Ancient History, Church, Definitions, Theology

Some Thoughts on Baptism and Circumcision

Author’s Note:
This article originally appeared in 2007 in an early blog called “Matrix Theology” which is long since defunct. It has been updated and reorganized for republication here.

Why This Study?

Many Christian denominations equate the practice of baptism with that of circumcision, often putting the two in the same role. As John Calvin wrote:

Whatever, therefore, is now exhibited to us in the sacraments, the Jews formerly received in theirs, viz., Christ, with his spiritual riches. The same efficacy which ours possess they experienced in theirs, viz., that they were seals of the divine favour toward them in regard to the hope of eternal salvation. (Institutes IV, 14.23)

At the core of this statement is the idea taken pretty much for granted in the medieval church that circumcision and baptism correspond perfectly. They have, as Calvin said, “the same efficacy.” This presumes that the old covenant and the new covenant are perfect analogies of each other; and that Israel and the Church perfectly correspond.

The first question that we must answer when dealing with circumcision and baptism is not whether these people are right or wrong, but rather if there is a perfect correspondence between the two symbols.

ASIDE: For the time being, we have set aside the topic of modes of baptism. The arguments of whether immersion is normative or not can be considered at a later time. For now, let us content ourselves with looking first into the idea of circumcision and then into baptism and see if the two are indeed two symbols that serve the same purpose or if they are meant to be interpreted separately.

The Origins of Circumcision

Before looking to baptism, we must look to the much older practice of circumcision. Although it first appears in the story of Abraham (Genesis 17), the practice is known to predate the time of the patriarchs by a significant amount of time. As long as there has been human civilization, there have been people willing to mutilate the body.

The oldest known reference to circumcision comes from the tomb of Ankhmahor in the Saqqara necropolis (c. 2300 BC).  It is a fairly graphic depiction, and it reflects what eventually became a very common practice among the Egyptians and a number of peoples living in the Levant. Writing almost two thousand years later, the Greek historian noted that “The Egyptians and those who have learned it from them are the only people who practise circumcision.” (Histories 2.36) He later notes that the Syrians (by which he means Semitic peoples living in the Levant and Syria) learned it from the Egyptians, but the ritual itself is far too ancient to know where it came from. (Histories 2.104)

Egyptian circumcision bears a marked resemblance to circumcision in the Torah. It was performed publicly with a stone (flint) knife. The first circumcision we have reported in detail is also Egyptian, from an otherwise unknown 23rd century official named Uha who describes the circumcision of grown men in preparation for some act, possibly warfare. Uha brags that he and his companions bore the ordeal without resistance, indicating that this was not always the case.

Although widespread by Herodotus’s day, it began in Egypt and spread to the Semitic peoples who were living among the Canaanites, who were ethnically distinct from them and did not practice circumcision. (In general, the biblical distinction between Semite and Canaanite is reflective of the divisions found in Genesis 9. They spoke similar languages, and at times they worshiped the same gods but there is archaeological evidence for different ethnic roots. Northern groups like the Phoenicians and Syrians were Semitic, although often called Canaanites in the Scriptures.)

Who Practiced it?

The biblical record seems to indicate that circumcision was not practiced by the Canaanites who inhabited present day Palestine. (Gen 34) The Philistines, late arrivals to the region, also appear to have not practiced circumcision. (Jdg 14:3) Herodotus noted that the when the Phoenicians encountered the Greeks, they elected to stop the practice (Histories 2.104) which indicates that circumcision was viewed as a very Semitic thing.

In confirmation that the Semitic peoples of the Levant practiced circumcision, archaeological excavations have revealed that groups like the shasu, a semi-nomadic people who were probably absorbed into Israel, practiced circumcision. They are depicted on 13th-12th century inscription which was uncovered in Megiddo [pictured to the right].

William H. C. Propp, the professor of ancient history and Judaica at the University of California, San Diego, has concluded that in ancient cultures like Israel, circumcision was a rite of passage for boys becoming men. He extends his thesis to propose that it was shifted to a near-birth practice somewhere in the 8th century BCE, as Israel was detribalizing and settling into its national identities in the divided kingdom.

