You and Your Children

Abraham’s Bookends

In his book Why Baptize Babies?, Mark Horne writes:

The apostle Peter makes it clear that God’s Covenant still involves the promise to our children:

For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39) We who now profess Christ are among those who are “far off,” whom the Lord has called to himself. Just like those to whom Peter first preached, the promise is not only for us but for our children as well. (p. 23)

So much that has been written about baptism is nebulous and confused. My friend Mark’s short book, however, is an excellent summary of this doctrine. Having his points honed into silver bullets makes them easier to discern, and easier to deflect!

Another paedobaptist friend, Luke Welch, recently pointed out the very strong connection between Acts 2 and Genesis 17. The promise “to you and your children” is tied to the promise to Abraham, which is wonderful news to those who want to use baptism as a sort of “regenerative circumcision” for both males and females.

Mark and Luke want to turn Acts 2 into the beginning of another “Abrahamic” genealogy, rather than the end of the old one. Acts 2 is not a new beginning in that sense. Genesis 17 and Acts 2 are the “bookends” of the fleshly Messianic genealogy. But the coming of the Spirit of God, and the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ, was putting an end to the social division of circumcision. Baptism has social implications, but its heart is not carnal but ethical. Peter’s words do not mean what Mark and Luke want them to mean. They are reading them through their doctrinal construct, which overrides both the Covenant context and the historical context of the text.

The words in Acts 2 were spoken to the last “generation” of the children of Abraham. Read the passage. The hearers were Jews and proselytes, but all were within the bounds of the circumcision. These words were a Covenantal proclamation by God’s prophets to all members of the circumcision. This means they are a warning of coming Covenant Sanctions, which entail both blessings and curses. In 40 years there would be no more circumcision, at least none recognized by the One True God.

Peter addresses them as “Israel” a number of times, and ends with “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” If these people believed, their children would be saved, not from eternal judgment but from the horrors coming upon Judaism across the empire. Quoting Thomas Madden’s Empires of Trust, Peter Leithart writes:

Madden examines the Jewish War (66-70 AD) in some detail, using it as an illustration of the difficulty of controlling religiously motivated terrorism, and he interestingly points out that Diaspora Jews not only celebrated the exploits of Palestinian guerillas but also initiated conflicts in their own cities:

“As news of the violence in Jerusalem spread [in 66], the killing was mirrored across the region and then the empire. . . . Diaspora Jews sympathized with their coreligionists, but few would condone this sort of slaughter.  And yet, in some places in the Middle East, Jews celebrated the massacre of Romans.  Several cities with large Jewish populations saw open warfare between them and their Gentile neighbors. . . .

“In places like Alexandria, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, Tyre, and Ascalon, the Jews had the worst of it, with many thousands killed.  In other places like Sebaste, Gaza, Anthedon, Gaba, and the Decapolis it was the Jews who won out, massacring the Gentiles.”  After six thousand Romans were killed in Caesarea Maritima, the citizens of Damascus “poured into the streets killing Jews wherever they could find them.”

This is of interest partly because of the light it sheds on the New Testament. Paul and the other apostles write to Christian communities scattered about the Mediterranean about a coming day of retribution. On a preterist reading of the NT, these are likely references to the Jewish War and AD 70. But why would Christians in Corinth or Rome care? Madden’s information clarifies this: As in the book of Esther, the conflict of “true Jews” and the “Agagites” is not confined to a single region or city but spreads throughout the empire. [1]

To claim that these words to the house of Israel are the beginning of new promises to the Jew Gentile church rather than being an announcement of the coming fulfillment of an old promise (and thus its historical end) is a terrible misuse of the text.

How do we know that his mention of “the children” is Abrahamic in scope?

In two ways:

1) Because if they rejected Peter’s words, they, their children, and all the Jews within the empire would fall under the curse of the Mosaic Law when it fell for the final time. When Jesus said,

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28)

he was not speaking to the Church. And neither was Peter on the Day of Pentecost. He was putting Israel on the altar for the final offering. Just as the Lord called Adam to confess what he had done, so the prophets were again calling Israel to confess what she had done and be forgiven.

This was a call to reject all confidence in the flesh of Abraham and to embrace the Spirit of Abraham. The only flesh of Abraham which mattered was no in heaven, presented as blameless to God. Circumcision was now meaningless. The nation had taken its Messianic genealogy and turned genealogy into an idol. She would suffer the destruction of that idol. All the genealogies were destroyed with the Temple, along with 6000 women and children who sought protection in its cloisters which collapsed during the final battle. God was cutting off the genealogical Covenant. Flesh was coming to an end. He did not replace it with another genealogical Covenant. He transformed the very nature of the Covenant by putting it through the fire (1 Corinthians 3:15).

