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Circumcision is a practice that has been a part of many cultures and religions throughout history, including Judaism and Islam. In the Bible, this rite was a physical sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and it was commanded to Abraham as a symbol of his faith and obedience to God (Genesis 17:9-14). In the New Testament, however, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of circumcision in the context of the early Christian church.
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle confronts a group of Jewish Christians who were teaching that Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised and follow Jewish customs in order to be saved (Galatians 5:2-3). Paul opposed this teaching, arguing that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, and that this rite was not necessary for salvation (Galatians 2:16; 5:6).
Paul explains that circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, which was based on the Mosaic law and required strict obedience to its commands (Galatians 3:10-12). However, he emphasizes that the new covenant in Christ is based on His grace and doing His will (Galatians 3:13-14; 5:1). Furthermore, Paul argues that circumcision is not necessary for Gentile believers because they have already been circumcised in a spiritual sense through their faith in Christ (Colossians 2:11-12).
Christians and Circumcision
Today, most Christian denominations are neutral about biblical male circumcision, neither requiring it, nor forbidding it. But since we are no longer under the Mosaic Law as Christians, circumcision is no longer a symbol of salvation. This is brought out in a number of New Testament passages, among which are the following: Acts 15; Galatians 2:1-3; 5:1-11; 6:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:17-20; Colossians 2:8-12; Philippians 3:1-3.
These passages affirm that being saved is received through faith in Christ. The Redeemer saves us from our sins, and it is this act of turning from our sin and self-righteousness to reliance upon Christ’s finished work on the cross that makes us “circumcised of heart.” The works of the flesh accomplish nothing.
In Acts 16:3, Paul had Timothy circumcised so that his being uncircumcised would not be a hindrance to them as they sought to reach out to the unsaved Jews on their missionary journeys. Thus, although the Bible gives Gentile (non-Jewish) believers the liberty of not being circumcised, it was a liberty that Timothy was willing to give up for the sake of reaching out to unsaved Jews.
Circumcision in the Medical Field
There are various potential medical benefits associated with circumcision. Some of the medical benefits that have been suggested include:
- Reduced risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Studies have found that circumcision may reduce the risk of acquiring certain STIs, including HIV, herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV). It is thought that the removal of the foreskin may reduce the risk of these infections by decreasing the amount of mucosal surface area exposed to potential pathogens.
- Reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs): Circumcision has been associated with a lower risk of UTIs, particularly in young boys. This may be due to the fact that the foreskin can trap bacteria, making it more difficult to keep the area clean.
- Lower risk of penile cancer: Although penile cancer is rare, circumcision has been associated with a lower risk of developing this type of cancer. It is thought that this may be due to the fact that the foreskin can trap infectious agents, which can contribute to the development of cancer.
- Improved hygiene: Some proponents of circumcision argue that it can improve hygiene by making it easier to keep the penis clean. This may be particularly important in areas with limited access to clean water and soap.
Ultimately, the decision to undergo circumcision today should be based on a careful consideration of the potential benefits and risks, as well as personal and cultural factors. It is recommended that individuals consult with a healthcare provider to discuss the potential benefits and risks of circumcision in their individual case.
In His service,