Were Gentile believers in the NT subject to circumcision?

In the early church, some maintained that Gentiles who wished to join the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12) should be subject to circumcision in addition to their acceptance of Jesus Christ. The Jerusalem Council convened to settle this question (Acts 15). And the council ruled against the necessity of the Gentiles observing Jewish ceremonial law.

However, not all seemed willing to accept the decisions of the council. A strong party developed that continued to insist that Gentiles should accept Judaism along with Christianity. A group of zealots from this party upset the churches, a situation that gave rise to the Epistles of Paul to the churches, in which he clearly set forth that the ceremonial system of Judaism was now obsolete. Circumcision was part of the ceremonial law, which is commonly referred to as Moses’ Law.

However, coming to an end of Judaism did not mean the abrogation of all the laws that God had originally given. The ceremonial law which pointed to Christ naturally came to an end when Christ fulfilled them. Jewish civil law had already largely passed away with the passing of the nation’s sovereignty. But God’s moral law of the Ten commandments (Exodus 20:3-17), which is a transcript of the character of God, is as eternal as God Himself and can never be abrogated. Jesus Himself said it can’t be changed (Matthew 5:17,18).

In all his teaching concerning the end of the Jewish legal system, Paul made it clear that the moral law (Ten Commandments -Exodus 20) was not abrogated. He said, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). When speaking of the end of circumcision, he specifically concluded, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Please note that there are two different laws presented in the Bible:

MOSES’ LAW

Called “the law of Moses” (Luke 2:22).

Called “law … contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).

Written by Moses in a book (2 Chronicles 35:12).

Placed outside the ark (Deuteronomy 31:26).

Ended at the cross (Ephesians 2:15).

Added because of sin (Galatians 3:19).

Contrary to us, against us (Colossians 2:14).

Judges no one (Colossians 2:14-16).

Carnal (Hebrews 7:16).

GOD’S LAW

Called “the law of the Lord” (Isaiah 5:24).

Called Ten Commandments-“the royal law” (James 2:8).

Written by God on stone (Exodus 31:18; 32:16).

Placed inside the ark (Exodus 40:20).

Will stand forever (Luke 16:17).

Points out sin (Romans 7:7; 3:20).

Not grievous (1 John 5:3).

Judges all people (James 2:10-12).

Spiritual (Romans 7:14).

Perfect (Psalms 19:7).

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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