Retelling Romans 2:17-29

Retelling Romans 2:17-29 May 22, 2013

So you call yourself a Christian, and rely on the Bible, and boast in God, knowing God’s will and discerning what really matters because you’ve received Biblical instruction, being confident in your own ability to be a guide to the blind and a light to those in darkness, an educator of the foolish and teacher of the childish, having in the Bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth? Then let me ask you this: Will someone teach others but not also teach themselves? Will you bilk the faithful while preaching “Do not steal”? Will you have affairs while saying “You shall not commit adultery”? If you detest idols, will you commit sacrilege? The one who boasts in the Bible while trampling on the Bible’s teaching dishonors God. As the Bible itself says, “Because of you God’s name is blasphemed among the nations.”

Being a Christian has value if you put into practice what Jesus taught. But if you disobey his teaching, your belief becomes unbelief. And so if those who are not Christians do the very things that Jesus taught, will not their lack of belief in him be reckoned as belief? The one who is not a Christian and does what Jesus commanded will condemn you who – even though you call yourself a Christian and have the Bible – disobey what is taught therein.

For being a Christian is not about outward appearances or the wearing of a particular label, but about what happens inwardly, in the secret recesses of the heart, through the Spirit and not mere words. It is not about being applauded by other human beings, but by God.



I tried to maintain in this section the substitution of Christians in those places where Paul refers to Jews, just as I did in the previous section. Let me state once more the rationale for doing so:

  • Paul was not writing as someone who wore the label “Christian” but as a Jew.
  • Paul was arguing against the view that Jews alone had access to salvation and could be counted among or considered God’s people.
  • Most modern Christian readers are automatically inclined to assume that they are on Paul’s side. But Christian views of election and exclusivity of salvation very frequently mirror the views Paul was arguing against. And it is hard to notice this unless we who are Christians place ourselves in the shoes of those Paul argued against, and ask how what he wrote might apply to us.

We will see by end of this series whether I can consistently retell Romans to speak to Christians in this way. I suspect that it will not work to do so, particularly in Romans 9-11, where I think that I may have to take a different approach in order to help modern readers hear what Paul was saying in his own context. But hopefully the substitution in this passage will help modern readers feel the impact of what Paul wrote in the way that his contemporaries would have.

You can compare what I’ve written here with any standard translation of Romans into English to get a sense of what I’ve substituted.

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