Baptism, Circumcision, and Family

A huge old snip from The Greatness of the Great Commission, by Kenneth L Gentry, Jr.
Pages 85-90.

[My comments in bold brackets]

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Baptism and Culture

Most Christians agree that baptism is the appropriate, biblical sign to be applied to new converts to the faith. We see a number of examples in the New Testament of individuals receiving baptism upon their conversion under the influence of the Great Commission. We think of the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer, Crispus, and Gaius.[1]

But in that the Great Commission is a covenantal commission, baptism cannot be limited to an individualistic focus. Just as the Great Commission has a corporate influence, so does baptism itself. And this corporate design entails the baptism of the families of believers.

In God’s covenantal dealings with His people, there is what we may call the principle of family solidarity.[2] We see this great principle at work in various examples in Scripture. For instance, although the Bible teaches that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8), his entire family was brought into the Ark for protection, due to God’s gracious covenant.[3] Likewise, God’s covenant was established with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) – and with his seed (Gen. 17:7). God’s gracious covenant was designed to run in family generations,[4] just as were His fearsome covenant curses.[5]

[Family is of great importance to God. It should be of great importance to us, too.
Without falling into the trap of clan cultures.]

Because of this, God graciously sanctifies (sets apart) the offspring of the covenantal faithful. Even in the New Testament God draws a distinction between the children of His people and the children of non-believers: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1 Cor. 7:14).[6] This explains why Christ lays His hands on infants of His followers, to bless them.[7] When Paul writes to the “saints” (set apart ones) in a particular locality,[8] he includes commands for the children, who are numbered among the saints.[9]

[It may be reasonably concluded that the children of the damned are damned themselves — without any conscious choice on their part. Just as the children of the saints are saved: again, without any decision on their part.]

In addition, we may note that New Testament blessings, like those of the Old Testament, are framed in terms inclusive of family generations, rather than in terms excluding family generations: the promise is to believers and their children.[10] There is nothing in the New Testament that undermines and invalidates the Old Testament covenantal principle of family solidarity. In fact, everything confirms its continuing validity. Thus, a covenantal understanding of baptism leads inexorably to infant baptism. In order briefly to demonstrate this, let us first consider the Old Testament sign of the covenant: circumcision. Then we will show the elements of continuity between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism.

Old Testament Circumcision

Clearly circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament era, as is evident in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17: 7, 10-11).[11] In fact, Stephen calls it “the covenant of circumcision” (Acts 7:8). And circumcision represented deeply spiritual truths in Israel.


1. Circumcision represented union and communion with God. In Genesis 17:10-11 circumcision is spoken of as the sign of God’s covenant with His people: “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” For one not to be circumcised was to be in breach of the covenant and would exclude the uncircumcised person from the people of God: “And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Gen. 17:17).

Israel was very personally and deeply in union and communion with God; she did not exist merely in a political relationship with Him.[12] In fact, the highest blessing of God’s covenant with Abraham, which was sealed in circumcision, was: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”[13]

[People prefer an impersonal, contractual relationship with God… if they can tolerate any relationship with Him at all. “I do this ritual, I make this sacrifice, and you do this thing for me.”

That isn’t good enough.

God demands all you have, and all you are.]

2. Circumcision symbolically represented the removal of the defilement of sin. Often in the Old Testament we hear of the call to “circumcise the heart,”[14] i.e., from uncleanness. This deeply spiritual call shows the sacramental relation between the outward, physical act of circumcision and the inward, spiritual reality of cleansing from sin.

3. Circumcision sealed faith. In the New Testament, the “Apostle of Faith” clearly spoke of Old Testament circumcision’s relationship to faith, the fundamental Christian virtue: Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had” (Rom. 4:11). Circumcision is a sign and seal of the righteousness that results from faith. And Abraham is the pre-eminent example of justification by faith for the apostles.[15] In fact, elsewhere Paul relates circumcision to the spiritual realities of salvation through faith.[16]

New Testament Baptism

In the New Testament phase of the covenant, baptism becomes the sign of the covenant.[17] Hence, the Great Commission’s enforcement of baptism upon the converts to the faith (Matt. 28:19). Of baptism we may note that it represents the same spiritual truths as circumcision: (1) Union and communion with the Lord[18] cleansing from the defilement of sin,[19] and faith.[20]

In fact, baptism specifically replaced circumcision, for it is written of Christians: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12, emphasis added). Therefore, it is not surprising that, following the pattern set by Old Testament circumcision, baptism is mentioned in conjunction with the promise to families (Acts 2:38,39) and that examples of whole family baptism are recorded.[21]

[Baptism blesses families. And families make up both healthy churches and healthy societies: churches and cultures with a future.]

