by Jack Hoehn

God commanded circumcision of his ancient church.1   Cutting short the male foreskin was symbolic of submitting to God’s control our powers of creation, or procreation.  Before circumcision Sarah proposed and Abraham accepted a creation scheme using an Egyptian slave girl to be the vessel of the promised Seed.  But human schemes exploiting a slave’s body were not satisfactory for salvation’s plan so God’s original creation in Abraham and his male descendants was to be cut with a knife, and the little scar was to mark the penance of believers. 

For over a thousand years Adam’s carefully designed foreskin became Abraham’s artificially shortened foreskin for all male believers and their wives.   It was the distinguishing mark of obedience to God’s holy law.  God’s enemies were the un-shortened.  David has nothing but scorn for his enemy, that “uncircumcised Philistine” giant.2


Jesus himself was circumcised. (See figure 1)    The young ram without spot and blemish, actually had one small blemish.  And medieval altars painting the key events of the gospel story for illiterate Christians often include a panel showing Die Beschneidung  (The Cutting or Circumcision) of the 8 day old Messiah as a vital part of that story.  As children partake of flesh and blood, so it became the Author of our Salvation to be like unto them in all things, including the marks or scars of sin, only without sin.3

Figure 1–The Beschneidung. 
Photo taken of Medieval Church  Art, Louvre, Paris.

So the 1st century followers of Jesus of Nazareth in church headquarters in Jerusalem were sure that “if it was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for the rest of us.”  It was “clearly the teaching of the Bible” that the foreskin of all male believers had to be short.  Yes, we were to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every nation, but part of that gospel had to be the Bible and its undeniable teachings on circumcision, didn’t it?

Is it surprising that certain believers from the headquarters of the church were sent out by leading brethren (how more leading could you get than Jesus brother, James?) to teach that Christians of every nation had to get “back to the Bible”, back to the clear teaching in this immoral world, that there was only one length of foreskin suitable for believers—short.4


And then there was Paul.  Himself with the proper length foreskin, mind you, teaching that length of foreskin was not a pillar of the faith.  That long foreskins and short foreskins could both be good Christians, that it was peripheral and not central.  And that those trying to enforce it as central were actually doing harm to the church.    Ellen White writes that Paul’s circumcising opponents considered he was preaching “daring blasphemy”!5

Why was opposition to circumcision as a condition of belief in Christ such an important issue for St. Paul and for the growth of the Christian church?  Because it was not essential.  A short foreskin may have been good, Biblical, and God ordained, traditional and the previous universal belief of the godly,  but it was not central, vital, pivotal.  The length of the foreskin, long or short, should not be allowed to be a hindrance to membership in the Christian church.  And enforcing belief in a short foreskin could have killed the growth of Christianity.

James Stalker in his 1912 Life of Paul, writes that if the burden of the circumcisers to enforce their dogma on the entire Christian church had not been stopped by the crushing force of Paul’s polemics against them, “Christianity would have been a river lost in the sands of prejudiced near its very source; it would have been at the present day a forgotten Jewish sect instead of the religion of the world.”6

You know why I am writing.  I think that the attempt to enforce a short chronology for creation is the modern equivalent of enforcing circumcision on new gentile converts.   I don’t think that believing in a short chronology of life on earth is spiritually wrong, but I think that enforcing that chronology on others is spiritually wrong.


Actually as a physician I am strongly in favor of male circumcision.  I and my sons are circumcised.  And there is no single better way of preventing the acquisition of HIV/AIDs by males in this dangerous world than having all  boys circumcised.  Universal male circumcision is in fact promoted by the World Health Organization as the present best way, next to abstinence, of fighting male HIV/AIDs transmission.7

Every SDA church in Africa and likely the rest of the world should be promoting male infant circumcision as an Adventist health message as much as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.  But the length of the foreskin should be a scientific and hygienic issue, not a church membership issue.


Likewise the length of the geologic history of this Created earth, short time or long time, can be an important issue, but it should be a scientific question, not a church membership question. 

If from the Adventist church headquarters influential leaders send out messages in the Review demanding a short chronology as the only acceptable understanding of Genesis 1 for Adventists, then we need Sauls and Pauls to point out that short chronology and long chronology is not a key issue, any more than long foreskins or short foreskins was.  It can be a scientific question, but should not be a religious question, and surely not a church membership question. 

Otherwise Adventism demanding a circumcised, short creation: “would become a river lost in the sands of prejudice very near to its source.  It would soon become a forgotten Christian sect, instead of the religion of the world.”

1 Genesis 17:11, the command to circumcise.
2 1 Samuel 17:26, of Goliath.
3 Galatians 2:12
4 Hebrews 2:14,17;4:15
5 E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, page 390, “(Paul’s) emphatic statement, ‘There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision’ was regarded by his enemies as daring blasphemy…”
6 James L. Stalker, Life of Paul, 1912, paragraph 158.
7 WHO & UNAIDS (2007, 28th March), ‘WHO and UNAIDS announce recommendations from expert meeting on male circumcision for HIV prevention