What did circumcision signify in the Old Testament?

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God uses outward signs and marks

Outward signs teach spiritual truths. They remind us of God’s grace as well as man’s duty and responsibility. For this reason, the Lord has set signs and memorials for different important events. For example, the Sabbath was established as a memorial of creation (Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11). Circumcision was a symbol of Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17:9-10). Baptism signified of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). Also, the Lord’s Supper taught of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Circumcision in the Old Testament

The Lord gave Abraham His covenant saying, “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring” (Genesis 17:10-12). Circumcision was the validation of Abraham’s earlier experience of justification by faith.

Circumcision also became part of the law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3; Luke 2:21). Every male of the Hebrews, whether free or slave, was included. Thus, circumcision, the mark of God’s covenant with Abraham, became a sign to Israel that they were His chosen people.

Circumcision was important

The rite of circumcision was necessary because: (1) It differentiated the seed of Abraham from the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11). (2) It preserved the memory of the God’s covenant (Genesis 17:11). (3) It built the moral purity of the nation (Deuteronomy 10:16). (4) It signified the righteousness that is by faith (Romans 4:11). (5) It represented circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). (6) It prefigured the Christian rite of baptism (Colossians 2:11, 12).

In the New Testament

When the literal nation of Israel crucified Christ, God rejected them as His chosen people (Matthew 23:37-39). His covenant was transferred to the New Testament church – Jews and Gentiles – (1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28).

Paul wrote about Abraham’s covenant saying, “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,  and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11,12).

Consequently, circumcision ceased to have value or worth as a religious ceremony (Acts 15:5, 10, 19, 20, 24, 28, 29; Galatians 2:3–5; 5:2–6; Romans 2:28, 29). And baptism became the sign of accepting Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Circumcision did not bring righteousness, it only gave outward evidence of faith in God. In like manner, baptism does not bring righteousness. It is only a sign of the justification that is experienced before baptism.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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