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What Scripture Says About Salvation

A Bible Study by Fred Kenison

 

Monograph 6:  Circumcision


 

 

Circumcision in the Old Testament

Circumcision in the New Testament

 

Summary Highlights of Monograph 6

 

 

The title for this monograph may seem peculiar to many.  However, a study of the word circumcision shows that even in the beginning God wanted men to realize that salvation is of him.  The bane of humanity has been the constant effort of men trying to demand salvation from God because of their works.  Even in Genesis, God not only provided salvation, he also bestowed and sustained it by his grace.  The continuing story throughout the scriptures is one of God's grace and providence for his people.

 

Men are the recipients of salvation, but their works, faith, or obedience never create it.  If men were able to bring about their salvation, then it would no longer be of grace, nor of God.  Throughout history, men have appeased heathen gods by offerings or good works. 

 

The way many "Christians" live today shows little distinction between the demands of heathen gods and a God of grace.  If nothing else, this study will help clarify what that distinction ought to be.

 

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Circumcision in the Old Testament

 

The first mention of circumcision occurs in Genesis, as a result of the covenant the Lord made with Abraham.  In Genesis 17:1, the Lord first introduced himself as Almighty God, or in the Hebrew, El Shaddai

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.  And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly." 

 

The name Almighty God comes from the Hebrew word, shad, which means pap or teat.  El Shaddai, literally the breasted one, is the one from whom flows all the needs of mankind; mankind must only feed upon the things provided by him.  He is the all-sufficient one for all men's needs.  The Lord told Abraham that if he would walk before him and be perfect, or complete, then he would supply everything Abraham needed for that perfection, because he was El Shaddai.

 

 Genesis 17:2 says,

"And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly."

 

 The Lord said he would give an unconditional covenant to Abraham, which was a statement of what the Lord would do for him.  Please note that the Lord said "my" covenant, not "our" covenant.

 

Genesis 17:3-14 covers the terms of the covenant. 

"And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,  As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.  Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.  And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.  And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.  And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.  And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.  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."

 

This was a unilateral covenant from God; Abraham was the recipient, but he did nothing to create it.  Abraham simply had to acknowledge, by circumcision, that he and his descendants were recipients of God's grace, the covenant. 

 

Please notice that circumcision was not part of the covenant, but only a token or sign that Abraham and his posterity were the ones who had received it, and were keeping or observing this as a fact of their lives. 

 

Notice, too, that seven times in this passage, God called this covenant "my covenant," and he said that it would be in their flesh for an everlasting covenant.

 

The Lord presented himself to Abraham as El Shaddai, the breasted one, because he wanted Abraham to look to him for his every need.  Every good and perfect gift is from God, and he wanted Abraham to nourish himself with this knowledge.  Chapter 11 of Hebrews says that Abraham was faithful, because he took his nourishment from El Shaddai.

 

The basic Hebrew word translated faith is derived from aman, or the English amen.  The original meaning of aman was to nurse or suckle as a babe.  When Abraham believed God, he was nourishing himself on the promises of God and he found him faithful, or true.  God admonished Abraham to keep, or observe, the covenant he had given him, and Abraham did this by believing that God would do what he had promised.  It was through this believing that Abraham was nourished or built up.

 

Another example of how Abraham took his spiritual nourishment from El Shaddai is found in Romans 4:3, which says,

"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." 

 

Because of the condition in which man was created, it should be as natural for him to suckle, nurse, or get his spiritual nourishment from God, as for a baby to go to its mother's breast.  God has given every man a measure of faith which is the ability to nourish himself from God.

 

To keep, or observe, the covenant made by God, Abraham simply had to believe God was true to his word, and God counted him righteous because he believed.  This must have been quite an accomplishment, especially when God told him that even though he was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, they would have a child.  Yet, Abraham believed!

 

Exodus 12:48 says,

"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." 

 

God demanded that anyone who partook of the Passover feast was to be circumcised.  First circumcision, then participation.  The Israelite people were the ones through whom God would bring about his covenant given to Abraham.  Other people could become proselytes to the Israelite nation and thereby become an heir of Abraham entitled to participate in the blessings of the covenant.  Proselytes, too, were to be circumcised, or to have the sign of the covenant in their flesh.  They, too, were to nourish themselves on the promises of God.

