February 2 – February 9, 2024

Friday, February 2<.b>

Hebrews 12.25-29: Hebrews 12:25-29: In the biblical story of the first murder, it was to God that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10). The blood of Jesus, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, differs in three ways from the blood of Abel:

First, the “voice” of Jesus’ blood is addressed, not only to God, but also to the rest of us. Hence, our author says, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.”

In respect to listening to this voice, he repeats a warning from earlier in his work, where he quoted the Psalmist: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (3:7). Apropos of this exhortation, our author warns us, “if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” (2:2-3). Indeed, the third and fourth chapters of this book are a kind of commentary on Psalm 95 (Greek and Latin 94), which speaks of God’s Word as addressed “today” (3:7,13,15; 4:7).

The warning in Hebrews 3 and 4 recalled what happened to those Israelites in the desert, who were not attentive to God’s voice: “Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?” (3:17-18) The author of Hebrews reasons that if such a fate befell those who ignored God’s voice in the Old Testament, something worse must happen to us: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (4:11). The same warning is found in the present chapter(verse 25).

In both passages of Hebrews there prevails the conviction that God speaks now, today. His is a living and dynamic Word: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (4:12-13).

Second, whereas the blood of Abel cried out from the earth, the blood of Jesus speaks from heaven: “For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven”.

This contrast is consistent with a major theme in Hebrews: The sacrifice of Christ is completed in heaven itself. The sanctuary on earth is but a copy of the true tabernacle in heaven: “Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (9:24). Our author wrote earlier, “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:11-12).

Everything on earth will pass away, as the tabernacle of Moses passed away, but the things of heaven are permanent: “Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we serve God acceptably” (verses 27-28).

Third, the blood of Christ, speaking to us from heaven, “speaks better [kreitton] than that of Abel” (verse 24). The blood of Abel, we recall, cried out for vengeance, but the blood of Christ speaks “better.” This word, —kreitton, invokes the entire message of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where everything represented by Jesus is described as “better.”

Indeed, this word appears more in the Epistle to the Hebrews than in the rest of the New Testament put together. Thus, Jesus became “so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they” (1:4). In fact, He brought in “a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (7:19). For this reason, “He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (8:6). This fact is based on the premise that the things of heaven had to be consecrated “with better sacrifices” than the tabernacle of Moses (9:23). And by reason of what Christ has done for us, we “have a better and an enduring possession” (10:34). This possession includes what our author calls “a better resurrection” (11:35).

Saturday, February 3

The Prophecy of Jeremiah: Among the events that made the late seventh century a time of great upheaval in the lands associated with the Bible, it is not difficult to make the case that the fall of the Assyrian Empire was the most momentous. The corresponding rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, of course, also made that period very significant. One thinks of other developments as well, such as the Scythian invasion of the Fertile Crescent and the reigns of Psammetichus I and Neco II in Egypt.

Thoughtful people at the time doubtless pondered the significance of those things. From inscriptions left by Nebuchadnezzar II, for example, we know that he ascribed his success to the help of his Babylonian gods, “my lords Nebo and Marduk.” For the most part, nonetheless, we are obliged to guess at what Assyrian, Babylon, Scythian, and Egyptian wise men thought about the gravity and import of those days, because their considerations have not come down to us.

That is to say, the reflections of those men—on the significance of the events in which their people played the major roles—were not assumed into history itself. Whatever their ideas on the doings of their time, those ideas utterly perished from memory. Memory is essential to history.

