Paul brought to his new religion a great emphasis on faith. In numerous verses in the Epistles (Romans 4, Galatians 3, Hebrews 11), Paul and other apostles endeavored to prove the importance of Abraham's faith as dissociated from his deeds. What you need to know that this was a common ploy of the Gnostics where they used for their examples pre-Mosaic figures to illustrate their theological positions; thus the importance of Abraham for Paul. Paul's constantly recurring theme was that the Patriarch believed God's promise to him as faith. What Paul fails to tell his reading audience is that Abraham showed his faith in God in much more significant ways, such as by leaving his homeland at the Almighty's command and obeying His command to get circumcised at the tender age of 99. Paul, of course, did not offer the above examples as signs of Abraham's faith in God.
Answer for yourself: Why didn't Paul use these above examples of Abraham's faith in his epistles?
The religious rite of circumcision is an external, physical sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants. The word in Hebrew is brit which, significantly, means covenant. This is how the covenantal relationship is expressed in Genesis:
I will establish My covenant (brit) between Me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God unto you and to your seed after you (17:7).
This is My covenant which you shall keep...every male among you shall be circumcised (17:10).
Answer for yourself: Is the timing of Abraham's circumcision important?
For Paul the timing of Abraham's circumcision was of prime importance to prove that he demonstrated his faith in having a son before his circumcision. Paul's emphasis on when Abraham got the word of Sarah's imminent conception of Isaac played a major role in his dogma. Here is what Paul said in ROM 4:9-10:
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was righteousness credited to Abraham after he was circumcised or before?
It was not after but before!
In view of Paul's assertions and the convictions in Christianity based on his declaration, it might prove enlightening, though disconcerting, to believers of this doctrine to read Gen. 17 and 18:1-15.
Chapter 17 starts with an announcement by God of His covenant with Abram and His promises to the Patriarch to make him the father of a multitude of nations. Consequent to that pledge God changed his name to Abraham. Then He told Abraham that to keep the covenant, he and his descendants must be circumcised. After receiving instructions for circumcising himself and his household, Abraham was told that his wife's name was changed (from Sarai to Sarah), and that she would bear him a son.
Answer for yourself: What was the Patriarch's reaction to this news? Did he believe it?
The Bible tells us he fell on his face laughing as he said to himself, "Shall a child be born to him who is a hundred years old and shall Sarah who is ninety years old bear?" (GEN 17:17).
Then, aloud, he asked God if His promise might be fulfilled through Ishmael! Alas, Abraham despaired of having a child with Sarah. He was only human. If, after so many years they had no child, he had reason to doubt that now, in their old age, he and his wife could produce a son. The vaunted faith of Abraham in God's promise of the birth of Isaac was, on examination, quite weak! But this was not counted against him by God. There is no comment about it in the text.
So much for Abraham's faith.
Answer for yourself: Now for the timing: was it before or after circumcision? Let us read on.
The sequence of events shows that Abraham was told to have a brit or circumcision before he was told that he would have a child. Abraham, as a paradigm of obedience to God's word, had himself, his son, Ishmael, and all the men of his household circumcised "in the self- same day as God had spoken to him." Thus ends Chapter 17. Chapter 18 commences with a visit of angels who announce to Abraham and Sarah that she would bear a son the following year. This time she has doubts and asks the same question that her husband did in the previous chapter. Not only that, she laughs too! There was so much laughter, no wonder they named the boy Yitzhak, which means, "he shall laugh" in Hebrew.
Thus, the basis of Paul's characterization of Abraham as the model of faith is questionable, if not flawed. This does not mean that Abraham did not have faith in God. He demonstrated his trust in God in much more substantive ways--by obeying His commands unhesitatingly and unquestioningly. But, if there was one episode in his life in which he showed doubt, it was in the belief that Sarah could bear him a son. The main concern for Abraham and the Torah in general is compliance with God's commandments. It is unfortunate that Paul laid so much emphasis on such a trivial matter as Abraham's reaction to God's promise. It is trivial in terms of the Genesis account of the story. Paul missed or overlooked the main trait of the Patriarch because of his prejudice against the Law and his bias against circumcision--and his zeal to show that faith was more important than deeds.
Paul betrayed that bias and prejudice in the continuation of his address in ROM 4:11:
And he received circumcision as a sign and seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
What an inversion of facts! Abraham did not receive circumcision as he would receive a sheep or a camel. He arranged to have it done to himself and did it to others. His faith responded in obedience and works.
