Did followers of Christ need to conform to the Jewish ritual and sign of circumcision? In the earliest days of the church, some said yes and others said no. Acts 15 records the meeting of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to discuss this question. Considering Peter’s experience with Cornelius, and Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, they were led by the Holy Spirit to conclude that no, circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law were no longer required.
Most scholars agree that the letter to the Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council, and the definitive decision had not yet been rendered. This controversy was still hotly debated in Galatia, with the Judaizers teaching that circumcision and obedience to the Law were required in order to be right with God. Simply trusting in Christ was not enough. Paul disagreed, and he fought to preserve for the young church the truth and purity of the gospel (v. 5).
Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, which took place fourteen years after his conversion, had been for the purpose of bringing a gift from the church at Antioch (v. 1; see Acts 11:27–30). He traveled with Barnabas, who would soon accompany him on his first missionary journey, and Titus, a Gentile believer who would later be left in charge of the church in Crete (see Titus 1:5). On this second visit, the Jerusalem apostles again recognized Paul’s gospel (and by implication his apostleship) as true and authentic (v. 2).
Furthermore, although the Jerusalem Council had not yet met, circumcision was not required of Titus (v. 3). That is, the other apostles had never demanded what the Judaizers in Galatia demanded—circumcision and obedience to the Law, in addition to faith in Christ, resisting the efforts of “false believers” to compromise the freedom found in Jesus (v. 4)!
Apply the Word
Throughout history, people have taken God’s gift of salvation and tried to alter it. Don’t give in to temptations or pressures! Be like Paul, who stood courageously for Christ even when others were slandering his reputation and ministry. In the end, we, like him, must trust in God rather than people (see Ps. 56:11).