The University of Edinburgh Paul and Judaism in Comparative Perspective Submitted to Dr. Matthew V Novenson 2 April 2018
Introduction On three occasions Paul makes the claim that neither circumcision nor foreskin1 is anything (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). This might lead both the modern-day reader as well as the first century CE listener to think that circumcision was an unimportant question for Paul. But the same apostle also writes highly positive remarks about circumcision and highly negative ones (Rom 3:1–2a; Gal 5:2). Clearly, Paul’s attitude towards the existence or non-existence of the foreskin is not indifferent. Why, then, does he write in the three passages mentioned above that ‘it is nothing’? This essay aims to answer that question. It will be done by an exegesis of the three individual passages where I will explore how they function in their own epistolary contexts. Hopefully, this can give us an answer if circumcision and foreskin really were nothing to Paul, or if there was something else fuelling his bold statement.
1 Cor 7:19 “Circumcision is nothing, and the foreskin is nothing, but observance of God’s commandments.” 2 First, let us briefly explore the religio-ethnic identity of the recipients of 1 Corinthians since this question bears significant weight on our understanding of Paul’s statement in 7:19. 3 There are reasons to believe that the ekklēsia at Corinth consisted of both Jews and gentiles since both of these groups were present at Corinth during Paul’s day. 4 But given the nature of many of the topics of the letter—and the fact that Paul addresses some of his recipients as former pagans in 6:11; 8:7; 12:2—it seems that a significant part of the ekklēsia was made up of gentile ChristBelievers.5 In addition, the topics that Paul addresses in 1 Cor 7, “treats exclusively intra-gentile issues,”6 but 7:18 indicates that Jews, too, were present in the ekklēsia at Corinth.
The Greek here uses the word ἀκροβυστία (lit. ‘foreskin’). I will use the words ‘uncircumcised’ and ‘foreskin’ in this essay for the Greek ἀκροβυστία. 2 Unless otherwise noted all translations are my own. 3 Caroline Johnson Hodge (If Sons, then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007], 9) states that “there is perhaps no more pivotal issue for determining one’s reading of Paul than audience.” 4 David E. Garland (1 Corinthians, BECNT [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 9–13) mentions the numerous pagan gods that were being worshipped at Corinth. Anthony C. Thiselton (The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: The Paternoster Press, 2000], 17) notes that there were a significant Jewish community at Corinth and that it is likely that those Jews came in contact with Paul’s message, see also, Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, Sacra Pagina vol. 7, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 23. 5 Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 4. 6 Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans Apostle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 107. 1
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We now turn to 7:19 and the issue at hand: does Paul intend that his statement in 7:19 should be understood literally, or does he use this statement with reference to something else than to strictly circumcision?7 There are some issues with taking 7:19 literally. The first is that it does not seem to make sense when it is read in the larger corpus of Pauline writings (cf. Rom 3:1–2a; Gal 5:2 mentioned above). Second, as Brad Ronell Braxton and many scholars with him recognize, “this de-emphasis of circumcision seems quite radical from the lips of Paul, a former Pharisee, who by his own admission had followed the law blamelessly and had kept the traditions of the fathers with great zeal.” 8 Third, Karin B. Neutel argues that “even though Paul can describe circumcision as meaningless, whether a person becomes circumcised or not is still not a matter of indifference to Paul. The act is not valueneutral: while there is nothing positive to gain from circumcising, for him there is much to lose in doing so.”9 In my opinion this is a more nuanced argument than that of Gordon Fee, who argues that, for Paul, circumcision or keeping the foreskin is no longer of any importance since “being a Jew or a Gentile simply means nothing to God.… [for] Christ has made such distinctions obsolete, and thus irrelevant.”10 Neutel’s argument is strengthened by v. 18, preceding the statement in v. 19, where Paul says that the one who was called as circumcised (περιτετμημένος) should not undergo epispasm (cf. 1 Macc 1:14–15; Ant. 12.241), and if one was called uncircumcised, he should not become circumcised.11 If neither circumcision nor foreskin is anything literally, as Fee maintains, we might ask why one ought not undergo epispasm or circumcision. Furthermore, as William Campbell points out, “we must recognize therefore that the references to circumcision/uncircumcision are here not simply to the act of circumcision, but point rather to the state of being a circumcised or an uncircumcised person.”12 Thus, a literal understanding of Paul’s statement in 7:19, with the implications that Paul regarded the state of being circumcised or uncircumcised as indifferent, seems flawed. In what follows, I will argue that there are two driving forces in Paul’s statement that ‘neither circumcision nor foreskin is anything’: that he relates it to (1) the salvation gained by Christ and (2)
