Abraham, Moses, and Baptism

I am in the midst of an interesting discussion of baptism with a friend. This friend has Baptist convictions, yet he understands Reformed theology better than many of the Reformed. He is quite sympathetic to historic and confessional Reformed theology. For example, he affirms that covenant children are holy and reads 1 Corinthians 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 Regulative Principle of Worship. I have 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 that just as we no longer sacrifice animals (or use musical instruments, or use choirs, etc.), in the same way, in the absence of clear New Testament 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 to reintroduce typological elements into new covenant worship.

There is 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 with this is that Abraham is not Moses.

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

What about the decalogue? Well, if you do not recognize natural law, you are in trouble. 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 of the covenant of grace, but we in the new covenant do not relate to Abraham the way we relate to Moses. The covenant of grace made with Abraham was administered through types and shadows, 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 to the covenant of grace but essential (i.e., it is of the essence of what makes the Abrahamic covenant what it is).

The Abrahamic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. There was no works principle in the Abrahamic covenant. By contrast, the Mosaic covenant had two principles operating within simultaneously—works and grace. Like the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic was an administration of the covenant of grace. Further, even though some Reformed theologians have said that, under Moses, Israel retained the land and their national status on the basis of works, it is better to say even that was by grace. The works principle appears, in the Mosaic covenant, insofar as the covenant of works given to Adam was republished in order to teach them (and us) the greatness of their sin and misery. That is why God added the ceremonial laws and the judicial laws. There are no such ceremonial laws under Abraham and no judicial laws. Further, unlike Abraham, the Mosaic covenant, which was added 430 years later, was intentionally temporary, and it was a narrower, national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ. The Abrahamic covenant was never national and it has never expired. The Abrahamic covenant did not have priests and sacrifices and a temple. All that belonged to Moses and it too expired with the death of Christ.

What, then, carries over into the new covenant that did not pre-date Moses? The Sabbath pre-dated Moses because 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). He and all Christians in that epoch were saved and justified sola gratia, sola fide, et solo Christo. 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 is Abraham, not Moses, who is the father of all who believe (Rom 3–4).

What about the rule of worship? Well, the rule of worship does away with Moses and all typology. Fine. Let us have the rule of worship (we only do in worship what God explicitly or implicitly requires). That is 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 eyes 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 to prove infant baptism (he does not have to prove it, it is 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 Romans 6. We have been baptized. We have 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 rule of worship works for the paedobaptists 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 is nothing inherently typological about initiating infants. There is something inherently typological about shedding blood. Sacrifices are not typological. Bloody sacrifices are typological. Today, Christ having made the perfect and final sacrifice, we offer metaphorical sacrifices, 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 not be done. If they will get rid of infant initiation they must get rid of Abraham and that cannot be done.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Thank you for this extra explanation that separates the two Abraham and Moses and at the same time clearly defines the purpose for each administration of the Covenant of Grace. However, it might be best to used the term Regulative Principle rather than RPW because only the “old guys” and extreme right understand the abbreviation these days. Thank you again.

  2. A question, if I may: John 3:23 makes reference to John the Baptist baptizing near Aenon before Jesus came to him. Under what authority did these baptisms take place and what was their significance since the Trinity as such was not yet recognized?

    • Hi George,
      John the Baptist’s authority came from God, and to proclaim the coming Christ. This is explained in John 1:29-34:
      “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
      And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

  3. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for the article. The rule of worship is important for this discussion between Particular Baptists and the Reformed. Perhaps some Reformed folk might not be aware that the Particular Baptists did have a rule of worship that governed their practice of baptism. In their 1693 catechism (an adaptation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism), the Particular Baptists confess the same understanding with the Reformed regarding the 2nd Commandment. In the same catechism they address the question about the subjects of baptism and whether or not the infants of believers should be baptized. They answer: “The infants of such as are professing believers are not to be baptized, because there is neither command or example in the holy scriptures, or certain consequence from them to baptize such (Ex. 23:13; Pr. 30:6; Lk. 3:7, 8).” Though the Reformed disagree with this statement, it is nonetheless a strong assertion of the rule of worship. Without a Scriptural command, example, or consequence, the Particular Baptists did not see that God commanded them to baptize their children. I think it’s important to highlight also that the PB’s did not deny the use of certain consequences from Scripture. They simply could not see any certain deductions from Scripture where God commanded the baptizing of their infant children.

