Circumcision Without Hands – Bill Burk

Circumcision Without Hands – Bill Burk

The Book of Colossians serves as treatise on the role Jesus plays as the supreme Savior. In the first chapter, Paul declares the magnificent truths about Jesus’ person. In chapters three and four, he describes the life Christians ought to live if Christ is the exalted Lord. In chapter two, Paul describes the need to defend the gospel against any teaching that would declare Jesus’ salvific work insufficient. In Christ dwells all the fullness (Col 1:19; 2:9), therefore, the Colossians needed only Jesus’ gospel to experience all that God desired for them (Col 2:10a). To prove this, in Colossians 2:11-15, Paul reminds the brethren in Colossae that they had undergone a circumcision provided by Jesus and made without hands.

Two kinds of Circumcision

The Bible designates two types of circumcision. First, Scripture mentions ritual circumcision, that is, the removal of the male’s foreskin. In Genesis 17, God, in reaffirming his promise to Abram, made a covenant with him, declaring that if the patriarch lived faithfully before Him, He would make him the father of many nations (17:1-8). As a sign of the covenant, God commanded Abraham to circumcise every male child at the age of eight days (17:9-14; cf. Lev 17:3; Luke 2:21). The Pentateuch reinforces this command declaring that all Israelite males, as well as male slaves and foreigners living among them, needed to undergo circumcision (cf. Ex 12:43-49; Josh 5:2-12). The Law viewed any uncircumcised Israelite as a covenant breaker and cut off from God’s people (Gen 17:14). Both in the Old and New Testaments, the Bible often refers to unbelievers as “the uncircumcised” (Judg. 15:18; 1 Sam 17:26; 2 Sam 1:20; Ezek 32:17-32; Eph 2:11-12, et. al).  This circumcision is not the one that made the difference for the Colossians regarding their relationship with God (cf. Gal 5:6; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29). 

When Paul references the circumcision made without hands, he does not mean ritual circumcision. The circumcision made with hands resulted in the removal of flesh, but not so with the circumcision of Jesus. It involves the removal of the guilt of sin. In the New Testament, the phrase “without hands,” shows up more than once. Jesus, in Mark 14:58, described his resurrection body as “another made without hands.” Paul, in describing the resurrection body each Christian will receive at the return of Jesus, used similar language, referring to it as “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1-2; cf. 1 Cor 15:35-58; 1 John 3:2). In other words, these things find their origin in the work of the God of heaven, and not men. In the new birth (John 3:3-5), Jesus does the circumcising, or the saving, because men cannot save themselves (Eph 2:8-9). It is Jesus who cuts away the impact of the guilt of people’s sins when they willingly choose to come to him in obedient faith culminating in baptism (Col 2:12; cf. Matt 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-41, Rom 6:3-4, et. al). Therefore, Jesus circumcises every penitent believer by removing his sins when he obeys the truth (cf. 1 Pet 1:22), just as he did for those in Colossae almost two-thousand years ago.

Summation of the passage

These ideas lead to the following summation. In chapter two, the apostle Paul mentions that the Colossian had received Jesus (Col 2:6), which involved the circumcision made without hands. In 2:11-15, he clarifies the process. After hearing the gospel and believing in Christ
(Col 1:3-8), they were buried with Him in baptism (Col 2:12), and because of this, God, through Jesus, glorified them, gave them new lives, and forgave them of all their trespasses/ sins (Col 2:13). Jesus accomplished this for them by dying on the cross (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24-25; 3:18;
1 John 2:2, et. al), through which He cancelled their sin debt (Rom 6:23a; Col 2:14; Eph 2:14-18). Not only did Jesus provide relief for the Colossians’ sins (Col 1:21-22), but through His atoning work, He defeated the dark forces that rule over the world and that work to destroy humanity (Col 2:15; John 12:31; 2 Cor 2:14; Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Pet 5:8; 1 John 3:8; 4:4; 5:19). By this argumentation, Paul proved Jesus’ supremacy and that the Colossians had all they needed in Him.

Colossians 2:11-15 styles Jesus as supreme Savior (cf. Matt 1:21) and the victorious King of all (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 19:6). Jesus continues to circumcise. He still removes the sins of men who love him enough to faithfully respond to his love, kindness and mercy (cf. Titus 3:4-7). Those who undergo this circumcision will joyfully submit to their King, who is the head of all principality and power (Eph 1:20; Col 2:10b). Jesus is the supreme Savior. He is more than enough.