today. I recently came across this from FFOZ's Torah Club Volume 5 (Parasha Lech Lecha), where they put forward their views on Paul's comments regarding Torah Observance and circumcision:
Paul and Circumcision
Any discussion of the commandment of circumcision in Genesis 17 requires an investigation into the text of Galatians and the Pauline issues regarding circumcision. Some have supposed that Paul taught against circumcision. This is not true.
If Paul had been teaching lews not to circumcise their children, as was alleged of him in Acts 21:21, then he would have been an apostate from Judaism and a heretic. But as Acts 21 makes clear, Paul never discouraged Jews from circumcision. Instead, his concern was for Gentiles who were being compelled to enter circumcision as a means for attaining salvation and covenant status.
Consider, for example, the situation in Galatia. The Galatians were new believers, mostly non-Jews, converts out of paganism. They were the Gentiles of the cities of Pisidian—Antioch, Iconium and Derbe. Faith in Yeshua was their only rite of conversion. But subsequent to their conversion out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God, some brothers and sisters from Jerusalem paid them a visit.
The visitors from Jerusalem taught that it was necessary, in addition to faith in Yeshua, that the Galatian Gentiles should also be circumcised—thereby signifying their formal conversion to Judaism. Faith in Messiah was not adequate. According to these visitors, the Galatians also needed to become Jews.
Paul responded to this teaching with his scathing letter to the Galatians. Regarding those brothers, he lost his temper and accused them of teaching “some other gospel.” He said, “Let them be eternally condemned!” He even took it a step further than that. He said, ‘As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12 NIV).
Consider what the Apostle is saying. As if eternal damnation was not bad enough, Paul wanted them to be eternally damned with less than their whole apparatus! Paul’s rancor reveals his priorities. The Gospel of Salvation, full and free, specifically salvation proclaimed to the Gentiles, salvation by faith through grace, was his very heartbeat. The Gentile inclusion through faith in Yeshua was the Gospel to Paul! That was the good news. To him, anything that obscured that simple truth was some other gospel. Paul’s opponents were a very vocal, very active portion of the first-century believers, and by all appearances, theirs was the majority opinion.
All of Paul’s letters must be weighed against this ongoing argument he has with other Jewish believers regarding the status of non-Jews in the covenant. When we read his letters, we must always keep in mind that we are only hearing one half of the argument. The cultural context he was writing from and into was one that was overwhelmingly Jewish in its expression and practice. It was a context in which non-Jewish identity was threatened with extinction as the more conventional forms of Apostolic Judaism attempted to absorb the non-Jewish believers by forcing them to make formal conversion to Judaism.
The problem with this, from Paul’s perspective, was that any attempt to force a non-Jew to accept conversion was selling the work of Messiah short. In Galatians 2:7-8 Paul referred to himself as the ‘”Apostle to the uncircumcised.” Literally he calls himself, “The Apostle to the foreskinned.” But wait. Suppose you didn’t have a foreskin. Take Paul’s convert Lydia, for example: a weaver of purple cloth and, more to the point, a woman.Was she outside of Paul’s purview because she was a woman and he was the apostle to the foreskinned?
The point that needs to be made is the term ‘foreskinned’ does not refer to the literal state of being circumcised or uncircumcised. It is used categorically to refer to those Gentile believers who had not made a conversion to Judaism. In a similar way, the term ‘circumcision’ is used categorically to refer to Jews, and to proselytes who have come to Judaism via the rabbinic conversion ritual.
That’s why Paul is able to say, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Notice the apparent contradiction: Circumcision is one of God’s commands. If keeping God’s commands is what counts, then surely circumcision is something. The way Paul uses the terminology, circumcision refers specifically to the rabbinic conversion ritual, not only the written Torah command of circumcision.
Thus Paul is saying, “Converting to Judaism or not is meaningless. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.” So Paul responded to the Galatians who were considering conversion to Judaism by saying, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). The specific ‘flesh’ Paul was speaking of was a formal conversion to Judaism through the rite of removing flesh. In the eyes of men, circumcision allowed for a conventional, physical, human position in Israel.
It was a position attained through natural, physical, human methods. Paul asked the Galatians, “Are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? By natural means? Are you trying to buy your way into the Kingdom by converting to Judaism?” Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a fierce, impassioned argument against the requirement of Gentile conversion through rabbinic Judaism.
Paul contended that it was not necessary for Gentiles to convert to Judaism in order to be a legitimate part of the People of God. It was not necessary for them to be reckoned as part of the physical Seed of Abraham because the promise of the covenant of the Seed of Abraham had already received its ultimate fulfillment in the one singular seed: namely Yeshua.
