Romans Chapter 2, Part 1: Circumcision of the Heart

Romans 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (NKJV)

Romans 2:29 is quoted as one of the ‘proof‘ verses that the Law of Moses, and more specifically ‘circumcision of the flesh’, is no longer binding to God’s set-apart people. The claim by mainstream Christianity is that since Paul says in this verse above that ‘circumcision is inward and of the heart in the Spirit and not in the letter’, that this “must mean” that Paul is claiming the letter of the Law is no longer valid. The church claims that since Paul has described a second kind of circumcision, “in the Spirit”, Paul is claiming that this must by some necessity eliminate the commandment of God regarding circumcision of the flesh, “in the letter” (even though it doesn’t say that). This argument rests on the assumption that there are only one of two options available to us; it is either circumcision of the heart or circumcision of the flesh, but not both. It is also assumed that circumcision of the heart eliminates the need for circumcision of the flesh. This dogma that only one circumcision can or must exist at one time is a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is when one argues that there are only two possible and mutually exclusive alternatives, when in fact there are other alternatives; or the categories are not in fact mutually exclusive.

First of all, the words “the law of Moses and circumcision of the flesh are abolished and no longer valid” do not exist in this verse; Paul never states this in any of his letters (see my blog “Zealous for the Law”).

What does the text say?

It says: a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart in the Spirit not in the letter. The English word “inwardly” in the Greek is Strong’s G2927 κρυπτῷ/krypto, which Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states as: hidden, concealed, secret; privately, in secret; inner part of man, the soul.

Paul is not saying the “letter of the Law is abolished”. Those words are not in the text. When Paul says “in the Spirit and not in the letter” he is not saying that the “letter” is done away with, all he’s doing is making a statement of fact. The fact is ‘circumcision of the heart is by the Spirit and not the letter‘. Period.

Secondly, Paul is not introducing some new doctrine to take the place of another doctrine, as today’s Christian teachers would have us believe. Paul (the eminent scholar of his day) is quoting the Law of Moses and the Prophets. He is preaching very old doctrine, that circumcision of the heart is by the Spirit, secretly and hidden, which only God sees. The circumcision that man sees is outward and by the letter of the Law. Paul is reminding us in this second chapter of Romans what it actually means to have a circumcised heart, and what that looks like in practice. What he’s reminding these ‘believers’ in Rome is that which they have forgotten, the difference between the two.
It has always been the will of God that His people are to have a circumcised heart.

What does the text say? ~

Deuteronomy 10:12-16 12And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn;
Deuteronomy 30:6-8 6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today;

Leviticus 26:40-42 40But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land;

Jeremiah 4:1-5 1If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, 2and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” 3For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” 5Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, “Blow the trumpet through the land; cry aloud and say, Assemble, and let us go into the fortified cities!’

Jeremiah 9:25-26 25Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart; [this is an End Times event].

Ezekiel 11:17-20 11Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. {see also Jeremiah 31:31-33};

Ezekiel 44:6-9 6And say to the rebellious house, to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: O house of Israel, enough of all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations. And you have not kept charge of my holy things, but you have set others to keep my charge for you in my sanctuary. Thus says the Lord GOD: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary; [this is an End Times event].

Zechariah 7:9-12 9“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts.

And here in the New Testament, even before Paul became a believer, Stephen describes how the “Fathers” resisted the Spirit leading to uncircumcised hearts ~

Acts 7:51You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

According to the verses listed above how does God describe someone with an “UNcircumcised heart“? ~

What does the text say?

  • A heart of stone
  • Stubborn/stiff-necked
  • Resisting the Holy Spirit
  • Committing iniquity against God
  • Walking contrary to God
  • Rebellious towards God
  • Committing abominations
  • Breaking covenant with God

According to the verses listed above how does God describe someone with a “Circumcised heart”? ~

What does the text say?

  • Loves the LORD God with all their heart and soul
  • Obeys the voice of the LORD and keeps all his commandments
  • Humble
  • Confesses iniquity/sin
  • Walks in the LORD’s statutes and obeys His rules

This is how the God of Abraham, Jesus and Paul describes a circumcised heart. Since the time of Moses, before David, before Jesus and before Paul wrote the letter to the Romans this is how God defined a circumcised heart; one who walks humbly before the LORD, loving Him with heart and soul, and keeping all His commandments, statues and rules.

So, if you were taught by the mainstream Christian church like I was that the “circumcised heart” has only occurred post-resurrection, that the “new” testament believer is now circumcised by the Spirit, and that circumcision is now of the heart, you can see that this is a lie. The Word of God reveals that “circumcision of the heart” is not a “new testament revelation” from Paul as we have been taught to believe; it has always been a requirement of God for His set-apart covenant people.

In the next few blogs we’ll go over the actual context of Romans chapter 2 and real reason Paul had to make this statement in verse 29.

Final thought: Has your pastors or teachers ever preached on what Paul said directly after verse 29 regarding circumcision of the flesh? ~ Romans 3:1-2 “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way!”

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