January 19, 2018
Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 7:19
ON THE FACE OF IT, THIS IS A SELF-CONTRADICTORY statement: if the second part of St. Paul’s assertion is true, it would seem that the first part cannot be. Circumcision is undoubtedly a commandment of God (Genesis 17:12,14); therefore, at the very least, according to his reasoning, it does in fact count for something. The problem with this is that Paul is not here using the word “commandments” to refer to the Law given by God to Israel through Moses. Were that so, he would be contradicting his declaration elsewhere that “by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16). In this context, “keeping the commandments” means being obedient to God in your personal situation, that is, by doing what God calls you to do (1 Corinthians 7:17). Whether you are circumcised or uncircumcised, in the flesh, is a matter of indifference. What counts is “real circumcision,” which is “a matter of the heart” (Romans 2:29). Abraham “received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (4:11). “Keeping the commandments of God,” then, begins with faith, since we are commanded by God to believe. “Repent,” says Jesus in the beginning of his preaching, “and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). God, writes Paul, “is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:25-26). But “keeping the commandments of God” involves more than just believing. As St. James reminds us, it also entails doing (James 2:18-26). Paul brings this out beautifully in another place. “In Christ Jesus,” he says, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).