Kevin J. Conner and Ken Malmin

B. Childress
Apr 11 2008 08:00 A.M.

And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their

This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among
you shall be circumcised.

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is
born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised:  and my
covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from
his people; he hath broken my covenant.
"  Genesis 17:9-14

GENESIS 15 describes the formal inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant.  God symbolically "passes between the
pieces," and solemnizes his promise to the patriarch.  Genesis 17 records the institution of the official seal of the
Abrahamic covenant.  The patriarch and his seed receive in their flesh the sign of the covenant.

Between these two monumental chapters, Scripture records the lapse of Abraham's faith.  In spite of the spectacular
vision of covenant inauguration experienced by Abraham in Genesis 15, he nonetheless stumbles into a reliance on the
flesh in Genesis 16.

Possibly it is because of this failure on the part of the patriarch that a more permanent reminder of God's relationship
with him is instituted.  Some abiding sign must be given which will last beyond the visionary stage of experience.  
Circumcision as the seal of the Abrahamic covenant remains permanently with the patriarch to remind of the surety of
the promises.

It is interesting to note in this context the permanently abiding character of the seal of the new covenant.  The covenant-
sealing Holy Spirit abides with the believer until the day of his redemption as a token of his engagement to be the Lord's
(Ephesians 1:13,14).

In dealing with the covenant seal of circumcision, three areas in particular will be noted: the original significance of
circumcision, circumcision in Old Testament history and theology, and the New Testament fulfillment of the Old
Testament seal.

The Original Significance of Circumcision

The formal introduction of the covenantal seal of the old covenant begins with an unequivocal injunction addressed to
the patriarch.  God first recounts his numerous commitments in the covenantal relationship (Genesis 17:6-8).  He shall
make Abraham exceedingly fruitful.  Kings shall come from him.  God will establish his covenant as an everlasting
covenant, to be a God to Abraham and to his seed.  He will give Abraham the land of his sojourning.  All of these things
God will do for the patriarch.

you" (verse 9).  Now emphatically, the Lord of the covenant lays responsibility on his creaturely beneficiary.  
Earlier, God had commanded that Abraham walk before him in obedience with a life-transforming thoroughness (verse
1).  But now he announces with emphasis one specific requirement.  Abraham and his seed have no choice in the
matter.  Divine fiat speaks inescapably:  "You shall keep my covenant, you and your seed after you."

"This is my covenant...every male among you shall be circumcised" (verse 10).  The seal of the covenant relates so
closely to the covenant itself that the covenant may be identified as the seal.  This identification of the covenant by its
seal is expressed even more explicitly in verse 13b:  "my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."  
Far from being an optional aspect of the covenantal bond, the seal is the covenant.

"It shall be for a sign of the covenant" (verse 11).  A sign gives a witness.  It testifies to the reality of the relationship that
has been established.  Circumcision offers its perpetual witness to the reality of the covenantal bond.

"The son of eight days shall be circumcised among you" (verse 12).  Contrary to the general practise of the nations at
large, circumcision for Israel is not to be sign of introduction into manhood, associated with the arrival of puberty.  
Instead, it involves the eight-day-old infant, and therefore emphasizes the principle of solidarity between parents and
children in the covenantal relationship.

"The one who is born in (your) house and the one bought from any stranger which is not of your seed (shall be
circumcised)" (verse 12b).  From the day  of its original institution as a covenant sign, circumcision was open to
gentiles.  It was not intended exclusively as a racial badge, but more broadly as a covenantal sign.

"The uncircumcised male...that soul shall be cut off from his people" (verse 14).  A most severe judgment awaits the
person who rejects this covenantal sign.  He shall be excommunicated from the fellowship of the covenant community.

As this scriptural announcement introduces the seal of the old covenant, the solemnity of God's directive must be
noted.  God has declared that this sign shall be administered among his people.  To treat the sign lightly, or to ignore
the stipulations associated with the sign, is to expose oneself to the judgments of the God of the covenant.

