Circumcision in the Early Christian Church: The Controversy That Shaped a Continent

  • Gregory AdamsEmail author
  • Kristina Adams


After the death of Jesus, followers of the new Christian religious movement struggled to define both their mission and identity as a distinct faith community. As the members of this fledgling church grappled with the significance of their Jewish heritage and growing ambition to spread Christianity to Gentiles, circumcision became the divisive issue within the early church. As we will see, this controversy was the driving force in forming Christianity as a distinctly Gentile religion. This allowed Gentile Christians to escape the cultural devastation of the Jewish Diaspora and positioned the religion to become the dominant faith throughout Western Europe. But the debate over circumcision did not end there. Centuries of the greatest leaders, scholars, and artists in Western history continued to ponder the practice of circumcision and its role in Christian spirituality.


Jewish Community Christian Church Covenantal Debt Western History Catholic Tradition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Barclay JM. Paul and philo on circumcision. J New Testament Stud. 1996;44.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Murphy-O’Connor J. Paul: a critical life. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1996.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gollaher David. Circumcision: a history of the World’s most controversial surgery. New York: Basic Books; 2000.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Watson F. Paul, Judiasm, and the gentiles: beyond the new perspective. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2007.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hays R. The conversion of the imagination: Paul as interpreter of Israel’s scripture. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2005.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The Letters of S. Ambrose. Bishop of Milan. Trans­lated by Bouverie, Edward. Oxford: James Parker and Company; 1881.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Steinberg Leo. The sexuality of Christ in renaissance art and modern oblivion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1983.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Meinardus O, Thousand T. Years of Coptic Christianity. New York: The American University in Cairo Press; 1999.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ecumenical Council of Florence, 1438–1445. Available from: (accessed Jul 2010).
  10. 10.
    Hamilton Alastair. The Copts and the west 1439–1822: the European discovery of the Egyptian church. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Code of Canon law. Available from: (accessed Jul 2010).
  12. 12.
    Farley D. For shame. Slate magazine. 20 Oct 2009.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Surgery, Division of UrologyOregon Health Sciences UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Department of TheologyGonzaga UniversitySpokaneUSA
  3. 3.University of PortlandPortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations