Shadows and Realities

(Law and Grace)



1. I would like to know from you how we should interpret circumcision, and whether today it is considered necessary or not?




Concerning the circumcision of the flesh God commanded Abraham, the Hebrew, to practice, which is still practiced by the Jews in accordance with the order God gave to Abraham; the Jews consider it very important but not absolutely necessary in order to be considered a Jew; for if circumcision cannot be done on the baby for health reasons or in the future it will not be done for health reasons, if the mother of the child is a Jewess the child will be considered a Jew. That’s what the Orthodox Jews teach. Instead, the Reformed Jews, since 1982, have been teaching that even a child whose father is a Jew and whose mother is a Gentile is to be considered a Jew. However, it must be specified that not all the Reformed Jews accept this teaching, for the Reformed Jews who live in Canada and Israel do not accept it. Generally speaking we can say that it is not circumcision that makes a child a Jew but his mother’s status (or in certain cases even his father’s status). According to the Orthodox Jews, if a Gentile turns to Judaism he must be circumcised (unless there are health reasons which hinder circumcision); while according to the Reformed Jews he is not bound to be circumcised, that is to say, circumcision is not mandatory.

According to what the Scripture says, circumcision in the flesh was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his seed (Genesis 17:11), and it was so important that the uncircumcised male child had to be cut off from his people (Genesis 17:14). The Scripture says that God sought to kill Moses because He had not circumcised his son; on seeing this, his wife Zipporah circumcised her son and thus God let Moses go (Exodus 4:24-26).

However, even though to the Jews circumcision is very important, since we are under grace circumcision in the flesh is of no value to them who have believed in Jesus Christ (that is, the followers of Christ). For the apostle Paul says: “Circumcision is nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19 – NKJV) and again: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (Galatians 5:6 – NIV).

Therefore, both circumcision and uncircumcision are of no value to us. So those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ must not be circumcised, as it is written: “Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised” (1 Corinthians 7:18 – NKJV).

Why is circumcision in the flesh of no value to us who are under grace? Here is the reason: because it is a shadow of the true circumcision that the believers in the Messiah who was to come (and we know that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth) would receive. When the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says that the law has “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1 – NKJV), he means that circumcision also is a shadow of a good thing that was to come. But if circumcision in the flesh is a shadow, what is the reality? The reality is the circumcision of the heart, which was foretold by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 30:6), which is the purification of the heart from sin. This purification is made by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. As through the circumcision in the flesh the foreskin of a male child is taken away, so through the circumcision of the heart are taken away all the sins that defile the heart. The apostle Paul explains what this circumcision is, saying that it is “the putting off of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11 – NIV) – in other words, in Christ we were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, “by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:11 – NKJV) -. This is why Paul says to the Philippians that we are the circumcision (Philippians 3:3), and to the Romans that circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter (Romans 2:29): because he knew that this is the true circumcision, this is the circumcision that is of value in the sight of God. The circumcision of the heart is made by Jesus Christ when one repents of his sins and comes to Christ to be forgiven, because Christ circumcises him by purifying him from his sins. This circumcision also is a sign: it is the sign of the New Covenant between God and those who believe in Him. And the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant because it is founded on better promises.

However, as there is a spiritual circumcision, there is also a spiritual uncircumcision. All those who don’t believe in Christ – whether Jews or Gentiles – are spiritually uncircumcised. Therefore I preach to men that they must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that their heart may be circumcised and thus they may be reconciled to God and at their death they may go to heaven; and also that if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus they will perish: that is, when they die they will go to hell awaiting the resurrection and judgement.

Therefore, to sum up, circumcision is important to the Jews because through it the infant enters the covenant which God made with Abraham and his seed, yet it can be put off indefinitely for some particular reasons and this does not nullify his status. However, this kind of circumcision is of no value to us who are Christians for the circumcision of the heart is what matters. Furthermore, while to the Jews for certain reasons although a baby is not circumcised he is still considered a Jew (however, I say it again, according to the Orthodox Rabbis his mother must be a Jewess), to us who are Christians the circumcision of the heart is absolutely necessary in order to become a son of God, that is, a member of the people of God. In other words, anyone who calls himself a Christian, in order to be considered a true Christian, must be circumcised in his heart; otherwise he remains an unbeliever, a sinner who still needs to be reconciled to God.