Friday, August 19, 2011

To circumcise or not to circumcize?

This weeks Sunday School lesson is on Acts 16-18 and both epistles to the Thessalonians. Reading/listening to it first off was very difficult, I didn't get much out of it. I decided to watch the episode on the BYU Broadcasting site where professors of religion ("the professors" from here on out) discuss these chapters for about 25 minutes to help broaden my perspective on these chapters. I was reminded how little I know and how much more effort I need to give to understanding the scriptures and applying them to my life.

As a preface to this reading, I also listened to the discussion that included Acts 15 that discusses the question the members of the Church had with regards to circumcision, and if the newly baptized Gentiles needed to be circumcised. The professors deemed this as one of the most important chapters of the New Testament, paritally because it had to do with a major change in the tradition of the Jews that was a part of the Law of Moses, and was a move toward shedding that "burden." The outcome was that the leaders of the Church didn't feel like it was necessary to burden the newly baptized Gentiles with any aspect of the Law of Moses, that it was sufficient to admonish them to "abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood."  Oddly enough, and pointed out by the professors, the Gentiles received this message, but it wasn't taught to the Jews - which was something Paul probably was hoping for.

This brings us to chapter 16 where Paul and Silas meet Timothy, who is the son of a Greek father and believes and is converted to the faith. Verse 3 states, "Him [Timothy] would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek." So even though the entire previous chapter told of the step forward of the Church to not require the newly baptized to follow the Law of Moses, why does Paul take a step back and have Timothy circumcised? The scripture says "because of the Jews...for they knew all that his father was a Greek." The professors point out that the because it was widely known among the Jews that Timothy was a Greek he was circumcised to make it easier on them to accept him as a member of the Church.

So sometimes, even though times have changed and the Church progresses forward, shedding old traditions, it's important to not expect everyone or force everyone to expect those changes to be immediate. Had he not been circumcised, the Jews would have known, and it could have hampered any success Paul and Silas tried to achieve. I understand the concept, but it still is odd to me. Did the Church not encourage Blacks to hold certain priesthood positions for a while after they were first given the priesthood, to make it easier for the Saints to accept? Or was it an issue that most Saints were ready to accept? I can't think of any other major changes. Does anybody have any comments on this process and maybe more current instances that illustrate the wisdom in this practice of not implementing new practices/doctrine from one day to the other?