Galatians 2:3 – “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”
This part of Paul’s letter has much in common with the Jerusalem meeting of Acts 15. It is debated whether the accounts in Galatians were written before or after the Jerusalem council meeting. (I lean toward Galatians being written after the Jerusalem meeting because of Acts 15:2 and Galatians 2:1.) What’s very clear, however, is that Paul is addressing the same false circumcision-for-salvation teaching.
We saw in Acts that the meeting came about because “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
The issue before the council was whether a non-Jewish follower of Jesus must become a Jewish proselyte to “be saved”. After much debate, that question was put to rest by Peter who said, “we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:11)
They ultimately concluded that it would be enough to stop practicing idol worship and then new converts could attend the synagogue with Jews to learn the rest of what they needed to know from the reading of Moses. (Acts 15:19-21)
In alignment with the council’s ruling, Titus was not forced to be circumcised. Further, Paul didn’t allow Titus to be circumcised at that time to avoid sending the wrong message to other new converts who were under bombardment from the false teachers.
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Galatians 2:3-5)
We know Paul opposed circumcision as a means of salvation, but that doesn’t automatically mean he was against circumcision for other reasons. As evidence, we note that immediately after refusing to circumcise Titus, Paul circumcised Timothy.
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:1-4)