The Theological Significance of the Seal as Originally Instituted

It cannot be maintained that the practice of circumcision originated with Israel.  Not only among Shemites, but among
representatives of practically every other ethnic group, circumcision has been practiced in one form or another.  The
Canaanite contemporaries of Israel stood out quite strikingly as an exception to this rule.

Because of the widespread practice of circumcision among the nations, the unique role of circumcision in the thinking of
Israel must be underscored.  The following points may be noted with  respect to the import of circumcision as originally
instituted for Abraham:

1.  Circumcision symbolized inclusion in the covenant community established by the initiative of God's grace.  It was the
sign of the covenant.  As such, it brought people into relationship with the God of the covenant and into fellowship with
the people of the covenant.

2.  Circumcision indicated the need for cleansing.  The hygienic act of the removal of the foreskin symbolized the
purification necessary for the establishment of a covenant relation between a holy God and an unholy people.

The application of circumcision to the first father of the family line of promise indicated that physical descent alone was
"not sufficient to make true Israelites.  The uncleanness and disqualification of nature had to be taken away."

This understanding of the theological significance of circumcision stands in blankest contrast with subsequent Jewish
misappropriation of the rite.  Circumcision should have humbled the people of Israel by pointing to their innate
unworthiness to be God's people.  Instead, the sign was misunderstood as indicating that they were especially
meritorious before God.  That which should have been for them a source of humility became to them a source of pride.

3.  Circumcision as originally instituted does not suggest merely a need for cleansing.  It symbolizes also the actual
process of cleansing which is needed.  Not only does it indicate that man by nature is impure.  It also represents the
removal of defilement essential for the achievement of purity.

It is significant in this connection to note that the heart of the covenantal relationship connects immediately with the
circumcision-seal.  Because Yahweh will be Israel's God (verse 7), the people must be circumcised.  The holiness of the
God of Israel requires that Israel also be holy.

This cleansing significance of circumcision is brought out forcefully through an allusion to the old covenant rite by Jesus
Christ in John 7:22,23.  In the context of John's Gospel, Jesus' opponents are accusing him for healing a man on the
Sabbath.  The Lord responds by referring to the ancient practice of circumcision, a rite which had been instituted in the
period of the fathers well before the days of Moses.  If his adversaries proceed to circumcise a man on the eighth day
even though that day should fall on the Sabbath, why should not he proceed to heal a man on the Sabbath?  They
make part of a man clean on the Sabbath by circumcision; should he not make a "whole man healthy" on the Sabbath
by healing?

Circumcision, therefore, which is "from the fathers," partially cleanses.  It does not merely communicate the need for
cleansing.  It actually symbolizes and seals the cleansing necessary for covenantal participation.

4.  This cleansing is accomplished by the excision of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ.  The "cutting away" of
a natural part of the human body as a symbol of religious cleansing suggests the necessity of the execution of
judgment as an act essential for purification.  By circumcision the sinner undergoes a judgment that purifies.

5.  The rite of cleansing as originally instituted had for Abraham special significance with regard to the propagation of
the race.  Several factors relate the rite of circumcision to the question of the propagation of the race:

    a)  Quite explicitly, circumcision is instituted for Abraham's seed as well as for Abraham himself.  Before the seed
    had been born, it was determined that the sign of the covenant was to be applied to them.  All subsequent seed,
    without exception, must receive in their flesh the seal of the covenant.

    b)  It is the male reproductive organ that is involved in the rite of circumcision.  For that reason, circumcision has
    special significance with regard to the propagation of the race.

    This single rite serves as the seal for the total bond which God has made with Abraham.  The promise
    concerning the seed, the land, and the blessing all are sealed by this single sign.  But because it is the male
    reproductive organ that is involved in circumcision, it would appear that the rite has special significance with
    regard to the propagation of the race.

    c)  In Israel, circumcision is to be applied to infants eight days of age.  Because of this application of the
    covenantal sign to the infant, it would appear that the sign has special significance with respect to the
    propagation of the race.

