I received an email some time ago posing a few questions concerning circumcision, questions I have answered privately due to the awkward nature of the subject. (Have you noticed how quiet everyone gets when it comes up in the adult Sunday School class?) I’ve decided to answer at least one of those questions* here. The particular question I am addressing today is,
Why, of all things, did God choose circumcision as the sign of the covenant?
The question is not why God instituted circumcision; it is why he chose circumcision rather than something else.
That is a question I’ve asked myself, and I imagine a lot of people have wondered with me. Why did God institute such a strange practice? Really, isn’t it just weird, to say the least? Surely he could have come up with something else, something that would cause less embarrassment when it comes up at Wednesday night Bible study—a tattoo, or a piercing, anything, just not that! Yes, I have had these thoughts, and so have many other Christians, I think.
The answer is I don’t know, and I’ve never read any attempt at answering this question. I have an idea, though, and while I must admit it is only an opinion, I’m fairly well convinced it’s right—at least as convinced as I can be without a direct word from Scripture.
I believe circumcision demonstrates the depth of intimacy God wants to have with his people. He wants such an intimate connection with us that he put the physical mark of his covenant with us in the most intimate possible place. Furthermore, the removal of the foreskin represents the uncovering of our most hidden parts. Think about it: even when a man is entirely naked , his most private part is still covered by his foreskin. Only under the most intimate of circumstances is he entirely exposed, and then only to the one with whom the intimacy is shared. God wants that degree of intimacy with us.
This concept is by no means unexpressed in scripture. Marriage is explicitly an earthly picture of the heavenly relationship of Christ and his church (Matthew 25:1–13; Ephesians 5:22ff; Revelation 19:7–8). And so I believe that circumcision, in part, represents the total, uninhibited abandonment of modesty and privacy between bridegroom and bride.
As I have said, this is my opinion. But I think it’s as good an answer as any to the question of why God chose that specific sign.
* They were all valid questions, but I’m unsure about the propriety of addressing them here. We’ll see . . .
Update: This page continues to be one of the most read on this site. That’s unfortunate, because it is only an opinion. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even an opinion. It’s just an idea I had one day as I was thinking about it, just speculation about something about which we can only speculate. Reading it myself, five years later, it seems a little nutty, but still as good an explanation as any—not that any explanation is needed. Don’t take it any more seriously than that. If you want something on this subject to take seriously, try this. And please, stop emailing me to tell me that circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. I get that. Really—I do.