Red Cord, Blue Threads – 3

The Vow

[Apologies to those readers who have had enough of me railing against paedobaptism. It's not personal. It's not that I have any loyalty to any doctrinal system, denomination or tradition. It's that a group of godly guys taught me how beautiful the structure of the Bible is but maintain, to my eyes at least, a tradition which contradicts that beauty. The internal logic of the Scriptures -- including the Old Testament Scriptures -- spits out paedobaptism at every turn. In every round of typological musical chairs I play, paedobaptism has nowhere to sit.]

We ended last time with the observation that all Israel was a “bridal” nation. The Israelite robe, like the Nazirite vow, was something that pertained to both males and females. Why is this?

Because circumcision was Adamic, that is, priestly. As James Jordan notes, there are kings and queens, prophets and prophetesses, but no priestesses. Not a one. Eve could not serve in the Tabernacle or Temple because it was not yet safe. The serpent had not been crushed. Satan still stood, bloodthirsty as ever, as an accuser in the court of God (as Joshua the High Priest discovered).

Yet, outside the tent of death lived a (symbolic) resurrection body, twelve tribes, twelve stars, twelve constellations—the glorious Warrior Bride, a city of living stones gathered around the Lamb. Greater Eve didn’t see the blood either shed or presented. She saw only the memorial, the fragrant smoke. She herself, as a body raised from the grave, was a memorial to the blood shed in Egypt.

The blue-tasseled robe was a memorial. The command to wear blue tassels does not appear in Exodus or Leviticus, but in Numbers, after Israel has broken the Law (many times) and temporarily forfeited the Promised Land. What was Israel to remember?

The tasseled robe was a reminder of holiness. In a veiled way, they were “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.” But at this “Mosaic” stage, the clothing reminded each adult of his or her vow.

So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.”

In fact, the people repeat this vow twice. The Law required two witnesses (and, of course, the passage follows the Covenant pattern!) They did it consciously. They did it as representatives of their children and their animals, those who could not take the vow. The “robe of righteousness” called them back to the “words of the Lord and all the judgments” to which they had agreed. It was not only glorious, and made a public testimony out of being an Israelite, but it was also a mnemonic device. It called Israel to remember, not the circumcision of every male born in Abraham’s house, but the conscious vow made to obey the Laws of Moses. If we had to correspond this robe to anything under the New Covenant, it would not be circumcision but baptism.

When to Trash a Baptism

Toby Sumpter tweeted: “Sometimes a pastor needs to take a man’s baptism and trash it and bury it in front of him and only then will it become true.” This statement comes from the frontline of ministry, and out of a pastor’s heart. Toby has an excellent blog post on this subject here, and I don’t mean to take anything away from that.

But trashing someone’s baptism means holding somebody accountable, calling him back to his vow. We could say this about the fulfilment of any vow, but paedobaptism plays games with what a vow actually is. You can call someone back to their baptism only if they were conscious at their baptism. Otherwise you are suing someone based on a contract they didn’t sign.

A Seal Upon Covenant Children?

How many men, circumcised in their infancy, can recall their circumcision? This seems a fair question, but it assumes that baptism performs a similar role to circumcision in marking out “Covenant children.” It’s amazing how paedobaptists will tell me that baptism is New Covenant circumcision when it suits them, and also tell me that baptism isn’t a New Covenant circumcision when it suits them. So, which is it?

Well, neither circumcision nor baptism marked out Covenant children. Circumcision was always genealogical. It was Adamic. Like the Tabernacle, it was a substitutionary death on behalf of Eve. It was about males, not infants. So, even Israel did not have a rite related to childhood. Paedobaptism not only misunderstands baptism, it misrepresents circumcision in order to use it as support for a misguided tradition.

Israel’s Conscious Vow

Israel made a conscious vow in the wilderness. Did that involve circumcision? No.

It was circumcision that made them Israel — a separate nation. But what is very interesting is that the Covenant vow took place in the wilderness, and no infant males were circumcised for around four decades, until the next generation reached Jericho (Joshua 5). So the corresponding of circumcision with Covenant accountability for individuals (a la Doug Wilson) is not even a long shot. Were there no “Covenant children” until after the death of Moses? Of course there were! God held the “circumcised” generation accountable to the vow they made at Sinai as adults, males and females. The Covenant responsibility fell upon the parents who made the vow to teach their children — even when their boys were uncircumcised!

God most certainly judged the patriarchs for sin, but the Law of Moses was not in force. There were no stonings, no lepers exiled mandatorily outside the camp, until the Law of Moses. The Law of the Covenant required a conscious vow. The blue-tasseled robe was a reminder of that vow. They didn’t put these robes on any babies, let alone the male infants. We know this because the tassels on the robe served a deliberate purpose. The robe was a call to a circumcised heart, a circumcision made without hands.

