A Question I Was Asked:

Should Young Boys Be Circumcised?

The Question:

Should young boys be circumcised? I have been told that the Bible commends it, but my pastor told me it is not required, yet it could be a good health measure.

UK Apologetics Reply:

In a nutshell, circumcision became part of the old covenant for physical Israelite boys. It was commanded for them. Today the rite is not required; it becomes obsolete in Christ. Now some of the details:

The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is first found in Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God's renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (Genesis 15). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless Abraham, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership (Genesis 17:10). For the Israelites, circumcision became a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham's descendants.

So Abraham and his household were circumcised, and the Lord commanded that hereafter male infants were to be circumcised on the eighth day of life. This later went straight into the old covenant. Circumcision - of sorts - was already around in pagan society but this was distinctively different from contemporary pagan practices, which seem to have associated the rite either with puberty or with approaching marriage.

In time, circumcision became an especially distinctive indication of Jewish fidelity to the covenant. John the Baptist, for instance, was circumcised (Luke 1:59), so was Jesus (Luke 2:21) and Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:5), making them accredited members of the covenant people. During His ministry, however, Jesus appeared to challenge the pre-eminence of the rite when he stated that his healings made people completely whole (John 7:22-23) - what need then for circumcision? Nevertheless, Jewish boys continued to be circumcised.

Eventually, Paul (especially Paul, but also Barnabas) experienced considerable trouble from certain Jews (possibly from the Jerusalem congregation, but of heavy Pharasaic influence) whom he labelled "the circumcision party." These people claimed that circumcision was necessary for all believers (whether Gentile or Israelite); They taught that there could be no salvation without circumcision. Paul utterly rejected this teaching.

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. (Acts 15:1-5).

In short, the Apostle Peter opposed these Judaizers, affirming the saving efficacy of faith in Christ alone (Acts 15: 8-11), and denying the necessity of circumcision for the Gentiles. So, after much discussion by the Jerusalem Council, it was agreed that Gentiles should not be compelled to be circumcised (Acts 15:13-21). Paul rejected the Judaizers' vaunted claims of "spirituality," and although he circumcised the partly Jewish Timothy (Acts 16:3) to facilitate his mission, he opposed circumcision for the Gentile Titus (Galatians 2:3). This agreed the future course for the church. Boys of Israelitish stock continued to be circumcised for a few years, but even this appears to have died out among Christians; Gentile boys coming into church congregations, however, were not to be circumcised.

Now let us look at one or two Scriptures which explain why the rite cannot have authority under the New Covenant:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands) - remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2: 8-13).

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29).

A Flawed Approach From Some Protestant Bible Teachers...

All the above should settle the matter once and for all but I am alarmed that many Protestant Bible teachers still recommend circumcision! They usually do say it is no longer required under the New Covenant, but often add that they personally recommend it "as a health measure." However, there is no evidence that Israelite boys underwent circumcision as a 'health measure,' it was about obedience. Circumcision seems an odd and most illogical thing to do but it was given as a test of faithfulness and obedience. If we teach that it is "healthier," and should be done, we are saying that God slipped up in His original human creation and later required Israelites to take a knife to repair a problem in a boy's genital area. It's a bit like a car factory recall because a design/technical problem later shows up! It's like God saying, 'Look, I won't recall all the boys in the world right now because it is frankly difficult, but there is a design error which you can sort out with a sharp knife!' This - of course - is an utter nonsense! It is sometimes stated to be 'cleaner,' and it can be, but only if a lad was never taught about genital cleanliness.

So God did not slip up in His human design 'factory,' and circumcision is not required. Nevertheless, boys - and girls too - should be carefully taught about genital cleanliness.

Robin A. Brace. July 29th, 2013.