Why did Paul have Timothy circumcised?

Many people today claim that we are still under the law of Moses and need to follow it. They will point to many different scriptures as support for their claims. One such passage of scripture they will often use is found in the New Testament where Paul, who they claim taught we are to keep the law, had Timothy, a disciple, circumcised. This is found in acts chapter 16:

Acts 16:1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

They will state that Paul circumcising Timothy proves that circumcision, which is part of the Law of Moses, is a requirement and so also supports the claim that the Law of Moses was still in effect at the time Paul went around teaching. 

This, as I have pointed out many many times, only works,  if we simply stop at the assertion that Paul had Timothy circumcised for this reason. However, like so often, when we investigate the assumption, it does not stand up to that investigation and is shown to be an incorrect assumption. 

So let’s investigate this a little further. 

First we must know who Timothy was. Timothy was the son of a Jewsish mother but his father was a Greek. This is stated in verse 1 

Acts 16:1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:

Timothy was clearly not circumcised, otherwise it would not have been possible for Paul to have circumcised him. Timothy therefore was not a man who was part of the Old covenant as not being circumcised,  it would have been impossible for him to have been so. We must also note that Timothy is stated as he believed. This means he would have been a “Christian”. 

Timothy was thought of well by the Brethren. (they reported well of him). 

Acts 16: 2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.

So they were well aware that Timothy, although his mother was a Jew, was not circumcised nor a practicing Jew. 

However we do know that Timothy knew the scriptures 

2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Paul had wanted to take Timothy with him on his journey which we are told in verse 3

Acts 16: 3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

But if we look at the verse in full, it tells us EXACTLY why Paul circumcised him. Because the Jews knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek. 

Paul circumcised Timothy so that he could travel with him while preaching to JEWS. The Jews knew that Timothy was not a practicing Jew and had not been circumcised. 

Paul stated that a man who was circumcised had made Christ to no effect 

Galatians 5:2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Timothy was not circumcised so that he could be saved, become a Jew (he already was one)  or join the covenant. He did not NEED to be circumcised before God. He was circumcised because of the Jews. That they would accept him (being an uncircumcised Jew) during Paul’s evangelical journey. Many Jews believed only Jews could be saved and many would not have any dealings with non Jews. 

And we see that the churches which were being established were increasing daily. 

Acts 16: 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Timothy’s circumcision was done for the sake of the gospel,  so that it would not be a distraction or an issue with the Jews, during their mission to the Jews. 

Paul states that he became all things to all men FOR THE GOSPEL’S Sake. To save all he could. He became weak for those that were weak. 

1 Corinthians 9: 1 Corinthians 9: 22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Paul states that HE became a Jew to win the Jews. 

1 Corinthians 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

Paul WAS a Jew. However when he became a follower of Christ he was no longer a practicing Jew. Paul as he himself stated was a Pharisee:

Acts 23:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

So Paul didn’t have to BECOME a Jew to win them, he was a Jew. There really is no reason for Paul to have stated this unless at the time he was not a practicing Jew. Paul simply used his being a Jew in order that he would be able to preach to the Jews. 

Paul stated that although he was FREE he made himself a SERVANT…..to GAIN more people.

1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more 

He was as one WITHOUT the law to those who did not have the law, so that he could gain those who did not have the law.

1 Corinthians 9: 21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law

Remember that Paul had even stated that he was a Roman. 

Acts 22:27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.

It would be IMPOSSIBLE for Paul to have acted without the law if he was under the law. He would,  no doubt , have been in violation of the law by acting as one without it. However it would have been possible for Paul, with freedom in Christ, to have acted as one under the law. 

Paul was free in Christ. 

Galatians 5: 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Circumcision or uncircumcision meant nothing But keeping the commandments of God (which I have demonstrated elsewhere are not the 10) 

1 Corinthians 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

Remember that circumcision was not a requirement as per the 4 instructions that the disciples had given Gentiles in Acts 15.  

Paul used the freedom of being In Christ, where circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing,  to circumcise Timothy in order that he would be able to be accepted by the Jews during their evangelising. NOT because this was a requirement in any way. Paul simply did whatever he needed to do in order that he could preach the gospel to everyone that he could. 

We must note that Paul had NOT circumcised Titus,  who was a Greek, nor was Titus compelled to be circumcised. 

Galatians 2:3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 

Titus was not a Jew, but a gentile. The decision that Gentiles did not require circumcision had been accepted and stated. 

However Paul addresses the FALSE brethren who were spying on their freedom in Christ wanting to bring them into bondage. 

Galatians 2:5 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

But Paul gave these false brethren no subjection at all so that the TRUTH of the gospel would continue. 

Galatians 2: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

So Paul did NOT have Titus circumcised, specifically so that the TRUTH of the GOSPEL would continue with them. That truth clearly meant that circumcision was not required. 

So when we look at the circumcision of Timothy the Bible itself explains the reason behind it and also that there simply is no requirement for circumcision today. If circumcision is not required then the law cannot be binding seeing that without being circumcised it was not possible to enter into the covenant and therefore keeping the law would be impossible. 

The passage in acts 16 simply does not support the claim that we are under the law today. 

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Categories: The law


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