circumcision...baptism...change in sign?

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Puritan Board Freshman
as is the objective of the "paedo-baptists only answers" forum, i wish to seek clarification on the following issues:

1) What is the N.T. fulfillment of the physical sign of O.T. circumcision? Or would you even use such language?

2) What was the purpose of O.T. circumcision?

3) What was the point in the change of the sign from circumcision to baptism, and does such a change have an effect on the guiding principle of administration (i.e. now that the sign has changed, should any administration procedures change concurrently)? Why or why not?

4) Many reformed baptists, such as myself, would be quick to note the new covenant (jeremiah 31) as an objection to the practice of paedo-baptism. However, i am in agreement with the responses to such an objection being thus: the New Covenant and the realization of it is more eschatological in nature, and thus there are unregenerate people in the New Covenant community today (ref. heb. 3:12, heb. 6:4, heb. 10:26-30, john 15, etc). Also the New Covenant specifically references the Mosaic Covenant and not the Abrahamic. Thus it's principle of offspring inclusion is not abolished.

My question is: why shouldn't the New Covenant, with it's eschatological realities, lead our intentional practices of baptism to reflect those realities? In other words, yes there are unregenerate in the visible NC community today. However, each scriptural reference to prove this shows that each person fell away, or somehow went astray from that which was once held in "faith". This leads me to believe, through textual implications, that though there are unregenerate in the visible NC community, each of these are acknowledged as being a part of the visible community by a profession of Christ as Lord in "faith". This then differs from the intentional practice of stating people in the community (namely infants) without giving any profession of faith (authentic or otherwise). In which case, this practice seems to not reflect what the New Covenant is meaning to bring about.

P.S. Please note that these questions are a sincere search for clarification and not an outright challenge. I am a member of a PCA church, and in fact, some of my greatest friends are Presbyterians. So I really wish to know, better, how they and you view these things. Thanks a lot!


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1. The "fulfillment" of the OT sign of circumcision (although you might be right to question whether that is normal language for us to speak of it) is Jesus Christ.

That is to say, in Christ all the promises of God's covenant of grace--to which the sign applied refer--are summed up in Christ.

We would say that in the new era of Christ's universal reign, before his second coming in any case, there is a correspondent sign, namely baptism. In certain cardinal ways, both signs point to the same things. They both don't always speak in exactly the same way, but there is a tremendous about of overlap in the most important areas.

Thus, it would be awkward, if not misleading, to say that baptism "fulfills" circumcision. Both signs point to or are fulfilled in Christ--one in the promise of his coming, the other in his having come.

[see answer #2 below]
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
2) OT circumcision had a number of purposes.
-- it signified that salvation was coming to the earth through a Jewish male.
-- it signified that the shedding of blood was necessary to forgive sin.
-- it signified that, rather than death to the recipient, or the cutting off of the human race through sterility (death), their "vital" member was actually spared, just touched with the knife. Whereas, the Savior would be altogether "Cut off".
-- it signified that though one outer part was touched with the cutting off if sinful flesh, really the heart within (the inner man) needed the surgery.
-- it signified that the Israelite was clean, set apart, and devoted to God.
-- it signified that identification with God's people was something other than genetic, indeed that foreigners were able to join the church, symbolized by submitting to the same rite of entry to the congregation that the rest of them had taken, which was an act of faith.

[see answer #3 below]
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Puritan Board Doctor
Many paedobaptists e.g. John Murray in his book on baptism, have shown how circumcision was a sign of sanctification and cleansing like baptism, was the badge of the entrance into the covenant of grace like baptism, and also of engrafting into the visible church like baptism.

Why was circumcision, a practice previously used by other tribes and nations, chosen for the OT sign? In the context of its giving in Genesis 17 reference is repeatedly made to the promise of Abraham's coming seed - which we learn from the Apostle in Galatians - is Christ and also all those who are truly in Christ.

The form of the sign therefore was the sanctification and cleansing of the male organ of reproduction until Christ, the promised seed, should arrive. This was done by the removal of the foreskin and by extension any underlying filth. God on a number of occasions shows up its spiritual meaning by demanding that the Israelites circumcise their hearts in correspondence with their foreskins.

What did the shedding of blood by adult and baby males in circumcision signify? This could not have sanctified the Israelites or their reproductive organs or their offspring, because it was not the blood of an innocent animal that was shed, but the blood of sinful babies and adults.

This may well have signified the threat of the bond of the covenant if the Israelites were not faithful in embracing the promises, priviledges and responsibilities of the covenant by faith. The threat was that their covenant line would be "cut-off" and that physical and even spiritual death would ensue.

One form of (permanent) "cutting-off" (excommunication) in Israel was by the death penalty, for a range of gross offences, which gave some evidence that the perpetrator despised the graciousness of God in the sacrificial system and was thus debarred from sacrifice.

In Galatians 5:12, Paul wishes the covenantal threat, one of the things implied in circumcision, upon those who were troubling the Galatians.

Now that the Covenant Seed is here, the Lord Jesus Christ, we no longer need a sanctifying, cleansing, ingrafting, and Covenant entrance sign that is applied to the loins. Therefore we have baptism for all those that believe or are born into the Covenant.

In the New Covenant, the recipients of baptism with water are encouraged to seek cleansing in Christ's blood/ the washing of regeneration/baptism in the Spirit - spiritual/heart circumcision is subsumed in these/that.
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
3) Point of change of the sign of covenant is found in a fulfillment of the "forward-looking" age of history. The anticipation of salvation has been definitively realized in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

The division apart of the Israelite/Jewish people is no longer relevant to world history.

The sign should no longer be bloody.

Cleansing should replace Judgment as the first, and most immediately arresting aspect of the sign (both being present in both signs).

