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THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT BY THE UNITED FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND
We are grateful to the UFC for permission to publish the following paper in full.  We believe readers will find it an immensely valuable theological and practical document.  It was prepared for their General Assembly in 2001.

UFCOS website is www.ufcos.org.uk 

THE BAPTISM OF CHILDREN

Old Testament Evidence 

Those who argue against the baptism of children have one major advantage, i.e. the brevity with which their case can be stated. Some have stated the case in a single sentence, e.g. "There is no concrete evidence for infant baptism in the New Testament." Others may wish to add something along the lines of, "Baptism is for those who have repented and placed their trust in Jesus Christ and cannot, therefore, before infants." The position is simple and therefore attractive. Colin Buchanan has summarisedthe case against infant baptism in a slightly longer and certainly more scholarlyand careful form. A Case fori nfant Baptism, Grove Books 1973, p 4.   His purpose also is to illustrate the attractiveness of a brief statement and the difficulty of countering a brief statement with a more complex argument. Having presented his summary he observes, "There is no 30-second short statement of the paedobaptist case. But that of itself does not pre-judge the result of the hearing – in many a court a deceptively simply plea of innocence by the defence has to be met, and is successfully met, by afar more detailed and complex case for the prosecution."A Case for infant Baptism, Grove Books 1973, p 4.

The matter of infant baptism must be resolved not on arguments from silence, nor on difficulties we confront in the practice of child baptism (there are many Christian beliefs which present greater difficulties), but by looking at the evidence of the whole Bible. The evidence should include circumstantial evidence, i.e. we seek to ascertain the truth by looking atall the known facts and by drawing inferences from those facts which would be difficult to explain otherwise.circumstantial as"tending to establish a conclusion by inference from known facts hard to explain otherwise". Moreover we must take on board that the case for the baptism of children is of a cumulative nature and that it is none the worse for it. We should certainly not reject it for the sake of brevity or simplicity. If we are to "rightly divide the word of truth" we must gather all the evidenceand present it as the evidence itself demands that it be presented, as a consistentwhole.

  1. Old Testament evidence

The New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old. Twice in the same verse Jesus tells us that he had not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them.   Chrysostom stated: "(Jesus') sayings were no repeal of the former, but a drawing-out and filling up of them".Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew  Part I (trans. George Prevost), Oxford 1843, p 229. To introduce adichotomy between the two Testaments was the heresy of Marcion. Jesus' relationship with the Old Testament is one of "organic continuity".Christian Counter-culture  IVP p 72. New Testament theology has its roots in the Old Testament.This is true for every aspect of theology. Any attempt to develop, for example, a doctrine of Christ or of the Trinity without reference to the Old Testament would be inadequate. Every doctrine has to be seen in context, and every doctrine has its roots. That is as true with Baptism as it is with the Trinity. To consider it without reference to the Old Testament would be irresponsible. As GW Bromiley has expressed it, "Christ did not come, nor did Christian faith arise, in a vacuum. A particular  background and context had been prepared. Our Lord and the disciples already had the Word of God. They were steeped in it, and they appealed to it. They were not setting it aside but consciouslyfulfilling it." Children of Promise, Wipf and Stock Publishers 1998 (Eerdmans), p 12.

There are at least two elements of the Old Testament revelation which have a bearing upon our consideration of infant baptism: the Old Testament understanding and experience of "family" and the Old Testament understanding and experience of "covenant". The two are closely related, as CJH Wright has observed: "religiously, the household had a crucial role in maintaining the covenant relationship between the nation and God and in preserving its traditions throughout succeeding generations." God's People in God's Land: Family, Land and Property in the Old Testament , Paternoster 1997, pp 1f.

Family life in the days of the patriarchs was semi-nomadic and families were especially large. John Bimson tells us," Although the narrative often says that Abraham, Isaac or Jacob 'pitched his  tent' in such-and-such a place (e.g. Gen 12.8; 26.25; 33.19), we must not imagine that one tent housed the whole group. The Old Testament itself speaks in places of several separate tents (e.g. 31.33). As well as the patriarchs' large families, there were also herdsmen and male and female servants attached to the household… When Lot's family needed rescuing from an alliance of invading kings, Abraham was able to gather 318 fighting men from amonghis household (Gen 14.14). This suggests a total of several hundred people for the whole group…. The tents of the patriarch's families and servants must have comprised a very extensive encampment. The wives of the patriarchs evidently had their own tents (Gen 24.67; 31.33), probably next to, and perhaps connected with, those of their husbands." Ibid, pp 48f.

