In 1972 I completed a book, which I eventually entitled “A Challenge to the Church”, claiming to solve basic problems associated with Christian baptism. At the time, in reaction to the liberalism that dominated the church till the sixties, there was a mad scramble on the part of evangelicals to return to tradition, to the Reformers and the Puritans in particular. Though there were those who apparently assumed that it was misguided to think that our somewhat distant spiritual forebears could adequately address the modern situation and pave the way to revival, others felt much more comfortable with tradition and in effect denied that a new theology was needed. For them reformation entailed returning to the old Reformation despite the fact that it was fast approaching its 500th birthday. In this climate my book, which offered something new, failed to find a publisher, though its importance was grudgingly acknowledged from time to time.
However, the publication in 2007 of “Understanding Four Views on BAPTISM”, edited by John H. Armstrong, Grand Rapids, demands a response. According to the blurb on the back cover, the book considers in depth four historic views: baptism by immersion of those professing regeneration (Baptist); believer’s baptism by immersion on the occasion of regeneration (Churches of Christ); infant baptism by sprinkling as a regenerative act (Lutheran), and the baptism of children of the covenant (Reformed). As the editor implies in the conclusion of the book none of the views presents a compelling case for all Christians. Clearly the subject requires pertinent if brief revisiting.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that no matter how it is defended infant baptism smacks of sacramentalism which implies that rites conducted by men function mechanically (ex opere operato) and have automatic efficacy (Gen. 17:10f., cf. Eph. 2:11; Col. 2:11). The very idea that physically born infants should require spiritual rebirth before they have even experienced self-consciousness is difficult to swallow. This apart, the Reformed case put by Richard L. Pratt founders because it is based on a false covenant theology. According to Scripture, infants, who like Adam know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.), are no more in covenant than Adam was, least of all in the Christian covenant. (See my Covenant Theology, Covenant Theology in Brief) The essay by Lutheran Robert Kolb for all its merits is clearly out of accord with justification by faith for which Luther himself is still famous. In view of this and to cut a long story short, even after close analysis I am led to conclude along with Menno Simons that “We have not a single command in the Scriptures that infants are baptized, or that the apostles practiced it. Therefore we confess with good sense that infant baptism is nothing but a human invention and notion.” (p.198). If this is true, we have no option but to conclude that the theology behind infant baptism is deeply suspect.
That the theology behind baptism needs to be addressed more radically is made plain principally by the failure even of the advocates of believer’s baptism to be convincing. The essay with which the book kicks off is that of Baptist, Tom Nettles.
First, I would draw attention to Nettles’ stress on circumcision as a rite that typifies regeneration. This seems to be characteristic of those who call themselves Reformed Baptists (cf. Kingdon, who devotes a whole chapter to the subject, pp.23-37). What Nettles fails to recognize, or at least to acknowledge, is that the emphasis of the Bible falls not on texts like Deuteronomy 30:6, for example, but, first, on circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith on the one hand (cf. Rom. 4) and, secondly, on circumcision as a symbol of the law on the other (Gal. 5:1-6). (It is noticeable that even when Paul acknowledges the spiritual connotation of circumcision as in Philippians 3:3 he immediately reverts to its normal association with the law and the flesh.) It is evident that Paul derives his understanding of circumcision from Genesis 17. There, following the circumcision of Abraham it is made clear that Ishmael and the men of Abraham’s house, though circumcised, are not in the covenant. And while it is stressed that the covenant will be established with Isaac, even he is circumcised on the eighth day, that is, apart from faith (Gen. 21:4, cf. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). In other words, as we shall see below, Nettles seems to be driven primarily by Reformed theology but demurs when it comes to baptism. Is he fully aware that, as P.Ch. Marcel indicated half a century ago, the term Reformed Baptist is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Reformed covenant theology leads remorselessly to infant baptism. Like so many Baptists, Nettles makes far too many concessions to his opponents and by so doing undermines his own case. Though he deals with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins which precedes the baptism of the Spirit by Jesus (pp.27,29) and insists that our baptism is a reenactment of our participation with Christ in his historical death on the cross (p.32), the evidence to which he alludes in general is largely circumstantial and has as a matter of historical fact proved less than compelling to his opponents. Indeed, they agree with much of it insofar as it relates to the NT itself. At the end of the day, Nettles fails dismally to get to grips with both the theology and the perspective of the NT.
