#31. Is the covenant of circumcision an eternal covenant OR not? (Gen 17:1-14 vs Gal 3-4; Rom 4:9-12)


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.

24 thoughts on “#31. Is the covenant of circumcision an eternal covenant OR not? (Gen 17:1-14 vs Gal 3-4; Rom 4:9-12)

  1. Paul accepts circumcision, just not as a means of requirement for salvation. He is also against ritual circumcision to appease the religious, not as a personal commitment.

    I thought this was simpler than that, but it seems that even scholars get overwhelmed by simple issues and can’t figure out why a contradiction really isn’t a contradiction.

  2. A better example would be to use the text of Exodus, where the Hebrews needs to circumcise themselves before leaving. Obviously they didn’t do it while enslaved, but only because they thought that they were going to Israel. Then, when they are cursed to remain in the desert for forty years, again they stop, only to do it again in the book of Joshua, collectively, when they again think that they are going into Israel.

    It appears to be eternal, but connected to the land, even though, today, Jews outside of the land do it. Perhaps in preparation to going there one day? Who knows.

  3. If the whole point of God’s covenant with Abraham was to allow his descendants to possess the land of Canaan, why would uncircumcised Greek “Christians” have any interest in it at all? They’re not Jews and they don’t want to live in Palestine so they shouldn’t need to be circumcised regardless of what the scriptures say.

  4. Deuteronomy 4:2

    You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

  5. I will never understand Xtianity. I can’t understand how a group of people can condemn the group known as Pharisees and at the same time support the opinions of one of that group (otherwise known as Paul) who contradicts Torah and Jesus their so-called Messiah. should be called Paulianity!!!

  6. OK let me back up Steve and slow down a bit for you so that you can understand what I am saying. Ezekiel 40-48 is future prophecy. How do we know this? Ezekiel’s descriptions include transformations and enlarged boundaries of the Land, Jerusalem, the Temple and priesthood (Ezekiel 44:1-31; 47:1-23; 48:1-35), the return of the Glory of God (Ezekiel 43:1-12), and the unprecedented change from the laws of the past Ezekiel 43:17. In addition, Ezekiel, in conjunction with several of the prophets, report extraordinary topographical changes that will occur to the Land of Israel and also changes in the southern part of the country (Ezekiel 47:112). According to Jeremiah 3:17 and Zechariah 14:20-21 the entire city of Jerusalem will become the Throne of the Lord and be a dedicated holy place. This means that Ezekiel’s Temple will occupy an elevated and greatly expanded Temple Mount, which will include the former city of Jerusalem itself (Ezekiel 48:10). These changes have not yet taken place. So what time period this was written in and by who has no bearing in this matter. This is supported by Hashem saying in Beresheit 17
    And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. Ezekiel 44:9 ( which we established is prophetic) is requiring circumcision in the future. If Jesus did away with circumcision then no one needs it in the future. This directly contradicts Ezekiel 44:9. Of course this is the teachings of Paul and not of Jesus. Paul throughout the NT writings contradicts Jesus as well as Torah. If Torah is to be considered the Word of God then nothing can added to or taken from it. this isn’t my opinion. this is God’s. if you have a problem with it then it sounds like you got bigger fish to fry

  7. Circumcision is definitely an eternal covenant between God and the Jooz who were his chosen people before Jesus came on the scene. It does not apply to Gentiles.

    The shekel-loving hucksters made Yahweh angry by failing to keep his commandments that he gave to Moses, for over a millennium. That’s why he twice destroyed the Jerusalem temple and delivered the Yids in the hands of oppressors. Finally, Yahweh tried to redeem his people (despite their many transgressions) by sending Christ in person to show them the error of their ways. But the arrogant Pharisees angered Yahweh by rejecting Christ as their personal savior.

    The Bible clearly says that Christ first came for the Jooz as they were still Yahweh’s Chosen and he did manage to convert thousands of them. Refer Matthew 15:26 – “But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”

    Later Christ decided that the Hebes were beyond redemption and blinded by arrogance and dogma: so he decided to offer the GRACE of SALVATION and the promise of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN to one and all – nigra, cracker, chink, gook, dothead, camel jockey.

