Note: This is a re-post of a blog originally published here with the author’s permission.
A prayer sample before reading:Lord, you know me, you know my situation. You know I seek answers, YOU know my needs and what I need to hear concerning circumcision. I cannot make any decision holy and sanctified without you. I surrender myself to you, I give myself to you daily, give me the ability to lay down my own desires in Jesus’ name. I invite the Spirit of the Lord into this very room in my presence to stir up my heart and to convict me. Spirit be with me in Jesus’ name. You are welcome here. Break my heart for what breaks yours, heal me, show me who you are, let me know you more. With every word I read of your scripture today, make it clear to me, I accept the understanding you grant me. In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.
Why write about circumcision?
Many Christians still believe that Christianity “requires” you to circumcise your baby boys. Some Christian families believe circumcising their newborn boys is a “family decision” or “it’s the right choice for us.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, or maybe even said it yourself.
Here’s the thing. Choosing circumcision for a baby is not a gray area. It’s not “well, it’s right for us but wrong for you.”
Either circumcision for a baby is what God wants, or it isn’t. Either it’s right or it’s wrong. Either it’s for Him, or against him.
If you are a Christian, you likely believe the Bible is spirit-breathed, and that the authors were lead by the Spirit of the Lord to write specific words that were divinely inspired. In this case, you believe the Bible is true and the word of God (even the bits about penises).
The part that Christians tend to misunderstand can be found in 1 Corinthians 7:19:
“It is not important if a man is circumcised or not. The important thing is obeying God’s commands.”
Reading these 7 words have thrown Christian families into confusion, fueling the belief that God must not care whether we cut sons or not.
The Bible is like a puzzle. We can’t take one verse and make life changing decisions from it. It is only one piece to the puzzle. We can’t see the whole picture unless we have continued to read on. This verse alone will not justify the decision to cut your son’s penis. I encourage you to study the New Testament, and read along with me with the chapters and verses contained here.
Paul the Apostle wrote 7 New Testament books. He was ethical, brave, specific and controversial. He spoke about hard-hitting subjects that people found offensive. Sometimes I laugh when I wonder if he would have even been pleasant to be around. (But the Lord uses us as we are, pleasant or not, doesn’t he?)
Can you guess what one of the main controversial subjects was? He brought it up often, without reservation! You guessed it. Circumcision. In 4 of the 7 books Paul wrote, he speaks of circumcision. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Philippians all address this controversial topic, while other New Testament books discuss it even further, including Acts, Ephesians, Colosians and Titus.
What can we deduce from the fact that Paul and the New Testament authors mention circumcision so much?
- Circumcision was a topic discussed often in Biblical times.
- There was a specific message about circumcision Paul wanted to deliver.
- Paul wanted to clarify this message.
- He wanted to make sure many people heard this message.
- Paul (and other authors) felt the topic of circumcision was important enough to discuss it on multiple occasions.
- Not only did the authors find the subject of circumcision important, but God does too.
Is Circumcision required for Christians? For salvation?
Follow along with me in Romans, where Paul discusses “The Law” or the laws of the Old Testament.
Remember, there’s tons of old rules in the OT that we don’t follow anymore, because Christ died on the cross for us and took the place of all those old rules – laws like animal sacrifice, putting kidnappers to death, women not being allowed to cut their hair, etc. These rules are much too lengthy and impossible to follow and were a “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear.” (Acts 15 and the conflict over circumcision)
Paul explains the death of the OT regulations beautifully and powerfully in Colossians 2:13-15:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us and all our sins, having canceled the written code (=the OT laws) with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Furthermore, he says in Romans 4:9-12:
“We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
Through these verses, we know that Abraham was not righteous or a child of God because of his circumcision, but that his righteousness came before his actual circumcision, when he made the choice to be faithful to God before he had ever become circumcised. Paul is using Abraham as an example to show that we can be sure we also have the same blessing to receive grace freely, without any act made by our own human effort, and definitely without circumcision.
Romans 6:14: “[…]you are not under the law, but under grace.”
Galatians 5:18: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Paul specifies that we are not under the law. Circumcision is a part of the old law. This is a recurring theme through out the book of Galatians.
