Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Circumcision in Romans

Posted by cherylem on October 13, 2007

I haven’t forgotten about my promised post regarding Romans 13 – it will be done by end of day tomorrow (Sunday)! But I’m still working on my SS lesson on Romans generally (so CRIMINAL to relegate Romans to one single lesson).

This post is really a question. Raymond Brown, in An Introduction to the New Testament, writes in his analysis of Romans (p. 566):

“Well then, what is the advantage for circumcised Jews if they too are under God’s wrath (3:1-9) and no one is righteous? In 3:21-26 Paul answers: To the Jews were given God’s own words of promise, and God is faithful. The apostle describes what was promised or prefigured in the Law and Prophets, namely, the righteousness of God through faith of/in Jesus Christ, justifying without distinction Jew and Greek. God’s integrity is vindicated: God is not unfair, for the sins of all have been expiated by Christ’s blood. No one has the right to boast, since God has graciously justified the circumcised and the uncircumcised in the same way, by faith apart from deeds/works of (=prescribed by) the Law (3:27-31).”

Could we read this paragraph of Brown’s and substitute “Mormons” for “Jews” and “wearers of the temple garment” for circumcision? Could we even substitute “obeyers of word of wisdom” for circumcision?

Another example, reading Romans 2:25-29, (and here’s the NIV), could we substitute the same phrases? “wearers of the temple garment” and/or “obeyers of the word of wisdom” for circumcision?

Does this work for you? Or no?

9 Responses to “Circumcision in Romans”

  1. Robert C. said

    Works for me–nice thought, Cheryl.

    Self-righteousness among members used to be a big pet peeve of mine. Not so much anymore—perhaps b/c I’m not around this as much, but more likely b/c I finally saw the beam in my own eye!

  2. cherylem said

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reading this as “temple garment wearers” has some pretty wide repercussions though, and on one level I’m not sure it is fair to the text. But on another level: yes.

    And I’m not suggesting this in terms of self-righteousness of others, but of myself. As in: take a good hard look in the mirror . . .

  3. BobW said

    Could we not replace temple garmet wearers with those who wear only white shirts on Sunday and replace obeyers of the word of wisdom with those who shun Pepsi and come closer to the mark? Isn’t the lesson of Peter’s vision of the sheet and unclean beasts and Romans 13’s discussion of circumcision that we ought not to be hindered by our traditions (which may have been commandments at one time) rather than an argument that bona fide commandments don’t count?

  4. cherylem said

    Maybe the whole exercise if a little off – I’m not trying to make a “grand” point or speak in condemnation so much as I’m trying to think in Paul’s terms. How very very hard it must have been for those of the circumcision – MUCH more than a white shirt, that – to hear that “the one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” (NIV)

    The only thing I think we have close to circumcision is our temple recommend and the accompanying memory we carry on our bodies of the promises we make there. So I was trying to draw a parallel in terms of these particular verses: i.e.,: it is not the recommend nor even our participation in the temple nor our wearing of those promises that make us a “Mormon,” or “holy” or “righteous” but rather (v. 29) “a temple recommend of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

    That is, how do I get a temple recommend (circumcision/garment) of the heart?

    But perhaps the comparison simply doesn’t work. Or only works on one level, which perhaps wrests the text.

  5. cherylem said

    In fact, I’m sure it wrests the text, because Paul is teaching that the Gentile converts don’t need to be circumcised, and of course there is no comparable argument in today’s church. But still, the idea that we can be obedient outwardly (v. 28) and not converted inwardly (v. 29) is the one I am thinking about here.

  6. Jim F. said

    cherylem: I think you are right that the parallel doesn’t work because circumcision was no longer required, but the endowment is required (in a complicated sense of “required”). But you’re also right that the second point, that one can obey outwardly–and, so, have the signs of conversion–and yet not be converted inwardly, is part of what Paul is saying.

    Robert and BobW: I think that even if the comparison Cheryl makes worked, the analogy would have to be circumcision and temple garments, but not Word of Wisdom, white shirts, etc. Both circumcision and wearing temple garments are hidden signs of a covenant. The others are not, so they don’t quite work in the parallel.

  7. cherylem said

    The situation is a little complex because I think in Romans Paul is both defending Jewishness (he is making a point of this) and yet also explaining his mission to the Gentiles. I think Paul would not say that circumcision was not necessary for Jewish men, while at the same time Paul would say the opposite regarding the Gentiles. That is why these verses seem so astounding to me, from a Jewish point of view. And while I know the temple endowment is “required,” I can also – somehow – envision a time and place where someone like Paul would tell us that the endowment means nothing if it is not written on our hearts, and there are believers (maybe even non-LDS believers!) who do not have the literal endowment yet who are endowed by their faith in Jesus Christ. These believers will condemn those who have the literal endowment and yet whose only understanding of the endowment is that it is something external and physical.

    And again (just to make sure it is clear), I am not saying that this is so, and I am NOT denigrating the endowment, but I am trying to put myself into Romans. Circumcision meant everything to the Jew – there was no membership in “the people of God” without it. As our endowment means everything to us.

    Still, even as I write it, the comparison is not completely right, yet the self-examination of the inward/outward expression does feel right to me.

  8. Jim F. said

    cherylem: I apologize that I wasn’t more clear. When I said that circumcision was no longer required, I meant “for the Gentile converts.” I agree that Paul is defending Jewishness, else why bother writing chapters 9-11? Indeed, I think that he is not arguing against the Law, but for an understanding of it as embodied in Christ and accessible to us through the Spirit.

    I think what you’ve said is clear and even orthodox, whatever that means.

  9. cherylem said

    yeah Jim, I knew you knew. I should have said that also . . . I phrased my comment the way I did for the benefit of the greater group.

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