The Law Removes the Offense of the Cross (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

December 14, 2013
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe

Chapter IV.A.5: The Law Removes the Offense of the Cross (5:11-12)

Galatians 5:11-12 (KJV)

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.
12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.


11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision
The apostle was accused by the false teachers of teaching circumcision in some places, and they said they were teaching no more than he taught. Or it may have been inferred from the fact (which was undoubtedly true) that Paul in general complied with the customs of the Jews when he was with them. When they made these accusations, they did it partly to brand him an indecisive and inconsistent man, who preached one doctrine in one place, and another in another place, and consequently not to be listened to; and partly to draw the Galatian believers into their scheme to damage his reputation and downgrade his authority. And how they went about it, might have been to bring up Paul’s circumcising of Timothy Acts 16.3—“Paul wanted to take Timothy along with him, so he circumcised him. He did so because all the Jews who lived in those places knew that Timothy's father was Greek.”; even though he made it clear that it was a practice without any spiritual value, and that he did it for the sake of the Jews; so that they would accept Timothy’s preaching and be comfortable with him. Paul never preached that there was any benefit to be derived from circumcision after his conversion, and certainly he would not have said that it was necessary for justification and salvation, as these false teachers did. He refutes this lie by putting the following question or questions to the Galatian Christians; “why do I yet suffer persecution?”

As for the charge that Paul in general complied with the customs of the Jews when he was with them, the apostle could have pointed out that his actions were in accordance with his principle expressed in 1 Co 7:18-20 and 9:20—“If a circumcised man has accepted God's call, he should not try to remove the marks of circumcision; if an uncircumcised man has accepted God's call, he should not get circumcised. For whether or not a man is circumcised means nothing; what matters is to obey God's commandments. Each of you should remain as you were when you accepted God's call . . . While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them.” Circumcision, or uncircumcision, are things indifferent in themselves: their lawfulness or unlawfulness depends on the mindset of him who uses them. The Gentile Galatians' position in circumcision could only be their supposition that it influenced favorably their standing before God. Paul's living as a Gentile among Gentiles, plainly showed that, if he lived as a Jew among Jews, it was not that he thought it laudable before God, but as an indifferent matter, in which he might lawfully conform as a Jew by birth to those with whom he was witnessing, in order to put no needless stumbling-block to the Gospel in the way of his countrymen.

why do I yet suffer persecution?
It has been fully documented, that Paul was persecuted for preaching against the practice of circumcision. Most of the persecutions endured by the apostle was from the Jews, and that on account of his teaching them everywhere that they were among the Gentiles, to forsake Moses, and that they should not circumcise their children, and live by the customs of their nation. It’s clear that he did not preach it, because if he had, persecution from this quarter would not have followed him. It is remarkable that Paul does not expressly deny the charge. The reason may be, that his own word would be called into question, or that it might require considerable explanation to show why he had recommended circumcision in any case, as in the case of Timothy.

The Arabic version gives the words a very different twist, and yet furnishes an answer to the slanderous accusation; "why do I persecute him that uses it?" that is, if I preach circumcision, why am I such a passionate and violent opponent of those that submit to it? Christianity and the rites and ceremonies of Judaism are so opposite that there is no reconciling them. The doctrine of salvation by a crucified Christ was an offence and a stumblingblock to the Jews. Now, if the apostle had preached that circumcision was necessary to salvation, the other doctrine must have been dropped, and consequently the offence taken at it must have ceased, but it had not ceased. We can say with certainty that the apostle did NOT preach circumcision, but only a crucified Christ, and faith in Him as necessary to salvation. Moreover, the Jews that believed would not have been so offended as they were at his preaching, had he preached the one as well the other; their offence was not that he preached Christ crucified, but that he preached, that, by the cross of Christ, circumcision and the other rituals of the ceremonial law were now abolished.

Then is the offence of the cross ceased.
"For if I should preach the necessity of circumcision, as is alleged, the offence of the cross of Christ would be removed. The necessity of depending on the merits of the sacrifice made on the cross would be taken away, since then people could be saved by conformity to the laws of Moses. The very thing that I have insisted on, and that has been such a stumbling-block to the Jews, that conformity to their rites was of no avail, and that they must be saved only by the merits of a crucified Saviour, would be done away with." Paul means that if this had been done, he would have saved himself from offending the Jewish Christians, and from the evils of persecution. He would have preached that people could be saved by conformity to Jewish rites, and that would have saved him from all the persecutions which he had endured in consequence of preaching the necessity of salvation by the cross.

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
I would they were even cut off.

So far am I, says Paul, from agreeing with them, and preaching the necessity of circumcision as they do, that I sincerely wish they were excluded from the church for being unworthy to have a place among the children of God. The simple meaning is, I think, that Paul wished that the instigators of false teaching and turmoil were excluded from the church.

Which trouble you.
Who misrepresent the true doctrines of salvation, and who as a consequence introduce error into the church. Error always sooner or later causes trouble. Paul had similar advice for the Corinthian church—“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). By the OLD leaven he means vice and sin; and also the person who had committed the sin in their church. Just as the Jews, at the celebration of the Passover, searched every part of their dwellings with candles, so that they might remove every particle of leavened bread from their habitations, the apostle exhorts them to use all diligence to search out their lives and remove all sin. The same is true for the church; all error (false teaching) should be removed, because His church must be kept pure for His sake.

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