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Bible verses about Circumcision of the Heart
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Nobody knows with absolute certainty when, in dim antiquity, the practice of circumcision began. Genesis 17 is certainly one of the earliest mentions of it. Nations other than Israel practiced circumcision, which somewhat confuses the issue. Genesis 17 may well be the earliest mention of it, and therefore the practice began with God instituting it with Abraham.

However, two things are certain to those who look into these things. First, no people used it as extensively or consistently as Israel did. Second, no other people circumcised their male children on the eighth day of life. God used it as a mark or a sign, authenticating that the person had made the Old Covenant with Him. It was done on the eighth day to indicate that Israelites were born into a covenant relationship with God. They had to do nothing except to be born.

God, as usual, was looking far forward in time. In the writing of the Bible, He made extensive use of circumcision as the symbol of what must happen to a person's heart under the New Covenant, which is where circumcision was aimed from its inception. Certainly, it played a role in the Old Covenant, but God, who knows the end from the beginning, was laying the groundwork so that we could understand the spiritual ramifications of circumcision. Therefore, spiritual circumcision must happen to each person who makes the New Covenant with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Genesis 17:10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The ordinance of circumcision was an outward physical sign of one's willingness to obey God and be one of His chosen people.

Under the New Covenant, God is calling a spiritual nation composed of individuals converted and regenerated by His Holy Spirit. God's people now are all to be "circumcised" spiritually. Physical circumcision is no longer necessary for religious purposes. It was a forerunner or type of what God really wanted—circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Paul told the congregation in Rome that physical circumcision is of no spiritual benefit (Romans 2:25-29). Spiritual circumcision, though, is a process of conversion. That Christ circumcises us spiritually is made plain in Colossians 2:10-11.

This is why the assembled apostles and elders of the New Testament church declared circumcision to be one of the physical requirements of the Old Covenant that is not necessary for Christians (Acts 15:24, 28). It is for entirely non-religious reasons that one may decide to be circumcised or have his son circumcised. There is some evidence that circumcision promotes cleanliness and health, depending on the male's overall cleanliness, morality, and health.

Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent


 

Genesis 49:10   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The patriarch Jacob had twelve sons, and God had to choose from which tribe His Son would descend. He proclaims His choice through Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49:10: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people." Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, as many scriptures record (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:33; Hebrews 7:14, etc.).

This fact also has spiritual implications for us. Jesus says to the woman at the well, "For salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Paul explains what this means:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Born of a Woman


 

Deuteronomy 10:16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Two parties are necessary to circumcise the foreskin of our heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16, God tells us to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer." Here, He commands us to do the circumcising. Compare this to Deuteronomy 30:6, where God says He will perform the circumcision: "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart." These two passages do not contradict. God cannot create perfect, righteous character—that is the character of the new man—unilaterally. We build that character as we labor with God, cooperatively working with him over, generally, an extended period of time. That is what the Latinate word collaborate means, to "labor with."

Charles Whitaker
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)


 

Deuteronomy 10:16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This is a command, an exhortation, and an admonition. It puts the responsibility for yielding on us. We are the ones that have to to submit. Circumcision, in this context, is something we must do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Deuteronomy 30:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This is an early prophecy of what He will do. What is the terminology? "The Lord your God will circumcise your heart." He will change our hearts and write His laws in them. Here it appears as something that God will do unilaterally.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)


 

John 7:37-39   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus is prophesying of the giving of the Spirit, which is absolutely essential to the "circumcision of the heart," to "writing God's law on the heart," to enabling us to have a good relationship with God. Notice that He puts conditions on receiving the Spirit, which is a factor that did not appear much in the Old Covenant prophecies about it. But here the time to make the Spirit available is near, so God's Servant - Jesus Christ - tells us what the conditions are to be if we are going to agree to this Covenant.

