The question ‘should infants be baptized?’ is actually an example of the tail wagging the dog. The question of baptism is a covenantal question. Thus, we need not ask if infants should be baptized, but rather, “how does one enter into covenant?” This, my brethren, is the crux of the matter. Both sides agree that covenant members ought to be baptized, but who is a covenant member and how did they become one? The question of baptism is secondary. Covenant membership has always been through birth. People are born into their respective covenants. This is why ‘offspring’ is such an important concept – “you and your offspring.”
A Paedobaptist on Facebook recently asked the question, “Where in the bible does it instruct [us] to exclude babies, or children according to age?” Let me first point out his misrepresentation of the Credobaptist position. Credobaptists do not include or exclude anyone based upon age, as his question implies. But more importantly, this Paedobaptist who holds to covenant theology does not understand the concept of covenant which, in turn, muddies his thinking regarding the concept of offspring.
Covenant membership is not about babies, children, or age per se, it’s about offspring. Now, this concept of offspring, like any other word or concept, must be understood in its own and varied context. Most importantly, it must be understood in its covenantal context. Why? Besides the fact that such principles fall under the category of Hermeneutics 101, this idea is explicitly taught in scripture –
“not all Israel descends from Israel“ (Romans 9:6).
In other words, there are offspring of Abraham that do not physically descend from Abraham. Thus, we have different types of offspring. This is Paul’s entire argument in Romans 9:6-13. Calvinists are quite fond of this chapter. However, what most fail to understand is that Paul is not simply giving an argument about predestination, he’s giving a covenantal argument about predestination, and he uses Abraham’s two offspring to do so.
When Paul brings up Israel in Romans 9:6, he’s talking about covenant Israel. Look at verse 4 –
“…who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the COVENANTS…”
However, what Paul is doing here is contrasting the physical offspring of Abraham with the spiritual offspring of Abraham, but he’s doing so covenantally. There can be no mistake that Paul is speaking covenantally as his entire apologetic here in the Romans 9-11 context is the explanation of the rejection of physical Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles –
“For if their (Old Covenant Israel) rejection is the reconciliation of the world (New Covenant Gentiles)…” (Rom. 11:15).
To put it another way, Paul is giving us the contrast between the Old Covenant economy and the New Covenant economy. The Old Covenant was made with the physical offspring of Abraham, while the New Covenant is made with the spiritual offspring of Abraham. This is precisely why Paul says that Israel (physical) was “broken off for their unbelief“ (Rom. 11:20a) and the Gentiles are grafted in “by your faith“ (Rom. 11:20b).
Understand, a Jew was never “broken off“ from his covenantal status prior to the cross “for their unbelief.” A covenant breaker was never a person who failed to have saving faith, but was a person who failed to keep the Law. It was failing to ‘do,’ not failing to believe that made them covenant breakers.
“Listen to My voice, and DO according to all which I command you.” (Jer. 11:4)
“Hear the words of this covenant and DO them.” (Jer. 11:6)
“Therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to DO, but they did not.’” (Jer. 11:8)
“They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.” (Jer. 11:10)
Likewise, a renewed heart was never a prerequisite for covenant membership prior to the cross. This should be obvious given the fact that 1) a Jew was physically born into the covenant and babies aren’t born with renewed hearts, and 2) circumcision symbolized the need for a renewed heart, not that one already had a renewed heart, and 3) if a renewed heart were a requirement for covenant membership we wouldn’t be having this debate.
However, something has changed since the cross and the establishment of the New Covenant and this is why Paul in his covenantal context tells us that covenant Israel has been “broken off for their unbelief” and the Gentiles are included “by your faith.” A renewed heart is now the necessary precondition for covenant membership. This is precisely what Jeremiah meant when he said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, NOT LIKE the covenant which I made with their fathers…” (Jer. 31:31-32). The “not like” is the now necessary renewed heart. As a matter of fact, Paul’s words cannot be any more explicit. In Romans 9:8 Paul states, “That is, it IS NOT the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as offspring.” Paul could not have made it any clearer, covenantal status no longer comes through the flesh but through promise. And what is this promise? Nothing other than salvific election (as opposed to national election) in verse 9.
Galatians 3 will further support what Paul stated in verse 8 of Romans 9. “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are OF FAITH who are sons (offspring) of Abraham.” And, “So then those who are OF FAITH are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” Verses 7 and 9.
When my Paedobaptist brethren tell me that Acts 2:39 (“For the promise is for you and your children…”) is an echo of the Abrahamic promise I simply ask them, “According to Paul, how is this Abrahamic promise fulfilled? Is it fulfilled physically or spiritually?” One need only read the aforementioned passages to find the answer – “it is NOT the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as offspring.”
Now Galatians 4 has much to say about this covenant issue. Allow me to quote this section in its entirety.
“Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written,
‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband.’
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say?
‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son,
For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.’
So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.”
Here, like Romans 9, Paul is juxtaposing the physical offspring of Abraham and the spiritual offspring of Abraham. The Old Covenant with the New Covenant. The nation of Israel with the Church. He says, “These women are two covenants” (not two administrations). Each woman (covenant) has her own offspring. One “according to the flesh,” and the other “through the promise.” It was the one “according to the flesh” who represents “Mount Sinai” and the “present Jerusalem” (Old Covenant Israel) while the “child of promise” represents the “Jerusalem above” (New Covenant Church).
