Credo-Baptism Answers What is baptism a sign of?

Discussion in 'Credo-Baptism Answers' started by Paul1976, Sep 26, 2018.

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  1. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    What is baptism a sign of?

    Brief background. I'm a lifelong baptist who has been attending a Presbyterian church for the past 2.5 years and finally taking the time to really investigate baptism. Well before starting to attend a Presbyterian church, I knew I needed to understand both sides of the debate, but I had other areas I believed were more important to properly understand first.

    One point a Paedobaptist brother brought up which I found surprisingly strong is in Rom. 4:11:

    And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.

    It sound like Paul is coming dangerously close to saying that circumcision is a sign of faith, just like baptism. Logically, if the OT sign of faith (circumcision) is clearly to be applied to infants, then the NT sign should be also.

    What is the baptist response to this point?

  2. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I wish I had more time to expand on it, but here is a thumbnail sketch.

    Circumcision indeed is a seal, but it is a seal of righteousness of faith. The argument in Romans 4 is that one may be blessed with imputed righteousness regardless of whether one is of the line of Abraham or not, because Abraham was blessed with imputed righteousness for his faith prior to the institution of circumcision.

    Elsewhere we see more clearly that circumcision is both a forward looking seal: the Seed comes from Abraham; and a backward looking seal: Abraham, uncircumcised and from pagan stock, is saved by faith.

    When Christ came in the flesh, the forward-looking purpose of the seal was fulfilled. There is no more use for circumcision. Baptism is backward looking to the work and death of Christ. Just as Abraham's righteousness was imputed to him, and demonstrated by his confession of faith (precircumcision), Baptism is a seal that is appropriate to recognize the imputation of righteousness in a believer who has come to confess his faith.
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  3. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Grant, first a housekeeping matter: this subforum is the Credo-Baptist Answer forum. Anyone can start a thread asking a question, but the responses are supposed to only come from members who are credo-baptists. (Or antipaedos, for the sticklers ;) )

    But your question is fair, so I'll just note that the difference I see is that the forward-looking aspect of Baptism individualized--i.e. the believer himself looks forward to Christ's return.

    The forward looking aspect of circumcision is collective: from the descendants of Abraham comes the seed. Because the promise to Abraham was that his physical descendant would be the Messiah, and, as we come to find out, the second Adam, applying a physical sign of the covenant to all males descended from Abraham makes sense symbolically and typologically.
  4. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The water baptism is the outward external sign of the already done internal work by the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the sinner. The person sees themselves as being dead in Christ, and now raised up by Him to be a new person in Him.
  5. RobertPGH1981

    RobertPGH1981 Puritan Board Freshman

    John Stott explains this in a way that reflects similar to the ordo salutis. John Stott who was a peadobaptist seems to sway away from making arguments of this type in Romans 4, which appears to be addressing something other than peadobaptism. At least that is what I can see from the argument and his writing.

    EDIT: Paul is arguing that it was not works that saved him by God through circumcision of the heart, which produces faith. This faith is reflected in his action of circumcision before he was physically circumcised.

    Abraham was not justified by circumcision (9–12)

