Paul the Apostle, His Life Letters and Thought– Part Twenty Nine


p. 460-61– The practice of circumcision was very ancient at least as far back as 3000 B.C. The Hebrew form of it involved removing the entire foreskin, the Egyptian practice seems to have just involved making a slit in the foreskin, and mainly involving Egyptian priests. On how ancient the Jewish practice was see John. 5.2 and Exod. 4.25 using flint knives. It was practiced by a variety of ancient people (e.g. the Moabites and Edomites) but not the Philistines, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and the peoples of Asia Minor. Gen. 21.4/Lev. 12.3 it should be done on the 8th day. It is obviously an entrance rite, and one is not in the covenant if one hasn’t had it done. Greek and Romans writers associated the practice specifically with Jews not some of these other peoples, and often saw it as a form of mutilation and it provoked ridicule and criticism. They saw it as barbaric.

p. 462— He argues that it is highly probable that during the earliest days of the movement in Jerusalem it was the majority opinion of the apostles that Gentiles did not need to become Jews to be Christians. The casual mention of circumcision in 1 Cor. 7.18-19 means it had not been a controversy before, hence Galatians must be later [this logic doesn’t follow. Different churches had different issues, and before the Council in Acts 15 the issue was not settled…. And Galatians is early and so we see that it was unsettled then.]

p. 463— Sanders recognizes that the decree in Acts 15 agrees fairly closely with 1 Cor. 8-10. Neither Acts 11 nor Acts 15 can be equated with Gal. 2, but in a broad sense Acts 15 is right and agrees with Gal. 2. There were some Jewish Christians in Jerusalem that opposed the non-requirement of circumcision Acts 15.1-2. [Not incidentally they were Pharisees, like Paul had been].

p. 464—He argues that Acts 10-11,15 show that Gentiles being accepted with no circumcision happened independently and prior to Paul’s missionary activity. Ad hoc decisions of preachers along the way seems to have prompted this acceptance, not reflection on OT texts about gentiles such as Is. 56.6-8. Theoretical discussions came later. [Acts 10-11 do not raise the issue of circumcision].

p. 465—he puts a lot of weight on Acts 10—conversion of Cornelius cf. Gal. 3.1-5. It is the evidence they had received the Spirit in both texts and this proved they didn’t need to become Jews and get circumcised. They were admitted on the basis of their devotion, showing spiritual signs of conversion. Only later did they have to think about the consequences and then they may have reflected on those Gentile texts.

p. 466—evangelistic experience not study of Scripture led to the admission of Gentiles. So he sees the forced circumcision push as a change from the practice of the original leaders.

pp. 467-69—Paul thought his own work was leading up to final judgment, the overthrow of evil, and the establishment of God’s rule on earth. See Is. 2.2-3; Mic. 4.1-4; Zech. 8.21-33. The passages about the wealth of the Gentiles may have led him to take up the collection among them (see Is.18.7). None of these texts mention a need for Gentiles to be circumcised to go with Jews to Zion. Is. 56 says they should keep the Sabbath (but circumcision is still not mentioned)

p. 470—Oddly Paul never quotes these texts mentioned in his discussion of Gentiles and the covenant, nor does James in Acts 15.

p. 471— Here he follows Paula Fredricksen who says both within Judaism and within Christianity the false brethren of Gal. 2 were proposing a novelty— Gentiles required to be circumcised. Evidently until A.D. 49, for almost 20 years the ekklesia never demanded this as an entrance requirement for Gentiles. Perhaps they saw the increasing prominence of Gentiles in the movement as a factor causing Jewish rejection of the Gospel. In Acts 15.1 and Gal. 2.4 the Judaizers seem to be a minority. So time exacerbated the problem. In short the success with Gentiles provoked a reaction from these Judaizers.

p. 472— Sanders points out that in Romans Paul sees his work in eastern empire almost done, and was a success, but in Rom. 9-11 he reflects on Jewish rejection and suggests that the salvation of Israel relates only indirectly to his successful mission to Gentiles. It only indirectly affected the salvation of Israel [which he says finally will come to fulfillment when Jesus returns]. As he prepares to go to Jerusalem he asks for prayers of protection from unbelievers, and the implication is the saints are few there, and the unbelievers many, and so the mission to Jews there had largely failed. Rom. 15.31. We can’t know why the Judaizers made the trek to Galatia (and not elsewhere?). Perhaps the Judaizers saw too many Gentiles coming in without being Torah true.