Wasn't the very reason Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss and clarify that circumcision was not required (Acts 15:1-11)?
ESV - 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
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I interpret this single eBible question, in fact, as two questions: one about Timothy and one about the Jerusalem council. Allow me to address them interchangeably. The Bible only gives this cryptic answer as to why Timothy took on circumcision, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:3) By 1st century Jewish standards, Timothy’s Greek father would make him a Gentile, even though his mother and maternal grandmother were Jewish. Did circumcision now make him a Jew? Not from Paul’s perspective. Circumcision was a hot topic in the 1st century of Isra'el. By Paul’s day, it had lost its covenantal meaning and had taken on an unsanctioned ethnic meaning. Instead of being a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:9-14; Lev. 12:3), it had become code word for Jewish identity/conversion. It was being misused by the Judaisms of Paul’s day to seal the deal for Gentile proselytes wishing to be counted as legally recognized Jews in the Jewish communities. This was quite upsetting to Paul because the Torah (Law) prescribed NO such ceremony. Proselyte conversion was entirely a man-made rubric—and an unnecessary one at that. What does “because of the Jews who were in those places” imply? The standard Christian answer usually states that Paul “acquiesced” to Jewish sympathies, even though he himself no longer believed circumcision was valid in Messiah. This seems to present Paul as two-faced: teaching that circumcision was done away with in Yeshua (Jesus) yet having Timothy circumcised while “no one was looking” as it were. I don't find Paul to be that shallow and deceptive. Perhaps there is a better historical and sociological way to understand this phrase. I believe Paul had timothy circumcised to prove to the prevailing Judaisms of his day that Gentile believers in Yeshua (Jesus) were equal to Jews and can become obedient to the Torah (Law) by taking on the commandment of circumcision without it turning them into legally recognized Jews. Paul did not see a class or caste system in the Torah. He did not see Isra'el as a Jewish-only group. He saw believing Jews and Gentiles both as covenant members in Messiah, and as equals, they were both covenant-bound to follow after Torah—including circumcision. How is this related to Acts 15? The conclusion of the council, then, was that Gentiles did not need to become proselytes (the term “circumcision” being shorthand for “conversion to Judaism”) in order to enjoy full covenant status in Isra'el, which naturally includes Torah participation. Indeed, as Peter had first testified in the home of Cornelius, the inclusion of the Gentiles was by the grace of God, not by means of a man-made ceremony. In order to assure their acceptance into the newly emerging Messianic Communities, the Gentiles were to make a decisive break with the pagan temple and its idolatry, which would involve ridding themselves of any of the pagan customs that marked that idolatrous form of worship. The bringing near of the Gentile believers was not effected through negating the Torah (doing away with circumcision, etc.), but through overcoming the rabbinic teaching that required Gentiles to “become Jews” through becoming proselytes in order to be received into the covenant people of Isra'el. The gospel message of the Apostles proclaimed that, like Abraham of old, covenant membership was based upon faith, not upon the flesh (ethnic status). Conclusion: The Gentile believers were to be considered and received as circumcised—as bona fide covenant members in every way. If, like Timothy, they later received physical circumcision, not in order to give them covenant status based upon a declared Jewishness, but as a simple act of obedience to the Lord, as a “seal of the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:11), which they already had, that would be an entirely different matter.
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