Lecture 3B - The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism (Continued)
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
IV. Christian Baptism
We have at long last come to that point in these lectures where we can now turn our attention to the subject of Christian baptism. Too often, this discussion takes place apart from the necessary redemptive-historical context so that the Baptist/paedobaptist debate often amounts to a complex proof-texting contest, with little regard given to the bigger picture of redemptive history which gives us the biblical context to talk about baptism in direct relation to those redemptive acts of which baptism is said to be sign and seal. Apart from this context, it is difficult to even talk about baptism. Therefore, we must understand what is signified in order to understand how it is that baptism can serve as sign and seal of God's promise to be God to us, and to consecrate us unto himself as his people. Why does baptism replace circumcision? What is the connection, if any, between John's baptism and Christian baptism? Is baptism the ratification ceremony of the covenant of promise, wherein God swears the oath, or is baptism merely a human testimony to the presence of regeneration? What is the essence of baptism? Is it immersion as some Baptists contend? Or rather, is baptism a water-ordeal signifying blessing or curse? None of these questions can be satisfactorily answered until we lay out the context--as we have tried to do in previous lectures. And so now that the context is set forth, let us now turn our attention to those specific texts which discuss and or/relate to Christian baptism.
* Again, much of what follows is taken from Meredith Kline's book, By Oath Consigned.
A. Jesus' relationship to John the Baptist--continuity and discontinuity
1. If John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, announcing God's judgement upon disobedient Israel in the form of a covenant lawsuit, this means that "when Jesus began his public ministry, God's lawsuit with Israel was in the ultimatum stage. At this point, the judicial function of Jesus coincided with that of John. Jesus's witness had the effect of confirming John's witness of final warning to Israel, especially to Israel's officialdom in the Judean area [cf. Matthew 21:23 ff; Mark 11:22 ff; Luke 20:1 ff.]....Thus as a sign of the covenant lawsuit against Israel, the baptismal rite of Jesus was, like John's, a symbol of immanent judgement ordeal of the people of the Old Covenant." At this early phase of his ministry, Jesus is making clear that Elijah has come, the messenger [John] has indeed prepared the way for the one who is to come, and at long last the messenger of the covenant has come to his temple [cf. Malachi 3:1 with Matthew 11:1-15; 17:9-13]. John's baptism has fulfilled its purpose then, preparing the way for the judgement to come in the person of the Messiah. As Kline points out, "this interpretation of Jesus' early baptizing in terms of the concurrent ultimatum mission of John is strikingly confirmed by the evident cessation of that baptism once John was imprisoned....Thus, implicitly, the Gospels trace to John's imprisonment the ending of the early Judean ministry of Jesus with its particular baptismal rite. That is, they implicitly connect the cessation of Jesus' early baptism with the termination of the ultimatum stage in the covenant lawsuit against Israel" [Kline, BOC, 63,63].
2. According to Kline, this means that "the early baptism authorized by Jesus [John's] was a sign of God's ultimatum to Israel. When that ultimatum was emphatically rejected, a new phase in the administration of the covenant was entered, Jesus' ministry of baptism ceasing along with the Johannine message of the ultimatum which it had sealed. The difference between the earlier [John's] and the later baptism [Christian] authorized by Jesus was the difference between two quite distinct periods in the history of the covenant. The later baptism [Christian] was of course ordained as a sign of the New Covenant; it was not part of the Old lawsuit against Israel [as was John's]. Nevertheless, this new water baptism, appearing so soon after the other and still within the personal ministry of Jesus, would hardly bear a meaning altogether different from the earlier one. There would be a profound continuity between Christian baptism and the earlier Johannine baptism. While, therefore, the baptismal ordinance which Christ appointed to his church would have significance appropriate to the now universal character of the covenant community and to its new eschatological metaphysic, it would continue to be a sign of consecration to the Lord of the covenant and, more particularly, a symbolic passage through the judicial ordeal, in which those under the rule of the covenant receive a definitive verdict for eternal glory or for perpetual desolation. This is borne out by the New Testament evidence" [Kline, BOC, 64, 65]. There are several points that need to be made here:
a. John's baptism of repentance was for Israel a transitory rite which ceased with his own death and with the coming of Jesus. When John, as the last of the covenant messengers was killed, the covenant curses would now fall upon disobedient Israel--she would be cut off, save for an elect remnant according to grace [Romans 9:6].
b. And now that the seed promised to Abraham had come, the blessing and curse signified by circumcision was now inappropriate. Thus a knife ritual, with the curse element that of being "cut-off" from the covenant was no longer appropriate for the people of God, especially, since Jesus would himself undergo the curse symbolized by circumcision for us, when he bore in his own body the curses of the covenant for his people upon the cross.
c. John's baptism in the Jordan is a water ordeal, since as he baptized in the waters of the Jordan, the people of God will leave the wilderness of Israel's apostasy and enter into the eternal rest long promised in the messiah, who had now come. Thus in John's baptism, this elect remnant escapes the judgement coming upon Israel, themselves undergoing the ordeal by water, "passing through" the waters of Jordan in repentance. Thus John's baptism is transitional in the sense that it is directed to Israel, for a specific purpose, for this specific moment in redemptive history.
d. Though John's baptism ceases, Christian baptism retains the character of a water ordeal through which the people of God must pass. In this sense, then, there is continuity between the baptism of John and Christian baptism.
B. Baptism as an ordeal in water
* Again, much of what follows is taken from Kline's By Oath Consigned.
1. 1 Peter 3:20-22--As Kline points out, "That Peter conceived of Christian baptism as a sign of judicial ordeal is indicated by his likening it to the archetypal water ordeal, the Noahic deluge [I Peter 3:20-22]. In this passage, [antitupon] (v. 21) is best taken with [baptisma], in which case Christian baptism is directly designated as the antitype of the ordeal waters of the deluge [the flood], or of the passage through the waters" [Kline, BOC, 65].
a. It is important to note that the NIV rendering of antitype as "this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you" is simply awful. The NASB or the KJV are much preferred here: "And corresponding to that [i.e. Noah's deliverance], baptism now saves you," or "The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us." As J. N. D. Kelly points out, what Peter is getting at is that "the water of the Flood prefigures that of baptism" [Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude, 161]. As Noah was delivered from judgement by the waters of the flood, so too, we are delivered from God's judgement by the waters of baptism--though as Peter notes in the next clause, it is not the mere sign [the washing with water] which saves [as though baptism saves ex opere operato], but baptism saves because it is connected to the resurrection of Christ [v. 21], and a clean conscience before God [v. 21], i.e., that reality which is signified by the ordeal-sign of the washing with water. The sign and the thing signified are both in view here.
b. According to Calvin: "The meaning...is in no doubt, that Noah was saved by water in the figure of baptism. The apostle mentions this so that the likeness between him and us might be more apparent. It has already been said that the design of this clause is to prevent us from being led away by wicked examples from the fear of God, and the right way of salvation, and mixing with the world. This is made evident in baptism, in which we are buried together with Christ, so that we may become dead to the world and to the flesh, and may live to God. For this reason [Peter] says that our baptism is a antitype of the baptism of Noah, not that Noah's baptism was the first pattern, and ours as an inferior figure....As Noah obtained life through death, when he was buried in the ark just as in a grave, and among the total ruin of the world he was preserved together with his small family, so that the death which is set forth in baptism is to us an entrance into life, and no salvation can be hoped for, unless we are separated from the world....We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renewal, and yet leave to Christ and also the Holy Spirit each His own honour, so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign" [Calvin, Hebrews and I and II Peter, 295-297].