Interestingly (and in line with Propp’s theory), the Israelites do not seem to have practiced the ritual of infant circumcision until later in their history. It seems to have been a communal thing, done at certain times with large groups of men. At first glance, this might appear to be at odds with the biblical text; but it is important to note that the early circumcisions were of Abraham, his direct descendants and then a violent turn against the men of Shechem (Gen 34:13-31). Then there is an apparent void until the time of Moses, who himself refused to circumcise his sons at first (Exo 4:24-31). Then, the men of Israel appear to be circumcised during the Exodus; but no circumcisions are performed again until the first passover in Canaan under Joshua (Jos 5:2-10). With the exception of Abraham’s circumcision of Isaac (Gen 21:4), there are no other reference to the actual observance of the command to circumcise infants (Lev 12:3).

It stands to reason then that even if Propp is wrong about when the command to circumcise infants occurred (he believes the command was added in the 8th century), the biblical record makes it plain that there was no observance of the command. This is not altogether surprising when you read the historical passages of the Old Testament and discover that the Israelites neglected the sabbath, Passover and many of the sacred feasts and rites throughout their history.

Covenant Circumcision

As we have seen, circumcision clearly did not begin with Abraham in Genesis 17; but the presence of infant circumcision as part of YHWH’s covenant with Abraham is unique, even if it was not often observed. Every indication from the Egyptian sources is that circumcision was performed when the subject was older, and the purpose was clearly some kind of marking for service or work. It may have been an identification with the god Ra, although this connection is tenuous.

YHWH makes it clear that the covenant circumcision marks a relationship “between me [YHWH] and you [Abraham]” (Gen 17:11). It is a private mark done publicly; and yet the context appears to indicate that it is a sign for other people, not just Abraham.

One possible theory that has not been put forward yet is that perhaps circumcision was a way of ensuring that children were born to men of the proper heritage. Since marriage requires a sexual relationship, a woman could verify if a man was truly of her people or not. In the biblical context, the non-Semitic Canaanites were not to be permitted into the assembly of the people, so they could not be allowed to marry Israelite women. Perhaps circumcision served as an identifier in these rather intimate circumstances.

Or perhaps it had significance apart from this corporate identity. Another theory is that in having the foreskin removed, the male prepared himself to be “re-covered” by his wife. If this was part of the purpose of circumcision, then it may be true, as Lawrence Hoffmann has argued, that circumcision was meant to be a sign of “physical completeness.” (Glick 2005, 20-21)

The Mandate of Torah

According to Torah, circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant between his god (YHWH) and himself. It is part of the third covenant between YHWH and Abraham and accompanies the changing of his name from Abram. In the following verses of Genesis 17, YHWH lays out the significance of the circumcision:

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” [Gen 17:10-14]

Clearly, there is a difference between what appears here in the text and what was the practice in Israel – both when they were in Egypt and when they were in the wilderness. Although, by the time of Samson and the subsequent chiefdom of Saul, circumcision seems to have become much more prevalent, it was nonetheless the circumcision of older males, not infants.

But after Abraham’s circumcision of his household and Zipporah’s circumcision of Moses’s sons, the next time we see circumcision is in the Passover instructions concerning foreigners (Exo 12:44-50). This instruction is quite inclusive, noting that both the native and the foreigner must be circumcised in order to receive the Passover. Again, it is interesting that there is no mention of the age for circumcision. It is clearly an act for older males.

It is not until midway through the Levitical code that we encounter infant circumcision, and the command is inserted in a passage dealing with female cleanliness. (Leviticus 12:1-8) It is not as broad as the Abrahamic passage or the Passover instructions. It almost seems out of place. In fact, the entire chapter seems out of place since it is sandwiched between dietary laws and laws concerning skin infections. This has led some commentators to argue that it is an interpolation, but that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps there is a sense of purity from sickness folded into the concept of circumcision. It is hard to know for sure.

