The Biblical Teaching on Baptism, Part 6

Posted By 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!

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21 Responses to “The Biblical Teaching on Baptism, Part 6”

  1. Nobunaga says:

    so the infant’s baptisim is a statement of faith by the parents, showing that this is were salvation is found (in Christianity), and does NOT result in the salvation of the child or a step towards it in any way i.e a sacriment ?

    is there any blessing at all for the infant other than when they grow up they should be in a faithfull home ?

  2. stringbox says:

    Simple. Clean. I like it.
    Would I be off-base at all, in my own mental summary of this discussion on baptism and the Romans 5:12 bit, if I connected the concept of “admission” into the community and therefore access to the one true God and eternal life with its opposite, the banishment of humanity from fellowship and access to the the tree of life? The beauty and simplicity of seeing baptism (and circumcision) as “access” just clicks well for me with your handling of Romans 5:12 in that the banishment was simply removing humanity from that access to the fellowship therefore denial to the tree of life therefore death to all men, simple, and without the baggage of what to do with babies, et al.
    So, perhaps, no reason to apply guilt to a human for being born human because of Adam, just as no reason to imply salvation by the baptism/circumcision? Meaning, being “human” does not make you guilty before God, your sin does, and baptism does not save you, your faith does. Am I in the ballpark? At all?

    • Chavoux says:

      @Taliesen:

      Thanks for a very refreshing take on baptism and its link to the levite washing rituals… it opens a whole new world of understanding! However, there is also another “Baptism” ritual that was widespread in the time of the New Testament (and is still used in current Judaism), namely the baptism of gentiles believing in the God of Israel as the final step in their conversion (after circumcision!), signifying cleansing from their former sin and entering into the covenant of the LORD with Israel. This has always been my understanding of what John did in his preaching: implying that Israel themselves need to repent and be baptized (as if they were gentiles) because of their sins. It also had the connection to the Messianic promises made in Ezekiel (of God cleansing His people).

      The connection to the priestly cleansing gives a whole new dimension to it, and explains something that the “baptism of repentance” could never sufficiently explain to me: why Jesus said it was necessary for Him to be baptized. I think that it is (typically Jewish thinking!) not a matter of “either … or”, but of “both … and”.

      As for my understanding of infant baptism: I tend to think that just as in the “old covenant” people were born naturally into the people of God, received the sign of being part of this people (circumcision) and had to respond by faith afterwards, in the New Covenant we are born again (John.3) to become part of the people of God with the sign of that occurrence being baptism. This does not preclude children who are born again (believe), from receiving the sign. I also feel strongly that there is _no_ scriptural base for differences in opinion about baptism to be an excuse for division in the body of Messiah.

  3. Taliesen says:

    Mike,

    As far as what you have written so far, I agree that there is some kind of relationship between circumcision and baptism. As Meredith Kline has pointed out, at the flood, God would never again “cut off” all flesh with flood waters. This is an illustration outside of Col 2. (I think there is also a relationship between the timing of the Sabbath-Christian Sabbath and circumcision, but relationship doesn’t equate into equivalence as I see paedobaptists arguing for baptism/circumcision). I also agree with you that circumcision got a person into the community where the truth was given so that they might receive the opportunity to repent and believe in Yahweh.

    But for me, the circumcision thing is not really relevant to the meaning of Christian baptism, even though I believe in covenant theology, for several reasons. First, Jesus was fulfilling an OT law at his baptism, and it wasn’t circumcision (he had already been circumcised). I believe this is the law of the priestly ordination in Exodus 29:1-9 (specifically vs. 4). This is why, for instance, he was thirty years old at the time of his baptism.

    Following from this, covenant theology needs to recognize, as a system, that this ordination put the Levite into a special sphere within the covenant of grace which wasn’t enjoyed by all Israelites via Abraham. God, through visible Yahweh, set apart the Levities from Israel in a similar way to setting apart Israel from the nations (comparing Deut 9 and Num 8:6,14-18). This priestly sphere is a covenantal sphere via the Levitical covenant. It is every bit as much a part of the covenant of grace for the priest (and the nation through the priest) as is the Abrahamic covenant for Israel and the women through their fathers. This priestly service did not guarantee salvation, but did allow him to participate legally in the temple service. Temple service presupposes the need for holiness through faith, something Eli’s sons and others didn’t seem to understand. This covenant was given as a perpetual covenant for the generations to the Levities generally and the Aaronic-Phinehasian-Zadokian priests specifically.

