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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

Romans 2:25-29 by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 15 secs

Circumcision – Part 1
Romans 2:25–29
Romans Lesson #027
July 21, 2011

The focal point of Paul’s discussion here comes down to circumcision, and that is because in second temple Judaism the rite of circumcision had become a symbol of one’s identification with Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant which was viewed as salvific. They believed that if they were in right relationship to God through the covenant with Abraham then they were saved. The were counting on obedience to the Law to get them into heaven. The mistake that is made is that they are identifying a position of privilege in relation to knowledge about God and God’s revelation as equivalent to a position of salvation. Yet all of those blessings that God gave the Jewish people were designed to teach them about God so that they could then have salvation. Those privileges in and of themselves did not save them.

Then we have seen that Paul focused in on circumcision. Romans 2:25 NASB “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law…” It is not the circumcision, it is the keeping of the Law that makes it profitable because in the next sentence he says, “… but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” It’s as if the external did not apply.

Circumcision is an external physical procedure. There is a lot of parallel between the Jewish reliance on the external action of circumcision and the Christian reliance on the external ritual of baptism. The idea in both cases is that if I have participated in this external ritual then that is what is effective or efficacious in justifying me or saving me; and it is putting the emphasis on what I do rather than on what someone else does on my behalf. We need to pay attention to is how within second temple Judaism there is clear evidence of an understanding of some key doctrinal principles related to salvation. It is interesting how this appears but it becomes covered up and lost in the confusion, so to speak.

The significance of circumcision is that it was the external sign of the Abrahamic covenant, just as water baptism is an external sign of being a Christian. It is not what makes one a Christian and if you are not baptized you are still justified or saved. The last part of the sixteenth chapter of Mark is frequently debated over its textual veracity—whether this is part of the original Gospel of Mark. The Majority Text as well as Textus Receptus both include this ending. Mark 16:16 NASB “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…” People look at that and say you have to be baptized in order to be saved. But the clarification comes in the last phrase: “…but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” It doesn’t say he who has not been baptized will be condemned. The basis of condemnation is not believing. Cf. John 3:18. Baptism was inserted in Mark 16:16 because it was assumed that person who believed in Jesus Christ as savior would be baptized as the external sign, just as in the Old Testament if one was a Jewish male or converted to Judaism then one would need to be circumcised. The issue isn’t the external issue, the issue is the internal reality of faith in the promise of God to save through Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross.

The ritual of circumcision was introduced when God established or cut a covenant with Abraham. Genesis 17:10 NASB “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. [11] And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Note it doesn’t say anything about justification or salvation. (Genesis 15:6 NASB “Then he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That is the basis for relationship with God: imputation or accrediting of righteousness to someone. Not their righteousness, it is a gift God makes.) Abraham was justified and trusted in God years before. Then God promised him a covenant and the formal, ratified ceremony does not occur until Genesis chapter seventeen. Circumcision is a consequence of the covenant; it is not a cause of the covenant. It is not the basis for blessing; it is a sign of being in a relationship with God on the basis of this covenant. This teaches us that circumcision was never designed a basis for relationship with God; it is a sign that one is already in that relationship with God. So it is a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, not the Mosaic covenant. The sign of the Mosaic covenant was the Sabbath.

Genesis 17:12 NASB “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a {servant} who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. [13] A {servant} who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” The covenant is an everlasting covenant—not because a person is circumcised but because that is God’s will. It was a gift given, a possession, a title deed that is non-refundable, non-reversible. A sign that one owned that was that he was circumcised. [14] “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” That meant to be removed by death—it was a death penalty.

Circumcision doesn’t originate with this. It had been practiced by different cultures, different peoples, at different times long before Abraham. There is evidence among Egyptians and among most of western Semitic people. It was often a practice that related to puberty but it didn’t have a spiritual significance. God takes a practice that is already present (as He does with baptism; other religious groups baptized) and assigns it a particular meaning and significance in relation to His plan.

