Circumcision: A Sign of the Putting Off of Sin

Circumcision and Name of Jesus Wednesday

Luke 2:21

“And after eight days, when the child was circumcised, his name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

But why did circumcision have to happen on the eighth day? This, once again, signifies the sin of nature. For the poor little child does not have actual sin to bear. Still, he must be circumcised and receive the sign of the cleansing from sin. If God had commanded to circumcise after eight years, one might say that this was done on account of the sin committed and to avoid the future sin. But now he does away with both: The fact that children were to be circumcised on the eighth
day was not because of past sin nor because of future sin, but to indicate that there was a sin born and made part of nature that is greater than every actual sin. But someone should ask here: But since Abraham and his servants and
companions were circumcised when they were grown and old, Genesis 17:23, does not circumcision signify the sin actually committed? Answer: Scripture anticipates this question and solves the matter by teaching that Abraham was not justified by circumcision but had already been justified beforehand from his sins when he received circumcision. For in Genesis 15:6 we read how he was justified by his faith, before circumcision, when he was 80 years or a little older, while he received circumcision when he was 99 years old, so that the circumcision happened almost 20 years after his justification. This is also the conclusion St. Paul draws against the Jews, Romans 4:11: not circumcision, but faith without justification justifies, as Abraham’s example teaches cogently. This is why circumcision is not a putting off of sin, but a sign of this putting off of sin, which takes place by faith alone, as happened to Abraham. This is why circumcision demands in all men the faith that puts off natural sin and makes the person just and pleasing. Now, if Abraham’s faith had not been described before circumcision, his circumcision would have been a sure sign of original sin in him, as it is in those children whose faith is not described previously. This is why Scripture ordered things in such a way that Abraham believed first and was circumcised second, while the others are circumcised first and believe second. In this way, both teachings are established: First, circumcision is only a sign of justification and no one becomes good by it. And second, only faith justifies without a contribution of circumcision. In this way, Scripture clearly distinguishes faith and its sign in order to resist the arrogant righteousness based on works.

St. Louis ed., 11:288-289.

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