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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105 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!

    • 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.

  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 :-).

    • 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.

      • Your mistake is generalization. Circumcision to Israel IS VERY VERY VERY important, so much so that God almost killed Moses for not circumcising his son (remember his wife acted quickly to help?) But to the Nations it is of no profit (you are quoting Paul, but you need to remember that EVERY LETTER he ever wrote he wrote to the Nations, not to the Jews, what he WOULD HAVE written to the Jews we do not know.).

        • I have always been bothered by this idea of fetal (or any) genital mutilation… if God wanted men to have no foreskin, would he not have created us that way? Why do we feel the need to alter the bodies that God has designed us in (His image)? Is this not – and it appears Paul agrees – just a worldly tradition that has no real merit in the Kingdom of God. Please enlighten me if you could.

          • Shalom, Mark. Given your strong opposition to the idea here (and I say this with all respect), it would not be possible for me to argue my case in this setting (too little space). If you are ever in Israel, let’s do lunch and we can reason together then. Now… perhaps I could point you to a book that you can start with NOT IN GOD’S NAME by Jonathan Sacks and then from there go to his commentary on Leviticus. Blessings and much peace.

  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.

    • 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.

      • Paul is presenting a very Jewish, Torah-based argument! (I invite anyone struggling with this issue to take The Jewish Apostle Paul I and II HERE). Abraham was counted righteous before circumcision, not after. First, the great father of Israel believed and was found to be in right standing before God, and then he received the physical sign of circumcision, so THIS IS THE JEWISH PRECEDENT AND ARGUMENT (according to Paul) for Gentiles being brought into the Kingdom of God the same way that Abraham was brought in when he was Gentile :-). Faith without circumcision. Right standing before

  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.

  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.

      • Ouch! Do you really mean that the Torah IS the source of God’s commandments? I have always believed the horse precedes the cart. First is the commandment of God; then comes the Torah. Please clarify.

      • Most Christians might say that the Ten Commandments were a gift of God directly to all of Mankind, using Moses as a medium. These commandments were written directly by the hand of God. They represent the “Law of God” or the “Way of/to God”. They are to be understood by all Men so to participate in God’s ways/Good. The rest of the Torah is the Law of Moses that was written for the Israelites, the sons of Jacob. The Law of Moses was written by a man for men. It is a marked difference. A Christian perspective.

        • Clearly this is a Christian perspective where everything is divided into Moral, Ceremonial and Civil law :-). But things are not as simple.

        • Some say that the Commandments, as the “Law of God” is a way to be like God, which transcends tribal identity. That is to say, one truly becomes the image of God because, of course, one cannot become God. This is a fulfillment for Mankind before Abraham was born. The Law of Moses was a way to be an Israelite/Hebrew and was established for Israelites (after all what really is Jew?). A healthy perspective is that we do not all become sons of Abraham. Rather, we all become ‘images’ of God.

  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).

  11. That was a very good one. As a messianic rabbi and Bible teacher I’ve, known that all along, but I like the way you explained it. Thank you

  12. The problem of becoming “a people group” is most interesting. In our modern times some conversions look like hypocrisy (Sunday Christianity). The root of the problem might be deeper and perhaps has more to do with identify as a church instead of identity as a nation. In other words, some follow the laws of the Bible (under grace), but not necessarily the laws of the land. They don’t identify with the “world”.

  13. I think Paul is saying we are saved by Grace and not by good works,. Jesus told us to be born again of Gods Holy Spirit and be buried with Christ being baptized in Jesus name for the remission of our sins…were not perfect after the new birth but we have Gods love and help in our heart through His Holy Spirit residing within us to help us against temptation and resisting the lusts of our flesh.

  14. A new creation is what matters. BTW, the congregations were not Paul’s congregations; they were the churches/qhilot of Christ. Paul was just another member of the Body, albeit one who was very gifted and had a large capacity. Some members of the Body play a very major role in the functioning of the Body, whilst others have less prominent roles. However, each and every member is needed for the Body to operate at its optimum level.