 

Leviticus 12:3 says that the Lord also told Moses that every Israelite boy was to be circumcised:  

"And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." 

 

Notice that circumcision is something which is done for them by someone else.  An eight day old baby is not capable of performing such surgery himself; he could not even make a decision about it.  Yet, he was to bear the token of God's covenant in his flesh.  This promise from God was extended to him by grace.  The blessings of the covenant were his to enjoy when he grew old enough to understand the privileges inherent in the token of the covenant in his flesh.

 

God provided Moses a gigantic leap in knowledge about a greater meaning of circumcision.  Deuteronomy 10:12-16 says,

"And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,  To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?  Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is.  Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.  Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked."

 

This circumcision is of the heart, or the innermost being of man, which is the seat of rebellion against God and his laws.  What God asked of them is summarized in Deuteronomy 11:1

"Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway."

 

Note in Deuteronomy 10:13 that God said all of this was for their good, and not to fulfill his covenant given to them.  God wanted the Israelites to turn to him for their nourishment, because if they feed on him for spiritual strength, their physical deeds will also be a blessing to them.

 

Leviticus 26 lays out God's blessings that the Israelites would receive through obedience, or faithfulness, as well as the consequences of disobedience, or unbelief.  If they continued in disobedience, or unbelief, they would be removed from the land and taken captive by their enemies. 

 

Leviticus 26:43-45 says,

"The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.  And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God.  But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the Lord."

 

God was emphasizing that his covenant is unconditional, everlasting, and irrevocable.  He gave it, and he will be true to his word regardless of what the recipients do.  However, to disregard the blessings of it would bring about dire results.

 

Men today still disregard the blessings of God's grace and refuse to be nurtured, through faith, from the All-Sufficient God.  They reap the results of their own fleshly works, and then cry that God is punishing them.  Sin always has bad results, but men still insist on feeding themselves from the trough of their own efforts instead of from the graces, or gifts, of God.  As stated in Leviticus, men will receive the punishment of their iniquities, or the result of their sin.

 

Leviticus 26:41 referred to the rebellion and disbelief of Israel as uncircumcised hearts. 

"And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity." 

 

Obedience to the hope engendered by God's covenant will result in obedience to his precepts of morality.  The disobedience and immorality of the Israelites resulted in an uncircumcised heart.

 

The Israelite nation was one of the first in recorded history to have a concept of morality affecting the innermost being of a person (the heart).  Through God's revelation, circumcision was shown to be  (1) a token in the flesh of God's covenant, and (2) a reflection that true belief in God's faithfulness to his covenant should be evidenced by morality in the lives of those who believe. 

 

In other words, proper, loving works are the evidence of faith in the promises of God.  When these works are absent that is also proof of unbelief, or an uncircumcised heart.

 

Jeremiah 9:23-26 says,

"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:  But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.  Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised;  Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart."

 

The Israelites were treating circumcision as a means of salvation instead of a symbol of God's deliverance, which was its true meaning.  In doing so, they developed outer forms of religion which allowed them to do something in order to become partners with God, instead of simply being recipients of his grace.  This unfortunate attitude caused God to call them uncircumcised.  The Israelites had successfully removed themselves from grace and established themselves under law, which no man could fulfill until the coming of Jesus.

 

This attitude has grown to the point that it is now mankind's greatest hindrance to peace with God.  This affliction is still with men today, and it rears its ugly head whenever men tell others what they must do to go to heaven.  Depending on the denomination, this may require keeping the sacraments, being baptized in a particular manner, being "born again," asking Jesus to come into your heart, believing, asking God to forgive your sins, receiving the baptism of the spirit, being baptized in the name of Jesus only, and on and on.  By making these claims, they completely miss the truth of the gospel: that salvation is of grace, not circumcision-that God had opened the way for people to go directly to himself.

 

The Israelites thought bearing the token of the covenant in their flesh was all that was required for them to be pleasing to God, but God told them they were mistaken.  In fact, God expected the promise of his covenant to affect their lives, which it would if they believed properly.  Jeremiah 4:4 stated this very graphically: 

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."

