Circumcision and Baptism: Part I
by Shawn Brasseaux
[26 September 2010]
When you hear the word “circumcision,” what comes to mind? Do you think of the physical operation a doctor or priest performs on a newborn male? What about the term “baptism?” Most church members only know about water baptism; do you know of any other “baptisms” found in the Bible? In this two-part series, we want to examine these two terms—baptism and circumcision—and see how the Bible uses them. You will be surprised! We want to look first at the issue of circumcision.
The first time “circumcise” appears in the Bible is Genesis 17:10, in which the LORD is giving the Abrahamic Covenant to, of course, Abraham. The LORD promises to give Abraham a son, Isaac, and the nation Israel will spring from Isaac’s son Jacob (and his twelve sons). The Jews were God’s chosen people on earth, and that physical circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 17:11: “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
According to Genesis 17:14, any male Jew that was not physically circumcised was to be “cut off,” as God wanted nothing to do with him. If a Gentile (non-Jew) wanted a relationship the LORD, he too had to be circumcised (Genesis 17:12,13). Notice what Ephesians chapter 2 says:
“11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”
In what the Bible calls “time past,” the LORD dealt with mankind on the basis of physical circumcision and physical uncircumcision. The LORD had nothing to do with the men who were physically uncircumcised (Gentiles) because the Abrahamic Covenant was in effect: only men who were circumcised could partake of God’s fellowship and blessing. From Genesis chapter 17, through the Old Testament, Four Gospels, and early Acts period, circumcision was a requirement to be in a right standing with God.
For instance, Abraham and Isaac were circumcised (Genesis 17:24; Genesis 21:4; Acts 7:8). Only circumcised men were allowed to partake of the Passover (Exodus 12:48). After the wilderness wanderings, Joshua had to circumcise every male Jew born during the past 40 years; otherwise; Israel could not enter the Promised Land (Joshua 5:2-8).
The Mosaic Law demanded the circumcision of the male child on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3). John the Baptist was circumcised the eighth day (Luke 1:59). Jesus Christ was circumcised the eighth day (Luke 2:21). Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was circumcised on the eighth day (Philippians 3:5). The Lord Jesus ministered to Jews only—“the circumcision”—in His earthly ministry (Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8). That was in time past, a previous dispensation, the Dispensation of Law.
In what the Bible calls “but now,” the “Dispensation of the Grace of God,” God is not dealing with mankind on the basis of physical circumcision and physical uncircumcision (Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 3:2). Paul rightly preached and rightly taught that God did not demand physical circumcision “in Christ Jesus” (that is, in the Church the Body of Christ). But, this did not sit well with certain Jewish leaders of the Messianic Church (the Jewish believers from Christ’s earthly ministry; Luke 12:32).
Circumcision had been such an integral part of God’s dealing with mankind (in the Old Testament), so when “Judaizers” heard Paul preaching that physical circumcision was unnecessary for salvation, there was quite a controversy. Paul was correct in saying physical circumcision does not matter today, as these were the instructions God gave him for us to follow as members of the Church, the Body of Christ. Those Jews did not understand that God was phasing out Israel’s prophetic program and creating a new creature separate and distinct from Israel. They (wrongly) saw the Apostle Paul as a false teacher.
The nation Israel committed the unpardonable sin of rejecting and blaspheming the Holy Spirit in the early Acts period (Matthew 12:31,32)—especially in Acts chapter 7 with the stoning of the prophet Stephen. From that point in history onward, salvation went to the Gentiles (non-Jews) without Israel (Romans 11:11-13). God sends the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles with a set of instructions and doctrines that are separate and distinct from the Mosaic Law. God does not demand Gentiles be physically circumcised today (in our dispensation). Hence, Paul writes:
“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6 KJV).
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15 KJV).
The book of Galatians deals with the issue of physical circumcision, as well as with other aspects of the Mosaic Law. Whenever Paul preached that a man could be saved by faith in his Gospel—how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)—these “Judaizers” came and polluted that Gospel of Grace (Galatians 1:6-9).
