The particular view that raises a query in my mind is this, as fully detailed in my answer to this related question, According to Reformed Theology, how can one justify infant baptism?

After detailing why the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (circumcision) has its counterpart in the sign of Christians in the New Testament (water baptism), the author I quote (A Faith To Live By, p210, Donald Macleod, Christian Focus, Mentor) says:

“The children of believers continue to have the same special relationship to the covenant as their Old Testament counterparts had; and, consequently, the same right to the covenant sign. Why do I baptise children? ...It is because God gave me an ordinance: Put the sign of the spiritual covenant on the physical seed.”

My query is that although 8-day-old babies were to be circumcised as a sign of that Abrahamic covenant, that only applied to male babies. No female babies were ever circumcised. Yet Christian water baptism is administered to both males and females (irrespective of their age). Is this not out of sync with the physical sign?

Further, the author speaks elsewhere in his book about how,

“when a man comes to faith he may embrace his children with himself under the sign of the covenant”, and “we should not give the sacrament of baptism to a man for his child unless we would be prepared to give it to him for himself.” (Ibid. p 219 & 220)

But what about a woman coming to faith, who seeks baptism, and she has children? Is it only a female – like myself – who notices a need to consider females a bit more regarding the theology of baptism? Disregard that last question if you don’t think it helpful.

My question is, Given that no female babies were circumcised as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, why are female babies of Christian believers given the sign of the new covenant (water baptism)?

Edit to clarify what my question is NOT: it is not asking why females are baptised given that they are not circumcised. To clarify what my question IS: it is questioning the claimed link between circumcision as a sign of the old covenant and the claim that water baptism is a corresponding sign of the new covenant. There seems to be something out of sync with this claimed link.

5 Answers 5


Most Baptists have heard of Reformed and Presbyterian churches who baptize babies, because “the practice of circumcision in the Old Testament (OT) is replaced by infant baptism in the New.” Verses cited in support of this analogy include Gen. 17:7–8; Gal. 3:9, 14; Col. 2:11–12; Acts 2:38–39; Rom. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 7:14; Matt. 28:19; Mark 10:13–16; and Luke 18:15.1 The challenge for those who use this analogy is that these passages either mention circumcision (Gen. 17:7–8; Rom. 4:11–12) or baptism (Acts 2:38–39; Matt. 28:19) or neither circumcision nor baptism (Gal. 3:9, 14; 1 Cor. 7:14; Mark 10:13–16; and Luke 18:15). What is required for this analogy to work is a link between circumcision and baptism. There is only one text in the Bible that mentions both. That passage is Col. 2:11–12. - faith.edu

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of ChristBuried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. - Colossians 2:11-12

The analogy drawn in this scripture is between the circumcision of Christ (in whom we are circumcised) and faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Abraham's circumcision is not in view in this passage because physical circumcision was the type and the type passes away when the anti-type manifests, which is circumcision of the heart ... the new birth.

The old testament was not silent regarding this anti-type:

Deut. 30:5–8 says that when they would come into the Promise Land, “the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart… to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.” This cannot be physical circumcision, since cutting away part of someone’s heart would be fatal. What does it mean? Simply this: to be dedicated to the God who brought them there. We can see this understanding in Deut. 10:15–17. God warned the people to “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” He loved them and chose them as His people. He wanted them pure and dedicated to Him. Lev. 26:40–42 also gives this caution with the same language. - same faith.edu article

Water baptism is not the replacement for circumcision of the male prepuce. That is why something seems out of sync. The transformation or replacement of the sign is from circumcision in the flesh (made with hands) of the dominant members of a patristic society to circumcision in the heart (made by God) of all members of Christ in whom are neither male nor female. Water baptism is a public statement that this spiritual circumcision has happened. It does not produce the circumcision of the heart ... it is a proclamation that the actual "replacement" for Abraham's circumcision, the anti-type, has taken place.


OP: Given that no female babies were circumcised as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, why are female babies of Christian believers given the sign of the new covenant (water baptism)?

To find an answer to your excellent question, I turned to some earlier Christians like Tertullian and Aquinas for some light.

To bolster the following explanation, one could have also asked, circumcision was given to the male Israelites, that particular one nation, yet baptism is for all nations (Mat 28:19).

It might be an interesting question, but I've no idea who first formally associated (incorrectly?) the two signs of circumcision and water baptism. There appears only to be an assumption that the signs refer to the same thing.

This is from a book quoted in the OP, emphasis mine.

“The children of believers continue to have the same special relationship to the covenant as their Old Testament counterparts had; and, consequently, the same right to the covenant sign. Why do I baptise children? ...It is because God gave me an ordinance: Put the sign of the spiritual covenant on the physical seed.”

It appears assumed that the covenant sign of circumcision somehow finds its identity in another covenant sign baptism. But, as the OP says, "There seems to be something out of sync with this claimed link." Indeed, and again, one may wonder why to a nation versus all nations.

Aquinas outlines circumcision's reason and purpose.

The institution of circumcision is as a sign of Abraham's faith, who believed that himself would be the father of Christ Who was promised to him: and for this reason it was suitable that it should be for males only. Again, original sin, against which circumcision was specially ordained, is contracted from the father, not from the mother, as was stated in the FS, Q[81], Aquinas ST 70.2

Is that a loaded statement or what? Anyway, circumcision was essentially a sign of the Saviour! Here is the OT quote and the NT mention.

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee [Abram] and thy seed [singular Gal 3:16] after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Gen 17:7

Given the point of circumcision, the seed pointing to Christ, where does baptism fit?

