Monday: Circumcision and the False Brothers
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Why was circumcision such a focal point in the dispute between Paul and certain Jewish Christians? See Gen. 17:1-22; Gal. 2:3-5; Gal. 5:2, Gal. 5:6Acts 15:1, Acts 15:5Why is it not that hard to understand how some could have believed that even the Gentiles needed to undergo it?

Circumcision

Image © Lars Justinen Goodsalt.com

Circumcision was the sign of the covenant relationship that God established with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Although circumcision was only for Abraham’s male descendants, everyone was invited into the covenant relationship with God. The sign of circumcision was given to Abraham in Genesis 17. This occurred after Abraham’s disastrous attempt — by fathering a child with his wife’s Egyptian slave — to help God fulfill His promise to him of a son.

Circumcision was a fitting sign of the covenant. It was a reminder that the best-laid plans of humans can never accomplish what God has promised. Outward circumcision was to be a symbol of circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16Deut. 30:6Jer. 4:4Rom. 2:29). It represents a stripping away of our confidence in ourselves and a faithful dependence on God instead.

During Paul’s time, however, circumcision had become a prized sign of national and religious identity — not what it was originally intended to signify. About one hundred fifty years before Jesus’ birth, some overly zealous patriots not only forced all uncircumcised Jews in Palestine to be circumcised, but they also required it of all men living in the surrounding nations who fell under their jurisdiction. Some even believed circumcision was a passport to salvation. This can be seen in ancient epigrams that confidently declare things such as, “ ‘Circumcised men do not descend into Gehenna [hell].’ ” — C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd., 1975), p. 172.

It would be a mistake to assume that Paul was opposed to circumcision itself. What Paul objected to was the insistence that Gentiles had to submit to circumcision. The false teachers said: “ ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ” (Acts 15:1, NKJV). The issue, then, was not really about circumcision but about salvation. Salvation is either by faith in Christ alone, or it is something earned by human obedience.

Maybe today circumcision isn’t the issue. But what (if anything) do we as a church struggle with that parallels this problem?
Amen!(35)

Comments

Monday: Circumcision and the False Brothers — 26 Comments

  1. A similar issue we have is the keeping of the Sabbath, while the Sabbath is a part of the law and should be obeyed as others, we sometimes just conclude that those who don't observe it are not part of the kingdom. This is a personal opinion, I have felt this way for a long time until I interacted with some of them and I found out most of them are lacking in knowledge and those who are not are too scared to accept the truth so they cover it up with this question "Are we sure Saturday is the real Sabbath?"

    John 10:16,Everyone who believes in his heart and has confessed Christ is a part of His fold, I pray that God opens us to more revelation on how to speak and relate to them in a way that completely mirrors Him in our hearts.

    Amen!(29)
    • Maybe today circumcision isn’t the issue. But what (if anything) do we as a church struggle with that parallels this problem?
      Unless you keep the Sabbath, you cannot be saved.
      Why do we keep the Sabbath?
      Sabbath represents the finished work of God.
      Matthew 11
      28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
      Creation, redemption and restoration all are found in Christ alone.
      Hebrews 4
      10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

      Did you catch that we are resting from our works.
      Why do I have to make EVERY EFFORT to enter that rest.
      I love my do's and don't. That is who I am.
      To completely to rest in God goes against everything of who I am.
      Therefore, God’s call for us to make every effort to enter that rest which represents the finished work of God.

      Amen!(6)
    • Not only the sabbath, but a lot of other things can be pointed out. The problem with us, human beings, is sin. Sin corrupted us in a way that it seems natural to question and to find anything to oppose God's Laws. When we look for the right connection with God which is His love for us, all these picky things disappear. Love is the Grace that can save us from who we are! Mortals!

      Amen!(8)
    • Can we truly equate Sabbath-keeping with circumcision? The Sabbath commandment is part of the moral law and not of a ceremonial nature. I agree that we should not teach that Sabbath-keeping will save you, just like circumcision or any other work. However, the Sabbath (like not lying, not stealing, not killing, not committing adultery, not having any other gods before Yahweh, etc.) is not a ceremonial requirement, but was established before sin (Gen 2:1-3). As such, the Holy Spirit will empower us to obey, once we yield ourselves to Christ. (2 Peter 1:3,4).

      Additionally, I agree that many who do not keep the Sabbath are truly ignorant and are serving Jesus as best they know how. God winks at our ignorance, but once we come to knowledge, then we must repent (Acts 17:30). We do not know who knows and who doesn't - God will judge.

      Finally, I think the stress on the Sabbath is usually because that is one of the main points of deception that Satan has used to trick many. We as SDA are called to bring this particular truth, and others, to the fore in our declaration of the 3 angels' messages (Rev 14:6-20).

