PAUL AND THE LAW OF CIRCUMCISION

The  law of circumcision is first mentioned in Genesis 17:10-12  in reference to the covenant between God and Abraham. Later it is mentioned as  a part of the covenant with the Nation of Israel (Lev.12:1-3).

"This  is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me  and  you and your seed after you; Every man child among you shall be  circumcised.   And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you.   And he  that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you,  every man  child in your generations, he that is born in the house,  or bought  with  money of any stranger, which is not of  your  seed" (Gen.17:10-12 KJV).

"And  the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance  of the  passover:  There shall no stranger eat  thereof:  But  every man's servant that is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired  servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; you  shall not  carry  forth  ought of the flesh abroad out  of  the  house; neither shall you break a bone thereof. All the congregation  of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you,  and  will  keep the passover to the Lord, let all  his  males  be circumcised,   and  then let him come near and keep it;  and  he shall  be as one that is born in the land:  for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof"  (Ex.12:43-48 KJV).  See also Lev.12:3.

Circumcision is of the Heart

Although  circumcision is a physical act, its spiritual  implications were known by the Israelites:

"Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's  your God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord  had a  delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their  seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.  Circumcise  therefore  the foreskin of your heart,  and  be  no  more stiffnecked" (Deut.10:14-16 KJV).

When  God made the first agreement with national Israel at  Mount Sinai,  he required all the males to be circumcised  as an  outward sign of the agreement. This condition was imposed  on any male who was considered to be a part of national Israel. Moreover, non-Israelite  males (e.g., servants, slaves, and converts of  other nationalities) who were considered a part of national Israel  were to be circumcised without exception.

There  is  no doubt that circumcision was part of the  terms  and conditions of the first agreement with national Israel, and that it was a physical sign of this agreement.  The reason circumcision was so important under this agreement was that it had to do with each individual's and the nation's relationship with God. Moreover, circumcision pertained to the ability to worship  God and  receive his blessings. The men who asked  the  question regarding circumcision in Acts 15 believed it was still necessary for all males (both Israelite and Gentile) to be circumcised  in order  to  have  an agreement with  God.  Therefore,  they  said, "Except  you  be circumcised you cannot be saved" (Acts  15:1 KJV).

TIMOTHY AND TITUS

Some use the example of Timothy's circumcision to argue that,  even though  Paul  had agreed with the  Jerusalem  council's  decision that circumcision was no longer necessary for salvation, he later decided they were wrong and went  against their  decision. However, this assumption is  not true. See Acts 15:19-24.

Timothy

"Paul  wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey,  so  he circumcised  him because of the Jews who lived in the  area,  for they all knew that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:3 NIV).

The reason for Timothy's circumcision is very clear. It was  done because it was the wise thing to do under the circumstances. Although  Timothy's mother was  Jewish, the Jews considered him  a Gentile because his father was  Greek. Therefore,  Timothy  was circumcised so that he would be more acceptable to the Jews.

Titus

"Fourteen  years  later I went up again to Jerusalem,  this  time with  Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to  a revelation  and set before them the gospel that I preached among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to  be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in  vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be  circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them  for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (Gal.2:1-5 NIV).

Paul and his companions  resisted  those  who demanded that Titus be circumcised. This clearly shows that  Paul and  others of the Eldership were upholding the edict  made  concerning justification and the Gentiles.

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by  the faith of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in  Jesus Christ,  that we might be justified by the faith of  Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal.2:16 KJV).

WHO IS A SPIRITUAL JEW?

"For indeed circumcision profits if you practice the law, but  if you  are  a transgressor of the law, your  circumcision  becomes no circumcision.  If, then, the circumcision keeps the demands  of the law, will not his lack of circumcision be counted for circumcision? And  will not the lack of circumcision by nature by  keeping  the  law judge  you, the one who through letter and circumcision  becomes transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the outwardly flesh; but he is  a Jew  that is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the  heart,  in spirit,  not  in letter, of whom praise is not from men,  but  of God"  (Rom.2:25-29 Para.). See also Deut.10:14-16.

Paul  wrote  this letter to the Romans around 56 A.D., which was about seven years after the ministerial conference of Acts 15 that was held in 49 A.D..                 

