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Why Circumcision? — 29 Comments

  1. Why not circumcision?! Only a Creator familiar with the workings of the body and desiring to share profoundly important truths with humanity would employ His knowledge to bring us to a necessary awareness of our true state. There are several object lessons that can be drawn from circumcision:

    1) Removal of part of the organ/instrument of reproduction.
    So the penis serves two biological functions, excretory and reproductive. I believe Scripture seeks to teach something about the nature of man, even from Old Testament times. God in Deut 10:16 calls Israel FROM one state of being ("stiffnecked" or obstinate) TO an opposite or compliant state of being. It identifies the organ to be circumcised, not as the penis, but the "heart". Most of us will almost instinctively point to our chests, sometimes even when we know differently. According to Prov 4:23, like the penis, life issues from the heart. From Jesus' own teaching in Mk 7:21-23, He identifies the "heart" as the place from which human thoughts emanate. The clear consistent, teaching of Scripture identifies the brain/mind as the organ referred to as the "heart"!

    2) Like the penis, the brain/mind isn't (usually) in the public view.
    Since Adam's fall, nakedness (public display of the reproductive organs) has become a cause for fear/embarrassment (Gen 3:10). Scripture teaches that the brain/mind, like the penis, is private, covered and not in public view (1 Cor 4:5; Rev 3:18). So circumcision occurs in a private, covered place, not in public view.

    3) Like the OT sign, NT circumcision is a MUST.
    According to Gen 17:13-14, the cutting away (and discard!) of a part of the instrument of reproduction was a MUST for ALL males born into the household of the one with whom the covenant was made (Abraham). Consider that Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3,5-7) that v.3 "unless one is born again, he CANNOT see the kingdom of God", v.5 "unless one is born of water and the SPIRIT, he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God", v.7 "you MUST be born again".

    4) Like the OT sign, NT circumcision is NOT self-performed.
    According to Gen 17:14, ALL male children born into Abraham's household but not circumcised on the eighth day was under a death sentence. So being that 9 day-olds couldn't make the arrangement or get themselves to the place of circumcision, the responsibility was ENTIRELY the parent's or else, under OT law, their child could justifiably be killed. Under the New Covenant, "established on better promises" (Heb 8:6) the Heavenly Father is still responsible for the child's life (Heb 8:10 NKJV)!! "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS IN THEIR MIND and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." This is the fulfillment of the promise made to OT Israel in Deut 30:6! How was He going to do it? (see Acts 1:4-5; John 15:26). When was He going to do it? (see Acts 2:33).

    5) Like the OT sign, the NT circumcision is painful.
    (see Heb 5:8-9; Heb 12:5-6)

    6) The OT sign and the birth issue.
    The OT object lesson in circumcision, depicts all the normal male children were born with that which was commanded by God to be cut away and discarded. Scripture is revealing to humanity that ALL our minds, since Adam's fall, have within them the seeds of rebellion. That's how we're born (Ps 58:3), and after some time period (symbolized by the eight days) we are marked for death. Unless the work of circumcision is performed by the Parent, we will discover ourselves outside of the covenant's promise and marked for death. Even those found to be good religious persons (Matthew 7:21-23) like Nicodemus, Jesus' words aren't idle.
    Circumcision..who knew?! Our kind Creator has buried treasure for us in the most unlikely of places (Mt 13:44).

  2. Since I am a physician I thought this abstract on the official policy on circumcision from the American Academy of Pediatrics (PEDIATRICS Volume 130, Number 3, September 2012) would be of interest to some who are thinking in terms of the spiritual aspects of circumcision.

    "Male circumcision is a common procedure, generally performed during the newborn period in the United States. In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) formed a multidisciplinary task force of AAP members and other stakeholders to evaluate the recent evidence on male circumcision and update the Academy’s 1999 recommendations in this area. Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed this statement. Pediatrics 2012;130:585–586.

    The spiritual, metaphorical application of the significance of circumcision has several aspects, in my way of thinking. The most important is the willingness to trust our heavenly Father in His commandments and instructions to us. For Abraham, there was no logical reason for, and many reasons that could be mustered against, the command to obey the ritual of circumcision, when God commanded him to do so. However foolish it seemed to him, it was the stepping stone to the higher level of trust and obedience that was coming when he would be commanded to sacrifice his only-begotten son Isaac on Mount Moriah. The physical ritual was an indication of the willingness to trust and obey God by faith, when to all outward appearances, obedience seems foolish.

