Paul's humor was shaped by his early education and practice in the strict religious teachings of the Pharisees (Philippians 3:5 - 6, Acts 23:6, 26:5). The Jews, and especially their religious leaders, were known for their sarcasm (see Mark 15:29 - 32).
This article discusses the cutting humor of Paul as it relates to the first century controversial topic of circumcision. His rebuke of false teachers troubling the churches in Galatia is the best example, in the New Testament, of his sometimes confrontation and caustic personality. Before proceeding with our Galatians 5 example of Paul's humor, however, a little background needs to be covered in order to understand the context of his statements.
The belief that circumcision was necessary for salvation was firmly held by some in the early church. This issue came to a head in 49 A.D. when Paul and others hotly opposed, in Syrian Antioch, those promoting this doctrine (Acts 15:1). The Jerusalem conference, held to settle the matter, concluded that God did not require circumcision for salvation (see Acts 15:10 - 11, 19 -20). The Apostle Paul not only attended the conference but also was active in the debates that took place.
Paul, after the conference, conducts his second missionary journey where he visits the churches in Galatia he founded in order to strengthen their faith. It is soon after this journey that we encounter his biting sense of humor. He writes the book of Galatians upon discovering that those among whom he labored in preaching and teaching the truth are now adopting a false version of the gospel!
Paul's palpable anger and amazement at what is happening in Galatia builds as we progress in his epistle (Galatians 1:6 - 9, 3:1 - 4, 4:9 - 11). It reaches a crescendo in chapter 5 when he directs sarcastic humor toward those pushing the necessity of circumcision for salvation.
The apostle states, "I would that they (those spreading this false doctrine) would even make themselves EUNUCHS . . ." (verse 12, HBFV)! The Living Bible renders this verse, "I only wish these teachers who want you to cut yourselves by being circumcised WOULD CUT THEMSELVES OFF FROM YOU and leave you alone!" His humor is now evident!
Circumcision is the cutting away of a male's foreskin, an act Jewish converts experienced shortly after birth. The zeal of those already circumcised to push adult Gentiles in the church to partake of the painful practice, which does not change one's standing with God (Galatians 5:6), is unacceptable to Paul.
Paul's humor rebukes the false teachers by stating they should redirect their energy away from having someone else's foreskin cut to (since they are already circumcised) cutting off their own testicles! Lastly, while they are doing that, they should also cut themselves away from bothering God's people in the church!