Paul’s Argument against Gentile Circumcision in Romans 2:17-29

in Novum Testamentum
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The majority of interpreters conclude that in Rom 2:17-29 Paul addresses an ethnic Jew. In contrast, Runar M. Thorsteinsson has argued recently that Paul addresses a gentile, specifically a gentile who has judaized and now thinks of himself as a Jew. This article provides further support for Thorsteinsson’s argument, contending that Paul, contrary to virtually all translations, does not redefine Jewishness in 2:28-29. Additionally, in vv. 21-27 Paul insists that, despite being circumcised, the gentile judaizer fails to keep the very law in which he boasts.

Novum Testamentum

An International Quarterly for New Testament and Related Studies




Philip F. Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 153. Esler’s translation of Ἰουδαῖος as “Judean” belongs to a recent stream of scholarship that rightly emphasizes the geographical and ethnic aspects inherent in the term. Cf. Steve Mason, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” jsj 38 (2007) 457-512. Nonetheless, following Daniel R. Schwartz (“ ‘Judaean’ or ‘Jew’? How Should We Translate IOUDAIOS in Josephus?” in Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World / Jüdische Identität in der griechisch-römischen Welt [ed. Jörg Frey, Daniel R. Schwartz, and Stephanie Gripentrog; agju 71; Leiden: Brill, 2007] 3-27), I believe that rendering the word Ἰουδαῖος in English as “Jew” more accurately captures for the modern reader the same ambiguity that would have faced Paul’s readers when asked what was meant by the Greek term.


Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 236.


Stanley K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews and Gentiles (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994) 155.


Barclay, “Paul and Philo on Circumcision,” 546; and Jewett, Romans, 237.


Cranfield, Romans, 1:168. Likewise, Gathercole (Where is Boasting? 212) states: “Israel as a nation is subject to the same defilement [as gentiles] because of these three transgressions: stealing, adultery, and robbery of pagan temples.”


Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (rev. and exp. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 203-205. Campbell (Deliverance of God, 561), for instance, claims that this story “perfectly” explains this passage.


Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995) 175. Cf. Thorsteinsson, Paul’s Interlocutor, 212.


Thorsteinsson, Paul’s Interlocutor, 217-218. He, too, acknowledges that he has “some doubts about the rhetorical effect of such a charge.” On the spectrum of judaizing options, see Shaye J.D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Hellenistic Society and Culture 31; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) 140-174.


Stowers, Rereading Romans, 145.


Berkley, From a Broken Covenant, 88.


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