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I’ve known folks who will defend to their death that an English translation per se is the inspired Word of God.  Well, I’ve got news for those folks: an English translation is merelt that, a translation.  A translation is not one of the autographs.  Let’s face it, English translations differ and sometimes those differences can make a difference.  Dr. Bill Mounce makes that apparent in a recent article entitled “’Real’ Circumcision (Rom 2:28-19 (sic: 29)” [link: “Real” Circumcision (Rom 2:28–19) | billmounce.com].  In his article, Dr. Mounce observes that sometimes translations add some very important words that are absent from the Greek text.  In reference to Romans 2:28-29[i], he writes (boldfacing added):

There is no Greek word behind “real” or “true,” neither as an actual word or one implied by the grammar. It just isn’t there. I’m not sure why the RSV inserted them into their translation. Perhaps it was out of deference to Jewish readers. Perhaps they felt a conflict between what Paul was saying and the reality that there are physical descendants of Abraham called “Jews” and there is a physical act called “circumcision.” But Paul didn’t feel the conflict; he was radically re-defining what “Jew” and “circumcision” mean.

The first English translation referred to by Dr. Mounce, the Revised Standard Version (RSV), reads (I italicized and boldfaced the words in question):

Romans 2:28-29 (RSV) – 28 For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.

As Dr. Mounce points out, the NASB95 presents a more accurate translation because it does not insert any words in these verses.  Romans 2:28–29 (NASB95) reads:

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

I dig a little deeper into this issue in the Endnote ii[ii] of this article.

All Gentiles ought to pay attention to what Dr. Mounce concludes, which demonstrates the importance of knowing the words in the original text (i.e., autograph):

Paul is radically redefining what circumcision is, and most of the translations, most of the time, soften what he says. Paul knows there are physical descendants of Abraham, and he knows there is a physical act called “circumcision,” but he is not concerned with that. He wants to make the point as clearly as possible that being a “Jew” and being “circumcised” are issues of faith.

As Paul clearly states elsewhere, I (Bill Mounce, a Gentile) am as much a child of Abraham and an inheritor of God’s promises as is anyone, regardless of their ethnic heritage. As Paul told the Galatians, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham…. So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Gal 3:7, 9).

If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell.  But, your destiny can change. 

Today can be the day of your salvation!  Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved.  You can also go to another article at my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/10/20/there-is-hope-even-when-there-seems-to-be-no-hope-2/ ). 

Please send me any comments to steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

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[i] After pointing our the RSV, Dr. Mounce then refers to the revised RSV (NRSV) imports words when it reads:

Romans 2:28–29 (NRSV) – 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

Dr. Mounce congratulates the NASB95, KVJ and NET translations for an accurate translation.  As an example, Romans 2:28–29 (NASB95) reads:

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

[ii] My current favorite, the English Standard Version (ESV) imports “merely” and it reads:

Romans 2:28–29 (ESV) – 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Let’s see what an even closer examination of the ESV translation reveals.   The ESV translates the Greek phrase en tō phanerō as “who is merely one outwardly.”  After a look at the Logos 8 Exegetical Guide for this text, I found that:

(1) the Greek proposition en is a preposition of means which is a preposition to express the means of an action.  See Lukaszewski, A. L. (2007). The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press.

(2) the Greek article tō is an attributive article which relates to the relevant noun in the sense of adding definiteness to its meaning.  See Lukaszewski.

(3) the Greek adjective phanerō means, “(derivatives of the stem φαν- ‘to appear,’ 24.18, 19) pertaining to that which appears clear or evident—‘clear, evident, clearly.’”  See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 278). New York: United Bible Societies).

Overall, the phrase en tō phanerō seems to say that the outward appearance, e.g., Jewish heritage or religious practices, does not make one a Jew.  There does not seem to be a compelling reason to import “merely” to arguably water down Paul’s statement that Jewish heritage or religious practice does not in and of itself make one a child of Abraham and an inheritor of God’s promises.  To best see this, consider Romans 2:25–27 (ESV): 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

One commentator (Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 102–103). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers) writes:

2:28–29 In the last paragraph of chap. 2 Paul summarized what it meant to be a real Jew and what kind of circumcision was considered authentic. People were not Jews if their Jewishness was no more than outward appearance. Going through the ceremonial activities of Judaism did not make a person a Jew. And real circumcision was not that which was merely external and physical. A person was a Jew only if he or she was one inwardly. The circumcision that counted was a circumcision of the heart (cf. Deut 30:6). Real circumcision was the work of the Spirit.143 It did not come through the mechanical observance of the written code. Authentic Jewishness was inward and spiritual. Authentic circumcision was the cutting away145 of the old sinful nature. It could be accomplished only by the sanctifying Spirit of God. Those who had experienced it received their praise from God, not from others.

Well, my current favorite translation (ESV) added some words that can impact any principles taken away from the text.   The translation you read and study can make a difference so that in New Testament study, it is beneficial to look behind the English to the Greek.  By the way, like me, you don’t have to know Greek to try to examine the original language because there are so many Greek language helps available. 

But, ONE HUGE CAUTION is unless you know koine Greek, please that be aware that you really do not know koine Greek and so make certain to verify any of your findings with resources by experts (like Dr. Mounce) who know the language.