Water Baptism Has Not Replaced Physical Circumcision

Paedobaptists agree that Abraham has “only one true seed, the spiritual seed”. But they still can’t let go of the fact that Abraham’s “carnal seed” were circumcised. Therefore, they still think that DNA has something to do with water baptism. Those with DNA from Abraham were circumcised in the old covenant, and certain versions of paedobaptism say that those (in the first generation only) with DNA from Christian parents are to be baptized as infants because of that parallel.

They explain that “biological descent from Abraham is never a sufficient reason for one to expect covenant blessings.” But some paedobaptists think that biological descent IS ONE REASON to expect blessing. WITHOUT biological descent, one had very little reason to expect blessing in the old covenant. I recall for you the language of Ephesians 2:12–”being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope…” But also we
remember the exceptions (Ruth) in the genealogy of Jesus

Not all of Israel is Israel or ever WAS EVER Israel. God chooses individuals to be justified. The new perspective not only neglects the law/grace distinction of the Mosaic covenant, but also attempts to ignore  the “new individualism” of the new covenant. We do not get into the new covenant corporately, and then stay by our works of faith, as NT Wright (with many others) would have it.

Conservative paedobaptists do “believe in” church discipline. Even though the “covenant sign is objective”, they don’t want to place that sign on any and every pagan. They “abhor a nominal church.” Conservative paedobaptists only baptize infants of the first generation. They still attempt to determine if parents are believers before they will baptize their children. In this way, they attempt to avoid a national church (even if those parents were infant watered by Roman Catholics).

John Murray: “no organization of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate.”  But then again, no presbytery can determine infallibly which parents are regenerate. And no preacher can infallibly preach God’s Word. And no magistrate can infallibly kill enemies. And no writer can infallibly free themselves of prejudice. We all know these things. But knowing this does not decide for us if a church includes the children of believers, or only those who profess to be justified believers.

Although some paedobaptists practice infant communion, most paedobaptists have “criteria for adult membership”. The difference with baptists is finally not a different kind of “certainty”.  The difference is that paedobaptists have TWO kinds of church membership. So the question becomes— does the new covenant have two kinds of membership? If the Lord’s Supper is a “sacrament both received and performed”, does this mean that only some (non-infant) members take and eat the Lord’s Supper?

Assurance–for credobaptists or for paedobaptists– should not be based on our continuing to meet “covenant conditions”. I Peter 3:21: “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Christ.” Gospel assurance does not come from a promise of ours to get busy and to keep working enough! “Dead works” come from that.

“Feeling one must match the experiences of others” is not an error isolated to credobaptists. Believer baptism is no solution to a puritan produced (the practical syllogism) crisis of assurance: only the imputed righteousness of Christ can give us peace with God.

If we follow the advise of Charles Hodge and Horace Bushnell, our children should always presume themselves to be Christians. I do know many paedobaptists who do not agree with Hodge and Bushnell on this  question But perhaps those who dissent from Bushnell on this matter are not consistent.

Questions remain. Are the infants born to paedobaptist Christians in a better position after “water baptism” than the infants born to credobaptist Christians? If infants are baptized not in order to be included in “the covenant” but because they were born in “the covenant”, wouldn’t that mean that infants born to credobaptist Christians are in “the covenant” despite the sinful neglect by their parents and church?  Do they still have the “opportunity” to be “cursed by the new covenant” fi they don’t live up to the conditions which come with having Christian parents? Or is the only way to actually receive the “greater negative sanctions” is to receive the “water of the church”?

Paedobaptists (Calvin) accuse credobaptists of missing the spiritual dimensions of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. But they themselves miss the physical dimensions of the old covenants. In Acts there is no second generation “born of Christian parents”. From this silence, some even infer that the second generation must have been baptized in their infancy. I am not against inferring but I would like to be rational in doing so. In Acts there is a second generation “born of circumcised and in the covenant” parents!

