From Circumcision to Baptism II

Por: diácono Orlando Fernández Guerra

During the 1st century of our age, Christianity grew rapidly thanks to the conversion of the Gentiles to this new faith. Despite the hostility of the Jews and practitioners of the traditional Roman religion, in any important city of the Empire there were Christians who gathered weekly to celebrate the Eucharist. The first inner problem came from the church in Jerusalem, as these communities insisted that only the Jewish people were the heir to divine promises (Rom 9.6,14; 11.1). So the Gentiles could only participate in them by joining, through circumcision, the chosen people. Their status as believers in Christ did not excuse them from the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, because Christ had not repealed it but demanded greater radicality (Mt 5:21-48). Therefore, baptism did not replace circumcision.
The Christians of Antioch appealed to the results of their mission among the Gentiles (Acts 15.7-12), to show that God made no distinctions with the Jews because he aroused faith by proclaiming the gospel and regardless of the ethnic status of believers (Rom 10:14-17). Exceeding all expectations, they had experienced the work of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:45). The positions of these groups came to face Peter, Paul and Barnabas during a visit of those from Santiago to Antioch and their demand not to eat at the same tables of the Gentiles (Gal 2.11-12). It was agreed to have a meeting in Jerusalem and there they presented to the other Apostles the missionary work that had been done (Acts 15:1 and ss.).
Faced with the arguments put forward by Paul and Barnabas, the mission among the Gentiles was accepted without imposing circumcision or any other burden on them, only that “… refrain from the flesh slain to idols, blood, meat from dead animals without bleeding and from illegal unions” (Acts 15:28-29). Paul’s mission to the Gentiles and Peter’s mission to the Jews were at the same level as two areas of the Lord’s same commandment (Gal 2.7-9; Mt 28.19-20). However, the Jews of Antioch continued to be required to comply with the traditional precepts of ritual purity (Gal 2.14), so that they were forced to separate the christian community from their Gentile brethren, dividing the Christian community in two.
Certainly, the Jerusalem agreements freed the Gentiles from such practices, but they said nothing about how Jewish believers should proceed, nor did they resolve the issue of coexistence between them. So if the Jews were to comply with what the Law commanded, this automatically separated them from their Gentile brethren, even if they wanted to preserve the unity of the Church. The disjunction implied an obligation of circumcision as the only solution to prevent the fracture of the community. The contradiction with the Jerusalem agreements was so evident that Paul came to say, “If justice were obtained by the Law, Christ would have died in vain” (Gal 2.21).
For Jewish theology the pagans lived far from God and only found their righteousness when they were added to the people of Israel through circumcision. Instead, Paul argued that they should not bear the weight of a Law that they could not fulfill, for only with faith in Christ were they saved (Col 2.12-13; Gal 6.13), as God did with Abraham in making him the promise of the earth and the seed, because of his faith and without being still circumcised (Gal 3.6-29; Rom 4.9-12). Another thing would mean abolishing the free-saving Cross of Christ (Gal 5.11 and ss.). If the physical rite has been suppressed, not so the word that still has a spiritual meaning. Believers can exclaim, “We are the circumcised, we who offer worship according to the Spirit of God, without putting our trust in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
In this sense prophetic oracles are fulfilled on true circumcision, hidden, spiritual, inner (Rom 2.28-29), which is not made by the hand of man and which is identified with baptism, by which the believer resembles the circumcision of Christ. Baptism, by faith in the power of God, burys the baptized with Christ, to resurrect with Him a new humanity (Col 2.11 and ss.). Thus for Paul the carnal circumcision has lost its meaning (1 Cor 7.19). It applies only to Christians “that of the heart, in spirit, not in letter” (Rom 2.28-29). “Neither circumcision nor incircumcision has value, but only faith that operates for charity” (Gal 5:6); what counts is “being a new creature” (Gal 6.15) and “observing the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7.19). Faith justifies the circumcised as the uncircumcised, for God is the God of all (Rom 3.29). And Christ is all in all (Col 3.11). Ω

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