Cutting off Flesh by Water


or Why Are We Baptizing the Dead?

Peter Leithart writes concerning baptism:

“In Genesis 9:11, Yahweh promises not to “cut off flesh” by water.  That is the covenant with Noah.

A few chapters later, Yahweh tells Abram that he must cut off the flesh of all male children of Israel, not by water but by a knife.

That means that Abram’s children receive the “cutting off” that all flesh deserves, and got, in the flood. Or, it means that Abram’s children are the people who live beyond flesh, the people who have passed under the knife and through the flood that removes flesh.

It also means that the Noachic covenant is over. The world that then was was destroyed by a flood, and a new world came into being. But now God does again cut off flesh through water, the water, the water of baptism.”

If you have read my articles on baptism (See, Weapons of War, articles 3, 4 and 5), you will know I think that not only is there no Scriptural evidence for paedobaptism, but the typological freight train of all Scripture is against it as well. So, how would I deal with this excellent observation on Noah and Abraham?

Once again, all depends on the crucial distinction between Passover and Atonement, between the head and the body.

Sabbath – initiating Word
……..Passover – blood and water (Red Sea – death)
…………….Firstfruits – presentation of head
……………………Pentecost – head rules body
…………….Trumpets – presentation of body
……..Atonement –  water and blood (Jordan – resurrection)
Booths – head and body united in God

Concerning Adam, the flood was Atonement. It was judgment at the corporate level.

Sabbath - Creation of Adam
……..Passover - Animal substitute slain to cover Adam’s sin as head (singular death)
…………….Firstfruits - Enoch preaches (Lev.) and men
…………….draw near to God. Enoch ascends
……………………Pentecost - head fails to rule body.
…………….          “Adultery” in the “wilderness” (Gen. 6)
…………….Trumpets - Noah preaches (Deut). Substitute body
…………….as animals submit instead
……..Atonement -  the flood divides body (corporate resurrection)
Booths - head and body united in God (Noah and animals in a new world)

However, concerning Noah, the floodwaters were a “Red Sea” baptism, a setting apart of the head, not the body (as with Adam’s and Abraham’s personal “covering”). For Noah as High Priest, it was Atonement, inside the Most Holy, behind the veil. For Noah personally, it was Passover, inside the ark, behind the closed door.

Sabbath - Call of Noah
……..Passover - Noah’s exodus through the flood (singular death)
…………….Firstfruits - God’s blessing. Noah makes a sacrifice. Law given (Lev.)
……………………Pentecost - head fails to rule body.
……………………Ham seizes the robe and uncovers nakedness
…………….Trumpets - Law repeated (Deut.) Noah judges Ham. Children multiply
……..Atonement -  Joktanites DO NOT separate from Nimrod (corporate death)
Booths - The Lord destroys the “Tabernacle” and scatters their children

Now, because this entire process of planting (grain of wheat) and harvest is chiastic, it does allow the Bible to use them interchangeably. For instance, in Ezekiel 1-8, the prophet’s own fall-down-as-dead “death” is Passover, and the slaughtering Levites appear as Atonement. But in the structure of the whole book of Ezekiel, the Levites appear as Passover, with the destruction of Gog and Magog as Atonement (and the description of Ezekiel’s temple follows as Tabernacles/Booths).

Jesus’ baptism was a “Red Sea” baptism. Typologically, Passover (Red Sea) is circumcision and Atonement (Jordan) is baptism. One deals with the male head, and the other with the whole body (puns intended).

But for the saints, Scripture consistently aligns Christian baptism with the Jordan, conquest and government. I posted yesterday on the structure of 1 Cor. 1-3, which also puts Paul’s baptisms in this spot.

So circumcision cuts off the flesh of the head, the sole mediator. It rescues slaves. Baptism cuts off the flesh of the body. It concerns resurrection – the resurrection of the resulting corporate mediator. It enthrones tried and vindicated governors.

