Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cut Out All the Talk About Circumcision Please!

I am re-posting this one which I composed 3 years ago with only a few changes. The Lectionary cycle is such that the same lessons get read every three years and problematic lectionary edits get yet another opportunity to deprive the congregation of important bits and pieces of God's word.

In 2011 the sermon was delivered by our Deacon who did a good job with the story of Nicodemus and the "born again" question in John 3:1-17. Not bad for someone coming back from major surgery. I still wonder if many have their foundation firmly established enough so that when asked, "Have you been born again, and are you saved?" they can proclaim in the affirmative, "Yes I have been born again, and Christ is my Saviour!" I suspect our Deacon is correct in saying that many Episcopalians tend to want to run when the subject comes up.

The saving grace of our Lord is a gift from above that is recognized by those being reborn. It is such a wonderful gift that people have to pass it on, even to strangers on the street.

The lectionary editors, in their wisdom, excised part of the gift today when the service called for the reading of Romans 4:1-5,13-17.
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
*cut verses go here*
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
Paul's reasoning is undermined by excising all the talk about circumcision in verses 6-12,
So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works:
‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’
Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
When Paul is speaking about "the law" in this chapter he is in large part alluding to the question of whether or not one had to be circumcised to be one of the brethren. Cutting this section out results in pulling Romans 4 out of its context.

And I thought revisionists were usually guilty of trying to put Paul into a context, that of a misogynistic first century male, so as to minimize the importance of his letters and their contents.

The letter to the Romans is hard enough to follow without modern day redactors messing with it by trying to protect our virgin ears on Sunday morning by cutting away the unpleasant bits.


  1. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Thank you for this!

    It's ironic that the more highly sexualised our society becomes, the more we want to shy away from difficult -- and more important -- subjects at church.

    Why is discussing circumcision in a biblical sense such a big deal? It never used to be. Furthermore, when it was discussed, it was without the puerile jokes that accompany today's narrative.

    This is why I harp on about the importance of reading Holy Scripture in its entirety. I cannot emphasise (having come to a deeper knowledge of the Bible late in the day myself) how necessary it is to read it and understand it.

    Continued blessings to you and your blog.


    1. Right. Folks who rely on one dose of the Bible a week are missing out on so much. It is like walking past a fine restaurant and getting a little whiff of what is cooking without realizing that if you come in you can have the meal of your life, and it is all given away for free.