Covenant Sign and Seal

Michael J. Glodo
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

Early in my twenty years of teaching the Pentateuch I realized that many of my credo-baptist students were still awaiting a credible case for paedobaptism. While the most popular works on paedobaptism argued for inclusion of children in baptism, they tended to do so on the basis of the “household” baptism passages (Acts 16:15, 31) but gave limited or no attention to providing a strong linkage between circumcision and baptism.[1] This tends to send the matter back to one’s hermeneutical a priori regarding the household baptism passages. The linking of the two covenant signs, which ought to make the strongest connection, seemed to be the missing link.

Meredith Kline had made that connection, but not as easily accessible as the popular treatments and especially those seeking to understand paedobaptists more fairly.[2] Therefore the following aspires to offer a credible biblical explanation to the credo-baptist reader as to why otherwise sound and biblical Reformed Christians would baptize children with such seemingly thin New Testament warrant; and it aspires to do so by appropriating Kline’s insights on the meaning of circumcision in its Old Testament context and the nature of the connection between it and baptism under the New Covenant. For many paedobaptist readers this may provide important exegetical support to an assumed practice. For the credo-baptist it will provide a measure of confidence that your paedobaptist brethren truly believe their case is biblical and not merely based on tradition even if in the end it is not convincing to you.

What was the significance of circumcision the Old Testament, particularly in Genesis 17? Extra-biblical literature reveals that circumcision was practiced broadly in the Ancient Near East (e.g. Egypt and Mesopotamia) sometimes as a puberty or prenuptial rite. It exists as early as 3,000 B.C., possibly originating in Mesopotamia, the region from which Abraham came. In Egypt, it was apparently reserved only for high caste individuals. While similar in general respects, these extra-biblical practices differed significantly from the prescribed practice of the Old Testament established in Genesis 17 and regulated through the Mosaic Law. While Egyptian circumcision seemingly involved only a dorsal incision – that is, a cutting of the foreskin along the top – Hebrew circumcision called for the complete removal of the foreskin. While the Egyptian version was administered strictly to high caste males as a puberty rite, Abrahamic circumcision was administered to all males from near infancy, including even proselytes. This background may shed light Josh 5:2, 9. [3]

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.”

And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away (גלל) the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal (גִּלְגָּל) to this day.

Verse 9 employs a pun on the place name – the reproach of association with Egypt has been removed or “rolled away” (galal), hence the place name Gilgal. Many interpreters take verse 2 to mean that the second generation, those entering the land under Joshua, had not been circumcised. Under this approach, the first generation had so accommodated to life in Egypt that they neglected to apply the covenant sign to their children. Verse 9 describes therefore the initial circumcision of the second generation.

But if Joshua 5:2 is read against the background of Egyptian dorsal circumcision, its meaning may be deeper. It may well be that the Israelites had performed circumcision upon their sons in Egypt, but only the partial Egyptian version and not the complete removal of the foreskin as prescribed by God in Genesis 17. In other words, they were not truly circumcised by the “rolling away” of the foreskin.

Joshua makes clear elsewhere that the Israelites observed Egyptian and Mesopotamian worship practices.[4] Moses testified frequently that they often wished to return to Egypt.[5] As accommodated to life in Egypt as the first generation had become, it is highly plausible that they adapted Yahweh’s circumcision to Pharaoh’s just as they adapted Yahweh’s image to the bull gods of Egypt (Ex 32). I consider it likely that in Joshua 5:2 God was commanding Israel to perfect the defective Egyptian circumcision by completely removing the foreskin as He had commanded Abraham. The incised though still-present foreskin of the Egyptian circumcision was a reproach (חֶרְפָּה, NRSV “disgrace”) upon Israel. It signified the idolatrous disposition of the first generation in light of the need to be wholly consecrated to God upon entering the promised land.

