Baptism to a Thousand Generations?

SummaryUpon the basis of how circumcision was administered, historically, the reformed practiced that the distant offspring of a believer were entitled to baptism, even if their immediate parents were unbelievers, apostates or excommunicates. Modern paedobaptists have rejected this practice, resulting in an inconsistency in their appeal to circumcision.

Joe Anady of the Confessing the Faith podcast interviewed former URC member and WSC graduate Mark Hogan about his change in beliefs from paedobaptism to credobaptism. In Part 3, Hogan mentions one of the inconsistencies that contributed to his change of mind. During seminary he read William Perkins arguing (from the basis of Israel) that the baptism of the believer’s offspring was not limited to the first generation, but extended down the line to include even offspring whose immediate parents were wicked. Hogan found no consistent answer for modern Presbyterianism’s rejection of this logic and practice. Gavin Ortlund explained this point was part of his change of mind regarding the baptism of infants as well.

Circumcision is given in Genesis 17:9 to “you and your seed [offspring, descendants; Hebrew zerah] after you, for the generations to come.” The individuals in view here are the intergenerational descendants of Abraham. The faith of an Israelite child’s parents was not what determined the child’s right to circumcision; it was the child’s association with the nation of Israel. In other words, the lines of covenant throughout the Old Testament weren’t drawn around individual believing families, but around the national family of Abraham. It wasn’t the “children of believers” who had the right to the sacrament of initiation, but the “children of Abraham.” So, given paedobaptist presuppositions, why not baptize the grandchildren of believers, too? If we’re really building off continuity with the Old Testament precedent, why stop at one generation?

Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point in 1681.

The promises previously given to Abraham for his natural offspring involve those in remote generations as much as those immediately descended from him. And in some respects they were made good more fully to them than to the others… It was not Abraham’s immediate seed, but his mediate, that became as numerous as the dust of the earth and took possession of the land flowing with milk and honey…

The right of the remotest generation was as much derived from Abraham and the covenant made with him, as was that of his immediate seed, and did not at all depend on the faithfulness of their immediate parents. Thus, the immediate seed of those Israelites that fell in the wilderness under the displeasure of God were made to inherit the land of Canaan by virtue of this covenant with Abraham. They never could have enjoyed it by virtue of their immediate parent’s steadfastness in the covenant…

[I]f I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations.

Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 90, 97, 106


The reformed generally were in agreement with this point and put it into practice as part of their national understanding of the church. The quote that initially gave Hogan pause is from Perkins’ 1604 commentary on Galatians 3:26-28.

Thirdly, it may be demanded, whether the children of wicked Christians, that is, of such as hold in judgment true religion and deny it in their lives, may be baptized? Answer. They may. For all without exception that were born of circumcised Jews (whereof many were wicked) were circumcised. And we must not only regard the next parents, but also the ancestors of whom it is said, “If the root be holy, the branches are holy” (Rom. 11). Upon this ground children born in fornication may be baptized, so be it, there be some to answer for them besides the parents. And there is no reason that the wickedness of the parent should prejudice the child in things pertaining to life eternal.

Lastly, it may be demanded, whether the children of parents excommunicate, may be baptized? Answ. Yea, if there be any beside the parents to answer for the child. For the parents after excommunication remain still (for right) members of the Church, having still a right to the kingdome of heavens out of which they are not cast absolutely, but with condition, unless they repent: and in part, that is in respect of communion, or use of their liberty, but not in respect of right or title: even as a freeman of a corporation imprisoned, remaines a freeman, though for the time he hath no use of his liberty.

The Works of William Perkins, v. ii, 232

(Note the erroneous reading of Romans 11 that is necessarily required. Perkins must interpret the root not as Abraham, but as every believer. Every believer thus has their own tree of which they are the root down to a thousand generations.)


Perkins was just repeating what previous reformers concluded. In 1559, Scottish Presbyterian John Knox wrote to Calvin asking “whether it be lawful to admit to the sacrament of baptism the children of idolaters and excommunicated persons before their parents have testified their repentance.” Calvin replied

Respecting the questions of which you ask for a solution, after I had laid them before my colleagues, here is the answer which we unanimously resolved to send

[I]n the proper use of baptism the authority of God is to be considered, and his institution ought to derive its authority from certain conditions, one of the first things to be considered is who are the persons that God by his own voice invites to be baptized.

Now God’s promise comprehends not only the offspring of every believer in the first line of descent, but extends to thousands of generations. Whence it has happened that the interruption of piety which has prevailed in Popery has not taken away from baptism its force and efficacy. For we must look to its origin, and the very reason and nature of baptism is to be esteemed as arising from the promise of God. To us then it is by no means doubtful that an offspring descended from holy and pious ancestors, belong to the body of the church, though their fathers and grandfathers may have been apostates. For just as in Popery it was a pernicious and insane superstition, to steal or forcibly abduct their children from Jews or Turks, and forthwith to have them baptized; so likewise, wherever the profession of Christianity has not been altogether interrupted or destroyed, children are defrauded of their privileges if they are excluded from the common symbol; because it is unjust when God, three hundred years ago or more, has thought them worthy of his adoption, that the subsequent impiety of some of their progenitors should interrupt the course of heavenly grace. In fine, as each person is not admitted to baptism from respect or regard to one of his parents alone, but on account of the perpetual covenant of God; so in like manner, no just reason suffers children to be debarred from their initiation into the church in consequence of the bad conduct of only one parent.

Calvin’s Lat. Corresp., Opera, ix. P. 201; Calvin, John. Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters vol. 7; edited by Henry Beveridge. Edmonton, Canada: pp. 73-76. via BaylyBlog


In the 17th century, this practice was challenged by Congregationalists who argued “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves.” They argued that excommunicants are not members of the church and that only the immediate offspring of communicant members may be baptized. In response to this pressure, and to defend the national church model, Scottish Prebyterian and leading member of the Westminster Assembly Samuel Rutherford again argued from Abraham and Israel.

Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church… Now if God be the God of Abraham’s seed far off and near down, to many generations, the wickedness of the nearest parents cannot break the covenant, as is clear… These are to receive the seal of the covenant whose forefathers are in external profession within the covenant.  For God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations… We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer: 1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.

On The Baptism of the Children of Adherents

New England Congregationalists

In 1662, the New England Synod stated

Partic. 5. It is requisite unto the membership of children, that the next parents, one or both, being in a covenant. For altho’ after-generations have no small benefit by their pious ancestors, who derive federal holiness to their succeeding generations in case they keep their standing in the covenant, and be not apostates from it; yet the piety of ancestors sufficeth not, unless the next parent continue in covenant, Rom. 11.22…

If we stop not at the next parent, but grant that ancestors may, notwithstanding the apostacy of the next parents convey membership unto children, then we should want a ground where to stop, and then all the children on earth should have right to membership and baptism.

Modern Presbyterians

Modern presbyterian denomoinations that have rejected the unbiblical national ecclessiology of their forefathers have also rejected this unbiblical practice of the baptism of infants down to the thousandth generation.

For a child to be presented for baptism, at least one parent must be a communicant member of the Church… Only parents who are communicant members of the Church may be permitted to take parental vows.

OPC DPW 3.1.a


One of the few modern defenders of this practice, Gordon Clark, explains the logical implications of this modern abandonment of reformed tradition.

Does the Bible require or prohibit baptisms to the thousandth generation? If it does, and if a generation is roughly thirty years, a thousand generation from the time of Christ would include just about everybody in the western world. Then the church should have baptized the child of an intensely Talmudic Jew whose ancestor in 50 B.C. was piously looking for the Messiah. Or, George Whitefield should have baptized Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Tom Paine, as children, because one of their ancestors played a small role in the Reformation. Strange as this may seem to many, it ought to have been done if the Bible so teaches.

Some very eminent theologians have so held. The strictest view has not been universal; it is more American than European. The view that only the children of professing parents should be baptized seems to have been the result of colonial revivalism [and/or the rejection of a national church model]… as it… tended to view the ideal church as consisting entirely of regenerate persons… The logical result is the Baptist position; but in Presbyterianism it stopped short at requiring faith of the parents who wanted their children baptized. But if it did not result in Baptist practices, it involved a change in the theology of baptism.

-Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 1192-1194). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

The problem with the modern pratice (as Perkins, Calvin, Rutherford, and the reformed argued in the past) is that circumcision was not administered in this way. This great inconsistency led Hogan and Ortlund to change their minds regarding the proper recipients of baptism.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter.

