Colossians 2:13 NIV

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Paul had earlier on stated that the church of Colosse had been circumcised with a circumcision not perfomed by human hands(heart circumcisiom)

Colossians 2:11 NIV

11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ,

So how could they be dead in the uncircumcision of their flesh.This was seemingly a gentile church and theirs was a heart circumcision rather than a physical circumcision in the flesh.

What does it mean by being dead in the uncircumcision of the flesh?

1 Answer 1


That's a fair point, that the Christians to whom Paul was writing would mainly have been Gentiles who would never had been literally circumcised in the first place. They had, however, been spiritually circumcised in their hearts, which meant they were alive in Christ, their sins forgiven. This does make Paul's statement in Colossians 2:13 seem a bit odd, about "being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh" (A.V.).

This is where knowing the background to why Paul wrote this letter brings clarity. As the NIV Study Bible preface to Colossians states:

"Paul never explicitly describes the false teaching he opposes in the Colossian letter. The nature of the heresy must be inferred from statements he made in opposition to the false teachers. An analysis of his refutation suggests that the heresy was diverse in nature. 1. Ceremonialism. It held to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals (2:16-17) and circumcision (2:11; 3:11)." [Bold, my emphasis]

Other false teachings Paul seems to have dealt with were Asceticism, Angel worship, Deprecation of Christ, Gnosticism, and reliance on human wisdom and tradition.

Paul and Barnabas dealt with the threat of promoters of circumcision trying to get Gentile believers in Christ circumcised in Acts chapter 15. This threat persisted for some time, so that it would be no surprise if Paul had to write to the Gentiles in Colossae about the trap of being circumcised in the flesh. If that is taken as understood, then what he says in the verse in question makes more sense.

Although they may not have had that circumcision, they might yet submit to the knife if those false teachers could persuade them. Paul therefore set out the case for the futility of physical circumcision, which never took sin away, adding that they had already had their sin taken away due to that spiritual circumcision of their hearts. To put it in modern parlance, "It's a no-brainer. You've already been made alive when forgiven due to God 'blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross' (vs.14). Why on earth would you then think physical circumcision could either improve on that, or add to that?"

Here is how Matthew Henry expresses his view of verse 13 in his Commentary, in the language of his day, over 300 years ago:

"It is principally to be understood of the Gentile world, who lay in wickedness: they were dead in the uncircumcision of their flesh, being aliens to the covenant of promise, and without God in the world Eph. 2:11, 12. By reason of their uncircumcision they were dead in their sins. It may be understood of the spiritual uncircumcision or corruption of nature; and so it shows that we are dead in law, and dead in state. Dead in law, as a condemned malefactor is called a dead man because he is under a sentence of death; so sinners by the guilt of sin are under the sentence of the law and condemned already. Jn. 3:18 and dead in state by reason of the uncircumcision of our flesh. An unsanctified heart is called an uncircumcised heart; this is our state. Now through Christ we, who were dead in sins, are quickened [made alive] together with him -by virtue of our union to him, and in conformity to him. Christ's death was the death of our sins; Christ's resurrection is the quickening of our souls." Page 1869

Conclusion: They were dead in sin when they were uncircumcised, and they would remain dead in sin if they became circumcised. The only thing that could take their sin away was that miracle of grace, being given a new, clean heart that now beat for Christ. And that had already happened! Job done! Rejoice in now being out of the shadows by being united to the reality, Christ, by faith.

  • Up-voted +1, but the means of being 'circumcised' in Christ is the death of Christ. The death of the former nature (from Adam). The death of the carnal man, the disobedient humanity, the transgressor of Eden, the chooser of knowledge over life. This death (in Christ) is that to which we are baptised. It us thus that we are crucified with Christ (partaking of his death) and thus that we are made free from sin, under his Headship. This is the being 'circumcised' with Christ : the loss of flesh. That we may live in the Spirit.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25, 2022 at 18:10

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