επισπασθω [epispastho] from the root verb ἐπισπάομαι [epispaomai] in 1 Cor 7:18 can be translated a number of different ways:
- Let him not seek to remove the evidence of circumcision.
- Let him not become uncircumcised.
- Let him make no change.
- Don’t try to change it.
- Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision.
- Shouldn’t undo his circumcision.
- Don’t try to remove the evidence.
- A believer should not try to reverse it.
ἐπισπάομαι [epispaomai] is a compound verb from the elements ἐπι [epi] which in this context has the meaning “over” and σπάω [spaō] to draw or to draw out. So the sense is to “draw over”.
Thus epispaomai implies to cover the mark of circumcision (by recovering the foreskin and drawing it over the penis in an attempt to recover the uncircumcised state, to become uncircumcised (again).
There was a practice in the times of Antiochus, for fear of him, to “draw on” the foreskin [1 Maccabees. 1:15] “made themselves uncircumcised”, and forsook the holy covenant; and so did Menelaus, and the sons of Tobias, as Josephus reports. There were many, in the days of Ben Cozba, who became uncircumcised by force, they had their foreskins drawn on by the Gentiles against their wills. Ancient literature records mention of several particular persons who voluntarily became uncircumcised, or, to use their phrase, and which exactly answers to the word used by Paul, “that drew over his foreskin”. By frequent stretching, the circumcised skin could be again drawn over, so as to prevent the sign of circumcision from appearing. Some in their zeal against Judaism endeavoured to get rid of this sign in their flesh. Many false Jews made use of this practice that they might pass through heathen countries unobserved; otherwise, when frequenting the baths they would have been detected.
But how does this all fit with Paul’s comments on marriage in answer to the Corinthians questions? As I have told you before, we don’t have the document which tells us the exact questions the Corinthians asked but an educated guess would tell us one of those questions must have centred around whether Christians are free to marry non-Christians and / or whether having married and the going gets tough, are free to leave. Paul has made his comments clear enough already but then turns to two examples – that of the practice of reversing circumcision and the state of slaves who have become Christians. Are they now free to seek to be freedman? It is evident from Paul’s perspective although he doesn’t state it clearly that the attempt to cover the sign of circumcision is gross (to use a modern term). It is a very extreme action to falsely attempt to be free of something. Don’t do it! Remain in the state in which you are currently.
His choice of the slave analogy is interesting. He says if you get the chance to be free, then take it. But God paid a high price for you; don’t be enslaved by the world (or the world’s system and practice). You may be a slave but you are free in Christ. You were free but you are now a slave of Christ. Relax and enjoy it.
Paul sandwiches his comments about slaves between a repetition of “you should remain as you were when God called you”. Verse 20 and verse 24. Get the message? So don’t get involved in the practises that are going on around you. So what is the inference or significance of all this with respect to marriage and staying married? You work it out. You don’t want me to do all your thinking for you, do you?
You can never be happily married to another until you get a divorce from yourself. Successful marriage demands a certain death to self.Merry McCant
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.Ruth Bell Graham