What may be concluded from the fact that circumcision has special significance with respect to the propagation of the
race?  Two points may be suggested.

    First, it may be concluded that the rite of circumcision implies that the race is sinful and in need of cleansing.  Sin
    is not merely a matter of the individual, but of the race.  From the point of its original institution, circumcision
    implies the guilt of the race.

    Secondly, the close relation of this covenantal seal to the propagation of the race indicates that God intends to
    deal with families.  God in his work of redemption intends to restore the solidarity of the creation order of the
    family.  Instead of setting the natural order of creation against grace, God sets sin over against grace.  The
    promise of the covenant, sealed by the initiating rite of circumcision, addresses itself to the solidarity of the family

Circumcision in Old Testament History and Theology

Throughout Israel's history, circumcision always is presented as a rite intending to have a God-ward as well as a man-
ward dimension.  At its very essence, circumcision is a covenantal sign between Israel and its God.

This fact indicates that circumcision never should be regarded purely as a national badge, symbolizing only a physical
relationship among the people of Israel.  Indeed, circumcision did have a national significance.  It served to introduce
people into the externally organized community of Israel.  But it also was intended to represent the God-ward
relationship that was the essence of the covenant.

This God-ward dimension of the circumcision-seal manifested its presence in every major epoch of Old Testament
history.  Beginning from the point of its inauguration and extending throughout the history of Israel, circumcision
indicated the status of a man in relation to God as well as his status in relation to the nation of Israel.

Already the theological import of the seal of circumcision at the time of its institution has been discussed. This aspect of
the rite found reinforcement in the days of Moses.  Moses admonished Israel in the plains of Moab to circumcise the
foreskin of their heart, and to be hardened against God no more (Deuteronomy 10:16).  Elsewhere Moses indicated
that God would circumcise the heart of Israel and its descendants, so they would love the Lord with all their heart
(Deuteronomy 30:6).  The outward sign of cleansing symbolized the inner purification necessary for a life of obedience
and love to God.

These texts clearly build on a symbolism of cleansing inherent in the rite of circumcision.  By speaking of heart-
purification, Moses introduces no novel concept of circumcision which was not present from the moment of its original
institution.  It is not that circumcision once meant merely attachment outwardly to the nation of Israel, and now is to
mean something additional.  Instead, Moses simply is making forceful application of the significance of spiritual
cleansing that always belonged to the rite of circumcision.  The application of the term "circumcision" to a process of
heart-cleansing indicates that God's intention from the beginning by the rite of circumcision was to symbolize the inner
purification necessary for the establishment of a proper relation between the holy Creator and the unholy creature.  By
the rite of circumcision men were identified before the world as God's holy people.  It was to their shame that their
hearts did not conform to the holiness that the sacred rite they had received was intended to depict.

Exodus 12:43-49 presents the requirement that non-Israelites must be circumcised to participate in the passover.  The
existence of such a requirement should not be interpreted as evidence of a sense of superiority within the Israelite
nation.  Exactly the opposite implication must be concluded.  Any Gentile might participate in the highest privilege of
Judaism, if he should indicate a willingness to meet the same requirements laid on the Jew himself.

The circumcised Gentile "becomes an Israelite."  Since this is the case, obviously "Israel" cannot be defined simply in
terms of racial distinctives.  As Jacob further states:

And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised,
and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person
shall eat thereof.
"  Exodus 12:48

This participation in the passover on the part of the circumcised Gentile cannot be reduced merely to involvement in an
ethnic or national experience.  Enjoyment of the covenantal fellowship meal with the God of the covenant epitomizes the
significance of Passover.  Those who eat the Passover lamb dwell in comfortable security while the death-angel sent
from God "passes over."

