Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 29

Is there such a thing as a “fake” Jew

I can still remember when I first came across Rom 2:28-29 (RSV) and wondered what a “real” Jew is, and is there such a thing as a “fake” Jew.

“For he is not a real Jew [ο ... Ιουδαιος] who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 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.”

What is strange (from the point of view of translation) is that there is no word for “real” in the Greek. No explicit word. Nothing implied by another word or by the grammar. So where does the “real” come from, and why?

In fact, lets work through the rest of the verse. What is “true” circumcision? False circumcision? There is no word for “true.” Nor is there a word for “real” circumcision. But at least we can see a pattern in the translation. The plot thickens!

Before going any further, let me emphasize something that has been on my mind lately. No one knows why a translator does what he or she or they did. No one. It has been interesting to watch the blogs with people claiming to know why we did what we did on the NIV. It is amazing to see how many times they are completely and totally wrong.

So the rule is that we can’t know why someone translates the way they do.

So why does the RSV use “real” and “true” in these two verses? I don’t know.

But the ramifications are significant. If you remove the additional words, Paul is redefining who a Jew is. “He is a Jew who is one inwardly.” Being Jewish has nothing to do with outward issues. Circumcision is only “a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.” Paul would not be denying the reality of the Jewish race (cf. 2:17-24), but he would be affirming that God shows no partiality (2:11), and is “specifying what it is that qualified a person to be a ‘true Jew’ and so to be saved” (Moo, 175).

Perhaps the RSV translators felt that this was too radical a shift for Paul, and included “real” and “true” to temper the statement. Perhaps.