As noted in a previous blog, Barnabas and Paul split up. Barnabas took Mark and sailed off to Cyprus where he and Paul originally began the first leg of what turned out to be a Galatian evangelistic effort. Paul took Silas and went to Galatia over land by way of Cilicia and the Taurus mountains. Whether or not they intended to meet in one of the Galatian cities is not mentioned in the text, but since Luke never mentions Paul returning to Cyprus to strengthen the churches there, Barnabas and he probably decided to cover different territories.
Timothy is first mentioned by Luke in Acts 16:1 as the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. His mother was a Messianic Jew, but nothing is said of his father, whether or not he was a believer or even if he was still alive. Modern Judaism believes that inheritance comes through the father, but ethnicity comes through the mother. This understanding is based upon Scriptures such as Ezra 10:2-3 where Jewish men had been intermarrying with gentile women, and were commanded to put away both the women and their children. Even in the case of Abraham, when he put away his wife, Hagar, he sent away Ishmael as well.
The question then arises, how did a practicing Jewess (2Timothy 1:5; 3:15), engage in a forbidden marriage to a gentile. The possibility of love being the impetus is really a more modern approach to marriage than was done in the 1st century. Marriages then were arranged. Rape is a possibility, but if this was the case, why wasn’t Timothy circumcised as a babe? If Eunice, Timothy’s mother, came to faith before her marriage, this doesn’t answer the question of why she would marry a non-believing gentile, though perhaps a God-fearer wouldn’t be out of the question. Yet, I have to wonder why a God-fearer wouldn’t at least permit the synagogue authorities to circumcise his child, even though he wouldn’t have done so himself. Yet, even if we conclude Eunice married outside her (Christian) faith, which she couldn’t have embraced prior to cir. 34-35 CE when Messianics had to flee Jerusalem, Timothy would be a mere teenager, about 15 years old by the time Luke introduces him. This is far too young for him to become one of Paul’s trusted helpers in Acts 16:3 (cir. 50 CE).
I have to wonder if Eunice and her mother, Lois (2Timothy 3:15), weren’t Jewish slaves and the marriage to Eunice was arranged either by their master for a colleague or by their owner for himself. Their freedom would no doubt have been arranged through the marriage, and Timothy would probably have been born about the time of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in 27-28 CE. By 50 CE, the time of Paul’s revisit to Galatia, Timothy would have been a young man, brought up in the Scriptures as Paul claims, and old enough to embark on an evangelistic mission with him. This would also allow Eunice to be independently wealthy. If her husband had already died as some suppose, for he may not have been a young man, he, no doubt, married to acquire an heir. Otherwise, if Eunice had neither husband nor a means of support, it would have been more important for Timothy to remain with her to take care of his mother and grandmother (1Timothy 5:8). If Timothy’s father was wealthy and an important man in the community, this would only substantiate why the Jews in those parts knew that Timothy had not been circumcised (Acts 1:3).
Of course, much of this is conjecture, but all of it does fit very well into the Scriptures, as well as the culture of the 1st century CE, and is as good as or better than any other claim one could make about the text. But, how does one explain Paul circumcising Timothy immediately after the Jerusalem Council and especially in Galatia, after his scathing letter written to them which strenuously opposed the Judaizers, who had been troubling them over this very matter?
First of all, Luke didn’t have to record this, if he didn’t want to. The fact he did shows he saw no inconsistency in Paul’s behavior, as some surmise. If Timothy were a gentile, circumcision would not have been a problem for any of the Jews in the area. But, it is precisely because Timothy was considered Jewish that Paul had him circumcised, that is, so he wouldn’t appear as a rebel Jew to the unbelieving Jews in the vicinity to whom Paul continued to preach the Gospel. Moreover, as it pertains to the Galatian Christians, it was important that they knew why Paul was determined to circumcise Timothy—not to make Timothy more pleasing to God, but to take away any unnecessary stumbling block from the unbelieving Jews, who might be inclined to suggest Paul preached that Jews should abandon their traditions.