Communion with God and His people is so rich a context requires appropriate preparation.  The Gentile, like the Jew,
must be circumcised in advance of this privilege.  He must receive the appropriate cleansing from the defilement of his
sinful condition.

Because of the momentous significance of participation in the Passover meal, circumcision cannot be reduced to a
racial or national badge.  The God-ward relation of the participant must be involved as well as the man-ward relation.

Evidence in the books of Joshua-Kings also supports this conclusion.  When Israel enters the land of promise, the
people arrive in an uncircumcised condition.  The unbelieving generation had fallen in the wilderness, and the younger
generation had not been circumcised.  In a significant act of faithful obedience to God's command, the people undergo
the debilitating operation of circumcision despite their location in the midst of a hostile territory.

After their healing, the Lord interprets to Joshua the significance of the event.  "
And the LORD said unto Joshua, This
day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.  Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal {or Rolling}
unto this day.
"  Joshua 5:9.  Apparently the description of the removal of Egypt's reproach in terms of a "rolling" alludes
to the process by which the foreskin is removed in circumcision.

Unquestionably the rite of circumcision communicates more than ethnic derivation at this point.  By the process of
circumcision, a cleansing has occurred.  The reproach of Egypt has been removed.  The people no longer abide under
the bondage of an oppressor in an alien land.  Instead, they have become participating heirs in the covenant made with
their fathers.  Circumcision in this instance relates specifically to the promise concerning the possession of the land.

To be heirs of that land which is God's holy possession, the people also must be holy.  This holiness finds its symbolic
accomplishment in the nation's circumcision at Gilgal.

The defiled character of the uncircumcised Philistines appears in sharpest contract with the holiness of God's
circumcised people.  Repeatedly the Philistine enemies of Israel are designated as "uncircumcised."  Goliath is the"
uncircumcised" Philistine (I Samuel 17:26,36).  Saul would rather die than fall into the hands of the uncircumcised (I
Samuel 31:4).  David dreads the prospect of the news of Saul's death spreading into Philistine territory, for then the
daughters of the uncircumcised people would begin to gloat (II Samuel 1:20).

In passages such as these, it is highly unlikely that the term "uncircumcised" refers merely to the non-Israelite character
of the persons involved.  The term is packed with implications of uncleanness, defilement, and unworthiness.

This same conclusion finds support from the employment of the circumcision-imagery by the later prophets of Israel.  
The men of Judah are admonished to circumcise themselves before the Lord, and to remove the foreskins of their
hearts (Jeremiah 4:4).  Already they are Israelites.  Already they possess the "badge" of national membership.  But the
transformation of life-pattern from unrighteousness to righteousness has not been accomplished.  The essence of the
purification symbolized by circumcision needs to be realized in their lives.

From this overview of the significance of circumcision in Old Testament history and theology, it should be evident that
circumcision persistently speaks to the question of man's relation to God.  Never does the rite shrink to a level of being
merely a badge of national membership.  At the point of its inception and throughout Israelite history, circumcision
functions as the sign of the covenant.

The New Testament Fulfillment of the Old Testament symbol

As with all essential elements of Old Testament revelation, the seal of the Abrahamic covenant finds its truth-in-symbol
fulfilled in the New Testament. Several passages in the New Testament comment explicitly on the consummating reality
of the Old Testament seal.  Other portions of New Testament Scripture relate more indirectly to the questions of the
abiding significance of this seal.  In any case, the New Testament does provide an adequate basis for understanding
the role of the reality of the circumcision symbol in the life of the new covenant believer.

Of awesome importance in appreciating the significance of this rite is the fact of the circumcision of Jesus Christ.  As the
glories of the new covenant are being introduced, the "things of the old covenant are not recklessly cast aside."  To
redeem men that were under the law, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the law. Jesus was
conceived by the Holy Spirit and knew no sin.  Yet "to fulfill all righteousness," he underwent the prescribed rites of
cleansing as a sign that he voluntarily was taking on himself the obligations of his people, Jesus submitted first to
circumcision and later to the baptism of John.

