Nothing is more difficult than to clear one's mind about a subject concerning which there is general confusion. It is like trying to salvage one's belongings while the house is on fire, as I know from bitter experience. Apparently some readers are not clear about my objections to referring to Israel as "The Circumcision" and to Gentiles as "The Uncircumcision"; and various comments have brought it home to me that I have not yet been sufficiently explicit and that at least some of the things I have written call for correction. I can only express my regret and try again. That sort of difficulty constantly arises when thinking afresh about some familiar topic.
As Mr. A. E. Knoch pointed out years ago in discussing Figures of Speech, the literal leads. We must always take a Scripture expression literally unless the context compels us to take it as a figure. This is absolute, admitting of no exceptions. whatsoever. If only everyone would remember this rule and act on it, most of the difficulties and often bitter controversies would settle themselves.
Circumcision is the sign of covenant, uncircumcision the absence of that sign. These are the literal meanings, and therefore the leading ones; so we must not depart from them unless the context demands it.
What I wrote about Eph. 2:11-18 in Vol. 17, pp. 255-257 still appears to me to stand, except for two corrections. In Eph. 2:11 the Greek tEs legomenEs peritomEs is genitive feminine singular, not plural. The insertion of one into a feminine phrase is wrong, and a neuter rendering is undesirable. Read: "by the so-called circumcision in flesh, hand-make-able." This form demands some entity, characterized by circumcision which can be done by hand and is not of heart (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11), who terms Gentiles in flesh, as a class of individuals, "uncircumcision." The term is not "The Uncircumcision," so this text can hardly be regarded as an adequate authorisation for us to write and speak of "The Uncircumcision," as so many repeatedly do. It does not deny that the individual who had the circumcision in flesh, hand-makeable, termed a Gentile "Uncircumcision," but it certainly cannot be adduced as commending the practise.
In Acts 10:45; 11:2; Gal. 2:12; Titus 1:10 we do not read of "the circumcision" but of hoi ek peritomEs, literally, the ones out of circumcision; a special expression which I have already discussed very fully. So far as I can discover, nobody has yet upset the conclusion then reached. Read "The Circumcisionists." In Rom. 4:12 it is, similarly, "not to the Circumcisionists only." The first occurrence in this verse should be rendered "and father of circumcision" or "and circumcision father," according to taste. There is no "the" here. In Rom. 15:8 it is, similarly, "Servant of circumcision" or "circumcision Servant," again without any "the." In Gal. 2:7, 8 the literal can lead perfectly satisfactorily and there is no need to introduce a figurative "class" here, or in either of the other two occurrences.
The individual who continues to oppose me in this matter omits (for obvious reasons) to mention Rom. 2:26 now. Here Paul certainly does personify "the uncircumcision" as I pointed out quite plainly in The Differentiator, Vol. 15, No.2, p. 58. The 1930 C.V. makes a "howler" in v. 27 by rendering ielousa (singular) by "are discharging"; but I wish to say that I do not regard this blunder as a deliberate perversion of the text. Evidently the Compiler was led astray by the too common practise among us of calling the Gentiles "The Uncircumcision," so that his mind unconsciously led him to use a plural verb. Let us not judge him, but be warned our selves. These two verses are singular throughout and should read: "If, then, the uncircumcision (person) should be maintaining the righteous-standards of the Law, shall not that uncircumcision of his be accounted for circumcision? And the by-nature-uncircumcision (person), discharging the Law, shall be judging thee, through letter and circumcision, a transgressor of law." A curious feature of all this is that in the places where these words are plainly personified, it is always with reference to the individual, except where, in Eph. 2:11, the individual who has the circumcision names all Gentile men "Uncircumcision." So I remain completely unconvinced by any pleas that Scripture entitles us to write of Israel as "The Circumcision" or the Gentiles as "The Uncircumcision." Why should we want to, anyhow, when we have already "Israel" and "Gentiles"? Not only does it introduce confusion where none existed, but it seems so far-fetched and unnecessary. Finally, I would like to explain why I have found myself compelled to write so much about what is, in every passage but one, a rather minor matter. The reason is that in one place, Gal. 2:7, 8, it is not a minor matter. This is readily seen if we write instead of what Paul actually wrote: "But, on the contrary, perceiving that I have been entrusted with the Evangel of the Gentiles, according as Peter of the Jews (for He Who operates in Peter unto apostleship of Israel operates in me also unto the Gentiles)." There must have been some sufficient reason why Paul preferred to write: "But, on the contrary, perceiving that I have been entrusted with the Evangel of the uncircumcision, according as Peter of the circumcision (for He Who operates in Peter unto apostleship of the circumcision operates in me also unto the Gentiles)." I submit that the reason is quite simple: this is what Paul meant. It was the sign of circumcision, itself, which was the point at issue; not Jews versus Gentiles. For a Jew could, and sometimes did, abandon his covenant standing, either on account of unbelief, or because he elected to follow Paul into a new creation; and the Gentile could abandon his uncovenanted position by becoming a proselyte; but circumcision itself cannot be done away with or abolished.
R. B. WITHERS Last updated 23.10.2005