c. Kline's understanding of baptism as a water-ordeal as a sign of blessing and curse brings a great deal of clarity to this much disputed text. According to Dr. Kline: "with respect to the interpretation of the deluge-`baptism' as a judicial ordeal, we should observe that that understanding of it opens the way for a satisfactory carrying through of what would seem the most straightforward approach to these difficult verses. For the most natural assumption is certainly that Peter was led to bring the deluge [the flood] and the rite of baptism together because of the common element of the waters. And surely, then, that exegesis will most commend itself which succeeds in maintaining a genuine parallel between the role played by the waters in the two cases. Since, therefore, a saving function is predicated of the waters of baptism (v. 21), the waters should also figure as a means of salvation in the deluge episode (v. 20). That is, the problematic [di hudatos-- through water] should be construed in the instrumental sense [i.e. salvation is though the instrumentality of the waters]. This can be done without the torturous explanations required by the usual forms of approach, once it is recognized that the flood waters were the ordeal instrument by which God justified Noah [this is seen in the Book of Hebrews, cf. Hebrews 11:7]. It may be natural to think of the flood waters as merely destructive, as something from which to be saved. But those waters may in precisely the same and obvious sense be the means of the condemnation-destruction or of justification-salvation, if they are seen to be waters of a judicial ordeal with its potential of dual divine verdicts [i.e., blessing or curse]" [Kline, BOC, 65, 66]. Thus it is important to note that a water-ordeal indicates blessing or curse for the one going through the waters. Blessing comes for those who are justified by grace alone through faith alone, and who, therefore, enter the waters of destruction believing that God will somehow deliver them and their children by bringing them safely through that very element which he will use to bring judgement upon unbelievers. This is why Peter can appeal to Noah and his family, who were "saved through the waters." This is seen not only in the Flood account, but also in the passage through the Red Sea and in the crossing of the Jordan. Curse, on the other hand, comes to those who enter the waters without faith and who are swallowed up and consumed by the waters of judgement, the home of leviathan and the dragon.
d. Kline points out that it is also possible to read this text as meaning that "the flood waters saved Noah by delivering him from the evil of man [cf. II Peter 2:5, 7]. A similar aspect of Christian baptism is then found in Peter's baptismal call to the Israelites on Pentecost to save themselves from their crooked generation [Acts 2:40 ff]. It might also be observed that the extrication of the righteous from their persecution by the ungodly is characteristic of the redemptive judgement and that the oppressive violence practiced by the pre-diluvian kings figures prominently in the introduction to the flood record [Genesis 6:2, 4, 13]. Nevertheless, a forensic interpretation of the salvation referred to in I Peter 3:20 is preferable since the judicial relationship of God to man is a more prominent aspect of both biblical soteriology and the symbolism of baptism. Moreover, Peter proceeds immediately to develop the idea of salvation, as signified in baptism, the counterpart to the flood, in specifically forensic terms [see vv. 21b, 22]" [Kline, BOC, 66].
e. How does being saved by the waters of baptism, relate to that which follows: "That which signalized salvation was not, says Peter, the mere putting away of the filth of the flesh incidental to a water rite. It was rather the good conscience of the baptized [v. 21b]. Now conscience has to do with accusing and excusing; it is forensic. Baptism, then, is concerned with man in the presence of God's judgement throne....The [eperotama--pledge] seems best understood as a pledge (a meaning well attested in judicial texts), the solemn vow of consecration given in answer to the introductory questions put to the candidate for baptism. In ancient covenant procedure...such an oath of allegiance was accompanied by rites symbolizing the ordeal sanctions of the covenant. If [eperotama--pledge] were taken as an appeal, either the appeal of a good conscience to God or the appeal to God for a good conscience, it would refer to the prayer uttered in prospect of the divine ordeal. There is further heightening of the juridical emphasis in this passage in Peter's reference to the saving act with respect to which baptism serves as a symbolic means of grace (vv. 21c, 22). The salvation figured forth in baptism is that accomplished in the judgement of Christ, which issued in his resurrection. The motif of ordeal by combat is introduced in the allusion to Christ's subjugation of angels, authorities and powers [more on this point to follow]. Thus the total context of Peter's thought concerning baptism supports the conclusion we have drawn from his comparison of baptism to the deluge, namely, that he conceived of this sacrament as a sign of judicial ordeal" [Kline, BOC, 66, 67]. Thus baptism as a water-ordeal is the external sign [the deliverance of God's people through water] of an invisible spiritual grace [God calling his own unto himself under the covenant of grace]. It is Peter who keeps both sign and the thing signified clearly in view here, without resorting either to a doctrine of baptismal regeneration or the separation of the sign from that which is signified, as do those who argue that the baptism which saves [Spirit baptism] has no necessary connection at all to the external sign--deliverance through water.
2. 1 Corinthians 10:1 ff--The next text to be considered gives us great insight into the meaning of 'baptism" as an ordeal in water or fire. This will become clear as we turn our attention to the way in which Paul himself can speak of the Red Sea crossing as a "baptism into Moses." Again, as Kline points out, the broader redemptive-historical context is the key to interpreting the text. "Paul saw the nature of baptism displayed in another classic Old Testament water ordeal. In I Corinthians 10:1 ff. the apostle recalls that the Mosaic generation of Israel participated in events that corresponded in religious significance to the church's sacramental ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper. Yet, in spite of experiencing the sacramental privileges of the Mosaic Covenant, most of that generation fell beneath its curses because of defection from their sworn allegiance to Yahweh. Therein was a message for the church which Paul proceeded to apply. Our present interest, however, is verse 2: `[they] were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea'" [Kline, BOC, 67, 68]. Thus, according to Kline, the key to Paul's meaning here is to identify how these great themes are presented elsewhere in Scripture.
a. Kline does a great job of presenting this panoramic picture. "As was observed previously, the passage through the Red Sea had the character of a judicial ordeal by which Israel was vindicated and Egypt doomed. It was an ordeal by water and by fire, the two elemental ordeal powers [fire and water]. The water needs no explanation: perhaps the fires does. In this Theophanic embodiment in the pillar of smoke and fire, Yahweh, himself a consuming fire, was present in judgement [note: that the apostle John also describes Jesus Christ in terms of "a veritable incarnation of this Theophanic glory pillar, appropriately present for judgement (Revelation 1:13 ff.). The ordeal elements of the waters and sword are included in the picture as subordinate details" (vv. 15 ff.)]. Through the fiery judgement pillar he could declare and execute his verdicts unto salvation or damnation. The fire-theophany at the burning but unconsumed bush was a token of Israel's safe passage through the imminent ordeal. In the exodus crisis the pillar served to shelter, guide, and protect the elect nation; it thereby rendered for Israel a favorable verdict [cf. Exodus 13:21 ff; 14:19 ff]. But through the pillar a judgement of condemnation was declared against the Egyptians as the Lord, looking forth from the fire-cloud discomforted them" [cf. Exodus 14:20; 24 ff.]. See [Kline, BOC, 68] Thus God's presence with his people not only brought them comfort but additionally warded off Israel's enemies. Indeed, the way to make sense of the distinctive language used of our Lord in the apocalypse is to look for Old Testament antitypes, such as the one associated with the exodus.
