Jesus on Circumcision
I was listening to the book of John today (I've almost finished the Bible in 5 months so excited!) and stumbled upon a couple discourses of Jesus that I simply did not remember. One was related to circumcision in a manner that I found incredibly enlightening and important.
21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well?" - John 7:21-23
Trying to keep this simple I'll walk through the points that came to mind. Maybe they came in this order, I'm not really sure.
- Moses didn't give circumcision. The "fathers" gave it. This is referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This means circumcision is not a part of the Mosaic law and subsequently not annulled in the New Covenant (more on this briefly because I'm sure I hear some rumbles). Depictions then of Abraham's posterity inheriting a recapitulated covenant of works are gravely mistaken. God's promise to Abraham preceeds His law and covenant with Moses and cannot annul the promise contained in circumcision (Gal 3:17). The sign of circumcision was an eternal covenant and sign (Gen 17:7, 13, 19). How some try to read that Abraham's decedents were solely heirs of a "covenant of works" is beyond me. The sign given to each of them was one of deliverance and salvation.
- Circumcision is worthy of the Sabbath. This means it is holy and dedicated to the Lord. The priests "profane the Sabbath" with their sacrifices and yet are guiltless (Matt 12:5). Circumcision is a sacrifice of blood similar to that of an animal sacrifice. Christ's death is well thought of as the ultimate circumcision. [This is important since Jesus Christ referred to His sacrifice on the cross as a baptism (Mark 10:38-39).] Circumcision was righteously performed on the Sabbath because it preceded the law and it provided a covenant deliverance. [Since circumcision was not annulled, baptism as such must do likewise.]
- Circumcision is equated with the healing of a man's body. This is a blessing and a gift. It is deliverance as is fitting for the Sabbath. It is the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18). Circumcision most certainly contains a curse but this is a far distant meaning to that of deliverance and Sabbath fulfillment. Circumcision was spiritual and salvific. The language of Christian baptism takes up this concept of healing the body (it is even contained in the OT washing throughout Leviticus). Since post-Christ no blood sacrifice was needed the sign of circumcision was no longer required but baptism as a washing (with the blood already shed) was essential to the Christian community .
These thoughts are not meant to be conclusive in any capacity. But I have found it interesting over the past two years to see how the practice of circumcision has been denigrated by those who sought to soften the circumcision-to-baptism argument. It simply isn't true that circumcision pointed to law not grace. It certainly seems to point here to a type of Sabbath fulfillment. This is consistent with Paul: circumcision was a benefit to the Spiritual welfare of Israel (Rom 3:1-2; 9:4-5).