For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
1 Corinthians 1:17 (KJV)
12. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
Galatians 6:12-13 (KJV)
Baptism and Circumcision – With verses like these, it would appear that Paul taught against baptism and circumcision, or at least against the physical action. But did he really?
We need to read Apostle Paul’s letters in context to his culture and life as a Jewish man who had accepted Yeshua as his Jewish Messiah. Paul never spoke against the law for the sake of diminishing it. If that’s the case, which much of Christianity claims, then Paul was a hypocrite. If you believe that Paul spoke against the law, then Paul’s hypocrisy lies between his teachings and his living. You see Paul kept the entire Torah up until his death according to his own words:
While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
So if Paul never offended (or broke) the laws of the Jews (Torah and Talmud), AND if Christians preach that Paul taught contrary to the law of God, then Paul is a hypocrite. It’s the only conclusion. But if you believe that Paul valued the law, and taught truth that involved keeping the Torah, then he’s not a hypocrite. But can we reach that conclusion? Of course we can! You see, I don’t believe Paul was a hypocrite despite that Christianity portrays him as such.
Paul’s battles aren’t against the law as the righteous will of God. He’s not arguing that the law is dead. He’s not replacing Judaism with Christianity. He’s trying to get a very closed-minded group of Jews to realize that God has called the Gentiles to join His community. These few Jews wanted to build up walls that would limit this. Their steps for becoming a Jew included 1) an expression of intent, 2) the adoption of Torah living, 3) circumcision, 4) baptism and 5) examination of behavior by appropriate authorities in the Jewish community. Only after all these things were fulfilled could a Gentile be accepted in the Jewish community and find redemption in the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. Here’s a quote from the Mishnah to prove my point.
The reference is to a proselyte who underwent circumcision but not ritual immersion, the Mishnah apprising us that as long as he has not undergone ritual immersion he is still an idolator, not being considered a proselyte until he has undergone both circumcision and ritual immersion.
Mishnah Berakhot, Chapter 7:1
It was believed that baptism and circumcision were requirements for becoming a Jew. And in order to have redemption and be included in the kingdom, you had to be a Jew first. This was Paul’s battle. He saw that these laws were a stumbling block for the inclusion of Gentiles. Paul struggled to get these closed-minded Jews to see that Gentiles are a part of Israel by faith, not by a group of laws. Paul believed these same Gentiles would then learn and grow in the Torah as they attended the synagogues every Sabbath. This is the whole point of the Council and edict determined by James in Acts 15:19-21.
This understanding allows us to see the true Apostle Paul, not a hypocrite who practiced one thing but taught the opposite. Paul knew that God’s law and God’s will were the same thing (Romans 2:18). It’s so important for us to read the Bible in context of the culture of a 1st century Jew, not a 21st century Christian.