    • Well of course these were congregations of Jewish Christ Jesus, not Paul, but it is legitimate to speak of it this way so most people understand what we are talking about here, that Paul either planted himself (with his team) or had some kind of significant spiritual influence over.

  15. There were contentions as to whether the Gentiles were compelled to be circumcised when they accepted the gospel.(ref Acts 15:1). It was a decision by the Council of Jerusalem the circumcision was not necessary for the gentile believers. What was required of the gentile believers were to abstain 1) from foods sacrificed to idols 2) from blood and meat of strangled animals 3) from sexual immorality.(Acts 15:29). Paul stressed further in 1 Cor 7:19 that whether one is circumcised or not is not important anymore but keeping the God’s commands count. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor …Gal 5:6, 6:15

  16. Understanding the word “called” would be very important in this context. Which voice means “called”? Is it the voice of the town crier calling people together for a purpose (ekklesia)? Or is the strong voice of the Spirit interceding for us that makes us called (Romans 8:26)? Is being called the foundation (Christ), or what is being built upon the foundation? p.s I got hacked so there is another me again! 🙂

  17. I agree with you, that the apostle Paul thought about the One (the Shema), because he was a pharisee (not former pharisee!). The Gentiles were received the Good News of salvation mustn’t become as the Jews because they had own way to God. This way is differ from the Jews because they didn’t receive the Torah from God. They were worshipers of many gods, so if they leave their own gods and receive Jesus as the Messiach, that’s is enough for them.

  18. Acoording to the theological point of wiew of Paul, death of Jesus as “damned in the Law”, an extremely important idea in Paul’s thougt, means that Law, the regime of the Law, the Torah, has reached its purpose and has arrived to its accomplishment and end. So, for him, Paul, has lost any religious meaning to be circumcised or not, just for gentiles as for jews, for both of them circumcision is not longer a matter of relationship whit God, it becomes something really insignificant.

  19. Thank you Dr. Eli for this insight. I believe Paul may be referring to the unique function that each believer holds within the Kingdom of God as uniquely crafted stones with a preordained shape (unique identity) that should not be altered or chiseled into something other than what is the intended use. Yeshua builds the church made up of individual believers (stones) upon the foundational rock (Matthew 16:18) of which He is the Chief Cornerstone (Matthew 21:42).

    • I believe that our unique forms (i.e. Jewish people, Nations) are brought together and made to function harmoniously under Shema as one body in the Kingdom of God.

      • “Amen” to that! Whatever our ethnic and cultural differences, acknowledging the Oneness of God is a foundational truth.

  20. Paul’s teaching to the gentile was that keeping tokens of the covenants such as circumcision could not give them the redemption received by faith in Messiah. In like manner he instructs the Jew that the observance of things given in the Torah is not the cause of their own redemption. Yeshua said if you knew Moses you would know me because he is my witness. Redemption is a changed nature, the Torah teaches us of that change. Redemption brings to the Jews revelation of their conduct and for the gentiles to do by nature the things in Torah

  21. According to Paul, The Torah, The Law, their way of status for better explaning, has been surpassed oand accomplished entirely by the death of Jesus as, in Paul’s own words, “damned of the Law”. So ,it ha began a new way or status of the relationship between God and the human being, both jews and gentles, so, accordingly, circumcision,sign of the Law, doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the same, it has the same no meaning, to be circumsized or not.

  22. Jesus called out people who worship God with their lips but not their hearts. If we took every word of Paul to apply to all people at all times then every marriage for the last two thousand years was/is not allowed. Jews need Jesus just as much as the Gentiles – nobody gets saved any other way.

  23. I keep missing the point. I think it is because I am unsure what the word “call” means in Hebrew. Why would keeping the commandments of God (19) be the only thing that counts (reason I exist)? All I can come up with is that “keeping” means prisoner (similar to Joseph’s life in Egypt). Paul also uses that expression (a prisoner of Jesus Christ). Do these verses (17-18) mean that God did not make me someone out of His reach, nor put me somewhere out of His reach. In other words, I do not need replaced.