Inevitably, with the passing of several hundred years and their prolonged enslavement in Egypt, significant changes had taken place for the descendants of the patriarchs by the time of their return to Palestine. One significant change was their numerical growth. From being a large and powerful family they had become a nation of people subdivided into smaller units, i.e., tribes, then clans and finally families (Jos 7.14).The clan was a territorial unit as well as a group united by ties of blood. It often corresponded to a whole town or village community. So, for example, in a list of clans in the tribe of  Manasseh we find names which were alsothe names of towns (Num 26.28-34).Ibid, p 119.   The family or household unit remained, however, the basic unit of Israelitesociety. The Hebrew word bayith in Jos 7.14 is translated 'family'in most modern translations (e.g. NIV, NEB, Good News) and 'household' inmost older translations (e.g. AV, RV, RSV). It is used both of a family (2Kings 8.1f ) and of the building in which the family lived (2 Kings 4.2).

Another significant change for Israelites livingin Palestine was that the semi-nomadic life of the patriarchs had largely given way to village or town life. Archaeological excavations have revealed that village houses were small and basic. Bimson describes two typical villages: "Most houses at Khirbet et-Tell and Raddana were rectangular with only two or three rooms at ground level and a sleeping loft… A family of four or five probably slept together in the one sleeping loft… houses were cramped by modern standards… A typical family unit occupying a village house probably consisted of a father and mother and two or three children… the houses were arranged in compounds. Each compound consisted of usually three (sometimes two) houses and a shared courtyard. These compounds represent multiple or extended families, each with about a dozen members. A typical multiple family might consist of a father and mother, their married sons with their wives and children, as well as any unmarried brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of the original couple. There might also be a surviving great-grandparent in the family…"The World of the Old Testament , Scripture Union 1988, pp 52-57.

In a family of, say, three generations "the head of the household would have been the grandfather. In the event of his death, his married son and their families may have remained together as a single household, in which case the head of the family would have been the eldes son…"Ibid, p 57. Although headship ofthe family was normally male it was not unknown for a widow to become head of a household. So, for example, the woman of Shunem who gave hospitality to Elisha acted as the head of her household, took her family to Philistia for seven years and reclaimed the family estate on their return (2 Kings8.1-6).

Important for us is the role of the head of the household. Whether he was the grandfather or father (more common with the passing of time) he had "complete authority over the family, not just in practical matters but in religious ones too" (J Drane).The New Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible, J Drane (Ed.), Lion 1998, p 94. Bimsondescribes the influence and responsibility of the head of the family in Israelite society.

"Within his family he exercised a kind of judicial authority. It was expected that a man would use his authority to ensure the responsible and godly conduct of his sons (1 Sam 2.22-36; 8.1-5)… The family head was also the protector of the whole household. No one suspected of an offence could be seized byhis accusers without the authority of the head of the household (Jud 6.30f;2 Sam 14.7). Only a fool failed to protect his family from injustice (Job5.4). The responsibility of a family head in this respect is only fully appreciated when we remember the scope of a household. The household was naturally responsible for the care of those of its members who were sick, elderly or disabled,and for its servants… Those who did not belong to households of their own, such as foreigners, widows and orphans, faced destitution (which could ultimately mean death from starvation) unless society made some provision for them. The Mosaic code therefore contained laws to ensure that people in those categories were cared for (e.g. Deut 24.19-21; 26.12-13). Heads of households would have been responsible for putting such concerns into practice (cf. Job 29.13-16).In short, the family was the institution which cared for the sick and the poor, and the family head was the protector of all those under his roof. It is not surprising that Israel saw God as its 'father' (Is 64.8; Mal 1.6; etc.). The World of the Old Testament, Scripture Union 1988, pp 120f.

