What the Bible Really Says About Routine Infant Circumcisionby Laura Jezek
Congratulations! You're expecting a baby! Nothing could be more joyful and exciting.
Did you know that one of the most important things you can do for your baby, if it turns out to be a boy, besides teaching Him about Jesus, is to leave his perfectly created little body intact? That's right, saying no to routine infant circumcision is just about the greatest display of love, compassion, and respect you may ever have the opportunity to show your child.
Choosing to protect your son from this horribly painful and totally unnecessary procedure is a decision that honors God, honors your spouse (even a circumcised father), honors yourself, honors your community, and of course honors your child.
Countless books have been written about the subject, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared circumcision unjustifiable (any possible benefits are clearly outweighed by the moral and medical problems inherent in it), but let us look at a broad overview of the subject. We will look at the strange and disturbing practice of routine infant circumcision from a Christ-centered, biblically-based perspective.
There is no room for debate or speculation. Christians are forbidden from practicing routine infant circumcision by the New Testament. There are only two sets of Christians who still circumcise their sons: those who do not know the Bible well enough to know what it teaches about the subject, and those who know but simply do not care (the Bible isn't their measure of living, their own mindset is.)
Contrast this set of circumstances with the circumstances that our parents' generation faced, when mothers in the delivery room were lied to and deceived, similar to the way Eve herself was. In an age when “tradition” ruled and myths abounded, one can hardly blame our mothers for ignorantly handing over their babies. Twenty years ago, doctors actually believed that babies felt no pain!! Now, of course, no one can comprehend how people could have been in the dark about such an obvious fact. This was a time when fathers were excluded from the births of their own children, and mothers were told that breastfeeding would reduce them to behaving like cows. Full term healthy babies were kept in the nursery, away from the mothers they so desperately craved; and children in general were to be seen and not heard.
Today, everything has changed. Science and medicine have opened our eyes to the truth about babies in the womb and those newly born. A strong emphasis on family togetherness has brought Daddy into the delivery room, and made rooming-in with baby the norm. And mothers are encouraged to speak up and tell their doctors what they think is right and wrong. We, the parents, are responsible for defending and protecting our babies.
Now that the myths have been lifted and the medical ignorance replaced with accurate information, we at last know the facts surrounding routine infant circumcision. Here's what we know. Babies not only feel pain, they feel it more exquisitely than any other age group, simply because their nerve endings are fresh and uncalloused. Baby boys are still often subjected to surgery without anesthesia, something we wouldn't normally do to even our cats and dogs!
Trusting newborns have their wrists and ankles strapped down to a table as their tightly closed foreskins are ripped open and stretched to near the tearing point. Then a scalpel is used to amputate square inches of healthy, sensitive skin. (Imagine yourself in this situation.) The cutting is slow and painful and babies usually respond in one of two ways. Either with screaming (which can last from several minutes to several hours) or with a sudden lapse into a state that resembles unconsciousness.
This deep sleep has been studied by scientists who remark that it is deeper than any other form of sleep known to mankind. This desperate withdrawal is the body's coping mechanism for dealing with a pain too intense for the brain to process. After it is all over, if there are no surgical complications, the parents are given back their formerly perfect, now-wounded child with his red, raw, bleeding genitals tightly bandaged, and given instructions for how to care for the wound with petroleum jelly and other protective lubricants. Some babies don't recover emotionally, as lactation consultants say "nursing strikes" are not uncommon. One woman we spoke with said that her baby boy had nursed fine the day prior to his circumcision, but after the painful procedure was over, he wouldn't go near her breasts. Try as she might to coax him, he wanted nothing to do with her, and she was forced to bottlefeed him permanently. Similar stories abound.
So why are 25% of all newborns (50% of baby boys) still made to suffer this inarguably excruciating, outdated procedure?