I get from the silence in Acts (about second generation water baptism) that Acts knows nothing about two kinds of water baptism. We could infer just as well that very few were baptized in Acts since most had already been circumcised. We could infer that none who had been circumcised were baptized in Acts. But such an inference would be wrong.

Acts is not silent about one important matter—we read the record there of many Jews, who having already received the circumcision symbol of the old covenant, do not rest content with that infant ritual but are water baptized after they believe. I infer, not from silence but from this clear pattern, that water baptism and circumcision are not only different, but also that water baptism is not a substitute for circumcision. Physical circumcision as theologically significant has ended, but not because water baptism has replaced it.

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14 Comments on “Water Baptism Has Not Replaced Physical Circumcision”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    “watered infants, when they are older, make the promises their own”

    was the promise that they would make the promise their own?

    was it a self-fulfilling promise (like being the answer to your own prayer)?

    or was the promise not about if they would believe, but no different from the promise given to people not watered as infants?


    “Reformed covenant theology” is on the way to a general ineffective atonement

    Ineffective Unjust Indefinite atonement says that Christ is the priest for all the non-elect and that all the non-elect are in the new covenant

    new covenant theology say that as many as are elect (no more , no less) will be in the new covenant

    Reformed “covenant theology” says that all the covenants are really one “the covenant of grace” and thus they say that the new covenant includes some who are non-elect. While they don’t teach that all of the non-elect are in the new covenant, they do teach that some of the non-elect are in the new covenant.

    Of course, the continuity they so firmly affirm, they also later qualify and take back, when they make a distinction between those who are only externally in “the covenant of grace” and those who are internally in “the covenant of grace”. They also have a distinction between “in the covenant” and “of the covenant”.

    Lutherans have two kinds of “new covenant people”—
    1. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament, but who do not have the Holy Spirit and who do not believe the gospel.
    2. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament but who also have the Holy Spirit and believe the gospel.

    For Lutherans, both believer and unbeliever partake of the substance of Christ but with differing outcomes, one to life but the other to judgment. For Calvin, a person either receives both Christ and the Spirit, or neither Christ nor the Spirit. Unbelievers do not receive the Spirit, therefore they do not (in the “sacrament”) receive Christ.

    “The matter now disputed between us, is whether unbelievers receive the substance of Christ without his Spirit.” Lutherans say that, if Christ is truly present he is present independent of the communicant’s new birth or faith or unbelief.

    Calvin says that one cannot truly partake of Christ without partaking of His life-giving Spirit.
    Since Christ was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christ is not where the Spirit is not.

    Garcia, “Christ and the Spirit”, in Resurrection and Eschatology, ed Tipton and Waddington, p430

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Charles Hodge: “It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and His true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e., the covenant of grace), were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    I thought the Paedobaptist catechisms were to be taught to and repeated by all members of the Visible Church Community whether fit to come to the Lord’s Table or not; so that not everybody for whom the catechism is written necessarily professes to belong to the Invisible Church.
    Reply ↓

    R. Scott Clark

    January 28, 2014 @ 3:54 PM
    That you feel the impulse to revise the language does illustrate one of the differences between the Baptist and the Reformed conception of the church.

    In the confessional Reformed churches we catechize our children to confess what we believe. We catechize them, we pray for them, we expect (but don’t presume) that the Spirit will give them life and with that life faith to receive all that is promised. We ought to challenge those who profess falsely (hypocrites) but we accept, on the judgment of charity, the profession of members in good standing who are not under discipline for denying their profession.

    To change “we” to “elect” requires an unhealthy inward turn away from Christ and his promises to to me and to the question: “am I elect?” which Calvin and the Reformed orthodox strongly discouraged. The question is: do I believe? If the answer is yes, then that answers the question, am I elect? To sit around trying to decide, in the abstract, whether one is elect is the caricature of Reformed theology and piety but not our actual theology or piety.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    1. Were infant children baptized with water on the Day of Pentecost?