    Summarizing then, the priest was baptized in water to ordain him into priestly ministry service. Jesus’ baptism fulfills this law as we see in his subsequent three year priestly ministry that began immediately after his baptism and climaxed in his self-sacrifice as a priest on the cross. Christian baptism follows suit. Our baptism originates out of this OT baptism, and through it we are ordained into the ministry of the priesthood of the believer, a ministry which presupposes faith, which is something we profess prior to baptism. All of this is related to the covenant of grace, yet has little to do with circumcision, a sign which I personally believe has seen its purpose fulfilled in the circumcision of Christ at the cross.

    My point in all of this is to make a covenant argument (as paedobaptists make with circumcision and Abraham) for credobaptism, by linking baptism with baptism rather than circumcision through this very important covenant with the priests.

  4. Jonnathan Molina says:

    “Baptism is their ticket into the community where they will learn the gospel…that’s IT”. Bravo, I love that simplicity! And it flows if you are trying to connect baptism and circumcision as Paul did. However, since circumcision isn’t an issue for us today, I don’t see that being a teaching we can really use today. MY ticket into the community where I will learn the gospel is just showing up to church every Sunday (and Wednesday in my case). Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God. I’ll get baptized if I feel like it, but I know I don’t HAVE to do it because I’m already “in Christ” when I believed and repented (and I’m not worried about being ostracized by the “circumcision” or have doubts about who the true God is) so…not an issue. For the 1st century church? Definitely an issue. That’s my only thing about it. Not to rehash my other post I did on Part 5, but I still think the message of baptism is more important than the act…but I agree that this is a good, text-honoring, cohesive solution.

  5. cwmyers007 says:

    Good post Mike! I would point out, however, that being born into a believing family and therefore being part of the gospel community, and thereby directly receiving the gospel thereby is a huge “grace.” And hence the reformed argue that the sacraments are a “means of grace.” Not only because of the corporate reality of being in the gospel community (which by itself implies manifold graces), but also because of the personal reality of how God uses your baptism for sanctification (this can be proved from how the prophets appealed to circumcision and the covenant that it signifies as a means to exhort the Israelites to loving and obeying and trusting God). I find I do the same thing with my children (I appeal to their baptism to remind them who they should be “in Christ”).

  6. Sam says:

    I was exposed to your divine council articles, and “The Myth That is True” about two year ago; I have been reading your blogs from inception. I am one who was “spoon fed” in the institutional churches for over 34 years. I have no formal training in theological exegesis, much less seminary training; therefore, lack the skills to parse in your blogs. I would like to, however, make a comment:

    Reading your previous 5 baptism posts and comments of cwmyers007: the arguments and positions Mr. Meyer presents remind me why I left the institutional church. His arguments do not stay “sewed together”; and it confuses my mind. So many of the systematic theology were not coherent to me, but I did not know why until you presented these theologies against biblical theology. (And it took 34 years for me to step out-of-the-box).

    I appreciate your ability to debate and present biblical theology that removes the garbage that so many churches want us to believe.

    I hope you continue to expose bad theology that I am not even aware I am believing until you present the material. So MUCH un-learning to do.

    Thank you-

  7. MSH says:

    @Nobunaga: yes; I know of know text that says baptism results in salvation (in addition to, or apart from, faith). And if one appeared to say that, we’d need to confirm that via a passage that says circumcision saves (among other problems).

  8. MSH says:

    @stringbox: yes; you’re following well, and I like the thought you shared about the “opposite analogy”.

  9. MSH says:

    @Taliesen: I really like Kline, though I have disagreements with some of his material. He’s a favorite of mine. I think for me to feel good about his analogy point, I’d need to see some NT verse connecting baptism with the “not cutting off” point of the flood (the punishment and “promise to not punish” aspect of it).

    I also agree with you that the life of CHrist (and its selective portrayal in the NT – i.e., the material the gospel writers chose to include) is MEANT to run alongside the history of Israel (the corporate son of God). I would need to see real evidence for “baptism” of the priest in the OT (I really can’t think of any passage that actually takes ritual washings this way, but it is worth thinking about) to draw your further analogy – but I’m intrigued with the idea as you propose it. A lot of this stuff isn’t “A parallels B” but “A is paralleled by B,c, and a few other things”. I can see your points, though I’d argue for the baptism as being quite consistent with prophetic calls in the divine presence motif used of prophets (broadly defined) throughout the OT – note that there is a theophanic event at the baptism of Jesus to approve him for ministry). But what you argue for may be equally true. Do you know of any treatment of this idea that lays it all out?

  10. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: I’d call it a blessing, but that’s probably splitting hairs. I follow you.

