Righteous by Promise: A Biblical Theology of Circumcision

2646As promised, I am going to start doing book reviews. These book reviews are meant to be an introduction to a resource. I cannot guarantee that they are all going to be particularly great, but I will try to provide my honest assessment of these materials.

This month’s book review is Righteous by Promise: A Biblical Theology of Circumcision by Karl Deenick. This book is the 45th volume in addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series from InterVarsity Press. This series of books seeks to interact with the contemporary scholarship to help evangelicals to better understand their Bibles. It focuses on a wide variety of topics ranging from examples of preaching in the New Testament to understanding the concept of original sin.

This book is largely a study on the concepts of righteousness and faith found within the Bible. At first, Deenick begins where anyone reading a book about circumcision would expect, with a study of Genesis 17. Here, he makes a compelling argument to show that righteousness is not defined by adherence to the Law since God had declared Abraham as “righteous” long before the institution of the Law. To further understand what circumcision, we must focus on the symbol of the “seed,” particularly the promise that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  He then continues to take a look at other occurrences of circumcision within the Old Testament, before turning his focus to the New.

The need had always been for blamelessness. However, in the absence of blamelessness God had made provision for reconciliation and forgiveness through sacrifice accompanied by humble trust and submission, together with the hope that one day he would make the people truly blameless.

Deenick then takes a look at five different Pauline writings: Philippians 3, Colossians 2, Ephesians 2, Romans 2-4, and Galatians. Paul’s argument with circumcision is how Jewish converts would believe that Gentile believers needed to observe the Law in order to receive salvation from their sins. Deenick argues that Paul used the Old Testament understanding of righteousness to understand what circumcision means in the New Testament. His understanding is that Paul believes there is not a need for a symbol that points to an event that has already happened.

The ‘flesh’ does not lead to resurrection. How can it? In contrast to the powerful resurrection of the Christ, circumcision and ethnicity and the law are of the flesh, and at best physical mutilations. They cannot raise the dead.

In my opinion, Deenick writes a good argument for his understanding of circumcision. Based on the understanding of righteousness by faith, adhering to the Law is now irrelevant because it has been fulfilled in Christ. True circumcision is a state of the heart and not of body parts. I would recommend this book if you are doing a study of circumcision or righteousness by faith. Anytime that the original language is used, it is transliterated and explains what it means. I believe that this opens the book to an audience outside of the typical scholarship, and towards anyone willing to do an in-depth Bible study.

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