The bottom line is that God forbids routine infant circumcision under the New Covenant. One cannot call himself a follower of Christ and knowingly participate in this ritual. One must treat circumcision identically to animal sacrifice-the same attitude should be practiced. We must not let our culture desensitize us to God's will. In conclusion, let us give a complete listing of the New Testament scriptures on circumcision. We will be thorough so as to avoid any further misunderstanding or misinformation on the subject.
We begin with the Gospels. In Luke 2:21, Jesus' circumcision is mentioned. The New Covenant began on the day of His resurrection and thus all Jews were bound to obey the Old Covenant until then. This is the first reason for Christ's circumcision. He was born under the Old Covenant and His parents were obedient. But the second reason, which transcends the cultural, is even more significant. The Bible teaches that Christ's circumcision was the starting point of His shedding of blood for humanity, and that not only did He do so to identify with all those who had suffered under this grievous burden, but He did it also as a substitution for all the babies that would be born after the New Covenant. The New Testament teaches that we as New Covenant believers are supposed to accept His circumcision, His baptism, His death, and His resurrection as our propitiation (Col. 2:8-14). The writings of the Early Church Fathers are filled with references to this. They speak over and over of "giving thanks to our Savior for taking our circumcision for us, and shedding His innocent blood once for all, so that we'll never have to."
Next, we come to the book of Acts where the issue in question is how Old Covenant Jews who are now wanting to be New Covenant Jewish Christians can live harmoniously with Gentile believers who are just coming to Christ for the first time under the New Covenant. Paul and Peter are desperately trying to unite the two groups in order to achieve this harmony. Circumcision keeps coming up, as it is a bone of contention. Imagine how you would feel if you, having been born before the time of Christ, had been made to undergo several unpleasant rituals, and now the followers of God who come into the picture after Christ's heralding of the New Way are spared such unpleasantries. Try to imagine the possible bitterness, the unfairness of it all-in human terms.
~Acts 15: 1-2, 7, 10 "And some men came and were teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' But Paul and Barnabas together had great dissention and disputing with these men. . . Then Peter stood up and said to them '...Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?"One can hear in Peter's voice how painful the whole burden of circumcision had been on God's people, especially the parents. (And remember, this was just a tiny incision back then.) It was so hard for the Jews to accept that Christ had set their brothers free so that they'd never have to be mutilated again! But the apostles wanted to use this to teach about selfless love, that the Jews should rejoice for their brothers (and future children) and feel compassion rather than resentment.
In Romans, the same challenge exists: trying to get the Jewish believers who were circumcised before the New Covenant to accept the permanent changes of the New Covenant. It must have been very difficult for them to all of a sudden, in one day, be expected to give up animal sacrifices, circumcision, purification rituals, etc. (The only parts of the Law they were required to give up were those parts that Christ Himself had fulfilled-Matt. 5:17 ) As much as they hated these unpleasant rituals within their souls, these "traditions" were deeply ingrained in the fabric of their day to day lives. Like the American slaves suddenly set free asked: what do we do now?
~Rom. 2: 17-19 "But if you bear the name Jews and rely upon the Law...You who boast in the Law through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?...For indeed your circumcision [i.e. the mark that is already on your genitals] is of value if you faithfully keep the Law, but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has been made obsolete. If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be counted the same as your circumcision? And will not he who is physically uncircumcised , if he keeps the Law, will he not condemn you who, through the letter of the Law and through circmcision, are a transgressor of the Law. For he is not a Jew who is one externally. Neither is circumcision that which is external in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly. And circumcision is that which is of the heart by the Spirit. . .and hispraise is not from men, but from God."Here was God's answer to one and all. Just as the sign of the Old Covenant was an external mark on the flesh (Old Testament circumcision), the sign of the New Covenant was an inward mark on the heart (New Testament circumcision). Thus, physical circumcision had been replaced once and for all.
