What Paul’s view on circumcision?

Acts 16:3, Circumcised him. Evidently circumcision or uncircumcision wasn’t an issue for Paul. He had Timothy, who was half Jewish, circumcised, but not Titus who was non-Jewish (Gal 2:3). Both men were elders and teachers in the assembly of believers. Both men as Torah-obedient individuals would have kept the biblical feasts including the Passover, which in the law of Moses required men to be circumcised. 

To have Timothy, who was half Jewish, circumcised was more expedient for the preaching of gospel to the Jews, so as not to be a stumbling block to the Jews who had a high view of circumcision. This type of circumcision was acceptable, since it was not done as a salvation requirement for Timothy.

Let’s discuss the Torah requirement that all male children be circumcised on the eighth day (Lev 12:2–3)and males keeping Passover be circumcised (Exod 12:48). Is physical circumcision now irrelevant, or was Paul rejecting the Torah on this issue?

First, in Ezekiel’s descriptions of the assumed millennial temple, all those entering in that temple will be circumcised both in flesh and heart (Ezek 44:9). In YHVH’s eyes, those entering it who are uncircumcised are defiling it (v. 7). Obviously, to YHVH, physical circumcision is a holiness issue, though not a salvational issue (as the Jerusalem counsel ruled in Acts 15). So there is still a place in YHVH’s spiritual economy for physical circumcision. Physical circumcision (in addition to heart circumcision) shows a higher level of obedience and holiness, not a lower level.

Second, the law of Moses stipulates that all men be circumcised in order to be part of the Passover (Exod 12:48). What I’m about to say is beyond the scope of this brief discussion, but the law of Moses (as opposed to the greater or Torah or the eternal principles thereof), it seems to me, was the administrative arm of the greater Torah that pre-existed the law of Moses. The latter contained rules and guidelines needed for a nation to function properly as such. It contained a complete legal code with penalties, a judicial system, an educational system, a taxation system, and government comprised of priests and tribal elders. For the nation of Israel to protect its spiritual integrity, Moses had to protect it from foreign or pagan defilement (spiritual pathogens), which could potentially lead to Israel’s apostasy. The circumcision requirement, to my thinking, was part of the law of Moses’ legal code for Israel regarding Passover observance, but wasn’t necessarily a requirement of the greater Torah, which applies generally to all men. My sense is that Paul in not making a big issue out of physical circumcision was appealing to the greater or higher requirements of the Torah (involving more spiritual and heart issues. At this point, please recall Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount teaching where he brings the letter and spirit of the Torah together. Paul’s seeming inconsistency with regard to whether men should be circumcised or not may be due to the fact that he was focusing less on the legal requirements of the law of Moses, which was the administrative subdivision of the Torah, and which was enacted to keep the legal, spiritual and cultural integrity of that nation intact. In other words, the law of Moses (the Torah in a codified form with laws specifically addressing the needs of that nation in that time and place) was Israel’s constitution. Here, Paul is focusing more on the greater Torah or the eternal principles of the Torah that pre-existed Moses, than the law of Moses. Moreover, when Paul came along, Israel was no longer a sovereign nation that ruled itself. It, therefore, was unable to follow all the specific legal requirements of the law of Moses (e.g. the implementation of the death penalty). Timothy was half Jewish and Titus was non-Jewish, and both were from Greek nations within the Roman Empire, and so some of the strict legal aspects of the law of Moses (e.g. circumcision for Passover) couldn’t or didn’t have to be applied as long as the greater principles of Torah (i.e. circumcision of the heart) were being kept.


5 thoughts on “What Paul’s view on circumcision?

  1. Shalom Natan

    Interesting to think carefully on, as are all our responses to Messiah’s call to holiness on us.

    I have similar though not identical conclusions as you.
    I certainly agree circumcision or not is not an essential component for initial salvation as that is God’s gift to mankind. Both the circumcised and uncircumcised come in by faith in the blood of Messiah just as the mixed multitude at the base of the mountain came out of Egypt. Though agreeing to accept the one law for all as the implication for our faith to be tested and realised as true or false in whatever area for less or greater reward.

    That reward seems to be of proximity, intimacy with our God and Yeshua.

    One thing that does come out for me with the types and shadows though is that the generation that were to go in and possess the Land with Joshua all had to be physically circumcised to enter. Perhaps that is the analogy to being considered worthy to go into the New Jerusalem as the Lamb and Abba are residing there.

