Why Circumcision?

Monday’s lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic. 

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation. 


Image © Providence Collection from GoodSalt.com

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT

… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

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.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issues are less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.


11 comment(s) for this post:

  1. Lynrol Beckford:

    09 Apr 2014
    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. James LeVos:

    10 Apr 2014
    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!

  3. Elaine Benjamin:

    10 Apr 2014
    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. Inge Anderson:

    10 Apr 2014
    Thank you very much for sharing this 2012 official statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  5. Peter Michael Magury:

    10 Apr 2014
    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.
  6. Brendan James:

    11 Apr 2014
    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.
  7. William Earnhardt:

    11 Apr 2014
    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.
  8. Victoria Batiste:

    12 Apr 2014
    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.
  9. Tyler Cluthe:

    08 Jan 2015
    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.

  10. Lynrol Beckford:

    09 Jan 2015
    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.
  11. William Earnhardt:

    09 Jan 2015
    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.”

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons