20121207_152619A call to the Circumcised of Christ

Introduction

I have to say at the outset that some of you, who know me, may find this article a little different to most of the others I have written. In this letter I have made some references to ‘the act of marriage’. In other words I talk briefly about some aspects of sex between a man and wife. The context is circumcision. By definition the removal of the male foreskin by cutting as commanded by our God. I have tried to treat the issue with respect, speaking frankly but without being unnecessarily explicit. If you are not comfortable with that, don’t read on.

Circumcision must surely have been something with which all little Hebrew boys and girls grew up knowing about. The boy child was taken from the mother to be circumcised by priests. Circumcision was written in the Law and must have been common knowledge amongst the people. Children ask some funny questions. I can imagine some of the girls asking why only the boys had circumcision; even being thankful they were not boys. By and large I imagine the rite was accepted as so intrinsic to the Hebrew way of life that there was no questioning on any deeper level. The fact that it happened for the most part when the boy was eight days old served to rule out complaint and refusal by the subject as means of stopping the rite.

It was part of God’s covenant. Most of us know that. Until recently though, I did not really understand the fuller significance of the rite. On top of that, I don’t ever remember having had much teaching on the subject so I thought you all might appreciate me writing on my findings.
I want you to know I did not set out deliberately to shock you all by talking about this issue. It really came about quite unexpectedly while I was studying out the issue of ‘faith alone’, a well-known heresy that has existed since the 16th century.

Types

One of the things that I believe after my recent study is that this Hebrew act of obedience was a ‘type’ of our baptism and a symbol of remembrance much like our bread and wine.

When I say a ‘type’ I don’t mean the type of type you type with a keyboard.

I mean a foreshadowing. Read Colossians 2:17. It is very clear about types.

Many modern Old Testament surveys touch on this phenomenon of Old Testament events being somehow similar to New Testament events in a way that God planned in order to show His divine wisdom.

One example of this that Jesus showed us was the ‘sign of Jonah’.

MT 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus shows the Pharisees how the fish had a meaning for the time of Jonah and also for His own generation. There were obvious similarities and obvious differences between Jonah’s relationship with the fish and that of Jesus in the tomb. One similarity is the obvious one drawn out by the Lord. The events both lasted for a ‘three-day’ period. Many more differences exist however. For example Jonah was not embalmed in spices and wrapped in grave clothes by caring friends and then placed lovingly on the slab. He was just plain old ‘swallowed’ and probably surrounded by stomach lining.

The apostle Paul used types too and he often stressed the very same themes as Jesus.

Understanding the ways in which Paul is using types in various passages is worthy of study because by being clear about what he is saying are similarities we can avoid false assumptions.

Works and ‘Faith Alone’

One doctrine of the religious world which I believe is based on false assumptions is the doctrine of ‘faith alone’. This doctrine sets itself up in opposition to the gospel that was preached to my friends and I, by members of churches from the restoration movement. For that reason I need to understand it. In other words “this is not what my church teaches”.

Teachers of the ‘faith alone’ doctrine say that no act of obedience can be linked to salvation. Acts that they keep separate from God’s plan for salvation include those commanded by Jesus such as baptism (Mt 28:18-20).

Paul does indeed write that salvation is ‘not by works’ (Eph 2:9) but I will show that he is talking about circumcision. These same teachers falsely claim that Abraham was saved by ‘faith alone’. At the same time they rightly point out that the Apostle Paul uses Abraham’s faith as a type of our faith in Jesus. Protestant teachers call acts of any kind, ‘works’. They say salvation is not by works and claim that because of this, no work or act can be involved in salvation.

They do not see belief as a work and so they conclude that salvation is by faith alone.

Jesus disagrees with Protestants and other churchgoers, on this issue of belief not being an act (Jn 6:29) and so the Lord Himself undermines their argument.

JN 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

In spite of Jesus, many religious people believe that salvation is by this ‘work’ (of faith) alone and at the same time hold the contradictory view that salvation is not by works at all.

