Righteousness Came Before Circumcision—Romans 4:9-10

"Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!" (Romans 4:9-10)

In the 10th grade, I sat with two friends at lunch every day and we argued about baptism. We all had different viewpoints and because of it, different agendas. It seems so silly now. Absolutely nothing was accomplished during those mealtimes, except our ability to talk over each other.

Thinking back, I wonder why this debate was so important to us. I imagine it stemmed from a similar debate Paul was heading off in these verses—when exactly is righteousness obtained?

The Jews, to whom circumcision was a big deal, were staking their claim in it. It was so ingrained in their culture and in their spiritual practices that it became synonymous with being righteous (or acceptable) before God.

However, Paul had already dropped a mind-blowing statement in chapter 2 saying that this by no means makes a person a true Jew, as circumcision is merely an outward and physical sign and true circumcision is of the heart done by the Spirit of God (Rom. 2:28-29).

Knowing this, here’s the next question Paul raises: When was Abraham justified? Was it before he was circumcised or after?

The answer—Paul reminds us that Abraham was justified long before he was circumcised. In fact, if we look back in the account in Genesis, we can see at least 13 years passed between the two instances. God declared that Abraham’s faith made him righteous before he had any children (Gen. 15:6). When Abraham and his household were circumcised, Ishmael, his son was 13 years old (Gen. 17:25).

Paul’s conclusion was that righteousness was bestowed on Abraham by faith alone. Paul is using the example of circumcision to further prove his point. It’s as if he cannot say it enough or in enough different ways.

I wish I would have talked less and listened more back in my high school days. Maybe, I would have argued less and instead heard something similar to this profound truth explained by Paul. Perhaps I would have spent more time celebrating the righteousness freely offered in Jesus Christ through faith. 

What about you? What surprises you about the argument Paul is making about righteousness in these verses?


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Original article published July 2, 2009.

Juli Camarin

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