See also:

1 Cor. 10:1-5 – An Exposition

[Note there is a new category on the Welcome page called “Specific Passages” that lists all the posts addressing specific verses. Also, special thanks goes to Reformed Books Online for their helpful collection of commentaries.]

1 Corinthians 10:1-5 is often used by paedobaptists to support their sacramentology. This post will provide a positive explanation of the passage. A follow-up post will address false inferences made from the text by paedobaptists.


The context begins in 1 Corinthians 8:1. Because we know the truth, we know that idols are nothing and therefore there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. However, some weaker brothers might not understand that yet and they might think you are participating in idol worship if you eat that food. So rather than make them think sin is ok (cause them to stumble), you should refrain from eating it. This requires self-denial. Paul holds himself up as an example. He has a right to compensation for his labor among the Corinthians, but he has not made use of that right in order not to hinder the preaching of the gospel. In fact he has become all things to all people that he might by all means save some. He denies himself for the sake of the gospel, in order to partake of it himself. In doing so, he is diligent to run the race to obtain the prize, lest in preaching to others, he forgets the gospel himself and becomes disqualified.

Paul then uses the Israelites as an example (v6 literally “type”) as to why Christians should not rest content in having heard the gospel and professed faith (begun the race), but must run the race with persevering faith. If we do not deny ourselves we will be tempted to lust for evil things, which leads to destruction. One who thinks he cannot be tempted should “take heed lest he fall.” Therefore, although it may be lawful for you to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, you should not seek your own good but that of your neighbor, who will think it is ok to sin if he sees you eat the meat.

Our Types

So what precisely is the example of “Israel according to the flesh” (note literal translation of v18)? The whole nation together experienced the miraculous power of God’s redemption from slavery in Egypt and provision in the wilderness. They all shared the same experience, but only some of them persevered (“all run, but one obtains the prize”). Most of them lusted for evil things and committed idolatry and sexual immorality and were destroyed.

The analogy between this passage and the preceding is striking: this nation, that had come out of Egypt to get to Canaan, corresponds to the runner who, after starting in the race, misses the prize, for want of perseverance in self-sacrifice.

[T]he correction of those Corinthians who, in reliance on a spirit of confidence they had, rashly did whatever in their want of thoughtfulness they imagined themselves able to do without danger, especially in the matter of eating idol-meats along with idolaters; to which they were led, partly by familiar habit, partly by the pleasures of the feast itself.

The apostle saw that many in this church of Corinth were puffed up with their knowledge, and other gifts and great privileges with which God had blessed them; as also with the opinion of their being a gospel church, and some of the first-fruits of the Gentiles unto Christ, and might therefore think, that they needed not to be pressed to such degrees of strictness and watchfulness;

The Corinthians, by going to the utmost verge of their Christian liberty in eating things offered to idols, were in danger of being drawn back into actual idolatry.

There is a grave danger lest the Corinthians, puffed up by their superior knowledge, consider themselves immune to contamination from idolatry.

‘All our fathers left Egypt; Caleb and Joshua alone entered the promised land.’ All run, but one obtains the prize…The Israelites doubtless felt, as they stood on the other side of the Red Sea, that all danger was over, and that their entrance into the land of promise was secured. They had however a journey beset with dangers before them, and perished because they thought there was no need of exertion. So the Corinthians, when brought to the knowledge of the gospel, thought heaven secure. Paul reminds them that they had only entered on the way, and would certainly perish unless they exercised constant self-denial.

All our fathers

Abraham had two offspring: spiritual and natural.  Note v18 “Observe Israel after the flesh” (NKJV). NASB footnote says “Lit Israel according to the flesh.” Compare that with Romans 1:3 “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh” (NASB) and 9:3-5 “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites… whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh” (NASB). In Romans 4:1, Paul speaks specifically to the Jews in his mixed audience, saying “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?” (NASB).

The Israelites in the wilderness were the fathers of the Jews according to the flesh. They were not the fathers of believing Gentiles.

The apostle says ἡμῶν, speaking, as in Romans 4:1, from his national consciousness, which was shared in by his Jewish readers, and well understood by his Gentile ones.

Despite not clearly understanding Abraham’s two different offspring in this quote, Hodge still recognizes that in this passage, Paul is referring to the fathers of Israel according to the flesh.

Abraham is our father, though we are not his natural descendants. And the Israelites were the fathers of the Corinthian Christians, although most of them were Gentiles. Although this is true, it is probable that the apostle, although writing to a church, many, if not most, of whose members were of heathen origin, speaks as a Jew to Jews.

Baptized into Moses

Being “baptized into Moses” is different from being “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Gal 3:27).

1. Baptized into Moses (10:1, 2). The Old Testament clearly sees Israel’s passing through the sea and the accompanying cloud as divine activity (Exod 13:21; Ps. 105:39; Wis 10:17; 19:7), but the Old Testament itself does not even imply that Israel was baptized into Moses. Nor is there sufficient evidence to suggest this was a view current in Judaism of Paul’s day. Rather, Paul moves backward from his Christian experience and from it interprets the Exodus events, not vice versa… Accepting that Paul begins with Christian baptism and moves by analogy back to Moses best accounts for the phrase ‘into Moses,’ The expression was created to resemble the experience of Christians being baptized ‘into Christ’ (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27).
Wendell Willis

As Christians are saved by being ‘baptized into Christ Jesus’ (Rom 6:3; cf. Gal 3:27), so Israel of old was related salvifically to Moses by the cloud and the sea; he brought them to deliverance and safety.

[T]hat is, brought under obligation to Moses’s law and covenant, as we are by baptism under the Christian law and covenant. It was to them a typical baptism.
Matthew Henry

Moses was a type of Christ, Galatians 3:19.

Into Moses – into the covenant of which Moses was the mediator; and by this typical baptism they were brought under the obligation of acting according to the Mosaic precepts, as Christians receiving Christian baptism are said to be baptized Into Christ, and are thereby brought under obligation to keep the precepts of the Gospel.

[B]aptized unto Moses–the servant of God and representative of the Old Testament covenant of the law: as Jesus, the Son of God, is of the Gospel covenant (John 1:17 , Hebrews 3:5 Hebrews 3:6).
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown

Of course, they were baptized into Moses, and not into the Trinity, but there must be some similarity in the two types of baptism… The similarity between Moses’ baptism and Christian baptism must be sought in their significance, or in a part of it. In both cases, the baptism is a visible sign that the baptized persons are the disciples of him into whose name they are baptized.
Gordon Clark

[I]n reference to Moses, so as by baptism to be made his disciples. See 1:13; Rom 6:3… The cloud and the sea did for them, in reference to Moses, what baptism does for us in reference to Christ. Their passage through the sea, and their guidance by the cloud, was their baptism. It made them the disciples of Moses; placed them under obligation to recognize his divine commission and to submit to his authority. This is the only point of analogy between the cases, and it is all the apostle’s argument requires… The display of God’s power in the cloud and in the sea, brought the people into the relation of disciples to Moses. It inaugurated the congregation, and, as it were, baptized them to him, bound them to serve and follow him.

The words, ‘unto Moses,’ cannot mean sub auspiciis Mosis, but as always with the verb ‘baptize’ they denote the relation or fellowship into which they entered with Moses, who, as the servant of the Lord, was the mediator of the Divine manifestations. With this there is connected the obligation to follow him faithfully as the leader given unto them by the Lord, and legitimated by Him ( Exodus 14:31).

The phrase eis ton Moses [“into Moses”] may be patterned after the similar New Testament phrase eis ton Christon [“into Christ”], but it can never be taken in the same sense of “into Moses” or Christ. No baptism nor anything else could in any conceivable sense carry the Israelites “into” Moses. The idea expressed is one of union: “to,” “unto,” or “for Moses.” This symbolical baptism united the Israelites to Moses as God‘s representative to them, the Old Testament mediator, in whom was foreshadowed Christ, the New Testament eternal Mediator…. The deliverance from the Egyptian bondage through Moses by this symbolical baptism through the cloud and the sea likewise typifies our deliverance from the bondage of sin and of death through Christ by means of Christian baptism.

This miraculous crossing separated them thenceforth from Egypt, the place of bondage and idolatry, exactly as the believer’s baptism separates him from his former life of condemnation and sin… This crossing was to them as baptism is to the believer, the threshold of salvation. This spiritual analogy is expressed by Paul in the words: and were all baptized into Moses. By following their God-given leader with confidence at that critical moment, they were closely united to, and, as it were, incorporated with Moses to become his people, in the same way as Christians in being baptized on the ground of faith in Christ become part of the same plant with Him (Rom. vi. 3-5); they are thenceforth His body.

