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Paul says in Romans 9:7-8

7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

And Galatians 3:16 says

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

But if the promise to Abraham and his offspring was for Christ or us as believers, why was circumcision, if it was the sign of the covenant, given to Abraham’s physical offspring, since they’re not part of the Abrahamic covenant?

My best guess right now is that the promise in Genesis 12 has some double-fulfillment features going on, like 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 7.

As an alternative to a direct answer, links to helpful related articles or books would also be appreciated.

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  • Welcome to SE-Christianity. Good question : up-voted and answered. Please have a look at the Tour and the Help (below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 3 at 3:42
  • An interesting Q, and of some import, Peter. I'm just a bit confused as to what you meant with "...Abraham’s physical offspring, since they’re not part of the Abrahamic covenant?" All his natural descendants through Isaac were included in the covenant, though the New Covenant in Christ moved from physical to spiritual, including all Gentiles who came to faith in Christ, "the seed". But that did not rule out physical Jews who also came to faith in Christ, is how I understand it. But maybe I've misunderstood you!
    – Anne
    Oct 3 at 16:23
  • Sorry to spanner your works and while it does admit to both interpretations, I suggest Mr Average English reader will see 'Abraham and (to) his offspring…' as plural unless there are specific clues to a particular use being singular. When 'offspring' is singular it necessarily refers to an only child of the first generation. In that context even tiny changes, as from '… and to his offspring…' into “And to your offspring…' can magnify their meaning out of all proportion. Oct 4 at 12:35

2 Answers 2

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The physical removal of a piece of flesh is a ritual that has symbolic meaning. It was instituted in Abraham after, and the timing is important, after the birth of his son Ishmael who was not to be Abraham's heir and was not the seed of promise.

Ishmael was born as a result of Sarah and Abraham attempting to fulfil God's will by natural means. There was a promise :

Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. [Genesis 13:14,15 KJV],

but how should that promise be fulfilled ? : for they were both aged and time was not on their side. And Sarah had, thus far, been barren.

So, by expediency, Sarah gave to Abraham her servant, to be his wife.

But after the expediency of nature had not achieved the will of God, God commanded Abraham to circumcise both himself and his first son, born of Hagar.

Thereafter, Abraham conceived seed by the heretofore barren Sarah, a thing not possible by nature, she being past the age of conception.

Thus the demonstration being set forth is that the conception which fulfils God's will and purpose in humanity (the world to come and a population to fill it) is not by the reproduction of flesh. The flesh is cut off (as it were).

By the symbolic removal of a piece of extraneous flesh, associated intimately with natural reproduction, a spiritual truth is being set forth.

Of course, once Christ came, once the promises of God were fulfilled in Him, once the reality of regeneration by the Holy Spirit brought in the church, a body of persons in whom God dwells, then was there no more need of the sign of circumcision and the practice ceased (see Acts in several places and the entire epistle to the Galatians).

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    "the conception which fulfils God's will and purpose in humanity is not by the reproduction of flesh." +1 Oct 3 at 11:49
  • @MikeBorden Sounds a little Gnostic
    – qxn
    Oct 4 at 2:48
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    @qxn The Gospel clearly declares what God's purpose is in creation. And the Gospel clearly declares how Deity achieved that purpose through the righteousness of God.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 4 at 10:05
  • 1
    @qxn The conception of Jesus in the virgin's womb by the Holy Spirit is hardly Gnostic. Oct 4 at 11:59
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Good Question This can be confusing, and so it needs clarification. It is true that both children of Abraham were to be circumcised, and they were, as are all descendants of Abraham. And this was a sign of the Covenant God made with Abraham.

But when Paul wrote that children of the flesh were not children of God, he was referring to the historical fact that Abraham got out of God's will with having a child by Sarah's handmaiden in a hurry up to fulfill the Promise of a son (Ishmael). The true Son of Promise was Isaac. And so the true children of God are those who follow the real Promised son, Issac (metaphorically, Romans 9:7-8) Not those who merely follow the Law externally; but those who place Faith in Jesus, and live by that faith.

The other reference, Galatian 3:16, is a different message, and these two scriptures can't be mixed together. Here Paul is making the point that the utmost intent, the real purpose of the Covenant with Abraham, was to bring Christ into the world through Whom the whole world would be blessed!

The whole story of choosing a patriarch (and the Jewish nation) was to provide a vehicle to bring the Messiah into the world at the right time. This is the Incarnation of Jesus. (Galatians 4:4) For God so loved the World that He gave His only Son... To put this in perspective, read the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), the prophecy of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79), and the Announcement of the Angels (Luke 2:10-12)

Keep searching out the Word; it's great for the soul!

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