Paul’s Gospel says that a man is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), yet the Judaizers preached the exact opposite. Those religionists preached works-religion, the Mosaic Law, and confused the poor Galatians by saying, “You cannot be saved by faith alone! You need to be circumcised and you need to keep the law of Moses if you want to be saved!” See Galatians 3:1-6.
In your own time, read Acts chapter 15 and Galatians chapter 2. Basically, Paul and Barnabas meet with the Jewish leaders of the Messianic Church. Finally, the Jewish church leaders (James, Peter, John, etc) saw that Paul had a more advanced revelation about God’s will than they did—“they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to [Paul]” (Galatians 2:6). The issue was resolved. Paul and Barnabas shook hands with James, Peter, and John. Paul and Barnabas would continue with the Gospel of Grace, separate from the Mosaic Law, and James, Peter, and John would remain with the little flock of believing Israel (Galatians 2:9). The Jews would no longer confuse the Gentiles with circumcision and law keeping.
The Galatians were saved by faith alone in Paul’s Gospel, but Jewish religious leaders were telling the Galatians they needed to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. Notice what Paul writes in Galatians 5:1-5. Rather than these Galatians following the doctrine God gave to them through Paul, the Galatians were following doctrine God gave to Israel through Moses! They were not “rightly dividing the word of truth” like 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV says—they were confusing God’s program for Israel with His program for them (which is what people are still doing today)!!
Yes, the LORD demanded physical circumcision in time past, but now things have changed. God no longer demands physical circumcision. Physical circumcision is rarely mentioned these days in Christendom, but other issues have taken its place. Denominationalists come along with their rituals and statements of faith, forcing you to do all sorts of activities (water baptism, walking the aisle, repent of your sins, give a tithe, confess your sins, keep the sacraments, join a church, et cetera). These “church ordinances” is just as contrary to grace as being physically circumcised!
When a person trusts in Jesus Christ alone as his or her personal Saviour, they are instantly saved—forever. There is one “circumcision” that is needed for salvation today, but it is not the physical circumcision of Judaism. We will talk about that next week, when we discuss baptism and the one “baptism” that is needed for salvation today.
Next week, we will conclude this series by discussing the issue of baptism.
Circumcision and Baptism: Part II
by Shawn Brasseaux
[3 October 2010]
In this two-part series, we are looking at the issues of circumcision and baptism. Last week, we looked at the issue of circumcision. Physical circumcision was a “hot topic” back in the first century A.D., but not so much so today; rather, the point of contention today among the various denominations of Christendom is water baptism. However, did you know that there are over one-dozen “baptisms” in the Bible, and most of them are not water baptism? We want to look at baptism as God speaks of it in His Word. I think you will be shocked!
The word “baptism” does not appear in the Old Testament, but there are a couple of baptisms in the Old Testament that are spoken of in the New Testament. For example, Joel 2:28-32 speaks of two baptisms: the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, Acts 2) and the baptism with fire (seven-year Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ). Furthermore, Matthew 3:11 speaks of three “baptisms” but only one of these “baptisms” is water baptism. In 1 Corinthians 10:1,2, we see two “baptisms” that apply to Israel led by Moses, and they also have nothing to do with water.
As we will now focus on water baptism, here are some questions we need to consider. Why is water baptism even in the Bible? Why did John the Baptist water baptize? Why was Jesus water baptized? Should we be water baptized today? Should we water baptize others today?
Water baptism is not “a New Testament ordinance,” as is commonly taught in religion. In fact, water baptism is an Old Testament doctrine. Turn to Exodus chapter 29:
“1 And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest’s office:….
