Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Circumcision and the Virgin Birth

Here’s a thought I mentioned on Taylor Marshall’s blog about how circumcision might anticipate the mode of Christ’s incarnation (and therefore also why it disappears after he comes).

First, there is something of an irony in circumcision being a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. The specific promise in Genesis 17 is this:

I am God Almighty; Walk before me, and be blameless. And I will establish my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you (vv. 1-2, 5).

The irony is that the sign of the covenant which promises a huge number of descendents to Abraham is for Abraham to mutilate his male organ. This seems to me to be something of a symbolic castration. At least Paul seems to suggest that the teleology of circumcision ultimately is the cutting off of the entire organ (Gal 5.12).

So God promises that he will exceedingly multiply the descendents of a 100-year old man who is married to a barren, 90-year old woman. As a sign of this promise, God requires that the man mutilate the organ he uses to procreate. And, of course, later, God then tells Abraham to kill his only begotten son – the son through whom the promise must be realized.

None of this, of course, is how the world would think to go about multiplying descendents from a man. (There are many of these sorts of inversions in the OT. The multiple examples of barren women in the messianic line, the inversion of the rights of birth order with the younger son being exalted over the older son, which is an inversion of the natural order as well, etc.)

Jesus is the one descendent who ultimately inherits the promise (Gal 3.16). Consider, then, that Jesus is conceived without the mediation of a human male at all, and is born of a Virgin. Just like barren women, virgins cannot have children. And emasculated men cannot produce children. So God fulfills his promise to Abraham in a way that utterly confounds the world. It seems to me at least arguable that that is what circumcision pointed to from the beginning.

Further, the anti-type fulfills the type, and so the type disappears. If Jesus’ virgin conception is the fulfillment of the sign of circumcision, then the sign naturally disappears with the coming of the reality. So circumcision is no longer binding in the new covenant.


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