b. It is important to take note of the Old Testament context for Paul's comments about being "baptized" in the cloud. As Kline points out, "the presence of the cloud-pillar theophany [Exodus 19:18 cf. Hebrews 12:18-29; Exodus 24:16 ff. 33:19; Numbers 12:10; 14:10 ff; 16:19, 42; 20:6], at times clearly functioning as Yahweh's ordeal by fire, is mentioned in various other juridical situations in the Mosaic history. In an eschatological context, Isaiah associates the theophany pillar with a discriminatory, purgative burning process which leaves Zion a holy remnant for whom the fiery pillar is a defense and glory [Isaiah 4:2-5]. In Revelation 15, the imagery of which seems to draw upon the Red Sea triumph (cf. especially vv. 2 ff.), the elements of the sea and fire (v. 2) and the flashing glory of the theophanic smoke-cloud (v. 8) are combined to introduce the mission of the seven angels who pour out the vials of divine wrath (v. 1; cf. Chapter 16). The earth is thereby brought into its final ordeal, which has a dual issue in the destruction of the harlot city, Babylon, and the exaltation of the bride city, Jerusalem. The latter, according to the regular pattern of the law of ordeal, enters into possession of the disputed inheritance. Each of these judicial outcomes is appropriately introduced by one of these angels of the final ordeal [Revelation 17:1 and 21:9]. This reflects the teaching of Jesus, where there angels function as God's ordeal power, the ordeal knife that severs the wicked unto the furnace of fire [Matthew 13:49; 21:31; Mark 13:27]. For the earliest revelation of the role of angels as instruments of judgement by fire and sword see Genesis 3:24" [Kline, BOC, 68, 69]. Thus the angels appear in connection with the Lord of Hosts, bringing the covenant curses and judgement upon the earth. When John says that Jesus will baptize with fire, this is exactly what he is describing.
c. How, then, can Paul speak of this passing through the Red Sea as a "baptism." According to Kline: "The exodus judgment was then an ordeal by fire-cloud and water, and it was this ordeal that Paul identified as a baptism. If there were any doubt that `baptized' in I Corinthians 10:2 is to be taken not as a common verb but in its technical religious sense, it would be dispelled by the addition of `into Moses,' which unmistakenably carries through the parallel to the Pauline phrase, `baptized into Jesus Christ.' Besides, none of the non-technical meanings of [baptidzo] (e.g., dip, immerse, plunge, sink, drench, overwhelm) would accurately describe the physical relationship that actually obtained between Israel and the fire and water. In fact, neither baptismal element so much as came in contact with an Israelite during the crossing. Moreover, if in its technical employment as a water rite [baptidzo] denoted a washing or cleansing, we could not account for Paul's usage in I Corinthians 10:2. For the effect of passing through the Red Sea was not a cleansing of the Israelites--may they not even have been a little dustier when they reached the far shore? Also, the idea of washing would not readily account for the `into Moses' aspect of this baptism. If, on the other hand, we grant that technical, ritual baptism signified for Paul a process of judicial ordeal, his placing of the Red Sea crossing in the category of baptism makes transparent sense. What the apostle meant when he said that the fathers were baptized into Moses in their passage under the cloud and through the sea was that the Lord thereby brought them into an ordeal by those elements, an ordeal through which he declared them accepted as the servant people of his covenant and so the authority of Moses, his mediatorial viceregent. We would judge, therefore, that for Paul, as for Peter, the sacrament of Christian baptism signified a trial by ordeal and that the term baptidzo, in its secondary technical usage, had reference to the ordeal-character of a person's encounter with the baptismal element" [Kline, BOC, 69, 70]. This certainly undercuts the Baptist notion that the meaning of baptism is to be primarily and essentially found in "immersion" in water. For Paul certainly cannot mean that here, as none of the Israelites got wet. But the imagery of baptism as a judgement ordeal, though which the people of God must pass, becomes very clear.
d. As C. K. Barrett notes [Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Harper, 1968, 221], the corporate element is also significant here, since baptism into Moses, means "sharing the destiny of the leader." Thus to be baptized into Moses is to share the destiny of Moses--Israel participated in his deliverance from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea. The parallel to Christ, then, works itself out as follows: Christians are not baptized into Moses under who's mediatorial work many were lost. Christians, on the other hand, are baptized into Christ [cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13 ff; Romans 6:3]. As Christ himself as the final covenant mediator, went through the curse-ordeal on behalf of his people, so too, those baptized into Christ Jesus share the destiny of their leader--namely deliverance from the ordeal-curse, death and being cut-off from God. As our Lord Jesus died and rose again victorious, so too will all of those in Christ, of which baptism is the sign and seal.
3. Colossians 2:11 ff.--Colossians 2:11 ff. is one of the most significant texts in the New Testament dealing with the subject of baptism, specifically in this case, since Paul presents baptism as in some way the fulfillment of the circumcision "of Christ." Again, the way to get at Paul's meaning here is to place this text into a larger redemptive-historical context. As Kline makes clear; "thoroughly congenial to the ordeal interpretation of the baptismal symbolism is the New Testament's exposition of baptism as a participation with Christ in the judgement ordeal of his death, burial and resurrection" [see Romans 6:3 ff.; Colossians 2:11 ff.; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13; Luke 12:50]. At this point, Kline decides to focus upon Colossians 2 since "in this passage there is a noteworthy interrelating of biblical ordeal symbols and realities in explication of Christ's suffering and triumph" [Kline, BOC, 70-71]. In this we will see the connection between baptism and circumcision.
a. There are two ways to interpret this verse. The first is to see the circumcision mentioned here as an objective genitive, that is, Paul is referring to "the circumcision of Christ." [Note, this is contra to the NIV which renders this as the "circumcision done by Christ." The NKJV and the NASB are to be preferred]. The circumcision of Christ, then, is referring to the objective crucifixion of Christ, wherein the covenant mediator bears the oath-curse for those condemned under the covenant of works and the Sinaitic covenant [cf. Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Waco: Word, 114 ff. For a capable exegetical defense of this interpretation]. Thus Christ's death for sinners is the circumcision of Christ. This would make the meaning here correspond to the pattern of the Pauline gospel found elsewhere--the death, burial and resurrection of Christ [cf. Romans 6:3 ff]. This is the interpretation preferred by Kline.
b. The second way to read this passage is to see Paul as speaking of the circumcision without hands as "a spiritual circumcision experienced by the one who is in Christ, namely, crucifixion of the old man, or destruction of the body of sin." Admittedly, says Kline, "the choice between these two interpretations is difficult." But as Kline points out, "even if this `circumcision of Christ' is understood as the experience of the Christian, it is still one which he has in his identification with Christ in his crucifixion. For in this passage as a whole (including now verses 11a and 12), Christian experience is modeled by Paul after the pattern of Christ's death, burial and resurrection, the Christian's circumcision (v. 11a) corresponding to Christ's death. As noted earlier, where the same pattern emerges in Romans 6:3 ff., the first step is called death, whereas in Colossians 2:11 it is circumcision. If, then, Paul calls the Christian death-experience a circumcision it is only because he was first of all prepared to call Christ's death a circumcision" [Kline, BOC, 71. Cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians, Eerdmans, 1984, 103-104]. This is an important point, for as Christ underwent a true circumcision not done by hands in bearing the curse for us upon the cross, so too, the Christian who is united to Jesus Christ also undergoes the death-burial-resurrection ordeal ["the circumcision apart from hands"] with Christ as well. Dying with him, we will also rise with him. Baptism, then, is an ordeal-ritual and a sign and seal of the reality that is in Christ's death for sinners.
