Part Four

by A.E. Knoch

WALK is the keynote of the salvation of the Circumcision (Gen.17:2). This is in crass contrast to the salvation of the Uncircumcision, which had been revealed to Abram at first (Gen.15:6). There it was FAITH. But Abram had failed to believe as fully as he should have done. He still had confidence in the flesh. This must be destroyed. Therefore it is that Yahweh said to him, "Walk before Me, and become flawless. To me this now seems an impossible, a dreadful load. But to Abraham and to most of the saints, it is just such a task as they like, and for which they feel quite competent. The whole evangel of the Circumcision is based upon their fearful ignorance of themselves and their overweening confidence in their ability to please God to perfection. Even in my spiritual infancy I could not see why God should demand perfection of Abram. No one could fulfill that! Certainly Abraham did not! Why, then, demand the impossible? I did not see then that God did not intend that Abraham should succeed. He intended that he should fail, and thus lose the confidence he still had in his flesh, and place it in the Deity.

This is the essential distinction between the two evangels. God wants us to trust Him unreservedly and implicitly. He does not want us to trust in ourselves. He does not expect perfection in the keeping of a covenant, or a law, for that would lead to the very reverse of His intention. Only their failure will teach them their utter lack and His all-sufficiency. Of course He could not reveal this intention of His to them, or the demonstration would have been fruitless. This not only explains the failures of Abraham and the patriarchs, but the threefold apostasy of the nation, as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures (Isa.6), in the "gospels," and in the book of Acts. They walked before Him very imperfectly indeed! Yet, in so doing, they have manifested to the world that the creature is impotent and sinful and offensive apart from the Creator. Man needs God, not only to create him, but to save him and to keep him. When this has been learned by bitter experience, men will be ready to recognize God as their All, and thus attain the goal of the eons.

The friend of God had a taste of both of these salvations, for he was justified by faith (Gen.15:5; Rom.4; Gal.3) and also by works (Gen.17:1; James 2:21-24). One was before he was circumcised, and apart from it. The other was sealed by circumcision. In the first, Abram did nothing but believe God, and righteousness was reckoned to him unconditionally, apart from works. In the second he is exhorted to walk before God, and be flawless, so that there should be a covenant between him and God, to make him a father of many nations. Let us not confuse the latter phrase with his faith fatherhood of many believers among the nations. Here he is not the father of the nations as such, but only of a few individuals who have faith chosen out of the nations.


The name Abram (Abrm) comes from the Hebrew stems, ab (FATHER) and rm (HIGH). Abraham (with the h) is just the same except that an e is inserted Abrem. This implies the addition of another stem, making Ab (FATHER), r(m) (HIGH), and em (CLAMOR or throng). One of the m's is dropped in combining. Others derive it from Ab (FATHER), rb (GREAT), and em (throng). The difference is not much or vital, for (GREAT) and (HIGH), are both used as a faded figure merely to magnify the idea. Abram is the personal name, while Abraham unites him with descendants by including the stem THRONG. This corresponds to the two salvations. One is individual, the other national. Contrary to the usual idea, we are associated with Abram, not Abraham. The earlier part of his life, before his circumcision, is associated with the nations. The later enlargement was given in order to connect him with his physical seed.

I well remember listening with rapt attention to a brother who sought to show the difference between Abram and Abraham. His thought was that the letter h was inserted in Abrm in order to indicate the addition of the holy spirit! Of course this would not be known to Abraham himself, or Paul, because neither the Hebrew nor the Greek has a letter h. The Greek simply doubles the a, Abraam. The Hebrew inserts an e, which is commonly mistaken for an h. As we have seen, it adds the element THRONG to the name. Besides, the name Abram is connected with faith and righteousness. It is the spiritual name, rather than Abraham, which is not used until walk, with physical and national blessing, is in view. In Uncircumcision it is Abram. Since this distinction is not observed in the Greek Scriptures, it is very difficult to carry it out, so we use Abraham, as a rule, to denote the man, apart from these distinctions. But in these studies we will try to keep the names separate.


It is in this light that we must view the rite of circumcision. It is the sign of the covenant which characterizes the salvation of the Circumcision. After promising the land to Abraham and his seed, God goes on to confirm it by the covenant of circumcision (Gen.17:9-14).

The significance of this sign is almost totally overlooked. In it God gives a foreview of the result of the demonstration He is giving. It signifies the futility of the flesh. As this small sample of the flesh is snipped off, so would God have us deal with the flesh in its entirety. This sign ought to have opened their eyes to the failure of the flesh, which has been fully demonstrated since Abraham's day by no other group of the race as thoroughly as by the Circumcision. Let us note in passing that it is not intended for all mankind, but only the throng of nations who have descended from Abraham.


Just as Abram's experience from his call to his justification by faith is the key to the evangel of the uncircumcision and righteousness by faith; so his further experience up to the time he received the rite of circumcision prepares us to understand the evangel of the Circumcision and righteousness by works. It is based on the failure of the faith and the activity of the flesh. Instead of waiting for Isaac, the promised son by the freewoman Sarai, he generates Ishmael by Hagar, the slave. This brings bondage, in which we find walk, and a covenant, and the sign of circumcision without in place of faith within (Gen.16,17).

