What Is Circumcision And Is It Important To Christians?

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Published by Shannon Jacobs



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For generations, people have debated whether the health benefits of circumcision justify the risk of psychological harm. Muslim and Jewish men are known for the sacred responsibility of undergoing and practicing true circumcision. However, this subject is often considered humor and satire, usually described by terms like “the cruelest of cuts” and “the snip.”

The flesh or foreskin of the male genital organ, or the entire prepuce, is surgically removed in the practice of circumcision. The western Semites (Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites) of the ancient Near East all engaged in the ritual of neonatal circumcision. The East Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, including the Canaanites and the Shechemites, rejected the method.

In our spiritual journey, we must understand the spiritual idea of true circumcision, its importance in our salvation, and why God mandated it.

What Is Circumcision Meaning In The Bible?

In Scripture, Jewish families had their males circumcised[1]. The rite describes the ceremonial removal of the foreskin of a man at any age. In Jewish tradition, the surgical operation happens eight days after the male infants are born. Circumcision is clearly defined as a covenant between God and all Jewish males.

The biblical notice of the rite describes it as distinctively Jewish, so that in the New Testament “the circumcision” and “the uncircumcision” are frequently used as synonyms for the Jews and the Gentiles.

Circumcision, as a symbol shadowing forth sanctification by the Holy Spirit, has now given way to the symbol of baptism. Its original intention was for Jews to follow God’s divine command in the Old Testament. When making a permanent covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, God first imposed circumcision. This reflected the Israelites’ dedication to the old covenant and their willingness to let God be God in their lives.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, that he would be a trustworthy and personal God, and that he would give Abraham and his descendants a country to call their own, and circumcision served as a reminder of these aspects of the covenant. Also, the bond with God was broken by those who were not physically circumcised.

What Does The Bible Say About Circumcision?

According to Exodus 12:43–49 in the Old Testament, circumcision was a prerequisite for Passover. Deuteronomy 10:16 speaks of a spiritual circumcision leading the Israelites to love and follow the Lord. In the New Testament, circumcision is not laid down as a requirement.

Jews prided themselves on possessing this covenant distinction in the first century CE, as evidenced by the New Testament. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were circumcised on the eighth day after birth, as recorded in Luke 1:59 and 2:21. Eight days after his birth, Apostle Paul was circumcised as well.

At a later date, when Christianity expanded to include the Gentiles, circumcision caused friction. While some Jewish people held that Gentile Christians were required to follow the Mosaic Law to be saved, others rejected this idea as illogical and false.

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2 Things To Know About Circumcision In The Bible

Circumcision began as a Jewish rite due to the everlasting covenant between God and Abraham. It was a sign and seal of the covenant of grace as well as of the national covenant between God and the Hebrews. But there is more to know about this general practice that we need to understand. Here are two things you should know about circumcision in the Bible:

1. On Some Occasions, Circumcision Served To Fortify And Safeguard The Israelites

As we learn from Genesis 34, when Dinah was attacked by Shechem, a marriage proposal was granted on the condition that all of the Shechemites undergo circumcision. While the warriors were resting and recovering, Jacob’s sons took their revenge on the Shechemites by slaughtering and looting them.

During the journey through the wilderness, the practice of circumcision fell into disuse but was resumed at the command of Joshua before they entered the Promised Land.

While on their way to conquer the Promised Land, Joshua circumcised the young men prior to facing Jericho. These were the offspring of the generation that disobeyed God and missed the opportunity to conquer and settle the Promised Land. They had to fulfill their end of the Abrahamic covenant as Abraham’s descendants by becoming circumcised as an abiding sign of their loyalty to the Lord before they could fight in the Battle of Jericho.

2. It Transcends Physical Symbolism; It Symbolizes The State Of One’s Heart

Deuteronomy addresses the topic of circumcision. Deuteronomy 10:16 says, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore; do not be stiff-necked anymore,” and Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul and live.”

Before verse six of Deuteronomy 10, we are commanded to fear the Lord, abide by all his ways, love him, serve him with all our hearts, and keep his decrees. All these things require that we first perform a spiritual circumcision on our hearts. Eliminate the sin that causes you to stumble and fall. This verse anticipates Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 that our brains must be renewed to experience true transformation.

Deuteronomy 10 is reminiscent of Colossians 3, in which Christians are urged to “put on the new self” created for them in Christ Jesus by putting aside their old, sinful ways. If we undergo spiritual circumcision, we are made whole again. The good news is that we are not abandoned to our own devices.

Is Circumcision A Religious Practice?

