From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

is from the Latin, circumcidere, "to cut all around," because the Jews, in circumcising their children, cut off after this manner the skin which covers the prepuce. God enjoined Abraham to use circumcision, as a sign of his covenant. In obedience to this order, Abraham, at ninety-nine years of age, was circumcised: also his son Ishmael, and all the males of his property,  Genesis 17:10 . God repeated the precept of circumcision to Moses: he ordered that all who were to partake of the paschal sacrifice should receive circumcision; and that this rite should be performed on children, on the eighth day after their birth.

The Jews have always been very exact in observing this ceremony, and it appears that they did not neglect it when in Egypt. But Moses, while in Midian with Jethro his father-in-law, did not circumcise his two sons born in that country; and during the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, their children were not circumcised. Circumcision was practised among the Arabians, Saracens, and Ishmaelites. These people, as well as the Israelites, sprung from Abraham. Circumcision was introduced with the law of Moses among the Samaritans and Cutheans. The Idumeans, though descended from Abraham and Isaac, were not circumcised till subdued by John Hircanus. Those who assert that the Phenicians were circumcised, mean, probably, the Samaritans; for we know, from other authority, that the Phenicians did not observe this ceremony. As to the Egyptians, circumcision never was of general and indispensable obligation on the whole nation; certain priests only, and particular professions, were obliged to it. Circumcision is likewise the ceremony of initiation into the Mohammedan religion. There is, indeed, no law in the Koran which enjoins it, and they have the precept only in tradition. They say that Mohammed commanded it out of respect to Abraham, the head of his race. They have no fixed day for the performance of this rite, and generally wait till the child is five or six years of age.

CIRCUMCISION, Covenant of. That the covenant with Abraham, of which circumcision was made the sign and seal,   Genesis 17:7-14 , was the general covenant of grace, and not wholly, or even chiefly, a political and national covenant, may be satisfactorily established. The first engagement in it was, that God would "greatly bless" Abraham; which promise, although it comprehended temporal blessings, referred, as we learn from St. Paul, more fully to the blessing of his justification by the imputation of his faith for righteousness, with all the spiritual advantages consequent upon the relation which was thus established between him and God, in time and eternity. The second promise in the covenant was, that he should be "the father of many nations;" which we are also taught by St. Paul to interpret more with reference to his spiritual seed, the followers of that faith whereof cometh justification, than to his natural descendants. "That the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to that which is by the law, but to that also which is by the faith, of Abraham, who is the father of us all," —of all believing Gentiles as well as Jews. The third stipulation in God's covenant with the patriarch, was the gift to Abraham and to his seed of "the land of Canaan," in which the temporal promise was manifestly but the type of the higher promise of a heavenly inheritance. Hence St. Paul says, "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;" but this "faith" did not respect the fulfilment of the temporal promise; for St. Paul adds, "they looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God,"   Hebrews 11:19 . The next promise was, that God would always be "a God to Abraham and to his seed after him," a promise which is connected with the highest spiritual blessings, such as the remission of sins, and the sanctification of our nature, as well as with a visible church state. It is even used to express the felicitous state of the church in heaven,  Revelation 21:3 . The final engagement in the Abrahamic covenant was, that in Abraham's "seed, all nations of the earth should be blessed;" and this blessing, we are expressly taught by St. Paul, was nothing less than the justification of all nations, that is, of all believers in all nations, by faith in Christ: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Heathen by faith, preached before the Gospel to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham;" they receive the same blessing, justification, by the same means, faith,  Galatians 3:8-9 . This covenant with Abraham, therefore, although it respected a natural seed, Isaac, from whom a numerous progeny was to spring; and an earthly inheritance provided for this issue, the land of Canaan; and a special covenant relation with the descendants of Isaac, through the line of Jacob, to whom Jehovah was to be "a God," visibly and specially, and they a visible and "peculiar people;" yet was, under all these temporal, earthly, and external advantages, but a higher and spiritual grace embodying itself under these circumstances, as types of a dispensation of salvation and eternal life, to all who should follow the faith of Abraham, whose justification before God was the pattern of the justification of every man, whether Jew or Gentile, in all ages. Now, of this covenant, in its spiritual as well as in its temporal provisions, circumcision was most certainly the sacrament, that is, the "sign" and the "seal;" for St. Paul thus explains the case: "And he received the SIGN of circumcision, a SEAL of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised." And as this rite was enjoined upon Abraham's posterity, so that every "uncircumcised man-child whose flesh of his foreskin was not circumcised on the eighth day," was to be "cut off from his people, by the special judgment of God, and that because "he had broken God's covenant,"   Genesis 17:14; it therefore follows that this rite was a constant publication of God's covenant of grace among the descendants of Abraham, and its repetition a continual confirmation of that covenant, on the part of God, to all practising it in that faith of which it was the ostensible expression.

2. As the covenant of grace made with Abraham was bound up with temporal promises and privileges, so circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant in both its parts,—its spiritual and its temporal, its superior and inferior provisions. The spiritual promises of the covenant continued unrestricted to all the descendants of Abraham, whether by Isaac or by Ishmael; and still lower down, to the descendants of Esau as well as to those of Jacob. Circumcision was practised among them all by virtue of its divine institution at first; and was extended to their foreign servants, and to proselytes, as well as to their children; and wherever the sign of the covenant of grace was by divine appointment, there it was a seal of that covenant, to all who believingly used it; for we read of no restriction of its spiritual blessings, that is, its saving engagements, to one line of descent from Abraham only. But over the temporal branch of the covenant, and the external religious privileges arising out of it, God exercised a rightful sovereignty, and expressly restricted them first to the line of Isaac, and then to that of Jacob, with whose descendants he entered into special covenant by the ministry of Moses. The temporal blessings and external privileges comprised under general expressions in the covenant with Abraham, were explained and enlarged under that of Moses, while the spiritual blessings remained unrestricted as before. This was probably the reason why circumcision was re-enacted under the law of Moses. It was a confirmation of the temporal blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, now, by a covenant of peculiarity, made over to them, while it was still recognized as a consuetudinary rite which had descended to them from their fathers, and as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, made with Abraham and with all his descendants without exception. This double reference of circumcision, both to the authority of Moses and to that of the patriarchs, is found in the words of our Lord,   John 7:22 : "Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision, not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;" or, as it is better translated by Campbell, "Moses instituted circumcision among you, (not that it is from Moses, but from the patriarchs,) and ye circumcise on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a child receive circumcision, that the law of Moses may not be violated," &c.

3. From these observations, the controversy in the Apostolic churches respecting circumcision will derive much elucidation. The covenant with Abraham prescribed circumcision as an act of faith in its promises, and as a pledge to perform its conditions on the part of his descendants. But the object on which this faith rested, was "the Seed of Abraham," in whom the nations of the earth were to be blessed: which Seed, says St. Paul, "is Christ,"—Christ as promised, not yet come. When the Christ had come, so as fully to enter upon his redeeming offices, he could no longer be the object of faith, as still to come; and this leading promise of the covenant being accomplished, the sign and seal of it vanished away. Nor could circumcision be continued in this view by any, without an implied denial that Jesus was the Christ, the expected Seed of Abraham. Circumcision also as an institution of Moses, who continued it as the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant both in its spiritual and temporal provisions, but with respect to the latter made it also a sign and seal of the restriction of its temporal blessings and peculiar religious privileges to the descendants of Israel, was terminated by the entrance of our Lord upon his office of Mediator, in which office all nations were to be blessed in him. The Mosaic edition of the covenant not only guaranteed the land of Canaan, but the peculiarity of the Israelites, as the people and visible church of God to the exclusion of others, except by proselytism. But when our Lord commanded the Gospel to be preached to "all nations," and opened the gates of the "common salvation" to all, whether Gentiles or Jews, circumcision, as the sign of a covenant of peculiarity and religious distinction, was also done away. It had not only no reason remaining, but the continuance of the rite involved the recognition of exclusive privileges which had been terminated by Christ. This will explain the views of the Apostle Paul on this great question. He declares that in Christ there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision; that neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but "faith that worketh by love;" faith in the Seed of Abraham already come and already engaged in his mediatorial and redeeming work; faith, by virtue of which the Gentiles came into the church of Christ on the same terms as the Jews themselves, and were justified and saved. The doctrine of the non-necessity of circumcision, he applies to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles, although he specially resists the attempts of the Judaizers to impose this rite upon the Gentile converts; in which he was supported by the decision of the Holy Spirit when the appeal upon this question was made to the "Apostles and elders at Jerusalem," from the church at Antioch. At the same time it is clear that he takes two different views of the practice of circumcision, as it was continued among many of the first Christians. The first is that strong one which is expressed in   Galatians 5:2-4 , "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing; for I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is made of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace." The second is that milder view which he himself must have had when he circumcised Timothy to render him more acceptable to the Jews; and which also appears to have led him to abstain from all allusion to this practice when writing his epistle to the believing Hebrews, although many, perhaps most of them, continue to circumcise their children, as did the Jewish Christians for a long time afterward. These different views of circumcision, held by the same person, may be explained by considering the different principles on which circumcision might be practiced after it had become an obsolete ordinance.

(1.) It might be taken in the simple view of its first institution, as the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant; and then it was to be condemned as involving a denial that Abraham's Seed, the Christ, had already come, since, upon his coming, every old covenant gave place to the new covenant introduced by him.

(2.) It might be practiced and enjoined as the sign and seal of the Mosaic covenant, which was still the Abrahamic covenant with its spiritual blessings, but with restriction of its temporal promises and special ecclesiastical privileges to the line of Jacob, with a law of observances which was obligatory upon all entering that covenant by circumcision. In that case it involved, in like manner, the notion of the continuance of an old covenant, after the establishment of the new; for thus St. Paul states the case in   Galatians 3:19 : "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed should come." After that therefore it had no effect:—it had waxed old, and had vanished away.

(3.) Again: circumcision might imply an obligation to observe all the ceremonial usages and the moral precepts of the Mosaic law, along with a general belief in the mission of Christ, as necessary to justification before God. This appears to have been the view of those among the Galatian Christians who submitted to circumcision, and of the Jewish teachers who enjoined it upon them; for St. Paul in that epistle constantly joins circumcision with legal observances, and as involving an obligation to do "the whole law," in order to justification.—"I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law; whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace." "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,"   Galatians 2:16 . To all persons therefore practising circumcision in this view it was obvious, that "Christ was become of none effect," the very principle of justification by faith alone in him was renounced even while his divine mission was still admitted.

(4.) But there are two grounds on which circumcision may be conceived to have been innocently, though not wisely, practiced, among the Christian Jews. The first was that of preserving an ancient national distinction on which they valued themselves; and were a converted Jew in the present day disposed to perform that rite upon his children for this purpose only, renouncing in the act all consideration of it as a sign and seal of the old covenants, or as obliging to ceremonial acts in order to justification, no one would censure him with severity. It appears clear that it was under some such view that St. Paul circumcised Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess; he did it because of "the Jews which were in those quarters," that is, because of their national prejudices, "for they knew that his father was a Greek." The second was a lingering notion, that, even in the Christian church, the Jews who believed would still retain some degree of eminence, some superior relation to God; a notion which, however unfounded, was not one which demanded direct rebuke, when it did not proudly refuse spiritual communion with the converted Gentiles, but was held by men who "rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life." These considerations may account for the silence of St. Paul on the subject of circumcision in his Epistle to the Hebrews. Some of them continued to practise that rite, but they were probably believers of the class just mentioned; for had he thought that the rite was continued among them on any principle which affected the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, he would no doubt have been equally prompt and fearless in pointing out that apostasy from Christ which was implied in it, as when he wrote to the Galatians.

Not only might circumcision be practised with views so opposite that one might be wholly innocent, although an infirmity of prejudice; the other such as would involve a rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ; but some other Jewish observances also stood in the same circumstances. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, a part of his writings from which we obtain the most information on these questions, grounds his "doubts" whether the members of that church were not seeking to be "justified by the law" upon their observing "days, and months, and times, and years." Had he done more than "doubt," he would have expressed himself more positively. He saw their danger on this point; he saw that they were taking steps to this fatal result, by such an observance of these "days," &c, as had a strong leaning and dangerous approach to that dependence upon them for justification, which would destroy their faith in Christ's solely sufficient sacrifice; but his very doubting, not of the fact of their being addicted to these observances, but of the animus with which they regarded them, supposes it possible, however dangerous this Jewish conformity might be, that they might be observed for reasons which would still consist with their entire reliance upon the merits of Christ for salvation. Even he himself, strongly as he resisted the imposition of this conformity to Jewish customs upon the converts to Christianity as a matter of necessity, yet in practice must have conformed to many of them, when no sacrifice of principle was understood; for in order to gain the Jews, he became "as a Jew." See Abraham , and See Baptism .

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]

The origin of circumcision and its practice by the Jews and other peoples may be studied in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics . This article is concerned with the difficulties caused in the Apostolic Church by the desire of the Judaizing party to enforce the rite upon the Gentile Christians. The crisis thus brought about is described in Acts 15 and  Galatians 2:1-10.

