PAUL'S TRUMP CARD
"Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." Galatians 2:3-5.
What part does circumcision play in the life of a believer? This was a very live issue in the early church. On what grounds were Gentile believers permitted to be acceptable to God and to be part of the fellowship of the church?
The Bible relates two apparently contradictory scenarios. In Acts 16:1-3, Paul had Timothy, son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, circumcised because of the unbelieving Jews. Yet in Galatians 2:3-5, he records that he did not compel Titus, a young Greek believer, to undergo circumcision. Was Paul being inconsistent?
David M Rogers (www.bibletruth.cc/gal2_1_10.htm - The Circumcision Controversy) wrote a thorough and compelling explanation for Paul's action. (Read the article to get the full explanation).
To summarise, the circumstances for each situation were different. Timothy was half Jewish. And Paul had him circumcised for the sake of unbelieving Jews, because no uncircumcised person was permitted to participate in the Passover (Exodus 12:48, 49). This was a missionary motive, not to make Timothy Jewish but, because he was already half Jewish, to give him opportunity to reach unbelieving Jews.
"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews..." 1 Corinthians 9:20.
In Titus' case, he was a Greek. He had no Jewish ancestry and no Jewish connections. He refused to be circumcised to satisfy the demands of false believers - those posing as believers but who were only out to get converts for their cause. Later in his letter, Paul makes their motives clear. They were not interested in binding Jesus' yoke on Gentile believers. They were teaching and trying to enforce their own yoke on people who had already received the message of Christ, so that they could collect "scalps" for themselves (Galatians 4:17) and avoid the offense of the cross (Galatians 6:12).
The issue for Paul was not that circumcision in itself was wrong but that the teaching that, for the Gentile, circumcision was necessary for acceptance with God was wrong. Circumcision does not guarantee that a person's heart is pure. It was nothing more than an outward sign that a Jewish male belonged to the Jewish race and was recognised as belonging to the covenant people of God.
But, even for him it was not circumcision that made him a true Jew, but obedience to God.
"The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live." Deuteronomy 30:6.
"...Even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart." Jeremiah 9:26.
Even in the Old Covenant era, God was more concerned about heart attitude than about a physical sign. Circumcision meant nothing without obedience to the teachings of God from the heart.
"Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts." 1 Corinthians 7:19.
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Galatians 5:6.
For Paul (Romans 13:8-10), and for Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40), loving God and loving others fulfilled all the commandments.
Was Titus circumcised? No. Why was Titus not circumcised? Because he refused to bow to the demands of false teachers who insisted that Gentiles had to become Jews first before they could be accepted into the fellowship of the church. What was the issue? Was the cross of Jesus sufficient for Gentiles to be saved? Yes, a thousand times, yes! How did the cross deal with the Law? Watch this space...!
Is this still an issue today? Yes, it is although it rears its head in many other subtle ways, if not in the matter of circumcision. What Paul taught in this letter deals with every way in which this is an issue today.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.