He says that we have to believe, to come to Him. If we have been called, we have to respond. We have to thirst - to want it desperately - and on top of that, we have to drink. Remember the old cliché, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? A lot of people are like that: They can be led to the truth, but to get them to take it in and make it a part of them is very difficult indeed.

In addition, the Spirit would not be given until Christ was glorified, that is, until after His death and His resurrection to spirit life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)


 

Acts 15:1   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In Acts 10:44-48, God did not require circumcision of the Gentile converts, and so a dispute arose in the church regarding circumcision and all it represented.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 2): God's Pattern of Leadership


 

Acts 15:8-9   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The Gentiles' conversion resulted in a serious controversy in the church over whether they should be required to be circumcised. This major issue resulted in the convening of the first ministerial conference in the history of God's church (Acts 15). At this conference, the ministry was led to decide that the Gentiles do not need to be circumcised.

God revealed to the apostles that, under the New Covenant, He makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Regardless of race or ethnic origin, He extends the promises of salvation to any and all whom He chooses to call. Under the New Covenant, physical descent from Abraham no longer matters because God is concerned only over the person's repentance and faith in Christ. Those who receive the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism become "the seed of Abraham." Additionally, because the purpose and meaning of physical circumcision have been superseded by the New Covenant, there is no need to inflict pain and possible psychological distress on an adult male through this operation.

Peter emphasizes that God looked upon the hearts of the Gentiles and saw their repentance. Although they were not circumcised, God forgave their sins because of their repentance and faith in Christ and granted them the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were, therefore, justified by faith and spiritually circumcised, that is, in heart and mind (Romans 2:28-29). During the Jerusalem conference, God revealed to the apostles that justification fulfilled the spiritual symbolism of circumcision.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Why We Must Put Out Leaven


 

Romans 2:25   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In other words, even if one is circumcised, if he breaks the law, it becomes as if one were not circumcised.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Romans 2:26   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

This verse begins to clarify what makes a person circumcised or uncircumcised.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Romans 2:27-29   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The law he is writing about here is obviously the Ten Commandments. Within this context is the Bible's definition of what God means by circumcision. Circumcision is broadly defined as "when one keeps the law." Uncircumcision is "when one breaks the law." He does not mean an occasional breaking of the law but consistently breaking it as a practice or as a way of life.

It was the shocking disparity between what the Pharisees urged others to do and what they did themselves that ignited Jesus' strong rebukes against them. Here, Paul accuses the typical Jew—not necessarily the Pharisee, the scribe, or the Sadducee—of bringing blasphemy against God by doing the same thing the Pharisees did. They taught and demanded one thing of others and did something else.

The Jews, then, had acquired a bad reputation throughout the Roman Empire by teaching one thing and doing another in the business of life. Thus, Paul says that, spiritually, they were uncircumcised. The average Jew was externally in conformity with the Covenant, but inwardly, as shown by the way that he lived his life—how he conducted his business, his family life—he may just as well have been as uncircumcised as a Gentile! There is a powerful lesson in this for us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Romans 8:3-4   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. However, in order to worship Him in this way, one must have the Spirit of God! In Matthew 26:41, Jesus says, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. A person's flesh can respond to something inspirational and even say, "Yes, I want to do right." But if his heart is not circumcised, a person lacks the resolve to do right consistently. The New Covenant was designed by God to circumcise the heart!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)


 

Romans 9:6   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"It is not that the word of God has taken no effect" must be understood in light of why he is writing this. The silent question is, "What about Israel?" as God seems to be setting Israel aside. It appears as if God has been a failure in His dealings with Israel. He gave them the Covenant, but the people did not want to keep it. But Paul argues that, no, Israel is not being set aside. He is saying, "No, you don't really understand what's going on." It is not that the word of God has taken no effect.

