10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
1901 ASV Translation:
10 How then was it reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision:
I. Paul's Argument From History.
A. Clearly Paul sees Abraham's justification in terms of its historical setting.
B. Just as clearly, he sees the fact that it had the historical reality of occurring before the covenant of circumcision as significant.
1. His reasoning is not hard to grasp.
a. If Abraham was granted justification before the imposition of circumcision, it could not have its roots in circumcision.
b. If it did not have its roots in circumcision, circumcision has no impact upon its essential character.
1) Justification is by faith; not by any human "work" -- not even human faith-works.
a) The issues here are two: the real foundation for justification; and the nature of the faith that brings it to an individual.
i. The foundation for justification is the "objective" reality of God's solution to the "justice" issue.
ii. The issue of "faith" is the "subjective" reality of the attitude in man that permits God to restore the lost harmony.
b) That circumcision was originally a "faith-work" is indisputable.
c) That "justification" did not rest objectively or subjectively upon circumcision is also indisputable.
d) The question that remains is the place that circumcision acquired in those after Abraham. It seems clear that Paul is arguing that it had to have had the same place for all. If Abraham's "justification" preceded his circumcision so that his attitude of "faith" was established before the imposition of the covenant by God, then "faith" must precede "works of faith". The problem is that circumcision was enjoined upon "believers", who then executed it upon their children and households while those members were not "believers" (no eight-day-old child can "believe"). Thus, circumcision was not a faith-work accomplished by those upon whom it was imposed as it was with Abraham. This marks a fundamental shift in the process: for the original "believer", the action followed the "faith", but for all others, the action precedes the "faith". Thus, having moved it out of the realm of "faith-works", God signals that it has no place whatsoever in the "faith" discussion. It has nothing to do with the acquisition of the righteousness that is by faith, nor has it anything to do with the expression of the faith by which righteousness comes. The only position that it really has in the entire "faith unto justification" issue is one of ground-laying...foundation-preparing. If a circumcised-on-the-eighth-day man comes to the faith that justifies, he will embrace the God of circumcision so that he circumcises his own sons out of that faith-embrace, but that says nothing about whether his sons will become like him downline. Technically, circumcision could die out in one generation, as it threatened to do with Moses if the circumcised did not act in faith and circumcise his sons, and it could easily die out in two generations if the circumcised do not come to faith as an after-the-fact reality. Thus, it is hard to escape the rather obvious conclusion: circumcision was more of a commitment on God's part to underwrite the faith issue in the offspring than it was a commitment on man's part to "be obedient". Thus, Paul's argument stands: circumcision, as an issue of "faith", is a post-justification issue even though it immediately became a pre-faith, pre-justification fact of life for all the sons of believers who circumcised their sons. Thus, as a pre-faith fact of life, it has nothing to do with the "justification" that is by faith.
e) This raises a final question: what was the "point" of God's enjoining circumcision upon Abraham? Abraham could not impose his "faith" upon his household. The very most he could do was live out his faith in the presence of his household so that the members of it had to deal with the testimony of his beliefs on a day-to-day basis. What God did with that was up to Him. That it is His plan to do something of permanence with it is obvious from the way He refused to allow the obvious wickedness of the circumcised offspring to foil His commitment to give Abraham the land of his sojournings. Thus, circumcision, though imposed upon a believing man, was God's covenant with that man, not that man's covenant with God (see Genesis 17:2, 4, 7 and 10 where God consistently calls it "My covenant"). That Abraham was to "keep" it (Genesis 17:9-10) is obvious, but it was not his "keeping" of it that established it. Without God's active, and on-going, involvement in the production of the faith that was required for the relationship of the justified with God to exist and endure, no act of man was going to have any significant fruit.
2) Justification is not restricted, then, to those who inherited circumcision as a part of their place in the plans of God.
a) Those who inherited circumcision as a "required work" are those under its covenant requirements and provisions.
i. The requirement was to be circumcised.
ii. The provision was the eternal ownership of the land of Canaan.
b) That righteousness is a requirement of those to whom God will give the land does not logically extend circumcision to those whom God never intended to give the land, but did not intend to exclude from the blessing of justification.
i. Then the question arises: can a person have the blessing of justification who is within the stream of humanity which has the covenant of circumcision imposed upon it, but who refuses circumcision?
ii. The question, asked another way, is: can a physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be "justified by faith" while being uncircumcised by reason of personal refusal?
iii. Essentially, the question is this: can a person be justified without repentance? A person cannot help his identity as it is addressed in terms of his geneological foundations: he is either a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or he is not. Neither can a person help his condition of circumcision/uncircumcision while in the post-eighth-day, pre-self-determining stage of life. Moses had not circumcised his sons in the format of the eighth day requirement and God was not pleased, but His response was to Moses, not the children. It cannot be shown that the disobedience had any affect upon his justification, but it certainly had implications for his identity as a member of the community of Israel and, even more so, for his identity as the deliverer of that community. But, once a son of Jacob comes to the point of self-determination, he is faced with the issue of "circumcision" as a requirement for membership in the community of the owners of Canaan. At this point, can he "believe" unto justification without submitting to circumcision? And the answer involves this question: why would he wish to be "justified" and not be a member of the community of heirs of the land? Can a man desire to be reconciled to God while desiring to maintain his independence from the plans of God? Is it not an irreconcilable conundrum to claim to wish to be reconciled to God while not wishing to be reconciled to His desires and plans? Can a man "believingly eat the forbidden fruit"? Could Saul of Tarsus have been "justified" while rejecting God's summons to go to the nations as His instrument? Can repentance exist within the framework of impenitence?
iv. A related question is this: can a foreigner become an heir to the land by submission to circumcision? The answer is "no". The land was promised to the seed of Abraham who were circumcised; it was not promised to the circumcised who were not the seed of Abraham. Thus, "circumcision" was not the critical issue alone; it was wedded both to geneological descent and to the faith that drove the activity of submission to the covenant.
v. Also, can God not impose requirements upon those He justifies after the fact? Becoming a child of God by faith means becoming an object of God's process of maturing in the faith. One cannot be involved in either, but not both. They come as a unit. But, that is not to say that the faith that justifies will automatically be the faith that matures one's character.