Needless to say, however, Nettles is largely in agreement with John Castelein of the Churches of Christ whose essay is in my view the most impressive of the four. But even Castelein’s case has to be ultimately designated superficial. Though, for example, he questions original sin (p.136), which historically has been a prime motivating force in the adoption of infant baptism, and insists that fleshly circumcision is in strong contrast with circumcision of the heart (p.86), his case is weakened more by what it does not say than by what it does say. A glaring inadequacy, as with the Baptists, is his failure to deal with covenant theology.
The Baptism of Jesus
What is common to all the writers, however, is that they all omit to deal properly with the baptism of Jesus (on which see further my essay Regarding the Baptism of Jesus). In view of the fact that it occupies such a prominent place in the gospels, it is astonishing that writers on baptism fail to recognize its intrinsic importance for understanding the whole subject of Christian baptism. Their failure suggests that false presuppositions lurk in the background. This is in fact amply demonstrated by comments made by Nettles. On page 28 he tells us that baptism did not confer any status on Jesus that he did not have before, and goes on to assert that unlike us Jesus did not receive baptism as testimony to personal salvation but as his personal commitment to effect it for others. This begs a number of fundamental questions, not least, why Jesus was baptized at all.
First, according to the NT, a basic heresy is the denial that Jesus has come in the flesh (1 John 2:22; 4:1-3; 2 John 7). Despite this, it is apparent that all the churches in the West are docetic in their outlook and even more so in their tradition. Their natural tendency to put Jesus on a pedestal as Saviour unfortunately leads them to separate him from the rest of humanity. In fact, we owe it to liberalism for doing much to give us a more human Christ today. The NT makes it manifest that Jesus was as human as we are (Heb. 2:17). As the second Adam he was obviously, through his mother, a son of the first (Luke 3:38) and was tempted just as he was (cf. Gen. 3:1-6; Mt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15). Why then should Jesus who as a Jew was circumcised and made a son of the commandment like all other Jews differ from them in his baptism? History has failed to find an answer. This being so, it is difficult, as has already been intimated, not to suspect aberrant theology or more specifically spurious Christology.
To say that Jesus’ baptism did not convey any status on him that he did not have before is quite amazing. Was not the life of Jesus characterized by the markers common to the Jews? (See my essay Following Jesus.) Had Jesus not been circumcised on the eighth day? Had he not like his forebears before him been a slave in Egypt (Mt. 2:15)? Had he not undergone his bar mitzvah and been made personally responsible for keeping the law (cf. Luke 2:41ff.)? Surely if it did nothing else, his baptism marked the end of his stint as a servant under the law which he had fulfilled (Mt. 5:18). From then on he lived the life of a son, a regenerate Son (cf. John 3:6). If he who was flesh was not now spiritually regenerate, he was in no position to do good works (Eph. 2:10, cf. Luke 17:7-10) least of all to lay down his life for his fellows. All this is summarized by Paul in Galatians 4:1-7. If this was not his experience as a human being, he would not have been qualified to save his people. In the event, he had kept the commandments in such a way as to please his heavenly Father who publicly acknowledged him as his Son and sealed him with his Spirit (Mark 1:9-11; John 1:33; 6:27, cf. 3:35; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). As the regenerate Son he was at last able to do the good works (cf. Acts 10:38) like the miracles notably absent while he was under the law. Once we see this it is easy to understand the role played by Paul’s doctrine of adoption and Jesus’ own doctrine of regeneration, or birth from above, in Christian theology. If Paul could write that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counted for anything (Gal. 6:15) but only a new creation, then logic tells us that since the old (life under the law) had passed away, Jesus himself was a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). (See further my article Was Jesus Born Again?). His status was that of a new creature fitted for heavenly glory. Why is the evident truth of this hidden from the churches and from modern Christians in general?
The answer is clear once we realize that traditional dogma has been based on the Augustinian notion that regeneration is the remedy of sin or, more specifically, original sin (Needham, p.251). Yet even a cursory examination of John 3 makes plain two points inescapable to those whose eyes are not blinded by tradition: first, there is no more mention of sin in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus than there is in Paul’s discourse on the two Adams in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54; second, there is specific, in fact emphatic, mention of the flesh. So what was Jesus getting at?
