Ro 4 and Ga 3 are two New Testament passages that can be used in order to describe the context of circumcision.
(Ro 4:1)MKJV What then shall we say that our father Abraham has found, according to flesh?
(Ro 4:2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has a boast; but not before God.
(Ro 4:3)KJV For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
(Ro 4:4) Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
(Ro 4:5) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Abraham could not boast before God about works showing that he, Abraham, was righteous. Indeed, Abraham was reckoned righteousness when he believed God (Ge 15:6). (This happened shortly before the covenant, which was made later the same day, as mentioned in Ge 15:18.) Righteousness was not credited to Abraham as wages for good works, but as a consequence of faith. God credits righteousness to the believer by grace (Ro 4:4). The Lord not only credits righteousness, but also brings about occasions showing the faith of the believer and thus the righteousness of the believer. By bringing such occasions the Lord both declares and shows the righteousness of the believer, that is, he justifies him. Looking again at the example of Abraham, the fact that the Lord is the one who justifies is illustrated clearly in Ge 22:1-2, for the Lord was the one who asked Abraham to offer Isaac. When Abraham obeyed God and was about to offer his son Isaac, he was acting by faith and his actions were showing his faith. Though Abraham, perhaps, might have boasted about such works of faith to others, he could not boast about them before God, just as we read in Ro 4:2. It was God who both granted him faith (Php 1:29, Eph 2:8) and prepared the works that would show his faith (Eph 2:10). For "Where is boasting then? It is excluded" (Ro 3:27). "For God has shut up all to disobedience, that He might show mercy to all" (Ro 11:32).
(Ro 4:9) Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
(Ro 4:10) How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
The verses above reason about the fact that it is not necessary for one to be circumcised or to be under the law of Moses in order to be saved. Indeed, we read that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" in Ge 15:6, which happened several years before the time when the Lord spoke to Abraham about circumcision in Ge 17. Only after the Lord spoke to him about circumcision was Abraham circumcised in the flesh (Ge 17:24). It follows that Abraham was credited righteousness while he was uncircumcised. Moreover, he was credited righteousness several centuries before the law of Moses was given. Now, the circumcision in the flesh was given as a sign of the covenant (Ge 17:11).
(Ro 4:11) And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
(Ro 4:12) And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
(Ro 4:13) For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
(Ro 4:14) For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
When the Lord spoke to Abraham in Ge 15 about the blessing he intended to give him and to his seed, he did not say that he would give it as a reward or as wages for something that Abraham had done. The Lord did not say either that he would give the blessing in exchange for some future work that Abraham would do. Rather, he promised the blessing to Abraham because he wanted to be gracious to him. In fact, Abraham confirmed that he was receiving a great favor when he fell on his face in Ge 17:3, for in view of Ge 23:7, 12 it can be seen that he would bow down when he would receive a favor. We also read in Ge 15:6 that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness". The fact that the faith of Abraham was counted to him for righteousness shows that he fulfilled the expectation that he would follow the Lord. Indeed, the promise was not unconditional, but it did have the expectation that Abraham would follow the Lord, as we read in Ge 17:1 "walk before me, and be thou perfect". Abraham fulfilled this expectation by means of his faith. Indeed, one who does not walk before God, one who is not perfect but deficient, would not be righteous in God's sight. However, since the faith of Abraham was credited to him for righteousness, we can see that by means of his faith he fulfilled the expectation stated in Ge 17:1 "walk before me, and be thou perfect". Now, the law was given hundreds of years after the promise to Abraham. One keeping the law had to do much work in order to fulfill its requirements. A man of faith living under the old covenant would have kept the law. However, he would have inherited what was promised by faith, not by the law. A man without saving faith was not able to inherit what was promised by means of the works of the law. If what God promised Abraham were given as wages for doing the work of the law, then the blessing would not come by faith, by means of the promise, but by means of the law and thus the promise would be "made of none effect". The Lord did not give the law as a means of salvation (Ga 3:21). Rather, by means of the law, sin was made more obvious (Ro 5:20, 3:19-20). By means of the law people could see more easily their unrighteousness and appreciate the gracious offer of God to credit faith for righteousness.
(Ro 4:15) Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
(Ro 4:16) Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
As mentioned in Ro 4:16, since the blessing comes by faith, the promise applies to all the seed. It applies both to the believers who have lived under the law and to the believers who have lived apart from the law (this would include the believers who have lived before the law was given and the believers who have lived after Christ came). The book of Galatians also speaks about the fact that if the blessing were attained by means of the works of the law, the promise would be made of no effect. Just as men do not add anything to ratified covenants, so also the law did not alter the original covenant made with Abraham.
(Ga 3:15)MKJV Brothers, I speak according to man, a covenant having been ratified, even among mankind, no one sets aside or adds to it.
(Ga 3:16) And to Abraham and to his Seed the promises were spoken. It does not say, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, "And to your Seed," which is Christ.
(Ga 3:17) And I say this, A covenant having been ratified by God in Christ, the Law (coming into being four hundred and thirty years after) does not annul the promise, so as to abolish it.
(Ga 3:18) For if the inheritance is of Law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by way of promise.
A covenant has terms that benefit those who take part in it. It is rather obvious how the covenant was benefiting Abraham. The passage above indicates how the covenant was benefiting God. The terms of the covenant between Abraham and God benefit Abraham and his seed. Taking in account that Christ is Abraham's seed and that Christ is God, the covenant does benefit God. Since the body of Christ has many members (Ro 12:5), Christ being the head of the body (Col 1:18), we can see that the promises to Christ address also those who are in the body of Christ, that is, those who have had faith like Abraham. The fact that Christ is one but has many members explains the usage of the word "seed" in the promises made to Abraham. Indeed, we find the word used in the context of one person (Christ) in "thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Ge 22:17) and in the context of many (the members of his body) in "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven" (Ge 22:17). Note that Ga 3:16 does not say that the word "seed" cannot refer to many, for it is used this way in Ga 3:29 and Ro 4:16. Rather, Ga 3:16 could be interpreted this way. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed in the sense that they were present when they were spoken. (Indeed, note the similarity in Greek between τω δε αβρααμ ερρηθησαν αι επαγγελιαι και τω σπερματι αυτου "But to Abraham were spoken the promises and to his seed" in Ga 3:16 and ερρεθη τοις αρχαιοις "it was said to the ancients" in Mt 5:21, where the idea in Mt 5:21 is not that the command was only for the ancients but that the ancients were present when the command was first spoken.) We find the phrase "and to thy seed" (in Hebrew, ולזרעך ) in Ge 13:15 and Ge 17:8 in the context of the promises of Ge 13:15-17 and Ge 17:4-8. Note that Ge 13:15 and Ge 17:8 contain the phrases "to thee ... and to thy seed", making it very obvious that the promises were to Abraham and to his seed. Now, Ga 3:16 states that "seed" in the phrase "and to thy seed" refers to one, to Christ. Through Christ, those who are in him are also "Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Ga 3:29). Finally, note that in verse 17 a word-for-word translation would speak of "the-after-430-years-having-become-law". Verse 17 does not state that the law came 430 years after the covenant, but that it refers to the law that followed a specific period of 430 years, namely, the time spent by Israel in Egypt (Ex 12:40-41).
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