Baptism: The New Testament Sign of Abraham

Part of what I have been trying to say when it comes to baptism, in order to show that it involves the entire family, is to understand the mindset of the First Century Jew when it came to the sign of circumcision. Both baptism and circumcision are signs of the covenant of grace (often called the New Covenant) and pointing us to the gospel (even in the Old Testament).

Here I would like to show the requirements given to Abraham in Genesis 17 for circumcision. Please note, this is given before the Mosaic Covenant which included the ceremonial rituals of the temple. So the requirements predate that covenant, and therefore were not negated as the ceremonial law was in the New Testament. In other words, the requirements and instructions of the covenant still remain even though the sign has changed.

The LORD gave Abraham very specific instructions when it came to this covenant. He said: “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

The first order of business was simply for Abraham to walk before Almighty God and be blameless. This is the LORD’s loving grace toward Abraham because His requirement is merely that Abraham remain with Him and pursue holiness. Obedience is required in all of our dealings with the LORD, but the abundance of blessings are by His grace alone, and not because of anything in us. In doing as he was called, God promised to multiply him exceedingly.

He also tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations, fruitful, and that kings will come from him, because the covenant is an everlasting covenant, given by God, so that his descendants would worship and follow God. He also promises all the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, and that He will be their God.

It as at this point that the LORD gives us the sign of the covenant of circumcision.

Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 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.”

The sign given is circumcision. This is a bloody sign, reminding God’s people of the need to be purified through the shedding of blood and pointing to the reality that even in the giving of circumcision, One much greater would need to shed blood for true purification to take place. This sign is bloody because it is pointing forward to the coming of Christ. Baptism is the same in essence as circumcision, but points backward to the shed blood of Christ. Both signs signify the same thing, members are part of the covenant-keeping community, but are they are different because the need for bloodshed was satisfied once for all at the cross. Both signs point to the unity of Scripture in the gospel itself.

The application of this sign is not just to those who believe, but all who are in a man’s household including the male child eight days old, those born in the house, or bought with money from a foreigner. All the males in the house, be they children or slaves, were to be given the sign.

It was understood that the sign of the covenant would be given to those who do not believe. It was stressed that the sign of the covenant must be given to those in the household or they would suffer the greatest curse from above.

And those who did not: “That person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

We don’t take seriously the admonition of casting (excommunication) the sinning brother out (1 Corinthians 5:5-7) in our day and culture. We think we are magnanimous to look the other way when an unrepentant brother is sinning in our midst. What we are doing is bringing shame on ourselves, the body of Christ, and our LORD. Remember that in Exodus 4:24-26, we see the impact of a fellow believer failing to place the sign of the covenant on his son. The LORD came to Moses for not having his son circumcised and “sought to kill him.” Now, it’s not clear whether the LORD was going to kill Moses, or his son, but the point is that withholding the sign of the covenant was so serious that the LORD was about to bring death upon the household of Moses.

Placing the covenant sign on family members is vital for us to be faithful in our walk with the LORD. This is why He gives these commands. The LORD did not die on the cross just so we could have our individual experience with Him, but to redeem and place His sign on the covenant-keeping community. To withhold the sign from our children is breaking the everlasting covenant given to us through Abraham. Instead of walking with the LORD, trusting Him in giving the sign to our children, we want to control when the sign is given. This is disobedience to God’s express command. Let me please stress that the disciples knew and understood these requirements. Had God changed these requirements, we would have a record of such a change in the New Testament.

Another sad realization occurred to me regarding my credobaptist brethren. They fail in the expansion of baptism by withholding it from those that Jesus was very concerned with, our children, and then turn around when it comes to communion and open it up to anybody and everybody. What I mean is that the application of baptism is to be much broader under the New Covenant than circumcision was in the Old Testament. The expansion of it is to little girls as well as little boys. But communion is to be guarded for believers only! We know this because the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11 that communion is for those who can examine themselves; it is not for our children, not for the stranger, not for the alien. Where credobaptists scream “believers only” they should not. And where they are open with communion, they should be crying out “believers only!”

Yet, because so many want to be inclusive, they let those who should not partake of communion do just that, bringing judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29), and then turn around and keep the covenant sign that should be applied to many and make it exclusive.

Please note that when Abraham was given the sign of circumcision, he was not told to check and see if those given the sign were believers or not. They were part of the community and needed the sign of the community.

Even Gentiles who moved into the community were given the sign of the community. The Gentile parents of little boys were given the comfort of knowing that their sons were part of the community, confirmed with the sign of circumcision. Yet, when it comes to the New Covenant, credobaptists want to limit and restrict that comfort by withholding the sign from our children. This should not be done.

One final point. If you maintain your credobaptist position, you are saying that only believers should receive the sign. But how do you really know if someone is a true believer or not? I know from my own experience, when I was a baptist preacher, that I baptized those who claimed to be believers, but who no longer walk in the LORD. If we are going to say “believers only,” should not the requirements for baptism be even greater than someone’s misguided and emotional desire to receive attention for taking a momentary washing? Should we not have more testing in place, to make sure that a person is really saved? Should we not observe them for a period of time? Remember, the requirements that credobaptists have erected for us says “believers only.” If we are going to honor this command, then should we not raise the bar for baptism even higher?

But alas, no such instructions are given in the Scripture, and no such command such as “believers only” is given in scripture. What is given is a beautiful picture of the continuity of the covenant of grace, first through the circumcision of males in the households of the believing community, then expanded to all in the household of believers today. Both signs point to Christ, and remind us that it is by grace we receive the sign of the covenant, since the promise is to those who believe AND to their children (Acts 2:38-39).