    2. How did they decide which infants had at least one believing parent?

    3. Did they have time to set up “confessional boxes” to obtain the profession of parents?

    4. Was one of your parents a believer when you were baptized with water as an infant?

    5. Does it matter if that parent is still believing the gospel? (or still believed it at death?)

    6. Does it matter if that parent was believing the gospel of Roman Catholics?

    7. Was the water baptism of already circumcised persons on the Day of Pentecost a form of “ana” baptism. a “re-circumcision”?

    bonus— Was the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus a believer or was it her father or was it the both of them?

    The Immaculate Conception, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, was the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her mother’s womb free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus Christ. Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculate has been widely held since Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. In many Catholic countries, it is aholy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some a national public holiday

  6. markmcculley Says:

    part of the Reformed mantra: “Abraham is not Moses. The New Covenant is new relative to Moses, not new relative to Abraham. Jeremiah does not compare the new covenant with Abraham.” Mark asks: is the new covenant new? Don’t you teach that the new covenant is only one more administration of one “the covenant of grace”? And don’t you teach that the Mosaic covenant is only one more administration of the one “the covenant of grace”? Weren’t both Abraham and Moses circumcised? What is the difference between the circumcision of Abraham and the circumcision of Moses? Is the difference Abraham’s promptness to circumcise his sons and the delay of Moses in circumcising his sons? Was not circumcision a “sign and seal” to Moses of the righteousness Moses had by faith?

    If water baptism equals circumcision, and if Paul was already circumcised, why was Paul water baptized? Wasn’t that like a re-circumcision or a re-baptism?

  7. markmcculley Says:

    John Fesko—Even though we can talk about a distinction between the visible and the invisible, or between the external and internal, why should we have to choose between water and the Spirit (Word, Water and Spirit, p 241, baptism as covenant judgment)
    mark—They don’t say “water baptism”, because the Bible does not say “water baptism”, but then they add that “baptism” in the Bible is always water and that there is a “sacramental union” between water as the sign and the “efficacy” as the thing signified.
    And then almost all of them say that the water baptism of John was about the Holy Spirit, and therefore baptism by Jesus and by the church is about both the water and about the Spirit, but NOT about legal identity with Christ’s death or about justification.
    And then they explain there is one gospel only, there is only one church, and therefore the baptism by John is not water only and the baptism by Jesus is not with the Spirit only
    And in this way they know that it’s not Jesus who baptized with the Holy Spirit, but rather that the Holy Spirit “baptizes us into Christ” and so we know that water baptism is not about Christ’s death or righteousness but about the Spirit uniting us to Christ’s righteousness .
    John Fesko, 322— “It is unnecessary to choose between water baptism and Spirit baptism”
    And then Fesko on the same page ( 322) finds it necessary to say that Spirit baptism is not God’s imputation, and also Fesko explains that baptism (both water nd by the Spirit) is NOT Christ’s giving the Spirit, because the Confession teaches us that Spirit baptism is the Spirit giving us Christ by uniting us to Christ by faith.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Mark 1:4 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance FOR the forgiveness of sins.

    Does the “FOR ” the remission mean “in order to” or “because of” the remission? Who knows and who cares? The point is that the remission might not take place at the same time as the water. The point is (a second point) is that the remission might not ever take place, at least not if the infant does not die before the ” age in which the table is no longer fenced against those watered at birth”. The point is that in the meanwhile we should presume remission because who knows anything for certain?

    “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children without exception because all Israel was always all Israel, and even though some do come by faith alone, there is no need for your children to do so, since they are already called and already near and here, and all they need to do is not leave. Not to deny that some also who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call, also come by faith alone, without Christian magistrates and without Christian parents, but of course not without water by clergy at some point.

    Acts 15 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!” … 9 God made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith….11 we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.

    Acts 19 Paul came to Ephesus and found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” Paul asked them. “With John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the Lord Jesus 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

    Nicodemus came a runnin’ hard
    Said “Has anybody here done seen the Lord?
    I want to buy some ‘ligion, but what will it cost
    To get myself to Heaven ‘fore my soul be lost?
    Then my God spoke, He spoke so sweet
    Sounded like the shuffle of angels feet
    He said “Marvel thou man, if you want to be wise
    You got to believe and be baptized”

    Nicodemus said “I don’t understand! I want to know
    How can be born when he’s old?”