So in, e.g. David J. Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews: Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, 2nd ed. (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 28–30. 8 Brad Ronell Braxton, The Tyranny of Resolution: 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, Dissertation Series no. 181 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), 52. cf. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 305; Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 346. 9 Karin B. Neutel, A Cosmopolitan Ideal: Paul’s Declaration ‘Neither Jew Nor Greek, Neither Slave Nor Free, Nor Male and Female’ in the Context of First-Century Thought, LNTS 513 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 101. 10 Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 345. See Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 551 for a similar statement. 11 I work with the assumption that the περιτετμημένος are Jews. 12 William S. Campbell, “‘I Rate All Things as Loss:’ Paul’s Puzzling Accounting System. Judaism as Loss or the Reevaluation of All Things in Christ,” in Celebrating Paul: Festschrift in Honour of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. ed. Peter Spitaler, CBQMS 48 (Washington: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2011), 39–61, . Italics original.
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to God’s call for individuals to join the Jesus Movement. 13 According to my first suggestion, the verse is to be understood accordingly: in relation to your salvation, ‘circumcision is nothing, and the foreskin is nothing, but observance of God’s commandments’. 14 Read this way, the understanding of Paul’s statement is that “neither circumcision nor the lack of circumcision has ultimate bearing on salvation.”15 In other words, the genealogical pedigree of a human, i.e. being Jewish or a gentile, is not a deciding factor for salvation in Christ (cf. Rom 3:29–30; 4:8–10).16 Salvation comes from the gift that is Christ and is attainable for all, no matter socio-religious status (cf. Rom 6:23; Gal 2:21). 17 Therefore, ‘in the calling each was called, let him remain’, since it has no bearing on salvation (7:20). This leads us to my second proposal, that the statement relates to each person’s calling to the God of Israel and their incorporation into the Jewish Jesus Movement. Calling is a central theme in vv. 17–24 and v. 19 fits in to that theme, too. Braxton notes that “to remove the marks of circumcision or to be circumcised as a condition of the call is an invalidation of the call of God. To take such action would suggest that God could not call one as a Gentile or Jew per se.… Also, Paul may be suggesting that change, at least of the sort just mentioned (i.e., changing ethnic identity) is not an inevitable consequence of the call.”18 This suggests that there is no specific prerequisite in terms of in what state one has to be in order to be called (e.g. married, unmarried, circumcised, uncircumcised, a slave, a free person, a Jew, a gentile), but that the call goes out to everyone, regardless of social or religious status.19 In that respect, it does not matter if one was called circumcised or uncircumcised: the call is still valid. Whether the Christ-believer is circumcised or uncircumcised, he is not better or worse off in that respect. We should not read this passage, then, as Paul’s tearing down of the ethnic boundaries between Jews and gentiles, nor that Paul expresses that circumcision is of no value for Jewish Christbelievers, but as his proclamation that in relation to God’s call and salvation through Christ ‘neither circumcision nor foreskin is anything’. 20
13 These two interpretations find supports in various secondary literature, see Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 28–30; Braxton,
The Tyranny of Resolution, 52; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, trans. James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 126. 14 Conzelman (I Corinthians, 126) states that “οὐδέν ἐστιν, ‘is nothing’, is related strictly to salvation.” 15 Collins, First Corinthians, 284. 16 Cf. Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 28. This relates to a third possible foundation for Paul’s statement, one that I do not have time to engage with in this essay: the eschatological nearness of Christ’s return. On this, see Peter J Tomson, “Paul’s Jewish Background in View of His Law Teaching in 1 Cor 7,” in Paul and the Mosaic Law, ed. James D. G. Dunn, WUNT 89 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996), 251–270, . 17 Matthew Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 9. 18 Braxton, The Tyranny of Resolution, 50–51. Italics original. 19 Garland writes, “Their conversion [i.e. the Gentiles] requires a change in lordships, spiritual values, and moral behaviour, but not a change in race, gender, or social caste.” Garland, 1 Corinthians, 305. Cf. Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem, 10. 20 Commenting on 1 Cor 7:18, Fredriksen (Paul: The Pagans Apostle, 113) states, “he [Paul] opposed circumcision for gentiles, not for Jews.” Italics original.