At the beginning of the Bible we read how Adam, who was naturally mortal (pace Augustine) since he emanated from the temporal (Heb. 1:10-12) and corruptible earth (Rom. 8:18-25), was promised glory (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:6-9) and eternal life if he kept the commandment (Gen. 2:17). He failed on both counts, so he died as he had been forewarned. Jesus, the second Adam, however, succeeded (cf. Heb. 2: 6-9). For he too, as one who was born of woman and was hence flesh, was challenged with keeping the commandment, the entire law of Moses in fact on pain of death (cf. Heb. 5:7). Indeed, this was the very reason why he became flesh (Heb. 10:9a). The unavoidable inference from the fact that he kept the law to perfection is that in contrast with Adam who reaped death, he inherited life (cf. Lev. 18:5). To complain that as God he was already immortal is entirely to miss the point that at his incarnation he was made man. As such he was, like Adam, mortal. The truth of this is indisputable since he gave his fleshly life for us on the cross (John 10:17f.; 1 Pet. 3:18). So the life that Jesus had in eternity was put “at risk” in his incarnation. Since they are indissolubly linked, the truth that he committed no sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22) is every bit as important as the truth that he died and rose again. (See further my Restoration and Resurrection, for example.) When we read in Hebrews 5:7 that in the days of his flesh Jesus agonized in prayer to his Father to save him from death, we too easily assume that he was concerned about his resurrection. Rather he was vulnerable to death throughout his earthly life, and since his flesh like ours was unprofitable (John 6:63; Rom. 7:18) and weak (Mt. 26:41; 2 Cor. 13:4), he depended totally on his heavenly Father (John 6:38; Heb. 10:5-7). If he had sinned, he would, apart from proving that he was not God in the flesh, have reaped his reward in death just as the first Adam did before him.
To sum up this section, it is vital to recognize that Jesus despite his weakness and susceptibility to temptation overcame sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). And since righteousness, which is attained by keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7, etc.), was its indispensable prerequisite or precondition, he inherited eternal life at his baptism (Lev. 18:5). He was in other words the first man in history to be born again (cf. Rom. 8:29) and enabled to bring life and incorruption (Gk) to light in this temporal world (2 Tim. 1:10).
John the Baptist’s Baptism of Repentance
Despite all this, the whole subject of baptism is complicated by the baptism administered by John the Baptist. It presents us with two major problems. First, we are specifically told that this baptism involved repentance in preparation for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). For all that, John baptized Jesus. How do we account for this? We need to note that it was John who first declared Jesus to be greater than he himself was (John 1:15), indeed to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In view of this it is less than surprising that he appeared reluctant to baptize Jesus. Implicit in this reluctance was John’s recognition that Jesus had no sins to repent of (Mt. 3:14). So why did Jesus override John’s reservations? The answer he gives is that it was fitting for him to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15, cf. Acts 10:38). What did Jesus mean? Clearly, in view of later NT teaching (e.g. Mt. 5-7), while Jesus had already kept the letter of the law, he had still to keep its radicalized form in the power of the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6), and this included attaining to the perfection of God (Mt. 5:48, cf. 19:21) by spilling his blood on behalf of his followers or giving his life for his friends (John 10: 11-18; 15:13).
So we are forced to conclude that when he baptized Jesus, for the first and only time in his life John was the human agent in a baptism of the Spirit. Otherwise expressed, the first Christian baptism was carried out by John the Baptist (cf. John 1:29-34). And it was his baptism of Jesus that, as we ought to expect, established the pattern or paradigm of subsequent Christian baptism. (Note it was after his baptism and anointing by the Spirit that Jesus went about doing good, Acts 10:28. And so it is was with the apostles in their turn, Acts 2:1-4; 3:1-10; 5:12-16, and intended to be with Christians in general if not on the same scale, Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:14.)
