28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
1901 ASV Translation:
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh:
29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
There are no textual variations in 2:28-29 between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26.
I. These two verses provide Paul's "definitions" of "Jewishness" and "circumcision".
A. He removes both from the realm of "external" issues that can be "accommodated" by people who simply wish to "conform" to "obvious" standards.
1. In this he follows Jesus' teaching that externalism as "outward conformity to the demands of the rules" is worthless for dealing with a God Who looks upon the heart. "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me."
2. He actively denies any "reality" to definitions which only require things which can be hypocritically produced.
B. He insists that both be matters of the "heart", "spirit", and "source of praise".
1. What is "inward" Jewishness?
a. Paul contrasts the term translated "outwardly" with the term translated "inwardly".
1) The word translated "outwardly" is a word which signals an action that is verifiable by the physical senses, in harmony with reason, and, as such, is a tangible evidence of a claim.
2) The word translated "inwardly" is a word which signals something that is typically hidden from the perception of those who perceive by the senses. It is the word Paul used in 2:16 to describe what God, by Jesus, is going to "judge" in the Day of Wrath. It boils down to the issue of "hidden motives" -- those "reasons" for why men do "manifest" things.
b. Since the term "Jew" derives from the ancient conflict between Rachel and Leah and signals the issue of "praise" in respect to Yahweh, it is interesting that Paul made the fundamental issue of "Jewishness" a kind of circumcision that made "praise" from Yahweh to be the significant issue.
1) Yahweh is not interested in the "praise" that is done as a "form" that is ultimately designed to impress creatures.
2) Yahweh does not "praise" those who do not "praise" Him out of a circumcised heart. The issue is not a "God" Who is so self-centered that He must have the recognition and adoration of His creation. Rather, the issue is Yahweh's clear-eyed recognition that if a creature cannot honestly praise his Creator, he certainly will not be able to relate to the others in the creation in a life-giving/life-sustaining way. Yahweh measures all by the contribution made to Life for others.
2. What is "circumcision of the heart"?
a. As a "circumcision", it is the removal of that which deadens the sensitivity of the nerves centered beneath it.
b. As a circumcision of the "heart", it is a removal of the corrupt motives that deaden a person's ability to value what Yahweh values.
c. Since the intended result is "praise from Yahweh" as the desired end (motive), circumcision of the heart is the removal of the desire in men to be praised by men. This is not a circumcision that can be performed by men; it is only a result that Yahweh can achieve. That so much of what passes for Christianity these days is actually designed to impress men, one has to wonder whether any real "circumcision" has been going on in the so-called conversions of men.
d. As a "circumcision" in respect to the "spirit" as opposed to the "letter", it is a circumcision that is designed to be "actual", not "pretended". When Paul says "in spirit, not in letter" he is not saying "in the spirit" as if "spirit" was intended to be understood as a component of man's makeup (as in "body, soul, and spirit"). Rather, he is saying "according to truth in intent" as opposed to "external conformity to the letter of the rules". There is an enormous difference between doing something because one wishes to please YWHW and doing something because one wishes to be seen as one who pleases Yahweh. This is, according to this verse, the difference between Heaven and Hell.