 

The nation of Israel displayed varied consecration to God, from obedience and hope in his covenant to an almost complete disregard of the things of God.  They participated in the religions of the heathen nations about them.  Perhaps they wanted to be true to God and his precepts but lacked the strength to do so because they were trying to accomplish it through their own efforts. 

 

As this study gets into the New Testament, we will discover that God had already, in mind at least, made further provisions for men to live the godly lives which he desired so they could enjoy his blessings.

 

The word circumcision was not used again in a physical sense after Joshua 5.  Before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan to enter the promised land, God told Joshua to circumcise the males again.  The reason is found in Joshua 5:4-7: 

"And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt.  Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised.  For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: unto whom the Lord sware that he would not show them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.  And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way."

 

After Joshua 5, all mention of circumcision in the Old Testament was in relation to the heart.  Nevertheless, the Israelites incorporated the rite of circumcision into their system of laws as the means of salvation.  No one, they believed, could have salvation without physical circumcision.  This made salvation of circumcision instead of God's grace.  Circumcision became the payment they made to God for salvation. 

 

By doing this, the Israelites made themselves partners in the covenant God gave Abraham and his heirs.  It was no longer "my (God's) covenant," but had become "our covenant."  They saw themselves as a party to the covenant instead of simply being the recipients of its benefits.

 

Accepting this belief completely distorted God's original concept, that the covenant was completely unconditional.  Law works, or keeping the law,  now became the norm, and this laid the groundwork for Paul's great argument of grace versus law works, or circumcision.  When Paul took exception to the Jewish law that salvation was of circumcision, they actively persecuted and harassed him.

 

This basic disagreement-grace versus law works-continues into our own day.  The only difference is that circumcision as a means of salvation has been replaced by either faith, baptism, sacraments, or a variety of denominational rules.  Men still feel that it is necessary to do something in order to earn their salvation instead of simply accepting what God has already freely given them. 

 

Although "salvation by grace" is a popular sermon topic, it is so structured that the end result is not a salvation of grace but one of works.  If men can do something to earn salvation, they are not nearly as humiliated as when they can only be recipients of a God-given gift.

 

Many, if asked when they were saved, will say, "I was baptized on a specific date," or, "I believed on a specific date," or, "I accepted Jesus as my savior on a specific date," or similar statements.  The specific action on a specific date implies that they did something to cause God to save them. 

 

The result of this thinking effectively makes them a partner in God's covenant, rather than a recipient.  This changes their total reliance upon God.  It now depends on what they did as well as on the grace of God.  This is a synergistic faith and a synergistic salvation.  Anything that makes man a partner in the process of salvation is not of God's grace.

 

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Circumcision in the New Testament

 

When the Jews confronted Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath, he said,

"Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the Sabbath day circumcise a man.  If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?" (John 7:22-23). 

 

When the eighth day fell on the Sabbath the Jews set aside the law of the Sabbath and allowed the law of Moses about circumcision to take precedence.  Why, then, should he (Jesus) not be allowed to completely heal a man whose need was great by also allowing this man's need to take precedence over the Sabbath law?

 

Stephen was called before the council to answer false charges brought against him.  In his defense, he cited the history of the Israelite nation and their continued rebellion against God.  The final charges he levied against them are found in Acts 7:51-53: 

"Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:  Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it."

 

One of the greatest insults to an orthodox Jew was being called uncircumcised.  Stephen was saying that in their uncircumcised condition (of the heart) it was simply impossible for them to hear God, or to hear those who spoke the word of God to them.  These were strong words!  The Jews were so distraught emotionally that they gnashed at him with their teeth, threw him out of the city, and stoned him to death.

 

The controversy over circumcision was a volatile theological argument in the early churches, and has continued in one form or another right up to our own day.  The circumcised Jews accused Peter of breaking their law concerning eating with the Gentiles, or even entering their homes.  Acts 11:1-3 says,

"And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.  And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,  Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them." 

