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Ask a Pastor: Does baptism replace circumcision?

Question:

I have a couple of friends that are Baptists that have asked me if baptism replaces circumcision, and circumcision was only for the male child, why are girls then baptized?


Answer:

Thanks for your question. It is fair to say that baptism has come in the place of circumcision as the sacrament of initiation in the Christian Church. However, this does not mean there is a one-to-one correspondence between the two sacraments. While the substance of the covenant is the same, yet there are clear and obvious changes in the circumstances. The same thing can be seen with the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. Basically, you are doing the same thing: commemorating redemption. However, with the coming of Christ, certain circumstances have changed. For example, in the Old Testament sacraments, you are looking forward to the Christ who is to come. In the New Testament sacraments, you are looking back to what Christ has accomplished (there is also still a forward look – “until I come”). Also, now that Christ has shed his blood, it would be inappropriate for there to be blood-shedding. So, we don’t have the blood-shedding of an animal, but we have bread and wine. The same thing is true for circumcision: we don’t have blood shedding, but the softer element of water baptism.


In many ways, I see it as a mercy that the LORD did not require females to receive the painful sign of the covenant in the Old Testament. However, it is very important to realize that this does not mean that females were excluded from the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament period. They are as much children (and adults) of the covenant as the males, even though they never received the sign. The reason is fairly simple: they were represented by their fathers.


This principle of representation is a critical point at which we often separate from our Baptist friends. God has always dealt with his people in their families (Ps. 68:6, Jer. 31:1). The heads of the home represent the family. This is the “to you and your seed” principle that is unmistakable throughout the Old and New Testaments. In terms of covenant privilege, children have always been seen and dealt with as being one with their parents. So, for example, Jesus says to Zacchaeus; not, “Today is salvation come to you,” but, “Today is salvation come to this house” (Luke 19:9), and interestingly, links this to the promise given to Abraham – “he also is a son of Abraham.”


When you keep all this in mind, there is absolutely no problem with saying that baptism has substantially come in the place of circumcision and that girls also now receive the sign. This is a change is circumstance, not in substance. Further, this is exactly what we would expect in the New Covenant, which is richer, fuller, wider, and better. The gentleness of the sign, together with the abundant revelation of God’s grace in Christ, naturally argue for a “better circumstance” where females are also able to receive the sign.


I think one more point to bear in mind, and perhaps to share with your friends, would be this: It would be a far more radical change to move from male children to no children, than it is to move from male children to all children. The latter speaks to an increase of graciousness (which we expect in the New Covenant), while the former argues for a mass excommunication at Pentecost (something unthinkable to any pious Jewish parent). The burden of proof remains with the Credo-Baptist to show where God sanctioned such an excommunication, making the children of believers exceedingly less privileged in His better covenant.


Hope this helps.


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