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What did Paul consider as garbage?

16-11-2016 - Posted by Andre Piet

A previous blog was about the accusation in Jerusalem that Paul would teach foreign Jews not to circumcise their children and not to be walking in the customs. Demonstratively Paul proved the contrary. He went to the temple, he celebrated the feasts, he sacrificed, etcetera.

Somebody wrote me on the subject of this:

… Nevertheless, in my opinion, Paul is very sharp about circumcision. How is Acts 21 consistent with what Paul writes in Philippians 3?

2 Beware of curs, beware of evil workers. Beware of the maimcision, 3 for we are the circumcision who are offering divine service in the spirit of God, and are glorying in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in flesh. 4 And am even I having confidence in flesh, also? If any other one is presuming to have confidence in flesh, I rather: 5 in circumcision the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, 6 a Hebrew of Hebrews, in relation to law, a Pharisee, in relation to zeal, persecuting the ecclesia, in relation to the righteousness which is in law, becoming blameless. 7 But things which were gain to me, these I have deemed a forfeit because of Christ. 8 But, to be sure, I am also deeming all to be a forfeit because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of Whom I forfeited all, and am deeming it to be refuse, that I should be gaining Christ…

Can somebody, who write such things, simultaneously live Jewish and walk in the customs of the law? In other words: were tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem maybe (a little) right in their assertion that Paul taught “apostasy from Moses”? So the question is focussed: Does Paul in Philippians 3 criticise circumcision or the walk in the Jewish customs?

A few considerations that might put us on the right track.

  • Paul speaks in Philippians 3 about “having confidence in flesh”. Once Paul considered his origins, rituals, position and performance in the Judaism as profit. He boasted about it. But on the road to Damascus all those plusses were suddenly turned into forfeit. Because his zeal towards the law just made him the worst enemy of Christ!
  • Paul did not deem his Jewish roots nor the circumcision to be a forfeit. The forfeit is the boasting about it. Since Paul made acquaintance with Christ, a Jew was not more than a gentile. Or someone who walked “in the customs” was not better than someone who did not. Because Paul knew and preached: For we are reckoning a man to be justified by faith apart from works of law (Romans 3: 28; Galatians 2: 16).
  • When Paul approves Timothy to be circumcised, or goes to the synagogue, or keeps the Sabbath, or goes to Jerusalem because of Pentecost, or sacrifices in the Temple, it is not contrary to his words in Philippians 3. Because Paul did not consider these things necessary to be righteous. What is more: being righteous or not is completely separate from that.

In short, Paul’s boast about his (Jewish) flesh, belonged to the past. In Christ distinctions as Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free, male or female make no difference. (Galatians 3: 28; Colossians 3: 11). But of course that does not mean that one, as a believer, stopped being slave or free. Whether male or female. Each of us has, by definition, a certain social, sexual, cultural or religious background. And more or less these put a stamp on our lifestyle, our language, our clothing, habits etcetera. And nothing is wrong with that. And so Paul remained his entire life recognizable Jew and Jewish.