"For they are not all Israel who are of Israel." Who is a Jew? Who is really part of Israel? Only those whose heart has been circumcised (Romans 2:29)! If a Gentile is circumcised in the heart, in God's eyes he is an Israelite!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

1 Corinthians 7:18-19   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul says so plainly that it is important to keep the commandments of God! There is no contradiction in the Scriptures. When Paul seems to write about a doing away with the law in Galatians 5, that perception is mistaken. These verses make it clear that it is very important for a person to keep God's commandments, but it is not important that he be circumcised. One changes the heart, and the other does not. The one builds character, the other does not. The one brings a person into the image of God, and the other does not. There is nothing wrong with the rite of circumcision, but do not expect it to have any spiritual impact.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 28)


 

2 Corinthians 3:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul specifically says that the law will be written in the fleshly tables of our heart by the Spirit of the living God! However, the circumcision of the heart is a co-operative effort. God does His part, and we do ours by submitting to Him. Both parts are involved within this process, by which God is enabling us to have the power to sustain a relationship with Him. And that power is given only to the children of promise, the children of God, the church, the remnant, those who are in Christ, those who have received God's Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)


 

2 Corinthians 3:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul makes it clear that the Spirit God will give us will be the means by which the laws are written on our hearts. "Circumcision of the heart," "writing God's laws on the heart," "conversion," and "changing" essentially describe the same thing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)


 

Galatians 2:3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The account of Acts 15 shows that it is not necessary for salvation for Christians to be physically circumcised. Salvation is by grace through faith, and faith without works is dead. We cannot "work" or "earn" our way into the Kingdom of God. The privilege to be a part of the eternal Kingdom is one that God bestows according to His will. Nothing we can do will make God indebted to us or require Him to do something for us, such as grant us admission into His Kingdom.

But at the same time, if we are within the salvation process, we must show forth works, or fruits, that demonstrate our repentance, our attitude, and our desire to live by the rules of His Kingdom. We must live now in the same way that we will be living for eternity—by the laws of God's Kingdom. Our works do not save us; they demonstrate that we are being saved.

Under the Old Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances were primarily physical, and the spiritual aspects were implied. Under the New Covenant, the ceremonies and ordinances are primarily spiritual, and the physical aspects are implied. For example, there is no record of Christ ever performing an animal sacrifice, even though the Old Testament requires one in the morning and in the evening. Under the New Covenant, the physical rite is not required, yet the basic law is still there, and is thus manifested in morning and evening prayer, a sacrifice of our time and energy.

In the same regard, the council of Acts 15 shows that circumcision is not one of the works that is required to demonstrate the salvation/sanctification process. When considering eternity and the spiritual bodies that we will have at that time, circumcision is almost insignificant. What is truly important is whether or not the heart has been circumcised. The physical rite was a reminder to the children of Israel that they were separate and distinct, but even in this God was looking for a change of heart so much more so than a modification of the flesh.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:16-17   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Under the New Covenant, the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant are valid, and Abraham is our spiritual father, as it were. He is the model of the family, with whom God first made the covenant, and he obeyed God's voice (Genesis 26:5). He kept the commandments and the laws, and Abraham's children are going to do the same thing! Otherwise, they will not really be his children.

Paul is not doing away with the law! He is simply saying that the law cannot justify us. We see here, by God's own witness, that Abraham lived up to the terms of the covenant. Because he did, it was passed on to Isaac for him to do as his father had done.

The problem of transgressions in the Old Covenant was not resolved until the promised Seed, Christ, came. He lived perfectly, qualifying to be the payment for sin, and at the same time, He confirmed the promises that were made unto Abraham—and they were made absolutely and eternally binding. God then proposed the New Covenant that He had previously shown in prophecy (Jeremiah 31). God has presented it to all of mankind—not just to Abraham's physical descendants.

It is not circumcision that makes one a part of this covenant. Rather, it is circumcision of the heart! The sign is repentance and faith in the sacrifice of the promised Seed, Jesus Christ. The receipt of the Holy Spirit is the seal; it authenticates what has occurred. It completes the making of the New Covenant with the individuals whom God calls.