c. Following Paul, Kline goes on to connect baptism with that which was signified by circumcision. "Our conception of the crucifixion ordeal is thereby enriched with the thought associations of the ancient sign of the ritual knife ordeal. So, for example, the crucifixion is linked to the Genesis 15 circumcision-oath of the Lord as fulfillment to symbolic prophecy. Incidentally, since the theophany in Genesis 15 is essentially the ordeal fire-cloud, the remarkable picture presented there is that of the divine fire ordeal itself undergoing division in the covenantal knife ordeal [Kline, BOC, 71, 72]. Genesis 15, then, clearly pointed forward to Jesus Christ himself undergoing the covenant curse as the theophanic appearance of Christ in the swearing of the oath-curse in Genesis 15 comes to fruition on Mt. Calvary. God in Christ does indeed take the covenant curse upon himself on Golgotha to graciously redeem covenant breakers. But as Jesus died and was buried, so also Jesus rose again from the dead. His circumcision ordeal is symbolized in our baptism. For in baptism, we plunge through the waters of judgement in union with Christ our mediator, trusting that he will deliver us from the curse by bearing the curse for us and ultimately delivering us in the very midst of the curse element itself. Thus like circumcision, baptism is a sign of promise for those who embrace the savior and a sign of judgement for those who do not.
d. Kline is careful to remind us that there is additional evidence that baptism is to be understood primarily as an ordeal ritual through which the people of God must pass as they are delivered by their covenant mediator. This becomes evident when we look at Paul's overall argument here in Colossians, which is best understood in light of the Old Testament background with which Paul was intimately familiar. Putting the discussion in this perspective, Kline contends that "Paul's delineation of the death of Christ includes the additional ordeal feature of decision rendered through combat [v. 15]. A legal setting is already indicated in verse 14 by the statement that the curse claim of the law was satisfied on the cross. Possibly the figure of the [written code--xeipographone] and its `blotting out' [exaleipsas] was suggested by Paul by the jealously ordeal of Numbers 5, which prescribed a handwritten document and a `blotting out' (the same verb in the LXX). The [xeipographone] would then contain the curses of the covenant sworn to by its members and blotted out by being visited on Christ on the cross, just as the curses of the jealousy document sworn to by the woman in her oath of clearance were obliterated only in an act of divine judgement, being absorbed into the water drunk by the woman and so made the instrument of the ordeal verdict" [Kline, BOC, 72]. Thus when Christ dies upon the cross he removes the curse of the written code from us, by bearing the curse in his own flesh. This is what is signed and sealed unto us in our baptism.
e. But there is more which indicates that an ordeal feature is prominent throughout this whole passage: "A further legal element in the Colossians 2 context is the accusing role of Satan in the judgement of God's people, which is suggested by the demonic antagonists who face Christ in his judgement conflict [v. 15]. It is by victory in this combat with Satan's hosts that the vindication of Christ and the acquittal of those who are united with him in his ordeal are secured. Again in the New Testament Apocalypse the verdict against the Accuser is declared through a battle ordeal [Revelation 12:7 ff.] Christ's triumphing involves an action denoted by the problematic [apekdusemenos] [Colossians 2:15]. According to a popular exegesis of this term, Christ stripped the vanquished principalities and powers of their armor. In that case we might compare the imagery to the ordeal combat of the champions David and Goliath, wherein, Yahweh having judged in favor of Israel stripped the giant of his armor and carried it away in triumph [cf. 1 Samuel 7:54]. But it is worth considering whether the figurative allusion in Colossians 2:15 is not rather to the well-attested ancient practice of belt wrestling as a combat ordeal technique in court procedure. Victory and verdict were achieved by stripping off the adversary's wrestling belt. It is perhaps significant that the principalities and powers of Colossians appear in the closely related Pauline letter to the Ephesians as the opponents of Christians in their `wrestling' [Ephesians 6:12]. According to this interpretation of [apekdusemenos] (and relating it to the apekdusis of verse 11), the passage would mean that Christ in his very suffering of the circumcision-curse of crucifixion accomplished the circumcision-stripping off of his demonic opponents. The divine verdict was registered in the triumphant emergence of Christ from the domain of death; our Lord `was raised again for our justification' [Romans 4:25b]. His death-burial-resurrection was then a victory over the accusers, a stripping away of their legal claims, exposing, overcoming, and casting them out through the belt-grappling of a divine ordeal" [Kline, BOC, 72-73]. This is an important point because it reminds us that Paul's stress throughout is upon the objective victory of Jesus Christ over the dragon and his legions. When Jesus dies upon the cross, bearing the covenant curses in his own body, he destroys the curse and liberates us from the power of sin, which had previously held us in bondage. Thus the Satan is defeated and his cronies cannot bring any accusations against us. Circumcision pointed forward to the one who was to come, who would take away the curse. As sign and seal, baptism points to our union with the one who did come and who did take away the curse.
e. Kline concludes by reminding us of the importance of reading texts such as this one in light of the larger Pauline context. "Graphic confirmation of the ordeal significance of baptism is thus found in the Pauline integration of baptism with the messianic death-burial-resurrection schema, especially where Paul expounds the latter as both a circumcision and a judicial ordeal by combat. Mention must be made of the common significance of baptism and circumcision which emerges so clearly in this same connection. Paul understood both of these rituals as signs made with hands, signifying union with Christ in his representative judgement ordeal. He also interpreted both as signs of the corresponding spiritual death and resurrection of believers. Especially remarkable is the ease with which Paul in Colossians 2:11 ff., combines circumcision with baptism as complementary signs of the death-burial-resurrection pattern, whereas elsewhere [Romans 6:3 ff] baptism by itself serves as a sign of the entire complex" [Kline, BOC, 73]. Thus baptism replaces circumcision as the New Covenant ordeal-sign, in which the focus is upon the objective work of Christ for us--his death, burial and resurrection, which amounts to his triumph over the Devil and his henchmen. To be baptized is to be united with Christ in his circumcision upon the cross, and to raised with him in newness of life.
4. Romans 6:3 ff--As we have seen in Colossians 2:11 ff. there is a rather distinct, Pauline pattern associated with baptismal texts. In Romans 6, the apostle argues that justified sinners may not continue to sin so that grace may abound [v. 1]. This is because we died to sin [our guilt has been removed by the blood of Christ and we are reckoned as righteous before God]. Thus we cannot live in sin any longer because of Christ's work for us [v. 2]. It is in this context that Paul introduces his discussion of baptism. Again the key here is Paul's thought world--the Old Testament.
a. For Paul, baptism explains and gives meaning to his previous remarks that justified sinners have died to sin. We see that for Paul, even though baptism in its popular sense meant to "immerse, drown, submerge," rather than to dip, the focus here is clearly upon the ordeal nature of baptism, that is, its technical religious sense [cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4]. "Christians are people who have died, and their baptism emphasizes that death. Death runs through this passage and is mentioned in every verse up to v. 13" [Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988, 247]. Thus to be baptized, is to be baptized into Christ Jesus, specifically into the ordeal of his death. According to Morris, "baptism, so to speak, incorporates the baptized into Christ; they are baptized `into one body' [1 Corinthians 12:13], made part of that body which is the body of Christ....Those so baptized were baptized into his death, where into his death receives some emphasis from its position. It is the death of Christ that makes anyone a Christian, and apart from that death baptism is meaningless. This is a strong affirmation of the centrality of the cross" [Morris, Romans, 247]. Thus the one being baptized, is baptized into Jesus Christ, specifically into his death ["the circumcision of Christ--Colossians 2:11 ff] which bears the curse of the Law for those who are lawbreakers under the covenant of works, and the works-based Sinaitic covenant. Thus baptism into Christ is baptism into his ordeal upon the cross and in the tomb. The primary focus is upon the ordeal character of baptism, not immersion, though it must be candidly admitted that immersion is certainly a graphic way to portray this ordeal.
