I interviewed Michael Bull on his defense of Believer’s Baptism from “all of the Bible.” This is not a “new testament only” defense of the Baptist view, but a reading of a Scripture with a rich conception of the typologies, patterns, and architectural content of the Old Testament. The Audio is Available Here.
Michael Bull (MB) posted a critique of my Infant Baptism teaching (booklet and video), see below. (I reply after each point). In beginning this discussion, I really appreciate Mike’s graphical work and his writing. He has drawn from sources like the Biblical Theology of James B. Jordan and we worked together to publish JBJ’s Garden of God Mp3 CD and the Revelation Mp3 DVD a few years ago available here. Hopefully, future debates on this subject will be between people who argue from “all of the Bible” (like Mike) for believer’s baptism vs people that argue from “all of the Bible” for infant baptism. In other words, no other Baptist has ever even engaged with material such as the following (from You and Your Household):
“From Eden flowed rivers. There are springs in the patriarch narratives. Israel (including children) passes through the Red Sea. A laver is at the entrance of the tabernacle for priestly cleansing. Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan into the Land. In the temple of Solomon an ocean and basins of water on chariots create a stylized river flowing out to cleanse the nations. Ezekiel and Zechariah see visions of rivers flowing out in the new covenant (Zec. 14:8). Washings in the tabernacle, as well as crossing the Red Sea are explicitly called baptisms (Heb. 9:10, 1 Cor. 10). There are many references to baptism(s) in the Old Testament” (GS).
So I am grateful for the chance to interact with a critique that actually is drawn from what the Bible says about water!
MB: a) The entire point of the baptism of the eunuch was that physical offspring was no longer important since the Seed had come. He was no longer barred from the Tabernacle because he himself was a Tabernacle of the Spirit, and his offspring would be born by his testimony (“out of his belly”). Why does Gregg not mention this? He only sees what he is looking for: physical descendants.
GS: I agree the eunuch is a case of the extension of access. I believe I say this in the video presentation and refer to the Isaiah prophecy (Is. 56:3, not 52 as I have erroneously said a few times). “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.'” But I have pointed out that taking the eunuch case as how to settle what to do with believers’ children is a fallacy. Most Baptists continually commit the “eunuch fallacy” – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Here’s the challenge: show that “only” adults (maturish people) are baptized.
MB: b) Rivers are territorial boundaries, including the Jordan, certainly, but NT baptisms continued after John’s Jordan “conquest” baptism. What does this mean? And why is there no mention of children at John’s baptism (or any other) since the OT makes such a point of it every time? Because baptism sorted the true Jews from the Jews. This can only be done on an individual basis, since it concerns each heart’s circumcision.
GS: On the rivers point, the Colin Brown thesis on crossing the Jordan is consistent with a wide range of people (including children) (“crowds”) crossing. It is unlikely that John individually, physically immersed all the people “in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). In the cases of the other baptisms, they may well have been collective (crossings) and ritual cleansings with confession (adult men, probably). The claim of MB that these baptisms amount to “sorting” true Jews assumes adult individualism. But this could have simply been a faithful head of household leading his household. In any case, men leading their homes are required to raise their children “in the Lord” (Eph. 6, Col. 3). To assume children are excluded is what I have called The Vipers in Diapers Fallacy – assuming that the status of a covenant child is the same as a pagan adult or an apostate adult. That is not the way the Bible treats the children of the faithful in the OT or NT (1Cor. 7:14).
MB: c) The New Covenant has no boundaries, so this Jordan baptism was a warning to Israel. Baptism must be something else, some other kind of boundary, unless the Church is just an Abrahamic body still concerned with fruitfulness of Land and womb (Genesis 3, 15).
GS: OK, but the point of the emerging (Prophets’ vision) of water flowing out of the visionary temple (e.g., Ez. 47) is the baptism of the nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Nations include children. I may be missing the point of MB, but in the new covenant people still have children and they still live on the earth. The way I would read the Abrahamic covenant is that it was about restoration (from the fall) and in the NT we see that it is for all the cosmos (Rom. 4:13), including children (Eph. 6:1-4 “on the earth”). I have written on this elsewhere, regarding the Land Promise.
