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Circumcision — A Type of Sanctification

Copyright © 20101

Jim Kerwin

Introduction: Gilgal

  1. At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.”
  2. So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.
  3. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt.
  4. For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised.
  5. For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the Lord, to whom the Lord had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
  6. Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way.
  7. Now when they had finished circumcising all the nation, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.
  8. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
  9. Joshua 5:2-9

Types: God’s Picture-Book Primer

A heart on fireA pure heart — God's goal2

Those who have experienced the true New Birth enjoy the matchless privilege of calling God Father. By this New Birth we come into the Kingdom and economy of God as children. Indeed, according to Jesus there is no other way in: “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). And it needs to be kept in mind that the wisest, most experienced, most spiritual among us remains but a child, especially when it comes to our comprehension of God’s Truth.

Because we are children, and because God is a loving Father, He usually teaches us profound truths through very simple means. When we as human parents set out to explain a complicated matter to an ever-inquisitive small child, we use picture books with simple vocabularies, and we tell stories to help illustrate a point. God the Father does exactly the same thing; in fact, He uses two picture books: Nature and the Bible.

Jesus used illustrations from God’s first book, Nature, to communicate spiritual truths about God’s Kingdom, speaking of wheat and tares and sheep and shepherds and birds. We could even say these illustrations from the “first” book also serve as some of the “artwork” in the second book, the Bible. But apart from these parables, God provides us with many other illustrations in the Bible, and these are usually called types. The origin of the word type is the Greek word τύπος (tupos [pronounced “TWO-pohs”]), which means a pattern, model, or example. Paul uses the word in this way when he writes:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:14 nasb

The idea also comes to us in such words as:

  1. shadow (σκιά, skia) in Hebrews 10:1;
  2. a copy or pattern (ὑπόδειγμα, hupodeigma) in Hebrews 9:23; and,
  3. the Greek word for parable (παραβολή) is even used this way in Hebrews 9:9 (being rendered example or figure or symbol, depending on your translation).

In this article we want to learn from God’s Word about Circumcision as a type of Sanctification. This requires that we understand three words: Sanctification, Type, and Circumcision. As Christians we frequently use words we do not understand. We hear them all the time and repeat them, but when we are asked to define what we mean, we find that we are very unclear on the meaning. And because we are uncertain about the true meaning of these words, we grope about, shrouded in a fog of our ignorance. So let’s see if we can get a clear idea about what God means by these words.


Sanctification is the work of God in us that makes us holy, pure, and loving like Jesus is. There are three important aspects of sanctification:

  1. Dedication, in which we present all that we are and have to God for His purposes alone;
  2. Purification, in which God makes us holy, and free to live only for Him; and
  3. Perfect love, by which means God purifies the inner motive for which we do everything.


We have already touched on the meaning of type, but let’s refine the definition just a bit. A type is usually an Old Testament PERSON, EVENT, or RITUAL that serves as a “shadow” or “figure” or “foretaste” or “hint” of a greater truth later to be revealed in the New Testament. Let me quickly point out a few examples:

  1. An example of an Old Testament PERSON who serves as a “type” is MELCHIZEDEK (Genesis 14:18ff). From Hebrews 7 (referring back to Genesis 14 and Psalm 110:4), we more clearly understand Christ’s high-priestly office because Melchizedek provides a picture.
  2. An example of an Old Testament EVENT which serves as a “type” is the exodus of God’s people from Egypt (Exodus chapters 1-15). This type is a living picture of our salvation from sin and the world, even as Israel’s passage through the Red Sea is a type of salvation.
  3. Through the type of a RITUAL called the Day of Atonement, God gives us a picture of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.


One of the rituals which serves as a type, a page out of God's picture-book primer for His children, is circumcision. In this illustration, the Holy Spirit takes a truth which for some might be difficult or abstract—sanctification—and through the various details associated with circumcision He helps us to see the deeper truths of what holiness is and how God makes us holy.

With that in mind, let’s define our third and final word—circumcision. The verb circumcise comes from two roots, circum + cise. Circum- means around, as in the word circumference (that is, the distance around a circle). The second part of the word, -cise, means to cut, and shares a common origin with such words as scissors and incisors. In the Bible, to circumcise means to remove the foreskin (technically known as a prepuce) of “the male organ” by cutting around and taking it off. The Hebrew word (OT) is מוּלָה (mûlâ) and is translated circumcision. The Greek word (NT) is περιτομή (peritome, pronounced “peri-to-MAY”) and is translated circumcision.