b. Indeed, Paul goes on to make the ordeal character of baptism central in v. 4. "We were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." The one baptized into Christ Jesus is baptized into his death and his burial. Morris points out that this motif is a central theme for Paul: "it is interesting that we are never said to have been born with Christ or to have been baptized with him....But we are crucified with him [v. 6; Galatians 2:20], we have died with him [2 Timothy 2:11], were buried with him [here, Colossians 2:12], were made alive with him [Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13], were raised with him and made to sit with him in the heavenlies [Ephesians 2:6], we are co-heirs with him [Romans 8:17] sharers of his glory [Romans 8:17], and we will reign with him [2 Timothy 2:12]. The burial has unexpected emphasis in the New Testament [see Acts 13:29; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Colossians 2:12]....Perhaps the point is that the burial emphasizes the completeness and finality of the death. Christ's death was no momentary faint but real death, death followed by a tomb. Jesus really died. And our identification with that death is also complete. When we were baptized we have died. In baptism we are buried with Christ. An old way of life passes away completely" [Morris, Romans, 247-248]. The parallel between Colossians 2:11 ff. and Romans 6 is now obvious. Baptism is the sign and seal of the circumcision of Christ, his undergoing the ordeal-curse for us. When we are baptized into Christ, we baptized into his death and burial. But this is not the end of the story, for we are also baptized into his resurrection.
c. According to Romans 6:5, then, if we have been united to Christ in his death and burial, so too, we will also be united to him in his resurrection for Jesus was victorious over death and emerged from the tomb. Thus to enter the waters of baptism, is to be united to Christ in his ordeal-curse upon the cross and in the grave. As God's people, we enter the waters of baptism in faith, believing that the covenant mediator himself will deliver us and our children from the ordeal-curse by the very ordeal-curse element itself. Pharaoh perished in the waters of the Red Sea, while the people of God passed through the same baptismal waters safely [cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1 ff.]. The wicked world at the time of Noah also perished in the deluge, but Noah and his family were saved by these same baptismal waters [1 Peter 3:20-21]. So too, believers in Christ and their children, enter the baptismal tomb of the waters of judgement, in faith, believing that just as Christ died and was buried and rose again triumphantly, so too, we will escape God's judgement-curse by going through the ordeal with Christ, who is our own pillar of fire leading the way to the heavenly city, and who is our Ark, delivering us from this evil age. To be baptized into Christ in his death and burial, is the ratification ceremony of God's gracious promise "I will be your God, you will be my people"-- consecrated to him, no longer living under the guilt and power of sin--and believing that since the death of Christ removed the curse from us, we too will be raised with him in the glorious resurrection yet to come.
5. Galatians 3:27--In this text, Paul now introduces the subject of baptism, which again, he directly connects to union with Christ. Ronald Fung's comments are helpful here. "Baptism is here regarded as the rite of initiation into Christ, that is, into union with Christ, or, what amounts to the same thing, of incorporation into Christ as the head of the new humanity. This sense of the expression `baptized into' as `baptized so as to become a member of' is required by the context `on each of the three occasions which are decisive for its meaning': here, 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Romans 6:3. Baptism is also regarded as `putting on' Christ, who is thought of as a garment enveloping the believer and symbolizing his new spiritual existence....The metaphor is probably derived from Hebrew tradition where the figure of changing clothes to represent an inward and spiritual change was common (cf. Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 3:3 f.)" [Ronald Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT, 172]. Not only can Paul speak of baptism explicitly as identifying the Christian with Christ in his death-ordeal, here, Paul can speak of baptism as the "putting on of Christ," in the sense of baptism as the outward sign of an invisible spiritual reality. To be baptized into to Christ, is to "put on Christ." This idea of putting on Christ is certainly captured by the categories of "sign" and "thing signified." Again the context here is important. "Probably Paul mentions baptism here because he is about to emphasize the oneness of those who are in Christ (v. 28, where the all of v. 26 recurs): the visible sign of this oneness is not faith but baptism; the oneness with Christ that is symbolized in baptism is the basis for the oneness in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:5, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism)" [Fung, Galatians, 174]. Thus since all Christian are baptized, they share the visible sign and seal of glorious invisible spiritual realities. As Herman Ridderbos puts it, "What happens at baptism is a confirmation and sealing, a visible manifestation of what is given to the church by faith. So much is true, however, that Paul wants to indicate by his objective-sacramental mode of expression, and by appealing to baptism for establishing the sonship of the believers, that the reality of becoming one with Christ is nowhere so clearly revealed or so firmly founded in the Christian consciousness of faith, as precisely in this baptism" (cf. Romans 6:3 ff. And Colossians 2:12 ff) [Ridderbos, St. Paul's Epistle to the Churches of Galatia, NICNT, 148].
6. Titus 3:5--This is a significant text because here Paul speaks of baptism as "the washing of re-birth [palingenesis--regeneration] and renewal by the Holy Spirit." In context, Paul is speaking of appearance of the "kindness and love of God," who "saved us, [an aorist is used here indicating the completeness and finality of the act] not because of righteous things that we have done [i.e., literally by "works"], but because of his mercy [that is, our salvation is based upon something in God, not in us]. He saved us [aorist] through the washing [bath] of rebirth [regeneration] and renewal [anakainosis] by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having hope of eternal life." Obviously, this text adds much to our understanding of baptism.
a. J. N. D. Kelley contends that "This salvation God has mediated to us by means of the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. The reference is clearly to baptism, which is also described as a washing (Gk. Loutron: lit: `bath') in Ephesians 5:26 (cf. also 1 Corinthians 6:11). From a grammatical point of view it would be equally possible to take renewal as dependent upon the preposition by means of (Gk. dia: lit. `through') and parallel to washing. On this exegesis Paul would be distinguishing two processes, the washing of baptism proper, and the subsequent restoration effected by the Holy Spirit. The translation adopted, however, which takes renewal in close conjunction with the washing, preserves the balance of the sentence better [as the NIV]; and the fact that Pauline, and early Christian though generally, connect the Spirit closely with baptism is decisive in its favor" [Kelly, Pastoral Epistles, 252].
