By: William J Jackson
Paul of Tarsus was a controversial figure in both the Jewish and Christian religions. A Pharisee who recently changed teams, he went from hunting Christians (Acts 8:1-3) to being hunted as a Christian (Acts 9:22-25). Thus he wasn’t easily trusted at the beginning by his new team, the Christian rebels. Fortunately for Paul there was Barnabas, a prominent Christian disciple (Acts 4:36, 11:22-24), who seems to have taken an interest in Paul, bringing him on a mission trip (Acts 11:25-26). The duo returned after 2 years 1 to the Apostles to discuss their findings. Here, at what would be later known as “The Council at Jerusalem”, Paul would make his debut with a “hot ticket” issue that would gain him notoriety and become a topic he would develop into a new theology throughout his legendary ministry.
The Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15)
This was circumcision and its impact on one’s faith. Paul and Barnabas did not want the requirement of circumcision to become an obstacle to the growing number of Gentile believers (Acts 15:1-2, 5). James, the leader of the Church’s “Jewish wing” 2 , validates Paul by confirming that Gentiles should not have to be circumcised. James than turns around and issues a letter of conversion reducing the requirements down to only four items (Acts 15:29). What also helped Paul’s cause was the voice of one of the Church’s strongest leader, Peter, who openly supported Paul’s rulings against circumcision (Acts 15:6-11). Paul would continue over the next 20 years to lean on the credentials of these famous Apostles who supported him that day (Galatians 2:2, 9).
About 6 years later in Paul ministry we see him communicating the same message to the Corinthians and the Galatians. However, instead of telling new believers that circumcision is an option, he tells them they should not become circumcised; 1 Corinthians 7:18 “…the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now…” and Galatians 5:6 “…there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised…”. When we investigate we see that Paul is using circumcision as a representation for the Law of Moses. His message is to not follow the Law of Moses but follow the Christian messiah in faith (Galatians 5:1-4, and 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). Eight years later, to the Philippians Paul takes it a step further. Here instead of saying circumcision is unnecessary, he states that the new circumcision is believing in the Christian messiah (Philippians 3:3).
If Paul stuck to his guns we might not believe him but at least we would know where he is coming from, yet he seems to flip the script when it comes to his own camp. Paul is double-dealer when it comes to his young protégé Timothy, who Paul encourages to become circumcised (Acts 16:3). Yet adding to Paul’s inconsistencies is another missionary named Titus who Paul celebrates for resisting the temptation of being circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5). So what gives? Well the deference between these two men to Paul was that Titus was Greek (Galatians 2:3) and Timothy was part Jewish (Acts 16:1-2). Is it possible that Paul viewed circumcision like something that was more cultural like wearing a kippa than performing a Commandment? We need to evaluate Paul’s new faith at this point. Above the circumcision issue Paul was perpetuating the Christian messiah. So let’s refer to the corner stone of Paul’s faith, Jesus. Jesus was not only circumcised Luke 2:21, he clarified that circumcision was a requirement from YHVH not Moses (John 7:22). Even in Jesus’ parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31) he validates the Law of Moses had precedence over even his own alleged resurrection ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31).
So why was circumcision so important? Circumcision was a requirement of Father Abraham and all generations to follow so that they would belong to Hashem’s covenant (Genesis 17:9-14), sometimes called the Abrahamic Covenant. So what does this covenant promise?
1. I will make of thee a great nation (Genesis 12:2)
2. …I will bless thee (Genesis 12:2)…
3. and make thy name great (Genesis 12:2)
4. …thou shalt be a blessing (Genesis 12:2)
5. I will bless them that bless thee (Genesis 12:3)
6. …and curse him that cursed thee (Genesis 12:3)
7. …and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
Genesis 17:14 threatens that whatever male that does not become circumcised will have broken this covenant and be cut off (excuse the pun). Heightening His law, over 600 years beyond this contractual obligation, YHVH ruled that an uncircumcised man couldn’t even participate in the honored Passover Meal (Exodus 12:48). And about a year after that, in Leviticus 12:3, it was commanded all boys would be circumcised. So we can easily see that circumcision is commanded by Hashem as part of the Law of Moses. The same Law of Moses the Christian messiah professed to not change (Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 16:17).
Paul and Timothy
As much as we can see the hypocrisy within Paul’s theology in contrast to the Christian religion, we see the shortcut mentality of the Council at Jerusalem in some of our modern day Jewish sects. They considering (like Paul) that circumcision is not a requirement 3, 4, 5 . In conclusion, we need to know Hashem’s word to gauge our faith walk, (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Joshua 1:8, Psalm 33:4, 119:105, 18, Job 23:12 ). If a religion separates us from the word of Hashem, we should separate ourselves from that religion (Deuteronomy 4:2, 13:1-6, Joshua 1:7, Proverbs 30:6).