Abraham, Moses, and Baptism

I’m in the midst of an interesting discussion of baptism with a friend, who has Baptist convictions but who understands Reformed theology better than many Reformed folks. He is quite sympathetic to historic and confessional Reformed theology. For example, he affirms that covenant children are holy and reads 1 Cor 7:14 the same way Reformed people read it. He affirms that Acts 2:39 is a repetition of the Abrahamic promise to be a God to believers and to their children. On what ground does he refuse baptism to covenant children? He does so on analogy with the RPW. I’ve heard this argument before but my response today was clearer than in the past; helped I think by recent discussions on Abraham and Moses regarding republication.

This argument against paedobaptism says just as we no longer sacrifice animals (or use musical instruments, or use choirs etc) in the same way, in the absence of clear NT warrant we can no longer initiate children into the covenant community. On the surface this is a compelling argument since it appeals to a powerful instinct among Reformed people, one to which they should listen carefully: we do in worship only what is commanded and in the New Covenant, the types and shadows have been fulfilled. Therefore we ought not reintroduce typological elements into New Covenant worship.

There’s a problem with this attractive argument, however. The argument continues to make a fundamental categorical mistake: It confuses Abraham and Moses. One of the pillars of the Baptist argument is that we have to regard Abraham and Moses together such that if Moses has been fulfilled the Mosaic epoch has expired with the death of Christ so also the Abrahamic covenant is likewise fulfilled and expired. In other words, in my experience, Baptists frequently confuse Abraham for Moses. The difficulty is that Abraham isn’t Moses.

Thesis: Whatever is distinctly and solely Mosaic is fulfilled and expired with the death of Christ. The saturday sabbath: expired, the cultic laws: expired, the civil laws: expired and binding only insofar as the general equity (i.e. insofar as they reflect natural/creational law) thereof may require, the ceremonies: fulfilled, the temple: fulfilled, the land promises: fulfilled and expired. Whatever belonged distinctly and solely to Moses was fulfilled and expired with Christ.

What about the decalogue? Well, if you don’t recognize natural law, you’re in trouble aren’t you? The Reformed, in contrast to the theonomists and Barthians, believe in and confess the natural knowledge of God, natural or creational law that comes to expression in the garden, after the garden, under Moses, and in the New Covenant. The decalogue is an expression of the natural law. The substance of the decalogue remains in force because it is the creational law that reveals God’s moral will in all ages. The Israelitish accidents (Saturday Sabbath and land promises) are fulfilled and expired.

Indeed, all the typological circumstances of the faith whether they be Mosaic or Abrahamic were fulfilled and have expired with Christ. Yes, there were typological elements in the Abrahamic administration fo the covenant of grace, but we in the New Covenant don’t relate to Abraham the way we relate to Moses. The covenant of grace made with Abraham was administered through types and shadows and under land promises and the like (see Gen 12, 15, 17).

Whereas the land promises were essential to the theocratic national covenant made at Sinai with national Israel, the land promises to Abraham were accidental. They were not of the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. The substance or essence of the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of grace—no one ever says that there is a works element to the Abrahamic covenant because it has a different character than the Mosaic covenant—is the divine promise: I will be your God and you will be my people, I will be a God to you and to your children. This is not accidental (i.e. it is of the essence of what makes the Abrahamic covenant what it is) to the covenant of grace but essential.

In contrast to the Abrahamic covenant of grace, the Mosaic covenant per se, not insofar as it was an administration of the covenant of grace, but insofar it was intentionally a temporary, typological national covenant added to the covenant promise given to Abraham (Gal 3) was temporary. It was a codicil added to the earlier, more fundamental covenant. Its distinct function was to act almost as a counterpoint to Abraham. There are not 613 Mitzvoth in Abraham, but there are in Moses. There are “10 words” in Abraham but there are in Moses. There is no temple in Abraham, but there is in Moses (considered from the tabernacle to the coming of Christ).

What carries over into the New Covenant that didn’t pre-date Moses? The Sabbath pre-dated Moses. It was built into creation. The idea of sacrifice predated Moses. Infant initiation predated Moses. Moses was a giant, 1500-year sermon illustration. Yes, Moses was looking toward heaven (Heb 11), and he and all Christians in that epoch were saved and justified sola gratia, sola fide, et solo Christo but Moses represents the “old covenant,” of fading glory. Abraham was a typological figure but not, strictly speaking, an “old covenant” figure. He was a New Covenant figure who lived, as it were, out of time. Clearly we have a different relation to Abraham than we do to Moses. It’s Abraham, not Moses, who is the father of all who believe (Rom 3-4.