  24. Hello Dr. Eli, I have a question. How are we, as God-fearing Judaeo-Christians, supposed to deal with virulent atheists who are very powerful in the world and write books and give courses, go on social media, teaching people to be against God, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or any other form of religion that exists, while these people use the excuse that ‘psychological theory’ can replace all that, and that we have no need to be religious people of faith? And how do these people get away with ‘seducing’ rich individuals to fund their atheistic research, while they spread their hatred?

  25. Further commenting on my previous post. Isn’t it dangerous for the world at large to have virulent atheists gain positions of excessive power and influence, through the ‘financial seduction’ of wealthy individuals, to further and strengthen their atheistic cause? And when we look at videos of how these atheists are going into universities and ‘brainwashing’ youth to hate the Creator and all that is religious, and seeing these youth act as ‘lambs’ following these atheists? Isn’t this a crime against humanity, to rip people off of their God-given faith? Please give your opinion.

  26. Dr. Eli, I enjoyed the Section: The First Encounter with the Pharisees. As always, am thoroughly enjoying all of your teachings. Amazing stuff! Really…..I Love Biblical Studies!

  27. For Paul, the resurrection of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, were eschatological events signalling the dawn of the age to come. For both Jews and Gentiles, the ongoing practice of circumcision would cut them off from Christ (Galatians 5). As a person of Jewish heritage, Paul now regarded circumcision as “mutilation” (Philippians 3). For those Jews already circumcised, it was not necessary to try to undo circumcision, but in Paul’s eyes this in no way permitted its ongoing practice.

  28. Shalom dear brother, Let me see what the Holy Spirit has told me, firstly you are saying that there were not religions as such in those days to convert from, but did they not have beliefs in all sorts of Gods and it was big in Corinth with idols nearly everywhere you walked? Who were worshipped big time, their leaders were also priests, and they covered their heads to worship them. Hence I assume why Paul told the men in Corinth not to do this at that time in Corinth, (do not do as the Pagans do) to show the

    • Hi Christina. It looks like your remarks got cut off but feel free to write back and finish your thought. Nevertheless, I think I understand your question. Yes, there were a lot of temples and gods and “religions” everywhere you looked in the ancient world – but the way they functioned in society was different. National identity, ethnicity, and religious worldview were all fused together. In other words, changing your “religion” was a really big deal!

  29. I struggle with the knowledge that Christianity did not abolish slavery but human rights advocates did. 1 Corinthians 7:21; Ephesians 6:5. Am I wrongly informed?

    • Hi Maxwell. I think we need to keep the Big Picture in view here. Ultimately, it was Jesus’ ethical teachings – and the Torah’s – that brought an end to slavery. Yes, it didn’t happen in the first century – that would have collapsed the Roman empire and brought about the rapid suppression of the early Messianic community of believers. But the “time bomb” had been set. Slavery perished in the Western World because the power of Judeo-Christian Ethics eventually prevailed.

  30. Sha’ul/Paul wrote 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament. If he hears not righteous in Christ then the New Testament has no validity!

  31. NO WAY Saul said ‘gentiles were not to be circumcised’! see Dan 7.25 [constantine at Nicaea cmn era ]! rome altered aspects of the scriptures this is `why there are so many contradictions in the ‘roman ‘translated” first century writings! and Hebrew was the actual Language of the Hebrews! i Cite ‘do not alter the smallest serif of the littlest letter’… this was designated to TenachTORAH to keep it textually pure [still around the captivity did] … and acts ch2! shimon Kefa would have properly quoted Joel 2.28-32 not butchered it! SEE acts 10 & 15 TORAH is still valid!

  32. I just want to know in our country a lot of products got the halal mark on. Does that fall under food offered to idols please help

    • Hi Lorraine, Technically it just means that the food has been prepared according to certain rules. The food is never actually presented an offering.