They were baptised unto Moses by their acceptance of his leadership in the Exodus. By passing through the Red Sea at his command they definitely renounced Pharaoh and abandoned their old life, and as definitely pledged and committed themselves to throw in their lot with Moses. By passing the Egyptian frontier and following the guidance of the pillar of cloud they professed their willingness to exchange a life of bondage, with its security and occasional luxuries, for a life of freedom, with its hazards and hardships; and by that passage of the Red Sea they were as certainly sworn to support and obey Moses as ever was Roman soldier who took the oath to serve his emperor. When, at Brederode’s invitation, the patriots of Holland put on the beggar’s wallet and tasted wine from the beggar’s bowl, they were baptised unto William of Orange and their country’s cause. When the sailors on board the “Swan” weighed anchor and beat out of Plymouth, they were baptised unto Drake and pledged to follow him and fight for him to the death. Baptism means much; but if it means anything it means that we commit and pledge ourselves to the life we are called to by Him in whose name we are baptised. It draws a line across the life, and proclaims that to whomsoever in time past we have been bound, and for whatsoever we have lived, we now are pledged to this new Lord, and are to live in His service. Such a pledge was given by every Israelite who turned his back on Egypt and passed through that sea which was the defence of Israel and destruction to the enemy. The crossing was at once actual deliverance from the old life and irrevocable committal to the new. They died to Pharaoh, and were born again to Moses. They were baptised unto Moses.
Thomas Edwards

Spiritual food… spiritual drink… spiritual rock

These were supernaturally given.

[T]he same sense in which the special gifts of God are called spiritual gifts… Spiritual gifts and spiritual blessings are gifts and blessings of which the Spirit is the author. Every thing which God does in nature and in grace, he does by the Spirit… [The food and drink] was given by the Spirit. It was not natural food, but food miraculously provided… The water which they drank was spiritual, because derived from the Spirit, i.e. by the special intervention of God… The bread and water are called spiritual because supernatural.

The “spiritual food” or manna ( Exodus 16:13 ff.) is distinguished from all earthly food, either because of some supernatural quality in it, or because of its supernatural origin. Here unquestionably we are to suppose the latter. The epithet ‘spiritual’ denotes that the food came from the Spirit—was produced by a Divine miraculous power (comp. Exodus 16:14). [“It is here employed in special reference to its descent from heaven and its designation in Psalm 78:24-25 as “the bread of heaven” and “angels’ food.” Stanley. “Thus, also, Isaac is called, Galatians 4:29, ‘he born after the Spirit,’ in opposition to Ishmael, who is spoken of as ‘born after the flesh.’” Alford.

The same

All the Israelites shared equally.

[“the same spiritual food… the same spiritual drink” means] they all had it. They all eat the same spiritual meat. They were all alike favored, and had therefore equal grounds of hope. Yet how few of them reached the promised rest!

For they were drinking

Some translations have “for they drank” but “The imp. ἔπινον, were drinking, was intended to denote their continuous drinking all through the entire march in the wilderness.” (Lange; see NASB).

“For” means this is an explanatory note for why their drink was spiritual – because it came miraculously from the rock.

That spiritual rock that followed them

God’s miraculous provision of water for them throughout their 40 years in the desert, which had a long tradition of commentary in Jewish tradition.

Byron notes that, interestingly, Paul is not the only person to suggest that the Israelites were followed by a water source during their wilderness wanderings. A first-century C.E. source called Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities makes a similar claim: “But as for his own people, he led them forth into the wilderness: Forty years did he rain bread from heaven for them, and he brought them quails from the sea, and a well of water following them” (10.7).

Pseudo-Philo claims that a well of water followed the Israelites through the wilderness, whereas in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul says that it was a rock that followed them. How did these two ancient interpreters come to their conclusions?
“What they seem to have concluded,” Byron explains, “is that since Moses named both the rock at Rephidim (Exodus 17:7) and the one at Kadesh (Numbers 20:13) ‘Meribah,’ the logical conclusion was that both were one and the same rock and that it, therefore, must have accompanied Israel on their journey.”

1 Corinthians 10:4 reflects a common ancient interpretation—that the Israelites were followed by a water source during their wilderness wanderings, which is demonstrated by Paul’s casual reference and supported by Pseudo-Philo.
John Byron

John Gill explains the more extensive Jewish tradition.

[N]ot that the rock itself removed out of its place, and went after them, but the waters out of the rock ran like rivers, and followed them in the wilderness wherever they went, for the space of eight and thirty years, or thereabout, and then were stopped, to make trial of their faith once more; this was at Kadesh when the rock was struck again, and gave forth its waters, which, as the continual raining of the manna, was a constant miracle wrought for them. And this sense of the apostle is entirely agreeable to the sentiments of the Jews, who say, that the Israelites had the well of water all the forty years. The Jerusalem Targum says of the

“well given at Mattanah, that it again became unto them violent overflowing brooks, and again ascended to the tops of the mountains, and descended with them into the ancient valleys.”

And to the same purpose the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel,

“that it again ascended with them to the highest mountains, and from the highest mountains it descended with them to the hills, and encompassed the whole camp of Israel, and gave drink to everyone at the gate of his own dwelling place; and from the high mountains it descended with them into the deep valleys.”

Yea, they speak of the rock in much the same language the apostle does, and seem to understand it of the rock itself, as if that really went along with the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus one of their writers on those words, “must we fetch you water out of this rock?” makes this remark:

“for they knew it not, (eloh Klhv ypl) , “for that rock went”, and remained among the rocks.”

And in another place it is said,

“that the rock became in the form of a beehive; (elsewhere it is said to be round as a sieve;) and rolled along, (Mhme tabw) , “and came with them”, in their journeys; and when the standard bearers encamped, and the tabernacle stood still, the rock came, and remained in the court of the tent of the congregation; and the princes came and stood upon the top of it, and said, ascend, O well, and it ascended.”

Now, though in this account there is a mixture of fable, yet there appears something of the old true tradition received in the Jewish church, which the apostle has here respect to.

All we know for certain is, that they had two miraculous supplies of water – one, near the outset of their wilderness journey, at Horeb (Ex. xvii. 4-6); the other, at Meribah Kadesh, near its close (Num. xx. 11); and since without a supply of water all through they could not have subsisted for a week, and yet no such fatal want overtook them, one may well say that they had an unfailing supply, or (in the apostle’s way of putting it), that ‘the Rock followed them.’
David Brown

At the divine command, Moses smote the rock Horeb, in the sight of the elders of Israel; when the waters gushed out, ‘they ran in the dry places like a river,’ (Ps. cv. 41; lxxviii. 15, 16). The supply thus obtained was very abundant. Not only did the whole multitude, with their cattle, satisfy their thirst on that occasion, but it would seem that the stream of water, thus opened, formed a channel for itself, and followed the people in the desert. Thus we do not read of any scarcity of water being felt for about thirty-eight years. This the Apostle expresses, by saying, ‘the rock followed them.’
William Lothian

Their second objection is more foolish and more childish — “How could a rock,” say they, “that stood firm in its place, follow the Israelites?” — as if it were not abundantly manifest, that by the word rock is meant the stream of water, which never ceased to accompany the people. For Paul extols the grace of God, on this account, that he commanded the water that was drawn out from the rock to flow forth wherever the people journeyed, as if the rock itself had followed them.

That Rock was Christ

Given that this entire context is dealing with typology, it is likely that Paul means the rock was a type of Christ. Jesus says the manna was a type of Himself, the true bread that comes down from heaven (John 6:48-58). He also told the woman at the well that He was living water (John 4:10-14). As the rock was smitten, so was Christ, as he poured out blood and water (John 19:34).

[T]he water out of the rock, which was typical of the blood of Christ, which is drink indeed, and not figurative, as this was… but as those waters did not flow from thence without the rock being stricken by the rod of Moses, so the communication of the blessings of grace from Christ is through his being smitten by divine justice with the rod of the law; through his being, stricken for the transgressions of his people, and and being made sin, and a curse of the law in their room and stead. And as those waters continued through the wilderness as a constant supply for them, so the grace of Christ is always sufficient for his people; a continual supply is afforded them; goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their lives.

‘this rock was an emblem of Christ.’ He was smitten by the rod of Heaven, before the elders of Israel, and from his pierced body flow the refreshing streams of salvation. This is that river ‘which makes glad the city of God,’ and which follows the church through the barren wilderness of this world, till it shall arrive at the heavenly Canaan… ‘That rock was Christ,’ namely a type of Christ.

