Romans 2:29 NASB

29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from

It is clear circumcision was given to the patriarchs well before the letter was introduced

Genesis 17:10-12 NASB

10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your [j]descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, including a slave who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your [k]descendants.

Christ further reiterates the same position years later

John 7:19-22 NASB

“Did Moses not give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why are you seeking to kill Me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill You?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one [c]deed, and you all are astonished. 22 For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and even on a Sabbath you circumcise a man.

Why then does Paul say circumcision is by the letter?

  • Paul is talking about the "letter [of the law]" Therefore, I do not understand the question. What is the problem? – Dottard Mar 22 at 9:52
  • @Dottard,my query is that circumcision came from the patriarchs rather than from the letter given at sinai – collen ndhlovu Mar 22 at 12:57
  • Paul says, "NOT by the letter"... – The Chaz 2.0 Mar 22 at 13:50

Indeed, circumcision is from the patriarchs as described in Genesis 17:12

For the generations to come every male among you [Abraham] who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring.

It is also codified in Leviticus 12:3

And on the eighth day the flesh of the boy's foreskin is to be circumcised.

Why does Paul say circumcision is by the letter rather than from the patriarchs in Romans 2:29?

Technically, Paul was not completely wrong in Romans 2:29, saying that circumcision is by the letter of the Law. Paul didn't say that it is not from the fathers.

Why then does Paul say circumcision is by the letter?

This is the more important question. What does Paul mean when he says that circumcision is by the letter of the Law? What is his point here?

Let's see the context:

Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God.

The letter is connected to the outward flesh. Paul is making a contrast:

outwardly    flesh    by the letter    praise from people
inwardly     heart    by the Spirit    praise from God

Consistently, Paul emphasizes the spiritual realities over the fleshly realities in his writings.

Romans 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.


Law has no meaning in the OT in the absence of a covenant - all laws were given as part of a divine covenant.

In the case of circumcision:

  • It was NOT part of the Edenic covenant (Gen 1:26, 28-30, 2:16, 17)
  • It was NOT part of the Noahide covenant (Gen 8:20 – 9:17)
  • It WAS part of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18)

Specifically, circumcision was given as the SIGN/token of the Abrahamic covenant (Heb: “oth”, Gen 17:10, 11, 13, Rom 4:11, Acts 7:8) and their inheritance of the Promised Land, Josh 5:7.

There is no indication that circumcision was a sign of the Israelite covenant, although it was used as metaphor of dedication, Deut 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4. Thus, when the circumcision was dispensed with in Acts 15, the Abrahamic covenant was seen by the Christian church as ended - the Jews had rejected God.

By contrast, the tokens/signs of the covenant (Heb: “oth”) appear to have been the law of the 10 Commandments themselves (Deut 6:8, 11:18, Ex 31:13, 16, 17, Isa 56:4, 6, Exe 20:12, 20); the blood of the covenant from the Passover Lamb is also used as a sign in Ex 12:13; the famous “Ark of the Covenant” containing the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone (Ex 16:34, 24:12, 25:16, 21, 31:18, 32:15, 19, 34:1, 4, 28, 40:20, Deut 4:13, 9-11, etc). [Note: This did not include circumcision as this was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant to which the Israelites fell heirs.]


Jesus did not preach any new laws / convents - this is another example of Paul making his own law / gospel and goes against what Jesus preached.

Jesus taught same as before;

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practic-es and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." [Matthew 5:17-20]

And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that (for this purpose) He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness or us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us. [Deuteronomy 6:24-25]

Deuteronomy 30:15-16 - 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

James teaches the same as Jesus

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. [James 2:8-11]


Already rumours that Paul was not preaching the laws – but does what he is told (clearly not a leader):

You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. [Acts 21:20-26]

Starts spreading his own Gospel

1 Corinthians 9:22 ‘….I have become all things to all men …..’

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” – Romans 2:16

“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began…” – Romans 16:25

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10

“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:” – 2 Timothy 2:8

“I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole Law” (Gal5:2).

But now we are released from the Law.. we serve not under the old written code but under the new life of the Spirit” (Romans7:6).

2 Timothy 1:11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.


“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law!” (Romans 3:31).

Which way is it?


Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him.” (Acts16:3)

only 1 teacher - Matthew 23:8–12 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:15 - 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

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