Considering this circumcision sequel in Joshua 5 prepares us now to look more fully at the prescribed circumcision given to Abraham in Genesis 17. Students of covenant theology will be familiar with the common five element of the Hittite suzerainty treaty form which provides the literary/historical context for the covenant with Abraham. These are preamble (identifying the suzerain), historical prologue (recounting the suzerain’s beneficent dealings with the vassal); stipulations (stating the suzerain’s requirements of the vassal); sanctions (blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience) and provision for renewal (how the relationship is to be continued in the face of changing circumstances). In Genesis 17 we find the substance of most of these elements if not the actual treaty form. In Genesis 17:1b God identifies himself as “God Almighty” (אֵל שַׁדַּי). We find a comprehensive stipulation in 1c (“Walk before me, and be blameless”) as well as the specific stipulation to keep the sign of circumcision (vv. 10b-14). The sanctions appear in blessing (v. 8) and curse form (v. 14). These elements as descriptive of biblical covenants, not prescriptive. I.e., they are not a form to be rigidly imposed upon every biblical instance of covenant-making, but used as a guide to recognize where covenants are ratified in scripture and how the elements of a covenant are involved in divine-human interactions.

Such covenants were typically constituted in a ratification ceremony. In such a ceremony the parties would swear oaths to signify their entrance into the binding, sanctioned relationship. The oaths consisted primarily in reciting the curse portion of the sanctions. While the entirety of the covenant relationship was in view – stipulations, blessings, and all – the oaths were taken as a synecdoche, a part for the whole, and consisted in reciting the covenant curses. A trivial analogy would be the way children might sometimes swear “Cross my heart and hope to die!” or “If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’.” The still-practiced oaths of court testimony are similar: “So help me God.”

The swearing of the oaths were often accompanied by the bisection of animals, laid out on the ground, between which the parties of the covenant would walk as they took the oaths. Genesis 15 is a clear example. In the ritual killing of the animals beforehand, the parties would identify with the animals so that the death of the animals symbolized what would happen to the parties if they broke covenant.

Kline provides an example from an extra-biblical covenant between Ashnurnirari V and Mati’ilu. As Mati’ilu placed his hands upon the head of a ram before it was slaughtered, he stated

This head is not the head of a ram; it is the head of Mati’ilu, the head of his sons, his nobles, the people of his land. If this named [sin] against this treaty, as the head of this ram is c[ut off,] his leg put in his mouth […] so may the head of those named be cut off […] This shoulder is not the shoulder of a ram, it is the shoulder of the one named [etc][6]

Normally both parties would pass between the pieces to signify the potential covenant curses, though noteworthy in the case of Genesis 15 is that God alone does so. As has been widely noted, this variation from expectation signifies that God accept the potentiality of curse not for himself alone but for Abram as well, but not exempting Abram from the comprehensive stipulation of faith and specific stipulations (see refer to Gen 26:5 below).

Because of the commonness of this practice, the oath/curse became a synecdoche for the covenant. Such is the case in Genesis 17:10 where the circumcision sign is referred to as “my covenant” by God. (See also Deut. 29:12 where “covenant” and “oath” are used as parallel terms.) Thus, the symbol which signified that a descendant of Abraham was part of the covenant God made with Abraham also symbolized the curse sanctions. The point here is significant. To bear the covenant sign and to be regarded as being a member of the covenant community was not an automatic guarantee of blessing. It represented potential curse or blessing.

For Abraham and the original readers of Genesis, circumcision reminded them of many things, but one thing in particular it signified was responsibility, the indispensable response required of everyone who bore the sign. It is essential to understand that conditionality and grace are not mutually exclusive. The emphatic “Now as for you” (v. 9) is issued notwithstanding the divine promises (vv. 6-8).

This responsibility had two horizons, responsibility toward God, yes, but also responsibility toward the covenant community. To receive this sign made one part of the Abrahamic family, the covenant community, along with all of its attendant social obligations. The special blessings which attached to the covenant were only available to those within the covenant community. To belong to the Lord meant to belong to his people. Thus it was necessary that all under the household covering of Abraham be marked in this way (servants and even livestock). This involved both obligations toward fellow family members as well as risks posed. The blessings of God were not given to those outside this family even though the sign itself was not a guarantor of blessing.

The sign also signified a vertical dimension, that the circumcised person was under divine authority, subject to all God’s commands. To be sure, the promises were graciously offered and their proportion was well in excess of the value of the obedience rendered. But the sign alone was insufficient to effect blessings. It signified God’s reign first and foremost before it signified his grace. And the standard for that reign was God’s revealed will. While the Abrahamic covenant was unilaterally imposed and while God alone swore the self-imprecatory oath of the covenant, it would be incorrect to say that the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional. Gen 17:1 is a condition – “walk before me, and be blameless.” “You shall keep my covenant” by circumcising every male eight days and older is a condition (vv 9-10). The cutting off of the uncircumcised communicates a condition (v 14). Subsequently we are told that Abraham was given God’s “charge” (מִשְׁמַרְתּ), “commandments” (מִצְוֺת), “statutes” (חֻקּוֹת), and “laws” (תוֹרֹת). (Gen 26:5) The gracious, monergistic nature of the promises did not preclude conditions as testified to in the potential curse/blessing signification of the covenant sign.