Second, if righteousness is the precondition of regeneration (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.), John’s baptism of repentance is a paradox. A moment’s reflection will make it clear to us that sin, which is implied in repentance, bars the way to the new birth, as it did in Adam’s case. How then can believers who acknowledge their sin undergo John’s baptism yet still gain life? Or again, how can repentance lead to life (Acts 11:18; 2 Cor. 7:10)? The answer is, first, that we need forgiveness for our sins for which repentance is a preparation, and, second, we also need righteousness in order to gain life. But since we are sinners and under (the) law we have neither forgiveness (Heb. 2:2; 10:28) nor righteousness (Gal. 2:16), from where do we derive them? The NT is unequivocal on this point: we derive them from Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; 9:30; 10:6; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Phil. 3:9, etc.). Not for nothing did he say that he was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). The forgiveness of sins must necessarily precede our justification or acquittal on the one hand, and our justification or righteousness by faith in Jesus must precede the granting of life on the other (cf. John 3:16). Once we have been justified, we have in principle gained life and glory (cf. Rom. 8:30). This is because Jesus as man has met the condition of life, atoned for our sin, pioneered our way into the presence of the Father, and endowed us with his Spirit. Thus, led by the Spirit, we follow in his steps (Rom. 6:4-8; John 14:2f.19; Heb. 12:2, etc.).
The Order of Salvation
In his sharp critique of Castelein (pp. 145-148), Nettles, as a Reformed Baptist, pulls no punches when he accuses him of embracing a false order of salvation. He strongly castigates him for holding “that regeneration is the result of faith” rather than that faith is the consequence or fruit of regeneration. But if what I have written above is true, then it is Nettles himself who has blundered badly. At this point in particular we see just how indebted he is to Reformed belief in the Augustinian dogma of original sin and its consequent order of salvation (ordo salutis). The fact is that, like President Kennedy in a TV film I have just seen, Nettles is in bed with the opposition. And since this is so, it is little wonder that his claimed support for believer’s baptism lacks compulsion. The sad truth is that his theology militates against and undermines his own case which is clearly riddled with contradiction. It is his belief in original sin that requires him to place regeneration as its cure prior to faith. But original sin is as much man-made myth as the covenant theology advocated by the Reformed and it is absolutely impossible to justify on biblical grounds. Indeed, it militates against the essence of Paul’s teaching in Romans. (See my Does Romans Teach Original Sin? etc.) So when Nettles tells us that all faith flows from regeneration, he is also telling us that all the sinful believers mentioned in Hebrews 11 were born again before the advent of Jesus. Yet it is clear to the author of Hebrews himself who informs us that all the heroes of faith to whom he has alluded did not receive what was promised (cf. Gal. 3:18; Rom. 8:16f.) but that they would nonetheless be made perfect (Heb. 11:39f.). In reality no one prior to Jesus who alone kept the law was born again. How otherwise could he be pre-eminent and the second Adam (cf. Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11)? Why otherwise was regeneration never more than a promise in the OT (Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26f., etc.)? That Abraham, like all his believing posterity in the OT, was a man of faith who was not born again ought to be apparent to all. For, while Paul could say with respect to him that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5), he certainly could not say that God regenerates the ungodly. If he had done so, he would have implicitly locked sinners eternally in their sin and rendered righteousness and holiness redundant.
Nettles, like the Reformed in general, has confused the end or goal of regeneration (= eternal life) with the beginning in mortal flesh. His unwarrantable Augustinian assumption is that Adam lost what in fact he never had, that is, original righteousness. Since, initially, he had no knowledge of law, Adam could be neither good nor evil. However, when he transgressed the commandment he was given, he was constituted a sinner and cast out of the Garden, permanently prevented from re-entering it in order to gain access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24). He had come short of the (promised) glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and lost the innocence and embryonic fellowship with God characteristic of babies who are created and made in the divine image (Gen. 1:26; 30:2; Job 31:15, etc.). Only by faith, justification and rebirth could he possibly regain his initial or infantile fellowship with God. The same is true of all his posterity. All as the creatures of God are created “good” (Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4) and in fellowship with God (Job 31:15; Rom. 7:9; 9:11, etc.), yet all like Adam sin (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13, etc.), partly because they are made in his (fleshly) image (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; Rom. 7:14) and partly because they follow the pattern he established and under his (parental) influence (cf. Rom. 5:12). Imitation or repetition is endemic in Scripture as it is in history and experience: like father like son (2 K. 17:41; Zech. 1:4f.), like mother like daughter (Ezek. 16:44), like people like priest (Isa. 24:2; Hos. 4:9. Pace Article 9 of the Church of England.). Thankfully, there is a doctrine of separation in Scripture, and Jesus subscribed to it! On the other hand, if Adam’s sin had been either transmitted or imputed, as tradition would have us believe, Jesus’ moral solidarity with his brethren in sin would have been unavoidable.
