17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
1901 ASV Translation:
17 But if thou bearest the name of a Jew, and restest upon the law, and gloriest in God,
In verse 17, the Textus Receptus has the equivalent of "Behold" and the Nestle/Aland 26 has, instead, "But if". The difference is that the Nestle/Aland 26 has the Greek letter epsilon in the text before the iota that is in both texts. That extra letter, plus a different way of dividing the lettering, creates this difference.
I. With 2:17 the apostle begins to take on the self-righteousness (see 10:3) of what he calls "a Jew".
A. In view of 3:9, we know that it is his intent to demonstrate the "under sin" condition of all men except those who belong to Christ.
B. Given this intent, and given the propensity of the "Jew" toward self-righteousness, Paul determines to first address the "self-concept" that was prevalent among those he designates as "Jews".
II. The questions begin with the word translated "art called/bearest": what is he attempting to communicate?
A. The word is unique here in the New Testament, but it is not difficult in that its uniqueness comes from the addition of a prefix to a word used in 10 texts. The prefix intensifies the basic meaning of "to name".
B. The verb form is either middle voice, or passive. The written form does not reveal which. The distinction is that Paul is either addressing those who "are called" by the descriptor "Jew", or who "call themselves" by that descriptor.
1. Since all that follows in the next three verses are characteristics which these "Jews" claim are theirs, it follows that they would also "call themselves Jews".
2. The significance is that to be a "Jew" was a rather large priviledge (note the "advantage" of being a "Jew" in 3:2 -- "much in every way").
3. The irony is that, though they assign the priviledge to themselves, they are not "Jews" at all in the sense that God has assigned to the term (this is Paul's point in 2:29).
III. So, what is a "Jew"?
A. Paul does not leave us in the dark about his meaning: in 2:29 he says a "Jew" is a person whose "heart" has been circumcised so that he obtains his "praise" from God in contrast to those who obtain their "praise" from men.
B. However, in the light of 2:26, where he speaks of an "uncircumcised" person being "reckoned" as "circumcised", it seems that there is more to being a "Jew" than just the "circumcision of the heart".
1. Thus, a "Jew" is more than, but not less than, a "heart-circumcised" person.
2. According to 3:2, a "Jew" was also a part of that community of people who had been chosen for special priviledges.
3. So we can say that, for God (as expressed by Paul), being a "Jew" had to do with being of the physical lineage of Abraham through Isaac as well as being of the spiritual lineage of the faith of Abraham that prompted "circumcision" as an external manifestation of the condition of the "heart". This appears to be the sense of 9:6 -- they are not all Israel who are of Israel; only those who have both the conditions of being "of" Israel and "of" the faith of Abraham (see 4:16) are genuinely "Jews".
4. A significant issue is that the word "Jew" has its roots in the name of "Judah" as given by Leah to her fourth-born son (Genesis 29). In that "Judah" came to this name as a consequence of Leah's decision to "Praise Yahweh", it is significant that one who does not "praise Yahweh" (Philippians 3:3) is a contradiction of "Jewishness" and one who is not "praisedby Yahweh" (2:29) is, likewise, a contradiction of "Jewishness".