A crucialaspect of the family in the Old Testament was its spiritual solidarity, anaspect which we find also in the New Testament. As Pierre Marcel states, "The family forms a collective entity… In God's eyes parents and their children are one. By divine right parents are the authorised representativesof their children; they act for them; they engage in spiritual obligationsbecause of them and for them, and also in their name. Such is the order ofGod. It is for that reason that in every case when parents enter into thecovenant in the capacity of proselytes they do so together with their minorchildren"The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism,JamesClarke 1953 (trans. PE Hughes), p 117. The excessive individualism of our modern era is, of course, completely alien not only to the Old Testamentconcept of family life and of parenthood, but also to the New Testament conceptof the same. It is this biblical emphasis of family solidarity that lay atthe very heart of the covenant which God established with Abraham and hisdescendants.

  1. Covenant

The teaching of the Old Testament onthe overarching topic of covenant was of fundamental importance atthe time of the Reformation for Reformers such as John Calvin and John Knox.It was particularly important for their understanding of baptism. Here itis necessary to explore the biblical concept as we have it in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament the relationship between God and his people is expressed in a variety of ways, two of the most important being (a) covenant and (b) fatherhood and sonship (God is the fatherof Israel, Israel is the son and heir of God ). In both concepts the relationship was initiated and sustained by God . They are his people because he set his love upon them and chose them for himself (Deut 7.6-7). In both concepts there is an obligation laid upon the people by God. According to CJH Wright "it is Israel's sonship which united the indicativeand the imperative", God's People in God's Land , Paternoster1997, p 21. i.e. God's gracious choice of Israel and the obligationslaid upon Israel. The comment of J McCarthy on Jer 31.9 emphasises the closeconnection between the covenant relationship and the father-son relationship and, therefore, the personal nature of the covenant: "The restoration of Israelis the restoration of the father-son relationship. This is the context governedby 31.1, that is, by the proclamation of a new and better union between Yahwehand Israel based on a new covenant. Thus, in the mind of Jeremiah the covenantrelationship and the father-son relationship were not incompatible, they wereessentially the same thing."Notes on the Love of God in Deuteronomyand the Father-Son Relationship between Yahweh and Israel ,Catholic Biblical Quarterly 27 (1965), pp 144-147.Quoted by JH Wright, God's People in God's Land, Paternoster 1997,p 21.

The covenant between God and his people had itsorigin in God and in God's dealings with Abraham. It came about through God'sinitiative. He established it. It was his grace that brought it into being.The covenant however had its obligations: "you must keep my covenant" (Gen17.9). While the descendants of Abraham did not become God's people by keepingthe obligations they could renounce God and his covenant and take themselvesbeyond the pale of his covenant. There is no such thing as a covenant withoutobligations. As Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commands!" (John 14.15).

It can hardly be overstated that fundamental to the covenant is the unique relationship which God established between himself and the people he brought into existence. It was essentially a spiritual covenant.There were material benefits, primarily the promise of land, i.e. the landof Canaan, for their inheritance. But the material benefits were secondary to the extraordinary benefit of God's personal commitment to Abraham and hisdescendants: "to be your God and the God of your descendants" (Gen17.7,8). Asking the question, "What was the Abrahamic covenant in the highest reaches of its meaning?" John Murray responds, "Undeniably and simply, 'I will be your God, and you shall be my people.'"Christian Baptism , Presbyterian and Reformed 1880, p 47. A more literal rendering of Gen 17.7 would be, "I will be God for you…" Hence in Deut 7.6 we read, "you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession."