The manna on which they fed was a type of Christ crucified… this rock was Christ, that is, in type and figure. He is the rock on which the Christian church is built; and of the streams that issue from him do all believers drink, and are refreshed.
Matthew Henry

This food, though carnal in its nature and use, was truly “spiritual;” inasmuch as it was,

1. A typical representation of Christ—

[Our Lord himself copiously declares this with respect to the manna: He draws a parallel between the bread which Moses gave to the Israelites, and himself as the true bread that was given them from heaven; and shews that, as the manna supported the natural life of that nation for a time, so he would give spiritual and eternal life to the whole believing world [Note: John 6:48-58.]. The same truth he also establishes, in reference to the water that proceeded from the rock. He told the Samaritan woman, that if she would have asked of him he would have given her living water [Note: John 4:10-14.]. And on another occasion he stood in the place of public concourse, and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink [Note: John 7:37-38.];” thereby declaring himself to be the only “well of salvation,” the only rock from whence the living water could proceed. Indeed, the Apostle, in the very words of the text, puts this matter beyond a doubt; “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them;” and “that Rock was Christ.”]

Note Lightfoot on John 19:36 (“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”)

[Came there out blood and water.] It is commonly said that the two sacraments of the new testament, water and blood, flowed out of this wound: but I would rather say that the antitype of the old testament might be here seen…

II. It must not by any means let pass that in Shemoth Rabba;

“‘He smote the rock, and the waters gushed out,’ Psalm 78:20, but the word yod-zayin-vav-bet- yod signifies nothing else but blood; as it is said, ‘The woman that hath an issue of blood upon her,’ Leviticus 15:20. Moses therefore smote the rock twice, and first it gushed out blood, then water.”

“That rock was Christ,” 1 Corinthians 10:4. Compare these two together: Moses smote the rock, and blood and water, saith the Jew, flowed out thence: the soldier pierced our Saviour’s side with a spear, and water and blood, saith the evangelist, flowed thence.

However, if Paul is speaking typologically here, it seems odd that he would only call out the rock as a type, and not the manna, given that Christ identified the manna as a type of himself even more directly than the rock. Furthermore, the grammar Paul uses does not seem to specifically match his grammar elsewhere when speaking of types.

But what do these statements import? Certainly not… that the rock was a symbol of Christ, as of one out of whom streams of living water flow. In such a case it would have read, not “was Christ,” but, “is Christ.”

The Rock as Provider

An alternative explanation of Paul’s meaning is found in the Song of Moses, where the Lord is identified as Israel’s Rock who created them and provided for them.

For I proclaim the name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect;… “He made him ride in the heights of the earth, That he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, And oil from the flinty rock;… “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick, You are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation… Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you… How could one chase a thousand, And two put ten thousand to flight, Unless their Rock had sold them, And the Lord had surrendered them? For their rock is not like our Rock. (Deut 32)

“The miracle of bringing water out of the rock, happened not once, but at least twice (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). It was therefore not one particular rock which was concerned in the miracle; but as often as a like necessity occurred, there on the spot was also the water-yielding rock again.” Now since every rock could render the same service by the same influence, so it appeared as if the rock accompanied the Israelites. The material rock, in this case, is non-essential; the water-giving power is the chief thing. This power was God’s, that same God who has manifested Himself to us in Jesus Christ. And He is called the Rock that followed them, because it was through His agency that the several rocks, one after the other, acquired the same water-yielding power.” Burger.

Thus Paul may be identifying Christ as the Lord who provided for Israel. This finds further support in 1 Cor. 10:9 where Paul says “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,” compared with Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not tempt the Lord your God as you tempted Him in Massah.” Note that Massah was where the rock was first struck for water.

[T]he people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water, that we may drink.” So Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?”… And the Lord said to Moses… “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”

And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:2-7)

In verse 9, Paul does not specifically refer to this tempting at Massah, but to a later tempting of the Lord on the same grounds (lack of provision).

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. (Numbers 25:5-6)

This reinforces the idea that Paul is identifying Christ as the one who provided physical sustenance for Israel throughout their wanderings, rather than narrowly identifying Christ with the specific rock at Horeb.

ver. 9 represents the Christ in the wilderness acting as the representative of Jehovah, from the midst of the cloud! Is it not perfectly simple to explain this figure of which Paul makes use, by the numerous saying of Deuteronomy, in which the Lord is called the Rock of Israel: ‘The Rock, His work is perfect’ (xxxii. 4); ‘Israel lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation’ (ver. 15); ‘Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful’ (ver. 18), etc., and by all those similar ones of Isaiah: ‘Thou hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength’ (xvii. 10); ‘in the Lord is the Rock of ages’ (xxvi. 4)? Only, what is special in the passage of Paul is, that this title of Rock of Israel, during the wilderness history, is ascribed here, not to Jehovah, but to the Christ. The passage forms an analogy to the words John xii. 41, where the apostle applies to Jesus the vision in which Isaiah beholds Adonai, the Lord, in the temple of His glory (ch. vi.). Christ is represented in these passages, by Paul and John, as pre-existent before His coming to the earth, and presiding over the theocratic history. In ch. viii. ver. 6, Paul had designated Christ as the Being by whom God created all things. Here he represents Him as the Divine Being who accompanied God’s people in the cloud through the wilderness, and who gave them the deliverances which they needed.

This finds further support when we consider Christ as the Wisdom of God (Proverbs 8).

the role of the fiture of Wisdom in guiding, protecting, and nurturing Israel through the wilderness is very widely attested in literature in hellenistic Judaism over the century before Paul’s writing, in contemporary synagogue homilies, and in Paul’s near-contemporary Philo. Both Wisdom 2, the Book of Wisdom, and Philo speak of Wisdom’s provision of water to wandering Israel “from a flinty rock” (Wis 2:4) on which Philo observes: “the flinty rock is the wisdom of God” [cp. Deut 8:15]  (Philo, Legum Allegoriae 2.86). The point here is that it is clearly and widely recognized that Paul informs his own Christology by drawing explicitly on traditions of preexistent Wisdom from the OT Wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs 8)…

We cannot readily underplay the role for Paul of Christ the Wisdom of God (1:30) when it not only plays a major role in his dialogue with Corinth and “the strong”… Paul could take for granted a background about the role of divine Wisdom as protector, guide, nourisher of Israel in the wilderness which could readily be applied to the preexistent Christ, while this background, which was the stock-in-trade of hellenistic Jewish diaspora [note “our fathers” discussed above] synagogue sermons, has become unfamiliar now to most modern readers, and hence requires explanation.

Hodge summarizes

in what sense was the rock Christ? Not that Christ appeared under the form of a rock; nor that the rock was a type of Christ, for that does not suit the connection… The expression is simply figurative… He was the source of all the support which the Israelites enjoyed during their journey in the wilderness. This passage distinctly asserts not only the preexistence of our Lord, but also that he was the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

This is how the passage was understood by Melito of Sardis in a sermon on the typology of the Passover delivered around 160AD.

81. O lawless Israel, why did you commit this extraordinary crime of casting your Lord into new sufferings–your master, the one who formed you, the one who made you, the one who honored you, the one who called you Israel?

82. But you were found not really to be Israel, for you did not see God, you did not recognize the Lord, you did not know, O Israel, that this one was the firstborn of God, the one who was begotten before the morning star, the one who caused the light to shine forth…

84. This was the one who guided you into Egypt, and guarded you, and himself kept you well supplied there. This was the one who lighted your route with a column of fire, and provided shade for you by means of a cloud, the one who divided the Red Sea, and led you across it, and scattered your enemy abroad.

85. This is the one who provided you with manna from heaven, the one who gave you water to drink from a rock, the one who established your laws in Horeb, the one who gave you an inheritance in the land, the one who sent out his prophets to you, the one who raised up your kings.

Greg Lanier (PCA), associate professor of New Testament at RTS Orlando agrees

The New Testament affirms that the preexistent Son is active in Israel’s wilderness sojourn: sustaining the people (“that Rock was Christ,” 1 Cor. 10:4)

But with many of them God was not well pleased

Notwithstanding they had been thus highly favored… with a great number… he was displeased.