Origin and Overview of Circumcision

In order to understand the type, the “picture” God gives us in circumcision, it is important to know when circumcision started. We read in Genesis 17 that God required Abram and his family to be circumcised. Thus, circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses by many centuries. In this Genesis 17 story we find that:

  • God commands Abram: “Walk before Me and be perfect” (v. 1).
  • God establishes a powerful covenant promise with Abram. (vv. 2-9)
  • God changes “Abram” to “Abraham” (father of a multitude). (v. 5)
  • God requires a sign of this covenant: Circumcision. (vv. 10-14)
  • Abraham obeys the same day. (v. 22-27)

From the origin-story of circumcision, we also learn its characteristics:

  • Circumcision is usually performed when a boy is eight days old (Genesis 17:12).
  • It is required of male household slaves, along with family members (vv. 12-13).
  • To be uncircumcised is to be cut off from God’s covenant with Abraham. “He has broken my covenant.” (v. 14)

In the New Testament, circumcision was practiced by observant Jews (as it is today). For example, Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, made certain to circumcise their son (Luke 1:59ff). Paul circumcised Timothy, because of Timothy’s Jewish background (Acts 16:3). But when certain Jewish Christians insisted that Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised, it became a point of heated contention in the church, resulting in an international church council (Acts 15). There it was decided that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised physically in order to follow Jesus. But the important word is physically, for we will see that the New Testament unfolds the type, the picture, the graphic illustration of spiritual circumcision for believers.

God’s Practical Wisdom

Our God is the only true God, the great Creator God, and we should expect that when He requires something in the physical realm, there is more than just a religious implication. Do you know that modern medical science has only in the last century come to understand the health benefits of physical circumcision? For instance:

  • Certain types of male cancers are statistically non-existent in cultures practicing infant circumcision of males.
  • Cervical cancer is much more rare in spouses of circumcised men.
  • Why is this true?  The covering in which bacteria, infection, spores, and so on can hide and thrive has been removed, and cleanliness can be maintained more easily.

Why did God command that circumcision of babies be done on the eighth day? Why not the first? The seventh? The tenth day?

  • Intestinal bacteria which produce Vitamin K don’t thrive until the fifth to seventh days.
  • Vitamin K travels to the liver, where it helps to produce four blood-clotting proteins including prothrombin.
  • ONLY on the eighth day—prothrombin levels are 110% of “normal”!

(Source: None of These Diseases by S. I. McMillen, M.D.)

Looking Deeper

Now let’s explore the deeper meaning God teaches us about sanctification in the truth He portrays in the type of circumcision.

  • Circumcision is an event which takes place after birth, not at birth. In the same way, the experience of sanctification (our spiritual circumcision) usually occurs after the experience of regeneration (that is, our New Birth) in Jesus Christ. In the normal course of events, it is meant to happen very early in our Christian experience.
  • Circumcision occurs at a specific point in time. It is not spread out over a long period of time. Biblically, it took only a moment on a male child’s eighth day of life. In this, too, circumcision is a type of sanctification, for while growth in holiness is (in part) a matter of maturity, the experience of being entirely sanctified —of receiving a pure heart by faith from God— happens at a specific point in time, a time which can be marked as definitely as the day and hour of one’s conversion. Imagine if circumcision were a process in which one had to endure a long, slow, cutting process, or, perhaps worse, a process where part of the cuts were made today, another part in a year, and more cuts made for many years to come! God, in His wisdom and mercy, makes circumcision a one-time experience tied to a definite point in time, and, as such, a type of how He purifies the human heart of indwelling sin by spiritual circumcision.
  • Circumcision was required even though a child had been born into a believing family. Just as one could not say, “The child has been born into a good Jewish family, so there is no need for circumcision”, so Christians cannot say, “I am now born again, so there is no need for me to undergo this circumcision-like experience of sanctification.”
  • Circumcision deals with a very private, intensely personal, hidden organ of the body. In this way, it is like that spiritual part of us called the heart.