The covenant made with Abraham was inseparably bound up with Abraham's faith. In Genesis 12 we read of Abraham's faith and obedience as God instructed him to leave his country and his people to go to a land that God would show him. At that time the promise was given that all people on earth would be blessed through Abraham. In Genesis 15 God promises what was humanly speaking impossible, a son who would be Abraham's heir. It was further promised that Abraham's descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Abraham believed God, we are told, and "it was reckoned to him as righteousness"(v 6). The account in chapter 15 concludes: "On that day the Lord madea covenant with Abraham…" (v 18). Significantly Abraham was to becomeknown as the father of all the faithful. In Genesis 17 God confirms  (v 17) his covenant with Abraham and expands on it: Abraham was to be thefather of many nations; the covenant was to be an everlasting covenant(v 7); God was to be Abraham's God and the God of his descendants (v 7); thesign of the covenant was to be circumcision (vv 10f); circumcisionwas not to be optional (to be uncircumcised was to be cut off from God's people,v 14). Not only was Abraham himself to undergo circumcision so too was everymember of his household, whether son or slave , ("whether born in your householdor bought with money", v 13). Hamilton puts this in a striking way, "The firstbornson is no more in the covenant tradition than the slave. Hierarchialism givesway to egalitarianism." The Bookof Genesis Chapters 1-17, Eerdmans 1990, p 473. Every male child born into the household wasto be circumcised at the age of eight days (Gen 17.12; Lev 12.3). Not onlyslaves but all foreigners who wished to join the covenant people werealso required to undergo circumcision(Gen 34.13-17). In fact only those whohad been circumcised were allowed to take part in the celebration of the Passover(Ex 12.48f) which was a feast for the covenant community. All this illustrateshow close was the relationship between the covenant and its sign, so closein fact that circumcision can be spoken of as the covenant, "My covenantin your flesh is to bean everlasting covenant" (Gen 17.13b). Hamilton observes,"The designation of circumcision itself as a covenant is a synedochenew faces at the meeting; England lost by six wickets  (OED). for covenantal obligation: 'this is [the aspect of] my covenantyou must keep'."The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17,Eerdmans 1990, p 470.

In the context of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis17) reference is made to Abraham's descendants six times (vv 7-10,19) andto the "generations to come" three times (vv 7, 9-10). It is a covenant establishedby God with Abraham and Abraham's descendants (v 7). We discover, when we reach the New Testament, that there is more to this than originally met the eye. We may at least anticipate that Abraham's descendants would include God's people under the New Covenant every bit as much as they included God's people under the Old.the natural children …butthe children of the promise…" (J Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP 1994, pp 266f).

It is of particular interest that Abraham, underGod's direction, should have circumcised Ishmael. According to the angel announcing his birth Ishmael would be "a wild donkey of a man" (Gen 16.12),i.e., "aforlorn and friendless figure".Hosea, Anchor1980, p 505. The wild donkey is the onager whose habitat is in waste places (Job 39.5-8; Is 32.14; Hos 8.9). Anderson comments, "We should not take it for granted that in Israel the ass was proverbial for stupidity…"   More crucially Ishmael and his descendants would not feature in God's covenantpurposes. The Jewish people were descendants of Isaac, not Ishmael. God establishedhis covenant with the descendants of Isaac, not those of Ishmael. So far as the covenant is concerned it is the descendants of Isaac not of Ishmael who were the heirs of promise. According to God it was through Isaac that Abraham's covenantal offspring would be named (Gen 21.12). Ishmael and Isaac were bothcircumcised as children of Abraham yet there is a great gulf between the twoin the biblical perception of them (in both Old and New Testaments). A majorargument of Paul in Galatians 4 (under law or under grace, vv 21-31)depends on the difference between Isaac and Ishmael in God's purposes. The significance of this for our discussion together with the significance of the difference between Jacob and Esau (sons of Isaac) in God's purposes is well summed up by C Buchanan.

"The difference between the two sons in each generation is perfectly clear.  The sheer fact of birth to a family which had been specially called of Goddid not of itself confer any automatic membership of the elect people ofGod.  The fathers in each case circumcised both sons… but the circumcision,although it carried a divine significance, did not attest any automatic  inheritance… (Circumcision) is not a fleshly, earthly sign, of a fleshly, earthly people of God.  It is from the beginning the sign of God's election, which is given to the offspring of God's people without distinguishing at the point of birth how they are to grow up in the purposes of God.  And here,perhaps, is a very cogent model for an understanding of the role o finfant baptism." A Case for Infant Baptism, Grove Books 1973, p 11.

Commenting on Esau and twin brother Jacob JGSS Thomson writes, "Esau symbolises those whom God has not elected; Jacob typifies those whom God has chosen." The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Ed. JD Douglas), article on Esau, IVP 1980. Yet Esau, ancestor of the Edomites, was circumcised along with his brother. Macleod has a perceptive comment on the significance of the circumcision of Ishmael and Esau for the baptism of infants.

