When asked, almost no one in the Christian world can answer this simple question: What unique rule did the Apostle Paul set in all his congregations?

In response to a letter sent by the leaders of the Corinthian congregation, Apostle Paul wrote: “… each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-18)

The ancient world had no concept of conversion from one religion to another. This was largely because religion did not exist as a separate category from “peoplehood” (i.e. belonging to a people). When people “converted,” they did not convert from one religion to another, but from one people group to another. Individuals, from both Israel and the Nations, were sometimes willing to fully cut ties with their communities and switch communal alliances.  Some Jews actually went through surgery that removed the signs of circumcision; while some non-Jews fully (not partially) adopted Jewish ancestral ways of life (the code word for which was “circumcision”).

The great apostle believed that both Israel and the Nations, while retaining their distinct identities, must offer joined worship to Israel’s God. In the New Covenant community of Israel, discrimination and preference between Jews and the Nations was now strictly forbidden; while the functional distinction between them was rightfully upheld. For example, even though men and women were ONE in Christ, women were still (in a very important sense) women and men were still men (Gal.3:28).

Paul’s reasoning was simple: If Gentile Christ-followers became Jews, then the God they worship would be too small. He would be the God of the Jews only. However, if Gentile Christ-followers, as the Nations, would worship Israel’s God alongside the Jews, then the grandeur of this One God would become evident to all (Romans 3:28-30).

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178 COMMENTS

  1. The questions that bother me so far are: "whether Saul or Paul is righteous to Christ in accordance with what he claims or in doctrine so that all who learn it interpret it so. This is important because Christ warned about beware of the Romans' yeast and ragi farisi, and then this teaching indicates of Rome and the returning to what was taught in the Old Testament. Thank you for replying. Shaliom Aleichem.
  2. My interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:17-18 (and please tell me if I am wrong) is that a Gentile would not have the same life experiences and shared history as one raised a Jew, and vice-versa. So neither should pretend to be what they are not. However this is not to say that the Bible, a Jewish document from Genesis to Revelation should not be interpreted as a Jew of the time would understand it; nor does it mean that all believers are not responsible to keep Torah. Gentile believers sojourn with Israel now (Ex 12:49 ; Lev 24:22).
  3. I am not sure I want an answer to this question - but how would Jews ever remove the signs of circumcision - either then or even today? However given I consider this implausible - I can only take the verse in the metaphorical sense - which is where you end up. However, your statement above indicates they actually went through surgery.
    • Believe it or not, this was a real surgical procedure called an "epispasm" (see 1 Cor 7:18) and from what I understand, it was indeed very painful. I am amazed that anyone was willing to endure this operation in order to hide their ethnic identity - but that is a discussion for another day!

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    • It is not a metaphor; it is physically possible and Jewish men had it done when they wished to participate in the Roman games (based on Greek games, where athlete competed naked) during the Roman occupation of Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee region. I could tell how it's done but at the risk of being indelicate, let us just say that there are places in the body where the skin is pliable.

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  4. The Pauline quote seems to me to be an invitation to hierocratic fatalism. Just know and accept your place in the great chain of being. It's a trope with the Appollonian injunction, at the seat in Delphi, gnothi sauton, often translated as 'know yourself', but which actually translates as 'know your place'. Augustine picked up on this: 'by the waters of Babylon...blah, blah'; and his most offensive 'there are lovers of the world who think they can change the world...they will die in the world'. It's offensive, and to be repudiated. Your take, sound, does not address the issue.
    • I invite you to rewrite your comment so that reasonably intelligent person can understand what in the world you are talking about other than that you don't like Augustine and my take on Paul :-).

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    • Big important words aside, Paul gave sound practical advice for the times he was living in ("wives, obey your husbands, slaves, obey your masters") with the sure and certain knowledge that with Christ's reappearance, all wrongs would be righted and the world at last would have true justice and humans true equality. In the meantime, if a man were called to be a Christian yet be uncircumcised, Paul says he does not need to undergo the painful procedure, since in Deuteronomy itself God admonishes His people through Moses to "Circumcise your hearts!" The outward manifestation means nothing in itself.

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  5. All right. You speak of a functional distinction. Would you mind expanding? I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on that.
  6. Shalom Eli, I enjoy reading your comments. This one raises an issue that we Messianic Jewish rabbis haven't quite resolved. Granted, G-d makes distinctions (male-female, slave-free, Jew-Gentile), but he does call us Jews to bring Torah to the Nations, as well. I understand that circumcision has benefits to both men and their wives, Jewish or not, just as keeping Torah does, while maintaining the Jew-gentile distinctions. I'd like your thoughts on this.
    • My idea is traditionally Jewish, there is one Torah for all but not one Law for everyone. I invite you to read - https://israelbiblecenter.com/category/jewish-apostle-paul/
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Exodus and The New Testament or The Jewish Gospel of John I: The Arrival of the King. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • I agree with you that there are health benefits to the circumcision and that the great command charges us with teaching them to keep what He taught (including the Torah) yet Paul’s rule concerns justification by faith in the Gospel versus own justice out of keeping the Torah.

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  7. Every good Christian knows this. What is more important is what Paul says in the next sentences: to Keep the Commandments. Keeping the Commandments (either 10 or 2) is what binds people beyond simple cultural norms. Hence, Paul was addressing two issues through his own eschatological viewpoint. That is to say, it seems to be true that Paul believed that the world was going to change miraculously through Jesus in some point in the near future. Hence, "staying as you are" was a command to simply wait for that change.
    • Paul, LOL - I think we have a lot to talk about! Please let me invite you to register and contribute to the classroom discussion. Here's the link: https://israelbiblecenter.com/membership-account/certificate-in-jewish-studies/
  8. Additionally, the chapter you are referring to is about faithfulness to God. Earlier, Paul speaks of marriage. Faithfulness, again. It does not matter if you are a Jew, a Greek or a Native American. Keep your secular customs. It matters that you follow the Commandments, not so much because they are Law, but because God gave them to us and we must have faith that doing them is the Right thing in God's eyes. Hence, we are faithful to what is Right with God. Even if you are a slave, you must still be faithful to God.
    • I agree that we (Jews and Gentiles) must always do the "right thing," as you say, and follow God's commandments. A "no-brainer," I'm sure you'd agree! But it's important that we not fall into the trap of identifying the Jewish people's connection to the Torah and to a Jewish way of life (Judaism) as a matter "secular culture." For Paul, God's Commandments are indeed derived from the Torah of Moses. They are not merely a set of abstract principles that Jesus taught to his followers.

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  9. I, for one, really appreciate the insight that you give us on different matters in the scriptures and what it meant in the Jewish world of Messiah's day. It is so good to hear that. This post of yours is another good example. Thanks so much!
  10. If I get you right, Paul was saying that Gentile converts do not need to undergo adult circumcision in an effort to become like Jews. This, I believe, does not exempt one from keeping Torah. Shalom Aleichem.
    • Keeping the Torah... but this is a more complex questions. Please, read all posts in series on Jewish Apostle Paul (use right side bar to get to all those articles).
    • @ Israel Omotayo: Well what exempts them is not so clearly Paul, but Acts 15. But in case a gentile would let himself being circumcised, according to Paul only then he would be bound to keep the whole Thora. So long he keeps his skin completely, he is not.
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