~Rom. 3:1 "Then what is the advantage of the Jew? Or what is the benefit of his circumcision [i.e the mark that is already on his genitals]? Great in all respects. First of all that they were entrusted with the oracles of God."God is seeking to reassure the Jews that their former sacrifice will not go unmerited. In a sense they were martyrs and deserve a special respect. They wear their scars as a badge of courage for persevering in faith through the painful and often grotesque requirements of the Old Covenant. Their circumcised condition served as a prophetic statement about the Messiah's advent; thus, they carried on them the oracles of God.
~Rom. 3:29-30 "Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles, also? Yes, of Gentiles also. Since the God who will justify those of the circumcision out of faith, and those of the uncircumcision through faith, is One."Here we have one of the most important concepts of all. God begins to use the term "the circumcision" in place of "the Old Covenant," and the term "the uncircumcision" in place of "the New Covenant." The entire Biblical doctrine can be summed up in these two phrases. The concept of circumcising under the New Covenant was therefore an anomaly, utter nonsense, absurdity.
~Rom. 4:10 "How then was this faith reckoned to Abraham? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. He received the symbol of circumcision. . . that he might be the father of all who believe without circumcision. . . who follow in the steps of our father Abraham which were in his uncircumcision."God defines a Christian in this verse as one who believes without circumcision.
In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he addresses a new issue, that of foreskin restoration. Now, the foreskin restoration which we hear about in the news today is building a new skin structure where there is none. This is a difficult task. But in Bible times, the restoration simply involved stretching the foreskin a little bit so it covered the tip of the shaft. Not nearly as difficult. The Biblical word for this restoration process was epispaomai which means "to draw over" (i.e. to draw, or pull, over the edge, "to efface the mark of circumcision by pulling the foreskin over the tip"-lexiconal note). The word for "uncircumcised" was akrobustia. It is a combination of "akron", which means "tip," and "posthe," which refers to the male genital. To be uncircumcised was to still have that "tip" of the foreskin in place, and many Jews around Corinth and in other regions, thought that if they had that "tip" in place they would be more in keeping with the New Covenant. So the restoration process began. Paul was exasperated as he tried to get it through their heads that the uncircumcised genitalia was not the new symbol of the present covenant. It wasn't about body parts any more! It was about the spirit. The reason for the intact foreskin was not to have a new symbol, but to return to God's perfect will at the time of Creation: a perfect foreskin that is not mutilated in any way!
~1 Cor. 7:17 "As God has called each man, in this manner let him walk. And thus I command in all the churches. Was any man called in the circumcision [i.e. Old Covenant]? Let him not try to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in the uncircumcision [i.e. New Covenant]? Let him not be circumcised! Circumcision is nothing. And uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called."It doesn't get much clearer than this. Those who were chosen by God to be born under the Old Covenant are called to bear the sign of that covenant. Its nothing to be ashamed of. Today, there is no longer anyone alive who was born under the Old Covenant (i.e. prior to Christ), but back in the first century A.D. this was a very relevant issue. On the other hand, those who were chosen by God to be born under the New Covenant are called to keep that covenant and no other. Those who are born under the New Covenant (i.e. since the resurrection of Christ) are forbidden from routine circumcision. It is a terrible offence to God to dabble with the rituals of the Christless era.
This brings us to the one and only exception to the above law that God ever allowed. Acts 16:3 says that Timothy was the only Christian, under the New Covenant, to be allowed to participate in the act of circumcision, as an adult. Let's look at the four reasons why this wasn't a sin in this one unique situation.
There no longer exists any Jews who were born under the Old Covenant, therefore ANYONE who mutilates the genitals in ANY WAY now would be directly disobeying Scripture.
Galatians is the book where Paul hits the issue the hardest. By this time, there were many false doctrines spreading though the church and Satan seemed to be meddling with the peace of the Body of Christ. Almost every chapter of the book is devoted to Paul speaking passionately against circumcision and giving very severe warnings (some of his most severe ever!)