And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 1 Cor 10:2

Christian baptism is foreshadowed under the Red Sea crossing during the Exodus. Passover was redemption. The cloud (and fire) represents the Holy Spirit who show up prior to the sea (recall Cornelius receiving the Spirit prior to baptism). The sea was sealing/protecting (with the potential of a kingdom of priests and kings).

Thus, ALL, not just the men, not just the Israelites (Ex 12:38), were saved out of Egypt, led by the Spirt, and baptized in water.


Going off my answer to What is the basis for Lombard's view that the basis of justification for OT men was different than for OT women?

Q: Why are female babies baptized if they were not circumcized?

A: Because circumcision was an imperfect, legal prescript of the Old Law. Baptism is perfect, and part of the New Law brought about by Christ.

It was imperfect...

Now in comparison with baptism, circumcision was imperfect in three ways. First, as to its signification, for it did not signify so explicitly the cleansing of the whole man from the uncleanness of all of original sin, as the washing of baptism does. Second, as to its efficacy, for the grace that was given in circumcision was not so abundant for working virtuously and for repressing the kindling of sin as it is in baptism. Third, as to benefit, for its benefit was not as widespread as baptism’s, since it had a particular people, a particular sex, and a particular time, which does not happen in baptism; and thus, once the time of fullness arrived, circumcision had to end, to be replaced by baptism.


Only Men: St. Thomas, arguing against the notion that women should have had circumcision (or some equivalent remedy), quotes Hugh of St. Victor in saying

the circumcision of the flesh was given to men alone, for the Sacred Scriptures customarily represented the soul by the masculine sex, but the flesh by the feminine, so that it would be manifest that circumcision conferred sanctification on souls, but did not remove the corruption of the flesh. (Aquinas, Sentences IV, D. 1 Q. 2 A. 2.2.SC)

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    If circumcision was meant to be a sign of baptism, then it was so imperfect an example as to disqualify it from being a figure at all. ! Nowhere is the 'masculine sex' said to represent the soul. Such a concept has caused some to speculate that women have no souls ! Though they retracted the hypothesis in modern times, I notice.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 15:30
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    I cannot comment on that. Voting is a private matter.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 17:14
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    If a figure is not suitable for that being figured then it is not a figure. Circumcising males does not represent the baptism of males and females. Therefore, circumcision must figure something else : which it does - the birth of sons by a means in which flesh has been cut off. Redemption brings in sonship and the sons of God are realised in a birth that is not of nature but is of water and spirit; that is from above (anothen); that is of God; that is an again birth (paligennesis); that is a new birth (anagennesis). This is what circumcision figures.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 18:20
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    One is brought under law by being born of Adam, the humanity of sin and death. Not by being circumcised, which is a figure. But we disagree on so much that perhaps we should stop there. And, besides, the system is discouraging me from further comment.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 18:32
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    " circumcision was the means by which one was brought into the Mosaic Covenant" This statement is wrong. Circumcision predated the Mosaic Covenant by 430 years and was a sign of God's covenant with Abram. Paul, in Galatians 3, insists that the law (Mosaic covenant) could not disannul that previous covenant of promise. Commented May 12, 2022 at 12:08


For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
— Galatians 3:27–29

  • Judaism is God's law practiced at a physical level.
    Circumcision is a token or sign of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, "between me and you and thy seed after thee" (Genesis 17:10–11).
  • Christianity is God's law practiced at a spiritual level.
    Infant baptism is a token or sign of God's covenant with Christians, "all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13).

At the physical level, descent was recorded by male ancestry.
At the spiritual level, one's sex is irrelevant, as is one's ancestry or social position.

  • Thank you for answering. I agree that the text you quote shows the irrelevance of one's sex re. water baptism. However, one answer has dealt with paedobaptist Bible text links. See Mike B's 1st 5 lines of the 1st quote plus detailing Col.2:10-12, although going on to disagree with the paedobaptist understanding. Then SupportiveD (despite answering a different Q) has argued for a particular paedobaptist view, especially regarding women. If you would care to add why Gal.3:27-29 makes any link between circumcision and water baptism as paedobaptists think, I would appreciate that.
    – Anne
    Commented May 12, 2022 at 13:46

You could easily ask what the link between Baptism and the Baptismal offices of Priest, Prophet and King.

  • In the Jewish tradition the Levitical priesthood was reserved to firstborn sons

    But in the Christian tradition, all sons and daughters are Baptized into the office of a universal priesthood; only some are called to a sacerdotal priesthood - but it has nothing to do with lineage.

  • In the Jewish tradition, prophets were anointed or specifically called by God, the prophets were mostly male, but there were some female prophets - in the Bible, there were probably many more not recorded.

    In the Christian tradition, prophecy is a gift that strikes where the Holy Spirit needs it. The gift of prophecy is irrespective of sex. But the office of prophet, under Baptism is afforded to all.

  • In the Jewish tradition, kings were men because that's a title given to men. Kings were also only reluctantly chosen and they were first chosen among those anointed by prophets.

    In the Christian tradition, men and women are given a share of the office of King, but the Kingdom is not of this world.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

No, me neither, I don't think I'm dead. So what are you getting at St. Paul? Are you saying that Baptism is a spiritual sign made physically present (i.e. a Sacrament)?

This is all not to say that there aren't sacraments that paedobaptists will also don only upon men, (i.e. Holy Orders).

Circumcision was important to Jews, but St. Paul and reluctantly St. Peter, realized that Christians are not Jews and there are certain things we have to make up as we go along and trust to the Holy Spirit that we're not wrong with. Just as good parents will have to "pick their battles" with teenagers, the Apostolic Fathers couldn't continue Jewish dietary or circumcision practices and hope to reach the gentiles. So they did what Jesus did in His preaching, they extended the Old Law to be universal and spiritual. Which is why everyone needs circumcision now, but nobody needs a knife.

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