Circumcision is the surgical removal of the prepuce, or foreskin, of a male. The word circumcise literally means “to cut around.” As a religious rite, circumcision was required of all of Abraham’s descendants as a sign of the covenant God made with him (Genesis 17:9–14; Acts 7:8). The Mosaic Law repeated the requirement (Leviticus 12:2–3), and Jews throughout the centuries have continued to practice circumcision (Joshua 5:2–3; Luke 1:59; Acts 16:3; Philippians 3:5). There are different issues involved in the question of whether or not males today should be circumcised. One issue is that of religious teaching: what does the Bible, God’s Word, say? Another issue is, as a matter of health, should males be circumcised? The Christian view of circumcision is probably best described as a combination of the two.
Concerning the first issue, New Testament Christians are no longer under the Old Testament Law, and circumcision is no longer required. This is brought out in a number of New Testament passages, among which are Acts 15; Galatians 2:1–3; 5:1–11; 6:11–16; 1 Corinthians 7:17–20; Colossians 2:8–12; and Philippians 3:1–3. As these passages proclaim, being delivered from our sins is the result of faith in Christ; it is Christ’s finished work on the cross that saves, not the observance of an external rite. Even the Law acknowledged that circumcision alone was insufficient to please God, who specified the need to “circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 10:16; cf. Romans 2:29). In salvation, the works of the flesh accomplish nothing (see Galatians 2:16).
In Acts 16:3, Paul had a missionary helper, Timothy, circumcised. Timothy was half-Jewish, and Paul circumcised him so that he would not be a hindrance as they sought to reach out to unsaved Jews. Although the Bible did not require Timothy to be circumcised, it was something he did willingly for the sake of reaching the Jews. However, as Paul states unequivocally in Galatians, circumcision does not aid either salvation or sanctification in Christ. Of course, the incident with Timothy does not directly apply today because Christians need not be circumcised in order to reach unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles. Once again, the principle of the circumcision of the heart is at the heart of the matter.
There are practical issues involved with circumcision as well. Some parents have their sons circumcised so that they will look like all the other males in their culture. Some parents are concerned that their son would someday be in a locker room and find himself different from everyone else. In some cultures, though, males are not commonly circumcised. There is also the issue of health. Doctors debate back and forth in regard to whether there are any health benefits to circumcision. Any parents with such concerns should definitely speak with a doctor in regards to this issue.