Whatever those men thought, surely none of them thought much about the insignificant kingdom of Judah. Nor had they a reason to know anything of the contemporary poets of Judah who wrote about the world-changing events of those days. Prominent among them was Jeremiah, whose ministry and writings we begin today. The year was 625. Except for the period from 622 until the death of Josiah in 609,, Jeremiah would be active in his prophetic calling until he disappeared into Egypt some years after the fall of Jerusalem in 587.
This opening scene consists entirely of a conversation between Jeremiah and God (1:4–14). Such conversations between the Lord and this prophet are a unique and distinguishing characteristic of Jeremiah among the prophetic books (cf. 4:5–21; 9:1–6; 11:1–5, 18–23; 12:1–6; 14:1–22; 15:10–21; 17:12–19; 18:19–23; 20:7–18; 23:9–12; 24:1–5; 32:16–26). The prayers of Jeremiah, intense in their tone and unique in their frequency, are essential to the understanding of his message. Jeremiah was, most of all, a prophet of the heart.
His was an extremely lonely life. Most of Jerusalem’s citizens, suffering from chronic shallowness and terminal optimism, thought him something of an oddity, a crank, and a nuisance, maybe even a public menace. They accused him (37:14), conspired against him (18:18), seized him (26:8), sought his life (11:21), struck him and put him in stocks (20:2), imprisoned him (32:3), kidnapped him (chs. 42—43), threw him in a deep pit where he nearly died from hunger (38:6–9). In short, Jeremiah was obliged to “go it alone.” His was a more than ordinary personal desolation, inasmuch as he embraced a life of consecrated celibacy and asceticism as a prophetic sign of Jerusalem’s approaching devastation (16:1–5).
Because the shape of his own soul was formed by his internal identification with the tragic history of his people, there was a special efficacy in Jeremiah’s prayer for them. So much was this the case that on three occasions the Lord felt obliged, as it were, to order Jeremiah to stop praying! (7:16; 11:14; 14:11). It was as though the prophet’s intercession was so persuasive and effective that God Himself would be un- able to resist. It was largely as an intercessor that Israel later thought of Jeremiah, described in the dream of Judas Maccabaeus as “a lover of the brethren, who prays much for the people, and for the holy city” (2 Maccabees 15:14).

Sunday, February 4

Matthew 12.38-42: Both illustations given here, the Ninevites and the queen from southern Arabia, are Gentiles, those of whom Matthew has just been speaking in 12:18-21. The figures of Jonah and Solomon should also be understood here as representing the prophetic and sapiential traditions of Holy Scripture.

Jesus is the “greater than Jonah,” whose earlier ministry foreshadowed the Lord’s death and Resurrection and also the conversion of the Gentiles. The Lord’s appeal to Jonah in this text speaks also of Jonah as a type or symbol of the Resurrection. The men of Nineveh, who repented and believed, are contrasted with the unrepentant Jewish leaders who refuse to believe in the Resurrection (cf. 28:13-15). Matthew will return to the sign of Jonah in 16:2. Jesus is also the “greater than Solomon,” who was founder of Israel’s wisdom literature and the builder of the Temple.

The Queen of the South, that Gentile woman who came seeking Solomon’s wisdom, likewise foreshadowed the calling of the Gentiles. She was related to Solomon as the Ninevites were related to Jonah—as Gentiles who met the God of Israel through His manifestation in the personal lives of particular Israelites.

It is a point of consolation to observe that in neither case—whether Solomon or Jonah—were these Israelites free from personal faults!

Hebrews 13.1-17: Because “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever,” a certain stability should be expected in the lives and conduct of Christians. For example, they should “not be carried away with various and strange teachings [didachai].” That is to say, they must avoid ideas alien (xsenai) to the doctrines handed down from the Apostles. The example given here concerns dietary restrictions based on the kosher rules in the Torah: “foods which have not profited those who have been preoccupied with them.” We recognize this admonition as reflecting the concern of St. Paul.

For the rest, the outline given here for Christian conduct is basic. There is, for starts, the primacy of fraternal love: “Let brotherly love abide”—he philadelphia meneto. This expression suggests that such love should be a constant habit of mind and a sustained pattern of response. Fraternal love, in other words, is the Christian’s “default” preference, the programmatic disposition of his mind and sentiments.

This fraternal love is expressed in hospitality (philoxsenia), described here as the entertainment of strangers. Besides its obvious sense of receiving others into our homes, it also suggests a certain open-mindedness to those who are different from ourselves, the ones designated as xsenisantes. Perhaps we may think of it as a willingness not to impose on others our own cultural and sympathetic preferences. This would mean that Christians, while avoiding “strange doctrines,” should not be necessarily avoid “strange people.”

