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I was recently listening to Dr. Scott Hahn on Pints with Aquinas. In that interview, Dr. Hahn mentions baptism as the new circumcision in relation to covenantal theology. His main point was that if baptism is the new circumcision, then we should baptize infants. What is the basis for baptism as the new circumcision (whether it be biblical/traditional)?

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    I don't think this is complicated. Baptism is the sign of being a Christian, in the same way that circumcision was the sign of being Jew. Feb 7, 2022 at 4:36
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    Circumcision of the heart supersedes/replaces circumcision of the flesh (Romans 2:25-29). Water baptism is an outward sign of an inward change in which one has participated. A baptized infant is merely wet. Feb 7, 2022 at 13:20
  • @DJClayworth My goal with the question was to get some citations and a better worded way to express the idea, as I had some difficulty trying to explain it.
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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This is a difference between baptist and paedobaptist theology. The paedobaptists tend to stress the similarities between the New Testament and the Old Testament. So Calvin in his Institutes has two chapters on baptism (4.15 and 4.16), which would probably be as good a defence of the similarities between circumcision and baptism as anywhere.
(See https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xvii.html)

Calvin's chapter 16 has subheadings such as:-

  1. The promise and thing figured in circumcision and baptism are one and the same. The only difference is in the external ceremony.
  2. Hence the baptism of Christian parents is as competent as the circumcision of Jewish children.
  3. An argument for Paedobaptism founded on the covenant God made with Abraham.
  4. The covenant in baptism and circumcision not different.
  5. Infants, both Jewish and Christian comprehended in the covenant.
  6. The Jews being comprehended in the covenant, there is no substantial difference between baptism and circumcision.

But, writing as a baptist, I would say you should read his previous chapter 4. 15 as well and see how so much here seems to run up against teaching in this chapter 16. I would say baptism is for believers only (and by immersion).

Abraham personally believed and trusted in God. He believed in the coming of a Divine Saviour who would come and die for his sins: "And Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6), and "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). The seal of the covenant, i.e. circumcision, with Abraham's descendants was to remind them of Abraham's FAITH in the hope this teaching would bring them to that same faith.

The early church fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine tended to stress that by baptism original sin is washed away. This virtually allows for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Such a doctrine was unacceptable to the Protestant Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, etc, but these wanted to continue the baptism of infants. They needed a theology for infant baptism which did not rely so much on Roman Catholic theology. Though the idea of Covenant Theology may have existed in embryo amongst Catholic theologians it was really Calvin who developed the doctrine. It was he who emphasised the parallel between baptism and circumcision.

It looks to me as if Dr Scott Hahn has brought his Covenant Theology into the Roman Church from his Calvinist Presbyterian background.

Baptists stress that circumcision is not a sign of personal faith of the one circumcised but a reminder :

Firstly, of the manner in which Abraham was made right with God which was by faith. The mere fact that only male babies were circumcised under the Old Covenant is in itself an indication that circumcision and baptism do not have parallel meanings:

"And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a SEAL of the RIGHTEOUSNESS of the FAITH WHICH HE HAD ALREADY being yet uncircumcised" (Romans 4:11).

Circumcision was a reminder that it is faith that saves, but in the New Testament baptism was given by the church to those who had made a credible personal confession of faith;

Secondly, circumcision is the seal of God's covenant with Abraham and his genealogical descendants (Genesis 17:7). The sign then, in the organ of male sexual reproduction, was a fitting symbol of this genealogically based covenant.

But the New Covenant is not based on genealogy but on the faith of the one believing. Though the children of Abraham through Jacob were included in the covenant made with him, according to Baptist theology, the children of believers are not included in the New Covenant. So for Baptists, baptism is not a continuation of circumcision and the children of believers should not be baptised.

In Romans 4 Abraham's faith is stressed. This Calvin also stresses in chapter 4.15, but he then proceeds to somewhat ambiguously contradict it in chapter 4.16 on Paedobaptism.

All the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob were entered into a covenant with God even without any personal choice in the matter: they were not free to say no. For Baptists the New Covenant on the other hand is a matter of personal faith, not of the faith of another, and it is a matter of personal freedom of choice.

For Baptists the historical reason why infant baptism was maintained at the time of the reformation was more likely to do with expediency rather than Biblical warrant. The Reformers felt they needed the support of the state to protect them from a very powerful Papacy. Luther, Zwingli and the rest did not have sufficient faith to commit their care to the Lord alone. In order to receive this protection from the state they had to continue the notion that all members of the community were also members of the church. Without this they would have received less sympathy from the governing authorities. Hence everyone in the community (unless he was Jewish or other) was treated as Christian as a birth right. The teaching then of Augustine (AD 354-430) that the church was to imitate the Old Testament Israelite nation was perpetuated by the Reformers, which included infant baptism as a replacement of OT circumcision.

