11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
1901 ASV Translation:
11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them;
12 and the father of circumcision to them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham which he had in uncircumcision.
I. The Relationship of Circumcision to Faith.
A. Paul acknowledges that, though circumcision had nothing to do with the achievement of a righteous standing before God, it was not altogether isolated from the issues involved in God's relationship to Abraham.
1. He claims that it was a "sign" which Abraham "received".
a. As a "sign", it had to be an analogy between the world of the external, fleshly issues and the world of the internal, spirit issues.
b. Paul has, in Romans 2, already made comment about the nature of the analogy: it signals the "circumcision of the heart" wherein a person ceases to seek praise from men as he turns to seeking praise from God (2:28-29).
1) The "issue" of circumcision in the flesh is deliberately connected to the production of seed.
2) The "issue" of the circumcision of the heart is the issue of the motivation for the actions that will be taken -- am I doing this to acquire the praise of men, or to bask in the praise of God? -- which is the "seed" of all behavior.
a) In Galatians 1:10 Paul pointedly declared that this issue is determinative of one's true identity.
b) In the Romans context, "boasting" is addressed pointedly also because it is the fundamental expression of a desire to acquire the praise of men.
2. Then he names it as a "seal" of the righteousness of faith.
a. As a "seal", it had to do with the establishment of an absolutecommitment by God to dominate human history in order tobring the "issue" of the seal topass in the experiences of men.
1) In both Daniel and Revelation, seals block the events under their dominion from coming to pass in history. The prophecies/events under seal are presented as incapable of coming to pass in history until the seals are "broken". But, by the same token, those things "sealed" are "written" to be precisely defined and expressed so that when the seal is broken those "sealed" things find precise expression in the history of mankind.
2) Thus, "seals" are guarantors of future realities if the seals are permitted to be broken. The "sealing up of the voices of the seven thunders" in Revelation 10:4 was a divine refusal to permit what the thunders said from being expressed in man's experience. John's excessive weeping in Revelation 5:2-5 indicates that he understood that unless someone was found to be worthy of breaking the seals, the future was held hostage by the fruitlessness of the search for such a "worthy".
b. The question is this: what, precisely, did the "seal" of circumcision "bind up" for a future experience?
1) Paul says it was a "seal of the righteousness of the faith".
2) The issue, then, is a "future" that was to be experienced by the "circumcised". That future was the essential promise of the covenant "sealed" by circumcision; the possession of Canaan forever.
B. Paul declares that the plan of God was for Abraham to be the father of all who believe.
1. He was, on the one hand, the "father" of all who believe who are not circumcised.
a. The issue in "fatherhood" is the issue of an established characteristic that is duplicated in the "sons".
b. The "belief" of Abraham was the identified characteristic: anyone who "believes" as Abraham did is his "son". Thus, "believing while uncircumcised" is the indisputable reality of Abraham's characteristic and it yielded "justification before God". So, all who "believe while uncircumcised" are the "sons" of Abraham.
2. He was, on the other hand, also the "father" of all who believe who are also circumcised.
a. Paul makes it very clear that "circumcision" is not a sufficient basis for "sonship" to Abraham; it must be accompanied by the emulation of the faith of Abraham.
1) Since Abraham "believed while uncircumcised", it is not possible to become his "son" by being circumcised while in unbelief. This is not the established "father" characteristic.
2) The "father" characteristic is "faith". Thus, even if a person is circumcised, he is not the "son" of the "father" unless/until he "believes".
b. But, by the same token, a faith that is exercised apart from circumcision results in a heritage that is different from the inheritance of the land.
1) Those "sons" of Abraham who are never circumcised are not the "sons of circumcision": in this they do not follow the established "father characteristic" of circumcision.
2) Those "sons" of Abraham, on the other hand, who are circumcised are only the "sons of circumcision" if they have both the faith and the circumcision of the father.
a) The covenant condition of eighth day circumcision removed the possibility of anyone ever becoming a "son of Abraham" in terms of the "faith first, then circumcision afterwards" characteristic.
b) Thus, the covenant itself precludes the possibility of "sonship by circumcision". Sonship can only be by faith. National heritage, however, canbe by circumcision if it does not stand alone, apart from faith.
i. Circumcision by the covenant requirement is a condition of the point of that covenant: inheritance in the land.
ii. But, circumcision by the covenant requirement can never be sufficient, of itself, for the point of that covenant because inheritance in the land is for those who are true sons of the "faith" of the "father". In other words, "faith without circumcision" will get you 'sonship' but not a portion of the land, and "circumcision without faith" will get you nothing at all since neither "unbelief", nor "circumcision in unbelief" are characteristics of the "father". Only "circumcision" plus "faith" will get you a portion of the land, and that is only true for the genealogical heirs of the nation.
3. There is a great distinction between the circumcised and the uncircumcised in the plan of God, but it is not to be found in the issue of "justification" -- which is by faith in every case -- but in the issue of "national heritage" -- the inheritance of Canaan.