Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and T.A.,
What is the significance of circumcision? I’ve noticed that although it is an Old Testament commandment, it is often referred to in the New Testament.”
Tom: Dave, what I find significant about circumcision is that it is spoken about quite a bit in the New Testament, although we’re certainly not commanded to be circumcised, but in terms of the distinction between the Jews and non-Jews, between living under law as opposed to freedom in Christ, it’s brought up in…the book of Galatians deals with it quite a bit, but not in the sense the Old Testament deals with it. So that’s a good question: what is the significance of circumcision?
Dave: Well, first of all, it tells us that this is the sign that these people belong to God. They are His chosen people.
Dave: Now, the New Testament, of course, gives the spiritual significance of that, and it tells us (1 Corinthians 10) that what things were written before time were written for our learning. For example, the manna in the wilderness, that’s a type of Christ. Jesus said in John 6, “I am the bread of God that came down from heaven.”
The water out of the rock is a type of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul said, “They all drank of that rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ.”
And in John 7, Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink, and out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” And John, who is recording what Jesus said, has this comment: “This spake he of the Holy Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.”
So of the serpent lifted up in the wilderness, you know, when the children of Israel were bitten - mine says, “fiery serpents”; they were poisonous. And God said to Moses, “Well, make a serpent- a likeness of a serpent - out of brass; put it on a pole. Everyone who looks to it will live.”
Well, Jesus said, John:3:14,15, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” So it’s telling us that Christ would be treated on the cross by God as though He were sin itself, the very serpent that had bitten us.
We have the Passover lamb, and Paul says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”
So, with regard to circumcision, Paul writes, and the New Testament says, “Circumcision is not of the flesh, but of the heart.” So again, this is a symbol of having a separation from the flesh, and being a Christian, then, would be someone who is different from other people, because he’s not catering to the flesh. That has come to the end; that’s been cut off through Christ, and he has been circumcised in his heart. And you could say, “But physically…” Genesis:17:7, God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, and their generations for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee, and I will give unto thee the land, and so forth, the land of Canaan, an everlasting possession.” So one of the marks of the chosen people - the Jews were chosen of God - was circumcision.
Now, of course, the Muslims, those people who call themselves Palestinians, they also circumcise…
Tom: The Egyptians did, the Amorites, and so on.
Dave: So didn’t that make them chosen people? Well, the real mark is those who were slaves for 400 years in Egypt and were delivered; Genesis 15 says that. Let me just take a quick look at it - Genesis:15:13: “And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed,” that is, the seed [unintelligible], “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them,” in other words, there’s going to be a rigorous service with slaves, “400 years, and then I’m going to bring them into the land of promise.” That didn’t happen to the people who call themselves Palestinians; it didn’t happen to the Arabs or the Muslims; it happened only to the Jews, and the Passover was a sign that’s to be kept, and they do keep it. Who keeps the Passover today? Not the Muslims, not the Arabs, not the Gentiles, but the Jews, and it is proof that they are this people.
So circumcision was a sign from God, a physical sign of the chosen people that He had chosen. These were the ones He was going to bring into the land, and He would make an everlasting covenant with them. It has a spiritual meaning.
Tom: Mm-hmm. A confusion today is that many people equate baptism with circumcision, but I think as a symbol, that with the physical covenant, the physical sign for the Jews, but today, it’s the fueling of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it?
Dave: But, Tom, the Calvinists say, “See, they circumcised the infants, therefore infant baptism is okay.” But the Bible very clearly says…
Tom: Well, not every Calvinist would say that. But…
Dave: Well, many of them; by far the majority. This was John Calvin himself…
Dave: …so if you’re going to be a real Calvinist, you’ll follow him.
But the Bible very clearly says to be baptized, you must believe. You don’t have to believe anything…in fact, Ishmael was circumcised. That’s why the Arabs are circumcised today - they say they are descended from him. So there is a big difference. We’re saved by faith in Christ and baptized as a result - as a sign that we are identifying ourselves with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. That’s rather different from circumcision, and it’s not for infants, it’s only for those who believe.