly used to denote also the “appearance of any object; that which we see, without reference to its internal character; the external figure.” It sometimes denotes the external appearance as distinguished from that which is internal; or a hypocritical profession of religion without its reality.
In II Tim. 3:6 Paul uses this term–“Having the form of godliness, but denying its power.” It can be used either in a good and sometimes in a bad sense. Here it denotes that in their teaching they retained the semblance, sketch, or outline of the true doctrines of the O.T. but totally missed for themselves their intent.
They were not being left, as the heathen are, to vague conjecture of divine things, but favored with definite and precise information from heaven. That is, the most accurate knowledge of the truth. In the Law they had the form, the pattern, of knowledge and of the truth. The truth in its fullness came with Jesus Christ (John 1:17), but the Law was the pattern, the typical form, of this truth.
“in the Law”–In the Scriptures of the O.T. In these verses Paul concedes to the Jews all that they would claim. Having made this concession of their superior knowledge, Paul is now prepared with the more force to convict them of their deep and dreadful depravity sinning against the superior light and privileges which God had conferred on them.