What does circumcision symbolize in the Bible? (Biblical symbolism and meaning)

Being raised by Christian parents exposed me to many biblical traditions and knowledge at an early age. During my circumcision, my parents told me that this practice was not only necessary and great for my health but also that Jesus Christ, the son of God, went through the same rite of passage. I was pretty young to fully understand what they meant, but I knew it was something I must go through. Looking back, I am now intrigued to dig deeper into what circumcision really means according to the scripture. So, what does circumcision symbolize?

In the scripture, circumcision holds a lot of symbolism and meaning. In the Old Testament, this rite of passage symbolized a covenant that God made with Abraham, and whoever got circumcised was set apart to God (Genesis 17:9-14). Circumcision also symbolized purity and was used metaphorically to mean the removal of sin from our lives (Jeremiah 4:4).

Join me as I give an in-depth analysis of what circumcision symbolizes in the Bible. I will also analyze the spiritual significance of circumcision, what it means to circumcise your heart, and if circumcision is relevant today. Keep reading to learn more.

What Does the Bible Say About Circumcision?

The Bible has a lot to say about circumcision. To understand this concept deeper, we need to understand what circumcision is. Circumcision is basically the removal of the make prepuce or foreskin. The word “circumcise” means cutting around. In the Bible, circumcision was a rite of passage that every descendant of Abraham was required to go through (Genesis 17:9-14).

This Law is also repeated in the book of Leviticus 12:2-3, and Jews have held onto this practice for centuries (Joshua 5:2-3, Philippians 3:5). However, the New Testament notes that the Law no longer governs us. Therefore, circumcision is a rite that everyone must observe to be set apart from God like before. 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 notes that circumcision no longer counts.

What was the significance of circumcision in the Bible?

In the Old Testament, circumcision was more than just a rite of passage. It held greater meaning to them as it signified their covenant with God. Circumcision set them apart and made them the chosen ones by God, God’s most treasured people (Genesis 17:9-14). Circumcision was an essential requirement to mark God’s covenant with Abraham. Even in the New Testament, Jesus observed this rite of passage as he was from the house of David, who was a descendant of Abraham (Luke 2:21).

The spiritual significance of circumcision

Circumcision holds various spiritual significances depending on different religious or cultural contexts. As mentioned earlier, In Judaism, circumcision is a central ritual and has profound spiritual significance. It is performed on male infants on the eighth day after birth as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Circumcision represents a physical and symbolic removal of the foreskin, signifying the commitment to follow God’s commandments and live a life of righteousness. However, after the coming of Jesus Christ, circumcision was no longer required for Christians as a religious obligation.

On the other hand, circumcision, known as “Khitan,” is practiced by many Muslim communities. Although not explicitly mentioned in the Quran, it is considered a commendable practice and follows the example of the Prophet Muhammad. It is seen as a way to purify oneself and enhance physical and spiritual cleanliness.

Circumcision also spiritually signifies maturity and adulthood. It is widely practiced in various African traditional religions and is considered a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. It is believed to connect individuals with their cultural heritage, community, and spiritual forces.

Symbolic Meanings of Circumcision in the Bible

What does circumcision symbolize in the Bible?
Symbolic Meanings of Circumcision in the Bible. Image source: Pixabay

As seen above, circumcision appears severally in the Bible and holds significant symbolic meaning in the Bible. Some of the symbolic means of circumcision, as portrayed in the Bible, include;

Symbolizes covenant with God:

Circumcision is associated with the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14). God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself, his male descendants, and their future generations as a physical sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. This represented their unique relationship with God and their commitment to obey His commandments.

The chosen people of God:

Circumcision set the Israelites apart from other nations and marked them as God’s chosen people. It symbolized their separation from the world and their dedication to following God’s laws. It served as a reminder of their distinctive identity and their responsibility to live in accordance with God’s will (Genesis 17).

Symbolized purity:

In the Bible, circumcision was often associated with the idea of purification and removing impurity. It represented the need for spiritual cleansing and the removal of sin. For example, the Prophet Jeremiah emphasized transforming ourselves inwardly by circumcising the heart (Jeremiah 4:4).

Spiritual Renewal:

Circumcision carried symbolic connotations of rebirth and spiritual renewal. In the book of Romans 2:28-29, Paul expands on this symbolism noting the need to circumcise the heart through faith in Christ. He emphasized that true circumcision is not merely an outward physical act but a spiritual transformation that takes place in the inner self.

Is circumcision still relevant today?

There is no yes or no answer to this question. To examine it, we have to view it from two perspectives; health and religious teachings. According to the scripture, circumcision is no longer a requirement because we are no longer governed by the Law. The issue of whether circumcision is relevant today is raised a couple of times in the New Testament.