Of course, Nettles is correct to say (p.147) that our faith is not the cause of our new birth. But since it is the instrument of our justification and sanctification, it is its indispensable prerequisite. So, since babies cannot exercise faith, their baptism is meaningless and useless. Nettles is also justified in denying that baptism is necessarily the occasion of regeneration, for “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it” (Westminster Confession, 28:5). This view strays dangerously in the direction of sacramentalism (cf. Art. 27 of the C of E).
In his conclusion the editor of the book, John Armstrong, claims that the most important question remains clear: “What is the meaning and significance of baptism?” (p.162). For Christians who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, it can be nothing less than the seal of our faith and righteousness like his circumcision. But since Christ has come, kept the law which promised life, died for our sins and sent the Spirit, it is also the sign of our regeneration (cf. Gal. 3 espec. vv.14,29). It thus sets believers apart from others and from all non-Christian faiths and practices (p.164). In light of this, the crucial importance of baptism, which epitomizes the essence of NT soteriology, must not be minimized (cf. p.165). Indeed, it might be said that the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are NT theology in summary. To be wrong with respect to either of them threatens disaster everywhere. As it happens, there is little wonder that the churches, which have been historically divided over the sacraments, have abysmally compromised their witness. The way forward is clear. Doctrinal reformation is an absolute priority. Above all, if Baptists wish to testify convincingly to the need of faith in baptism, they must terminate their adulterous relationship with Reformed theology. I myself consciously did this when, against a Methodist and Presbyterian background and substantial Anglican teaching, I was baptized at age 40 in the Deeping St James Strict (Calvinistic) Baptist Church, England.
See further my essays on Covenant Theology; Regarding the Baptism of Jesus; The Journey of Jesus; Following Jesus; Concerning Infant Salvation; Was Jesus Born Again?; Promise and Performance; The Order of Salvation; Redemption Applied (Order of Salvation); Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology; Does Romans Teach Original Sin?; J.I.Packer on Original Sin; The Plan of Salvation – in outline (1), etc.
Additional Note on “BAPTISM Three Views” ed. David F.Wright, Downers Grove, 2009.
This work is characterized largely by the same weaknesses as the above: its Augustinian assumptions, failure to deal adequately with circumcision and covenant theology, the baptism of Jesus, and so forth.
It has to be said that S.Ferguson’s learned but convoluted and unconvincing essay purporting to support infant baptism is based in the last analysis on bad theology and silence. It appeals significantly to the circumcision of Abraham (see pp.87,93, etc.), even though it is manifestly an exception, as Paul makes plain in Romans 4. Both Jesus in John 7:22f., and Paul in Galatians 5:3 and 6:15, for example, relate normal, that is, infant circumcision to law (cf. Lev. 12:3). (See further my Circumcision and Baptism.) In light of Genesis 17, which refers to the circumcision of Ishmael who is explicitly excluded from the covenant (17:21) and leads to that of Isaac on the eighth day (21:4), this is hardly surprising. Rightly appreciated circumcision sounds the death knell of infant baptism as signifying anything but law (cf. Acts 15). (Not surprisingly, infant baptism had political importance during the Middle Ages, the era of the Constantinian synthesis and Christendom par excellence, similar to that of infant circumcision in the Jewish theocracy.) On the other hand, if there is an analogy between the circumcision of Abraham the believer and Christian baptism, that baptism must obviously be believer’s baptism (cf. Phil. 3:3). Otherwise expressed, since unlike Isaac we Gentiles are not Abraham’s natural and legal but his spiritual offspring, it follows that our baptism must be believer’s baptism like his believer’s circumcision. If it is countered at this point that Isaac as the child of promise was also Abraham’s spiritual offspring we have to recognize with Paul that there are two Israels, one natural, the other spiritual (Rom. 4:11f.; 9:6f.; Gal. 3:14,28f. etc.) and the natural (fleshly) as sinners are under an obligation to repent and believe in order to gain eternal life. And while Jews may remain culturally Jews, when they become Christians they still need to be baptized as believers. As Christians their infant ‘hand-made’ circumcision is largely redundant (Gal. 5:6; 6:15) since they have become citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20, cf. Heb. 11:10,16; 13:14) by means of a spiritual circumcision that is ‘not hand-made’ (Col. 2:11-13).
