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Are Circumcision and Baptism the Same?

Our question for this issue concerns a matter raised in previous issues, the whole matter of NT baptism. A reader asks: "Whilst most of the articles seem clear I can't quite see the connection between the Jewish 'circumcision' and New Testament 'baptism' which I understand from the Greek means 'submerse.' Isn't believer's baptism part of the 'new covenant'?"

Obviously, there are quite a few issues raised here. We will address them one by one, and first the matter of circumcision and baptism. Those who believe in family baptism (preferable to "infant baptism") say that circumcision and baptism are essentially the same. Those who hold to so-called "believers'" baptism insist that they are very different. Who is right?

Let us notice, first, that baptism is not merely confined to the NT, nor circumcision to the OT. There was baptism in the OT and there is circumcision in the NT! Hebrews 9:10 calls the various washings of the OT "baptisms" using in Greek the ordinary NT word for baptism. Baptism, therefore, was not something new to the Jews when John came baptizing, but something to which they were very much accustomed. Colossians 2:11 and Philippians 3:3 also refer to NT believers as having been circumcised. Both passages are from letters written to churches that were primarily Gentile churches.

Now it might be objected that in the two latter passages the Word of God is referring to inward, not outward circumcision, and that is true. Nevertheless, that only reinforces our point.

Inward circumcision (of the heart and without hands) is the reality of which outward circumcision is only a sign, just as water baptism is only the outward sign of the real baptism that unites us to Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-6). NT believers, those who "worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh," have the reality of circumcision, though they may not have the outward sign.

It is from this perspective, too, that one sees the essential unity of the two. Outwardly, the signs are very different, so different that it is difficult to see that they might be the same. Inwardly and really there is no difference and to have one is to have the other.

The inward reality of baptism is the washing away or removal of our sins by the blood of Christ (Tit. 3:5, Rev 1:5). The inward reality of circumcision is the cutting away or removal of sin through the shedding of the blood of Christ pictured in the blood shed in that rite (Rom. 2:28, 29, Col. 2:11). They are the same!

Colossians 2:11, 12 confirms this in that it tells us that when we are circumcised with the baptism made without hands, we are also buried and risen with him in baptism. They are one and the same.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 6
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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    13823 Clear Lake Rd.
  • City
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  • State or Province
    WA
  • Zip Code
    99022
  • Country
    United States
  • Mobile
    360-527-6633

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