Evolving Views of Circumcision in the Hebrew Scriptures

Throughout the historical books of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, circumcision is a clear mark of Israel’s priority in YHWH’s economy and the uncircumcised were outside of his blessings (1 Sa 14:6, 17:26 & 36, 31:4; 2 Sa 1:20). This is interesting since it indicates that circumcision was being practiced even though there is not a single reference the actual act of circumcision, even dealing with the well-known figures like David and Solomon. The only time we see David circumcising is when he brings the foreskins of a hundred Philistines to Saul as his bride price for Michal (1 Sa 18:25-27; 2 Sa 3:14).

According to Jeremiah, circumcision seems to have fallen out of practice in the regions around Israel during the 7th century BCE. In Ezekiel 23, the prophet names the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Elamites, and Edomites as uncircumcised, but since it is known from Herodotus that these groups did circumcise, he has something else in view clearly. This represents a shifting view of circumcision that is most evident in Jeremiah and Deuteronomy where physical circumcision is subordinated to “true” circumcision which occurs in the heart (Dt 10:16, 30:6; Jer 4:4).

This transition to a “true circumcision” will being fleshed out more thoroughly by the Christian apostles. But given that there seems toThis has lent to some interpretations that infant circumcision was instituted at a later date, as late as the Hellenic period or possibly even the Second Temple Period. But the presence in the historical books and references to the uncircumcised in early prophets like Isaiah (52:10) indicate that there clearly was some sense in which circumcision was a reality long before the Exile.

There are indications that circumcision seems to have been in vogue during these revivals when Passover and the other feasts were observed. But it certainly went in and out of style, depending on who was influencing Israel at the time.  The final parting shot from YHWH comes from the lips of Habakkuk:

You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! (Hbk 2:16)

This phrase “show your uncircumcision” seems to have been a common idiom of the time, meaning basically that you get so drunk you spin and expose what is under your kilt. It may have been such a common practice not to be circumcised in Habakkuk’s day that it had become a joke.

The Early Christian View of Circumcision

Since Christianity emerged from the Judaism of the Second Temple Period, the church’s interpretation of circumcision has tremendous bearing on our discussion. Understanding how they viewed it first as Jews and then as Christians illuminates their understanding of circumcision in relationship to baptism.

Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day after his birth (in keeping with Leviticus 12) is recorded in Luke’s gospel. (Lk 1:59, 2:21). Other than that however, circumcision is largely absent from Jesus’ teachings. In fact, this only mention is a cursory one to illustrate that good works may be done on the Sabbath (Jn 7:21-24).

Stephen mentions “the covenant of circumcision” in relating the history of Israel and the story of Jesus, but his mention says nothing that Genesis 17 did not say. It is a statement of near-irony as he speaks to the supposed successors of Moses about Moses’ God and calls them uncircumcised. (Ac 7:8, 51)

Not surprisingly, the next time we see circumcision is in contrast to the goyim, the Gentile believers. In fact, every other occurrence of circumcision in the book of Acts is contrasting believing Jews (circumcision) with believing Gentiles. (The frustrations of this distinction would later boil over in Paul’s play on the Greek word for circumcision, περιτομή, in creating the word translated as concision in the KJV, κατατομή. (Phil 3:2-3)

Paul’s View of Circumcision

In fact, it is in Paul’s writings that we get the best glimpse of the Christian usage of circumcision. He uses either circumcision or uncircumcision fifty times in his epistles, mostly in Romans and Galatians.

Ironically, his most telling statement about circumcision does not appear in either of those letters but in his first letter to the troubled Corinthians:

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Co 7:18-19)

Paul makes it very clear to the Corinthians that outward signs are of little significance to inward righteousness. His statement is an extension on Jesus’ teachings of the things inside a man defiling him. (Mk 7:15)

In Romans, Paul views circumcision in the same way. He, being a Jew, had been circumcised as an infant and yet he sees that it does nothing for him. In fact, he maintains that a man’s unrighteousness makes his circumcision into uncircumcision and since circumcision only has value if you keep the Torah and we all violate Torah, then circumcision is really uncircumcision. (Ro 2:25-3:1)

He follows this then by a statement that God justifies all men, regardless of circumcision. This reflects his belief that salvation has no “sign” barriers and that God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the strong (see 1 Corinthians). He even uses Abraham as an illustration of righteousness that was found in uncircumcision although he notes that circumcision was the seal (Gk. σφραγίς, literally “physical stamp”) of God’s imputation but then immediately makes it clear that righteousness comes through faith and predates circumcsion. (Ro 4)

Why does Paul go to such lengths to prove circumcision is invalid? He holds to a belief that salvation is bigger than Israel, bigger than signs and symbols. Paul’s belief in redemption extends back to Adam and to all creation, and he does not want it limited by exclusive language or rites. This is really the thrust of the entire epistle, and it opens doors to tremendous freedom.

