Acts 7:8

Very Texas.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. Acts 7:8

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

Stephen has just detailed the history of Abraham, from his call out of Mesopotamia, even until the time of the covenant set forth in Genesis 15 that came with the promise that the Lord would bring Abraham’s descendants out of bondage to serve Him in the land of Canaan. It is with this history in mind that Stephen now says, “Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision.”

There is no article before “circumcision,” and it should be left out. Circumcision is not the covenant. Rather, it refers to the covenant that had just been explained by Stephen. It is the sign of the covenant, as is explained in Genesis 17:1-8. After that, it then says –

“And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.’” Genesis 17:9-11

A sign is something that points to something else. Being misunderstood, a Jew will point to their circumcision and say, “See, this makes me righteous.” But that is incorrect. Paul explains this in Romans 2 –

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28, 29

Many cultures circumcise, and it does not make them righteous. As such, this sign does not make Abraham’s descendants righteous, but it is a sign of what the covenant speaks of. Two translations that convey this properly, even if they are somewhat of a paraphrase, are –

“Then God gave to Abraham the ceremony of circumcision as a sign of the covenant. So Abraham circumcised Isaac a week after he was born; Isaac circumcised his son Jacob, and Jacob circumcised his twelve sons, the famous ancestors of our race.” GNT

“And God gave Abraham a covenant [a formal agreement to be strictly observed] of [which] circumcision [was the sign]; and so [under these circumstances] Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac [became the father] of Jacob, and Jacob [became the father] of the twelve patriarchs.” Amplified

With this understood, Stephen continues with, “and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day.” This is in obedience to the word of the Lord as later explained in Genesis 17 –

“He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Genesis 17:12-14

Circumcision (on the eighth day) is a necessary condition of the covenant, but it is not the covenant itself. Paul further explains this in Romans 4 –

Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.” Romans 4:9-12

Abraham was obedient to the covenant, and he circumcised Isaac on the eighth day. After this, Stephen next states, “and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs.” These words are given to define the line through whom the conditions of the covenant apply. All of this is spoken by Stephen to argue against the accusations levied against him.

One of those charges was that Jesus would “change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” The law of Moses records the requirement for circumcising on the eighth day in Leviticus 12:3. However, Stephen appears to have understood that if the law was now annulled in Christ, it means that circumcision was not a requirement for being a part of the New Covenant.

This then lays the groundwork for Paul’s argument for justification by faith. Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised, as stated above in Romans 4. As this is so, then, as Paul notes, the law coming four hundred and thirty years later, “cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect” (Galatians 3:17).

Because of this, the sign of circumcision must have a different purpose for God to have given it to Abraham. And it does. As a sign points to something else, and that thing – in this case – is based on the righteousness of Abraham, one must understand where that righteousness came from, which was the faith he had while still uncircumcised (Romans 4:11). It was faith in the promise of God stated in Genesis 15:4, 5.

Thus, a sign was given to confirm that it was faith in the promises of God that would be the mark of being declared righteous. The sign, then, points to Christ Jesus. The rite of circumcision, which is the sign, is the cutting of the male sex organ. As sin is inherited, there must be a way that it is transmitted. That is understood to be through the uniting of a man and a woman. When a child is conceived, that child inherits Adam’s sin.

Cutting the male organ is the sign. It represents cutting the transmission of sin. And sin is that which makes a person unrighteous. When Christ came, He was born of a virgin and of God. Thus, no sin was transmitted to Him. As this was so, the “sign” of circumcision was fulfilled. The sign pointed to the coming Messiah – Jesus.

Thus, the words of Romans 4 (above) are realized. It is by faith in God’s promise, as fulfilled in Christ Jesus, that righteousness is granted – the righteousness of God in Christ. As such, and though the dull leaders of Israel did not grasp this, Stephen was clearly indicating that the words he spoke concerning “changing the customs” may have been misunderstood, but they were not blasphemous. Rather, they were in accord with the redemptive plans of God in Christ.

Life application: A little thought concerning what God is doing in the stream of redemptive history clears up many misconceptions about really important theological issues. In this one instance, when carefully considered, several points of doctrine – some of which will lead to heresy if incorrect – can be determined:

  • The law is annulled in Christ.
  • The sign of circumcision is fulfilled in Christ.
  • Salvation is, by default, eternal.
  • Faith, and nothing else, is what saves a person.

These, and certainly many other points, can be deduced from what is presented above. Be sure to not only read the Bible, but think on it, study it, read commentaries on it. Don’t be so headstrong that you would reject something you initially disagree with until you have thought through what is said. If we are wrong, we should be willing to admit it and adjust our thinking in order to properly align our doctrine with what the Bible actually teaches.

Do these things and you will be one who stands approved when you come before the Lord.

Gracious and most merciful God, You have given us such a simple message of salvation – believe in what Your word says You have done in order to be saved. And yet, there is so much tied up in this message that we can spend the rest of our lives learning more about it. How wonderful it is to do so! Thank You for this precious word. Amen.