This “investiture” was a circumcision of heart, not flesh. It was to signify the imputed righteousness of the sacrificial, priestly people. In Exodus 24, Moses and the elders ascended the mountain and saw the Lord on the crystal sea. That’s what baptism pictures—mediators. The children of Israel were at the bottom of the mountain. The “baptized” elders mediated for Israel, and, in turn, all Israel carried out this same mediatory role for all nations. As glorious Israel was an outcome of the sacrifices, so the bridal robes were an “outcome” of a hidden circumcision. Every Israelite was part of the Warrior Bride, mediating for the Gentiles.

(Of course, all Israel was “baptized” in the Red Sea, but not as individuals. They were baptized as one flesh in one event. That’s not the case with Christians. I have covered this elsewhere on this blog.)

Now, I must say here that if somebody could show me some good arguments for paedobaptism, I’d publicly apologize for my rants, and very likely become the most ardent paedobaptist the world has yet seen. But I’ve discussed this with even the big guns, and so far, if they have any ammo left at all, either they can’t be bothered shooting it or they are afraid it might bounce off. That probably sounds like hubris, but it isn’t. How about starting with this fact that the first generation of “Covenant boys” were uncircumcised. Think of this as another gauntlet thrown down. Even I’m getting tired of discussing this, but I reckon it has been worth it. I’ve been thrown some curly ones, but there’s not a single doctrinal or typological hole left through which Christening can be snuck.

Confession and Confessionalism

So we have no business telling everyone we are bap-cising the hearts of our offspring before they hear the gospel.

The Westminster Confession of Faith has some good things to say about baptism, but I find it ironic that a confession confers Covenant accountability upon those who cannot confess. Consulting the Reformers before we consult Moses and the Prophets to make sense of the New Testament is replicating Talmudism. There’s no support, whatever the claims, for infant baptism in either the Old or New Covenant Scriptures. WCF XXVIII: III, IV and VI are made up out of whole cloth.

Aligning baptism with circumcision demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both baptism and circumcision. How many Israelite women could recall their circumcision?

Cursed Confessors

A pastor cannot call a saint back to his or her baptism if it did not include a “legal” Covenant confession, their public witness. It makes no sense at all to lay Covenant responsibilities upon newborns. Not even Israel did that! Who died in the wilderness? It was the ones who took the vow — first, those who worshiped the golden calf, and then the rest over the next few decades. Only two people survived the threshing, Joshua and Caleb. And who made it out? The children of those who died, and it seems that all the males under 40 were uncircumcised. What were these people called back to in the book of Deuteronomy? Not Abrahamic circumcision. While they were separated from Gentiles geographically it served no function. It seems one could leave Israel and not suffer death for leaving (unlike some churches!). Circumcision was only what made them a separate “flesh.” They were called to remember the Law under which their parents made the original vow at Sinai.

The men, boys and infants were circumcised outside of Jericho. It wasn’t an infant thing. It was a male thing (generation). Just as baptism isn’t an infant thing. It is a believer thing (regeneration). Paedobaptism screws up the message of both these signs.

Nailing the Colors

A baptism that isn’t a conscious change of allegiance, doesn’t nail new colours to the mast, doesn’t rub non-Christians up the wrong way or scare them or leave them in awe, isn’t a baptism. The only way to trash somebody’s Christening is to actually baptize them as a public witness to their confession.

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13 Responses to “Red Cord, Blue Threads – 3”

  • Mike Bull Says:

    A related observation is that while Moses was in the wilderness, he didn’t circumcise his sons. Jordan observes that Moses’ approach to the Covenant people meant the shedding of blood, prefiguring the death of the firstborn. Since this is replayed once again as Israel approached Jericho, it is perhaps not the approach to the Covenant people that requires the shedding of blood (since it was the Covenant people itself doing the approaching and being circumcised!) It is a new surrendering of Isaac at each “gate.” Any thoughts?

  • Jonathan Anderson Says:

    So would you say that children are excluded from the New Covenant by their fundamental nature as creatures in the image of God since they are unable by the very way that God created them to fulfill the conditions of the New Covenant? Infants and small children are unable to confess and makes vows so they are excluded. It is not because of sin and the fall they are excluded. It is because they are unable to perform these actions because of their created limitions.

    Is it an issue with sin or creation that excludes infants and small children?

    It seems like to me you would say it is creation since they are only living in accordance to the way God created them. Infants and small children are incapible of meeting these requirements so obviously paedobaptism is out of the question.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Jonathan – thanks for your comment.

    Israel was set apart by circumcision from the other nations. For the time being, God was only dealing with them. There was a wall, a boundary of blood. Their children were within that boundary, but the wall was a “male” wall, not an infant one.

