Circumcision was and remains one of the most important markers of Jewish identity. It testifies both to Israel’s trust in God regarding its future and to God’s promise justifying that trust.
The question, therefore, is indeed a significant one: Why did Apostle Paul oppose circumcision for Gentiles? After all, he expressed this opposition while professing to be a true Pharisee! (Acts 23:6) Yet this occurred after his encounter with the risen Jewish Christ.
The answer is not as complicated as it may first appear.
Apostle Paul, as most Jews during his lifetime, used the word “circumcision” as a code word for Jewish identity (Col. 4:11). While he thought that being a Jew was an advantage in many ways (Rom. 3:1-2), he still adamantly opposed Gentile proselyte conversion, which meant fully joining the Jewish people through ethnic transformation. His reasoning resulted from a belief that something significant had happened – Gentiles had also become recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those receiving this gift from God were Gentile God-fearers and not those who joined the Jews through proselyte conversion (Eph. 3:6; Acts 15:7-8).
If all Gentile Christ-followers were to go through the proselyte conversion and become Jews in every way, it would sabotage God’s cosmic plan of revealing himself to the world. Paul’s Pharisaic idea was simple: Jews should stay Jews and nations should stay nations. Both must unite in worship of the one true God (1 Cor. 7:17-20).
Why was Paul against circumcision for Gentiles? Because this true Jew held a strong conviction that the glory of Israel’s God must become known to the entire world! His God could not be the God of the Jews only, for he is simply too big for that (Rom. 3:29).
This article originally appeared on Israel Study Center, July 20, 2017, and reposted with permission.