The actual acts of Abram which preceded his justification by faith were all righteous when reviewed in the light of God's rights and purpose. His faith in God's declarations had kept him from all wrong. But his, walk which led up to his circumcision was wrong, because it was not founded on faith, but on the flesh. And, indeed, circumcision is a sign of this, for why should the flesh be cut off if it is righteous? Sarai acknowledges that she has done wrong, (Gen.16:5), and that this wrong comes upon Abram. He was wrong in that he hearkened to her advice. The wrong of it is much clearer when we consider how much evil it brought upon Abraham and his descendants. It brought immediate suffering on Sarai and Hagar.


We are the real, the genuine Circumcision, because we offer divine service to God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in flesh. The so-called Circumcision are only a Maimcision, for they merely mutilate the flesh, and lack the faith of which circumcision is simply the sign (Phil.3:2-5). They worship God in flesh, and glory in their flesh in direct contradiction to the import of this sign, which consists in the removal, the cutting away of a part of the flesh as a token of the stripping off of the whole. Let us be clear concerning this. We are not the literal Circumcision. We are the figurative Circumcision, the literal Uncircumcision. The fact is that literal circumcision is itself only a sign, an indication, a token, an earnest, a label, in which a small part of the flesh is literally removed to signalize its utter failure and bankruptcy in its entirety. We realize and enjoy that which it merely indicates. We are the real, the genuine Circumcision, even though our flesh is not mutilated as theirs is.

This is the actual, ultimate truth as to circumcision, and should form the basis of our study. We must remember, however, that all revelation previous to this is not written from this standpoint, but in an enigma, and is seen distorted, as in a mirror. Yet even in that earlier unfolding we will find hints and intimations which would have led a spiritually minded saint into the truth. This is clearly suggested before it was given to Abraham, for he was ninety-nine years old and his flesh was dead, so far as fulfilling the promise of God as to the seed was concerned. Abraham knew this, and said as much to God. He wanted to substitute other flesh, as his heir, but God wished to show that all was dependent on Him, and not on flesh at all. So He vivified, invigorated Abraham, gave him life after death, and then insisted on a sign of this, to keep it in continual remembrance, by cutting off a part of the flesh.

If a descendant of Abraham were spiritually minded, he would have deduced thus: I am supposed to be the literal seed of Abraham, but, in reality, I am not, for Abram had no issue, except Ishmael, until he was physically incapable of propagation. At ninety-nine years he could not have further descendants, and he knew it and acknowledged it. His flesh was beyond hope. I am really a descendant of his faith and of God's vivifying power. This is what my circumcision signifies. Otherwise I would be an Ishmaelite, a product of Abram's unbelieving flesh and a slave girl, doomed to servitude and humiliation...But, alas, few in Israel were humble enough to feel the futility of the flesh.

All that we have that is of any value is in Christ, not in ourselves. Our circumcision also is in Him. Was His circumcision on the eighth day reckoned to us? By no means. That was made by hands, and consisted in cutting off a very small portion of the flesh. His real circumcision came at the cross, when He was cut off from the land of the living, and His flesh as a whole was stripped off and laid in the tomb. In Him, at that time, we stripped off the body of flesh (Col.2:11). This brings us into the place denoted by circumcision. We possess the spiritual reality of which the physical rite was merely the symbol. Having the thing itself we do not need the label. The label on an empty bottle is of no value. The contents are just as valuable without the label as with it, especially when its qualities are evident by their virtue and potency.


It is of great help to impress upon our hearts, that circumcision is a sign and a seal (Rom.4:9-12). Then we will look beyond for that which it signifies and that which it secures. When we come to consider the case of Abraham, let us note that he had God's righteousness, by faith, long before he was circumcised, the rite did not add to either his faith or his own righteousness. It merely labeled him as one who possessed these things. Abram was secretly reckoned righteous in uncircumcision; but he was openly recognized as righteous by the sign and seal of circumcision. The reckoning was by God and was immanent. The recognition was for men and was superficial.

Our Lord acknowledged that the Jews were Abraham's seed in a physical sense, so also were the Ishmaelites and Esau's descendants. But they claimed Abraham as their father in a much deeper sense than that. He would not acknowledge that they were Abraham's children. That was presumption on their part. God, said He, could rouse such children out of the very stones, which they resembled, for they were hard hearted and lifeless clods of earth (Matt.3:9; Luke 3:8). They were so unlike Abraham in their conduct that they had no right to claim him as their ancestor. They were seeking to kill their own Messiah. Imagine Abram doing this! By their works they proved themselves to be descendants of the Adversary, not of Abram. So our Lord said to them, "If you are children of Abraham, did you ever do the works of Abraham" (John 8:31-47)? They had the circumcision on the eighth day, but they not only lacked the faith of which it was the sign and seal, but also the works which perfected it (James 2:22). Abraham offered Isaac by faith; they crucified Christ by unbelief.

