No More Circumcision (Calvin)

Long ago, God commanded Abraham that he and the males in his household must be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant for Abraham and his offspring “throughout their generations” (Gen. 17:1-14). A question arises: why don’t we need to practice circumcision like God commanded Abraham long ago? If we claim Abraham’s God as our God – or he claims us as his people – why don’t the males among God’s people today have to submit to circumcision? Well, in a word, because of Christ. John Calvin had a great comment on this when he was reflecting on Colossians 2:11:

He [Paul] proves that the circumcision of Moses is not merely unnecessary, but is opposed to Christ, because it destroys the spiritual ‘circumcision of Christ.’ For circumcision was given to the [Old Testament] Fathers that it might be the figure of a thing that was absent: those, therefore, who retain that figure after Christ’s advent, deny the accomplishment of what it prefigures.

Let us, therefore, bear in mind that outward circumcision is here compared with spiritual, just as a figure with the reality. The figure is of a thing that is absent: hence it puts away the presence of the reality. What Paul contends for is this—that, inasmuch as what was shadowed forth by a ‘circumcision made with hands,’ has been completed in Christ, there is now no fruit or advantage from it. Hence he says, that the circumcision which is made in the heart is the ‘circumcision of Christ,’ and that, on this account, that which is outward is not now required, because, where the reality exists, that shadowy emblem vanishes, inasmuch as it has no place except in the absence of the reality.

In other words, circumcision was a figure or shadow of Christ and his work for us and in us. Since Christ has come, we don’t need the figure or shadow any more.

Calvin, John, and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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