17 But if you name yourself a Jew, rely on the law, take pride in God, know his will and discern what is best as you are instructed by the law; 19 and if you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to people in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes, because you have in the law the perfect form of knowledge and truth, 21 yes, you, teacher of others, will you not teach yourself? Preaching the command against stealing, do you steal? 22 Quoting the command that forbids adultery, do you commit it? Detester of idols, do you rob their temples? 23 Boaster about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking it ? 24 For as scripture says, “The name of God is reviled among the Gentiles because of you.”
25 Foreskin-snipping is indeed of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your snipping has become foreskin-possession. 26 So, if those who possess foreskins keep the requirements of the law, won’t their possession be regarded as snipping? 27 Then those who are physically in possession of foreskins but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and the snipping but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew by outward appearance nor is true snipping something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew by inward reality and real snipping is a matter of the heart—in a spiritual rather than a written character. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
Above is my translation of this passage. It is blunt in its avoidance of euphemistic words like circumcision. There is a subterranean element of comedy in Paul’s backward view of Judaism, that is radical and sane. It’s worth noting that in this argument, Paul’s main criterion is practice of the law. Like the great prophets he points to a gap between ceremony and practice. And when he recommends a “spiritual snipping” which establishes a true Jewish identity, its fruit is the doing of the law.
In all of Paul’s subsequent emphasis in the letter on what God has done in Jesus Messiah, his hope that at last the holy law will be obeyed should not be lost.