We need to understand how second temple Judaism understood circumcision. That way we can understand a little more about why Paul is saying what he is saying in Romans 2, as well as Galatians, Colossians and other passages. The first temple was Solomon’s temple, dedicated approximately 966 BC and destroyed in 586 BC. When it was destroyed, that was the end of the first temple period. Then when the Jews returned under Zerubbabel, beginning in approximately 537 BC, they began to rebuild the temple and finally completed it in 516. That is referred to as the second temple and it was not destroyed until the Romans under Titus destroyed it in AD 70. Herod came in approximately 25 BC and decided to completely renovate the temple back to its glorious days of Solomon. That was still the second temple because the sacrifices never ceased. Second temple Judaism refers to how the Mosaic Law was interpreted after the exile and it became the predecessor for modern Judaism. It is second temple Judaism that is the basis for Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Encyclopedia of Judaism (Jacob Noister): Article on circumcision. He goes to a passage in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 16:1 NASB “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, [2] ‘Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations [3] and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, “Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. [4] “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. [5] No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. [6] When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you {while you were} in your blood, ‘Live!’” This is the grace of God calling out Abraham, nurturing the nation through the period of the patriarchs and then bringing them eventually out of Egypt. “Yes, I said to you {while you were} in your blood, ‘Live!’ [7] I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments; {your} breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare. [8] Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine, declares the Lord GOD. [9] Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil [analogous to the Abrahamic covenant].’”

From the article: Regarding Ezekiel 16:6 he says, This is cited prominently in today’s prayer at the Bris service but it occurs also in second century [AD] sources [which shows it obviously reflects the thinking preceding that, i.e., the period during the time of Christ] within the context again of an anti-Christian polemic.” So the context found in the prayer book has been modified from what it was so that it is set against what Christianity had come to teach at that time.” Then he cites the verses here and comments, “It’s significance in the context of the debate on the efficacy of works over faith is evident from the following second century Midrash.” In other words, what he is saying is that by the early second century within Judaism we have come to understand that the Christians are saying that faith alone is all you need, and we are saying it is works—God is going to be impressed by what we do.

Here’s what we have in the second century Midrash: “Rabbi [………..] used to say, Behold it says, I passed by you and looked at you and saw it was a time of love [Ezekiel 16:8].” How is he going to interpret that? “This means the time had arrived for God’s vow to Abraham to be fulfilled, namely that He would save His children.” He has cast this totally within the context of salvation. “But as yet they had no commandments to perform by virtue of which they might merit redemption. As it says, ‘Your breasts were fashioned and your hair had grown but you were naked’”—meaning that they were naked of all commandments. Where do we see that in the passage? We don’t. This is what happened by the time of late second temple Judaism; this sort of non-literal interpretation had set in so that it was no longer interpreting it within a framework of a literal interpretation. The idea of not having commandments isn’t present in the chapter at all. “God therefore assigned them two commandments, the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb and circumcision, which they were to perform so as to merit being saved.” So how do you get saved? By observing the Passover and by being circumcised. “As it says, ‘I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you {while you were} in your blood, Live!’ One could not obtain reward except by these.” Reward is by works but salvation is a free gift. He goes on to say, “As the Ezekiel exegesis demonstrates, the central symbol of the circumcision ritual was its blood. Regularly, therefore, we find reference not only to the salvific nature of the rite in general but more specifically to the saving merit of circumcision blood.” See what is going on here? There is an understanding that there must be the shedding of blood in order to have salvation. It’s just that it is misplaced in terms of the circumcision ritual. “Nowadays a blessing accompanies the symbolic placing of wine on the lips of the baby boy just after the circumcision wound has been cauterized.”

