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Friday, December 9, 2016

Why Was Timothy Circumcised in Acts 16?

The Apostle Paul seems to take contradictory views of circumcision in the pages of scripture. Would we ever advise a believer to be circumcised in this present age? Let's apply the principles of Right Division to this issue.


During the Acts Age:


Acts 16:3 Paul wanted to have [Timothy] go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.


Rom 2:25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.


Rom 3:1 What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way!


1 Cor 7:18-20 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.


Gal 5:2-4 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.


After
the Acts Age:


Eph 2:11-12 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.


Col 2:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ...


This is not an exhaustive list of NT verses on circumcision, but they are sufficient for our purposes here.


How can Paul state emphatically that if one becomes circumcised, Christ is of no profit to him? Further, Paul asserts that such a person is debtor to keep the whole law and that he has fallen from grace. He says these things in light of the fact that he had Timothy circumcised in Acts 16.


The traditional answer is that Paul was not wanting to offend the Jews in the early church. But if that is the case, would not circumcision be simply optional? Would it not just be like the convictions concerning days (Rom 14) wherein each believer could decide for himself while not requiring it of others? Paul wrote a very clear letter to the Galatians seemingly condeming the practice, he does not teach it is just an option.


Does the other answer the modern Church gives us satisfy, namley that the Acts period was "transitional"? The problem here is that Paul wrote seven of his epistles during the Acts age. How could Paul write that becoming circumcised constituted a falling from grace, as he circumcises Timothy?


The answer can be found in "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).



One thing we clearly see in the Book of Acts and in the Acts Age epistles is the distinguishing of Jewish believers from Gentile believers. As just two examples, in Acts 15 the Apostles create two sets of rules for believers (Jews and Gentiles) based on race; while in Romans, Paul clearly addresses each group separately and makes statements which are peculiar to one group or the other. Examine the epistle and mark as Paul switches between groups. Expecially note Romans chapter 11 wherein a warning is given to gentile believers alone (do we preach that today?).


[An excellent study involves going through the Book of Romans and note, not only how the Apostle switches back and forth in addressing Jews and Gentiles, but also the consequent relation to the pronouns used.]


If the middle wall of partition was taken away at the cross or at Pentecost, why do the Apostles insist on keeping it up? Salvation was never a matter of the Law or of race. We all know that, since Adam, eternal life has been a gift of God by grace through faith. God put up the middle wall himself in Gen 12 with the calling of Abraham, and solidified it in Exodus 19 with his covenant with Israel. The wall only comes down when Paul reveals the "one new man" in Ephesians, his first epistle after the Acts Age.


Galatians, as noted, was written during the Acts age, yet it condemns circumcision. How does that fit? It fits the gentile believer in the Acts Age. Gentiles are being addressed in Galatians. That's a study on its own, but in short the concerns Paul has for the believers in Galatians is the concern seen for Gentile believers in the Acts.


But what of Timothy?


Timothy had Jewish roots.

Acts 16:1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman...

All through the Acts Age, Paul taught that Jews were to continue to observe parts of the Law that would not fully be fulfilled until the Lord sets up His Kingdom in Israel, for the children of Israel. We see this clearly in the council which meets in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Jewish believers ask why the gentile believers do not observe the Law. The answer they are given is not that no one need keep the Law, rather that Gentiles should observe a mini-Law. Jewish believers observed one set of rules, gentile believers another. NEVER for eternal life (as that has always been by grace through faith), but in light of the coming Kingdom in Israel. This is the Kingdom of the 12 tribes over which the 12 Apostles to the Circumcision (Gal 2:7-9) will rule from 12 thrones (Luke 22:30).

Because Timothy's father was a gentile, he would most likely be considered a Gentile. It has been proposed that Paul formally adopted Timothy (as his "son" as he later refers to him). If Timothy was to claim his Jewish roots through his mother or adopt the faith of Paul, he would have to be circumcised in that age to partake fully in Israel's blessings.


Note where Paul in the Acts Age teaches Jews (separately) that they should continue in parts of the Law, including circumcision: 

Acts 21 “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. 22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

Paul did not teach Jewish believers to forsake the Law or that they shouldn't circumcise their children. The accusation in Acts 21 specifies "Jews who are among the Gentiles." If being "all things to all men" is the excuse given today by those trying to explain circumcising Timothy because Paul was coming among the Jews, would it not have been better to tell Jewish believers living among Gentiles that a better witness of the gospel would be that they do away with circumcision (becoming like a Gentile to the Gentile)? And wouldn't they be confused when they read Paul's epistle to the Galatians?


