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Truth about Circumcision

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  • James Trimm
    There has been much talk in the movement lately about circumcision and circumcision of the heart. I thought I should send out the following to clear up some
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2001
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      There has been much talk in the movement lately about circumcision and
      circumcision of the heart. I thought I should send out the following to
      clear up some misconceptions:


      Physical circumcision was to be a required token of the covenant for all
      generations forever.
      (Read Gen. 17:9-14)


      This "circumcision of the heart" is mentioned in the Ketuvim Netzarim in
      Rom. 2:28-29 and Col. 2:11. Many have misunderstood this circumcision of
      the heart as being a substitute for physical circumcision. However this
      circumcision of the heart was not a substitute for physical circumcision
      nor a substitute for Torah observance in general. In context here it seems
      to refer to removing the stuborness in ones heart and making it open to

      This Torah tells us to circumcise our heart (Deut. 10:16) love YHWH with
      all our heart and keep his commandments (Deut. 11:1, 13) and place the
      Torah in our heart (Deut.11:18). Thus circumcision of the heart would seem
      to involve loving YHWH and keeping his commandments and and placing the
      Torah in our hearts.


      Please read the following. I think it will help you better understand the
      events of Acts 15.
      The material below takes the form of a commentary written following
      material from a preliminary version of my translation of ACts from the

      CHAPTER 15

      1. And men came down from Y'hudah and were teaching the brothers,
      Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of the Torah, you are
      not able to have life [eternal].

      In Acts 15 we have a halachic issue being settled by the Rosh Beit Din.
      In order to understand the proceedings of that meeting and its ruling we
      must know what the issue was that was before it. In this case Paul's
      position is not clearly spelled out in the pashat only his opponents'
      position is clearly spelled out in the pashat.

      Pauls opponents' position is:

      "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of the Torah,
      you are not able to have life [eternal]."

      Now we must ask ourselves: "What are the implications or ramifications of
      this position?"

      We have a good model to work from. A similar position is held today by a
      group called the "Church of Christ" also known as "Campbelites". These
      teach that a person mut be baptised in order to be saved. This has
      resulted in adebate between them and other protestants (especially
      Baptists). The Baptists often pose the situation of a man who beccomes a
      believer while accross the street from a Church of Christ Church. He
      immediately runs accross the street to get baptised and is hit by a truck
      and killed. the baptists point out that this man according to the Church
      of Christ position would not be saved. Many Church of Christ evangelists
      run around with keys to their church so that at any time they can go get
      that baptism immediately, perchance the person dies before an more opertune
      time comes.

      This would also be the mindset of Paul's opponents of Acts 15:1. They
      would believe that that person should become circumcised immedtiately upon
      becoming a believer perchance they die before doing so.

      The more traditional view in Judaism differs. The more traditional view is
      that since circumcision and immersion mark the point at which a person
      becomes a Jew, that they must learn the Torah first. This is becaue if
      they are circumcised and become a Jew before learning the 613 commandments
      of the Torah then they will immediately be violating commandments that they
      do not know, bringing judgement down upon our whole people (Deut. 28-29 &
      lev. 26) . The traditional Jewish approach is therefore to teach the new
      believer the Torah first.

      Now we can see from the remez what Paul's position is. The opponents are
      teaching that a person must be circumcised immediatly to be saved and then
      taught the Torah. Paul was teaching that they should first learn the Torah.


      2. And Paul and Bar Nabba had much strife and dispute with them. And
      it happened that they sent up Paul and Bar Nabba, and others with them, to
      the emissaries and elders who were in Yerushalayim, because of this dispute.


      So they took the matter to the beit din.


      3. And the assembly escorted [and] all of Phenicia and also among the
      Samaritans while recounting concerning the conversion of the Gentiles, and
      causing great joy to all the brothers.

      COMMENTS: Notice that Paul has been converting Gentiles !?!?!?!


      4. And when they came to Yerushalayim, they were received by the
      assembly and by the emissaries and by the elders, and they recounted to
      them all that Eloah had done with them.
      5. And men stood up, those from the teaching of the Parushim who had
      believed, and were saying, It is necessary for you to circumcise them and
      you should command them to observe the Torah of Moshe.


      Here the opponents argument is only abreviated. Here it is stated as:

      "It is necessary for you to circumcise them
      and you should command them to observe the Torah of Moshe."

      Why does it say this? This on the surface does not even look like the same
      argument they were making in Acst 15:1. However if we recall our remez it
      makes perfect sense. This is a statement of chronology:

      [first] It is necessary for you to circumcise them
      and [second] you should command them to observe the Torah of Moshe.

