Acts 16:1–3—Why did Paul have Timothy circumcised when he himself spoke so strongly against it?

Problem: Paul’s main point in Galatians can be summarized in his words, “If you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2). Yet Paul admits that he had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews who were in that region” (Acts 16:3). Wasn’t this a contradiction to his own teaching.

Solution: Even if Paul were wrong here in his action, it would not prove that the Bible erred in its teaching, but simply that Paul erred. Paul, like any other human being, was capable of error. Since the Bible is the Word of God (see Introduction), it is not capable of erring in anything it teaches.

Furthermore, Paul’s action in having Timothy circumcised is not necessarily inconsistent with what he taught in Galatians, since the two cases are different. Paul was violently opposed to any who made circumcision necessary for salvation. But he never opposed it as helpful for evangelism. Indeed, Paul said elsewhere, “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). However, when Judaizers insisted that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), then Paul took an intractable stand against circumcision.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.