Monday, September 29, 2008

The Sign of the Covenant (Part Four: Our Children in the Covenant)

In the previous three parts, I attempted to make this argument:

The one people of God in redemptive history is an invisible covenant community (composed only of the regenerate) that manifests itself visibly (as a covenant community made up of regenerate and unregenerate people). The sign of membership in this community is commanded to be given to all children born into the visible community (Gen 17) forever. Scripture teaches that one day this community will take a visible form that consists only of the regenerate (Jeremiah 31). However, that day has not yet come and will not come until judgment (Matthew 13; 1 John 2:19). Since the covenant community, then, still has an invisible and visible form; and since the sign was commanded to be given to the visible community (of which children are explicitly a part); and since there has been no repeal of this command or indication that children are not still a part of the community; we must give the sign to our children.

It is this last part that I want to establish from Scripture in this post. As a reminder, I am aware that there are Baptist arguments to these things and I intend to address them in the last post or two in this series.

So, the children born to community members are to receive the sign, since they are still considered members of the visible covenant community to which the sign has been given (by God's command forever).

Are our children still members of the visible covenant community? Please keep in mind that "still" is a key word in this sentence. We do not have to establish that God has worked this way among his one covenant people in redemptive history. He undoubtedly has. Abraham being saved by grace, through faith, received the sign afterward. But Isaac, a child of promise (together with all male offspring in Abraham's line forever) is commanded to receive this sign prior to faith. Some in the OT fell away from the visible community because they were not members of the invisible community (sound like 1 John 2:19?). This potentiality did not keep God from commanding that those born into the community receive the sign.

So if God was working this way, and commanded that it be this way forever, on what basis can we stop calling our children members of the visible covenant community and therefore withhold the sign from them? I submit that we would need some compelling evidence. Complete silence in asserting their continued membership would not be enough. We need a positive command or instruction to stop giving them the sign; to stop calling them covenant children.

Simply put, no such command or instruction exists. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that children are no longer members. Nowhere are we told to stop giving them the sign. The entire Baptist argument hangs on this: Jeremiah 31 teaches (and Hebrew 8 confirms) that the community now only consists of the regenerate. I am currently answering this argument in the comments section of Part 2, here.. Baptists then argue that since it is only made up of the regenerate, it must exclude our children. They then complete the argument by asserting that we cannot give the sign to those that aren't regenerate, and therefore aren't community members. I believe this argument is biblically and logically inconsistent. I'll come back to it in my last few installments. For now I want to show that not only is there no command or instruction to stop calling them covenant members and giving them the sign, but we find them being referred to in covenantal terms in the NT.

These passages and their use by Presbyterians are no secret. Baptists have been listening to Presbyterians quote them for years. I have tried to be careful to frame my use of them in a way that Baptists will find compelling. As a Baptist, I found that Presbyterians often failed to take the Baptist paradigm into account when arguing these passages, and so their arguments fell flat for me. I may not be any more successful, but I have tried to recognize this at least.

Acts 2:38-39. In this passage, Peter, preaching the gospel, asserts that the covenant promises are for them (the Jews), their children, and all who are far off. Here we find the two categories of covenant member in Gen 17 and Exodus 12:48-49: Israel and her children, and those born outside Israel. These are those to whom the covenant belongs and who are therefore members of that community.

Here is a crucial aspect of the argument. If we hear Peter as his Jewish audience heard him, we will find something quite interesting. Israel received the command to circumcise their children as covenant members around 1700 years before Peter preached. So for 1700 years (obedient or not) Israel had been taught by God's law that her children belonged to the covenant community and should receive the sign. This Jewish audience of Peter has just heard him reiterate this relationship between the children and the covenant. If you had been there, knowing the law of God, would you hear Peter and assume that children are no longer members of the covenant? I don't see how you could.

Let me put it a bit more starkly. If the baptists are correct, at Pentecost, the children of the 3000 converted, children who were covenant members up to the inauguration of the NC, were simultaneously excommunicated from the covenant community.* I am not trying to use shocking language in order to upset anyone. I'm trying to draw attention to the fact that this would have been the effect, and it is a startling effect! These children (by the admission of both sides) would have been covenant members at least right up to the point at which the baptist believes the nature of the covenant people changed. At which point, according to the baptist view, children previously in the covenant community would have been removed.

As an alternative, Presbyterians believe that Peter at Pentecost has reiterated the OT shape of the community. He has connected the children of covenant members with the covenant community by identifying the promises as theirs. It is difficult to see how the Jews present would have come to any other understanding of Peter.

Acts 16. Furthermore in Acts 16 at Lydia's conversion as well as the Jailer's conversion, both households are given the sign despite no reference to their regenerate status. We are told that Lydia (the head of her household) believed (16:14). As a result, her entire household received the sign (16:15). In 16:34, it is again the Jailer's faith that is pointed to as the basis for all the baptisms in his house. In both cases language is used that is inclusive of the entire family. In fact, in the case of Lydia the language inplies everyone living under her roof, descended from her or not. This is the import of the "household" language. In the Jailer's case, it says "all his family." There is no reason to believe that any are excluded. Baptists often point out that we don't know if there were children present. I think this misses the point. The baptism of the household and family follows from the conversion of the head. Why should this exclude infants? The baptist answer is that infants can't have faith and repentance. But we do not see faith and repentance from the family members of any age in these two stories. I'm not arguing there was none. I'm pointing out that the author didn't feel it important to say so. It was enough to point out that the head had converted, and therefore the entire household received the sign. This is completely continuous with Gen 17! (see also 1 Cor 1:16)

1 Corinthians 7:14. Paul uses this same paradigm in 1 Corinthians 7. He says that the converted status of one parent makes the children of that marriage holy. We do not believe Paul is here saying they are regenerate. In what sense, then, are they holy? In the same sense that children of covenant members have always been holy, or set apart. They are covenant members themselves.

Ephesians 6:1-4. Consider Paul's instruction to children here. Baptists will dismiss this passage since the children seem to be old enough to take instruction, but this fails to take the context into account. Paul is reiterating the covenant command and promise given to Israel in Exodus 20:12. The gentile children of the Ephesians believers are treated as the covenant children of Israel in Exodus. Paul does not recognize any difference in status. Furthermore, children are capable of receiving instruction much earlier than most Baptists will grant an age of accountability. In other words, a two year old can receive instruction (and we should be giving it to them!). So Paul's instruction could conceivably be to children too young to have "made a decision." They are addressed (this is important) not as children who have made a decision, but as children who belong to covenant members and therefore are given the commands that belong to the covenant community.

I try to avoid arguments from silence. They are polemically weak. But this doesn't mean they are always without force. In this case, where is the confusion on the part of Israel? Where is the argument from the parents in Israel? Acts and the Epistles should contain some record of the dispute. Israel, for whom their children have been covenant members since Abraham, have just been taught that their children are no longer members until they confess faith! The 3 year old that was a moment ago a covenant member, is now no longer. Your 3 year old has been dismissed from the covenant until such time that they can confess faith. Would you silently accept that? Would you not hope to receive some authoritative instruction or teaching to this effect? Is this teaching anywhere in the NT? If it is implicit, why do we not see any careful teaching? Even if this was accepted submissively by the first Christians, you would at least expect it to require some careful teaching on the part of the apostles to those Jewish members of the church. Instead, there is not a deafening silence on the subject, but a clear continuity between the OT and NT. It teaches that our children are still members of the covenant community.