MB: d) The stuff on the Tabernacle is great, but I don’t think Gregg mentions that the laver was only for mediators: priests and sacrificial substitutes. Once again, he only sees what he is looking for. New Covenant baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority. Jesus’ lambs were not little children but grown believers like Peter who became willing martyrs. Even within Israel, the heavenly water was not for everyone, only for mediators (see Exodus 24 for instance). Baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority, so “infant baptism” is a contradiction in terms. It is not for infants but for those who represent them before God, and represent God to them.
GS: On the laver and “washings” of the tabernacle, we might not be disagreeing here. But let me make a few points: certainly the priests are to wash, and be washed: Ex 30:21 – “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die.” But the sacrifices are ritually washed too; e.g., for the Ascension offering/burnt offering, “Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water” (Lev. 1:9). I have written more about the way sacrifices explain “Union with Christ,” elsewhere. Suffice it to say that many of these baptized sacrifices are representative of not just the individual worshiper, but the worshiper’s household, the priesthood (representatively), all of Israel, and in the case of the Feast of Tabernacles (70 Bulls), all of the nations of the world. Clearly children are representatively “washed.” Further, now the “priesthood” is conferred on all that are baptized in the new covenant (see Leithart). As I said in You and Your Household,
“Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
MB: e) Israel’s great “baptisms” were corporate events, but NT baptisms are always individual. Why is this? Could it be that God saves repentant individuals *before* they are qualified to be part of the NC body?
GS: First of all, thank you for reading the OT! Yes. Israel was baptized. Wow, I was beginning to think that Baptists just have an aversion to reading the OT and 1 Cor. 10:1-4. But, as I tried to show, the baptisms of the NT are not, in fact, “individual,” in the sense of excluding the collective household. Let me say it again:
In summary of the actual baptisms, we find the following: (1) The new covenant promise came “to you and your children” (Acts 2:39) at Pentecost. Only men (3000) are said to have been baptized (Acts 2:5, 14, 41). (2) In Samaria “men and women alike” (Acts 8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). (3) The Ethiopian eunuch (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). (4) Paul (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 9:18; cf 1 Cor. 7:7-8). (5) Cornelius’ household was baptized (Acts 10:48, 11:14). (6) Lydia’s household was baptized (Acts 16:15). (7) The Philippian Jailer’s household was baptized (Acts 16:33). (8) Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus, Stephanas’ household, and Gaius (Acts 18:8, 1 Cor. 1:14, 16). (9) The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (Acts 19:5).
These are the facts about who was baptized. From this we learn: of nine people singled-out in the baptism narratives—five had their households baptized (Cornelius, the Jailer, Lydia, Crispus [inferred], Stephanas), two had no households for obvious reasons (eunuch & Paul). That leaves Simon, who actually turned out to be an unbeliever, and Gaius listed with Crispus, whom Paul baptized (1 Cor. 1:14).
This does not look like a change to “individual” reception of the sign of inclusion. While individuals receive the application of water, it is not as though the reception of this looks very different from the household inclusion in the previous covenant administrations. Every “individual” was also circumcised. And every “individual” was baptized in crossing the Red Sea.
MB: f) Why is the total immersion of Jonah never, never, ever mentioned, especially since Jesus said His death and resurrection (pictured in His own immersion) were the sign of Jonah (the dove)? Or was Jonah merely “sprinkled” inside the fish? If the mode of baptism doesn’t matter, then there is no difference between the life giving dew and the breath-extinguishing Great Flood. Huge blind spot.
GS: This point suggests that “immersion” is quite important. But then Paul seems to miss the significance of this in citing Israel’s Baptism (1 Cor. 10). But let me say, once again, thank you for reading all of the Bible. This is an interesting argument for immersion. I do not object to the mode of immersion. I do object to exclusive immersion. As I said in my presentation, all modes are valid. This is because baptism is the application of water and from all of the Bible we see many ways/modes of baptism. I agree that baptism is a “flood.” But it is also the pouring out of the water from above (e.g., specifically Pentecost). Jonah is a story about a man swallowed up, cast into the sea. He goes down . . .
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord.
