Volume 13, Issue 2: Doctrine 101
Covenant of Circumcision
What ever happened to circumcision as a sign of the covenant? Why donít Christians today circumcise their male children on the eighth day? Sure, the easy answer is that the Church has instituted baptism as the sign of the new covenant, while circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. Okay, then, why donít Christians all baptize their infant children?
When Jesus was crucified, we are told that He was left naked for the whole world to see. All four gospels mention that those who crucified Christ cast lots for His garments. Unlike the images portrayed by the Roman Catholic church, possibly out of a misdirected sense of modesty, God endured the great humiliation of being publicly displayed naked before both Jews and Gentiles. And what was apparent to both Jews and Gentiles as they looked on the unclad loins of Jesus as He hung from the cross? He was circumcised. But why is this of any significance? We are all aware that the Jews circumcised their infant sons on the eighth day as was commanded by the law of Moses (Lev. 12:1—3). The Bible even tells us, "And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus" (Lk. 2:21). Why was it necessary for Jesus in His crucifixion to endure the additional public humiliation of being displayed naked? Up until the time of his circumcision, only His mother, father, and the circumcising priest actually knew that Jesus was circumcised. But why did the whole world need to know this fact?
God, who would justify the heathen through faith in Jesus Christ, preached the gospel to Abraham, saying, "In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8). Circumcision was ordained by God in His covenant with Abraham, "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, . . . every man child among you shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17:10). Not only was circumcision ordained by God, it served as an outward sign of the covenant of the promised Messiah: "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" (Gen. 17:11). Those who bore the sign of circumcision were in the covenant; those who did not bear the sign were cut off from the people of God as covenant breakers: "And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Gen. 17:14). Now the covenant was not for Abraham alone, but for his descendants after him, "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee" (Gen. 17:10). It was a covenant made with Abraham, and with his son, Isaac, and with his grandson, Jacob, and with his descendants throughout the ensuing millennia until Jesus Christ. In fact, Stephen, in his defense of the gospel, referred to this: "And he gave him the covenant of circumci- sion: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs" (Acts 7:8).
When Matthew wrote his gospel narrative, he began by introducing the book as an account of the generation of Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:1), the last generation of the covenant of circumcision. The genealogy begins with Abraham and continues to Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the covenant, (Mt. 1:2ff.) All of the males in that covenant, generation by generation, from Abraham to Jesus Christ, received the sign of the covenant—circumcision—before they were even old enough to understand anything of what that covenant was about.
Of course all who received the sign were not saved. When God delivered the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, they had all been circumcised (Josh. 5:5), but these all died in the wilderness (Josh. 5:4). The author of Hebrews tells us why they died, "But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:17—19). Even though they were covenant members, not all believed, and God removed them from among the covenant children during their forty years in the wilderness. Their covenantal status did not keep them from the sin of unbelief any more than it guaranteed their salvation. But neither did their unbelief nullify the thrice-confirmed covenant of circumcision with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Today, we in the Church are Abrahamís covenant offspring: "And if ye be Christís, then are ye Abrahamís seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). Christ was willingly crucified and endured the shame of being publicly displayed naked so that the world would know that He was the long-awaited fulfillment of the covenant of circum- cision. Christ bore in His body for the whole world to see, the sign of the promise of redemption of the world. The sign was fulfilled in the reality, God incarnate. In suffering such humiliation at the hands of sinners, Christ has become our circumcision, not made with hands, and we are united with Him through the outward sign of baptism (Col. 2:11—12).
Under the weaker covenant, circumcision was for Abraham and his covenant offspring, whenever a male child attained to the age of eight days. Under the greater covenant, what restrains us, as Abrahamsís heirs, from applying "circumcision" of water through Jesus Christ to our infant covenant offspring?