Galatians 2:1-5 “What’s Circumcision Got to do with It?”

Posted: June 29, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Audio Sermons, Galatians, Sermons
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Here is a link to the audio: audio sermon.

My sermon notes are pasted below…this is a rough outline that I make for my own use and not really polished for public consumption, but you may get something out of it.

Galatians 2:1-5 “What’s Circumcision Got to do with It?”

Pastor Rick Hogaboam, Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Nampa


Galatians 2:1–10 (ESV) — 1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

–          :1 > 14 years following previous visit that followed his 3 years of silence

  • Scholars dispute when this trip to Jerusalem took place, whether it was the famine relief trip recorded in Acts or the council in Acts 15, good arguments for each and I tentatively believe that it was the relief trip recorded briefly in Acts 11:30 with the revelation that Paul and Barnabas should take an offering to Jerusalem, and then brief mention that they returned from the trip in Acts 12:25, bringing back to Antioch John Mark, who was Barnabas’ cousin (Col 4:10).
    • Pluses: this was the second trip of Paul to Jerusalem and makes the most sense if he is being chronological here in Galatians
    • This does affect dating of the book: Did he write after his first missionary trip, where he visited the province of Galatia in Acts 13-14? If so, this would support the relief trip as the reference here.
    • I think the issue that emerges here is what developed post the relief trip, Acts 15 was the nail in the coffin of this issue and was so public that Paul would simply be reminding the Galatians of what was already decided.
  • BARNABAS [BAR nuh bus] (son of prophecy; encouragement, consolation) — an apostle in the early church (Acts 4:36–37; 11:19–26) and Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1–15:41). A Levite from the island of Cyprus, Barnabas’ given name was Joseph, or Joses (Acts 4:36). When he became a Christian, he sold his land and gave the money to the Jerusalem apostles (Acts 4:36–37). Cousin of John Mark (Col. 4). Early in the history of the church, Barnabas went to Antioch to check on the growth of this early group of Christians. Then he journeyed to Tarsus and brought Saul (as Paul was still called) back to minister with him to the Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:25).[1]
  • TITUS (Tīʹ tŭs) Gentile companion of Paul (Gal. 2:3) and recipient of the NT letter bearing his name. Titus may have been converted by Paul who called him “my true child in our common faith” (Titus 1:4 HCSB). As one of Paul’s early associates, Titus accompanied the apostle and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1), probably on the famine relief visit (Acts 11:28–30). Though Acts does not mention Titus, he was quite involved in Paul’s missionary activities as shown in the Pauline letters. He was evidently known to the Galatians (Gal. 2:1, 3), possibly from the first missionary journey to that region. Titus also seems to have been a very capable person, called by Paul “my partner and coworker” (2 Cor. 8:23 HCSB). He was entrusted with the delicate task of delivering Paul’s severe letter (2 Cor. 2:1–4) to Corinth and correcting problems within the church there (2 Cor. 7:13–15). Paul apparently was released after his first Roman imprisonment and made additional journeys, unrecorded in Acts. One of these took him and Titus to Crete, where Titus remained behind to oversee and administer the church (Titus 1:5). According to church tradition, Titus was the first bishop of Crete. See Crete.[2]

–          :2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

  • “ revelation’, Depends on whether you understand the Acts 11-12 trip or the Acts 15 trip.
  • Acts 11:27–30 (ESV) — 27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
  • Acts 12:25 (ESV) — 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
  • “privately”: supports viewing this relief trip as what paul is mentioning because the Acts 15 trip was very public and not private at all (although Paul could be mentioning private discussions within the broader council)
  • he follows though be saying that he presented the Gospel he had been preaching to see if he had been working in vain or not. This seems to be much more than a mere relief trip and leads people to believe that it was what Luke records in the following:

–          Acts 14:25–15:2 (ESV) — 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

  • Paul and Barnabas are “appointed”, which would serve as the revelation that led Paul there, but this is a very public disputation.
  • You can reconcile and qualify each view to be tenable.
    • Paul’s astonishment may be because the council was public and the matter was settled and he is wondering why they are departing.
    • The issue could be developing and Paul thought he was so clear that they wouldn’t think along these lines. Though it was a relief trip that drew him to Jerusalem, he privately consulted with James, Peter, and John to make sure that the message is right, which is what he is summoning here to the Galatians to say that his Gospel is Jerusalem endorsed.

3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

–          Now it sounds like Paul is discussing Acts 15. Opponents are present, which we know for certain in Luke’s narrative. Allow me to move beyond the potential interpretations based on what trip to Jerusalem this was and instead draw out some clear truth that apples to us today.

