Engaging Confessional Baptists on Covenant Theology (Part 1): Typology

Series Preface

The hardest part of scholarly publication is editing. Recently, I signed a book contract with Lexham Press for a book on Reformed covenant theology. The trouble was they asked me to cut fifty thousand words from the draft I submitted to them. With such substantial edits to make, whole sections had to go.

One important effort I had made in the book was to engage with recent confessional Baptist writings about the unity of redemptive history as it pertains to the issues of covenant theology. Since that section amounted to about eight thousand words and was somewhat of an excursus to the main task of elaborating a positive explanation of traditional Reformed covenant theology, it was an obvious candidate to be cut from the typescript. That effort, however, seemed too significant to lose entirely, hence its appearance with a new introduction here.

I want to thank Sam Renihan and Richard Barcellos for how much they helped me in preparing this material. Especially Sam spent hours with me on Zoom, laboring over the wording and helping me to understand where I had misunderstood. I am thankful for the friendship I was able to build with those men. I am also thankful that Sam signed off on this material as a fair summary of confessional Baptist beliefs. I have no illusion that my responses to their views will convince them but am nonetheless glad to have had positive interactions that resulted in balanced and accurate assessment of the work written from a Baptist perspective.

Although the footnotes are lengthy, preserving the quotes that drove the summary of confessional Baptist views is an important aspect of this two-part engagement with them on the nature of covenant theology.


The elephant in the room of any discussion about the development of redemptive history is the disagreement between Baptist and Reformed theologies about the unity of the covenant of grace, including the whole language of the covenant’s substance and administration. This two-part series engages specifically with views held by Baptists subscribing to the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), those who tend to interact most directly with Reformed theology, in order to provide a fresh assessment of recent confessional Baptist arguments concerning how they understand the development and unity of redemptive history.1 My driving interest in this investigation regarded the Reformed position that Christ and his benefits were always applied to believers, both before and after he came in his incarnation, through the means of grace appointed for a given covenant in its redemptive-historical context.

Pointedly, this discussion primarily attempts to clarify where Baptists and the Reformed may frequently speak past one another rather than to refute the Baptist position with any thoroughness.2 London Confession 7.3 distinctly states their view of the covenant of grace:

This covenant is revealed in the gospel; and was first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state on innocency.3

This confession contrasts with the Reformed view by omitting that the covenant of grace is one in substance with multiple administrations.4 Although the Reformed easily affirm the words of London Confession 7.3, its generality is likely owed to the Baptists’ denial that the old and new covenants are one in substance.5

Preliminary Clarifications

Two issues require clarification in this section. First, confessional Baptists equate the covenant of grace and the new covenant.6 They argue that Old Testament saints inwardly received the benefits of the promised new covenant, though that covenant did not yet have its own outward form of life.7 Although God had not “formally given” the new covenant, which alone saves, to Old Testament believers, he had had made promises about it.8 This insistence that the new covenant is exclusively the covenant of grace, revealed but not administered before Christ, drives this Baptist paradigm.

Second, while emphasizing that the Old Testament covenants “in themselves” did not provide salvation in Christ, confessional Baptists do affirm the “continuity of salvation” for Old and New Testament believers.9 London Confession 11.6 repeats Westminster Confession 11.6: “The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.”10 Confessional Baptists affirm salvation’s unity across redemptive history but deny that Old Testament covenants in themselves delivered it.11 This is a fundamentally different interpretive strategy from Reformed theology.12 Part two’s focal point will be to unpack this issue.

This second point, however, raises the core disagreements between Baptists and the Reformed as confessional Baptists argue that old covenant types foreshadow and promise but do not themselves offer Christ.13 According to Baptists, the Old Testament covenants reveal and promise the covenant of grace but do not truly administer Christ’s blessings.14 Only the new covenant does.15 Rather, types all pertain to covenants that inherently relate primarily to earthly blessings, creating two levels of typology with each type only secondarily relating its signified spiritual reality.16

Confessional Baptist Typology

This two-level typology is a crux of disagreement. The Baptist position is difficult for the Reformed because it confusingly parses type and anti-type. For example, circumcision’s first-level significance is to separate God’s people from the world but its second level points to Christ as the ultimate Abrahamic seed.17 The Mosaic animal sacrifices’ first-level significance is to meet the requirements of the Mosaic covenant so Israel may stay in the land but their second level teaches about true forgiveness in Christ.18 This two-level typology argues that the first level is “substantially distinct” from its eschatological meaning.19 So, a type primarily concerns something at the earthly level, only secondarily signifying the spiritual reality, making the substance of the new covenant different from that of all the other covenants.20