In Galatians, Paul deals with circumcision in much the same way. He uses Titus’ uncircumcision to show how the Jewish believers had been looking beyond such outward signs, and then flips it to show that anyone who would compel a Gentile to be circumcised is preaching salvation by Torah and not by Jesus.

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Gal 6:12-15)

In Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Titus, he speaks of a slightly different circumcision. He does not use it to contrast Jew with Gentile (except where he notes there is no difference between the two in Colossians 3:11). Instead, he speaks of a circumcision of the heart, of a circumcision not of the hands.

The only place that Paul compares circumcision to baptism is in Colossians 2:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

  • and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
  • In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands,
    • by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
    • having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2:6-15)

What did Paul mean when he talked about the circumcision of Christ? Paul makes a distinction between this circumcision and baptism. And to understand what he means, I think we need to look back to Deuteronomy – a book that Paul was very familiar with. In Deuteronomy, Moses calls Israel to a circumcision of the heart

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Dt 10:16)

The commandment is clear. A circumcision of the heart (which, by the way cannot be performed by the hands) is a commitment to love the LORD, as the shema called Israel to do and they failed to do. It is not physical circumcision, but it is distinct from baptism. It is what we would call conversion (as distinguished from regeneration, which is God’s work along). It is our commitment to clear the crap out of the way so our hearts are open to what God has for us.

Conclusion

Circumcision existed long before it was given to Abraham as a sign. It was not practiced as widely as we would be led to believe, nor was it even necessarily practiced on infants until the Late Monarchy or the Exile – possibly as late as the early Talmudic Period. Even among adults, it seems to have experienced times of popularity, particularly around revivalist observances of Passover. It was probably originally a coming of age ritual and it was shifted to shortly after birth for a number of possible reasons.

The early Christians generally used the word circumcision for the Jews, as opposed to the Gentiles. Paul treated circumcision as an illustration of conversion, of removing the things that make us stubborn against God.

Baptism in Christian Practice

John the Baptizer practiced baptism as such a prominent element of his message that he was named for it. What is the origin of the practice?

Was baptism unique to the church and its direct forerunner or did it co-exist with circumcision? Was it a replacement for circumcision in the minds of the early church?

Baptism in the Judaism of the Second Temple

Historically, the Jews practiced rites of cleansing using the mikvah or immersive bath. Although not specifically commanded by Torah, most Jewish sects of the Second Temple Period used the mikvah.

Originally these ritual cleansings were practiced in running water. This was not always possible so over time the Jewish communities developed baptismal pools that became known as mikva’ot.

The ritual immersion became a part of the conversion ceremony sometime before the Talmudic period. We know this because the Talmud articulates that a male proselyte had to complete three witnessed rituals (Keritot 8b):

  • Brit Milah – circumcision of the foreskin
  • Tevilahimmersion in the mikvah
  • Korban – an offering at the Temple in Jerusalem

It is quite likely that these standards were in place during Jesus’ time, although we cannot speak with certainty. Archaeologists have uncovered mikva’ot in the Qumran communities, which seems to indicate it was present in at least some Jewish communities.

John the Baptizer

When the Jewish zealot Yohanan, known as John the Baptizer in English, appeared in the first century, he was not doing something unorthodox or altogether different from what other zealot teachers of his day did. The difference was not his baptism but what he baptized for. John’s message was simple: repent. (Mt 3:11)

Since the tevilah was considered an act of purification, it was not uncommon for people to use it as a method of conversion from one sect of Judaism to another. Such a change was often referred to as repentance, so it is not surprising that hearing of the effectiveness of John’s baptism , the Pharisees came to be baptized by him. What is surprising is that he rejected them. He meant something different by repentance – not just a physical identification but a spiritual preparation. He was baptizing his believers into an expectation of the coming of Messiah.