As the work of the Church extended, the problem of the reception of Gentile converts presented itself for solution. Should such converts be compelled to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law or not? The answer to this question led to great difference of opinion and threatened to cause serious division in the Church. It must be remembered that the first Christians were Jews, born and brought up in the Law and taught to observe it. To them such rites as circumcision were almost second nature. To abrogate the Law of Moses was to them inconceivable. The idea of the passing away of the Law had not yet penetrated their understanding. The headquarters of those who held these opinions were at Jerusalem, where the Temple services and the whole atmosphere served to strengthen them in this belief. The very name of the party-‘They that were of the circumcision’ ( Acts 11:2)-shows how closely they were attached to the observance of this rite. On the other hand, we can trace the gradual growth in the Church of the opposite view: the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) by Philip; the admission of Cornelius and his friends by St. Peter; the mission of certain evangelists to the Gentiles at Antioch; and finally the work of St. Paul and St. Barnabas, who turned to the Gentiles and freely admitted them into the fellowship of the Church.

It was obvious that the question must be settled. The Judaizing party were quite definite in their teaching. ‘Certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved’ ( Acts 15:1). This was a position which it was impossible for St. Paul and St. Barnabas to admit. It was destructive of their work and of the catholicity of the Church. No wonder that ‘there was no small dissension and disputation.’ An appeal was made to the mother church at Jerusalem; and, among others, St. Paul and St. Barnabas went up. St. Paul’s own statement is, ‘I went up by revelation’ ( Galatians 2:2). He also tells us that Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, accompanied him. They were well received by the church at Jerusalem, but certain of the Pharisees, who were believers, laid it down ‘that it was necessary to circumcise them’ ( Acts 15:5), and thus the issue was joined.

The question was so important that it could not be settled at once. There must be an interval for consideration. How this interval was spent we are told in Galatians 2. The Judaizing party found that an uncircumcised Gentile-Titus-had been brought into their midst, and they immediately demanded his circumcision. With this demand St. Paul was not inclined to comply. The principle for which he was contending was at stake. On the other hand, circumcision to him was nothing, and there was the question whether he should yield as a matter of charity. The course which he took has always been a matter of undecided controversy, but the opinion of the majority of authorities is that Titus was not circumcised.*[Note: For the contrary view see R. B. Rackham on Acts 15 (Oxford Com., 1901); and on the vexed chronological and other questions cf. artt. Acts of the Apostles and Galatians, Epistle to.]

After this episode St. Paul had an opportunity of discussing his gospel privately with those of repute, viz. James, Cephas, and John. They were evidently moved by the account of his work among the Gentiles, and recognized the hand of God in it, and they were influenced by the fervour and spirit of the Apostle. They gave to him and St. Barnabas ‘the right hand of fellowship.’ They recognized that their sphere was among the Gentiles, as that of the other apostles was among the Jews. The result of the conference was a compromise: Gentiles were not to be circumcised, but they were to abstain from certain practices which were offensive to their Jewish brethren.

The teaching of St. Paul on circumcision may be further illustrated from his Epistles. In  Romans 2:25-29 he shows that circumcision was an outward sign of being one of the chosen people, but that it was of no value unless accompanied by obedience, of which it was the symbol. The uncircumcised keeper of the Law was better than the circumcised breaker of it. The true Jew is he who is circumcised in heart, i.e. he who keeps God’s Law and walks in His ways. In ch. 4 he discusses the case of Abraham, and asks whether the Divine blessing was conferred upon him because he was the head of the chosen race and the first person of that race who was circumcised. He shows that the promise came before circumcision, and therefore not in consequence of it. Circumcision followed as the token or sign of the promise, so that he might be the father of all believers whether they were circumcised or uncircumcised.

In the Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul utters grave warnings against those who insist on circumcision. He speaks of the rite, when thus insisted on, not as circumcision but as ‘concision’ (κατατομή,  Philippians 3:2).*[Note: The paronomasia of κατατομή and περιτομή used by St. Paul here is one of several instances in which he employs that figure of speech: e.g. μηδὲν ἐργαζομένους ἀλλὰ περιεργαζομένους ( 2 Thessalonians 3:11).] The circumcision which the Judaizers wished to enforce was to Christians a mere mutilation such as was practised by the idolatrous heathen. The verb κατατέμνειν is used in the Septuagintof incisions forbidden by the Mosaic Law: e.g. κατετέμνοντο κατὰ τὸν ἐθισμὸν αὐτῶν ( 1 Kings 18:28; cf.  Leviticus 21:5). In contrast to this, Christians have the true circumcision ( Philippians 3:3), not of the flesh but of the heart, purified in Christ from all sin and wickedness. This contrast between circumcision of the flesh and of the spirit occurs in other passages of the Pauline Epistles, e.g.  Colossians 2:11,  Ephesians 2:11. No doubt the Apostle had certain OT passages in mind which use circumcision as a metaphor for purity, e.g.  Leviticus 26:41,  Deuteronomy 10:16,  Ezekiel 44:7.

Literature.-articles on ‘Circumcision’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , and Jewish Encyclopedia , with Literature there cited; the relevant Commentaries, esp. Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 ( International Critical Commentary , 1902); also E. v. Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church , Eng. translation, 1904; K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul , 1911; E. B. Redlich, St. Paul and his Companions , 1913; H. Weinel, St. Paul , Eng. translation, 1906; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age , i. 2 [1897], ii. [1895].

Morley Stevenson.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

The cutting off all round of the foreskin (the projecting skin in the male member, the emblem of corruption,  Deuteronomy 10:16;  Jeremiah 4:4) of males, appointed by God as token of His covenant with Abraham and his seed ( Genesis 17:10-14). The usage prevailed, according to Herodotus (2:104, section 36-37), among the Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Syrians. But his statement may refer only to the Egyptian priests, and those initiated in the mysteries. The Jews alone of the inhabitants of the Syrian region were circumcised. So, circumcision kept them distinct from uncircumcised Canaanite pagan around. If the rite existed before Abraham it was then first sanctioned as a token of God's covenant with Abraham and his seed, and particular directions given by God as to the time of its being performed, the eighth day, even though it were a sabbath ( John 7:22-23), and the persons to be circumcised, every male, every slave, and (at the Exodus it was added) every male foreigner before he could partake of the Passover ( Genesis 17:12-13;  Exodus 12:48).

So, the rainbow existed before the flood, but in  Genesis 9:13-17 first was made token of the covenant. The testimony of the Egyptian sculptures, mummies, and hieroglyphics, is very doubtful as to the pre-Abrahamic antiquity of circumcision. (See note Genesis 17, Speaker's Commentary.) The Hamite races of Palestine, akin to the Egyptians, as ( Judges 14:3) the Philistines and Canaanites (the Hivites, Genesis 34), were certainly not circumcised. The Egyptian priests probably adopted the rite when Joseph was their governor and married to the daughter of the priest of On. The Israelites by the rite, which was associated with the idea of purity, were marked as a whole "kingdom of priests" ( Exodus 19:6;  Deuteronomy 7:6-7). In  Jeremiah 9:25, "I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised: Egypt, and Judah, and Edom," two classes seem distinguished: Israel circumcised in flesh, but uncircumcised in heart; and the Gentile nations uncircumcised both in flesh and heart.

Hyrcanus first compelled the Edomites to be circumcised (Josephus, Ant. 13:9, section 1; compare  Ezekiel 31:18). Its significance is, the cutting the outside flesh of the organ of generation denotes corruption as inherent in us from birth, and transmitted by our parents, and symbolizes our severance from nature's defilement to a state of consecrated fellowship with God. Jehovah consecrated the nation to Himself; and whatsoever male was not circumcised on the eighth day was liable to be "cut off." Moses had neglected to circumcise his son, owing to Zipporah's repugnance to it, as a rite not generally adopted in the East, even by the descendants of Abraham and Keturah, the Midianites. Therefore he was attacked by some sudden seizure in the resting place for the night, which he and his wife were divinely admonished arose from the neglect. She took a sharp stone or flint (compare margin  Joshua 5:2;  Joshua 5:8), the implement sanctioned by patriarchal usage as more sacred than metal (as was the Egyptian usage also in preparing mummies), and cut off her son's foreskin, and cast it at Moses' feet, saying, "a bloody husband art thou to me," i.e., by this blood of my child I have recovered thee as my husband, and sealed our union again ( Exodus 4:25).

The name was given at circumcision, as at baptism ( Luke 1:59;  Luke 2:21). The painfulness of Old Testament initiatory rite, as compared with the New Testament sacrament of baptism, marks strongly the contrast between the stern covenant of the law and the loving gospel. Jesus' submission to it betokened His undertaking to fulfill the law in all its requirements, and to suffer its penalty incurred by us. "Oh wherefore bring ye here this holy Child? Such rite befits the sinful, not the clean; Why should this tender Infant undefiled Be thus espoused in blood, while we have been So gently into covenant beguiled? No keen edged knife our bleeding foreheads scored With the sharp cross of our betrothed Lord: But we belike in quiet wonder smiled. While on our brow the priest, with finger cold, Traced with the hallowed drops the saving sign; While Thou, unsparing of Thy tears, the old And sterner ritual on Thyself didst take: Meet opening for a life like Thine, Changing the blood to water for our sake." - Whytehead.

"Uncircumcised" is used of the lips ( Exodus 6:12;  Exodus 6:20), the ears ( Jeremiah 4:4;  Jeremiah 6:10), the heart ( Leviticus 26:41;  Deuteronomy 10:16;  Acts 7:51), in the sense closed by the foreskin of inborn fleshliness; impure, rebellious ( Deuteronomy 30:6;  Isaiah 52:1). Even the fruit of the Canaanites' trees was called "uncircumcised," i.e. unclean ( Leviticus 19:23). Christians "are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body (not merely the foreskins, as in literal circumcision) of the sins of the flesh (i.e. the whole old fleshly nature with its sins) by the circumcision of Christ" ( Colossians 2:11;  Romans 2:28-29).

The reason of the omission of circumcision in the wilderness ( Joshua 5:5-6) was, while suffering the penalty of their unbelief the Israelites were practically discovenanted by God, and so were excluded from the sign of the covenant. "The reproach of Egypt" was the taunt of the Egyptians that God brought them into the wilderness to slay them ( Numbers 14:13-16;  Deuteronomy 9:23-28); which reproach lay on them so long as they were in danger of being "cut off" in the wilderness as uncircumcised, but was rolled off the younger generation by their circumcision at Gilgal. Paul warned Christians who regarded circumcision as still possessing spiritual virtue, that thereby they made themselves "debtors to do the whole law," and "Christ should profit them nothing" ( Galatians 5:2-3;  Galatians 5:12). He calls its practisers "the concision," in contrast to the true circumcision ( Philippians 3:2-3), a mere flesh cutting.

So he resisted the demand that Titus should be circumcised; for, being a Greek, Titus did not fall under the rule of expediency that Jewish born Christians should be circumcised, as Timothy was (Acts 15;  Acts 16:1;  Acts 16:3;  Galatians 2:3-5). Christianity did not interfere with Jewish usages, as social ordinances (no longer religiously significant) in the case of Jews, while the Jewish polity and temple stood. After their overthrow the Jewish usages necessarily ceased. To insist on them for Gentile converts would have been to make them essential to Christianity. To violate them in the case of Jews would have been inconsistent with the charity which in matters indifferent becomes all things to all men, that by all means it may win some ( 1 Corinthians 9:22; Romans 14). The Arabians circumcised in the 13th year, after Ishmael's example ( Genesis 17:25). The Muslims and the Abyssinian Christians practice it still.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [4]

Circumcision was a minor surgical operation carried out on baby boys to remove the foreskin from the penis. It was practised among various ancient Near Eastern peoples and had certain health benefits, but for the Israelites it had, in addition, a special religious significance.

Meaning of circumcision

The first person God commanded to be circumcised was Abraham. God had made a covenant with Abraham to be his God, to give him a multitude of descendants who would be his special people, and to give those people Canaan as their homeland. Circumcision was the sign of that covenant ( Genesis 17:1-11; see Covenant ).

As a permanent mark in the body, circumcision symbolized the permanency of God’s covenant with his people. Because of its significance for personal cleanliness, it symbolized also the purity that the covenant demanded of them. God required that Abraham, his household, and all his descendants throughout future generations be circumcised if they were to be his people according to the covenant ( Genesis 17:9-13;  Acts 7:8).

Abraham believed God’s promises and acted upon his commands. His circumcision sealed his faith and demonstrated his obedience ( Romans 4:11). The covenant had originated in God’s grace, but the Israelites had to respond with faithful obedience if they were to enjoy the covenant’s blessing. If a man was not circumcised, he and his household were cut off from the covenant ( Genesis 17:14).

Circumcision was usually carried out when the child was eight days old ( Genesis 17:12;  Leviticus 12:3;  Luke 1:59;  Luke 2:21;  Philippians 3:5). But during Israel’s years in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, the people failed to circumcise their new-born children. They neglected the first requirement of the covenant. Therefore, before they could take possession of the land promised to them in the covenant, they had to circumcise all who had been born during the previous forty years ( Joshua 5:2-9).

