Summary: The Jew trusted his law to be all that he needed and the best education he could get. Thus he boasted in the God who gave that law. There is no doubt that many Jews felt they were immune from God’s judgment.
(8) HIS LAW CANNOT MAKE HIM RIGHTEOUS
17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law. Israelites who remained in Palestine, or who returned to it after the Babylonian captivity, were designated as “Jews,” even though tribes other than Judah were included. Paul calls himself a “Jew” in Acts 21:39 but “an Israelite” in Romans 11:1 and “a Hebrew” in Philippians 3:5. All three names refer to the same people; but in a technical sense “Hebrew” is the racial name, “Israel” is the national name, and “Jew” is the religious name of the sons of Jacob. The Jews rested in the law because it was described as “wisdom and … understanding in the sight of the nations” (Deut 4:6). The Jew did not have to travel around the world to study in a distant university. He did not have to rely on the philosophy of the Gentiles. The Jew trusted his law to be all that he needed and the best education he could get. Thus he boasted in the God who gave that law. There is no doubt that many Jews felt they were immune from God’s judgment. God would never send a Jew to hell, they thought. The Gentiles, on the other hand, were fuel for the flames of hell. Paul must now destroy this pretension by showing that under certain circumstances Gentiles may be closer to God than Jews.
And make your boast in God. The Jew felt that he was superior to all other nations and he despised them, because he had the law of God. It is true that the law had been given to Israel and that God had declared himself to be their god, but this was not a reason for boasting (especially since they did not keep the law). Instead of boasting they should have felt gratitude for the mercies and favors God had bestowed on them.
The implication in this verse is that one might be called a Jew and yet not BE a Jew. (I can say that today one might be called a Christian and not be a true Christian). Paul is proving that the so-called Jew is just as helpless a sinner as the Gentile, in spite of all his Jewish boasting.
18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
Because he had received parental training in the law as a youth, and rabbinical teaching as a man, the Jew felt confident that he could prove or discern those things that are in line with the will of God. He thought he knew God’s will, because a general outline of that will is given in the Scriptures. He approved the things that are excellent (Those things that were in keeping with the character of God.), because the law taught him how to assess moral values.
19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
Confident that he would be saved by his law, the Jew was convinced that he had been made righteous and therefore was able to assume four roles: a guide of the spiritually blind (the blind being the Gentiles who lived in darkness); a light to those who are in the darkness of ignorance, (the Gentile needs to be enlightened by the Jew who was enlightened by the law). The next verse tells what the other two are; an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes.
20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
He felt qualified to be an instructor of the foolish (because he did not know the law, the Gentile was a fool), and to teach babes (the Gentile was immature, an object of Jewish disgust), because the law gave him an outline of knowledge and of the truth.
Verses 17-20 list ten advantages that a Jew had over a Gentile; the first five are what he was:
1. Bears the name Jew.
2. Rests upon the law.
3. Boasts in God.
4. Knows the will of God.
5. Proves the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law.
The last five personal privileges of the Jew are what he did:
1. Are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind.
2. A light to those who are in darkness.
3. An instructor of the foolish.
4. A teacher of babes or proselytes.
5. Having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
Now Paul has a question.
21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?