Should men be circumcised or not?

Genesis 17:10 (Genesis 17:10-14)

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

Acts 16:3

Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Romans 2:25

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.

1 Corinthians 7:18-19

Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts.

Galatians 5:2

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.



Circumcision was connected with the Mosaic Law. Those who were circumcised in Old Testament times were considered part of Israel: they could participate in the Passover (Ex 12:43-49) and were required to keep the Law (Gal 5:3). Jesus' death and resurrection fulfilled the obligations of the Law and thus freed people from its rituals and external regulations (Lk 22:20, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15), so circumcision is no longer required. Not only Paul, but Peter, James and the other apostles and leaders agreed to make this official doctrine (Acts 15). Their decision was not arbitrary, but was based on Peter's vision from God and observation that the Holy Spirit was given to the uncircumcised (Acts 10:1-11:18).

Is Paul's teaching on circumcision contradictory? Paul knew that circumcision was only an external sign that didn't mean anything in and of itself (Rom 2:28-29). Since the New Covenant was now in effect, circumcision was no longer a command, hence 1 Corinthians 7:19 isn't a contradiction. However, if Christian men were circumcised because they believed they had to obey the Mosaic Law in order to be saved, they were effectively saying Christ's sacrifice was not enough to save them. In this case circumcision was an outward sign of their not trusting Christ. Paul told these men that circumcision would only help them if they could subsequently obey the entire law, for they were now depending on their own deeds to save them, not Christ. Reading Galatians 5:2 in context (Gal 5:2-6) makes this clear.

If Paul warned the Galatians not to have themselves circumcised in order to please Jews (Gal 6:12), why did he have Timothy circumcised for seemingly the same reason? Most likely, Paul's goal was to make his and Timothy's evangelism among the Jews easier. The Jews would consider Timothy a Gentile because he was uncircumcised and his father was a Gentile, which meant they would not associate with him (Acts 10:28). Since these Jews were not yet Christians, and since Timothy understood that his salvation was through Christ and not through circumcision or obeying the law, Paul didn't have the same reasons to be concerned about it that he did with the Galatians. Circumcision ultimately meant nothing, so there was no harm in Timothy's doing it for the purposes of removing obstacles to evangelism (cf. 1 Cor 9:20-21).

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