Shadows and Realities

(Law and Grace)



2. How is it that Paul, who did not preach circumcision, circumcised Timothy?



The answer to your question is given by Luke in the book of the Acts of the apostles in these terms: “Because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek” (Acts 16:3 - NKJV).

Therefore, Paul circumcised Timothy in order not to give any offense to the Jews. For Paul always saw to it that he did not give any offense to the Jews in order to win them to Christ, as he said to the Corinthians: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law” (1 Corinthians 9:20 – NKJV). If Paul had left Timothy uncircumcised, surely he would have had great difficulty in evangelizing the Jews who were in that region where Timothy was known because the mother of Timothy was a Jewess and his father a Greek. The Jews could not have borne Paul having as a fellow worker a young man who had a Jewish mother (therefore he was a Jew by birth), but who was not circumcised in his flesh, that is, who was without the exterior sign which attested that he belonged to the Jewish people. Surely if both the father and the mother of Timothy had been Greek, Paul would not have circumcised Timothy because the Jews could not have blamed Paul. However, since the mother of Timothy was a Jewess, then Paul knew what their reaction toward him would be. The behaviour of Paul, therefore, as far as the circumcision of Timothy is concerned, is not blameworthy as it might seem to someone. For Paul circumcised Timothy not because he considered circumcision necessary to be saved, nor because he did not want to suffer persecution for the cross of Christ, but simply because he did not want to give any offense to the Jews, that is, because he wanted to show the Jews that he did not despise the law of Moses but he honoured it, which is a completely different reason. Paul behaved in a similar way toward the Jews also after he returned to Jerusalem from his missionary journey in Asia, as it is written: “And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them” (Acts 21:17-26)