Simply put, circumcision is the medical procedure whereby the foreskin is removed from a penis. You might be wondering, “Why would anyone do this?” Though performed differently, a type of circumcision was widely practiced in the ancient Near East. We’ve lost the origins for why someone like the Egyptians would have practiced this, but we know from Scripture (Genesis 17) why this was practiced by Jews. It is connected to God’s covenant with Abraham. But this still leaves us wondering why did God choose this of all things to be the sign of the covenant?
Circumcision served as a powerful reminder for humanity not only of God’s promises of covenantal protection, but also of the impact of human sin. It is a mark in the reproductive organ as a sign for generations. Human sin will continue through the ages, but so will God’s redemption. Jason Derouchie says its well:
“Because the rite was performed ‘in the flesh’ of the male covenant member (Gen 17:11, 13–14) and because human failure to observe circumcision would result in being cut off from the community (Gen 17:14), circumcision appears to function as a reminder primarily to Abraham and his offspring rather than to God.”
The act of “being cut off” is the dominant symbol within circumcision. In reference to the promises of God, one could say it is communicating, “cut off this so you are not cut off from that.” And it was a promise that as sin was removed we could be restored again to our position within the peaceful Garden. Nick Batzig explains:
“The act of cutting away the filth of the flesh also represented the dual promissory nature of the covenant. In the covenant God promised blessings and cursing. The removal of the corruption of the sin nature was the blessing promised. The cutting off from the people of God from the presence of God was the promised curse. If the demands of the covenant were not met the circumcised man would be cut off.”
You can see a picture of this in Deuteronomy 28 in the outlining of blessings and curses. To be cursed is to be “cut off” from God, His people, and His promises. Circumcision was a sign that the covenant blessings belonged to you, and not the covenant curses.
Yet, even here in the Torah (first 5 books of the OT) we see that the mere act of physical circumcision did not necessarily mark one as part of the people of God. There was always something to be said for the circumcision of the heart. It would be those who had their hearts circumcised who were truly circumcised. So, what does that mean?
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What Would It Mean to Circumcise the Heart?
In Romans 2:29 Paul makes the argument that “a Jew is one inwardly” and that “circumcision is a matter of the heart.” This is really not a new argument, though. The Old Testament is filled with references to circumcision of the heart; it was woven into the covenant language of Deuteronomy. As the Pentateuch nears a close and God reminds the Israelites that they will not be able to keep the covenant, He also promises a day in which heart work will happen. When this happens, God uses the language of circumcising the heart instead of merely the flesh. This tells us that Jeremiah is likely picking up this prophetic imagery from the early history of the Israelites.
Bible Verses aboutCircumcision
1 Corinthians 7:19 ESV / 254 helpful votes
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
Jeremiah 4:4 ESV / 188 helpful votes
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”
Galatians 5:2-11 ESV / 182 helpful votes
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. …
Genesis 21:4 ESV / 166 helpful votes
And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.
Romans 2:25-29 ESV / 147 helpful votes
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Galatians 6:15 ESV / 140 helpful votes
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Genesis 17:10-14 ESV / 132 helpful votes
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Romans 4:11 ESV / 127 helpful votes
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
Galatians 2:3 ESV / 114 helpful votes
But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
Galatians 5:6 ESV / 106 helpful votes
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Luke 2:21 ESV / 106 helpful votes
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Philippians 3:3 ESV / 99 helpful votes
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
Acts 15:1-41 ESV / 95 helpful votes
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” …
Deuteronomy 10:16 ESV / 95 helpful votes
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Romans 2:28 ESV / 94 helpful votes
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.
Leviticus 12:3 ESV / 86 helpful votes
And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
1 Corinthians 7:18 ESV / 84 helpful votes
Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.
Romans 2:29 ESV / 83 helpful votes
But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Genesis 17:12 ESV / 81 helpful votes
He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,
Ephesians 2:11 ESV / 72 helpful votes
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—
Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV / 65 helpful votes
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Genesis 17:14 ESV / 65 helpful votes
Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Colossians 2:11 ESV / 62 helpful votes
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
Acts 16:3 ESV / 62 helpful votes
Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Genesis 17:1-27 ESV / 60 helpful votes
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. …
Acts 15:5-29 ESV / 59 helpful votes
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. …
Romans 2:25 ESV / 57 helpful votes
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.
John 7:23 ESV / 56 helpful votes
If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
Luke 1:59 ESV / 56 helpful votes
And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father,
Jeremiah 9:25-26 ESV / 55 helpful votes
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.”
Exodus 12:48 ESV / 52 helpful votes
If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.
Colossians 3:11 ESV / 50 helpful votes
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Galatians 6:13 ESV / 50 helpful votes
For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
Galatians 6:12 ESV / 49 helpful votes
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
John 7:22 ESV / 49 helpful votes
Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
Philippians 3:5 ESV / 47 helpful votes
Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
Exodus 4:24-26 ESV / 47 helpful votes
At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
Acts 7:8 ESV / 46 helpful votes
And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
Jeremiah 6:10 ESV / 44 helpful votes
To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.
Genesis 17:13 ESV / 44 helpful votes
Both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
Galatians 5:3 ESV / 43 helpful votes
I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
Titus 1:10 ESV / 42 helpful votes
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.
Galatians 5:2 ESV / 42 helpful votes
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
Romans 3:30 ESV / 42 helpful votes
Since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Acts 15:1 ESV / 41 helpful votes
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Joshua 5:2-9 ESV / 40 helpful votes
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. …
Acts 16:1-40 ESV / 39 helpful votes
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. …
Judges 14:3 ESV / 39 helpful votes
But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”
Acts 10:45 ESV / 38 helpful votes
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
Romans 3:1-2 ESV / 37 helpful votes
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Colossians 2:11-12 ESV / 36 helpful votes
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Galatians 2:4 ESV / 36 helpful votes
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—
Acts 11:2 ESV / 35 helpful votes
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying,
Romans 4:9 ESV / 34 helpful votes
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
Genesis 17:10 ESV / 34 helpful votes
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Galatians 2:12 ESV / 33 helpful votes
For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Romans 15:8 ESV / 33 helpful votes
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
Romans 3:1 ESV / 33 helpful votes
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
Acts 15:10 ESV / 32 helpful votes
Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
Acts 2:38 ESV / 31 helpful votes
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Joshua 5:2 ESV / 31 helpful votes
At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”
Exodus 4:25 ESV / 31 helpful votes
Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
Romans 2:26 ESV / 30 helpful votes
So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Galatians 5:11 ESV / 29 helpful votes
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.