 

Peter answered by telling them about his vision from God concerning unclean animals (Acts 11:4-10).  When Peter, being an obedient Jew, refused to eat, God said that what he had cleaned Peter should not call unclean.  Peter recognized that he was not to call any man unclean.  In other words, any man can be under the grace of God without circumcision.

 

Chapter 15 of Acts records the story of how Peter also came to Paul's defense over the issue of circumcision.  Jewish believers began to follow Paul, trying to disrupt his work by insisting that Gentile converts had to be circumcised.  As far as these Jewish believers were concerned salvation still came by circumcision, regardless of what Jesus had done.  These were believing Jews, Christians! 

 

At this time, Peter definitely agreed with Paul that circumcision was not an essential part of salvation.  But, the two different viewpoints continued to develop, eventually causing enmity even between Peter and Paul.

 

The TDOT (Vol. 6, p. 83) presents an interesting viewpoint. 

"Decisive for the spread of the gospel in the ancient world was the fact that Paul put into practice in a battle against Judaism the insight of faith which he had gained from life in Christ.  In Antioch the Jewish Christianity of Jerusalem had laid down that the salvation of the uncircumcised Christians was dependent on their accepting the covenant sign.  This constituted a fundamental challenge in the theology of Paul and the original apostles in Jerusalem, the so-called Apostolic Council.  Paul rejected the Jewish Christian demand, and there was agreement to differ.  Galatians 2:7 shows us, of course, that fundamentally freedom from Judaism was simply noted in Jerusalem; in fact, for all the mutual loyalty, the two fronts remained...neither then, nor later, was any compromise reached which would have finally united the two parties, but compelled either the one or the other to revise basically its theological position." 

 

Thus, the sides were drawn and they are still active antagonists today.

 

Although Peter agreed with Paul that circumcision was only a sign of the covenant and not necessary for the salvation of either Gentiles or Jews, he no doubt had much pressure to change his stance. 

 

For about the first 50 years, the young Christian church was recognized by most of the Jewish rabbis and synagogues as simply another arm of the Jewish faith.  After all, Jesus was a Jew, and he came from Jewish parents.  Therefore, this new religion would be accepted by the "broad-minded" and "democratic-minded" majority of the Jews as another development of their faith.  Of course, with this attitude, they expected to supervise this arm of the faith and make sure it met at least some of the basic concepts of Judaism.

 

This was the case when Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to debate with the council about whether proselytes to the faith had to be circumcised.  Their answer, in Acts 15:29, was,

"That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well." 

 

Meeting these requirements would allow the proselytes into the synagogue for worship on the most rudimentary level.  But to be accepted fully, which was what Paul wanted, they must be circumcised and keep the law.

 

This was also the approximate situation which Paul wrote about in the book of Romans.  In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul was playing the part of an accuser or adversary of men, including himself.  Acting the part of a prosecuting attorney before God, he accused everyone of coming short of the glory of God and being sinners.  That included both Jews, who had circumcision and the law, and Gentiles, who had neither.  Paul challenged the concept that circumcision was necessary to be counted as a righteous person.

 

After showing that the Jews and the Gentiles were equally sinners before God, Paul summarized his charges in Romans 2:23-29: 

"Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?  For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.  For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

 

In these seven verses, Paul directly confronted the two main points of the Jewish faith: law and circumcision.  He pointed out that although the Jews had the outward sign of circumcision in their flesh and kept the law in an outward fleshly manner, they were actually as uncircumcised as a Gentile.  And, if an uncircumcised Gentile kept the law in an inner manner of heart and life, then his uncircumcision became circumcision and he was inwardly a Jew, and should be considered as though he were circumcised outwardly in the flesh.

 

The Jews saw Paul's argument as an attack on the very essence of their existence as God's chosen people.  They failed to see that their ideas of what constituted real righteousness had been perverted.  Their concept of circumcision made them a second party to the covenant God had given Abraham.  They believed that keeping the law and being circumcised opened the way from man to God.  Paul was trying to dispel this idea by telling them the law only revealed sin, and along with Jeremiah, he taught that the circumcision pleasing to God was the circumcision of the heart.

 

Paul used Abraham as an example of what he argued.  In Romans 4:9-12, he asked

"Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.  How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.  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:  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."