Jewish misunderstandings

If circumcision was a sign of cleanness, uncircumcision was a sign of uncleanness ( Exodus 6:12;  Leviticus 26:41;  Isaiah 52:1). Israelites prided themselves that, because they were circumcised, they were God’s people. They called themselves ‘the circumcised’ (or ‘the circumcision’;  Galatians 2:7-8;  Ephesians 2:11;  Colossians 4:11), and despised the Gentiles as ‘the uncircumcised’ ( 1 Samuel 14:6;  1 Samuel 17:26;  1 Samuel 31:4;  Ephesians 2:11).

In their self-satisfaction the Israelites forgot that circumcision was also intended to be a sign of obedience ( Genesis 17:10). Therefore, circumcised Israelites who were disobedient to God were no better in God’s sight than uncircumcised Gentiles. Though physically circumcised, spiritually they were uncircumcised, that is, unclean in God’s sight ( Jeremiah 9:25-26;  Acts 7:51;  Romans 2:25; cf.  Deuteronomy 10:16;  Deuteronomy 30:6). In fact, the uncircumcised who obeyed God was more acceptable to God than the circumcised who disobeyed him ( Romans 2:26-27).

Israelites believed also that the only people who were God’s people were those who kept the law of Moses. Since the law commanded circumcision, they believed that a person had to be circumcised to be saved ( Leviticus 12:3;  John 7:23;  Acts 15:1;  Acts 15:5;  Acts 21:21; see Law ).

But circumcision had never been a requirement for salvation. The law of Moses set out regulations for those who had already become God’s people as a result of the covenant he had made with Abraham. The law was not a means of salvation, and neither was circumcision. Abraham was saved by faith, and that occurred before the law was given and at a time when he was still uncircumcised. He received circumcision later, as an outward sign of the inward faith that he already had ( Romans 4:1-2;  Romans 4:10-11;  Galatians 3:17-18).

Abraham may be the physical father of the Israelites, but more importantly he is the spiritual father of all who are saved by faith, whether or not they are Israelites and whether or not they are circumcised ( Romans 4:11-12). The true Israelites, the true people of God, are not those who have received circumcision, but those who have received inward cleansing from sin ( Romans 2:28-29;  Galatians 6:15).

No longer necessary

Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, and that covenant reached its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Through him, the one descendant of Abraham to whom all the promises pointed, people of all nations can receive the blessings of God’s salvation ( Genesis 12:1-3;  Luke 1:54-55;  Luke 1:72-73;  Romans 4:16-17;  Galatians 3:6-9;  Galatians 3:16;  Galatians 3:29). Now that Christ has come, the legal requirements of the former covenant no longer apply ( Ephesians 2:15;  Colossians 2:14-15). More than that, if people try to win God’s favour by keeping those legal requirements, they cannot be saved ( Galatians 5:2-4). People are saved only through faith in Christ, regardless of whether they are circumcised or uncircumcised ( Romans 3:30;  1 Corinthians 7:19;  Galatians 5:6).

For Christian, ‘circumcision’ is spiritual, not physical. It is the cleansing from sin and uncleanness that comes through Jesus Christ ( Colossians 2:11-12). Those so cleansed are the true people of God, the true ‘circumcision’ ( Philippians 3:3; cf.  Romans 2:28-29).

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [5]

Removal of the foreskin or prepuce of the male genital organ, whether for religious reasons or as a purely hygienic measure. Circumcision was practiced in the ancient Near East by the western Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites. The procedure was rejected by the east Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia, the Canaanites, and the Shechemites.

The Old Testament . The special meaning of circumcision for the people of Israel is found in  Genesis 17 and occurs within the context of God's renewed covenant promise to Abraham, following the initial contractual relationship (  Genesis 15 ). On the second occasion, God again promised lands and offspring to the still childless patriarch, and gave him the sign of circumcision, which was to be imposed upon Abraham and his descendants as a token of covenant membership ( Genesis 17:10 ). For the Israelites circumcision was a religious rite and was intended to mark the beginning of covenant solidarity for Abraham's descendants rather than describing the historical origins of the procedure.

While Abraham and his household were circumcised forthwith, the Lord's command required that hereafter male infants were to be circumcised on the eighth day of life. This in itself was distinctively different from contemporary pagan practices, which seem to have associated the rite either with puberty or with approaching marriage.

From the beginning sharp knives made from chipped flints were used for the resection, since flint maintained a superior edge. For this reason the retention of flint instruments for purposes of circumcision endured for centuries after the beginning of the Iron Age (ca. 1200 b.c.). Traditionally the head of the household administered the rite in Israel, but on special occasions a woman might officiate ( Exodus 4:24-26 ).

In the Mosaic law, a spiritual interpretation was imposed upon the procedure when the Israelites were instructed to circumcise their hearts ( Deuteronomy 10:16 ). This demand required them to recognize that, in addition to bearing the physical mark of covenant membership, they were also under obligation to manifest specific spiritual qualities of commitment and obedience to the Lord's will. Jeremiah (4:4) made precisely the same demands upon his contemporaries because of their evil deeds, which were the very opposite of what God required. For him, circumcision entailed consecration to the Lord and to the high moral ideals of the covenant, of which holiness was representative ( Leviticus 11:44 ). A true covenant member would be motivated by love of God ( Deuteronomy 6:5 ) and one's neighbor ( Leviticus 19:18 ).

The New Testament . When Greek paganism threatened to swamp Judaism some two centuries before Christ was born, circumcision became a distinctive indication of Jewish fidelity to the covenant. Thus John the Baptist was circumcised ( Luke 1:59 ), as were both Jesus ( Luke 2:21 ) and Saul of Tarsus ( Philippians 3:5 ), on the eighth day of life, making them accredited members of the covenant people. But Jesus was already casting doubt on the preeminence of the rite when he stated that his healings made people completely whole ( John 7:22-23 ). Stephen reinforced this by accusing contemporary Judaism of the very tendencies that Jeremiah had condemned ( Acts 7:51 ). Although in the period of the primitive church the believers maintained Jewish religious traditions, problems began to arise when the gospel was preached among Gentiles. Christians who had come from a Jewish background felt that Gentiles should become Jews through circumcision before being able to experience Christ's saving work.

This attitude rested partly upon the contemporary notion that circumcision was a necessary part of salvation, as well as being its effective guarantee. Others repudiated this view of salvation by works, particularly when uncircumcised Gentiles received God's outpouring of the Holy Spirit ( Acts 10:44-48 ). They saw that the prophecies of Ezekiel, in which the Lord promised a clean heart and an indwelling of his Holy Spirit (36:25-27), and the dramatic proclamation of Joel that God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh (2:28; cf.  Acts 2:17 ), were now being fulfilled. The spiritual significance of circumcision had been achieved by divine grace without the performance of the physical rite, thus making the latter obsolete.

Not all Jews rejoiced at their badge of pride and privilege being set aside ( Philippians 3:4-6 ), and consequently a group of Pharisaic Jews known as the "circumcision party" proclaimed at Antioch ( Acts 15:1-5 ) the necessity of circumcision for salvation. Peter opposed these Judaizers, affirming the saving efficacy of faith in Christ alone ( Acts 15:8-11 ), and denying the necessity of circumcision for the Gentiles.

To resolve the issue Paul and Barnabas consulted with the elders in Jerusalem, where it was agreed that Gentiles should not be compelled to be circumcised ( Acts 15:13-21 ). Paul was indifferent to the Judaizers' vaunted claims of "circumcision spirituality, " and although he circumcised the partly Jewish Timothy ( Acts 16:3 ) to facilitate his mission, he opposed circumcision for the Gentile Titus ( Galatians 2:3 ). In Galatia, Paul resisted strenuously the Judaizers' doctrine of righteousness by works, which he stigmatized as a "different gospel" ( Galatians 1:6-7 ), and reviled the proponents as "dogs" and "evil workers."

This controversy was to follow Paul throughout his ministry. To counter the Judaizers' position he conceded that, while circumcision was of great value for the old covenant, it carried no significance for the "covenants of promise" ( Ephesians 2:12 ). What was fundamentally important in God's sight was being a "new creation" ( Galatians 6:15 ) and keeping God's commandments ( 1 Corinthians 7:19 ), apart from which circumcision or uncircumcision are meaningless, and allowing faith to work through love ( Galatians 5:6 ). Paul taught resolutely that, in the new covenant, salvation came by grace and faith, not works ( Ephesians 2:8 ). For the believer, circumcision or the lack of it was a matter of total indifference. What really counted was the faith and obedience that have always characterized covenants between God and humankind.

R. K. Harrison

See also Judaizers

Bibliography . D. Jacobson, The Social Background of the Old Testament  ; R. Patai, Sex and Family in the Bible  ; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

CIRCUMCISION . This rite is not of Israelite origin; there are some good grounds for the belief that it came to the Israelites from the Egyptians. The fact of a flint being used for its performance (  Joshua 5:2-3 ) witnesses to the immense antiquity of the rite. Its original meaning and object are hidden in obscurity, though the theory that it was regarded as a necessary preliminary to marriage has much to commend it. Among the Israelites it became the sign of the Covenant People; whoever was uncircumcised could not partake of the hopes of the nation, nor could such join in the worship of Jahweh; he could not be reckoned an Israelite (  Genesis 17:14 ). Not only was every Israelite required to undergo circumcision, but even every slave acquired by the Israelites from foreign lands had likewise to be circumcised (  Genesis 17:12-13 ); according to   Exodus 12:48-49 even a stranger sojourning in the midst of Israel had to submit to the rite, at all events if he wished to join in the celebration of the Passover. Originally male children were not circumcised in Israel (cf.   Joshua 5:5-9 ), but boys had to undergo it on arriving at the age of puberty; but in later days the Law commanded that every male child should be circumcised on the eighth day after birth (  Leviticus 12:3 ).

In the OT there are two accounts as to the occasion on which circumcision was first practised by the Israelites; according to  Genesis 17:10-14 the command was given to Abraham to observe the rite as a sign of the covenant between God and him, as representing the nation that was to be; while according to   Exodus 4:25-26 its origin is connected with Moses. It was the former that, in later days, was always looked upon as its real origin; and thus the rite acquired a purely religious character, and it has been one of the distinguishing marks of Judaism ever since the Exile. The giving of a name at circumcision (  Luke 1:59;   Luke 2:21 ) did not belong to the rite originally, but this has been the custom among Jews ever since the return from the Captivity, and probably even before.

In the early Church St. Paul had a vigorous warfare to wage against his Judaizing antagonists, and it became a vital question whether the Gentiles could be received into the Christian community without circumcision. As is well known, St. Paul gained the day, but it was this question of circumcision, which involved of course the observance of the entire Mosaic Law, that was the rock on which union between the early Christians and the Judaizing Christians split. Henceforth the Jewish and the Christian communities drifted further and further apart.

Circumcision in its symbolic meaning is found fairly frequently in the OT; an ‘uncircumcised heart’ is one from which disobedience to God has not been ‘cut off’ (see  Leviticus 26:41 ,   Deuteronomy 10:16;   Deuteronomy 30:6 ); the expression ‘uncircumcised lips’ (  Exodus 6:12;   Exodus 6:30 ) would be equivalent to what is said of Moses, as one who ‘spake unadvisedly with his lips’ (  Psalms 106:33 , cf.   Isaiah 6:5 ); in   Jeremiah 6:10 we have the expression ‘their ear is uncircumcised’ in reference to such as will not hearken to the word of the Lord. A like figurative use is found in the NT ( e.g.   Colossians 2:11;   Colossians 2:13 ).

W. O. E. Oesterley.

Holman Bible Dictionary [7]

 Leviticus 9:3 Joshua 5:3

Origin Several theories seek to explain and describe the nature and origin of circumcision: (1) initiatory rite—before marriage (as the Shechemites in  Genesis 34:14-24 ) or at puberty; (2) physical hygiene—to prevent the attraction or transmission of diseases; (3) tribal mark of distinction; (4) rite of entry into the community of faith. In the Old Testament the origin of Israelite practice was founded upon the circumcision of Abraham as a sign of the covenant between God and the patriarch ( Genesis 17:10 ). Physical hygiene and tribal distinction resulted from circumcision, but the aspect of covenant sign which marked one's entry into the community of Yahwistic faith is the focus in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Ancient Near Eastern background Several Semitic and non-Semitic peoples practiced circumcision according to biblical and other sources. Jeremiah depicts Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and the desert-dwelling Arabians as circumcised peoples ( Jeremiah 9:25-26; compare  Ezekiel 32:17-32 ). On the other hand Philistines, Assyrians, and Babylonians are counted among the uncircumcised. That the Canaanites are not mentioned in either regard is noteworthy. Evidence of their perspective of circumcision is lacking. In modern times the practice exists among Mohammedan Arabs and many African and Australian tribes, as well as much of Western society.

Israelite practice The circumcision of Abraham and the male members of his entourage followed the repetition of the covenant promise (see  Genesis 15:1 ) of land and national descendants ( Genesis 17:1 ). Isaac, Ishmael, and other descendants of the patriarchal family were circumcised ( Genesis 17:23-27 ). Moses' circumcision took place only immediately prior to his confrontation with the Pharaoh ( Exodus 4:24-26 ). The tie between land and circumcision in the covenant is reflected in the purification of Israelites at Gilgal following the entry of Israel into the Promised Land ( Joshua 5:2-9 ). Passover was limited to those who had been circumcised ( Exodus 12:48;  Joshua 5:10-11 ).

