This time through Galatians, I have been thinking about the motives that Paul attributes to the circumcision party. They have visited Paul’s gentile churches and have erroneously taught that in addition to believing in Jesus as Messiah, gentiles must also be circumcised and commit to Torah. After all, they (evidently) argued, the covenant to Abraham was an everlasting covenant with an everlasting covenant sign, so to enter fully into that covenant and be an heir of Abraham, you must accept the everlasting covenant sign: be circumcised. Thus these guys could preach Genesis 17, and evidently they were persuasive. That seems to be something like the logic that the circumcision party was using.
The thing that has puzzled me has been the idea that these false teachers have two motives for their mission: 1) not to suffer persecution, and 2) to boast in the gentile Christians’ circumcision:
12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Gal. 6:12-13)
It is not entirely easy to answer “persecution from whom?” and “make a good showing before, and boast to whom?” The Romans weren’t persecuting any Christians yet. You couldn’t boast to the Jews in the synagogue next door; they would not be happy that the gentiles were circumcised unless they also took their place in the synagogue with other gentile God-fearers.
I’m now of a mind that the circumcision party were Jerusalem Jewish Christians who were currying favor with the Jews of power and prestige in Jerusalem who had come into the church. Acts 21 tells us that there were a LOT of Torah-observant Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, for whom circumcision was an important deal:
And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. (Acts 21:20-21)
Moreover, Acts 6.7 tells us that a great many of the priests were converted. So there evidently was a significant number of highly respected, perhaps wealthy, influential Torah men in the Jerusalem church. These were the kinds of guys you wanted to impress favorably, and that you did not want to offend and make your enemies. In their zeal for Torah, such men would withhold table fellowship from gentiles, and want to see gentiles be circumcised and come under Torah. Paul knows these guys, because he was one of them — or actually he was advanced in Judaism beyond them all. And now, even Peter is afraid of the trouble these guys can cause, so Paul is about the only one who isn’t afraid at all of what they think of him and his ministry:
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)
The Jerusalem wannabe’s took the circumcision and Torah message to the gentile churches in order to curry favor with the Jerusalem Important Guys. They may have been sent and sponsored. If they go and come back with a report that the gentiles are being circumcised, they are celebrated. But if they refuse to go on such a mission and stand up in Jerusalem saying, “No way, man! Torah is OVER!”, they would pay.
I sure don’t envy James his job pastoring a church dominated by these guys. And I wonder if this is part of Paul’s poor opinion of the Jerusalem apostles “those who seem to be something.”