A Study of Galatians 5:11-12
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. [Gal 5:11-12]
Paul is here stating once and for all that he does not yet preach circumcision. We may say at this point, having this full epistle, that it should go without saying. He makes it clear here that if he would begin to preach circumcision, the persecution would cease. Look at how the Jews in the temple were at relative peace listening to Paul until he mentioned going to the gentiles:
And He said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and [then] lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a [fellow] from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. [Act 22:21-22]
Remember that at this time, the assemblies at Jerusalem had peace:
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. [Act 9:31]
Now when Paul and his companions visited James and the assembly at Jerusalem, the assembly was at peace with the temple Jews, but it seems that there was issue between the believing Jews and Paul:
And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the [day] following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard [it], they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise [their] children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave [their] heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but [that] thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written [and] concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from [things] offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. [Act 21:17-25]
Paul did not teach the Jews among the gentiles to not circumcise their children, which is to say to forsake being Jews. He did teach the gentiles that they were not to circumcise themselves to become Jews. They were not to be bound under the law of Moses. Paul would later write to the Hebrew believers to go on to perfection (Hbr 6:1) and to go forth without the camp and bear the reproach of Christ (Hbr 13:13). There was to be a separation of the Jewish believers from the Jews’ Religion, but he was not teaching that as yet.
Paul faced problems also from the unbelieving Jews. They would not accept the gospel that he preached, and would not allow it to be preached to the gentiles either.
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they [have] of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. [1Th 2:14-16]
Paul lived with perils of his own countymen and perils of the gentiles (2Cor 11:26), and could have made some of the persecution from his countrymen cease by “preaching circumcision”. I take preaching circumcision as “proselytizing” gentiles, or bringing them into the Jews’ religion. Who does not want a new convert to their religion? But what is it?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28]
To be in Christ is not to get into the fold of the Jews’ religion. It is to be in Christ. There is no difference (Rom 3:22), all have sinned (Rom 3:23), all have to come to Christ by way of the gospel which is the “preaching of the cross” (1Cor 1:18-24), and He is rich to all that call upon Him (Rom 10:12). The Jew is no longer in the place of privilege that he once was under the old dispensation. He is in no way excluded either, for through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we [Jews] shall be saved, even as they [gentiles]. [Act 15:11] This loss of the place of privilege is what I believe the “offense of the cross” to be referring to in this context.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. [1Co 1:18, 22-24]
The cross of Christ is what stands between God and the world. Man does not object to religion or wisdom. He loves philosophy (man’s wisdom). But the cross? The cross is the way between man and God, and man’s religion and philosophy will not lead him there. That is the offense of the cross. It lets mankind know where he really stands. Have you, reader, accepted that Christ died YOUR death on that cross? Believe it and be saved! Be made righteous in God’s court! That is the word of the cross: The power of God and the wisdom of God!
I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
These are STRONG words for these “false brethren”! This passage, along with Philippians 3:2 are probably where Paul earned the false accusation of being anti-Semitic. Paul loved his brethren according to the flesh and looked forward to the day when they would turn to the Lord. Romans 9-11 should give ample evidence of this. But look at what he is wishing for them here! The underlined in the verse below when found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament is the same as that is translated “cut off” in Galatians 5:12:
He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. [Deu 23:1]
It is elsewhere used in the New Testament to describe amputations or cutting of ropes. These are strong words, but they are what the Apostle describes them to want, and therefore he is putting it on them. In Philippians, he does not call them the “circumcision”, but the “concision” (mutilation). When it is not of God, the badge of the covenant becomes nothing more than a mutilation. They were looking to “glory in the flesh” of their converts (Gal 6:12), but the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul puts this on the same level as that described in Deuteronomy 23.
There is no one who felt more kinship to the Jewish people than Paul, but His call as Apostle of Jesus Christ and the Apostle of the Gentiles could not allow him to be soft regarding this error. Perhaps this could help to explain the Lord’s words regarding discipleship:
If any [man] come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. [Luk 14:26]
Our loyalty to the Lord must always come first!