From the Reformed perspective, Baptist two-level typology makes a type’s relationship to Christ merely accidental, rather than inherent, conflicting with Hebrews’ insistence that God established types precisely because of spiritual realities (Heb 8:1–7).21 The Baptist view is that Christ does not exhaust the meaning of the types, since they have that first earthly significance too. This two-level typology confusingly disconnects some features of a type, calling it the first level, as though that aspect is distinct from the type’s spiritual function. For example, circumcision signifies a separate people and points to Christ’s work of being cut off for his people as the ultimate seed of Abraham. These two aspects, however, are not separable because Christ’s work separates Abraham’s family (Gal 3:5–9). As Baptists and the Reformed agree, baptism both marks God’s people and depicts Christ’s work. Circumcision’s role of marking God’s people then did not accomplish an abrogated first-level function by marking God’s people and typifying Christ’s work. Further, the Mosaic animal sacrifices’ role of covering sin against the ceremonial law so that they could stay in the land cannot be separated as a distinct first-level feature of this type. Animal sacrifices effect ceremonial cleanness—meaning it removes impurity or pollution not personal sin—from the Levitical sanctuary caused by violations of the Mosaic law allowing the people to stay in the land, so holistically typifying (and communicating) Christ’s sacrifice that effects spiritual forgiveness allowing believers to enter the new creation.22

The ancient church writers did not identify some feature of a type as earthly-level significance substantially distinct from its spiritual significance. Irenaeus wrote:

For all the Apostles taught that there were certainly two covenants among two peoples but one and the same God appointed both for the benefit of the people for whom both covenants were given, who took hold to believe in God…seeing that the first covenant was not given idly, without purpose, or in an accidental manner, but curving those to whom it was given into God’s service, for their benefit (indeed God does not need service from men), moreover exhibiting a type of heavenly things, seeing that a man was not yet able to see the things of God through his own vision, and images prefiguring those things which are in the Church, so that faith be firmly established in us, and containing a prophecy of future things, so that a man learn that God knows all things in advance.23

Referring to the earthly blessings of the Mosaic covenant, Augustine explained,

And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect.24

The Reformed then find the Baptist two-level typology to be innovative.

In contrast, the whole type truly communicated Christ sacramentally. As Augustine wrote, “what is concealed in them [the Old Testament books] under the veil of earthly promises is clearly revealed in the preaching of the New Testament.”25 Acknowledging that Baptists rightly note that the Mosaic sacrifices purified the nation’s transgressions against the ceremonial law concerning their possession of the land, nonetheless God’s instituted those ceremonies and their relationship to that purification precisely as types of Christ so that old covenant saints would have an informed faith in him (Gal 3:19–24; Heb 7:19).26 So, Calvin wrote that Christ is to be sought in the sacraments because, not “that he is inherent in the visible signs, so that we should seek salvation from them,” but “the sign is rather to be considered as a help, by which we are directly conducted to Christ, seeking from him salvation and every durable blessing.”27 Geerhardus Vos highlighted how Roman Catholicism distinguishes the old covenant sacraments as “only typical” since the “full reality of the sacraments depended on the sacrifice of Christ,” but the Reformed see that they “portray a Christ who was to come and they sealed benefits of salvation that still had to be obtained, although certainly those benefits were already granted to believers at the that time by virtue of the suretyship of Christ, which is eternally valid.”28 When God appoints a sign for this holy use, no part of it can be disconnected, as if signifying something other than the eschatological reality in Christ.29

Baptists implement this two-level typology most obviously to interpret the Abrahamic covenant. The application argued is that Isaac and Ishmael represent Abraham’s distinct spiritual and natural seeds both within the same Abrahamic covenant.30 In Galatians 4:21–31, however, Isaac and Ishmael represent two entirely different covenants, linked to the two mothers of Zion and Sinai. True, both are in Abraham’s lineage. Still, Paul’s explicit point was that Isaac and Ishmael were not two sides of one covenant but came from and belonged to two very distinct covenants. Johnson argued that the Mosaic covenant was the conditional side of the Abrahamic covenant, contrasting with its unconditional spiritual side.31 Paul did not claim that Isaac represented the new covenant, but was rather the remaining contrast between Abraham and Moses.32 Throughout Galatians 3–4, Paul argued at length that the Mosaic covenant was not part of the Abrahamic covenant but had to be distinct. The Baptist reading confused the two covenants by arguing that the Mosaic covenant “grew out of and codified the conditional side of the Abrahamic covenant” which is said to be circumcision.33 This interpretation again too closely associates Abraham and Moses to make the new covenant contrast with both rather than merely Moses. In Genesis 17, however, after God described the covenant that he gave to Abraham, he designated circumcision as that covenant. It is the formula “you and your children” from this covenant that Peter repeats in the new covenant (Acts 2:38–39), which only underscores how the Abrahamic covenant with circumcision as its sign was spiritual in nature. So, the Mosaic covenant could not be codifying this covenant but directly contrasted with it.