    "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:27-31 KJV)

    Yes, how much we need the circumcision of the heart. This is the work of the Spirit of God, the work of the New Covenant. It is the writing of the Law of God in the heart and mind. It is what Jesus died for, to afford us the privilege of becoming like Him. Amazing grace!

    • Thank you for sharing the information from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding the health benefits of circumcision. God designed our bodies and he knows what will keep us healthy. We may not recognize the health benefits at the time, but it is a matter of do we trust God when he requires us to do things that may be different from the cultural norm. I believe circumcision protects both males and their female partners from certain diseases as research now supports.

  3. Thank you so much for breaking this ritual down for me to fully understand. I was touched by the way you explained that baptism is the new sign. You made it so simple to understand in just those few words.

    Thank you

  4. Thank you William for the simple explanation. Circumcision has been practice in my society for ages. I was trying to understand the biblical meaning of circumcision but could not understand it. But now with William's simple and logical explanations, I now understand why God wanted Abraham and all his descendents to be circumcised.

  5. I cannot remember the details, but I did read a long time ago that science has confirmed that on the 8th day, the baby is at a stage of development where the pain is least. Something to do with chemicals in the body. Perhaps someone can elucidate?
    Abraham was not 8 days old when he was circumcised, but very old. Ouch.

  6. Brenden I believe you are correct. I have learned that the blood thickens or something to that effect by the 8th day, so as to prevent bleeding to death. God does not make up particular rules just to be making up rules. He has a reason for every rule He gives us.

  7. I am not William but here is my take on the whole thing.

    To me circumcision today can only be thought of as something concerning health. It no longer has any theological significance except in a spiritual sense (Rom 2:25-29; 1 Cor 7:19). If we circumcise because we feel we have to then we are working for our salvation. I believe it properly falls under some of the same problems of doing many of the Old Testament rituals but is not considered a sin as such. I mean, if it was then why did Paul have Timothy circumcised well into his ministry years after the cross? Besides Paul involved himself with Jewish vows after his conversion (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:23) so they can't be thought of as sinful unless we wish to charge Paul with knowingly committing sin.

    Personally, I like the explanation William gives concerning the ritual because it makes sense. However, I will disagree a little bit with him on what he says, "Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus." My disagreement is only that we shouldn't conceive of baptism as a kind of replacement of circumcision that we have since the cross.

    Baptism has very deep roots in the ritual washings at the laver in the sanctuary and Paul even saw a symbolic application concerning the exodus (1 Cor :10). Baptism was also practiced well before Jesus was baptized so it isn't just a New Testament phenomenon. Nor was it a part of the old covenant. It was stated to be, "a sign of the covenant between Me and you" (Gen. 17:11 NKJV; conf. Rom 4:11) which was something in addition to it.

    To me one of the main teachings of baptism is that of washing away sin by the Holy Spirit, the symbolic meaning of the water (Jn 4:10; Jn 7:38; see also Eze 47 and Ps 51 also 2 Kings 5). Theologically we are immersed in the Spirit and come up a new creature (2 Cor 5:17) cleansed of our sin just as Joshua the high priest had his filthy clothes changed by an external agency. It is a declaration of faith that God will remove our sin. To me the lessons of the two rituals are similar yet very different.

  8. Hi Julia, you asked specifically if "according to the Bible", circumcision is a sin. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 5:2) states that the religious climate they were in (there was a sect forcefully teaching circumcision as a means to salvation (Acts 15:1, 24; Philippians 3:2-11)), to become circumcised would obstuct faith in Christ. But that was in the context of a religious doctrinal struggle and the apostles in council at Jerusalem rendered their decision on the matter (Acts 15:7-11,13,19,25-29). Today christianity, so far as I know, is past circumcision as a doctrinal matter and many practice circumcision for cultural, hygenic and medical reasons.
    For the symbolism of circumcision, you can scroll up to my comment from April 9,2014. I'd encourage you to avoid arguments on these matters, although you should never fear knowing the truth from God in His Word. May God's Spirit continually guide your search for His truth.

  9. Hi Julia, I like the answers that have already been given to your question. I also think this passage
    in Galatians 6:14-15 sums it up that it is no longer a moral issue either way.

    "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."

  10. The comments about circumcision and the medical literature expound on the physical benefits, and I wholeheartedly agree.

    It is important for us to review the biblical record. There is no record of circumcision before Genesis 17.