    1. You’re interpreting these two different texts—one written by an elite priestly clan writing during the Babylonian exile in the 6th c. BCE in an attempt to preserve Israelite identity (you can read more about this author here in the Priestly writer, or look at the contradictions from the book of Leviticus) and the other written some 5 centuries later (!) in a vastly different geopolitical world by an individual who had vastly different and contradictory views, values, worldview, beliefs, and even conception of Israel’s deity, and who was writing to deconstruct identities—with a theological grid created centuries after both of these texts were written (although its origin is already present by the time we hit the gospel literature) that in the end denies the individual voices and views—and more so the understanding of those once separate and individual voices, views, disagreements, etc.—of these authors. You’re not defending (apologia) the Bible. You’re defending your beliefs about the Bible, and at the expense of the competing beliefs, values, law codes, conception of the covenants, ideologies, etc. of these individual authors. It is I and my work which in actually defends the Bible, by giving these individual authors back their voices before they were co-opted and subverted by a centuries-later theological interpretive grid that reduced them all down to the one single irreplaceable belief of a generation of readers who lived centuries after these individual texts were written and centuries before any idea of a bible even emerged. Your biblical citation in your other response demonstrates how you merely bulldozer down the views and beliefs of the author of Ecclesiastes (whilst it may be added knowing nothing about him, when he wrote, to whom, what historical circumstances prompted him to write, and against what preexisting textual traditions and ideologies—both of which later get collected to form the Bible) while subversively inserting yours!

  8. I completely agree with you Steve. They are post-exilic writings. However whether or not they are post exilic writings has nothing to do with weither or not Sha’ul contradicts them. Beyond recognising when they were written try to just read and comprehend what was written. Meaning has so much greater value then time frame although time frame does have its place. Ezekiel 40 – 48 is clearly future prophecy from this point in time considering the third temple has not been built yet.

  9. An interesting note about Ezekiel and Daniel is that even the Jewish Sages admitted that they did not know who wrote them, but that they were written post-exile, sometimes after the second temple was build. As it is written in Mesechat Bava Batra 15a:

    A mnemonic: KNDG [to remind you of which books]: “The Men of the Great Assembly wrote Ezekiel the Trei Asar (aka “Twelve Prophets”) Daniel and the Megillah (scroll of) Esther. ”

    There is no consensus among them exactly who comprised this high court, and it was acknowledged that they were not comprised of the greatest of those who were part of the Babylonian exile, and that “great”, in this context most likely means a large number, as was, according to the story, put together by Ezra the scribe.

    You also end up with a quandary, because on the one hand, you need prophets to write prophecy, and so they will say that Zacariah and Malachai or Chagai were members of the Great Assembly, and so they used their connections to God to do a rewrite of the lost writings. which adds more questions than it gives answers. After all, if these books that told of the return of the Babylonian exile were written by those who came out of it, then how could you really call them prophetic works at all?

  10. This is what the holy book says.
    Ezekiel 44:9
    Thus saith the Lord [God]; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel. Here there is a distinction between the stranger and the children of Israel. I agree that it may not necessarily be a requirement for the new Greeks who were accepting יהוה as the one true God but
    Zechariah 14:16
    And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem, shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of sukkot. (There are sacrifices required on the feast of sukkot.) Circumcision is mandate in order for 14:16 to be fulfilled.
    Verse 10,13-16 talks clearly about the kohanim.
    Ezekiel 44:10, 13-16
    And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity.
    And they shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, in the most holy place : but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed. But I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all the service thereof, and for all that shall be done therein. But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord [God]: they shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge.
    Torah is quite clear. If you are a Jew you are circumcised and you meet the requirements to enter the temple. If you are a stranger ( ie, not a Jew) and you are not circumcised of the flesh and of the heart then you will not enter the temple. This create a contradiction between the holy books and what Paul says.
    As far as Ezekiel chapter 44 not being messianic prophecy I beg to differ. Ezekiel chapter 40-48 are of a future fulfillment. Ezekiel’s descriptions include transformations and enlarged boundaries of the Land, Jerusalem, the Temple and priesthood (Ezekiel 44:1-31; 47:1-23; 48:1-35), the return of the Glory of God (Ezekiel 43:1-12), and the unprecedented change from the laws of the past Ezekiel 43:17. In addition, Ezekiel, in conjunction with several of the prophets, report extraordinary topographical changes that will occur to the Land of Israel and also changes in the southern part of the country (Ezekiel 47:112). According to Jeremiah 3:17 and Zechariah 14:20-21 the entire city of Jerusalem will become the Throne of the Lord and be a dedicated holy place. This means that Ezekiel’s Temple will occupy an elevated and greatly expanded Temple Mount, which will include the former city of Jerusalem itself (Ezekiel 48:10). these changes have not yet taken place. There is also mentions of a prince in Ezekiel chapter 44 – 48 but that’s a different conversation at a different time.