The two-level typology’s suggestion that a type’s first-level typological significance is substantially distinct from its meaning in Christ seems to confuse the relationship of type and antitype. For example, the suggested two levels of animal sacrifices are 1) meeting the requirements of the Mosaic covenant and 2) pointing to Christ’s work. It is not clear, however, how meeting the Mosaic covenant’s requirements is a distinct level of typology apart from pointing to Christ. The animal sacrifices providing for tenure in Canaan is simply the type, and its antitype is Christ’s death to provide for entrance into the new creation. Reading another level into the Mosaic sacrifices’ significance arbitrarily disconnects one feature of the whole type and divests it of spiritual significance. In every example, it seems that the “first level” is simply what has been traditionally called the type (the earthly aspect) and the “second level” is simply the antitype (its eschatological fulfillment). The type is obviously not its fulfillment, but if its meaning as a type is “substantially distinct” from its fulfillment, then it is no longer a type.


Part one has attempted to reckon with recent work in the confessional Baptist tradition about their views of typology, especially about the means of grace belonging to the covenant administrations during the old economy. The argument that typology has two-levels was the main feature of discussion, and the post sought to explain the view fairly, preserving ample quotations in the footnotes, and to interact with it primarily to help Reformed readers understand it with brief thoughts toward a response. Part two will look at the unity of salvation across the two Testaments in confessional Baptist covenant theology.

© Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


1. James M. Renihan, “Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Baptist Confessions,” in Richard C. Barcellos (ed.), Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2014), 45–70.
2. For an assessment of older confessional Baptist literature with some slightly different analysis, see Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Fulfillment of the Promises of God: An Explanation of Covenant Theology (Fearn UK, Mentor, 2020), 199–231.
3. The Reformation Study Bible, ed. R.C. Sproul (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2482 (emphasis added).
4. R. Scott Clark, “A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey,” in On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity (Christianities in the Transatlantic World; Cham: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), 74–81; Pascal Denault, “By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology,” in Barcellos (ed.), Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, 78–91; Renihan, “Covenant Theology in…Baptist Confessions,” 66–68.
5. Not all seventeenth-century Particular Baptists believed the old and new covenants differed in substance; Samuel D. Renihan, From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642–1704) (Oxford: Regents Park College, 2018), 187–91.
6. “The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace.” Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant and His Kingdom (Cape Coral, Fl: Founders Press, 2020), 175. “The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the covenant of grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the covenant of grace was at the stage of promise.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 86. “Therefore, Particular Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the covenant of grace.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 91, 104–7.
7. “In this way, the church may have begun outwardly after the death of Christ, above all at Pentecost. But inwardly, its people began long before.” Renihan, Mystery, 192. “Before the establishment (νενομοθέταται) of the New Covenant, the covenant of grace did not have a concrete manifestation, any cultus or ceremony; it was not a covenant, but a promise revealed in an obscure manner under temporary types and shadows.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 88.
8. “The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed).” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 85. “God did not conclude the covenant of grace with Adam any more than he did with Abraham; he revealed the substance of the covenant to them, but it was only concluded through Jesus Christ, in his sacrifice.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 88–89.
9. Renihan, Shadow to Substance, 185–92.
10. Reformation Study Bible, 2484.
11. “Their experience of salvation was the same as ours, though their knowledge of it was incomplete.” Renihan, Mystery, 100. “The Old Covenant, and thus each of these three covenants, differs from the New Covenant not merely in administration, but also in substance.” Micah Renihan and Samuel Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” in Barcellos (ed.), Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, 479.
12. “Their understanding of the covenant of grace led them toward different hermeneutics and theological formulations.” Denault, “By Farther Steps,” 91; cf. Renihan, “Covenant Theology in…Baptist Confessions,” 53, 57; Matthew C. Bingham, “‘Reformed Baptist’: Anachronistic Oxymoron or Useful Signpost,” in On Being Reformed, 43–47.
13. “Through typology, the Old Covenant portrayed salvation in Jesus Christ, but it did not offer salvation in and of itself.” Renihan, Mystery, 37. “In other words, this [Abrahamic] covenant provides a descendant who will bless. But it does not provide a relationship to the descendant beyond common genealogy.” Renihan, Mystery, 89 (emphasis added).
14. “Therefore, the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants were national, temporary, and typological covenants that placed Israel in an external relationship with God and in which the New Covenant was revealed through types and shadows. On the one hand they are, in their substance and essence, distinct from the covenant of grace, and on the other hand they are related to it through rich typology and historical progression.” Renihan and Renihan, “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” 483.
15. “The covenant whose terms were declared in Genesis 12 is the New Covenant, carried within the covenants of promise. The Israelite covenants offered earthly blessings to Abraham’s descendants and disinherited those who were disobedient. But they carried the promise of another covenant, the New Covenant, in that they promised the One who would bless freely, and the blessing He brought was the New Covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 186.
16. “Types may be temporary and preparatory for antitypes, but it is necessary to appreciate their own meaning and purpose in their own context. This is the first level of typology, and it serves as the basis for the revelation of something greater and other than the type, i.e., the antitype.” Renihan, Mystery, 33. “These passages emphasize and reinforce the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant is first and foremost an earthly covenant of national earthly promises.” Renihan, Mystery, 97, also 33–34, 162–63; Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World (Short Studies in Biblical Theology; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 43–48 likewise made no connection between the Abrahamic covenant and spiritual blessings.
17. “The primary purpose of circumcision was to mark the boundaries of the people of this covenant.” Renihan, Mystery, 92. See also, Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 821–22 (italics original): “In fact, circumcision in light of the entire canon ought to be viewed as signifying at least two truths. First it marks our a national people to set them apart as those who are a ‘kingdom of priests’ and a ‘holy nation’ (Ex. 19:6)…Second, building on the tension that the sign was supposed to mark the people as a holy priesthood completely devoted to Yahweh but in most cases did not, later in Deuteronomy and the Prophets (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31–34l Ezek. 11:16–21; 18:30–32; 36:22–36; 44:6–9), circumcision began to point forward to the need for an internal circumcision of the heart…First, circumcision is a type in that it anticipates Christ.”
18. “For example, the writer to the Hebrews states that the blood of goats and bulls cannot take away sin. And yet that blood did take away sin. This is the clearest example of typology’s function on two levels. The blood of goats and bulls took away sins only on the level of the purification of the flesh. But it could not purify the conscience. Animal blood was a way to satisfy the demands of the Mosaic covenant in order to remain in Canaan. But it could never satisfy the demands of the covenant of works in order to escape Hell.” Renihan, Mystery, 33.
19. “On the earthly level, animal sacrifices had a real function and purpose and meaning. And that meaning was substantially distinct from its antitypical meaning. The blood of goats and bulls is not the blood of Christ, and their forgiveness is not the forgiveness that Christ’s blood affords. Nevertheless, they made Christ’s forgiveness known.” Renihan, Mystery, 33 (emphasis added). Most of this statement is obviously true but misses that the ceremonial forgiveness provides by animal blood is part of the whole type signifying forgiveness in Christ. “Thus the Old Covenant and the New, though closely connected through typology, were not the same thing. They were not one in substance. And their differences could not be reduced to external administrational changes.” Renihan, Mystery, 38.
20. “But the question arose as to whether their typical character made them distinct from the blessings to which they pointed. If there were a difference in substance between the type and antitype, one would have to acknowledge a difference in substance between the Old and New Covenants.” Renihan, Mystery, 36.
21. Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 5 vols. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–14), 5:89–90, 94–100; Horton, Christian Faith, 778; Q. 313–15, John Calvin, The Catechism of the Church of Geneva, trans. Elijah Waterman (Hartford, MA: Sheldon and Goodwin, 1815), 88–89; Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 49–68. Note that “spiritual” is primarily eschatological in this context, not some Platonic notion of a non-earthly blessings. The spiritual realities concern Christ’s work for us, which is historical, even though its efficacy was communicated in advance.
22. Jacob Milgrom, a Jewish Old Testament scholar, argued that Mosaic sacrifices as understood within the Levitical system were never intended to remove personal sin from the individual – Protestants would add because only Christ’s blood can accomplish that – but did purge impurity from the Levitical sanctuary, namely effecting ceremonial purity. This ceremonial cleanness was necessary because God’s presence would depart the sanctuary if it was contaminated. Although Milgrom did not argue for typology, this whole system typifies how God cannot commune with us personally if we are contaminated by sin, so Christ’s blood must purify us in true forgiveness if he is to dwell with us. Notably, however, no part of that unified type can be detached as if to signify some other earthly reality. The integrated Levitical system typifies Christ and his work; Jacob Milgrom, Numbers (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2003), 444–47. Thanks to Joshua Van Ee on this point.
23. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.32.2, in Jacques Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Cursus Completus: Series Graeca, 161 vols. (Paris, 1857–66), 7.1:1071; Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 volumes (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885), 1:506.
24. Augustine, Proceedings of Pelagius, §14; Philip Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, 14 vols. (New York, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 5:189.
25. Augustine, Merits and Forgiveness, 1.54, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1, 5:35 (emphasis added).
26. “The Sinai covenant was never an alternative way of salvation: by law rather than by promise. It was not a way of salvation at all. Rather, it was a temporary way station between the desert and Zion, as the church became a geopolitical nation as part of God’s larger plan to bring salvation to the ends of the earth…Its laws, purification rituals, priesthood, and sacrificial cult form one vast typological system that pointed forward to Christ. Yet as typological, there is nothing in this system itself that actually takes away sins, regenerates, or bestows the Spirit.” Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 140n4 (italics original); William Perkins, The Works of William Perkins, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: RHB, 2014–2020), 2:109 (commentary on Galatians 2:15–16); T. David Gordon, Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2019), 95–100 (although Gordon’s description of the “dominant Protestant approach” is not fully satisfying); cf. Renihan, Mystery, 113–15, 162–63.
27. Q. 318, Calvin, Catechism of…Geneva, 89–90.
28. Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 5:102–3; Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003–2008), 4:476–68; Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, combined ed. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2021), 646; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (New York, NY: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1877), 2:367; Council of Trent, session 7.
29. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 781–85.
30. Jeffrey D. Johnson, “The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant,” in Barcellos (ed.), Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, 242–43
31. Johnson, “Fatal Flaw,” 245–46.
32. cf. Johnson, “Fatal Flaw,” 250–53.
33. Johnson, “Fatal Flaw,” 246–50.

