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What did circumcision signify in the Old Testament?

God’s Signs

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.

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).

Circumcision in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the Gentiles were not required to keep the Mosaic law of circumcision. Paul specifically said, “Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:18, 19).

The apostle Paul here stressed that neither the keeping of the Jewish ceremony of circumcision nor failure to do so could affect a person’s relationship with the Lord through faith in Christ. He taught that outward obedience and keeping to the law has no merit without faith in the Savior (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). The converted believer is received by God, not because of any good deeds that he may do, but because of his faith in the ultimate salvation done for him by the Redeemer on carvery (John 3:16; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8, 9).

As circumcision was for the physical Israelite the sign of his covenant relationship with God, baptism became that sign for the Christian in the New Testament to their relationship with God. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11–12).

Circumcision was a ritual of the Mosaic law which was a temporary, ceremonial law of the Old Testament. This law was abolished at the cross (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14-17). This rite 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). Do people still circumcise today? Yes, and that is for health reasons, but of itself, this rite holds no more religious value.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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