b. While Kelly goes on to argue for baptismal regeneration [citing John 3:3-8 and 1 Peter 1:3, 23; which do not mention baptism, nor do they have Christian baptism in view], if the parallel between baptism and renewal holds, Paul makes it expressly clear that the agent who accomplishes both these things is the Holy Spirit, who is poured out through Jesus Christ. Thus it is clear that baptism is called the bath of regeneration and is connected to renewal because both are the work of the Holy Spirit. Calvin points out that "I have no objection to the expression of the whole passage in terms of baptism; not that salvation is obtained by the external symbol of water, but because baptism seals to us the salvation obtained by Christ." This view is certainly reinforced by Paul's subsequent comments that "we have been justified by [God's] grace." Paul's language here, is fitting according to Calvin, "Because it should be accepted as a fixed principle among godly men, that God does not play games with us with empty figures but inwardly accomplishes by His own power the thing He shows us by the outward sign. Thus baptism is fittingly and truly said to be `the washing of regeneration.' The power and use of the sacraments are rightly understood when we connect sign and thing signified in such a way that the sign is not made vain and inefficacious, and when we do not for the sake of exalting the sign take from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although ungodly men are neither washed nor renewed by baptism, yet it retains its efficacy as far as God is concerned, for although they reject God's grace, it is still offered to them. But here Paul is addressing believers in whom baptism is always efficacious and is therefore rightly spoken of in connexion with its reality and effect. By this way of speaking we are reminded that if we do not wish to make holy baptism null and void, we must prove its power by newness of life." Thus when Paul speaks of the renewing of the Holy Spirit, "he mentions the sign to us, yet to prevent us from fixing our whole attention upon it, he soon reminds us of the Spirit, that we know that we are not washed by water but by His power, as Ezekiel says, `And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, even my Spirit' [Ezekiel 36:25, 27]. Paul's words here agree so completely with the prophet's that they are in fact saying the same thing. This was why I said at the beginning that, although Paul is dealing specifically with the Holy Spirit, he also alludes to baptism. It is God's Spirit who regenerates us and makes us new creatures, but since his grace is invisible and hidden, a visible symbol of it si given to us in baptism" [Calvin, Titus, 382-383]. Indeed, Calvin is correct to remind us that many of these texts find their best explanation in light of the Old Testament expectation of a glorious Messianic age to come. Paul is certainly to be understood as saying, that which was promised to Ezekiel, was now a reality in Jesus Christ [See Ezekiel 36:25-27].
7. 1 Corinthians 7:14--This is another very important and much debated passage which we need to consider. Here is Paul's discussion of the "sanctification" of an unbelieving spouse and the children of a believing parent. This text is often introduced into the discussion of infant baptism since it seems to say that children of believers are "sanctified," and how else could this be the case apart from baptism, since even children of believers are not born "sanctified" but sinful [Psalm 51:5]? This, then, raises the problem of an unbelieving adult spouse being sanctified as well.
a. The first thing that we need to consider is that Paul speaks of "sanctification" in two senses. One way that the term can be used is in the ususal sense of "sanctification" as the justified sinner being set apart by God for Holy purposes and the ethical holiness that results. But that may not be the case here. C. K. Barrett's comments are helpful here: "In Paul's usage to be holy [hagios], or sanctified [hagiasmenos], is normally the distinguishing mark of a Christian. The Christians are saints [hagioi] and as such radically distinguished from the rest of mankind. To them he writes (vi.11) that notwithstanding their wicked past they have been sanctified in the name of Jesus Christ, and through the Spirit of God. By definition, the persons referred to in the present verse have not been sanctified in this sense, for they are unbelievers; as verse 16 shows they stand at present outside the realm of salvation, though there is to hope that they may be brought within it. The verb `to sanctify', and the adjective `holy' must therefore be used in this verse in a different sense differing from that customary in Paul....The clue to the problem is found in the fact that Paul is still dealing with the antipathy, felt by at least some in Corinth, to sex and marriage in general. If marriage between Christians may be permitted, they argue, mixed marriages at least must be forbidden, for the Christian partner will be defiled by the non-Christian, and the children issuing from the marriage will be unclean. Paul answers that the truth is the reverse of what is suggested. The Christian partner has the effect of sanctifying the relationship (which, on his part, is the divine institution of marriage), and his partner in it." Citing Calvin at this point "The godliness of the one does more to `sanctify' the marriage than the uncleanness of the other does to make it unclean," Barrett now citing Paul goes on to note, "otherwise...if the Christian partner did not sanctify the relationship, your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. Paul uses this truth, which he regards as self-evident, to clinch the matter....The children are within the covenant; this would not be so if the marriage itself were unclean" [Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 164-65]. If Barrett is correct, Paul speaks of the marriage union itself as being "sanctified" by the faith of one the partners, so that the children born under such a union are not necessarily excluded from the covenant. This makes a great deal of sense.
b. Kline largely concurs with this assessment. He begins by cautioning us that we cannot come to texts such as these with the grid of individual authority as do most democratic Americans. Instead, we must see this through the lens of the Old Testament notion of covenantal authority. This is a very important point, since most American Evangelicals imbibe deeply from American culture which without exception depreciates the idea of covenant headship and authority structures, in which the act of the head includes and embraces all those within his own sphere of authority, i.e., as the head of a household not only submitting to baptism in faith, but bringing all those under his authority for baptism as well. According to Kline, "For us the pertinent question is whether the covenant for which baptism serves as oath-sign of incorporation is, like the divine covenants of the Old Testament and the parallel vassal covenants of the ancient world, a relationship of authority spheres rather than simply of individuals. That the New Covenant is in this respect like its precursors would be the natural inference to draw from our analysis of the New Covenant as generically one with the earlier covenants, new and old alike being law covenants, declarations of God's lordship over a people bound to him under the sanctions of life and death. The pattern of authority is not peripheral but central in the vassal covenant form, and therefore the whole weight of the historical case for identifying the New Covenant as a continuation of the earlier Suzerain-vassal covenants presses for the conclusion that this New Covenant is administered to confessors not just as individuals but as heads of authority units" [Kline, BOC, 91]. Thus the key to Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 7 [likewise of the "household" baptisms in the New Testament] is the principle of covenantal authority. The head of an authority unit responds to the Suzerain, and as part of that faith commitment, also brings those under his authority to the Suzerain as well. This point is often lost in most discussions of infant baptism.
c. The key, then, to understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:14, according to Kline, is to read this discussion "in line with certain Old Testament categories of thought, [Paul] predicated with respect to the New Covenant situation a species of sanctification that obtains not necessarily in union with personal faith (thinking now of the children) and even in spite of personal unbelief (thinking here of the non-Christian parent) and only by reason of a cultural (specifically, social) relationship sustained to a believer." This point cannot be underestimated. Paul's thought word is the Old Testament, and to understand many of his assertions, we need to investigate the OT texts from which Paul's comments here are echoed. Generally agreeing with Barrett that Paul here is using the term "sanctified" in a differently nuanced way, Kline takes the point a step further. Kline contends that "treating first the case of children of the mixed marriages under discussion by the apostle, there does not seem to be any way to construe the holiness ascribed to them other than as a holiness of status....In what, then, does the holiness of the children's status consist? In accordance with the biblical concept of holiness it will have to involve some sort of dedicatory separation unto the name of God, a consecration to his service and glory. Clearly it is not the holy consecration of the subjective-spiritual condition [salvation], nor is that of the sacred symbol...In the Old Testament theocracy there was a blending of cultural (i.e., covenantal) and cultic models to describe the religious relationship to Israel to the Lord. IsraelExodus 19:6]. The holy sanctuary of Israel's God was one with the throne room of the Great King of Israel's covenant. In this integration of priestly and political figures, cultic affiliation (or holiness) and covenantal allegiance were equivalents. Both alike were expressive of formal consecration into the special community of God's people" [Kline, BOC, 91-92]. was made unto God `a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation' [
d. What kind of holiness is in view then? "It can only be such a holiness of inclusion within the covenant that is attributed to children in 1 Corinthians 7:14. That Paul should regard the holiness of the believing parent as involving holiness of the children is in keeping with the Old Testament law of holiness as Paul himself elsewhere expounds it, and that with reference to this very matter of the status of the descendants of covenant members: `If the dough offered as the first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches' [Romans 11:16, RSV; cf. Numbers 15:20]. Beyond this general teaching of Romans 11, the peculiar point of 1 Corinthians 7:14 is that the extension of this holiness to a new generation requires no more than one believing parent, the sacred prevailing over the profane in such a case." In this, Kline is echoing Calvin's comments cited above, and is largely in agreement with Barrett. "Rather than think of sanctification of status in the case of unbelieving parents it is possible and, it seems, preferable to understand that their holiness, which Paul describes as possessed in the believing spouse, is a sanctification of these unbelievers in the functioning of the marriage relationship and particularly in the role which fulfills the central and distinctive purpose of marriage. In effect, the force of the language is then that the marriage relationship itself was sanctified by virtue of the presence of the believer unto the service of the holy covenant of God and specifically unto the securing of a holy seed" [Kline, BOC, 92-93].
