Thinking Anglicans

The Naming & Circumcision

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. Luke 2:21 (NIV)

Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ birth, and only Luke includes both the naming of Jesus and his circumcision. For Luke, it was important that Jesus was accepted as the Messiah, the one whom Isaiah had prophesied about, and that would have required Jesus to have been involved in the obligatory Jewish religious traditions and rituals, including circumcision.

Luke’s version of the angelic pronouncement is what we know as the Annunciation, with the angel Gabriel speaking directly to Mary about the child she will soon be carrying and telling her what she is to name him. Not only was this baby to be given a certain name, Luke emphasises that Jesus had been given his name even before he had been conceived.

It is easy to overlook the extraordinary nature of Luke’s statement, implying God’s pre-knowledge of Jesus and the role he would assume (the name Jesus translated literally means ‘the Lord saves’). Most of us will have read the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and accept that, as one of the Persons of the God we worship as the Holy Trinity, Jesus would have been ‘known’ before he began his life as one of us: God would, of course, know another part of the eternal God-self.

Our understanding of God may also lead us to the conclusion that we have always been known, that we, too, have been both known and ‘named’ before we were conceived. Think of the Psalmist’s meditations on an all-knowing God:

It was you who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works. Psalm 139: 13-14 (NJB)

I can think of no better way to start a New Year than with a fresh realization that we are wholly and deeply known to a loving God, and that, whatever our individual ‘name’ may be, our own unique and distinctive calling which we are continually discovering, if we are Christians, we also walk under the banner of the name of Jesus Christ.

None of us knows what 2012 will hold for us or for anyone else, and my prayer for us all is that we will be able to go forward with boldness and confidence, in the name of Christ:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. From Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Christina Rees


  • Christina’s article here – together with that of Dr.Andrew McGowan on a previous thread – gives ample evidence of a lively faith in the Incarnation of Jesus, as the Virgin-born of Mary His Mother. These two articles certainly challenge the thesis of N.T.Wright (also in a previous thread), questioning the need for a Virgin Birth narrative (cf Matthew and Luke) – seeing this written initiative of God as less important that the story of Christ’s saving death & resurrection.

    The point is, that unless Jesus is seen to have been both divine and human, there might be little value in the soteriological impact of his whole existence.

    So much of God’s economy is unknown to us through our limited human powers of speculation, so that leading theologians really need to think before they speak – lest they upset that delicate balance between the ‘logical’ and the ‘mystical’ – For ‘Nothing is impossible for God’.

    Also, why is that that Tom Wright puts so much emphasis on biblical literalism when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality, but is not prepared to accept a similar possibility of truth about the incarnation of Christ?

  • Laurence C says:

    “why is that that Tom Wright puts so much emphasis on biblical literalism when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality, but is not prepared to accept a similar possibility of truth about the incarnation of Christ?” Fr. Ron Smith

    I imagine it’s because it suits his prejudices to do so.

  • Columba Gilliss says:

    This is strong and lovely but I am sorry that we have lost the emphasis on the Circumcision. The older collect speaks of Jesus’ obedience to the law for Man and, in other traditions this day is The Passion of the Infant Christ, the blood shed on the 8th day foreshadowing that shed on the Cross.
    Columba Gilliss

  • Pluralist says:

    NT Wright writes what he does to try to ‘prove’ it, as if going back to the Jewish is more solid ground. It is all mythic. A resurrection is as mythological as a virgin birth. If instead of trying to trade ‘truth’ – not possible, such history is unavailable (secondary techniques of history are usually about what Jesus might or might not have said) – perhaps it would be better if the cult of personality was turned around to something more about us and where divinity might be found at all:

  • With Columba, I sometimes wonder at the diminution of the revelation that Jesus was subject to Jewish Circumcision. After all, this – together with his need for Baptism at the hands of John The Baptist – certainly affirms Jesus’ allignment with the Jewish prophecies of his Messianic provenance.

    These facts help us Gentiles understand how Jesus’ Jewishness was affirmed – before the redemptive unfolding of His ministry of reconciliation – between the Jewish and Gentile nations under God.