4 And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.”
Before a man became a priest in Old Testament Israel, he had to first be washed with water. This is water baptism as it first appears in the Bible, and notice this is in the Old Testament. Water baptism separates (hallows, sanctifies) these Jews for God’s purpose in the Levitical priesthood. When we come to John the Baptist, John is doing exactly what was required for priests. If Israel is to become a “kingdom of priests” as Exodus 19:5,6 states (cf. Isaiah 61:6), each and every Jew must be water baptized as the priests were according to the Mosaic Law. By the way, one of the reasons Christ was water baptized was to become Israel’s High Priest (Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:15).
Water baptism is the sign of the Davidic Covenant, another great covenant God made with Israel, just like physical circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (which we discussed in part I). David was a king of Israel, who ruled circa 1000 B.C. In 2 Samuel 7:12,13, we see the LORD’s promise to King David: “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers [die], I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”
Notice, the promise of an everlasting kingdom is given: Israel’s King and Messiah will be a descendant of David, who we better know as Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ is ready to begin His ministry at age 30 (Luke 3:23), God the Father sends John the Baptist to herald His Son’s arrival (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:1-4; Mark 1:1-4; Luke 3:3-6; Acts 13:23-25). John is to prepare Israel to become a kingdom of priests because her King is now in their midst. Unfortunately, most Jews demand the crucifixion of their Messiah. Once Christ is slain on Calvary, He resurrects in power and victory over death. In the early Acts period, most of Israel still rejects God’s Word and His apostles and prophets. The epitome of their unbelief is manifested when they kill their prophet Stephen in Acts chapter 7.
God sends one Jew, Saul of Tarsus, makes him Paul the Apostle, and sends this one man to the whole world, with a new message, a Gospel that does not involve Israel’s kingdom. Consequently, water baptism is not part of Paul’s Gospel. The Gospel that Paul preached had nothing to do with water baptism. As a matter of fact Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (cf. Matthew 28:19,20).
Water baptism has nothing to do with us today as members of the Church the Body of Christ. We have no covenant with God. We cannot claim the Abrahamic Covenant and its physical circumcision; by the same token, neither can we claim the Davidic Covenant and its water baptism. They do not belong to us—they belong in Israel’s program, of which we are not a part!
Now, we want to conclude this series by looking at Colossians 2:11,12 KJV, which should make it abundantly clear to you:
“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:
12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
Physical circumcision is not the issue today. For salvation, we need the spiritual circumcision, the one that God performs (“made without hands”) the moment we are saved by faith alone in Paul’s Gospel of Grace. That spiritual circumcision involves God cutting you off from Adam, the lost hell-bound sinner that you are by birth, and makes you a saint in His Son Jesus Christ. As a member of the Church the Body of Christ, your “old man [sin nature, identity in Adam] is crucified with [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6,7).
Water baptism is not the issue today either. For salvation, we need the spiritual baptism, the one that God performs (“operation of God”) when He identifies us with His Son dead in the tomb (us being dead to sin, alive unto God through Jesus Christ; Romans 6:11), buried, and raised again.
Paul writes today that the moment we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, we were “baptized into Jesus Christ [and] … baptized into his death… Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death:…” (Romans 6:3b,4a). This is not, not, not water baptism like religion teaches. Romans chapter 6 is speaking of the “baptism” of 1 Corinthians 12:13: “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.” Ephesians 4:5 says there is “one baptism” today, and it is not water baptism.
The one baptism that we need for salvation today is the baptism whereby the Holy Spirit takes us out of Adam (the kingdom of darkness, Satan’s kingdom), and God the Father “[translates] us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). God’s Holy Spirit takes the believing sinner and places him or her into His Son, the Church the Body of Christ. This is a supernatural baptism, invisible and totally unrelated to water because this baptism gives us a new identity in Christ!
We have no need for physical circumcision for salvation. We have no need for water baptism for salvation. The only circumcision that God recognizes today is the spiritual circumcision whereby God cuts us off from our old identity in Adam. The only baptism that God recognizes today is the baptism whereby the Holy Spirit places us into the Church the Body of Christ the moment we trust in Jesus Christ alone as our Saviour.