    Within that boundary there was another wall, the Laver, a boundary of water. This delineated the priesthood (although it was certainly genealogical as well).

    Circumcision is now gone, and the water boundary has become baptism. All can now enter the Holy Place, and the water is no longer about who can come in but who can go out.

    So, to answer your question, with no blood boundary, people of “all bloods” are now commanded to repent. All children everywhere are under the New Covenant. No child is to be excluded from the knowledge of God. The only blood boundary is a global one.

    So, all under included under the Covenant because Jesus is now ruling all nations. This means that un-sprinkled infants have the same benefits as the sprinkled ones. The only difference is the gospel.

    To use baptism as a new sort of genealogical divide rebuilds a wall very like the one Jesus died to tear down, a “wall of enmity.” That is gone.

    To think about baptism as a Covenant exclusion for anyone is not New Covenant thinking at all because baptism has nothing to do with physical offspring and everything to do with regeneration and mission. The only reason FVs have a problem is because their vision is too small. It’s an Old Covenant vision. It’s obsolete. And it hamstrings any postmillennialism. Raising godly kids is important, but it is only a tiny part of the mission. We win the world by mass conversions, not breeding.

    Hope that helps. There’s plenty more to read under the baptism tag at top.

  • Jonathan Anderson Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I am not trying to be rude, but I don’t see an answer to my question.

    Infants and small children of believers or unbelievers are unable to meet the qualifications you stipulated: confessing and vow-making. Thus they are excluded from the covenant not because of sin but because of the way they were created by God.

    Once they get old enough to confess and make a vow then they are welcomed in but not until that time.

    It seems as if you make it impossible for infants and small children to be a part of the new covenant and humanity in Christ.

  • Steven Opp Says:

    Mike, do you think the doctrine of Hell plays into this debate at all? The modern evangelical fear that if one dies without believing the gospel they are doomed to endless suffering might make a child’s parents take any precaution (including baptism) to make sure their kid is “in.”

    Is there an unholy union between one’s station in life (being a priest to the world, or a baptized warrior for the kingdom) and one’s ultimate destiny (where you spend infinity after death) in Christian theology? Are we conflating the current covenant mission we’re in, the New Covenant, with things beyond it which no one really knows, that is, where people’s final destination is? Therefore, since there is this outside pressure from preaching about the afterlife, the current covenant gets crunched by that pressure so that baptism and circumcision are forced together?

    Perhaps I’m wrong in simply calling being a baptized Christian a station in life. I understand it’s a new birth. But it seems to me that all the emphasis on Hell and what is at stake (eternal fire) eclipses the covenant process and puts everyone in panic mode, and so we come up with things like bap-cision. Perhaps if we just took it one mission at a time, this New Covenant is about this world, not the next, and leave the next level’s worries to itself, we’d be better off.

    Concluding brash, sweeping, perhaps uninformed hypothesis: Give up our unwavering allegiance to the doctrine of hell and the anxiety over those who have not heard the gospel (infants in particular) and focus on the current mission of turning this world into the kingdom of heaven and the pressure on the covenant structure will be relieved and circumcision and baptism and find their proper places in the restoration process.

  • Steven Opp Says:

    circ. and baptism **can** find (not and, in last sentence)

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Not rude at all, though I can cope with rude anyhow. Just taught two Bible classes with some fairly rude students.

    I’l do my best here:

    1 – “Infants and small children of believers or unbelievers are unable to meet the qualifications you stipulated: confessing and vow-making. Thus they are excluded from the covenant not because of sin but because of the way they were created by God.”

    We are a condemned species. Being within the Covenant “territory” (i.e. a circumcised people) brings not life but the promise of life. Adam’s children were condemned to die physically by Adam’s sin (and in fact, would not have existed at all had God not substituted animals to carry the curse).

    My earlier point was that the entire world is now included in the Covenant, which is why the entire world is hearing the Gospel of Christ. Nobody is left out.

    But your assumption seems to be that “Covenant” infants are somehow promised salvation. That is nowhere to be found in the New Testament, and one has to read it into the Old Testament. In many cases, Old Covenant membership brought death, children included. And my point above was that Covenant membership of individuals was not dependent upon each child receiving the “Covenant sign” as an individual. Circumcision set Israel apart (cause) and the robe symbolized the result (effect). Now the entire world is under the Covenant cause. Nobody is excluded from the New Covenant. Baptism did not replace circumcision. If anything, it replaced the “robe of righteousness” — signifying a circumcised heart.

    An important point here is that the NC sacraments signify the “effect” not the cause. To confer them “genealogically” actually disempowers them. Baptism is supposed to be a public witness to a faith that unites every tribe, people and nation — not set up a new one, which is what any genealogical sign does. Baptism is supposed to do the exact opposite of what circumcision did.