"Why do I baptise children? Is it because I believe that the infants of allbelieving parents are elect? No! Is it because I believe that the infantsof all believing parents will one day be born again? No! Is it because I believe that one day they will all accept God for themselves? No! It is because God gave me an ordinance: Put the sign of the spiritual covenant on the physicalseed. At the very beginning of this arrangement God put Ishmael and Esau there to remind us that we were not to do this on the ground that we knew theologically how the thing worked. We were to do it because God said it. In the case ofIshmael and Esau it seemed not to work. It wasn't related to any rationaleof its effectiveness. It was done (and it is still done) on the ground thatGod said, 'Put the sign of my promise not only on yourselves but also on yourchildren. '"A Faith to LiveBy, Christian Focus 1998, pp 219f.

There isan interesting question with respect to circumcision as a sign which is notwithout relevance to baptism. For whom was it a covenant sign?The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 , Eerdmans1990, p 470.  There are three possibilities. (a) The outsider. In Gen4.15 the sign onCain identifies him to the outsider as one under divine protection.(b) God. In Gen 9.16 the sign of the rainbow is a reminder to God,"when I see it, I will remember". In Ex 12.13 the blood on the door-postsat Passover is also a sign to God, "when I see the blood, I will pass overyou". (c) The person circumcised (including his family). Signs generally inthe Bible are for the people to whom they were given, e.g. the sign of theSabbath in Ex 31.12-17. (a) The outsider , is slightly problematic inview of the fact that circumcision did not identify Israelites as such. Manywho were not Israelites practised the same rite (sometimes as a puberty ritesometimes as a marriage rite) though not usually with reference to babies.As Hamilton observes, however, "The Hebrews alone focussed on the intimaterelationship between a covenant from God and circumcision as a mark of thatcovenant."The Book of Geneses Chapters 1-17 , Eerdmans1990, p 472. (b) God, is a strong contender. (c) The personcircumcised, is likewise a strong contender. The fact that circumcision is a sign of the covenant, i.e. of the special relationship between God andhis people, leaves open any or all of the three possibilities.

Psalm 74 refers to a national disaster of catastrophicproportions. It refers specifically to the destruction of the temple and is generally held to reflect the Babylonian devastation of Jerusalem followedby the Babylonian exile (cf. Ps 79). It is a lament, full of pathos. It seemedthat God had forgotten, even rejected, his people. The Psalmist writes outof the utmost perplexity and desperation. And in the latter part of his desperate prayer he begs God, "Have regard for your covenant" (v 20). In his desperation he remembers that he is a child of the covenant, that he bears the sign oft he covenant on his own body, that God's covenant is for ever, that God cannot ignore or break his own covenant and desert or reject his own people. Andso he pleads the covenant. He reminds himself of the covenant and he dares to remind God of the covenant. Spurgeon described this verse as "the masterkey" to the Psalmist's pleading.The Treasury of David, vol 2a, 'Psalms 58-87, Zondervan 1966, pp 275f. See also P Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, James Clarke 1953 (trans. PE Hughes),pp 110f. God's covenant with its sign was not intended for theological reflection but for personal and corporate appropriation. The Psalmist's experience is not unlike the experience of Martin Luther when he, also in the depths of despair, was able to plead his baptism and all that it represented: "I have been baptised!"

It may be helpful to summarise the salient points already made and to add others which do not require detailed discussion.

  1. The covenant had its origin in God's dealings with Abraham. It was a covenant of grace established and maintained by God.
  2. The covenant was inseparably bound up with Abraham's faith through which God accepted him as righteous.
  3. Although there were material benefits the covenant was essentially spiritual and personal, God would be God for his people.
  4. The covenant was an everlasting covenant with permanent significance.
  5. To be included within the covenant necessarily carried with it obligations to the God and people of the covenant.
  6. The sign of the covenant, circumcision, was not a private, individualistic experience, it was to be administered to every male member of the household: sons, servants and other members of the extended family.
  7. Children were to receive the sign of the covenant on the eighth day after birth solely because God had commanded it.

Females had no sign corresponding to circumcision. An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective , Fortress 1988, pp 62-64) notes that the further directive in Scripture (e.g.Deut 10.16; 30.6) about the circumcision of the heart transfers a physical act possible only for males, to a symbolic act, possible for all human beings. See the footnote in Hamilton, p 470. They were included in the covenant as members of the family.

