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Romans 3:1

If God cares about faith and not works or heritage what advantage do the Jewish people have? And if God cares about the heart of the individual and not merely outward actions, what benefit is circumcision?

In chapter 2, Paul switches from addressing his direct audience – the Roman believers – and instead addresses a general “O Man” who judges others, pointing out that O Man does all the things he judges others for. Paul made clear the O Man he had in mind were the Jewish authorities slandering his message (verse 8). In 3:1, he resumes speaking directly to the Gentile Roman believers whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the world” (1:8), the same people that Paul addresses this letter to.

His rhetorical question in Romans 3:1, whether Jews have any advantage, follows the dismantling of the Jewish authorities he accomplished in Romans chapter 2. Paul made clear that God does not primarily care about obedience to rules, or about physical circumcision, God cares about circumcision of the heart, a heart intent to follow Him. Paul rejected the authority that these Jews – who are law breakers yet criticize others for breaking the law – claim. These “authorities” claim to derive authority from being Jewish, a notion that Paul has also debunked. It then seems appropriate to address the obvious question of whether the Jewish people is, therefore, without advantage from their heritage?

Paul asks the same question in two different ways. The second time, he asks what is the benefit of circumcision? Circumcision was the ceremonial exercise God gave Abraham as a sign that Israel was His chosen people, like a wedding ring for His bride. God asks His people, Abraham’s offspring through Isaac, to obey this custom of circumcision. God gives Israel a very special role to play to benefit humanity (Genesis 17:10).

The way Paul’s argument in chapter 2 reads, it seems clear that part of what the Jewish authorities were arguing is that the Roman Gentile believers must be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws in order to live justly and righteously. However, Paul already had the backing of the other Apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem church that this was, in fact, unnecessary (Acts 15).

Paul already made clear in his thesis statement that just living or righteousness is gained through living by faith (1:16-17).

Biblical Text
1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?