Does baptism replace circumcision? and other questions

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Jeff Overduin

Puritan Board Freshman
Note: I realize this question has been addressed before, but my question is a little more specific and I would like some fresh insights.

Hi all,

I'm a member of a paedo-baptist church and working through the concept of infant baptism in my mind right now. I have listened to Edward Donnelly's series on baptism and I found it very helpful. I definitely believe that the covenant made with Abraham continues today, and children are thus still included in the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign.

However, I have 3 questions still about baptism--they are ranked in order of importance. :)

Question 1.

Does baptism replace circumcision as the sign of the covenant? In his series, Donnelly mentions that it has, but does not elaborate on it. The Heidelberg Catechism in Q & A 74 gives Colossians 2:11-13 as proof of this. The Scripture (NKJV) reads:

"In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

I'm having a hard time understanding this passage, much less seeing how the catechism gets the idea that baptism replaces circumcision. If there is even a replacement in the text, isn't it more that the circumcision of the heart (made without hands, by putting off...sins) replaces physical circumcision? Are there other Scriptures to show that baptism replaces circumcision?

In my mind, the replacement of the Passover with the Lord's Supper is much more clear, because the Lord instituted it on the same night.

Question 2:
In Romans 4, Paul deals with justification by faith in the OT and explains that justification happened before circumcision. I would imagine this is in response to the Jews who said that believers had to be circumcised (as in Acts 15). I know Paul is talking more about justification by faith rather than the function of circumcision/baptism in Romans 4, but if baptism replaced circumcision and the apostles taught that, why did the Jews have such a hard time with it? I guess I just think that if baptism replaced circumcision, wouldn't Paul have at least mentioned it in Romans 4, in case Christians were tempted to treat baptism like the Jews treated circumcision (i.e. as a work) ?

Question 3:
I've always had a question about the actual meaning of baptism. I've heard that it literally means immersion. My dictionary says the Greek word for baptize means "dip." Did they dip or immerse infants in the early church? Why do most paedobaptist churches (all the ones that I know of) practice sprinkling then?
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Technically, circumcision is ceremonial/typical and is abrogated. However, baptism replaces it in the sense that it fulfills the same function -- initiation into the visible church, and a sign and seal of regeneration.

If there is even a replacement in the text, isn't it more that the circumcision of the heart (made without hands, by putting off...sins) replaces physical circumcision?

The problem with this is that "circumcision of the heart" existed in the Old Covenant, and was mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament. What was always there alongside physical circumcision can't replace it.

Are there other Scriptures to show that baptism replaces circumcision?

How many do you need? ;)

Question 3:
I've always had a question about the actual meaning of baptism. I've heard that it literally means immersion. My dictionary says the Greek word for baptize means "dip." Did they dip or immerse infants in the early church? Why do most paedobaptist churches (all the ones that I know of) practice sprinkling then?

When the Spirit is poured out, the Scripture has no qualms about calling it a "baptism" in the Holy Spirit.

Hope this helps some.
 

Prufrock

Arbitrary Moderation
Jeff, I hope these comments will be able to provide a little help:

1.) The reason you are not seeing the idea of replacement in Colossians is because the proof-text is not designed to directly state that baptism replaces circumcision. What the verse *does* show, is that baptism and circumcision both signify the same thing: in this case, namely, the death of the old man. It was a sign and seal of the covenant, *even as* baptism is. Therefore, the role that circumcision fulfilled under the old covenant is fulfilled by baptism under the new covenant.

2.) It would be counter-productive for Paul to state that baptism replaces circumcision in Romans 4. As you stated:
I know Paul is talking more about justification by faith rather than the function of circumcision/baptism in Romans 4, but if baptism replaced circumcision and the apostles taught that, why did the Jews have such a hard time with it? I guess I just think that if baptism replaced circumcision, wouldn't Paul have at least mentioned it in Romans 4, in case Christians were tempted to treat baptism like the Jews treated circumcision (i.e. as a work)?​
This was the very problem: since the Jews wrongly treated circumcision like a work, then if Paul told these people that baptism replaced circumcision, they would probably start thinking of baptism in the same way that they erroneously thought of circumcision. Thus, the Holy Spirit instead wrote to demonstrate that justification was without ceremonies or works of any sort.
 

Repre5entYHWH

Puritan Board Freshman
in regard to question #3 the Israelite were baptized into moses but were sprinkled by hyssop with blood.
 

jason d

Puritan Board Freshman
Moderating:
Jason, pay attention to the forum. In a Paedo-baptist-response thread, not to "show your cards" (or perhaps, even to post, since you aren't a paedo-baptist) and link to an anti-paedo-baptist article--but not disclose the nature of the article--seems disingenuous to me.

I'm going to leave the link, since to remove it might imply that a paedo-baptist was "afraid" of credobaptst attempts to get around the unity-of meaning behind both OT and NT sign.