©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. It is helpful that Reformed Covenantal thinkers labor as giraffes (E. Clowney made a distinction of ‘giraffes and bunnies’ that R. Gaffin mentions in an interview explaining his recent book, which you reviewed.) to look over the walls at the elephants in the rooms of ‘confessional’ baptists.

    Also, please suppose there are bunnies in the reading audience.

    “From the Reformed perspective, Baptist two-level typology makes a type’s relationship to Christ merely accidental, rather than inherent, conflicting with Hebrews’ insistence that God established types precisely because of spiritual realities (Heb 8:1–7).”

    Does ‘inherent’ mean foundational as in Ephesians 1?

    Are confessional baptists connected to the 1689 London confessions?
    Do they make these distinctions:
    law/works and gospel/Grace;
    1st Adam and 2nd Adam (Romans 5-8);
    Abraham/believed/justified/promises and Moses/obeyed/exodus/law/Jesus’ Transfiguration.

    Thank you

    • Hi Catherine,
      I know this two-part essay is perhaps denser than what I usually put on the HB. The reason, as I briefly mentioned in the preface, is that this material was cut from an academic book that I’m presently preparing for publication. It’s sort of a “deleted scene.” But I’d worked hard with Sam Renihan to make it good, so I didn’t want to adjust the wording for a new outlet.

      The “inherent” issue is that while Reformed folks think that, for example, the Mosaic animal sacrifices were instituted to be types of Christ’s sacrifice, the view assessed here seems to pose that God instituted the sacrifice (first layer) to perform a needed function within God’s people and then (second layer) to be a type of Christ as well. So, I’ve said that the typological value should be seen as strictly “inherent” in the type.

      Yes, the confession which confessional Baptists subscribe is the 1689. I comment on this issue early in the essay. They do make those sets of distinctions, although I’m not sure I entirely follow what the last set is after. They tend to hold a view like Meredith Kline’s regarding Moses, if that’s what you mean.


  2. Harrison, thank you for reasoning through the word ‘inherent’ for me; I understand the typological value of the sacrifices and how Christ defined and fulfilled the once for all Sacrifice for His people.
    (I need to research Meredith Kline regarding Moses.)
    However, in an effort to know the ideas that define confessional Baptists I am studying your KTC review. I have a friend who is being told confessional Baptists and Reformed Theology have the same views. Thank you for your KTC review.