In the book of Galatians 2:1-3, Paul notes that Titus, who was with him, was not forced to be circumcised despite being Greek. This means that unlike in the Jewish traditions, where circumcision was necessary and symbolized being set apart from God, it no longer held the same meaning, and what mattered was our relationship with God, our inward nature, and our heart.

Furthermore, the book of Colossians 2:8-12 notes that in Jesus Christ, we have been circumcised and raised with him through faith in baptism. The author of this book notes that the circumcision in Jesus is not made with hands but by cutting off the body of the flesh. Biblically, being of the flesh means being a sinner. Therefore, by putting off the body of the flesh, it means that we are separated from sin, just like circumcision cuts of foreskin.

Therefore, according to the above passages, circumcision is not a requirement to be recognized by God. However, when viewing it from a health perspective, circumcision is relevant. This is because, according to medical research, circumcision reduces the risk of being infected and infecting others with sexually transmitted diseases. Hence, males are advised to practice this rite of passage. However, whether to observe it or not is a personal decision.

How is biblical circumcision different from modern circumcision?

The main difference between biblical and modern circumcision is the motive behind the practice and the significance it holds. Biblical circumcision, as portrayed in the Old Testament, refers to the religious practice of circumcising male infants as a covenant between God and the Israelite people. Modern circumcision, on the other hand, is typically performed for non-religious reasons, such as cultural or medical considerations.

Another key difference between biblical circumcision and modern circumcision is the time at which it was performed. Biblical circumcision was traditionally performed on the eighth day of a male child’s life. In modern circumcision, the procedure can be performed at any age, often shortly after birth or during childhood or adolescence, for various reasons.

Additionally, modern circumcision practices vary across cultures, countries, and medical traditions. The different cultures and traditions use different surgical techniques, levels of anesthesia or pain management, and cultural or cosmetic preferences.

Are there any benefits of circumcision in the Bible?

What does circumcision symbolize in the Bible? 
Benefits of circumcision in the Bible. Image source: Pixabay

Circumcision had a lot of benefits in the Bible, mostly in the New Testament. Some of the benefits one got from being circumcised, according to the Bible, include;

You became part of the chosen people of God: In the Book of Genesis 17:9-14, God establishes circumcision as a covenant between Himself and Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision symbolizes the commitment and faithfulness of the Israelites to God’s covenant. It served as a physical marker of identification for the Israelite males. It distinguished them as part of the chosen people and set them apart from other nations.

Those circumcised were viewed as pure: In the Mosaic Law, circumcision was required for participation in certain religious rituals and observances. It was a prerequisite for males to partake in the Passover feast and other religious ceremonies.

Obedience to God: The act of circumcision was seen as an act of obedience and submission to God’s commandments. It represented the Israelites’ willingness to follow God’s laws and statutes. Even Jesus, the son of God, had to undergo circumcision (Luke 2:21).

What is the circumcision of the heart?

The concept of circumcising the heart is found in the book of Romans 2:29. When talking about circumcision of the heart; Paul relates the role of the Old Testament to Christianity. In Jewish traditions, circumcision was an outside side of being among the group that was set aside by God. However, most of them had hidden sins in their hearts. Therefore, by noting that we should circumcise the heart, Paul means that we should get rid of the sin that is in our hearts. Just like the foreskin is cut during circumcision, in the same way, we should do away with sin from our hearts.

Rather than focusing on the external rites that make us pure, we need to focus inwardly and on our heart’s condition. Paul used circumcision as a metaphor to make it known to us that the Holy Spirit can set us apart from God by purifying our hearts from any iniquities. To sum it up, what Paul meant is that the Law is not enough to make us right with God; we have to change our hearts; we have to circumcise our hearts.

What is the spiritual significance of circumcision in the Bible?

Circumcision holds significant spiritual meaning, as portrayed in the Bible. Some of the key spiritual significances of circumcision, as seen in the scripture, include;

Cutting off sin: circumcision has been highly related to purity in the Bible. Circumcision in the Old Testament required one to physically cut off the foreskin, but in the New Testament, it requires us to put off the body of the flesh (Colossians 2:11). This means that we need to circumcise our heart and overcome our fleshly desires, thereby overcoming sin.

Cleansing and purification: most bible scholars and readers equate circumcision in the Old Testament to baptism in the New Testament (Colossians 2:11-12). Both circumcision and baptism serve the same purpose, cutting off sin and being a new being in Christ Jesus. Just as baptism washes us clean of our sins, so is circumcision because by circumcising the heart, we cut off all that does not praise God in us.

Identification as God’s People: Circumcision served as a visible mark that identified the Israelites as God’s chosen people. It was a physical reminder of their special relationship with God, their commitment to obey His commandments, and their distinctiveness from other nations.

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