Nowhere does God say that the laws that define sin are done away. On the contrary, the One who made the New Covenant possible said that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:18).

God's moral and spiritual laws have been from eternity, and an agreement between Him and mere man is not going to do away with them. God Himself would have to pass from existence for that to occur. In addition, the loving intent of those laws as they apply to human relationships is still valid.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 27)


 

Galatians 5:2-3   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Remember, the overall subject here is justification by faith. Circumcison is certainly permissible, as Acts 16 says that Paul circumcised Timothy, so he is not talking about the actual cutting away of the foreskin. Here, though, circumcision stands for keeping the ceremonial additions to the law for the purpose of receiving justification. Circumcision is a symbol that stands for the whole law. We know this because he writes, "He is a debtor to the whole law." It is obvious that the whole law is not physically binding upon us, as the ceremonies—the various washings, sacrifices, and offerings—do not have to be kept.

However, there is no shortcut to discerning which laws are binding and which are not. We would like things to be tied up in neat little boxes, but God has not chosen to do it that way. We must study—comparing scripture with scripture—especially the words and examples of Christ and His apostles. We must also meditate, seeking God's will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Galatians 6:12-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Some had taught the Galatian Christians that "Gentile" Christians should become physically circumcised. Paul disagrees. He makes it plain that the real motive of those teaching this doctrine is to "make a good showing of the flesh . . . that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ" (Galatians 6:12; 5:11; I Corinthians 7:19; Romans 2:28-29). In verse 15, he asserts that "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but the new creation." Paul reiterates what he says in Galatians 5:6: What is important is a walk of "faith working through love." Upon those who so walk, the apostle concludes, will be "peace and mercy" (verse 16).

Physical descent - whether one is a Gentile or an Israelite - matters nothing. What matters is whether a person is nurturing the new man, once established by God, through a renewal process which involves walking in His law.

Charles Whitaker
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)


 

Galatians 6:12-16   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In Galatians 6:12-16; Ephesians 2:10-18; and Colossians 3:9-11, Paul broaches the subject of circumcision. He often connects the new man with circumcision because he understands the symbolism behind circumcision, and so should we.

When practiced according to God's law, the ritual of circumcision pertains to men, that is, males, taking place on the eighth day after parturition. Eight is the number of "new beginnings," the idea being that seven is the number of perfection, and seven plus one - eight - restarts the cycle. Thus, the eighth day of the week is Sunday, in reality the beginning of the new week. The Last Great Day, which occurs eight days after the Feast of Tabernacles begins, looks forward to the day when God will make all things new. This is the important symbolic message behind physical circumcision: The boy - the man - circumcised on the eighth day is a "new man."

However, the new man of whom Paul speaks is not new because of physical circumcision. He is new because he has obeyed God's command to "circumcise the foreskin of [his] heart, and be stiff-necked no longer" (Deuteronomy 10:16, see Jeremiah 4:4). Paul, understanding this, claims that "circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit." "Heart," of course, refers to mind. The new man is new because he is "renewed in the spirit of [his] mind" (Ephesians 4:23). By definition, the new man is spiritually circumcised - circumcised in his mind.

Charles Whitaker
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)


 

Galatians 6:15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any great importance in terms of conversion, the way of God. What is important is that there is a new creation. This verse, then, is really neither for nor against circumcision. It is only saying that what matters is whether a person has been divinely transformed into a morally new and different person. In that, there is great spiritual benefit, a new creation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit


 

Galatians 6:15   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The ritual itself does not change a person's heart, as it has no power to do so. However, what really avails, what is really important, is "a new creature," that is, a new creation: a person who is then born of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 28)


 

Ephesians 2:10-18   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In verse 15, Paul says that God "create[s] in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace." The apostle defines what these "two" are in verse 11: "Therefore, remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands. . . ." The two, Gentiles and Israelites, share one Spirit in Christ, "who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us" (verse 14). Whether physically Gentile or Israelite, those who have "put on the new man" have one Spirit, God's Holy Spirit.

