CIRCUMCISION vs. BAPTISM
“See to it that no one makes a prey of you through philosophy (διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας) and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2: 8-12)
The “philo-sophy” or “love of wisdom” talked about here is the human kind of “wisdom” that was not “according to Christ.” He, the God-Man, brought us Wisdom incarnate, in Whom “the whole fulness of deity dwells,” outrageously for ancient thinking, “bodily.” For ancient philosophy, the body and the rest of the material world were the seat of all evil. But for the chosen people in particular, the human body was also the seat of all hope for the future, because of its capacity for procreation. There was no other “future” for us, except through procreation, before the Lord’s Resurrection.
Thus the physical circumcision “spoke” to the chosen people before the coming of Christ and descent of His Spirit in the symbolic terms they could understand: It “symbolized” their fidelity to God both vis-à-vis the evil in this world and their future aspirations. That’s why God chose the physical circumcision as the “sign” or “symbol” of the covenant with His people (Gen 17: 11).
In the New Covenant “of His blood” (Lk 22:20), we have a new “sign” of belonging to Him, in the baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3: 11) extended to all. It is understandable to us in light of the “tongues as of fire,” which rest upon “all” those gathered at Pentecost (Acts 2) and called to a new kind of birth and birth-giving, in and of the Holy Spirit. Today I embrace this “circumcision made without hands,” received in baptism, as the invisible sign of my new, life-giving capacities in Him.