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.
"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.
"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 Christyou 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."
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