The short answer is yes. In some cultures, each circumcised person bore the hallmark of their religion. Here are two religious groups that have widely practiced circumcision as a religious rite:

1. Judaism

The Jewish Covenant of Circumcision, or Brit Milah—a Hebrew term for ancient circumcision—strictly adhered to the national ordinance. In Genesis 17:10–14, we learn about the covenant in which Abraham was given the instruction to circumcise his sons.

God told Abraham, “Every male child among you shall be circumcised; this is my covenant, which you shall maintain between me and you and your offspring after you.”

The scriptural justification for this law makes it very plain that the ritual of circumcision is meant to serve as a visible bodily sign of the eternal covenant of grace between God and the Jewish people. No matter how strictly one has followed all the other precepts of Judaism, if one is not circumcised, one must suffer the spiritual excision of kareit.

A Jewish circumcision must take place during daylight hours on the eighth day after the child’s birth. However, if the infant’s health is a concern, circumcision must not be done on the same day. According to Jewish law, until seven days later, the boy is considered well enough to go through the process.

Except in cases of emergency, the Brit Milah must be performed immediately, and it is permissible to do so even on the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Shabbat.

A Mohel performs the actual circumcision. He is a devout and observant Jew who has been trained in circumcision procedures and is familiar with the appropriate Jewish dispensation and custom.

Everyone circumcised bore thereby evidence of distinctively Jewish citizenship, consequently also a member of the church of God, and thus a citizen of the Jewish commonwealth. That’s why they made it a prerequisite for Jewish nationality.

2. Islam

One of the tenets of Islam is that all males must undergo circumcision as a prerequisite to entering the Muslim faith. A circumcision is an act relating to the “Fitrah” in Islam, a belief that considers all parts of life sacred. The Arabic word fitrah refers to a person’s inherent nature, personality, and instincts.

According to Prophet Muhammad, circumcision, pubic hair-shaving, nail-cutting, armpit hair-plucking, and mustache shaving or clipping are comparable to fitrah.

In terms of the legal rulings, there is a split among Muslim experts, with some saying that being circumcised is required by Islam. In contrast, others say it is optional but strongly encouraged.

When referring to male circumcision, Shariah law specifies that “the circular section on the rim, above the conical vascular body of the penis,” be excised. For religious reasons, circumcision should be performed on a child as soon as possible.

In most cases, this procedure is performed on the seventh day after delivery, but depending on the child’s health, it can be performed anywhere from seven to 40 days after birth or even later, up to the age of seven years. Muslims believe that circumcision is a wise deed for numerous reasons, including those listed in the Qur’an (their holy book), which include: it’s “the foundation of innate nature, a symbol of Islam, a portent of the Lord’s law, and the fulfillment of genuine society.”

Though Mohammed did not enjoin circumcision in the Qur’an, he was circumcised himself according to the custom of his country, and circumcision is now as common among the Mohammedans as among the Jews.

Why Circumcision?

In the New Testament, Jewish Christians sought to practice circumcision on their Gentile converts, but the apostles resolutely resisted doing so (Acts 15:1; Galatians 6:12).

Paul argued that Gentile Christians should not be forced to undergo circumcision. “Circumcision is of benefit if you follow the rules; if you breach the law, you are as if you were never circumcised,” he said (Romans 2:25). This clarifies what makes a person circumcised or uncircumcised.

He argued in Galatians 5:2–6 that individuals who choose physical circumcision are doing so because they want to be justified by the law rather than its spiritual meaning.

Paul reconciled the church by directing attention to God’s sight. In doing so, he reminded them that their sins had been forgiven and that the barrier separating them from the Lord had been torn down by Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 2:14).

In 1 Corinthians 7:19, Paul cautions, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing.” In the early Church’s discussion over whether uncircumcised Gentiles needed to undergo this, inward circumcision or repentance, righteousness, and faith were what counted most. In short, physical circumcision has no sanctifying effects, but it signifies the purification of the heart.

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The significance of circumcision varies from person to person. Some people view it as a necessary step on the path to maturity. Some people see it as nothing more than a routine medical procedure.

To Christians, however, there is no religious significance to the act of circumcision. Baptism, the cleansing by the Holy Spirit, is similar to the circumcision of the heart. And for some, that is precisely what baptism represents: a promise we made to God. Circumcision was not simply a matter of a physical mark but of spiritual and ethical sanctity.

What’s more important in God’s eyes is a heart that has been circumcised by removing whatever stands between us and a genuine fear of, love for, service to, and observance of the Lord and his principles and laws.

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