The New Testament generates many controversies between those of the Jewish faith and the followers of Jesus

. Perhaps at the center of these controversies is the issue of what a true follower of God is. Many of the apostles and especially Paul discuss this issue throughout their writings. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he attempts to define a true follower of God. In his argument, Paul uses the outward Jew as an example of a self-righteous man. Conversely, he describes the inward Jew as an example of a true Jew or follower of God. By comparing and contrasting Paul’s types of Jews, we can not only define what is a true Jew or contemporary Christian but more importantly, the process of becoming one. Throughout Paul’s epistle to the Romans the outward Jew is presented as an embodiment of hypocrisy. Being a devout Jew himself (Romans 11:1), Paul followed all the “customs which Moses [had] delivered” (Acts 6:14). These customs or laws were passed down by God through Moses’ transcription of the Torah. Before his conversion to the followings of Jesus, Paul was a feared persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:1). His goal was to abolish the teachings of Jesus because he and many other Jews regarded them as false. Paul was present at the death of the famous Christian martyr Stephen, who was stoned to death for his ‘blasphemies’. During his trial, Stephen said to his persecutors, “[Y]ou…received the law…by angels [but do not] keep it” (Actions 7:53). Paul’s argument in the book of Romans does not dispute the Mosaic laws (Romans 7: 1, 12) but, like Stephen, brings into question how Jews follow them. Paul opens his argument in Romans by asking the Jews, “[Y]ou then who teach others, will you not teach yourself?” (Romans 2:21). In this passage Paul questions why many Jews see themselves as righteous even though “[they] dishonor God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23). Paul does not question their knowledge of the law but rather questions their obedience to it. Outwardly, many Jews were perceived to be righteous followers of God and were thought to follow the Torah to the letter. Given this we are reminded of God’s words to Samuel: “[T]he


Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Paul is convinced that these outward Jews still sin despite their appearances. This type of Jew “is not a real Jew…[because] circumcision [is not] something external and physical” (Romans 2:28). Jesus affirms this in saying to the Pharisees, “[Y]ou are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). So the truth is “that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9).The message here is that “the law is…good” (Romans 7:12)—so good—that everyone fails in keeping it. What then is the purpose of the law if no one can keep it? Paul writes in his epistle to the Galatians that “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). In this passage Paul explains that the law was brought into being to teach both Jews and Gentiles that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If no one can truly follow the law, how then can anyone be righteous? How can anyone be saved? The answer to this lies with the inward Jew. God’s covenant with Abraham is one that always has been and continues to be an integral part of the Jewish faith. In order for Abraham and his descendants to keep God’s covenant, all male descendants of Abraham must be circumcised. This identifying trait of God’s people is meant as “a sign of [Abraham’s] covenant with [God]” (Genesis 17:11). In the time of Paul’s writing to the Romans a controversial issue arose between the Jews and the followers of Jesus over the concept of circumcision. The Jews said, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). They believed that because of their heritage from Abraham and because they were circumcised of the flesh that they were saved. Paul does not dispute the significance of circumcision physically but rather highlights it as a symbol. Paul says, “[Becoming] circumcised…will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2), not because he views the practice as wrong but because circumcision alone is not enough for salvation. It is a symbol


of salvation, not salvation itself. “Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25). Circumcision of the body does not free a man of sin because all are guilty of not keeping the law. This makes circumcision useless. Paul argues that a true Jew, a true child of God “is one inwardly, [that] real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Romans 2:29). A true circumcision is within the soul. The idea that a spiritual circumcision was necessary to become an inward or true Jew was not an entirely new concept. This idea of circumcision of the heart is echoed from the Torah: “Circumcise…the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deut. 10:16). Another translation of the Bible puts it as “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deut. 10:16 NIV). This passage was referred to in Stephen’s final words in the book of Acts: “You stiff-necked people [Pharisees], uncircumcised in heart” (Acts 7:51). Unfortunately Paul was one of the many Jews condemning Stephen at the trial but no doubt uses both the verse and Stephen’s words for the idea of inner or spiritual circumcision. There is little more said in the Torah about spiritual circumcision, rendering a problem of how the process is accomplished. Paul responds to this problem by saying, “[A] man is justified by faith apart from [the]…law” (Romans 3:28). “God is one…[who] will justify the circumcised…and the uncircumcised through their faith” (Romans 3:30). Paul suggests that in order to become an inward Jew—and to become justified by God—one must have faith in something other than the law. “[M]y heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1 KJV). Paul writes “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 KJV). In this passage Paul gives the only answer of obtaining circumcision of the heart— the very foundation of the Christian belief—faith in Jesus.


Paul writes that the inward Jew’s “praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:29). Contrary to this is the outward Jew’s desire to be praised among men. Jesus addresses this issue in order to discourage the practice when He said, “[The Pharisees] do all their deeds to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:5). Paul asserts that people should not follow the ways of God to seek the praise of men but rather the praise of God. While many people see and praise the outward Jew for his piety, God knows the heart. The righteousness of the outward Jew is only on “the outside of the cup” (Matthew 23:25). Paul advises the outward Jew to stop deceiving both himself and those who give him praise. No man is good, “no man is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). To receive praise from God a man must be an inward Jew—a true Jew—who follows God with “all [his] heart…all [his] soul…and all [his] mind” (Matthew 22:37). According to Paul, the only way to become an inward Jew is to believe that Jesus Christ is truly “the son of God” (Luke 23:38). Praise from God is the aspiration of all true believers.