What about the RPW? Well, the RPW does away with Moses and all typology. Fine. Let’s have the RPW (we only do in worship what God explicitly or implicitly requires). That’s why we baptize infants, because God ordained that the sign and seal of initiation into the visible covenant community be administered to covenant children and he did so under Abraham, not Moses. Let us keep our eye on the pea in the shell. Let us not confuse Abraham for Moses. Both are typological, but not all typological figures are the same.

This is why Colossians 2:11-12 is so important here. Paul’s intent is not prove infant baptism (he doesn’t have to prove it, it’s commanded in Gen 17 and Acts 2:39) but as he makes one point he implies another. In Paul’s mind, circumcision and Baptism are both ritual identifications with the death of Christ. Circumcision is the typological, forward looking bloody type and shadow of the reality of Christ’s circumcision on the cross—he was cut off for us, he bore the wrath of God for our covenant breaking, outside the city. Baptism is the New Covenant ritual identification with the death of Christ. This is Paul’s point in Rom 6. We’ve been baptized. We’ve been identified with Christ. If we believe what baptism promises (the gospel of free righteousness with God by faith alone), and if we are united to Christ sola gratia et sola fide, then we ought to live a certain way. Baptism is the bloodless, New Covenant, sign and seal of covenant initiation and identification with Christ’s death because Christ has put an end to the bloody types and shadows on the cross.

The RPW works for the paedobaptist because God has said, in effect, “initiate your children into the visible covenant community.” This is a divine command and promise administered under types and shadows and under the fulfillment. What was typological about circumcision was not that it was administered to infants but that it was bloody. There’s nothing inherently typological about initiating infants. There is something inherently typological about shedding blood. Sacrifices aren’t typological. Bloody sacrifices are typological. Today, Christ having made the perfect and final sacrifice, we offer metaphorical sacrifices, i.e. we offer ourselves out of gratitude (Rom 12). How did Jesus’ death fulfill the initiation of infants into the visible covenant community? Non sequitur.

The point here is to distinguish between Moses and Abraham. They had the same faith. They were looking for Christ. They were both members of the covenant of grace, but, in the history of redemption, they played different roles. Abraham is a leading character and Moses had a supporting role. Our Baptist friends would like us to tie infant initiation to Moses but it can’t be done. If they will get rid of infant initiation they must get rid of Abraham and that cannot be done.

23 comments

  1. This is providential; My pastor preached on this very thing this Sunday, from Col. 2 (with a much different conclusion), and next weekend will (likely) argue for the admittance to membership of non-believer-baptized folks into our local church. It should be interesting. Thanks for this; it’s great stuff to think about.

  2. RSC wrote: “That’s why we baptize infants, because God ordained that the sign and seal of initiation into the visible covenant community be administered to covenant children and he did so under Abraham, not Moses.”

    How do you respond to the objection that circumcision was only done to the male children, excluding all the females.

    “Paul’s intent is not prove infant baptism (he doesn’t have to prove it, it’s commanded in Gen 17 and Acts 2:39) but as he makes one point he implies another.”

    How do you respond to the objection that the first possible shred of evidence pointing to any baptism of children is as late as the second century AD (J.Martyr)? Although “ek paidon” does not necessarily mean “infancy” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 635.), and although Justin’s own words say that the baptism handed down by the apostles was an ordinance in which one was to excercise choice and knowledge (ANCL, Vol. 2, p. 59f.), and although the whole of Scripture does not affirm infant baptism (Jews, John, Christ, apostles, early church), and although none of the fathers (Melito, Polycarp, Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, et al.) prior to Irenaeus – it looks like (even if Justin is conceded) the first evidence in favor of infant baptism is mid to late second century.

    It would seem strange to find no trace of infant baptism anywhere prior to the second century AD if what you’ve said was true, that “it’s commanded in Gen 17 and Acts 2:39.”

    How do you respond to objections like these while holding to WCF 1.10?

  3. “How do you respond to the objection that circumcision was only done to the male children, excluding all the females.”

    The New Covenant is better. Paul says that one of the improvements is that now there is no more “male and female” divisions such as had existed according to commandment.

    Also, one of the typologies of circumcision: of salvation to come in the form of a Jewish male–no longer calls for foresignification.

    It would seem strange to find no trace of infant baptism anywhere prior to the second century AD if what you’ve said was true, that “it’s commanded in Gen 17 and Acts 2:39.”