    Though the Particular Baptists did have distinct covenant theologies, they also argued that even if it was hypothetically true that God had said that the children of believers have a covenant interest, that was no argument to baptize them. The PB theologian John Gill argued as much when we said, “If their covenant interest could be ascertained, that gives no right to an ordinance, without a positive order and direction from God. It gave no right to circumcision formerly; for on the one hand there were persons living when that ordinance was appointed, who had an undoubted interest in the covenant of grace; as Shem, Arphaxad, Lot, and others, on whom circumcision was not enjoined, and they had no right to use it: on the other hand, there have been many of whom it cannot be said they were in the covenant of grace, and yet were obliged to it. And so covenant interest gives no right to baptism; could it be proved, as it cannot, that all the infant seed of believers, as such, are in the covenant of grace, it would give them no right to baptism, without a command for it; the reason is, because a person may be in covenant, and as yet not have the prerequisite to an ordinance, even faith in Christ, and a profession of it, which are necessary both to baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and if covenant interest gives a right to the one, it would to the other.” (Body of Practical Divinity).

    In other words, we see the Particular Baptist understanding and assertion of the rule of worship is at play again in their understanding of Baptism. Though the Reformed wuld disagree with Gill and the Particular Baptists, it’s helpful to highlight the emphatic role the rule of worship played in their theology and practice.

    Thanks again for your ministry!


    • Spencer,

      I don’t doubt that Particular Baptists believe that they are following the rule of worship but whether they are is what is in question. I understand that the PBs believe that they understand the rule more fully and apply it more consistently than we do but that’s just what’s at issue here.

      God commanded the external inclusion of infants into the visible church. There is one visible church, with multiple administrations. He has never revoked that command. Ergo the inclusion of infants into the visible church is still commanded.

      There is a reason that some (many?) PBs are radicalizing and rejecting the moderate view of continuity held by some PBs, who affirm one covenant of grace multiple administrations. They know that “one covenant of grace, multiple administrations” leads to the inclusion of infants into the New Covenant church so they’ve jettisoned “multiple administrations” and even declared (as Sam Renihan has done) that the Abrahamic covenant was really a covenant of works. Who knew? Certainly not the Apostle Paul, who, at crucial points in his argument with the Judaizers, appeals to Abrahamic covenant per se as the paradigm of the covenant of grace (in distinction from Moses, which had a works principle–not for salvation).

      The Reformed churches baptize infants in obedience to the rule of worship. God commanded it.

  4. Arguably there is no clear NT warrant, but in the light of good and necessary consequences, what does one do with Rom. 4:11?
    Abraham not only “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised”, he then had it administered to all the male seed of his household – including Ishmael, who we know neither believed/had faith/was justified Gen. 17:23.

    The fundamental reason to adminster the sacrament in baptist theology may be confession of faith, but it is not the covenantal or Scriptural reason or command.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for reply. You wrote, “God commanded the external inclusion of infants into the visible church. There is one visible church, with multiple administrations. He has never revoked that command. Ergo the inclusion of infants into the visible church is still commanded.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume that God did command the external inclusion of infants in the visible church (which has always been one with multiple administration). If we assume that the visible church has always externally included infants, that does not necessarily mean that they are commanded to receive any positively ordained ordinance/sacrament. Though I could be wrong, I assume the Reformed argue that infants were externally included in the visible before Abraham and yet neither they (or anyone else for that matter!) were initiated with an external sign or seal. Likewise, just because the female infants of Israelite believers were externally included in the visible church did not mean they were entitled to the sign of circumcision. In other words, we must have a distinction in the Abrahamic covenant between who had a covenant interest (male and female) and who was commanded to receive the covenant sign (males only). I have no doubt that the sign of circumcision preached the Gospel of Christ to both men and women. But the fact remains that God did not command that everyone who had a covenant interest must receive the covenant sign. It is only and solely the positive will of God that determines who and when receives the signs of His gracious covenant promises. My Reformed brethren would argue that they are doing what God has commanded, and I have no doubt about their sincerity. But, this seems to me to be an internal inconsistency within the historic Reformed framework itself (apart from discussions about the covenants between the Reformed and various types of Particular Baptists). Substantially, I think it is this inconsistency that Gill was trying to point out in the quote above. Assuming the Reformed covenantal framework, there is a collapse covenant interest and covenant signs together when in fact they are distinct (though not unrelated) in the Abrahamic covenant. The Reformed don’t collapse covenant interest and covenant sign when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, and I’m grateful for the historic Reformed position contra paedocommunion. From this Particular Baptist’s outside perspective, the Reformed fuse together these related but distinct categories within their own framework.