  3. This certainly helps to show how the Baptist reading of redemptive history differs from the Reformed view of one covenant of grace under different administrations. The two level typology used by Baptists, to separate the Abrahamic covenant as being both an earthly and a spiritual covenant is intriguing, and further that the Abrahamic covenant’s earthly aspect was codified by the Mosaic covenant, with circumcision as a sign of obligation to keep the law, and to offer animal sacrifices to cover their transgressions, so that they could continue to have tenure of the land explains why Baptists are so opposed to the Reformed view of baptism as a continuation of God’s new covenant sign given to Abraham. The Reformed see both circumcision and baptism as different administrations of the new covenant sign. This further underlines how differently the Reformed and Baptists view redemptive history, and why Baptists are not Reformed.

    • Thank you for clarifying how the Reformed view of Redemptive history and the Baptist view differs. Your involvement in the blog is beneficial.

      What intrigues you about the Baptists’ two level typology of the Abrahamic covenant?
      How would Baptists come to this earthly/spiritual dichotomy Scripturally?
      As I parse the Scriptures related to Abraham – I see the passive voice placed on the verb blessed in Gen 14:19-20. It appears this blessing of Abraham came through Melchizedek when he said, ‘Blessed be Abraham.” But I understand it is difficult to assign a source in many cases. I used to assume the passive voice represented the Holy Spirit.

      In Romans 4 Paul uses the passive voice when recounting God’s counting Abraham righteous when he believed. But in Genesis 15:6 the verb he counted is imperfect, not passive.

      Thank you, it’s good to see your responses once again.

    • What intrigues me about the Baptist’s two level typology is that it divides the Abrahamic covenant into an administration of an earthly covenant of law through being codified by the Mosaic covenant, to gave them tenure in the land, and an unadministered spiritual promise of something better, that some anticipated in spite of a lack of an administration of it in the sacrifices. That is unlike the the Reformed, who see Christ offered as the substance of the sacrificial practices. The Baptists see those practices as only administering law for earthly rewards, because they insist the covenant of grace/new covenant did not exist until the death of Christ, but was only promised. In contrast, the Reformed see the Abrahamic covenant as the confirmation and administration of God’s sign confirming the covenant of grace/new covenant, first given to Adam after he broke the covenant of works, and the Mosaic covenant as the contrast, so that the impossibility of being right with God by observing the law would be driven home through the strictness and exactness of it, so as to drive them to the One that God covenanted to be, for them and their children, when God walked through the pieces alone to show them how Christ would deliver them from the curse of the law and gave them the sign of circumcision to confirm it.

  4. What these differences don’t show is why confessing Baptists shouldn’t be received as genuine brothers and sisters in Christ.

    If proclaiming and confessing the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not enough, then I don’t know what is.

    • Theo,

      Were I to compare the wheels of two automobiles I might conclude that they are virtually the same but when I take a step back I see that one auto is a BMW and the other is a Volkswagen. Those are not the same autos. They have different degrees of engineering, different engines, etc. So it is here. If you go back and consider the bigger picture (i.e., the comparison and contrast so far) you will see that there are, at essential points genuine differences.

      That said, whether the Baptists are brothers to the Reformed is not in question here. What is in question is the definition of “Reformed.” Since WWII there has been a movement to re-define “Reformed” in a minimalist way, to exclude the Reformed reading of redemptive history, to exclude our doctrine of the church and the sacraments. This is ill-advised. We know that the Baptists value definitions since they have repeatedly refused to allow me to redefine Baptist. Thus, what is happening here is that the Baptists want to redefine our theology, piety, and practice.

      As to brotherhood, I think the Reformed are being rather generous. We regard the Baptists as baptized and our brothers, if informally, while they typically regard us as unbaptized and outside the visible church. Who is actually being more ecumenical?

  5. Dr. Clark,
    I appreciate reading and hearing generous perspectives while increasing my knowledge of essential points of genuine difference.

    Also the clarifying the post WWII movement that wants to re-define ‘Reformed’ in minimalist ways to exclude the Reformed reading of Redemptive History, does exclude more than our doctrine of the church and the sacraments.

    • For me the differences are important because how you see redemptive history affects how you see God and how you understand God’s Word. Is the God of the OT the same as the God of the NT? Does he always offer Christ for salvation throughout redemptive history? For me the affirmative answer is significant because it means I can count on God’s Grace to never change. I see the concept that God never changes and is the same yesterday, today and forever is better reflected in the Reformed understanding of redemptive history.

  6. I’m having trouble seeing what the upside of engaging Confessional Baptists on Covenant Theology is. There doesn’t seem to be much of a desire on their part to understand something that would invalidate their understanding of scripture. We could go down the list of other Protestant denominations and their beliefs don’t square with Reformed beliefs either. What makes Confessional Baptists special? I would like to start in our own house (PCA) and return to full subscription of the WCF by the clergy without allowed exceptions. I know quite a few regular members in my own particular PCA church who either don’t believe in infant baptism or are very skeptical. The Baptists can wait. Our own house needs to be put in order.

