The Sign of Circumcision: Symbolizing Justification, Regeneration, or Both?

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by TheThirdandReformedAdam, Aug 7, 2016.

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  1. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello all, this is my first post here on the PB so please forgive me if this has been answered/discussed elsewhere (I couldn't find it), but I was looking for some opinions on the symbolism of circumcision. Let me explain how I presently understand it and then anyone can feel free to help me out/correct me: The sign of circumcision, given in Gen. 17, is a sign ultimately pointing to the purity/holiness needed in order for there to be covenantal relationship with God. This makes contextual sense to me, for the establishment of what O. Palmer Robertson calls the "Immanuel Principle" seems to be clearly stated in this chapter, "And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you" (17:7). In other words, if there is to be relationship between a holy God and man, then man must be cut off from sin i.e. purified. This idea that circumcision in the flesh points to a needed circumcision of the heart becomes rather plain in various places in Scripture (Deut. 10:12-16; 30:6; Jer. 4:3,4; Rom. 2:25-29). However, this is where it gets confusing to me. In Romans 4, Paul states that Abraham received the sign of circumcision "as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith". So, this seems to indicate that Abraham received it as a symbol of the justification that was his via the imputed righteousness of Christ. But how does this square with the idea of the circumcised heart seeing how the concept seems to be referencing a change in behavior of the person who receives it (see previously cited texts), rather than a mere legal declaration? Is circumcision in the flesh pointing to justification (legal status) or regeneration?
     
  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    If I am understanding your question, I will give you the default answer:

    WCF ch 7

    "V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

    VI. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations."

    Ch 27:

    "I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.
    II. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

    III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

    IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospels, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither or which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.

    V. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New."

    Ch 28

    "I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.
    II. The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

    III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

    IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.

    V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

    VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

    VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person."

    :pilgrim:
     
  3. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Scott,
    Thanks for responding, but my question isn't necessarily about the purpose of signs. Rather, I desire to know what physical circumcision symbolizes. I presently believe that it symbolized the purity needed for relationship with a holy God (I.e. circumcision of the heart). I am simply confused as to whether this is a reference to the absolute perfection that is ours in Christ, or the new, regenerate heart.
     
  4. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    The sign and the thing signified are not one and the same thing.....

    For the elect individual, upon regeneration (which could be at the placing of the sign, mind you) is 'a reference to the absolute perfection that is ours in Christ, or the new, regenerate heart.' To those that are reprobate, it is a sign of condemnation.
     
  5. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Don't take this wrong, but based on what you say, it seems as if you are thinking baptistically. Paedo-baptists place the sign because it is commanded, period. Being part of the local church is never a guarantee of true faith. The local church has always been made up of believers and unbelievers.
     
  6. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Simply, the sign represents the relationship to the covenant; some people have an internal relationship and others, externally.
     
  7. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    I think we may be misunderstanding one another. I understand that the sign and the thing signified are not the same thing. All I am wondering is: what was the symbolism of circumcision as it relates to Abraham. The physical sign often seems to be equated with circumcision of the heart (regeneration), yet Paul in Romans 4 seems to say that physical circumcision pointed to justification.
     
  8. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Simply put, we both would distinguish between the legal act of justification and the creational act of regeneration. Was circumcision something that testified to the need for both? (I also, I hope, understand that the sign was administered as a means of covenant membership).
     
  9. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    The covenant.


    If a man is regenerated, he is justified...so, both are correct.
     
  10. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Well baptism demonstrates inclusion in the covenant, but there is a reason why we baptize instead of, oh I don't know, dance around a pit of flowers. The water, while demonstrating inclusion in the covenant, also symbolizes a spiritual reality. I only say this so that we can both understand my confusion. And yes, the man who is justified is also regenerated, but is it not beneficial to determine which the physical sign was symbolic of? Romans 2 seems to say regeneration, and Romans 4 justification. (Thanks for being patient with me, brother. Just trying to understand this topic a little better.)
     
  11. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Not always...
     
  12. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    While this is certainly true, isn't the New Covnenant made up of only the regenerate (Jer. 31:33-34)? If that is the case, since baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, shouldn't it only be administered only to believers? I know we can't discern who is and who is not a true believer, but a credible profession of faith is all we can do.

    (Please note: Although I am currently a Baptist, I ask this in genuine sincerity, as I am still trying to crystallize what I believe about baptism.)
     
  13. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Basically, I am simply asking for an explanation of Jer. 31:33-34 from a Paedobaptist perspective. Hopefully this is not off-topic.
     
