Posted By MSH on September 28, 2009
In this post, I’ll try to give you all my position in a nutshell.
First, I accept that there is some sort of connection between baptism and circumcision via Col. 2:11-12. Paul wouldn’t pair them if they weren’t meant to be associated in some way. In what follows, I’ll give you my take on what that connection is.
Second, let’s look at circumcision. What did it actually do? Well, we know what it DIDN’T do, so let’s start there. It didn’t:
(1) guarantee or ensure salvation — we know that because most circumcised people wound up apostasizing, prompting that little thing we call the exile. This is patently evident.
(2) it didn’t mark women. Circumcision did *mean* something to Israelite women, though. The sign of circumcision was a physical, visible reminder to women that their race — their own lives and the life of their children — began as a supernatural act of God on behalf of Abraham and Sarah. It was a constant reminder of God’s grace to that couple and their posterity — but getting one’s penis cut didn’t bestow salvation — it reminded one of supernatural beginning by grace.
So what did it do? I think the answer is painfully easy, which in part explains why so many have added to it for so long. Circumcision granted the recipient admission into the community of Israel. Female children were also admitted by virtue of being the property of an admitted male (this is standard patriarchal culture, so women were NOT excluded just because they could not be circumcised). So what, you say? Well, why was membership in the community a big deal? What made THIS community different? Simple: THIS one, and ONLY this one, had “the oracles of God” (to borrow Paul’s phrase). In short, it had the TRUTH about who was really God among all gods, and how one could be rightly related to him. THIS community had been chosen to be that God’s people, and this relationship was explained in the oracles of God: the Torah. Each community member had to decide to believe in the God of Israel and live the way he desired. If they rejected that, their membership (and circumcision) would amount to nothing. They had to “trust and obey” the the true God.
THAT’S what circumcision did — it granted access to the truth.
I hope you can see how nicely and easily this carries over to baptism, without ANY of the baggage. Abraham and his family (including foreign servants) were circumcised. We aren’t told who among that group believed in Yahweh or not, save for Abraham and Sarah. But the males had to be circumcised to remain with Abraham — and he was the conduit of truth, the one to whom God spoke. Abraham and his children after him inherited the promises by FAITH (Hebrews 11 — not circumcision). All who have that same faith are the real “children of Abraham” (and Paul defines that faith post-Christ as being faith IN Christ). BELIEVERS are the children of Abraham. Now, if there be some connection between circumcision and baptism, I’d say that we need to say the same thing about baptism that we said about circumcision. Think about it. What does baptizing that baby do? Save it? Regenerate it? Take away original sin? The Scripture says none of that. But we know for sure that the baptized were made part of the community (just like in the OT with circumcision). They were put into the church — why? — because THAT was the place that had the truth of the gospel. You won’t find it elsewhere. The believing church was the guardian and transmitter of the gospel. Each baptized child must individually decide to embrace that truth — and that faith decision is what “produces” salvation. Baptism is their ticket into the community where they will learn the gospel — just like circumcision was the ticket into the community who knew the truth God and had his revelation.
That’s IT. Nothing more, nothing less. We need to say the same thing about both baptism and circumcision, be able to demonstrate that from the text, and not violate the simplicity of salvation by faith alone through grace alone. What I’ve just described to you is the unfiltered explanation. I think it’s terribly simple — just affirm what the text describes to us in its simplicity.
The above is my justification for infant baptism, and my explanation of the connection spoken of in Colossians 2:10-12.
Now, Baptists will want to either deny a connection between the two, or relegate the connection to being a SIGN of the *result* of a relationship with God. I grew up (spiritually) in Baptist circles, and the most frequent argument I heard was to deny the connection between baptism and circumcision at all — saying the pairing was CONTRASTIVE (contrasting Jewish literal circumcision to the “circumcision of Christ” — in effect, arguing that the gospel, which included both Jew and Gentile, displaced any need for a “Jewish only” people of God. A contrast is certainly possible, so I commend that view to those who want to argue it. Seeing a contrast allows Baptists to restrict baptism to those who have already believed.
I really don’t care which view turns out to be right once we get to heaven. I think infant baptism is defensible, assuming it stays clear of the theological baggage I’ve been pointing out. I also think believer’s baptism is defensible. Enjoy either or both!