Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas: A Comment on Acts 16:1-5

St. Paul, and his big knife.
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily (Acts 16:1-5). 

Ok, so we just finished reading in Acts 15 about how the Jerusalem Council came to the conclusion that it was not necessary for Gentiles to obey the Mosaic Law and be circumcised to be Christians. What is the very next thing that we read about Paul? He circumcises Timothy, “because of the Jews who were in those places.” How is this different from what Paul describes Peter doing in Galatians, when he stops eating with the Gentiles because of the Judaizers[1]? And, why does Titus get a pass[2]? If I were Timothy, I might be a little perplexed – not to mention slightly upset – with Paul at this point. Perhaps this is the reason Paul is often depicted holding big knife… 

Evidently, the Jews whom Luke mentions in Acts 16 are different from the Judaizers Paul writes about in Galatians. Luther writes: 

When [Paul] encountered the stubborn Jews who insisted upon circumcision and the law, he took delight in teaching and doing the every opposite; he would not be coerced. But when he came to the weak and simple people he even practiced circumcision and let the law stand, until such time as he might strengthen them and deliver them from the law (Luther and Lehmann 1959)[3]

When a work, such as circumcision, is commanded by anyone to be performed as a requirement for salvation, it must be resisted, which was the case with Paul and Titus in Galatians 2. As a matter of Christian freedom, however, it (circumcision, or any other work) may be practiced in ways which are beneficial to the faith, as Paul does in this case, so as to facilitate his outreach to the Jewish community[4]

End Notes

[1] Galatians 2:11-14 
[2] Galatians 2:3 
[3] Luther, Martin, and Helmut T Lehmann. Luther's Works. Vol. 36. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1959. 
[4] Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.