  • Paul has Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:1-5) right after the council in Acts 15 says that Gentiles need not be circumcised
  • Why then is Paul so adamant about not circumcising Titus? He was a Gentile and the opponents were saying that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to receive Christ and be accepted in God’s Covenant people.
  • Because salvation was at stake, Paul was adamant, not willing to give in to those who would add to the Gospel, whereas the Gospel was not at stake with Timothy, but Paul was instead wanting to remove any unnecessary stumbling blocks to the spread of the Gospel.
  • EXAMPLE: Jesus has come to break down the barriers of certain commands that were outwardly designed to set His people apart, it is no longer necessary to obey this command to be circumcised (Sabbath and festivals, dietary laws, intermarriage, etc). It was tough for God’s people to take seriously His commands and adjust in this transition to the New Covenant. God constituted a particular physical people in a physical land to be marked by certain laws that would set them apart from the other nations. In Christ, those outward signs of Jewishness are fulfilled in Him for the sake of a New Covenant that encompasses all people and breaks down the barrier of the “ceremonial” laws. It is displaced by the need to be a particularly “Christian” people. If people are demanding that you must be circumcised, must observe Sabbath, must eat kosher and keep all of the feast days, etc to be Christian, then Paul would say no way. That is what is at stake for Titus, does this Gentile need to become a Jew in order to become a Christian? For Timothy, it was more like, “You’re a Jew and some people would be offended that you aren’t marked off as one”.
  • In our response song, there is a verse contemplating the freedom from the ceremonial law from which Jesus has delivered us:
  • Finished all the types and shadows,
    Of the ceremonial law;
    Finished all that God had promised;
    Death and hell no more shall awe.
    “It is finished, it is finished,”
    Saints from hence your comfort draw.
  • Theology matters, it was a matter of eternal life and death, that is what was at stake in this theological dispute of Paul’s day, it was no small matter. He said let these teachers be accursed. Paul is standing up and not willing to back down.
    • A lot of people say that theology divides, and you know what, it does when your theology is wrong. A line needs to be drawn. The glory of Jesus is at stake. People say to settle down and be understanding, not of heresy I won’t, I will figt it off for the sake of your salvation, your joy, and the glory of God, which is all at stake in heresy!!!

–          Circumcision commanded of Abraham and His seed, marks off His covenant people and calls people to faith or heart circumcision, calls Abraham’s children to have the faith of their father Abraham

–          Genesis 17:9–14 (ESV) — 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

–          Signifies God’s everlasting covenant, namely to produce a seed and bless the world, this is ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

–          To inherit the blessings of the covenant, however, one would need heart circumcision, not just outward circumcision

–          Deuteronomy 10:14–16 (ESV) — 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

–          Jeremiah 4:4 (ESV) — 4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

–          Circumcision replaced by Baptism through John the Baptist, repentance necessary, no longer administered just to males on 8th day, this new sign is given to all who repent.

–          Matthew 3:1–12 (ESV) — 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

–          God promised to circumcise our hearts

–          Deuteronomy 30:1–6 (ESV) — 1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

–          This new covenant administration requires faith for membership and entrance, circumcision had to be replaced by a new sign in order for the whole world to experience the blessings promised. Women and men, all ethnic people, not just males who are descended from Abraham.

–          New Jew is inward:

–          Romans 2:25–29 (ESV) — 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

–          We need to be born again, not circumcised

–          Colossians 2:11–14 (ESV) — 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

–          We have this circumcision of Christ.

–          Galatians 6:11–18 (ESV) — 11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

–          What matters is if you have repented, if your heart has been circumcised or born again, if you are a new creation!!! It is easy to put confidence in outward badges of membership, but God is calling us to repent and turn to Him!!!

–          If you repent, the things spoken of are true, you were dead and will become alive, your trespasses are forgiven, record of debt has been cancelled, legal demands have been nailed to Jesus on the cross

–          It delivers us from boasting in our flesh and instead in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the world crucified to us

–          Paul refused to have Titus circumcised because he was a believer, and undoubtedly baptized in water to signify this mighty working of Christ in His heart. All that matters is faith alone.

Hymn “It is finished”

Hark, the voice of love and mercy,
Sounds aloud from Calvary!
See, it rends the rocks asunder,
Shakes the earth and veils the sky!
“It is finished, It is finished,”
Hear the dying Savior cry.

“It is finished,” O what pleasure,
Do these charming words afford.
Heavenly blessings, without measure,
Flow to us from Christ the Lord.
“It is finished, it is finished,”
Saints the dying words record.

Finished all the types and shadows,
Of the ceremonial law;
Finished all that God had promised;
Death and hell no more shall awe.
“It is finished, it is finished,”
Saints from hence your comfort draw.

Tune your harps anew, ye seraphs;
Join to sing the pleasing theme;
Saints on earth and all in heaven,
Join to praise Immanuel’s name.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Glory to the bleeding lamb!

[1] Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville: T. Nelson.

[2] Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., Butler, T. C., & Latta, B. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1601). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.


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