Paul set up the following rule in all the congregations he established: “Was any man called circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-19)

Paul demonstrated this principle by not compelling Titus (a Greek) to be circumcised (see Galatians 2:3).  However, he supported the circumcision of Timothy because he was Jewish (the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father). Paul did so in the anticipation his rule regarding circumcision would be rightly challenged by the local Jewish community, since his co-worker Timothy was, in fact, Jewish, but was not circumcised (see Acts 16:3).

Sometime later, Paul wrote to Timothy: “Some will fall away from the faith… forbidding marriage, abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude, for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-4)

The traditional interpretation of this passage is that Paul was instructing Timothy to oppose the Torah’s division of things “clean” and “unclean.” It assumes that the topic of the text is unclean foods. However, such a reading is problematic for multiple reasons.

First, such an interpretation ignores the fact that the entire creation is “good” (טוב; tov) because God declared it so (Genesis 1:25). Second, just because God’s creation is good, it does not follow that all of it can be used for food by Israelites (see Leviticus 11:13). In fact, Paul states that anything can be eaten if two specific conditions are met: (1) God has sanctified, and (2) the worshiper has sanctified it through prayer. (see 1 Timothy 4:4)

Paul instructed Timothy to remember, especially after his circumcision, that he must honor the God of Israel in every detail of his life as a Jesus-following Jew, which would include the way he ate. Did Paul tell Jewish Timothy to eat unclean? No, in fact, he told him the exact opposite!

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73 COMMENTS

  1. I’m assuming that this passage was also relative to the cultural context at that time, in that there were vegetarians who were condemning meats. I may be wrong but I’ve heard that this was one of the reasons for this passage. Also, “the circumcision” was not refeeeing to only circimcision but to the entire man-made ways and actions. Adonai’s ways and instructions are never legalistic, but rather man’s ways. Whatever Adonai teaches in His Word is always out of love and for the benefit of His creation....even if we don’t understand it.
    • Hi Wgm re "Adonai’s ways and instructions are never legalistic". Not sure what you mean is the law legal yes given by Jesus yes is the opposite of law lawlessness, yes So what is legalistic. Where do you find that there were vegetarians in that time as a reason?
  2. Another important comment. I lived in Korea for almost 15 years. I learned that many Korean Christian men get circumcised as adults. Now, this many be due to good intentions but I also know that there are quite a few Korean Christians who adhere to supersessionism, and I met some of those. I even saw young Koreans in my hometown wearing clothes with Bible verses that pertain to Israel and Jews. I’m inclined to believe that circumcision among many or most of these Koreans is being done out of legalism, not out of love.
  3. I enjoy reading what I can from these emails . I love learning all I can through these . . I am on a small fixed income and can’t afford the courses but am thankful for these emails so I can learn what little I can . God bless you for teaching his word .
  4. Is it correct for me to say that the unclean creatures God created to clean up the environment, were never considered "food". I noticed that this article refer it as unclean foods." It assumes that Torah’s unclean foods were meant in the above text."Please clarify. Thank you.
    • Your question is interesting but a bit tricky. You're correct that creatures declared "unclean" in the Torah were never intended to be considered as food for the Israelites. However the suggestion that God created these creatures to clean up the environment is just a tad anachronistic.
    • 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 Leviticus 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!
  5. Apostle, Paul is teaching that circumcised was used in order to stop the animal elements nature that curse mankind from the Fall of the Garden of Eden. Professor, all my life I held on to my Holy Book, however, Christians are going to church like they are having a tea party because the higher teaching was not to the lay people of their congregation. I owe $50,000 for a Christian education and never learn the higher teaching. Amen. Amen, Amen, and Amen
    • When you say the higher teaching, do be careful. This almost sounds as if you were a gnostic. The teaching is still simple and straightforward and we should be careful So as not to fall into the dilemma of over intellectualization. I enjoyed reading your comments because they are thoughtful
  6. Once again you cause this reader to pause and consider the scriptures with both a time and culture consciousness. I always wondered about the tradition of a Jewish mother being the prerequisite for being a Jew. It appears from your writing the tradition predates the Apostle Paul's teachings. Regarding circumcision and clean food, if the Jewish mother prerequisite is indeed the motivation for Paul's instruction to Timothy, then it surprises me that Timothy's mother didn't require both from him since his birth, so perhaps Paul's demand was more of a personal C.Y.A. than an up keeping with tradition?
    • I believe it’s because Timothy would be interacting with other Jewish people during his ministry that hadn't accepted Jesus, yet.
  7. So, if the unclean animals are not cleaning up the environment what are they doing? Are they just here for no purpose? I see that catfish, vultures, pigs and other animals clean up and they are considered unclean.
  8. Is it not true that the purpose of the circumcision BEFORE Christ coming to the earth, in flesh, was to "set apart" the Hebrew from the rest of the world. They were, and still are, Gods' chosen people. And the act of circumcision was to celebrate that. Yet, when Christ did come to earth, in flesh, and died on the cross, circumcision is no longer required. Christ now intercedes the Christian believer to the Father through the shedding of his blood. Circumcision is no longer a requirement to 'set us free and separate us' from the worldly flesh.
  9. It is so interesting in reading many comments that have added more information for me. I am in West Papua, Indonesia and your e-mail has been a big blessing to me and my ministry. In my place in West Papua, some groups of people who are working in preventing HIV-AIDS now are doing ciscumcission movements. The purpose is to prevent people from HIV-AIDS and the purpose is more in medical reasons. Before West Papuan did not know what circumcission is all about because we know that circumcission is only done to Moslems, not us. What do you think?
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