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 to justify that trust.

The question, therefore, is 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.

Paul, as most Jews during his lifetime, used the word “circumcision” as a code word for Jewish identity (e.g., Col 4:11). While he thought that being a Judean was an advantage in many ways (Rom 3:1-2), Paul still 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 who were not attempting to become Jews (cf. Eph 3:6; Acts 15:7-8).

If all Gentile Christ-followers were to go through 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 Gentiles should stay Gentiles. Both must unite in worship of the one true God (1 Cor 7:17-20).

Why was Paul against circumcision? Because this Jewish man 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 (Rom 3:29); God is simply too big for that!

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16 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

      + More answers (4)
  3. Paul was probably smart enough to know that forcing adult males to be circumcised was a deal-breaker. If he wanted to convert a lot of people, he could NOT continue that requirement. It was a strategic decision, not a moral one.
  4. Paul was simply following Jewish law. A gentile is not required to observe Torah rituals to be accepted by GOD. The Noachide laws were sufficient for gentiles.
    • "In every nation the one fearing Him and working righteousness is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10:35). What does "working righteousness" mean? Is Deu.6:25 relevant?
  5. We know from Acts 15 that the Circumcision party was saying that circumcision was their salvation. We know that the Torah never taught that. The Torah teaches as well as the Apostolic Writings that we are to have a circumcised heart. Paul circumcised Timothy and didn’t force Titus.
    • Read Gen 17:9-14. Clear as a bell. They are to be circumcised. Anyone NOT circumcised can not eat of the Passover.Read Exodus 12:43-49. Clear also. I pray He opens people’s eyes to see the truth and not listen to Paul, that’s it’s only of the heart. They go together .
  6. Who will hold to..... Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    ???????????????
    There would seem and indeed are qualifications to receive the Holy Spirit at this time. Most believe this step
    is not required ... but to me it seems plain here that this instruction comes from the Father.

    ALSO - Rom 8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
    .. 1Cor 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? - Rom 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
    - Gal 3:11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.
    A BIG STUDY INDEED --- Thanks to all here....
  7. Thank you Dr Eli. I don’t understand however why men would not want to be circumcised. Male Circumcision is very common in many parts of the world especially in Africa all my family members that are from Nigeria are circumcised. It is always performed on the 8th day after the baby boy is born. My 2 sons are circumcised too. It is not acceptable not to do the ritual and they are all Christians. So I don’t really know why is that such a big debate? Love all your teachings x
    • There are mainly liberal and religious reasons why so many people refuse. Liberals say it is inhumane to circumcize a baby, while religion says getting circumcized will make Christ of no use (a misunderstanding of Paul in Galatians). I'm sure there are some other reasons out there, but I think these are the biggest ones.

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