The uncircumcised male was to be “cut off” (כרת) which was to effect what was symbolized in potential by circumcision. If the sign of potential curse/blessing was not administered, then final judgment was to be enacted in the cutting off of that person from the covenant community. Such a non-compliant member of the community was to be treated as reprobate because the presence of covenant non-conformist presented a threat to the rest of the community (as in the case of Ex 4:24-26 and Josh 5:9).

Conversely circumcision signified consecration. While implicit in the act itself, it is explicit in that the removal of the foreskin represents setting apart for a sacred purpose. Leviticus 19:23 is instructive here.

When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden (ערל). Three years it shall be forbidden (ערל) to you; it must not be eaten.

Here the expression used to describe the fruit of the land is literally “uncircumcised.” “Forbidden” is the correct semantic equivalent here, but the point is that something uncircumcision is forbidden while its opposite constitutes holiness, as v. 24 makes clear.

And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy (קֹ֫דֶשׁ), an offering of praise to the LORD

To be circumcised is to be holy in the sense of “set apart.” As in the case of the fruit of the land, the circumcised person was dedicated to the Lord. This understanding of circumcision is reflected later in the prophet Jeremiah.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;
remove the foreskins of your heart,
O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest My wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of the evil of your deeds.
—Jer. 4:4

This proves significant in view of the sign representing the oath/curse of the covenant. People and things (e.g. tabernacle vessels) were to be set apart for the Lord, but the setting apart did not spare those things the curses of the covenant if they not did conform to the covenant as in the case of Nadab and Abihu as well as the camp of Israel as a whole. The law, through its divinely-authorized substitutes, provided remedies for covenant-breaking, but the existence of those provisions proves the point – to be in covenant with God is not to be spared divine judgment, but rather to be subject to potential curse or blessing.

Because circumcision was applied to the reproductive organ of the male, it also signified the corporate aspect of God’s covenant. This is true both of the sin factor—circumcision indicates the need for removal of sin—as well as the consecration factor. In other words, both in sin and salvation, God worked through families (see Ex. 34:7).

Note that the sign was to be applied to all eight-day-old males (v. 12). This is in contrast to surrounding practices of circumcision as a puberty rite, which was applied at entrance into adulthood, as well as its function as a caste distinction (for in the case of the Abrahamic covenant, it was open to Gentiles ([Gen. 17:12b]). Of course in the New Testament this egalitarianism is advanced further through the elimination of ethnic and gender distinctions for the common life of the church (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).[7]

In the Old Testament, circumcision was never to be regarded as a merely physical act. For example, ““Circumcise then the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” (Dt 10:16) or “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Dt 30:6) And “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; / remove the foreskin of your hearts, / O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Jer 4:4a)

The visible sign was never to be considered apart from an inward reality. Moreover, the visible community was never to be understood as coextensive with those who truly believed (see the diagram). Nevertheless it did not relieve anyone who was identified with the visible community of bearing the external sign. This is precisely because the sign was not a guarantor of blessing, but rather of potential curse or blessing depending upon whether the condition of true faith was met.

This is an important way in which circumcision and baptism correspond. Both are intended as outward signs of an inward reality. Among the baptized there would be the reprobate who, having tasted of covenant privileges and turning away, would be subject to a severer judgment. (Heb 6:4-6). This distinction belongs to the New Covenant as well as the Old. It is the only basis on which we can preach the prophetic warnings of the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament church.


By now it should be clear that though the sign of circumcision was administered according to the command of God, it did not signify only blessedness. It signified potential curse or blessing. And those who possessed the sign of the covenant while remaining covenant breakers would eventually be cut off from God’s people.[8] The curse symbolized in the oath sign would become a reality. In instances where circumcision did not signify the actual removal of sin from an individual because they did not act on the promises by faith, circumcision foreshadowed their removal from the presence of God and the people of God.