 

Paul was saying that circumcision was only a sign or symbol of the righteousness which Abraham had while he was still uncircumcised.  Furthermore, circumcision itself was not a means for acquiring God's judgment of righteousness.  It was simply a sign, nothing more, nothing less.

 

The Jews, of course, argued that Paul was trying to do away with the law.  Paul, however, taught nothing of the sort.  He was trying to get them to see that there were at least two sides to these questions; and given the light from the life and sacrifice of Jesus, they had chosen the wrong one. 

 

I Corinthians 7:19 clearly shows that Paul never advocated doing away with the law: 

"Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God."

 

Paul ended his arguments concerning circumcision and its place in the righteous judgment of God with his statement in Romans 15:8-12: 

"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:  And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.  And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.  And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.  And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust."

 

Paul taught that righteousness was not attained by outward circumcision and keeping the law.  Many Jewish believers believed that salvation required Jesus plus circumcision and keeping the law.  Others believed that Jesus had fulfilled the law and circumcision.  The tension between the two groups became so strong that a rupture in their relationship was inevitable.

 

The Jewish believers who wanted both law and Jesus sent teachers to the churches Paul had founded to insist that converts still had to be circumcised and keep the law.  This threatened the concept of grace taught by Paul, and he reacted very strongly to this challenge. 

 

Paul's letter to the Galatians warned of the consequences if these beliefs were accepted and added to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He told the Galatians that such an idea was a perversion of the gospel of Christ.  His words in Galatians 1:8-9 are especially strong: 

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." 

 

Christ had only one gospel.

 

Paul also gave the Galatians an historical review of his actions before and after going to Jerusalem.  In Chapter 2, he told how Jewish believers in Jerusalem sought to have Titus circumcised.  In verse 2:5, he said,

"To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." 

 

Paul equated the truth of the gospel with the denial of anything which is added to the work of Christ.

 

Galatians 2:7-9 says,

"But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;  (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision." 

 

Paul commended Peter for his effective work with the Jews.  Remember, too, that Peter had been preaching that circumcision was not necessary to salvation.

 

However, Peter changed positions again, and Paul wrote in Galatians 2:11-14: 

"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.  For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" 

 

Peter evidently had succumbed to the pressure and reverted to requiring that Gentile converts be circumcised.

 

Paul preached a short, concise statement of the true gospel to Peter and those with him, one which they had previously acknowledged as truth.  Galatians 2:15-21 says,

"We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,  Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.  But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.  For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.  I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."

 

Paul explained that the works of the law, or circumcision, can never cause God to justify any man.  Justification is brought about by the faith and death of Jesus Christ.  He also told Peter and the others that building again those things which had been destroyed is a transgression. 

 

In other words, they once preached that the law was disannulled and Jesus Christ was the all-sufficient answer.  Now, they were appending law works, represented in this case by circumcision, to the faith and works of Jesus Christ.  Paul said that if he, or anyone else, did this, they were "frustrating the grace of God."

 

The word translated as frustrate (atheteo) is also translated in other places as reject, despise, set aside, and do away with.  In other words, this was a serious charge.  Paul laid this same charge to the entire Galatian church in Galatians 5:1-6. 

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.  Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.  For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."

 

This was plain talk.  The word translated as no is not the conditional me, but the absolute no, ou.  Paul was simply saying that keeping one part of the law, such as circumcision, required them to keep all the law, which no man could do.  Only Jesus kept the law for all of us and freed us from it.  But if we go back under law the least bit, we are fallen from grace, and Christ becomes of no effect.

 

Today, although we do not argue about circumcision, the issue remains the same.  We fall from grace when we feel we are saved because we were baptized, or we believed, or we spoke in tongues, or we were baptized by the spirit, or we kept the sacraments, or any other of the myriad laws of the church.  We make Christ of absolutely no effect.

 

It would be beneficial to read the entire book of Galatians to see all of Paul's argument against circumcision being necessary for salvation.  Paul's reason for writing was to warn them of the seriousness of adding anything to the grace of God.

