Chapter 5 ‘Circumcision of the Heart’ in Paul: From a Metaphor of Torah Obedience to a Metaphor of Torah Polemics?

In: The Challenge of the Mosaic Torah in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Guido Baltes
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It has often been claimed that a major difference between “Jewish Christianity” and “Pauline Christianity” was the continuation or discontinuation of male genital circumcision. Evidence for the abandonment of physical circumcision within “Pauline” circles has been drawn from Paul’s opposition against gentile circumcision in the letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, as well from his imagery of “circumcision of the heart” in Romans 2. However, a closer examination of the metaphor of “circumcision of the heart” and other images of “inward circumcision” in biblical, early Jewish and post-Pauline Christian texts shows that the Pauline use of the image stands closer to the early Jewish understanding, in which “inward” and “outward” circumcision complement each other, than to later Christian readings, in which the “inward” circumcision replaces or denigrates the “outward”. The Pauline metaphor of “heart circumcision” is therefore not an image of Tora abandonment, but rather of Tora obedience and can be placed well within the possible spectrum of other contemporary Jewish understandings of the metaphor.

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