    I would think that in Messiah we are no longer Jews or Gentiles but truly becoming a Nation of Priests with holiness to be able to take up residence in the New Jerusalem as perhaps a part of the bride as our aim.

    I tend to go with after occurring that the process of grafting into the New Covenant by the Spirit of God. We have be called unto the obedience to the Word of God.

    This call becomes effective in our lives so that the good conscience toward the desire of God manifests more and more for the outworking of good works of righteousness. Righteousness is defined by Torah/Elohim which means the New Nature of the New Creature will battle their flesh and overcome it to be obedient so as to be enabled to partake the Pesach according to a rule we can choose to obey.

    One of the very interesting things I found in looking at this question; is that the understanding of what Paul spoke about as to circumcision is confusing. If we remove our Christian understanding and scrape down the layers to seek the Torah intent and compare that with 1 C Judaism the opposing contexts of each system come to light and truth becomes defined.

    Paul did circumcise and it did not separate a person from Christ or he would have been destroying the assembly of Messiah in a cruel way. Galations has the word anthropos translated as men in regard to this and could be key as it is humanity all humans, men and women being attracted to be circumcised that Paul warned so strongly against doing.

    The circumcision is of the Jews (man inspired) This made a person submit themselves to obey Judaism by a vow before God. This vow also made the Law of God in specific areas of none effect and was regarded as making a person twice as worthy of Hell according to Yeshua.

    Paul is only referring to the Judaism cult practice of using the process of Proselytism to become considered a Jew and therefor part of the Covenants of Promise which was the gross error Paul was teaching against & not the circumcision of Abraham for Israelites or the circumcision for those wanting to come in and celebrate Pesach because they believed God to be Saviour.

    The circumcision of Abraham was understood by Jews in the 1 Century also to be the sign of coming into Covenant of Salvation with God but as Judaism added to and took away the same thing that applied to Proselytes who became ‘of the Circumcision’ applied to Jews and that is precisely why God sent the Son to bring back the truth that had been turned away.
    It is probably why Cornelius was the first gentile called by God that is recorded.
    Cornelius was a God Fearer but not a man fearer to step into a covenant with men by being circumcised into a false commitment to men.

    Christianity in next step in hiding the simplicity of God’s Truth under the guise of doing His will by Grace and in many ways is a mirror image of Judaism’s corruption whilst trying to be following….

    Wonder if you have any criticism to share with me about these ideas too.

    Love to all in Messiah


    • I have always believed and taught that circumcision, like baptism for the remission of sins, is an act of obedience that shows a person’s level of seriousness about loving Elohim through obedience to his commandments; however, it isn’t a precondition or a condition for salvation, as you note. If it were, then why didn’t Elohim make it so women can’t be circumcised—only men?

      I have also always believed, based on Matt 5:19 (and a host of other scriptures), that our level of rewards (as opposed to one’s salvation, which is by grace through faith) in the Father’s kingdom will be based on our good works. So the men who have been circumcised have one more good work to add their list.

      With regard to intimacy with the Father, and inclusion in the New Jerusalem, I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that circumcision for men is necessary, but women dodge this bullet. This doesn’t logically compute with me, since Elohim isn’t a respecter of persons, and salvically, the requirements for both genders are the same, which, to my thinking equates with a habitation in the NJ. which is our spiritual Promised Land. Blessings!

  2. The way I understand it, circumcision had to do with the land covenant. The Pharisees made it into something else, demanding Gentiles be circumcised because they had to do it. That being said, if in the New Jerusalem all males have to be circumcised in the flesh again seems to be a land covenant but the main circumcision is heartfelt 🙂

  3. Thanks Natan

    maybe men dodge the physical implication of childbirth & menstruation which in involved the shedding of blood too.

    In talking about this subject, women seem to be willing to give themselves to pain in childbirth, even with some fear. Wives would take on circumcision for producing life too. Seems that wives would be prepared to suffer for their husband’s in this but circumcision may be the test for men to trust their Creator.

    It is a gift to want to be obedient. I also find it strange & perhaps anomalous that men line up for risk & the potential maiming or death from war with seemingly less consternation of heart.

    Truly this is a spiritual division that is taking place.

    Shalom & Blessings are to all who follow our King.

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