Biblical Circumcision

Most of us know how circumcision in America is done — the complete removal of all the flesh around the head of the penis. (If you’re unsure, you can watch the video on this link to see how horrific it is.)

Most people in America circumcise because of “like father like son”, or some vague idea that “it’s in the Bible,” or the belief that it’s “cleaner” or has some health benefit. I’ve previously talked about it (but it’s been a year ago), including the Christian perspective. I’m bringing it up again because I’ve recently read in one version of the Bible (the Ancient Roots version, which is a literal word-for-word translation from the Hebrew — pretty cool to read it this way, because it doesn’t flow as easily as most translations), the original circumcision covenant, and it goes like this:

Gen. 17:10-11, “This is my covenant, which you keep between me and you and your seed after you: Circumcise all your males. Clip the flesh of your foreskin. It is a sign of the covenant between me and you.”

It seems as if circumcision is more or less defined as “clip the flesh of your foreskin.” I’ve clipped my fingernails, and it involved cutting off the tips of the nails, not the removal of the entire nail. “Clip” has quite a different connotation from other words that can also mean some sort of cutting. If the translators are correct in using this term, then the modern circumcision process — inserting a sharp object between the prepuce and the glans, cutting it all the way around, and then cutting the prepuce entirely off — is quite a different process from the ancient form of circumcision as practiced by Abraham, which was just the “clipping” of the tip of the foreskin that extended past the head of the penis. And this only makes sense. Modern circumcision can quite easily lead to quite an infection, because of how much raw flesh is exposed — and that is with modern standards of cleanliness and sterility; one can only imagine what this form of surgery might have done in the days before antibiotics and sterile technique!

11 Responses

  1. That is a fascinating comparison. I have always wondered what Biblical circ. would have been like that makes sense. The practice done today has no need to be done but there is so much miss information out there that a lot of parents think that it is needed! I am glad I went to a birth center where they educated people about the facts that circ. does not reduce infection. They showed a video of what is done during one and it was awful to watch. I feel bad that so many parents are subjecting kids to this for no good reason. The “old reasons” are outdated.

  2. The command to circumcise ordered Abraham and his descendants to circumcise their sons and their slaves. As slavery has been abolished, one part of the command has gone by the wayside. It also said it was to be done on the 8th day. However, this is also varied if the child is not well and if there is a history of circumcision deaths in the family it can be omitted entirely., Therefore it appears that that provision is also up for negotiation. When we come to the New Testament, we are told that circumcision is not necessary for salvation or membership of the church (Acts 15) and that it means nothing (I Corinthians 7:19) (Galatians 5:6) . In one text we are warned to beware the mutilation! (Philippians 3:2). So the command to circumcise does not apply to Christians.

    • I agree — if you look at the previous post of mine on circumcision that I linked to previously, you’ll see that I came to the same conclusion.

  3. I just wanted to add that the word “clip” isn’t in my Torah. The mohel’s of today tell me they are trained to do it as Abraham was commanded.

    • Denise, I’d previously read a historian who said that the original circumcision was removing just the “redundant” foreskin — what extends past the glans (I’ve updated the post to include the link to it), but haven’t read anything from anyone but him saying this; nor have I read anything denying it.

      I did look up in the Strong’s Concordance the use of the term “circumcise” and came up with the following words: 5243 and 4135, with various derivatives. According to this, the word can mean “clip” or “cut short”. I’ve not really studied this out much, but this did intrigue me. Most English translations of this verse merely translate the word as “circumcise” or one of the derivatives; this is the only translation I’ve seen that uses the word “clip”.

  4. Please add another vote to balance “It’s okay for boys but not for girls.” The new one should say, “It’s okay for girls but not for boys.” Equal opportunity and equal rights for all.

  5. PS – I voted for “I strongly oppose circumcision, including those for religious reasons.” Everyone has an absolute, unalienable human right to their own religious BELIEFS. Religious PRACTICES that violate ANYONE’S absolute, unalienable human rights are forbidden by law because violation of anyone’s absolute, unalienable human rights is against the law. Circumcising babies, children and any non-consenting adult violates their absolute, unalienable human rights and is therefore illegal, not to mention unethical, immoral and stupid.

  6. Thank you for this! I agree. Aaaand, I think I’m in love with your blog!

  7. I believe parents have a right to do what they feel is best for their kids depending on the circumstances. In this case the circumcision of males, God no longer requires it, the bible is silent on whether it is wrong or right, so in my opinion, it really doesnt matter. I had it done when i was 20, i prefered it simply because it was more durable and easier maintanence, but honestly pleasure was unaffected. I would choose to circumcise my son(s), both because i am, and purely because i feel its something that will be a unique family thing. As it says in the bible ‘circumcised is nothing and uncircumcised is nothing, what really matters is that your heart is circumcised’ ie. open and unhindered.

  8. … There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

    * Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

    * Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

    * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org

    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1

    The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel
    http://www.cirp.org/pages/cultural/kimmel1/

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors …..

  9. In some way it looked strenge to me to get a medical circumcision with the whole skin cut off and stitched back. As if the flintknife procedure goes the same way.

    I have argued about circumcision many times and didnt want to stop surching unless I found the truth, biblical truth that is.

    This site helped me a lot.

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