This idea is stated quite clearly in Luke’s gospel:

(When all the people heard this [Jesus’ statement of his ministry], and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) [Luke 7:29-30, ESV]

The people who received John’s baptism received Jesus’ message. Those who did not receive John’s baptism (a symbol of their repentance) did not receive Jesus’ message.

What Did Jesus have to Say about Baptism?

Baptism appears to be absent from Jesus’ personal ministry after John the Baptist’s death. After his own baptism, John the Evangelist remembered that Jesus was baptizing. (John 3:22) Later we do find out that Jesus himself was not baptizing. His disciples were. (John 4:1-2)

But after John the Baptist was killed, there is no mention of the practice until the end of Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus’ followers baptized early on, when his ministry was still more or less an extension of John’s but once Jesus’ ministry took on its full intent, his followers appear not to have baptized.

Not surprising then, Jesus says little about baptism in the gospels.

And yet, after Jesus commissioned them to baptize, his disciples adopted the practice universally. Just what they understood it to represent seems to be unclear; but baptism figures prominently in virtually every message recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Thousands in Jerusalem received it after Pentecost, and Philip baptized a number of Samaritans very early on in the church. In fact by the time of Paul, it is pretty much a given in the churches – although he himself seems to have been very selective in whom he baptized personally.

This is a strange paradox, isn’t it? The founder of the religion that reveres baptism never practiced it himself? Why did he appear to encourage the baptism of John’s ministry and then not use it in his own ministry until he commands it after the resurrection?

The First Baptism of Early Believers

Jesus gave baptism to the apostles as part of the act of making disciples (Mt 28:18-20). It was part of the extension of his authority (Gk. εξουσια) to baptize people as His followers.

There is no doubt about what this baptism meant to Simon Peter, who had been a disciple of John and had embraced the way of Jesus since the beginning (albeit haltingly). At Pentecost, he sees that his hearers have been drawn by the Holy Spirit’s work and he calls them to:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Ac 2:38-39)

Repentance, to Peter, goes hand-in-hand with being baptized. But this baptism is in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins. This is different from John’s baptism because it is a baptism into Jesus. The response is tremendous.

And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Ac 2:40-41)

Some proponents of child baptism use the statement that “the promise is for your and for your children” to justify their practice. The problem is that the baptism is also for “all who are far off.” None of us would say you could baptize an adult for them, involuntarily. We cannot determine their choice to be baptized. Logically and grammatically then the promise is to all three, and it is something that all three must accept separately.

The Development of Baptism in the Early Church

This approach to baptism seems to have been the common theme as long as the church was confined to the Jewish people, but once it began to expand beyond the Jewish boundaries baptism became more than just a symbol of repentance.

  • The Christian creed became a little more organized, and baptism became associated with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It became didactic as well as symbolic. (Romans 6:1-4, Colossians 2:12)
  • It also became instructive for unity, as the believers were baptized into Christ and Christ was one (perhaps a reflection of the shema?), they too should be one (1 Corinthians 1:13-17, 12:13; Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:1-7)

SIDE NOTE #1 – Was the Baptism of John and Jesus the Same?

The difference between John’s baptism and the early church’s is best illustrated in the episodes in Acts which involve the Jewish preacher Apollos. When Apollos preached in Ephesus, he preached the baptism of repentance that John had preached. Perhaps Apollos had been in Jerusalem during John’s ministry and received his baptism, and hearing of John’s death, he had taken the message into Asia Minor. We really do not know. But Apollos was preaching the message of John the Baptist.

