Circumcision: who needs it?

A friend from college who is now married posed an interesting question to me last week: What is your take on circumcision?  If someone was about to have a son, and they asked your opinion on whether or not to have him circumcised, what would you tell them?

From a Biblical perspective, circumcision is no longer required of New Testament believers. Why? Circumcision was an external physical sign of commitment to the old covenant. That has been replaced in the New Testament by baptism–which is the external physical sign of commitment to the New covenant. So, biblically speaking, circumcision isn’t necessary.

From a health perspective, circumcision may be best. My understanding is that it decreases the potential for health complications. From a societal perspective, it may certainly prevent ridicule from other boys for being the odd man out in “locker room” contexts.

Some interesting scripture passages on circumcision are:

  • Luke 2:21 Jesus was circumcised
  • Acts 10:45 Circumcised Jewish believers are amazed that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on uncircumcised gentile believers
  • Acts 15:1-35 The elders in Jerusalem determine that circumcision should not be placed on the gentile believers as a prerequisite to salvation. Instead, they place on them several restrictions that were life decisions that flow from salvation.
  • Acts 16:3 Immediately following this decision by the Jerusalem council, Paul has Timothy circumcised because he believes they are going to minister to Jews who know that Timothy comes from a greek background. For these jews, it would be a stumbling block for Timothy not to be circumised (although I am not sure how they would know), so Paul has him circumcised as an adult as a way to contextualize the messenger to the audience of jews.
  • Romans 2:25-29 Paul contrasts the external circumcision of the Jews with the internal circumcision of believers
  • Romans 4:9-12 Paul indicates that Abraham is the father of the Jews because of their link of external circumcision of the flesh and he is the faither of believers because of their link of internal circumcision of the heart
  • 1 Corinthians 7:18-19 Circumcision is a secondary concern relative to the primary concern of obedience to God’s commands
  • Galatians 2:3 Though Paul’s ministry partner Timothy had been circumcised, another ministry partner who was a greek (Titus) was not compelled to be circumcised
  • Galatians 5:1-6 A key passage: it seems initially that Paul demands no circumcision (v. 2-3), but v. 6 reveals what he is really driving at–the issue is not whether you are circumcised but the issue is faith working through love.
  • Galatians 6:12-15 Some were demanding circumcision as a way to avoid persecution from the world
  • Philippians 3:2-3 Paul contrasts true and false circumcision
  • Colossians 2:11 Paul explains the new covenant circumcision
  • Colossians 3:11 There is no distinction in the eyes of God between the externally circumcised and the uncircumcised because they are all in Christ

That is a pretty exhaustive list. I hope it helps. The bottom line is: circumcision is irrelevant for salvation but it may be best to be culturally relevant in a society that commonly practices it.


2 thoughts on “Circumcision: who needs it?

  1. Thanks for the helpful comments on circumcision. It is very important to note that although there is a connection between circumcision and baptism, the two are not equal in respect to the Old and New Covenants. Only some who were circumcised under the Old Covenant were regenerate (ex. the remnant), but ALL people who are baptized in the New Covenant are regenerate. The New Covenant inaugurated by Christ is greater (Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 36:22-28)! This is so important in understanding why we do not baptize infants (like Presbyterians), for they overspiritualize circumcision in the OC and underspiritualize baptism in the NC.

    Thanks for the time you put into blogging – it is a very helpful resource.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s