NT Jewish circumcision/baptism Question

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ad fontes

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello everyone. First, I'd like to say that you all have been a tremendous source of information. I am a Calvinistic Southern Baptist pastor (though not in service right now) who has been on a theological journey toward paedobaptism. At this point, I am about 95% there on the issue.

Here's a question for which I would appreciate your insight...

Leading up to Acts 15, the Pharisaical converts were insisting that the Gentile believers, in addition to baptism, needed to be circumcised and to be strict adherents of the Mosaic law. This leads me to believe that (correct me if I am making too much of a leap) Jewish Christians (at least the former Pharisees) were still circumcising their infants in addition to baptism, assuming they had them at this point. What did this circumcision represent to them? Was it an ethnic Jewish identity thing or something more? I had a conversation with a Baptist pastor (a huge caveat in this discussion, I know) who believed that the Jews were trying to ensure that the Gentiles were identified with all of God's Covenants with Israel. Circumcision for the Abrahamic Covenant, Law observance for the Mosaic Covenant, and baptism for the New Covenant. He said that the apostles - and the Acts 15 Council - corrected this because the Gentiles only needed to be identified with the New Covenant. This is a huge dispensational leap, to be sure, but it did make me wonder what circumcision represented to them.

Thanks in advance.

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Interesting question. It's only speculation or guesswork to wonder what Jewish Christians were doing immediately following Pentecost. Peter, at least, was still kosher in his dietary habits and it was not immediately obvious to many (though it was more or less clear in Christ's commission) that the wall of separation had been torn down.

Keep in mind that Revelation was still ongoing at the time. The kerygma had been revealed in Christ. That is to say that the historical redemptive act of Christ had come upon them and even some redemptive-historical events were ongoing at the time of Acts, which we read. It was then the commission of the Apostles, through their teaching, to fully explain the implications of the Kingdom of God. There's a sense in which the circumcision of Jewish children, for religious purposes, would have been understandable until the fuller Revelation through teaching would have clearly abrogated the practice.

That said, it is also very important to notice that the "circumcision party" had more problems than simply continuing to practice circumcision at this point in history. If you read Paul carefully in Galatians, he is not so much condemning the physical act of circumcision but that the Judaizers had even missed the whole point of circumcision, which was given to Abraham. It was a Sign that signified grace and Promise and not obedience unto Law (Torah) as the basis for salvation. There was *never* a period in the OT when salvation was through obedience to Torah nor ever was there a time when circumcision represented obedience to Torah as a means to salvation. Those that were calling Gentiles to circumcision were doing so in effect to say that one needed the Gospel (Christ's work) *and* obedience to Torah to obtain salvation. The person that practiced this for themselves or children, as Paul notes, would have missed the whole point of the Covenant of Grace.

We could say, then, that a Jewish parent might have been circumcising his children still and trusting in the Promises of God for salvation and still have been ignorant that the sign was no longer the Sacramental sign for this Promise. If he trusted in circumcision, however, as a signatory that he and his family were committed to obedience to Torah then this would be a huge problem.


Puritan Board Freshman
C. Matthew McMahon argues that Acts 15 as well as Acts 21 shows that the Apostles were still sanctioning the circumcision of infants for Jewish believers because they still saw their children as included in the Covenant of Grace. The implication would be that the children of gentiles are included in the CoG as well (unless you believe in a seperate plan for the jewish church and the gentile church :p). Acts 21:17-26 says:

17When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality." 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.

McMahon's lectures are available below if you are interested in what he says -

1) SermonAudio.com - A Simple & Easy-To-Understand Overview of Covenant Theology 1 of 3 - With Comments On Dispensationalism, Baptists, Baptism, etc.
2) SermonAudio.com - A Simple & Easy-To-Understand Overview of Covenant Theology 2 of 3 - With Comments On Dispensationalism, Baptists, Baptism, etc.
3) SermonAudio.com - A Simple & Easy-To-Understand Overview of Covenant Theology 3 of 3 - With Comments On Dispensationalism, Baptists, Baptism, etc.

I believe his Acts 15 & 21 lecture is the third one.

ad fontes

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting for a connecting flight, so I have to be brief.

Keep in mind that Revelation was still ongoing at the time.

This is a really important point that I sometimes forget. I've had the pleasure of working with some Messianic churches in south FL. They told me that they practiced circumcision only for ethnic identity purposes, but saw Baptism as being the Covenantal sign.

unless you believe in a seperate plan for the jewish church and the gentile church

Unfortunately, there are many who believe this. Thanks for the links.
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