The Circumcision of the Lord

Circumcising Sin with the Stone Knives of Jesus' Words

By Fr. Gregory, December 31, 2020

Genesis 17:9-12 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. 10 This is the covenant you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 A child of eight days old shall be circumcised by you—every male child throughout your genealogy, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner not of your seed. 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 on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut off from his people; for he has broken My covenant.”

Joshua 5:2-9 – “ABOUT THIS TIME” REFERS TO THE CROSSING OF THE JORDAN At about this time, the Lord said to Joshua, “Make stone knives for yourself from a sharp rock, and sit down and circumcise the sons of Israel.” 3 So Joshua made sharp stone knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at the place called the Hill of Foreskins. 4 In this manner, Joshua completely purified the sons of Israel, as many as were born at any time along the way and as many as were uncircumcised after they came out of Egypt. 5 Joshua circumcised all these. 6 For Israel lived in the Madbarite desert for forty-two years; therefore, most of their fighting men who came out of Egypt and who disobeyed the commandments of God were uncircumcised. Concerning these, He also determined that they would not see the land which the Lord swore to give to their fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 But in their place, He raised up their sons, whom Joshua circumcised because they were born during the journey and thus were uncircumcised. 8 So when they were circumcised, they rested there and stayed in the camp until they were healed. 9 Then the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, “Today I have removed the disgrace of Egypt from you.” Thus he called the name of that place Gilgal.

Jeremiah 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to God, all you men of Judah and those dwelling in Jerusalem, and circumcise the hardness of your heart, lest My anger come forth like fire and burn; and there shall be no one who quenches it, because of the presence of your evil practices.”

Luke 2:21 [from today’s Gospel reading] And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Romans 2:25-29 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

1Corinthians 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. [Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor as yourself]

Colossians 2:8-12 [today’s Epistle reading] BRETHREN, see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Christ fulfills the old Law and calls us to circumcision of heart, as announced by His prophets.

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: And we affirm that the spiritual circumcision takes place chiefly in holy baptism, when Christ makes us partakers of the Holy Spirit too. Of this Joshua, that Jesus of old, who became the leader of the Israelites after Moses, was also a type. He led the children of Israel across the Jordan, then made them stop and immediately circumcised them with knives of stone. So when we have crossed the Jordan, Christ circumcises us with the power of the Holy Spirit, not by purifying the flesh but rather by cutting off the defilement that is in our souls. On the eighth day, therefore, Christ was circumcised and, as I said, received his name. We were saved by him and through him, because “in him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him.” His death, therefore, was for our sake, as were also his resurrection and his circumcision. For he died, so that we who have died together with him in his dying to sin, would no longer live for sin. Thus if we have died together with him, we shall also live together with him. He is said to have died to sin, not because he had sinned, for he was without sin, neither was guile found on his lips, but because of our sin. Therefore, just as we died together with him when he died, so will we also rise together with him…. After Jesus’ circumcision, the rite was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type. For this reason we are no longer circumcised. […] Circumcision is the symbol of the faithful when they are established in grace, as they cut away and mortify the tumultuous rising of carnal pleasures and passions by the sharp surgery of faith and by ascetic labors. They do this not by cutting the body but by purifying the heart. They do this by being circumcised in the spirit and not in the letter.

THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST AND THROUGH BAPTISM. CHRYSOSTOM: Circumcision is no longer performed with a knife, Paul says, but in Christ himself; for no human hand circumcises … but the Spirit. The Spirit circumcises the whole man, not simply a part…. When and where? In baptism. And what Paul calls circumcision, he again calls burial…. But it is not burial only: for notice what he says, “Wherein you were also raised with him, through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” HOMILIES ON COLOSSIANS 6.27

CIRCUMCISION BY THE STONE. JUSTIN MARTYR: Joshua is reputed to have circumcised the people a second time by means of stone knives (which was a sign of that circumcision by which Jesus Christ himself has cut us off from idols made of stone and other materials) and to have gathered together those who everywhere from the uncircumcision (that is, from worldly error) were circumcised with stone knives, namely, the words of our Lord Jesus. For I have already pointed out that the prophets used to call him figuratively a stone and rock. By the stone knives, therefore, we understand his words, by which so many who were in error have been circumcised from their uncircumcision with the circumcision of the heart. From that time God commanded through Jesus that they who had the circumcision which began with Abraham should be circumcised again with the circumcision of the heart, for he said that Joshua performed a second circumcision with stone knives upon those who entered into the Holy Land. DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO 113.4

A FIGURE OF BAPTISM. JOHN OF DAMASCUS: Now, this was a figure of baptism, for, just as circumcision cuts off from the body a part which is not useful but a useless superfluity, so by holy baptism are we circumcised of sin. It is obvious that sin is a superfluity of concupiscence11 and of no use. For it is impossible for anyone not to have any concupiscence at all or to be entirely without any taste for pleasure, but the useless part of pleasure, this is the sin which holy baptism circumcises. ORTHODOX FAITH 4.25.12