      Now we can see that they are still making the same argument as in 15:1.


      6. And the emissaries and elders were gathered to look into this matter.
      7. And when there had been much debate, Shimon stood up and said to
      them, Men, our brothers, you know that from the first days from my mouth,
      Eloah chose that the Gentiles should hear the word of the b'sorah and trust.
      8. And Eloah, who knows what is in hearts, gave testimony concerning
      them and gave to them the Ruach HaKodesh as [he did] to us.
      9. And he made no distinction between us and them, because he
      purified their hearts by trust.

      COMMENTS: Kefa addresses the opponant's position as fully stated in Acts
      15:1. He points to evidence (from Acts 10-11) that salvation preceeds


      10. And now, why do you tempt Eloah so that you place a yoke upon the
      necks of the talmidim which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
      11. But by the favor of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah we believe to have
      life, like them.

      COMMENTS: The "yoke" her in context is NOT the Torah (although often the
      Torah is likened to a yoke). The context here is clear. Kefa is calling
      the argument of Paul' opponants a "yoke". Thus the "Yoke" in this passage
      involves earning salvation by works such as circumcision.

      Kefa appeals to the patriarchs as an example. Abraham for example was
      saved by trust first in Gen. 15:6 and was circumcised LATER in Gen. 17.

      Now Kefa has given two case examples:

      1. Cornelius and his house (Acts 10-11)

      2. The patriarch (especially Abraham) (Gen. 15:6 & Gen. 17)

      In both cases Kefa points out that salvation preceeded circumcision.
      (although in at least one of them circumcision still came later).


      12. And all the assembly was silent and listened to Paul and Bar Nabba
      who were recounting everything Eloah had done by their hands: signs and
      mighty deeds among the Gentiles.

      COMMENTS: This paralles verse 3 where Paul is recounting conversions.
      Paul is likening these cases to the two case examples that Kefa has


      13. And after they were quiet, Ya'akov stood up and said, Men, our
      brothers, hear me.
      14. Shimon recounted to you how Eloah began to choose from the Gentiles
      a people for his name.
      15. And to this the words of the prophets agree, like that which is
      16. After these [things] I will return and set up the tabernacle of
      David which has fallen, and I will rebuild that which has fallen of it
      and I will raise it up,
      17. So that the remnant of men might seek YHWH, and all the Gentiles,
      on whom my name is called, says YHWH who made all these [things].
      18. The works of Eloah are known from old.
      19. Because of this I say, They should not trouble those who from the
      Gentiles have turned toward Eloah.
      20. But let it be sent to them that they should separate [themselves]
      from the uncleanness of that which is sacrificed [to idols] and from sexual
      immorality and from that which is strangled and from blood.
      21. For Moshe, from the first generations, had proclaimers in every
      city in the synagogues, who read him on every shabbat.

      COMMENTS: A fuller version of the ruling is given below where veres 20 is
      expanded so I will comment upon it there.

      However it is significant that Ya'akov presumes that these gentiles will be
      hearing [the Torah] of Moshe proclaimed in the synagogues on Shabbat.

      Ya'akov seems to say here that the gentiles would need to maintain a
      minimum standard of purity and learn the Torah BEFORE becoming circumcised.
      Remember the issue being heard involves chronology of three things:

      1. Becoming circumcised
      2. Obtaining salvation/eternal life
      3. Instruction in the Torah of Moshe

      The above chronology is that of Paul's opponents. The beit din is
      determining if this is true or if another chronology should be followed,

      1. Obtaining salvation/eternal life
      2. Instruction in the Torah of Moshe
      3. Becoming circumcised

      Paul's opponents placed circumcision first in the chronlogy, while Paul
      placed it last.

      The beit-din agrees with Paul.


      22. Then the Emissaries and elders, with all the assembly, chose men
      from them and sent to Antioch, with Paul and Bar Nabba, Y'hudah who was
      called Bar Sabba, and Sila, men who were chiefs among the brothers.
      23. And they wrote a letter by their hands [saying] thus: The
      emissaries and elders and brothers, to those who are in Antioch and in
      Syria and in Cilicia, brothers who are from the Gentiles, shalom.
      24. It has been heard by us that men from us have gone out and
      disturbed you with words and have upset your nefeshim while saying that you
      must be circumcised and observe the Torah, which we did not command them.