From Paul’s vantage, for a Gentile believer to become circumcised under the auspices of a rabbinic conversion to Judaism was redundant. It was, if anything, an affront to Messiah because it implied that faith in Messiah was not adequate to secure a position in the covenant with Israel. It was a denial of the Gospel. Paul says, “If you receive circumcision (that is to undergo a formal conversion into Judaism as a necessary component of your salvation), Messiah will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2).
Messiah is of no value because the convert has opted to accomplish his participation in Israel through his own physical efforts. To Paul’s way of thinking, ritual conversion after salvation is like campaigning for an office to which you have already been elected. Paul responded to the bid for Gentile conversion to Judaism by forbidding the Galatians to circumcise. He may have even gone so far as to discourage all Gentile believers from circumcision as long as the commandment of circumcision was being misunderstood.
In the case of Gentiles with authentic Israelite heritage, however, he does not hesitate to circumcise. In fact, Paul personally oversaw Timothy’s circumcision. Gentiles without Israelite bloodlines, like Titus or the Galatians, he encourages to remain uncircumcised, at least as long as circumcision is understood as the ticket into the Kingdom. Gentiles with Israelite blood, like Timothy, he circumcises without hesitation.
In Genesis 17 the Lord gives to Abraham the everlasting covenant of circumcision. In spelling out the terms of the covenant, God methodically debunks several of the errant teachings prevalent today and throughout history concerning the mitzvah of circumcision.
• To those who say it was “only temporary,” the Lord says that it is “an everlasting covenant” (17:13).
• To those who say that it was “only for the Jews,” the Lord says that it is for “all males among [the people of Abraham] “ (17:10,12) and not just those who are descended from Abraham. This is why Abraham circumcised the servants of his household as well as his sons (17:27).
• To those who say that the “true meaning of the covenant is ‘spiritual’ circumcision—of the heart and not of the flesh--therefore the physical sign is not necessary,” the Lord says “My covenant shall be in your flesh” (17: 13) and “you shall circumcise the flesh of your f0reskin” (17:11).
• To those who say that “circumcision was for the ‘age of Law’ and we are in the ‘age of grace’ now,” the Lord says that “every male among [Abraham] shall be circumcised as an everlasting covenant, throughout all [Abrahams] generati0ns” (17:7,9-13). In other words, circumcision is an everlasting covenant, not confined to a so-called ‘age of Law;’ it is for all males among all of Abraham’s generations, not just those generations preceding the coming of Messiah.
It is as if the Torah anticipated all the contrivances that man would devise against the sign of circumcision.
Paul goes on to develop his argument from several angles. Later readers of the epistle, who were not aware of the contextual situation, interpreted Galatians to be an anti-Torah and anti-Jewish work. Based upon this sad and deeply flawed misreading of Galatians, we Christians jettisoned most of Torah observance and our connections to Judaism.
We began to believe that anyone who attempted to keep a commandment of Torah was under the curse of the Torah. In retrospect, it was an absurd proposition, but to those who expounded the idea, it was consistent with their misreading of Galatians. Ironically, the epistle to the Galatians is the very scripture that Christians most often use to refute Gentile believers who are beginning to return to their Jewish roots.
As Christians begin to involve themselves in the various aspects of their heritage (such as Sabbath observance, kosher laws, daily prayer, etc.), they are often rebuked by other believers quoting from Galatians. But that is turning it exactly backwards! Galatians was written to argue for Gentile inclusion in Israel, not Gentile exclusion from Israel! Paul concludes his Galatians argument by saying, “Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).
When he says “circumcision” he means being a natural Israelite, specifically a Jew, whether by birth or by auspices of rabbinic conversion.
When he says “uncircumcision,” he means being a natural Gentile, specifically one who has not made a formal conversion to Judaism.The Jewish authors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, say Paul's lack of hesitation to circumcise those with Jewish bloodlines is easily explained. They believe that the Torah commandments were only given to the Jews at Mt Sinai and therefore Gentile believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not under their jurisdiction. This is inconsistent with Paul's view where it is clear that he expected new Gentile believers to obey God's commandments.
When he says “new creation,” he means Israelites or Gentiles who belong to Messiah.
When he says “Israel of God,” he means all of us.
For many, First Century Judaism's conception of circumcision seems to have metamorphisized from its original intent. It was meant to be a covenant sign, but for many, and even today, it has become an ethnic sign. To be circumcised is to be Jewish, not necessarily a follower of God. This concept needs to be returned to its roots.
FFOZ don't address the question: If a gentile believer did understand that his entry into the Kingdom of God was not predicated on whether he was circumcised but should he still undergo circumcision as an act of obedience?