For more on the historical dilemma of the reformers, the consequent problems arising from their position, including the persecution of the anabaptists, and the loss of religious liberty, see "The Reformers and their Stepchildren" by Leonard Verduin.

New Testament passages used to defend baptism of babies

The first observation is that there is almost nothing in the New Testament which can be used to argue in favour of infant baptism. There is also nothing in the New Testament which draws a parallel between circumcision and baptism.

There are two passages which are often used to justify infant baptism, namely, Acts 16:27-34 and 1 Corinthians 7:14.

But the problem with the passage in Acts is that it specifically says that "all his house believed" (v34). What surprise should there be then that "he and all his" (v33) were baptised?

As for 1 Cor 7:14, it should be noted that the context has nothing to do with the salvation or otherwise of the children; the passage is all about how a believing spouse should regard his/her situation when the spouse is not a Christian.

Baptist minister Dr Peter Masters asserts that if this verse is used to argue that the children are somehow made holy by the mere fact of having a believing parent then it must be also accepted that the verse just as much says that an unbelieving spouse is also made holy by their believing spouse and it therefore should be asserted that they also should be baptised! He suggests a translation for the verse:-

"For the unbelieving husband is set apart for the wife, and the unbelieving wife is set apart for the husband: otherwise your children would be illegitimate, but now they are legitimate." (1 Cor 7:14).

Early church practice

For more on Augustine's view see "On Baptism, Against the Donatists".

The modern RCC view in infant baptism is probably virtually identical to the view of Augustine, that baptism washes away original sin.

https://cwhisonant.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/re-augustine-infant-baptism-is-the-apostolic-and-universal-practice-of-the-church/

Before Augustine was the assertion of Hippolytus (c AD 170-235) in "The Apostolic Tradition", written about AD 215, that infant baptism was practised as from the apostles. But other things were also asserted as from the apostles which most would probably find quite difficult to believe, such as that those being baptised, both children and adults should be baptised naked, and the baptising deacons "alike". See paragraph 21 in Part II of "The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus Translation" :-

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61614/61614-h/61614-h.htm

Before Hippolytus produced "The Apostolic Tradition", Tertullian (c AD 155-220) wrote his work "On Baptism".

For a short Baptist view on baptism see "Baptism - its picture and its purpose" by Dr. Peter Masters, only 50 pence.

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  • This just seems to be saying that “there is no evidence, they just said it appease the church”. Can I get some actual citations and biblical verses?
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:08
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    Evidence was not asked for, just "the basis" upon which it exists. As for biblical evidence, personally I think there is no good evidence but I have given a source, Calvin's Institutes, from which some sort of answer might be gained. Not "just to appease the church" but rather to include the state leaders, in particular the Electors in the Holy Roman Empire, within the church, so as to make them sympathetic towards the "new" faith. It must be remembered that the idea of a church entirely separate from the state was considered revolutionary in the time of the reformation. Feb 7, 2022 at 14:12
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    Revolutionary and subversive. It was considered that religion was designed to be a unifying factor within each community. To allow a separate church was thus considered anathema. Infant baptism was part of the process of ensuring one state/one religion. Feb 7, 2022 at 14:20
  • Evidence literally is the same as basis. It's the same. You said it came from the Catholic Church, well what was their basis?
    – Luke Hill
    Feb 7, 2022 at 17:39
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    Luke, I've substantially added to my answer. Feb 8, 2022 at 13:28
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What is the basis for baptism being the new circumcision?

The basis is generally attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas himself in his Summa Theologiae.

Question 70 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae deal with the subject of Circumcision. He seems to imply that circumcision not only prefigured the sacrament of baptism, but it also infused grace into the souls of these Israelite infants, albeit on a lesser level than with sacrament of baptism. St. Thomas appeals to both Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church.

Article 1. Whether circumcision was a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism?

On the contrary, The Apostle says (Colossians 2:11-12): "You are circumcised with circumcision, not made by hand in despoiling the body of the flesh, but in the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism."

I answer that, Baptism is called the Sacrament of Faith; in so far, to wit, as in Baptism man makes a profession of faith, and by Baptism is aggregated to the congregation of the faithful. Now our faith is the same as that of the Fathers of old, according to the Apostle (2 Corinthians 4:13): "Having the same spirit of faith . . . we . . . believe." But circumcision was a protestation of faith; wherefore by circumcision also men of old were aggregated to the body of the faithful. Consequently, it is manifest that circumcision was a preparation for Baptism and a figure thereof, forasmuch as "all things happened" to the Fathers of old "in figure" (1 Corinthians 10:11); just as their faith regarded things to come.

Article 2. Whether circumcision was instituted in a fitting manner?