And the chiasm communicates the rebellious nature of Jonah’s plunge. But Jesus’ death is not disobedience (as in Jonah’s case). Jonah was chucked “up” (Jon. 2:10). Jesus (as true Israel) and Jonah show the story of the nation (Hos. 6:2). Israel was baptized into the sea of the Gentiles; but came out and was finally delivered/vomited back into the Land. This will result in the increasing knowledge of God (in Assyria, Babylon, Persia), the baptism of the nations (Is. 52, Ez. 47). “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40). This is partly a reproof of Israel (e.g., you are like that generation that went into exile). So, I agree, that’s a great argument for immersion as a mode. But if you were to say baptism is not baptism apart from immersion, then the Bible would contradict that (1Cor. 10, Heb. 9, Acts 2).
MB: g) The animals were included as part of the household in every OT event used for support. Why not now? Because the sacrifices have ended, and God no longer requires the firstborn of the offspring, which is what the sign of circumcision (and Passover) was all about – not a sign upon infants but a sign upon males. It is finished. Confusing circumcision with baptism misses the entire point of each sign.
GS: Ok you got me on this one. Perhaps we should baptize cats in the new covenant. But on the relation of circumcision and baptism, I think I have a pretty strong case. Circumcision represented the work of the Holy Spirit, the circumcision of the heart. Stephen drew upon a very deep stream of the Biblical waters when he said to his persecutors, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). This meaning of circumcision is very evident in many Old Testament passages (Lev. 26:41, Jer. 9:26, Ez. 44:7, 44:9, Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4). The very promise of the new covenant included this, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants” (Deut. 30:6). Paul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, learned this too (perhaps from Stephen). It permeates virtually all of his epistles (Rom. 2:29, 4:11, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6, 6:15, Eph. 2:11-12, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11-12, 3:11). The reality behind physical circumcision is circumcision “which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). Circumcision signifies the renewal of the heart toward God, just as baptism does.
MB: h) Total failure to describe what each Covenant sign actually meant and why they are different (i.e. Passover was about the firstborn; the last supper was about the firstborn from the dead. Big difference but totally overlooked).
GS: Ok this is a great suggestion for a new paper/booklet: What all the signs of covenant in the Bible signify. However the subject of my writing/speaking was simply a demonstration that the Bible authorizes infant baptism. I believe I addressed the subject with the relevant material. I can’t say everything about every detail, but I don’t think an examination of the meaning of each sign will imply that “now little children are excluded from baptism.”
MB: i) If baptism is about physical descendants, how is it any different to circumcision? The New Testament places no importance upon physical offspring as the “mechanism” of the Covenant. Tribal genealogies are not sanctified but eradicated in baptism. Once again, Gregg misses the point with his way-too-broad “Covenant” paintbrush. Covenant theology is great, but New Covenant theology is greater.
GS: I would put this point under the category that the NT or New Covenant excludes children. But does it? This is my most succinct answer:
Consider these new covenant prophecies. Are the children of believers included in the explicit and repeated new covenant promises?
The very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live . . .
Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise:
Jeremiah 31:1: “At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’”
Jeremiah 31:17: [Though Rachel weeps for her children (destroyed in captivity), when they return] “‘there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD, ‘and your children shall return to their own territory.’”
Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included:
Jeremiah 31:33-37: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” . . . If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 32:37-40: “Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
Jeremiah 33:22-26: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me . . . 26 then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”
Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear the children of believers are included:
Ezekiel 37:24-26: David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd . . . . and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them . . .” (NKJV)
Zech. 10:6-9: “And I shall bring them back, Because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God, and I will answer them. 7 “And Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; Indeed, their children will see it and be glad, Their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . They will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.
Joel 2:1-29: Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! . . . So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations . . . 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. . . . My people will never be put to shame. 28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy . . .”
Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.
Isaiah 54:10-13: Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed . . .13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.
Isaiah 59:20-21: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion. . . .” My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
In the New Testament, the apostles also repeatedly included the principle of “you and your seed.”
Luke 1:17: “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 2:49-50: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.
Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.
Acts 3:25: “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Acts 13:32-33: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus . . .”
Romans 4:13-17: For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith . . . 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
These texts provide overwhelming and unambiguous Biblical support for the conviction the children of believers are included in the new covenant.