Applying Circumcision Spiritually

The Scriptures teach us that we have many spiritual “organs” in need of circumcision.

Uncircumcised Ears

Unsanctified believers suffer from uncircumcised ears.

  • Listen to Stephen’s inspired condemnation: “You men…are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears…always resisting the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 7:51).
  • This is an an echo of God’s word through Jeremiah: “Behold, their ears are closed (literally, uncircumcised) and they cannot listen” (Jeremiah 6:10).

Uncircumcised Lips

Circumcision is also needed for our unsanctified lips. In re-reading the well-known passage about Moses’ meeting with God at the burning bush, we tend to magnify Moses’ reticence, without understanding why he was reticent.

  • Exodus 6:12 kjv: “Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?”
  • v. 30: “And Moses said before the Lord, ‘Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?’ ”
  • Unfortunately, Moses’ declaration about his lips being uncircumcised doesn’t come through clearly in most modern translations. For example, the nasb renders this phrase “uncircumcised lips” as “unskilled in speech,” while the niv gives it out as “I speak with faltering lips.” In these cases, the translators’ desire to offer the passage “in plain English” deprives readers of a depth of meaning.

Uncircumcised Hearts

The Lord makes it plain that we have uncircumcised hearts:

  • God speaks of uncircumcised hearts. (Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:6-9)
  • God Commands His people:
    • “Circumcise your heart!” (Deuteronomy 10:16)
    • “Circumcise yourselves…Remove the foreskins of your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:4)

In Deuteronomy 30:6, God makes a tremendous promise about this very thing: “I will circumcise your heart…to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

This is all in line with New Testament teaching, because there the Scriptures teach us about inner circumcision by the Holy Spirit:

  1. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.
  2. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit….
  3. Romans 2:28-29

Heart circumcision, therefore, is for New Testament believers, and it is something done by the Holy Spirit. But what is that inner, spiritual “foreskin” that is cut off in spiritual circumcision? It is the sin nature. Paul explains this in Colossians 2:11 niv

In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ…

What is cut off, stripped off—circumcised!—is the sin nature and all it harbors. The circumcising is done by Christ, as a part of our salvation in Him (vv. 12-14). The sin nature is circumcised away and nailed to the Cross.

Getting Things Out of Order

It seems that God’s normal procedure follows the testimony of the old-time Azusa Street saints: “Praise God, I’m saved, sanctified, and baptized in the Holy Ghost!” Theologians speak of the ordo salutis, that is, the “order of salvation”:

  1. Salvation: conviction, repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration (New Birth);
  2. Sanctification: God dealing with the Sin Nature, purifying our heart, making us holy; and,
  3. Holy Spirit Baptism: power from on high.

In their personal spiritual journey and experience, many of my readers will have skipped straight from “Step 1” above to “Step 3.” Many live with the sense of “something missing” in their hearts. They still constantly wrestle with their “old man,” their sin nature, and haven’t much to show in the way of spiritual victory. There has been little lasting change or power in their lives after the initial excitement of receiving “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” and speaking in tongues.

For the majority of them, this won’t be because they have rejected Step 2; rather it will be either because they have received no teaching on the subject, or they will have received poor, watered-down, or altogether incorrect teaching on sanctification. They have not been taught their history, namely that in the early days of the Pentecostal movement there was a clear understanding that the Holy Spirit only fills sanctified—holy!—hearts, hearts that have been circumcised, made free from Sin.3 Nor have they heard the “full gospel” preached to them, that Jesus Christ is able to “save them to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25) and that “the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (not just sins; 1 John 1:7).

Circumcision Restored:
Joshua and Jesus Put Things Back in Order

These hungry believers will receive comfort, instruction, and guidance from Joshua 5:2-9, our starting passage, because it, too, depicts a type from which we can learn. How are we to understand God’s illustration at Gibeath-haaraloth?

Like so many of my readers, these Israelites who crossed over Jordan to claim their promised inheritance had a relationship with God, but in a very significant way, they were lacking the sign of being fully obedient to God’s covenant—circumcision. For whatever reasons, circumcision (God’s type of heart sanctification) had not been practiced during the forty years in the wilderness (5:4-7). For more reasons that we can address in this article, the proclamation and experience of heart-circumcision —sanctification—has been almost completely missing from the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century church. Few are in the experience, and fewer still know that this gift of God is available to them, or how much value God places on it. And, like the men encamped at Gilgal the day God spoke to Joshua, modern believers find their spiritual progress blocked.

