25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
1901 ASV Translation:
25 For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law: but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision.
In 2:26 there is a spelling difference between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 of the word translated "not". It has no significance of any kind upon the meaning communicated by the words. This is the only textual difference to be found in 2:25-29.
I. Having accused them of fitting the established pattern of Scripture ["...as it stands written..."] regarding the impact of hypocrisy, which "impact" is causing others to blaspheme Yahweh, Paul appeals to the fundamental principle of "law": transgression will be met with justice.
A. In order to make his case, Paul appeals to "circumcision" and its impact.
B. In order to make his case, Paul declares that "circumcision" becomes "uncircumcision" when one "breaks" or "transgresses" the law.
1. He does this because he knows how much "weight" the idea of "circumcision" has in the Jewish mind (no one is acceptable to God who is uncircumcised).
2. He also does this because he knows that "circumcision" in the Jewish mind is a theological concept that goes far beyond the physical act of cutting the foreskin off of a male.
II. Dealing with "Circumcision".
A. Circumcision began to have significance as an "issue" between God and man in Genesis 17 when Yahweh established the physical practice as a "token of the covenant" (17:11) between Yahweh and Abram.
1. The meaning of the "token" centered upon the issue in the Genesis 17 text: the promise of Yahweh to Abram to make him the father of many nations (17:4), made on the heels of both a summons to "walk before Me" and a promise to "multiply thee exceedingly" (17:2) and followed by the alteration of his name from Abram to Abraham (17:5) and reiterated in 17:6 with the words, "I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee".
a. That Yahweh would choose an action for a "token of the covenant" that got as physically specific to the issue of begetting a vast host of peoples as circumcision should not be surprising. Yahweh tends to keep "tokens" pretty close to home.
b. The questions have to do with "why circumcision"?
1) For one thing, it is impossible for a man to beget a child without using that part of his physical body that God designed as the instrument for getting his "seed" into proximity to the "egg" that will yield the child.
2) For Abraham, whose circumcision was not accomplished until he was 99 years old, and whose circumcision was followed very closely by the longed-for pregnancy of his wife, there was no way that the alteration of his body that circumcision created was not "front and center" to his thinking every time he engaged in sexual activity with his wife.
3) This is the point of a "token": it is supposed to generate a "focus" of mind upon the matter for which it stands as a "token".
a) "Tokens" are absolutely worthless if they are mentally dismissed so that they have no place in the consciousness of those to whom they are given.
b) "Tokens" are absolutely worthless if they are twisted into something they are not (the most common of these "twistings" is to turn the "token" into the "actual reality" -- making "circumcision" the action that God accepts as the actuator of the relationship).
i. Biblically, only the "heart/mind" response of "love/faith" to the promise(s) of God has the position of "actuator" with God. This is the message of the Gospel.
ii. The "token" is reduced to a lie if a legitimate response at the heart/mind level does not exist, and its "usefulness" in the relationship between God and man is nullified if it loses its ability to bring "focus" to the man.
iii. This raises a very significant question: why would Yahweh impose "circumcision" upon an 8-day-old baby who has absolutely no ability to exercise "love/faith" and whose later experience will not have any of the "I was formerly that way, but now I am this way" impact of "focus"? The answer has to be that "circumcision" was not, at least initially as far as the baby is concerned, primarily for the "baby" where it could have zero-impact. That means that it had to be for "others", beginning with the parents and moving outward from them to the larger community. It should be rather obvious that, at least from the example of an entire nation of people through many generations, the "token" stands in great danger of losing its "punch" when it is turned by those for whose benefit it exists into a mindless/heartless ritual. Yahweh, by imposing "circumcision" upon every male born made absolutely sure that the "nation" was never without a "summons" to the "love/faith" issues established in Genesis 17. Those "love/faith" issues center upon man's responsibility ("walk before me") and Yahweh's gracious promise(s). Every time a baby was circumcised in Israel in a setting where the people who observed it did not think on their responsibility to Yahweh and were not renewed in spirit by His gracious promises, the action was wasted on them.
2. The greatness of the significance was made very clear when Yahweh told Abram that any male who was not circumcised would have his "soul cut off from his people."
3. The seriousness of God about the greatness of this significance was demonstrated in Exodus 4:24 where Yahweh sought to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his son, and he only escaped because his wife did it on the spot.
B. This beginning opens the door to our understanding of both the "Jewish" mindset in the first century and the apostle Paul's deep antagonism toward that mindset.
1. As far as the "Jewish" mindset is concerned, the texts teach without debate that "circumcision" is an absolute essential for a man to be acceptable to God.
2. As far as Paul is concerned, there is absolutely nothing more destructive to a man's "acceptability" to God than "understanding" those texts the way the "Jews" did.