The fact that Jesus formally received his name in conjunction with the rite of circumcision helps illuminate the
significance of the act for Christ.  His name is "Jesus," "Jehovah saves" (Luke 2:21).  His cleansing is not for his own
sake, but for the sake of the sinful people whom he is saving.

The clear indication of decisive relief from the external process of circumcision under the new covenant appears in the
narrative concerning the spread of the Gospel among Gentiles in the book of Acts.  The purifying Holy Spirit takes up
residence in uncircumcised Gentiles to the astonishment of circumcised Jewish believers (Acts 10:44-48). If the
covenantal reality of "I shall be your God" may come to pass apart from the external rite of initiation, how is it possible to
continue insisting that Gentiles be circumcised?  The reality of the new covenant does not require that Gentiles become
Jews before they may become Christians.  Instead, it requires that both Jews and Gentiles become new creatures
through their oneness with Christ by means of faith alone.

This revolutionary perspective finds formal ratification at the time of the council of Jerusalem.  Those who would require
that Gentiles be circumcised before they may be received into the fellowship of God's people cannot be sustained (Acts
15:1).  They are answered by reference to the fact that "God who knows the heart" bore witness to the acceptability of
the gentile believers by making no distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised.  He granted the Holy Spirit to
uncircumcised Gentiles just as he had done to Jewish believers (Acts 15:8-9).

Once this principle has been acknowledged, it never can be reversed.  Never again is the formal rite of circumcision to
be imposed upon God's people.  As a matter of fact, the "gospel of circumcision" is an "antigospel."  Paul could not
possibly have expressed himself more pointedly:  "
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall
profit you nothing.
"  Galatians 5:2.

This aggressive affirmation concerning the end of the formal rite of circumcision must not be understood in a
shortsightedly wooden sense.  Paul himself ordered the circumcision of Timothy immediately after receiving the decree
of the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:3).  By following such a procedure, he demonstrated his freedom in Christ to be made
all things to all men, "
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." I Corinthians 9:22.

The usurpation of the circumcision-rite goes much more deeply than a formal forbidding of the external practice of
circumcision.  It speaks to the eschatological character of the present day.  Never again may a return be made to the
older shadow-forms involved in Israel's ritualistic activities.  The reality has had its historical manifestation.  To require
repetition of the formalities of the shadow is to substitute a man-ordered ritual for a God-ordered reality.

There can be no question that the formal rite of circumcision has come to its end so far as its significance for
redemption is concerned.  The testimony of the New Testament clearly affirms this fact.  

However, the reality symbolized in the formal rite of circumcision certainly has significance for the new covenant
believer.  Cleansing from impurity and the incorporation into the covenant community sustains a vital significance for
the Christian.  Several portions of the New Testament Scriptures affirm this fact.

First of all, several passages relate the essence of the new covenant to the circumcision-symbol of the old covenant.  
As reality replaces shadow, so the essence of cleansing replaces its older symbol.

Romans 4:3, 9-12 reads as follows:

3. "

9. "
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also?  for we say that faith
was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10. "
How was it then reckoned?  when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?  Not in circumcision, but in

11. "
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being
uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness
might be imputed unto them also:

12. "
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that
faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Verse 11 particularly is significant.  The circumcision-symbol of the old covenant is related to the essence of the old
covenant.  Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of faith.  Abraham's true
righteousness is associated directly with the outward symbol of circumcision.  The intention of circumcision was to seal
the reality of righteousness.

At the same time, the passage develops two "fatherhoods" for Abraham.  These "fatherhoods" serve to interpret the
consummating reality of the new covenant in terms which indicate a strong line of continuity with the provisions of the
old covenant.  Abraham is father, (1)  of all who have faith without being circumcised  (i.e., believing Gentiles); he is
also the father (2) of circumcised people who, in addition to having experienced the external rite of circumcision, also
walk in the pattern of the faith-steps of Abraham (i.e., believing Jews).

