John V. Cordaro
Circumcision was essential to the true worship of Almighty God throughout the Old Testament. Does the New Covenant abolish it? Is it still an essential part of true worship? Have certain aspects of circumcision been changed as part of the New Covenant? This study will hopefully help to answer these and other questions concerning circumcision.
Genesis 17:10-14, "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."
In this passage we see circumcision as a token or sign of the covenant between Abraham and God (verse 11). The Apostle Paul said this sign of circumcision is actually a seal of the righteousness of faith even while he was yet uncircumcised:
Romans 4:11, "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith..."
We also learn from this passage (Genesis 17:10-14) that circumcision is not only an outward sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, but it is an everlasting covenant itself (verse 13). It is also a seal of the righteousness of faith! That circumcision itself is a covenant can be seen in Acts 7:8:
Acts 7:8, "And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs."
An everlasting covenant, or any covenant for that matter, is a serious responsibility, especially when it involves one's Creator. It was so serious that our Father declared the covenant breaker to be cut off from his people (Genesis 17:14).
Although circumcision was commanded before the law was given at Mount Sinai, we see its inclusion in the law:Leviticus 12:2-3, "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."
It is primarily performed on eight day old males, not adults. That is not to say adults were never circumcised. It was usually due to an extraordinary circumstance that an adult would be circumcised such as; Abraham and his household to begin the covenant (Genesis 17:23-27); the children of Israel who were entering the promised land after their wilderness wanderings (Joshua 5:2-7); uncircumcised adults who wanted to partake of the Passover (Exodus 12:48), etc.
Our Saviour Yahshua was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) as well as John the Baptist (Luke 1:59) and the Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:4,5). Jesus's only reference to circumcision shows that it takes precedence over the Sabbath.
John 7:22-23, "Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?"
It wasn't until Acts 15 that controversy began to surround circumcision. The issue was not whether to abolish circumcision or not. The issue concerned the motivation behind circumcision. The false teachers were saying:
Acts 15:1, "...Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved."
This led to much disputing. At one point Peter rose up and said:
Acts 15:10, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
Did he mean circumcision was a yoke too difficult to bear? No! He was referring to one having to bear the yoke of his own sins. For if we seek to be saved through works rather than through the faith of Christ, then Christs sacrifice is of no effect for us. We will be bearing our own sins upon our own necks, seeking to be justified by works rather than faith.
After Paul and Barnabas gave their testimonies, James pronounced his sentence of what should be done. The Gentiles were not to be troubled concerning circumcision. They had far more serious problems that needed to be dealt with. They were to abstain; from pollutions of idols (for they were coming out of gross idolatry); from fornication (which was prevelant in their society); from things strangled (another common practice among Gentiles that causes blood to remain in the meat); and from blood (the drinking of which was a delicasy among Gentiles, yet forbidden by Yahweh), at Acts 15:20,29.
The Gentile converts had far more problems than these four issues but, as verse 21 states, since they would hear Moses preached every Sabbath when they attended synagogue services they would eventually learn the rest of the law. For now, however, they would need to correct their most destestable habits.
The decision of the Jerusalem council did not end the controversy concerning circumcision. We see Paul having to address the problem years later at Galatia.
Galatians 5:1-4, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace."
This was Peter's same argument against circumcision for justification in Acts 15. Paul declares that anyone who seeks to be justified by the law, whether it be circumcision, sabbath-keeping, honoring parents, or whatever, is fallen from grace and the Messiah's sacrifice for their sins is made null and void. You read that correctly; if we teach others that they must honor their parents, for example, in order to be saved, we are fallen from grace. But notice this; if the problem in Galatia had been honoring parents for justification rather than circumcision for justification, do you think Christianity would have developed a doctrine stating the law of honoring parents is abolished? Of course not. So why do they teach circumcision is abolished? Dear reader, circumcision is not abolished. Circumcision for justification or salvation is abolished.
Perhaps your thoughts immediately turn to:
1 Corinthians 7:18, "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised."
In Paul's advice concerning marriage he admonishes the Corinthians to remain in whatever state they were called. If they were called while married to an unbeliever, they were to remain married, etc. He uses circumcision as an example of remaining in the state you were called. If you were uncircumcised when you were called by God, you are to remain uncircumcised all your life. Of course, this admonition of Paul does not require strict adherence as his circumcision of Timothy shows (Acts 16:1-4). In that case it was more expedient that Timothy be circumcised so as not to hinder the preaching of the good news among the Jews. This type of circumcision was acceptable because it was not done to justify or save Timothy.
Some believe 1 Corinthians 7:18 proves circumcision was abolished. That is not true. What it demonstrates is God's provision for a special circumstance. Had Gentiles been raised by parents who obeyed Almighty God, including circumcising their sons on the eighth day, new Gentile converts to the faith would not be concerned with this issue. However, since they now find themselves in a state that is contrary to God's everlasting covenant of Genesis 17:13 and no longer able to obey the commandment since the eighth day of their life has past, an exception was made. They may remain uncircumcised and give thanks to God:Colossians 2:11, "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:"
What happens in the case of Gentile converts who were called by God while uncircumcised and who father male children? Should they obey God and keep His everlasting covenant and commandment to circumcise the child on the eighth day? Yes!
First of all, the New Testament issue of circumcision always concerned justification by faith vs. justification by works. No other issue concerning circumcision was in question. Second, Acts 21:21 proves Paul never meant for people to believe circumcision was abolished. It reads;
Acts 21:21, "And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs."
The margin of the Thompson Chain-Reference BIble categorizes this verse under the heading "false accusations." That is what it was, lies. Paul never taught anyone to forsake Moses or the circumcision of their children. He merely, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, gave the Gentile converts special instructions for a special circumstance.
The solution of the Jerusalem elders to the false accusations was for Paul to join four other men in a vow. The hoped for outcome of such a vow would be that,
Acts 21:24, "...whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law."
The fact that Paul took the vow proves his desire was to refute the false accusations.
Acts 25:7-8, "And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all."
Paul refuted their false accusations, and took an oath that he has kept the law of the Jews. So what is the truth? Paul believed his Jewish brothers should circumcise their children and should not forsake Moses or their customs.
Romans 2:25, "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision."
Therefore, for a person that loves God and keeps His commandments and laws (1 John 5:2,3), circumcision is profitable. Why? Because it is a seal of the righteousness of one's faith (Romans 4:11). Indeed, whenever any parent obeys our Father in Heaven and circumcises his son on the eighth day he is demonstrating or sealing the righteousness of his faith.
This brings us to the matter of circumcision of the heart.
Leviticus 26:41, "...if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:"
Deuteronomy 10:16, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked."
Deuteronomy 30:6, "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live."
Jeremiah 4:4, "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart..."
Throughout the Old Testament, God's people were to circumcise not only the foreskin of their flesh, but the foreskin of their hearts. This meant they were to no longer walk in their ways, doing their own will, stiffening their necks to God's commandments. Instead, they were to repent of their sins and keep His commandments, showing their love for Him through obedience. Does that describe you? Can you be characterized by a circumcised heart or are you among those who teach men to break God's commandments by teaching the law and circumcision are abolished?
In conclusion, anyone who is called by our Father in Heaven into the true faith while uncircumcised should remain uncircumcised. If that person has a male child, he should be circumcised on the eighth day in obedience to God's commandment and as a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant which he is taking part in as Abraham's seed. Infant circumcision is not to be done so that the child can be saved, but because the father is already saved and now bears the fruit of obedience of his salvation.
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