    The Particular Baptists argued that even if the Reformed covenantal and ecclesiological framework was essentially correct, it would still not mean that God commanded the baptizing of infants.


    • Spencer,

      Your argument merely shows that the Reformed are not Baptists and the Baptists are not Reformed. Of course the Reformed don’t commune infants but that the Baptists think that this is an inconsistency only illustrates a confusion about Reformed theology on this point.

      We don’t commune infants because baptism and communion (like circumcision and the feasts) are two distinct types of signs. They perform different functions.

      Circumcision and baptism were/are signs of initiation into the visible covenant community.

      The feasts (not just Passover) and the Lord’s Supper are signs of covenant confirmation or, as Van Mastricht wrote, nutrition for those who profess faith.

      That twofold system of initiation and renewal remains intact in the New Covenant because the New Covenant is the new administration of the one covenant of grace, the paradigm of which is the Abrahamic.

      The inconsistency is to cut off the sign of initiation or to conflate it, as the Baptists do, with the sign of confirmation.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    The Particular Baptists agree with the Reformed that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two distinct types of signs (initiation vs. confirmation). Robert Purnell (17th Century Particular Baptist) wrote, “Baptism, as hath been said, is a seal of our entrance into the Church of God: the Supper of the Lord is a seal of our continuance in the same; the one of our new birth, the other of our spiritual growth; the former is ordained to this end, that being out of Christ by nature, we being born again, might now be ingrafted into his body, Tit. 3:5; Joh. 3:5. the latter, that being in Christ by grace, we might continue and encrease in him, 1 Cor. 10:16. and 11:23; 1 Pet. 3:21. The Supper of the Lord is to be received as often as he shall give occasion: Baptism but once, for there is but one entrance into Christ, but many degrees of growth up in him.”

    We have no problem with the pattern of initiation and renewal. Particular Baptist have articulated just such a view over the centuries.

    Strictly speaking, we even agree with the Reformed that the subjects of baptism are not the same as the Lord’s Supper, though we obviously would disagree over who those subjects are. Particular Baptists would argue that the subjects of baptism are those unbaptized who make a profession of faith in Christ. The subjects of the Lord’s Supper are those who have been baptized upon a profession of faith in Christ. Those are different subjects because of the different types of signs.

    As long as there is still a distinction in the text of Genesis 17 between an interest in the covenant (male and female) and an interest in the covenant sign (males only), the Reformed argument assumes too much that the text of Genesis 17 does not allow. Even within the historic Reformed framework, just because someone had an interest in the covenant did not automatically mean that God commanded them to have an interest in the covenant sign. If anything, we can conclude with certainty that God does not command all who have an interest in the Abrahamic covenant (males and females) to have an interest in the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (males only). Additionally, we can conclude with certainty that God does command all who are in the visible church according to Abrahamic covenant (males and females) are commanded to have an interest in receiving the sign of the Abrahamic church (males only). The conflation of interest in the covenant and interest in the covenant sign is an assumption that is contradicted by the text of Genesis 17.

    And yet, the historic Reformed argument is that if infants were included in the visible church in the church of all ages, they must receive the sign of entrance into the visible church. But this logic isn’t supported by Genesis 17, where there is a clear distinction between visible church membership and who should receive the sign of the covenant.

    Perhaps at this point in the debate the Particular Baptist approaches the rule of worship inductively, whereas the Reformed approach it more deductively? I don’t know.

    Again, I appreciate the discussion.


  7. Dr. Clark,

    Not at all. Sorry if I gave that impression. I was trying to point out that there is a distinction between an interest in the Abrahamic covenant (male and female, including infants) and the command to receive the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (males only, including all who were at least 8 days old).


    • Dear brother Spencer,

      would you send me per Mail the most helpful recourses for you in this hole issue?
      If it is ok for you, i will write my adress. (sorry for my worse english, i’m german)

      God bless you
      your brother in Christ from over the atlantic but united in Him

  8. Brother Leon,

    You can contact0 me an email at ssnow at mmbconline dot org


  9. The Sabbath was instituted at creation, but nowhere was Adam told to observe it. Further, there is no evidence that any of the patriarchs observed it. In Hebrews, we’re told that it was God’s rest, and that mankind was proffered rest upon faith in Christ. It seems apparent that Adam too was promised that rest, contingent upon successful completion of his probation.