Speaking - A work of the flesh

the Work of the flesh

Proponents of ‘faith alone’ also hold the belief that faith must be accompanied by confession with the tongue. This is based on their proof text in Romans 10:9-10. Notice here how this obviously contradicts the ‘no works’ doctrine. The confession of the tongue is clearly a work of the flesh involving the tongue, the throat, the vocal cords, the lungs and the brain, to name only a few parts of the human anatomy involved in speech. Many pamphlets and even some bibles have taken this confession further and include a ‘sinner’s prayer’ ritual which is also a ‘work of the flesh’.

The term ‘faith alone’ specifically rules out any other act of obedience as being part of God’s plan for salvation. It also rules out God’s grace as being part of God’s plan for salvation.

In a way God did rule out some specific works with the new covenant of Christ. I will be looking at those.

Let’s not forget about God’s grace in the plan of salvation.
Grace is as important as faith in God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. When we neglect to bring grace into the equation we lose the peace that comes from being under God’s sovereign will. The phrase ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ is repeated twice in Ephesians chapter two within three verses. How can salvation be by faith alone if we are saved by grace?
Ephesians chapter two also speaks of works.

It should be noted that the works of Ephesians 2:9 are immediately followed by the precise point in the letter where Paul argues against circumcision and the other Jewish rites.

We need not confuse the works of Ephesians 2:9 with ALL works or acts of any kind.

Hence faith and confession are works that are part of God’s New Testament covenant with us.
As we see in Ephesians 2:9-18 circumcision was abolished. I will show later more reasons why circumcision was no longer necessary after the coming of Jesus.

Some of the early Jewish converts took it upon themselves to preach Judaism in combination with Christianity. They often did this in spite of the clear instruction from apostolic authority. The practice of ignoring the Apostles teachings started very early on!
In the letter to the Galatians, not long after the ‘council of Jerusalem’ Judaising was officially banned among Christians. Paul argues out a specific point, that the covenants of circumcision and the Law were no longer the covenant through which God was giving man salvation (Galatians 5:1-6 is one reference of many that prove this).

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Paul’s use of Abraham to compare covenants.

Paul’s use of various aspects of Abraham’s life are of particular interest to me as they are often used by religious people to try to prove the ‘faith alone’ doctrine of salvation.

 As God makes new covenants with man, some things

remain the same but some things change.

 The Apostle Paul used Abraham as an example in two places. These are in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 (probably written round the same time). The writer of Hebrews in chapters 6 – 7 is worthy of interest too and will be mentioned here also. The only other Apostle who does this is James in Chapter 2.

Paul emphasises Abraham as a man of faith but also teases out other issues around God’s covenant with Abraham at the same time.

I will be looking mostly at what Paul says in Galatians.

In Galatians 3, Paul uses God’s covenant with Abraham as an example of a covenant promise that was not changed by the Law of Moses that came 430 years later.

 

GAL 3:15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

 

Another example of one covenant not changing another would be a comparison of Noah and Abraham.

 

GE 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

 

The permanent part of God’s covenant here was “never again will there be a flood” It was not changed by God’s covenant with Abraham. This remained true under all the covenants there after. Conversely, shipbuilding was not involved in any other covenant. This was only for Noah.

 

Galatians 3:15-18 talks about God’s promise that Christ would be Abraham’s descendent and bring salvation. This was only one of God’s promises within His covenant with Abraham. It was only one part of the covenant. Paul simply says in Galatians 3:15-18 that the covenant with Moses (Ex 19:5) did not change this promise. Christ’s coming fulfilled this promise and we shall see below that due to Christ’s coming, certain parts of Abraham’s covenant were not permanent for all time. As new covenants are made some things remain the same but some things change.

 

Another use of Abraham as an example in Galatians 3 is in verse 6 where Paul is showing us something our faith has in common with Abraham’s faith. He is showing a similarity in the Abrahamic covenant and God’s covenant with us in Jesus name.

 

GAL 3:6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

 

We shall investigate below whether this faith and belief mentioned five times in this passage are in fact ‘faith alone’. We will also determine what the similarity is between this faith and our faith.

—————————————————————

I’ll now consider issues around Galatians 3:15-18 in my next 5 sections and Galatians 3:6-9 later, towards the end of this article.

 

Circumcision and the covenants.

Here I consider how God’s promise to Abraham of blessing all nations through his descendant was symbolised by circumcision.

I will also consider how Paul uses this circumcision as a type of our baptism.

