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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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Mûl (מוּל, Strong's #4135), “to circumcise, cut off.” This verb occurs more than 30 times in the Old Testament. Its usage is continued in rabbinic and modern Hebrew. However, the verb “to cut off” is not found in other Semitic languages.Most of the occurrences in the Old Testament take place in the Pentateuch (20 times) and Joshua (8 times). Mûl occurs most frequently in Genesis (17 times, 11 of them in Genesis 17 alone) and Joshua (8 times). Mûl occurs in 3 of the 7 verb patterns and in several rare patterns. It has no derivatives other than mulot in Exod. 4:26: “At that time she said, ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision” (NIV).

The physical act of circumcision was introduced by God as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you … Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen. 17:10-11, NIV). It was a permanent “cutting off” of the foreskin of the male organ, and as such was a reminder of the perpetuity of the covenantal relationship. Israel was enjoined to be faithful in “circumcising” all males; each male baby was to be “circumcised” on the eighth day (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). Not only were the physical descendants of Abraham “circumcised,” but also those who were servants, slaves, and foreigners in the covenant community (Gen. 17:13-14).

The special act of circumcision was a sign of God’s gracious promise. With the promise and covenantal relations, God expected that His people would joyously and willingly live up to His expectations, and thus demonstrate His rule on earth. To describe the “heart” attitude, several writers of Scripture use the verb “to circumcise.” The “circumcision” of the flesh is a physical sign of commitment to God. Deuteronomy particularly is fond of the spiritual usage of the verb “to circumcise”: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deut. 10:16, NIV; cf. 30:6). Jeremiah took over this usage: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah … , because of the evil of your doings” (Jer. 4:4).

Few occurrences of the verb differ from the physical and the spiritual usage of “to circumcise.” "$ in the Book of Psalms has the meaning of “to cut off, destroy”: “All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off” (Ps. 118:10, NIV; cf. vv. 11-12). The verb is translated as peritemno in the Septuagint.

The verb and the noun peritome are used in both the physical and the spiritual sense. In addition to this, it also is a figure for baptism: “In him you were also circumcised, … not with a circumcision alone by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12, NIV).

In the English versions, the verb is rendered “to circumcise,” “to destroy” (KJV), as well as “to cut off” and “to wither” (RSV, NASB, NIV).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'CircuMcIse'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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