    How do you respond to objections like these while holding to WCF 1.10?

    WCF 1:10 The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    It seems a little odd for you to be appealing to opinions of any persons outside of the Bible, when you make reference to this creedal statement.

    Exactly how robust a theology–on any topic you choose to name–can you expect to derive from the handful of Christian writings that survived the days of scattering and persecution that characterized the church in the 200 years of the post-apostolic church? What they did leave us is precious, and tantalizing for a great many things we both believe the Bible teaches, and of which they spoke nothing.

    The statements of the fathers that we do have are mainly in keeping with what both Baptists and Presbyterians believe about grown converts, so at this point we have no contradictions from history. And the Baptist side has its own way of explaining away what evidence we might point to from those days (i.e. inscriptions).

    What you need, and what you don’t have, is a statement yourself from that period that actually contradicts the practice. And you don’t get that until Tertullian, who 1) calls the practice of baptizing infants an ancient institution in his day, and 2) then proceeds to advocate for his contrary view.

    So, what we have is RSC advocating for his practice from the Bible, and you appealing to a slanted reading of the fathers. IOW, he’s the one appealing to the Scriptures here.

    You assert that the Scriptures do not affirm infant baptism, for which you offer no biblical argument–not even a Scripture reference! Seems to me you have already decided that you are right, and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is “unbiblical.”

  4. I can’t improve on Bruce’s reply re the biblical history and theology of baptism. Regarding post-canonical history, that’s a hotly debated topic. So far as I can tell now, no one found much evidence for anything but paedobaptism in the early church until Barth adopted the Baptist position and then suddenly people found evidence for Baptist practice.

  5. It would also be an untenable position for the credobaptist to say that the first hints of paedobaptism turned up in the 2nd century, because by that time infant baptism was already universal. Wouldn’t it be really strange to say that by this time, ALL the churches, not just a few, had been corrupted by paedobaptism?

  6. Amen Dr. Clark! You never cease to provide such wonderful Reformed commentary. Keep up the good work!

  7. Appeal to the RPW would “be compelling” if it were the case that the Reformed employ something other than a Reformed hermeneutic for even that. But we aren’t biblicists; ours is a more organic project.

    To wit, your post. Golf clap, really nice.

  8. Thanks! As one who is slowly becoming a paedobaptist, this is very helpful.

  9. I remember reading the book by Fred Malone, and being convinced by it. This is the first place I saw this argument regarding the RPW. But a little searching and you can pretty easily find refutations of his arguments. I am now, thanks to the grace of God, a paedobaptist.

    Question:

    Whatever is distinctly and solely Mosaic is fulfilled and expired with the death of Christ.

    This statement was outstanding to me. I am wondering what biblical and/or confessional support you have for it, especially the term “expired.”

    kazoo

  10. Also, I am posting this separate since you may deem this one outside of the thread’s intention, even though it is asking about something you state in this article:

    You say:

    What about the decalogue? Well, if you don’t recognize natural law, you’re in trouble aren’t you? The Reformed, in contrast to the theonomists and Barthians, believe in and confess the natural knowledge of God, natural or creational law that comes to expression in the garden, after the garden, under Moses, and in the New Covenant. The decalogue is an expression of the natural law. The substance of the decalogue remains in force because it is the creational law that reveals God’s moral will in all ages.

    I don’t know a thing about “Barthians,” but theonomists don’t disagree with your statements in what I’ve quoted you saying here regarding natural law. I can give you quotes from the ‘rabbi’s’ if you’d like.

    Thanks,

    kazoo

  11. Kazooless,

    re: “expired” See WCF 19.4

    “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

    Re: natural law, I would be quite interested to see references to recognized theonomists who support natural law.

  12. I’ll oblige you offline with the references. However, I think what will happen is we’ll realize that when you say “natural law” you’re really referring to a particular “natural law theory” and not just the fact that “natural law” exists and is real.

    Wrt “expired,” yes, I am aware of that reference and agree with it (and can still be a card carrying theonomist), but how does that expand from the specific to the general statement that “WHATEVER is distinctly and solely Mosaic…” I was under the impression you mean much more than the civil laws, since this is a major thesis upon which you’re basing the argument against credobaptism. (Hence, this part of my comment is to the point of the thread, and not hijacking to a different subject that I am known for)

    Thanks,

    kazoo

  13. I have been following this discussion with interest. The one hiccup that I see, and I know it is probably from my lack of understanding is the use of the circumcision vs. Sabbath in the NT. Since Circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic/Sinaitic Covenant. How do these translate into the New Covenant vis-a-vis continuity/discontinuity?

