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Paul argues in Galatians that circumcision obligates one to keep the whole of Torah:

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Gal 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. Gal 5:3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. Gal 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Abraham himself was circumcised after being justified by faith:

Gen_17:24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

And Paul circumcised Timothy "because of the Jews":

Act 16:3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Why is what is to be refused on pain of falling from favor for the Galatians of no apparent consequence in the lives of Abraham and Timothy?

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  • I had always assumed that for the Galatians circumcision was more about obedience and salvation but in Timothy's case is was to "become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some". The first being a doctrinal shift and the second more to gain access to the community. An offended person is less likely to hear what is being said.
    – Tonyg
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 14:53
  • @Tonyg That's what I've heard but it would be terribly immoral to do so. And it does not address Abraham's circumcision.
    – user10231
    Commented May 22, 2016 at 15:43
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    @WoundedEgo Why is following the Torah a curse? I am a proud Orthodox Jew who feels sad for those who have fallen away from the path. It is in no way 'a curse'. Commented May 23, 2016 at 20:34
  • @ephraimhelfgot We are discussing the writings of Paul (which does not necessarily mean anyone agrees with Paul, though many here do) and he argues that while obedience to the law brings blessings, disobedience brings the many curses and, he argues, all are condemned by the law for their disobedience. Again, it is the arguments of Paul that we are discussing.
    – user10231
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 14:39

3 Answers 3

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Abraham

Paul goes to great lengths to show that when Abraham was circumcised there was no Sinai covenant so that covenant could not make void his covenant:

NASB Galatians 3: 15Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Not to mention that Abraham was long dead before the law was given!

Timothy

The best that I can understand Paul considering it inconsequential that Timothy be circumcised is this:

  • his mother was a Jewess:

New American Standard Bible Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek,

  • since his mother was a Jewess, Timothy was a Jew:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrilineality_in_Judaism

  • since he was a Jew he was not converting, hence unlike the gentiles who were being told to become Jews in order to become Christians, Tim was doing no such thing:

Acts 15: 1Certain 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.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” 6The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Hence Paul considered the gentile conversion a threat but not Timothy's circumcision:

Galatians 6: 12Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. 17From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

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    A very good answer ruminator +1
    – user20490
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 21:25
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In Genesis 17:24 and Acts 16:3, did Abraham and/or Timothy come under the curse of the Torah?

No.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Gal 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. Gal 5:3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. Gal 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Paul has just made the case that we are free men, not under the bondage of law. He is not putting us in the bondage of anti-law: "do not submit again to a yoke of slavery".

We do not fall under law if we choose to eat clean animals; we are free to eat or not eat. The law of love trumps all. In Abraham's case his love for God led him to be circumcised, though he resisted not understanding the symbolism of it.

Timothy did it out of love to be able to preach among Jews.

Neither was under a yoke of slavery. Paul uses circumcision as a metaphor or token of the slavery to which the Galatians were subjecting themselves.

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  • I appreciate the difference that you're pointing out in motivation--that Timothy's circumcision was for the sake of evangelism rather than in the mistaken belief that the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant must be followed to be eligible for the Messiah's atonement.
    – Dieter
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 23:22
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In Galatians 5:1, Paul declared that Christ had set us free and no longer bound by the Law of Moses. This applies to both Jews and Gentiles. Circumcision as a practice of the Jews, no longer be a prerequisite to receive the Grace given by Jesus Christ. So it doesn't matter for the Jews to practise circumcision as their tradition, and it does no harm to Gentiles not to practise circumcision.

Paul did not against circumcision on Jews, but against circumcision on the Gentiles. As he said in Galatians 5:3-4

3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Now the argument is, if circumcision no longer a prerequisite, why would Paul reacted so strongly against Gentiles took the circumcision? The answer is straight forward but hidden. At that time, Gentiles had no knowledge of circumcision. It was introduced by the Jews false teachers, with an intention to turn the Gentiles to Jews, so as to under their influence. So Paul warned the Gentiles, if they accepted circumcision, they were bound by the Law of Moses, which was impossible to comply the whole Law, and no longer be free.

Then why would Paul allowed Timothy to get circumcision?

It should be noted that Paul had two workers with him, Timothy and Titus. Timothy mother was a Jew, Titus was Gentile. Paul was preaching in Synagogues where Gentiles were forbidden to go in. So Paul circumcised Timothy, not because of the Law of Moses, but prepared Timothy to have no obstruction to preach the Gospel to the Jews. However, Paul was strongly against Titus to be circumcised, while they were in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:3), facing the false believers as Paul described (Galatians 2:4).

The circumcision of Abraham was the sign of the covenant between the Lord and Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 9-11). It was a covenant specific to Abraham and his descendants, not to the Gentiles. The Jews had no right to extend the covenant of the Lord to the Gentiles as it is a sovereignty of the Lord.

Is Torah a curse? Absolutely not. Today the Jews are still free to accept circumcision as a sign they are descendants of Abraham. Gentiles remain uncircumcised to follow Jesus. Both of us are together the sons of the Lord, through the salvation of the Christ to become one.

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