What is Circumcision?

A Rite of Identification

The rite of circumcision was instituted by God for Abraham and his descendants through Isaac as the token of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 17:1-10, 21). All Jewish males, eight days old, were required to be circumcised, although Abraham was 89 years old when he was circumcised. Any non-Jews who wished to become members of the commonwealth of Israel were required to submit to the rite of circumcision, whatever their age might be (see Genesis 34:14-17, 22; Exodus 11:48).

Often the term circumcision is used in reference to people of the Jewish community, just as the term uncircumcision is used for Gentile people (see Galatians 2:7-8; Colossians 3:11). Circumcision also means, in the New Testament, the significance of putting away all carnal lusts of the flesh (see Colossians 2:11).

Is Circumcision Required For Salvation?

The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of circumcision in Romans and in several of the other letters he wrote in the New Testament. Paul concluded that circumcision was not necessary for someone in order to be saved, but faith was necessary in order to be saved and go to heaven.

“Since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Romans 3:30

“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” 1 Corinthians 7:19

Paul notes the rite of circumcision in relationship to Jewish believers and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers is not the central issue with regard to salvation. There is no need to for a Gentile convert to be circumcised. On the other hand, there is no obligation incumbent upon a Jewish convert to be uncircumcised. In the New Testament, this rite had no direct reference on the life of faith (see Romans 2:25, 29; Galatians 5:6; Acts 15). (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II, p. 433)

“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Galatians 5:2

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6

To accept the rite of circumcision as a condition of salvation is to abandon the liberty for which Christ liberated us and to bind one’s self to the slavery of legalism. Depending on circumcision, or any other work, means renouncing justification by grace through faith (in Christ) and takes one out of the spirit of grace (“fallen from grace”) and puts him under the dominion of the law. (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II, pp. 530-531.)

Circumcision affects only the outward physical body, not the soul. A surgical operation can have absolutely no effect on the old nature. But a new creature, the only thing that is important is to be a new creature in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). In the new man, there is an obligation of outward distinctions. National privilege has been obliterated; ceremonial standings have been obliterated; cultural and social castes all have been obliterated, and “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Vol. II pp. 536, 598).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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