An example of such upheaval is the subject of circumcision itself as the sign. The sign is changed (again, I'll address this in a future post). It is no longer necessary to circumcise. Instead, the sign of membership is now baptism. The Jews in the church are a bit perplexed by this. Some even reject it. It requires the Jerusalem council to address this. Paul sets out to explain why this is so. Why is there no similar unrest and teaching with regard to the radical change in who receives the sign?

Conversely, Baptists (if they deny the covenant relationship between their children and God) are left with no other way to describe their children than as covenant strangers. Their children do not stand in any special relationship to God. They are the strangers of Ephesians 2:11-22, having no hope and without God in the world. This was not the position of the unregenerate infants in Israel; the circumcised. They had the promises of God and were raised up in them. The Baptist (it seems to me) cannot say this.

Conclusion. How can we argue that our children are no longer members of the visible covenant community when Scripture never says as much; never instructs us to treat them as strangers to the covenants of promise; never excuses us from giving them the sign that God commanded they receive forever in Gen 17; and instead reiterates their place in the covenant promises (Acts 2:38-39); speaks to them as though they are members just as much as the children in Israel (Exodus 20:12 and Eph 6:1-4); calls them "holy" by nature of their relationship to a covenant member (1 Cor 7:14); and uses the same language of household and the sign that is used with respect to Abraham (twice in Acts 16 and in 1 Cor 1:16)?

The sign is for the visible community, of which our children are still a part. Therefore we should give them the sign in obedience to the command of God.

*Thanks to Jay Bennett for pointing out this argument made by Westminster Divine, Stephen Marshall.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Thanks to Nicholas Batzig for pointing Patrick Lafferty to a lecture by Sinclair Ferguson who pointed me to Marshall's argument.

Standing on Shoulders,


Strong Tower said...

Now the Old Testament case is pretty straight forward. In fact, as far as I know, everyone on both sides of the argument can agree on this: In the OT, there is only one people of God. That people is Israel. God calls them his special possession in Deut 7:6...“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

I would contend that the last phrase "out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth," tells us something dramatically different than assuming that Israel starts within the Mosaic covenant. This phrase is a NT phrase, a NC phrase if you will, that has its genesis in Genesis, specifically with Jacob, but more importantly, before that it was the name of God's people scattered throughout the world who would be gathered into one. It is to be remembered that Abraham was gentile, and that Isaac takes his bride from the stock of his uncircumcised brothers. Jacob does also. Their children together represent one people circumcized and not. That theme then is reflected with Israel, for women were not circumcized, and in the NT, were both Jew and Gentile are under the one convenant, circumcism counting for nothing.

If by applying the principle that circumcision which follows the promise made to Abraham is binding, and a mark of inclusion, then it seems a little anachronistic because the promise was given prior to both the Abrahamic sign, or the Law of Moses and it was given not to the members of the circumcision alone, but to those who were gathered out of the nations prior to circumcision. In fact, the covenant was made with Eve. It would appear then, that by making application of the sign of circumcision to be the sign of the covenant prior to its fulfillment is backwards. The sign does not look forward, but backwards, even to before the foundations of the world. For the covenant made with Eve we are told in the NT, was made with the Son, the Lamb of God slain before. Abraham believed and then was circumcised. And God assigns the covenant with him to be given to both the children of the handmaid and the children of promise by a signatory means. But, this does not include, it excludes, it tells us that it is not by the means of the flesh, for the promise is not of the flesh. It indeed precedes the flesh, and procedes from the Spirit. That is, Hagar was given to Abraham, not by promise but by the works of the law as it were. To the contrary, Isaac is given to Abraham who was impotent and unable procreate when in time Isaac is conceived. The sign follows, not as a sign of inclusion, but is instead, a statement that by circumcision one is not counted. Isaac was counted before circumcision for he was named Isaac before it by the Spirit. And more, the promise is not to Abraham's seed, for he was dry, but to the Seed, one who was not to be born by the flesh.

1 Corinthians 7:14. Paul uses this same paradigm in 1 Corinthians 7. He says that the converted status of one parent makes the children of that marriage holy. We do not believe Paul is here saying they are regenerate. In what sense, then, are they holy? In the same sense that children of covenant members have always been holy, or set apart. They are covenant members themselves.

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

You notice here that the unbelieving husband is also made holy? Then your contention would be that the unbelieving husband or vice versa, should be baptized also, if there is a believing mate? In the case of Lydia, was the apostle saying that her unbelieving adult household members should be baptized? Your point proves too much. The word holy here simply means sanctified, that is clean, i.e., that the issue of the marriage is not from adultery, nor is the marriage adulterous. It is the marriage and not the believers relationship with the Lord that is the determining factor. The unbelieving husband is considered no less a husband because of a believing wife. Likewise, the children no less legitimate, and indeed, if the marriage is annulled, they would by the Lord's own definition the children of an illicit relationship. This has nothing to do with convenant relationship, but the moral rectitude of the marriage relationship.

Beside what I have said above, the covenant made, was not made with Abraham, it was made with the One Seed. The external expression, again being that it cannot be by the flesh. Indeed this One would come, not by the will of man, nor by the will of the flesh, nor as a covenant member being of Israel, but as Hebrews says he is without mother or father, no covenant relationship. It does no good to argue that he was circumcized. It was not due to the circumcision that he was the Seed of Covenant, he was begotten by the Spirit, the Son of the Father. The circumcision of Christ signifies what it did in Abraham, namely that the Covenant relationship is not according to the flesh which can be seen, but the Spirit, by that which cannot.

Add to the above, you said that a stranger had to submit to the ordinances. However women were not required. Nor, are female children of Israel. Which again, is indicative of the negative aspect of this sign. Women could not bear the sign, neither could they procreated and pass along, it was therefore excluded that through them the covenant is transmitted, belieing the reference of 1 Corinthians 14:17, anyway. And, the sign coming after the faith of Abraham, signifies that the relationship to the covenant is cut off from access by flesh, that is earthly relationships. In neither case, women or men, does the covenant of circumcision convey the covenant of life by faith, nor community, for women could not bear such a sign. In all, when assessed, the circumcision could not save, nor include anyone in the NC. The arrangements for membership in the community of Israel, is for the male and the woman by virtue of her relationship to him. It cannot answer for the unheaded woman, or the orphaned girl. They are not excluded from the visible community, by that, however. There are other regulatory means for both inclusion and exclusion. So also, in the NT, inclusion is based, not upon what cannot be seen, but upon what can. The only thing that can be reckoned is one's confession.

