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The Witness of the Law and the Other Sacrament (Part 1); “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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The Witness of the Law and the Other Sacrament (Part 1);

 

“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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“And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

-Deuteronomy 30:6-

“This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”

-Luke 19:9-

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Progression in the Covenant of Grace

Deuteronomy 30:6 is at once a retrospective on the covenant of circumcision [1] and the law’s witness to the manifestation of “the righteousness of God without the law” [2] anticipating  Paul’s new covenant perspective on circumcision in Romans 2:29 and his  honorable mention of it in Romans 3:1-4.  To be sure, Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice (1) fulfilled and superseded what had only been foreshadowed by the old covenant priestly ministry of Aaron and sons, [3] (2)  established male/female equality under the new covenant, [4] (3) tore down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, [5] and (4) distinguished a true child of Abraham from mere biological descent. [6]  Consequently, while there may be a certain correlation, there can be no strict equivalence between the old and new administrations of the covenant or between the respective covenant tokens of circumcision and baptism.

The Eighth Day–“Fanciful” or Significant?

The typological connection between “eighth day” circumcision and Jesus’s resurrection [7] may well be part of the backdrop for Paul’s relating circumcision to baptism in Colossians 2:11-12. [8]  If the “eighth day” of Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3 is an integral part of old covenant typology, then Colossians 2:11-12 could be paraphrased as follows:

. . . in whom you also virtually became a Jew (irrespective of biological age) “in a circumcision (performed) without hands “in putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ,” having been united with his death and burial by the Holy Spirit’s baptism, by which “you were also raised with him” (whose resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, i.e, the eighth day commencing a new week) through the faith which has its origin in the operation  of the God who hath raised him from the dead.”

Though the renowned scholar, Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, dismissed such an inclusion of the “eighth day” in the typology as “fanciful” numerology, [9] Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho written about 150 A.D., notably underscored it. [10]  So did Cyprian, the renowned third-century bishop of Carthage. [11]

Even setting aside the matter of the “eighth day,” simply to regard the baptism mentioned in Colossians 2:12 as that which the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the believer consists well with Paul’s concept of baptism in Galatians 3:27, not to mention Acts 19:1-6.  And, unless we yield to the adoptionist [12] heresy, true circumcision, namely regeneration, is not only accomplished without human hands and without regard to status or sex, but without respect to biological age. [13]

Pedobaptists Missing the Point?

Paul’s expression “after that faith hath come” [14] conveyed epochal, as well as  autobiographical, significance.  Paul was signaling the end of the era of outward formality involving old testament types, shadows, and ceremonies and the arrival of the era of good faith, mutual trust, and spiritual intimacy between God and man–an era which had its earthly beginning within Mary’s womb. [15]  The “faith” designated in Galatians 3:25, as having come, can be none other than that “faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” mentioned in Colossians 2:12.

To base infant baptism solely on the Old Testament law of circumcision, therefore, may be missing  the point.  For the fact that circumcision was applied on the eighth day has no more relevance for infants than for adults.  If eighth-day circumcision was simply a ceremonial crutch for Israel to lean upon until its fulfillment in the “circumcision of Christ” as depicted in Colossians 2:11-12, then to translate eighth-day circumcision in terms of infant baptism would be tantamount to a homeowner refusing to take down the scaffolding after his home was constructed.  That was the perspective of longtime Fuller Seminary Professor of Systematic Theology, Dr. Paul King Jewett. [16]  To his way of thinking, the infant baptism rule represented an insistence upon water without the witness of the Spirit thereby skirting the necessity of heart circumcision or second birth [17] which eighth-day circumcision merely foreshadowed.  Paul wrote, “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” [18]

The Collapse of the Scaffold Argument

Jewett’s scaffolding argument, however, oversimplified the distinction between Israel and the new covenant church.  For there has always been a spiritual remnant within the nation of Israel, beginning with Abraham, for whom circumcision involved a decision in the heart [19] as well as an incision in the flesh.  Among those who left Sinai for the promised land, however, only two, Joshua and Caleb, were spiritually qualified to enter. [20]  But such a national decline, and many others which followed, even to the point of crucifying their own Messiah, did not prevent the apostle Paul from underscoring the “profit” of circumcision and “the faith of God” which it signified:

What advantage then hath the Jew?  Or what profit is there of circumcision?  Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?  God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written,

“That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” [21]

“After that faith hath come,” [22] do believing parents sin by administering baptism to their infant sons and daughters?  Cyprian, the renowned bishop of Carthage and a Christian martyr, affirmed the same typology which Justin Martyr had affirmed; yet he drew the opposite conclusion from that of Dr. Jewett.  Cyprian simply argued that, since Christians are not bound by the law of Moses, baptism need not be delayed until the eighth day of infancy! [23]  Did Cyprian and his council of north African bishops simply fail to examine their own pedo-baptist presuppositions, or did Dr. Paul King Jewett overlook something?

