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Confusing Baptism with Circumcision in Colossians 2

When looking at baptism, covenantal Reformed types who embrace paedobaptism often employ an argument that ties the covenantal sign of Circumcision to the Covenantal sign of Baptism.

The argument goes something like this:

Covenantal Theological Support

  • Abraham was circumcised as a sign of his faith-before-circumcision: Romans 4:11
  • The Church is the true Israel (Romans 9:6-8), the Israel from above (Gal. 4:26)
  • The Church doesn’t replace Israel, it moves it forward (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25)
  • The Church consists then of the true expected sons of Abraham (Rom 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 15-17)
  • So the Church gets circumcised (Col. 2:11) in the sign of faith-before-works which is baptism (Colossians 2:11-12 )

Theological Ramifications Which Then Lead To Infant Baptism

  • The Males of Abraham’s household were also circumcised: Gen 17:26-27
  • Even though Circumcision was a sign for all the uncircumcised, God still mandated that all those in Abraham’s household—Israel—who didn’t have faith were to be circumcised: Genesis 17:10-12
  • And like Israel of old, we also baptize all those in our house (Acts 16:15; Acts 16:30-33; 1 Corinthians 1:16)
  • Indeed, it is in accordance with the Great Commission (Matthew 25:31-32) because Babies are sinners (Psalm 51:5) and need faith—being part of covenant community doesn’t save you in the future but it allows you to be saved by being taught of the faith (Mark 16:16, John 3:5), being washed (1 Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16) and being clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:27) knowing that they can believe (Luke 18:15-17) just as they believe their mother from the womb.
  • Conclusion: Seeing all this, and noting the witness of the early church believing this, we are convinced that infants must be baptized because baptism is the sign of our covenant community, the true Israel of above in honest expectation that our Children will be raised in the faith and be saved.

This post deals with Colossians 2:10-12 to show the false-connection that has been made between baptism and circumcision.

The summarizing statement in Col 2:10 encompasses the completeness of the work of Christ. It is being used to underscore the strong point that culminated in Col 2:9 that the fullness of the Godhead bodily dwells in Him—He is Deity incarnate. Paul argues this way to encourage people to walk in Christ; not theosophies. So establishing rules, conscripting the body, following shadows are all stupid once you realize the work is finished. He can then enter Col 3 by having us focus upward where we are seated with Christ. The thought flow of the argument looks something like this:

Walk in the Received Christ (v6)

1-To Christ belongs the fullness (Up to v9)

2a-In Christ you are made complete (v 10)

AA-In Him you were circumcised without hands (v11)

AB-In His circumcision of the body of flesh

BA-In Him you were buried (v12)

BB-In Him you were baptized

CA-In Him through faith in the working of God (v12)

CB-In Him you were raised from the dead

2b-All of this happened while you were dead, uncircumcised, and unforgiven and you were made alive and forgiven (v13)

3: Therefore don’t let anyone rob you of this completeness by going back to elementary principles, empty shadows, and conscripting the flesh. (rest of chapter 2)

The context establishes that all these things are occurring toward-us without our doing anything. Trust isn’t doing, it’s just relying on God who is doing. So when we are raised in Christ (Col 2:12) it is because God decided to raise us in Christ—we can’t do that. Likewise when we are buried in Christ.

At this point, Paedo’s would be quick to answer the question “Are we circumcised in baptism” but it, quite honestly, shouldn’t be asked yet. The question that must first be raised is in regards to Col 2:11 “When was Christ’s body of the flesh circumcised?” Too often verse 12 is read back into verse 11 but Paul speaks about this bit to establish our circumcision without hands.

We know Christ was circumcised at 8-days old but it would be strange if that was Paul’s argument. Indeed, it wouldn’t give us any strong reason to walk in Christ at all beyond him being a good role model. Paul’s argument is that this Christ with the fullness of Deity has completed the work so that going back to the elementary principles and theosophies is worthless. At what other point was Christ circumcised?

Paul uses the term “in the removal of the body of flesh” to describe this circumcision. If we were to get explicit, the circumcision is literally the cutting off of the flesh of foreskin from the male member. What Paul is saying is that Christ’s body of flesh was cut-off. That only occurred one time (as the writer to the Hebrews argues) at the Cross.

So Paul is making this the first thing that God towards us which we cannot do of our own volition: become identified in Christ’s crucifixion. None of us can up and say one morning “I am now crucified in Christ—I am dead.” God is the one who identifies us in that person and situation. So Paul, elsewhere can say that he is crucified in Christ and yet he lives; not him, but Christ that lives in him so that the life he lives in his body is now lived by faith in Christ who died and gave himself for him (Gal 2:20).

Spoken like that, we therefore see that Christ’s cutting off occurred at the cross—not at the tomb. He was buried in the tomb but that occurred after he was cut-off on the Cross. Which is the connection that Paul proceeds to make: Christ was buried and our baptism is into that burial—not into Christ’s crucifixion. A picture Paul uses elsewhere where he says we have been buried with him in baptism to death. Of course, the burial is a picture of death and we know that Christ died on the cross, but the picture is illustrated by burial. It was when he was buried, and when we are buried, that death was (and is) altogether true.

Baptism, indeed, is being linked to faith instead of circumcision. Baptism is to burial as faith is to the resurrection from the dead. Identification in the filled and empty tomb occur on God’s power; not our own—just like identifying in Christ’s crucifixion.This point is illustrated further when Paul ties our dead as being “uncircumcised”. This isn’t a matter of being non-baptized but rather actually still separated from any God-ward identification.

We our baptized then after we confess and believe because it is only after we confess and believe that we know that we have been cut-off in Christ’s circumcision on the cross and progress to depict our burial and resurrection in baptism.

Of course, there is another argument that Paedobaptists can make with these verses unlinking circumcision and baptism. They can say that the chronology shows circumcision (Crucifixion), baptism (burial), faith, then resurrection which would establish that one could (or should) be baptized before faith. But at that point, they are no longer arguing on the grounds of covenantal signs but on chronology and my point in this article was to show that this passage is never equates baptism with circumcision.

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