      Amen!(12)
    • Ruth, I believe we need to understand the Sabbath more fully before we can share it in the right way. If we merely see a "Sabbath commandment" as a law to "be obeyed," we are missing so much that the Sabbath becomes little more than a different day to worship, and it can lead to legalism and a false view of God.

      Yes, it is true that worshiping God on the Sabbath day is being obedient. But it is so much more. We cannot truly worship on Sabbath unless we enter into God's Sabbath rest during the rest of the week by trusting fully in Jesus, not in our own works. The Sabbath is about nurturing a relationship with God, kind of like a special weekly date with God. Yes, we walk with Him every day, but He wants to spend some extra quality time with Him every Sabbath. That's just the surface, and there are depths to be plumbed re the Sabbath.

      I do believe there's a bit of a parallel to circumcision in that the Jews had forgotten what circumcision was supposed to signify - a covenant relationship with God. In the same way, I believe that many forget that the Sabbath is all about a personal relationship with God, not just a day to go to church, etc.

      Amen!(17)
    • Ruth, amen...and you're a lot braver than me for having posted your thoughts!:)

      Your post stimulated my own thinking regarding the label, "false brethren" (Gal 2:4), we seem to so readily paste on each other. In view of last week's lesson, one apostle, under inspiration, wrote that another apostle's--also under inspiration--writings were "HARD to UNDERSTAND" like "the REST of the SCRIPTURES" (2 Pt 3:16). It made me wonder when are we justified in labeling others "who believe(d)" (Act 15:5) differently than us as "false brethren"? I also wonder if all who are of the "Pharisee(s)" persuasion automatically qualify for such a label?...keeping in mind who that second apostle was (Philippians 3:5-6). Is it ever Ok to deride or marginalize "the blind" (2 Cor 3:14; Lev 19:14)? How about when "the blind" insists on being our drivers/leaders/teachers (Act 15:1; Lk 6:39)? Did God's Messiah and Paul agree in their identification of the REAL ISSUE that we're facing (2 Cor 4:4; 3:14-15; Lk 6:40; 24:44-45)?

      As sabbath observers are we, like the "circumcised", more committed to our own solutions (Lk 9:54-56; Act 4:17; 9:1; 13:45)--to an admittedly serious problem--or should we be willing to enter the Creator's Sabbath rest solution (2 Cor 3:15-16; Eph 4:20-24; Heb 4:3,10; Deut 30:6; 2 Cor 3:3,8)?

      Amen!(3)
  2. Any "sign" or "symbol" that becomes more important than what is represents is a problem.

    Circumcision was given to remind Abraham & family of their relationship with the LORD and that He is the Source of all Life.

    Amen!(12)
  3. The keeping of the Sabbath is the law of God, therefore is not an issue that you could relate to circumcision as the author questions? Now any issue I mention that is not one of Gods ten commandants might offend someone, so I like Paul, take the authors offer (if any)? Romans 14:21. No, not any I would like to mention.

    Amen!(5)
  4. Brethren I need to understand something I feel alittle confused. After God said this to Abraham:

    Genesis:17.11-12
    You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
    For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-- those who are not your offspring.

    Where was the point of departure?
    How did physical circumcision cease to be consequential? Are we still not the original descendants of Abraham?
    Isn't it not a sign of obedience to the covenant handed down to Abraham our forefather, by having our offsprings circumcised? God said it should be so for generations and generations to come.

    Amen!(3)
    • Benard, a rhetorical question in addition your point:

      What about Ex 12:14 which calls the Passover Feast an "everlasting ordinance."

      Similarly, in Ex 40:15 where the priesthood of Aaron is commanded as an "everlasting priesthood."

      Gen 17:8 prescribes the land of Canaan as a everlasting possession for the descendants of Abraham.

      Then add Lev 16:34, which speaks of the Day of Atonement as everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, ONCE A YEAR.

      In Num 15:38 the children of Israel were to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations.

      Not to be forgotten is Ex 31:16 where the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.

      Finally, Matt 25 talks about everlasting fire.

      When does something that is outlined as everlasting or perpetual, cease to be everlasting and perpetual?

      Amen!(2)
      • Fred, my understanding is that we do keep the feast days literally now. When Jesus died it was literally the Passover. Ever since 1844 it has literally been the day of atonement. When Jesus comes it will literally be the feast of trumpets and when we get to heaven it will literally be the feast of Tabernacles. Thus the feasts are everlasting in their literal value and not in their shadow.