      COMMENT: Again note the chronology of Paul's opponants:

      [1] you must be circumcised
      [2] and observe the Torah

      Each of the three times their position is stated it is abreviated more
      (15:1, 5 & 24)

      If we put them altogether to get the fullest form of their argument we get:

      "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of the Torah,
      you are not able to have life [eternal]."
      [therefore] It is necessary for you to circumcise them [first]
      and [second] you should command them to observe the Torah of Moshe.


      25. Because of this, all of us, while gathered together, purposed and
      chose men and sent to you, with our beloved Paul and Bar Nabba,
      26. Men who have committed themselves on behalf of the name of our Lord
      Yeshua the Messiah.
      27. And we have sent with them Y'hudah and Sila who will tell you these
      same [things] by speech.
      28. For it was the will of the Ruach HaKodesh and also of us that a
      greater burden should not be placed on you, outside of those [things] that
      are necessary,
      29. That you should abstain from that which is sacrificed [to idols]
      and from blood and from[that which] is strangled and from sexual
      immorality, that as you keep your nefeshim from these, you will do well.
      Be steadfast in our Lord.

      COMMENTS: Note the phrase "a greater burden" this is not an exhaustive
      list but
      the furthest paramaters. The questionable areas made clear. There was no
      doubt as to whether gentiles could murder or steal so these are not listed.
      Thus the furthest limits of idolatry would extend to include eating meat
      offerred to idols etc. With this in mind these closely parallel the seven
      laws of Noach. Also thse would set purity rules which would allow these
      gentiles to interact with the Torah observant community while learning the


      Gal. 4:21-5:6

      In prompting this study I will begin with Gal. 5:2:

      Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised,
      Christ shall profit you nothing.
      Gal. 5:2 KJV

      At first glance one might think after reading this verse that this one
      verse disproves the entire case made throughout the book you are now
      reading. But the key is that we must take the verse in context. One basic
      rule of hermeneutics is to ask yourself "who is speaking?" and "who is
      being spoken to?" Now we know that Paul is the speaker, but who is the
      "you" in Gal. 5:2? Is it the Galatians in general? Is it all mankind? Is
      it the modern reader? The answer to all of these qusertions is "no". If
      we look up just a little bit in Paul's letter here we will see that Gal.
      5:2 is the summary of an argument that he initiates in Gal. 4:21 and which
      he illustrates in Gal. 4:22-31.
      Gal. 4:21 tells us exactly who the "you" in 5:2 is. He writes:

      Tell me, you that desire to be under the law,
      do you not hear the law?
      Gal. 4:21

      Note that "you" is defined in 4:21 as "you that desire to be under the law"
      Thus Gal. 5:2 should be understood to mean:

      Behold, I Paul say
      to you, [that desire to be under the law]
      that if you be circumcised,
      Christ shall profit you nothing

      Remember what we learned in the chapter "Paul Misunderstood", the phrase
      "under the law" does not refer to the Torah itself but to a false teaching
      that was never true. So Paul is telling these people who are ready to
      apostacize and seek salvation through the false "under the law" doctrine,
      that their circumcisions will profit them nothing. Following the context
      then the rest of Gal. 5 is addressed to the "you that desire to be under
      the law" of 4:21.

      Now let us examine the midrash Paul gives in Gal. 4:22-31. Remeber now, we
      know from Gal. 4:21 that Paul is going to be illustrating a contrast
      between the Torah and the "under the law" teaching. The parable may be
      illustrated in a chart as follows:

      The Torah The "Under the Law" teaching
      (Gal. 4:21) (Gal. 4:21)
      Abraham's Abraham's
      son by freewoman son by bondwoman
      [Isaac] [Ishmael]
      (Gal. 4:22) (Gal. 4:22)
      born by promise born after the flesh
      (Gal. 4:23) (Gal. 4:23)
      Jerusalem which is above from mount Sinai
      which is free, genders to bondage
      the mother of us all. [Sarah] Hagar
      (Gal. 4:26) (Gal. 4:24-25)
      "the liberty wherewhith "entangled again
      Christ hath made us free" with the yoke of bondgage"
      (Gal. 5:1) (Gal. 5:1)

      This fits perfectly with what we have learned in the chapter "Freedom form
      Bondage". The Torah is freedom. False teachings such as the ANOMOS
      teaching, the "works of the law" teaching and the "under the law" teraching
      bring only bondage.

      Study Torah with SANJ Mitvah Club

      James Trimm
      He who seeks will not cease until he finds,
      and having found he will be amazed,
      and having been amazed he will reign,
      and having reigned he will rest.
      - The Goodnews according to the Hebrews
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