“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision . . . the offense of the cross has been removed” (Galatians 5:11)
“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” (Galatians 6:12).
The place of circumcision was a huge controversy in the early church. It had a long, respected, biblical place ever since God commanded it in Genesis 17:10. Christ was a Jew. All his twelve apostles were Jews. Almost all the first converts to Christianity were Jews. The Jewish Scriptures were (and are) part of the Bible of the Christian church. It is not surprising that Jewish rituals would come over into the Christian church.
They came. And with them came controversy. The message of Christ was spreading to non-Jewish cities like Antioch of Syria. Gentiles were believing on Christ. The question became urgent: How did the central truth of the gospel relate to rituals like circumcision? How did rituals relate to the gospel of Christ—the news that, if you believe on him your sins are forgiven, and you are justified before God? God is for you. You have eternal life.
Throughout the Gentile world the apostles were preaching forgiveness and justification by faith alone. Peter preached: “To [Christ] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Paul preached: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that . . . by him everyone who believes is justified from everything from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39, author’s translation).
But what about circumcision? Some in Jerusalem thought it was essential. Antioch became the flash point for the controversy. “Men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised . . . you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1). A council was called, and the matter was debated.
Some . . . rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” . . . Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that . . . God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe . . . why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly fell silent. (Acts 15:5-12)
Nobody saw to the bottom of the issue more clearly than the apostle Paul. The very meaning of the suffering and death of Christ was at stake. Was faith in Christ enough to put us right with God? Or was circumcision necessary too? The answer was clear. If Paul preached circumcision, “the offense of the cross has been removed” (Galatians 5:11). The cross means freedom from the enslavement of ritual. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.”