Calvin's Institutes 4.16.20-24

Discussion in 'Daily Devotional Forum' started by eqdj, Nov 9, 2009.

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  1. eqdj

    eqdj Puritan Board Freshman

    Reformation 21 is blogging through Calvin's Institutes this year. You can find their reading plan here.

    In 4.16.20 Calvin appeals to the Abrahamic command, as a means of raising difficulties for critics of paedobaptism:

    But here Calvin insists on a false dilemma. Why can’t the command of God to circumcise infants be legitimate for the people of God in their infancy, but illegitimate for the people of God in their maturity (Such a distinction is already accepted by Calvin anyway. Cf. the extended discussion in his chapter on “The Difference Between the Two Testaments” (2.11), especially his appeal in section 2 to Gal 4:1 in which the people of God are likened to “an heir in pupillarity”. Says Calvin: “They had the same Church, though it was still in puerility.”)? “The command of God to circumcise infants” was surely legitimate; Gen 17:10-14 stands in Scripture as God’s inspired word to Abraham. That is plain for all to see. But it would be clearly illegitimate to found a contemporary ethical obligation upon the authority of an obsolete command, and yet this is just what paedobaptists have done.

    What was the heresy of the Judaizers in the book of Galatians? Fundamentally, their error was to contend that the command to circumcise was essential to the perpetuity of the Abrahamic Covenant and its promises and blessings. Thus, according to them, Gentile converts were required to be circumcised in order to be members of the family of God. But in this they were greatly mistaken, for in the New Covenant order of things, “circumcision is nothing” (1 Cor 7:19), and “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” (Gal 5:6; cf. Gal 6:15). What they took to be essential to this everlasting covenant was in fact nonessential, and therefore done away with.

    While their error is usually not as serious as that of the Judaizers, the paedobaptist commits a similar error, by contending that the command to apply a covenant sign to one’s children is essential to the perpetuity of the Abrahamic Covenant, and its promises and blessings. But surely, if the Judaizers were in error on this score, then so are the paedobaptists. For the only command in redemptive history, to the effect that a covenant sign should be applied to one’s children, is precisely that command which Paul has said is completely abolished: the command to circumcise the members of one’s household. It continues only as a permission, to satisfy Jewish scruples in relevant social contexts of Christian ministry (Acts 21:18-25), not as an obligation. Thus, if this command is of no authority to contemporary Christians, neither is the practice the paedobaptist infers from it: infant baptism.

    This is the fundamental bind in which the paedobaptist finds himself. The only positive, exegetical foundation by which to derive a present parental obligation to have one’s infants baptized, is the very command to Abraham which Paul clearly states is now obsolete. Thus, the only scriptural foundation for pressing a paedobaptist duty upon Christian parents has been removed, and that by nothing less than apostolic authority. And this is all the Baptist needs to conclude that paedobaptist arguments, while interesting, are ultimately unconvincing. In the end, paedobaptism fails the classic test of a consistently Reformed hermeneutic: binding unless explicitly repealed. The command to circumcise infants has been explicitly repealed, and no new, positive command with respect to infants has been put in its place. This general pattern is true of the sacrificial laws, which is why no one would dream of reimposing them in any form upon believers today. It is also true of the command to circumcise, and any alleged present ethical duty founded upon it (such as infant baptism).

    Paedobaptists often appear offended at the notion that God would “kick babies out of the covenant”. But the blunt reality is that babies were “kicked out” of the covenant when the only command that ever put them “in” the covenant was explicitly said by subsequent apostolic authority to be “nothing” (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6) and non-binding on Gentiles (Acts 15:5, 28). Let’s be honest: what other possible grounds for an ethical obligation for infant baptism are there in the Scriptures, besides the command to Abraham? Calvin was right: it all goes back to this. Which is why Calvin was clearly wrong about infant baptism.

  2. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    "Calvin was clearly wrong"??? :wow:

    Col 2:11 (and the other usual verses) builds a reasonable, rational case for covenant baptism extending to the family.
  3. eqdj

    eqdj Puritan Board Freshman

    Col 2:11 was dealt with earlier in IV.16.1-6,
  4. MMasztal

    MMasztal Puritan Board Sophomore

    Sorry guy. Your scriptural gymnastics do not convince me.

  5. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    By itself, the quote wouldn't stand, but it follows his explanations that circumcision and baptism both represent the same spiritual realities. Most anabaptist arguments in Calvin's time were related to the spiritual nature of baptism. Calvin wisely points out that since the spiritual realities are the same, you can't make an argument against infant baptism based on those spiritual realities without also overthrowing infant circumcision. To be fair, this is not the only credobaptism argument, but it is the most common one and it certainly was the most common in Calvin's day as well, among the anabaptists of the time.
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