Being an advocate or representing the weak and those unable to speak for themselves is quite biblical [24]–indeed it is the essence of intercession, as is the principle of the parent voicing spiritual commitment on behalf of his family before the assembly of God’s people. [25]

Evangelical parents may take their cue from Jesus’s words spoken to the repentant Zacchaeus without inferring more than is appropriate from the prepositional phrase “to this house.” [26]   To be sure, there is a difference between affirming that “salvation has come to this house” on the basis that the father of the household has been saved, and affirming that every occupant of the house has personally received the gift of salvation.  But the discipling [27] of the occupants may have already begun upon the conversion of the one whose parental authority now graciously yet firmly presides over that household. [28]


[1]. Gen. 17:7

[2]. Rom. 3:21

[3]. Heb. 10:1-14

[4]. Gal. 3:28

[5]. Ephes. 2:11-22

[6]. John 1:13; 8:37

[7]. John 20:1, 19, 26

[8]. Gen. 17:12

[9]. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Children of Promise, p. 19

[10]. Alexander Roberts, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 215

[11]. William Wall, The History of Infant Baptism, p. 64

[12]. Adoptionism is the heretical theory that Jesus did not become the Son of God until his baptism at the age of thirty.

[13]. Psalm 22:9-10;  71:6; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:15 Note that the Greek brephos rendered “child” in 2 Timothy 3:15 was also used of John the Baptizer while he was still within Elizabeth’s womb (Luke 1:41, 44) and the plural brephe is rendered “infants” in Luke 18:15 by the English versions including the KJV.

[14]. Gal. 3:25

[15]. Phil 3:3-6;  Gal. 4:4

[16]. Paul King Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, p. 91

[17]. John 3:3

[18]. Gal. 2:18-19

[19]. Gen. 15:6

[20]. Num. 14:30

[21]. Rom. 3:1-4

[22]. Gal. 3:25

[23]. Wall, p. 64

[24]. Prov. 31:8-9; Mark 2:3-5

[25]. Josh. 24:15

[26]. Luke 19:9  Note the critical point that Israel’s obedience under parental instruction, highlighted in Psalm 78:4-8 and Joshua 24:15, is carried forth under the “better promises” (Heb. 8:6, 11) of the new covenant in Ephesians 6:1-4. It would be unthinkable that any child of a Christian parent would have been exempted from the rule of new covenant obedience on the basis of age, as though presumed too young or too old, or “protected” by some perverted concept of children’s “rights,”–a rule which, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made clear, applied to the motive of the heart as well as outward expression.

[27]. Matt. 28:19-20; Ephes. 6:1-4

[28]. Josh. 24:15; Acts 16:14-15, 33-34

Sources

Brand, David Clark. 1991-2009. The Ancient Landmark: Biblical foundations of infant baptism. Online Edition. http://www.dcbcom.org/pubbksset.html   Howard, Ohio: DCB Communications.

Bromiley, Geoffrey W. 1979. Children of Promise:The case for infant baptism. Grand Rapids:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, The: The Greek Text with a Literal English Translation by The Reverend Alfred Marshall D.Litt. and a Foreward by The Reverend Prebendary J.B. Phillips M.A.  Also a marginal text of The Authorized Version of King James. Second Edition. 1966. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Limited.

Jewett, Paul King. 1978. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace: An appraisal of the argument that as infants were once circumcised, so they should now be baptized. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Roberts, Rev. Alexander, D.D. and James Donaldson, Ll.D., ed. 1885. The ante-Nicene fathers; Translations of the writings of the fathers down to A.D. 325. Chronologically arranged, with brief notes and prefaces by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D. Edinburgh: Boston Press. Reprint, Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company; and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wall, William. [1705] 1889. The History of Infant Baptism in Two Parts: The first being an impartial collection of all such passages in the writings of the first four centuries as do make for, or against. The second, containing several things that do help to illustrate the said history. London: Sydney, Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh. The Tracy W. McGregor Library, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, University of Virginia.

About the Writer

David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona.  He and his wife reside in Ohio.  They have four grown children and six grandchildren.  With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing.  One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.

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