Thoughts on Circumcision

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Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
1. Circumcision was the initiatory sacrament of the covenant of grace, beginning with Abraham.

2. It was initiatory because it marked "initiation," or entrance, into the covenant/church. Exodus 12:43-49 makes it clear that proselytes from "the nations" (Gentiles), in order to be considered Jews (in the religious sense), had to be circumcised.

3. It was a sacrament because it signified and sealed spiritual graces which the Old Testament believers possessed; most principally, justification and regeneration/sanctification (what is commonly called the "double cure" or "twofold benefit" of Christ).

4. Circumcision was not intrinsically a type of these graces, since types point forward to a reality not presently experienced. However, there was something typical about circumcision, in that (like the Passover) it was a bloody rite, and so pointed forward to the shedding of the blood of Christ. (On an interesting note, Scripture attributes both our justification and sanctification to the blood of Christ -- again speaking of the "double cure" signified and sealed in circumcision.)

5. Circumcision was a part of the "everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:7). This means that circumcision must continue in some capacity into the New Testament dispensation. Since we manifestly no longer have literal circumcision, it must be replaced by another rite (baptism).

6. The covenant of grace had been with "believers and their children" before Abraham, and the principle of "covenanters and their children" previously existed in the covenant of works and the (eternal) covenant of redemption; this principle therefore was not intrinsically bound with circumcision, to be done away with when that rite ceased under the New Testament.

7. Circumcision represented an advancement made in the administration of the covenant of grace; since it had the sign of the covenant particularly applied to the members of the covenant. But it was not a perfect advancement, in that it was not applied to all members of the covenant (females).

8. This pointed forward to the time when its replacement (baptism) would be applied to all members of the covenant, regardless of their gender: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:27-29).

9. "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also" (Rom. 4:11). God gave Abraham circumcision in Genesis 17 as a sign and seal of "the righteousness of faith" (justification), which was pronounced upon him in Genesis 15. But God gave him circumcision in "the covenant of circumcision" (Acts 7:8); so that circumcision, in regard to Abraham, cannot be considered apart from circumcision being given to him with his seed. If it was given to him as a sign and seal of justification, it was likewise given to his seed as a sign and seal of justification.

10. Circumcision presented the Gospel of free salvation in Christ. In its application to believers (like Abraham, or proselytes), it was a proclamation of Gospel pardon and assurance. In its appliction to infants, it was a proclamation of Gospel offer, to be laid hold of by faith alone -- like the Word preached, but particularly applied and proclaimed to them, individually.

11. "In whom (Christ) also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:11, 12). This passage speaks of being "circumcised in Christ" (note the strong parallel with baptism "in Christ," spoken of throughout the New Testament; indeed, in the very next verse); and explicitly identifies "the circumcision of Christ" (which we might render "Christian circumcision") as being New Testament baptism; or, that the Old Testament rite of circumcision has been replaced by baptism.

12. The apparent New Testament rejection of circumcision was not a rejection of any of these points; but only a rejection of how it was maintained by the Pharisees and Judaizers. The fact that some were circumcised, as well as baptized, in the New Testament, does not demonstrate that baptism did not in fact replace circumcision; any more than Paul's circumcising of Timothy in Acts 16:3 was a repudiation of the decision of the synod which convened in the preceding chapter. Many replaced or abrogated rites continued through the New Testament, until the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
 
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