  1. The mark of the covenant was ineradicable. It could not be undone. Not only was the covenant to have permanent significance, so too was the sign of the covenant. For those who remained within the covenant it would be a reminder of God's blessing. For those who took themselves outside the covenant it would be a reminder of their alienation.
  2. The sign of the covenant was a sign possibly to God, possibly to his people, possibly to the world at large.
  3. Abraham's descendants were to include God's people under the New as well as the Old Covenant.
  4. The Covenant with its sign provides the basis for faith and hope in hard days.

It would be difficult to explore the topic of covenant as we have it in the Old Testament without reference to the Mosaic covenant established with Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 19.5) and renewed in Moses' final charge to the nation prior to his death (Deut 29.1). The Mosaic covenant has sometimes been presented as though it supplanted the covenant made with Abraham. Perhaps the most popular expression of this approach is to be found in dispensationalist theology, particularly that of the Scofield Reference Bible which describes the Mosaic covenant as a "covenant of works" whereby salvation depends on obedience to the law. It is more in keeping with the biblical narrative to regard the giving of the law at Sinai as a provision of grace. The law was given to regulate the life of those who were already the people of God, not to establish a new way by which the Israelites could be accepted as God's people. When the people of Israel resorted to the idolatrous worship of the golden calf, after the giving of the law, it was on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant that Moses successfully based his plea for God to avert his anger. Of course, every covenant has its obligations as well as it privileges, including the New Covenant. The conditional "if" is as important to the New Testament as it is to the Old. We demonstrate the reality of what we are by keeping his commands. The mark of the covenant in the Old Testament was always a sign of God's gracious dealings with his own people– both before and after Sinai. As Paul makes abundantly clear in Gal3.17f: "The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise."

COVENANT OBLIGATIONS WITH RESPECT TO Children

The family had a vital role to play in Israel's ongoing relationship with God, especially "as a vehicle of continuityfor the faith, history, and traditions of Israel". Ibid, p 81. Fundamental to this role was the responsibility of the father (or whoever was the head of the household) to instruct children within the family in the ways of God, as God himself had revealed them. Such instruction was regarded as a "solemn obligation". There are instances in the Old Testament where this obligation is placed fairly and squarely on those responsible for such instruction. 

1. Deut 6.6-7: "These commandments thatI give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

2. Deut 11.18f: "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and 

3. Deut 32.46: "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law." Their future would depend upon it.

In addition to this didactic form of instruction there was a place for catechetical instruction. The "question and answer" format adopted by Presbyterians was an essential ingredient of Jewish life. It provided the means whereby Jewish ceremonies, especially those associated with the Exodus, could be explained to children by the head of the household. There are several instances in the Old Testament where this form of teaching is required.

1. Passover. "When your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord…'" Ex 12.26f

2. Consecration of the first born. "In the days when your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' say to him, 'With a mighty hand the Lord brought us up out of Egypt… When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every firstborn in Egypt… This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons…'" Ex 13.14)

3. Laws commanded by God. "When your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?' tell him, 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive…'" Deut 6.20-24  

4. Crossing of the Jordan. "When your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow ofthe Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord…'" Jos 4.6-7

5. Crossing of the Jordan. "When your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground…'" Jos 4.21f  

As Wright observes the catechetical pattern was introduced to "'prime' the child with questions as a 'springboard 'for the teaching of specific religious history and belief". Ibid, p 83, quoting JA Soggin, Legends and Catechesis, p 76.   Whether the teaching of children was didactic or catechetical it was a solemn, God-ordained obligation for the well-being of both family and nation.