Answer for yourself: Were his servants and other men in his household also getting a sign and seal of righteousness? Circumcision was a sign of the covenant with God. The sign of righteousness in it was obedience to God's command--one which Paul was urging his followers to disobey.
Acts 21:21 21 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. (KJV)
The most bare-faced lie, as well as the greatest irony, in Paul's theory is his designation of the first man to be circumcised in accordance with God's commandment as the father of the uncircumcised! Lastly, no righteousness is credited to another person because Abraham obeyed God and got circumcised. Each individual must fulfill his own duties to get "credit." Furthermore, the text in Genesis states clearly and repeatedly that every male in future generations must have this rite performed.
Paul confused circumcision with observance of other laws in the Torah. He argued that a circumcised transgressor of the Law became as one who had not been circumcised (ROM 2:25). Obviously, Paul meant that in a spiritual, not bodily, sense. No verse in the Tanakh claimed that circumcision absolved a man from obeying other laws in the Pentateuch nor excused him for infringing on them. Circumcision was never presented or interpreted as a substitute for observance of other injunctions. Paul's argument is comparable to claiming that a citizen in today's society who pays his income taxes but violates traffic regulations is as one who had not paid his taxes to the state. One has nothing to do with the other. The person who discharged his obligation to the government has not reincurred a tax debt because of another, unrelated, trespass; but he is still liable for the violation of any other law. Paul's jumbled reasoning confuses the matter. And his repeated intimations, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the Torah, that Jews considered circumcision a substitute for obedience to other laws, is patently false. As E.P. Sanders wrote, "Romans 2 remains the instance in which Paul goes beyond inconsistency to true self-contradiction" (E.P. Sanders, Paul the Law, and the Jewish People, p. 147). In this chapter Paul said that the sole basis of salvation is obeying the Law and then proceeded to oppose one of the requirements of the Law. Another scholar, Heikke Raisanen, has remarked about the famous apostle, "Paul, the theologian, is a less coherent and less convincing thinker than is commonly assumed" (Heikke Raisanen, quoted in Paul the Law, and the Jewish People, p. 148).
In ROM 2:17 to 3:8 Paul demands obedience and then objects when Jews or Jewish Christians obey the oracles God gave them. Paul follows his contradiction with another non sequitur. He says that people should obey God but they should not expect their obedience to lead to divine acceptance! This is mumbo-jumbo! For no matter what they do, God has accepted them and Jesus' death has assured them of forgiveness and salvation (Howard Kee, Understanding the New Testament, pp. 231-232).
Answer for yourself: Can Paul keep a straight thought? It appears not!
Paul expressed the whole gamut of ideas on the value of circumcision:
Answer for yourself: Do you see the contradictions in what Paul is saying? What really is the truth on the matter as Paul cannot seem again to keep a straight thought on an issue? Is this the work of the Holy Spirit who is anointing Paul to write this stuff?
Paul's asserting the value of circumcision as a commandment of God comes on the heels of verses in ROM 2 in which he reversed and contradicted himself again.
Circumcision is linked to the Torah and Judaism as baptism is to the New Testament and Christianity. Just as it is a rare phenomenon to become unbaptized, so it is virtually unheard of to become uncircumcised. Paul knew this. His purpose was to attack the Law. Since circumcision was a fundamental part of it and a major issue for adult converts, Paul directed his barbs at the practice. How ironic then to read in 1 COR 7:19, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts."
Answer for yourself: For one who teaches the abolition of the Law due to the sacrifice of Christ don't you find it rather hypocritical that he would say the "keeping the Commandments is what counts?"
One final observation on this subject merits comment. Paul paid an inordinate amount of attention to circumcision representing it as an unreasonable and demanding requirement in the Pentateuch to which Jews stubbornly clung. Considering that for the past 4000 years Jews have been circumcised, for the last thirteen centuries Moslems have performed this rite, and for the last fifty years about half of the Christians living in the West have undergone this procedure, it is hard to make a case today for its rigor and hardship. Of course, adult circumcision, at a time when there were no narcotics, was far more intimidating than circumcision on an infant or on an adult under anesthesia. Paul was addressing adults whose feats of the pain and infection he sympathized with and encouraged by his attacks on the procedure. He opposed it for the non-Jews to whom he was preaching even when they were willing to undergo it.