Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Old Testament pictures of baptism

Yesterday I posted some words of appreciation for Geoffrey Bromiley's little book on infant baptism. Fundamental to the case for baptizing the infants of Christian parents is a view of scripture that sees the Old and New Testaments as a consistent, inter-related revelation of God's "divine action, message, and command." One application of this principle views the new covenant sacrament of baptism as corresponding to the old covenant sign of circumcision.

But before coming to that conclusion it's interesting to look at how Peter and Paul point back to two "types" of baptism in the OT. Clearly they saw the OT as having a significant bearing on the meaning of New Testament baptism. Peter pictures baptism as Noah's Ark saving Noah and his family from the flood of God's judgement (1 Peter 3:20-21) and Paul pictures baptism in the Israelites' deliverance thru the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). If we believe that Peter and Paul were guided by the Holy Spirit then we can't say these were arbitrary examples picked out of a hat. After all, there are other water incidents in the OT they could have brought in (e.g. Naaman's cleansing in the Jordan River).

What do the typological examples used by Peter and Paul tell us about baptism?

What is pictured is the deliverance of an elect family or people. The motif of the covenant is prominent in both incidents. In the first we have the covenant of God with Noah. His family is included, enabling him to become the progenitor of a new race. In the second the deliverance leads to a new covenant relation between God and Israel, but it is premised on the prior covenant with Abraham. (pp. 15-6)

. . . in both these typical incidents the covenant is made not with the individual alone, with Noah or Moses, but with the family or people. Not Noah alone but his wife, his sons, and his sons' wives are brought into the ark and preserved there. Not Moses alone, nor just the male Israelites, but all the children of Israel, the men, their wives, and their little ones, go out from Egypt and walk on dry land across the sea. The point is not merely that in these actions, which are types of baptism, the children share the experience with their parents. It is rather that the covenantal action of God is not with individuals in isolation, but with families, or with individuals in families, so that those belonging to the individuals are also separated as the people of God and in a very special sense come within the sphere of the divine covenant. (p. 16)

Neither one of these examples should be cited as proof-texts in support of infant baptism, but they seem to indicate that the apostles didn't think the family relationship signified under the old covenant had been reversed under the new.

Quotes from Children of Promise: The Case for Baptizing Infants (Eerdmans, 1979)

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