Just as in Romans 11 where Paul tells us that physical (unbelieving) Israel was “broken off” for their unbelief, here we are told that physical (unbelieving) Israel is “cast out” (verse 30). This ‘breaking off’ and ‘casting out’ is just another way of describing the end or cancellation of the Old Covenant. God no longer covenants with an unbelieving physical nation but has now entered into covenant with a believing spiritual nation.
Notice verse 31. PAUL says, “WE are not children of the bondwoman.” This is pretty interesting considering the fact that Paul was indeed a child of the bondwoman. Paul was most certainly born “according to the flesh” and under the slavery of the Law; yet, he no longer considers his fleshy relationship to Abraham as having any relevance but now sees himself as the spiritual offspring of Abraham, the only thing that now matters since the establishment of the New Covenant.
Once again, when my Paedobaptist brethren speak about the Abrahamic promise and the circumcision (baptism) of the children, I have to ask, “Who are the heirs of the Abrahamic promise in light of the cancellation of the Old Covenant and establishment of the New Covenant?” – “Cast out the bondwoman (Old Covenant) and her son” (children born according to fleshly descent), “For they are NOT (New Covenant) heirs.”
Thus, we see absolute cohesion between the words of Jeremiah and Paul. Jeremiah told us regarding the New Covenant that
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Is this not exactly what Paul has said regarding the New Covenant in Romans 9-11 and Galatians 3-4?
Remember what I stated at the beginning. Covenantal status comes through birth; one is born into the covenant. Under the Old Covenant is was one’s physical birth, while under the New Covenant it is one’s spiritual birth –
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
How Paedobaptists can teach that covenant status is still passed on through physical birth (who’s your daddy?) when Paul explicitly states that it is not is beyond my ability to understand.
“That is, it IS NOT the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as offspring.”
As a matter of fact, the promise of offspring made to Abraham was actually fulfilled by Christ –
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.’” (Gal. 3:16).
In other words, the Abrahamic promise regarding his offspring was never about his multiple physical children, it was all about Christ. Thus, Paul concludes by saying,
“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).
Simply put, the New Covenant fulfilling of the Abrahamic promise is fulfilled in and by Christ, and only those who have placed faith in the risen Savior can rightly be called Abraham’s offspring, co-heirs with Christ, and the only proper recipients of covenantal privileges, including baptism.
But wait, there’s more. In order for us to fully grasp this idea of covenant and covenant membership, we must understand that these covenants are ‘cut.’ This means that these covenants were established in blood. “The blood of the covenant” or ‘covenantal blood’ is essential in making these covenants.
“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:16-22)
You see, blood and covenant go hand in hand. You cannot have covenant without blood. This is precisely why it’s called “the blood of the covenant.”
So when we look at Exodus 24:8 we see that “the blood of the covenant” is “sprinkled on the people.” This act shows us who is covered by the blood and consequently who is under that covenant. God, through this covenant blood, established a covenant with the people of Israel.
What about the New Covenant? How was the New Covenant established? Was it not also through blood? Indeed it was! But this covenant was not established through the blood of “calves and goats” but with the blood of the Messiah. This too is called “the blood of the covenant” –
“This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24).
The book of Hebrews even describes this New Covenant blood in the same way that Exodus describes it –
“and to the sprinkled blood” (Heb. 12:24).
Just as Moses “sprinkled” the covenant blood on the covenant people, so too is the blood of Jesus “sprinkled” on His covenant people.
This begs the question, who are His covenant people? Allow me to ask the question another way: To my Paedobaptist and Calvinist brethren, who did Christ shed His covenant blood for? Was it not for the elect and the elect alone? Since we have seen in Hebrews that you can’t have a covenant without the shedding of blood, and since Christ shed His New Covenant blood for the elect alone, does it not follow that only those who are covered by the blood of Christ can participate in the covenant established by that blood? You see, no person who holds to limited atonement can consistently believe that unbelievers, even reprobates, can participate in the New Covenant established in the blood of Christ.
This so called ‘covenant (infant) baptism’ held by Reformed Paedobaptists is anything but covenantal. It’s actually about as uncovenantal as one can be. This ‘covenant baptism’ of the Paedobaptists tells us that people who have NOT been sprinkled by the covenant blood are nevertheless covenant members and proper recipients of the covenant sign. As a matter of fact, this is a kind of Arminianism. Arminians have their “whole world” while Paedobaptists have their “whole household.” Arminians have the blood of Jesus failing to save everyone in the world while the Paedobaptists have the blood of Jesus failing to save everyone in the covenant. Not only is the Calvinist who holds to Credobaptism more covenantal that the Paedobaptist, they’re even more Calvinistic (5 points) than the Reformed; at least as far as consistency is concerned.
In summation, NEW Covenant membership comes through the NEW birth, and true covenant (circumcision) baptism is a baptism of one who has covenant blood. That’s how the fathers did it, that’s how the apostles did it. First comes the covenant blood, which establishes the covenant, then comes the covenant sign. You can’t have covenant baptism without covenant blood.