In Judaism as in Christianity wine symbolizes blood. “At any rate the symbolic value of circumcision as an act of salvation is evident throughout our second century sources. It is the sign of the covenant that saves.” As we have seen, Abraham was already saved. He had been given the promise of the covenant long before there is any circumcision. Circumcision was the sign of something already accomplished just as baptism for the Christian is a depiction of something that is already accomplished, not the means to get salvation. “The blood drawn in the act is equivalent to the blood of the Pascal lamb” (What Christianity understands is that the Passover lamb is a picture of Jesus Christ. This is what John the Baptist indicated when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”) that the Israelites smeared ion the door posts to warn off the angel of death [there’s no angel mentioned in Exodus; only God] on the night the firstborn Egyptians were slaughtered. It is a paradigmatic salvific example of a good work practiced in every generation from Abraham on. As such it has commanded the universal allegiance of Jews throughout history.”

What about modern times? Things have changed. He writes: “Again in our time the issue has been addressed, this time on different grounds. Nineteenth century opposition to circumcision within the Jewish community was rooted in evolution…” Interesting! They don’t believe there is a God anymore, they don’t believe in objective revelation; so within reformed Judaism they’ve thrown out the objective truth and the reality of God’s commandments—something that just sort of got cobbled together in their tradition—and so they don’t need it anymore. “… as from the assumption that a mature Judaism could safely tear away this dysfunctional ritual of its use. For many, therefore, circumcision now is hardly the central act of faith that it once was. Almost no one anymore is aware of the salvific symbolism it once contained: the blood that saves (the parallelism between the circumcision blood and the Pascal lamb), the very real hopes once invested in the child as a potential Messiah or the ritual symbolism of sacrifice that dominated centuries of rabbinic thought. But the rite still maintains its hold on the popular imagination, at least in most circles.”

Genesis 21:4 NASB “Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.” He obeys the command. The next time we have circumcision mentioned is in Genesis 34:13-16 NASB “Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. [14] They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. [15] Only on this {condition} will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, [16] then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people.’” They don’t really mean that but they are setting up a military strategy whereby they massacre all the males in Shechem.

The next time it is mentioned is in Exodus 4:24-26, the circumcision of Moses’ son. NASB “Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death”—because he hasn’t circumcised his son. The reason this circumcision has to happen is because it is a sign that the descendents of Abraham have been distinguished or set apart, from the rest of humanity. It is their positional sanctification, so to speak, just as in the New Testament baptism is a picture of our positional sanctification and being set apart in Christ. [25] “Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’ [26] So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘{You are} a bridegroom of blood”—because of the circumcision.’” Now it is okay for Moses to go about his task because he had to be one who was obedient to God.

Next is in Exodus 12:44-48 in relation to the first Passover. The uncircumcised could not eat the Passover meal. NASB “but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. [48] “But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.” God is serious about this. You can’t participate in these rituals unless you have become positionally set apart—indicated by circumcision.

Leviticus 12:2, 3 gives us some of the details of circumcision. “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male {child,} then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.’”

But then we start getting to the spiritual significance of the physical act in Leviticus 26:41. This is the chapter that outlines the various stages of divine judgment upon Israel for their disobedience. NASB “I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, [42] then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.” This is in the middle of the fifth cycle of discipline. The only way they can get back on the land is if [v.40] they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers and their unfaithfulness. The issue is their mental attitude, their spiritual relationship to God; not the physical—physical was to demonstrate a physical reality.

This is confirmed by the next use which is in Deuteronomy 10:16 NASB “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” It is not physical, it is spiritual. “Stiff-necked” is an attitude of rebellion and arrogance towards God. The issue is obedience and submission to God.

God promises that there will be a time when He will bring them back to the land. Deuteronomy 28:45 NASB “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. [46] They shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever. [47] Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things…” So they are going to come under judgment. But the hope is then defined in chapter thirty.

Deuteronomy 30:1 NASB “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call {them} to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, [2] and you return [shub] to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, [3] then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.” But there has to be an internal change. [6] “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” This is the new covenant. This is related to what is stated in Ezekiel 36:25ff where God says in relation to this future time NASB “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. [26] Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” The picture of circumcision is the removal of flesh. That’s the sin nature. [27] “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. [28] You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”

Jeremiah 9:24, 25 NASB “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me [not ritual but personal relationship], that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised”—people who were physically circumcised but not circumcised in their heart.