Despite the fact that Christ, Jehova miraculously provided for the Israelites by redeeming them out of slavery, delivering them from Pharoah, providing them with food and water for 40 years, many of them did not finish the race because they did not deny themselves. They were destroyed. Paul uses this as a typological warning to the Corinthians. Christ’s provision was not the same in both instances. To Israel, as the Triune God, he miraculously provided physical sustenance: bread and water. To the Church, as incarnate suffering servant, he miraculously provided himself: the bread of life and living water. If anyone who makes a profession of faith and is baptized into Christ becomes puffed up in his knowledge of the forgiveness of sins and becomes lax in their fight against the temptation to sin, there is a very real possibility that they will not finish the race and will be destroyed eternally, just as the Israelites in the wilderness were destroyed temporally.

[T]he Apostle Paul… in his first Epistle to the Corinthians shows that even the very history of the Exodus was an allegory of the future Christian People.
(Augustine, On the Profit of Believing)

Next: 1 Cor. 10:1-5 – Paedobaptist False Inferences

Note, if you are not familiar with 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the Old and New Covenant, please visit

Ursinus on Who Ought to Come

In a previous post titled Who Should Be Baptized – Professors or Believers? I argued that there was a difference between who has a right to baptism and who may be lawfully baptized.

To demonstrate that a false professor does not have a right to baptism, though it may be lawfully administered to them, consider the following.

P1 Believers in Christ make their belief known to others through an outward profession of their saving belief in Christ.

P2 No one has a right to bear false witness.

C1 No unbeliever has a right to make an outward profession of saving belief in Christ.

Ursinus makes the same argument with regards to the Lord’s Supper in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 81.

The questions who ought to come, and who ought to be admitted to the Supper, are distinct and different. The former speaks of the duty of communicants; the latter of the duty of the church and ministers. The former is more restricted; the latter is broader, and more general: for, as touching the former, none but the godly ought to come to the Supper; whilst, as it respects the latter, not only the godly, but hypocrites also, who are not known to be such, are to be admitted by the church. Hence all that ought to come, ought also to be admitted; but not all who ought to be admitted, ought to come: but only those, 1. Who acknowledge their sins, and are truly sorrowful for them. 2. Who trust that their sins are forgiven them by and for the sake of Christ. 3. Who earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy: that is, those only ought to come to the Lord’s supper, and they alone are worthy guests of Christ, who live in true faith and repentance.

We simply say the same thing about baptism.

Who Should Be Baptized – Professors or Believers?

The following is from a discussion on Facebook. Someone wrestling with the issue posted the following:

Baptist: Only those who give a credible profession of faith should be.

Paedobaptist: my friend Bill gave a credible profession of faith. Should he have been?

B: Yes, definitely.

P: Just recently, my friend Bill apostatized from the faith and is now an atheist. Should he have been?

B: No, he shouldn’t have.

P: Why not?

B: Because he wasn’t a member of the New Covenant.

P: Is everyone who makes a profession of faith a member of the New Covenant?

B: No.

P: But everyone who makes a credible profession of faith should be baptized?

B: Yes.

P: So Bill should have been baptized?

B: No, because he wasn’t a member of the Covenant of Grace.

P: Should everyone who makes a credible profession of faith be baptized or should only those who are members of the New Covenant be baptized? Which is it?

It seems like baptists want to have their cake and eat it too here. Either people in the visible church should rightfully be baptized, or only those in the invisible church should be. Since we don’t have certainty of who is in the invisible church, the visible church should be baptized and their baptism is their right even if they apostatize later. But if baptists insist that only those who are members of the invisible church should be baptized, then they have to abandon the idea that everyone who makes a credible profession of faith should be baptized. Moreover, children of believers are members of the visible church, and there are at least some baptists who agree children of believers are part of the visible church.


The main point here is that even if one doesn’t think the visible church is synonymous with the covenant of grace, one still has to accept that there are people outside of the internal CoG, or just the CoG altogether on the baptist view, that have a right to baptism. Their right is by virtue of their profession. If they apostatize and a baptist claim they should not have been baptized, then the baptist is contradicting himself. Either regeneration is necessary for baptism, or simply being part of the visible church (note that being part of the visible church does not entail that one is a member of the CoG expect on Presbyterian covenant theology. You can assume only regenerate people are members of the CoG and it doesn’t affect my point) is necessary for a right to baptism. Since the latter doesn’t cause one to contradict themselves, it should be accepted. But then are infants of professing believers part of the visible church? Yes, so they should receive baptism.

I replied:
Thank you for the critique you have offered to credobaptists. May we all endeavor to engage this conversation with a spirit of humility and iron sharpening (something I often fail at).

You do present a good question/challenge. However, there are a LOT of hidden premises and conclusions in your argument. Therefore presenting your argument as a syllogism will help everyone to be more clearly see the argument and to discuss the exact points of disagreement.

Here is my attempt to convert your statements into a syllogism.

P(a) Baptists say all men who give a credible profession of faith should be baptized.

P(b) Baptists say all men who give a false, but credible, profession of faith should not be baptized.

C(a) Baptists are contradictory.

Can you provide us with a written statement from a baptist asserting P(a) and P(b)? If they have said that, then they are being contradictory. Some may have carelessly expressed themselves in that manner. That’s why it’s helpful to look to a confession or other representative document. I believe the source of confusion, however, is that you are misrepresenting what baptists say about having a right to church membership and confusing it with the lawful administration of baptism. Allow me to present the baptist view in a syllogism for better clarity.

P1 Baptism is a visible sign to be lawfully administered by men according to their fallible knowledge.

P2 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

C1 Baptism is lawfully administered by men to men they have reason to believe have saving faith (fellowship with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, and are engrafted into him, have remission of sins, and have given up to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life).

Either regeneration is necessary for baptism, or simply being part of the visible church… is necessary for a right to baptism.

It is more precise to say “Either regeneration is necessary for baptism, or simply making a credible profession of faith is necessary for the lawful administration of baptism.” Per the above, we say a credible profession of faith is necessary for the lawful administration of baptism. (2LBCF 29.2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. Cf WCF 28.4)

Moreover, children of believers are members of the visible church.

This is where a great deal of the confusion enters. First of all, you’re just asserting precisely what you have to prove. Second, the visible church needs to be defined in relation to the invisible church. There are not two churches of Christ. There is only one made up of the regenerate elect. The difference between the visible and invisible church is perspective/point of view: God’s and man’s (see Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto). The visible church is man’s approximation of who is a member of the (one) church. Man can be mistaken. A mistaken belief that an unbeliever is actually a believer does not make that unbeliever a member of the church. It just means that we wrongly consider him a member of the church. But we may only consider someone to be a member of the (one) church by a credible profession of faith. Baptism may lawfully be given to a false professor whose false profession is deemed credible. It does not therefore follow that an infant who has made no credible profession of faith may lawfully be baptized.

In the OP, I am attempting to demonstrate a inconsistency/contradiction on the baptists administration of baptism.

As I’m on break at work, I cannot provide a written citation for the two premises of the syllogism. Your syllogism is a fair representation of my argument btw.

As I understand it, your view is that only those who are truly regenerate should be baptized, however it is lawful to give the sign to someone who gives a false profession of faith assuming we have reason to think it isn’t false, even though that person shouldn’t receive.

I’d agree that this terminological distinction between lawful administration and an actual right to baptism (ie being regenerate) resolves the dilemma.

The problem addressed in the OP is when it is treated as if anyone who professes faith should be baptized by virtue of their profession. However, I understand you to be saying that one is not to be baptized by virtue of their profession, but should be by virtue of their salvation. Yet, we can only presume who is saved by their profession, so it is lawful to baptize them even though they don’t have a right to it.

Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you.

Yes, that is an accurate understanding/representation of what I said.

To demonstrate that a false professor does not have a right to baptism, though it may be lawfully administered to them, consider the following.

P1 Believers in Christ make their belief known to others through an outward profession of their saving belief in Christ.

P2 No one has a right to bear false witness.

C1 No unbeliever has a right to make an outward profession of saving belief in Christ.

[Note: Ursinus makes the same argument with regards to the Lord’s Supper in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 81. “The questions who ought to come, and who ought to be admitted to the Supper, are distinct and different. The former speaks of the duty of communicants; the latter of the duty of the church and ministers. The former is more restricted; the latter is broader, and more general: for, as touching the former, none but the godly ought to come to the Supper; whilst, as it respects the latter, not only the godly, but hypocrites also, who are not known to be such, are to be admitted by the church. Hence all that ought to come, ought also to be admitted; but not all who ought to be admitted, ought to come: but only those, 1. Who acknowledge their sins, and are truly sorrowful for them. 2. Who trust that their sins are forgiven them by and for the sake of Christ. 3. Who earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy: that is, those only ought to come to the Lord’s supper, and they alone are worthy guests of Christ, who live in true faith and repentance.”