Having developed the meaning of circumcision in its Old Testament context, we may now consider its correspondence to its New Testament analog baptism. This comparison has its legitimacy in the fact that these two great signs were the signifiers of membership in the covenant community. One could not belong to the covenant people without the sign in their respective redemptive epochs. But Paul makes all the more clear the legitimacy of this comparison when he credits baptism as the means of the believer’s ultimate circumcision.

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)

How is it that circumcision is fulfilled by baptism? Here it is proper to interject that a journey not well begun is a journey that is difficult to complete. When we come to the question of whether paedobaptism is God’s will for the church we must start with the right question. Often it is asked, “Where in the New Testament are we commanded to baptize children?” While there are many ways of answering this question (see the standard works mentioned above which do so), it is the wrong question. If a Reformed hermeneutic sees fundamental continuity between the Old and New Testaments such that the covenant of grace as promised in Genesis 3 is administered through the various epochs of redemptive history until the fullness of time in the coming of Jesus Christ, then the question ought to be “Where does the New Testament command us to stop applying the covenant sign to children of believers?” Unlike the clear teaching of the New Testament regarding the fulfillment of the ceremonial law, there is nothing that remotely suggests that the children of believers are being placed outside the covenant community with the coming of Jesus. Such is a case built on inference.

If baptism was described as a guarantee of divine blessing, then there might be a case based on good and necessary consequence to do so. But the New Testament indicates that the sign of baptism functions in the same way as circumcision – a sign of potential accursedness or blessedness dependent upon whether God’s promises are met with faith in its recipient.

An illustration may help. Suppose I invite you to my home for dinner. Since you have never been to my house, you ask for directions. I tell you that there is no way to get off track. Simply take the main road until you come to my house. This is because, when I drive from my house to yours, there is not a single turn in the road. However, what I neglect to tell you, is that in driving from your house to mine there are forks at which other roads merge into our common road. They just happen to be forks pointed in your direction. When you are driving opposite of the way I would travel, you come to junctures which make the route unclear.

This is what it is like in general trying to read the Old Testament starting from the New Testament. Yes, we are to read the Old in the light of the New, but the New is completion of the Old Testament story. A few years ago I met a formerly renowned Reformed baptist pastor who had changed his view on the baptism of children. When I asked him how that happened, he replied, “I realized I needed to read the Bible like a Jewish mother instead of like a baptist pastor.”

On another occasion I was participating in the theological interview of a couple sensing a call to take the gospel to Yemeni Bedouins. Although they had not given the matter a full study, the husband said his leaning was toward believer’s baptism. I asked whether he had given full missiological consideration to the prospect of telling those Muslim Bedouins that after nearly four thousand years, their children would no longer be administered the sign of God’s covenant. It was that prospect which gave him the opportunity to reconsider. We rightly expect that the New Testament would give us at least one encounter in which Jesus or the apostles would tell Jews to take the children to the proverbial nursery, but we have only the opposite “bring them to me.”

Attempting to prove paedobaptism from the New Testament working back to the Old provides many opportunities for losing one’s way. There are multiple considerations which determines the turns one takes—sacramental theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, beliefs about spiritual formation, and others. All of these affect the extent and nature of the perceived continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments and, as such, constitute interpretive a priori which inherently allow and disallow certain conclusions. Those a priori are not above examination, but they at minimum demand awareness on our part.

Another interpretive impediment is treating circumcision as the fertile soil in which the legalistic formalism of works righteousness grows. The above references regarding heart circumcision should suffice to show that there is no basis for this prejudice, but so also is remembering that circumcision originates in the gospel soil of the Abrahamic covenant. Yes, Paul speaks of Abraham’s righteousness imputed by faith before he received the sign (Rom 4:11). But every male descendent of Abraham thereafter was to receive this sign “of the righteousness which is by faith” at eight days old. Circumcision was not a legalistic or formalistic overlay of Mosaic origins, but “a seal of the righteousness which is by faith.” Under the gracious arrangement of the Abrahamic covenant, the application of the sign of faith prior to the evidence of faith was normative. In fact, to wait until faith appeared risked being “cut off” for non-compliance.