~Gal. 2:3 "But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have, in order to bring us back into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain in you."Paul has just related a story about visiting Jerusalem where many circumcised males tried to urge the uncircumcised believers with him (including Titus) to be circumcised. But Paul was repulsed by their efforts. He was probably in shock that anyone would want to bring the Old Covenant back, when the New Covenant was so much better! The "truth of the Gospel" and the practice of circumcision cannot co-exist!
~Gal. 3:13 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us."Paul teaches here that circumcision was meant to be a curse (no one is supposed to want to do this to their babies!), but that Christ has been the substitution for our children, that our sons should never have to shed their blood again.
~Gal. 5:2 "Behold, I Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing!"Enough said.
~Gal. 5:3 "And I testify again to every male who receives circumcision, that he is in debt to keep the whole Law. You who do so have been severed from Christ. . . you have fallen from grace."
~Gal. 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision gives spiritual power, but faith working through love."Here Paul reasons again that the genitals are no longer a status symbol. Therefore the only acceptable thing to do with them is to leave them alone the way God created them.
~Gal. 5:7 "You were running well, who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you."No matter who or what is persuading you to circumcise your baby boy, know for sure, this persuasion is NOT coming from God. There has never been any form of mutilation that has been acceptable in God's eyes, with the one exception of the Old Covenant ritual to foreshadow Christ's sacrifice. To circumcise a baby for any reason other than that, is abhorrent to God.
~Gal. 5:10 "I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view. But the one who is pushing you to do so shall bear his own condemnation, whoever he may be."Paul did not believe in freedom to choose; he believed in freedom to obey God.
~Gal. 5:11 "But if I still proclaim circumcision. . . then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished."First there was circumcision and animal sacrifice; then there was the cross. If you hold on to the former, you render the latter worthless.
~Gal. 5:12 "I wish that those who are pushing you to do so would mutilate themselves!Have you ever heard Paul so intense about anything? Mutilation is his word. And it will come up again.
~Gal. 6: 12-16 "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. . . They desire to have you circumcised so they may boast in your flesh. . . for neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision..."Again Paul tries to convince people to stop thinking about the male anatomy... its not relevant anymore! The purpose for messing with the genitalia is over forever; its time to move on. Paul is very negative about the motive of anyone who would want to keep circumcising babies. Ironically, while a few have speculated about the poor Jews being singled out for anti-Semitism because of our refusal to circumcise as Christians, Paul paints a picture that is quite the opposite. Some of the Jews were actually trying to trick Christians into conforming to the Old Way simply so that they could blend in and escape any judgment for demanding the crucifixion of our Lord. Far from being a plot against them, it was their plot against the Church. Thankfully, a large percentage of the Jews became godly followers of Jesus and were above such malice.
Paul only mentions the issue in passing in the book of Ephesians, but one cannot miss the sarcasm in his voice as he uses the term "so-called." This was truly a sore-spot for him.
~Eph. 2:11 "You, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the 'uncircumcision' by the so-called 'circumcision' performed in the flesh by human hands..."Paul was reminding the people yet again that Old Covenant circumcision had been "fleshly" and "human," whereas the New Covenant circumcision of the heart was spiritual and Christ-centered.
Philippians has one thing to say and one thing only, on the subject at hand...but it is one of the strongest statements in the Bible.
~Phil. 3:2 "Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware of the mutilation! For WE are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put NO confidence in the flesh!"Paul has three things to say about those who would still practice routine circumcision after the ushering in of the New Covenant and the final sacrifice made by Christ. First, he calls them dogs, the lowest of insulting terms in those days. (Dogs were not yet domesticated as household pets and they ran around wild in packs eating garbage and annoying the livestock.) Second, he calls them evil workers. Scripture is clear: maiming an individual, outside of a direct order from God, is evil and morally unacceptable. Third, Paul minces no words; he calls unordained circumcision what it really is - mutilation. This is the second time Paul uses this term. Ironically, those who speak up for children today are often labeled "extremists" for using this same word.