The new sign should emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the work of Redemption purchased by Christ. Christ's bloody death on the cross, vs. the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (both being present in both signs).

The sign should be simplified, daunting barriers lowered, should be applicable without complication in all places and environments; it should be universally applicable, using a universal means, should be applicable to both genders, to old or young.

Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility

Heb 9:18, 22 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.... Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

[see answer #4 below]


Puritan Board Doctor
Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. Baptists are effectively saying that God engrafts only individual branches and removes the twigs associated with those branches.

God did not do this in the Old Covenant period, so why should He now?

In the Old Covenant period if a branch was not alone - i.e. an individual - God engrafted all his twigs with him, i.e. his family.

If an individual that has been baptised reaches years of discretion and does not partake of the Lord's Supper, that individual is effectively trying to distance/distancing him/herself from the Covenant of Grace outwardly, just as someone circumcised as a child but that refused to celebrate the Passover was.

See e.g. Numbers 9:13
But if anyone who is clean and is not on a journey fails to keep the Passover, that person shall be cut off from his people because he did not bring the Lord 's offering at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
4) Simplest answer: we aren't in heaven yet.

Really, that answer should be sufficient to address this matter of living in the "New Covenant, with it's eschatological realities." There is such a thing as overrealized eschatology. The eclipsing of the "not yet" by the "already."

We do not have supernatural insight into the heart, any more today than in bygone days. We operate essentially on the basis of commandment, and not on the basis of supposed judgment as to the depth or quality of a man's profession.

"Is he credible?" is our question when an adult desires to join the church, and we don't (or shouldn't) set the credibility bar high.

Not, how long has he persevered, maintaining his profession, growing by some metric in his spirituality (and there are Baptist churches that do not baptize when a child or someone from outside first shows stirrings of faith or offers a profession).

Our goal is not to baptize "only the elect" (the perfect church of heaven) or as close to such a standard as we suppose we can attain, thus producing an earthly picture of the heavenly assembly. On the other hand, we do represent heaven in our gatherings by the actual worship of the church. It is the objective, visible reality that represents heaven to our eyes, not the invisible condition of hearts.

The two understandings can be stated thus: is the church an "imperfect" (mixed) gathering of "perfect" (elect, ideal) people--the Baptist understanding? Or is it a "perfect" (ideal, heavenly when attended through the eye of faith) gathering of "imperfect" people (sinners)--the Reformed view.

The former view tends to the understanding of the place of the gospel at the start (the door) to the Christian life, but less so vital respecting the ongoing spirituality of the Christian life. The latter view tends to the understanding of the place of the gospel as indispensable to the continuing life of the believer, needing the gospel every week first to convert the soul and also to transform the life.

So, the three year old child, the thirteen year old youth, the thirty-three year old, the seventy-three year old (who was baptized in the church from his infancy, made a communicant member at thirteen, married and a parent at thirty-three) are always sinners, always needing the power, conviction, and conforming power of the gospel. Until they go off to heaven, where the faith they lived and breathed in this life is made manifest to all in glory.

Peter, in the New Covenant inauguration (Acts 2:39), took the promise made to Abraham and simply repeated it for his Pentecost audience. And he included their children in the exact same way as God included them in his promise to Abraham. Jesus said that his kingdom contained exactly the sort of infant he held in his arms (Luke 18:15), and he even quoted Ps.8:2 to the Pharisee's face, Mt.21:16.

These, along with the repeated references to NT household baptisms, are textual indicators to us that the outward expression of the NC people of God is not more narrowly defined than in the previous eras, but is just as visibly affirming, if not more so. This covenant is better, and shows its superiority by signs that people are taught to look at at see.

And why, if the promise in the old days was to save the faithful Fathers' and Mothers' children (and yet, was obviously accompanied by significant apostasy), would we not expect that in the age of greater manifestations of God's grace and Spirit he will save MORE of the saints' children?

If this is to be the expectation of the Christian parent, who has been given even more of the Spirit's motivational grace to be a faithful, spiritual, nurturing parent (more than typical OT parents seem to have received)--then isn't this a form of his "better" expectation? Shouldn't we expect God to propagate his elect in our families? If this was an OT hope, shouldn't we today believe his promises even more?

Thus, if the OT covenant-sign was to be placed on all appropriate recipients, and God said so, despite the fact that perhaps the majority of them would fail due to unbelief; how much more in our time? God would rather have the non-elect (in covenant families) receive his sign of the gospel, and not fail to give it to his elect in those families, than to withhold it from those elect, in an effort to humanly and imperfectly limit this application to the elect.

Infants are the most common, helpless persons in all the world. Baptism happens to people; recipients don't simply "allow" it. Baptism is a testimony--not so much of MY following Christ, MY obedience, MY faith--but of God's monergistic salvation. "I save helpless sinners, through Jesus Christ, by faith alone."

The parents are themselves believing God's gospel promises to them at that moment, as are all the faithful observers, marking the objective testament of the gospel in that sacrament. Baptism isn't making an unqualified statement about that child, any more than it would be saying something unqualified about an ADULT who was receiving the same sign by profession.

Infants are surely capable of germinating rudiments of saving faith, even if we choose not to make a great deal out of those sorts of arguments; without faith it is impossible to please God and go to heaven. We don't make a big deal out of those arguments because--it doesn't matter to us when the faith of the elect is exercised, pursuant to their salvation. The sign is still a sign to them when they believe in the objective realities the sign preaches.

And if he doesn't believe? Then it is a sign against him, of God's wrath, and moreso for having spurned the gospel message that first came to that child in his infancy, and was repeated and repeated throughout his life. No wonder it is practically impossible to "renew such a person" to repentance, once he has turned his back on the faith he was urged to believe all his life. I know late conversions happen, and praise God they do. But the warnings are there for a reason.
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