Acts 16: 1 – 5 Timothy joins Paul and Silas
Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
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This passage shocked me.
Three days ago I read “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” (Acts 15: 1 – 2).
Two days ago I read the decision of the apostles on the question of circumcision, and other Jewish laws regarding ritual purity, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15: 28 – 29). Circumcision was not necessary.
Today I read, “Paul wanted to take him (Timothy) along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” Furthermore, “As they travelled from town to town, they (Paul and Timothy delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.”
What’s going on here?
Could it be an example of how Paul suited his evangelical style to those he needed to convert? In 1 Corinthians 9: 19 – 20, Paul says “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.”
On the other hand, some 10 years later, in 62 AD Paul writes to the Philippians, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh…” This is an outspoken condemnation of a faction that is advocating the need for Gentile Christians to be circumcised.
How do we explain these contradictions?
I understand that some scholars believe Acts is not fully reliable historically.
I suggest (very tentatively, because I am neither a bible scholar nor a historian) that maybe the chronology in Acts is slightly wrong. If the council of Jerusalem had been held after Paul’s journey with Timothy, then Timothy’s circumcision would be prudent and sensible. There would be no contradiction between Paul’s actions and the message he was delivering.
By the time of the letter to the Philippians, Paul is fully convinced of the doctrine that circumcision for Gentile converts is wrong and is speaking out robustly against it.
At all events, there is no doubt about the position today; the laws of ritual purity have been replaced by the free grace of God. I pray that we all experience that grace more and more!
Thank you that you are love. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for your Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
If you are kind enough to read my blog regularly, thank you!
I am going to take a Christmas and New Year break, and continue with Acts from Monday January 4th.
I wish you all a peaceful and blessed Christmas.