IN MANY parts of the world, circumcision is performed on baby boys as a health measure. In other parts of the world, it is customary for males to remain uncircumcised throughout their life. To some, such as Jews and Muslims, circumcision is more than a health measure; it has religious significance.
In certain nations, however, a circumcision ritual is performed when a boy reaches manhood. This usually involves sending the boy away to a traditional school, where he is circumcised and kept separate from the community for a number of weeks until he recovers from the operation. During this time, the boy is to follow specific rituals and is taught to be a man. Is this type of circumcision necessary to prove that a boy has reached manhood? Let us consider what the Bible says about God’s view of the matter.
God’s View of Circumcision
Some people in ancient times, such as the Egyptians, practiced circumcision, that is, the cutting away of the foreskin of the male sex organ. Abraham, however, was not born into such a culture. In fact, for most of his life, Abraham was uncircumcised. Moreover, in his uncircumcised state, Abraham proved himself to be a valiant man. With a small band of men, he pursued and vanquished the armies of four kings who had captured his nephew Lot. (Genesis 14:8-16) About 14 years later, God commanded Abraham to get circumcised and to circumcise his entire household. Why did God do so?
It was certainly not a sign that Abraham had advanced from boyhood to manhood. Why, he was 99 years old! (Genesis 17:1, 26, 27) God gave the reason for the command, saying: “You must get circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it must serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:11) That Abrahamic covenant included God’s promise that through Abraham, great blessings would eventually come to “all the families of the ground.” (Genesis 12:2, 3) Thus, in God’s eyes, circumcision had nothing to do with manhood. It was performed to indicate that a person belonged to the Israelite descendants of Abraham, who were privileged to be “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.”
In time, the nation of Israel proved unworthy of that trust by rejecting the true Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Hence, they were rejected by God, and their state of circumcision ceased to have any meaning in God’s eyes. However, some Christians in the first century C.E. insisted that circumcision was still a requirement of God. (Acts 11:2, 3; 15:5) Because of this, the apostle Paul sent Titus to “correct the things that were defective” in various congregations. To Titus, Paul wrote about one defect: “There are many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision. It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain.”
Paul’s counsel is still applicable. It would certainly be contrary to the Scriptures for a true Christian to suggest that someone else’s child be circumcised. Instead of being “a busybody in other people’s matters,” a Christian leaves such personal decisions for parents to make. (1 Peter 4:15) Moreover, Paul was inspired to write about circumcision according to the Mosaic Law: “Was any man called circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised. Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God’s commandments does. In whatever state each one was called, let him remain in it.”
What About “Circumcision Schools”?
What if Christian parents should decide to have their male children circumcised? Would it be in harmony with the Bible to send their sons to the so-called circumcision schools described earlier? Attendance at such schools involves much more than the surgical removal of the foreskin. For a number of weeks, the one attending will live in close association with boys and teachers who are not worshippers of Jehovah. Many things taught at these schools are contrary to the Bible’s high moral standards. The Bible warns: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.”
Increasingly, there is also physical danger involved in attending these schools. In 2003 the South African Medical Journal warned: “Horrifying circumcision outcomes have been observed again this year, with reports of the deaths and mutilations being beamed across the world by all the major news services. . . . In short, many of the so-called ‘circumcision schools’ of today are fake, and deadly.”
In addition to the possible damage to a youth’s physical well-being, there is an even greater spiritual danger. The teachings and practices at circumcision schools are closely connected with spiritism and the worship of dead ancestors. For example, instead of admitting that careless surgeons and unhygienic conditions were responsible for the damage done, many believe that bewitchment or the displeasure of dead ancestors is the cause of these tragedies. Regarding connections with false religion, the Bible commands: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17) In view of this counsel, it would be most unwise for Christian parents to send their male children to a circumcision school.
What Makes a Christian Manly?
Whether a Christian man is circumcised or not is no reflection on his manhood. The main concern of true Christians is to be pleasing in the eyes of God, not “to make a pleasing appearance in the flesh.”
To be pleasing to God, however, a Christian must undergo a ‘circumcision of the heart.’ (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Matthew 5:8) That is done, not by cutting with a knife, but by rejecting wrong desires and prideful thoughts, such as the belief that being circumcised in the flesh makes one superior to others. By enduring trials and standing “firm in the faith,” a Christian can prove himself manly whether he is circumcised or not.