  11. MSH says:

    @Sam: thanks; glad to see that you realize I don’t have much of a secret to what I do – it’s just the Bible, no matter how strange it may sound or feel!

  12. cwmyers007 says:

    @Taliesen: Love to get a hold of your book. Do you have it in electronic form?

  13. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: what book?

  14. cwmyers007 says:

    Mike, you asked Taliesen: “Do you know of any treatment of this idea that lays it all out?”

    He told you that he wrote a book on it (232 pages) in his initial post a while ago. I find his idea intriguing, but I think it misses the mark. My main contention with credobaptists is their inadequate theology of children in the covenant. His book does not mend this major problem in baptistic theology–a major flaw. I am impressed with his covenantal attempt, however, to reconcile baptist and paedobaptists alike. If you happen to come across his book in the future, let us know your initial thoughts.

  15. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: thanks!

  16. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…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….

    I’m wondering what passage you are exegeting? Are you attempting to exegete Col 2:11? If so, you have strayed from your text. Paul is not discussing water baptism at all:

    Colossians 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

    Or this?:

    Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

    But in this, he is not speaking of circumcision. He is not speaking of access to the community of truth.

    Paul has declared that baptism isn’t consequential. Preaching and believing are consequential to him.

    If you are trying to exegete Paul’s message in these verses you would want to focus in on:

    * Paul’s belief that man is composed of two elements: clay and breath (ala Moses). He sees the clay part as evil (or the home of an evil alien named hAMARTIA), and the breath (mistranslated as “spirit”) as the holy breath of God. The believer joins Jesus’ death to sin and resurrection to breath;

    * Paul’s belief that faith is the mechanism by which this happens;

    Then we see what he says coming into bold relief:

    10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
    11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in **putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ**:
    12 **Buried with him in baptism**, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

    There is no view here of baptizing infants to bring them into the community to have access to the truth. Paul would never dream that it was important to sprinkle water on the heads of babies lest they not be permitted into “the Church” and thus be barred from the truth. There is absolutely no way that that is being derived from either of these verses, or anything else in Paul.

    Nor is that present in Matthew’s “Great Commission.”

    Simply put, I think you are suffering the same malaise you pointed out in the ones who wrote Protestant creeds… that they were struck numb in their minds by Catholic tradition and so their “Protestant” ideas wire still mired in Catholic teaching. You lack simplicity.

    If, as you have said, an unbaptized infant may not enter a “Christian Church” and hear preaching and receive instruction (without being cut off [dying childless]), then Paul’s teaching of that is wickedly cryptic.

    I’m of the K.I.S.S. school…

  17. Ashley says:

    Michael, I have a question about Cornelius (Romans 10) – it seems to me that the Bible is telling us that Cornelius was already a believer, that God used him to teach Peter a lesson about how wide-reaching the body of believers was (i.e., the Gospel is not just for the Jews), and that Peter asked for water to baptize Cornelius and his fellow Gentile believers after they had demonstrated their belief through testimony and the gift of the Holy Spirit. My question is about how to understand this passage in relation to believers’ vs. infant baptism. (As a side note, all the teaching I’ve been given in my life has been that believers’ baptism is the “correct” view, with this being an example passage in support).

    I’m very interested in your defense of infant baptism, and, as it’s constructed, I don’t see any problem with it theologically since, in essence, you’ve merely argued that it can be seen as a ticket to the show but not a pass backstage (sorry for stretching the metaphor a bit). In the church I was raised (non-affiliated Baptist), this type of thing was accomplished through something we called dedication – the parents present a baby to the body of believers and profess their commitment to raising it in a Godly home and testifying to the Gospel, with the rest of the church being enjoined to share in encouraging the child toward Christ. Dedication is the admission into the “church family” where the Gospel is preached, but it’s not a guarantee of salvation; basically, it was about publicly announcing the intent of the parents and body of believers to bear the witness of the Gospel to the child rather than about affirming a child’s future salvation. Looking back, this may have been a practice that developed out of desire to avoid the conflicts over infant baptism but to capture the essence of it as you have described it.

    My question is, what does the baptism of Cornelius signify? Does this passage argue in favor of believers’ baptism, at the expense of infant baptism (using your view of this), or is this an ex-post admission to the body of believers? In other words, was Cornelius baptized as a outward sign of his faith for the world to see (believers’ baptism), or was this a kind of initiation, albeit out-of-order spiritually, into the body of the church (a belated infant baptism)?

  18. [...] In the case of infant baptism (at least in terms of the biblically-coherent view I describe here for those who want to baptize infants, contra the way it gets “explained” in the [...]

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