MB: j) The aim of the Great Commission is not an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant. That Covenant – and its division of flesh in circumcision, etc. – had to *die* to be a blessing to all nations. The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel: the preaching of the Gospel and the baptism of converts. It was not a command to extend some kind of watery circumcision across the world. God is only interested in circumcised hearts. Again: Gregg misses the point.
GS: This is not persuasive to me. The Abrahamic covenant is relevant to the new covenant (see my above paper on the Land Promise). Paul seems to think the Abrahamic covenant is quite relevant (Gal. 3, Rom. 4 and just about everything he wrote). I think we agree that, “The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel.” However, baptism, like circumcision, has a judgment dimension (1 Pet. 3). Colossians 2:11-12: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This text is disputed, especially in the meaning of “the circumcision of Christ.” Is this spiritual circumcision/regeneration or something else? It may be that this circumcision “of Christ” is the “cutting off of Christ” on the cross, i.e., His death. Even so, this would still correlate baptism and circumcision, but addressing the cutting off or “death” aspect: circumcision=death, baptism=death. My argument, does not depend on a particular reading of this passage, but rather that there are parallels between circumcision and baptism in their meaning. On the face of it, Paul refers to both here, because there is a similarity (whatever it is in this passage).
MB: k) An earlier one that I missed: Gregg says that not only do we have no explicit infant baptisms in Scripture, we have no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptised. True in one sense, but totally false in another. Timothy grew up in the equivalent of a believing home. So did Nathaniel, the “Jew indeed.” The coming of the Spirit simply gave full access to both Jewish and Gentile believers, erasing the demarcation of offspring (or males). Baptism identified the “true Jew”, the one with the circumcised heart, which could be either Jew or Gentile. Baptism is *not* a wiped down circumcision recycled but basically the same.
GS: MB fails to actually answer the point. I say there are “no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized.” MB suggests Timothy and Nathanial (?). Good try Mike, but no cigar . . . (Nathan is not even mentioned post-pentecost). Timothy does not qualify for several reasons. 1) We are not told of his baptism (ever). So how can Timothy’s baptism be evidence in the argument? The argument is no “baptism” of a grown-up believers child. 2) We are told that he was a “disciple” (Acts 16:1) and knew the Scripture from “infancy” (2 Tim 3:14). My point stands, despite Baptist claims and confusions, in fact, there are no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized as a believer in the Bible. MB please refute this point or concede. As I wrote in You and Your Household: “There is no explicit example of infant baptism in the Bible. Baptists also should admit: neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized on profession. The Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way. This is a fact. This lack of an explicit basis should be acknowledged on both sides.”
An excerpt from my new booklet: You and Your Household
John the Baptist was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John “prepared the way” for Jesus. He was “preaching a baptism of repentance” at the Jordan river (Mark 1:4). John was in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Land where they “went out to him” (Mark 1:5). We must call to mind what had happened to Israel in the past to make sense of this.
In the Exodus, Israel “passed (Heb. avar) through the midst of the sea into the wilderness” (Num. 33:8). Paul describes this as a “baptism.” They were “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). Crossing the red sea is a “baptism.” Under Joshua, Israel was commanded to “cross (avar) this Jordan, to go in to possess the land” (Josh. 1:11). Due to Moses’ anger, he did not get to “cross” over (Deut. 4:22, 31:2). This “crossing” happens again when Elisha is given a “double portion” of the spirit of Elijah. “Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground” (2 Kgs. 2:8). Then in the exile, Judah was expelled out of the Land, beyond the borders of the Jordan River (1 Chr. 9:1; Josh. 3-4).
In the era just before Jesus came, the Jews wanted to know if the exile was over. On the one hand, they were back “in the Land” from Babylon (at least many were). They had walls, a city and a temple. On the other hand, they were still oppressed by foreign powers (Herod(s) and Rome). Had God returned to Zion in fulfillment of the prophets (e.g., Is. 40:1-10)? Now enter John.
