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It would seem like Paul is for circumcision in Romans, but makes a u-turn in Galatians, where he seems to preach against circumcision.

The passages, for reference:

Romans 3:1-2

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

and

Galatians 5:2

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

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The Romans Passage

In Romans 1, Paul showed the basic tension that would underline the whole letter in verse 16; he said the gospel is the power to salvation for the Jew as well as the Greek. He continues to explain that righteousness is revealed in it it a way that emphasizes faith.

His long explanation that follows points out that God's wrath is revealed to be against people who, like the barbarians, fight against what can be known about God and his truth by their chasing after unrighteousness.

Not only is God's wrath against those who do these things, he says, but also against those who, after knowing about the punishment that is decreed to fall, determine that those who practise such things are right.

If chapter one seemed to address the sinfulness of the barbarians, chapter two seems to address those who believe themselves to be religious.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things!

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done.

His point is that judgment will fall, not on specific ethnic groups, but on all people. The same standard will fall on everyone: righteousness (defining this word/concept is beyond the scope of the question).

As verse 11 points out in the context of judgment, "God does not show favoritism."

Verses 12-16 discuss some specifics on how the coming judgment will take place, and verses 17-24 contain a rather pointed cross-examining of the current Jewish mindset. It is concluded in the scriptural accusation, "God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

He then points to their biggest sign of their right to Abraham's covenant: circumcision. His thoughts on their right to inherit the promise based on their obedience to this one prime condition of Jewishness can be summarized as verse 25.

Romans 2:25 - Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.

His point being that being a Jew is not simply the same as being circumcised. What makes a Jew a Jew is his obedience to the Law, and that brings us to Chapter 3, and to the verse in question.

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Looked at in this light (are Jews closer to God than Gentiles?), this incongruity seems to resolve itself.

The value of circumcision, even of being a Jew, has just been called into question, since that supreme identifying act of Abraham's covenant didn't automatically make a person more righteous in God's eyes. So why was it so important to be a Jew in the first place, if both Jews and Gentiles fall under similar judgments?

Paul's answer was that the importance of being a Jew lay in the fact that it was the Jews that were entrusted with the words of God. Even though that sounds like circumcision gave them some kind of advantage, he later (in verses 9-18) will point out that being a Jew still didn't break the power of sin. He will move on from that point to their following of the Law to the same effect.

Jews and Gentiles alike stand in judgment - there is no advantage in circumcision, apart from being (among other things) God's Law-bearers.

The Galatians Passage

I'm not going to be so verbose on this passage - just enough to show the difference. Remember, though (or refer to Galatians 1:6 and surrounding context), that this is a letter written to believers who are considering turning aside to a perversion of the gospel they were taught.

The verse in question, Galatians 5:2

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.

Notice immediately that this is referring to a decision that the readers could do theoretically, some action they could make in the present or future. He is not speaking of the benefits of having been circumcised, or whether it was important for circumcision to even have existed. This is specifically speaking of a weighty decision to become circumcised.

Galatians 3:19-25 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

In this passage which came a little ways before the text in question, we can sense the direction of his reasoning. He had been speaking of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, and showed that the law that followed did not set aside their covenant. The covenant plainly does not depend on their obedience.

Our quoted passage intervenes at this point to wonder what the purpose of the Law was, if not to adapt the promise given to Abraham. His answer says that the Law was a guardian to lead people to Christ. Faith in Christ has come, so the guardian is not necessary anymore.

But notice how he ties all that up.

Galatians 3:26-29 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

His previous arguments have set aside the Law as being attached to the inheritance promised to Abraham, but in this passage, he attaches the promise directly to those who are in Christ.

He will follow these arguments with various explanations and proofs, but this passage is enough to explain his focus in the verse in question.

If you get circumcised now, he is telling them, leaving what you've learned about Christ to dive into Abraham's covenant through circumcision, Christ is simply not going to profit you in any way!

Galatians 5:3-6 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Summary

Is there a contradiction between Romans 3:1-2 and Galatians 5:2? It would seem like Paul is for circumcision in Romans, but makes a u-turn in Galatians, where he seems to preach against circumcision.

There does not appear to be any shift in Paul's opinion on circumcision in these passages.

In the first passage, context upholds that Paul places no value on circumcision's ability to excuse them in any way when God judges the world. The only value that he attributes to circumcision in the case of Romans 3:1-2 is that it was through the circumcised that God's word came. Circumcision had a value, but it does not appear to be a value important to those currently in Christ.

In the second passage, He says plainly that circumcision has no value to those currently in Christ - in fact, to get circumcised is essentially the same in his eyes as pledging to follow the Law of Moses! Since he sees this Law as a guardian to bring us to Christ, and since justification cannot occur through it, Paul highly frowns on this, seeing this as equivalent to falling from grace.

In both verses, Paul sees circumcision as having no current value important to a disciple of Christ.

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  • This is an excellent explanation Neil and very clear, comprehensive and precise - thanks. – Richard Oct 6 '16 at 8:30
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The evidence in context is pretty clear. To experience God in all that God is, you must be free from being under the law. It does not matter if you are a Jew, and it means nothing if you are circumcised. Those legal technicalities will give you credibility before certain people. They will not impact the ability to experience God in all that God is.