Contrary to what you are saying, I do not hold that confession means any more than baptism. I reject instrumentalism in any form. Baptists being far worse in my opinion than Presbys. See, there is no difference between the emphasis on convenantal membership between the Presby and the Baptist on this point, really. No confession, nor ordinance, is instrumental in either case to inclusion in the body of Christ. The do however, make visible signs that may or may not have any reality in relationship to the Spirit. So, neither the Presby nor the Baptist is one iota ahead in the argument by arguing this way as you noted. But, that makes my point. By confession we have what we do not by non-confessional inclusion, something visible by which we can ascertain, however imperfectly, the understanding of the commitment in convenant required in community as is expressed by the Lord's Supper. We cannot judge what we cannot see, and we are not given the keys so that we might determine a man standing with God in either salvation, or in matters of discipline because of sin. We have only the outward appearance by which to judge. In the case of a paedobaptism there is indeed the observance by some of the act. The same is true of confessional baptism. The sign disappears, however. It is the confession that remains. And more than that, it is the perseverence in that confession that is the NT sign of inclusion in the convenant, and not baptism, Collosians 1 and elsewhere. This is necessarily the case, because baptism is symbolic and not instrumental, the skin dries and the act is forgotten, but the living water continues to water and living trees will indeed bear fruit. Confession represents that which cannot be seen, in that it is a confession, or a declaration of the Gospel. It is only the confession which remains and is demonstrated "As long as you do this, you show forth the death of Christ until he comes." Or, do this repeatedly in rememberance (continually confessing me), to interpolate Christ. In no case can we know the disposition of the soul of the confessor. The only thing that we can know is their actions and their confession. We do not judge based upon any other relationship. We cannot judge based upon baptism, it was done once and it testifies once and can only bejudged once. Confession however, is always under the scrutiny of both believers and unbelievers and is the only means the church has to carry out the regime of discipleship.

So, baptism is not the covenantal sign, it is a sign to the believer as a declaration of Christ's work. It is a singular testimony to the church and especially to unbelievers of Christ's work. In this I could say along with the paedo that infant baptism declares the Doctrines of Grace. I actually agree that that can be the case. That it is a sign to the believer can be retrospective. I think in Isaac we have such a retrospective glance of the positive aspect of what is indicated by circumcision. Southern Baptists, especially contentious now, would reject this. Personally I do not. I find no reason for rebaptisms except for perhaps to salve of conscience for the doubting brother. A paedo can indeed reflect upon that which happened outside of reckoning and consider the reality of inclusion by grace. I have no problem with that. So I guess I am Baptipaedocredo.

Question: What does baptism do?

Matthew Bradley said...


I have to be honest. I can't make heads or tails out of your comments. This may be due to my own lack of familiarity with your arguments. The way you end, especially, seems to indicate that you are both a little happy and a little unhappy with all the options. Sometimes you sound like you're agreeing with me. At others disagreeing. You apply the term "instrumental" to my explanation of baptism. But I don't think I've ever claimed circumcision "makes" one a covenant member. And I'm confident I've not argued that it regenerates anyone. If I have inadvertently argued so as to give you this impression, please point it out to me so I can fix it.

I can't help but get the impression you've misunderstood me. For example, I didn't argue that Israel starts with the Mosaic covenant. I'm not sure how you got that. I'm quite aware that Abraham wasn't an Israelite. And as one holding to CT, I am happy to affirm that Christ is the seed in whom all the promises find their yes. I don't understand how this compromises the CT view.

About the only thing I understood and think you argued well is with regard to 1 Cor 7:14. I used that verse with some hesitation. It's a common proof text among Presbyterians, but I think your point is correct. I'm still wrestling with it, but I think that it does claim more than we want it to. This was only one passage of several, however. I'll gladly concede it. You didn't interact with Acts 2 (or any of the others).

The rest of your post was disconcerting in its confusion (or perhaps it's ability to confuse). Maybe it would help if you took one of my points and addressed it with a point of your own. I'd like to interact with you, I'm just not sure where to begin. I'm not sure what you're saying. And let me say this again: I know there are more of you out there reading. If you think you understand ST, please jump in. I was hoping this would be a bit more inclusive in its scope, but no one else seems to be participating. Don't be shy.

I think it's safe to say, however, that your view, whatever it is, isn't representative of many. Would you call it NC? I get the increasing impression that NC Theology is a bit of a grab bag of arguments and views. Again, your closing comments seem to indicate this. Help me understand your argument.

Jared Nelson said...

Strong Tower,

I am not quite following when you said: "that by making application of the sign of circumcision to be the sign of the covenant prior to its fulfillment is backwards." and later you said "baptism is not the covenantal sign, it is a sign to the believer as a declaration of Christ's work."

are you saying that circumcision is not a sign of the covenant, or just baptism? Gen 17:11 states a pretty solid definition of circumcision saying: "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you."

Also, Col 2:12 says baptism is "the circumcision of Christ." That seems to point to defining baptism as a "sign of the covenant" to have more Scriptural ground than a "sign to the person." Can you help me out why you prefer your definition?

Also, what did you mean by "the promise is not to Abraham's seed, for he was dry, but to the Seed, one who was not to be born by the flesh." What do you mean by that? Gen 17:10 says (the caps are for emphasis, i don't know how to use italics on comments) "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between ME and YOU and THY SEED after thee;"

I'm not following how the covenant was not to Abraham.

Matthew Bradley said...

After some discussion with friends, I'm reserving judgment on 1 Cor 7:14. I'm not ready to concede it yet, but will need a bit more time before I'm ready to argue it properly. John Calvin is aware of your argument, ST. He dismisses it. Calvin's not infallible, but when he makes an argument, I prefer to give it consideration. I'll weigh in with some more thoughts on this point soon.

This is the kind of iron sharpening iron I was looking for! I needed sharpening on this point!

Strong Tower said...


I threw out a lot of thoughts, but that was because I am coming to this at the end of your presentation and I admit confusion, so it is not surprising that you might be by what I have presented.

I do agree in part.

I didn't mean to accuse you of instrumentalism- there is sense in which this becomes problematic for people in both baptistic and Presby circles- it is the assumption that baptism does something and confusion can be amplified in either group when baptism is viewed as being more than signatory. By this I do not deny that grace is conferred, but that baptism is not causal.

I wouldn't attempt to classify my position. I consider myself more within CT.

Perhaps you can answer a question about the invisible church. From my understanding it is a view that includes those who are the elect, but not yet necessarily regenerate. Is that in part why baptisms of infants are performed? Can't that confuse regeneration with election?

The argument that circumcision was the old testement sign of the covenant, I proposed no and yes. My position is an oddity, I understand that. I simply propose that it is an anti-type Perhaps you could address why it is that Abraham was given the sign if indeed faith preceded it and why then it is give before faith in his offspring? Doesn't it seem more reasonable that God would have circumcised Abraham before, if indeed it was firstly a possitive sign of the covenant and not the negative? I mean, there were nearly fourteen years between Ishmael and Isaac, wouldn't it have been clearer earlier?

