Why Did Paul Have Timothy Circumcised But Not Titus?


Sometimes in the Scriptures we come across an event which appears, on the surface, to be confusing, misleading or contrary to other Scriptures. One such event is recorded in Acts 16 when the apostle Paul took his young friend Timothy and had him circumcised.

Paul knew the old covenant was nailed to the cross, Colossians 2:13-15, and he was very much aware that there’s no need for anyone to be circumcised anymore, Galatians 5:2 / Galatians 5:6, but why would Paul have Timothy circumcised?

We also know on another occasion, Paul refused to let Titus be circumcised, Galatians 2:3-5, why was that? Was he being hypocritical in his dealing with Timothy and Titus? Before we answer these questions let’s go ahead and look at the context of both these events.


‘Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.’ Acts 16:1-3

On the surface it appears as though Paul had Timothy circumcised because of peer pressure from the Jews but notice that these same Jews knew that Timothy’s father was Greek. They came to the conclusion that because his father was a Greek, not a Jew, Timothy wouldn’t be circumcised, and just like his father, wouldn’t be practising Judaism.

Of course, they may have come to the wrong conclusion about Timothy being circumcised because many people from other cultures became Jews throughout history, Joshua 5:6-7. On this occasion, their conclusions were correct concerning Timothy and so, in accordance with the Law of Moses, Timothy was circumcised because he had the legal right to do so.


‘Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.’ Galatians 2:3-5

It’s important to remember that Paul is dealing with legalism and false teachers throughout the Book of Galatians. These people were insisting that Jesus didn’t do enough in order for people to be saved, and so, they were teaching that everyone needed to be circumcised too.

Notice that it says the reason Titus wasn’t circumcised was because it would have ‘made them slaves’ and ‘the truth of the Gospel might be preserved.’

In other words, if Paul had given in to Titus being circumcised, to please these false believers, then that would have nullified the Gospel, it would have discredited everything Jesus had taught and done. It would have undone everything which had been taught about being right with God by faith and enforced on others the idea of being right with God is through law keeping, i.e. circumcision.

Different Characters

When we look at the Timothy and Titus, we can see that they are both completely different characters. The first difference is that Titus had parents who were both Greek, Galatians 2:3, while Timothy had a Jewish mother, Jewish grandmother, 2 Timothy 1:5, but a Greek father, Acts 16:3.

Titus doesn’t appear to have any Jewish upbringing, whilst Paul tells that Timothy had been raised by being taught the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood, 2 Timothy 3:15. This implies that his Jewish mother, Eunice and his Jewish grandmother, Lois, brought him up as a Jew.

Although we don’t know, its highly possible that Timothy’s Greek father was happy for him to be raised as a Jew but refused to allow him to be circumcised.

Imagine having parents, one is a believer and the other isn’t, the father is happy for their son or daughter to go and worship God and study His Word with their mother and other Christians. However, he won’t allow their son or daughter to be baptised in order to become a true Christian.

Different Circumstances

When we look at the events surrounding Timothy being circumcised and Titus not being circumcised, we can see that they are both completely different circumstances.

For example, in Galatians Paul was dealing with those false believers, those so-called Christians, who were insisting that all Christians must also be circumcised. The genuine Christians in Galatia were being pressured into being circumcised by these legalistic Christians in order to accepted.

But notice in the Acts event, that ‘the believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him’, that is Timothy. In other words, there were no Christians, no legalistic Christians putting any pressure on Timothy to be circumcised, like Titus had.

Was Paul Being A Hypocrite?

Many people believe that Paul was being a hypocrite in the way he dealt with Timothy and Titus concerning their circumcision, but we must take into account that these are two different characters, in two different circumstances.

Paul refused to allow Titus to be circumcised in Jerusalem, Galatians 2:1, because that action would have nullified the whole Gospel, but he had Timothy circumcised simply because he was going to be travelling with Paul and it would make his ‘outreach’ efforts to the Jews much easier. Timothy would still be a Christian, but he would be accepted in Jewish society, therefore this would make his ‘outreach’ efforts easier in the long term.

How would anyone know you were circumcised?

A question which comes up from time to time is, how would anyone know if Timothy or Titus were circumcised in the first place? In Bible times sharing the bathing facilities and toilet facilities were common practice, so it would be very easy for someone to notice if a person was circumcised or not. I guess that Paul, Timothy and Titus could have bluffed their way through meetings with the Jews, but this would imply lying, the reality is that people would simply ask, kind of like what people do today when they are asked if they are a Christian.


When we look at all the evidence it’s clear that Titus’ case was all about defending the freedom Christians find in Christ, whilst in Timothy’s case it was all about utilising that same freedom to win more souls for Christ. It was freedom that led Paul not to allow Titus to be circumcised and it was freedom that led Paul to allow Timothy to be circumcised, 1 Corinthians 10:23-24.

‘To the Jews I became a Jew in order to win the Jews.’ 1 Corinthians 9:20


"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

Hebrews 13:5