In case one is disinclined to believe this assertion, we’ll have to take a look at the two primary “justification” texts in the New Testament, which are found in Romans three and Galatians two. When we see what precedes this great “justification” passage, and bear in mind the words from Paul that set the tone for chapters nine, ten, and eleven, we are clued in to the connection between chapter three and chapter ten, and we are also provided with another reminder of what justification means for Paul, which is inclusion in the covenant. It cannot be too often said that, for Paul, justification encompasses the extension of that covenant to Gentiles, along with the lack of any need for Gentiles to adopt the covenant markers of Judaism (they do not need to Judaize---practice circumcision, keep Sabbath, or observe dietary regulations---the works of the law) in order to demonstrate their joining up with the covenant people of God and their being positioned to enjoy the blessings promised in association with that covenant. So what precedes talk of “justification” in chapter three?
Realizing that Romans is an argument that builds upon itself, and that groundwork is laid and re-laid so as to be drawn upon as the argument progresses, answering this question forces us to backtrack to chapter two, as Paul expands on the statement from chapter one that the Gospel is “God’s power for salvation to everyone who believe,” which ties itself quite comfortably to verse eleven of chapter ten, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16b). Remember, “salvation,” for Paul, is just one way of describing participation in the covenant people and experiencing all that is implied by such participation. Picking up on that in the second chapter, consciously holding to the idea that what we hear from Paul in chapter three is provided its color and context by what precedes it, and cannot be correctly understood in isolation from it, Paul writes “There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and for the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (2:9-12).
This talk of Jew and Greek (or Gentile), as it is attended by talk of “all who have sinned,” and “no partiality with God,” equalizes Jew and Gentile in their standing before the covenant God. To this Paul adds “For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves” (2:14). Without getting into all that Paul is asserting in this statement or attempting to exegete, we pair it with verse seventeen and “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God” (2:17), and continue to recognize the obvious construct of Jew, Gentile, and covenant inclusion that receives Paul’s attention and is the reason for the coming statements concerning justification (covenant inclusion, election) in chapter three.
Keeping in mind the importance of the then-accepted covenant markers as the distinguishing badges of the covenant people, keeping the concern for covenant inclusion (justification---notice the interchangeability of the terms) front and center, we go on to hear Paul say “For circumcision has its value if you practice the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25). This statement is important insofar as it is another equivocation by Paul, placing Jew (circumcision) and Gentile (uncircumcision) on the same level, as he builds the case for his theological, eschatological, and covenantal position. More importantly, the end of this posturing by Paul (using posturing in a positive sense), is the creation of humble, self-effacing, self-sacrificial, honor eschewing unity within the church body that is composed of individuals that are said to be “in Christ.”
To this leveling Paul adds “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and” building on language from the prophets from whom and which Paul so heavily draws, “circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code” (2:28-29a). Here, lest he be misunderstood, Paul is not attempting to insist that Gentiles become Jews. He is perfectly satisfied with Gentiles remaining Gentiles as they join the ranks of the elect, as the tent of God’s covenant people is expanded outward, becoming ever larger. Consequently, “Jew,” here, combined with talk of circumcision (of the heart and not the flesh), stands in for “the elect/covenant people of the covenant God.”
The follow-on to that which concludes chapter two then makes perfect sense, as Paul continues to have covenant inclusion and bridging the divide between Jew and Gentile in purview, and says “Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision?” (3:1) Most certainly, Paul wants to make covenant inclusion attractive. He wants to encourage Gentiles to adopt the language of election, locating themselves within the stream of history provided by the story of Israel and climaxed in Jesus, and therefore highlights the advantages of national Israel, while also being proud of his heritage, which comes through quite strongly in the opening of chapter nine.