Jared- No. I am saying that circumcision had a dual purpose. The first being a sign of exclusion, meaning that, it was a sign that by progeneration, one was not counted in the convenant. Secondly, it was a positive sign, signifying that something better was intended. A sign of faith, the accounting, was one which cannot be seen, was given to Abraham before he was circumcised. As Scripture says he was circumcised to show what had already taken place. If you are tracking this, then the circumcision given to his offspring represents the negative, and signifies the means by which one is not accounted in the covenant made before circumcision was given. The positive aspect is in that it points to a circumcision not made by hands by fiat of Abraham being accounted righteous prior to it, but that promise is by faith and so his children are called the children of faith and not of the flesh. Baptism itself signifies, not that one is included, but rather the ratification of Christ's obediences. It does not account us as members, it signifies membership accomplished in Christ's work and that comprehended by faith. To put baptism before faith up-ends the ordo salutis. It is then a sign to the believer, but only in what he knows to be true, and that by the witness of the Spirit, for the mystery of baptism is not revealed except one has the Spirit. I hope that I am not losing you here. It cannot be a sign to the congregation, for unlike circumcision it does not remain evident except by confession.

Baptism has more than one nuance, Peter said, "not the removal of dirt, but the appeal of a clear conscience." Baptism, the outward sign, evaporates, leaving only the participant's memory of it. No others, should they perish having witnessed it, or not having been witness to it at all, know of it. Circumcision was different, it could be uncovered even by those who were not witnesses to the event and did not require the testimony of the person. Indeed, they could be dead and the sign could be seen. Baptism becomes, as Murray would say of vital union, ultimately "intimate" then, known only to the individual, only a matter of confession to others, as it should be because, the witness of the Spirit is individual, a sign to the individual alone. It is a sign to the individual, and not others, except by that confession which is made from a clear conscience. Circumcision in Christ, and this is what confuses many about the instrumentality of baptism, cannot be seen. The excusiveness of the intimacy of the relationship between the individual and the Lord is demonstrated in that only by confession does anyone else know of this relationship. When the two are made equal, circumcision and baptism, sacramentalism becomes a real danger. It then is not particular, but general, and associated with the offices of the church rather than the office of Christ as alone the mediator of the NC.

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, "And to seeds," as of many; but as of one, And to your Seed, which is Christ."

This sign of the covenant, was not made to Abraham's offspring, that is the offspring of his flesh, Isaac, but "in" Isaac. Not of those having been born, but those yet to be. In other words spiritual children, children of faith. Christ is conceived of the Spirit. He was not born of the flesh of Joseph which would be of the circumcision. The right of lineage comes through the flesh but "adoption" is by the Spirit. Jesus, Hebrews says has neither father nor mother, neither beginning nor end. So we see that Abraham's offspring are children of Faith, not born of blood, the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The covenant made is one of the Spirit, not the flesh. Note this, as was said it was, the "circumcision of Christ." by the Spirit. What Christ accomplishes is imputed, and cannot be seen. The circumcision of Christ is also that which is the baptism which he alone went through, in a specific manner, at a specific time and place. Our baptism is symbolic, not of the covenant, but of his baptism, and it represents the inclusion in him by the Spirit, which is our Seal of redemption our baptism in Christ.

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, 12 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. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities [2] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

I am trying to understand your meaning. Does the circumcision of baptism in Christ have reference to the circumcision of Abraham? I would have to say yes. But, as I have said so far, this sign as indicated in this verse is internal, a circumcision of the heart and is imputed to us as the act of Christ's being nailed, circumcised as it were, by the Spirit. Even if the baptism here spoken of were external it still remains a sign to the individual alone because the external sign does not remain. I rather think that the baptism spoken of here is not the baptism of the believer, but is instead the baptism of Christ in his passion applied to us in regeneration. Abraham's circumcision then, again, represent how the inclusion is not passed on.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Peter's here speaking again, not of an external sign, but that baptism which Christ under went on our behalf, testified to by his resurrection and witnessed to us individually by the Spirit. Which by the way corresponds to our regeneration in newness of life, not of election, nor of eternal decree or of the covenant made between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world, not of one which will begin, but of one that is currently known, "now saves you". It is what is applied of what has been accomplished which was spoken of as yet to be in the Law and Prophets, but is now come in the person and work of Christ. In other words, baptism is not a sign of what could be, not of futurity, but present possession. That is the opposite of the circumcision of the fleshly offspring of Abraham. Meaning again, that circumcision of the flesh is not equatable to water baptism. Water baptism represents that which Abraham had recieved when called by the Spirit prior to circumcision. Circumsion was given prior to Isaac to indicate the way that the covenant was not passed on. Peter's point is similar. Water baptism, does nothing but bath the flesh. It symbolized an appeal to God of a good conscience, one that is testified to the individual by the Spirit of Christ in vital union with the regenerate person.

Sorry to ramble again, as I try to clearify.

I like Calvin, and would definitely listen to him. He could be wrong. I'll have to go back and reread what he says, then if he's wrong, I'll burn his books;)

Strong Tower said...

1 Cor 7:14- I went back and read Calvin, and I would have to take exception to the inclusion in the covenant in a spiritual sense. There is a sense in which Calvin is speaking of civil union, but that in reference to the sanctification of the "Christian" union effected by one member being a believer. In otherwords, Calvin addresses this in his commentary on Romans making mention not that the nation was made holy in a regenerate sense but only that by association with Israel they were declared a holy people. The reference then accordingly, is that the covenant extends to the marriage bed and to the children in sanctifying the union and issue as a legitimate relationship for the believing spouse to be in. It does not extend any other privalege. To this one might look at the All Israel vs Are not Israel, distinction. What was accorded the status of national affiliation was not translated to spiritual affiliation. What qualified a person as a member of the former was external, and not internal. Calvin does not make the spiritual to be transmitted by the natural. Only that which is natrual can be transmitted by natural generation. Therefore, the natural transmission of the sanctification is transmitted by assoiciation with the fleshly issue. Spiritual relationship, i.e. affiliation with the spiritual is not transmitted with by the natural. It would seem then that Calvin mixes the typology of the baptism and circumcision on this point by presuming that they have the same significance. Where in fact is baptism is a spiritual relationship, and not natural and no one of the natural transmission. This is the confusion of which I am addressing. Because I do not believe the two to be related except by mutual exclusion. They are of different types, and signify different origins.

Matthew Bradley said...


Since we believe baptism is a sign of something, and not the thing signified, some of your comments above do as much to support our argument as to trouble it. I think your confusion re: our position comes from a misunderstanding of how we view the relationship between the invisible and visible people. Water baptism is a sign of all the things that are true of spirit baptism, but only when coupled with faith. So I would wholeheartedly agree that water baptism has no instrumental effect. It does not bring about the thing signified. Circumcision did not do this either. It was a sign of something affected by faith. The correlation is quite precise.

You said, "In otherwords, Calvin addresses this in his commentary on Romans making mention not that the nation was made holy in a regenerate sense but only that by association with Israel they were declared a holy people."

