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. 17:1–22Gal. 2:3–55:2, 6Acts 15:1, 5. Why is it not that hard to understand how some could have believed that even the Gentiles needed to undergo it?



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 himself has promised. Outward circumcision was to be a symbol of circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:1630:6Jer. 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?

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Monday: Circumcision and the False Brothers — 7 Comments

  1. Baptism i say is the issue today,some people get baptisted just to be members of the church forgeting the meaning of baptism, recently in my local church some members who could have been accepted by profession of faith just because their memberships from their previous churches were somehow lost because these brethren had left their churches 4 years ago and in that 4 year duration have been faithful members in our congregation had to be baptised in order to be accepted as members, I think now we starting to lose the significance of what baptism is...and I hear that our local pastor has set a target of many people should be baptisted in a certain duration, is it how many baptisms take place or how many people are called to die in Christ through baptism or do we need to just baptise in order to fulfill the number? I may sound to be contradicting but am really concerned of the focus we losing which is the cross and am open for correction..be blessed1

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    • I agree with you that as a church we sometimes seem to miss the true meaning of things such as baptism and are just as guilty as those people back in Paul's time. We must not however, think that it is not necessary because the Master himself commanded this as a public sign that we are dying to the old man of sin. Baptism is necessary,it is a part of the process of being a born again christian. On the other hand, even though circumcision has health benefits, it does not play a role in our salvation and this is what Paul was pointing out to the Galatians.

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  2. Powerful message that relates to the three Ps.
    P- Principle
    P- Policy
    P- Practice

    The principles of God are never changing. He change not. The principle of covenant making and symbolism is still applicable. I think it changes with time (Policy).

    Policy to me is the norms that are base on principles but only relevant to a specific time or period in history. We always hear that we need to understand the historical context of the particular statements or stories from the bible. Why was it done. What were the traditions or the norms of that day?

    Practice may be defined as the religious body that believe the core principles but use certain policies base on that day, to help communicate those same principles.

    I see that the practice and policies are a subset of the principle (God's character and his word) and should never be confused. We will never be confused if we allow the Spirit to lead.

    I sat on board meetings before which temporary excommunicated a Praise team member for 9 months, since he had a child out of wedlock. This family who pushed it were well versed in church history, the SDA religious practice and norms and actually came into our church and tried to "fix things". They are no longer their and have moved to another country. The church was very polarized. Interesting, isn't it? Spirit led?

    How do we consolidate this thought with the idea of a Church Manual and a book about our beliefs?

    I remember the wearing of hats and women, pants, was a MAJOR issue. Maybe it still is. What about men or women wearing wedding bands or jewelry?

    Are we picking and choosing the policies that still apply to this day?

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    • Of course there's "picking and choosing" going on. Unfortunately some of the picking and choosing fails to distinguish between divine law and human tradition.

      Fornication is a violation of the seventh commandment. (As a church body, we need to treat sinners in harmony with principles taught by Jesus and the disciples. See Matthew 18, for example.)

      The other "MAJOR issues" you mention are merely human traditions and need to be evaluated in terms of divine principles which may be applicable.

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      • Thanks, Inge. You indicated that fornication is a violation of the 7th commandment. Aren't all sin sin and a violation of the Character of God?

        It is interesting that you use the phrase "..we need to treat sinners...". I am not sure if I can come to terms with the connotation. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean. It appears to me, that we are attempting to take the place of God. Is it judging?

        But my biggest issue with these things are that it is not consistent or it allows for "public sins" to be "treated" but "private sins" are not investigated or addressed.

        It seems to me that it creates a culture of measured holiness? Is this not Paul was trying to address?

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        • Jason, I wrote that "As a church body, we need to treat sinners in harmony with principles taught by Jesus and the disciples. See Matthew 18, for example." (Please read the chapter.)

          How would you recommend we (and the church) relate to sinners, if not according to the principles that Jesus taught? Shall we just go by our feelings?

          Jesus forbade setting ourselves up as judges of what only God can judge -- what goes on in a person's heart. In harmony with what Jesus taught, the Apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, "Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?" (1 Cor. 6:2-4) In other words, it is the specific duty of the church to maintain order and church discipline by "judging" the outward behavior of its members, as it relates to the moral law (not cultural standards).

          You say you have an issue with different treatment for "public sins" and "private sins," but how would you propose dealing with "private sins"? Would that not involve judging what we cannot know -- the very thing Christ forbids?

          Perhaps you also misunderstand the function of church discipline. It's similar to the function of discipline in the home. Discipline is one face of love. Parents that do not discipline their children demonstrate that they do not love them. Jesus envisioned the church to function as a close-knit family, and in a family open communication is crucial. That is what His counsel in Matthew 18 promotes.

          (Now how did we get here from the discussion of the requirement of circumcision?? ;) )

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  3. Whenever we are tempted to misconstrue Paul's comments about law keeping (or circumcision) it is well to keep in mind Paul's comment in 1 Corinthians 7:19:
    "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God."

    He also amplifies his meaning in Romans 2:
    25For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
    26Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
    27And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
    28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
    29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

    Paul, like Jesus, tightens up the law. Rather than excusing us from it, he makes it a matter of the heart - far more stringent than keeping merely the letter of the law.
    None of us are up to it. Only Christ living in us can do it. This is why Jesus can say "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
    When He dwells in us, we live His life.

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