    Paul’s first question has been whether Abraham was justified by works or by faith (1–3). His second is whether this blessedness of justification is available only for the circumcised (the Jews) or is also for the uncircumcised (9a). This question prompts a supplementary one, concerning the circumstances in which Abraham was justified. Was he justified after he was circumcised, or before? (10a). In other words, did he submit to circumcision first, and so achieve righteousness, as the Rabbis taught? Or was he already justified when he was circumcised? What was the order of events? In particular, did his justification come before or after his circumcision? Paul’s answer to his own question is brief and blunt: It was not after, but before! (10b). In fact it happened long before. For his justification is recorded in Genesis 15 and his circumcision in Genesis 17, and at least fourteen years (even twenty-nine years according to the Rabbis) separated the two events.
    Although they were separated, they were not unrelated, however. Abraham’s circumcision, though not the ground of his justification, was its sign and seal. For Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised (11a). God himself had called circumcision ‘the sign of the covenant’ which he had established with Abraham. Similarly, Paul now calls it a sign of his justification. As a ‘sign’ it was a distinguishing mark, setting Abraham and his descendants apart as God’s covenant people. Indeed, it was not only a sign to identify them; it was also a seal to authenticate them, as the justified people of God.
    Thus Abraham received two distinct gifts of God, justification and circumcision, and in that order. First he received justification by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Secondly, he received circumcision as a visible sign and seal of the justification which was already his. It is the same with baptism. Leaving aside the debatable question whether an analogy between baptism and circumcision legitimizes the baptism of the infant children of believing parents, the order of events for adult converts is plain. First, we are justified by faith, and then we are baptized as a sign or seal of our justification. But we must get the order right, and we must also clearly distinguish between the sign (baptism) and the thing signified (justification). As Hodge wrote, ‘what answers well as a sign, is a miserable substitute for the thing signified’.
    So then, Paul continues, there was a purpose in the fact that Abraham was justified by faith, and circumcised only later. Indeed, there was a double purpose. It was first that Abraham might be (as he is) the father of all who believe, and so have been justified, but have not been circumcised (11b). In other words, Abraham is the father of Gentile believers. Circumcision is no more necessary to their justification than it was to his. The second purpose of this combination of faith, justification and circumcision was that Abraham might also be (as he is) the father of the circumcised who in addition to their circumcision also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised (12). Thus he is the father of all believers, irrespective of whether they are circumcised or uncircumcised. In fact circumcision, which was of supreme importance to the Jews, must not be allowed to undermine or disrupt the unity of believers in Christ. Although according to the Jews Abraham was ‘the great dividing point in the history of mankind’, according to Paul Abraham through his faith became ‘the great rallying point for all who believe, whether circumcised or uncircumcised’. For where circumcision divides, faith unites.

    Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 128–130). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 27, 2018
  6. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the responses. A few items:

    1) I certainly agree that Paul is not specifically talking about the subject of paedobaptism here. In fact, had Paul or any NT writer ever directly addressed the subject, I don’t think we’d have separate baptism forums.

    2) VictorBravo: ”Circumcision indeed is a seal, but it is a seal of righteousness of faith.” - Would you say Baptism is also a seal of “righteousness by faith?” If not, what does it signify? I know this isn’t your main point, but clarification would help me.

    3) Dachaser “The water baptism is the outward external sign of the already done internal work by the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the sinner.” But isn’t the Rom. 4 section saying much the same thing about how Abraham received circumcision? The argument makes good sense up until the point Abraham is then told to circumcise infants.

    4) RobertPGH: I deeply love Stott’s excellent commentary and agree with your (and Stott’s) interpretation of the overall flow of thought in Rom. 4. As I said above, Paul almost certainly does not have the issue of paedobaptism in mind in CH. 4. But, since I don’t believe the NT ever specifically addresses the question, we have to make good and necessary inferences from someplace.

    Am I reading your reply correctly if I understand that you are quoting Stott from “Abraham was not justified by circumcision (9–12)” down? One sentence I find problematic is “Indeed, it was not only a sign to identify them; it was also a seal to authenticate them, as the justified people of God.” Many who received the sign were not justified.

    Finally, if any paedobaptists would like to respond to anything here but are unable to do so, I would be happy to communicate further by P.M. or other means.
  7. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    Hello Paul,

