The Problem of Circumcision

As believers, we have to ask ourselves the question: should we circumcise or children on the eighth day, according to the command?

Of course we should because it is a command. But I have to believe there is more here.  An old friend just had his infant baptized. My heart sank. Of course we shouldn’t baptize infants who cannot confess the faith. Well, then, what about these little boys? They cannot confess faith either; they don’t get a choice. Why do I object to infant baptism but not to circumcision?

Is the only difference is what God hath said in Genesis 17?

The strangest thought came to me as I read this covenant again: circumcision marks Abraham’s household. It’s a tracking device. How can Abraham be sure the uncountable descendents are his when, as I believe, he meets them? They’re all circumcised. It’s evidence that God fulfilled his end of the deal, evidence that is dependent upon Abraham and his descendents to fulfill their end of the deal in doing the cutting.

Shouldn’t it be the one who refuses to circumcise his child that is cut out of the covenant rather than the eight-day-old child who has no power over whether or not he’s circumcised? Theoretically, sure, it would make sense to punish the disobedient parent, but if this identifying theory is correct, not having the mark sets the child outside of the covenant, so being cut off from the household of Abraham is simply a fact of the uncircumcised state, not a punishment God inflicts on the child.

Even though there are ways baptism and circumcision are related in the Torah, perhaps this can help me make sense of why I reject infant baptism but accept infant circumcision: baptism is a choice and a cleansing and a status change. It’s something that comes from faith and obedience and love for God. A wet baby isn’t being born again, so it’s saying something’s being done that’s not. A cut baby isn’t being born again either, but that’s not the goal of the mark; the mark is distinguishing him as Abraham’s descendent: good or bad, godly or not, of Isaac, of Ishmael, or of his many other children.

I feel silly for saying this, but maybe–despite all the wonderful teachings I’ve heard to the contrary–circumcision is physical, not spiritual. (Duh.)And every new circumcised 8-day-old boy is one more grain of sand, one more star in the sky, one more promise to Abraham fulfilled. 

Wow, he’s so utterly and inconceivably faithful–God, I mean. But also Abraham.


4 thoughts on “The Problem of Circumcision

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  1. This is something I have really been thinking about for a while as we are having baby boy #2 in a little less than 7 weeks and have been trying to find a mohel who’ll do a Messianic bris. We know this is something that God wants us to do and have no qualms doing it. I actually just wrote a blog post about it today as I have been choosing a topic from each parsha to write on each week. Maybe you’ll check it out and give me your thoughts?

    Blessings and Shalom,

  2. These are great thoughts and I agree about infant immersion. However, I hope you don;t mind me shareing a different experiance. I would like to suggest that circumscision is more than a physical act alone for those who do it for the purpose of the Avrahamic covenant and who walk with a true heart of worship toward The Father in the process. I suggest this not out of “theory” but out of experiance and witness of other’s experiance. Having circumsized two of our boys into covanent and having one uncircumsized,(because he was born before we came into Torah and we were actually had a position against circumcism before we came to Torah!), this is a topic that near and dear to our hearts. For us it was a VERY spiritual experience and I expect (and pray) it will be for my uncircumsized son when He makes the conscious choice to be circumsized one day. When circumcision is done by your own hand, there is a declaration of a parent before YHVH that you will raise that child in His ways. It is a recognition that this child is not mine – rather YHVH’s and He has entrusted me to raise him in His ways!! What a huge resposibility and blessing! So while the baby is unawares, as to signifiance of spiritual thing that is happening at that time…it does profoundly effect His spiritual walk because His parents have entered into covenant with the El of Avraham and He will be raised to know Him, and love Him and obey Him! We also have been blessed to witness and assist other father’s who have circumcised their son’s and accross the board, they are moved…in this very profound and spiritual way..the impact is HUGE on their parenting in Torah. I think this experiance also may be different than the modern traditional method of a mohel for hire or a docter – but that is specualtion, I have no authority to speak to that. I suppose one could follow any command and not see it’s spiritual significance…but if we are in it for the HIGHER purpose…Abba quickly reveals Himself in it and shows us the powerful spiritual side to even the most simple and mondane of tasks He may prescribe for us to do. It is our experiance and others that circumcision is not exception to that rule. Just some thoughts.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience, Pamela. You’re right to point out the spiritual side of it, especially for the ones making the decision for themselves or their sons, but also the spiritual impact on the child. I overstated my position by saying it was “not spiritual” when my thought was something more along the lines of that it is “also physical,” perhaps even primarily physical for the child even though as an obedience issue, it must also be spiritual for the parents with the choice. So often, I had heard sermons that favored the spiritual side to the point of omitting the physical, practical side, the side where obedience leaves a physical mark in the universe that I wanted to pull things the other direction. 🙂 But, yes, the commands all impact both physical and spiritual, seen or unseen; I do believe that too.
    Now you have me thinking of what it must be like for parents to have that initial discussion about their son–to circumcise or not to circumcise. As you say, it can profoundly impact the way the parent raises the child. I’m imagining that it provides a sort of baseline for how serious a parent is about raising the child in covenant. Perhaps once a parent has circumcised a child, it is easier to stand firm in lesser tests of faithfulness. I don’t know, and I’m sure the experiences–even the motives–are different for different people, but it is an intriguing idea.

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