Monday, January 7, 2013

Did Paul Consider Uncircumcision to be a "Calling" in 1 Corinthians 7?


I came across a commentary on 1 Corinthians by Gordon Fee that offers a helpful outline for how Paul uses the term "calling" in 1 Corinthians 7.  He writes:


 "Since the theme of 'calling' is central to the argument, it may be helpful to outline it in advance:
1.  The concept of call is first of all a way of describing Christian conversion.  God calls people to be 'in Christ' (1:9).
2.  That call came to a person in a given social setting.  This is the clear emphasis in all the verbs in this passage, especially as it was associated with various social options (vv. 18 [twice], 21, 22 [twice]).
3.  These two realities are pressed theologically in various ways:
 a.  God's call to Christ that comes in these various settings renders the settings themselves irrelevant (vv. 18-19, 22).

 b.  Because of this, change is not necessary; indeed, one may live out the Christian life in whatever setting that call took place.

 c.  On the other hand, precisely because the settings are irrelevant, if change does take place, that too is irrelevant.  What one is not to do is to seek change as though it had religious significance, which it does not.

 d.  Although he comes very close to seeing the setting in which one is called as 'calling' itself, he never quite makes that jump.  At most 'calling' refers to the circumstances in which the calling took place."

I like this outline because it leaves room for the interpretation that Paul doesn't view uncircumcision as a Divine-calling but rather an irrelevant social situation--when compared to being 'in Christ'.  Notice that Paul isn't saying--couldn't possibly be saying!--that circumcision is "nothing."  Thus, he must be using hyperbole (something not foreign to Rabbinical argumentation) to show that circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing when compared with something much more important.  But what could be more important than circumcision and uncircumcision?

We'll allow Paul to explain in his own words:


1 Cor 7:19 " Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters."

Galatians 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
Galatians 6:15 "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation"

In conclusion, Paul believes that circumcision does indeed have value (Rom. 2:25) but that being 'in Christ' (i.e. having faith and being a new creation) is infinitely more valuable.  Additionally, being in Christ means that you will keep the commandments (a reference to Sinaitic Law, i.e. Jewish Law).  


On that last point, I should mention that the Septuagint uses "commandments of God" synonymously with Sinaitic Law.  But if you need further historical proof that commandments of G-d correlates to Jewish Law then see Josephus:


"And the sons of Tobias took the part of Menelaus, but the greater part of the people assisted Jason:  and by that means Menelaus, and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus, and informed him, that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living:  Wherefore they desired his permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem.  And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked, they might appear to be Greeks.  Accordingly they left off all the customs that belonged to their country, and imitated the practices of the other nations."  (Book XII, Chapter V, 1).  

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