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Let us now give our attention on the last clause of the verse (ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ). For ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν can only be fully understood in light of this last clause. As Campbell notes, “it is not a comparison between A and B, between circumcision and uncircumcision, but a comparison of A and B with C [τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ].” 21 This clause should be understood in the way that C does not nullify A and B, but that to do C is more important than to do A and B. 22 The question is, though, what does τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ entail? One immediate issue is brought up by the fact that this exact phrase, as David E. Garland notes, is not used anywhere else by Paul. 23 Several suggestions are made in the secondary literature, but none seems to hit the target. Fee, serving as a representative example, simply states: “almost certainly this refers to the ethical imperatives of the Christian faith.” 24 What these ethical imperatives are is left unexplained. There is, however, one explanation that has the careful reading necessary to explain Paul’s elusive statement. Both Matthew Thiessen and Peter J. Tomson interpret that τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ commands that each group, Jews and gentiles, should keep the commandment that pertains to their own group (cf. Rom 3:19). 25 Thiessen states that “Paul does not contrast the rite of circumcision to the commandment of God; rather, he claims that being Jewish (circumcision) or being gentile (uncircumcision) does not matter–only keeping the commandments that God requires of each group of people.”26 The heart of Paul’s statement in 7:19b, then, is not that all members of the ekklēsia should observe all the Mosaic commandments, but that all members should keep the commandments specific to them, an explanation that fits well with the context of 7:17–24.27 Thus, the Christ-believer, both the περιτετμημένος and the ἀκροβυστία, can live in the state he was called and still keep God’s commandments.28 Let us now turn to a more polemical letter, in which we find Paul’s statement not only once, but twice.
Campbell, “‘I Rate All Things as Loss,’” 42. Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 30. 23 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 305. 24 Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 347. 25 Tomson, “Paul’s Jewish Background,” 267–268; Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem, 9–10. For a similar view, see Anders Runesson, “Paul’s Rule in All the Ekklēsiai,” in Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, ed. Daniel Rudolph and Joel Willitts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 214–223; Johnson Hodge, If Sons, then Heirs, 131–312. 26 Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem, 9. 27 Cf. Tomson, “Paul’s Jewish Background,” 268. What exactly these commandments might be is harder to answer, especially in the case of the gentiles (the Apostolic decree, the guidelines given in 1 Cor, or/and some of Jesus’ teaching that Paul had transmitted to the Corinthians?). 28 This also gives insight to the tension that Paul, as a Jew, writes that circumcision is nothing: it is nothing to those who are not obliged to get circumcised according to ‘God’s commandments’: the gentile Christ-believer. 22
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Gal 5:6 and 6:15 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision or foreskin avails anything, but faith working through love.” “For neither circumcision is anything, nor foreskin, but a new creation.” In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the tone is sharper than that of 1 Corinthians, and now Paul only addresses those who are not circumcised (contrary to 1 Cor 7:18–19).29 Two things are emphasised in the Galatian versions of the ‘circumcision and uncircumcision is nothing’ statement: (1) Paul mentions ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ as the space where circumcision and foreskin does not matter, and (2) both of the ἀλλὰ clauses are more eschatologically nuanced (πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη and καινὴ κτίσις).30 Two factors in Galatians that are of significant importance to rightly interpret these verses is that Paul now addresses only gentile Christ-believers (cf. 2:7; 4:8–9; 5:2; 6:12),31 and that there are others who have or are proclaiming a ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον among the Galatians, which on crucial matters run contrary to Paul’s εὐαγγέλιον. 