As Gentiles come into the knowledge of Torah and an obedient lifestyle to the commandments of God, there is often uncertainty as to how to walk it out. In fact, the Hebrew word halacha, from the root word halach, means the way to walk or go. Halacha is a concept within Judaism, derived from the Talmud or Oral Law as to literally how to live out the commandments of Torah. Rabbinic Judaism actually regards the Talmud (the Babylonian Talmud is 23 volumes) in higher regard than the Torah itself because the rabbis say God gave us the Torah and left it up to us figure out how to keep it.
While as Messianic Jews and Gentiles we don’t subscribe to anything superseding God’s word, there is some validity to this idea as opposed to the Greco-Roman view of Scripture that Yeshua did it all so we don’t have to do any of it. The heroes of the faith, whether Abraham, Jacob (literally), Peter or Paul all had their conversion illustrated by a change in their walk. Knowledge doesn’t do much good unless it’s applied in which case it becomes wisdom.
Most people like short, pat, nicely wrapped answers to all things in life. The idea of “tell me what I should do” is how the majority of people like to operate because it eliminates the hard work of having to think, do homework and research and possibly make mistakes ourselves as we learn. There are many self-help books and lessons out there and most fail because people won’t do what’s necessary to bring about the change needed to be successful. This is why a Torah-obedient lifestyle is distasteful to many Christians. When Paul says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil 2:12) it means it’s going to require us to do that 4-letter word work.
When it comes the whole issue of circumcision for the Gentiles, there are a variety of things we have to take into consideration. For Jews, it’s pretty straightforward: 8th day and then comes the snip. Most Christians run to the words of Paul, especially in Romans to say he actually speaks against it; “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God.” (Rom 2:29) Or in Galatians 3:3 he says “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Not much doubt about how Paul feels about circumcision for the Gentile is there? He even tells us in 1Cor 7:20 “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each person is to remain in that state in which he was called.” It appears he is saying that Gentiles are trying to become what they are not (Jews) by getting circumcised after they get saved. No point. Right?
However, as with most things in Scripture, few things are so straightforward. First of all, the 3 most important things about interpreting the Bible are context, context and context. Much of modern-day theology is taken from passages of Scripture taken in isolation. Many years ago when my son was a toddler, my wife got him a book called ‘He Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.’ The entire meaning of that title is changed depending on whether there’s a comma after eats or shoots or both or neither. Does he eat shoots and leaves or does he shoot after he eats and then leave? In Paul’s letters or even when Moses wrote the books of the Torah, there were no chapters, no verses neatly numbered so we can reference them (which I am eternally grateful for the men who did do this) or punctuation for that matter. So to pull a sentence or two out of the entire paragraph or letter often leads us to the wrong conclusion about what the author was saying. Remember, Paul was a Jewish rabbi and so even though he wrote in Greek, he thought as a Hebrew.
Back to circumcision. What was Paul dealing with in Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, etc. when he spoke about circumcision? Salvation. Every time. Of course circumcision doesn’t save us. Abraham believed in God and it was counted as righteousness to him before he got circumcised. It was a sign of the faith he had and of the covenant God made with him. However, God made it mandatory for all Hebrew males after that. The covenant was also not a covenant of salvation but of the promise of the physical land of Israel to the physical descendants of Israel (Jacob).
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land where you live as a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Gen 17:7-11
However, things start to get interesting (and not so straightforward) in verses 12-13.
“And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, including a slave who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A slave who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall certainly be circumcised; so My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.” So it’s not just for Israelites but those who are in their households too. Or how about when God institutes the Passover in Ex 12:48? “But if a stranger resides with you and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, all of his males are to be circumcised, and then he shall come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law shall to the native as to the stranger who resides among you.”
Therefore, if a Gentile dwelling with the Israelites wanted to keep the Passover, he needed to be circumcised. How do we reconcile these verses with Paul’s writings? Again, context. The Old Covenant or Law of Moses was primarily about righteousness from the outside in. You kept the commandments, offered sacrifices to cover your sin and trusted in God’s mercy and grace. The New Covenant produces righteousness from the inside out. We believe in Yeshua’s death burial and resurrection to wash us clean of the death our sin brings about and God makes us righteous. He became the Passover Lamb. With that belief God gives the Holy Spirit who begins the sanctification process that results in increased obedience to the commandments as a response to our faith until we go to be with Him and are like Him. (1John 3:2). Paul tells us in 1Cor 7:19 “Circumcision in nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is keeping the commandments of God.” A Gentile can keep the Passover in 2 ways. Like the Jews, he can have a full Seder dinner as a commemoration of the Exodus event, which I highly recommend and encourage to get the full impact of the story. On the other hand, Yeshua boiled the true meaning of the Passover down to the Lord’s Table which is about His death for our redemption. Furthermore, because circumcision of the heart is what God is really after which means to believe in Him, a Gentile believer can take the Lord’s Table whether circumcised in the flesh or not.
Now let’s flip it around. Is a Gentile getting circumcised displeasing to God as many in Christianity today claim? Remember, Paul in his epistles and the entire Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 were addressing the Judaizers who were insisting Gentiles be circumcised to be saved, which was a euphemism for converting to Judaism and keeping all of Torah. Yeshua said make disciples, baptize them and then teach them the commandments. He turned the process of proselytization upside down. Circumcision or any other commandment is not about the act; it’s about the heart or motivation behind the act. If a Gentile wants to get circumcised to identify with the nation of Israel, they are welcome to. Ruth said the Jews will be her people and their God would be her God. There are health benefits to boys being circumcised, especially if it’s done on the 8th day as prescribed by Torah. In the Millennial kingdom, Gentiles will have to be circumcised in heart and flesh to get into the sanctuary so it can’t be displeasing to God. It only becomes a stumbling block if it’s done for righteousness or some sort of spiritual superiority.
In order to rightly divide the word of truth (2Tim 2:5), Scripture must interpret Scripture. We cannot just develop a theology around a verse that suits us. When it comes to obeying God’s commands, I always recommend go to the Lord and ask if this command is what He desires from us now. Sometimes it’s a yes. Others times that particular issue may not be what He wants us to focus on. The Spirit will gently lead us into all truth if our hearts are willing. So if you’re a Gentile and want to celebrate the Passover, come as you are. At the Marriage Supper Of The Lamb, Yeshua’s redemptive work wIll be sufficient for everyone, no matter what condition you find yourself in. Shalom.
Rabbi Darryl Weinberg