You’ve Been Warned
So I feel the strong need to preface this post with the following disclaimer. Many of these thoughts only apply if you’ve decided to be a Christ follower. However there’s still great moral and historical information for those of you who don’t fit into that category. With that being said though, I hope you’ll stick around and read this post no matter what your religious affiliation is (or lack thereof).
This is a controversial and emotionally fueled subject, so please read this with an open mind. I’ve attempted to present the evidence as I see it, spoken through love and with grace. Please understand that my intention isn’t to shame anyone for their decisions.
Didn’t God Command us to Circumcise?
In the Old Testament there are a ton of laws. Everything from don’t sleep with your mother in law, to make sure you wash your hands under running water. Both great ideas. I’m not going to pretend to understand all of the law though and why God said every single thing he did, because well, I’m not God.
I have several friends who are messianic Jews, and they believe that Jesus fulfilled the law, but we are still to follow it. Then you have evangelical Christians who believe that since the law is fulfilled, we are no longer bound to following it in the same way. I’m not going to argue for or against that here, that’s between you and God, but it does affect your views on Biblical circumcision.
In the Old Testament the Jews were told to circumcise their sons on the 8th day. This was a physical reminder of removing the separation that stands between us and God and His covenant. Not so ironically, blood clotting in a newborn peaks eight days after they’re born, so this would be the best time to circumcise, but of course God already knew that (source).
Circumcision Just isn’t What it Used to be
In the Old Testament the Jews were commanded to circumcise, but it’s not the same as circumcision today. Back then it was a tiny cut that just nipped the end, yet preserved the function of the foreskin. Now, we’re removing the entire foreskin, or about 50% of the mobile tissue that covers the area. That’s a huge amount!
If you’ll remember from your Sunday school days, David brought the foreskins of the Philistines to King Saul as a trophy of war. By removing the foreskins of the enemy, I believe that it was seen as a mutilation and a hit to their manhood and dignity. 1 Samuel 18:25 says that Saul asked David to bring him the foreskins as a dowry for his daughter, but also to “take revenge on his enemies.” He really wanted to add insult to injury here.
How God Views Sex
Yes, I said the S word. God actually has a lot to say about sex in the Bible, because it’s a very sacred thing. Many Christians like to avoid discussing the subject altogether, and “don’t do it before you’re married” is as far as we go. The purpose of marriage according to the New Testament is to display in a physical way how Christ loves the church. So sex is more than something that feels good and makes babies. It’s a physical, powerful, constant reminder of the spiritual intimacy we have with our creator.
So what does sex have anything to do with circumcising a newborn? Well obviously this area of our body is integral to having sex. We were beautifully and wonderfully designed with a purpose, and our bodies are to be treated as a temple. By cutting parts of this temple off, parts that were designed for a sacred purpose and reminder of Christ’s relationship with us as His bride the church, it permanently alters this symbol.
Corn Flakes and Circumcision
What circumcision is now really has nothing to do with Biblical standards, and in fact, I’d like to present the idea that it’s in direct contradiction to it. John Kellog, the same man who is responsible for giving us corn flakes was an integral reason why our modern society implemented circumcision. He advocated circumcision as a way to prevent masturbation by teens before marriage. In fact, he even threw some psychological abuse in there.
“The operation should be performed without administering anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.” – Dr. John Kellog
Even now, boys are circumcised largely without anesthetic. Parents generally aren’t allowed in the room so that they aren’t disturbed by seeing the procedure. And babies who appear to sleep peacefully have actually had a newborn defense mechanism activated. When a baby is under severe stress, pain and/or trauma, there little body shuts down. They enter a semi-comatose state and appear asleep. It’s anything but peaceful.
Kellog also recommended tying young children’s hands together or putting a cage over their genitals. He pointed to the fact that some tropical peoples were cutting, so therefore we should. This practice of severely cutting the genitals, from what I understand, was adopted from pagan tribes who used it as a ritual purification.
Making Sex Undesirable
God created sex to be a beautiful thing between a husband and wife. An act of love, intimacy and a reminder of His love for us. By purposefully trying to decrease the desire and diminish or eliminate the pleasure, it defaces His purpose.
The foreskin is full of nerve endings, and removing it does in fact diminish sexual pleasure for both a man and his wife.
Personally, my husband and I both regret that he wasn’t able to make the decision of circumcision for himself. And you probably know as well as I do that cutting off the foreskin doesn’t prevent what Kellog hoped to prevent.
One of the proposed reasons for circumcision was to promote cleanliness, although even Kellog himself said that daily cleaning of the area would prevent any issues. The main purpose of the Victorian era of circumcision that we still practice today, was to punish the child and make sex undesirable.
