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Monday, August 17, 2015

Circumcision and Baptism

Some Reformed circles have argued that circumcision and baptism are parallels. The Old Testament circumcision was the sign of being in the Old Covenant; New Testament baptism is the sign of being in the New Covenant. There is even Scripture for this. Using this line of thinking, some argue from one to the other. "Circumcision was done practically from birth and was not on the basis of professed faith, so baptism should be practically from birth and not on the basis of professed faith." Some argue that baptism saves. We'll skip that. But others argue that, like circumcision, baptism puts children of believers into the "sphere of influence", an unclear area where they are not quite saved (pending faith) but not quite lost (being in this covenant).

In response, many baptists argue against the correlation of circumcision and baptism. "No connection at all." "It's a different thing entirely." Unfortunately, they seem to glaze over the Scripture on the subject.
In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)
How safe it is, then, to dismiss this connection?

I would argue both that there is a tight correlation between circumcision and baptism and that baptism is for believers, not infants.

First, the text I gave seems to be unavoidable. Paul says we were "buried with Him in baptism" and considers that "a circumcision made without hands." In Romans he says, "Circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit." (Rom 2:29) So the real circumcision is not a physical one, but a spiritual one. But notice this. Speaking about Abraham being saved by grace before he was circumcised, Paul says,
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (Rom 4:11)
Is that not straightforward enough? Circumcision was the seal of righteousness reckoned on the basis of faith. And so is baptism.

"Yeah, but what about that whole 'Babies were circumcised before coming to faith' thing?"

In answer to that, let me ask this. If Old Testament circumcision was the sign of being in the covenant, and that covenant was with Israel, when did one enter the covenant? When they were born. In the New Testament, if baptism is the sign of being in the covenant, and that covenant is with believers, when does one enter the new covenant? When they are born again.

I see the two as the same, except that they are for two separate agreements between God and Man. One is for Abraham and his physical bloodline. The other is for Abraham and his spiritual bloodline. Both are signs of being in the covenant. I see them as the same, each for its respective covenant. The former is a physical sign given when born into the physical covenant and the latter a spiritual sign given when born into the spiritual covenant. I don't see a problem here.


Neil said...

Exactly! If people want to use that parallel, how can they miss the "born" part?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

There is one problem with the connection; Females didn't get circumcised and yet were included in the covenant. But females are baptized when born again.

I think Paul was making more of an analogy than a direct connection; i.e., baptism does not replace circumcision.

Stan said...

If circumcision was not the sign of being in the covenant for Israel (because females weren't circumcised) and baptism is not the sign of being in the faith (because baptism does not replace circumcision), then what IS baptism?

The Piper's Wife said...

I didn't say they weren't signs of the respective covenants, because they are. I'm only saying one didn't replace the other such as so many claim.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

That "Piper's wife" comment is from me. I didn't realize she was still signed on!

Stan said...

Yeah, I got that "Piper's Wife" thing and knew who you were. No problem.

But I'm merely trying to understand here. Circumcision and baptism are signs of being in the covenant, but baptism is not a replacement at the new covenant for what was in the old covenant (circumcision). So I'm still confused. If circumcision is the sign of the old and baptism the new, isn't that simply a one-for-one replacement (so to speak)? Old sign out with old covenant; new sign in with new covenant. Old covenant by birth (physical); new covenant by new birth (spiritual). I'm not getting how baptism does not replace circumcision in terms of signs of the current covenant.

Again, to be absolutely clear ... asking, not arguing.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Why does it have to be one replacing the other?

First of all, there has never been a deletion of the covenant of circumcision for the Jews. It was NEVER for the Gentile, so baptism couldn't have replaced what they never had.

Paul's concern, as I understand it, was not that circumcision was no longer required of the covenant between God and the Jew, but that it was not to be a part of the Christian experience. That is, the Jew retained his covenant sign of that singular relationship that he had with God, but when he became a Christian the circumcision had no meaning in the New Covenant, and you could say he "added" another covenant sign of baptism for the New Covenant he was under.

The Christian was not to be circumcised to be grafted into spiritual Israel as the legalists wanted, because that sign had nothing to do with the new covenant with Christ.

I don't know if I'm making sense, but the point is that baptism did not replace anything -- it was a new sign for ALL who become Christian, Jew or Gentile.

David said...