e. Thus if 1 Corinthians 7:14 doesn't necessarily support the practice of infant baptism on the basis of the "sanctification" of the children of believers through the act of baptism, what does this text say about the practice? As Kline contends, it says a great deal about the underlying principle for the baptism of infants which is well-founded deep in the Old Testament --namely the covenantal authority of the parents. "In the discussion of infant baptism the episode of the brining of the children to Jesus [Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17] has been the source of considerable contention. But in support of the point we would make we need gather no more from that episode than that our Lord heartily approved when those with parental authority over these children exercised it to bring them to him under the authority of his ministry. And that much at least would seem to be beyond debate. Another significant fact is that Paul instructed the children of various congregations to obey their parents in the Lord, and in support of his charge cited the pertinent stipulation of the Sinaitic Covenant together with its accompanying covenantal sanction [Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20; cf. Exodus 20:12]. Clear confirmation is also found in Paul's directive to covenant parents to bring their children under the nurturing and admonishing authority of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. In this exhortation the apostle takes for granted that it is the very authority of Christ as covenant Lord that reaches and claims children through the authority of their parents." This is vital because it means that "it is therefore a matter of express scriptural teaching that the disciple of Christ is bound to bring those who are under his parental authority along with himself when he comes by oath under the higher authority of his covenant Suzerain. From this it follows that the Scriptures provide ample warrant for the administration of baptism to the children of confessing Christians, for baptism is the New Covenant rite whose precise signification is that of committal to Christ's authority and of incorporation within the domain of Christ's covenant Lordship" [Kline, BOC, 93-94]. Thus when an unbeliever converts to Christianity, he or she is bound to present their children to the covenant Lord in baptism, even if the other spouse remains a believer. This is because the believing parent "sanctifies" the marital union itself so that the children of believers are "sanctified" and thereby entitled to the covenant benefits and responsibilities and are to receive the oath-sign of blessing and curse, namely, Christian baptism. Thus 1 Corinthians 7:14 does support the practice of infant baptism, because it supports the principle of the covenant headship of Christian parents, who are obligated under the terms of that covenant to present their children for baptism.
8. Household Baptisms--What about the phenomena of household salvation and baptisms which occurs throughout the New Testament? [cf. Acts 16:15; 33ff.; 1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 2:38ff.; 10:2, 47 ff; 11:14; 18:8; 2 Timothy 1:16; 4:19; John 4:53]. Notes Kline, "it would be possible to interpret the New Testament accounts of household baptisms in and of themselves as involving the baptism of household servants along with their converted masters, and indeed on the basis of the confession of the latter....There are, however, other plausible interpretations of these episodes....We would simply observe that for the purpose of substantiating the authority principle of covenant administration the precise constituency of the households involved would need not be determined. Whether or not there were infant children in one case or the other, or slaves in this or that household, households are mentioned along with the central authority figures in these instances, and these households had to consist of somebody in the category of household subordinates" [Kline, BOC, 96-97]. Thus the principle of covenantal authority certainly places baptism--the oath-curse sign and seal of the New Covenant--in direct continuity with the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace, in which--upon the profession of faith of the household authority figure--all male children, including those of the servants were circumcised. [Note: for a discussion of the distinction between slaves and children under the New Covenant, see Kline, BOC, 97 ff].
The principle of covenantal authority and the practice household baptisms has far reaching implications for the defense of the practice infant baptism. First and foremost, the Baptist not only must demonstrate that there are no infants or young children in any of these households mentioned in the New Testament--something highly unlikely--but the Baptist must also prove discontinuity between the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant on this very principle of covenant authority. The fact that household baptisms were common-place, and as we have repeatedly seen, occur in the context of the conversion of the head of an authority unit, also supports the idea that households were baptized under the terms of New Covenant, on exactly the same basis as circumcision had been commanded of all male children in Genesis 17 under the Covenant of Grace. A reductio is certainly appropriate here--for if the Baptist rejects the principle of covenant authority to escape the obvious implications of this for the practice of infant baptism, on what basis then does the Baptist now exercise spiritual authority over his own children since they all must be seen as pagans, outside all covenantal authority? This is obviously self-refuting. The principle of continuity, once established, certainly undercuts the Baptist's hermeneutic of discontinuity and demonstrates the inconsistency in the Baptist's insistence upon his or her covenantal authority over their children, all the while denying to them the sign and seal of that same covenant which gives them authority over their own children.
A second important point in view here is that the paedobaptist baptizes on the basis of the covenantal authority of the parent, and not upon the presumption of regeneration--though the basis for baptism in covenantal authority does not necessarily mean that our covenant children are not already regenerate, and that we as Christian parents are not to treat them as such. That this is the case becomes clear when we see that Christian children are commanded to obey their parents "in the Lord" [Ephesians 6:1] and that Christian parents are to catechize all of their children--a responsibility that accompanies covenantal authority [Ephesians 6:4]. This is a disputed point among Reformed Christians, with some such as Abraham Kuyper arguing that the basis for baptism is the presumption of regeneration. [See Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 637 ff] Perhaps it is simply best to say that we baptize children of believers on the basis of God's command to do so, which is found in the nature of the covenantal promises themselves. And that in doing so, we are to regard our children as regenerate until such time as, God forbid, they reject the gospel. Even then, Christian parents go to their graves believing that their children will come to faith.
A third point that must be considered is that the principle of covenantal authority means that no one is baptized apart from faith, as critics of infant baptism so often contend. When the covenantal authority comes to faith, those under his or her authority are also to be baptized. The Reformed paedobaptist, therefore, will not baptize infants of non-Christian parents, or those outside the bounds of legitimate covenantal authority.
V. Summary of the Data Regarding Christian Baptism:
A. Paul clearly argues that baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision [Colossians 2:11 ff]. To be baptized is to be united to Christ in his ultimate circumcision upon the cross [the circumcision "of Christ" --Colossians 2:11-12], as well as united with him in his death, burial and resurrection [Romans 6:3-4]. To be baptized is to "put on Christ" [Galatians 3:27] and to receive the "bath of regeneration" [Titus 3:5]. Though with the coming of Christ as the mediator of a new and better covenant fulfilling that promised to Abraham [Hebrews 8:7 ff; Galatians 3:15 ff], the sign of the Covenant of Grace changes from a cutting rite [circumcision] with its exclusively male curse of being severed from the covenant with the loss of all descendants, to a water rite [baptism], nevertheless the thing signified by the sign [God's covenantal oath to be God to his people and to consecrate them unto himself] does not change. Thus, like circumcision, baptism is a gospel sign, focusing upon the promises God makes on behalf of sinners.