 

On a larger scale, the rift between the two factions was now complete.  One group would teach Jesus plus circumcision; the other would teach that God's grace as revealed in the work of Jesus was all-sufficient.  The result of this division has had an ominous effect right up to our time.

 

Paul also touched upon this subject in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.  Essentially, the Judaizers were teaching a subjective salvation: that men were given grace enabling them to so live the law that, if they desired, they could produce works of the law sufficient to cause God to acknowledge them as righteous.

 

Paul taught an objective salvation:  that God did not subjectively save men one at a time, according to their works, but that he saved them all corporately, objectively.  Salvation is of God, he said, not of men.

 

Ephesians 2:11-22 clearly displays the objective salvation Paul taught. 

"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.  Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."

 

In Philippians 3:3, Paul identified whom the circumcision are: 

"For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." 

 

This definition denies the efficacy of fleshly circumcision, as does Colossians 2:10-14: 

"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:  In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:  Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;  Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."

 

Colossians 3:11 adequately expresses the objective salvation, or the salvation of all, by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ: 

"Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." 

 

 The grace of salvation is also shown in Colossians 2:11 which says that if God requires a circumcision of the heart, of which outward circumcision in the flesh is only a sign, or a token, then he also provides that which he requires.  God's gift of circumcision is that not made with hands, and it was ministered to us by grace through the circumcision of Christ, or his enduring the cross for all men's sake.  He tasted death for every man.  Circumcision of the heart is a gift of God's salvation to all.

 

There are still two basic ways in which people look at God.  One view is that he is constantly judging our works.  The other view believes that he is a loving father who by grace gives us everything we need to meet any of his requirements.  Whichever way we choose to see God will greatly influence the manner in which we regard our relationship to God.

 

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Summary Highlights of Monograph 6

 

#  A study of the word circumcision shows that even in the beginning

     God wanted men to realize that salvation is of him.  Even in Genesis,

     God not only provided salvation, he also bestowed and sustained it by

     his grace.  

 

#  The bane of humanity has been the constant effort of men trying to

     demand salvation from God because of their works.  

 

#  The first mention of circumcision occurs in Genesis, as a result of the

     covenant the Lord made with Abraham.  

 

#  The Lord told Abraham that if he would walk before him and be

     perfect, or complete, then he would supply everything Abraham

     needed for that perfection.  

 

#  The Lord said he would give an unconditional covenant to Abraham,

     which was a statement of what God would do for him.  

 

#  This was a unilateral covenant from God; Abraham was the recipient,

     but he did nothing to create it.  Abraham simply had to acknowledge,

     by circumcision, that he and his descendants were recipients of God's

     grace, the covenant.  Circumcision was not part of the covenant, but

     only a token or sign that Abraham and his posterity were the ones who

     had received it.  

 

#  To keep, or observe, the covenant made by God, Abraham simply had

     to believe God was true to his word, and God counted him righteous

     because he believed.  

 

#  God provided Moses a gigantic leap in knowledge about a greater

     meaning of circumcision: that God wanted them to circumcise their

     hearts, or their innermost being, which is the seat of rebellion against

     God and his laws.  

 

#  God said all of this was for their good, and not to fulfill his covenant

     given to them.  God wanted the Israelites to turn to him for their

     nourishment, because if they feed on him for spiritual strength, their

     physical deeds will also be a blessing to them.  

 

#  God told the Israelites that if they continued in disobedience, or

     unbelief, they would be removed from the land and taken captive by

     enemies.  

 

#  God emphasized that his covenant is unconditional, everlasting, and

     irrevocable.  He gave it, and he will be true to his word regardless of

     what the recipients do.  However, to disregard the blessings of it would

     bring about dire results.  

 

#  The disobedience and immorality of the Israelites resulted in an

     uncircumcised heart.  

 

#  Through God's revelation, circumcision was shown to be  (1) a token in

     the flesh of God's covenant, and (2) a reflection that true belief in God's

     faithfulness to his covenant should be evidenced by morality in the

     lives of those who believe.  In other words, proper, loving works are the

     evidence of faith in the promises of God.  When these works are absent

     that is also proof of unbelief, or an uncircumcised heart.  

