LCG on Circumcision


The following is the latest commentary from the Living Church of God (LCG):

By Wyatt Ciesielka | Saturday, June 30, 2012
Outraging Jewish and Muslim groups, a German court recently ruled that infant male circumcision causes “bodily harm” and that “a child’s right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.” Some are wondering whether this decision will be overturned by a higher court. Others are raising questions about religious liberty in Germany. This also raises the questions, “What do the Bible and modern science teach us about infant male circumcision?” And, “What importance does circumcision have for true Christians today?”

Anciently, God prescribed that the male descendants of Abraham were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Genesis 17:10-14). Interestingly, this is generally when a baby boy’s vitamin K levels peak, thus allowing speedy healing.

Is infant male circumcision actually a form of “bodily harm,” as the German court has found? Is it a practice that leaves emotional as well as physical scars, for life, as some opponents claim? Or, is it a practice that actually brings health benefits? A February 2012 study published by the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that “over their lifetime up to half of uncircumcised males will suffer a medical condition” that circumcision would have prevented.

The report also noted that infant circumcision “provides immediate protection” against common pediatric conditions such as renal parenchymal disease, phimosis, paraphimosis and balanoposthitis, as well as a 96 percent decrease in urinary tract infection at age 6 months. Additionally, the study noted, infant circumcision leads to a lifetime decrease in the risk of several types of cancer, whether or not the circumcised male is sexually active or promiscuous.

Furthermore, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has acknowledged, both UNAIDS and the World Health Organization promote male circumcision as helpful in preventing STDs and AIDS (CDC Congressional Testimony, September 29, 2010), and the CDC also reports that “male circumcision has also been associated with a number of other health benefits (CDC Fact Sheet, February 2008). One study of 136,000 boys born in U.S. Army hospitals between 1980 and 1985 showed that of 100,000 circumcised, fewer than one-fifth of one percent experienced even minor complications, none fatal, while the 36,000 uncircumcised boys had ten times the number of complications, including two deaths (Wiswell & Hachey, 1993).

To those who believe in a loving Creator God, such scientific studies are no surprise—they simply demonstrate His wisdom and care for His creation. The Apostle Paul noted that God gave His laws for the benefit of ancient Israel (Romans 7:12). He did not set the Israelites apart through a practice that would do them grave harm; rather, He intervened as their Healer (Exodus 15:26). Even so, today’s Christians need to remember that salvation and spiritual perfection are not attainable “by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3). God commands “spiritual Israel” to worship Him in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

As Paul explained, the Old Covenant contained numerous “fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:1; 10). And, as Acts 15:23-29 and elsewhere reveal, physical circumcision is not required for salvation under the New Covenant. In fact, Paul preached fervently against those who were proud of their physical circumcision and who sought to promote it to others as if it were a spiritual requirement or a sign of higher status (Philippians 3:2-3).

The important point is that—whether male or female—under the New Covenant, Christians are to be spiritually circumcised of the heart (Romans 2:29). Christians demonstrate spiritual circumcision by showing their devotion to God and His Law (1 Corinthians 7:19; 1 John 5:2-3) and by being conquered by God “inwardly” (Romans 2:25-29). True Christians are thus “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:10-11).

To understand more about what God requires of true Christians, please read our Tomorrow’s World article, “Bible Health Laws,” and our powerful booklet, What Is a True Christian?

Thousands of years ago, God told Abraham to implement circumcision:

9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:9-14)

Now, although the New Testament teaches that Gentile adult males do not have to be circumcised in order to be Christians (Acts 15:24-29), the Apostle Paul had Timothy circumcised anyway (Acts 16:3).

Even though the apostles ruled that adult Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in Acts 15, my own reading into early church history suggests that many Christians continued to circumcise their male babies after this declaration (though not necessarily in all Sabbath-keeping groups).

The early 20th century theologian J.J.L. Ratton reported:

The early Church at Jerusalem, retained most of the distinctive customs of the Jews, such as circumcision, kosher meats, the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish rites, and worship of the Temple. Our Lord, Himself, lived the exterior life of a Jew, even so far as the observance of Jewish religious customs was concerned. The early Church of Jerusalem followed His example. The Jews looked upon the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem simply as a Jewish sect, which they called the sect of the Nazarenes. (Ratton JJL The Apocalypse of St. John: a commentary on the Greek text, 2nd edition. R. & T. Washbourne, ltd., 1915. Original fromt he University of Michigan. Digitized Jun 12, 2007, p. 4)

Now, it should be mentioned that in the second century, non-Nazarene professors of Christ, like the heretic Justin, did not practice circumcision.

According to the fourth century Catholic historian Eusebius, starting in the first century:

James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour…The first, then, was James, the so-called brother of the Lord; the second, Symeon; the third, Justus; the fourth, Zacchæus; the fifth, Tobias; the sixth, Benjamin; the seventh, John; the eighth, Matthias; the ninth, Philip; the tenth, Seneca; the eleventh, Justus; the twelfth, Levi; the thirteenth, Ephres; the fourteenth, Joseph; and finally, the fifteenth, Judas. These are the bishops of Jerusalem that lived between the age of the apostles and the time referred to, all of them belonging to the circumcision. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, 2005 Book III, Chapter V, Verses 2,3.& Book IV, Chapter 5, Verses 2-4 . Translated by A. Cushman McGiffert. Publishing, Stilwell (KS), pp. 45, 71)

But circumcision was not just the practice with the first and second century bishops of Jerusalem. Epiphanius wrote of this group from the time of 69/70 A.D. until his day, that he called the Nazarenes:

All Christians were called Nazarenes once…They were so-called followers of the apostles…they dedicate themselves to the law…However, everyone called the Christians Nazarenes as I said before. This appears from the accusation against Paul…[Acts 24:5]…For they use not only the New Testament but also the Old…For they also accept the resurrection of the dead and that everything has origin in God…Only in this respect they differ from the Jews and Christians: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with the Christians because they are trained in the Law, in circumcision, the Sabbath and the other things…(Epiphanius. Panarion 29 as cited in Pritz R. Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Magnas, Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 30-34)

Here is some of what the Catholic scholar Bagatti wrote about some of the gentile Nazarenes in the fourth and probably fifth centuries, that were sometimes derisively referred to as Minim by some Jews:

In fact some Minim of gentile stock, following St. Paul, taught that the Law had been abolished with the exception of the Decalogue…Some Jews…intensified the observance of the Law…especially regarding circumcision and the Sabbath. The Judaeo-Christians in this were in accord with the Jews…(Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, p. 108)

While it was not a required practice, throughout history, many “Nazarene” Christians have practiced circumcision, not as a commandment, but as a biblically-based concept.

One of the inquisitors in the Middle Ages found that a certain type of “heretic” (in his mind) uniformly observed the Sabbath and sometimes (though apparently not always) observed circumcision (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 88).

Thus, it seems that circumcision was (and still is) often practiced by many trying to be faithful Christians. And because of “Judeo-Christian influence” (like from the Bible), this may be why there have always been a relatively high proportion of circumcised males in the USA (though this may be changing).

While the Bible does not list health benefits that come from circumcision, it would make sense that the Creator of the universe would only recommend physical practices that were beneficial for His human creation.

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

Health Benefits for Circumcision Various studies show health benefits for male circumcision. Have Christians observed circumcision throughout history?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what doctrines the early Christians actually had? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
The Ten Commandments Reflect Love, Breaking them is Evil Some feel that the ten commandments are a burden. Is that what Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John taught?
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?

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