Did Paul require Gentiles to be circumcised?

Paul, writing to one of his Gentile churches, says nobody really needs to be circumcised; they just need to obey the law. But circumcision is part of the law he’s talking about, so that doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who actually obeys the Jewish law will be circumcised. So does Paul think Gentiles need to be circumcised or not?

Paul didn’t preach circumcision. He believed that people could be saved through faith, regardless of whether they were circumcised or what other laws they did or didn’t keep. He made it a rule among his churches that anyone who wasn’t already circumcised before they converted should not become circumcised, because that’s not what matters. Other times, he urged his followers not to get circumcised, saying they couldn’t be saved once they did, unless they also followed the rest of the law perfectly. Which is impossible.

Paul sharply disagreed with Jewish Christians who said you had to be circumcised to be saved. He criticized Peter for forcing Gentiles to follow Jewish customs. Paul and the original apostles then came to an agreement that Gentiles only had to follow a few laws, which did not include circumcision.

So it sure doesn’t sound like he actually thinks Gentiles need to be circumcised. But Paul did have a habit of changing his behavior to suit the people around him… So might he have ever required any Gentiles to be circumcised anyway, when he was surrounded by Jews?

Paul says he didn’t. When he was traveling with the uncircumcised half-Gentile Titus, who he referred to as “a Greek”, some people in Jerusalem pressured him to compel Titus to get circumcised. But he says he didn’t give in.

The book of Acts tells a different story, though. It says before Paul would let the half-Gentile Timothy travel with him, he circumcised him, to appease the Jews there.

Share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *