Is circumcision still necessary today?

There is a growing movement today among parents to leave their male children uncircumcised, and controversy is growing as to whether it is necessary or even desirable to circumcise male children or not. Some say it is a cruel and barbarous practice, while others say it eliminates hygienic problems that could occur later in life. So what is the answer for today? Let's see what the Scriptures have to say about the issue.

The original purpose of circumcision was given by God to Abraham to separate his descendants from the nations surrounding them, and He gave the covenant of circumcision as a visible sign and reminder of that separation. However many of the Jews of old didn't realize that the physical act of circumcision was symbolic of a spiritual event, namely the casting off of the sins of the flesh, and the following of a spiritual covenant, codified in the Old Testament Mosaic Law set down by God Himself.

Before Jesus' atoning death and resurrection, it was required of every man who became a convert to Judaism to be circumcised in accordance with the Law. However the apostle Paul realized that after Jesus' fulfillment of the Law, circumcision of the Gentiles was no longer necessary, as God had cleansed their hearts by faith outside of the works of the Law.

Problems still persisted though. As the book of Acts records concerning the early church;

ACTS 15:1-6

1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses.

6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

Even after Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jewish believers were still hide-bound in the traditions of the Law, not discerning that the Law while requiring physical action had spiritual implications and meaning. God's exact words to Abraham were;

GENESIS 17:9-14

9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

10 This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which [is] not of thy seed.

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.

14 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.

Circumcision was not in itself a form of salvation, but was a demonstration of obedience by the Jews to God's covenant to Abraham. And the Abrahamic covenant was later superceded by the Law given to Moses 400 years later. However the Law didn't nullify the covenant given to Abraham, as God included circumcision in the Law itself. So essentially God included the covenant of Abraham within the covenant of the Law.


1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.

3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

By the time of Jesus' appearance here on earth, the actual rite of circumcision had become more important to some of the Jews than the spiritual meaning behind the act. The Pharisees would diligently seek to make converts, and the rite of circumcision would be an occasion for them to bring honor to themselves by the public display of the circumcision rite so they could receive adulation for having made a convert. Paul pointed out this hypocritical act when he said;


12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

The issue of circumcision therefore became a hot argument between the believing Pharisees who required that the Gentiles be circumcised according to the Law and follow the dictates of the Law to be saved, and Paul who believed that the Gentiles were saved by faith alone.

Even Peter caved in on the issue and succumbed to peer pressure while in the city of Antioch, bringing a stinging rebuke from Paul before all of the Jews who were there at the time. As Paul recounted;


11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before [them] all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

15 We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Surprisingly enough, it was the apostle Peter who made a pointed observation that brought about an end to the dissension in Jerusalem. He referred back to the well-known incident in which he had preached to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household, Gentiles all, and had watched with astonishment as the Holy Spirit fell upon them in the same fashion as He had with the 120 people in the upper room at Pentecost. Luke, the author of the book of Acts recounts;

ACTS 15:7-12

7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us;

9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

Note that Peter in verses 9 and 10 said that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it came to the giving of the Holy Spirit. God looked at their hearts, not their flesh.

The prophet Samuel had been told to go to Jesse and anoint one of his sons to be the next king of Israel. As Jesse's first born son Eliab passed before Samuel, the prophet was impressed by what he saw. But as Scripture records;

I SAMUEL 16:6-7

6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD'S anointed [is] before him.

7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for [the LORD seeth] not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

Paul, understanding the true meaning of circumcision later put the issue of circumcision and observance of the Law by the Gentiles to rest when he said;


6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed.

9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, [it is] evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Note what the first two verses say here? Abraham was justified by faith! He didn't have the Law to go by, therefore God accounted Abraham to be righteous because of his faith in God apart from the Law. So all who believe in God and have accepted Jesus Christ are children of Abraham, and are inheritors of the covenants given to him and his descendants.

The Law was under a curse so that no one could be saved through the Law. Why? Because the Law required that a man be sinless and perfect in every way, something that Man because of sin could never hope to attain to. God will not allow anything imperfect into His kingdom, which is His right. It is His kingdom, and He is perfect, and He demands that those who enter be perfect even as He is.