  14. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, the common counter-text would be Romans 4:11 - "He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." Abraham received it as a sign of the righteousness that he had via his faith, but he was also commanded to give it to his offspring as well (who couldn't possess faith).
     
  15. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Well, the covenant has internal and external distinctions. The internal side are just regenerated individuals. Consider the warning passages in hebrews as a singular example.

    See Gen 17 for the command...even the credo goes on confession and that is based on presumption alone.

    Thats problematic in itself...what you're saying is that we should only be placing the sign on regenerate peoples, yet you acknowledge that we can never know for sure; hence, we are breaking the rule right out of the chute.

    One of the lynchpins for me was 'covenant'. All covenants are perpetual. None have been abrogated. Gen 17 tells us that the sign is for all generations...hence, we apply the sign, just like Abraham et. al.

    Jeremiah is a now and not yet prophecy. It was efficacious in principle back to the garden.
     
  16. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

  17. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Is there a Scripture that describes the New Covenant as being like this? That's why I asked about Jer. 31:33-34.

    I realize the command given to Abraham, but I am speaking of the New Covenant.

    I don't think so, not if the sign is only for the regenerate. The obligation is placed upon the regenerate to seek to become baptized, not upon the minister to seek them out to baptize them. Furthermore, the Paedobaptist runs into the same problem with people not born into the Church. Baptizing infants does little if not nothing to solve that dilemma.

    I understand this, but my contention is what Jeremiah 31:33-34 says about the New Covenant, which we are in now. If the sign of the New Covenant is baptism, and the New Covenant is only made of believers (unless we can be given a passage that describes the New Covenant as somehow including unregenerate people), then it seems perfectly logical to say that baptism is only for believers.

    That is why I desperately want a satisfactory explanation of Jer. 31:33-34 from a Paedobaptist perspective. Right now, that passage is the issue for me.
     
  18. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Sweet! I look very forward to reading it. I bothers me that all my favorite theologians are Paedobaptists. I want to see what they see. ;)
     
  19. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Circumcision was forward-looking, and was to have an end, so that eventually it would become "nothing." Romans 4:11 brings out its forward-looking significance. Circumcision had a direct connection with the promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations, "though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also." When the uncircumcised came to receive the righteousness of faith, circumcision ceased, because it had fulfilled its purpose, which was to seal the righteousness of faith to the uncircumcised.
     
  20. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

  21. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Strange. It worked for me...

    Go to the site and do a search in the upper right corner for 'paedobaptism'. The paper is entitled, "paedobaptism".
     
  22. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Well, it is gotten to by good and necessary consequence and inference; Consider all the warning passages in scripture about falling away.

    The Covenant of Grace began in Gen 3; I hold that the C of G is the NC. Westminster and the OPC use the terms interchangeably:

    http://www.semperreformanda.com/2013/10/the-westminster-standards-use-covenant-of-grace-and-new-covenant-interchangeably-2/


    I disagree; you yourself said that the sign is for believers...

    the PaedoBaptist understands that the sign is just a sign, although God does use it at times and regenerate at the rite.


    Did Abraham not have a new heart? What exactly did the OT saint lack in regard to jer 31? This is why I say that it is a now and not yet passage.
     
  23. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    But every credo will acknowledge that the sign has been placed on unregenerated members over the ages...and if we follow your line of thinking, in error. Everyone works on presumption. But still, this misses the point as we have the positive command to place the sign on our children.

    It also says that we will no longer need teachers? Do we need teachers, elders, pastors? This is a now and not yet....it will be fulfilled in toto in glory.
     
  24. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I've heard Baptist arguments for those that make equal sense. A Baptist understanding would be a false convert which, for me, would make more more sense in light of the descriptors of the apostate in Heb. 6:4-5. Paedobaptists are not the only ones with explanations on these passages.

    That's interesting, because Baptists believe the exact same thing (c.f. Pascal Denault's book). However, is seems that your syllogism is as follows:

    The Covenant of Grace began in Gen. 3; the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace; therefore Gen. 3 is the New Covenant.

    The Baptist also understand that the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, but that it is a Covenant revealed progressively in the Old Testament and formally ratified wit the blood of Christ.

    I'm confused. With what do you disagree? And of what relevance is my statement about baptism being a sign for believers? Have I contradicted that somehow?