Hebrews 13.18-25: The closing verses of Hebrews contain two parts: First, there is a blessing, which invokes Jesus as the Great Shepherd (verses 20-21). This blessing closes the body of the work, which is here called a “word of exhortation.” Second, there is a very brief “cover letter,” or postscript, which follows the book itself (verses 22-25). We may examine these separately.

First, it may be the case that the work’s closing benediction already existed as a standard form of blessing. The reason for this supposition is that the benediction introduces two ideas that are not explicit or elaborated in the work itself.

The first of these “new” ideas is that of Jesus as the Shepherd: “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” Whereas the Epistle to the Hebrews is rich in its development of Christological titles—such as Son of God, High Priest, Mediator, Author of the faith, and so on—it does not otherwise speak of Jesus as Shepherd. Nor does our author otherwise describe Christians as sheep. These images, which are introduced, without elaboration, right at the end, remain thematically separate from the core collection of the book’s Christological and ecclesiological motifs. It is reasonable, therefore, to think of these images as simply borrowed from the early Church’s standard forms of closing benediction. As matters of theme, we would associate them especially with the Gospel of St. John.

The second “new” idea is the Resurrection: “the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead.” Except for the brief mention of Isaac’s restoration to Abraham in 11:19, Hebrews does not otherwise speak of the Lord’s Resurrection. On the contrary, his Christological and soteriological emphasis is consistently placed on the Lord’s Ascension into heavenly glory. That is to say, the sudden reference to the Resurrection, at the work’s very end, is better explained as coming from a common benediction in use among the early Christians.

What should be said about the expression “blood of the everlasting covenant” in this benediction? Certainly Hebrews earlier speaks of “the blood of the covenant” (10:29), and it is definitely a theme elaborated in the course of this work. These considerations are not strong evidence, however, that the author of Hebrews is also the author of the closing benediction. The expression ‘blood of the covenant” is hardly limited to the Epistle to the Hebrews (cf. Matthew 26:28 and parallels).

Several features may be observed in the brief postscript that follows the final benediction of Hebrews:

First, it describes itself as short: “I have written to you in few words.” This is NOT a reference to this book as a whole, which certainly cannot be described as “few words.” It is a reference, rather, to these four closing verses, which follow the benediction.

Second, the book itself, commonly called the Epistle to the Hebrews, is designated as a sermon, “the word of exhortation”—logos tes parakleseos. This term taken over from the normal synagogue service:

“But when [Paul and his companions] departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men, brethren, if you have any word of exhortation [logos parakleseos] for the people, say on” (Acts 13:14-15).

This regular synagogue sermon, which followed the prescribed readings from the lectionary—“the Law and the Prophets”—was taken over into the normal Christian gatherings, whether at the Sunday Eucharist or at the canonical hours during the week. An early witness of this Christian practice is St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 67. This verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews indicates that such a sermon was sometimes written out and sent to a congregation.

As we see in both Hebrews and the Acts of the Apostles, this logos parakleseos consists in an exposition of the biblical texts.

A third feature of this postscript is the mention of Paul’s companion, Timothy: “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.” This is our only biblical evidence that Timothy was imprisoned. A footnote in the King James Bible even ascribes this book itself to Timothy.

A fourth feature of this postscript asks that the recipients “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.” These “rulers”—hegoumenoi—are those who govern the Church. They had been referenced earlier in this same chapter: “Obey those who rule over you”—peisthesthe tois hegoumenois hymon.” They are the ones who “watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (verse 17).

A fifth feature of this postscript sends from “those from Italy.” This likely means that the work itself was sent from Italy, and it is commonly likened to other early Roman Christian literature, particularly to the letter that Clement of Rome sent to Corinth toward the end of the first century. If this is the case, it may explain why the Epistle to the Hebrews is not found in the Muratorian Fragment, our first list of the New Testament canon at Rome.