After Aquila and Prisca corrected Apollos and told him about Jesus as the Messiah, Apollos became a dynamic leader in the church. But while Apollos was away in Corinth Paul encountered some Jewish believers in Ephesus who had received Apollos’ message and baptism, but had not heard of Jesus. These men then believed in Jesus and were baptized by Paul. This seems to distinguish between John’s baptism – which was one of preparation – and baptism in Jesus’ name – which was done based on belief and confession. (Acts 18:24-19:7)

SIDE NOTE #2 – Hebrews 6:2

Some commentators may notice the presence of the word baptism in the King James Version of the Bible in Hebrews 6:2. The texts seems to treat baptism as a bit of a simple thing, something to be set aside.

In reality, the word here is βαπτισμός and it does not mean “baptism” but rather “washing” as it appears in most modern translations (NASB, ESV). This may still be a reference to baptism, but it seems to be a reference to ritual purification of some kind, distinct from baptism.

Conclusion

Baptism then began as a symbol of repentance. As a Christian symbol it was a physical representation of cleansing of a previous belief structure (originally a conversion to Judaism) and the acceptance of another. As it was practiced in the church, new symbolism was added to it because it depicted so well so many things. It came to signify the identification with Christ, and therein the power of the resurrection at work in the believer.

We can see time and time again that it was entered into voluntarily by a person who may or may not have been circumcised. (Jesus was both circumcised and baptized when he needed either, but that’s a side note.)

Is Baptism the New Circumcision?

The entire purpose for doing this study was to ask the question: is baptism the new circumcision? Are they equal?

We have presented a large amount of historical and textual evidence, but we must confess that there is a tremendous wealth of biblical interpreters who hold that they are equal. There is an equally large group who hold that they are not.

Any interpretational study is subject to the influences on and the limitations of the researcher. To the best of my ability, I have tried to remain faithful to the text and context of the many passages dealing with circumcision and baptism.

There are certainly some similarities.

  • Both are outward, physical signs of covenants.
  • Both are rituals with significant meaning.
  • Both have an aspect of cleansing to their meaning.
  • Both served to distinguish people – Jew vs. Gentile, disciple vs. sinner.

But there are also some differences I have observed in the texts.

While both were pre-existing practices that God claimed, they represented different things.

  • Circumcision represented a coming of age and ultimately an identification with Abraham.
  • Baptism does neither. Both the baptism of John and the baptism into Jesus are acts of repentance.

Secondly, they were given for different reasons in different capacities. Circumcision is done TO the chosen. Baptism is done BY the chosen.

  • Circumcision was a way for adults to mark themselves (and later their children) as part of Israel. It was ultimately involuntary.
  • Baptism is the way the church marks those who accept the way of Jesus (as demonstrated by Paul’s baptism of Apollos’ followers). It is always represented as being voluntary, upon repentance.

In conclusion, it seems good to conclude that they are distinct. While Paul does use circumcision in juxtaposition with baptism once (Colossians 2), it seems grammatically distinct. I must conclude, based on the study of the texts that they are not flipsides of the same concept. Circumcision was not Old Testament baptism, and baptism is not New Testament circumcision.

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2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Baptism and Circumcision”

  1. I think you might find this article interesting. Go to: http://www.cirp.org/library/history/peron2/
    It is about how circumcision for Abraham and Jesus was different than how it is done now. While it doesn’t change your argument about circumcision and baptism, it is very interesting to note how God commanded a circumcision very different than the one performed today. God didn’t have Abraham remove the entire foreskin, just the tip. It wasn’t until around 140 AD that the Rabbis required the removal of the entire foreskin because some men were growing their foreskins back and appearing as uncircumcised. I just found this interesting and wanted to share it with other Christians because the new knowledge helped us make the decision not to circumcise our boys when we might have otherwise. You can also read my blog on the topic of circumcision at http://briannacorinne.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/circumcision/

  2. I believe the only circumcision acceptable to God today is done by God himself.
    Colossians 2:11 KJV — 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:
    Also baptism is without water…
    1 Corinthians 12:13 KJV — For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
    BY ONE SPIRIT…
    Today we live in the dispensation of the grace of God. We are saved by trusting in Christ work on the cross, blood burial and resurrection.
    Believing in Christ’s work alone we are justified.
    2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV — To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
    2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV — For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
    Romans 5:1 KJV — Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

    Very deep and wonderful !
    Blessing!

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