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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Paying the price

There was one drawback about Timothy, so far as Paul was concerned, but one that could easily be remedied if Timothy would submit to the painful operation involved. It would be a good test of the young man’s courage and commitment. Timothy was neither Jew nor Gentile, but he was more Jew than he was Gentile. In view of the Jews’ prejudice and because Paul’s first contact in a city was with Jews, it would be best if Timothy became wholly a Jew and was circumcised.

Paul’s circumcision of Timothy was a remarkable step. It showed the total lack of prejudice in Paul’s mind. He was willing to die for the principle that circumcision had nothing to do with salvation and for the truth that Gentiles must not be forced to accept circumcision as a condition and rule of faith. He would fight to his last breath for the emancipation of Gentiles from any act that would put them under the yoke of the Mosaic law. But Paul was singularly free from the bondage, typical of small minds, that insists on slavish consistency in all details in all cases and conditions. Paul could see that Timothy was an exceptional case. Being neither Jew nor Gentile would be a handicap to him in the kind of work in which Paul was engaged. Jews would regard him as a Gentile because he was the uncircumcised son of a Greek father; Gentiles would regard him as a Jew because he had been practically raised a Jew by his mother.

Paul decided that in Timothy’s case, because much of his work would be among unsaved Jews, it would be best to legitimatize his status by making him wholly a Jew. The Gentiles would accept a missionary who was wholly Jewish much more readily than the Jews would accept a missionary who was half Gentile.

Paul put the matter to Timothy, who displayed his mettle by agreeing to the unpleasant operation. If Timothy had been wholly Gentile (as Titus was), Paul would certainly not have taken this step. But Paul was the most conciliatory of men, always willing to make concessions where it did not violate some important and vital truth.

John Phillips, Exploring Acts: An Expository Commentary, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ac 16:3.

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