THE MOST INCREDIBLE SLANDER OF PAUL’S PREACHING REFUTED—Continued (Galatians 5:11, 12)
Paul would yet be preaching the need of being circumcised in order to become a member of Christ? Once more a bloody rite, which prefigured the blood of the Cross, would need to be practiced in the Christian Church? One would first need to become a believer in the Old Testament sense before he could be a believer in the New Testament church as did the Jews insist who came in to spy out our liberty in Christ Jesus? (Gal. 2:4) Preposterous, indeed! Then Paul would be denying the very truth of the Gospel! Paul’s would be worse than was the position of Peter when he separated himself from the Gentile Christians and ate with those of the circumcision who had been called from the Jewish faith; (Gal. 2:11ff) He would be, indeed, breaking down what he had once built. (Gal. 2:18) He would have ceased to live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved him and gave Himself for Paul on the accursed tree. (Gal. 2:20)
What is the offence of the Cross ceased?
In a former paragraph we have spoken of this “offence of the Cross.” This deals with the very heart of the Gospel; it deals with the chief cornerstone upon which the entire temple of God’s church is constructed and made firm. In the midst of all the unbelief of Israel the word of Jehovah was to Isaiah, that he would not be afraid with the fear of those who would put their trust in a false alliance with Assyria, an alliance which was tantamount to a conspiracy against the LORD. Ahaz and the nobles of Judah would call upon the help of the Assyrian king against two kings who would overthrow the throne of David in Jerusalem. Rezin king of Syria (Damascus) and Pekah, son of Remaliah, would overthrow the dynasty of David’s house and place another on David’s throne who was not a son of David. It was in that historical situation that the word of the Lord came to Ahaz that this would never come to pass. God would fulfill His promise to David as spoken by Nathan the prophet, that he would raise up a Son to sit upon David’s throne forever. (II Sam. 7:1-17) How would this be realized? A virgin will conceive and bring forth a Son and shall call Him IMMANUEL, God with us. (Isaiah 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:31, 34)
It is in this connection that the Scripture brings in the stone of stumbling, the rock of offence, in Isaiah 8:14. Instead of placing their trust in a foreign power such as Assyria, of which Sennacherib is king, they must sanctify the Lord God in their hearts. They must trust in Him and wait for His salvation alone against all the enemies. All the plans of the unbelievers shall come to nought. They shall not stand! Only what the LORD shall do shall stand. The mighty word of God comes to Isaiah and instructs him not to walk in the way of this unbelieving, conspiring people. God shall be for a “Sanctuary” to all who trust in Him. As one commentary has it, “All, who sanctified the LORD of hosts in their hearts, He surrounded like temple walls; hid them in Himself, whilst death and tribulation reigned without, and comforted, fed and blessed them in His gracious presence.”
But there is another side to this. All who do not sanctify the LORD in their hearts, do not place their trust in Him alone, these do not have the LORD as their sanctuary, where they dwell under the shadow of the almighty; but for them He is a stone of stumbling, a rock of offence. Upon this stone they are dashed to pieces. Thus it shall be for the unbelievers in both the houses of Israel. God’s work in Zion is like a stone. For God will build the temple of His church on a foundation of which the chief cornerstone is Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection. Now this stone is elect and precious. (Isaiah 28:16; I Peter 2:6; Matt. 21:42; Rom. 9:33) Thus He is to us who believe. He is not the offence of the Cross to us. He is the Rock to which we come as living stones to be built up a spiritual house, to bring forth spiritual sacrifices unto God. (I Peter 2:3)
Now the offence of the Cross is that God lays the stone in Zion on which all of salvation rests. This is realized on the Cross. Here the Stone is rejected by the builders, the Jewish nation; He is condemned to die on the Cross. In the determinate counsel of God it was by wicked hands that Christ was crucified and slain. (Acts 2:23) But God raised Him up and set Him at His own right hand! And so, in the wisdom of God, the rejected Stone became the chief cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22; Matt. 21:42) The evil husbandmen said, This is the heir, let us kill him and let us seize his inheritance. Yet thus the stone was laid in Zion. And that is the stone of offence. That is the Cross! And this Cross is the rock of offence to all unbelief. In their heart and conscience they are condemned in all their religiosity and. empty rites. They are crushed by this Stone forever, Isaiah says, “and many among them shall stumble and fall, and be broken and be snared and be taken captive!” (Isaiah 8:15)
Now, can this “offence of the Cross” ever cease? Can it ever be made of none effect, even in the highest heaven and in deepest hell? Will the reality of that awful cry of the Jews ever cease: His blood be upon us and upon our children? (Matt. 27:25) The offensiveness of Paul’s preaching was exactly that He preached this Cross, this stone laid in Zion, as did all the other apostles. (Acts 4:10, 11) These leaders winced under this preaching and exclaimed, “and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” (Acts 4:28b)
Now Paul is accused of a very great sin. He would not have kept that which was entrusted to him, this riches of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, this mystery which was hid in God from the ages and is now made known in Christ Jesus? (Eph. 3:8-11, I Peter 1:18-21) If Paul preached the need of circumcision, then he would in one sentence make all that is glorious in the Cross of Christ to fade, and all the riches would be turned into abject poverty and shame. Once more we would have rags and not the white raiments of righteousness to clothe the shame of our nakedness.
