I asked my friend, Crystal Lutton to write this post for me. Crystal is a rabbi and pastor at the Shema Congregation, and is a Messianic Jew. She is also a published author, wife, and mother.
Yes, God commands circumcision.
Is Circumcision the "Christian" thing to do? by Crystal Lutton
Yes, God commands circumcision.
Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Deuteronomy 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Except the debate that goes on around us in the modern world is about circumcising the flesh.
What is the big deal about circumcision? It happens to be one of those issues that gets debated on mommy blogs, has entire websites devoted to doing it and not doing it, has spawned movements, and has resulted in the threat of divorce from those who support it and are opposed to it. But what’s the big deal? Is there really anything to be fighting about?
I’ll leave the issue of Routine Infant Circ (RIC) to others - except to say that some doctors refuse to perform RIC and I have yet to encounter any compelling information supporting RIC. At this point the largest reason I hear for people circing their sons is to have them look like daddy - which I would like to point out would utterly change in one generation if this generation would say no - the next generation would be avoiding circ so that Junior could look like his father. I do want to be very clear, however, that RIC does not fulfill any aspect of the Biblical circ and should you convert to Judaism you would still need to be pricked to shed blood.
Which leads me to what I do want to discuss --- what the Bible actually says about circumcision and whether Christians need to do it.
According to Genesis 17:24 Abraham was 90 years old when he was circumcised. And Romans 4:12 points out that it he is the father of our faith - a faith he had before he was circumcised. It was in Genesis 17 that God had a heart to heart with Abraham and said this (vs 10):
“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised”
He goes on to say that this circumcision is to be done on the 8th day and includes those born to him and his descendants, those bought from a foreigner or in their home as indentured servants. Born by blood or bought with your money, if they are living in your home the males must be circumcised. Verse 14 gives insight into how serious an issue this was to be:
“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
We see this being very important when we get to the Exodus and we are told that no one is allowed to eat the Passover Lamb who has not been circumcised. This is because only those who have truly converted to Judaism are going to be allowed to be in the homes protected by the Passover Lamb’s blood, and only those who have truly joined up with the Jewish people are going to be allowed to join them in the Exodus and be with them when they are made a Nation.
Circumcision was introduced as an outward sign that you were going to eventually possess a circumcised heart and become part of God’s Kingdom. If you were not circumcised before joining God’s Kingdom, that circumcision of the flesh was the external sign that you were now sporting a circumcised heart. It was the last step of conversion to Judaism. Without it you were a God-fearer, with it you were a convert with full rights and status. But I don’t want to make it sound like things are all cut and dried (no pun intended). There was discussion between God and Abraham over whether circumcision was needed (and Abraham was allowed to go from age 48 when he responded to God’s promise of a covenant until he was 90 and was circumcised), and between different Jewish sects over what is required of the proselyte.
What exactly is this circumcision? What does it mean? You might recognize the root for “circle” - also seen in circumference, or the measure of the distance around a circle. There is also the root for “cut” - also seen in incision. So we have a command to cut a circle. And we know from study of this issue and especially from Zipporah’s faithfulness with Moses’ son, that the circle was cut in the foreskin.
What was actually commanded was to cut the tip of the foreskin off. The foreskin is a large piece of skin that hangs down over the head of the penis anywhere from a short distance to quite a large amount. The average RIC removes approximately a postcard size piece of skin. But the command wasn’t to remove the foreskin - it was to cut a circle in the foreskin - or remove the tip. In fact, the practice was to remove the tip of the foreskin until around the time of Paul and the Romans.
Paul speaks of removing the marks of circumcision, and “uncircing” is a practice to this day involving hanging weights from the foreskin to try and lengthen it and recreate the covering of an uncirc’d penis. At the point he was teaching it was a big deal to be circumcised if you wanted to go to the gymnasium or the bathhouses because the Romans viewed circumcision as mutilation. It was not uncommon for Jewish men to try and lengthen their foreskin or hide the marks of their circumcision. The response of the Rabbinic community was to alter the style of circumcision and remove more foreskin - making it harder to fit in outside of the Jewish community.
Paul’s response to the issue is quite different. He says, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.” This is because Paul was navigating something amazing and new that God was doing - God was welcoming the former Gentiles into His Kingdom!
Paul was navigating the coming together of different classes, different races, different people of different backgrounds as they all responded to the promises of salvation through Jesus. Those who came Jewish were told to stay Jewish. Those who came as non-Jews were told to not get circumcised - God had accepted them as non-Jews and it was okay to remain non-Jews.
The Jerusalem Council agreed with him! Peter had already had his vision where God made it clear to him that the Gospel was going to the Nations - the non-Jews. The non-Jews who accepted Jesus were being called clean by God! The Jerusalem Council did not require circumcision for those who were becoming part of this new and expanding community.
And yet we continue to debate this in 2013!
I understand those who are born Jewish and want to know whether circumcision is still required for their children. It is an ancient tradition and there is something amazing about being part of a tradition commanded by God for those who are born as descendants of Abraham. There is debate within the Jewish community about the modern practice of circumcision and there are ceremonies that can be found online for blessing ceremonies that don’t cut the flesh. For those who want to undergo brit milah and have a Biblical circumcision, I recommend talking to a mohel about the actual practice. To this day there are three types of circumcision which each remove a different amount of skin. Talk about removing the least skin possible. There was even a Rabbinic allowance for those babies who might have bleeding disorders. They were allowed to have only one prick of the skin because a single drop of blood was considered enough to have cut the covenant. As with all things I advocate doing your research and determining exactly what you want done to your son.
I understand those who have embraced a Messianic approach to worship where, regardless of your nation of birth, you have embraced a Torah observant lifestyle. While Paul and the Jerusalem Council were insistent that you need not be circumcised to be part of the Kingdom People, there is a place for discussing whether, now that you are part of the Kingdom People, this command to circumcise your males on the 8th day applies to you. This is something that you must work out between you and the Lord and please do not let anyone try to dictate what you will do with your sons. If you do determine to have them undergo brit milah, please see my encouragement above to speak to a mohel and pursue a ceremony involving the least removal of foreskin. I do not believe that God ever intended men to lose their foreskin completely, even where shed blood was supposed to mark their inclusion in a covenant people.
I do not understand the debate among those who do not embrace living according to Torah and who are not blood descendants of Abraham. There is absolutely no command for the Nations to be circumcised. A RIC does not satisfy the requirements of Biblical circumcision.
*For more information about the history of circumcision you can read here http://www.aboutcirc.com/tradit.htm