Hebrews ends with a common Christian greeting: Grace with you all. Amen.”

Tuesday, February 6

Romans 1.1-17: Paul’s eloquent introduction (verses 1-7) is easily the longest, most elaborate, and most detailed in all his writings. This feature reflects the fact that Romans, unlike Paul’s earlier letters to Thessaloniki, Galatia, Philippi, and Corinth, was not composed for the purpose of addressing questions and problems of the congregation to which it was sent. Although Paul evidently had several friends in Rome (as we see in the greetings sent to many individuals in chapter 16), this epistle does not show the Apostle familiar with the specific situation of the church in that city nor intent on dealing with particular problems there.

The Epistle to the Romans is, rather, a sort of theological treatise on a theme that had been thrust toward the center of Paul’s interest and concern during the previous six or so years, ever since the Galatian crisis during the early fifties—namely, justification through faith, apart from the observance of the Mosaic Law. Paul’s concentration on this theme in no way indicates that the Church at Rome was subject to the same or a similar crisis.

Paul’s name is the only one that appears as an author of this epistle, even though he actually dictated it to Tertius (16:22). We may contrast this feature with Paul’s earlier inclusion of Timothy, Silvanus, and Sosthenes as joint “authors” (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) and his later inclusion of Timothy in the letter to the Colossians (1:1).

In this epistle’s initial greeting we observe its emphasis on Christology, its avowal of the historical Jesus, “born of the seed of David according to the flesh,” and the Christ of faith, “declared [horisthentos, not “predestined” or prooristhentos] to be Son of God with power.” These are two descriptions of the same Jesus Christ, of course, along with the recognition that His resurrection from the dead (verse 4) is the historical fact manifesting and demonstrating His true identity (cf. Acts 2:34-36; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Philippians 3:10).

Paul’s reference to “the obedience to the faith” (verse 5) is more literally translated as “the obedience of faith” (hyupakoe pisteos), an appositional genitive (“the obedience which is faith”) indicating that faith is active, not simply passive; it is commitment and not just reception (cf. 10:17; 16:26). It is not a mere assent of the intellect but a dedication of the heart.

Paul is very conscious that his own faith is shared by the believers at Rome (verse 12), even though he had not evangelized there. This consciousness is an important key to the interpretation of this epistle, because it implies that the doctrines presumed in this work pertained to the general deposit of faith common to all the early preachers of the Gospel. This shared deposit of faith formed the context within which Paul addressed the major preoccupation of this epistle, as well as the evangelism (evangelisthasthai) that he hoped to accomplish there (verse 15).

This last reference brings Paul to the subject of the Gospel (evangelion) in verse 16. The Gospel means both “salvation” (soteria) and “righteousness” (dikaiosyne), a pairing that is common in Holy Scripture (cf. Psalms 98 [97]:2; Isaiah 45:21; 51:5-8; 56:1; 61:10-11). The Good News is not a simple message, even less a religious philosophy; it is “the power of God” (dynamis Theou). It is God’s power working through His word, giving godly shape to history (1 Corinthians 2:4; 4:20).

Wednesday, February 7

Matthew 13:1-9: As we now come to the third and central of the five great discourses in Matthew, Jesus once again sits down as teacher (Compare 5:1). Taking up a standard mystic number in Holy Scripture, this discourse will be composed of seven parables: the sown seed, the wheat and tares, the mustard seed, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and the fishing net. Four of these, as we will have occasion to note, are found only in Matthew. Even in wording this first parable is nearly identical with Mark 4:1-9.

In this chapter, a sharp distinction is made between those that understand the parable—the ‘insiders”–and those that don’t—the “outsiders” (verse 11). Thus, when the chapter opens, Jesus is speaking to large crowds (verse 2), but afterwards He speaks only to an inner circle and privately (verse 36). This move indicates a change in the focus of the Lord’s ministry and preaching. This change is not surprising, in light of the bitter controversies that have been mounting in Matthew’s narrative.

