[Corpus-Paul] Mending the grammar of Gal 2:3-5 with Timothy

Richard Fellows rfellows at shaw.ca
Mon Feb 28 02:55:35 EST 2005

Hi Mark,

I understand your question and I'll answer it as best I can.

For whatever reason Paul WAS prepared to circumcise Timothy, but writes to
the Galatians that if they let themselves be circumcised, Christ will be of
no benefit to them. The reasons why Paul viewed Timothy differently need not
concern us right now, but he must have made some distinction between the
case of Timothy and the case of the Galatian addressees. Clearly Paul did
not think that the act of circumcision was in conflict with the gospel in
the case of Timothy. But while Paul saw a distinction, he must have known
that others might not have understood it. Bruce writes, "Both in his own
days and in more recent days there have never been lacking critics ready to
charge the apostle with inconsistency in this and similar matters". Whether
Paul was or was not inconsistent is also a matter that need not concern us
right now, but clearly he was not inconsistent on his own terms.

Now, why was Titus not circumcised in Jerusalem? The only thing that we know
for certain is that the non-circumcision of Titus allowed Paul to write Gal
2:3, and that this was important for him in trying to persuade the Galatians
not to be circumcised. What would have happened if Titus HAD been
circumcised in Jerusalem? Not only would Paul not have been able to make his
point in Gal 2:3, but those of the circumcision party, and the false
brothers, and the influencers (whether they are the same or different
groups) would have been able to use the fact of Titus's circumcision to make
the opposite point to the one that Paul makes in citing the non-circumcision
of Titus. I suggest that this is the ONLY reason why Titus did not undergo
circumcision in Jerusalem. It was in order to send a clear message that
circumcision was not necessary and to prevent others from drawing the
opposite conclusion. Paul gives the reason that they did not circumcise
Titus: so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with the
Galatians. Paul gives no other reason why the circumcision of Titus was
resisted, and the implication is that there was no other reason. Paul
resisted so that the gospel would not be undermined in Galatia by those who
might have used the circumcision of Titus for propaganda purposes. By
resisting he thus preserved the truth of the gospel in Galatia.

It is interesting to wonder whether TIMOTHY would have undergone
circumcision if he had been with Paul in Jerusalem at that time. I think he
would not have done so. The timing was wrong. To circumcise Timothy at that
time would have played into the hands of Paul's opponents.

In answer to your question, Mark, I think the key point is that while the
circumcision of Titus would have been consistent with Paul's principles, it
would have led to damaging confusion in the Galatia. The Gentile believers
of Galatia and elsewhere could not be expected to understand the distinction
that Paul made between their situation and that of Titus and Timothy (or
Titus-Timothy). Paul would therefore not circumcise Titus while he thought
there was a danger of it being misunderstood in Galatia. He did not want the
circumcision of Titus to be misunderstood, so he did not circumcise him (at
that time). Does this answer your question, Mark?

In any event it is interesting what Paul does NOT say about the
non-circumcision of Titus. He does not say that it was for Titus's benefit.
The focus is on the implications for others.

If this understanding is right, and if Titus was Timothy, then the
non-circumcision of T-T in Jerusalem was for practical reasons, just as the
later circumcision of T-T was for practical reasons, in changed
circumstances. Does Paul have T-T in mind when he writes, "neither
circumcision or uncircumcision counts for anything" (5:6)? Was Timothy
already observant of the law when he was circumcised, and is Paul alluding
to him when he writes 5:3? Does the case of Timothy also lie behind 5:11?


Mark wrote:
> I don't understand how this makes sense. You seem to be arguing that the
> apostles wanted to circumcise Titus, just as did the pseudo-brethren
> (you write: "I think it is because of the implication that the apostles
> would have had Titus circumcised if false brothers had not been at large
> the church."). They did not do this, you suggest, because it would be used
> to subvert the truth of the gospel by the pseudo-brethren. But it would
> subvert what you hold the apostles to believe.
> So they didn't do it because it would not have been a free choice to do
> even though they wanted to? In other words, they were constrained from
> what they wanted to do, and were not making a free decision after all,
> having to do the opposite of what they believed because they were more
> concerned about being forced?
> I don't get it. Why does it subvert the gospel, if it is what they believe
> they should be doing?

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