To know God as he is means to view life through God's eternal perspective. To know that everything God does is in your eternal best interest. God is Holy. He does not fit into my definition of nice, fair, honest, loving, compassionate, or just. His ways are higher than my ways because He is Holy.

I only know what makes sense to me and to people who are more articulate than I am about spiritaul issues. God knows what makes sense in every part of the Universe, throughout all creation, and across all time. Now that is an app I would love to download.

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Paul speaks of a circumcised heart. That is the same term found in Deuteronomy. The Law was to be obeyed out of the result of the first commandment: Hear, O Israel, the lord your God is One. Love the Lord with..." The Jews worked that obedience into a business agreement: If I obey God, He will owe me rescue, blessings and whatever else.
This is the argument Paul is dealing with in Galatians - it is not the externals which save you... In the letter to the Romans, Paul deals with the fact that a) Jews, who claim to have the law (Including the circumcision) but do not keep the law, are in the same boat as the Gentiles who do not have the law (or circumcision) - they both needed Christ. Paul argues from two different perspectives, but the result in both arguments is the same: Circumcised or not, makes no difference. You cannot "work so hard that God will owe you blessings," and you can be circumcised all you want, but - same result. It is Paul's interesting way to deal with the law. At the end of Acts he takes some Jews into the Temple to fulfill some rites and to keep the peace in Jerusalem. But he does not expect any "brownie points with God" from the rites. It's not Paul contradicting himself. Two issues, same arguemtn counts.

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I think your question here is related to your question How can we reconcile Galatians 5:3 & Galatians 5:4?

As we found in the above, when Paul is admonishing the Galatians for following Judaic laws, he is not condemning the laws themselves, but rather the act of turning from Christ toward the law.

I think it is correct to say that when Paul refers to the advantage of the Jews in Romans 3:1-2, he is refer the special place that they were given by God, but that through rejection of Christ they have lost. The special place of the Jews and its loss through apostasy was foretold by the prophets. Ezekiel writes, for example (5:5-6):

Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her. And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.

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It seems to me that Paul in Romans 3:1-2 is saying that the Jews were given the laws (many of them) from GOD, and there is honor for them in following those laws, one of which was that a Hebrew should be circumcised. Paul in verse 9 says; "What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin"; In verses 29-31 Paul ends with saying: Is HE the God of the Jews only? is HE not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (he is referring to the 10 Commandments when he says "law" in this case.)

The 10 Commandments were put in the Arch of the Covenant, written on stone, (a Covenant between man and GOD...HIS Will for mankind) not the laws concerning circumcision, temple ordinances, etc. I think Paul is saying if one is a Jew, he should not be condemned by gentiles if he is circumcised because in the Jewish faith it was the sign that one had submitted themselves unto the Law of GOD; and if one is a gentile, they show their submission to the Law via their belief in Jesus, and that the gentile faith is no way diminished by not being circumcised, because it is following the Will of GOD (10 Commandments) for man through submission to Jesus that saves. Jesus is what wrote the law on our hearts, when He sent us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Galatians 5:6-For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 6:15-For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. [What is a new creature? One who has received the Holy Spirit through their Faith in Jesus, to replace their will for GOD's.]

Philippians 3:3-For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh

It was further pointed out that no man is righteous and can keep the law. Jesus pointed out that if we think it we have done it. Jesus is the only Way because HE provided the sacrifice of Himself to pay the penalty of transgressing the Law of GOD and gives mercy and forgiveness to those who have the Testimony of Jesus [FAITH], when we repent. We should strive daily to sacrifice our will for HIS, just as He provides for us our Daily Bread.

Colossians 2:11-In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

In Galatians 5 Paul is saying that getting circumcised does not stand as an act or sign that makes one a doer of the entire Law, those 10 laws that govern mans behavior on how to love GOD and how to love his fellow man (as Jesus explained it). Paul is saying that the circumcision is not what saves a man, or even testifies that the man fulfills the Law, as only Jesus could do that. He is saying that if a Jew believes it is his circumcision that saves him, than that Jew does not have Faith in Jesus.

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. [Have a concordance? Look up that phrase translated as “ye that work iniquity”. It means, you who reject the Law of YHWH.]

Luke 6:46= And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

Matthew 22:40- On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Mark 12: 29-34- And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these

Ecclesiastes 12:13- Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.(This is our duty, but without our Belief in Jesus, it won't get us into the KINGDOM.)

Micah 6:8-He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (To walk humbly with God is to accept HIS WILL for us, over our own. That is our duty we owe HIM if HE is our GOD.)

John 14:21-He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (Jesus verified everyone of the 10 Commandments when HE was here in the flesh. The first were how to love GOD, the last how to love our fellow man.

1John 2:3-5=3-And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. [John 15:14, 1st Cor 7:19, 1st John 3:24] 4-He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5-But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.

1 John 3:22- And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (If we willing trespass HIS WILL for us, will HE be quick to hear our requests? Is that why the latter day churches have lost much of their power?)

1 John 3:24- And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

Matthew 5:17-19- Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass,(Rev.21:1 tells us when it passes away) one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Revelation 22:14- Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

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Two circumcisions here. One by Abraham, Paul is for, which is by faith. One the Pharisee are forcing supposedly by Moses. Moses never gave circumcision, the Pharisees claim is based on the extra laws of the Oral law or teachings of the elders which becomes the Talmud.

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