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Galatians 5:1-15 Paraphrased

"Then  stand firm in the freedom with which Christ made us  free, and do not again be held with a yoke of slavery. Behold, I, Paul, say  to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit  you nothing" (vs.1-2).

Paul warns the Galatians against attempting to become justified before God by becoming circumcised, because anyone who does this places himself back under the law before Christ's sacrifice, and is saying by his actions that he does not believe that Christ's sacrifice sealed the breach between man and God the Father.

"Any that rely on circumcision in order to justify themselves  to God  must practice the entire law. And I testify again  to  every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the law: You who are justified by the law are deprived all of the benefit from Christ—you fell from grace" (vs.3-4).

Those who became circumcised in an attempt to become justified before God are fallen from grace, because they make the  sacrifice of Christ void  by trying to earn justification through  keeping the law through their own efforts. Christ died for our  justification and  reconciliation  to God the Father, and anyone who  seeks  to  be justified  under  the conditions of the old agreement  is  fallen from grace.  

"For we through the spirit eagerly wait for the hope of  righteousness by faith" (v5).

The Living Bible translates  verse 5:  

"But we by the help of the holy spirit are counting on Christ's death to clear away our sins and make us right with God."

Paul tells the Romans that it is through the death of  Christ that we are justified and put into right-standing with God. In addition, he says that it is only through Christ's life that we can obtain salvation:

"For if being enemies, we are reconciled to God through the death of  his son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by  his life" (Rom.5:10 Para.).

Physical circumcision does not bring salvation:

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of circumcision  has any strength, but faith working through love" (v6).

The King James Bible translates this verse:

"For in Jesus  Christ neither  circumcision  avails any thing, nor uncircumcision;  but faith which works by love."

Paul's statement here is extremely important because he  supports the  decision  made by the apostles and elders at  the  Jerusalem council concerning circumcision and the law. See Acts 15:19-30.

"You  were running well; Who held you back that you do  not  obey the  truth? The persuasion is not from him calling you. A  little leaven leavens the whole lump. I trust as to you in the Lord that you will think nothing else, but one troubling you shall bear the judgment, whoever he may be" (vs.7-10).

Paul warns the Galatians about those who were destroying them with the false teachings about circumcision and the law, and he confirms that he was not teaching circumcision as a  way to obtain salvation. Moreover, Paul gives  a stern warning to those who cause  others  to doubt their salvation through the false teaching of reconciliation through circumcision, because those who teach these things will  themselves be cut off from salvation:

"But  I,  brothers, if I proclaim circumcision, why  am  I  still persecuted?   Then  the  offense of the cross  has  passed  away. Would  that  the ones causing you to doubt will  cut themselves off" (vs.11-12). See also Eph.2:8-22.

Galatians 6:11-15 Paraphrased

"See  in what large letters I write to you with my hand. As  many as  desire  to  look well in the flesh, these compel  you  to  be circumcised;  only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of  Christ. For they themselves having been circumcised  do  not even keep the law; but they desire you to be circumcised so  that they  may  boast  in your flesh. But may it never be for  me  to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the  world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For  in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any strength, nor the lack of circumcision; but  a  new creation."  See  also  Rom.3:27-30; 4:9-12; 1.Cor.7:18-19; Col.2:8-13; 3:9-11 and our study  concerning  the new creation.

Colossians 2:11-14 LBP

"When  you came to Christ he set you free from your evil  desires, not  by  a bodily operation of circumcision but  by  a  spiritual operation, the baptism of your souls. For in baptism you see  how your old, evil nature died with him and was buried with him;  and then  you came up out of death with him into a new  life  because you trusted the Word of the mighty God who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead in sins, and your sinful desires were not yet cut away. Then he gave you a share in the very life  of  Christ, for he forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges  proved against  you,  the  list of his commandments which  you  had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing  it to Christ's cross."

SUMMARY

Did any action or teaching of the apostle Paul concerning circumcision  contradict the decision of the apostles and elders  noted in Acts 15? The answer is an emphatic NO! All of Paul's writings show that he supported and clearly understood the edict of  Acts 15.

By Vernon O. Jones and B.L. Cocherell, file b4w4