Circumcision, what a subject of confusion!

 

Question:

Circumcision is a command. However Rav Shaul seems to make a concession for new believers who were not circumcised the eighth day. However he does not make a concession for children born to that new believer thereafter.  My question is this; does Shaul actually mean that new believers who have not been circumcised may remain that way after faith has come because they were not already circumcised on the eighth day?  If so, is there support for this allowance in Torah?  If not, then how can Shaul offer such a concession?

Answer:

Firstly, it is refreshing to see that you are already seeking a Torah based interpretation! That is the very first step to finding the truth!

We see much of the confusion of your question coming from three sections of scripture. One will be the book of Galatians, the second the book of Acts, chapter 15, and the third, 1 Corinthians 7:18-19. These three sections of scripture creates much confusion with regards to the question of Circumcision. I will not go into specific verses in this answer, but will rather handle the overarching theme of the book of Galatians, and how Acts 15 fits in with this, and explain what Paul really tried to say here. You can then go and read the book of Galatians from this mindset to see exactly what Paul was saying, and how it fits in with a Torah interpretation. I will handle the two verses from 1 Cor 7 separately, since this is a different theme to the one in Galatians.

The men from Acts 15:1, are the same men who caused the brethren to doubt the gospel in the book of Galatians. Paul and Barnabas was in Galatia when these men arrived from Judea, to show them the “true gospel” according to their understanding. Deeper research would indicate that these men’s beliefs was similar to the beliefs of the House of Shammai Pharisees, the opposition party to the House of Hillel, of which Paul was a member (he studied under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, who was the founder of the House of Hillel). The House of Shammai believed that a proselyte, who was already circumcised, had to be “circumcised again” by drawing blood (just a cut made to draw blood), while the house of Hillel did not believe this. They believed that it was not necessary to draw blood, as the person had already been circumcised. This is the also mutilation of the flesh that Paul talks about in Phi 3:2. You can read a VERY, VERY interesting article about this topic (the house of hillel vs the house of shammai) over here: http://www.british-israel.us/11.html. While I do not agree with everything that is stated here, it certainly gives a new perspective on the NT scriptures and what many of the authors meant in there.

So, back to Galatians. These men from Judea wanted to circumcise the believes, either first, for those not circumcised yet, in order to become Jewish proselytes, or again, for those who have already been circumcised. You see, the first century church was merely a sec of Pharisees, called followers of the way (Act 9:1, Act 19:9, Act 19:23, Acts 24:5, Act 24:14). They were not a new religion, called christianity. They were just a subset of Judaism, of the pharisees. As such, the pharisees saw all new believers as proselytes, and all wanted to reel them in as proselytes of their own sect of Judaism. These men from Judea, was Shammites, believing that, in order to be saved, one FIRST has to be circumcised. Once this is done, their is another process to be followed (follow the entire Torah portion cycle, which takes 1 year, and study Torah for that year), and only then, are they considered redeemed, and a child of Abraham. The house of Hillel, which Yeshua often supported in His teachings, and of which Paul was a member, did not believe in this. They believed that salvation, or redemption, was by faith alone, by the favour of the Most High Elohim. So, already at that time, the split was between those believed you had to work for salvation, vs those who believed it was by favour through faith alone.

Taking this into account, and if you read the book of Galatians with this in mind, you’ll see that Paul was actually refuting circumcision as a means to salvation, not because of the act of circumcision by itself. In fact, Paul says in Gal 5:

1 In the freedom with which Messiah has made us free, stand firm, then, and do not again be held with a yoke of slavery.
2 See, I, Sha’ul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Messiah shall be of no use to you.
3 And I witness again to every man being circumcised that he is a debtor to do the entire Torah.
4 You who are declared right by Torah have severed yourselves from Messiah, you have fallen from favour.
5 For we, in Spirit, by belief, eagerly wait for the expectation of righteousness.
6 For in Messiah יהושע neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but belief working through love.

You see, Paul clearly says who he is talking to, in verse 4… “you who are declared right by Torah”. Nobody has ever been declared right by Torah. Torah cannot save. Those who keep Torah, in order to be saved, are a debtor to keep the whole Torah (verse 3).However, he then continues in verse 13 to say that this does not mean that we should sin.

Now, the book of Acts, chapter 15, is talking about the court case between Paul and Barnabas, and these men from Judea. The verdict, by James, shows that new believers are not to be circumcised (initially), since this would be a burden to them (salvation by works). However, they are to do four initial things, and then continue to study the Torah, at a pace they can manage (verse 21), in the synagogues every Sabbath in every city.

Paul, in 1 Cor 7, speaks of a different theme. However, there is one thing he says, that makes no sense at all, if you interpret this in the traditional sense. Lets look at 1 Cor 7:18-19

18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.
19 The circumcision is naught, and the uncircumcision is naught, but the guarding of the commands of Elohim does matter!

Paul says, according to popular interpretation, that we should not get circumcised, but then he says that the commands of YHWH matters. So, how can he say that, taking into account that circumcision is a command. Clearly, this is a contradiction. Well, if you know Paul, he’s probably being misunderstood. Paul calls a number of things “circumcision” and “uncircumcision”. Here is a list:

  1. The state of being circumcised is called circumcision, and the state of being uncircumcised, is called uncircumcision.
  2. The Jews are called “the circumcision”, while the gentiles/greeks are called “the uncircumcision”.
  3. The act of circumcising someone, is called circumcision.

In verse 18, Paul talks about point number 2, not point number 1 (primarily because he could not talk about point number 1, since that would contradict Torah, and proclaim him a false teacher). He then staves that he is talking about point number 2 above, by what he says in verse 19, which makes it clear that he is talking about a people, not the state of being circumcised or uncircumcised. And then he ends off with the last part, “the guarding of the commands of Elohim does matter!”. This clearly says that, being a Jew profits you nothing, and being a gentile (a non-Jew) profits you nothing, but the commands matters, so keep the commands. In other words, its not about how you are born, but rather the decisions you make. Paul was speaking about not caring whether you are of Jewish bloodline, or a gentile who becomes a believer, but that your choices determines the outcome. The same message that Yeshua taught many times.

I hope this has answered the question sufficiently.

Shalom to you all, and YHWH bless you.

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About Henk

Seeker of truth. Sharer of truth.

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