C. This "conflict" between the "Jews" and "Paul" seems, on the face of it, to make Paul one who is "rejecting the plain meaning of the text" and to make the "Jews" the ones who wish to be guided by the Word of God.
1. How can Paul seem to deny, so adamantly, the Jewish "interpretation" of the text?
a. Part of the answer exists in what Paul sees as the "result" of the "interpretation": a hypocrisy so deeply entrenched and so deeply spread abroad that the "nations" blaspheme God because of it. He would argue that no "interpretation" of anything God says that leads to such hypocrisy can possibly be "correct". He personally came to this conclusion out of his own humiliation on the road to Damascus where he found out that his "plain interpretation" of God's words was both wrong and deadly.
b. Part of the answer exists in what Paul sees as the "natural conclusion" of the "interpretation": a hopeless, inescapable, condemnation. He claims, in the text before us, that "circumcision" is "indeed" a profitable action, in terms of being a profession of loyalty, "if" one actually lives out the loyalty that is being professed. But, "if" the profession of loyalty is denied by the actions taken, the actions are what are telling the "truth" and the profession is revealed by them to be a lie.
c. Part of the answer exists in what Paul says in other texts: one must understand the divine intention for the imposition of circumcision so that the particular divine words can be "assigned meaning" by any who would genuinely understand them according to that divine intention.
1) Jesus raised this issue in...
a) Mark 2:24-27. This text has Jesus arguing that the "divine intention" for the sabbath was "man's physical welfare" and that, though the actions of David in 1 Samuel 21 seemed to be a violation of the divine instructions, they were acceptable because "David's physical welfare" and that of his men, was in jeopardy.
b) John 5:39-40. This text has Jesus arguing that the Scriptures are a revelation of Himself and that if a person does not have that "big picture" in mind, he will confuse the "details" and make them into an argument for refusing to come to the One of whom they spoke.
2) Paul made very much the same argument in...
a) 2 Corinthians 3:6. In this text Paul puts "distance" between what men might call "the plain meaning of the text" and the "divine meaning". He is on the particular "wave-length" of John 6:63 where Jesus equated the "words" with the "spirit" and "life".
b) 2 Corinthians 2:9-16. In this text Paul claims that a person who does not have the Spirit of God will be unable to receive, or even discern, the words of the Spirit. This does not mean that a person cannot read. It does not even mean that a person cannot "pick up on" a certain level of the meaning of the "message" of the words. It does, however, mean that a person who is opposed to that "message" will reject it as "foolish" (no one can reject a message as foolish who doesn't know what the message is claiming) because he cannot "discern" the true divine intent behind them. In other words, men can read and understand the words they read only up to a point. That "point" is the "point" of "love" -- i.e., when a man's "love" is fixated around his own profit, he can go no further into the truth of God's words. It takes the Spirit's writing upon the heart of man to break the "fixation" and replace it with another one -- i.e., a "fixation" upon the benefit of others. Once He does this, the words of God take on a substantially deeper and "different" meaning. Once man embraces, by the Spirit, God's commitment to "man" (Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man), the words of God become clear indicators of how to serve men.
2. Where did the "Jews" drop the ball?
a. First, they made their reputations in the eyes of men their first priority (John 5:44).
b. Then, they overlooked the facts about the place circumcision took in the experience of Abraham. It was not an actuator. Abraham received a right standing before God by faith at least as early as Genesis 15, if not before. The summons/promise of Genesis 17 assumed that the actuator was already in place.
c. Because they were fixated upon their own reputations, they had to have a human action as an actuator so that they could point to it and claim the glory that automatically comes to the "doer" of the "worthy" action. This completely blinded them.
III. Modern Equivalents to "Circumcision".
A. The essential nature of circumcision.
1. Circumcision was put before Abram as a post-conversion "loyalty-commitment" (see Romans 4:10).
2. As such, it was the man-aspect of a two-person relationship of mutual loyalty that was rooted in the prior loyalty of God in providing "justification".
3. It had been, however, twisted by the Jews into a way to get into the relationship rather than of a way to enhance the human loyalty factors of those already in the relationship.
4. Paul's use of "circumcision" in Romans 2:25 and context is a use that "accepts" the Jewish notions attached to it -- i.e., acceptance by God on the basis of the profession of loyalty.
B. As such, any "modern" equivalent to a "loyalty commitment" that would be accepted by God as a way to get "into" a relationship with God would be equal to circumcision. Any, "you must do..." in order to be acceptable to God, as opposed to the different "you must believe..." in order to be acceptable to God is a modern equivalent to circumcision as the "Jews" understood it. And, any "you must do..." that carries an after-the-fact ability to lead to condemnation for failure is an equivalent of the Jewish concept of circumcision.