The placement of Timothy's circumcision in Acts 16 is interesting light of Paul's pronouncement in Acts 16:31 ("Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved"), a verse well-known and dear to the hearts of many Christians. These words, spoken most likely to a gentile, are clear and unequivocal. Paul would not preach one way to eternal, resurrection life in Lystra and another in Philippi.


There is a "gospel to the circumcision (Jews)" and a "gospel to the uncircumcison (gentiles)" in Galatians 2:7. Eternal life is, as it has always been, the same for all men (by grace through faith). But there were different callings and commands in that age. What does Paul warn the gentiles in this book? That some would come preaching a different gospel than the one they had received from Paul (the Apostle to the uncircumcision). Paul taught gentiles not to be circumcised. He did not contradict himself in Acts 16:3 or Acts 16:31.

And in warning them to not be circumcised, he noted what they would be taking on:

And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. -Gal 5:3
Would we teach that today? No. But in that age, if a gentile became of Jewish proselyte, he was bound to keep the law in regard to the inheritance.

Keeping the Commandments of God



1 Cor 7
can also only be understood in light of the differentiation of Jewish believer from Gentile believer in the Acts Age. Note the words "is what matters" in italics in the NKJV version above. That indicates that those words are not there in the original language. Let's look at two more literal interpretations of verses 19 and 20. 

the circumcision is nothing, and the uncircumcision is nothing -- but a keeping of the commands of God. Each in the calling in which he was called -- in this let him remain.  (Young's Literal Translation) 

Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but keeping God's commandments. Let each abide in that calling in which he has been called.            (Darby Translation) 


Note that the words "is what matters" from the NKJV are not there. They are in italics in that translation which indicates that they were added by the translators.


Paul is telling believers to keep the commandments of God. Is that what we preach today, simply keeping a generic set of commandments? No. What Paul is referring to is to the different CALLINGS of Jewish believers and Gentile believers in the Acts Age. Paul is saying that there are different callings, one for the circumcision and one for the uncircumcision

We know from Acts 15, Acts 21 and Romans 11 that Jewish believers and Gentile believers have the same Savior, but we must see that they had different callings. Jews were called to keep certain parts of the Law of Moses, Gentiles only "four necessary things".


So what now that the wall of partition is down?



At the end of the Acts Age, Paul revealed the one new man (Eph 2), comprised of fellow heirs in Christ, or one-body of joint-heirs (Eph 3:6, Greek: sussomos). Unlike what Paul preached in the Acts Age ("only that which was spoken of by Moses and the prophets" - Acts 26:22, cp Gal 3:8-9), Paul reveled a new calling, a "higher" calling, which was hidden in times past, and not seen by the prophets (Eph 3:4-5).


In this higher calling, the blessings are reserved "in heavenly places, above all principalities and powers" and not on the earth. No earthly kingdom anticipated as was expected in the Gospel and Acts Age. No shadow has any place here. Paul tells us in Hebrews 8 that the Old Covenant was still passing away in the Acts Age, anticipating the New Covenant with Israel to come in when Christ returns (as Peter promised Israel in Acts 3). We look to neither Old Covenant nor to Israel's New Covenant (Jer 31; Heb 8), we look to blessings "in heavenly places" (Eph).


So Paul teaches us in Colossians and Ephesians (after Acts):

Eph 2:11-12 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 

Col 2:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ...


We are joint-heirs in one Body. No circumcising anyone. No separate sets of laws. No limiting ourselves to Moses and the prophets. No hope in an earthly kingdom. No warning of Gentile believers separate from Jewish believers. No advantage of any believer above another. No Sabbaths, no feasts, no vows, no ordinances... nothing of what we see of Paul in the Acts Age in both practice and doctrine.


The Acts Age came to end, and soon thereafter the temple, with its middle wall, was physically torn down. The shadow was gone. That wall did not separate worshiper from blasphemer, but Jewish worshiper from Gentile worshiper.


We live in the age of grace which is coming to an end. Israel will then take center stage again and the events leading to the New Covenant and the earthly Kingdom ruled by the 12 Apostles of the Lamb will again be relevant. Do not wait until that day to accept God's free gift of resurrection life in the age to come. Strong delusion and terrible times will accompany it.


As from Adam, rescue from death and decay is found in faith God's provision. Jesus came to take on a body that He might die in yor place, as your sacrifice for sin. But he did not see decay in the grave and he rose again to conquer death and the grave that those who have placed their faith in him may also follow him in resurrection unto eternal life!


And it is all a free gift of God, fully paid for by the Great God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ!



Salvation: Its Need, Its Provision, Its Goal


This study was first published in December 2013

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