We simply say the same thing about baptism.]

If someone were to make a credible profession of faith, do the ministers aware of said profession have a moral duty to baptize that person?

If the ministers refuse to baptize that person, are they in sin?

If yes, why? Especially considering that profession does not give someone a right to baptism.

I don’t see any grounds for denying baptism to someone you believe is making a credible profession. But there may be disagreement as to what constitutes a credible profession at times. For example, part of a credible profession would include a willingness to become part of a local church. If someone just wanted to be baptized, but made it clear they had no interest in the local church, that would be reason to doubt the credibility of the profession, etc.

Let’s say the profession was credible by whatever is the correct standard of assessing professions. Although there may be no reason to withhold baptism from them, is baptizing them a moral obligation such that if withheld, the minister would be in sin?

This is relevant, because if it is the case that the minister has a moral obligation, then the professor has a right to baptism by virtue of his profession. That would then entail the contradiction in the OP.

Honestly, this is getting pretty silly. You’re trying really hard to find a contradiction that is not there. If you think it’s there, write it out in a syllogism to demonstrate it. All you’re doing at this point is equivocating on the word “right.” What the minister may/must lawfully do is separate from what the unbeliever may rightfully claim before God. The difference is God’s perspective vs man’s perspective – which is precisely the difference between the invisible and the visible church. If a minister refused to baptize someone they believed met all the lawful requirements of baptism then he would be in sin. That does not therefore mean the unbeliever has a right to make a false profession. And if he does not have a right to make a false profession, he does not have a right to the baptism that follows his false profession. Again, I was careful to demonstrate this clearly in syllogistic form, so please go back and demonstrate precisely where the syllogisms are invalid if you think they are.

Honestly, I’m not trying hard to find a contradiction. I was merely asking for clarification.

I see your point.

This was a surprisingly fruitful thread. A lot of good discussion.

[See also Samuel Renihan’s comments on this point in The Case for Credobaptism]

A Presbyterian (Finally) Gets Acts 2:39 Right

In a previous post God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness? I demonstrated the error in the illogical claim that in the Covenant of Grace God promises the salvation of our children, concluding that “Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.”

Advocates of the Federal Vision heresy have tried to take this false premise to its logical conclusion.

Steve Schlissel, pastor of the independent Messiah’s Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, wrote on a whiteboard during a colloquium on Federal Vision theology in August 2003 hosted by Knox Theological Seminary, “The children of believers are saved.”
(Evangelizing Our Children, 3)

Federal Visionist John Barach says

[T]here is an objective covenant made with believers and their children. Every baptized person is in covenant with God and is in union then with Christ and with the Triune God.
(Evangelizing Our Children, 2)

The obvious problem is that our experience and (more importantly) Scripture teaches us that not all of the children of believers are, in fact, saved. Federal Visionist Doug Wilson notes

In faith, we want to say that children of believers are saved. But we are not making a categorical statement of the “All P are Q” kind. We are saying that we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children, and we think others should believe them, too. Now these promises (in all our theological systems) have apparent instances of non-fulfillment. How are we to account for this?
(Evangelizing Our Children, 3)

E. Calvin Beisner (OPC, see 4 page bio) does an excellent job of refuting this error in an essay titled Evangelizing Our Children: A Reformed and Covenantal Practice. What sets Beisner apart in all of his writings is his understanding of and adherence to logic (see his Summary of Major Concepts, Principles, and Functions of Logic). In this paper, he demonstrates that Wilson’s attempted solution (“levels of discourse”) is illogical and therefore false. He pinpoints the Federal Vision’s error as their premise that God has promised the salvation of our children.

The Federal Visionists have not provided any promises of God of type (1), “All children of believers–or all baptized persons–are people who are saved.” Consequently it is of no use for Wilson to say, “we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children, and we think others should believe them, too,”… Neither is it of use for Wilson to say, “these promises (in all our theological systems) have apparent instances of non-fulfillment.” That in itself assumes what the Federal Visionists must prove–that God has promised the salvation of all children of believers (or all baptized persons).

Beisner demonstrates that the logically inescapable conclusion is that

He has not promised the salvation of any children of believers or baptized persons simply because they are children of believers or baptized persons… [Thus] it is possible for any or even all children of believers, or baptized persons, to be damned. [emphasis original]

This is exactly what we concluded previously. “Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.”

Acts 2:39

Beisner recognizes this conclusion has serious consequences for various passages that paedobaptists frequently use as proof texts.

What then are we to make of those precious passages with which we began? What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”? What of Paul’s that the child of even just one believing parent is “holy”? What of his promise to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”? What of God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you”? Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully.

Commenting on Acts 2:39, Calvin says

Whereas he adjoineth their children unto them, it dependeth upon the words of the promise: I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee, (Genesis 17:7,) where God doth reckon the children with the fathers in the grace of adoption. This place, therefore, doth abundantly refute the manifest error of the Anabaptists, which will not have infants, which are the children of the faithful, to be baptized, as if they were not members of the Church.

In his excellent two-part essay on Acts 2:39 in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, Jamin Hubner notes

the phrase ‘everyone who the Lord our God calls to Himself’ is entirely absent from [Calvin’s] commentary. This is particularly troublesome since he normally does not exclude entire phrases like this… This is what pushes readers away from the fact that Peter is talking of God’s elect (“everyone the Lord God calls to Himself”) – whether they are Jews or Gentiles, children or adults.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) says in the 15th Topic of his classic work The Institutes of Elenctic Theology:

XIV. The reasons [for seminal faith in infants] are: (1) the promise of the covenant pertains no less to infants than to adults, since God promises that he will be ‘the God of Abraham and of his seed’ (Gen. 17:7) and the promise is said to have been made ‘with the fathers and their children’ (Acts 2:39). Therefore also the blessings of the covenant (such as “remission of sins” and “sanctification”) ought to pertain to them (according to Jer. 31 and 32) and are communicated to them by God according to their state.

The Westminster Confession of Faith references Acts 2:39 in defense of infant baptism in 25.2 and 28.4. Hubner notes “Combined with what appears to be loyalty to Calvin, there is, then, a repetitious pattern of errors in interpreting Acts 2:39 throughout much of history.” Thankfully, because of his commitment to logic, Beisner is willing to abandon that loyalty.

Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world. Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.

That is precisely what baptists have been saying for quite a long time. The logically necessary conclusion, as Hubner notes, is that

“Those who received his word and their children were baptized” is not in the text, nor would it fit any concept asserted in Acts 2. Baptism in Acts 2, in Acts in general, and in all the New Testament is consistently associated with repentance and faith… So no matter how one puts it, Peter is not asserting in Acts 2 that one should be baptized apart from repentance. He is asserting quite the opposite! This is a fact of the text (and all of Scripture) that stands in contradiction to infant baptism and simply will not go away: repentance from sin is a precondition to baptism…

Alas, the historical interpretation of Acts 2:39 has been anything but sound in the Reformed faith. Therefore, let us turn the tide by letting the Word of God speak on its own terms, and be willing to test our traditions. Only then are we truly practicing sola Scriptura. Amen and semper reformanda.

God uses false teaching to drive us to His Word. Look at any great creed or confession and you will see that it was formed in the midst of rigorous dispute. Presbyterian critics of the Federal Vision are frequently accused of making baptist arguments. Perhaps the Lord will use the Federal Vision heresy to drive Presbyterians to greater consistency, as it has done to Beisner.

Genesis 17:7

If Acts 2:39 is a conditional promise to everyone in the world and is not unique to the children of believers, how does Beisner interpret Genesis 17:7?

And finally consider God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you.” Does this imply that every physical descendant of Abraham–or even every one of his own direct, first-generation offspring–would be saved, that none of them would go to hell, all would go to heaven? Certainly not. As Paul explained in Romans 9:6-8… Likewise he wrote in Galatians 4:22-31… Notice that: “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise.”…

Haven’t we heard some similar phrases somewhere else? Yes! In John 1:10-13, John tells us that the incarnate Word, Jesus, “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world”–those who had no special relationship to Abraham–did not know Him. He came to His own”–that is, to the Jews, the children of Abraham according to the flesh, “and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them”–whether those of the world, or those of Abraham according to the flesh–“as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Beisner is clear that he believes God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 was made only to his spiritual offspring, both Jew and Gentile. God’s promise “to be God to you and to your descendants after you” does not refer to Abraham’s physical offspring.