 

Comparing Covenants:

Abraham’s covenant promise was not changed by the Covenant with Moses that came 430 years later (Gal 3:15).

 

Paul uses Abraham as an example of a covenant with God that was superimposed upon by the law (Ex 19:5) 430 years later.

 

Here we see Paul comparing covenants.

 

He is saying that the promise given to Abraham of salvation for the gentiles was not changed by the Law of Moses.

 

We see that Paul is emphasising continuity in God’s plan for Christ to come through Abraham’s descendents. This plan was unchanged by the Mosaic Law.

 

But we do well when considering this continuity to bear in mind the changes.

 

Although circumcision was part of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:9) and though it also continued in the Law (Lev 12:3 – Gen 17:12), it was not kept with the covenant of Christ’s blood (Phil 3:2-4, Eph 2:15, Gal 5:1-6,6:15, Jn 6:63).

 

A false teacher might extrapolate the apostle’s argument and say that Paul taught that all of Abraham’s covenant is still applicable today. Paul did not go that far in Gal 3. He was using one aspect as an example, that of the inheritance and the promise of salvation to the gentiles. He was saying that even though the Law had to be given to the people through Moses, the promise to Abraham still held.

He was certainly not saying that the circumcision part of the Abrahamic covenant was still necessary.

So Paul drew out similarities where they were similarities but let the differences remain.

 

 

Why was circumcision no longer necessary?

Circumcision must be seen in context not simply as a work but also as a sign.

 

Gen 17:11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you

 

God’s covenant was for Abraham and his descendents to greatly increase through the production of children. Circumcision was therefore taken from the most naturally representative part of Abraham’s body. Both he and his wife would have remembered the promises at the times of their coming together. All Hebrews, both male and female were aware of this fact from an early age (Deut 6:4-7).

 

Consider the insights of a Rabbi on this issue.

-“The most satisfying answer though seems to come when the Midrash looks closely at the word orlah – “foreskin”.

  1. Huna said in Bar Kappara’s name: Abraham sat and pondered: ‘orlah is said here (Gen. 17:11) and ‘orlah occurs in reference to a tree (Lev. 19:23); just as ‘orlah in the case of the tree refers to the place where it yields fruit, so ‘orlah employed in reference to man means to the member which produces offspring (fruit).

And so the sign of the covenant is not merely a mark on the body which serves to remind Jewish men of their obligation to the covenant. That function could have been accomplished in many different symbolic ways, such as a tattoo, or a piece of jewelry, or even by wearing such traditional garb as tzitzit (ritual fringes on the tallit) or kippah. But the creation of a scar around the head of the penis by removing the foreskin is an appropriate sign of God’s covenant with Abraham specifically because it is an “an everlasting covenant throughout the generations” (Gen. 17:7). When a Jewish man and woman come together to procreate and produce the next generation, the seed of that next generation of Jews must pass directly through the sign of the covenant. It is an incredibly intimate sign, not only for male, but also for the female, his partner in procreation, and for their offspring from the moment of conception. At that most holy of moments, we are all reminded that it is the covenant that binds man and woman to God, and to the maintenance of a Jewish future.”-

 

So circumcision was a sign of the covenant.

 

Gen 17:11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

 

A sign specifically linked to the nature of the messianic promise.

 

GE 17:4… for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful;

 

GE 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation…

 

GE 12:3 …and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

 

When Christ was conceived in Mary of the Holy Spirit these promises came to fruition. When Christ underwent His baptism on Calvary (Luke 12:50) His work was finished. With His resurrection and further instruction to the Apostles, and their Gospel message begun on Pentecost there was no need of the sign of circumcision. The hereditary promise had been fulfilled and circumcision was therefore unnecessary. The followers of Christ had a new circumcision. Christ, the high priest, circumcised them.

 

That’s why circumcision is no longer necessary.

 

The new circumcision.

We have a new circumcision. The circumcision of our hearts by Christ.

 

    COL 2:11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

 

This linking of circumcision with Baptism is of some importance. We are buried and raised again at baptism. Paul uses the act of ‘putting off’ here as the similarity. The foreskin is likened to the sinful nature and our taking part in Christ as the act of circumcision. This is a clear link between the two procedures. The putting off.

To be continued…

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