I was asked this question by someone I work with: "What does the Bible say about circumcision? What is the Christian view of circumcision?" "Do we have to be circumcised to be saved?"
This is what I believe the Bible to teach on this:
Since we are no longer under the Old Testament Law as Christians, circumcision is no longer required. This is brought out in a number of New Testament passages, among which are the following: Acts 15; Galatians 2:1-3; 5:1-11; 6:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:17-20; Colossians 2:8-12; Philippians 3:1-3. As these passages bring out, being saved from our sins is received through trusting in Christ to save us from our sins, and it is this act of turning from our sin and self-righteousness and turning instead to reliance upon Christ’s finished work on the cross that makes us “circumcised of heart” and that the works of the flesh accomplish nothing.
In Acts 16:3, Paul had a missionary helper, Timothy, circumcised so that his being uncircumcised would not be a hindrance to them as they sought to reach out to the unsaved Jews on their missionary journeys. Thus, although the Bible gives Gentile (non-Jewish) believers the liberty of not being circumcised, it was a liberty that Timothy was willing to give up for the sake of reaching out to unsaved Jews. However, as the passages in Galatians bring out, Paul refused to compromise the issue with those who said that one must be circumcised in order to be either saved or sanctified in Christ.
There are practical issues involved with circumcision as well. Some parents have their sons circumcised so that they will look like all the other males in their culture. Some parents are concerned that their son would someday be in a locker room and find themselves different from everyone else. In some cultures, though, males are not commonly circumcised. There is also the issue of health. Doctors debate back and forth in regard to whether there are any health benefits to circumcision.
SCRIPTURE ABOUT CIRCUMCISION
Luke 1:59-60 Circumcision of John the Baptist.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zecheriah, but his mother spoke up and said,n "No! He is to be called John."
Luke 2:21-39. Circumcision of Jesus.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
John 7:21-24 Jesus teaches at the feast.
Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. Yet because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment."
THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Acts 15:1-21 The Council at Jerusalem
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved. This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed along with some other believers to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they had reported every thing God had done through them.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling them about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they had finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
`After this I will return
and rebuild David's fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things'
that have been known for ages.
It is my judgment, therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
Acts 15:22-35 The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling you minds by what they said. So, we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabus and Paul -- men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. [CIRP note: Circumcision is not required.]
The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen their brothers. After spending some time with them, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others preached the word of the Lord.
Acts 21:17-25 Paul's Arrival at Jerusalem
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to their customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses so they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
THE GENERAL LETTERS
Galatians 2:1-5 Paul Accepted by Apostles
Fourteen years later I went up to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the Gospel I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me was required to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might remain in you.
Galatians 5:1-12 Freedom in Christ
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul tell you that if you let yourself be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 6:12-15 Not Circumcision but a New Creation
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified through to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
I Corinthians 7:17-20 Marriage
Nevertheless, each one of you should retain the place in life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not be uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commandments is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
Romans 2:25-28 The Jews and the Law
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law you become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they had been circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision are a lawbreaker.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 3:28-31 Righteousness through Faith
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not afterward but before. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Ephesians 2:11-13 One in Christ
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) - remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who one were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Phillipians 3:1-11 No Confidence in the Flesh
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are of the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh - though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which is found through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in those sufferings, becoming like him in death, an so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.