  33. The word call (kaleo) seems important to the context, but I am not sure what it means. Is “to appoint to a certain position” a good translation? If so, I am wondering if this one rule falls under binding and loosing (Matt 16:19). Paul seems to talk about his authority (I, not the Lord) and I am wondering if this is what binding and loosing looked like. Could the “one rule” change over time with different leadership?

    • Hi Kat. Remember, we don’t want to put Paul’s words in Matthew’s mouth, if you follow my pun. Matthew’s Jesus is focused on the application of the Torah in a Jewish context. Paul was really addressing a different issue.

  34. Hi Dr. Eli, It is such a pleasure for me to learn from you and gain the perspectives of so many different cultures , this is pretty awesome! In speaking to June’s comments about the atheist in the world. Although the atheist in the U.S. may be gaining ground worldwide and especially in the universities, we must hold to the fact that G-d is in control. As pointed out, we must pray, this is our mandate. We will all have to choose whom we serve and the severance has begun so let’s hold fast to our confession of faith.

  35. I always say; “Do not Judaize the Gentiles and do not Gentilize the Jews!” We are all one in Christ both Jew AND Gentile! We all are graffed into the same vine! Israel is a Commonwealth that Christ has opened up to Gentile believers through His death and resurrection! Hallelujah! The fullness of the Gentiles is at hand and the blindness that covers the eyes of the Jews is soon to be lifted when ALL Israel will be saved!

  36. The deeper explanation is. Romans 2:26-29 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but

  37. I read that, in ancient times, Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel and learned from the Israelites and kept the Torah were called “God Fearing Gentiles.” I am striving to be a God Fearing Gentile. I believe the Jewish people were Chosen by God to instruct the Nations on how to worship and serve YHVH, El Shadi, God Almighty. Yeshua said “To the Jew first and then to the Gentile.” Shalom

    • Well… God fearers were not Gentiles who kept the Torah. Gentiles that kept that Torah were Jews :-). But Gentile God fears were Gentiles who had significant appriciation of Torah and Judaism in general. They were friends of the Jewish community in deeply Pagan locations. In many ways they functions as a buffer zone.

  38. Shalom Dr Eli I am already part of the current enrolled student but i just thought i should add my experienced so far. In my country South Africa, many have a problem of following the Jewish God as it has been taught by some that strict adherence to the Torah(including circumcision and dietary laws) and complete neglect of your own culture is necessary to follow YHVH. Since studying the Jewish apostle Paul and all other modules I am now at peace between my pride as a zulu and my worship of YHVH as I now understand it in its context

  39. Hi Dr Eli, great article, I have to agree with the first comment, some christian groups does not recognise paul/saul as an apostle of Christ, therefore his “rules” and teachings does not carry much weight, he was not part of the original 12. His teaching can be considered misleading for example teaching gentiles that they do not have to restrict themselves to dietary laws…if you eat things that are impure or unholy then surely you are not respecting the Holy Father. I have a hard time believing pauls teachings as he taught spiritual teacher that they may reap material things as they sow spiritual things..that is not what Christ taught….HE taught YOU HAVE RECEIVED FREELY SO YOU MUST GIVE FREELY.

    • I’m glad to see that you are enjoying and benefiting from the free articles, Mario, that I provide everyone without cost.
      Concerning Paul, just remember that he was close to the 12 and they affirmed his teachings. But remember also that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, so his teaching methods were necessarily different from Peter’s. I’m sure that Paul agreed that all people should continuously grow and learn from Torah, but for fresh believers, his stance was very tender. He disagreed with overwhelming them as they were turning to God.

  40. Thank you Dr Eli, I do enjoy them and I honestly appreciate the articles and your feedback on the comments, as it takes a lot of your time and commitment to do so. Thank you for your patience as well. Lets hope I can do a course or two soon in the new year, it would be incredible!

  41. God made a new covenant with the house of Israel and the new name is Christian if your not a Christian then you need to read up on how to become one

  42. And yet today, when people convert – they change gods.
    So if Catholicism is “Christian”, why change god?
    So, if islam worships the same god as Jews and Christians, why change god?

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