    1. Ezekiel, as with every text from this corpus of literature, must be understood, each, in their own historical and literary contexts. Period. That is where proper meaning, as the authors of these texts intended, is to be found—regardless of how and why later reading communities appropriated, reinterpreted, or (mis)used these texts. If you impose a later understand, reading, interpretation onto these texts, while ignorant of the views, beliefs, and historical circumstances of the text’s author and community, then you are guilty of neglecting the text and imposing a later reading community’s views about the text onto the text itself, and in most cases in utter contradiction to the aims, purposes, and beliefs of its author.

      In this case the text itself informs us that its author was a priest and most likely of of the Zadokite or Aaronid line. And his historical circumstance: he was writing in Babylon during the exile (and the text most likely received additions in the post-exilic period), and thus after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 BC, and thus too the destruction of Yahweh’s house, cult, his anointed Aaronid priests (see Leviticus), etc. Ezekiel, like many other exilic writers, grappled with and attempted to respond to, theologically, the question of why Yahweh would destroy Jerusalem, the Temple, his priests, cult, etc. (Yahweh is Sovereign is the theological given!). The answer that this Aaronid/Zadokite priest comes up with—voiced and presented as divine revelation—is that the Levites profaned Yahweh’s cult and temple by performing unsanctioned, unlawful sacrifices and led Israel astray through its “idols” (44:10-14)—most likely a reference to the worship and sacrifices happening at the “high places” throughout the monarchy as mentioned throughout 2 Kings. At any rate, Ezekiel, through the mouthpiece of Yahweh, now assigns the Levites a subservient, menial role in the sanctuary. They are no longer able to perform Yahweh’s sacrifices or enter the inner shrine. They are now the servants of Yahweh’s Zadokite priests and are to minister to and under them. We have seen this same argument presented in the Aaronid written post-exilic literature known as the Priestly source, particularly in Numbers 3-4 (e.g., #152, #153, #177, #214, #220). Ezekiel has much in common with this literature, its theology, cultic ides, and vocabulary.

      This post-exilic backdrop serves as the catalyst for Ezekiel’s “prophecy”—he envisions that Yahweh will eventually return his people to Judah from captivity, restore the old Davidic boundaries of the kingdom, rebuild his Temple (which does happen in 515 BC), re-inaugurate an Aaronid or Zadokite line of priests as his anointed priests to minister his cult and sacrifices, which also does happen. Since the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC also saw the end of the Davidic line of kings, in the Persian period (539 BC – 332 BC) there were no kings; it was a temple-state, from that point until Pompey conquered it in 63 BC, led by the high priest or nasi, prince—a term only found here and in the post-exilic Priestly literature.

      I implore you to use more diligence in understanding these texts, not what are said about these texts by later readers, reading communities, etc. All of Ezekiel’s “prophecies” in chapters 44-48 describe the returned post-exilic state and Temple, even if presented in metaphorical or hyperbolic terms—the Temple mount being the whole city! In other words, everything in this book, presented as “prophecy” is explainable with a proper knowledge of the book’s historical and literary context. Likewise, a proper understand of Daniel and Revelation and what each one of these authors saw in the imminent and immediate future as a hoped for reality and presented as prophecy, are also each explainable with proper knowledge of their historical and literary contexts. Likewise, what Daniel envisioned and hoped would happen in the same year he wrote his text in circa 164-3 BCE, God’s kingdom on earth, and what the author of Revelation hoped to happen in his immediate future, circa 96 AD—both did not happen! These are not, however, open-ended prophecies to be abused, misused, and re-implemented, granted even if that is what has happened by each and every readership after the production of these texts. In fact, however, no biblical “prophecy” prophecies any event in any distant future! These are all abusive and negligent reinterpretive practices that for the most part are the result of ignorance and lack of proper knowledge about these texts, their authors, their historical and literary contexts, about ancient literature in general and the genre of “prophetic” literature in both the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman contexts in specific. We as a culture need to start being honest to these ancient texts and their authors, and stop placing our beliefs above and before those who wrote these texts.

