Was the Genesis 17 Circumcision Covenant Between God & Abraham
(and His Descendents) Really Everlasting?
In Genesis 17: regarding the circumcision covenant we read:
Genesis 17:7 ¶ And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant...
Genesis 17:13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
Physical Circumcision Covenant Everlasting ?
Particularly in churches that believe in the doctrine of Anglo-American Israelism, it is argued that under the New Covenant the emphasis in the New Testament is on "spiritual" as opposed to physical circumcision. By this they mean: as long as descendents of Abraham are circumcised "in their hearts" then their obligation under the covenant of circumcision is fulfilled. As such, they argue that physical descendents of Abraham do not have to be physically circumcised today if they are "circumcised in their hearts".
That said, given that the physical covenant of Genesis 17 for descendents of Abraham to be circumcised , is twice said by God to be everlasting; unless there is explicit scriptural evidence to the contrary, arguably the obligation on descendents of Abraham is to be both physically circumcised AND circumcised in their hearts. That is, for bona fide physical descendents of Abraham, it's not a question of whether to be physically circumcised OR spiritually circumcised, its about being BOTH physically circumcised AND spiritually circumcised.
Actually the question: for physical circumcision does everlasting mean everlasting? can be answered categorically. Yes. For the following reason.
Physical Circumcision For Physical Descendants of Abraham Today
The concept of being "circumcised of the heart" originates in Deuteronomy. Yet if it was intended to replace physical circumcision, why only a few years after it was revealed in Deuteronomy, did God command Joshua to circumcise the Israelites again in Joshua 5?
Joshua 5:2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time." 3 So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt. 5 For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised. 6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD--to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, "a land flowing with milk and honey." 7 Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed. 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.
Since Joshua 5 comes so quickly after the encouragement to be "circumcised of the heart" in Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6 it shows that being "circumcised of the heart" is no substitute for compliance with the everlasting circumcision covenant of Genesis 17. We would argue therefore that this proves, that for physical descendents of Abraham, God's objective was that they should be circumcised physically AND "circumcised in their hearts"?
Romans 2:29 Says Physical Circumcision is Unnecessary
Some would still say that nevertheless in Romans 2:29 Paul contradicts this, and shows that physical circumcision is not necessary any more.
Romans 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
The explanation is in the context. Paul is explaining the most contentious issue that hit the first century church; that is, the non-circumcision of gentiles following the revelation to Peter regarding Cornelius in Acts 10: that gentiles no longer need to be circumcised to become adopted Israelites under Exodus 12:48. Instead they would become adopted children of God (Romans 8:14). For this reason there was no need for gentiles to become circumcised anymore under Exodus 12:48. So Paul is primarily saying that since Cornelius it wasn't necessary for gentiles to be circumcised to become baptised members of the church.
But Joshua 5 clearly shows though, that Israelites were expected to be physically circumcised, because the covenant of Genesis 17 is everlasting.
Doesn't Acts 15 "Do Away" With Circumcision?
Some say that the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15: means that physical circumcision was no longer necessary for Israelites too.
What if You Believe You're An Israelite?
Should (for example) those who believe that they are descendents of the lost twelve tribes undergo circumcision today ?
What Was the Implication on Devout Gentile Proselytes?
The implication was that devout gentile proselytes had to undergo circumcision under Exodus 12:48.
Follow this link to our next article: "Circumcision of the Heart".
Return to the Home Page
© www.gentiles-and-circumcision.info Jan 2006.
Many christian theologians believe Paul kept Nazirite vows & offered sacrifices at the temple, even after the crucifixion, so is the law really "done away with" in Galatians?