John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4). This does not mean John was preaching, “You must be immersed.” Rather, given all the history to this point, John was preaching a “baptism” of the renewal of Israel. The baptism he preached showed this. Theologian Colin Brown wrote, “John was organizing a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea as a preliminary to recrossing the Jordan as a penitent, consecrated Israel in order to reclaim the land in a quasi-reenactment of the return from the Babylonian exile . . . . the purity and quantity of the water were of less significance than the historic, symbolic significance of the Jordan itself as the boundary and point of entry.” Just as Deuteronomy looked to a time of renewal when they “cross the Jordan,” being led by Joshua (Deut. 4:21), so now on the verge of Messiah coming, John was leading them in a symbolic exodus to enter the Land in renewal. The rest of the New Testament draws upon various threads of this “crossing” image in baptism. We are “baptized” into Christ, through death and into resurrection life. We “pass” or “cross” into Him (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12).
In addition to the “crossing,” John may have sprinkled water on people as they passed, as a ritual of cleansing. This is suggested by the words of Jesus about John,“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matt. 11:7). This could be merely metaphorical, but throughout the Bible such branches are used to apply rites of cleansing (Lev. 14). “A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there…” (Num. 19:18). “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7). It is unlikely that John physically immersed all the people in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6).
What about the baptism of Jesus? So, John’s baptism of Jesus involved this renewal of Israel, crossing the Jordan (as before with the Red Sea, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha) to “manifest” the Anointed One, “Christ” (Jn. 1:31, Ps. 2:2). Hebrews teaches Christ was appointed “by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:10). He “appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb. 7:28). When did this happen? This happened at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21, 4:18).
John was qualified to be Levitical priest, as was his father (Luke 1:5). However, John did not do his ritual cleansings at the temple, under the corruption of the Sadducees. Levitical priests were appointed through a ritual washing, an anointing with oil, and vesting (clothing) (Ex. 28:41, Num. 3:3). Jesus was consecrated as a priest by John in the baptismal event (Matt. 3:13-17). I would consider John the “last Levitical priest” who anoints the Melchizedekian High Priest, Jesus. Jesus did not get symbolic oil at a corrupt temple; He received the actual Spirit coming down as a dove. Because of this, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth” the Spirit on us (Acts 2:33). This is the meaning of the word, “Christ” (anointed), and it goes back to the event of Jesus’ baptism when He was anointed.
So do we “follow the Lord” in baptism? Only with this rich background in mind, can we now see how Christ’s baptism is a model for us. In our baptisms we are cleansed; there is a washing away of sin in the symbolism. We “cross” or “pass” into Christ, and we are clothed. In baptism, we gain a new status as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are vested with the Spirit and called “sons/daughters” of God. Priestly ordination is a picture of the “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
A free conference on Five Views of Infants and Children in the Church, held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, April 27, 2015, featuring speakers: Adam Harwood, Kevin Lawson, David Liberto, David Scaer, Jason Foster, Gregg Strawbridge, and Donna Peavey. See the flyer and schedule in the PDF below:
The famous writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress, urged that communion should be open in “Baptists” churches to those baptized in infancy, without re-baptism. Read this short, selected/edited work,
Baptism and Church Communion (html) by John Bunyan, edited by Gregg Strawbridge
Bunyan said, “I own water baptism to be God’s ordinance, but I make no idol of it.”
This selection of John Bunyan’s work was originally taken from a book entitled, A Confession of My Faith, and a Reason of My Practice: Or, With Who, and Who Not, I Can Hold Church Fellowship, or the Communion of Saints. Shewing by diverse arguments, that though I dare not communicate with the openly profane, yet I can with those visible saints that differ about water baptism. Wherein is also discoursed whether that be the entering ordinance into fellowship, or no.
Here’s an update on the location of this debate on Infant Baptism (or the Covenantal Paedobaptist view of baptism vs the Reformed Baptist view)
Monday March 23rd 7pm:
ORLANDO GRACE CHURCH
872 Maitland Avenue
Altamonte Springs, Florida
This interaction will be recorded and published at WordMp3.com, as well as through Dr. White’s Alpha and Omega Ministry.
