Review of Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, eds. “Circumcision.”

Ryken, Leland, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, eds.  “Circumcision.”  In Dictionary of Biblical Imagery,148-49.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

This is a brief but fact-filled article largely about the symbolism of the rite as a symbolic act that is a powerful image throughout the Bible.  It was the sign of the covenant between God and Israel, with him promising “I will be God to you and to your descendants after you.”  (Gen. 17:7 RSV, cf. Deut. 7:7-9).  It was a rite performed by virtually all the societies in the ancient Near East, but its meaning among all but the Israelites is unclear.  In Israel it had a “clearly defined theological significance.”  An early example accomplished by a ceremonial flint, (Josh. 5:2), rather than a knife, “suggests the great antiquity of the rite….”  Before there was a central temple, circumcision was the “main symbol” of God’s covenant with Israel.  The implication is, however, that there was an evolvement, through which circumcision began to decline in importance.  David was asked to pay a bride price of 100 foreskins of the Philistines, thus making an automatic equation between circumcision and a Philistine.  “Uncircumcised” became an epitaph for the wicked and godless. (Judg. 15:18; 1 Sam. 17:26; 2 Sam. 1:20.)  Ezekiel applies the label to most of Israel’s enemies. (Ezek. 32:17-32.)  The charge of uncircumcision was also leveled at Israel.  Jeremiah said their “ears” were uncircumcised so they do not hear. (Jer. 6:10) He said all of Israel was uncircumcised in heart. (Jer. 9:26; and 4:4.)  Thus circumcision came to symbolize the obedience of the heart and disobedience would lead to the loss of covenant blessings. (Deut. 10:16; Lev. 26:41).  Stephen uses the same argument.  (Acts 7:51)  For Paul it was the new creation that counted. (Gal. 6:15; 5:6, NIV.)

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