Monday, January 10, 2011

Bullinger and Circumcision – a Sign of Justification by Faith or Justification by Law?

In sermon 3vi of The Decades Bullinger deals with the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. It is this sermon that has the most extended comment on the covenant – but the context is justification by faith alone.

Many people continue to misread Bullinger and, therefore, wrongly read synergism into his writings. In speaking about circumcision as a sign of the covenant bond between God and His people, Bullinger emphasizes the grace of God in working out spiritual circumcision in the hearts of His chosen people. Bullinger underlines the fact that Abraham received God’s righteousness through faith before he was circumcised (citing Romans 4:11) and then continues as follows:

“Lo here, Abraham’s circumcision was a sign that God by his grace had justified Abraham; which justification he received by faith before his circumcision: which is an argument, that they which believe, though they be not circumcised, are nevertheless justified with faithful Abraham; and again, that the Jews, which are circumcised, are justified of God by faith. And for that cause was circumcision given in the very body of man, that he might bear in his body the league of God, and be thereby admonished that he is justified by grace through faith.” (Parker Edition p175)

The Latin is:

En circuncisio Abrahe erat signaculum, quod dues gratia sua iustificarat Abraham, quam iustificationem fide receperat et receperat quidem, antequam circuncideretur in argumentum, quod qui praeputiati credunt, iustificantur cum fideli Abraham et rursus, qui circunciduntur Iudaei, sciant se per fidem iustificari a deo. Ideoque dabatur cicumcisio in ipsum hominis corpus, ut in corpore gereret foedus dei admonereturque gratia per fidem se iustificari. . (Peter Opitz, Sermonum Decades, p349)

The modern German is:

Die Bescheidung Abraham war das Siegel dafür, dass Gott Abraham durch seine Gnade gerechtgesprochen hatte. Diese Rechtfertigung hatte er durch den Glauben emfangen, und zwar vor der Beschneidung, zum Zeichen dafür, dass auch die, die in unbeschnittenem Zustand glauben, zusammen mit dem gläubingen Abraham gerechtgesprochen werden und damit auch die Juden, die beschnitten wurden, wüssten, dass sie von Gott durch den Glauben gerechtgesprochen werden. Deshalb wurde di Beschneidung am Leib des Menschen vorgenommen, damit er am eigenen Leib den Bund mit Gott trage und daran erinnert werde, dass er aus Gnade durch den Glauben gerechtfertigt wird. (Heinrich Bullinger Schriften, TVZ 2006, vol 4, p11)

Bullinger’s understanding of the parallel between circumcision and baptism becomes clearer from this passage. Both are signs of God’s grace as well as justification by faith alone.

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