32 Here we see that some of the members in the ekklēsia are considering circumcision. That the gentile Christ-believers were considering to be circumcised should come as no surprise, for, as Neutel remarks, “gentiles who gave up their gods [when joining the Jesus Movement] but did not circumcise could be seen to enter an ethnic no man’s land.” 33 Before we look at 5:6 and 6:15, we must ask one important question to better understand Paul’s statements and their meaning in Galatians: how does Paul view the effects of circumcision on a gentile Christ-believer?34 That Paul is resistant towards the gentile Christ-believer who wants to circumcise becomes obvious first in Gal 5:2–4 (but see also 2:12).35 It is not that Paul seems to think that their potential circumcision would be inoperative, and therefore superfluous, rather, Paul seems to view it as effective in every way (5:3). 36 The question is, then: why will Christ be of no profit (οὐδὲν ὠφελήσε) to them if they get circumcised (5:3)?37 Throughout Galatians, Paul presents two spheres for the
cf. James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 335. Although, 1 Cor 7:19 is also eschatological in a way, since gentiles there are seen to be able to uphold God’s commandments without joining the Jewish people. Cf. Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans Apostle, 165 31 Mark D. Nanos, The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 75–85. Nanos is also right to point out that even if there were Jewish Christ-believers or gentile Christ-believers who proselytised in the ekklēsia, the letter’s addressees are Christ-believing gentiles alone. 32 For a discussion of those who proclaimed another gospel, see John M. G. Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test-Case,” in The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002), 367–381, [esp. 380–381]. 33 Neutel, A Cosmopolitan Ideal, 99. 34 As Campbell (“‘I Rate All Things as Loss,’” 46) notes, “in whatever form we attempt the reconstruction of the Sitz im Leben of this letter the issue of circumcision for gentiles remains central.” 35 Cf. Campbell, “‘I Rate All Things as Loss,’” 46. 36 As Karin B. Neutel (“Circumcision Gone Wrong: Paul’s Message as a Case of Ritual Disruption,” Neot 50 : 373–396, ) notes, “this passage [5:2–4] offers us a rare explanation why it would be wrong for gentiles in Christ to become circumcised, although it still leaves many questions unanswered.” See also, Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 74–75. 37 Especially since Christ seems to be an advantage/profit for Paul who is circumcised (cf. Phil 3:3–16). 30
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Christ-believers: one that is ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (which is the one in which the gentiles came to faith, 3:2, 5) and one that is ἐξ ἔργων νόμου (in which the gentile does not belong). 38 In 5:2–4 Paul presents the same spheres. 39 Since the gentile Christ-believer is included in the Jesus Movement and the Abrahamic lineage (3:6–9, 14, 27–29) ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, they would be mistaken if they tried to further qualify their participation in the ekklēsia (e.g. by circumcision, and so enter the ἐξ ἔργων νόμου sphere). Thus, “it seems likely that becoming associated with Abraham through circumcision would for Paul entail a rejection of the Abrahamic lineage that already exists through Christ…. Paul’s argument about alienation from Christ suggests that for gentiles, the two forms of kinship cannot coexist.”40 This leads to the gentile Christ-believer being not in the sphere of Christ, but in the sphere of the Mosaic law. While this is not a ‘bad’ sphere per se, since there were Jewish Christ-believers who seem to have remained in that sphere also after they joined the Jesus Movement (cf. Gal 2:7; Acts 25:8; 28:17), 41 it is the wrong sphere for the gentile Christ-believer to enter, especially since he/she already has gained everything in the ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ sphere and cannot add to it. This answers the question of why they should not be circumcised, but it also directs us to the answer why ‘neither