Circumcision has always been a contentious topic, even when Paul was ministering. The church at Jerusalem actually formally addressed the matter specifically in their condemnation of Law-keeping righteousness in Acts 15, which we will get to later. Right now, we need to establish the law, see what it says, and then see what the NEW Testament says about the topic in order to have a totally Biblical understanding. We cannot understand the Old without the New.
Gen 17:10-16 – Here, the commandment is given to Abram to circumcise the foreskin of their flesh. Note the exclusive language: “…it shall be a token betwixt me and you” (v. 10); “…every man child in your generations, he that is born in your house”, “…or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed” (v. 12). Now, I do not know how strict the Judaizers are concerning this “everlasting covenant” between the LORD and Abram, but I wonder how many of them have bought a stranger (foreigner) with money? I wonder if, after they convert to the H.R.M., they circumcise themselves and their children if they have not already been. I also wonder if they are literally, physically, of Abraham’s generations—because that is who it is for. It was never for the Gentiles.
Josh 5:2-5 – This passage is an example of men who were uncircumcised who had to be circumcised, apparently before they could enter the land of “milk and honey.” The reason was because the previous generation had died in the wilderness as punishment for their rebellion. The new generation never had received the circumcision. So, apply it today! Question: those uncircumcised male children and adults who become convinced that the Hebrew Roots Movement is of the spirit of God…do they get circumcised before they join? Why or why not?
You see, as we will learn, Circumcision in the Old Testament was merely a TYPE of the New Testament circumcision of the heart. But, you should also understand that from the beginning God placed the emphasis of circumcision as being that of the heart and not of anything else: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deut 10:16); “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 thine soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut 30:6); “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (Jer 4:4).
NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES
I do not want to appear dishonest by neglecting the examples of people being circumcised in the New Testament portion of Scripture. So we will examine the accounts.
John the Baptist – John the Baptist was circumcised the eighth day according to the law. Many Jews before the time of Christ, and even during and after, still followed the law. But we know John understood that his righteousness did not come by law keeping, for he preached to the Jews “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). According to John, the law did not take sin away—keeping the law did not do it. No, rather he said Christ taketh away the sin of the world! He apparently did not regard his fleshly circumcision profitable for salvation.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth – Jesus definitely had to be circumcised by the law in order to be the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. Had Jesus never been circumcised he would have sinned. So, he was circumcised in perfect obedience, and we will learn (as if it was not already made plain) that the ordinances of the law which were contrary to us, were taken and nailed to the tree.
Paul the Apostle – Paul, unlike Hebrew Roots Cult members, actually was of the stock of Abraham, “of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was a pharisee by his own admission. He says he was circumcised the eigth day, just like John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. But notice what he says: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” (Phil 3:5-9). Paul declared that his conformity to the law of Moses as a Pharisee was his “own righteousness,” which is what he counted as DUNG. His circumcision, his education as a Pharisee, his zealous persecution of the churches, EVERYTHING was DUNG. He found righteousness by the faith of Christ.
Timothy – Paul had Timothy circumcised, but why? In Acts 16:1-3 we learn why: “…because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they all knew his father was a Greek” (v. 3). Timothy was raised in the religion of the Jews by his mother who also “believed,” so evidently she was born-again. Although Timothy grew up reading the Scriptures, his Greek father did not allow him to be circumcised. Timothy was well reported of by the brethren, but, unlike Titus—a full Greek—who had received “inside pressure” by believers to be circumcised (Gal 2:3), was pressured by the Jews (unbelievers). Basically, Paul had determined the best way for Timothy to be truly effective was to be circumcised. What we learn is that, while this may have been an attempt to evangelize the Jews, it was by no means Paul’s assertion that Timothy had to be circumcised in order to obtain salvation. Like his mother, Timothy was already born-again.
In all these accounts, there is certainly no positive command for a New Testament believer to be circumcised. Paul, a great example of a person who was saved out of the Jew’s religion, certified that his Jewish circumcision was dung. How much more for a Gentile today?
JESUS & THE PHARISEES
The Pharisees inevitably come up in these dissertations on circumcision, and they will undoubtedly be invoked again as we examine other popular aspects of the law that the Hebrew Roots Gentile Pharisees foist upon hapless Christians.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their remarkable inconsistency regarding the law. In other words, he spared no words and revealed them as hypocrites. In this chapter, we want to look at places where Christ not only rebukes them, but also where the issue of circumcision is mentioned in a negative way.
