To Circumcise or Not?

You probably don’t think about this question very much unless you are a parent or a health provider, but this is a topic of long-standing debate. Throughout the last century, the pendulum has swung back and forth, with at one time in the mid 1900s, something like 90% of male infants were circumcised. The latter part of the 20th century saw a decline in the procedure as concerns about safety and benefit resurfaced.

Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their policy statement on male circumcision, which was last revised in 1999. Their stance over the last decade has been there is not sufficient evidence regarding possible benefits so the decision is up to the parents’ cultural and religious preferences. The newest update after a review of evidence reflect a more positive stance, citing potential health benefits (i.e., decreased risk of urinary infections, HIV transmission) that outweighs the risk of the procedure. But the evidence, though positive, is not enough to recommend universal circumcision of male infants. The AAP still leaves the decision up to the parents. If interested, you can read the policy statement here.

This past Sunday at church we talked about how God chose the nation of Israel to be His vehicle to bless the nations. He commanded the Israelites to be circumcised as a physical sign of their covenant relationship (Gen 17:10-12) and later through Moses gave Israel the laws that they are to live by. The possession of God’s law and the sign of circumcision reminded the Jewish people that they were a special people belonging to God, chosen for the special purpose of displaying the glory of the true living God to the world. The rest of the Old Testament tells us that instead of doing that, they kept God’s blessings to themselves, and even started to worship other gods.

Eventually, God judged the people of Israel through exile, taking away all the blessings of land, power, and His presence. The New Testament tells us that God’s desire for all the nations to be blessed by Abraham is ultimately fulfilled through the coming of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, those who believe now become a new people of God, set apart through faith, made holy by the forgiveness of sins. With Christ, there is now a new covenant manifested not by outward circumcision, but a circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:28-29). Paul warns the Jewish people in Romans 2:17-29 that having God’s laws or circumcision will not save them on the day of judgment. Everyone will need the righteousness that comes through the faith in Christ, resulting in the forgiveness of sins.

Living in the 21st century not many of us will be tempted to trust having the Mosaic Law or being circumcised to save us when God judges the world. But we still fall into the same trap; our misplaced objects of trust are just different. Now we have the entire Word of God, yet our reading the Bible can puff up our intellect rather than deepen our realization of sin and dependance on Christ. God makes us His new people through the church, but one can come to church simply for the community or the opportunity to serve apart from a saving relationship with Christ.

It’s pretty scary how we can do a lot of Christian things, yet miss the whole point that we need Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. My prayer is that we will not not be deceived into thinking our good works, Bible knowledge, and church attendance will make us right with God, but only the work of the Holy Spirit in our inner heart, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What Christian things have you trusted in to make you right with God instead of Christ Himself?

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Romans 2:28-29


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