Is There No Profit in Circumcision? (Gal. 5:2)


In arguing against circumcision many will cite Gal. 5:2. Interestingly there is an apparent contradiction between Gal. 5:2 and Rom. 3:1-2:

Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised,
Christ shall profit you nothing.
(Gal. 5:2 KJV)

What advantage then hath the Jew?
or what profit is there of circumcision?
Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them
were committed the oracles of God.
(Rom. 3:1-2 KJV)

So what is the profit in circumcision? Is it “nothing” as we read in Gal. 5:2 or “much every way” as we read in Romans 3:1-2?

The key is in understanding Galations 5:2 in context. At first glance one might think after reading this verse that this one verse disproves the entire case made throughout this article. But the key is that we must take the verse in context. One basic rule of hermeneutics is to ask yourself “who is speaking?” and “who is being spoken to?” Now we know that Paul is the speaker, but who is the “you” in Gal. 5:2? Is it the Galatians in general? Is it all mankind? Is it the modern reader? The answer to all of these quertions is “no”. If we look up just a little bit in Paul’s letter here we will see that Gal. 5:2 is the summary of an argument that he initiates in Gal. 4:21 and which he illustrates in Gal. 4:22-31.

Gal. 4:21 tells us exactly who the “you” in 5:2 is. He writes:

Tell me, you that desire to be under the law,
do you not hear the law?
Gal. 4:21

Note that “you” is defined in 4:21 as “you that desire to be under the law” Thus Gal. 5:2 should be understood to mean:

Behold, I Paul say
to you, [that desire to be under the law]
that if you be circumcised,
Christ shall profit you nothing

Now the phrase “under the law” does not refer to the Torah itself but to a false teaching that was never true. This phrase may best be understood from its usage in Rom. 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.” Paul, therefore, sees “under grace” and “under the law” as diametrically opposed, one cannot be both. The truth is that since we have always been under grace (see Gen. 6:8; Ex. 33:12, 17; Judges 6:17f; Jer. 31:2) we have never been “under the law”. This is because the Torah was created for man, man was not created for the Torah (see Mk. 2:27). “Under the law” then, is not an obsolete Old Testament system, but a false teaching, which was never true.

So Paul is telling these people who are ready to apostatize and seek salvation through the false “under the law” doctrine, that their circumcisions will profit them nothing. Following the context then the rest of Gal. 5 is addressed to the “you that desire to be under the law” of 4:21.

Now let us examine the midrash Paul gives in Gal. 4:22-31. Remember now, we know from Gal. 4:21 that Paul is going to be illustrating a contrast between the Torah and the “under the law” teaching. The parable may be illustrated in a chart as follows:


The Torah is freedom. False teachings such as the “under the law” teaching brings only bondage.

Galatians 5:2 (and this is echoed through the rest of Galatians) tells apostates that their circumcision will not profit them anything, but Romans 3:1-2 tells believers that circumcision profits “much every way”.

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