  1. Israel and the ChristianChurch

While it is possible to be over-simplistic in describing the relationship between the nation of Israel and the Christian Church, i.e. the people of God under the old covenant and the people of God under the new covenant, most Christians recognise that there is a close relationship between the two and that the latter is the fulfilment of the former. In a book that deals not with a New Testament theology of the church but with the "socio-economic life of ancient Israel" CJH Wright draws attention to the profound relevance of Israel for Christians: "In New Testament theology the Christian Church, as the community of the Messiah, is the organic continuation of Israel. It is heir to the names and privileges of Israel, and therefore also falls under the same ethical responsibilities – though now transformed in Christ. Therefore the thrust of Old Testament social ethics, which in their own historical context were addressed to the redeemed community of God's people, needs to be directed first of all at the equivalent community– the Church. The New Testament concept and practice of fellowship, the local church community as a household or family, the principles of financial sharing and mutual support all have deep roots in the social and economic life of Old Testament Israel…." Ibid, pp xviif. In his Theology of the , Edmond Jacob quotes Calvin with approval, "The Church whichwas among the Jews was the same as ours, but it was still in the weakness of childhood…"Theology of the Old Testament   (trans. AW Heathcote & PJ Allcock), Hodder 1958, p 18. There discontinuity, hence Stephen is able to speak of Israel in the wilderness as'the church' (ekklesia), and there is discontinuity, hence the atoning sacrifices offered daily under the old covenant have been replaced by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ under the new covenant. JI Packer has highlighted both the continuity and discontinuity as follows:

    "The church exists in, through, and because of Jesus Christ. Thus it is a distinctive New Testament reality. Yet it is at the same time a continuation, through a new phase of redemptive history, of Israel, the seed of Abraham, God's covenant people of Old Testament times. The differences between the church and Israel are rooted in the newness of the covenant by which God and his people are bound to each other. The new covenant under which the church lives (1 Cor 11.25; Heb 8.7-13) is a new form of the relationship whereby God says to a chosen community, 'I will be your God; you shall be my people' (Ex 6.7; Jer 31.33). Both the continuity and the discontinuity between Israel and the church reflect this change in the form of the covenant, which took place at Christ's coming. The new features of the new covenant are as follows: First, the Old Testament priests, sacrifices, and sanctuary are superseded by the mediation of Jesus, the crucified, risen, and reigning God-man (Heb1-10), in whom believers now find their identity as the seed of Abraham and the people of God (Gal 3.29; 1 Pet 2.4-10). Second, the ethnic exclusivism of the old covenant (Deut 7.6; Ps 147.19-20) is replaced by the inclusion in Christ on equal terms of believers from all nations (Eph 2-3;Rev 5.9-10).Third, the Spirit is poured out both on each Christian and on the church,so that fellowship with Christ (1 John 1.3), ministry from Christ (John 12.32;14-18; Eph 2.17), and foretastes of heaven (2 Cor 1.22; Eph1.14) become realities of churchly experience. The unbelief of most Jews (Rom 9-11) led to a situation depicted by Paul as God breaking off the natural branches of his olive tree(the historical covenant community) and replacing them with wild olive shoots (Rom 11.17-24). The predominantly Gentile character of the church is due notto the terms of the new covenant but to Jewish rejection of them, and Paul taught that this will one day be reversed (Rom 11.15, 23-31)."   Concise Theology, IVP1993, Article on 'Church', pp 199ff

Another new feature of the new covenant is that the sign of the covenant is givento males and females whereas under the old covenant it was restricted to males.Baptism , Hodder 1987, p 86.; Mary Evans, Woman in the Bible, Paternoster 1998, p27; C Buchanan, A Case for Infant Baptism, GroveBooks 1973, p 12 (footnote 3). It may be noted that it is after Paul has described Christians as "children of Abraham "(Gal 3.7) and in the context of baptism (3.27) that Paul writes, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (3.28). Of course, Paul does not mean that the distinction between male and female hasbeen obliterated, rather that it does not matter. We are brothers and sisters together in the one family. As JRW Stott has put it, "we belong to each other in such a way as to render of no account the things which normally distinguish us," The Message of Galatians, IVP 1968, pp 99f.  and, we may add, the things which did distinguish people in the old era. Our common baptism represents a common 'belonging'. FF Bruce has put this well: "Paul may have had in mind that circumcision involved a form of discrimination between men and women which was removed when circumcision was demoted from its position as religious law, whereas baptism was open to both sexes indiscriminately. But the denial of discrimination which is sacramentally affirmed in baptism holds good for the new existence 'in Christ' in its entirety."The Epistle to the Galatians, Paternoster1982, pp 189f.


Other Sections of the Report an be reached by clicking on the following Chapter headings:

Institution of Baptism

Origins of Water Baptism

The Baptism of Children: Old Testament Evidence

The Baptism of Children: New Testament Evidence 

The Baptism of Children: Extra-Biblical Evidence

The Proper Subjects for Baptism 

The Mode of Baptism 

The Way Forward

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