Precisely. And the sign was then given to that people that had been declared holy. This did not teach then (nor do we teach now) that the sign proved or brought about regeneration. The sign wasn't given to regenerate people, it was given to the nation set apart (the visible people). And Peter uses this language as well:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
(1Pet 2:9 ESV)

You will likely respond by arguing that this is only true of regenerate people. But this is the very tension our system acknowledges. Peter doesn't say it to an invisible people. He says it to the church. A visible people. A people, some of whom will fall away. Peter goes on to appeal to them with regard to evangelism by good conduct, again a visible reference. The physical sign is given to a physical people. It does not regenerate anyone, faith does. But it becomes a sign of their membership in the covenant people. What is a covenant people? It is a people who are in a relationship with God in which promises are made and stipulations are present with blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience. The visible church is in such a relationship with God. Those who fall away aren't simply excused. They come under covenant curses. How can they be cursed by a covenant if they were not ever in covenant?

Thanks for the post, ST.

Matthew Bradley said...


You said, "Perhaps you can answer a question about the invisible church. From my understanding it is a view that includes those who are the elect, but not yet necessarily regenerate. Is that in part why baptisms of infants are performed? Can't that confuse regeneration with election?"

No, this is not correct. The invisible church consists of those who are regenerate. The elect enter this church upon their regeneration.

We baptize infants because God has put them in the visible church and has not yet put them out. The visible church has a sign of membership. Since they are members, we give them the sign.

I have to admit, I still don't understand your language of negative sign. Nor am I following the logic of your argument with regard to the sign being given to Abraham after his conversion. I get the impression you and I need an hour or two over a pint (or two) to get that ironed out. :^)

You said, "This sign of the covenant, was not made to Abraham's offspring, that is the offspring of his flesh, Isaac, but "in" Isaac. Not of those having been born, but those yet to be."

I think there is more here than you are seeing. The truth has two sides, so to speak. There is the side relating to Christ. He is the seed. But there is a sense in which the promises are made not just to Christ, but to the spiritual children of Abraham as well. In this sense the covenant is made with us. You have pulled Paul's comment as proof of the first, and I agree wholeheartedly. But you haven't yet proven anything by that.

You said, "So we see that Abraham's offspring are children of Faith, not born of blood, the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

I agree completely! But this was true in the OC as well. And the sign was given to infants born into the community by command! So why is it different now? Would you be willing to address (since no one else has yet) the fact that the command is forever? If you don't think baptism and circumcision are the same sign, then where did God repeal his forever command?

You said, "I am trying to understand your meaning. Does the circumcision of baptism in Christ have reference to the circumcision of Abraham? I would have to say yes."

My point here is that Paul equates the concept of circumcision with the concept of baptism. Since the physical signs point to the spiritual reality, and he has equated the spiritual reality, it is not in any way foreign for us to equate the signs. How can we give the sign to baptism to one who has not yet been baptized spiritually? The same way that the sign of circumcision (which pointed to spiritual circumcision in the OT) was given to Isaac and hundreds of thousands of infants in Israel.

Although I realize there is a difference, Baptists suffer from the same objection. How can they give the physical sign to someone that they can't say with certainty has received the spiritual reality? The answer is they do their best. But that's not sufficient. They haven't answered the principle. They take us to task for doing it, but do it themselves. The only difference (in application) is that they try real hard not to do it. But by their own admission, they fail. We are not subject to this objection, because we do not claim to be giving the sign to regenerate people. We, following the command and example of the entire Scripture, give the sign to members of the visible covenant community.

You said, "Peter's here speaking again, not of an external sign, but that baptism which Christ under went on our behalf, testified to by his resurrection and witnessed to us individually by the Spirit."

I think you are mistaken here. It isn't that Peter isn't referring to Christ's baptism, but that in doing so he is not ONLY speaking of such. You are bifurcating something the Scripture does not. Christ's baptism IS OUR baptism. For Peter to speak of one is to speak of the other. As for the "now saves you", this is entirely true for the regenerate person, so I see no force to your point here. I think you said this still under the impression that the invisible church includes all the elect, which I have denied above.

Except for the negative sign language and the related comments, I think I'm beginning to understand you. But I think I disagree with you. You seem to be focused on the spiritual reality (which is fine in and of itself), but you appear to be minimizing the relation of the physical sign to this spiritual reality. you have disconnected them in a way that I don't believe is warranted by Scripture.

Thanks for the comments ST. BTW, I moderate comments (not for disagreement, but to keep out spam, etc). Your late night comments were delayed until this morning because I was sleeping when you posted them. :^) Sorry for the delay.

Strong Tower said...


I got up this morning and my first thought was that I had defined invisible wrongly.

A couple of questions: Was the circumcision of Abraham indiscriminant, and of Moses particular and does that have a bearing upon them as signs of community, visibility, and what is the import of the particular aspect? Does it point to elect, regenerate individuals, or only to an visible church made up of both particular and indiscriminant members?

And second, is infant baptism no different than circumcision, in that it compels the individual?

Matthew Bradley said...


I don't know what you mean by your question, but if I proceed on the normal use of the words indiscriminate and particular, I would answer this way:

The circumcision of both was particular. It was particular because it was a sign of the covenant. When Abraham received it, he was in covenant with God (the covenant signified by the sign of circumcision). When Moses received it (presumably as an infant), he was in covenant with God (by the very clear teaching and command of Gen 17). In neither case, then, was it indiscriminate. It was given because they were in covenant.

The sign points to the covenant, and particularly its promises. These promises were given to a community, not simply to individuals. A reading of the OT quickly bears this out. God virtually never addresses his complaint against the individual in covenant breaking. He addresses the community. He reminds them of their obligation. He reminds them of the curses for failure. He reminds them of the blessings for obedience. The covenant promises are offered to the offspring of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Their is a physical element to the means by which God is working out his redemptive plan. But this does not ever excuse those to whom the promises have been made from exercising faith.

I see your hang up, I think, and I'm trying to figure out how to explain it. You're absolutely right. There seems to be a tension between a sign that follows physical descent when the promises are made to a spiritual people. But I am arguing that these two are not so different. The promises are made to a physical people, but not exclusively (thus the provisions for outsiders in Ex 12, for example). And being physical descendants doesn't secure the promises, but faith does. Now, God is the one who grants faith. To whom will he grant it? Of course to whomever he will, but looking back through history we find that he grants it particularly through the family. I think the most striking support for this is not only that it explicitly works this way in the OT, but that in the Acts almost every gentile conversion narrative includes the household. So it wasn't just an individual being effected. Look at the Philippian Jailer: The narrative ends with his entire household rejoicing that HE had believed. I don't have to argue that this means he was the only one converted, nor do I want to. But it was his conversion that brought the remainder of the household into the covenant. This principle, therefore, was not just an OC principle, but a NC principle as well.

As for compelling the individual, there is certainly that element in both. This isn't the only sense in which they are "no different". But they are the same in this way. We speak of our children growing up into their baptism (and frankly of all our need to continue growing into it). We can (as Presbyterians) and should (although I admit we aren't perfect or even as consistent as we should be) be speaking to our children about their baptism as they grow up (as part of the gospel we teach them), reminding them that they are covenant children, that God is their God, and that they are His people. A child of the covenant, ideally, will never recall a time in which they did not trust Christ for their salvation and as their only hope in this life and the next. This doesn't mean they don't ever confess faith. But it comes naturally to do so and does not require a crisis conversion.

