To Circumcise Or Not To Circumcise

Galatians 2 can be a confusing passage. There are several topics that are discussed. I argue that unless you understand what was going on in that time period you miss the true understanding. In verses 3 and 4 lots of spirited debate occurs. Does anyone need to follow the Torah anymore? Do Gentiles need to follow Torah? Maybe not all of Torah, but circumcision? Titus was not compelled being a Greek so that settles that right? Words are thrown around without truly knowing the context behind the words. Like bondage and liberty. Let’s take a look and see what is going on.

People today, notably Americans, view everything from their own standpoint. We have trouble seeing events in their original context and instead inject our context into the picture. Unfortunately, many have had a picture painted for them about Jews. The picture is many believe Jews work for their salvation. Another picture that is painted is Torah is bondage. It is a yoke that is unbearable. No one can hold up to the yoke of Torah. Torah is opposite of liberty. If you follow Torah you then Christ is of no benefit to you. All of these are misconceptions. They are all false. These pictures come about due to ignorance. For there is not one verse that states Torah is bondage or the Torah is a yoke that no one can bear. In fact, Scripture states just the opposite. Judaism has always been a faith based system. Are there some within Judaism that believe it is a works based system? Yes. Just because someone believes something does not make it true. Some believe in Amillennialism, but that does not make it true. Many believe in Pre-Tribulation, but that does not make it true. Let’s look at Galatians 2 in the context of when it was written.

Many believe that circumcision is required to convert to Judaism. Today, that is what is taught in Orthodox Judaism. This was not always the case. There was a long standing debate between the different schools of thought at one time. Shammai and Hillel debated this very topic. In Yevamot 46a the viewpoint presented is “A male convert who has been immersed but not circumcised or circumcised but not immersed, is a convert.” Note that immersed is basically a baptism. Paul, who was from the school of Hillel, was taught why a Gentile did not have to undergo circumcision to convert to Judaism. Shammai on the other hand believed a convert must be circumcised to convert. Yeshua’s remarks on how to carry out Torah seem to go along with Hillel’s viewpoint over Shammai most of the time. The one opinion Yeshua did agree with Shammai was on the subject of divorce.

Paul, already versed on why a Gentile did not have to undergo circumcision to be a convert to Judasim, writes in Romans 4 how Avraham converted. He converted through faith, while he was uncircumcised. Avraham later received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith. This very thought is what Paul is trying to get through to the Galatians. Circumcision is not a means to convert. Faith is and always will be the true way.

Let’s look at verse four and into the bondage issue. Does following Torah bring bondage? King David said in Psalms 119:45 and I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts (laws). King David, says because he sought after G-d’s Torah he walks at liberty. James calls the Torah the perfect law of liberty and whoever looks into it he being not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work shall be blessed. In James 2:12 he states as they shall be judged by the law of liberty. Everyone is going to be judged according to the Torah per Paul in Romans 2:12.   In 1 John 5:3 we are told for this is the love of G-d, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not burdensome. Yeshua said “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Are we told the same thing in the Tanakh? Yes, in Deuteronomy 30:11 it says “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” So Torah is not bondage or too hard. What is the bondage that Paul is speaking about in Galatians 2?

Paul speaks several times about sin being bondage. Per Colossians 2:14, believers are released from the death sentence as a result of sin. Yet some of the Pharisees and teachers of the Torah taught something different than Torah. They taught traditions of man and sometimes these traditions would cause them to break Torah. Some of these teachers and Pharisees held their traditions above Torah. You cannot do this. Traditions are fine, but when you hold them equal to or above Torah then there is a problem. This is what Yeshua contended with during His ministry.

Paul did not have a problem with circumcision. He had a problem with using circumcision as a matter of conversion. This is what the Jerusalem Council was all about in Acts 15. Verse 1 says “Some men came down from Judea and bean teaching the brethren, ‘unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’”. As I mentioned at first, this was a long debated topic and was not new at the time of Paul’s ministry. Include this info along with the idea that Torah is not too difficult or brings one into bondage and that it is actually freedom or life, then you have a whole new perspective to consider.

Until next time…kadosh, kadosh, kadosh is HaShem!