Paul circumcised Timothy, who was a Galatian, half Jew and half Gentile, at the beginning of his ministry as a concession to Jewish bias. “… And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him 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” (Acts 16:1–3).
Was Paul inconsistent with his teachings in the case of Timothy?
Some claim that this action is inconsistent with Paul’s writing which states: “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” (1 Corinthians 7:18, 19 also Galatians 5:2–6).
Paul explained the principles behind his actions in circumcising Timothy in the following passage, “to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Corinthians 9:21–23). Paul’s compromise was a right decision made to smooth the preaching of the gospel among the Jews of Gentile lands.
The Case of Titus
However, in the case of Titus, a full-blooded Gentile, it was completely a different story than the one with Timothy. If Paul had agreed to circumcise Titus, he would have denied his gospel and appeared to admit that these external actions were necessary for salvation. Paul mentioned the incident of Titus simply to show an example where the apostles themselves did not demand a Gentile convert to be circumcised. For, they did not agree to the demands of the “false brethren” of Galatians 2:4, 5, who have been misleading the Galatians away from the gospel truths.
Paul’s actions showed consistency and willingness to put away bias and accept truth when it was offered to them. And this spirit of humility and openness allowed the Lord to work through the early church in a great and mighty way. And today, the Lord asks for the same spirit of love and acceptance in the church. Christians should be ready to break down walls of partisan, without violating the Scriptures, if the church is to reach new levels of spiritual growth.
In His service,