2:11-12 – Doesn’t This Replace Circumcision With Baptism?
by Michael Bugg
This passage can only be interpreted as replacing circumcision with
water immersion by ignoring one of two key Biblical doctrines: 1) That we are not born into the Messiah's Covenant (as
one is into the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants), but are re-born into it
(Jn. 3), or 2) that those who are immersed (baptized) are identifying
themselves with the Messiah's death and starting a new life.
In whom also ye are circumcised
with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins
of the flesh by the circumcision of the Messiah: Buried with Him in baptism,
wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God,
who hath raised Him from the dead.
It is very common in most
Christian denominations to regard Baptism as a New Testament replacement for
circumcision. And since Israelite children were to be circumcised on the eighth
day, this becomes justification for infant baptism.However, this belief falls apart under closer examination.
First of all, the problem as well as the sprinkling vs. immersion issue wouldn't
exist if we made it a point to understand baptizo in its original Jewish
cultural context: That of the mikveh. A mikveh was a ritual
immersion which symbolized cleansing from sin and ritual impurity. When a
Gentile became circumcised, they also immersed in the mikveh not only to
be ritually purified, but to symbolize dying (being "buried" in the
water) to their old, heathen lives and being reborn from the water as from the
womb's amniotic fluid to their new lives as Jews.
Yochanan HaTivlei, aka John the Baptist, was not creating a new ritual, but was
using an existing traditional practice in a new way: Instead of only Gentiles
"dying" to their old lives and being raised anew as Jews, Jews who had
been living in sin were "dying" and being "reborn" in an act
of repentance. However, that wouldn't necessarily be the last time they ever
ritually immersed. They would immerse if they became ritually unclean, for
example, before going to the
. Jews also commonly (and still do today) ritually immerse on Yom Kippur
as a demonstration of repentance.
It's truly sad that we have so far removed the Gospel from its original context
that we get into debates over whether a person who was "baptized" as a
child needs to be baptized upon coming into an adult faith. Indeed, during the
Reformation wars, the followers of Zwingli were known for drowning the
Anabaptists (so called because they insisted on the necessity of being
"baptized again" upon receiving Christ).
However, while I believe that ritually immersing need not be restricted to the
baptism one receives upon receiving Yeshua in faith, let's concentrate on that
particular mikveh for a moment, and call it "baptism" for the
sake of a convenient modern term. The question is, does baptism replace
circumcision, and should infants therefore be “circumcised” with baptism?
The Biblical answer is clearly no. One has to reject at least one of two clear
Biblical teachings in order to hold to infant baptism:
That we are not born into the Messiah's Covenant (as
one is into the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants), but are re-born into it (Jn.
Those who are immersed (baptized) are identifying
themselves with the Messiah's death--i.e., dying to self--and are being
raised again with Him into a new life in which one is dedicated to God (Col.
2:10-12, Gal. 3:27). An infant hasn't got an "old life" to die to
As we've seen
in detail, no covenant in Scripture abrogates a previous one, nor does the
New Covenant replace the Torah. Indeed, Yeshua affirmed the whole Torah,
never once criticized the Torah in any way, and only challenged the man-made
traditions which either turned it into a burden or which perverted or annulled
So then, for Messianic Jewish parents to circumcise their child as a mark that
he was born into the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants is not only appropriate, but
commanded in Scripture. A Jewish child is the natural inheritor of those
covenants from birth, while the Christian is only adopted into Abraham's greater
family at the time of their Spiritual circumcision, when they personally enter
into a covenant with the Messiah. Am I then claiming that a Jew is saved by
virtue of being a Jew? Not at all! For those who are born into the Mosaic
Covenant are likewise subject to the curses pronounced by the Torah for
those who disobey it (Deu. 27:15ff), and there is no one who keeps the Torah
perfectly, no one who is without sin! It was these curses that Yeshua took on
Himself at the Cross so that we would not have to suffer them (Gal. 3:10-13),
and the Jew needs that redemption most of all, for they are held to the highest
standard of all by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is why a Jew is both circumcised at birth and receives mikveh at the
time of his Spiritual Rebirth--they are the seals of two separate covenants.
For Gentile Christian parents to dedicate their child to the Lord before the
congregation is likewise appropriate. Such a dedication declares to all that
they will raise the child to love and fear God and follow His commandments, but
does not pretend to replace the child's personal re-birth.
What is not appropriate is to "water down" (if you'll pardon the pun)
the immersion into the Messiah by sprinkling those who have not yet been born
again in the Spirit and have not received the Spirit's circumcision of the heart
(the promise of Jeremiah's prophecy) and calling it "baptism."
To summarize: Jews are born, and that is why they are circumcised immediately
after birth. However, believers in the Messiah Yeshua, whether we call them
Christians or Messianics, are not born but re-born, so to "circumcise"
them with infant baptism, years before they are born in the Spirit, would be
like trying to circumcise a Jewish child in the womb. The only way one can
justify baptizing infants is to claim that they need not be born again in the
Spirit to enter the Messiah's Covenant (which would be a complete repudiation of
the entire NT) or to claim that even those who are truly "born again"
may fall away from the Covenant.