In my ongoing study on the defense of paedobaptism, I’m hoping to shore up many of the areas of concern that people have when it comes to this topic of paedobaptism, or the baptism of infants, toddlers, and children into the covenant-keeping community.
One of the big hurdles for credobaptists, who believe that only professing believers should be baptized, is the argument that we make showing that baptism replaces circumcision. We come to this position in the way the Paul speaks of baptism and circumcision. He uses the words interchangeably, showing that in essence, the two signs are similar even though circumcision is no longer a sign required for the people of God (see Acts 15). He does this in Colossians 2:11-13.
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[a] was put off when you were circumcised by[b] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[c] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
We see the close relationship of baptism and circumcision. Both point to the unity of the covenant of grace as signs of the covenant. Circumcision, the cutting away of the foreskin of the flesh, was given to show the need for bloodshed, along with the need for the purification of sins. Baptism replaces the bloody sign with a bloodless one because there is no more need for bloodshed. But what is at stake, is the unity of Scripture between the two covenants.
One commentator put it this way:
The passage makes an important point about the unity of the covenant of grace in both the Old an New Testament era: Gentile believers are not expected to follow the old covenant mode of identification with God and his people (Acts 15). But their faith in Christ has nevertheless made them as much children of the Abraham as if they were ethnic Jewish believer (Romans 2:28, 29; Gal. 3:26-29, Phil. 3:3). Baptism is not identical to circumcision, but it corresponds to it in essence (Romans 4:11) and has replaced it as the sign of the covenant.
Baptism, according to Paul, is so closely related to circumcision that that he uses the terms for one another. If the terms were completely distinctive, as many claim they are, then he would not have used them the way he did. He says that we were circumcised, although we were not circumcised, but baptized. Yet, the reality is that when we came to Christ, it was a spiritual circumcision, just as baptism is a spiritual cleansing. The point is that the two signs are related to one another. While one ceases under the new covenant, it still has significance to us today, showing us that the bloody requirement is no longer necessary in Christ.
Now here is a wonderful point. Gentile believers under the old covenant have the assurance of having their children in the covenant-keeping community by being given the sign of circumcision. But so do believers today. Believing parents have just as much hope for their children because the promises given to believers, are also given to their children (Acts 2:38-39). Sadly, what many people do today in denying their children the sign of the covenant is to deny the promises to them because they are breaking with the command given in Genesis 17:14. There, the LORD tells Abraham that anyone who does not have their son circumcised is cut off from His people. While the sign of the covenant has changed, the requirements have not.
In fact, baptism is to be more inclusive than circumcision was, given that this sign is given to our daughters as well.
With all this, let me point out again that this is why the Jews baptized their children in the First Century and there after. The signs of the covenant were the same in essence, with the same qualifications and realities. Yes, we know as did they that they were giving the sign to children who would grow up and turn away from the faith, but they were still commanded to give that sign, just as we are to give it today.
Baptism is far more reaching than circumcision was and the disciples never warned people not to administer the sign.
However, it is interesting to note, that Paul also issues a harsh warning for those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. He tells us there that some are drinking a curse upon themselves for abusing the sacrament of the LORD’s supper. So we can safely assume that it is far more important that only believers partake of communion than it is to make sure that all who are baptized are actually believers. I have tried to make this case for years. The line of demarcation for those who baptize their children is the LORD’s supper. The line for Baptist children…is basically the front door of the faith.
The point to all this is that circumcision is pointing toward the cross as a bloody sign, and baptism is pointing back to the cross as a bloodless sign. Both signs have the same significance: pointing believers of their day to the cross. More importantly, it is in the cross where the unity of the signs is found.At the cross, both signs tie together and help us see that the requirements of circumcision still apply today, although more broadly, yet without bloodshed.