Colossians is the proof-text for the doctrine of Christ's circumcision being a part of his substitutionary sacrifice. Jesus was mutilated in order to identify with those who suffered under the Old Covenant, as well as to shed His innocent blood once and for all, so no baby would ever have to be subjected to circumcision again.
~Col. 2:8-14 "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men...rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made whole.. and in Him you were also circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised up with Him through faith. And...in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him. . . having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us which were hostile to us. And He has taken them out of the way, having nailed them to the cross."Finally, Peter-who spent his time ministering to Jewish believers-summed up the absurdity of the controversy. He knew that any involvement with things like circumcision or animal sacrifice, in light of Christ's work on the Cross, was blasphemous and sacrilegious. He knew that the people must be made to see that this was a matter of obedience to God's commands and His will. Eloquently, he put it like this.
~1 Peter 2:20-22 "For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandments delivered to them. It has thus happened to them according to the true Proverb: 'A dog returns to its own vomit' and 'A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mud.'"Paul called those who would continue circumcision "dogs," and truly anyone who would desire the continuation of something so morbid and unpleasant (something God says in Gal. 3:13 was meant to be a "curse"), would truly be the equivalent of a dog returning to its vomit. We should praise God everyday that He sat us free from chopping up animals on an altar and slicing our babies with knives. The relief He intended us to feel should flood our soul whenever we think of it. How perverse that some would still be blood-thirsty enough to crave what God Himself sees as detestable.
Our children are gifts of the Lord. They were created by His hand; knit together in the womb. God brilliantly fashioned every part of their bodies and has pronounced His creation "very good." His handiwork is to be admired, not despised. He has more reasons for creating a foreskin on your son than you or I could ever begin to imagine or comprehend. God makes no mistakes. We have no spare parts. Never in all of time has God ever allowed the amputation (the destruction of His creation) of any part of the body, except in dire sickness. 1 Cor. 5:3 says "If you destroy the temple, God will destroy you." For only 2,000 years God allowed a ritual that mutilated the flesh (to a very small extent). He did so in preparation for the blood sacrifice of Jesus. For the other 6,000-8,000 years (from Creation to the present), God's normal rule has been: no mutilation of any kind is permissible. With the exception of the God-ordained Old Covenant from Abraham to Jesus, God's commandment is unchangeable.
~Lev.19:28 "You shall not make any cuts in your flesh."This is followed by the phrase "for the living," since incisions "for the dying" were sometimes necessary, and incisions "for the dead" could be permitted also (allowing for an autopsy or such). In other words, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unless God Himself sets forth an exception in the form of a command, this rule governs all living people.
One rule has never changed, cutting off any part of the genitals has always been forbidden. The cut at the tip of the foreskin was one thing, but had any man cut off his foreskin, or any of the other parts of his genitals, he would have been excommunicated from God's presence and His people's fellowship.
~Deut. 23: 1 "No one who...has his male genitalia cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord."
The foreskin represents 1/3 of the total skin which comprises the male genitalia. This was truly a significant portion of the genitals. But God never wanted his people to "cut off" anything!
Let us conclude with the words of our precious Lord Jesus Himself. As parents, we cherish His words and seek His pleasure in all our parenting decisions. "What pleases you, my Lord?"
"I desire mercy and not sacrifice."-Jesus (Matt. 9:13)
Christian parents, let's take God serious. Let us mind His word and love our children the way Jesus Himself loves them. Let us protect them, cherish them, and tenderly care for them. Let us treat them the way we ourselves would want to be treated. Let us give each new baby a peaceful beginning, a compassionate introduction to the world. And let us surrender all of our actions to the Lord. He will mold us into the parents He wants us to be. Parents who will be like Him.
Laura Jezek is a freelance writer and mother of 4. She is studying theology at Trinity Theological Seminary and also home-educates her children. Laura and her family make their home on the Oregon Coast.
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