On the contrary, We read (Genesis 17) that circumcision was instituted by God, Whose "works are perfect" (Deuteronomy 32:4).

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1) circumcision was a preparation for Baptism, inasmuch as it was a profession of faith in Christ, which we also profess in Baptism. Now among the Fathers of old, Abraham was the first to receive the promise of the future birth of Christ, when it was said to him: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). Moreover, he was the first to cut himself off from the society of unbelievers, in accordance with the commandment of the Lord, Who said to him (Genesis 13:1): "Go forth out of thy country and from thy kindred." Therefore circumcision was fittingly instituted in the person of Abraham.

Article 3. Whether the rite of circumcision was fitting?

On the contrary, The aforesaid rite of circumcision is fixed by a gloss on Romans 4:11: "And he received the sign of circumcision."

I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), circumcision was established, as a sign of faith, by God "of" Whose "wisdom there is no number" (Psalm 146:5). Now to determine suitable signs is a work of wisdom. Consequently, it must be allowed that the rite of circumcision was fitting.

Article 4. Whether circumcision bestowed sanctifying grace?

On the contrary, Augustine says, writing to Valerius in answer to Julian (De Nup. et Concup. ii): "From the time that circumcision was instituted among God's people, as 'a seal of the justice of the faith,' it availed little children unto sanctification by cleansing them from the original and bygone sin; just as Baptism also from the time of its institution began to avail unto the renewal of man."

On the contrary, Augustine says, writing to Valerius in answer to Julian (De Nup. et Concup. ii): "From the time that circumcision was instituted among God's people, as 'a seal of the justice of the faith,' it availed little children unto sanctification by cleansing them from the original and bygone sin; just as Baptism also from the time of its institution began to avail unto the renewal of man."

I answer that, All are agreed in saying that original sin was remitted in circumcision. But some said that no grace was conferred, and that the only effect was to remit sin. The Master holds this opinion (Sent. iv, D, 1), and in a gloss on Romans 4:11. But this is impossible, since guilt is not remitted except by grace, according to Romans 3:2: "Being justified freely by His grace," etc.

Wherefore others said that grace was bestowed by circumcision, as to that effect which is the remission of guilt, but not as to its positive effects; lest they should be compelled to say that the grace bestowed in circumcision sufficed for the fulfilling of the precepts of the Law, and that, consequently, the coming of Christ was unnecessary. But neither can this opinion stand. First, because by circumcision children. received the power of obtaining glory at the allotted time, which is the last positive effect of grace. Secondly, because, in the order of the formal cause, positive effects naturally precede those that denote privation, although it is the reverse in the order of the material cause: since a form does not remove a privation save by informing the subject.

Consequently, others said that grace was conferred in circumcision, also as a particular positive effect consisting in being made worthy of eternal life; but not as to all its effects, for it did not suffice for the repression of the concupiscence of the fomes, nor again for the fulfilment of the precepts of the Law. And this was my opinion at one time (Sent. iv, D, 1; 2, 4). But if one consider the matter carefully, it is clear that this is not true. Because the least grace can resist any degree of concupiscence, and avoid every mortal sin, that is committed in transgressing the precepts of the Law; for the smallest degree of charity loves God more than cupidity loves "thousands of gold and silver" (Psalm 118:72).

We must say, therefore, that grace was bestowed in circumcision as to all the effects of grace, but not as in Baptism. Because in Baptism grace is bestowed by the very power of Baptism itself, which power Baptism has as the instrument of Christ's Passion already consummated. Whereas circumcision bestowed grace, inasmuch as it was a sign of faith in Christ's future Passion: so that the man who was circumcised, professed to embrace that faith; whether, being an adult, he made profession for himself, or, being a child, someone else made profession for him. Hence, too, the Apostle says (Romans 4:11), that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith": because, to wit, justice was of faith signified: not of circumcision signifying. And since Baptism operates instrumentally by the power of Christ's Passion, whereas circumcision does not, therefore Baptism imprints a character that incorporates man in Christ, and bestows grace more copiously than does circumcision; since greater is the effect of a thing already present, than of the hope thereof.

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  • The idea that baptism is the new circumcision goes back to the early Church. You can see in your own quote from the Summa that Aquinas quotes Augustine on this point "From the time that circumcision was instituted among God's people, as 'a seal of the justice of the faith,' it availed little children unto sanctification by cleansing them from the original and bygone sin; just as Baptism also from the time of its institution began to avail unto the renewal of man."
    – jaredad7
    Feb 7, 2022 at 17:24
  • >Question 70 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae Which question 70? There are 4 of them
    – eques
    Mar 13, 2022 at 20:16
  • Aquinas says: "All are agreed in saying that original sin was remitted in circumcision." The Apostle Paul says that circumcision makes one a debtor to do the whole law (Galatians 5:3). Apr 22, 2022 at 12:59

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