Response to James White's Argument
Regarding the Symbolism of Circumcision and Baptism
The Dividing Line
June 29, 2006
Interacting with a caller to Dr. White's radio program, "The Dividing Line," Dr. White stated that:
That's one of the major differences between us, is that I don't believe you can demonstrate from the New Testament that Baptism is pointing toward something. Circumcision did. Baptism points back. It is a sign unto us of something, not hoping for something. Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. What do you have happening there? You have the promise that the seed would come and the nations would be blessed. Well, folks, once Christ comes, the seed has come. And so, to make baptism something that's looking forward to a hope for fulfilment of faith that's where I go, "Sorry" Again, as I pointed out, there's some real discontinuity in the Presbyterian application regards the objects and things like that. Why can't this be discontinuity? [The (apparently Presbyterian) caller here interjected that circumcision points forward to the gospel, and baptism points backward to the gospel.] Except that circumcision was a promise that the seed would come through that household of faith. The seed has come. The blessing has come. Baptism isn't looking forward to something to where go, "Well, we give it someone in hope that they will have faith." That's one of the major differences between us.
Dr. White is a notable Reformed scholar, and he should not be dismissed lightly. Furthermore, the comments above were made in response to a call-in to a radio show, and, thus, may not present a fully developed view and are not necessarily the result of a carefully planned response. Nevertheless, Dr. White is experienced at thinking on his feet, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that he conveyed what he generally intended to convey. Of course, though I doubt that Dr. White will find time in his busy schedule to respond to this intramural Reformed response, I leave the door open for Dr. White to revise, clarify, or indicate as outdated the argument he presented above. The original presentation is available in the second half of the program, the entirety of which can be found here.
In contrast, I am just an anonymous man with a Bible and a regenerate (by the monergistic work of God) mind. I have studied the issues, but I would not want anyone to agree with me over Dr. White because of my study, or because I claim to have considered the matter more than he. In fact, it may be that Dr. White would be able to claim greater study of the issue than I can claim. He has a publicly available debate with Rev. Shishko, an OPC minister, on this topic, which anyone who is interested in a more detailed presentation of Dr. White's views should peruse.
The Lord's Supper is to the Passover, what Baptism is to Circumcision. The Lord's Supper and the Passover picture the sacrifice of Christ, and Baptism and Circumcision picture the purification of regeneration.
Baptism is a prerequisite for partaking of the Lord's Supper, just as Circumcision was a prerequisite for partaking of the Passover (Exodus 12:48). The link between baptism and the Lord's Supper is also obliquely expressed in Matthew 20:22-23, paralleled in Mark 10:38-39.
Circumcision was an outward sign of what was supposed to be an inward purification (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4, Romans 2:28-29, Philippians 3:3, and Colossians 2:11).
For Abraham, circumcision was a believer's circumcision:
11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
Even so, the early baptisms were believers baptisms (John 4:1-2, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12).
The aspect of "hope" expressed by circumcision was a hope that the child would believe. The same is true of infant baptism today. We hope for the same thing that Abraham hoped for his children.
Likewise, baptism symbolizes regeneration and the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12, 1 Peter 3:21).
And like circumcision, baptism appears to have been applied to the household of faith, not only to believers (Acts 16:33).
I would respectfully disagree with Dr. White's apparent opinion that circumcision only related to the promise of Christ's coming. After all, it was not from a circumcised man that Christ came but from an uncircumcised woman in the miracle of the Virgin birth. The circumcision pointed to the work of Christ just as Baptism points to the work of Christ. Circumcision is purification of the flesh much as Baptism is a purification of the flesh, with both pointing toward a necessary purification of the spirit. There were believer circumcisions, Abraham being the primary example, and there were numerous believer baptisms in the first generation of the apostolic era.
Nevertheless, Dr. White's apparent view that the promises of Deuteronomy 4:40 and 12:28 cannot be seized by New Testament believers in the immutable God are unsupported. We are Abraham's children by faith, and the same general promises that applied to the patriarchs are for us as well. Thus, we have a reason to expect that God will reward our diligent and careful raising of our children in the Word of God, and that God will bless us by saving our children after us. Furthermore, we hold our children as more to be blamed if they turn away from the truth in which they were raised, than we would hold the children of infidels who had never heard the gospel.