What Was the Purpose of Circumcision Marking God's People as Jews?

Hey Juli,

I have a questions I am wondering if you can help me out with. What was the purpose of circumcision marking God's people as Jews? I understand it was part of the law and I found the excerpt that it was commanded in Genesis 17:11 "You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you." But my question is why was that or why did God choose this as the sign of the covenant between them. The question comes from my studying in Ephesians as he references circumcision. So if you have any insight to these things I would really appreciate it. Thanks Juli!


Hey Eric,

I'd love to share some insight into this...

Remember that in the OT, physical things became spiritual truths in the NT. They were like an object lesson of God's true intent realized in Jesus. In the OT, the purpose of circumcision was symbolic as an identifier. We do the same thing, think about wedding rings. A wedding band doesn't mean you are married, the covenant relationship you enter into with your spouse means you are married. The ring is a symbol to remind you of that covenant and show everyone else that you are married.

Really circumcision has nothing to do with the law, Abraham entered into a Covenant with the Lord and then was instructed that generations following needed to be circumcised  as a REMINDER of what God promised Him and he accepted by faith. The actual law wasn't given for another 430 years after that to Moses, Abraham NEVER lived under the law ( Galatians 3:17 ). So circumcision has to do with the Promise which is found in Genesis 12 and reconfirmed in Genesis 15. (Make sure you check out Galatians 3 which is about this, the promise is really Jesus of which Ab just received the downpayment in Isaac.)

Now circumcision was a reminder of the relationship, the Promise of God solidified in an unbreakable covenant. However the Jews lost sight of the true intent of it being a SYMBOL. In other words it became merely an outward thing, a prideful thing instead of a very personal thing intended to be between the person and God. However Paul said, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God" ( Romans 2:28-29 ). I could go on about this, but I think what you are really looking for is this....

Circumcision was the cutting away of the flesh. God choose this to illustrate what He would do for us in the NT. God does the same thing to us by the spirit in removing the sin nature from us the moment we are born again. "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature  not with a circumcision done by the hands of man, but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him  in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you a live with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross...." (Colossians 2:11-14).

So the deposited Holy Spirit is our sign of circumcision because the sinful nature is gone, which happens by the Spirit of God and is an inward thing. Baptism is the illustration of actually being dead to sin, being buried and raised again to life, but that is more FOR US than anything, it helps US to UNDERSTAND what happens with our circumcision by the Holy Spirit. Tying it into your Ephesians passage in chapter 2, before Christ we were excluded from the promise, after Christ we undergo the real circumcision (what the physical act foreshadowed) and Christ brought us near, abolished the divide and made us one (the believing Jews & the Church) .... and in the process fulfilled and abolished the actual law in one huge victory! BOOM!

Romans 2 & 3 talks about circumcision and the value of it, then Romans 4 talks about Abraham receiving the promise before He was circumcised, so his righteousness was never dependent on the circumcision it was only the symbol. Then Romans 6 talks about being dead to sin. So check these chapters to help with this and below are some of the articles that I've written about it, IF you need them.

Romans 2:25 – The Value of Circumcision
Romans 2:28-29 - Circumcision of the Heart, The True Mark of A Child of God
Romans 4:9-10 - Righteousness Came Before Circumcision
Romans 4:11 - The Sign and Seal of Righteousness
Should Babies Be Baptized So They Go to Heaven if They Die? (I added this because I think there is confusion about baptism being the sign of circumcision when really it is the Holy Spirit... so you can check this out if you want, this article was part of a series on baptism)

Hope this helps, have a great night!
Thanks, Juli

Juli Camarin

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