Circumcision and Apocalypse


The word apocalypse does not denote the end of the world. It is literally a revelation, a revealing.

In his Pauline Theology paper, It’s the end of the flesh as we know it! A comparison of circumcision & apocalypse (2010), Steven Opp provides support for the identification of the book of Revelation as a Covenant lawsuit. Christ was circumcised, then Christ Himself was cut off. Israel was circumcised in Christ, then, in AD70, after decades of apostolic gospel witness, unbelieving Old Covenant Israel and its Temple worship, overseen by “the mutilation,” were cut off. On the final Day of Coverings, the flesh was exposed.

Opp makes a helpful connection between the “uncoverings” of circumcision and apocalypse in Galatians:

First, what is circumcision, and what does it mean? It is, of course, the removal of the foreskin of the penis, a cutting, resulting in blood [Exodus 4:24-26]. James Jordan suggests that this ritual simultaneously symbolizes three realities:

1. A sign of death and resurrection. Circumcision is a symbolic castration. To cut off part of your penis signifies cutting off the whole thing, yet the circumcised man is still fertile. Peter Leithart explains in a blog how in the ancient world, patriarchs were depicted as being endowed with enormous genitalia. [2] The bigger the member, the more fatherly/fertile the man. By removing part of his genitals, Abraham was thereby entering into death by losing part of his life-giving organ, and resurrected by being able to reproduce.

2. The removal of shameful clothing. This “implies that the man who is naked before God is truly clothed.” [3] Jordan provides the example of Adam and Eve creating coverings of leaves which God removes. Men must confess their sins and be naked before God in order to be covered and glorified.

3. The removal of a block or hindrance. The example given for this is Abram not being able to have children until the hindrance is removed through circumcision. His circumcision also removes Sarai’s hindrance as his circumcision is imputed to her.

Jordan goes on to explain how these three meanings of circumcision also apply to the ear, hand, and foot, which are all symbolically circumcised by blood being applied to each place on the priest (Leviticus 8:23). Finally, Jordan tells how Jesus was ultimately cut for us via his crucifixion, where his body was torn, and this action fulfilled all three meanings of circumcision in the atonement…

Two of the main themes in Paul, and especially in Galatians, are the ideas of circumcision and apocalypse. [4] But is there a connection? Are the two concepts opposites? Is one a fulfillment of the other? Or are they not related at all? I am suggesting that apocalypse is in some sense a new sort of circumcision, a circumcision of the old order of circumcision/uncircumcision.

Let us use Jordan’s three-part definition of circumcision to structure our discussion of the connections between circumcision and apocalypse.

The first definition of circumcision which he gives is that it is a sign of death and resurrection. In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul speaks of his revelation which he had which saved him. In verses 11-12 he says, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation (apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ.”

A few verses later in 15-16 Paul explains how “…when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal (apokalypto) His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh (sarx) and blood…”

Paul uses apokalypsis again in 2:2: “And I went up by revelation (apokalypsis), and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…”

Paul’s defense of his ministry is his revelation of Christ. This is what saved him and what legitimizes his apostleship (1:12), message (1:15), and itinerary (2:2). In chapters 3 and 4, Paul lays out an argument contrasting the gospel against circumcision, using the “oppositional columns” [5] of law vs. Spirit, Jerusalem below vs. Jerusalem above, Ishmael vs. Isaac, and works vs. faith. In all of these dichotomies, Paul places himself and his gospel on the side of Abraham. Abraham, of course, is the first circumcised man (at least mentioned in the Bible). He is the poster boy of circumcision, the grand archetype. Paul, the man whose trademark is not circumcision but apocalypse, nevertheless associates himself with Abraham.

G. Walter Hansen explains the similarities between Paul and Abraham in Galatians:

“Paul’s story (1:11-21) and the Abraham story (3:6-4:11) present parallel paradigms to prepare the way for the request in 4:12. As Paul’s life was transformed by his faith in the gospel, so Abraham was characterized by his faith in the gospel given to him in the promise (3:6-9). In both stories the same features of the gospel are disclosed: the revelatory origin of the gospel, the blessing for Gentiles in the gospel, and the exclusion of Jewishness as the basis for the inclusion of Gentiles. At the center of both Paul’s own story (1:11-2:21) and the story of Abraham (3:6-4:11) is the story of Christ.” [6]

Paul’s command to the Galatians is to become like him, in contrast to the false teachers who are commanding the Galatians to become like them. The latter demand circumcision, while the former calls for faith. And Paul’s whole argument about the legitimacy of his message is that he had an apocalypse.

Returning to Jordan’s first definition of circumcision being a death and resurrection, what we find is that just as Abraham’s circumcision resulted in a new man (with a new name) and a new nation, so Paul’s apocalypse results in a new man (also with a changed name) and a new church, comprised of both Jew and Gentile, a whole new system. Abraham symbolically died when he was circumcised; as mentioned above, he was symbolically castrated. Paul also died when he converted. The resurrected Paul says in Galatians 6:14 “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

If you’d like to read the entire paper, contact me and I will pass on your request to Steven.

[1] Peter Leithart. “Father Abraham.” November 9, 2010.
[2] James Jordan, The Law of the Covenant (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 78-84.
[3] James Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 79.
[4] A third major theme in Galatians is table fellowship. This theme connects with the other two (circumcision of the flesh and apocalypse) as broken bread is the flesh (sarx) of Christ (John 6:51), and when bread is broken, eyes are opened and Christ is revealed (Luke 24:30-31).
[5] Martyn, Galatians, 449-450.
[6] G. Walter Hansen, “A Paradigm of the Apocalypse: The Gospel in the Light of Epistolary Analysis,” in The Galatians Debate, ed. Mark D. Nanos (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.), 146-147.

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