Circumcision in the O.T. was a commandment that was carried out in a physical fashion. Males had to undergo a literal, physical circumcision of their foreskin. However, in the New Testament the physical aspect of circumcision is abandoned, in favor of a newly acquired spiritual meaning:

Colossians 2:8-14 (ESV):

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Yes, Christians are still expected to be circumcised in the New Testament, but not physically, but spiritually. Circumcision is a clear example in which an O.T. commandment mutates from an old literal physical observance to a new spiritual observance. The physical aspect is dropped, in favor of the new spiritual counterpart.

Question: are there other O.T. commandments that experienced a similar adaptation from 'physical' to 'spiritual' upon entering the New Covenant? Or is circumcision one of a kind in this regard?

  • 1
    . . . . the sabbath.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 13 '21 at 19:17
  • Was that not the whole purpose of all the entire ceremonial system?? Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1, Col 2:16, 17
    – Dottard
    Apr 13 '21 at 20:39
  • Further, did not Jesus do that with most of the commandments in Matt 5, 6, 7??
    – Dottard
    Apr 13 '21 at 20:41
  • This is a theological question, not an exegetical question.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 13 '21 at 21:32
  • See Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4.
    – Lucian
    Apr 30 '21 at 2:14

There are a number of NT examples where a command was given greater spiritual focus--the adaptation is not identical in each case, but Jesus said several times "ye have heard that it was said by them of old", before giving a higher standard.

10 commandments

Two prominent examples from Matthew 5:

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

It's not enough to simply refrain from killing--we should refrain from angry contention.

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

It's not just the outward actions that matter (this was the focus of many in Jesus' day and He called them out for it--see Mark 7:7-9), who we are inside & what we desire matter.

We could walk through most of the 10 commandments and see examples where Jesus showed that the outward demonstrations were missing the mark, including having no other Gods, honoring father and mother, keeping the Sabbath, stealing, coveting.


The new covenant also abolished animal sacrifices (see Hebrews 9:23-28), but Jesus called for a different kind of sacrifice, for example:

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

And from Matthew 23:

11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Jesus again and again called upon people to look beyond outward, showy appearances, and focus on the true desires of the heart.

  • I agree with this answer for the most part. However, it's still unclear to me how the Sabbath is reinterpreted spiritually here. It's true that Jesus addressed several commandments at the sermon on the mount, yet the Sabbath was not part of that list. Are you also of the position that the command to have a literal physical rest has been dropped in favor of a spiritual rest? Apr 13 '21 at 22:14
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator that's a fair question. In the case of the Sabbath I was thinking of Mark 2:23-28 rather than the Sermon on the Mount. It seems to me that Jesus is not abolishing the idea of a day set aside to God, but is definitely refocusing its purpose. You could say that He was taking the concept back to its original purpose without the extensive list of do's and dont's. I think Isaiah 58:13-14 is a nice description of the overall purpose of having a day set aside to God; and I don't see anything in the NT that counters/modifies that passage from Isaiah Apr 13 '21 at 22:44
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator that said, your question hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/53823/… is a reasonable one to ask, and I don't claim to be 100% sure what Paul meant, though the answers posted there are helpful. Apr 13 '21 at 22:45

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