Category: Creation, Word: CIRCUMCISION
September 4, 2015 | by: Kendell Easley, prepared by Dave Maniquis | 0 Comments
Posted in: 52 Words
And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also. (Romans 4:11-12)
DEFINITION: Physical circumcision refers to the act of cutting off the foreskin of a male’s reproductive organ. Spiritual circumcision refers to the inner change by which a person is enabled to trust, love, and obey God wholeheartedly.
In recent times, circumcision has been widely practiced in the Western world as a medical procedure, done for its supposed health benefit later in life for the male and for his sexual partner(s). This practice should be kept entirely separate from the discussion of circumcision as a religious ritual.
In the Bible, circumcision was first a ritual symbolizing the covenant God made with Abraham, and which male descendants were supposed to practice (Gen 17:14). Later on, circumcision on the eight day of an Israelite boy’s life became mandatory (Lev 12:3). By Paul’s time, circumcision was often interpreted by Jews to mean that every circumcised person was automatically right with God. This triggered an early Christian controversy about whether non-Jews who came into a right relationship with God by faith should be circumcised (Acts 15). Was circumcision a good work that contributed to one’s standing before God? Paul answered with an emphatic no (Gal 5:1-12; 6:12-15; Rom 2:25-29; 4:10-12).
The Old Testament emphasized the importance of bodily circumcision, yet a few texts pointed to the truth that Israelite circumcision should be considered a sign that one had experienced the inner spiritual cleansing that comes by faith (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4). Most remarkable is the promise of Deuteronomy 30:6: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul, so that you will live.”
This provided the basis for Paul’s argument in Romans 2:25-28 that circumcised persons who misbehave are worse off than uncircumcised men who do the right thing. This climaxed in his amazing announcement that “a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh” (Rom 2:28). Following Paul’s lead, Christianity has rejected circumcision as a ritual to be practiced by churches: “Circumcision does not matter and uncircumcision does not matter, but keeping God’s commandments does” (1 Cor 7:19). By commandments, Paul obviously meant God’s moral commands rather than ceremonial rules, because circumcision was in fact commanded for all Jews (Lev 12:3). It is of some interest that of the New Testament epistles, circumcision is mentioned only in Paul’s letters. Thus, the meaning of circumcision for Christians is found in Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “We are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3 see Col 2:11).
REFLECTION: Why have Gentile Christians rejected circumcision as a religious ritual? How would you explain the difference between physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision?
PRAYER: Father of Abraham, thank You that the value of circumcision is that it points to an inner spiritual reality, whether someone is male or female. And help me to live with the same kind of faith that Abraham and Sarah had even before You asked for circumcision. Amen.
Dave Maniquis is a Teaching Elder at Restoration Church. He holds a BA in History from Rutgers University and an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He enjoyed a 23-year career in the U.S. Government, working and traveling extensively in Western and Eastern Europe. He has been a Christian for most of his adult life and has been involved in church planting, overseas as well as here in Port Orange, teaching the Bible and speaking into others’ lives with the Gospel. He is married to Maureen and they have two wonderful sons, Dylan and Evan.