Charles Whitaker
Choosing the New Man (Part Two)


 

Ephesians 5:27   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The problem of sin is in man's thinking, which is why God says the problem is in the heart—in the mind. Humans are limited to thinking what is in their minds. If we have God's Word in our minds—along with the Holy Spirit—then there is a good chance that our minds will begin to change, to become circumcised, as it were—to be purified, to become holy as God is holy. God says, "My thoughts are higher than yours, better than yours—greater than the east is from the west." Yet, we have to take steps in that direction to begin thinking as He does.

A person who is not holy will not see God because they will not think as He does. Along the same lines, He will not recognize Himself in any of them! So, until the heart is changed, nothing will change. The change begins by taking in the Word of God on a daily basis and applying it in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 8)


 

Colossians 2:11-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

In verses 11-13, Paul explains what Christ did for us and how those who have believed in Him are now spiritually circumcised. The subject under discussion is the means of our justification. Paul is saying that, when we repented and were baptized, the "old man" of sin was buried in a watery grave, and our sins were completely forgiven through our faith in the sacrifice of Christ. After being raised out of the water, we were "made alive" with Him and imputed to be righteous in God's sight. Paul refers to this process as "circumcision made without hands," that is, spiritual circumcision.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was God's Law Nailed to the Cross?


 

Colossians 2:11-13   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Paul shows that circumcision typifies putting off the old man of sin that is buried in a watery grave at baptism. After being raised from the water in newness of life (Romans 6:4), the repentant sinner stands before God perfect, holy, and sinless. The process of spiritual circumcision is complete, and the symbol of physical circumcision is fulfilled.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Why We Must Put Out Leaven


 

Hebrews 11:8   (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Abraham was drawn by faith to a land that he would afterward receive as an inheritance, the Promised Land, a type of the Kingdom of God. What if he had refused to step out?

What God has recorded of Abraham's life reveals that how he responded illustrates a path, a way of trust that will lead us to our inheritance. It is the "narrow way," the difficult way that leads to life. That way would have existed even if God had not revealed it to him, but Abraham's following that way in faith proved that his heart was one with God's. God expects us to follow the same trustful attitude that motivated Abraham's actions.

Abraham's obedient response suggests that no proud, stiff-necked rebel will be in the Kingdom of God. No one wrapped up in himself will survive this difficult path, only those who by faith are humbly submissive to God's will. In short, God's calling begins severing us from a number of important negative worldly and carnal factors. At the same time, it also attaches our loyalties, our responsibilities, and our purposes in life to God and His Kingdom.

In biblical terminology, we are transferred from death to life; from fleshly minded to spiritually minded; from Israelite or Gentile to Abraham's seed; from uncircumcised to circumcised in heart; and from the world to the Kingdom of God. It is essential that our severing from the old way be as complete and continuous as possible because, despite what happens to our heart in our attachment to God and His way, the world and carnality remain as constant threats, almost like magnets drawing us back toward them.

From this arises our need for faith to wage the Christian fight so that we do not backslide to where and what we were before. We see this in a small way from Abraham's life; his breaking away was not as smooth as it appears on the surface. Genesis 12:1 contains God's original charge: "Now the LORD had said to Abram: 'Get you out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.'"

God was severing Abraham from his country, his kindred, and his father's house. Our severing rarely involves a physical separation from the nations of our birth, but it almost always involves a spiritual division from our natural families. Frequently, this severing causes strained family relations. It appears that it caused Abraham problems as well.

In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus admonishes all who desire baptism to consider well what He says:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

As our calling begins, problems do not generally arise because the uncalled family members hate us outright. Instead, they love us in their carnal fashion, but our desire to obey God upsets their sense of family unity, loyalty, and responsibility. A related factor irritates them: They understand that we are rejecting many, if not virtually all, of the spiritual values they taught us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)


 

 




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