    • Bob,

      There are 60 million evangelicals in North America. 99% of them are Baptists or Baptistic in their theology. A significant number of them, under the influence of the YRR movement, identify as Reformed. I don’t know what percentage they might but let’s just say 10%. If so, we’re talking about 6 million people. Many others genuinely think that Baptists can be Reformed and thus they attribute to the “Reformed” whatever predestinarian Baptist or Baptistic leaders do or say. Further, there are not a few Reformed folk who genuinely do not know the difference between Reformed and Baptist and so it seemed worthwhile to speak to all those different groups, Baptists who think that they are Reformed, to the Reformed who are confused, and to outsiders about how and where the Reformed and the Baptists agree and disagree

    • Hi Bob,
      In addition to what Dr. Clark has said about the numbers issue, I’d just remind you of the preface that these posts are material cut from a lengthier book about Reformed covenant theology. In line with your priorities, this discussion with Baptists (roughly only 3.5% of the original 228K word typescript) was an early cut. Turning this material into a series of posts allows me to cite it for readers who want to pursue it.

      All that to say is you can look forward to the forthcoming book with Lexham Press, and I hope you’ll find that positive presentation of Reformed covenant theology useful. Keep posted for the pre-purchase links!

  7. Thanks, Harrison, for writing and posting this first article. I think you are right that typology (what it is and how it functions in interpreting redemptive history) is central to the conversation between Particular Baptists and the Reformed. As a Particular Baptist, I have found that your general representation of Baptist two-level typology is correct. Many Baptist writers utilized this particular typological method to argue for their ecclesiological distinctives (baptism of professing believers only, congregations of visible saints, etc.).

    I did come across a journal article by Kirsten Macfarlane (“Why did Henry Dunster Reject Infant Baptism? Circumcision and the Covenant of Grace in the Seventeenth-Century Transatlantic Reformed Community.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 72, no. 2 (2021): 323-351) which is available online for free here (https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:99990966-1e8d-4868-aad9-024e32b3b24f/download_file?safe_filename=MacFarlaneAAM2020.pdf&type_of_work=Journal+article) In many ways this article harmonizes well with what you argue in this post. The author argues that the typology you describe has roots in the Particular Baptist reading of John Cameron. According to the author, Cameron made a distinction between the covenant promised before Christ and the covenant promulgated after the Christ. It seems that Cameron also argued that circumcision ‘primarily separated the seed of
    Abraham from the rest of the peoples, sealing the earthly promise, and secondarily signified
    sanctification’. The idea that circumcision only secondarily pointed to Christ could be utilized by Particular Baptists to argue against the direct parallel between circumcision and baptism. I guess I’m curious if you think there could be some connection between John Cameron and this PB typology?

    Thanks again,

    • Thanks, Spencer, for your kind comment. I worked hard to try to get this section right and charitably so, hence wanting to preserve it. Sam Renihan was very kind to give me his time to improve it. We literally went through it on my shared Zoom screen and he told me what to change to make it fairly worded. He didn’t have to do that.

      I’ll have to look at this article. Thanks for posting it.


    • Thank you for posting this link to early American History of the Baptist’s departure from Covenantal Reformed Theology. Reading the history of Henry Dunster’s rejection of infant baptism exposes the separation of ideas present in people affirming a Covenantal Reformed reading of Scripture and another reading. It seems the distinctions already existed in typology, the Covenants, the Promise, Christ in OT/NT, sign/seal, justification, sanctification, polity, theology, piety, and practice.

      As I read the article the date 1640 became relevant to the WCF (1647), which established the proof-texts the Congregationalists and Anabaptists rejected. The longstanding distinctions between Baptist and Covenant Reformed are significant and relate directly to how people read the Bible.

  8. Much of this discussion seems to me to center around two related questions:

    1. How was the Word of the Gospel communicated to mankind before the coming of Christ?
    2. Was the one person (not necessarily the human nature) of Christ present through the Word of the Gospel before the incarnation? If so, how?

    Regarding the first question, it seems quite clear that the Word of the Gospel was communicated to mankind as WCF 7.5 indicates (by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come). Just as sacraments are visible words to us, so the types were visible foreshadowing words to the Old Testament saints. I don’t know if the Particular Baptists that Dr. Perkins has mentioned would agree with the language that the Old Testament types were typological words to the saints in the Old Testament.