    2 – Once they get old enough to confess and make a vow then they are welcomed in but not until that time.

    Again, paedobaptism confuses cause and effect. All are welcome to hear the gospel. That is the cause. If they believe, they become representatives of the gospel. PBs seem to have a problem with the difference between the speakers and the audience.

    3 – It seems as if you make it impossible for infants and small children to be a part of the new covenant and humanity in Christ.

    No, your definition of “Covenant inclusion” is skewed. The Gospel is for all people. All are welcome to come in and hear and worship. But just as the Gentiles look on and learned from “generational” Circumcision and Passover (but were excluded), so those who are not regenerate look on and learn from Baptism and Communion (“regenerational”).

    Hope that helps.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Steven – Yes, good thinking. Bap-cision demonstrates a lack of faith. It is the grasping of a security, a kingdom-tree, to which we are not entitled. We preach the gospel to our children in faith. God brings the increase. There is no security outside of that.

    And if, as Pastor Wilson writes, an apostate child is also a fulfilment of the promise, why do it at all? Especially since “Covenant children” were not “signed” as individuals under the Old Covenant anyway. My point has been to show that, not only is there no support for PB in the NT (as Doug admits in his 1000 generations book), but the only support available in the Old Testament comes from reading your doctrines into it and screwing up its typology.

    Paul says there was no benefit in the circumcision, except exposure to the truth. Turning baptism into bap-cision makes it as meaningless as circumcision now that the wall is gone.

    So, sprinkled people, your are in the Head. Time to get the New Covenant gear on your Body and make a public vow.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    One more thought – the sacraments are “efficacious signs.” What “effect” are we promised. Circumcision was effectual. It set Israel apart as a separate people, a designated genealogy. That is not the effect of baptism. Paedobaptism is thus not efficacious. It doesn’t achieve a thing because it is being used for an obsolete purpose. God is not in it.

  • Mark Sunwall Says:

    Well, let me explain to you why I am about as screwed up a person as you will ever find. I was raised in the Protestent Episcopal Church of the USA, and in the “Bible Belt” no less. Do I need to elaborate? I will anyway. In those days pedobaptists were suave intellectual upper middle class white people. On the other hand pedobaptists were rednecks (I think the rather too polite translation of this into Strang is “wowsers”). But as you can logically infer it gets more complicated. The pedobaptist covenant (let me put in blunt rhetoric what you have tried to prove in polite rational terms) is fundamentally racist. On the other hand the politically incorrect credobaptists had within their theology the seeds of a color-blind contractarian society…and much else. Well, the dialectial absurdities just continute to ramify…but at Euclid said, once the first line of the theorem has been drawn inference should take care of the rest for the dicerning student!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Mark

    You might have to explain that a bit more for this Australian. You are saying that paedobaptism keeps out the blacks? Yet that credobaptist churches had their own means of maintaining segregated churches?
    Things are most certainly more complicated than the baptism issue. And I’m happy to hear more, but those other issues might be separate issues – that means paedobaptists and credobaptists grabbed whatever was on hand to maintain the status quo… Although I agree that paedobaptism by its very nature becomes a racial segregation – a ghetto. Have written on this elsewhere here.

    The Not So Discerning Student

  • Mark Sunwall Says:

    It seems the more I say the more trouble I get myself into. Of course it was not so simple. Generally speaking the upper middle class Episcopalians were the enlightened liberals. But I don’t want to get into the details of American history in the 20th century.

    I’m thinking…what motivated pedobaptism in the first place? Abstractly thinking even circumcision is at the root of contractarian thinking. It is not DNA but an intentional act of adoption which grafts one into the covenant people. But the fact that candidates for circumcision are overwhelmingly likely to be offspring of “the people” means that the covenant defaults to ethnicity. On the other hand this doesn’t happen in the case of the original baptism. But once one substitues pedobaptism one is back to ritualizing bloodlines.

    And this may also be the root of predestinarian thinking. Which may mean that there is a plausible justification for it (i.e. pedobaptism). It all just depends on the vector of cause/effect is construed.

    And appropos of nothing else…I’m not so sure I am happy about the way that the concept of efficient causality was adopted by the Renaissance (Galileo) and likewise the Magisterial Reformation. It seems to me that with the advent of Quantum theory we are back to a universe in which entities are largely determined, but determined internally by their own organic goals. Of course God is still soverign, but soverign the way the USA is sovereign rather than the way the USSR was soveregin. The delegation of autonomy and free will would seem to be a sign of strength rather than weakness.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    “… the fact that candidates for circumcision are overwhelmingly likely to be offspring of “the people” means that the covenant defaults to ethnicity. On the other hand this doesn’t happen in the case of the original baptism. But once one substitues pedobaptism one is back to ritualizing bloodlines.”

    Ritualizing bloodlines. Well put.