It sounds like you're agreeing with Stan through disagreement. If the old covenant was still applicable, then Christians would need to get circumcised. But the old covenant is no longer in effect, unless you are saying that there are still Jews that are saved by adherence to the old covenant and belief in the coming Messiah. If the old covenant is no longer a viable means for salvation, then the new must necessarily supplant the old and baptism must replace circumcision. The new doesn't destroy or remove the old, it improves it, fleshes it out, expands it's influence.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

The Jews were not SAVED by the old covenant, rather the circumcision just placed them among the covenant people. I never even hinted that it included salvation, since salvation has ALWAYS been by faith.

Again, you can't supplant/replace circumcision with baptism because Gentiles never had circumcision. How can you replace what you never had? The two are NOT linked. They can be analogous, but not linked.

David said...

So then you're ignoring the passages Stan presented that indicate they are linked?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

No, I'm saying the passages demonstrate an analogy, not a link, not a progression.

Again, how can you replace what you didn't have?

David said...

Do you not believe that the Gentiles were bound to the Old Covenant? I'm pretty sure there were Gentiles that converted and were circumcised (though rare). The Covenant was given to the Jews, but was sufficient to encompass everyone.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

No, the Gentile was not under the old covenant (unless they converted) because the law was for Israel only. The entire world had the moral law written on their heart, but the Mosaic Law was only for Israel.

If you read my article about the Sabbath, I explain all this as a prelude to demonstrate the Sabbath was ONLY for the Jew.

David said...

Then would you say a Jew that converts to Christianity doesn't need to be baptised since he already has the sign of circumcision? Or would he need to be baptised (as John was doing) because the old sign is no longer sufficient?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Are you even reading what I write? You keep linking the two and I keep saying they are NOT linked.

Circumcision is NOT a sign of the New Covenant - it is a sign of the covenant between the literal descendants of Abraham, since that is where circumcision started. A Jew is circumcised as a sign of THAT covenant, which isn't a covenant of salvation. The Old Covenant was NEVER sufficient for salvation.

A Jew - or anyone - who converts to Christianity is baptized as a sign of being in the New Covenant of salvation in Christ. A faithful Jew will have BOTH signs because they are two different covenants.

What's so difficult to understand about that? Was the sign of the covenant between the descendants of Abraham and God ever revoked or removed? NO! The problem was that the Judaizers wanted to have Christians circumcised, believing they had to be under the Jewish covenant, but, as Paul pointed out, that was not necessary. Salvation in Christ is not based on such works, and the real "circumcision" which shows we are spiritual children of Abraham is the circumcision of the heart.

BAPTISM is a sign, but NOT required for salvation. (e.g., a person becomes a believer and yet in an area/situation where baptism is not soon possible, and then dies, he is still saved.)

David said...

Okay,I see what you're saying. How about this (and I guess it goes to the whole post as well), what does it matter? Neither baptism nor circumcision are means to salvation, so what does it matter if they are linked or analogies? Whether one is a progression or not doesn't really effect how I live or whether or not I should get baptised. So far as I know, we don't have anyone teaching both are necessary.

Some things that appear inconsequential are actually important, and others aren't. Is this a hidden important one? It's not like debating the order of election (which demonstrates one's thoughts about God's sovereignty) or whether women should be pastors (which demonstrates one's thoughts about God's authority). How important is the issue of succession or analogy of baptism?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I think it's important when someone claims baptism replaces circumcision, because by saying that one contradicts Scripture. And most of the people I find saying that also teach baptismal regeneration, which is also unbiblical.

David said...

I think the reason I'm having a hard time with this is it sounds like you are saying that the old covenant is no longer valid.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Let's try this again.

First, circumcision was not a sign of the Old Covenant - i.e. the Mosaic law - rather it was a sign of the covenant between Abraham and his literal descendants PRIOR to the Mosaic Law. Only Israel was under the Mosaic Law (Old Covenant), and being descendants of Abraham would also bear the sign of THAT covenant, so that it would certainly be associated with the Mosaic Law. However, Gentiles were NEVER under the Abrahamic Covenant nor the Mosaic Law and so would not have any sign of such covenants, ergo there would be no circumcision to replace, ego baptism has no connection.

The Abrahamic covenant was never revoked, ergo the sign of that covenant would still be in force for literal descendants of Abraham. The Mosaic Law, on the other hand, the Old Covenant of Law, has been replaced by the New Covenant, and the New Covenant applies to both Jew and Gentile. The Jew does NOT replace circumcision with baptism, because circumcision was not a sign of the Mosaic Law covenant per se.

The analogy really is that as circumcision was the sign of the covenant between God and the literal descendants of Abraham, baptism is a sign of the covenant between God and the spiritual descendants of Abraham - those who are justified by faith.