Is baptism related to circumcision? Is baptism the New Covenant version of circumcision?
God's covenant with Abraham, made in Genesis 15, was confirmed with the sign of circumcision, given in Genesis 17. Abraham faithfully practiced circumcision with his family, and Jewish people after that time followed suit.
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In the New Testament, Jesus commanded those who believe in Him to be baptized (Matthew 28:18–20) and was even baptized as an example for us (Matthew 3). Baptism does not save a person, yet serves as a public testimony that a person has believed in Jesus as God's risen Son and Savior.
The Reformed Protestant tradition makes a parallel between circumcision and baptism in its teaching about the baptism of infants, suggesting that because Jewish infants were circumcised, infants born into a Christian family should be baptized. However, this parallel is inappropriate in many ways. Most obvious is the fact that circumcision was only for males, while baptism is for all believers in Jesus.
Second, circumcision was the sign of a covenant that had a physical means of entrance. Even in the Old Testament there is recognition that circumcision and being a member of the nation of Israel was not enough for salvation. Deuteronomy 10:16 records Moses commanding the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, saying later that it is God who would do the circumcising (Deuteronomy 30:6). Jeremiah 4:4 mentions something similar. Baptism, on the other hand, is an outward sign of an inward change. No physical change takes place; rather it is a demonstration of a spiritual change that has taken place.
Third, circumcision was given to every Jewish male as an infant. In the New Testament, only those who believed in Jesus were baptized.
The apostle Paul discussed circumcision from a Christian perspective as well. In Romans 2:28–29 he wrote, "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." Just as a Jew was expected to both be circumcised and live for God, a Christian is called to believe and to live for the Lord.
In Colossians 2:11–12 Paul also notes, "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, 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." It is salvation that is the "spiritual circumcision," not baptism.
First Corinthians 7:19 declares, "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." Circumcision was a sign for the Jewish people. Baptism is a symbolical gesture made by Christians. While both have served as important aspects of God's work, baptism is not the entrance into the New Covenant. Rather, it is a symbolic demonstration of salvation in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8–9).
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