2) Because 3000 souls were added to the Church that day. The reference is to the 3000 people who had taken the Covenant oath at Sinai and immediately broken it. The key here is not genealogical (tribal/cultural) division but an “ethical” profession based upon faith in God’s word and character. The Day of Pentecost was a reversal of the events at Sinai because these people had heard and believed. Infants cannot take the Covenant oath, even though they are under the shelter of those who can. Baptism is for those who can take the “oath of allegiance” to Jesus, the profession of faith. This is why Paul says:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is for those whose hearts have been circumcised by the Spirit, and repented and believed. It is not genealogical. To make it so is to undo what Christ achieved.

So, does God not care about children? Certainly He does. But God also cares about the entire world, and He delegated authority over it to a man, who messed it up. Children are blessed or cursed at the hands of their parents, who are to be trees of righteousness, food and shelter. Baptism is for those who are righteous trees, that is, qualified by God as His representatives, as Adam should have been. We bring our children to Jesus because He was baptized, qualified, not because they need to be. There is no more social division.

As baptized saints, we represent Him to the world and speak His words. That’s what baptism is about, so to turn it into a new circumcision is to say that only the Church, as a genealogy/tribe, is answerable to God, when in fact, all nations are now called to repent.

[1] See Peter Leithart, Jewish War.

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3 Responses to “You and Your Children”

  • jared leonard Says:

    I don’t think you can separate “social” and “ethical” the way you are attempting to do. If anything, the pattern is ethical before it is social (Adam before Eve, Head before Body), isn’t it? And the two aren’t complete without each other playing their respective roles, are they?

    In my mind circumcision parallels baptism in that they both have external and internal applications/realizations. They both fit into the matrix the same way at division and conquest: division is external and conquest is internal. In the big picture “Adam” has done his part and now “Eve” is doing hers; this is why only males could receive the sign and now both male and female can receive the sign. The function of the sign is the same: initially it marks one as a member of the body and eventually it grows into faithfulness or faithlessness (in accordance to God’s decree of election). At division we are externally separated from unbelievers and death. At conquest we are internally united to Christ and life.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Jared, each stage has physical, social and ethical components, but circumcision was fundamentally a social divide, and baptism is fundamentally ethical. Circumcision was “hear, O Israel” (delegation) and baptism is “go and tell.” There is a big difference, as big as the difference between death and resurrection. Jesus didn’t get resurrected as a baby. He was still a grown man.

    And you should only be baptizing females in that case. No baptism for males, because they don’t image the Bride!. Peter should have said, “You and your daughters.”

    Also, infants who “cannot tell between mother and father” cannot tell between good and evil. There is no internal law possible, by the Spirit, until the heart is cut. Faith comes by hearing the Word. Otherwise you have a second Gospel on your hands, or you are misrepresenting the true Gospel in your baptism.

    Finally, this approach also confuses the field with the harvest. If baptism is just about the field, and a child might or might not bear fruit, then God’s field is the Church, not all nations, and we have no business sharing the gospel outside of it. Why does a child need a “mark” to hear the Gospel? Israelite girls could hear the Law without a mark. So could the Gentiles who believed. Baptism is not the field but the harvest, those who have been “cut” and borne fruit, and can now represent God. Because He harvests from wherever He will, the Israelite “Land” boundary became meaningless. The New Covenant is all about the “response” of the Bride.

    Thanks for the response to my cutting words!

  • Mike Bull Says:

    “I don’t think you can separate “social” and “ethical” the way you are attempting to do. If anything, the pattern is ethical before it is social (Adam before Eve, Head before Body), isn’t it? And the two aren’t complete without each other playing their respective roles, are they?”

    I didn’t answer this very well.
    Adam received the Law alone, just as Moses received the Law alone. The Law is Ethical, certainly, but receiving the Law makes Adam the Head and Eve the Body. The third stage is prophetic, where Adam is called to judge according to Law, and this reveals whether the Law has been *internalized* or not. Like the jealous inspection, it “cuts him open” ethically rather than physically. It reveals what is in his heart, discerning his spirit. The New Covenant is about hearing “the Gospel Law,” discerning the spirits and judging between good and evil – and being qualified to represent God as a mediator.