I often think of this in connection with a story told by Dr. Weizmann, the Zionist leader, at a Jewish rally that I attended in Los Angeles. It concerned a Russian Jew who sought to escape from that country, who had a false passport. His name was Abraham, but his passport was in some other name, which was thoroughly drilled into him, as he could not read. But when he came to the border he was too excited to remember anything. They asked him his name, and he answered in great agitation: "I don't know! I forget! But I do know that it is not Abraham!" How true that was of all the Jews even Dr. Weizmann did not know. Whatever their name may be, they are not the children of the friend of God, who trusted Him, and not their own arm. The Jews present (I was the only Gentile, so far as I know) were like that poor fellow. They collected money to buy Palestine, the land that was given to Abram and his seed! They were not even Jacob. He would not pay out good money to buy his own land!

As a result, Abraham became the father of two distinct classes, one of which the apostle associates with the reckoning of faith righteousness in uncircumcision (to which the saints of the nations today belong) and the father of the Circumcision, but not those who merely have the outward sign and seal, but to those who observe the fundamentals of the faith in the footprints of Abram before he was circumcised. This distinction is vital, if we wish to understand the difference between the evangel of the Circumcision and that of the Uncircumcision. As the apostle explains fully elsewhere, Abram was not the father of those of the Circumcision who did not follow in his steps (Rom.2:25-3:1). This we will consider more fully later. The Uncircumcision know him as their father on the ground of faith alone. The Circumcision may claim him only when they have the faith, the sign, and the walk.

When I first went to Denmark, the saints there were much disturbed by some teaching that had reached them, that Romans was "Jewish" because it brought in Abraham. As soon as I pointed out that it referred to His faith before he was circumcised the whole matter was clear, and they no longer repudiated Romans and other epistles of Paul on such dubious grounds. Abraham before he was circumcised was certainly not one of the Circumcision. The faith that he then had was the ground of blessing which made him the father of the Uncircumcision who believe, apart from works. He was certainly not a Jew, a descendant of his great grandson, Judah, or of his grandson Jacob, who, later, were all called "Jews," when they associated with the descendants of Judah as worshipers of Yahweh.

As circumcision is only an outward sign, its benefits are limited to those who have the corresponding inward reality. Those who walk flawlessly before God will be benefitted, but those who do not keep His law are practically uncircumcised. They are like an empty jar with a label. The label only misleads if the contents are gone. Another jar containing that which the label indicates, even if it has no label, is the real thing. Not only are the Uncircumcision who believe the real Circumcision (Phil.3:2,3), but the Jew who is circumcised in heart, in spirit not literally in the flesh is the genuine Circumcision. Nevertheless the outward sign entitled them to benefits not to be despised, the chief of which was that they became the repositories of God's revelation (Rom.2).


Circumcision lays an obligation on all who have it far beyond their capacity to pay. It is like a label guaranteeing that the whole law has been observed. Anyone who uses it thereby advertises his ability to get along without Christ and His sacrifice. Circumcision is the real falling "from" grace. It is a fearful load to take upon ourselves, when God has not laid it upon us. No one can live up to this label. It must inevitably lead to the curse that rests upon all who fail to fulfill the least item of God's law. So blind were the Jewish "believers" in Paul's day that they insisted that circumcision was necessary for the nations for their salvation! Rather it clinched their condemnation.

The needlessness of circumcision for the nations is repeatedly emphasized by Paul in his epistles. It is so unimportant that it is not even worth the trouble to get rid of it. Each one is to remain as he was when God called him, either circumcised or uncircumcised. We ignore external nonessential labels and recognize only internal essential realities! For the Circumcision it is a precept of God to be kept. For us circumcision is nothing (1 Cor.7:17-20). In Christ Jesus neither circumcision is availing anything nor uncircumcision, but faith, operating through love (Gal.5:6). In Him there is a new creation (Gal.6:15). It was the self righteous Pharisees who opposed Paul and insisted on circumcision and law keeping (Acts 15:5; 21:21). Not having God's righteousness, they sought to make one of their own, and managed to make the opposite.

The question of circumcision for the Uncircumcision was the cause of much grief and conflict during the early ministry of the apostle Paul due to the fact that circumcision was the hall-mark of Yahweh's people. When Paul returned to Antioch after his first missionary journey, the Jews, especially some from Judea, opposed him violently because he had not made proselytes nor had them circumcised nor put them under the law. The commotion became so severe that the matter was referred to the apostles in Jerusalem. Peter seems to have been the only one among the Circumcision who had any sympathy with Paul's position. Even he would not have understood if he had not been prepared by means of the vision which he saw at Joppa, and had not seen God's hand in dealing with Cornelius (Acts 10).

Paul in his epistles, tells us far more about circumcision than any other inspired writer, even though he is the apostle of the Uncircumcision. This is due to the fact that the true intent of the rite was not understood, and that religious unbelievers still clung to their own flesh and its works. Once we see the great contrast between Abram and Abraham, between faith and works, between God's righteousness and man's, between Paul's evangel and Peter's, our hearts will be filled with exultation that we did not receive a probationary pardon which depends upon our deeds, but were justified by grace apart from works dependent entirely upon faith in God. We are weak and wanting. He is the All-Sufficient!

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