  11. Gal 3-4; Rom 4:9-12 is a contradiction based on Ezekiel 44:9. Ezekiel 44 is future messianic prophecy. Circumcision of the flesh and heart is mandatory to enter the sanctuary whether Jew or stranger

    1. I’m not so sure Paul’s later writings necessarily contradict Ezekiel 44:6-9 since Paul is not advocating that his uncircumcised Greeks enter Yahweh’s sanctuary or worse become priests! I think Paul himself would have been repulsed at such an idea. But yes indeed, Ezekiel is advocating circumcision, period, and more so the dangers of being uncircumcised when approaching the sanctuary (cf. Num 25:6-13). Certainly the dynamics have changed, but at core one could argue we’re still talking about being ritually and ethically pure before Israel’s god. For Ezekiel, who reproduces the same ideas and theology found in the Priestly source, anyone entering the outer sanctuary must be circumcised of flesh and spirit, and those entering the inner sanctuary can only be a Zadokite priest! For Paul, his uncircumcised Greeks must present themselves to God as being ethically worthy to stand before him (1 Thess 2:12, 3:13, 4:1, 4:7, 5:23, etc.), but circumcision is not viewed as part of that ethical or ritual purity from this non-priest. See also Leviticus 26:40-41, a text written around the same time as Ezekiel. Talk of being circumcised or uncircumcised of the heart is a way of speaking about one’s ritual and ethical purity, or lack thereof—a key issue for the author of Ezekiel and the Aaronid priestly guild that wrote Leviticus. Circumcision of the flesh was an “eternal covenant” per the same authors.

      Contextually speaking, however, Ezekiel is a post-exilic text (written post-587 BCE) just as is the Priestly literature, to which it shares many of its ideas, especially here in chapter 44. It is not a messianic prophecy! First, there is nothing messianic about the passage; and second, don’t be fooled or persuaded by later re-interpretive agendas that attempt to impose some sort of “prophetic” nature to the text. These are abusive and negligent interpretive procedures, that are ignorant of the text’s historical context. What the author of Ezekiel, most likely an Aaronid of Zadokite priest himself, is advocating through the mouthpiece of Yahweh, is the re-establishment of the Temple when the exiles return from Babylon. At that juncture, there will be no room for profaning the temple—the theological reason given for why the Babylonians destroyed and burnt to the ground Yahweh’s temple in 587 BCE. Indeed, the theological question is actually: Why did Yahweh raise up the Babylonians in order to burn his own house down?! Because Israel had defiled it is the theological response. The author of Ezekiel envisions the rebuilt temple, what scholars refer to as the second temple (circa 515 BCE), as a sanctuary that cannot afford to be defiled again like the first temple. Thus, the requirements laid out in chapter 44.

  12. I think that was a very eye-opening article: How Paul (unknowingly) played J and P out against each other, and used one to subvert the other.

    But now that you mention it, he did the same in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9. The man was created in God’s image (as per P), whereas the woman was created as a copy of the man (as per J).

  13. And, of course, just as we have those who claim that Jesus was a composite character reflecting a specific period, Paul, who suddenly appears out of nowhere and goes away (supposedly murdered by the Emperor), could also be a composite character as well.

  14. It would make sense if I check out your web site and get an overview. I’ll come back to you, if I have any queries. Thank you for your help so far.

  15. Gen 21:33 would have more a meaning of ‘God of the ages’ rather than referring to the nature of God’s immortality maybe? God being ‘outside’ time, but the creator of time, namely the ‘ages’ that are mentioned in the Bible, would certainly make him a God of the age/s or El Olam.
    I have only just learned about these ‘J, P etc sources’. I have always believed that the OT we have today is from two ‘earliest’ sources: the Babylonian text and (upon the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls) the Egyptian text, which are virtually the same, but with a few variances. The oldest scrolls of these two versions are usually dated about 200BC? The OT quotes in the NT ‘prove’ that the writers of the NT used the Septuagint which was translated from the Egyptian source?? So what are these J, P sources? Have they been dated older than the Dead Sea Scrolls? I’m confused…….

    1. J, P, D, etc.. would be the names scholars have ascribed to the actual authors or scribes of the various and many (these are just a few) of the Bible’s textual traditions. Most of these texts/scrolls were written between the 8th and 6th century BC, and collected together and compiled into, or close to, the form of the text that we now have sometime in the 5th-4th century BC. This history of the text’s development has usually been obscured by the dogmatic claims of later interpretive traditions that the text was unalterable. Not so in the least. My project here is actually moving from the compiled text back to its once separate sources. Why these texts were compiled together in the 5th-4th c. BC to form the “Torah of Moses” (the Pentateuch) for example is something we might also explore later on.