Ethical implications of circumcision can be observed in the metaphorical usage of the term. The uncircumcised are those who are insensitive to God's leadership. Circumcision of the heart implies total devotion to God ( Deuteronomy 10:16;  Jeremiah 4:4 ); however, the uncircumcised ear cannot hear so as to respond to the Lord ( Jeremiah 6:10 ); and the uncircumcised of lips cannot speak ( Exodus 6:12 ). Circumcision was therefore an external sign of an internal singularity of devotion of Yahweh.

Circumcision and Christianity Controversy arose in the early church ( Acts 10-15 ) as to whether Gentile converts need be circumcised. First century A.D. Jews disdained the uncircumcised. The leadership of the apostle Paul in the Jerusalem Council was crucial in the settlement of the dispute: circumcision was not essential to Christian faith and fellowship. Circumcision of the heart via repentance and faith were the only requirements ( Romans 4:9-12;  Galatians 2:15-21 ).

R. Dennis Cole

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [8]

A cutting around, because in this rite the foreskin was cut away. God commanded Abraham to use circumcision, as a sign of his covenant; and in obedience to this order, the patriarch, at ninety-nine years of age, was circumcised, as also his son Ishmael, and all the male of his household,  Genesis 17:10-12 . God repeated the precept to Moses, and ordered that all who intended to partake of the paschal sacrifice should receive circumcision; and that this rite should be performed on children on the eighth day after their birth,  Exodus 12:44   Leviticus 12:3   John 7:22 . The Jews have always been very exact in observing this ceremony, and it appears that they did not neglect it when in Egypt,  Joshua 5:1-9 .

All the other nations sprung from Abraham besides the Hebrews, as the Ishmaelites, the Arabians, etc., also retained the practice of circumcision. At the present day it is an essential rite of the Mohammedan religion, and though not enjoined in the Koran, prevails wherever this religion is found. It is also practiced in some form among the Abyssinians, and various tribes of South Africa, as it was by the ancient Egyptians. But there is no proof that it was practiced upon infants, or became a general, national, or religious custom, before God enjoined it upon Abraham.

The Jews esteemed uncircumcision as a very great impurity; and the greatest offence they could receive was to be called "uncircumcised." Paul frequently mentions the Gentiles under this term, not opprobriously,  Romans 2.26 , in opposition to the Jews, whom he names "the circumcision," etc.

Disputes as to the observances of this rite by the converts from heathenism to Christianity occasioned much trouble in the early church,  Acts 15:1-41; and it was long before it was well understood that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,"  Galatians 5:2,3   6:15 .

The true circumcision is that of the heart; and those are "uncircumcised in heart and ears," who will not obey the law of God nor embrace the gospel of Christ.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [9]

There is somewhat particularly interesting in this Jewish rite. And as the appointment is from God, it demands suitable attention for the proper apprehension of it. It evidently appears, from the first moment of its institution, that the ordination was with an eye to Christ, for the covenant of redemption by Jesus had this token or seal, and it is expressly said, "that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promise made unto the fathers." ( Romans 15:8) And by the ceasing of this Jewish rite, and the institution of Baptism to supersede it, it should seem, that it was understood by Christ's submitting to this act, he thereby became debtor to the whole law, and fulfilled it: and hence, all his redeemed not only are freed from it, but, in fact, they are prohibited the observance. Paul the apostle was so earnest on this point, that he declared to the Galatian church that an attention to circumcision virtually denied the covenant. "Behold, I Paul (said he) say unto you, that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing." ( Galatians 5:2) And the reason seems to have been this: The seed of Abraham, by the act of circumcision, declared that they were looking for and waiting to the coming of the promised Seed, in whom all the families of the faithful were to be blessed. To be circumcised, therefore, after Christ was come, was in effect denying that Christ Was come, and by that act saying, We are looking for his coming. Hence, all the faithful posterity of Abraham were so tenacious of observing the rite of circumcision before Christ came, and so determined not to observe it after. And also, this other cause renders circumcision improper. The person circumcised, by that act, declared himself under obligations to fulfil the whole law. And hence Christ submitted to it with this view. But his redeemed are justified in Him, and therefore, to undergo circumcision would imply a defect in this justification. "I testify (said Paul,) again, to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law." ( Galatians 5:3) This, then, is the proper apprehension concerning the rite of circumcision.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [10]

The rite appointed by God to be a token of the covenant that He made with Abraham and his seed, and also the seal of the righteousness of his faith. Every male in Abraham's house was to be circumcised, and afterwards every male of his seed on the eighth day after birth. It signified the separation of a people from the world to God. During the 40 years in the wilderness this rite was not performed, but on entering God's land all were circumcised at Gilgal, when the reproach of Egypt was rolled away.  Joshua 5:2-9 . Circumcision became a synonym for Israel, so that they could be spoken of as 'the circumcised,' and the heathen as 'the uncircumcised.'  Judges 14:3;  Ezekiel 31:18;  Acts 11:3 . Contrary to the design of God, circumcision became a mere formal act, when the covenant itself was disregarded, and God then speaks of Israel as having 'uncircumcised hearts.' Stephen charged the Jewish council with being 'uncircumcised in heart and ears.'  Leviticus 26:41;  Acts 7:51 . In  Romans 4 . Abraham is shown to be 'the father of circumcision,' that is, of all that believe as the truly separated people of God.

Hence circumcision is typical of the putting off the body of the flesh by those who accept the cross as the end of all flesh, because Christ was there cut off as to the flesh: see  Colossians 2:11 : "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the [sins of the] flesh by the circumcision of Christ;" and again, "We are the circumcision which worship God by the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."  Philippians 3:3 . "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth."  Colossians 3:5 .

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

  • But the promises made to Abraham included the promise of redemption ( Galatians 3:14 ), a promise which has come upon us. The covenant with Abraham was a dispensation or a specific form of the covenant of grace, and circumcision was a sign and seal of that covenant. It had a spiritual meaning. It signified purification of the heart, inward circumcision effected by the Spirit ( Deuteronomy 10:16;  30:6;  Ezekiel 44:7;  Acts 7:51;  Romans 2:28;  Colossians 2:11 ). Circumcision as a symbol shadowing forth sanctification by the Holy Spirit has now given way to the symbol of baptism (q.v.). But the truth embodied in both ordinances is ever the same, the removal of sin, the sanctifying effects of grace in the heart.

    Under the Jewish dispensation, church and state were identical. No one could be a member of the one without also being a member of the other. Circumcision was a sign and seal of membership in both. Every circumcised person bore thereby evidence that he was one of the chosen people, a member of the church of God as it then existed, and consequently also a member of the Jewish commonwealth.

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'CircuMcIsion'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • Smith's Bible Dictionary [12]

    Circumcision. Circumcision was peculiarly, though not exclusively, a Jewish rite. It was enjoined upon Abraham, the father of the nation, by God, at the institution and as the token of the covenant, which assured to him and his descendants, the promise of the Messiah . Genesis 17. It was, thus, made a necessary condition of Jewish nationality.

    Every male child was to be circumcised when eight days old,  Leviticus 12:3, on pain of death. The biblical notice of the rite describes it as distinctively Jewish; so that, in the New Testament, "the circumcision," and "the uncircumcision," are frequently used as synonyms for the Jews and the Gentiles.

    The rite has been found to prevail extensively in both ancient and modern times. Though Mohammed did not enjoin circumcision in the Koran, he was circumcised himself, according to the custom of his country; and circumcision is now as common among the Mohammedans as among the Jews.

    The process of restoring a circumcised person to his natural condition by a surgical operation was sometimes undergone. Some of the Jews in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, wishing to assimilate themselves to the heathen around them, "made themselves uncircumcised." Against having recourse to this practice, from an excessive anti-Judaistic tendency, St. Paul cautions the Corinthians.  1 Corinthians 7:18.

    People's Dictionary of the Bible [13]

    Circumcision. A Jewish rite which Jehovah enjoined upon Abraham, the father of the Israelites, as the token of the covenant, which assured to him the promise of the Messiah.  Genesis 17:1-27. It was thus made a necessary condition of Jewish citizenship. Every male child was to be circumcised when eight days old.  Leviticus 12:3, on pain of death. The biblical notice of the rite describes it as distinctively Jewish; so that in the New Testament "the circumcision" and "the uncircumcision" are frequently used as synonyms for the Jews and the Gentiles. The rite has been found to prevail extensively in both ancient and modern times. Some of the Jews in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, wishing to assimilate themselves to the heathen around them, "made themselves uncircumcised." Against having recourse to this practice, from an excessive anü-Judaistic tendency, Paul cautioned the Corinthians.  1 Corinthians 7:18.

    Webster's Dictionary [14]

    (1): (n.) The act of cutting off the prepuce or foreskin of males, or the internal labia of females.

    (2): (n.) The Jews, as a circumcised people.

    (3): (n.) Rejection of the sins of the flesh; spiritual purification, and acceptance of the Christian faith.

    Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [15]

     Jeremiah 4:4 (b) Here is a type which compares the physical circumcision with the spiritual act of reckoning one's self dead unto sin and of laying aside the desires of the flesh. (See also  Colossians 2:11).

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [16]

    ( מוּלָה , Mulah'; Sept. and N.T. technically Περιτομή , which is translated by the Latin Circumcisio, i.e. a Cutting Around ) , a custom among many Eastern nations of cutting off part of the prepuce, as a religious ceremony. The Jews, through Abraham, received the rite from Jehovah; Moses established it as a national ordinance; and Joshua carried it into effect before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan (see generally Michaelis, Laws Of Moses, 4:30 sq.). Males only were subjected to the operation, and it was to be performed on the eighth day of the child's life; foreign slaves also were forced to submit to it on entering an Israelite's family. Those who are unacquainted with other sources of information on the subject besides the Scriptures might easily suppose that the rite was original with Abraham, characteristic of his seed, and practiced among those nations only who had learned it from them. This, however, appears not to have been the case (Celsus, ap. Orig. contra Celsum, 1:17, 250; Julian, ap. Cyril, contra Julian. 10:354; compare Marsham, Canon Chron. p. 73 sq.; Bauer, Gottesdienstl. Verfass. 1, 37 sq.; Jahn, I, 2, 277 sq.; see Borheck, Ist die Beschneidung urspriinglich hebraisch? [Duisb. and Lemgo, 1793]).

    I. Pagan Circumcision. First of all, The Egyptians were a circumcised people. Vonck ( Observ. Miscell. c. 1, p. 66), followed by Wesseling ( Ad Herod. 2, 37) and by numerous able writers, alleged that this was not true of the whole nation, but of the priests only; that at least the priests were circumcised is beyond controversy. No one can for a moment imagine that they adopted the rite from the despised shepherds of Goshen; and we are immediately forced to believe that Egyptian circumcision had an independent origin. A great preponderance of argument, however, appears to us to prove that the rite was universal among the old Egyptians, as long as their native institutions flourished, although there is no question that, under Persian and Greek rule, it gradually fell into disuse, and was retained chiefly by the priests, and by those who desired to cultivate ancient wisdom (see Origen, Ad  Jeremiah 4:19; Ezechiel 31:18; 32:19; and Ad.  Romans 2:13; Jerome Ad Galatians 4 , p. 477; Horapoll. Hierogl. .Eg. 1, 14, p. 13, ed. Paun; Clem. Alex. Strom. 1, 130). Herodotus distinctly declares that the Egyptians practiced circumcision; and that he meant to state this of the whole nation is manifest, not only since he always omits to add any restriction, but because, immediately following his first statement of the fact, he annexes this remark: "The priests, moreover, shave their whole body every other day," etc. (Herod. 2:37). It is difficult to suppose that the historian could have been mistaken on this point, considering his personal acquaintance with Egypt. (Artapanus, however, makes a distinction between Jewish and Egyptian circumcision, ap. Eusebius Proep. Ev. 4, 27.)

    Further, he informs us that the Colchians were a colony from Egypt, consisting of soldiers from the army of Sesostris. With these he had conversed (2, 104), and he positively declares that they practiced circumcision. Yet if the rite had been confined to the priestly caste of Egypt, it could hardly have been found among the Colchians at all. The same remark will apply to the savage Troglodytes of Africa, every branch of whom except one (the Kolobi), as Diodorus informs us (3, 31), was circumcised, having learned the practice from the Egyptians. The Troglodytes appear to have been widely diffused through Libya, which argues a corresponding diffusion of the rite; yet, from the silence of Diodorus concerning the other savage nations whom he recounts as African Ethiopians, we may infer that it was not practiced by them. The direct testimony of Diodorus (1, 28), Philo (Opp. 2, 310), and Strabo (12, 824; comp. Agatharch. ed. Hudson, 1, 46) is to the same effect as that of Herodotus respecting Egypt; yet this can hardly be called confirmatory, since in their days the rite was no longer universal. Josephus (contra Revelation 2, 13) speaks of it as practiced by the priests only; he, however, reproaches Apion for neglecting the institutions of his country in remaining uncircumcised. Origen, in the passage above referred to, confirms the statement of Josephus. In Kenrick's Herodotus (2, 37), the French commissioners who examined some Egyptian mummies are quoted as establishing from them the fact of Egyptian circumcision. Herodotus, moreover, tells us (2, 104) that the Ethiopians were also circumcised; and he was in doubt whether they had learned the rite from the Egyptians, or the Egyptians from them. By the Ethiopians we must understand him to mean the inhabitants of Meroe or Sennaar. In the present day the Coptic Church continues to practice it, according to C. Niebuhr (quoted by Michaelis); the Abys. sinian Christians do the same (Ludolf. Hist. Ethiop. 1, 19, and Comment. p. 268 sq.); and that it was not introduced among the latter with a Judaical Christianity appears from their performing it upon both sexes. (It is scarcely worth while to invent a new name, recision, or resection, for accuracy's sake.)