  9. markmcculley Says:

    how many times can you say “but also”?

    circumcision is nothing ,but also non-circumcision is nothing

    circumcision is about your regeneration, but also about Christ’s death

    Galatians teaches us that persons who have been justified do not need to be also circumcised, but also Galatians does not say anything about baptism with water

    John the Baptist teaches us that even people who have been circumcised still need to be watered, but also John the Baptist teaches us that circumcision is nothing and that water is not grace

    water has come in the place of circumcision, but also if you let yourself be watered, Christ will profit you nothing

    circumcision is a “sign” of the gospel but also not the gospel

    uncircumcision is not nothing, but also so important that it takes us to the “castrate yourself” category

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Sinclair Ferguson —The (paedobaptist) covenantal principle enables parents to teach their children in home, Sunday School and congregational worship to pray with theological consistency ‘Our Father in heaven…’ Can a credobaptist do that with theological consistency? I doubt it.

    I Cor 7:14 No one argues that the unbelieving spouse was baptised, logically the same must be true of the children. Neither are baptised, yet both are considered holy.


    Doug Wilson — Baptists must view their child as ‘the newly arrived Amalekite sitting sullenly off to the side in his high chair’

    Shearer– Wilson’s argument in his essay on baptism and a theology of children is rather weakened by his admission that he learned his theology of children from his Baptist father. Was Wilson’s father inconsistent? Possibly so, or perhaps treating children as Amalekites is not an inevitable corollary of credobaptism.

    David Wright– ‘This is, I think, the only place in the New Testament where children are in view of whom we know for certain whether they have or have not been baptized. They have not – but are said to be already “holy”’.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    The Westminster Confession (28:6) ‘the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered’

    1. Since this is so, why not administer water to people after they believe the gospel?

    2. If the efficacy of God using water is not God giving faith in the gospel, why would water be needed before a person believes the gospel?

    3. if the elect are united with Christ before and without being imputed with Christ’s righteousness, is union with Christ not something obtained by Christ’s righteousness?

    4. if the elect are given the Holy Spirit before and without being imputed with Christ’s death, is the Holy Spirit not given by Christ and is regeneration not purchased by Christ’s death?

    Salter , ‘Without faith, of course, the subject of baptism is simply getting wet, nothing more’.

    Gibson—Note what is happening here: the definition of baptism is dependent on the position of its subjects. Without faith, baptism is not baptism. It is just getting wet. In this construction, one form of spirit-matter dualism is overcome by another. For the union of sign and thing signified has become so separate that without the thing signified the sign has actually ceased to exist.

    Calvin–“Augustine says: ‘And hence, he who remains not in Christ, and in whom Christ remains not, without doubt neither spiritually eats his flesh, nor drinks his blood, though with h is teeth he may carnally and visibly press the symbol of his body and blood.’

    Sheaer– We are told that the visible sign is opposed to spiritual eating. This refutes the error that the invisible body of Christ is sacramentally eaten in reality, although not spiritually. We are told, that nothing is given to the impure and profane beyond the visible taking of the sign


  12. markmcculley Says:

    Circumcision was NOT a preliminary sign for those in the Abrahamic covenant. Everybody circumcised was by that seal in the Abrahamic covenant.

    But God’s imputation of Christ’s circumcision (His death) and the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to Christ, and Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to those imputed with His death is the seal for those who have left Adam and who have now come into the NEW COVENANT.

    Galatians 3: 26 for you are all sons of God THROUGH FAITH IN Christ Jesus. 27 For AS MANY OF YOU as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment

    Even though paedos put most of the Jews out of the covenant, they still want to put their own infants in the covenant. But when they do this, do they tell their infants that they are now already children of God through faith? Do they tell their infants that they have already put on Christ? Do they tell every infant in their household that they shall be watered or do they tell every infant in your household that they shall be saved?

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