Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Paedo-Baptism: Analysis of Covenant Continuity

In a previous post I examined how well the credo and paedo systems fit the framework given by Scripture, and from that tried to decide which one of them matched the New Testament evidence better. The plan wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped it would be, so now I’m going to look at the differences that separate the two systems and see which is the more Biblical. Is there more evidence for the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments as the credo-baptist says, or is there more evidence for the continuity as the paedo-baptists asserts? 

To find out I'm going to use the question, "Did the Apostles believe the appearance of the New Covenant created a discontinuity in the given framework of redemption?" as the basis for my investigation. Or stated differently, I'm going to answer the question, "How would the Apostles have understand the promise of Jeremiah 31? Would they see it as requiring the exclusion of their children from the covenant or not?"

In light of how the New Covenant promises to include eunuchs and Gentiles (who were formerly excluded from the covenant community), and in light of how God made it clear to the Jews that covenants are the framework for salvation, the Apostles probably would not have assumed children were automatically removed from the New Covenant. The inclusiveness of the covenant of grace has always expanded with time (the covenant sign is washing which can be applied to infant boys and girls), making it unlikely that anyone would have assumed the New Covenant disallows infants. 

More importantly, Scripture indicates that the Apostles saw themselves as building on what had already come before, not as doing something completely novel. In Acts 2:16 Peter says that his hearers were living through the days spoken of by the prophet Joel, who prophesied that the familiar event of God's spirit being poured out would now be done to many people, not merely a few people. He then transitions into a sermon about how Jesus’ resurrection was foretold by David, and how His coming fulfills the promise God made to Abraham. Knowing his hearers were Jews who gave the covenant signs to their infants, would Peter have made the promise in Acts 2:39 without further qualification or clarification? If so, that's a good way to ensure the gospel would be immediately distorted, not communicated effectively.

Next Peter tells the crowd that Jesus is The Prophet foretold by Moses (Acts 3:22) whom they were obligated to listen to. Again he stresses the promises of God made to Abraham, "Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (Acts 3:25). Peter then quotes the Psalms to the rulers that Jesus is God of salvation (Acts 4:11) and basis his appeal on the fact that they were the children of the promise. This shows that Peter saw the New Covenant as an extension of the previous covenants, not as something completely unique. 

In speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles into an all Jewish church, James the brother of Jesus quotes the Scriptures (Acts 15) saying, “After this I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up that the reside of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” In saying this he points out that the Gentiles were being effectively engrafted into the vine of Israel. This is the opposite of a discontinuity. If the credo-baptists were right then James wouldn't have used the word rebuild because that would indicate a refreshing of the existing structure, but would have instead used a word to imply a new construction was happening. Or not quoted the Scriptures at all. But given his response its quite reasonable to conclude the first century Jews saw themselves as the children and inheretiors of the previous promises.  

In addition to Peter and James, Paul also indicates that the inclusion of the Gentiles were not a unique parenthetical in redemptive history. In Romans 11 he compares the Gentiles to branches being grafted into an existing tree, and doesn’t compare the inclusion of the Gentiles to how scaffolding is pulled down once a building is complete. Scaffolding would be much more natural to the credo-paradigm, but the tree which implies continuity of being between the Old and New Testament is foreign to it. 

In Romans 15 Paul quotes the Old Testament to show that the Gentiles were always going to be invited to join Israel. He compares them to visitors adding their number to an assembly already in progress: “Rejoice ye Gentiles with His people” and “Praise the Lord all ye Gentiles, and laud Him all ye people” and “There shall be a root of Jesse and He shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles trust” and “For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles and sing unto thy name.” And in Gal 6:16 he calls the church “the Israel of God.” These statements presuppose a continuity since the Gentiles are joining the established pattern, not founding a new one.

The additional reason this makes the point for continuity is because Peter, James, and Paul spoke before there was a New Testament; to their hearers the Old Testament was the whole of the Scriptures. Therefore any idea of pitting the New against the Old would have been foreign to the Apostles. That means the Old Testament is itself living and active—and it can't be an old irrelevancy that gets supplanted by the new revelation. Besides, even after it comes along the New Testament merely quotes the Old Testament. So any permaent authority the New has must be borrowed from the Old. Thus, the concepts in the book of Romans, Galatians, or Acts show that the worship of the church was a continuation of the worship started during the Old Testament times. And if that's true then children were in the New Covenant just as much as the Old.

What about the evidence that Baptism was only for priests, and that continuity requires it to continue to only be given to adult priests and withheld from infants? There’s a lot of problems with that. In no particular order:
  • The evidence that Jesus was baptized as a priest for service isn't great, and it's this more than any other on which the argument depends. It’s far more likely the event was to conclude John’s purpose in pointing to Christ, or to fulfill our righteousness, than it was to make Him a priest.
  • There’s no collaborating evidence apart from an inference that baptism makes us priests, or that the people going out to John the Baptist were becoming priestly servants to God.
  • Paedo-baptists make circumcision the sign of the righteousness of Christ that comes faith that comes through the gospel in the Old Testament because that’s what Paul says in Romans and Galatiansso baptism must be the sign of the Covenant of Grace itself.
  • Infants were among the children of Israel baptized in the Red Sea. So there is biblical precedence for baptizing infants. Stated another way, baptism can't just be to make priests clean.
  • Levitical priests had to be older than 30 years old to be baptized, as did Jesus, so shouldn’t we wait until age 30 to be baptized?
Ultimately then this argument doesn't work to exclude infants. After everything is presented the paedo-baptist simply shrugs and says, “We agree that baptism is a big and important concept that runs all the way through the Bible.” The argument looks good on paper but once you dig in a little further it collapses and all you’re left with the observation that in the New Covenant God weaves together washing and cleansing into making His sign that much more meaningful.

Looking back, I don’t see any reason to re-structure the concept of covenant which would remove infants from it, and every reason to continue using the framework established by the Old Testament. And that would mean that the paedo-baptists are right and that infants ought to be baptized.


Next: The Evidence of Covenant Discontinunity


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