PAUL’S SOLEMN WISH FOR JEWISH DISTURBERS OF THE FAITH (Galatians 5:12)
There are heights of holy zeal and indignation which cold and fleshly souls cannot understand. Such is the case with this zeal of God’s house which consumes Paul at this point. He is filled with the glow of his great love for the truth of the Gospel. He can only magnify his office as a true steward of the riches in Christ Jesus.
There are certain disturbers of the faith of the church. In Gal. 1:6, 7 he had also spoken of these, who pretended that they were preaching “another Gospel” than Paul preached. There Paul had called upon their heads the “anathema” of God. This should come upon his own head too and even upon a Gamaliel, should he preach another Gospel than Paul had preached in their midst. They were those who would trouble the saints. They would overturn the Gospel of Christ.
Now Paul does something very great, it seems to me. He would have these mere cutters of the flesh who really do not “circumcise” in the Scriptural sense, as a sign and seal of the righteousness which is by faith (Rom. 4:11), but who merely cut off “foreskins,” go all the way. In Phil. 3:2he calls these the “concision.” (katutomeen) For we, who believe in Christ Jesus and put no trust in the flesh are the true circumcision. We have the circumcision of Christ which is without hands, in the putting off of the body of sin. (Col. 2:11) Yes, these would be evangelists of law should not simply circumcise themselves, but shouldmutilate themselves. The term in the Greek really can only mean this self-mutilation. The verb is “apokopsontai,” 3rd person, plural, indicative, middle voice of apokoptoo: to cut off, to amputate. Yes, might they “even” do that. Then they would go really all the way in their fleshly circumcision. At least it wouldn’t be a little circumcision. This interpretation is advocated by a host of interpreters. See Meyer’s Commentary, page 231, and Lightfoot, page 207.
We have the interesting “Note” on page 244 of Meyer’s Commentary, which we here quote,
“The common interpretation of the Fathers, confirmed by the use of the language of the LXX., is not to be rejected only because it is displeasing to the delicacy of the modern times.” (Jowell) The American section of the Revision committee, following the French rendering of Deut. XXIII: 1, recommends the euphemism, “Go beyond circumcision” as the preferable mode of expressing this idea of the verb in a version for general circulation. Both Lightfoot and Eadie emphasize that such mutilation was a part of the rites of the worship of Cybele, and as such the allusion would have been understood at once. The idea conveyed is that circumcision, when no longer fulfilling its original design as an ordinance adumbrative of Christ and His blessings, had no more validity than such degrading prescriptions of the heathen, and that the sole difference is in degree and not in kind. The application of this principal here is intense irony. The explanation of Sabday is certainly remarkable, that while the interpretation here maintained is the true one, Paul is writing under the strain of passion, and his anger uses an expression that indicates “one of very few flaws in a truly noble and gracious character.”
Only when we see that Paul places such men under the divine curse can we understand that Paul, in using this phrase, is walking on the higher ground of his calling, and expresses what deepest implication and consequences of those, who insist that the New Testament Christian must be circumcised to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
What is worse: to fling the Lord’s anathema upon such disturbers of the faith and subverters of the Gospel, or to wish these men to go all the way in their folly of mere cutting of the flesh? To ask this question is to answer it!
For such are the men of unbelief, “who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”! (I Thess. 2:15, 16)