At heart, this contradiction is between a text written by an elitist Aaronid priestly guild writing from their exilic condition in Babylon at the end of the 6th century BC, and which was a specific response to their historical crisis and to its historical audience AND a text written by fervent Jew “in Christ” writing in the 1st century AD to a Hellenistic audience on the fringes of the Roman empire. It too was shaped by its historical circumstances and sought to address the needs and concerns of its audience, as well as promulgate the beliefs of its author.
The former text was written to reaffirm and safeguard ethnic identity and Yahweh’s “eternal” covenant to a Jewish people currently sitting in exile in Babylon wondering if their god would keep his covenantal promise to return them to their land (see #28-30). The latter was written to deconstruct ethnic and religious boundaries and identities in a strife-ridden pluralistic geopolitical world ruled by single empire. It should hardly come as a surprise that the beliefs and concerns of these two texts are utterly contradictory. To argue otherwise is to place one’s own modern beliefs and religious presuppositions before these individual texts, their unique authors and audiences, and the distinct historical crisis each one responded to and attempted to resolve. One would be hard pressed not to see that these drastically contending agendas were legitimated by placing them on the lips of each author’s god.
The Priestly writer places the words “my covenant will become an eternal covenant in your flesh” (Gen 17:13) on the lips of his deity. In fact, this author has a penchant for having Yahweh proclaim eternal covenants and laws. The festivals of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Booths are all decreed as eternal laws (Ex 12:14, 17; Lev 23:14, 41). The Aaronid priesthood itself is an eternal law/covenant (Ex 29:9; 40:15; Lev 6:15; Num 25:13), as well as these cultic regulations: the daily lamp that must be kept lit by Aaronid priests (Ex 27:21; Lev 24:4), the Aaronid priesthood’s portion of the sacrifices (Ex 29:28; Lev 6:11; 7:34; 10:15; 24:9), the washing of the Aaronid priests as they enter the tabernacle (Ex 30:21), and the prohibition of beer and wine for Aaronids before entering Yahweh’s presence (Lev 10:9). In addition to these eternal laws, there are also the following: all fat is not to be consumed; it is Yahweh’s (Lev 3:17); and the observance of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29, 31), and the prohibition against sacrifices made in the open field (Lev 17:7). All these are decreed as eternal laws from the mouth of Yahweh himself. In other words, the whole care for and legitimation of the Aaronid priesthood and its sacrificial cult—the prerogative and ideology of the Aaronid authors themselves—are represented as stemming from Yahweh himself!
The literary device employed here should be familiar to anyone who has read a good amount of ancient literature: God becomes the mouthpiece to legitimate and authorize the views, beliefs, and ideology of the writers of these texts. When we have a so-called “Book” that is actually a collection of 60+ textual traditions all employing this same literary device then, yes, we will have a God (if indeed it is the same god), who will be saying contradictory things throughout this so-called “Book.”
Although Paul does not place his own views and beliefs on the lips of his god, he nevertheless authorizes and legitimates them by appealing to divine revelation (Gal 1:11-12). Through this authoritative base, Paul claims that circumcision is no longer a requirement. In other words, Paul is silent on the issue that this law is decreed as an “eternal covenant” to be followed “throughout your generations” by God Almighty himself! What Paul is actually doing is subverting the original message of the text by cherry-picking other parts of the now redacted JP text in order to substantiate his position.
With Paul, we start to see just how the compiled JP text—of which Paul knew nothing—opened itself up to new interpretations. Since the Yahwist version of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15) precedes the Priestly version with its eternal covenant of circumcision (Gen 17), Paul uses the Yahwist text (unknown to him) to argue that Abraham received the covenant (Gen 15) while he was uncircumcised—a model of this “new faith” to all non-Jews to whom Paul is evangelizing (Rom 4:9-13). Yet this interpretive stance completely subverts and neglects the Priestly writer’s or God Almighty’s! “eternal covenant.” Paul’s question in Rom 4:9 “Does this blessing come upon the circumcised only or upon the uncircumcised?” would have been answered with an adamant affirmative by the Priestly writer, and a bitter plague of boils by Yahweh! All and any uncircumcised male was to be “cut off” from the community and land (Gen 17:14).
This particular contradiction highlights a phenomenon that occurs with the compiled Bible, namely that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In another words, with the stitching together of the Yahwist and Priestly traditions comes with it the creation of a new narrative and interpretations that neither of these authors saw nor intended individually. In the combined text, Paul pulls from the Yahwist text to assert that God accorded righteousness to Abraham before he was circumcised—that is, before we encounter the Priestly account of the covenant. In other words, Paul totally subverts, and neglects the Priestly covenant tradition, where indeed circumcision was presented as an eternal covenant, no exceptions! Paul uses Hebrew scriptures selectively and manipulates the text to legitimate his own views, and this has been going on ever since….
I have written about Paul’s Old Testament interpretive practices in scholarly journals. If interested you can read more about Paul’s allegorical interpretive method that he employs in Galatians 4.