    The reason Abraham was told to circumcise his children was because he lived in the time of types and shadows. The physical connection to Abraham that gave one a marked-out status was pointing to the real connection to Abraham that all his spiritual seed would have after Messiah came and fulfilled all types and shadows.
    To have Abraham as your physical ancestor was counted a great thing in OT times, but that pales in comparison to having Abraham as your spiritual father. However, he does not become your spiritual father (regardless of lineage), until you experience the New Birth. At such time, and only then, in this era of the New Covenant, is the sign of being born into his family applied.
    To sum up, in the OT: all who were born to Abraham were circumcised, but not all were saved.
    In the NT (remember, better covenant founded on better promises): all who are born to Abraham (the birth that matters; the New Birth), are saved, and get baptized.
    New Covenant: better promises, better sign, better meaning.
  8. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The OT sign of being in and under the old Covenant would separate that person as being included in the community of God at that time, but was not a sign that the person was actually really saved. The NT sign of the water baptism is the outward sign to show that the person now taking it was actually saved and included under the New Covenant with God through Jesus Christ.
  9. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    An argument that I've seen is (if I remember it correctly) that circumcision was a seal for Abraham only and thus the idea that baptism is a sign and a seal is faulty. I'd have to see who makes that argument and where. I've heard it in sermons and seen it in books but memory escapes me at the moment.

    Maybe someone else can figure out what I'm thinking of. :detective:
  10. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, I'd prefer to say it is a "sign" or "symbol" of the righteousness of faith. I think that necessarily flows from Romans 6.

    In the quote you set out, I was emphasizing the astounding expression that faith is tightly connected to righteousness. The seal comes along later to acknowledge the fact.
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Saving faith precedes the water baptism event itself.
  12. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    Perhaps it would help if everyone were using the word "Seal" in the same way. What precisely does it mean?
    Does it mean a visible mark or token that proclaims ownership?
    Or is the seal itself the means of keeping ownership, i.e., without the seal could the object be lost?
    Or does the seal itself confer what it signifies?
    I think that with both baptism and circumcision, we are limited to the first option. Abraham later received the token, the mark, the symbol of the faith that he had before he was circumcised. He believed God first. He received the seal a long time later. The sign did not confer any additional grace; it did not keep him saved--it served as a mark of ownership.
    Romans 4 discusses this in detail.
  13. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    Generally, when I read the Bible, I read "seal" to mean an authentication. In the ancient world, a message from a king/governor or someone of importance would arrive with that individuals seal on it, authenticating the message. I'm far from an expert (so I may be corrected), but I would default to that reading unless there was something in the text to indicate a different meaning (like the seals that prevent the scroll from being opened in the early part of Revelation).

    Read that way, "seal" works well for the sign of circumcision since it authenticated the reality of what the sign pointed to. Circumcision (the sign or seal) does not save, but points to the authenticity of righteous by faith. I think that's what Rom. 4 is saying. My problem is that if circumcision points to that and is applied to infants, there is no reason not to apply baptism similarly. If we read the text to mean that circumcision is a seal in the sense that it implies ownership or in the sense of enclosing (making permanent?), I don't think Paul's arguement in Rom. 4 works as well.
  14. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    In the time of types and shadows, it symbolized physical descent. All of that was a picture of the spiritual descent that all the true children of Abraham-the Israel of God, would enjoy under the New Covenant. The entire time of the Old Testament was pointing with many symbols and dark shadows to the great reality that is the New Covenant. But because now the birth that matters is the New Birth, and only those born again are God's covenant people, the sign is only applied to them. Easy peasy.
  15. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    I hear this a lot, and it does make very good sense. Is it ever clearly stated?
  16. Ben Zartman

    Ben Zartman Puritan Board Sophomore

    If everything we believed was stated as unequivocally as we wanted, there'd be fewer debates, and fewer denominations. That conclusion is reached by good and necessary consequence, just like the doctrine of the Trinity or the Regulative Principle. One must consider the whole of Redemptive History, God's Covenants, and what it means to be the People of God to even understand the question. Even so, using the same hermeneutic principles and covenantal understanding, our dear Presbyterian friends manage to reach a different conclusion. The Baptist position seems clear to me, once the NT witness is seen in light of the OT, but the paedo's position seems clear to them as well, even when they read the same passages.
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    To myself, the Apostle Paul really makes this clear when he alludes to us in water baptism going down into the death of Jesus, and being raised up with Him in newness of life, as the one undergoing this would know and agree that has already happened to them.
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