Returning to the prior assertion that circumcision signified the curses of the covenant, we can see the same is true of baptism. While baptism does signify washing in some New Testament contexts (e.g. Acts 22:16), it is a polyvalent sign which also signifies a judgment ordeal in other contexts. In drawing the parallel between Noah’s flood, through which Noah’s family “were brought safely through water,” (1 Ptr 3:20) Peter wrote “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (v 21) Baptism is not a spiritual bath in that context, but rather a vindication based on union with Christ in his resurrection.

Similarly, the Red Sea through which Israel passed (but not in which they were immersed) refers to that judgment ordeal as “baptism.” (1 Cor 10:2) Perhaps most explicit is Rom 6:3-5.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Here baptism clearly signifies burial, going down into the grave, the curse of death. No Reformed baptist or paedobaptist would insist that baptism is a guarantee of deliverance from sin and death apart from saving faith. Even the person baptized as a believer must be justified by faith in order to rise with Christ through the judgment waters of baptism. The unbelieving baptized person is no less lost than the unbaptized unbeliever, just more accountable for having said he believed.

In this respect, baptism in the New Testament functions the same way as circumcision in the Old Testament; it signified potential curse or blessing contingent upon whether it is joined with faith. When it is joined with faith, the person is united to Christ both in death and resurrection. When it is not, baptism signifies the destiny of the unbeliever.

As mentioned above, one’s view of baptism is not wholly dependent upon one’s exegesis. Probably the most influential a priori influence is one’s view of the church. The paedobaptist sees the New Testament church as the natural and inevitable development of redemptive history, the fruition and fulfillment of the progress of redemption, in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the two rectangles juxtaposed in the above diagram represent the church in the New Testament just as well as the church of the Old, though with greater efficacy due to the inauguration of the kingdom of God through the work of Christ and the giving of the Spirit. Natural as well as grafted in branches may still be cut off (Rom 11:20-21). The New Testament continues to witness to presence of tares among the wheat, a reality which a faithful credo-baptist will acknowledge alongside his paedobaptist friend as he continues to call for faith and repentance even among the baptized.

However, when the credo-baptist insists that the church consist only of those in possession of saving faith, he is saying that those two rectangles must be identical—that there should be no distinction between those under covenant and those who are blessed. Up to this point we have seen that such a conception of the church goes contrary to the dual signification of both circumcision and baptism. And practically speaking, credobaptism does not effectively prevent unbelievers from receiving the covenant sign of baptism—especially as commonly practiced under revivalistic methods. The Reformed baptist must begrudgingly admit that vast majority of credo-baptists apply baptism as a result of a decision, not of conversion. It is hoped that these decisions represent conversions, but often they do not. Conversion can only be judged by careful examination and sustained observation. Paedobaptists have not cornered the market on nominalism.

Similarly, credo-baptists (like paedobaptists) will encourage their children to call God “Father” and to act “as if” they believe until that time a credible profession is manifested. They do not (with rare exceptions) forbid them from praying the Lord’s Prayer until an age of discretion. They may even encourage their pre-convert children to memorize it.

The church is to view itself as the true circumcision. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) Physical circumcision is set aside as a requirement for believers in the New Testament because the Jewish-Gentile, male-female followers of Christ constitute the consummated people of God (Gal 5:6).

But while abrogating circumcision as the external sign of inclusion among God’s people, Paul explicitly connects it to baptism as the new sign specifically in relation to its signification of potential covenant curse and blessing in what may be called “the true circumcision of Jesus.”

It is true that Jesus was circumcised physically on the eight day according to the stipulations of the Law (Lu 2:21), but Col 2:11 refers to a greater, more significant, circumcision. Paul there explains how followers of Jesus, as the true circumcision, have been circumcised.

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)

Our circumcision was achieved by “the circumcision of Christ” which had the effect of uniting us with Christ in baptism. Here the connection is very direct – baptism accomplishes the consummate circumcision.[9] But to what does “the circumcision of Christ” refer? The two principal options for understanding the genitive “of Christ,” both grammatically possible, are the subjective genitive – Christ has circumcised us – or the objective genitive – Christ himself was circumcised. The correct semantic choice between subjective and objective must be determined by the context and that context is provided by Col 1:21-22.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…

