The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series is an excellent series for understanding particular themes in the Bible. While no series is perfect and some have lamented that it has fallen on hard times, this latest volume ought to relieve any lingering doubts. This book doesn’t deal only with the topic of circumcision in the Bible, but “two [other] facets on which this book focuses are the key biblical concepts of faith and righteousness.” The reason for this is seen in Paul’s statement about Abraham in Romans 4.11 that he “received the sign of circumcision of the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul believed that circumcision meant something to Abraham about righteousness and faith. But how? Why circumcision? And scholars are in disagreement as to what the circumcision-righteousness-faith complex symbolizes. For N. T. Wright, “righteousness is about covenant membership” (5). For James Dunn, circumcision was “the boundary marker of who was in the covenant and who was not” (6). But the OT authors look forward to a day when God’s people will be spiritually circumcised and will love and obey God with all their heart (6).
Karl Deenick does not consider every biblical reference to circumcision but only those which help demonstrate how righteousness and faith are woven together with circumcision. In chapter two he shows how righteousness and blamelessness are “both a present status but also a future promise that is appropriated by humble trust in God’s promise to Abraham of a blameless ‘seed'” (211). This is seen in Genesis 15 and 17. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because he believed Yahweh’s word (15.6) and then God called Abraham to walk blamelessly (17.1) before in a unique relationship.
After examining these truths and the ‘singular’ seed in Genesis, Deenick looks at how the sign of circumcision developed throughout the OT: Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 10 and 30, and Joshua 5 (chapter three). How can God call the people to love and obey him when they don’t have circumcised hearts and when God says he will give that to them in the future (Deut 10; 30)? They are to walk with Yahweh (Lev 26) and believe in his atoning promise to Abraham. “The circumcised heart repents and trusts in Yahweh’s words” (95). After Abraham’s call to be blameless, the next time we see something ‘blameless’ in the text is when we get to the sacrificial system. Blameless sacrifices cover the blame of God’s people, something fulfilled completely in Christ. “What God promised, Abraham did not have in full, and yet God reckoned him to have it” (213).
Deenick then observes how the NT authors picked up the metaphors of ‘walking’ and ‘being blameless’ (chapter four). Blamelessness comes through union with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Deenick ends the chapter looking at contested passages in Philippians 3, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2. Chapters five and six cover Romans 2-4 and Galatians. Faith in God’s promised seed, Jesus, humility, and repentance over sin are what matter.
For Christians, as Deenick points out, the imputation of christ’s righteousness teaches us that “it is not enough to be ‘not guilty’: we must also be reckoned to be perfectly obedient and holy” (213). Abraham’s circumcision was a seal that he was humble and righteous by faith. The continuing acts of circumcision pointed God’s people to the future seed who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. It meant nothing to follow God’s law while rejecting his promise of a future seed. Instead, believing the promise meant fulfilling God’s law as your trust was in the future seed who would make you blameless. Christians don’t need to follow circumcision for we are circumcised in Christ. The flesh has been put off, and we are baptized in him. We have died and are raised with him.
I hope Deenick’s book will be read widely by students, teachers, and the scholarly community. While it is not written for the layman, teachers and pastors who pick this up can easily bring the information to life. Neither does Deenick give bland facts in his book. He fits his information within the story of Scripture, allowing the story to illuminate the details, and the details the story. We are the circumcision of Christ who have put off the old flesh, have received a spiritual circumcision, and love and desire to obey God. I highly recommend this book.
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 45)
- Author: Karl Deenick
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (May 1, 2018)
- Press Kit available here
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