Jesus begins this sermon by sitting down (verse 1)—the posture of the teacher—just as when He began the Sermon on the Mount (5:1; cf. 24:3). A close reading of this text discloses a striking parallel with Revelation 7:9-12, where a great multitude stands before God seated on the throne beside the sea (4:6).

This first parable, in which most of the sown seed is lost, summarizes Jesus’ own experience, as narrated in the previous chapter. So little of the Gospel, it seems, has fallen on fertile ground. As directed to the Church, this parable urges a sense of modesty about “success” in fruitful preaching. A great deal of the sown Word will simply be wasted.

This first parable also provides the foundation for the other six; it is the fountain out of which they flow. Thus, the second parable (wheat and tares in verses 24-30), is concerned with the wasted seed that falls by the wayside and is eaten by birds. The “enemy” that sowed the tares in verse 24 is identical with the “wicked one” in verse 19. Similarly, the third parable (mustard seed in verses 31-32) and the fourth (leaven in verse 33) deal with the seed that is sown on stony ground. Parables five (hidden treasure in verse 44) and six (pearl in verses 45-46) are concerned with the seed sown among thorns, while the seventh parable (dragnet in verses 47-50) parallels the seed sown on fertile ground and bringing forth much fruit.

The seed sown by the wayside (verse 4) is the Word preached to the unworthy heart, an interpretation introduced by the quotation from Isaiah in verse 15: “Lest they should understand with their hearts.” The key is an understanding heart (verse 23). The failure in this case has to do with the first imperative of the Shema: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart.”

The seed fallen on rocky ground (verses 5-6) is the Word preached to a shallow soul, which is unprepared for the trials that the reception of the Word will bring. The failure in this case pertains to the second imperative of the Shema: to love God with the whole soul.

The seed sown among thorns (verse 7) is the Word preached to the worldly, who are concerned with wealth and the strength that comes with wealth. In this case the failure is related to the Shema’s command to love God with all one’s strength.

The seed fallen on good ground (verse 8) is the Word preached to someone with an understanding heart. Such a man is described in Psalm 1: the man who “brings forth his fruit in its season.” This is the man who fulfills all the imperatives of the Shema.

Thursday, February 8

Romans 2:1-16: Having described the moral failings of paganism, Paul now turns to the Jews. Woe to them if they pass judgment (verse 1), because they too have failed to measure up. Jew and Greek stand before God on level ground, in fact (verses 9-10). The Jew’s possession of the Torah, in which God reveals His moral will, is no guarantee that the Jew is superior to the Greek (verses 12-16).

Here Paul twice addresses the Jew as “man,” anthropos (verses 1,3), indicating that he too is of the common clay, an heir of Adam, that first and fallen anthropos. Jewish blood is no guarantee of moral superiority over other men (cf. Matthew 3:8; John 8:39; Galatians 2:15). The Jew too, says Paul, is called to repentance, metanoia (verse 4; Wisdom 11:23), because his own heart is just as “impenitent” (verse 5).

In this epistle, the theme of which is justification through faith, the Apostle insists that the Lord “will render to each man according to his deeds” (literally “works,” erga—verse 6; Psalms 62 [61]:13; Proverbs 24:12), and he goes on to speak of “the patience of good work” (verse 7). Even this early in the epistle, then, Paul closes the door to any antinomian interpretation of it.

Those who do good works are said to be seeking (zetousin) “glory and honor and incorruptibility” (verse 7). This incorruptibility, aphtharsia, is to be contrasted with the corruption of death, introduced into the world by sin (5:12).

The translation of the word aphtharsia as “immortality” (as in the KJV) is misleading, because immortality suggests something immaterial and essentially spiritual (as when we speak of “the immortality of the soul”). Aphtharsia, in contrast, refers in this context to the spiritual transformation of matter itself, of which the formal and defining example is the resurrected body of Christ. “Incorruptibility” is a property of the risen flesh of the Christian (1 Corinthians 15:42,50,53,54). Introduced into human experience by the resurrection of Christ, this incorruptibility reverses the power of death. Indeed, the resurrection of the body is the final act in man’s salvation and the great object of his hope. (This is also the reason why, as we have seen, sentences about “salvation” normally appear in this epistle in the future tense. The fullness of salvation comes in the resurrection of our bodies.)