If I keep going then you're going to win our other argument about who is wordier. :^)

Strong Tower said...

The circumcision of both was particular. It was particular because it was a sign of the covenant. When Abraham received it, he was in covenant with God (the covenant signified by the sign of circumcision). When Moses received it (presumably as an infant), he was in covenant with God (by the very clear teaching and command of Gen 17). In neither case, then, was it indiscriminate. It was given because they were in covenant.

Ah, but it was indiscriminate. Which begs us to look more deeply in how it is a sign of the covenant seeing that it did not discriminate.

When I look at the Abrahamic covenant, it was both, particular but hidden, and indiscriminant but evident. Ishmael, was specifically excluded and not part of the covenant community but recieved the sign, it did not discriminate (Genesis 17:18-21). In reference to Isaac it does but not to Isaac's children, Esau was not covenanted. Moses was under this covenant, but I find nowhere that he was circumcised as a child. It would seem counter intuitive being that he would have been easily discovered as a Israelite. Perhaps you can point to me where it is. I may have just missed it but until the Zipporah incident, I don't know of any passage indicating he was. Moses failed to circumcise his son. Are we to suppose that Moses was ignorant of circumcision? Gershom and the other sons of Moses are the children of Ishmael, through Zipporah, and possibly circumcision was still practiced among them. Why weren't they circumcised? In any case. Under Abraham, what I am saying about circumcision as an particularity, is not about a covenant to a people, but a covenant to persons individually. Under Abraham, Ishmael, who was cut off from the covenant was circumcised. Under Moses, the covenant was particular commanded communally but as to the individual pointing toward that a descrete particularity. This particularity is furthered in the sanctifying of the first born, firstfruits, holy to the Lord, which the NT indicates we are, a royal priesthood, a peculiar (particular) people, not according to circumcision.

You argued that it was open, and circumcision was particular to the covenant communally. I say no. Circumcision pointed toward a furture reality when what was hidden by it would be to the individual and not communal. Even in the case of the stranger, it was applied individually as a rite of admittance. Not because of birth, but because of God's commandment, and not to bring about the covenant but to voluntarily join it being convinced of it. Again, here is where we find a distinction from baptism. Circumcision for the foreigner was first voluntary. One could choose it or reject it. It was also voluntary in that communal members could reject it for their children, and their children, when freed from their parents, could choose it. In the case of its application to the involuntary infant, it is indiscriminant, applied to all without distinction in reference to the promised convenant. Like the Abrahamic covenant it did not discriminate. What is distinctly different about the two, is that Abraham had no provision for the stranger joining, as an individual act. Moses' did. And Moses' is particular in this, it was given for a set apart people, where the Abrahamic was not, viz a viz Ishmael. It is the particular aspect that I am interested in. Why is this a different covenant?

Yes both are circumcision, both point to the spiritual to come. Why the particularity of Moses? I admit, that in Abraham there is particularity, "in Isaac shall your seed be blessed," but it is not explicit as it is when it is commanded in Moses. If there was a change in the covenant concerning God beginning to set apart a people for himself, as Exodus proclaims, why the change? What does it point to? I submit that it points to the particularity of the individual, and not nations, not to the convenant community, but to the convenant individual. To the invisible, and not the visible. What God does in regeneration in a person, and not what God does in a covenant community.

You say that the command did not cease. But, I think the Jerusalem counsel belies that. There, no one is commanded, compelled to circumcision, the opposite is true. What has superceded it? It cannot be baptism, for baptism does not include one in the body, just community, doesn't it? It is not instrumental, is it? If it were then it would be nothing less than circumcision, which Paul says if one submits to it Christ avails them nothing. By continuing circumcision as a community sign in the form of baptism it does what I said circumcision does, it excludes from the body of Christ. Baptism, for individuals, is not an including sign, it is a sign that one has already been included. Yes, Abraham received the sign of circumcision, and yes there is a sense in which it is like baptism, but as I said, being that Abraham was already baptized in the Spirit, and the fact that the sign does not discriminate in community, it is a negative sign. That being, that by circumcision, by natural descent one is not part of the community. The question of Peter is that seeing that the Holy Spirit has been given, how can we withhold water for baptism? The evidence was a testimony, a confession, and upon that authority they were baptized. In this case the sign is positive, not excluding, not indiscrimant but descrete, individual, particular.

I have to admit there is a very compelling verse for the sign given before: Exodus 12:43-49.

The passover is in this attached to an external observance of an internal reality. If, circumcision was replaced by baptism, then baptism necessarily occurs prior to the Supper. Since it is the Passover, and not baptism which is the primary signature of inclusion, "If you do not eat and drink you have not part in me" it may well be that baptism is preperatory and instructional. I don't know. I just found this curious. If indeed it is, you have a strong case.

If you have followed me thus far, my position rests upon the particular versus the general application. You make the particular to point to the covenant and generally apply it without particular individual application, I reverse it and make the covenant point to the particular person. That being, that the OC sign pointed to what would be an individual application, but in that, it is exclusive because it did not include one in the community of believers. The circumcision not made with hands, is individually applied and does include one in community. Baptism, is of the individual indicating that thing which is, not what might be. In this it is like the foreigner that joins, the presupposition is that the person has been converted. In Abraham and Moses circumcision is indiscriminant, in that it is applied to all indicating what might be true of the individual based upon their national/familial affiliation. Baptism indicates the "appeal of a clean conscience", though, of one who has been converted.

I don't think it can be removed from the spiritual aspect. And we both agree that it is not instrumental. I however believe that the type is that of conversion, that is regeneration, and not election.

Calvin's commentary about children and spouses is to the point. Even though Calvin assumed that the sign was communal and associated with the natural descent, I found his argument lacking. As he said, it is the same as Adam and the sin nature, as Abraham's descent of the flesh, and Moses, too. But this assumption is founded upon presupposition that circumcision and baptism are the same signs and circular reasoning. I contend they are not and my reason rests upon the fact that what circumcision as natural descent (this excepts the foreigner by the way) could never do, baptism does. Circumcision according to natural descent could never accompany a confession of faith (Abraham's circumcision in the case is not at all like Isaacs and Abraham compelled his men and Ishmael). The covenant, that is to the Seed, is not according to circumcision, as I said, Jesus is not of natural descent. The covenant, the one pointed to in circumcision, the one confessed to as being executed in baptism, does not come through natural descent. Circumcision then indicates the means by which the former covenant's sign exlcudes one from the convenant. It says simply, by this means no one will be saved. In deed, that is what the law said and what the NT proclaims as the truth. Baptism, as I have redundantly said, is individual, not communal (though it obviously does include one in the covenant community) and is voluntary, being that which accompanies the reality that is hidden and does signify that means by which one in included. In this case the foreigners circumcision is like this, the supposition is that having been convinced he willfully submits to the ordinance.

Matthew Bradley said...


