The two groups did not agree, and there were heavy discussions, as we verify: “And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue” (Acts 15:1-2). The apostles and the elders in Jerusalem received them, and this is what happened: “But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’ And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same as they also are’” (Acts 15:5-11).
There are really two people: the Jews and the Gentiles; and two gospels: the one of Peter, whose followers kept the Law of Moses and the circumcision, and the one of Paul, whose followers adopted the grace of Christ on the cross alone, with no regard to the Law of Moses or to the circumcision.
Paul received the revelation of the gospel of grace, which no other apostle received: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made know to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief, and by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men” (Eph.3:1-5).
Paul’s revelation was so great that he preached against the Law of Jehovah and against the circumcision. Let us read the words of James and the elders in Jerusalem to Paul about the new converts: “And they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21). When Paul went into the temple, the Jews of Asia, seeing him there, stirred up the people and took hold of him, crying, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place” (Acts 21:28). Let us now listen Paul’s own words on the subject: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal.5:1-4). According to the words of Paul, whoever circumcised his son was under obligation to keep the whole Law, and whoever kept the Law was under obligation to circumcise his son. And Paul also affirmed that this person would fall from the grace, that is, fall into condemnation. With such declarations Paul is saying that the gospel of circumcision does not save anyone, for the Law does not take anyone to the Father, and, sadly, it is a stumbling stone. “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Rom.9:30-32). Paul, never really approved the gospel of circumcision, that is, the gospel of Jehovah and of the Old Testament. Speaking of his noble Israelite origin and religious upbringing, he said, “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more; circumcised in the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to the zeal, a persecutor of the church; AS TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS IN THE LAW, FOUND BLAMELESS. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ” (Phil.3:4-8). To Paul, the gospel of circumcision was like manure, for it was a new patch put on an old piece of cloth; a thing that Jesus condemned (Matt.9:14-17). Paul rebuked Peter to his face for this worthless gospel, because it does not portray the truth (Gal.2:7-14). The truth, in his words, is, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal.6:15). About the Law of Jehovah, he said: “For through the Law I died to the Law” (Gal.2:19). “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom.6:14). “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom.7:6). Speaking of the Ten Commandments, he expressed himself like this: “[Christ] also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (2 Cor.3:6-8). The gospel of the circumcision is also that of the Law, and the Law brings with it terrible curses. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse” (Gal.3:10). God forbid that we may fall under this gospel of curses, of condemnation and of death. The gospel revealed to Paul is the gospel of the grace, which delivers from the Law, from the old covenant, from darkness, from slavery, and from death, things imposed by Jehovah, the god that does not forgive anyone, being evil and revengeful.
By Pastor Olavo S. Pereira