    In Gen 15:18 God made His everlasting covenant with Abram. There was no "work" or requirement for Abram to perform. In the covenant ceremony Abram had no part in it - he was asleep. His faith was sufficient for him to be declared righteous, Gen 15:6 and Rom 4:9-12, showing clearly that salvation comes by faith and faith alone and no "work" is required of us. Yes, there is obedience after coming to Christ, but we bring no work to the equation.

    In Gen 16 Abram sought to add his works to the covenant.

    Then in Gen 17 God comes to Abram, calls on him to walk blamelessly, then expands on the covenant to include the physical requirement, because of Abram's temporary departure from faith. Consequently, circumcision only was required in response to Abram's transgression and lack of faith, and became a requirement for the descendants of Abraham.

    Circumcision, like most ceremonial laws, met its fulfillment in Christ's death and resurrection. We see that Gentiles were being saved without the requirement of circumcision. The Jews were astonished to see that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:44-47. As a matter of fact when they received the Spirit, Peter did not call for them to be circumcised, but rather to be baptized. The Jews criticized Peter for going to the home of the uncircumcised in Acts 11. The Jews insisted that converts to Christianity had to be circumcised Acts 15. However, in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:24, 25 the apostles felt so strongly about not requiring circumcision that they put it in writing and sent a letter to the churches.

    Paul understood the spiritual significance of heart circumcision versus physical circumcision, and expounded on it in Rom 2, Gal 5:6, Gal 6:15 and many other places.

    As a matter of fact Paul said in 1 Cor 7:18, that if someone has come to Christ without circumcision, he should NOT be circumcised. Titus, who ministered with Paul was not circumcised and Paul did not require it of him. In Gal 5:3 it says that if we choose to become circumcised as a religious practice, then we are required to keep the entire Mosaic law.

    There are numerous passages of Scripture to show the diminished role of physical circumcision for spiritual purposes, but the emphasis throughout scripture is that there must be a heart change for salvation to be received - a circumcision of the heart.

  11. Why a sign of the covenant that only applies to males?

    If baptism has replaced circumcision, then should women be

    • Ray, you pose a great question that, I admit, bothered me for a while as well! However, I believe the answer lies in staying focused on the REALITY symbolized in the object lesson.

      OT culture was definitely a patriarchal one, but that aside, Abraham's RESPONSIBILITY for his household takes center stage (Gen 17:1,4,7,9,14). His RESPONSIBILITY typifies and highlights God's role in actuating human salvation. So God:

      a) understands and declares that His omnipotence places Him in a role of Caregiver/Defender of His creation (Ps 100:3; Gen 3:15; Gal 3:16,29; Mk 10:45; Rm 5:6,12, 14-15).

      b) understands His creation's total dependence on His thoughtful care (Hos 11:1, 3-4; Rm 5:18).

      Despite NOT being the mechanism that accomplishes human salvation, the truths resident in the object lesson of circumcision was (and still is) priceless. Once we understand that the brain (or "heart") is the object of God's supreme regard (Jn 3:16; Deut 5:29; 1 Sam 16:7; Jn 4:23) and that it is the brain that is symbolized in the penis (Deut 10:16) as the place from which our lives issues (Prov 4:23). Once this basic understanding is in place, other things also begins to fall into place. We understand the universal and inherited nature of fallen humans (that is, ALL normal males are BORN with an organ they didn't choose with a flap of skin requiring removal--which they can't remove). This INHERITANCE places us in natural opposition to our Creator (Rm 8:8; Heb 3:10) and each other (Mt 19:8; Deut 10:16), requiring our Heavenly Parent's intervention (Deut 30:6).

      While this may all appear to exclude females, bear in mind that the penis only SYMBOLIZES the BRAIN--which all females have and use just as effectively as any male (2 King 11:1-3; Mk 6:18-19,22-24)! The natural human brain, the organ most immediately responsible for our characters, screams for action from the ONLY One who can re-create us into the Divine Image (Ps 51:10-12,17; Jn 4:23; Eze 18:30-32; Heb 10:15-18)!!

      • This passage is about captives of war. I don't think it could be considered a model for those who make a free choice to become Israelites.

  12. Hi Ray, there are several ways to look at this, and I think one way is that parents, both male and female were to have their male child circumcised on the 8th day. Mary as well as Joseph presented Jesus to be circumcised and in Exodus 4 Moeses' wife takes the responsibility when Moses fails to do so. Yes, only males are to be circumcised, but if done as directed on the 8th day, it is not so much about the child as it is both the parents.

