Circumcision and Women
When God appointed circumcision as the sign of the covenant in Abraham's day, circumcision was intended to signify the covenant that existed between God and his people as a whole, not just between God and the individual that was circumcised. Genesis 17:9-11 indicates that when the males were circumcised, the entire nation was counted as bearing the sign of the covenant. This is a little hard to see in many English translations, but in places like verse 11, the pronoun "you" is plural. This is consistent with the way select groups frequently represented the entire nation throughout the Old Testament. Kings represented the nation in international relations and in dealings with God; priests represented the people before God in the tabernacle and temple; the men that attended the annual festivals represented the whole nation. Of course, the one who was circumcised was also part of that covenant people, and so the sign did represent his inclusion in God's covenant people. But circumcision was never reduced to signifying only that person's membership in the covenant. Since females were part of the nation, they were counted as bearing the covenant sign through the representation of the circumcised males.
When baptism replaced circumcision as the covenant sign, the covenant sign continued to represent the covenant between God and his people as a whole, not just between God and the individual that was baptized. However, it was applied equally to males and females. There were obvious physical reasons not to apply circumcision to females in the Old Testament, but there were no physical barriers to females receiving gracious and honorable covenant sign of baptism.
The shift from a sign that was applied exclusively to males to a sign that included both males and females may also have reflected a shift in the distribution of covenant blessings. In the Old Testament, males were assigned greater covenant blessings than females. So, we might see in circumcision an indication of the superior rank of males within the covenant. But in the fuller revelation of the New Testament, we find that both males and females obtain the blessings of the covenant only through their union with Christ. In him, we are all counted as that one free, male, circumcised Jew named Jesus of Nazareth, who perfectly kept God's covenant and inherited all its blessings (Gal. 3:26-29; Phil. 3:3ff.; Col. 3:11).
Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.