    Regarding the second question, if the Word of Gospel is preached then the person of Christ must necessarily be present. Though it is true that the types foreshadowed what was to come, it is also true that Christ and all His benefits was present to the Old Testament saints through the types and shadows.

    This article again highlights the close relationship between typology, the administration of the covenant, and the means of grace.

    • You are absolutely right about these points…and part 2 is all about these issues. The main discussion in part 2 is about the unity of salvation in Christ between OT and NT. I won’t dive into details here, since they are in that post when it releases next week. But you are spot on. The typology issue trails right into what WCF/1689 8.6 means.

  9. Dr. Harrison,
    Isn’t there a problem? Historically Baptists demonstrate a very different way of reading Scripture from Covenantal Reformed Christians. This was demonstrated in the mid 1600’s when Anabaptists used John Cameron’s wayward thinking regarding the signs and seals of circumcision and baptism to promote their rejection of the Sacrament of Baptism for children of believers. But wait, were the Anabaptists believers?

    Then they attached themselves to Covenantal Reformed Theologians, redefining themselves and putting up new trail markers. A number of respected Covenantal Reformed theologians followed the trail markers right off the cliff.

    Are you simply agreeing with Spencer Snow’s indication that WCF 7.5 agrees with 1689 8.6? If so, then hopefully you will read the article he posted and reassess this agreement.

    In addition, reading WCF VII 1-4, and the proof-texts, isn’t there a problem with how Baptists read and understand God’s Covenant with Adam?

    Also WCF VII is more than one point. Reading the Westminster Standards on God’s Covenant with Man, the Divines presented a distinct picture of the consequences of the first Adam’s failure to obey perfectly. The difference between how Covenantal Reformed Theology sees Adam and the Baptistic idea of Adam, in reality, is a chasm. The development of WSC and the WLC exposes the chasm.

    How do you see Cameron’s one degree of separation in 1640 regarding circumcision and baptism?

    Dr. Harrison, your research and article are helpful. Without your research there would not be an effort to learn about Baptistic ideas that are difficult to understand.

    And this is my observation: words become meaningless when the reading and understanding of Scripture is incompatible.

    • Catherine,
      All I said in my reply was that Spencer identified the issues that have to be discussed and that my next post addresses those exact issues.

      The question that I raise in part 2 entirely concerns how consistent 1689 Baptists affirm 2LC 8.6, which is nearly identical to WCF 8.6 as to wording. Most of my work trying to understand the typology outlined above has focused on how I think this typology is not coherent with the point of WCF 8.6.

      I understand the WCF 7 is multiple points. The book from which this post is extracted is 500+ pages explaining the whole chapter

  10. Excellent analysis, Dr. Perkins.

    Coming from and living in a (Southern) Baptist context, I very much appreciate the work of brothers like Sam Renihan and Richard Barcellos, and others. If I were to remain a Baptist, I’d gladly walk with these brothers in their love for God and his word.

    That said, the following two points you make in this post reflect thoughts I’ve had, but could not articulate as you have here: “The Baptist view is that Christ does not exhaust the meaning of the types, since they have that first earthly significance too . . . For example, circumcision signifies a separate people and points to Christ’s work of being cut off for his people as the ultimate seed of Abraham.” This is a significant point of disagreement in my understanding, because what is “the work of Christ,” if not the marking out of a people for God?

    Further, the earthly aspects of the various OT types have Christ as their author, therefore any move to disassociate the types from their author I don’t think I can abide. After all, Jesus so clearly declares that the whole of Scripture points to him, and none other. And why not? To whom else or to what else does a type such as the land promise point–where else does it find its end than in God’s promise that he would be our God, we would be his people, and he would dwell among us? Lastly, if one adopts the 1689 Fed understanding of type, that is, there was a distinct earthly aspect, then perhaps we begin to understand how that movement which looks forward to a re-establishing of the earthly temple and its worship gained momentum in more modern times. I understand that our 1689 friends would claim that those aspects of the types came to an end, but that’s a very important point that must be proven, along with everything else. Apparently, some Christians came to believe that they had not proven their case.

    • I’m happy to walk with Sam and Richard even though I’m not a Baptist! (I know you didn’t actually mean contrary, I’m just kidding) They are valued friends and offering good material on things like the doctrine of God right now. I also think those two west big enough pants to know that I don’t mean any antagonism toward them in these posts. I’m just trying to reckon with their views.

      I’m glad the posts are useful to you. I think you’re right that the issues of typology and the earthly aspects are convoluted and confusing in much of the Baptist teaching. I have to red very carefully and sympathetically to get to their real points. I’ll keep trying as we go. Thanks for reading!

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