To those who are seeking salvation Paul contrasts those who are only seeking themselves, searching for some kind of self-fulfillment (eritheia) outside of God’s will (verse 8).

In verse 10 Paul returns to the importance of good works (literally “working the good”—ergazomenos to agathon). Salvation through faith is not for the lazy. Grace is free, but it is not cheap.

In chapter one Paul had spoken about the revelation of God’s existence through nature. Now he writes of the revelation of God’s moral law through nature (verses 14-15). His juxtaposition of Natural Law with the Mosaic Law does not mean that every particular of the latter can be discerned in the former; he means simply that the Natural Law can be known by man’s conscience and that those who have only the Natural Law will be judged according to that law, just as the Jew will be judged according to the Mosaic Law.

With respect to this revelation of God’s moral will through nature, the third-century Christian apologist Origen wrote: “There is nothing amazing about it if the same God has implanted in the souls of all men the same truths which He taught through the Prophets and the Savior. He did this in order that every man might be without excuse at the divine judgment, having the requirement of the law written in his heart” (Against Celsus 1.4).

Friday, February 9

Matthew 13.18-22: We have already reflected that the Parable of the Sower follows the outline of the Shema. Accordingly, the parable’s interpretation begins with the command, “Hear!” (verse 18) In the Greek wording, in fact, this command carries an emphatic pronoun, unusual with an imperative verb: “You!” This pronoun serves to emphasize the distinction between Jesus’ followers and the “others.”

The first group in this parable, symbolized in the seed sown by the wayside (verse 19), fails in the matter of the “heart” (a detail missing in Mark 4:15). These do not love God with their whole heart, a condition that renders them vulnerable to attack from the Evil One. Their hearts, which have grown dull, have no understanding (verses 14-15).

The second group, symbolized in the rocky ground, is shallow, so the Word cannot take root (verse 20). These will fall away at the first sign of trouble (verse 21). Matthew had already witnessed such trials in his own lifetime (10:18,21-23). Those who thus falter have failed to love God with their whole soul.

The third group, symbolized by the sowing among the thorns, permits the care for wealth and worldly concern to strangle the life from the Gospel (verse 22). They have failed to love God with all their might.

The fourth group, symbolized in the good ground that receives the seed, has the grace of “understanding,” because of which they bring forth fruit (verse 23). They have fruitful lives. They are later symbolized in the two productive servants in the Parable of the Talents (25:16-17).

In Matthew’s version of this parable-interpretation, we note his special emphasis on “understanding” in verses 19 and 23. According to Matthew, a special type of understanding is characteristic of true discipleship. Thus, Matthew omits both references to a failure of understanding on the part of the disciples in Mark 4:10, 13.

And at the end of the parables, in Matthew 13:51, the disciples admit that they do understand what the Lord has been saying. For more evidence of Matthew’s emphasis on understanding as a characteristic of discipleship, one may compare Mark 9:9-13 with Matthew 17:9-13; and Mark 9:30-32 with Matthew 17:22-23.

Romans 2.17-29: Paul continues talking to the imaginary “man” that he earlier addressed (verses 1,3). This man calls himself a Jew (verse 17). This man, whom he had earlier reprimanded for judging others, Paul now taunts with a series of claims that were commonly made by the Jews: knowledge of the true God and His will, confidence in the Law, a superior moral insight, and the consequent right to provide guidance to the rest of the world (verses 18-20).

Paul does not deny the validity of any of these claims, but they do raise in his mind a series of concomitant questions that he now puts to the Jew (verses 21-23). The latter’s behavior, after all, leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, the bad conduct of the Jew, as Isaiah had long ago remarked, has brought reproach of the God of the Jews (verse 24; Isaiah 52:5 in LXX). Their defining sign, circumcision, has been rendered morally meaningless by their insouciance to the rest of the Torah (verse 25).