    Oldendorp describes the rite as widely spread through Western Africa 16 ° on each side of the line even among natives that are not Mohammedan. In later times it has been ascertained that it is practiced by the Kafir nations in South Africa, more properly called Kosa or Amakesa, whom Prichard supposes to form "a great part of the native population of Africa to the southward of the equator." He remarks upon this: "It is scarcely within probability that they borrowed the custom from nations who profess Islam, or we should find among them other proofs of intercourse with people of that class. It is more probable that this practice is a relic of ancient African customs, of which the Egyptians, as it is well known, partook in the remote ages" (Prichard, Physical Hist. of  Prayer of Manasseh 1:3 d ed. 2, 287). Traces of the custom have even been observed among the natives of some of the South Sea Islands (Pickering, Races of Men, p. 153, 199, 200, etc.).

    How far the rite was extended through the Syro-Arabian races is uncertain (but see Strabo, 16:776; Epiphan. Hoer. 9, 30; Origen ad Genesis 1, 10). In the 9th section of the Epistle of Barnabas (which, whether genuine or not, is very old), the writer comments as follows: "But you will say the Jews were circumcised for a sign. And so are all the Syrians, and the Arabians, and the idolatrous priests; ... and even the Egyptians themselves are circumcised." This language is vague and popular; yet it shows how notorious was the wide diffusion of the custom (see Hug, in the Freib. Zeitschrift. 3. 213). The Philistines, in the days of Saul, were, however, uncircumcised; so also, says Herodotus (2, 104), were all the Phoenicians who had intercourse with the Greeks. That the Canaanites, in the days of Jacob, were not all circumcised, is plain from the affair of Dinah and Shechem. The story of Zipporah ( Exodus 4:25), who did not circumcise her son until fear came over her that Jehovah would slay her husband Moses, proves that the family of Jethro, the Midianite, had no fixed rule about it, although the Midianites are generally regarded as children of Abraham by Keturah. On the other hand, we have the distinct testimony of Josephus ( Ant. 1, 12, 2) that the Ishmaelite Arabs, inhabiting the district of Nabathaea, were circumcised after their 13th year: this must be connected with the tradition, which no doubt existed among them, of the age at which their forefather Ishmael underwent the rite ( Genesis 17:25).

    St. Jerome also (quoted by Michaelis) informs us that, to his day, "Usque Hodie," the tribes dwelling round Judaea and Palestine were circumcised, "especially all the Saracens who dwell in the desert." Elsewhere he says that, "except the Egyptians, Idumaeans, Ammonites, Moabites, and Ishmaelites of the desert, of whom the greater part are circumcised, all other nations in the world are uncircumcised." A negative argument is more or less dangerous; yet there is something striking in the fact that the books of Moses, of Joshua, and of Judges never bestow the epithet uncircumcised as a reproach on any of the seven nations of Canaan, any more than on the Moabites or Ammonites, the Amalekites, the Midianites, or other inland tribes with whom they came into conflict. On the contrary, as soon as the Philistines become prominent in the narrative, after the birth of Samson, this epithet is of rather common occurrence. The fact also of bringing back as a trophy the foreskins of slain enemies never occurs except against the Philistines (1 Samuel 18). We may perhaps infer, at least until other proof or disproof is attained, that while the Philistines, like the Sidonians and the other maritime Syrian nations known to the Greeks, were wholly strangers to the practice, yet among the Canaanites, and all the more inland tribes, it was at least so far common that no general description could be given them from the omission; It appears from Josephus (Ant. 13, 9) that when Hyrcanus subdued the Idumaeans, he forced them to be circumcised on pain of expatriation. This shows that they had at least disused the rite. But that is not wonderful, if it was only a custom, and not a national religious ordinance; for, as Michaelis observes, the disuse of it may have dated from the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes, of which it is said ( 1 Maccabees 1:41-42), "The king Antiochus wrote to all his kingdom that all should be one people; and that all should keep the ordinances of his country; and all the nations acquiesced according to the word of the king." The rather obscure notices which are found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel of the circumcision of the nations who were in immediate contact with Israel admit of a natural interpretation in conformity with what has been already adduced ( Jeremiah 9:25;  Ezekiel 31:18; also  Ezekiel 32:19, Et Passim ) . The difficulty turns on the new Moral use made of the term "uncircumcised," to mean simply Impure. The passage in Jeremiah is thus translated by Ewald: "Behold, the days come that I visit all the uncircumcised circumcised ones; Egypt and Judah, Edom, and the children of Ammon and Moab; and all the dwellers in the wilderness that are shaven on the temples: for all the heathen are uncircumcised, and so is all the house of Israel uncircumcised in heart." The shaving of the temples appears to be a religious custom of the same kind: Herodotus (3, 8) ascribes it to the Arabs generally, and Josephus rather strangely regards the epithet Τροχοκούριδες , in the ancient Greek poet Choerilus (c. Revelation 1, 22), as a description of his own countrymen. Knowing that the Egyptians were circumcised, it no longer remains doubtful how the reproach of Egypt ( Joshua 5:9) should be interpreted.

    How far the rite of circumcision spread over the south-west of Arabia no definite record subsists. The silence of the Koran confirms the statement of Abulfeda (Histor. Ante-Islamica, p. 180, ed. Fleischer, 1831) that the custom is older than Mohammed, who, it would appear, in no respect regarded it as a religious rite. Nevertheless it has extended itself with the Mohammedan faith, as though it were a positive ordinance. Pococke (Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 309) cites a tradition, which ascribes to Mohammed the words, "Circumcision is an ordinance for men, and honorable in women." This extension of the rite to the other sex might, in itself, satisfy us that it did not come to those nations from Abraham and Ishmael. We have already seen that Abyssinian circumcision has the same peculiarity; so that it is every way probable that Southern Arabia had the rite from the same source or influence as Ethiopia. In fact, the very closest relations are known to have subsisted between the nations on the opposite coasts of the Red Sea. Another passage of Abulfeda (Annales Muslemici. 1, 92) gives specific information on this subject. In the battle of Ohod, in the third year of the Hegira, "Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet, committed great slaughter. When Sabba' ben-Abd-ul-Uzza, whose mother was a circumciser in Mecca, passed by him, Hamza called out, Come on, you son of a she-circumciser [resectricis nympharum]!" The form of the word proves that this was strictly the trade of the old woman, and that the custom, as applied to females, was no innovation of those days. Niebuhr had ocular demonstration of female circumcision in Arabia (Travels, 2, 251).

    Pococke quotes the ecclesiastical historian Philostorgius for the fact that the Himyarite Arabs circumcise their children on the eighth day. He adds a passage from Al Gazzali, in which the writer says that the Arabs differ from the Jews as to the time; for they postpone it until the child has teeth, which he thinks safer. Finally, he cites Ibn Athir, who, writing of the times antecedent to Mohammed, says that the Arabs were accustomed to circumcise between the tenth and fifteenth years. The origin of the custom amongst this large section of those Gentiles who follow it is to be found in the Biblical record of the circumcision of Ishmael ( Genesis 17:25). Josephus relates that the Arabians circumcise after the thirteenth year, because Ishmael, the founder of their nation, was circumcised at that age ( Ant. 1, 12, 2; see Lane's Mod. Eg. ch. 2). Though Mohammed did not enjoin circumcision in the Koran, he was circumcised himself, according to the custom of his country; and circumcision is now as common amongst the Mohammedans as amongst the Jews.

    The statement of Philostorgius may receive light from the Arab historians, who relate (Jost, Geschichte der Israeliten, 5, 236 sq.) that about a century before the Christian aera, several Jewish sovereigns reigned in the region called Sheba by the Jews, and Yemen by the moderns, where the Himyarites (or Homeritae) dwelt. The few facts preserved show that they were not close observers of the Mosaic law, and the suspicion might arise that they were called Jews chiefly from their having received Jewish circumcision. We have, however, a collateral evidence of much importance, to prove that the influence acting on them had really come from Judaea; namely, it is well known that in Abyssinia a nation called the Falasha still exists, which has very thoroughly adopted the Jewish religion, insomuch as to have invented legends that allege their descent from the Hebrews. They possess the Old Testament in the Gheez language and character, but their own language is said to be quite alien from the Hebrew; facts which prove that they were really proselyted by the Jews at some early period. (See Abyssinia).

    At that same time, it is credible, the Hebrew faith met with similar success on the opposite coast of the Red Sea. Jost believes that, during the war of the Maccabees, great numbers of Jews migrated into Arabia; and it is certain that in later times they were very numerous in Yemen, and their influence great. Wherever they were settled proselytes must have been made; and great zeal was doubtless used to induce them to circumcise their children duly according to the Mosaic rite. We can then quite understand Philostorgius's fact, if we are allowed to suppose that he spoke loosely of "the Himyarites" doing that which was done by a great many of them. An interesting story is told by Josephus-the date so late as the reign of the Emperor Claudius (Ant. 20, 2) how Izates, the young king of Adiabene, and his mother Helena, were converted by Jewish teachers to a belief in the one true God, the God of the Hebrews: and how, when Izates was desirous of being circumcised, and his mother dreaded that it would alienate his subjects, his Jewish Instructor Ananias warmly seconded her views, with a heart like that of Paul; telling him that if he was resolved to imitate Jewish institutions, he could, without being circumcised, adore the true divinity; and that this was far more important than circumcision. At the time he satisfied the young monarch; but afterwards, another Jew, named Eleazar, came from Galitee, and inveighed so strongly on the impiety of his disobedience, that, without more delay, Izates submitted to the rite. It is evident that, in a controversy of this sort, the more narrow-minded teacher had the advantage; and, in consequence, it appears that "proselytes of righteousness" were always circumcised ( Judith 14:10, and Tacit. Hist. 5, 5). The facility with which whole nations have adopted the practice from the Mohammedans proves that it is not so serious an obstacle to the spread of a religion as some have thought it (see the Penny Cyclopaedia, s.v.).

    II. Jewish Circumcision.

    1. History. When God announced to Abraham that he would establish his covenant with him, he said to him, "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee: Every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" ( Genesis 17:10-11). It was also ordained that this should be extended to servants belonging to Abraham and his seed, as well as to their own childern; and that in the case of children it was to be done on the eighth day after birth. This was appointed as an ordinance of perpetual obligation in the Abrahamic family, and the neglect of it entailed the penalty of being cut off from the people (12-14). In compliance with this, Abraham, though then ninety-nine years of age, was himself circumcised and all his household, including Ishmael. On the birth of his son Isaac, the rite was attended to with regard to him ( Genesis 21:4); and it continued to be observed by his posterity, and distinctively to characterize them from the people amidst whom they dwelt ( Genesis 34:14-15). The usage thus introduced by Abraham was formally enacted as a legal institute by Moses ( Leviticus 12:3; comp.  John 7:23).

    Slaves, whether home-born or purchased, were circumcised ( Genesis 17:12-13); and foreigners must have their males circumcised before they could be allowed to partake of the passover ( Exodus 12:48), or become Jewish citizens ( Judges 14:10. See also  Esther 8:17, where for Heb. מִתְיִהֲ דִים , "became Jews," the Sept. has Περιετέμοντο Καὶ Ι᾿Ουδά Þ Ζον ). In short, it was appointed to be observed in relation to all who became proselytes from heathenism to Judaism (comp.  Judith 14:10; Maimonides, Issure Biah, c. 13, cited by Lightfoot, Harmonice Evang. sec. 12). The penalty of death for a neglect of this ordinance appears in the case of Moses to have actually been demanded of the father, when the Lord "sought to kill him" because his son was uncircumcised ( Exodus 4:24-26). During the passage through the wilderness the practice fell into disuse, so that of those who entered Canaan none had been circumcised. As this was fatal to their title under the covenant to take possession of the land, Joshua, in obedience to God's command, caused all the males to be circumcised ( Joshua 5:2-9). The most satisfactory explanation of this neglect appears to be, that the nation, while bearing the punishment of disobedience in its forty years' wandering, was regarded as under a temporary rejection by God, and was therefore prohibited from using the sign of the covenant. This agrees with the mention of their disobedience and its punishment, which immediately follows in the passage in Joshua ( Joshua 5:6), and with the words ( Joshua 5:9), "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." The "reproach of Egypt" was the threatened taunt of their former masters that God had brought them into-the wilderness to slay them ( Exodus 32:12;  Numbers 14:13-16;  Deuteronomy 9:28), which, so long as they remained uncircumcised and wanderers in the desert for their sin, was in danger of falling upon them. (Other views of the passage are given and discussed in Keil's Commentary On Joshua, p. 129.)

