Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant.
In Genesis 17, GOD reiterated His covenant with Abraham, along with the land promise. But GOD introduced something new, a sign of Abraham’s covenant: circumcision.
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am your God; be pleasing before Me and blameless. 2 I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your seed after you. 8 Also I will give you and your seed after you the land you are occupying as a sojourner, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. 10 This is the covenant you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 A child of eight days old shall be circumcised by you—every male child throughout your genealogy, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner not of your seed. 13 He who is born in your house, and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut off from his people; for he has broken My covenant.”Genesis 17:1-14 OSB
We have previously established that Abraham’s seed does not refer to all of his physical descendants, but to those who would come after Abraham who possessed the faith of Abraham.
For Abraham and his physical descendants, GOD gave the physical circumcision of all males. This practice was continued through Isaac, Jacob, and the children of Israel. GOD reiterated physical circumcision as a part of the Law of Moses (see Exodus 12:43-51; Leviticus 12:3).
But Moses also explained to Israel that circumcision was not really about the physical act, but that the physical circumcision was a sign of the circumcision of the heart:
12 “So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and His ordinances I command you today for your good? 14 Indeed, heaven and heaven of heaven belong to the Lord your God, also the earth and everything in it. 15 The Lord chose your fathers to love them; and He chose their seed after them, you above all nations, as it is this day. 16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore, love the resident aliens, for you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and hold fast to Him, and take oaths in His name. 21 He is your boast and your God, who did these great and glorious things for you, the things you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy-five souls, and now, the Lord your God made you as the stars of heaven in multitude.Deuteronomy 10:12-22 OSB
Even though physical circumcision was important for Abraham’s physical descendants, once the new covenant with Judah and Israel came into effect (after Jesus’ resurrection), the Law of Moses was fulfilled and taken away at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. With the Law of Moses no longer binding for Christians, the requirement for physical circumcision was taken away.
The apostle Paul had much to say to the first century Christians (and Jews) about circumcision’s real meaning and purpose:
2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.Romans 2:1-29 NIV
19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.1 Corinthians 7:19 NIV
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. … 12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.Galatians 5:6; 6:12-16 NIV
- Abraham was justified by faith.
- Abraham was given the promises because of his faith.
- Abraham was given the ritual of physical circumcision as a sign of GOD’s covenant.
- Moses reiterated GOD’s commands to Israel of physical circumcision.
- Moses explained to Israel that GOD was really interested in the circumcision of their hearts (obedience to the Law He’d given them), and not just the outward physical circumcision.
- Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and eliminated it as a part of the new covenant.
- Christians are justified by faith.
- Physical circumcision means nothing for the Christian, but circumcision of the heart is always necessary in order to please GOD.
The apostle Paul, by inspiration, sums it up perfectly:
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.Colossians 2:9-17 NIV