Ferguson also believes in original sin which does not exist, at least in the Augustinian sense of the term, and in what he calls the covenant of grace. Regarding the latter, he apparently takes the same view as Murray (cf. his The Covenant of Grace, London, 1954). The problem here is that Murray’s view is clearly unbiblical, not least because it fuses nature, law and grace into an undifferentiated monolith and fails to maintain necessary distinctions. It even turns law into grace and thus becomes Pelagian (cf. Gal. 3:12). The so-called organic unity of the covenant (or one covenant in two dispensations) is a major error. The truth is that the different covenants as portrayed in the Bible always remain themselves but since they all appear successively without involving the cancellation of those preceding them (cf. Gal. 3:17) or are epitomized in the individual (as well as the race) who reaches maturity, they are linked by faith which is common to all (cf. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course Christ) as the author of Hebrews 11 was obviously well aware.
In the Bible baptism which does not involve the obliteration of the covenants with Noah and Moses (cf. Gal. 3:17) (1* It is true, of course, that the law is superseded if a Jew becomes a Christian believer, for Christ is the end of the law, Rom. 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:11, etc., but note Mt. 5:18; Rom. 7:1), despite their evident temporality is clearly an ‘adult’ affair dependent on an appreciation of the doctrine that it signifies. Its assumptions are: first, nature or birth according to the flesh (Noah); second, law (Moses, especially if one is a Jew); and, third, life or rebirth received by faith in Christ (cf. John 3:6). In other words, one who is born of the flesh cannot be born a (spiritual) Christian (cf. John 1:12f.; 3:6). One becomes a Christian or is born again either by keeping the law as Jesus did or by faith in him (Gal. 3:2,5). Strictly speaking, the only true baptism was that of Jesus himself, hence its paradigmatic nature. It occurred as a result of his keeping the law and was crowned by his reception of the Spirit in accordance with the original promise made to Adam (Gen. 2:17; cf. Lev. 18:5, etc.). (The reader should note that infant baptism by implication dispenses with human development, fails to recognize diminished responsibility and abandons the entire historical process evident in the race, cf. Rom. 1-3, and epitomized in the individual, Rom. 7,8; Gal. 4:1-7. In effect, it telescopes or reduces all to a flat uniformity. No wonder ideas of perfection (maturation) and evolution constitute such a problem for Christians who are more under the influence of Augustine than of the Bible! After all, even Adam according to many was created full grown in one day!)
So I maintain that a correct understanding of flesh as naturally transient, sin as involving personal transgression even though under the influence of Adam (Rom. 5:12-21, cf. Ps. 106:6; Isa. 65:7, etc.), of circumcision as signifying law and of the new covenant as reflecting grace and spiritual rebirth leaves us no room for anything other than believer’s baptism, that is, the reception of the Spirit consequent on repentance and faith in Christ. The imposition of baptism on babies mirrors legal circumcision ‘by hand’ (cf. Lev. 12:3) and highlights basic theological misunderstanding. Not without reason did the Catholic church of the Middle Ages reflect Judaism in more ways than one. And those who are still in bed with her even in the Protestant camp manifest many of the same characteristics.
As circumcision signifying law (Lev. 12:3; John 7:22; Rom. 2:25; Gal. 5:3) sealed the righteousness of Abraham by faith (Gen. 17:10f.; Rom 4:11), so baptism signifying new birth sealed the regeneration of Jesus who kept the law (Lev. 18:5; Mt. 3:13-17; John 1:32; 6:27).
D.Kingdon, Children of Abraham, Worthing, 1973.
P.Ch. Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, London, 1953.
N.R.Needham, The Triumph of Grace, London, 2000.