circumcision or foreskin is/avails anything’. For there is no need for the gentile Christ-believer to get circumcised in order to gain what the Jews gained before Christ by circumcision (cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 3:6–9).42 This becomes particularly clear in 5:6 where Paul says that it is ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ‘neither circumcision or foreskin avails anything’. As we can see, the problem is not that circumcision is ineffective for Paul’s gentile Christbelievers, but that it (1) is not beneficial for them: what they suppose they could gain by circumcision is already gained ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, and (2) they would enter a sphere (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου) in which they do not belong and it would shut them out of the ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ sphere. 43 As Rudolph, building on the work of Fredriksen, states: “Paul’s anti-circumcision language (directed at Gentiles) in Galatians can be understood as upholding Jew-Gentile distinction rather than collapsing it.”44 It is because of this that Paul can state that ‘neither circumcision or foreskin is/avails anything’ to the gentile Christ-believers. For what does avail (ἰσχύει) is being ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. It should be 38
I understand ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as an objective genitive throughout this essay. Peter-Ben Smith, “In Search of Real Circumcision: Ritual Failure and Circumcision in Paul,” JSNT 40 (2017): 73– 100, . 40 Neutel, “Circumcision gone wrong,” 383. My emphasis. 41 Lloyd Gaston, Paul and the Torah (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1987), 22, 110; Matthew Thiessen, Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision, & Identity in Ancient Judaism & Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 140–141. 42 Johnson Hodge, If Sons, then Heirs, 90–91; Neutel, “Circumcision Gone Wrong,” 383. This could perhaps also have been gained by gentiles via circumcision before Christ came. 43 Cf. Gaston, Paul and the Torah, 31–32. 44 Rudolph, A Jew to the Jews, 30. Cf. Paula Fredriksen, “Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel,” NTS 56 (2010): 232–252; Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans Apostle, 113–117. 39
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noted, with risk of stating the obvious, that Paul says that neither circumcision or uncircumcision is/avails anything. Thus, uncircumcision is “revalued alongside circumcision so that the focus does not abide on Jewish or even on gentile existence, but on living a transformed life in Christ.” 45 Let us now turn to just that: the transformed life. As noted above, both 5:6 and 6:15 have their specific ἀλλὰ clauses, and they differ from 1 Cor 7:19 in that they are more eschatologically coloured. We will start with the first one (πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη) in order to see what it meant to Paul and the Galatians. 46 This clause is unique to Galatians for the reason that it is the only place were Paul mentions ‘faith’ (πίστις) and ‘works’ (ἐνεργέω) as functioning in harmony. Therefore, to become a member of the ekklēsia, no ‘works’ are necessary, but as guidelines for the behaviour within the ekklēsia, ‘works’ does matter (6:2).47 So ‘faith working through love’ is a necessary expression of the ekklēsia, but circumcising is not. The kind of πίστις that Paul’s alludes to is the πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.48 Therefore, it is a kind of eschatological exhortation; the πίστις that now is available in Christ is what needs to be believed and practiced. Thus what the gentile Christ-believer should practice is not circumcision (or pay attention to their status as uncircumcised), but faith through love. ‘Faith working through love’ can, of course, have several meanings, but within Galatians, we see some of what Paul might mean by the phrase. In 2:20 ‘love’ (ἀγαπάω) refers to Jesus’ action when he gave himself for Paul (ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ); in 5:13–14, the Galatians are encouraged to become slaves of one another through love (διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις) because the law is fulfilled (πεπλήρωται) in the commandment ‘love your neighbour’ (cf. 6:2); and in 5:22, ἀγάπη is the first fruit of the Spirit. In sum, to show love through faith is to live according to the example of Jesus, by the Spirit, and to fulfil the law (which they are to do through love and not circumcision). The second ἀλλὰ clause (καινὴ κτίσις; cf. 2 Cor 5:17) also emphasises the newness that is in Christ (cf. 6:14). 