When Paul comes to visit the Jerusalem congregation, James and the Elders express worry about his arrival becoming known to the congregation in general, due to a rumor they know their congregations hold, namely, that Paul discourages Jews outside of Jerusalem from circumcising their male children:

 17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
19 And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
 21 and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
 22 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow;
24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
(Act 21:17-24 NAS)

Was that rumor about Paul true or false?

Before you answer, notice carefully that James and the Elders express a belief that the rumor is false (i.e., ‘and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you’, v. 24).

Because James clearly expresses his belief that the rumor is false, most inerrantists automatically conclude this rumor about Paul was indeed false.

But if Paul himself has anything to say about it, that rumor was more than likely true.  Inerrantists might say that Paul’s epistles never state that he discouraged Jews from circumcision, but Paul begs to differ.  In three different epistles, he makes clear that he advises against circumcision (1st Corinthians), those who get circumcised will lose their salvation (Galatians), and that he equates his own circumcision during infancy with ‘garbage’, ‘loss’ and ‘human excrement’ or ‘unspeakable filth’; (Philippians):

18 Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. (1Co 7:18 NAS)

2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal 5:2-4 NAS)

4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,
(Phi 3:4-8 NAS)

“Rubbish” (Greek: skubalon)

Friberg Lexicon

24633  sku,balon, ou, to, anything that is to be treated as worthless and thrown out, translated according to the context dung, rubbish, garbage, offscourings (PH 3.8)

Louw-Nida Lexicon

6.225  sku,balon, ou n: worthless or unwanted material that is rejected and normally thrown out – ‘rubbish, litter, trash.’ kai. h`gou/mai sku,bala i[na Cristo.n kerdh,sw ‘I consider it all rubbish in order that I may gain Christ’ Php 3.8.

Gingrich Lexicon

5837  sku,balon
sku,balon, ou, to, refuse, rubbish, dirt, dung Phil 3:8.* [pg 183]

Matthew Henry

When he embarked in the bottom of the Christian religion, he ventured all in it, and suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung, skybalaoffals thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with him.

New American Commentary

Third, in 3:8 Paul expressed his conviction more firmly with the verb “consider” and the object “rubbish” (skybala).25 There is increasing intensity, as though the mere thought of that decision brought a renewed appraisal that his former life was useless compared to what really mattered.

 —–25 Some scholars are prone to translate this as “garbage.” It is used for “dung,” however, and the strongest possible contrast makes best sense of this passage.

Melick, R. R. (2001, c1991). Vol. 32: Philippians, Colissians, Philemon (electronic ed.).

Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 131).

Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Word Biblical Commentary

καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα, “but I consider it all as unspeakable filth.” Paul did not lament this loss. For him it was a welcomed relief. In fact it was the freeing of himself from something that he unwaveringly continued to consider σκύβαλα, “unspeakable filth.” The derivation of this word, σκύβαλον (used only here in the nt), has never been cleared up. Although traced to the expression τὸ τοῖς κυσὶ βαλλόμενον, “that which is thrown to the dogs” (queried by Bockmuehl, 207–8), it seems to have meant by usage (1) “dung,” “muck,” both as excrement and as food gone bad; (2) “scraps,” i.e., “what is left after a meal”; or (3) “refuse,” “trash” (Koperski’s translation [Knowledge, 154]). It is also used to describe a pitiful and horrible thing, like a half-eaten corpse, or “filth,” such as lumps of manure. Thus, when Paul uses it here as the final object of his studied threefold use of ἡγεῖσθαι, “to consider,” it provides the climax of a crescendo. According to F. Lang’s analysis (TDNT 7:446–47; against Lightfoot, Michael),

The perfect ἥγημαι (v. 7) relates to conversion; since this Paul has learned to regard all his former κέρδη as ζημία … for Christ’s sake. The present ἡγοῦμαι (v. 8a) confirms that this is his judgment now. The second present ἡγοῦμαι (v. 8c) strengthens this by substituting σκύβαλα for ζημία. The intensification lies in the element of resolute turning aside from something worthless and abhorrent, with which one will have nothing more to do. The choice of the vulgar term stresses the force and totality of this renunciation.

Therefore, Paul’s deliberate choice of the word σκύβαλα, “unspeakable filth,” over ζημία, “loss,” shows the utter revulsion he now feels toward those “advantages” he surrendered. It is quite improper to weaken its meaning in any way by translation or by interpretation (cf. Martin [1959]; idem [1976]; see also Vincent, who draws attention to how some of the patristic writers, embarrassed by this passage, attempted to modify the meaning of σκύβαλα).

nt New Testament

TDNT G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., tr. G. W. Bromiley Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ET (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76)

Martin, R. P. (2004). Vol. 43: Word Biblical Commentary : Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary (Page 192). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

It usually escapes the notice of commentators and most inerrantists that in Philippians 3:8, Paul says he counts his former Jewish life as rubbish “in order” that he may gain Christ.  Paul clearly expresses here his belief that for a Jew like himself to “gain Christ”, they must first regard their former Jewish standing as “rubbish”.  Paul could not have more intentionally scandalized Jewish Christians than with his words in Philippians.

Can you imagine what would have happened, had Paul, upon arriving at a Jewish Christian congregation (that remained “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20)), bluntly admitted to them that he viewed his own Jewish circumcision during infancy as the equal of human excrement?

“That’s not happiness to see me, is it?”

For all these reasons, James likely knew the truth about Paul’s disdain for the “Law”, and therefore he knew he was helping Paul create a misleading impression of Paul’s beliefs by scheming to have Paul go along with the requirements of a Nazarite ritual (Acts 21:23 ff).  No different than an atheist going to church and praying out loud for others.  Its called lying.


lie verb

to be untruthful directly or indirectly