 

#  The Israelites treated circumcision as a means of salvation instead of a

     token of God's deliverance, which was its true meaning.  In doing so,

     they developed outer forms of religion which allowed them to do

     something in order to become partners with God, instead of simply

     being recipients of his grace, which is why God called them

     uncircumcised.  

 

•  The Israelites had successfully removed themselves from grace and

     established themselves under law, which no man could fulfill until the

     coming of Jesus. 

 

#  The  Israelites thought bearing the token of the covenant in their flesh

     was all that was required for them to be pleasing to God, but God told

     them they were mistaken.  In fact, God expected the promise of his

     covenant to affect their lives, which it would if they believed properly.  

#  After Joshua 5, the word circumcision was not used again in a physical

     sense, only in relation to the heart.  

 

#  Nevertheless, the Israelites incorporated the rite of circumcision into

     their system of laws as the means of salvation.  No one, they believed,

     could have salvation without physical circumcision.  This made

     salvation of circumcision instead of God's grace.  Circumcision became

     the payment they made to God for salvation.  By doing this, the

     Israelites made themselves partners in the covenant God gave

     Abraham and his heirs.  It was no longer "my (God's) covenant," but

     had become "our covenant."  

 

#  Law works, or keeping the law,  now became the norm, and this laid

     the groundwork for Paul's great argument of grace versus law works,

     or circumcision. 

 

#  This basic disagreement-grace versus law works-continues into our

     own day.  The only difference is that circumcision as a means of

     salvation has been replaced by either faith, baptism, sacraments, or

     other denominational rules.  Men still feel that it is necessary to do

     something in order to earn their salvation instead of simply accepting

     what God has already freely given them.  

 

#  Many, if asked when they were saved, will say, "I was baptized on a

     specific date," or, "I believed on a specific date," or, "I accepted Jesus as

     my savior on a specific date," or other similar statements.  The specific

     action on a specific date implies that they did something to cause God

     to save them.  The result of this thinking effectively makes them a

     partner in God's covenant, rather than a recipient.  

 

#  The controversy over circumcision was a volatile theological argument

    in the early churches, and has continued in one form or another right

     up to our own day.  

 

#  From his vision, Peter recognized that he was not to call any man

     unclean.  In other words, any man can be under the grace of God

     without circumcision.  

 

#  Jewish believers followed Paul, trying to disrupt his work by insisting

     that Gentile converts had to be circumcised.  As far as these Jewish

     believers were concerned salvation still came by circumcision,

     regardless of what Jesus had done.  

 

#  Paul directly confronted the two main points of the Jewish faith: law

     and circumcision.  He pointed out that although the Jews had the

     outward sign of circumcision in their flesh and kept the law in an

     outward fleshly manner, they were actually as uncircumcised as a

     Gentile.  

 

#  Paul said if an uncircumcised Gentile kept the law in an inner manner

     of heart and life, then his uncircumcision became circumcision and he

     was inwardly a Jew, and should be considered as though he were

     circumcised outwardly in the flesh.  

 

#  The Jews believed that keeping the law and being circumcised opened

     the way from man to God.  Paul was trying to dispel this idea by

     telling them the law only revealed sin, and that the circumcision

     pleasing to God was the circumcision of the heart.  

 

#  Paul explained that the works of the law, or circumcision, can never

     cause God to justify any man.  Justification is brought about by the

     faith and death of Jesus Christ.  

 

#  Paul taught an objective salvation:  that God did not save men

     subjectively, one at a time, according to their works, but that he saved

     them all corporately, objectively.  

 

#  The grace of salvation is also shown in Colossians 2:11 which says that

     if God requires a circumcision of the heart, of which outward

     circumcision in the flesh is only a sign, or a token, then he also provides

     that which he requires.  God's gift of circumcision is that not made

     with hands, and it was ministered to us by grace through the

     circumcision of Christ, or his enduring the cross for all men's sake.  

 

#  There are still two basic ways in which people look at God.  One view is

     that he is constantly judging our works.  The other view believes that

     he is a loving father who by grace gives us everything we need to meet

     any of his requirements.  Whichever way we choose to see God will

     greatly influence the manner in which we regard our relationship to

     God.

 

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