We will answer your good questions in the order that you asked them. The first mention of circumcision in the Bible is in Genesis 17:9-11, which explains to us the significance of circumcision. “And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and IT SHALL BE A SIGN OF THE COVENMENT BETWEEN ME AND YOU’” (NKJV). The rite of CIRCUMCISION (where a male child’s foreskin was “cut off”) was a SIGN that Abraham and his descendants were in a COVENANT RELATIONSHIP with God. It did not save the soul, but it did set them apart to God outwardly as His chosen people.

Is it a must? Again, circumcision was a physical sign that God gave to the people of Israel to show that they were His chosen, earthly people, a people who were to be separated from the nations around them and a witness to those nations of the One true God. The “cutting off of the foreskin” thus illustrated their “separation from the nations.” So, it was indeed a MUST for a male Israelite to be circumcised to show that they were indeed in a place of outward blessing in this special covenant relationship to God.

What does it mean if a person is not circumcised? I trust you have already seen that circumcision was limited to Abraham and his descendants; in other words, to Jews who make up the nation of Israel. It was never meant for Gentiles, so it is not required that a Gentile be circumcised. Having said that, many Gentiles do have their baby boys circumcised at birth for health benefits, but it has no spiritual benefits.

When we come to the New Testament we see that there were zealous Jews who were trusting in circumcision for the salvation of their souls and they were even teaching Gentiles that they had to be circumcised to be saved. In Acts 15:1 we read, “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” As we saw circumcision had NOTHING to do with being saved (from the penalty of your sins), so to trust in circumcision was a fatal error. As you read on in Acts 15 you see that the church at Jerusalem had a special council to take up this issue and they concluded that their Gentile brethren did not have to be circumcised at all and that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through some outward rite. Peter’s words in verses 7-11 teach this clearly and emphatically: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, who do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

The apostle Paul condemns the adding of circumcision for salvation in Galatians 5:1-2, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” In short, Paul is saying, “If you add circumcision to the finished work of Christ on the cross, Christ’s work will not save you.” You often hear people say, “Christ did His part and now I must do mine.” Wrong! Christ said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and if you add anything to that work, such as circumcision, baptism, confirmation, keeping the Ten Commandments, etc., you will not be saved. (330.3) (DO)