    Of course even in the Old Testament it tell us to circumcise our hearts and not the flesh, and that was for both men and women as well as baptism in the New Testament.

  13. Circumcision may be overly interesting to some but to most that are not bibllically inclined, practical reasons can vary from family to family. Many years ago farmers and most in the early 20th century lived a very simple life. Circumcision was a rarity. I am sure there are many other ordinances as important if not more. For those in the medical profession that are informed,I remember an MD doctor that was on radio and television answering peoples questions . One of the topics about circumcision was that he objected to circumcision for his and others children without reservation. I am also very familiar with serous problems for a 10 year old that was not circumcised or tonsils and adenoids removed till then. Individual applications are inevitable.

  14. In answer to Brendon James comment, Long ago there was a book called I think "None of these diseases" In the book the author explained that the Prothrombin levels/clotting factor (or thickening of the blood as William put it) - goes to 110 per cent; the only day of life when it does. Which means the baby is less likely that day to bleed profusely, if at all.
    Note that the old testament priests would still circumcise even if it were a sabbath if this was the baby's 8th day. After that 8th day, the levels go down to 100% and there to stay (hopefully) the rest of life. As far as I know girl babies do not experience this rise in Prothrombin above 100%. Godbless today (we are fearfully and wondrously made). Mrs A Stolz

  15. I read with great interest the commentary on “Why circumcision” (Monday’s lesson). I agree with most of what has been written but have a few issues on the subject.

    Nowhere in scripture does it state that Abraham sought, of his own accord, to fulfil God’s promise of a son by taking Hagar as a substitute wife. Indeed, it was Sarah who offered Hagar to Abraham. No doubt Abraham and Sarah desperately wanted an offspring, and the course that they took does not seem out of place. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, did this repeatedly.

    God had said that to Abraham that his heir would be of his own body (15:4), and that is exactly what Ishmael was. God was monitoring the situation and in due time set it right by granting Sarah a son. With that, the true bloodline went from Abraham through Isaac.

    We should not apply an “intent” into Abraham’s mind that was never there.

    • Even if Sarah was the instigator of the idea, Abraham chose to take Hagar. Similarly, Eve was the one who first took the fruit and gave it to Adam, but Rom 5:12 is one example in scripture where the sin is attributed to Adam - just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

      By the way, 1 Pet 3:6 tells us that Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.

      Therefore whether Abraham intended to or not, he displayed a lack of faith in taking Hagar. Circumcision only came about after that faithless act.

  16. I think it is reasonable to note that Adam was never circumcised. He was made perfectly and in God's own image. To imply that man must correct what God has created perfectly doesn't make any sense to me, notwithstanding what a few M.D.s might say to the contrary.

  17. Another aspect to consider is what the popular "religion" was like back in those days. Paganism with its emphases on fertility rituals---

    Circumcision would be a sign of rejecting the fertility cult and trusting in God.

  18. A point of notice: our writer should be careful of how they use word so that we will not go worldly. Bible call male organ - secrets(Deuteronony 25:11), privy member (Deuteronomy 23:1)flagons(song of Solomon 2:5) foreskin (Leviticus 12:3) and all are from English Bible.

    Now to the issue of circumcision, it is a confirmation of the covenant made with Abraham from God which is flesh and it goes with first or old covenant but the reality is found in Christ and the confirmation is his spirit in our heart (second or new covenant )
    "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Corinthians 3:17) therefore neither circumcision or uncircumcision availeth any thing, it does not affect or effect your health; but faith which worketh by love- law of the spirit (Galatians 5:6)

    • The terminology used in the KJV represents usage in the English language in the early 1600s. As you can see from the article we have published on the KJV, one of the mandates the translators were given was to write in a language understood by the people. In modern discussion we would do well to follow that mandate and use modern terminology. There is nothing special about the words used in the KJV.

  19. I've often thought that God required circumcision because:

    a) the penis is a part of the body that men are going to handle, and look at, a few times a day. So, every time that they do, they are going to have to think about what God requires of them.


    b) It's the part of the body with which men typically get in the most trouble, and most disrupt the social order, with the most repercussions. So, again, right before committing the sexual act that will begin these problems, they are going to have to think about what God requires of them.


    • I think sometimes we try to argue God's case for him when there is really no need to. I am circumcised; a decision made by my father for purely sanitary reasons when I was born. I did not even know I was circumcised until I was a teenager. It has never caused me concern, nor has it reminded me of God and what he requires of me.


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