Female genital mutilation (warning, graphic)
In other countries, especially India and Africa, the culture dictates that girls should be circumcised. It’s a criminal offense in the UK to bring in a girl for circumcision, or to even refer someone to a doctor who will. Even though preventing this atrocity is taken very seriously, many villages and tribes still perform the procedure, often with rusty razor blades or shards of glass in the poorest areas. Even though male circumcision is considered ok, while female genital mutilation is taboo, the idea behind it is the same. Make sex so undesirable, and even painful, that a girl will stay pure for marriage.
I was going through my midwifery textbook, and came across a story of a woman who had her genitals so severely mutilated at the age of 8, that she had a seizure and passed out from the pain. Even now, marital intimacy is so painful, that she has been unable to have children, or fully experience love with her husband.
The textbook’s detailed coverage of female genital mutilation, and the idea that hundreds of thousands of innocent little girls have been abused, and continue to be abused in this way was incredibly upsetting to me. In this woman’s village, the little ones genitalia were cut and sutured together so that the vagina would almost completely seal shut, then on her wedding night it would be opened with a razor blade before intercourse. As I read on, I was so sickened by it all that I had to rush into the bathroom to throw up. I’ve read some pretty gruesome medical things, and never has anything affected me in that way.
Is it harmful?
God is very clear that the faith and innocence of a child is to be nurtured, and for anyone who harms a child “it would be better if a millstone was hung around his neck.” A newborn is not able to speak for himself, and relies on his parents for protection.
On one hand you have very loving parents who would do anything for their child, but they’ve never considered that circumcision could harm their child. These parents believe they’re just doing what’s best. Then you have others who see circumcision as wrong because the baby can’t consent and the procedure is physically and psychologically questionable.
If you’ve chosen to circumcise, or just did it because you had never thought about it, then that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Honestly I had never given any thought to the issue until my midwife asked if we planned on circumcising. I just assumed it was what everyone did.
I didn’t know why, but figured, why not? However after doing some prayerful research about the medical and spiritual implications, we ultimately made the decision not to.
Made in His Image
I believe that we were made with a purpose, intricately knit together in our mother’s womb. I also believe that Satan hates that, and does everything He can to undermine God’s image in us. We’re told by our culture that we were an accident of science, that unborn babies don’t matter, and that sex is just for the fun of it. Is circumcision as benign as we’re told, or is it just another way that our enemy is trying to mar God’s image and plan? I think it’s a question worth considering.
Are there medical benefits of circumcision?
I mentioned briefly already that one of the supposed reasons for circumcision is for medical benefit. This is a cosmetic procedure that is often marketed as a medical one. I’m not going to go into details here on the medical portion of it, but Mama Natural and Wellness Mama both have fantastic articles that go into depth about medical issues and the intricate function of the foreskin’s design. (spoiler alert, there aren’t worthwhile medical benefits)
Profiting From Circumcision
Foreskin tissue is used in the production of some high end cosmetic creams. So you too can have skin like a baby’s bottom, from a baby’s bottom. These foreskin fibroblasts are used in collagen injections and to regenerate skin in different medical settings. Hospitals are able to profit monetarily from circumcisions, causing an ethical concern for some.
I have some serious issues with allopathic (modern) medicine as a whole and how the industry operates. The word pharmacy comes from the Greek word pharmakeia, meaning the manipulation of the body through means of witchcraft and idolatry. As a Christian, I find that concerning, however, I’ll save that topic for another day.
Paul’s Circumcision Comments
Going back to the New Testament, Paul has something important to say about circumcision. In the beginning of Galatians chapter 5, Paul mentions that circumcision or uncircumcision is not the point, but “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Some Christians have even said that not only is circumcision for religious reasons unnecessary, but we’re told not to.
Paul goes on to say that
“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all…You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
I would encourage you to go to the actual chapter to read everything in context and prayerfully consider the passage for yourself.
Is Circumcision Biblical?
So here’s the big question. Is the circumcision we practice today of entirely removing the foreskin Biblical? Given what circumcision, God’s image and sexual intimacy mean to Christians, and that modern circumcision stems from the idea of diminishing or eliminating that God given sexual pleasure by permanently altering the organ, I would have to say no. There are of course medical conditions that can necessitate surgery in this area, but I can’t personally stand behind routine removal of the foreskin as its currently done.
Regardless of your personal views on circumcision, I would sincerely hope that you consider what I’ve said here and do your own searching. Pray about it, search scripture and do what you feel led to do.
What are your thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear your comments!
(differing opinions are fine, disrespectful and name calling comments won’t be published)
- True circumcision – The Messianic Evangelicals
- Your Baby Your Way – by Jennifer Margulis
- What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision, – Paul M. Fleiss, M.D. 2002 (excerpt)
- Male Circumcision and the HIV/AIDS Myth – Huffington Post
- The History of Circumcision
- Bible Study Tools Pharmakeia