You're wearing me out. I don't know where to begin. Your distinction between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants is not warranted. You point to Exodus 12 as though it is a change, but it's not. Under Moses, infants are still circumcised. How is this a change? If you want to say circumcision was indiscriminate with regard to regeneration under Abraham, then you are locked into the same understanding of the Mosaic. I don't see how you get around this. I think you are thinking too hard about this (ironically). It really isn't as complicated as you're making it out to be. Your understanding, while intriguing, is to the best of my knowledge completely novel among both Christians and Jews. I've never heard a baptist make a distinction between the circumcision of Abraham and that of Moses. I just don't think your argument has merit. I don't know how else to argue this.

You said, "I admit, that in Abraham there is particularity, "in Isaac shall your seed be blessed," but it is not explicit as it is when it is commanded in Moses."

This is nothing more than the progressive nature of revelation. I submit this is your hang up. As the OT saints were given further instruction/insight, it didn't change or negate the previous, but added to it and helped them to understand it better. The nature of God's eschatological redemptive purpose was perhaps better understood by Moses than Abraham as a result of the added instruction on circumcision. But this doesn't mean that circumcision was different, or applied differently.

I think another hang up may be that you are looking for the ultimate fulfillment of the sign in the earthly ministry of Christ. While this is the central event in redemption, it is not the ultimate fulfillment of the promises. Otherwise, what is our hope? You cannot hope for something that is already yours. Instead, we know these promises to be ours in one sense, but future in another. The nature of the sign is such that it will function until that perfect fulfillment which we are told will be in the end (Rev 20-22).

You said, "The circumcision not made with hands, is individually applied and does include one in community."

Then how is it that covenant curses are applied to one who is circumcised but faithless?

Your comment assumes the very thing we are arguing about. It assumes that there is only one community, the regenerate. I'm agree that there is one community of the regenerate, and this is why much of what you say is agreeable to me. But then you ignore or deny that until the judgment this community (which is necessarily invisible, since regeneration is not visible) manifests visibly. And God interacts with this visible community! He does not interact with the invisible (in a narrative sense)! So most the positive things you say about the community of the regenerate I find myself agreeing with. But I cannot agree with your denial of the visible community as a real community of people under and in covenant with God. The fact that visible, presumably unregenerate, people are held to the stipulations of the covenant and punished under those stipulations, points clearly to the fact that we can legitimately call them members of the covenant. The fact that this means there is a mixed covenant community is a problem. Christ acknowledges this in Matthew 13. But he also instructs that it is to stay this way until the eschaton. At that time (and apparently not before, :-) ) you and I will finally be able to smile, laugh, and agree that the community is entirely, and in every sense, only made up of the regenerate.

You said, "The covenant, the one pointed to in circumcision, the one confessed to as being executed in baptism, does not come through natural descent."

Regeneration doesn't come this way, but you are going to have to argue with St. Peter that the promises of covenant don't come this way. In light of your statement here, what did Peter mean in Acts 2:38-39? He says the promises are for you and for your children. Your argument leaves Peter with only one meaning: The promise is for you and your spiritual offspring (with NO regard to their physical connection to you). Is this how you think he meant it, and if so, do you think the audience had any chance of understanding it this way? I think the reformed perspective has a far better argument. To a community that had for 1700 years been told their children would inherit the covenant, Peter is reiterating the promise.

You said, "Circumcision then indicates the means by which the former covenant's sign exlcudes one from the convenant. It says simply, by this means no one will be saved."

I find this argument especially strange: God gave them a sign of his promises. Commanded them to give this sign to their children, since the promises were for the children as well. And what He meant by giving them the sign was that this ISN'T how the promise will be fulfilled. I think you are cutting against the grain of the entire Scripture when you argue this way. I never like to argue by asking "who else believes this", because truth is not established by numbers. And that's not what I'm doing now, either. But I am so intrigued by this argument that I can't help asking, is there someone you've read that teaches this? I don't mean to imply that your argument rests on the list of names you return. I'd just like to get a sense for who is thinking this way.


Strong Tower said...

No one else that I know of thinks this way. No I am not reading anyone else, and yes I am aware of novelty and do not claim that this is necessarily correct. I am just analyzing it, as I am sure you did when you came to your conclusions.

Sorry for so many words, again. You're definitely falling behind.

Do you agree that circumcision did not necessarily include one in the covenant? Paul is clear that it did not. Does baptism? We would both agree that it does not, because it is not instrumental, except that you extend the covenant to the flesh by assuming the covenant promises of circumcision to be carried forward in baptism to the visible congregation in some sense. I submit that they are not the same and do not share the same function.

Peter is right whether or not baptism is a continuation of circumcision. You would agree would you not, that the promise of salvation is not diminished to the children even if none are saved? I think you conflate Peter's statement in the same way you say that I am conflating the meaning of circumcision by making a necessary connection of the intent of the covenant with the external expression of baptism. The promise was not just to the Jews. It was to both Jew and Gentile. This removes the national covenantal implication that you are attaching to Peter's statement. In fact, the promise made to the fathers and their children does not inhere in circumcision, at all, for not all included in the promise are of the circumsion.

To restate the sign: In Abraham's descendants, it was not particular, it was given to those not in the covenant promise and those who were. Isaac is the spiritual line, but that is in reality hidden in circumcision by the fact that it is not particular. Particularity is declared by the Spirit "in Isaac." It is not declared by circumcision. So there is particularity in the covenant as made, but the sign is not signatory of the reality of the covenant by fiat of Abraham's circumcision which was give under different circumstance, i.e. he already having faith. The sign to Abraham and to his children, that is those of faith, is to indicate that faith is not associated with circumcision. It signifies faith and the covenant is not dependent upon it, nor inheres in it. Otherwise the sign would have preceded it in Abraham. The marking of those who came after, taught, not that circumcison was inclusive, but exclusive. That is, it has nothing to do with the covenant community which is of promise. That is given by declaration of the Spirit, "Abraham believed God and it was credited" and "in your Seed." Further, Abraham was told that this sign was given because of what already was. Now, if we are going to use Gen 17 as a proof for baptism as a continuation sign, the we need to keep the type. It is a sign of what is already true of an particular individual who already has received the promise. That is different than the sign given Isaac or any other after Abraham. It points to what happens in regeneration. That is, that the natural man, the flesh, cannot inherit the covenant promises, it cannot be passed on from generation to generation. The circumcision that it speaks of is done by Spirit, and the sign follows. The subsequent circumcisions directed Abraham's fleshly offspring to contemplate why it was given to him after he had faith, Romans 4. Tracking this?

Particularity is furthered in Moses in that it was not a sign given indiscriminantly, viz a viz, Ishmael, Esau. Instead it was restricted to those of Israel and that within the law which could never make one a member of the community of faith. It was given however for the very reason that the Law itself was given, to teach the way of salvation. It does so in the negative by declaring the promise. None of the things of the Law included anyone in the covenant assembly, not even circumcision. It does include one in Israel, but not the Israel of God, Paul said.

