Apostle to the foreskin: circumcision in the Letters of Paul
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
This thesis offers a comprehensive examination of the topic of circumcision in Paul’s epistles. Historically, Paul has been understood as abandoning the practice of circumcision due to his supposed abandonment of Judaism and conversion to Christianity. Recent scholarship on Paul, however, has challenged the idea that Paul ever abandoned Judaism, maintaining that Paul remained a Torah-observant Jew throughout his life. In the context of this revisionist reading of Paul, I reassess Paul’s discourse on circumcision. In my treatment of Paul’s epistles, I argue against the typical treatment of Paul and circumcision found in the majority of Pauline scholarship. Here, I critique four common arguments: 1) Paul denies the value and benefit of circumcision for Jews; 2) Paul redefines what proper circumcision is and who it applies to; 3) spiritual circumcision replaces physical circumcision; and 4) Paul’s negative evaluation of circumcision occurs irrespective of ethnic concerns. Instead, I propose, 1) that Paul upholds the importance of circumcision for Jews; 2) does not redefine or spiritualize circumcision so that it applies to non-Jews or refers to the ekklēsia; 3) like the voices in the Hebrew Bible, Paul believes that circumcision of heart only applies to Jews and needs to be accompanied by physical circumcision; and 4) Paul’s ethnic binary of Jews and gentiles—especially the gentile recipients of his epistles—informs his discourse on circumcision. In addition to these main points, I offer interpretations of every Pauline passage that discusses circumcision. Unlike past treatments of circumcision in Paul, this thesis also offers a comprehensive treatment of Paul’s use of foreskin language. The thesis is organized in four chapters, with each chapter covering one of the Pauline epistles that discusses circumcision: chapter one—1 Corinthians, chapter two—Galatians, chapter three—Philippians, and chapter four—Romans.