If that is the case, then the circumcision of Abraham’s physical offspring is entirely unrelated to this promise. But Scripture clearly says circumcision was directly tied to this covenant promise.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17:9-11 ESV)

How are we to resolve this dilemma in a logically consistent way? John Owen untied this Gordian Knot by recognizing the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and his seed.

Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —

First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people, that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.

Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.”

4. Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

(The Oneness of the Church)

Long before Owen, Augustine made the same observation.

Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”…

Abraham, then, having departed out of Haran in the seventy-fifth year of his own age, and in the hundred and forty-fifth of his father’s, went with Lot, his brother’s son, and Sarah his wife, into the land of Canaan, and came even to Sichem, where again he received the divine oracle, of which it is thus written:  “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen 12:7)  Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed…

[T]he people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel.

(Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)

And as Jonathan Edwards observed, the covenant promise “to be God to you and your offspring after you” had a dichotomous meaning: typological and anti-typological.

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention…
with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people…
It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh…

To that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs. Indeed the main thing, the substance and marrow of that covenant which God made with Abraham and the other patriarchs, was the covenant of grace, which is continued in these days of the gospel, and extends to all his spiritual seed, of the Gentiles as well as Jews: but yet that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him… And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.

On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny…

they are not God’s Covenant people, in the sense that visible Christians are.

(Jonathan Edwards on the Nation of Israel as a Type of the Church) see also (Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel)

May we all follow Beisner’s example and strive to be logical consistent with God’s Word. And may Beisner continue to follow the logic and recognize that Genesis 17:7 is no basis for infant baptism.

(To see all of this worked out in a systematic manner, please see

1 Cor. 7:14 – No Proof of Infant Baptism

The previous post explained the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 7:14 as dealing with the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. This post is a discussion I had with an OPC pastor regarding the text. By the end of the discussion he acknowledges that the text does not prove infant baptism and that he does not know what the holiness of the spouse is.

On Facebook, Jim Cassidy, frequent co-host of Reformed Forum, posted a link to a sermon by Glen Clary on 1 Cor. 7:14 with the title “The Case for Infant Baptism.” Cassidy commented “And that just about ends that debate! Give it a listen….”

So I gave it a listen, and then commented. Here is the discussion (posted with permission). I greatly appreciate Clary’s willingness to discuss openly and to follow the logic. He blogs at Ancient-Reformed Worship.



Matthew Thanks Jim for posting. I listened to it and thought his presentation was clear and that he made a number of helpful points.

I have one question: if ‘holy’ in this passage means a covenantal status that grants the privileges of baptism and membership into Christ’s church, then should the unbelieving spouse also receive baptism since they are also holy? If the the spouse is also covenantally holy then I have two more questions. 1. On what basis can we withhold baptism if they are covenantally holy and a member of Christ’s church? Secondly, would we not have to excommunicate them for apostasy or leading an unrepentantly sinful life (1 Corinthians 5), and if so then wouldn’t we have discipline them at that same time we would have to baptize them (wouldn’t that excluded them from the sign)?

Glen Clary: Matthew. You’re second point answers your first one. The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief (likely an idolater … in first century Corinth). The child would also have to be excommunicated if (God forbid) he grows up to deny the faith and worships idols.

John M. Mason addressed that very question in the 19th c. Here’s his answer.

The only plausible difficulty which lies against our view, is, that “According to the same reasoning, an unbeliever, continuing in unbelief, becomes a member of the church in consequence of marriage with a believer. For the apostle does not more positively affirm that the children are “holy,” than he affirms that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife sanctified, or “made holy,” by the husband.

Therefore, if holiness imparted by the parent to the children, makes them members of the church, the holiness imparted by one parent to the other, makes him or her, a member of the church.

This will not be maintained. For it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife. Well then, if the “sanctification,” which an unbelieving wife derives from her believing husband, does not make her a member of the church, the “holiness” which children derive from a believing parent, cannot make them members of the church.”

The objection is shrewd: but, like many other shrewd things, more calculated to embarrass an inquirer, than to assist him. Our answer is short. First, It makes the apostle talk nonsense. The amount of it when stripped of its speciousness and tried by the standard of common sense, being neither more nor less than this, that all his discourse about the sanctification of husband and wife, and the holiness of their children, means—just nothing at all.

For if it be not an internal holiness, which we do not affirm; nor an external relative holiness, which the objection denies; then a person is said by the apostle to be holy, whose holiness is neither within him nor without him; neither in soul, nor spirit, nor body, nor state, nor condition, nor anything else: which, in our apprehension, is as genuine nonsense as can well be uttered.

If those who differ from us feel themselves wronged, we beg them to show in what the holiness mentioned by the apostle consists.

Secondly. The objection takes for granted, that the sanctification of the husband by his wife, or of the wife by her husband, is precisely of the same extent, and produces on its subject the same effect, as the holiness which children inherit from a believing parent. This is certainly erroneous. (1.) The covenant of God never founded the privilege of membership in his church upon the mere fact of intermarriage with his people: but it did expressly found that privilege upon the fact of being born of them. (2.) By a positive precept, adults were not to be admitted into the church without a profession of their faith. This is a special statute, limiting, in the case of adults, the general doctrine of membership. Consequently, the doctrine of Paul must be explained by the restriction of that statute.

“Sanctify” her unbelieving husband the believing wife does; and so does the believing husband his unbelieving wife; i.e. to a certain length; but not so far as to render the partner thus sanctified, a member of the church—The former cannot be doubted, for the apostle peremptorily asserts it—The latter cannot be admitted; for it would contravene the statute already quoted. The membership of infants does not contravene it. And, therefore, although the holiness which the apostle ascribes to infants involves their membership; it does not follow that the sanctifying influence over an unbelieving husband or wife, which he ascribes to the believing wife or husband, involves the church membership of the party thus sanctified.

(3.) The very words of the text lead to the same conclusion. They teach us, in the plainest manner, that this sanctification regards the unbelieving parent not for his own sake, but as a medium affecting the transmission of covenant privilege to the children of a believer. A simple, and we think, satisfactory account of the matter, is this: Among the early conversions to Christianity, it often happened, that the gospel was believed by a woman, and rejected by her husband; or believed by a man, and rejected by his wife. One of the invariable effects of Christianity being a tender concern in parents for the welfare of their offspring; a question was naturally suggested by such a disparity of religious condition, as to the light in which the children were to be viewed. Considering the one parent, they were to be accounted “holy;” but considering the other, they were to be accounted “unclean.” Did the character of the former place them within the church of God; or the character of the latter without it? or did they belong partly to the church and partly to the world, but wholly to neither ? The difficulty was a real one; and calculated to excite much distress in the minds of parents who, like the primitive Christians, did not treat the relation of their little ones to the church of God, as a slight and uninteresting affair.

Paul obviates it by telling his Corinthian friends, that in this case where the argument for the children appears to be perfectly balanced by the argument against them, God has graciously inclined the scale in favour of his people: so that for the purpose of conveying to their infants the privilege of being within his covenant and church, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband. If it were not so, it must be the reverse; because it is impossible that a child should be born in two contrary moral states: then, the believing husband being rendered “unclean” by his wife; and the believing wife “unclean” by her husband, their children would also be “unclean,” i.e. would be born, not in a state of separation to God; but in a state of separation from him; like those who are without the bond of his covenant, and, not being appropriated to him, are “common” or “unclean.”

But now, saith the apostle, God has determined that the parental influence shall go the other way. That instead of the interest which a child has in his covenant, by virtue of the faith of one parent, being made void by the infidelity of the other; the very fact of being married to a believer, shall so far control the effect of unbelief—shall so far consecrate the infidel party, as that the children of such a marriage shall be accounted of the covenanted seed; shall be members of the church— Now, saith Paul, they are HOLY.

The passage which we have explained, establishes the church membership of infants in another form. For it assumes the principle that when both parents are reputed believers, their children belong to the church of God as a matter of course. The whole difficulty proposed by the Corinthians to Paul grows out of this principle. Had he taught, or they understood, that no children, be their parents believers or unbelievers, are to be accounted members of the church, the difficulty could not have existed. For if the faith of both parents could not confer upon a child the privilege of membership, the faith of only one of them certainly could not. The point was decided. It would have been mere impertinence to teaze the apostle with queries which carried their own answer along with them. But on the supposition that when both parents were members, their children, also, were members; the difficulty is very natural and serious.