Gregg and James debated the topic of the recipients of baptism back in 2007 telephonically. The recording of that interaction is available here:
Hence in no case (I mean of the heathen, of course) is there any nativity which is pure of idolatrous superstition. It was from this circumstance that the apostle said, that when either of the parents was sanctified, the children were holy; and this as much by the prerogative of the (Christian) seed as by the discipline of the institution (by baptism, and Christian education). “Else,” says he, “were the children unclean” by birth: as if he meant us to understand that the children of believers were designed for holiness, and thereby for salvation; in order that he might by the pledge of such a hope give his support to matrimony, which he had determined to maintain in its integrity. Besides, he had certainly not forgotten what the Lord had so definitively stated: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;” in other words, he cannot be holy.
Tertullian. (1885). A Treatise on the Soul. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, pp. 219–220). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.
A few years ago I got a call from a stranger to discuss a struggle. John Crawford was the son of a prominent Baptist pastor struggling with the doctrine of the covenant. Could he really embrace covenantal infant baptism as a Baptist pastor’s son? He struggled with the same thing I did: the nature and recipients of the new covenant. After a few years and a couple wonderful visits to Lancaster Co., John came to a firm conclusion. Not only did he resolve it in his own mind with his lovely family, he wrote it all up in, Baptism is Not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explains Everything, with a foreword by Douglas Wilson. This very useful book of less than 150 pages, published by American Vision, also includes a 30 minute video of a discussion with John. The video brings you into a very personal engagement with John. You get a sense of his personality and passion.
Baptism is Not Enough is a very readable introduction, not simply to the issues relating to baptism, but especially in understanding the biblical concept of covenant. In fact, that’s the main argument of the book: until you understand the biblical concept of the covenant, then don’t even try to understand baptism. I agree. Here is the chapter sequence:
- Covenant at Creation
- Three Covenant Institutions
- Covenant Structure and Children in the Old Testament
- Covenant Structure and Children in the New Testament
- New Covenant Texts Revisited
- Covenant Structure and the Whole Gospel
If you are looking for a good study of the covenant and a great introduction to the Reformed, covenantal understanding of baptism, this is it.
SUMMARY – Daniel C. Lane presented this paper at the 2006 Evangelical Theological Society. Listen to the audio presentation at WordMp3.com. Lane presents a short history of covenant theology as relating to the defense of infant baptism (e.g., through Zwingli, Ursinus, Bullinger, Calvin, etc.), as well as laying out the standard covenantal argument for infant baptism (e.g., covenant plan = sign of the covenant = circumcision to infants = baptism to infants now).
Lane agrees that 1) Circumcision was sign; 2) it was commanded; 3) baptism replaces circumcision at the functional level as the sign of the covenant; and that 4) there is no explicit setting aside of infants receiving the sign for believers only.
On this, I think #3/4 above are not the standard critique of paedobaptism. Many Baptists are quick to deny that baptism replaces circumcision and rally on that point against paedobaptism (Malone, Hoch, et al). I am glad that Lane accepts the point that circumcision used to be the entrance rite, but now it is baptism, despite many other differences in the rites. They both functioned as a formal admission. Also, he apparently takes the “believe and be baptized” commands differently than most Baptists. These commands are usually taken to be a new standard of admission, replacing the previous procedure of infants for admission.
He urges the critical assumptions of the argument are: One saving covenant; circumcision was the seal of the covenant in the OT; the covenant applies to covenant members and their children.
His focus is on the premise “the covenant applies to covenant members and their children.” He argues that there is no explicit teaching that infants are covenant members and that the general premises of covenant theology do not ensure their membership. “Are the infants of covenant members themselves members of the covenant?” – He argues “no” from Genesis 17.
While he notes in passing that some covenant theologians view the covenant of grace as not necessarily including such infants, e.g., only the elect are in the covenant – He cites several Reformed Confessions that teach their regular inclusion: Heidelberg Catechism (74) and 2nd Helvetic (20). He says the Westminster stops short of this, saying they are members of the visible church, but not the covenant. I agree that there’s a greater naunce in the Westminster, but the WCF clearly says, “Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace” (WCF 27:1) which are to be applied to the visible Church. Further, Lane leaves out crucial statements of the Westminster Catechisms: “Unto whom is baptism to be administered? A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized” (WLC 166, emphasis mine). The Shorter Catechism says, “What is baptism? A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s” (WSC 94).