    From this time forward it became the pride of the nation to observe this ordinance; on all those people who did not observe it they looked down with contempt, not to say abhorrence ( Judges 14:3;  Judges 15:18;  1 Samuel 14:6;  1 Samuel 17:26;  2 Samuel 1:20;'  Isaiah 52:1;  Ezekiel 31:18;  Ephesians 2:11, etc.); and so much did it become a rite distinctive of them, that their oppressors sought to prevent their observing it-an attempt to which they refused to submit, though threatened with the last penalties in case of disobedience ( 1 Maccabees 1:48;  1 Maccabees 1:50;  1 Maccabees 1:60-62). The introduction of Christianity was the signal for the abolition of this rite in the Church of God; as the old covenant had waxed feeble and was passing away, that which was the token of it also ceased to be binding; the rule was proclaimed that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" ( Galatians 6:15;  Colossians 3:11), though among the Jewish Christians were still found many who clung tenaciously to their ancient distinctive rite, and would have imposed it even on the Gentile converts to Christianity ( Acts 15:1;  Galatians 6:12, etc.). Our Lord himself was circumcised, because it became him who was of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh to fulfill all righteousness, and because he was "a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" ( Romans 15:8); and Paul caused Timothy to be circumcised to avoid offense to the Jews, his mother being a Jewess; but the spirit of Christianity was averse from such institutions ( Acts 15:1-11;  Galatians 2:3, etc.) for the outward carnal circumcision it sought to substitute that of the heart ( Romans 2:28-29), "the circumcision not made with hands in putting off the sins of the flesh, even the circumcision of Christ" ( Colossians 2:11).

    Among the ancient Jews, the rule that circumcision should take place on the eighth day after birth was rigidly followed ( Luke 1:59;  Luke 2:21;  Philippians 3:5), save in such very exceptional cases as those mentioned  Exodus 4:25;  Joshua 5:6. Even their reverence for the Sabbath did not prevent the Jews from observing it on that day ( John 7:22-23); according to the Rabbins circumcision "pellit Sabbatum" (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. In Joan 7, 22). The operation might be performed by any Israelite, but usually it was performed by the father of the child; in special cases women might perform it ( Exodus 4:25). The instrument used in the earlier times was a sharp stone or a knife of flint ( Exodus 4:25;  Joshua 5:2-3; comp. the Λίθος Αἰθιοπικός , used by the Egyptians in preparing bodies for embalming, Herod. 2:86). (See Knife).

    The operation was a painful one, at least to grown persons ( Genesis 34:25;  Joshua 5:8), and requires about three days for the inflammation to subside (Arvieux, 3, 146). It was usual to connect the naming of the child with the circumcision ( Genesis 21:3-4;  Luke 1:59;  Luke 2:21), a practice which probably had respect to the fact that it was in connection with the institution of the rite that God gave to the ancestor of the race his name of Abraham ( Genesis 17:5). (See Name).

    2. Obliteration By Apostate Jews. Some of the Jews in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, wishing to assimilate themselves to the heathen around them, built a gymnasium ( Γυμνάσιον ) at Jerusalem, and, that they might not be known to be Jews when they appeared naked in the games, "made themselves uncircumcised" ( 1 Maccabees 1:15, Ἐποίησαν Ἑαυτοῖς Ἀκροβυστίας ; Vulg. Fecerunt Sibi Preeputia; Joseph. Ant. 12, 5, 1, Τὴν Τῶν Αἰδοίων Περιτομὴν Ἐπικαλύπτειν ). Sometimes this was done by a surgical operation, such as Celsus describes ( De Medic. 7, 25; comp. Galen, Meth. Med. 14, 16; Paul AEgin. 6:53; Epiphanius, De pond. et mens. p. 538, ed. Basil. 1544), sometimes by other means (Dioscor. 4:157). The term for this was Ἐπισπᾶσθαι (Talm. מָשְִׁעָדְלָה ), i.e. drawing over again, sc. the prepuce (4 Maccabees 7; see Bartholin. Morb. bibl. xxvi). Against having recourse to this practice from an excessive and- Judaistic tendency, the apostle Paul cautions the Corinthians in the words, "Was any one called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised" ( Μὴ Ἐπισπάσθω ,  1 Corinthians 7:18). See the Essay of Groddeck, De Judceis Prceputium Attrahentibus (Lips. 1699); also in Sch Ö ttgen's Hor. Hebrews 2 ; and in Hasaei et Ikenii Nov. Thes. 2, 793 sq.; and in Ugolini Thesaur. 22; Engel, De Judeorum Prcep. Attrah. (Lips. 1699); Lossius, De Epispasmo Judaico (Jen. 1665); also in Schlegeri Diss. rar. (Helmst. 1743, 2:89 sq.); Wedell, Exercitt. med. philol. I, 5, 1 sq.; Ludolf, Comm. in Hist. AEth. p. 270; Lubkert in the Stud. u. Krit. 1835, 3. 657; comp. Fabricii Bibliogr. Antiq. p. 546 sq. (See Foreskin).

    3. Figurative Use Of The Term. The moral meaning of the word "uncircumcised" was a natural result of its having been made legally essential to Hebrew faith. "Uncircumcised in heart and ears" was a metaphor to which a prophet would be carried, as necessarily as a Christian teacher to such phrases as "unbaptized in soul," or "washed by regeneration." It was a well-known and readily understood Symbol Of Purity.

    4. Modern Usages. The ceremony of circumcision, as practiced by the Jews in our own times, is thus: If the eighth day happens to be on the Sabbath, the ceremony must be performed on that day, notwithstanding its sanctity. When a male child is born, the godfather is chosen from amongst his relations or near friends; and if the party is not in circumstances to bear the expenses, which are considerable (for after the ceremony is performed a breakfast is provided, even amongst the poor, in a luxurious manner), it is usual for the poor to get one amongst the richer, who accepts the office, and becomes a godfather. There are also societies formed amongst them for the purpose of defraying the expenses, and every Jew receives the benefit if his child is born in wedlock. The ceremony is performed in the following manner, in general.

    The circumcisor being provided with a very sharp instrument, called the circumcising knife (see Quandt, De cultris circumcisoriis Judoeorum, Regiom. 1713), plasters, cummin-seed to dress the wound, proper bandages, etc., the child is brought to the door of the synagogue by the godmother, when the godfather receives it from her and carries it into the synagogue, where a large chair with two seats is placed; the one is for the godfather to sit upon, the other is called the seat of Elijah the prophet, who is called the angel or messenger of the covenant. As soon as the godfather enters with the child, the congregation say, "Blessed is he that cometh to be circumcised, and enter into the covenant on the eighth day." The godfather being seated, and the child placed on a cushion in his lap, the circumciser performs the operation, and, holding the child in his arms, takes a glass of wine into his right hand, and says as follows: "Blessed be those, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine. Blessed art thou, O Lord our God! who hath sanctified his beloved from the womb, and ordained an ordinance for his kindred, and sealed his descendants with the mark of his holy covenant; therefore for the merits of this, O living God! our rock and inheritance, command the deliverance of the beloved of our kindred from the pit, for the sake of the covenant which he hath put in our flesh. Blessed art thou, O Lord, the Maker of the Covenant! Our God, and the God of our fathers! preserve this child to his father and mother, and his name shall be called in Israel, A, the son of B. Let the father rejoice in those that go forth from his loins, and let his mother be glad in the fruit of her womb; as it is written, Thy father and mother shall rejoice, and they that begat thee shall be glad."'

    The father of the child says the following grace: "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe! who hath sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us to enter into the covenant of our father Abraham." The congregation answer, "As he hath entered into the law, the canopy, and the good and virtuous deeds." (See Buxtorf, Synagoga Judaica, ch. 2.)

    III. Design Of The Institution. Herodotus long ago declared that it was adopted by the Egyptians for cleanliness ( Καθαριότητος Εἵνεκα ); and a slight acquaintance with the ideas of the Turks concerning personal defilement will make it easy to believe that an idea of cleanliness continued the practice among nations which had once become habituated to it. In the ancient Egyptians this Turkish spirit was carried to a great height; nor is it wonderful that in hot climates detailed precepts of cleanliness form a very large part of primitive religion. But we can hardly rest in this as a sufficient account of the Origin of the rite (see Deyling, Observatt. 2, 38 sq. [also in Ugolini Thesaur. 22]; Buddei Hist. Eccl. V, I, 1, 175 sq.; Meyer, De Tempp. Et Fest. Hebrews 2, 7 , p. 512 [Ugolini Thesaur. 1]; Grappii Diss. An Circumcisio Ab Eg. Fuert Derivata [Jen. 1722]; Witsii Eeg. 3. 6, p. 233 sq.; Bynaeus, De Circumcis. Christi [Amst. 1689], p. 27 sq.; Carpzov, Appar. p. 602 sq.; Sturz, Circumcisio A Barbaris Gentibus Translata [Ger. 1790]). It is more important to state that an adequate physical reason for performing the operation on females of several African races has been fully substantiated. The curious reader will find in Laurence's Lectures (chap. 5) the decisive testimony of Mr. Barrow and Dr. Somerville on this point, with an allusion to the efforts of the Romish missionaries to forbid the practice in Abyssinia, and the unexpected consequences which thwarted them. No positive evidence has yet been obtained that the operation is equally expedient for the males in any of the same races; yet the analogy of the two cases forces us to believe that in both the custom has a physical or medical ground, especially when it is remarked to predominate so much in Africa, where alone (as far as yet appears) such physical peculiarities of structure exist. it was practiced, moreover, by the males of African tribes so savage, and so little addicted to religious ceremonialism, that a broader ground must be sought for it than simple cleanliness. We have already named the Troglodytes. Strabo mentions two other tribes of Africa, whom he calls Kreophagi and Kolobi (16, 4, p. 387-390, 392, ed. Tauch.), who practiced on themselves a yet more shocking mutilation ( Κολοβοὶ Τὰς Βαλάνους ) , ascribed to the Kolobi by Diodorus also.

    The fact, also, that most of these nations performed whatever operation it was, not on infants, but on those who were advancing towards marriageable age, conspires to indicate that some physical inconvenience gradually showed itself (as with the Bushmen females), of which they desired to get rid. Jost looks upon Infant circumcision as the distinguishing mark of Judaism; and this may be nearly correct, though we have seen that, according to Abulfeda, some Arabs delayed it only till after teething. In fact, Diodorus (2, 31), when speaking of that branch of the Troglodyte nations which was called Kolobi, declares that they were subjected to the operation in infancy ( Ἐκνηπίου ). Their unnatural and cruel custom is possibly to be referred to superstition. Some, indeed, have looked on circumcision itself as a softened form of the barbarous rite by which the Galli, or priests of Cybele, were qualified for their office. The Kolobite custom might, on the contrary, be a carrying out of that barbarity to the extremest point possible, short of exterminating the population of a tribe.

    Traditionary or superstitious reasons certainly can alone explain the presence of the custom among the Sandwich Islanders (Michaelis, Orient. Biblioth. 14, 50 sq.), and aboriginal Americans (Gumilla, Histoire De L' Oroque, Avign. 1708, 1:183 sq.), for physiological considerations, seem to fail (see Burdach, Physiol. 3. 386). If an independent and human origin has been discovered for Egyptian circumcision, the thought of necessity arises that the Israelites must have had it from the same sources as the nations around them, and it has been discussed (Speneer, De Leg. Heb. I, 4, 4, p. 70 sq.) whether they even borrowed it from the Egyptians. (Movers thinks [Phonic. 1, 362] that the latter borrowed it from the Phoenicians, resting on the myth of Saturn, in Sanchoniatho, Fragm. p. 36.) The idea has naturally given much offense; but, in truth, the question involves no peculiar difficulty; it is only a part of another far wider inquiry. It is notorious that many other ancient nations had various ceremonies and institutions in common with the Jews, and that the Hebrew law is by no means in all points original. That sacrifice pre- existed is on the surface of the Bible history. The same, however, is true of temples, tabernacles, priests, ever-burning fire, oracles, etc. The fact has been often denoted by saying that the Jewish institutions are a selection, revision, and re-enactment of an older patriarchal religion. Other treatises on the Gentile origin of circumcision are by Hofmann (Altdorf, 1771), Rus (Jen. 1707), Zeibich (Ger. 1770), Anton (Lips. 1682).