B. As circumcision was an oath-curse sign, so also baptism is best understood primarily as a water-ordeal sign of blessing and curse [1 Corinthians 10:1 ff; 1 Peter 3:20-22; Romans 6:3 ff], and not as many Baptists see it, as essentially total immersion in water. As Noah entered the Ark [Genesis 6 ff.], as Moses crossed the Red SeaExodus 13:17 ff.], and as Joshua led God's people through the Jordan [Joshua 3], baptism is the sign and seal of ordeal-judgement as Jesus Christ takes us through the waters of judgement. In each of these cases, no one got wet! In the Old Testament water-ordeals [the Ark, the Red Sea, the River Jordan] women, infants and children [households] were delivered through means of the ordeal element itself--water. This explains why baptism is applied to both men and women, when circumcision was only applied to males. [
C. As circumcision was the ratification of God's covenant promise ["I will be your God"] by passing through the curse-ordeal [the cutting of the foreskin], so too, baptism is a ratification of God's oath by our passage through the ordeal element itself [water]. And just as circumcision also included the element of consecration ["You will be my people"] so too does baptism [Romans 6:5]. In both cases, the sacrament is the believer's ratification of God's sworn oath to keep his promise to be God to his people and to deliver them from the penalties of the curse due all those who break the covenant of works and the stipulations of the Sinaitic Covenant made with Moses. This is seen in the fact that the covenant mediator himself, became a curse for us-- Galatians 3:10-13.
D. As with circumcision, the focus in baptism is upon God's covenant oath and promise to save and forgive sins, not only for believers, but for their children as well [Acts 2:38-39; Acts 16:15; 33]. Thus the context for baptism is covenantal. There is no evidence in the New Testament that baptism is exclusively focused upon the testimony of a believer to the presence of regeneration--though there are a number of cases where baptism immediately follows conversion [as in Acts 8:36 ff.]. Instead, baptism is seen primarily as the ratification of God's oath. This becomes clear when we see that the New Testament is full of references to "household salvation" [Acts 16:15; 33 ff.; 1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 2:38 ff.; 10:2, 47 ff; 11:14; 18:8; 2 Timothy 1:16; 4:19; John 4:53]. Thus when the head of a household expresses faith in God's promise to deliver them--as well as all of those in the household under their convenantal authority--from the covenant-curse [Acts 16:15; 31], all of the members of the household are baptized upon the basis of the principle of covenantal authority and the profession of faith by the covenantal head. Though the covenant sign changes from circumcision to baptism, there is nothing unique to baptism that excludes the children of believers. In fact, the promise [which was certainly a reference to the promise that God had made to Abraham; cf. Galatians 3:29], says Peter, is for believers and their children [Acts 2:39]. This is supported by Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 7:14, to the effect that through the faith of one party in a marriage between a believer and a non-believer, the marriage relationship is sanctified, so that any children born to that union are indeed holy and under the covenantal authority of the believing parent. Jesus certainly embraced infants as members of the kingdom [Luke 18:15-17], and viewed them as heirs of the promise. And in doing so implicitly supports the principle of covenantal authority, since the parents of these children brought them to Jesus, and he received them.
E. This is why the Scriptures can speak of baptism as "the bath of regeneration" [Titus 3:5] and being for the "forgiveness of sin" [Acts 2:38 ff; 22:16], without also teaching that it is the waters of baptism that effect [or cause] regeneration ex opere operato. Regeneration is everywhere attributed to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit [John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 2:14] and not to the mere presence of the sign itself, as if the sign somehow magically binds God to act. That being said, we must be very careful, however, not to reduce baptism to mere external sign and deny that anything at all is signified and sealed unto the one baptized. For by faith, we can say that the baptized adult or child of a believer, is indeed regenerate and has been washed in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. But if Dr. Kline is correct, and that baptism is not only a sign of promise but also curse, then those who do not fulfill their baptism by coming to faith in Jesus Christ, will come under the covenant curses of which baptism is also a sign. This is clearly taught in Hebrews 6:4-6; Galatians 5:4 and John 15:1-16. This is why membership in the covenant cannot be equated with election. There will indeed be baptized members of Christ's visible church who will not inherit eternal life [cf. Simon the Sorcerer, Acts 8:13; 20-23; Those who will say "Lord, Lord," on the day of judgment, Matthew 7:21 ff; and the weeds who grow together with the wheat until the harvest; Matthew 13:30].
VI. Additional Evidence for infant baptism:
Here, is it important to note that we have spent a great deal of time and energy establishing the covenantal context for any discussion of baptism. With this in mind, there is additional biblical and historical evidence to support the practice of infant baptism.
A. While there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, there is nothing in the theology of baptism which precludes it either. Baptism is a sign of God's faithfulness and his promise. In fact, the biblical writers explicitly apply the promises made under the New Covenant to the children of believers [Luke 18:15-17; Acts 2:39]. Children and infants are, therefore, perfect candidates such a wonderful sign of promise. They can do nothing but receive the sign and seal of God's promise!
B. The new covenant is a superior covenant [Hebrews 8:7 ff.]. As we have seen, this superiority is because the "new covenant" is different in kind from the old covenant made with Moses [a "works-based covenant" in which the people of God swear the oath, rather than God]. But the new covenant clearly stands in direct continuity with that promised to Abraham, and, therefore, stands as the New Testament manifestation of the one previous Covenant of Grace [Galatians 3:29]. With this in mind, since the Old Testament manifestation of the Covenant of Grace included the children of believers [Genesis 17:7 ff.], on what basis do we exclude them under a better covenant, which fulfills what was promised to Abraham in the first place? Do we now treat our children as unbelievers, who are no different than the children of pagans? The New Testament clearly offers evidence that children of Christian parent(s) are members of the covenant community [Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20; also see 1 Corinthians 7:14]. If they are members of the covenant, how can they be kept from receiving the sign of the covenant--baptism?
C. Abraham was circumcised as an adult. Yet, he was commanded to circumcise his own male children on the eighth day, as well as all of those in his household [Genesis 17]. The same pattern follows in the Book of Acts. Adults are baptized at the time of their conversion. Yet from the pattern of household baptisms, there is every indication that such converts immediately baptized their own children, even as infants. In this regard, it is interesting that these baptisms occur at the time of conversion and there is absolutely no evidence in the New Testament of an adult or older child, being baptized who had been raised in a Christian home but had not yet been baptized as the Baptist position would lead us to believe.
D. This certainly explains why it is that there is never a controversy in the early church over the practice of infant baptism. Are we really to believe that if infant baptism began after the death of the apostles, that there would not be a heated controversy in the church about it? In fact, the only controversy in the early church over the baptism of infants is over the time between birth and baptism! Infant baptism is the universal practice of the Christian church for over the first 1500 years of its existence. The Anabaptists, universally condemned by both Rome and all Protestants, are outside the historic Christian tradition. Baptists must, therefore, assume the burden of proof in all of these matters.
1. The Baptist must prove that the New Covenant is not the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace.
2. The Baptist must prove that baptism does not replace circumcision.
3. The Baptist must also prove that when the sign changes from circumcision to baptism, the thing signified also changes.
4. The Baptist must prove that there were no children in any of the households mentioned in the New Testament.
5. If the Baptist explicitly denies the principle of covenant authority as the basis for the baptism of infants, on what basis does he exercise biblical authority over his/her own children?
6. The Baptist must demonstrate that children are excluded under a new and better covenant.