49 But does this mean, as J Louis Martyn claims, that “the world that is passé is not Judaism as such, but rather the world of all religious differentiation”?50 I think this is a misunderstanding of the text, for, as Fredriksen reminds us, “he [Paul] is not referring to Jews in the first instance and to gentiles in the second: he says, rather, that circumcision (in light of Christ) is an
Campbell, “‘I Rate All Things as Loss,’” 48. For reasons to translate ἐνεργουμένη as middles rather than passive, see Douglas J. Moo, Galatians, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 330. 47 Cf. E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 114. 48 Love L. Sechrest, A Former Jew, LNTS 410 (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 167. 49 Here, too, one must make a translating and interpreting decision with regards to the ἀλλὰ clause (cf. footnote 45). For κτίσις can refer to a ‘creature’ or ‘creation’. I understand it as ‘creation’ primarily due to 6:14. See Moo, Galatians, 397– 398. For a discussion of the arguments, see Jeff Hubing, Crucifixion and New Creation: The Strategic Purpose of Galatians 6.11–17, LNTS 508 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 240–244. 50 J. Louis Martyn, Glatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB vol. 33A (New York: Double Day, 1997). 565. 46
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irrelevant issue for gentiles, who are, again, both the recipients and the rhetorical focus of the letter.” 51 This καινὴ κτίσις has come about through Christ (2:20) and one can access it ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, thus being ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. This entails two changes in the gentile Christ-believer’s life: a spiritual life with the God of Israel and a loyalty to the ekklēsia of the Jesus Movement. 52 In this new spiritual and physical situation, no one can boast (καυχάομαι) in the flesh (by being circumcised), rather boasting comes from the cross on which Christ was hanged (6:14). 53 So, the καινὴ κτίσις suggests that gentiles can take part in the blessings that were bestowed on Abraham and earlier limited to ethnic Israel (Gal 3:6–9). What defined Abrahamic lineage and worship of the God of Israel before Christ, is now available for gentiles ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (3:29), for “the promise to Abraham of many nations has begun to be realized within the coalition of Christ-believers, God’s new creation.” 54 “Or is he God of the Jews only, not gentiles also? Certainly over gentiles, as well. If indeed God is one, God55 will justify a circumcised out of (ἐκ) faith and an uncircumcised through (διά) faith” (Rom 3:30).
Conclusion In this essay, I have argued that Paul does not say that ‘neither circumcision or keeping the foreskin is nothing’ to everyone and under all circumstances. Rather, in 1 Cor, Paul says that in relation to the call of the God of Israel and in relation to the salvation gained by Christ, neither circumcision or keeping the foreskin is anything. In Galatians, too, Paul makes it clear that ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ‘neither circumcision or foreskin is/avails anything’ for a gentile. What they possibly could have gained by circumcision, they have gained ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Therefore, what does matter is ‘God commandments’, ‘faith working through love’, and ‘a new creation’. These things are highly important to practice and recognise for Paul’s Christ-believers. More so than the existence or non-existence of the foreskin.
Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans Apostle, 225 (footnote 22). Italics original. Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary, NTL (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 403, who arrives at roughly the same conclusion. 53 Campbell, “‘I Rate All Things as Loss,’” 47–48. 54 Nanos, The Irony of Galatians, 152. 55 Since the relative pronoun ὅς is masc. sg. nom. and refers to ὁ θεός, I use ‘God’ instead of the relative pronoun ‘who.’ 52 Cf.
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