Circumcision was and remains one of the most important markers of Jewish identity. It testifies both to Israel’s trust in God regarding its future and to God’s promise justifying that trust.

The question, therefore, is indeed a significant one: Why did the Apostle Paul oppose circumcision for Gentiles? After all, he expressed this opposition while professing to be a true Pharisee! (Acts 23:6) Yet this occurred after his encounter with the risen Jewish Christ.

The answer is not as complicated as it may first appear.

Apostle Paul, as most Jews during his lifetime, used the word “circumcision” as a code word for Jewish identity (Col. 4:11). While he thought that being a Judean was an advantage in many ways (Rom. 3:1-2), he still adamantly opposed Gentile proselyte conversion to Judaism. His reasoning resulted from a belief that something significant had happened – Gentiles had also become recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those receiving this gift from God were not converts to Judaism, but rather Gentile God-fearers not attempting to become Jews (Eph. 3:6; Acts 15:7-8).

If all Gentile Christ-followers were to go through the proselyte conversion and become Jews in every way, it would sabotage God’s cosmic plan of revealing himself to the world. Paul’s Pharisaic idea was simple: Judeans should stay Judeans and nations should stay nations. Both must unite in worship of the one true God (1 Cor. 7:17-20).

Why was Paul against circumcision? Because this true Jew held a strong conviction that the glory of Israel’s God must become known to the entire world! His God could not be the God of the Jews only, for he is simply too big for that (Rom. 3:29).

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your comment. Knowing this will bring peace to the debates I have with my Christian and Jewish Messianic friends. I was born in the Eastern Orthodox Church but with help from a good Messianic Jewish friend, I feel more and more able to truly understand (although in just a minuscule fraction) the Tannach and the Apostolic Scriptures. We are ALL children of the living God and that’s what’s important. I love your writings.

  2. This sentence is the critical idea here: “Apostle Paul, as most Jews during his lifetime, used the word “circumcision” as a code word for Jewish identity (Col. 4:11). ”

    I used to wonder why, if Paul really believed that “if you receive circumcision, the Christ will be of no benefit to you”, would he also take it upon himself to circumcise his Gentile protege Timothy effectively stripping Timothy of [the benefit of] his salvation. It made no sense.

    What does make perfect sense is that Paul was referring to proselyte conversion, which had the outward mark of circumcision.

    • Timothy’s mother was Jewish. So Timothy himself was Jewish as well, according to Jewish law.

      ” Paul came also to Derbe and Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.” Acts 16:1-3

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