Feb 13, 2014

The True Advantage of the Jew

Romans 3:1–2

"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God."

Paul will not countenance the idea that merely being a Jew and having some external obedience to the Mosaic law gives one any advantage over the Gentile before the impartial Judge of the universe (Rom. 2). God will judge both Jews and Gentiles by the same standard—whether they have kept His commandments perfectly—and according to that standard, Jews have done no better than the Gentiles. However, it would be wrong to say that Jews enjoy no special privileges even though they have no advantages over non-Jews before the heavenly court. The Apostle pauses briefly in today's passage to correct any misunderstanding that some may have regarding his argument. Essentially, he tells us that although the sins of the Jews mean that they deserve condemnation no less than Gentile sinners, being a child of Abraham according to the flesh still has its benefits.

Commentators disagree as to whether Paul is dealing in Romans 3:1–2 with questions that had really been posed to him or if he is simply raising questions himself and answering them in order to clarify his argument. Either way, the Apostle does clearly believe that Jews have long enjoyed privileges that the Gentile nations do not. Circumcision and being Jewish have a lot of value "in every way"—not necessarily that Jews are better off in every conceivable area of life economically, politically, and socially, but that they have all sorts of assets not shared by the Gentiles. Paul will list several of these assets in Romans 9:1–5, but in 3:2 he explains that the Jews benefit from being "entrusted with the oracles of God." The grammar of this verse indicates that we should see this as the chief or primary privilege of the Jews, namely, that they possess the inscripturated Word of God.

Given that Paul says the revelation of God that Gentiles have in nature and on their consciences leads only to final condemnation (Rom. 1:1–2:16), possessing the special revelation of Scripture is a privilege indeed. Even if the Jews are guilty of sin just like the Gentiles, at least they have access to the Law and the Prophets, which tell of God's mercy and even preach the gospel. (Remember that the Apostles preached the gospel from the Old Testament.) Jews with access to the Bible have access to the message of salvation, but Gentiles without the Scriptures have no such opportunity. Furthermore, Scripture presents the Lord's moral standards with a clarity and power not matched even by those Gentile law codes that do the best job of discerning God's holy laws in nature (Deut. 4:1–8).

Coram Deo

While the Jews were certainly to take the knowledge of God to the world, the Old Testament was theirs, and the Gentile nations had no ordinary way of accessing it. John Calvin concludes from this that if the benefit of the oracles "was to be so highly esteemed when the Lord favored one nation only with the revelation of his word, we can never sufficiently reprobate our ingratitude, who receive his word with so much negligence or with so much carelessness, not to say disdain."

For Further Study