        Amen!(7)
    • Brothers and sisters, all of your opinions are valid and truthful. However, the bottom line is that our only job in the finishing of the work that Jesus left for us to do, is to follow the gospel commission given to us by Jesus Christ Himself, "19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
      20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Matthew 28: 19-20.

      After we have taught them, then let the Holy Spirit move on their hearts to convert them; I know for a fact that He is able to do His job. In the meantime, while the Holy Spirit is working on their hearts, we could show them more Brotherly Love, and less criticism.

      Amen!(8)
      • Great,Toni. The issue is about salvation. We are only saved by faith in Christ Jesus, period. Then after that, we begin walking with God by keeping his word. That's when we begin to bear more fruits of the holy spirit which the Sabbath is included. But keeping the Sabbath in itself does not grant salvation.

        Amen!(2)
      • Jesus never made issues of diet, jewelry, dress, etc. He even told parables containing beef, in the feast made for the return of the prodigal son and jewelry in the same parable of a ring on his hand and other parables of his like the pearl of great price etc. So why do we SDA's make issues of these things as if unless we become vegetarians or vegans or stop wearing a wedding band or dress a certain way we cannot be accepted into the SDA church etc?

        Amen!(3)
  5. The circumcision was a sign of the Old covenent. Now with Christ life, death and resurrection we no longer need that sign. The cross is that sign in our hearts. "I will glory in the cross...", or "On a hill far a way stood an old rugged cross, the emblem..." Also if you are wanting to require circumcision, than you are buffeting Paul and the Holy Spirit who settled this issue about 2000 years ago. The Galatians sent him back to Jerusalem, Peter, James, and John sent him back to the Galatians with Barnabas to tell them Paul is right, to make a long story short. You don't need to be circumcised to be saved. Now let me remind you, if you want to be circumcised, it is mot a sin. Again, circumcision won't save you.

    Amen!(4)
  6. Another similar issue we have in the church today is our belief about eating Pork and other unclean animals. It's true that it is healthy for us to sustain from eating unclean meats in all forms, and God prefers us to not eat these things. But we have come to the point that we have made this belief a salvation issue. We, Adventists, preach our doctrine on both the Sabbath and sustaining form eating Pork/unclean meats to the world for so long now, in such a manner as to say to them, "Believe and accept what we are teaching you, or you will not be saved." And what is more disheartening about this is that we don't see ourselves, how we are preaching to the world in this matter. Then we come back from evangelizing the community, and we wonder why they do not hear us or want to come to our churches. I would want to come to our church either, if I were the community. They are saying in their hearts, "If you are telling me all the things I have to give up before I can come to your church, then I don't want to come at all."

    The fact of the matter is that Salvation is not ours to give to anyone; it is a free gift from God to anyone that accepts His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior. We also are trying to do the same thing as the brethren in Paul's day; we are trying to do the Holy Spirit's job of Sanctification, which is a lifetime process for the believer, but we want them to do the process the week after they are baptized. When the Holy Spirit convicts and converts the believer's heart on these issues, he will naturally put away these things. We have confused the concept of salvation and sanctification, which are two very different concept; they work hand and hand, but are still different. Our only job is to present Christ to the world, and let them see Christ in us, then the Holy Spirit will do the rest. We are to teach them the world of God, then let the Holy Spirit convict and convert them.

    Either we are going to believe, as today's lesson says, "Salvation is either by faith in Christ alone, or it is something earned by human obedience." Choose you this day whom you will serve (or preach), but for me and my house we will serve the Lord (and preach that Salvation come only through Jesus Christ). "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 14:6.

    Amen!(10)
      • Salvation is like a FREE ticket given to someone to attend a function. Nobody can prevent the person from accepting the ticket and attending the the function. But after the offer of this ticket, there are certain protocols that must be observed - keeping God's word.

        Amen!(1)
    • Toni, you brought up an interesting point "Should Sabbath and Leviticus 11 be a baptism criteria or should it be "battled out" in the believer's sanctification journey."

      Adventist have included these as their fundamental beliefs because it wants to uphold the standards which it deems God's fundamental standards. Likewise, when Paul insisted that the Gentiles should at least refrain from sexual immorality, food offered to idols, idolatry and animal blood, it doesn't mean salvation is based merely on these works. Baptism is a pledge of a good conscience towards God (1 Peter 3:21).

      2 Tim 4:3 says "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires.. to say what their itching ears want to hear."

      2 Tim 3:16 says "All Scriptures is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness".

      Today, many Christians say they are led by the Holy Spirit, and they don't need rules, but what happens if it leads to wrong interpretations and teachings, due to their sinful desires. Can we trust ourselves or the Word of God?

      As William says we have to give up all, even our lives to follow Him. Abiding in Jesus is not as easy as what it sounds, He is our priority above all our other priorities.