We have freedom through Jesus’ sacrifice. We are not bound by any rules, we receive the gifts of the promise freely through faith! Praise God for being such a gracious giver. I urge you to read the entire book of Galatians in full to completely understand how the old laws have been abolished and replaced with the sacrifice Christ has made for us.
What about Titus?
We read in Galatians 2:3-5 about Paul and Titus:
Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Titus was not circumcised “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved.” Titus was kept physically whole as an example to everyone of the freedom we have in Christ. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty interesting. We have freedom in Christ, this we know. Can we also keep future sons intact to demonstrate the freedom they also have in Him?
Consider also Galatians 5:1:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Again, Paul uses the word slavery in the same discussion as circumcision. What does this show us?
He begins these next several sentences (v. 2-6) with “Mark my words!” It means pay attention. Wake up. Listen up. He really means what he is about to say.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
We are made holy through Jesus – not the law and definitely not circumcision.
Here we find the ever-controversial statement “circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” What is Paul actually saying here? In Jesus – when it comes to salvation, circumcision cannot have value. It does not save, it does not damn. It gives us no upper hand in Jesus.
It’s worthless. Useless. Profitless. Empty. A meaningless cutting of the body.
Circumcision is not required for Christians. It is not required for salvation. We are under grace and faith of Christ alone.
Should Christians take a neutral stance on infant circumcision? “It’s okay for your family but not for mine…?”
We continue with Galatians 5:7-12 here into the next paragraph. Paul still is speaking of circumcision.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Whoa. Hold. The. Phone. Paul is really mad here. I mean, did he just suggest that someone cut off their entire manhood? It sure looks that way.
Other translations use the word mutilate or castrate. The King James Version suggests that they cut themselves off from Christ altogether, that is how offensive the “circumcision group” was.
Note: The original word used is apokopsontai (ἀποκόψονται), a form of the word apokopto used several times throughout the Bible and could insinuate both or either of the following meanings: to either cut off the body part that is being referred to, or to be cut off from Christ. The same word is also used in Mark 9:43 (to cut off a hand), Mark 9:45 (to cut off a foot), John 18:10 (to cut off an ear), John 18:26 (to cut off an ear), and Acts 27:32 (to cut off ropes holding a boat.)
The “agitators” Paul speaks of refers to the ‘circumcision group’, or people that pressured others to be circumcised. In Titus 1:11, the author writes the circumcision group “must be silenced.” They were Jewish Christians who taught that circumcision was required for salvation, among other offensive teachings, such as not partaking in meals with uncircumcised Gentiles (Galatians 2:12).
Similarly, in Philippians 3:2-3, Paul says, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
Again, Paul is using some pretty strong language here. He compares the agitators to dogs and calls them “evildoers.” Ouch. He says it is we who are the circumcision – the church, the family of believers. We are not set apart by our flesh, but by our spirits.
Many of the NT authors explain the hatred they have for the perversion of the gospel implemented by the Jewish Christians that preached circumcision (Titus 1:14-16). Why, then, would we step backwards into the Old Testament laws and relive the slavery we were in? We have been set free! The OT rules have been nailed to the cross! They have been put to death. They are abolished! “He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Circumcision has been beaten, grace overcomes. The old law was a curse and Paul exclaims it saying “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.”
Has Christ died for nothing? Have we not been redeemed? Shall we go on living as we once did – in slavery, in a curse? No!
Not only should Christians reject circumcision for their sons, but we should proudly proclaim the truth that we are free from living that way any longer, that we are not bound by this yoke of slavery’. We are free in Him and are a new creation. Our debts have been canceled. The old way has been crucified and renewed.
When someone asks if I circumcised my son, I should yell it from the rooftops, “No! I was not obligated to put my son through pain because Jesus died for us! That is the old way but Jesus rose again and he set things straight!” What a great testimony this would be!
Thank you, Jesus, for the freedom you provided, and that we all have a chance to keep future sons intact as an example to everyone of the freedom and wholeness we have in You, just like Titus.
- Christians and Infant Circumcision: Where Should I Stand? - April 3, 2018