    • Raymond,

      Nowhere was Adam told not to murder Eve. It was implied in the one command: the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die (Gen 2:17). Christians have typically understood that the entire moral law, including the Sabbath was implied therein. The moral law was written on Adam’s conscience. Moses implies that Adam knew of the Sabbath pattern in Exodus 20:8. Our Lord implies (Matt 19) that Adam knew that he was to have one wife, not several. That’s the implied in saying, “it was not so from the beginning.”

      We have relatively limited information, in the Genesis narrative, about what was and was not communicated before the fall but if we pay attention to the rest of Scripture (analogy of Scripture) and let it help us understand the creation narrative, we can fill in the picture.

      Yes, Ex 20:8 and Hebrews tell us that it was God’s rest (i.e., royal enthronement), as it were, but God rested to set an example/pattern for us, according to Exodus.

      The Sabbath pattern was instituted before the fall. We had no need of a Mediator and Savior before the fall.

      Yes, after the fall the Sabbath pointed to, among other things, resting in Christ and the eternal eschatological rest.

  10. Dr. Clark, thanks for the kind reply. I agree that the “work of the law” is written on the heart of mankind. It seems to be a universal “common notion” that murder is wrong. But I’m not sure we can say the same thing about a seventh day rest. I’m not sure it’s clear that Adam knew of a sabbath – at least one which he had to keep on a weekly basis. I’d argue that it was before the Fall that Adam was given the hope of entering that rest upon fulfillment of the covenant terms in which he was created. It seems significant that the command to Israel to observe the sabbath is again within the context of a covenant operating on a works principle. I wonder whether the Sabbath is truly part of the “moral law.” At the very least, the church seems to have understood the partially ceremonial nature of the command by declaring the day on which it is observed is now changed (WCF XXI.VII). It does seem a bit curious that there is no record of any of the patriarchs observing the day.

    My intent is not to “irritate the management” so I’ll refrain from further comment. I understand you have the right to the last word in the discussion. I am grateful that you indulged the conversation this far.

  11. “Which (Spirits, People [?]) sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him”. (I Peter 3:21-22, KJV)

    What is God through Peter trying to tell us? What is an “answer of a good conscience toward God” and how is baptism related to it? Just how sacramentally is Peter speaking when he says baptism saves us, and how does his “disclaimer” clarify his point?

    • Hi Sam,

      Yes, Peter is speaking sacramentally (i.e., figuratively). It just so happens that I’ve written a commentary on 1 Peter.

      There are three sections of the commentary on this very passage (#s 29–31).

      The passage has to be read slowly and carefully. The phrase that unlocks the passage is “in the days of Noah.” Indeed, it is the central thesis of my commentary that, for Peter, we are living, mutatis mutandis, in the days of Noah (as it were).

      Did the flood waters actually save Noah and his family? No, they did not. The ark saved them or rather, God saved them using the ark. There were in the midst of the waters. The flood was the circumstance in which they were saved. Literally, they were saved from the water since it was by the water that “the world that was then” was judged and destroyed (as will be the world that is now by fire).

      I translate the noun, which the KJV translates as “answer” a little differently.

      Check out the commentary.

    • Thank you for that. It was helpful.

      Do you think God does use baptism to give faith to some elect Covenant Children (the same way he uses the word for elect Pagan adults)? Or is it merely a sign and seal of a promise they receive later?

      To clarify, I don’t think the Lutheran position is a possibility. As soon as we establish the perseverance of the saints it is ruled out.

      • Sam,

        God is free to act when and where he wills. The question, as far as I am concerned, is not about God’s freedom but God’s promises. Has he promised to grant new life at the time of baptism or through baptism? Most of the Reformed have said no. I agree with that consensus. I’m satisfied with Heidelberg 65:

        65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, from where comes this faith?

        The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments.

        This is how I understand Romans 10, which is what I argued in the most recent full-ep of the Heidelcast. God uses the preaching of the gospel to bring his elect to new life & true faith. He strengthens faith through the use of the holy sacraments.

        I think we need to appreciate more fully than we do our Lord’s words, “You know not whence it comes nor where it goes.”

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