TRUE CIRCUMCISION IS THAT OF THE HEART
A Summary of Romans 2:25-29~ St. Paul has so far shown that the Jews, by having a knowledge of God’s revealed Law, instead of escaping the divine judgment, shall rather be held more responsible than the pagans, who were without that special help. But they also relied on their particular privileges as the chosen people, and appealed especially to circumcision as a sure sign of their election and eternal salvation. To disengage them from such a fatal delusion the Apostle now shows that circumcision of the flesh amounts to nothing without the observance of the Law of God; whereas fidelity to the divine precepts counts for that circumcision which alone is true and salutary.
25. Circumcision profiteth indeed, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
This verse in the Greek is connected with what precedes by γαρ, “for”, which is not expressed in the Vulgate.
Circumcision was the seal of the covenant between the Jew and God (Gen 17). By it the Jew promised to observe the whole Law (Lev 18:5; Gal 5:3), in consequence of which he would enjoy a more complete knowledge of God and many spiritual privileges; but if he did not observe the Law, both in its moral and in its ceremonial precepts, he became as if uncircumcised, just like any Gentile. The many privileges, therefore, attached to circumcision were to be enjoyed only on condition that the circumcised observed the Law. Without a practice of the Law and true circumcision of the heart (Acts 7:8) God was not bound by His part of the covenant, and the transgressing Jew lost all his privileges and was no better off than a pagan.
26. If, then, the uncircumcised keep the justices of the law, shall not this uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
If, then, the uncircumcised, i.e., the Gentiles. The Rabbins taught that a seriously culpable Jew could be lost, but they would not admit that a Gentile who observed the natural law could be saved. Paul here asks a question, but the response is evidently affirmative. ‘Eav with the subjunctive can indicate a fact already realized, or, more naturally, a hypothesis, and this latter is the case here (Lagrange). If a Gentile, with the help of grace, observed all the precepts of the natural law, he had in fact the circumcision of the heart, to which the promises were chiefly attached, and there was nothing to prevent him’ from entering into eternal life; thus his uncircumcision was counted for circumcision.
27. And shall not that which by nature is uncircumcision, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision art a transgressor of the law?
This is not a new interrogation, but rather a continuation, a further affirmation of what went before.
If the uncircumcised, i.e., if the Gentile, keeps the precepts of the natural law, the Ten Commandments, he will judge and condemn, in the Last Judgment, the transgressing Jew who, with his circumcision, failed to keep those precepts. The Apostle is not saying that a good Gentile is superior to a good Jew, but only that a good Gentile is better than a bad Jew. A virtuous Jew who observed his Law was naturally superior to a good Gentile, but a bad Jew was worse than a bad Gentile. The question here, as in the preceding verse, is theoretical, and the response here, as there, is clearly affirmative.
28. For it is not he is a Jew, who is so outwardly; nor is that circumcision which is outwardly in the flesh:
29. But he is a Jew, that is one inwardly; and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Apostle now concludes what he has been saying. The true Jew is one who is so internally as well as externally, one whose faith is religious and whose works are good, as becomes a true member of God’s people. Likewise true circumcision is not that of the body, consisting only in an external sign and in the external and literal observance of the Law, but that of the heart (Jer 9:26; Ezek 44:7, 9), which effects complete separation from sin and operates under the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. The true Jew without any external sign of his Judaism like circumcision, but pure and good in the sight of God, has praise, not of men, but of God.