  14. David,

    No, the Sabbath isn’t purely the sign of the Mosaic/Sinaitic covenant. I tried to anticipate this problem by connecting the sabbath with creation. It occurs in history before Sinai. It’s grounded in creation first, then redemption. If it’s creational and not Mosaic then the Sabbath per se doesn’t expire with Moses. The Saturday or typological Sabbath expired with Moses but the Sabbath principle per se, the 1 in 7 pattern remains until the consummation.

    Kazoo,

    WCF 19 makes it pretty clear that everything that is Mosaic is fulfilled by Christ and expired with the cross since the whole law system, the 613 mitzvoth are abolished. The gospels and Acts make clear that Jesus intentionally ended the 613 mitzvoth. What’s left is creational norms.

    As to “natural law” schemes, I’ve read a fair bit of theonomic rhetoric against natural law of any sort. They take the same approach as Barth — for different reasons but they come out sounding about the same.

    The only natural law scheme I’m advocating is the basic Reformed doctrine of natural law taught by all the Protestants in the 16th century. Have you read VanDrunen? I’ve given repeated links here to his work. Search for VanDrunen and natural law on the HB and you’ll find the links

  15. Yes, I’ve read VanDrunen. Well, his little primer on natural law theory.

    I’m just coming back after spending several hours trying to pull together some of the references to natural law for you. I hope it wasn’t wasted time now. Anyway, I’ll send them offline since it definitely veers off topic.

    Cheers,

    kazoo

  16. To the point that Abraham isn’t Moses and infant intiation is tied to Abraham and not Moses, here’s another angle to blunt the force of arguments such as those of Reformed Baptist pastor Fred Malone http://www.gracesermons.com/robbeeee/regulative.html. Following Paul and Peter, we know that the practice of NT baptism has antecedents in the baptism of Israel’s households and the baptism of Noah and his household. Baptism into Moses (1 Cor 10) was practiced on the same principle as circumcision. Thus, Joshua might well have said, “As for me and my house, we were baptized into Moses.” Essentially, the same observation can be made from the baptism of Noah and his household (1 Pet 3). Thus, Noah, preacher of righteousness by faith alone that he was, might well have said, “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

  17. R. Scott Clark,

    On another blog I was following a debate/discussion you were participating in and it was asked of you to explain why you were saying that Romans 2 proves that the law is written in the hearts of all men. It was pointed out to you that it is “the work” of the law and not “the law” written. I kept checking back for your response but maybe you left it as it is or got busy.

    Could you respond here since natural law is on the table?

  18. The “work” of the law certainly cannot be separated from the “content” of the law, even if it amounts to something “less” than a full and complete elucidation of that law. Since the law was “worked” into the heart in man’s original constitution, the “work” of the law is itself the proof of that law’s presence, even after it has been “damaged” or even “effaced” in the fall.

    It would be anachronistic to describe the original constitution of man as a list of “10 words.” Those are the Mosaic “sum” of the whole of man’s moral constitution, the typified covenant of works carved in stone. The “law in the heart”was a “seamless garment.” The shattered pieces of Moses’ tablets at the foot of the Mount may have been largely indecipherable once Moses threw them down, but certainly the “work” of God’s finger still showed in those relics, palpably.

    The fact is, that as sinful man handles the pieces, and traces the grooves of the broken tablets of his heart-law, he knows Whose finger wrote His law there. Once in a while, he may even put a couple shards together and read with difficulty what once was utterly clear and plain. The sight of it burns his eyes and hands, and he quickly drops them. It is enough. His conscience flames into life, and he dreams of the fires of hell.

    What is the difference between the law, and the work of the law, in the heart? The godless man trying to read the law is now engaged in a game of hit-and-miss. But the “work” of the law is an indestructible, ineradicable, inescapable fact.

  19. With reference to the part of the argument dealing with natural (or creational) law and the decalogue, I wonder if we would get farther initially by simplifying the argument through citing the Two Great Commandments and subsequently developing their connection to the decalogue. Most have no problem acknowledging that love of God and neighbor are common to Eden and Sinai, not to mention Zion (and hence to Adam, to Israel, and to Abraham and his seed). To be sure, the “decalogical form” of the love commandment(s) at Sinai has to be acknowledged. It’s just that some get tangled in knots about natural law when they can’t easily find the decalogue, as such, in Eden. In such cases, it may be helpful to point out that love is the sum of the law of God throughout history, creational and redemptive.

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