    Circumcision, then, as practiced by the Gentiles, was simply an expedient to promote health, facilitating cleanliness, and preventing certain painful afflictions, such as that of the gonorrhesa spuria (froniphymosis, or stricture), and especially the Ἄνθραξ , or "carbuncle," to which, in hot climates, men are subject (Josephus, Cont. Apion. 2, 14; Niebuhr, De L'Arabie, ch. 19), or an unusual prolongation of the part in question (Thevenot, 1, 58; Haquet, in Voigt's Magaz. Fur Phys. 6, 443; but see Danz, in Baldinger's Magaz. Fur Aerzte, 14, 416 sq.). In so far as it served- this end, the Irsaelites had, of course, the benefit of it; but that this formed the reason and design of its appointment by God, though asserted by some men of learning and ability, seems utterly untenable; for, in the first place, this opinion is without the slightest support from Scripture; often as the subject is referred to there, we find no hint as to this being the purpose of the observance; 2dly, This hypothesis is quite opposed to the account given by Moses of the introduction of the rite among the Israelites; 3dly, It is absurd to suppose that a mere prophylactic usage should by God be elevated to the solemnity of a religious ordinance; 4thly, Whatever advantages in a hygienic respect might accrue from the practice, these were confined to individuals; circumcision is not necessary for health to men generally in hot climates (Niebuhr, loc. cit.); and therefore to oblige the whole male community to undergo this process in infancy for purposes of health would have been to act as unwise a part as if it had been enjoined that every one should lose a limb, because it was possible that some one might contract severe disease in that limb if allowed to remain; and, 5thly, If circumcision was a mere hygienic precaution, why should it have been abolished by Christianity? why should the apostles have held it to be so hostile to Christianity? and why should the difficulty of becoming a Christian have been increased by the prohibition to those who embraced Christianity of a necessary condition of their children's health? See Philo, De Circumcis. in Opp. 2, 210 sq.; Ackermann, in Weise's Materialienfir Gottesgelartheit (Gera, 1784), 1:50 sq.; Schulz, Exercitatt. 1, 2; Michaelis, Orient. Bibl. 22, 8 sq.; Rust, Handb. d. Chirurgie, v. 30; Hoffmann, De causa focunditatis gentis circumcises (Lips. 1739); Wolfsheimer, De causisfecunditatis Hebraeor. (Hal. 1742); Vogel, Dubia de usu circumcisionib medico (Gott. 1763); Meiners, De circumcis. origine et causis (in the Comment. Soc. Gott. 14, 207 sq.; and his Krit. Gesch. d. Relig. 2, 473 sq.). On the supposed tendency of the custom to prevent excessive venery (Michaelis in Bertholdt's Journ. 4, 356), especially onanism (Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. col. 112 sq.), see Schneider in Henke's Zeitschriftf. Staatsarzneik. V, 4, 223. For other reasons, see Photius, Ep. 205.

    When first appointed by God, circumcision was expressly set forth as a token of the covenant which God had made with Abraham; and the apostle tells us that Abraham received "the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of that faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised" ( Romans 4:11); so that to Abraham it was not only a sign or token of God's covenant, but also an obsignation or certificate that he was in a state of acceptance before he was circumcised. As a Mosaic institution, it was also the sign of the covenant which God made with Israel, which is hence called the "covenant of circumcision" ( Acts 7:8). In consequence of this, it became the medium of access to the privileges of the covenant, and entailed on all who received it an obligation to fulfill the duties which the covenant imposed ( Romans 2:25;  Romans 3:1;  Galatians 5:3). In a word, it was the token which assured to Abraham and his descendants the promise of the Messiah (Genesis 17). It was thus made a necessary condition of Jewish nationality. Circumcision served also to separate the people of the Jews from the rest of the nations, as a people set apart to God. These were its Uses. As respects its Meaning, that was symbolical, and the things which it symbolized were two: 1. Consecration to God; and, 2. Mental and spiritual purification ( Exodus 6:12;  Leviticus 19:25;  Deuteronomy 10:16;  Deuteronomy 30:6;  Isaiah 52:1;  Jeremiah 4:4;  Jeremiah 6:10;  Romans 2:25-29;  Colossians 2:11, etc. Compare Philo, De Circumcisione; Jones, Figurative Language of Scripture, Lecture 5, p. 135). "There was thus involved the concept of consecration, and along with this that of reconciliation, in circumcision; and it was thereby, as Ewald rightly remarks (Alterth. p. 95), an offering of the body to Jehovah, which, according to the true meaning of all the offerings, as fully developed and raised to their true elevation by the prophets, had to be presented to him as an offering of the soul. Only as this inner offering was perfectly presented could the obligation to be a priestly kingdom and a holy people be fulfilled" (Vaihinger in Herzog's Real-Encykl. 2, 110). Kitto, s.v.

    On this subject in general, see Spencer, De Legibus Heb. ritualibus, 1, 5; Michaelis, Commentaries on the Laws of Moses, 3. 58-93; Witsius, De Fwdere, bk. 4:6, 8; Lokevitz, De circumcisione Judeorum (Vitemb. 1769- 80); Smeets, De circumcisione Abrahamo divinitus data (Franec. 1690); Bergson, Beschneidung vom historischen, krit. u. med. Standpunkt (Berlin, 1844); Brescher, Die Beschneidung der Israeliten von der hist., praktisch- operativen u. ritualen Seite (Vienna, 1845); Heymann, Die Beschneidung inpathol. Bedeutung (Magdeb. 1844); M. G. Salomon, Die Beschneidung, hist. u. medicinisch beleuchtet (Braunschw. 1844); S. Salomon, Phimosis nebst Beschneidung (Hamb. 1838); Schmid's ed. of Maimonides, tract מַילָה (Strasb. 1661, 1700); Wolfers, Die Beschneidung Der Juden (Lamford. 1831).

    IV. Christian Views On The Subject. "The attitude which Christianity, at its introduction, assumed towards circumcision was one of absolute hostility, so far as the necessity of the rite to salvation, or its possession of any religious or moral worth were concerned (Acts 15;  Galatians 5:2). But while the apostles resolutely forbade its imposition by authority on the Gentiles, they made no objection to its practice, as a mere matter of feeling or expediency. Paul, who would by no means consent to the demand for Titus, who was a Greek, to be circumcised ( Galatians 2:3-5), on another occasion had Timothy circumcised to conciliate the Jews, and that he might preach to them with more effect as being one of themselves ( Acts 16:3). The Abyssinian Christians still practice circumcision as a national custom (see Gibbon, Decline And Fall, N. Y. edition, 4:565). In accordance with the spirit of Christianity, those who ascribed efficacy to the mere outward rite are spoken of in the N.T. almost with contempt as the concision' or amputation' ( Τὴν Κατατομήν ); while the claim to be the true circumcision is vindicated for Christians themselves ( Philippians 3:2-3). An ethical idea is attached to circumcision in the O.T., where uncircumcised lips ( Exodus 6:12;  Exodus 6:30), or ears ( Jeremiah 6:10), or hearts ( Leviticus 26:41) are spoken of, i.e. either stammering or dull, closed as it were with a foreskin, or rather rebellious and unholy ( Deuteronomy 30:6;  Jeremiah 4:4), because circumcision was the symbol of purity (see  Isaiah 52:1). Thus the fruit of a tree is called uncircumcised, or, in other words, unclean ( Leviticus 19:23). In the N.T. the ethical and spiritual idea of purity and holiness is fully developed ( Colossians 2:11;  Colossians 2:13;  Romans 2:28-29)."

    V. Relation To Christian Baptism.

    1. The ethical and spiritual value of circumcision did not depend on its existence or use prior to its adoption by God as a symbol of true religion. The condescension of Christ consecrated and elevated old rites to new spheres, upon the principle that "what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." On this principle he elected the baptismal purification, and the simple elements of his Supper. When the covenant with Abraham had reached its full development, including all the seminal elements for the future growth of his Church in the world, God ratified it by the seal of circumcision. Whatever was afterwards added to the polity of the Church or nation worked no modification of the great principles involved, but was rather called into being by the exigencies of times and circumstances. This rite, as a symbol, bespoke the consummation of the Abrahamic covenant in all its power and fullness of temporal, as well as eternal and heavenly interests.

    2. This ordinance included in its significance, as a fitting and most impressive emblem, deep spiritual truths. The history of circumcision, in its connection with the Abrahamic covenant and religion, clearly exhibits the nature of the things it symbolized by the direction of its figurative applications. In involving and engaging moral and mental purity, through faith and worship towards Abraham's God, it became the token of spiritual blessings to the pious Israelite in whatever foreign regions he might dwell, notwithstanding he might never be permitted to behold Palestine or the holy city. For he alone was a Jew and a real son of Abraham, entitled to the immunities of the Covenant, whose circumcision was "of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" ( Romans 2:28-29). Profligacy in the national government, though it might bring afflictions, could not nullify the spiritual law, or make void the seal upon the faithful. "All are not Israel which are of Israel" ( Romans 9:6). The Περιτομὴ Καρδίας , Ἐν Πνεύματι " Circumcision In Heart, In Spirit" was then, as it is now, the only means of union with the Messiah; and, regarding the nation, therein was Abraham's seed an Imperium In Imperio.

    3. The relation, therefore, of CIRCUMCISION to Christian Baptism is manifest. Both are initiations into peculiar religious privileges and immunities, the emblems of inward cleansing, the signs and seals of consecration to and faith in the God of Abraham. Baptism follows and succeeds to the ancient rite, not because of external likeness, but on account of identity of offices and import, in sealing and imaging the same spiritual truths. For the saving economy of Jehovah has been the same from the beginning; only the instruments, furniture, and external appliances have undergone change. The Zion of the old is the Zion of the newly-arranged Church; the גֹּרֶן Ἄλων has only been purged, its arena enlarged, and the machinery of the garnering process changed from a specific to a general object, from the national to the cosmical. The pious patriarch was a Christian in everything but name and extent of privilege. The longitude of the atonement is for all time, and the existence of the blessed; its latitude the breadth of the race. The change of the symbolic seal adapts it to a wider sphere, yet it is only in the visible form, not in the substance; it becomes a new and more eligible likeness of the same things. "Circumcision and baptism correspond in meaning. They both relate to the renewal of the heart" (Carson, p. 367). It was a mark of distinction made upon those entering into covenant with God for worship and salvation; can baptism be either less or more? Compare Andrew Fuller, Lect. Genesis 17; Dr. L. Chase, Design of Baptism, in Bapt. Tracts for the Times, p. 26.

    4. The writers of the N.T. bear testimony to the view here presented. St. Paul uses the very impressive words "buried with him" (Christ) "in baptism" Συνταφέντες Αὐτῷ Ἐν Τῷ Βαπτίσματι ( Colossians 2:12), as synonymous with and explanatory of Περιτομὴ Τοῦ X Ριστοῦ , "the circumcision of Christ." Whatever intensity there is in the words "buried with him," it was only the effort of the apostle to show how "baptism into Christ" was like circumcision; it "put off the body of the sins of the flesh." Had such not been the scriptural meaning of circumcision, Paul would never have thus reasoned. What better testimony could be desired to prove the relation of the two rites, and that the one had succeeded the other? Objections from a want of external agreement or circumstances of administration can be of no force. The Greek Περιτομή , the Latin circumcisio, are etymological parities, but they are neither of them analogical forms with the Heb. מוּל , employed as a Technic in Genesis 17. Yet the idea of the rite is, perhaps, as perfect under the Shemitic as under the European form.

    5. The early ecclesiastical writers universally held thee views here given. Their doctrine, made dependent on  John 3:5, that Βάπτισμα Ἐξ Ὕδατος Καὶ Πνεύματος , Baptism Of Water And The Spirit, was equivalent to Ἀναγέννησις Ἐξ Υ̓́δατος Καὶ Πνεύματος , regeneration by water and the Spirit, caused them to speak of baptism as Περιτομὴ Πνευματική , spiritual circumcision, because the Spirit was always joined with the water in the baptism of an infant, or a converted, believing adult.

    6. In Justin Martyr baptism is very frequently alluded to as the "true circumcision," of which the ancient rite was a type (Apol. 1, 61; Dial. c. Trypho. 41). " God Commands You To Be Washed With This Purification, And To Be Circumcised With The True Circumcision" ( Λούσασθαι Ὑμῖν Τοῦτο Τὸ Λουτρὸν Κελεύει Θεὸς , Καὶ Περιτέμνεσθαι Τὴν Ἀληθινὴν Περιτομήν ) (Dial. c. Trypho. § 18). He says that Christians "had not received the fleshly circumcision, but the spiritual one, which Enoch and those like him made use of; and we received it Διὰ Τοῦ Βαπτίσματος Through Baptism," etc. (ib. § 43; comp. § 19). In § 29 of this dialogue he speaks of circumcision under the law as baptism. He says, "What need have I for circumcision who have the testimony of God in my favor?" ( Τίς Ἐκείνου Τοῦ Βαππίσματος Χρεία Ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι Βεβαπτισμένῳ ;) "What need have I of that other baptism, who have been baptized with the Holy Ghost?" This must be esteemed as a remarkable identification of the two rites, for we should not forget that, as the ordinance of baptism was to Justin "the water of life" (Dial. c. Trypho. § 14), so to receive it was to be baptized with the Holy Ghost. From the same point of view Basil asks certain ones who delayed baptism, "Do you put off the Circumcision Made Without Handsc Ἀχειροποιήτην Περιτομήν In putting off the flesh, Which Is Performed In Baptism?" ( Ἐν Τῷ Βαπτίσματι Τελειουμένην ), Orat. Exhort. Ad Bapt. t. 2, ed. Ben. (Par. 1721). Cyprian and his council, Ep. 44, ad Fid., held in the baptism of infants that the analogy then followed of ancient circumcision should not be binding (Nec spiritalem circumcisionem impediri carnali circumcisione debere): "Nor ought the spiritual circumcision" (baptism) "to be hindered by the carnal circumcision." On the principle that Christ was the real baptizer in the Christian rite, Tertullian calls Christ Novoe circumcisionis Purgator, "the Purifier of the new circumcision" (adv.  Judges 1:3-4; comp. Ambrose, lib. 2, De Abrahamo Patr. c. 11; Irenaeus, Haer. lib. 4, 30).

