Acts 16:1-3 (NASB)
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

The answer could be right here 'because of the Jews who were in the those parts', however, it seems hypocritical especially given other texts like Galatians 5, where he is harshly admonishing the Galatians who were even thinking about getting circumcised, presumably (and similarly) because of the Jews as well.

Galatians 5:2 (NIV)
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.


The answer is perhaps best given in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23 (emphasis added):

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Paul understood, as did Peter (See Acts 10 and Cornelius), that they were no longer bound by the Jewish law. Peter saw that he should no longer call unclean what God considered clean. This specifically included pork and unclean animals.

So, before God, Timothy did not need to be circumcised. However, if your target audience involves Jews, to whom the "uncircumcised" were deplorable, then it is appropriate to be circumcised for the sake of the hearers. Paul said that he became as Jew to win the Jews. He became weak to win the weak, etc.

Hudson Taylor followed this example as a missionary in China as he donned the clothing and hair style of the Chinese, thereby identifying with them culturally.

So, again, it is appropriate to not offend those with whom you wish to share the gospel, so that what is unimportant does not become an unnecessary stumbling block to your hearers.

  • Exactly.. +1. As usual, you beat me to it. Great answer! Jun 6 '13 at 1:48
  • The act itself is not what makes it hypocritical, but the intent. Paul's intent was not hypocritical because he was not doing it to be righteous.
    – Steve
    Jun 8 '13 at 0:31
  • I wanted to point out that in the bible people are sometimes compared to animals, sheep, ram, goats, etc. The vision that Peter saw was concerning his disposition not to visit the house of a gentile. God had already reconciled the gentiles through Jesus hence they were made clean by God. Is pork clean now? I don't know but the vision does not state that eating pig is okay now.
    – Lordbalmon
    Sep 29 '15 at 3:25

The letter to the Galatians is written to Gentiles; as a Jew (half-Jewish by birth, and presumably taught Judaic--and later Christian--beliefs by his mother) he would have been expected by his fellow Jews to have been circumcised ("for they all knew that his father was a Greek"). The Jews would never have listened to him if he was in disobedience to the law.

According to Matthew Henry's Commentary:

This was strange. Had not Paul opposed those with all his might that were for imposing circumcision upon the Gentile converts? Had he not at this time the decrees of the council at Jerusalem with him, which witnessed against it? He had, and yet circumcised Timothy, not, as those teachers designed in imposing circumcision, to oblige him to keep the ceremonial law, but only to render his conversation and ministry passable, and, if it might be, acceptable among the Jews that abounded in those quarters. He knew Timothy was a man likely to do a great deal of good among them, being admirably qualified for the ministry, if they were not invincibly prejudiced against him; and therefore, that they might not shun him as one unclean, because uncircumcised, he took him and circumcised him. Thus to the Jews he became as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews, and all things to all men, that he might gain some. He was against those who made circumcision necessary to salvation, but used it himself when it was conducive to edification; nor was he rigid in opposing it, as they were in imposing it... Paul made no difficulty of taking Timothy to be his companion, though he was uncircumcised; but the Jews would not hear him if he were, and therefore Paul will humour them herein.


I think it interesting to point out that Paul specifically had Titus remain uncircumcised,

...so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. - Gal. 2:5b

See the beginning of Gal. 2 for the background to that. If the gospel had been at stake with Timothy, I highly doubt that Paul would have circumcised him. But, since it apparently was not, this made the spread of the gospel easier. However, with Titus, it was essential that Paul not circumcise him, so that all would know it was not necessary for salvation.


Gal 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Gal 1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Gal 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

Gal 5:2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. Gal 5:3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Gal 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

You're taking one verse completely out of context to arrive at the thought that Paul was hypocritical. The Galatians had a specific problem they were leaving Christ and going to Moses. When Paul tells them if you be circumcised Christ profit you nothing. He was telling them that if they left Christ returning to the law they would be what we call abrogating or committing the unforgivable sin.

Heb 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, Heb 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, Heb 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Heb 10:38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. Heb 10:39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

Leaving Jesus failing to repent is a terrible thing and its possible for us to give up our salvation to follow another and false system. The warning about circumcision is to tell them if they go through with this in their case demonic ceremony they would be losing all the work of Christ in their life.

1Co 7:18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. 1Co 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 1Co 7:20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 1Co 7:21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

Gal 5:6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Luk 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Now if you look rationally at Galatians and the other surrounding books you'll see that circumcision or uncircumcision matters not. Its just something tied to who you started out being when you met Jesus. If you have a good reason to need circumcision or uncircumcision then you should do either just like if you were a slave and you found a way to seek freedom you could. Our genitals mean very little to Christ and Christ wants our focus not to be on the our natural bodies but on the work of His Kingdom in the Earth.


It is possible that the circumcising of Timothy influenced Paul's subsequent stance on the subject. It is not agreed upon about when Paul wrote wrote Galatians. It is believed that Corinthians, Romans (and possibly Galatians) were written after this event (in Acts 16). In that case it would not seem hypocritical at all. In fact it makes more sense (to me) if these writings happened after the Timothy circumcising.

On a side note, I think it is also important to remember that Paul (from Saul) was a man committed to growth and recognizing we are broken (in the flesh). Paul certainly confesses his struggle with trying to get it right. (Romans 7:15-24)


just before Paul circumcised Timothy he had an argument with Barnabas about where to go next with John Mark...If he argued with the 12 and then with Barnabas why do we think he Knew what he was doing... He was making it up as he went... He argued that the 12 with James as leader wanted Gentiles to follow the law and the BRIT of circumcision but then he makes Timothy get the very cut they wanted. If this is Paul becoming all things to WHO? Is He to the Jews or to the Gentiles, he should leave the Jews to the 12 but he does not he goes with timothy to the Jews?

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