This passage therefore indicates that those related to Abraham by the circumcision-symbol of the old covenant are
joined to the Christ by faith, along with those who experience the essence of circumcision's symbolism without ever
experiencing the external rite itself.  As a result, the circumcision-symbol of the old finds a significant meeting point with
the essence of the new covenant.  The cleansing symbolized in the one corresponds to the reality experienced in the
other.  Old Testament circumcision relates meaningfully to New Testament purification.

It may be that the emphasis on the "fatherhood" of Abraham in these verses intends to allude to the cleansing ritual of
circumcision.  Having direct relation to the organ of propagation, the circumcision of the first father of the faithful
symbolized a purification appropriate for his becoming the head of the line of those who would be justified by faith.

Romans 2:25-29 also relates the essence of the new covenant to the circumcision-symbol of the old.  The following
points in particular may be noted:

    1.  The circumcision symbol of the old covenant has no value whatsoever unless it be joined with the true
    righteousness which it represents.  According to verse 25, "circumcision is of value, if you practice the law; but if
    you are a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.

    2.  The man who experiences the essence of righteousness through the new covenant will be regarded as
    "circumcised" although he actually never has experienced the seal of circumcision (verses 26,27).

    3.  The symbol of circumcision under the old covenant is not the thing which makes a man acceptable to God.  
    Only the true circumcision of the heart by the Spirit accomplishes the cleansing which is sufficient to make a man
    acceptable to God.  (verses 28,29).

These verses presuppose that circumcision continues to have significance in the new covenant context.  It has
significance not as an external rite, but as a symbolic representation of the reality of righteousness.  Circumcision in the
Old Testament symbolizes the righteousness that comes through faith. In the epoch of the new covenant, the external
rite of circumcision is not a requirement for God's people.  But the essence symbolized by the rite must have its true
manifestation in the heart of the believer.

Philippians 3:3 draws the closest possible parallel between the essence of the new covenant and the circumcision
symbol of the old.  "We
are the circumcision," affirms the apostle.  The one who worships in the Spirit of God personifies
the reality of the cleansing rite of the old covenant.

This series of passages relates the circumcision-symbol of the old covenant to the reality of the new.  The verses aid
the new covenant believer in appreciating the significance for himself of the old covenant seal.

Secondly, the application of the same vocabulary of "sealing" to the rite of circumcision and to the possession of the
Holy Spirit provides a bridge to connect the two concepts.  In Romans 4:11, circumcision is described as "a seal of the
righteousness of faith."  Elsewhere, Paul applies the same term in its verbal form to the possession of the Holy Spirit by
the New Testament believer:

[God] Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." II Corinthians 1:22.

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also after that ye
believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
" Ephesians 1:22.

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." Ephesians 4:30.

The application of the same terminology to circumcision and spirit-possession binds the two concepts together.  The
covenant ritual of sealing finds its fulfillment in the new covenant reality of sealing.

Thirdly, the interconnection between the seal of circumcision and the seal of the Holy Spirit provides the formal basis by
which the corresponding purification rites of the old and new covenants relate to one another.  
Circumcision under
the old covenant is replaced by baptism under the new covenant
.  The cleansing rite of the one covenant is
replaced by the cleansing rite of the other.  This relationship between circumcision and baptism finds specific
development in Colossians 2:11,12.

According to Colossians 2, the new covenant believer is not to be taken captive through human tradition (Colossians 2:
8).  The most basic reason he is not to be taken captive is that he now is "in Christ," and all sufficiency is to be found in
him.  Note the repeated emphasis on the "in Christ" theme:

  • In him dwells the fulness of deity bodily (verse 9).

  • In him you have been made complete (verse 10).

  • In him also you were circumcised (verse 11).

    ...having been buried with him in baptism; and in him you were raised through faith in the work of God (verse 12).