    This makes more understandable the difficulties experienced in the Early Church about Peter’s early insistence on circumcision for converts – before Paul’s newly-acquired teaching on this important change in theological thinking.

    Theology is in constant need of open-ness to correction – even in this day and age. The same Holy Spirit that taught Paul about the need for change from puritanical practices in Judaism, is at work in the Church – as we are open to new revelation about gender and sexuality.

  • John says:

    Pluralist is of course right in his reading of Wright’s piece (that is, that Wright is arguing in favour of the virginal conception).

    On the other point, Father Mark, who knew Wright in Oxford in the 80s, has several times pointed out that Wright then had no apparent problem with the fairly visible gays on the Oxford Anglican scene and that he has challenged Wright on his apparent change of stance, receiving no satisfactory reply from an otherwise verbally incontinent person. If that is so, then what has motivated Wright since those Oxford days is not visceral prejudice, bad as that is, but something far worse: unprincipled opportunism in the pursuit of power. At least now he’s outside the official structures and his capacity for harm is much diminished.

  • Sadly, John; being currently ‘outside of power’ in Churches of the Communion does not seem to inhibit further troublesome intervention by some former prelates. One only has to look at a certain former Archbishop of Canterbury, and a former bishop of Rochester – to see just how their malign influence can still be exercised and felt. I also suspect that Blessed Tom’s visits to ACNA might still cause some heartache to TEC and the rest of us who believe in the inclusive nature of the Gospel.

  • david wilson says:


    But as we have already said on the Thread ” Nothing is impossible with God”. There are in fact therefore no grounds to reject the virgin birth or resurrection. Why do you feel the need to reject it?

    It is all mythic? You were not a witness to the events, so you simply cannot draw that definite conclusion. You can only say you dont have faith in the testimony of the witnesses.

  • david wilson says:

    Father Ron Smith

    But isnt it the case that St Paul later required Barnabas to be circumised, simply to get into the synagogue, because that is what the jews he was speaking would expect from a devout man. I am certain that the revelation of the Holy Spirit being sent and the Lord circumsising our hearts is consistent with Jesus teaching and the OT. It was not a new revelation, but a more complete understanding of being under grace rather than the law. I do not think you can use that as a biblical basis for the normalisation of homosexual acts.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    ” I do not think you can use that as a biblical basis for the normalisation of homosexual acts.”

    Setting aside the fact that Paul is *not* God, and was fallible as any other human, I think you need to expand on that before it can be accepted. In what way is Paul’s “more complete” understanding of circumcision different from a more complete understanding of sexuality. The OT is very clear that circumcision is a physical act, as was the early Church, so I see a compelling argument that a “more complete” model for circumcision is entirely consistent with a “more complete” model for sexuality, and consonant with both Jesus and the OT at the same degree.

    And “homosexual acts” are quite normal, thank you, for homosexuals. That was a profoundly insulting reference, on your part.

  • David Wilson is obviously not aware of the fact that the mystery of the incidence of gender and sexuality differences was completely unknown to the biblical writers – so that the possession of today’s revelation of genetic and biological factors present in the human condition may have completely altered the biblical account.

    The issue in the Church today seems to be centred around the perceived morality of sexual difference – rather than the actual presence of differences.

    What, seemingly, is not understood by such as David Wilson here, is that sexual orientation, of itself is completely neutral. Modern scientific research has revealed that there are different sexualities – more than just male or female – on an observable continuum. This is the work of the Creator – whether we like it or not.

    What we human beings do with that sexuality is up to us – and the community in which we live – but that the sexual impulse is not limited to the intention to procreate (although that seems to be the more predominant purpose) is an observable fact – backed by the need for physical love to be expressed by one person for another in the most self-giving and fulfilling way possible.

    As Jesus reminded the disciples in Matthew 19, not everyone would be disposed towards procreation. In fact some may remain eunuchs – for one reason or another, one of these being an indisposition towards procreation.

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