    7. It remains to be observed, briefly, that the objection to circumcision (Acts 15;  Galatians 5:2) was not to the rite itself, which was a seal of the covenant of promise, not of law, a

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

    sûr - kum - sizh´un ( מול , mūl , מולת , mūlōth  ; περιτομή , peritomḗ ): The removal of the foreskin is a custom that has prevailed, and prevails, among many races in different parts of the world - in America, Africa and Australia. It was in vogue among the western Semites - H ebrews, Arabians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Egyptians, but was unknown among the Semites of the Euphrates. In Canaan the Philistines were an exception, for the term "uncircumcised" is constantly used in connection with them. Generally speaking, the rite of circumcision was a precondition of the enjoyment of certain political and religious privileges ( Exodus 12:48;  Ezekiel 44:9 ); and in view of the fact that in the ancient world religion played such an important role in life, it may be assumed that circumcision, like many other strange customs whose original significance is no longer known, originated in connection with religion. Before enumerating the different theories which have been advanced with regard to the origin and original significance of circumcision, it may be of advantage to consider some of the principal references to the rite in the Old Testament.

    1. Circumcision in the Old Testament

    In the account of the institution of the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham which Priestly Code (P) gives (Gen 17), circumcision is looked upon as the ratification of the agreement. Yahweh undertook to be the God of Abraham and of his descendants. Abraham was to be the father of a multitude of nations and the founder of a line of kings. He and his descendants were to inherit Canaan. The agreement Thus formed was permanent; Abraham's posterity should come within the scope of it. But it was necessary to inclusion in the covenant that every male child should be circumcised on the 8th day. A foreigner who had attached himself as a slave to a Hebrew household had to undergo the rite - the punishment for its non-fulfilment being death or perhaps excommunication. According to  Exodus 12:48 (also P) no stranger could take part in the celebration of the Passover unless he had been circumcised. In the Book of Josh (  Exodus 5:2-9 ) we read that the Israelites were circumcised at Gilgal ("Rolling"), and Thus the "reproach of Egypt" was "rolled away." Apparently circumcision in the case of the Hebrews was prohibited during the Egyptian period - circumcision being a distinctive mark of the ruling race. It is noticeable that flint knives were used for the purpose. This use of an obsolete instrument is one of many proofs of conservatism in religion. According to the strange and obscure account of the circumcision by Zipporah of her eldest son ( Exodus 4:25 ) the performance of the rite in the case of the son apparently possesses a vicarious value, for thereby Moses becomes a "bridegroom of blood." The marriage bond is ratified by the rite of blood (see 4 below). But it is possible that the author's meaning is that owing to the fact that Moses had not been circumcised (the "reproach of Egypt") he was not fit to enter the matrimonial estate (see 3 below).

    2. Theories of Origin

    The different theories with regard to the origin of circumcision may be arranged under four heads: (1) Herodotus (ii.37), in dealing with circumcision among the Egyptians, suggests that it was a sanitary operation. But all suggestions of a secular, i.e. non-religious, origin to the rite, fail to do justice to the place and importance of religion in the life of primitive man.

    (2) It was a tribal mark. Tattooed marks frequently answered the purpose, although they may have been originally charms. The tribal mark enabled one member of the tribe to recognize another and Thus avoid injuring or slaying a fellow-tribesman. It also enabled the tribal deity to recognize a member of the tribe which was under his special protection. A mark was placed on Cain to indicate that he was under the special protection of Yahweh ( Genesis 4:15 ). It has been suggested, in the light of  Isaiah 44:5 the Revised Version, margin, that the employer's mark was engraved (tattooed) on the slave's hand. The prophet represents Jews as inscribing on their hands that they belong to Yahweh. The walls of Jerusalem are engraved on Yahweh's palms (  Isaiah 49:16 ). On the other hand "cuttings in the flesh" are prohibited in  Leviticus 19:28 because they were common in the case of the non-Jewish religions. Such tattooed marks might be made in conspicuous places when it was necessary that they should be easily seen, but there might be reason for secrecy so that the marks might be known only to the members of the tribe in question.

    (3) It was a rite which celebrated the coming of age of the person. It signified the attainment of puberty and of the right to marry and to enjoy full civic privileges.

    (4) As human sacrifices began to be done away with, the sacrifice of the most easily removed portion of the anatomy provided a vicarious offering.

    (5) It was a sacramental operation. "The shedding of blood" was necessary to the validity of any covenant between tribes or individuals. The rite of blood signifies the exchange of blood on the part of the contracting parties, and therefore the establishment of physical affinity between them. An alliance based on blood-relationship was inviolable. In the same way the tribal god was supposed to share in the blood of the sacrificed animal, and a sacred bond was established between him and the tribe. It is not quite obvious why circumcision should be necessary in connection with such a ceremony. But it may be pointed out that the process of generation excited the wonder and awe of primitive man. The prosperity of the tribe depended on the successful issue of the marriage bond, and a part of the body which had so much to do with the continuation and numerical strength of the tribe would naturally be fixed upon in connection with the covenant of blood. In confirmation of the last explanation it is urged that in the case of the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham circumcision was the rite that ratified the agreement. In opposition to (3) it has been urged that among the Hebrews circumcision was performed in infancy - when the child was 8 days old. But this might have been an innovation among the Hebrews, due to ignorance of the original significance of the rite. If circumcision conferred upon the person circumcised the right to the enjoyment of the blessings connected with membership in the tribe it was natural that parents should be anxious that such an initiatory act should be performed early in life. The question of adult and infant baptism is capable of similar explanation. When we examine explanations (2), (3), (4), (5), we find that they are really different forms of the same theory. There can be no doubt that circumcision was originally a religions act. Membership in the tribe, entrance upon the rights of citizenship, participation in the religious practices of the tribe - these privileges are interdependent. Anyone who had experienced the rite of blood stood within the scope of the covenant which existed between the tribe and the tribal god, and enjoyed all the privileges of tribal society. It is easily understood why the historian carefully relates the circumcision of the Israelites by Joshua on their arrival in Canaan. It was necessary, in view of the possible intermingling of the conquerors and the conquered, that the distinctive marks of the Abrahamic covenant should be preserved ( Joshua 5:3 ).

    3. Spiritual Significance

    In  Jeremiah 9:25 and   Deuteronomy 30:6 we find the spiritual significance of circumcision. A prophet like Jeremiah was not likely to attach much importance to an external act like circumcision. He bluntly tells his countrymen that they are no better than Egyptians, Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites. They are uncircumcised in heart. Paul uses the term concision for this outward circumcision unaccompanied by any spiritual change (  Philippians 3:2 ). The question of circumcision occasioned a protracted strife among the early Christians. Judaizing Christians argued for the necessity of circumcision. It was a reminiscence of the unrelenting particularism which had sprung up during the prolonged oppression of the Greek and Roman period. According to their view salvation was of the Jews and for the Jews. It was necessary to become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Paul consented to circumcision in the case of Timothy "because of the Jews" ( Acts 16:3 ). But he saw that a principle was at stake and in most of his epistles he points out the sheer futility of the contention of the Judaizers. (See commentaries on Romans and Galatians.)

    4. Figurative Uses

    In a few suggestive passages we find a figurative application of the term. For three years after the settlement in Canaan the "fruit of the land" was to be considered as "uncircumcised" ( Leviticus 19:23 ), i.e. it was the property of the Baalim, the gods of Palestine The fruit of the fourth year belonged to Yahweh. Moses with characteristic humility describes himself as a man of "uncircumcised lips" ( Exodus 6:30 ). Jeremiah charges his contemporaries with having their ear uncircumcised ( Jeremiah 6:10 ) and their heart ( Jeremiah 9:26 ). "An uncircumcised heart is one which is, as it were, closed in, and so impervious to good influences and good impressions, just as an uncircumcised ear ( Jeremiah 6:10 ) is an ear which, from the same cause, hears imperfectly; and uncircumcised lips (compare  Exodus 6:12 ,  Exodus 6:30 ) are lips which open and speak with difficulty" (Driver on  Deuteronomy 10:16 ).

    Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [18]

    The history of Jewish Circumcision lies on the surface of the Old Testament. Abraham received the rite from Jehovah, Moses established it as a national ordinance, and Joshua carried it into effect before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan. Males only were subjected to the operation, and it was to be performed on the eighth day of the child's life: foreign slaves also were forced to submit to it, on entering an Israelites family. Those who are unacquainted with other sources of information on the subject besides the Scriptures might easily suppose that the rite was original with Abraham, characteristic of his seed, and practiced among those nations only who had learned it from them. This, however, appears not to have been the case.

    First of all, the Egyptians were a circumcised people. It has been alleged by some writers that this was not true of the whole nation, but of the priests only. A great preponderance of argument, however, appears to us to prove that the rite was universal among the old Egyptians, as long as their native institutions flourished; although there is no question that, under Persian and Greek rule, it gradually fell into disuse, and was retained chiefly by the priests and by those who desired to cultivate ancient wisdom.

    The Colchians, who, according to Herodotus, were a colony from Egypt, learned the practice from the Egyptians, as also did the savage Troglodytes of Africa. Herodotus, moreover, tells us that the Ethiopians were also circumcised; and he was in doubt whether they had learned the rite from the Egyptians, or the Egyptians from them. By the Ethiopians we must understand him to mean the inhabitants of Meroe or Sennaar. In the present day the Coptic Church continues to practice it; the Abyssinian Christians do the same; and that it was not introduced among the latter with a Judaical Christianity appears from their performing it upon both sexes. Oldendorp describes the rite as widely spread through Western Africa—16° on each side of the Line—even among natives that are not Muhammadan. In later times it has been ascertained that it is practiced by the Kafir nations in South Africa, whom Prichard supposes to form 'a great part of the native population of Africa to the southward of the Equator.'

    How far the rite was extended through the Syro-Arabian races is uncertain, but there can be no doubt that it was widely diffused among them. The Philistines, in the days of Saul, were however uncircumcised; so also, says Herodotus, were all the Phoenicians who had intercourse with the Greeks. That the Canaanites, in the days of Jacob, were not all circumcised, is plain from the affair of Dinah and Shechem. The story of Zipporah , who did not circumcise her son until fear came over her, that Jehovah would slay her husband Moses, proves that the family of Jethro, the Midianite, had no fixed rule about it, although the Midianites are generally regarded as children of Abraham by Keturah. On the other hand, we have the distinct testimony of Josephus, that the Ishmaelite Arabs, inhabiting the district of Nabataea, were circumcised after their thirteenth year. The fact that the books of Moses, of Joshua, and of Judges, never bestow the epithet uncircumcised as a reproach on any of the seven nations of Canaan, any more than on the Moabites or Ammonites, the Amalekites, the Midianites, or other inland tribes with whom they came into conflict, taken in connection with the circumstance, that as soon as the Philistines became prominent in the narrative, after the birth of Samson, this epithet is of rather common occurrence, and that the bringing back, as a trophy, the foreskins of slain enemies, never occurs except against the Philistines (1 Samuel 18), would lead us to conclude, that while the Philistines, like the Sidonians and the other maritime Syrian nations known to the Greeks, were wholly strangers to the practice, it was common among the Canaanites and all the more inland tribes.

    How far the rite of circumcision spread over the south-west of Arabia no definite record subsists. The silence of the Koran confirms the statement of Abulfedâ, that the custom is older than Mohammed, who, it would appear, in no respect regarded it as a religious rite. Nevertheless it has extended itself with the Mohammedan faith, as though it were a positive ordinance. Pocock cites a tradition, which ascribes to Mohammed the words—'Circumcision is an ordinance for men and honorable in women.' This extension of the rite to the other sex might, in itself, satisfy us that it did not come to those nations from Abraham and Ishmael. We have already seen that Abyssinian circumcision has the same peculiarity: so that it is every way probable that Southern Arabia had the rite from the same source or influence as Ethiopia. In fact, the very closest relations are known to have subsisted between the nations on the opposite coasts of the Red Sea.

    The moral meaning of the word 'uncircumcised' was a natural result of its having been made legally essential to Hebrew faith. 'Uncircumcised in heart and ears' was a metaphor to which a prophet would be carried, as necessarily as a Christian teacher to such phrases as 'unbaptized in soul,' or 'washed by regeneration.' If, however, we try to take a step farther back still, and ask why this ordinance in particular was selected, as so eminently essential to the seed of Abraham, we probably find that we have reached a point at which we must be satisfied with knowing the fact without the reason. Every external ordinance, as for instance baptism, must have more or less that is arbitrary in it. It is, however, abundantly plain that circumcision was not intended to separate the Jews from other nations generally, for it could not do so: and, least of all, from the Egyptians, as the words in Joshua show. Rather, it was a well known and already understood symbol of purity.

    The Nuttall Encyclopedia [19]

    The practice of cutting away the foreskin, chiefly of males, as observed by the Jews and the Mohammedans, as well as other nations of remote antiquity; regarded by some as a mark of belonging to the tribe, and by others as a sacrifice in propitiation by blood.