Circumcision and Salvation - Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6


Deuteronomy 10 says Israel was to circumcise their own hearts, but in Deuteronomy 30 God is seen as the one circumcising the heart. Do we cooperate with God in our salvation?


Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Deuteronomy 30:6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Some suggest from these verses that there is both an active and passive role for humanity in salvation. However this is false. The elect are regenerated by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-10).

In Deuteronomy 7:6-9 Moses says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

Then just prior to Deuteronomy 10:16 in verses 14-15, God reveals his electing covenant love for his own people again. Moses says:

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 10:16 speaks about what Israel should do as God's covenant people. Looking at verse 16 in its fuller context, we see Scripture clearly states that because of God's love, elect Israel was supposed to circumcise their hearts (Deut. 6:6-7; Jer. 13:11). They were supposed to live like covenant people! (Lev. 11:44; 20:6; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; 2:9; 2 Pet. 1:5-11, etc.).

God alone is the author of salvation, just as he alone is the creator of the whole universe ("To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it" - vs. 14). Israel is not to circumcise themselves to save themselves (an impossible salvation of works); rather, they should circumcise themselves because God's empowering electing covenant love has been set upon them (Deut. 7:6-9). God's electing love is also the efficient cause in Deuteronomy 30:6 - so they could love God with all their heart and souls, and thus live.

The absolute inability to save ourselves is taught throughout Scripture (Eph. 2:1). God reveals our inability in such texts as Deuteronomy 6:5, where God calls for absolute devotion. He says:

Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This "all...all...all" devotion is seen in the New Testament (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; cf. Deut. 10:12-13; Mic. 6:8) using such words as all our heart, soul, mind, strength, understanding, body. This "all...all...all" is the language of utter devotion. God does not demand mere outward obedience to a law, but the complete devotion, loyalty, and commitment of whole person (Prov. 23:26). Can you do this?

Do you say such devotion is impossible? By yourself, yes, but not with God (Matt. 19:25-26). God at times tells us to do things we cannot do so we will see our true condition and need (Rom. 3:19-20; 7:13; Gal. 3:24). Isaiah says to seek the Lord while he may be found (Isa. 55:6), but Jesus says that no one will come to him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 65). Do you see the tension? Ezekiel commands that we make for ourselves new hearts (Ezek. 18:31), but he also says that God will take away the heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). This tension is a common theme in Scripture to reveal our need of Christ.

Our "all...all...all" failure exposes our total inability so that grace may fill and mercy may heal. It reveals our need of the only Redeemer, Christ Jesus the Lord.

As with Christians today (2 Tim. 2:24-26), God had to replace the total inability and stubbornness of the elect (Rom. 2:28-19; 9:6) of Israel (Deut. 5:29; 10:16; 29:4) with humility and repentance (Deut. 30:1-2). This is through Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-10). Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6 (cf. Jer. 4:4) do not speak of one saving himself by circumcising one's own heart. True circumcision is "of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (Rom. 2:29).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).