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Paul circumcised Timothy, who was a Galatian, half Jew and half Gentile, at the beginning of his ministry as a concession to Jewish prejudice. Luke wrote, “Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. 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).
This action of circumcising Timothy could be explained by Paul 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 practical one with the purpose to preach of the gospel among the Jews of Gentile lands. To the weak in faith, Paul did not deliberately act in a way that would raise their prejudices and confuse their limited knowledge of truth. He did not shock them by disobedience to their customs and religious services (Acts 16:1–3; Romans 14:1–3, 13, 15, 19–21; 1 Corinthians 8:13).
In the case of Titus, a full-blooded Gentile, it was different according to the divine verdict of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Had Paul agreed to circumcise Titus, he would have denied his gospel message and seemed to admit that these external forms were necessary for salvation. Paul’s aim in mentioning the story of Titus was to show that even the apostles themselves did not demand a Gentile convert to be circumcised.
clearly, the apostles did not accept the demands of the “false brethren” of Galatians 2:4, 5. The fact that the apostles in Jerusalem did not require Titus to be circumcised was proof of their stand on this issue. The false teachers who have been guiding the Galatians in the wrong path were to be opposed.
Not circumcising Titus showed Paul’s consistency and the willingness of the leaders to give up all bias and accept truth when it was shown to them. This readiness made it possible for the Holy Spirit to work through the early church in great manner.
The Lord expects the same readiness to be present in His church today. Christians must have one mind and willingness to accept new light when it is given to them as long as this light is in harmony with the revealed truths of the Bible (John 17:17).
The Verdict of the Jerusalem Council
The Jerusalem council set the protocol for how to address certain cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles who had both accepted Christianity and were having fellowship with one another. The church at Antioch was a mixed body of believers consisting of Jews, Gentile proselytes, and members converted directly from pagan background (Acts 11:19, 20). The question that troubled the church then was how to deal with Gentiles in the church in relation to Judaism. The main issue was over circumcision.
Paul and Barnabas had not required the Gentile converts to be circumcised and this greatly offended the Jewish converts. The Judaizers maintained that circumcision was part of the law which was given to Abraham by God (Genesis 17:10–13) and was confirmed to Moses (Leviticus 12:3; John 7:22). They said that if it was neglected or refused, the whole law was broken.
While they were able to accept Christ as the Messiah, they were unwilling to see the true relationship between Christ and the Mosaic law. The issue of circumcision caused tension during Paul’s ministry and left its mark on most of the writings of the New Testament.
For this reason, Peter, John, and James who were at Jerusalem when Paul and Barnabas presented this issue, along with the elders there prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this matter (Galatians 2:9; Acts 1:19; Acts 11:30). After prayer, the Holy Spirit answered them and the council decreed that the gentiles are not required to be circumcised but to: “abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29).
The Holy Spirit was leading the early church step by step into truth (John 16:13). The evidence that supported this decision was that God had “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). This development proved that ceremonial rites of circumcision were no longer needed. In addition, God had given to the new Gentile converts who were uncircumcised the same gift of the Spirit as He had first given at Pentecost, making no difference between Jews and Gentiles.
In His service,