      If the church only wants to preach the "easy" Gospel and that "love covers a multitude of sins", then we break the most fundamental part of God's covenant "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15.

      Amen!(4)
      • Thank you Brethren for your comments to my post, they were very insightful. My point is that all of these things you mentioned are part of the Sanctification process, "give up all", "living in accordance to God standards", "trusting and following God's word". However, very few people are able to do all these tasks right after they get out of the baptismal pool.

        And I'm not advocating the "easy Gospel" or "itching ears" concepts to Christian living, nor for abolishing of the rules of the church; and we definitely have to keep the commandments of God as written in the Bible. But again, our job is to teach or share the Word of God, then let the Holy Spirit do His job. Several times, while I was teaching or giving bible studies to New Converts in the church, the faithful people in the church would criticize and give "helpful" suggestions to the new converts, to help the sanctification process move along faster. Many of our these new converts left the church (our revolving back door).

        These faithful church folks did not, or do not, see that they were doing the same thing that Sara and Abraham did (their solution to the heir God promised them), instead of waiting on God and His Holy Spirit, they/we try to help the Holy Spirit with His work. If the new convert ask for help, then you can offer helpful suggestions; but don't scold them because you see them giving their children a Coca-Cola (LOL).

        All I'm saying, as Paul tried to tell the Jewish Christian of his day, let the Holy Spirit do the sanctification process. And of course, I know all about Church Discipline, so please do not reply that Church Discipline is sometimes necessary, which I know to be true.

        Again, I'm just stating why many in our communities do not want to hear our message, because we present them with our doctrines first, then we give them Christ. Let's turn that around and present them with Christ first, then they will be lead by the Holy Spirit to give up all.

        Again Salvation and Sanctification is two different concepts. Salvation is a free gift from God to anyone that believes, a gift given to us by God alone (not given out by the church). Whereas Sanctification is the putting off of the old man, and becoming a new creature in Christ, a lifetime transformation and commitment to God as His disciple. That's another topic, but it is another issue in our church; it feels that we forget that we are Disciples of God, and we have become just church members. Disciples go, church members sit.

        Kudos to the hard work of your Web team! I have noticed their hard work on this comments section, that I do not have to make many editing corrections as I have done in the past. Thank you! God blessings to you all!

        Amen!(4)
  7. I think the circumcision today is coming out as different issues.There are issues like the health reform message, for example extremist might insinuating that meat eating brethren are not yet fully converted.Whilst vegetarianism is good for our health it is not a prerequisite for our salvation.There are issues to deal with the writings of EG White, whilst some of us believe these writings are inspired, those who dont read them are not necessarily lost

    Amen!(3)
    • Amen, Brother Dube. The Spirit of Prophecy is not just the writings of EGW, it is the testimony of Jesus also, which is anyone's testimony of his or her conversion to Jesus and relationship with Jesus.

      Amen!(0)
  8. In Africa, (kenya), we r struggling with th idea of putting on trousers, applying make up, plaiting the hair..(for women)..cooking on sabbath. And manymmore. But for Me all the above doesn't matter I strongly believe I was saved through faith in jesus nothing more....give me your views towards this issues too

    Amen!(3)
    • Jane, I think we all need to keep growing in the Character of Christ. This requires a continual re-evaluation of every issue in our lives (including our appearance, health practices, business practices, education, financial decisions, and everything that we are involved in including our thoughts and feelings) in light of the Love and wisdom the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and minds.

      Most of us would change our appearance if we really received the Love of God for others to motivate us in the clothing we buy to wear. Our health practices would leave off some articles of food and add others if the True Love of God was the motivation of our food choices. This should continue and pervade our whole life in every issue.

      Amen!(0)
  9. Toni, I totally agree with you that we learn to love God and Jesus before we start the journey of sanctification.

    Rom 14:23 Everything that does not come from faith is sin. How apt. If we don't know God's will for us, then all our deeds are meaningless.

    1 John 5:3 says this is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. The sanctification is a life long journey and who are we to judge our brothers.

    This also ties in with what Jane has mentioned about things that you can or cannot do on Sabbath. I like what Col 3:17 says whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    It is difficult to define the right Sabbath or Christian behaviour but it is better to look at your motivations and your reasons for such behaviour. God looks at our heart beneath all our actions.

    Amen!(1)
  10. While keeping the Sabbath is a command, us Adventists have somehow taken it as a gateway to heaven. True when you break one command, it means you have broken all. Yet keeping His commandments should be out of love for the God who loved us before we knew Him, out of appreciation for Who is to us, believing that He is our Lord n Saviour.

    Amen!(1)

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