John 7:22-24 – This is perhaps the most important passage spoken of regarding this topic, and it comes from the mouth of “Yeshuah” himself! Note a few things with me: they were NOT judging according to righteous judgment but rather according to appearance (v. 24), so they were in sin; he reveals their hypocrisy because they break the sabbath in order to circumcise a man (remove flesh), but they rebuked ,derided, and slandered our Lord Jesus when he would make a man “every whit whole” (v. 23). What could possibly be so wicked about restoring a man’s sight? or curing leprosy? or any of the other things Christ did on the Sabbath? Nothing, except the blind leaders of the blind were so fixated on the letter of the Law that they neglected the weightier matters.
Acts 15:1 – The encounter we read of here is telling. Anyone who can read this chapter but still believe circumcision is required for salvation or being right with God is. The Holy Ghost inspired this verse and calls the men here “certain men,” not disciples. So we can reasonably assume that these were unsaved men who were demanding law-keeping salvation, emphasizing circumcision. Paul and Barnabas—I emphasize him because the Jewdaizers, for the most part, reject Paul—had “no small dissension and disputation” with them. In other words, they rebuked them and argued over the matter of circumcision, and they did NOT agree that circumcision was required for salvation.
Really, circumcision has always been a “heart issue.” We will now look at four very important passages of Scripture to help us understand what circumcision the Lord has always required.
Deut 10:16 – The Hebrew Roots Movement people are stiff-necked and need their hearts circumcised! The LORD demands that the hearts of people be circumcised, and notice, too, how the next verse says the LORD, “…regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:” (v. 17). People today, especially neo-evangalicals, conservative evangelicals—I suppose the greater majority of people who claim to be Christian—are “zionists.” They are in great favor of the nation of Israel, that is, the land of Israel and they have an undying support of the “Jews” who reject Jesus Christ. They claim they are his chosen people and say asinine things like, “God’s not done with Israel!” These people, who take respect of persons, will spend thousands of dollars to tour the land of the Bible and donate countless dollars and prayer time for the rebuilding of a temple that CHRIST said HE would destroy!
But I want you to imagine the doorway this foolishness opens up. People who know very little Bible as it is, or who sit like baby birds, waiting for their dispensational, seminary-bred, “Doctor of Divinity,” and “Lead Pastor” to shovel loads of propaganda and garbage down their throats. These people are very ripe for the taking. They are so enamored with Israel and anything Hebrew that they would unwittingly become “Messianic Christian” if it meant they would be in greater favor with God. Yes, I am partly blaming Zionism and dispensationalism (popular, watered-down, mainline Christianity) for the problem I am writing against. Who else would be primed for the taking other than Christians who were raised to believe that Jews are somehow more favored than anyone else? It is total nonsense, but this is the religious landscape we have in America.
God is no respecter of persons; he wants as many as are lead to circumcise their hearts NOT their foreskins.
Deut 30:6 – Now we have a wonderful, but greatly hated, point and that is that the LORD is the one who circumcises the heart, not man. Man is dead in trespasses and sins and therefore is utterly incapable of doing anything spiritually pleasing to God. And, so, it must be God who circumcises the heart—again, not the foreskin.
Jer 4:4 – Here we might imagine a contradiction. But circumcision itself is a “cutting off” or “cutting away” of something. So, in taking away the foreskins of our hearts (which, really the LORD enables us to repent and believe), we are being separated unto him. Notice the emphasis on the HEART? Is not the B.I.B.L.E. oh so consistent? God has always been concerned with the heart. Everything done outwardly in the flesh is not capable of saving us. Only the Lord can save men!
Rom 2:29 – Remember Deut 10:16 and how it says God does not respect persons? Paul says in Romans 2:29 that the real Jew is one inwardly—OF THE HEART—and not outwardly in the flesh. What is he saying? A person who is born-again is counted a Jew whereas the person who is not born-again is counted a Gentile. So the real “Jews” are born-again children of God. Hebrew Roots Lunatics, Zionists, Dispensationalists, etc. will accuse me of “spiritualizing” the Bible by my remarks. But do not shoot the messenger. Paul said it first!
Rom 4:11 – If the study on this topic was not already the “last nail” in the proverbial coffin, this one might be. Paul teaches us that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a sign of the faith he had before he was circumcised. That is actually the “circumcision of the heart,” which is by faith. But not only so, we learn that he is the father of the uncircumcision also, implying that the Gentiles after the flesh do not need circumcision to be counted faithful with Abraham. The reason, Paul concludes, is, “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (v. 13). At every turn, we see that righteousness cometh not by the law.
So we conclude this chapter hopefully understanding a little better that the real circumcision is of the heart. A person must be born again by the Spirit of God. The law is weak to bring us salvation but is useful in showing us the need for it. Moreover, we hopefully understand better what Paul meant when he said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly…”