In Acts 16:14-15 we read: “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us…. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she constrained us.” Notice that the Lord is said to have opened Lydia’s heart, yet “she and her household were baptized.” This is precisely parallel to the situation with circumcision in the Old Testament.[22]

[Note: Lydia as a woman COULD NOT be circumcised. But, she CAN be baptized.

Also note that this woman was the lawful family head, so far as God is concerned.]

Thus, the covenantal principle of family solidarity continues from the Old Testament into the New Testament. Infant baptism, then, is justified on the following grounds, to name but a few: (1) Circumcision and baptism represent the same spiritual truths. Circumcision was applied to infants, so why not baptism? (2) Baptism is specifically said to replace circumcision, so why not for infants? (3) Redemptive promises are issued in such a way as to include believers and their seed, so why not baptize both? (4) The children of believers are said to be “clean” and “holy,” so why not apply the symbol of cleansing to them? (5) Household baptisms appear in the New Testament record, in some cases even though only the parent is said to have believed. (6) There is no record of the repeal of the inclusion of children in the covenant promises.

[The children of believers should be baptized. Including newborns.]

The family represents the child’s first experience with society. In that the family is the training ground for mature living in society (Deut. 6:6ff; 1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12; 5:8),[23] baptism carries with it strong cultural implications.

Conclusion

The Great Commission commands the baptizing of disciples to Jesus Christ. In the action of baptism there is the establishing of a covenantal relation between God and the disciple and his seed. That covenantal relation promises reward and blessing for faithfulness to the terms of the covenant; it threatens wrath and curse for unfaithfulness. And those covenant sanctions are applied at the smallest foundational society: the family.

Too many Christians lightly regard baptism today. But its close attachment in the Great Commission to “all authority in heaven and on earth” should lead the knowledgeable Christian to a high regard for baptism. Covenantal oaths are binding obligations – eternally binding. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

[Covenantal oaths are eternally binding. “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Words Christians must remember, and live accordingly.]


[1] Acts 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:14.

[2] See: Kenneth L Gentry, Jr., “Infant Baptism: A Duty of God’s People” in Light for the World: Studies in Reformed Theology (Edmonton, Alberta: Still Waters Revival,

forthcoming).

[3] Gen. 6:18; 7:1, 7.

[4] Josh. 2:12-13; Psa. 37:17, 18; 103:17-18; 105:8; 115:13-14; Prov. 3:33.

[5] Exo. 20:5; 34:6,7; Deut. 5:9. Note: Gen. 9:24-25; Hos. 9:11·17; Psa. 109:1, 2, 9, 10;

Prov. 3:33.


[6] The principle is found in Romans 14:17, as well: “For if the firstfruit be holy, the

lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”

[7] Cp. Luke 18:15-17 with Matt. 19:13-14.


[8] Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2.

[9] Eph. 6:1, 4; Col. 3:20-21.


[10] Acts 2:38, 39; 16:31; 11:14.


[11] The words “circumcision” and its negative “uncircumcision” appear seventy-one times in the Old Testament and fifty-four times in the New Testament.

[12] Gen. 17:7, 11; Exo. 6:7; 29:45; Lev. 26:12.

[13] Gen. 17:7; Exo. 5:2ff; 6:7; 29:45; Lev. 26:12; Deut. 7:9; 29:14-15; 2 Sam. 7:24; Jer. 24:7; 31:33; 32:38; Eze.11:20; 34:24; 36:28; 37:23; Zech. 8:8. In addition, the phrase “My people” occurs over 200 times in the Old Testament.

[14] Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Isa. 52:1; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:26; Eze. 44:7-9.

[15] Rom. 4:3, 9, 12, 16; Gal. 3:6-9, 14; Heb. 11:8, 17; Jms. 2:23.

[16] Rom. 2:28, 29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11.


[17] Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:48; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21.

[18] Rom. 6:3-6; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27, 28; Col. 2:11, 12.

[19] Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21. Compare also the relation between baptism and the “baptism of fire,” which is a purging and purifying fire: Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5.

[20] Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 16:14-15, 33-34.


[21] Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16. Interestingly, there are but twelve recorded episodes of Christian baptism in the New Testament (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 13, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Cor. 1:14, 16). Yet, three of these are household baptisms. Significantly, there are no instances of Christian parents presenting their children for baptism after a child’s conversion.

[Let’s repeat this bit.

“… there are no instances of Christian parents presenting their children for baptism after a child’s conversion.”

If you place the Bible above the will of men, the Divinely-ordained position on infant baptism is clear.]

[22] Gen. 17:12, 13, 23, 27.

[23] See: Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), Chapters 4-5.

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