The most significant points for the present discussion center on the reference to union with Christ in circumcision, and
the relation of this circumcision to baptism.  Verse 11 affirms that participants in the new covenant experience
circumcision.  In him you were circumcised.  Obviously the allusion cannot be to the physical rite required under the old
covenant.  The Christian experiences the reality of cleansing from defilement symbolized in the rite.

This circumcision is described as being "not made with hands."  It does not owe its origin to man's handiwork.  Instead,
God himself has performed a work of purification within the heart of man.

The old covenant initiating rite of circumcision was peculiarly susceptible to a pure externalism in religion.  This fleshly,
bloody aspect of the rite communicates well its old covenant shadow-form.  In a most definitive sense, it is a rite that is
"made with hands."

After affirming that the Christian does experience the reality of circumcision, Paul elaborates on the significance of this
point.  It involves the "putting away off" of the body of the flesh.  By the use of the doubly prefixed, the apostle appears
to allude specifically to the process of circumcision, in which the foreskin, symbolizing the pollution of the flesh, is "put
away off."

In this expression, Paul has provided a profound illumination of the significance intended in the ritual of circumcision.  
The cutting off of the foreskin of the procreative organ represented the violent removal of the inherently sinful nature of
man.  This same significance now is being applied to the initiation rite of baptism.

Paul states that this circumcision of the new covenant believer is accomplished "in the circumcision of Christ."  This
phrase could refer either to the circumcision which Jesus himself experienced, or the circumcision which Jesus
instituted.  The decision between these two alternatives is difficult.

Paul could be saying that the Christian experienced circumcision at the point in history in which Jesus was circumcised.  
This "circumcision" of Jesus could refer to the rite which he underwent as an eight-day-old infant, or to his
"circumcision," figuratively speaking, at the point of his crucifixion.

On the other hand, Paul could be saying that the Christian experiences "circumcision" by putting away the old man at
the point of his baptism unto Christ.  The "circumcision of Christ" would refer to the circumcision which Christ instituted,
in contrast with the circumcision of the old covenant.

While the decision between these two interpretations may be difficult, the weight of the context appears to support the
second view.  The "circumcision of Christ" is the circumcision which Christ has instituted for the new covenant
participant.  Aside from the fact that the death of Christ is not developed in Scripture explicitly as a "circumcision," the
passage at hand is talking primarily about the application of redemption to the believer rather than its accomplishment
for the believer.  It may be admitted that the experience of the believer is related immediately to the "union with Christ"
concept.  It is "in Christ" that the believer dies and rises again.  Yet the weight of the passage relates specifically to that
point in history at which the Christian is initiated experientially into Christ.

A full appreciation of the significance of these verses hinges on an understanding of the relation of the next phrase to
its context.  Paul says "you were circumcised...having been buried with him in baptism."

This phrase could be understood in one of two ways.  Paul could be saying: "after having been buried with him in
baptism, you were circumcised."  In this case, Paul would be thinking of some experience of the Christian subsequent to
his baptism which could be categorized as his "circumcision."

However, it is much more likely that the two events being described should be understood as occurring simultaneously.  
The "circumcision" of the Christian is not to be understood as following his baptism.  Instead, the two actions are to be
regarded as simultaneous.  The rite of cleansing found in the old covenant finds its fulfillment in the rite of cleansing
ordered in the new.  The thrust of Paul's statement should be represented by coordinating the two actions.  The
meaning of the passage would be communicated best by a rendering such as "when you are buried with him in baptism,
you were circumcised"; or "by being buried with him in baptism you were circumcised."

The net result of Paul's statement is to bind together in closest possible fashion the two rites of circumcision and
baptism.  The apostle simply has laid the one act on top of the other.  In the fullest possible sense, baptism under the
new covenant accomplishes all that was represented in circumcision under the old.  By being baptized, the Christian
believer has experienced the equivalent of the cleansing rite of circumcision.


The Covenants, by Kevin J. Conner and Ken Malmin, Copyright 1983, Bible Temple Publishing.