It is difficult to read these Westminster references without concluding such children are in some sense “in the covenant.” The Westminster seems to walk the tight rope between a simple inclusion of the children “in the covenant” (e.g., the visible administration of the covenant) and the stronger assertion that they are included in the “covenant of grace.” I think this is due to a strong “decreetal” perspective on covenant theology. Practically speaking, all paedobaptists (as far as I know) view their children as members of the visible covenant community, at the very least.
Lane addresses more specifically the arguments of Bullinger and Calvin. He finds them to describe circumcision as both “efficacious” and carnal. Which is it? Lane says the heart of his argument is that “Bullinger and Calvin confused who was commanded to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant with who will be heirs of the covenant.” He argues that receiving the covenant does not guarantee being a covenant keeper.
Lane cites that Gen. 18:19 to discuss the conditionality of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22 “because you have done this”). While God will accomplish His covenant purposes, the fear of the Lord, a right heart, and obedience are the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant.
The critical failure of covenant theology is the “failure to distinguish who would get the sign versus who would be an heir of the covenant.” This leads Lane to argue a novel point, which explains the title (“compound reading”). The original promise in Gen. 17 does not mean “believers and their seed,” but simply to “Abraham and his seed.” So while the command of circumcision was perpetual, the promise that God would be God “to you and your seed” was only to Abraham. So only Abraham could claim this promise. This is the “double reading” of Gen. 17 (reading 1 is Abraham and his seed; reading 2 is “believers” and their seed). He concludes that from Gen. 17 covenant theologians cannot prove that their physical offspring are in the covenant. He urges that Bullinger, nor Calvin justify this second reading (Gen. 17 = “believers and their seed”). “No where do the Scriptures directly state that the infants of covenant members are themselves also covenant members. No where do the Scriptures use the expression, to believers and their seed, or its equivalent. Rather the promise is consistently said to be spoken to Abraham and his seed.”
RESPONSE - I hope that I have fairly represented Lane’s argument and presentation. It provides some helpful historical information, as well as engages the arguments from a new angle. However, when I got to the end of the presentation, I found myself feeling as though his view rested on a trivial and almost ridiculous point. What the covenant promise means is simply, “Abraham and his seed” and this only applies to Abraham. The fundamental covenant theology error here is assuming that covenantal inclusion extended beyond Abraham’s immediate children.
Really? I think this would be news for the Jews, to say the least. So Isaac had no exegetical right to think his kids were covenant kids? Jacob, Moses, David should have considered their children to be “outside of the covenant”? Now Lane grants that circumcision should have been perpetually applied, but then why do that? Now circumcision really has an arbitrary sense. At least with regular Baptists it only means the “physical” – but the implication here is that it does not certify inclusion into the Abrahamic covenant. Again, I think this would not be a popular OT class, taught in OT times.
Scriptural Challenges to Lane’s “Only Abraham” thesis –
- When Gen. 17:9 says, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you,” it adds the phrase, “throughout their generations.” That would seem to be inconsistent with Lane’s reading.
- Genesis 17:8 teaches succession in “being their God” (i.e., Israel): “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
- Paul equates “Abraham” and “his descendants” in Rom. 4:13 as those who are given the “promise,” and that the promise is “certain” to such descendants. “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. . .16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law…”
- The duration of covenant inclusion is quite long, certainly extending beyond merely Abraham’s immediate descendants.
- Deuteronomy 7:9 – “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
- 1 Chronicles 16:15–17 (repeated in Ps. 105:8) – “Remember His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, 16 The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac. 17 He also confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant…”
- Israel receives a renewed statement of the very same covenant promise made to Abraham:
- Exodus 6:7 (see also Ex. 19, and Jer. 4:11, 11:4, confirms as well) – “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.”
- Leviticus 26:12 – “I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.”