In that day, God confronted His people through the person of Joshua, and Joshua (Yeshua) is a type of Jesus. Today, as then, God confronts His people in the person of Jesus, commanding heart-circumcision for His people before they can effectively engage the enemy, conquer their spiritual territory, and claim their spiritual inheritance. God’s command to us is: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; 11:44; 20:26). A believer is either “wrestling with his sin nature” or he is holy; to assume that both states can coexist is to misunderstand sanctification.

Cover of Jim Kerwin's message 'Circumcision: God's Picture of Sanctification'Available in e-book format for
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In Joshua’s time, the circumcision of all the males from eight days old to old age (excepting Joshua and Caleb, who were old enough to have been circumcised before the Exodus from Egypt) created a literal hill of foreskins (or Gibeath-haaraloth in Hebrew; Joshua 5:3), upwards of a million of them (based on Numbers 26, verse 51 with verse 62, and factoring in the “twenty years old and upward” of verse 4). There is a sense in which God loves for us to see the hill of Calvary as a Gibeath-haaraloth as well, for on that hill Jesus died not only to save us from sins and their penalty, but from Sin itself. In order for today’s Church to go forward into the blessing and glory, the “Canaan” they claim God wants to give them, their Joshua—the Lord Jesus Himself—must move in revival power through His Holy Spirit, bringing repentance for sin, and imparting faith for deliverance from Sin. It is from a Hill of Foreskins, a Holy Ghost move in which God’s people are deeply, thoroughly, and permanently circumcised from their old nature, their carnal mind, their indwelling sin, that a revived, holy, spiritual Church can move forward in God’s power in these last days. It is after Gilgal (literally Rolling; Joshua 5:9), where the Lord declares, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt [a type of the world] from you,” with hearts freshly circumcised, with the reproach of the love of the world removed from our souls, that we can observe our “Passover” in a new and deeper way (v. 10). Something about this process also changes the source of our spiritual sustenance (v. 11), weaning us from wilderness manna and preparing us to partake of the fruit of the inheritance God has reserved for us.

The “First and Great” Promise of the Promised Land

Well, what about you, dear reader? Have you entered the “Promised Land” with an uncircumcised (unsanctified) heart, still wrestling with your Sin nature? Then let these types—of Gilgal, Gibeath-haaraloth, and circumcision itself—move your heart to seek God in faith for full salvation as it is in Jesus, our glorious Joshua.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Will you obey the living God, the Savior from sin? Then listen to His orders:

  • “Circumcise your heart!” (Deuteronomy 10:16)
  • “Circumcise yourselves…Remove the foreskins of your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:4)

What is your track record concerning:

  • hearing God (with circumcised ears)?
  • speaking for Him (with circumcised lips)?
  • loving God with ALL your heart (that is, with a circumcised heart)?

Yes, what about that “first and great commandment” (as Jesus calls it in Matthew 22:37-38) to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)? If you are an honest Christian (or seeking to become one), you may well say, “Oh, I want to love God with all my heart!  But how can I do it? I have tried and failed so many times.” You will find that God turns the first and great commandment into a glorious, fulfilled, “first and great” promise—“You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with all your might”! How does He do it? By heart circumcision! Hear God’s answer to your cry of “How, Lord?!”

“The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Amen! Heavenly Father, let the “blood of Jesus Christ Your Son cleanse us from all sin.” May the Holy Spirit make us holy before You, not just in theory, but in whole-heart-purifying reality! We beseech You for once-for-all circumcised hearts; for a real-life outworking of Your wonderful types of Gilgal, Gibeath-haaraloth, and circumcision; and for the ability to live free from the dominion of Sin, with hearts wholly devoted to loving You and serving You with every fiber of our being. We ask this for Jesus’ sake.



  1. Copyright © 2010 Jim Kerwin
  2. Image is copyrighted and used under license from helenfield / 123RF Stock Photo.
  3. A much more detailed account of this history and teaching is given in the author’s book, The Rejected Blessing, available for sale in paperback and e-book versions, and freely available to read at https://finestofthewheat.org/trbonline.

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