You are correct that the language does not make a distinction in that all of Israel were circumcised including those who would not be saved. The NT tells us that all who were circumcised were not all Israel. The NT does make the distinction that is not evident in the external sign or the language of the OT. In that sense the circumcision of Moses is like that of Abraham's descendants in the flesh, it is indiscriminant. However, in Moses it begins to mark out a people for the Lord, indicating that salvation was of a particular people. Not that all who receive it are his people, but it is pointing to the eschatological fulfillment of the body of Christ which is by faith.

As you said this is a function of progressive revelation. True enough. But, progressive revelation further teaches us that circumcision was not the sign of inclusion in the covenant, not in Abraham's descendants, not in Moses, and not according to Paul. In Phillipians Paul calls the true circumcision that which worships according to the Spirit of God. This is that which Abraham already had. In other words. If circumcision is replaced by baptism, Paul would say, that true baptism is that which worships in the Spirit of God. Infants do not worship in the Spirit.

As there is a qualitative difference in the circumcision of Abraham and that of his descendants, there is a qualitative difference between circumcison of the flesh and baptism. Baptism is reflected in Abraham's circumsion, and not in the circumcision of his fleshly descendants. Abraham receieves the sign after regeneration, and not before. So too, baptism is not a sign of futurity, but of present possession.

Particularity in Mose's is only a beginning. We see God progressively "circumcising" his Israel by removing those who are not his. Both belong to the circumcision which is according to the flesh. It then falls not upon circumsion of the flesh that the covenant is secured but by some other means. Seeing that God is the one who is doing the circumcison of Israel through judgement by removing sin from Israel, circumcision is a sign of judgement, the removal of that which does not belong in the covenant. Then, those who have inherited the corruption of the flesh (sin) are symbolized by circumsion, for all receive it, have no appeal to it for their salvation. There appeal comes from another, external to them, a foreigner. As with Abraham who was called by a God foreign to him, just one of many, he was not included in community by circumcision. And, as I am saying here, circumsion of the OT represents the opposite of cleansing. Rather, is represents the curse. In Adam before the fall, procreation was the intended means of transmission of the blessing of life. After the fall, procreation (association with the federal head) is the means of transmission of death. Circumcision represents sin. The circumcision which it speaks of is the putting off of the body of sin, but in circumcision the body of sin is left intact. Christ became our circumcision, he became sin for us, not just offerng a part, but the whole, and we are circumcised in him. Baptism, is qualitatively different, then. It represents life, living water, and though we are accounted as the circumcised in Christ in baptism, baptism is not a negative sign. Christ bears the sign of circumcison for us and pours out upon us cleansing, righteousness, pure waters, life. Romans 4 makes no sense otherwise. "We have this: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness." The entire chapter is dedicated to the issue that Abraham's circumcision is different than that of his descendants? Why? If we follow Paul's logic then those who argue that it is wrong to withhold baptism from infants are surely wrong. For the blessing is for both, circumcised and non, and is unnecessary. For those who believe in baptism as a continuation of circumcision, they can hold to it, but this chapter tells us that even if baptism is a continuing sign replacing circumcision, it does convey the blessing, and is unnecesary. It also tells us what I have been saying about Abraham's circumcision. It is not the same as that with which his descendants received, their's was by law his was by grace. In his case it was a seal of salvation, the external testimony, the confession of his already presently possessed hope.

By the way, I think that the hope you have defined is not the Christian hope. We have our hope, that is Christ. The hope which Scripture speaks of that we do not yet have, is the resurrection of our bodies. Now I do consider that we entertain hope that our children will enjoy the salvation of the covenant promise, but I do not embed that in any exercise of upbringing including baptism.

No, I don't think that anyone will agree with this analysis. But, I think the problem begins with a misunderstanding of Abraham's circumcision and equating it with his descendant's. They are different. They both contain similar attributes. However, in Abraham, the circumcision points to Christ's finished work and the removal of sin and death in Christ and the fact that Abraham saw His day. In Abraham's descendants it represent Adam's sin, which is why there is no discrimination in its application. The discrimination indicated in Mose's points to a work that is outside of Israel, foreign to it, one who comes in the likeness of Moses, but whose circumcision is different, also. Instead of a sign indiscriminantly given, only to be revealed inadequate in the end, Christ is given, a particular person, in a particular time, with a particular purpose who by his whole body circumcised all and only those who are members of the covenant of election and did so in the fulness of his entire person. Application of that circumcision to the individual is not corporate, but particular, individual and as in Abraham's case, the sign of it, follows the gift of faith. Jesus himself was not circumcised before he received the Spirit, he was never without the Spirit. He was circumcised like Abraham, after he had the Spirit.

Now, I have returned to a point which you disagree with, that being, that bapism is associated with regeneration and not election. And I agree, we do not know who is regenerate. Neither camp knows. What I disagree with is making baptism equal with circumcision where circumcision speaks to the hidden, that is the electing purposes of God and baptism speaks to the application which is always individually particular. As I explained with way to many words, they are qualitatively different, and accomplish two distinct things. Circumcision marked out the cursed, baptism marks out the blessed. Circumcision indicates that some will be chosen out of all, election, baptism indicates those chosen, regeneration.

As I said, Paul makes true circumcision to be marked by the possession of the Spirit of God, in many references. And, if baptism has replaced circumsion, as you argue, then regeneration must precede it. And we can add that the new birth, if we extend the analogy of Christ as making it like natural birth, would indeed necessitate a circumcision, a circumcision of baptism, after new birth. Like Abraham it follows faith.

I understand what you are saying about the narrative sense, I think. I do agree that baptism can embody the visible expression of a mixed community. I don't agree that it is the proper way to do so for the reasons stated above. In fact, what you say about narrative can neatly be folded in to the significance of baptism as symbolic of the existing possession of some regardless of whether we are sure of that possession. Baptism, the washing in righteousness, can easily be associated with the priesthood of believers. If we are going to go with OT types, then the washings of the priests were not the propriety of the congregation, nor were the holy vestments or service of worship. Quite the contrary, a peculiar people chosen out of the congregation were the only ones who partook of baptisms for the purpose inclusion into this congregaton of priests. Again, it goes back to why Abraham was circumcised and whether or not his circumcision signifies something qualitatively different as in being representative of present possession. Surely, he was not circumcised to include him in himself, was he? No. Abraham's circumcision was subsequent to his sealing by the Holy Spirit of promise, an extenal sign of cleansing, where as the circumcision of his offspring spoke of futurity but not necessarily possession. So a narrative should make clear the purpose of baptism, and if it is related to the promise of Abraham, it is not the circumcision of his children which is represented by it. In the case of Moses it remains the same, baptisms, or washings for the priests were reserved for only some chosen from the whole yet the whole were circumcised. The priests were dressed differently, and partook differently of the sacrifices. Further, they entered where the circumcised only could not, into a relationship that was not available to others. So, even though there was the community of Israel, they were not all Israel, and a different sign, not circumcision, but baptism was applied to signify those chosen by the Spirit, those upon whom the Spirit rested, set apart as Holy to the Lord. Narratively speaking, making baptism equal circumcision would seem to profane the right relationship, and violate the regulatory principle of worship.