What becomes clear through this context is that Christ’s death is what reconciles us to God, makes us holy and blameless, removes our reproach, and presents us before Christ. It makes clear that the genitive of 2:11 is an objective genitive, that Christ was circumcised (i.e. “cut off”). In Christ’s atoning work he was cut off, exiled, purged from among the blessed, subjected to the curses of the covenant. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal 3:13) Thus now the curse has been fulfilled for us by him and in him so that we are reconciled to God. If we are united to him by faith, we are also raised with him from death (Col 3:1-3). Jesus Christ did not merely trim away our reproach (subjective genitive), but he became a reproach. And thus, in his passive obedience, he fulfills what Isaiah wrote:

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people? (Is 53:8)

The covenant signs of circumcision and baptism, just as the covenants themselves, demonstrate great unity in their purpose. As outward signs they could never be the substance of saving faith, but they, in their respective epochs of redemptive history, serve as aids to faith as, through them, God would signify membership among the people of God. This was so that faith could be learned through the warnings of the curses embodied in them and the prospect of covenant bliss in the blessing offering. If baptism is a sign of faith it has no precursor in redemptive history, but as a sign of membership in the covenant community which holds forth blessedness in believing and being cut off for unbelief, it is a resounding voice in the chorus of covenant witnesses through the ages until “the fullness of time” and until the consummation of the ages.

  1. The primary popular works at that time being John Murray, Christian Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980/92); Francis Schaeffer, Baptism (Wilmington, DE: TriMark Publishing, 1976); and John P. Sartelle, What Christians Parents Should Know about Infant Baptism (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1985). This article does not attempt to repeat their reasoning, but to supplement them.
  2. Principally in his By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968). While certain fundamental aspects of Kline’s understanding of covenants in the Ancient Near East have been reworked, revised, and challenged, the case made in this paper relies upon a limited aspect which is not impacted by these criticisms. This article is written with awareness of the credobaptist critiques such as Duane Garrett’s “Meredith Kline on Suzerainty, Circumcision, and Baptism,” Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright (B&H Academic, 2007): 257-284. Garrett seeks to refute Kline’s connection between circumcision and baptism in three ways: 1) general critiques of Kline’s covenant construct based on developments in ANE covenant studies, 2) specific textual arguments to negate the continuity, and 3) direct analysis of the important Colossians 2:11-12 passage. A lengthy treatment by an esteemed scholar such as Garrett deserves to be fully addressed and not dismissed which is not the intent here, but it can’t be done adequately and still be a straightforward presentation of the subject of this article. My own assessment of Garrett is threefold as well. 1) While some of Kline’s conclusions and constructs have been overturned by subsequent scholarship, the specific matter of the connection made in Colossians 2:11-12 is not ultimately dependent upon them. The same could be said of Garrett’s inability to see the important covenantal context of the biblical wisdom material. 2) While the specific textual arguments need assessed, they generally are the product of hermeneutical approach and at times exegetically overreach. For example, Garrett’s assertion that the “not like” of the New Covenant (Jer 31:32) means something like “completely unlike” eliminates any continuity between the sign, a continuity of some type which Colossians 2:11-12 apparently perceives, as does his “all or nothing” choice between autosoteric sacerdotalism or credobaptism. 3) Garrett’s remaining points deserve to be addressed, such as whether scriptures teaches that circumcision is simply “the I.D. card for membership in the community,” (264) especially in light of Romans 4:11 description of it as a “seal of the righteousness he [Abraham] had by faith.” The following discussion implicitly deals with those.
  3. Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.
  4. Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14; cf. Ex. 32).
  5. Ex 16:3; 17:3; Num 11:5, 18; 14:3; 20:5; 21:5
  6. Kline 41.
  7. One cannot extrapolate this automatically to issues of hierarchy within the church. Note that where there is a gender issue in dispute, Paul omits the male/female portion of his egalitarian formula so as not to be misunderstood as contradicting himself (1 Cor. 12:13).
  8. Cf. Ex 12:15; 12:19; 30:33; 30:38; 31:14; Lev 7:20; 7:21; 7:25; 7:27; 17:4; 17:9; 17:10; 17:14; 18:29; 19:8; 20:3; 20:5; 20:6; 20:17; 20:18; 22:3; 23:29; Num 4:18; 9:13; 15:30; 15:31; 19:13; 19:20; Judg 21:6; 1 Sam 2:33; Pss 37:9, 22, 28.
  9. Not, of course, apart from faith as the condition of union with Christ.