      What you’re talking about (bravo!) are different recensions of the text. The history of the making of the Bible is very complex. We surmise that a fixed form of this redacted J-E-D-P text was done in 5th c. BC Babylonian captivity, but it really didn’t receive canonical status, with the addition of the Prophets and later Writings until the early Christian era. Our Bible, the version we have, comes from the “Babylonian recension” and was fixed by rabbis in the early CE. There were other recensions, however, that displayed differences, many of which were expansions on some stories, different ways J,E,P were combined, scribal glosses that became part of the text, etc. The LXX (Septuagint) which was a 3rd c. BC Greek translation of the Hebrew is one example. Comparing the LXX with our Bible, “the Babylonian recension,” scholars have noticed differences. Correct you are; this translation was made from a different Hebrew manuscript (the Egyptian) than our Bible (differences such as expansions in the books of Samuel, Isaiah, and Daniel come to mind). The discovery at Qumran has also revealed differences between these scrolls and what is written in the Hebrew of our Bible. This recension has been labeled as the Palestinian recension, since it most likely was part of the Palestinian landscape. It exhibits additions, glosses, and expansions on some stories. There is also the Samaritan recension too, put together by those rascally Samaritans, a product of the Roman era.

  16. So, did Paul have access to the both J and P? Did he know about them both? You seem to be saying that Paul cherry-picked from both sources, but didn’t know anything about them…
    Or are you saying that he had the individual J and P sources, but not in the form of the JP edited version? And therefore he knew of the P source but chose to refer to only the J source because it agreed with him?
    Or did he have it as JP, but didn’t know that it was composed from two separate sources?

    In other words, what exactly was it that was “unknown to him”, and “of which Paul knew nothing”…?

    I struggle to understand things sometimes because I’m not sure who knew about which sources, and when the different sources were written. I’m sure you’ve mentioned it before, but I find it difficult to remember.


    1. So we’re talking about the compositional or textual history of the Bible—what were its sources, when were its texts written, and by whom. This sort of knowledge, and specifically knowledge about its sources (what we call J, P, etc.), was not known until the mid 18th century! So Paul certainly knew nothing of this. However, from our modern vantage point, it is interesting to note which source Paul is pulling from, if there’s a consistency, etc. So such comments as “Paul completely neglects P’s Abrahamic covenant” are said more from our post-modern perspective. Paul would have merely been selective in his choosing texts that supported his program. Paul’s “Bible”, at that time just a collection of the “Law and the Prophets” would have been the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. The editing together of these sources and the compiling of the Bible or the Law and the Prophets would have already happened in the 6th – 4th centuries BC. From that time period till the 18th century AD, the Bible’s sources lay hidden and unknown. I hope that clarifies things.

  17. This could be really easy to resolve. Do a search of the Hebrew word for ‘eternal’ which is olam. Check every instance of how it is used, and you’ll see that in many instances it doesn’t and can’t possibly mean ‘eternal’. Was Jonah in the belly of the whale eternally? Are hills eternal? ‘Olam’ means mystery time, or time that stretches over the horizon and into the unseen distance.

    And then I would consider the theological implication (if I were believer) of everlasting shedding of blood, which is what you’d have, if physical circumcison and the aaronic priesthood with it’s animal sacrifices were intended to be eternal. Didn’t Jesus say that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God? Physical bodies are temporary. Science testifies to this. Jesus seems to be teaching a future time when people will have spirit bodies which don’t bleed or decay. How could physical circumcison be possible with a spirit body? So, from the meaning of the language and the claims of Christ, it seems that Paul wasn’t contradicting anyone.

    1. Nice with the olam! Although I would hardly agree with the “mysterious time” as a suitable translation it is often translated as “for ever” and might certainly be used hyperbolically by our biblical authors. Although I think the Priestly writer is sincere in his use of the term. It was also an epithet for Yahweh and/or El, for example El-olam “El the Everlasting” (Gen 21:33).

      Even taking the eternal away, it still doesn’t resolve the contradiction: Gen 17 advocates circumcision without exception; Paul advocates no circumcision. Indeed, the contradiction only exists because of a later interpretive framework that imposed ideas of homogeneity and narrative unity to this collection of diverse texts.

      Lastly, you make a good point vis-a-vis Paul. Precisely why he allowed himself to disregard this torah stipulation was because he firmly believed that THE Resurrection had begun (1 Thess 4), that is life in the spirit, and therefore neither fleshy existence nor the observance of carnal laws were any longer in the cards so to speak (Gal 5).

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