Sabbath - the Word of God calls a sinner from the old city
……..Passover - he is cut to the heart by the Word (to the joints and marrow)
……..and covered by a circumcision made “without hands”
…………….Firstfruits - the Covenant “scroll” is opened to him
……………………Pentecost - now legally perfect, he is filled with the Spirit and
 …………….          enthroned with Christ outside the city 
…………….Trumpets - the saint presents himself to God as a
…………….member of the army (enrobed)
……..Atonement -  he is symbolically resurrected to the
communion of saints, into the new city (washed)
Booths - and invited to dine with Christ (seated)[1]

The debate over paedocommunion evaporates if we only baptize believers, including believing children. We have grandchildren, but Jesus doesn’t. He is the Covenant head, not parents. We will still have a problem with baptized unbelievers, but at least we’re not playing on the highway.

Baptizing children is fine, as long as they believe. Let the little children come , for baptism and for communion, but on their own legs.[2] The New Covenant is not about redeeming a “birth” of sin but about a redeemed living body approaching God in response to Jesus’ call to arms. It is the elders following Moses and dining with the Lord on the crystal sea (Exodus 24:10). It is about resurrection to govern over a new world.

Humbly submitted for comment.

[1]  Notice that when Peter saw Christ on the beach, he too was “enrobed, washed and seated”.

[2]  Jesus laid hands on babies. He didn’t circumcise them or baptize them. If anything is to be drawn from this besides trusting childlike faith, it is that baby dedication is a good thing. But it should not be confused with baptism. We don’t confuse this passage with circumcision, do we?

P.S. Yes, that is the ugliest, most unsettling paedobaptism picture I could find.

P.P.S. I came across this quote the other day, which is a logical conclusion but based on the same confounding of head with body:

“Not to warn parents of the dangers of not baptizing must be seen in light of Genesis 17. Not to have the sign is to be rejected by God; to be his self declared enemy. God told Abraham not that he would only love him but that he would also love his children.”

Surely they which are of faith are the children of Abraham?

And this one from Dr. R. Scott Clark:

“The complementary messages of the the NPP and FV are corrupting. They are corrupting of the peace of the churches. They are corrupting of the assurance of believers. They are corrupting of the gospel itself. In the case of the NPP, the radical re-definition of “justification” from “forensic declaration by God that a sinner is accepted by God on the sole basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and received the faith resting and receiving alone” to a socio-religious boundary marker is nothing if not a corruption.”

What I find most amazing is that I agree with everything the Federal Vision theologians say about baptism, but only if it is limited to credo-baptism. If they refrained from baptizing infants, their “boundary-marking” theology would make total sense to me. And to John Piper!

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2 Responses to “Cutting off Flesh by Water”

  • Steven Opp Says:

    Have you done the chiasm with Paul’s own conversion? I think it could work. I wrote a paper last year about how circumcision and apocalypse are connected in Galatians. I wonder if in Paul’s experience, his “circumcision” was his vision of the revealed Christ (I suggested there were connections between the scales falling off his eyes and foreskins, though they don’t fall off until later), and then later he was baptized back in town.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Steven
    Excellent suggestion – and I’d be interested in having a look at that paper.

    I did cover it in Totus Christus, although I could be wrong about where the blindness occurs in the pattern of things.

    Creation – Saul was still breathing threats against the church, and asked for letters (anointing) from the High Priest authorising him to retrieve the believers in Damascus to Jerusalem. Saul wanted to turn back the four winds. On his way, a light from heaven flashed around him. It was a better anointing. (Genesis)

    Division – Saul fell to the ground like a dead man. The Lord asked him why he was persecuting Him. (Exodus)

    Ascension – “Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Law). (Leviticus)

    Testing – The men who travelled with him saw nothing. And Saul was blinded. They led him by the hand and he fasted for three days. (Numbers)

    Maturity – Ananias was commanded to go to Saul at the house of Judas (Law). He feared Saul, but the Lord said he would carry his name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy)

    Conquest – Ananias laid hands on Saul, scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored. He arose (resurrection) and was baptized. (Joshua)

    Glorification – Saul ate and was strengthened. He immediately proclaimed Jesus as Son of God in the synagogues. (Judges)