So, anyone read if you please. Obviously, the article isn't going to answer the questions posed by the original post, but rather propose an alternative approach.



I recommend this for some good exegesis on Col. 2:11-12 -> Themelios | Issue 35-1

Just as obviously, we'd probably disagree on whether the exegesis was entirely "good" or not.
/Moderating
 
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R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
Colossians 2:11-12: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (ESV)

There are two mistakes to be avoided in reading this passage. The first is to miss the connection between baptism and circumcision. The second is to overstate the connection. This passage shows a connection between circumcision and baptism as Paul’s thought moves from the one to the other but they are not utterly identified. The connection is the cross and Christ’s death for his elect. Read more>
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1) The questions to be answered are:
How is one brought visibly into the covenant community, OT or NT? What sign?
What do these signs mean? Do they mean the same essential things?
Who are the appropriate recipients of the appropriate sign, OT or NT? Where does the Bible teach this? Does the Bible teach differently in one age from another?

Both external baptism and external circumcision are given internal corollaries. Therefore, when Paul says "you were circumcised by circumcision-not-with-hands... buried in baptism" (the latter completes the verbal phrase) he is surely making connection between spiritual realities (spiritual circumcision/spiritual baptism) represented by both external rites.

Unless one tries to drive an actual disjunction (not merely a distinction) between the external act of baptism and spiritual baptism (is not the former designed to teach or represent the latter?), Paul is the one who says baptism teaches the spiritual truth that in former times was taught by circumcision. And he does this by pointing directly to the spiritual reality behind circumcision, and not the rite, which the baptized (in NT times, Paul's highlight) to whom he writes, experience.

2) First, it isn't entirely true that baptism gets no mention in Paul's lengthy salvation discussion, however it comes in where more appropriate, Rom.6:3-4. It also doesn't follow that one should bring in a separate discussion (Acts15) and leverage it into an interpretation of Rom.4. The discussion of Rom.4 has to do with the nature of Abraham's justification, and the fact that it came about without regard to the state of his circumcision. Paul did not think referencing baptism was appropriate at this juncture--and it is hard to see how it would have been fitting, seeing that his intent is to take all attention away from rituals. But it is worthwhile noting that come the end of his larger treatment of justification, he opens a whole section on sanctification (or the Christian life), chs6-8, with a reference to baptism.

But there is no extended focus on the externals in Paul's doctrinal discussion. Even where sanctification is in view, the emphasis is on the spiritual transformation within a man (of course accompanied by relative righeousness in conduct). But, again it is worth attending to the fact that his most external-oriented discussions of Christian behavior come in ch12ff, where we are urged to "present our bodies living sacrifices."

No doubt, there have been many people--including untold adults (!) baptized--who have since turned their "ritual wash" into a reason for carnal security. For all such persons so tempted, I suppose that no matter when one was baptized, a glance at the first verses of Rom.6 would be in order.

3) Baptism doesn't mean "immersion." It has a semantic range, like most terms, usage of which passes the gamut from a literalistic and physical sense of "whelming" (much better term than immersion, in my opinion) to entirely esoteric senses. The flexibility of the word "baptism" made it a helpful and useful term, and tryng to force "immersion" on the word is linguistically irresponsible.

It is a word that was borrowed and transliterated into other tongues, and has even come to "mean" in one very common use of the word: the rite of initiation into the Christian church whatever the form. Interestingly, in a RussianOrthodox church (as I watched on video), they swished a child three times in a basin. Not what I think happened in Bible-times, but it is one way that people are baptized today. I don't know how the EO baptize adults.

Sprinkling is the most common form of ceremonial cleansing in the Bible. A glance through the OT Levitical rituals shows how common it was, whether by blood, or by water, or a mixture of things. Ezekiel 36:25 prophesied of the NT age, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses..." If what the church is doing in baptism is symbolic of the Spirit's work in cleansing, then the mode of sprinkling has sufficient Scriptural warrant on the basis of Ezk.36:25 alone, apart from any other consideration.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Baptism does replace circumcision. But circumcision was more appropriate in the Abrahamic and Old Covenants than baptism because :-

(a) The male reproductive organ was sanctified until the Holy Seed, Christ, should come. Now that Christ has come the rite of entry into the Covenant and Church doesn't need to specially focus on the male reproductive organ.

(b) The shedding of a little of the individual sinful Israelite's blood pointed to the threat of physical death in the Old Covenant Church-Kingdom, if the access to a typological sacrifice was despised and withdrawn by the gross, wilful, presumptious and properly proven breach of one of the 10C.

Such types have fallen away in the New Covenant and Church and been replaced by baptism, Chist's atoning death on the Cross, church discipline and God's eternal judgment.

We are not under the typical curse of the law, although anyone inside or outside the Covenant who does not believe in Christ is under the antitypical curse of the law.

Those seeking to discern the general equity of the Mosaic penology for modern Christian states to provide a wise and godly and sensible Reformed approach to criminal and penal law must take account of these things very carefully.
 
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