    That's a very good point. This is a complex question, because it begs a whole host of others. How then should we understand the word "New"? If Abraham was under the New Covenant (please correct me if that is not what you are saying), then why were there unregerates in the same covenant with him? Jer. 31:33-34 still seems to indicate that only regenerate people are in the New Covenant. If that is the case, then the circumcised unregenerate were certainly not under the New Covenant (or, rather, looking to the same promise) as Abraham. Were there then two different covenants made with Abraham? I know many Baptists would argue that.

    Interesting stuff!
     
  25. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Where?

    Well, in order to answer that question, we must at the two causal clauses at the end. Why will no one need a teacher? Because everyone will know the Lord. Why will they know the Lord, and in what way? Because their sins will be forgiven. Again, it just seems to me that everyone in the New Covenant, according to this passage, knows the Lord in the salvific sense. Of course we still need teachers, but not to know the Lord in the way this passage describes. No amount of teaching can effect the knowledge of the Lord in the sense described in this passage.
     
  26. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    I will just say this as it is bedtime for me:

    The C of G has internal and external distinctions. The internal is local and universal. The external is only local. The internal side is made up of only regenerate people. This may reflect your understanding of the church and those who the credo baptizes. However, it is flawed in that you place the sign with the intent that all those you place the sign on are regenerate, to which you know is flawed and based on presumption, no matter how many confess openly. This is the issue I bring up and say that it is a inconsistency. One of the issues has to do with seeing circumcision or baptism as a 'sign'. The command in Gen 3 had to do with placing the 'sign'. In the Old, circumcision and in the New, water. The command never changed; the sign did. Covenants are perpetual!

    I have no issue with the idea that the OT did progressively reveal God's outworkings-thats a gimme. But that changes nothing technically.

    How should we understand new? Do a word search in either Testament and do a word study on 'new'. You will find that it doesn't always mean, 'brand new', but refreshed or renewed.

    You aks, 'If Abraham was under the New Covenant (please correct me if that is not what you are saying), then why were there unregerates in the same covenant with him?'

    They were. Consider esau and Ishmael; they were in covenant-just externally. If you had the opportunity to go back in time to ask Father Abraham if his children were 'in covenant' he would tell you, 'of course! They have the sign of the covenant upon their flesh!'

    There were not 2 different covenants. Just one with two distinctions (as I have described).

    More in the a.m. ;)
     
  27. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Gen ch 17

    If we still need teachers and not everyone in the local church who has the sign placed on them is actually regenerated, one can see that this passage in Jer is a now and not yet prophecy.

    Consider all the NT passages about teachers....If we follow your rationale and timeline, why are there so many examples in the NT, in the New Covenant, considering Jer 31, about teachers? Did not Paul, et. al. not get this idea?
     
  28. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    edited above
     
  29. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    But, my problem is that this seems to directly contradict the exclusivity of the New Covenant as described in Jer. 31:33-34. It seems to say that only those you would say are in the covenant "internally" are the only ones who are actually in the New Covenant.

    Hence the warning passage in Heb. 6. We cannot be held responsible for information we cannot know.

    Well, I am not speaking of God's outworkings being progressively revealed, but the revealing of the New Covenant. It changes everything, actually. If the New Covenant was not ratified until the blood of Christ, then those circumcised under Abraham yet unregenerate were under a different covenant. This would mean that two covenants were made with Abraham, something many Baptists would argue, given the nature of the New Covenant.

    That would be an interesting study, for sure, and would surely have enormous implications for this very topic.

    Again, I think (at least for right now) that the internal/external language is begging the question. Jer. 31:33-34 seems to smash that distinction in regards to the New Covenant. One is either in the New Covenant and regenerate, or outside the New Covenant and unregenerate. I agree that Abraham would say that they are in covenant, but which covenant? Did he have the knowledge of the New Covenant that Jer. 31:33-34 reveals? That's something that can only be answered by speculation.

    Absolutely. I genuinely appreciate your time and effort (I mean that sincerely). Please keep in mind that I am pushing back against you as an unsure (i.e., not totally convinced) Baptist. Again, it truly bothers me that all my "heroes" of the faith believed differently than I do (not that I put history above Scripture!). So, I do this for my own learning, not to win an argument. If, Lord willing, I become an elder of a church one day, I absolutely cannot go into that not knowing what I believe about this. For this reason I am thankful for everyone here on The Puritan Board.
     
  30. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    Well, that command was given to Abraham. The issue at hand is: "What is the New Covenant?" If the covenant made to Abraham can be demonstrated to be the New Covenant, then I'm on board, for sure. My hangup, again, is what Jer. 31:33-34 says about the New Covenant.

    I replied to this in a previous post (see post #25).
     
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