He also knew that Man could never be perfect because of sin, no matter how righteous he tried to be. Knowing this, God provided the Law as a test of obedience. The Law could never save, as it required that a man live a perfect life to attain salvation. And the Law also put all men on a level playing field, so that no man could attain salvation by his own works..

As Paul concludes;


21 [Is] the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Those who died in obedience to the Law were still sinners, because Jesus had not yet freed Man from the curse of sin as defined by the Law. But as they died in obedience, believing in the One who gave them the Law, their obedience was counted as righteousness by God.

But even so, they were still not worthy to enter Heaven yet, for while the Law credited them for obedience, their sins still had not been paid for. Only after Jesus' death and resurrection were they allowed to enter Heaven.

After Peter's dissertation, the assembled elders and apostles agreed with Paul and Barnabas, and by the command of James, Jesus' brother, a letter was sent to the Gentile believers as to what to do. (Note: the command came from James, not Peter.)

ACTS 15:23-29

23 And they wrote [letters] by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren [send] greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, [Ye must] be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no [such] commandment:

25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell [you] the same things by mouth.

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

Therefore as the Gentiles are under grace by faith and are not bound under the Law, circumcision is not a commandment for today, should parents not wish to do so to their male children. However from a hygienic standpoint, circumcision is indeed beneficial, and parents should take this into account when having a male child born to them.

As Paul told the Jews in Rome;

ROMANS 2:25-29

25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither [is that] circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

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.

Since we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts today, we no longer need a physical reminder of God's covenant with us. And as Paul says, outward appearances or race do not justify us before God, but our hearts are judged by God, and will bring us praise or condemnation from the Lord.

Ever wonder why the laws set down by Jesus in the New Testament are harsher than those in the Old Testament Ten Commandments? For example, the seventh commandment says,

EXODUS 20:14

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Easy enough to do. Just don't sleep with your neighbor's wife.

And yet Jesus said;

MATTHEW 5:27-28

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Uh oh.....

In the time of the Old Testament the spirit and the flesh were essentially inseparable. The Spirit of God would rest upon a person, but would not indwell him. Therefore the flesh and the spirit were in close association, and God, knowing this, set down laws that were more of a physical than a spiritual nature. In other words, "Do this"and "Do not do this". Easy enough to follow for the most part.

But when the Holy Spirit was given to men, a circumcision of the spirit from the flesh was instituted as we are under the spiritual laws of grace, rather than the physical laws of the Old Testament. In this new circumcision, the human spirit is given authority over the flesh, and we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us to help us to resist fleshly temptations, something the people in the Old testament didn't have.

And that is why the Law couldn't save anyone. It was never meant to be a means of salvation. Just as the animal sacrifices required by the Law could never take away sins;

HEBREWS 10:1-9

1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, [and] not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

3 But in those [sacrifices there is] a remembrance again [made] of sins every year.

4 For [it is] not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

6 In burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and [offering] for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure [therein]; which are offered by the law;

9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

The Old Testament sacrifices were created to put the Jews under obedience until the true sacrifice, namely Jesus Christ, could come. The Law demanded the sacrifice of a perfect life, and Man could not meet that requirement, so God Himself provided the perfect sacrifice.

So as we see, the Law was a physical reminder of spiritual events and pointed to the New Testament covenant which would be installed by God in His timing. A Law of works could never save anyone, as it required perfection beyond Man's ability to provide.

The Law was instituted to remind the Jews of their covenant with God, and a reminder of their sinful nature before a perfect, holy and just God, and a reminder in their flesh of their separation from the nations around them.

In a typically Satanic twist, during WW II when the Nazis had doubts as to whether a man was a Jew or Gentile, they would force the suspect to drop his pants and he would be checked for circumcision as they knew that Jewish males would be circumcised according to the Law.

In conclusion, circumcision is not necessary for male children today, and parents, you are not in violation of God's covenant today if you do not circumcise your children. God sees the heart, and that is where the true circumcision occurs in those who believe. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and therefore Gentiles who believe and accept Jesus Christ as savior are accounted in God's sight as the children of Abraham, and are heirs of the promises given to him, as much as the believing Jews.

However, if you choose to circumcise your children for hygienic reasons, you do well, and may save your child physical problems later in life.

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