The Sign of Circumcision

When you hear the word “sign” you get the impression that you should to take note of whatever it is that is being called a sign. In fact, most signs are visible, otherwise how are they to be seen and understood?

It’s a terrible analogy but imagine driving high speed on a country road and you see a sign with a cloth draped over it obscuring the message it contains. You wonder what it was trying to convey, and as you are free falling to certain death, you realize it must’ve said “Bridge Out!” OK, I warned you that this would be a stretch, but if there are dangers present on a road you would want a sign to also warn you! Signs communicate all sorts of truths and provide direction and understanding for greater purposes than the sign itself. 

We don’t give much thought to the “sign” of circumcision today, do we? Let’s start contemplating this sign of the Covenant through this “part 1” video:

There’s a lot more to cover, which is why we made a two part video. The question, though, is why did God make such a sign? Maybe you can add your thoughts in the comments. With hyper-privacy and prudish thinking today, we can’t really fathom this being a visible sign, but it certainly was in those days. Maybe the only place today where this would be visible would be the gym (interestingly enough that word comes from the Greek word for naked), but even then, people don’t walk around exposed very often, even in the dressing room! In Bible times, however, you would know for sure who was and wasn’t circumcised. Watch “part 2” for more of which you may not have considered:

The issue of circumcision caused some drama in the New Testament era. Did Gentiles need to be circumcised after conversion to Christianity? It sparked quite the debate as a new issue that was never pondered before. The Judaizers seemed to think they should be circumcised. What did Paul have to say about it? And again, how did people even know who was and who wasn’t in the first place? The answer is nudity was much more commonplace then, and not a taboo like it is today.

Have you thought about this?

Now this last observation is sobering. Our Lord was crucified naked. They cast lots for his clothes. Early art depicted this, but censored art gave way to the loin cloth making the image less shameful and grotesque. Our Lord endured the cross, scorning its shame (Hebrews 12:2)- the shame is not in the nudity, but rather in the complete subjugation and forceful nature of having been tortured. However, our Lord declared, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily (John 10:18 NLT).” He bore the shame of a lowly criminal’s death by his own volition. 

Pilate hung the sign above Jesus that read, “King of the Jews.” Everyone could see that he was not a Roman. He was in fact a Jew. This, not because of the sign above his head, but also because of the sign of the Covenant on his body, which was then broken for us. He gave us another sign- the bread and the cup, that we might remember the new covenant and proclaim his death every time we eat and drink of it until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). 

See all posts and videos in the “Objections” series here.


16 thoughts on “The Sign of Circumcision

  1. jeffnkr

    I’ve wondered why the covenant God made with Abraham had to involve circumcision. Why would God require a sign that couldn’t be seen? I suppose if there was any doubt, then a visual inspection was done.
    Also, I think that if God wanted people to look at penises, and immediately think of the covenant He made with us, then that probably has a lot to do with why people try hard to keep them covered – the enemy of God does the opposite of whatever God’s will is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rick

    This discussion has been in my thoughts for a long time. Thank you for bringing it forth here. Also, remember than many cultures in the lands around the Israelites were Phallus worshipers, and many phallic statues from the time period have been found. The open sign of circumcision would have been a powerful message to those people, and would have created a division between them and God’s people — a division we know He wanted.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bob Keary

    Interesting that you use an image of the David which appears to NOT be circumcised for the background of this post.
    Is this supposed to be confusing?


    • Phil O.

      I suppose I didn’t look closely enough and assumed Michaelangelo to be more accurate. Someone commented: “I have seen it in person and had the question myself. It looks uncut. It was also possible that the foreskin was not completely removed in those days as it is radically removed today and some coverage in the soft state was normal. I think Michelangelo just showed him as the model he used. He could not have understood and/or chose to cover the glans as that may have been considered more civil.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Mike

    Phil, let me tell you a funny story (or maybe not). I didn’t really know what circumcision was until I was in my 40s – and then thanks to Wikipedia! I was born at a time when newborn males were routinely circumcised but I wasn’t Jewish. So I didn’t know what part of me was missing. I wonder if I will be circumcised in my resurrection body that I believe Christ will grant me. I think not, since I am really a Gentile and not a Jew, but it’s his call.


  5. Andrew Cook

    Hi there, Phil.

    These are all great comments and, to some extent, could all very well be true. However, I wonder if we’re jumping to conclusions and making assumptions?

    Let’s look at the context again in Genesis 17: 9-11 “God also said to Abraham, “You must keep My covenant—you and your descendants in the generations after you. This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, which you are to keep: Every male among you must be circumcised. You are to circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and this will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

    The last bit is important to note: . . . “between Me and you.” Nobody else. Circumcision was (and still is) a mark of commitment to a relationship between a Jewish man and God. It didn’t need to be a sign that could be seen by everyone. It was a permanent seal of the covenant made between God and Abraham, that Abraham would be the father of many descendants, kings and nations, and that God would be their God, and would give to them the land that they were residing in (Canaan), It was to be an everlasting covenant – which is why Jewish men, even today, should still be circumcised.

    Again, it wasn’t a sign that needed to be seen by all and sundry. It was simply an act of obedience between man and God.

    Yes, it’s true that back in those days nudity was commonplace and it was obvious which men were circumcised and which were not. But that was circumstantial – not the purpose.


    • Phil O.

      Thanks for the comment. That could be as well. I don’t claim to be an expert in all things circumcision. All I know is it wasn’t just Abraham, Moses’ wife practically saves Moses when she circumcises his son, giving them the identity of that covenant. It’s practiced by all, and argued over in the New Testament when it’s stated as being a heart matter, not flesh. The point about being seen is because of the debates in the NT and how different it was from today’s Christians being predominately prudish in their dealings with the body. It was no big deal to see another’s genitalia back then and it is now. It’s not the purpose, but a reality we don’t think about today. This is saying nothing of bathhouses and bathrooms in Roman culture. That’s another place where the experience would be alarming for today’s more squeamish Christians. That’s mainly the whole point.


  6. Andrew Cook

    I totally agree, Phil. The prudish attitude we have today has its roots in early Gnostic teaching that infiltrated the early church. Paul even warned of such false teaching in his letters. You are quite right – it wasn’t like that in the earlier times.

    I took your main point as being the need for a sign to be visible to everyone – as in your opening couple of paragraphs. But yes – times have certainly changed since those days!


  7. Jim

    Very tboughtful and well written. Remarks have interestimg points and show diversity of application of scriptural thoughts but differing applications do not negate the well expressed understanding of the author. Thank you for insights.


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