- Ruth certainly applied this promise herself, millennia after Abraham: Ruth 1:16 “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
When Lane challenges, “No where do the Scriptures use the expression, to believers and their seed, or its equivalent.” If this were true, such a change in covenant recipients and covenant promises could hardly be more drastic! Covenant membership has always and ever included “you and your children” and covenant content is most fundamentally the Lord is “God to you and your descendants” (Gen. 17:7, Deut. 7:9, 30:6, 1 Chr. 16:15, Ps.103:17, 105:8). Consider these new covenant prophecies which are an equivalent of “believers and their seed” for two reasons: a) they are about the new covenant (which specifically requires faith of parent(s) (1Cor. 7:14); b) they explicitly and repeatedly speak of the children of those receiving these promises:
The very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:
- Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live . . .
- Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise: Jeremiah 31:1: “’At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’”
- Jeremiah 31:17: [Though Rachel weeps for her children (destroyed in captivity), when they return] “’there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD, ‘and your children shall return to their own territory.’” Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included: Jeremiah 31:33-37: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. ….” If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “ Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. “ 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD.”
- Jeremiah 32:37-40: “Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
- Jeremiah 33:22-26: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me . . . 26 then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”
Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear the children of believers are included:
- Ezekiel 37:24-26: David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd….and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them…. (NKJV)
- Zech. 10:6-9: “And I shall bring them back, Because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God, and I will answer them. 7 “And Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; Indeed, their children will see it and be glad, Their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . They will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.
- Joel 2:1-29: Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! . . .So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations . . . 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. ….My people will never be put to shame. 28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy….
- Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.
- Isaiah 54:10-13: . . .Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed . . .13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.
- Isaiah 59:20-21: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion….”My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”
- Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.
Receiving the Covenant Sign vs Heirs of the Covenant
Lane charges Bullinger and Calvin (et al) with the “failure to distinguish who would get the sign versus who would be an heir of the covenant.” This is ambiguous. Does “heir of the covenant” really mean “heir of the blessings of the covenant”? Does it simply mean covenant membership? All would agree that getting sign doesn’t give you all the blessings. He argues that “receiving the covenant sign does not guarantee being a covenant keeper.” But did anyone ever argue contrary to this? This is a trivial point. No Christian (or faithful Jew) has ever held that mere baptism (circumcision) is sufficient for salvation.
His other arguments lead to the conclusion that getting covenant sign does not mean you are member, e.g., since only Abraham/his children were members in the original sense. “The promise is consistently said to be spoken to Abraham and his seed.” But the claim of distinguishing covenant membership from those who receive the sign of the covenant is just nonsensical. Receiving the sign means that you are a covenant member. You give the sign to someone who has a right to membership. But what of those who were not of the faith of Abraham? Doesn’t this prove they were not in the covenant or not “heirs of the covenant”? Lane tries to resolve the covenant breaking/covenant keeping problem by excluding a person from membership. Those who break the covenant are not in it (?)!
This is where one must have a more robust sense of the covenant content. Covenants include stipulations for judgment and blessing; and all the covenantal administrations in the Bible evidence this (read CIB). This is why the all covenant administrations — Abrahamic, Mosaic, and even the new covenant — include language about “breaking” covenant, or being “cut off” (Gen. 17:14), or “judgment” (1Cor. 11:29, Heb. 10:28). Like many new covenant Baptists, Lane seems to miss the richness of the unfolding covenants of promise which have a visible administration for believers and for the covenant breakers.
Lane’s view, then, is incoherent. He speaks of the sign as not guaranteeing “being a covenant keeper.” This is true enough. But no one can “keep” or “break” covenant unless they are under the terms of the covenant, i.e., “in the covenant.” And yes the new covenant, while it cannot be “broken” in a sense, does have covenant breaking members (apostates from the new covenant terms, e.g., Heb. 10:28-30, see Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense, section IV.).
The answer to the problem of being an “heir of the covenant,” but breaking covenant is not found in excluding members, a priori. It is found in realizing that the unfolding covenantal administrations in Scripture all call for faith and faithfulness as the mature qualifications for receiving all the promised covenant blessings. Faithfulness to the Lord is not the entrance requirement, but the fruit of the covenant grace offered in covenant membership. God’s way is to freely receive little ones and apply the covenant means of grace to them, calling for their maturity and faithfulness. It is not to demand proof of faithfulness apart from His means of grace prior to entrance. Chastisement, discipline, and ultimately judgment which should be applied to straying covenant members. The problem is not in letting children in, it’s in getting adult covenant breakers out.