“I see,” would a Corinthian convert exclaim, “I see the children of my Christian neighbours, owned as members of the church of God; and I see the children of others, who are unbelievers, rejected with themselves. I believe in Christ myself; but my husband, my wife, believes not. “What is to become of my children? Are they to be admitted with myself? or are they to be cast off with my partner?” “Let not your heart be troubled,” replies the apostle: “God reckons them to the believing, not to the unbelieving, parent. It is enough that they are yours. The infidelity of your partner shall never frustrate their interest in the covenant of your God. They are ‘holy’ because you are so.” This decision put the subject at rest.

And it lets us know that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason of the doubt, whether a married person should continue, after conversion, in the conjugal society of an infidel partner, arose from a fear lest such continuance should exclude the children from the church of God. Otherwise it is hard to comprehend why the apostle should dissuade them from separating, by such an argument as he has employed in the text. And it is utterly inconceivable how such a doubt could have entered their minds, had not the membership of infants, born of believing parents, been undisputed, and esteemed a high privilege; so high a privilege, as that the apprehension of losing it made conscientious parents at a stand whether they ought not rather to break the ties of wedlock, by withdrawing from an unbelieving husband or wife. Thus, the origin of this difficulty on the one hand, and the solution of it, on the other, concur in establishing our doctrine, that, by the appointment of God himself, the infants of believing parents are born members of his church.

Brandon Adams: [responding to the claim in the sermon that there was only ever one people of God, therefore Israel was the church and holiness if the congregation of Christ is the same as holiness in the congregation of Israel]

appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from Rom. ix. 3, 4, 5… It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh. For the apostle is speaking here of the unbelieving Jews, professed unbelievers, that were out of the christian church, and open visible enemies to it, and such as had no right to the external privileges of Christ’s people…

that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him. Such were those that annexed the blessing to the land of Canaan, and the progeny of Isaac and Jacob. Just so it was also as to the covenant God made with David. 2 Sam. vii.. and Psal. cxxxii.. If we consider that covenant with regard to its marrow and soul, it was the covenant of grace: but there were other subservient promises which were typical of its benefits; such were promises of blessings to the nation of Israel, of continuing the temporal crown to David’s posterity, and of fixing the blessing to Jerusalem or mount Zion, as the place which he chose to set his name there. And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.

On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace

-Jonathan Edwards


Much of the most plausible argument of Romanists is derived from the analogy of the old dispensation. That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church…

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church…

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37). The Church, therefore, is, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership.

-Charles Hodge

Brandon Adams: Glen, thank you for that extensive quote in response to Matthew’s question. However, I do not believe it sufficiently answers the dilemma, for a number of reasons.

1) Mason criticizes his objectors by saying they provide no definition of what holiness means. However, Mason winds up in the exact same situation. He denies that the holiness of the spouse is the same as the holiness of the child. The holiness of the child accounts them a member of the church, and thus a right to baptism. This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis? What is this holiness if it is not covenant holiness? Mason suffers the problem he criticizes others of: he provides no definition of the spouse’s holiness.

2) If the spouse is considered holy by their membership in the covenant of grace, just like the child, then they have a right to baptism, just like the child. However, Mason rejects this idea when he says “it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife.” Mason thus rejects the idea that the spouse is covenantally holy by virtue of their marriage to a believer. Along the same lines, you said “The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief.” If someone is excommunicated, they are not considered part of the church, nor part of the covenant of grace, and therefore not holy (unless you can offer a different basis for holiness, which goes back to #1).

3) Using a modus tollens form of argument, Paul argues from the status of the child to the status of the spouse:

If P, then Q,
Not Q,
Therefore, Not P.

If the spouse is unholy, then the children would be unholy.
But the children are holy (not-Q),
Therefore, the spouse is holy (not-P).

Per #2 above, you and Mason acknowledge that an unbeliever is unholy. Thus, according to Paul’s logic, the children are likewise unholy.

Glen Clary: Hmmm. Interesting points.
The unbelieving husband certainly has an unholy nature. No question about that. The child may also have an unholy nature, though that is not certain, since he may very well be regenerate.
The status of the unbelieving spouse is, in some sense, holy, since that’s what the text says. The unbelieving spouse derives his/her holiness from the believer; he/she is holy in or through the believing spouse.
The holy status of the children is derived from the status of the parents. The argument seems to be that if both parents are not holy, then the children would be unholy/unclean.
Re: Mason’s explanation, I see your point that he’s guilty of doing what he accuses his opponents of doing. Not sure what to make of that. I’ll have to chew on that some more.

The point Matthew raised about excommunicating the unbeliever/idolater seems to be significant. The unbeliever can’t be baptized because he’s an unbeliever; he would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief. That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

I preached a couple of sermons on this text. I try to deal with the nature of the holiness of the unbeliever. I referred to him/her as the unbelieving saint.
Here are the links if interested… Marriage and the Gospel Part 3 The Case for Infant Baptism

Brandon Adams:

That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

Yes, though that’s not directly my point of focus here.

Glen Clary: Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been working on this verse for a while. Not an easy one.

Brandon Adams: Thanks, I will listen to the sermons. Could you provide a brief answer? Is the spouse holy because they are in the covenant of grace?

btw, I listened to the second link already. In that sermon you define the holiness as covenant holiness.

Glen Clary: On the one point that you raised

This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis?

The basis of the holiness of the unbelieving husband is his union to his believing wife. The unbelieving husband is made holy in virtue of his union to his wife. I take that to be the meaning of the preposition EN in the text. Still not exactly sure what that means, but…

Yes, I think covenant holiness is in view with regard to all three parties: the believer, the unbeliever and the child.

The reason I take it that way is the holiness that covers all three parties must be the same as the holiness of the believer, since it’s the believer’s holiness that stands behind the holiness of all three. At least that’s what it looks like it’s saying to me.

Brandon Adams: Do you believe that an unbeliever who has been excommunicated from the church is still covenantally holy?

Glen Clary: no

Brandon Adams: Then I am confused. At what point is the unbelieving spouse covenantally holy?

Glen Clary: well, not so sure about my “no”. it depends. if an excommunicated person were still married to a believer, then he would have some sort of holiness as per 7:14

The unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy in some sense as long as he/she is married to a believer

Brandon Adams: Can you define that sense? I’m having a hard time understanding how someone can be excommunicated from the church, yet still be a member of the covenant of grace.

Glen Clary: but that holiness (if it be a covenantal holiness) is derived from his/her marriage union to the believer not from his/her union to Christ

you’re having a hard time with it? I think I am too and so was Mason.

Brandon Adams: Well, personally, I don’t have a hard time with the passage. I have a hard time with your view of the passage.

Glen Clary well then… 😉

Let’s hear your explanation. smile emoticon

Brandon Adams:


Therefore Paul answers that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike opinions of God if the impious person do not cast away the other. And for comfort, he adds as a reason, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Meat is sanctified for that which is holy in use that is granted to believers from God. So here he speaks the use of marriage to be holy and to be granted of God. Things prohibited under the law as swine’s flesh, and a woman in her pollution, were called unclean. The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards and so unclean, but your children are not bastards therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. And how bastards were unclean under the law shows Deut. 23.

Glen Clary: Ran across that view in a few commentaries. I wasn’t and am not convinced of it. It’s not the marriage that is sanctified; it’s the unbelieving spouse who is sanctified. The legitimacy of the marriage and of the children is not the issue in the text. So I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation of the meaning of the text.

Brandon Adams: The legitimacy of the marriage is quite obviously the context 🙂 v 13 “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”

Given that you have not provided a viable alternative interpretation…

Glen Clary: Granted my interpretation poses problems, but that does not prove the legitimacy of the legitimacy interpretation. If legitimacy were obvious, then there should be much more agreement on the interpretation of the text. Fact is, most commentators do not take that view

That interpretation raises all kinds of problems with regard to what scripture teaches about marriage. If neither spouse were a believer, the marriage would be legit and their children legit. Common grace ordinance…

Brandon Adams: Yes, most commentators do not take that view because, like you, they rely on it to prove infant baptism.

But your interpretation results in direct contradiction which you have not resolved.


Glen Clary: Actually, I’ve read +40 commentaries on the text, and most do not use the text to prove infant baptism. In fact, there are some commentators (ancient and modern) who use it to disprove infant baptism.

Pelagius, for example, used it to prove that infants should not be baptized. Augustine countered his interpretation.

There are difficulties with my view, but that, of course, is not the same as contradiction. There are no contradictions in the traditional Reformed interpretation of the text. Difficulties? Yes. Contradictions? Nope.

Brandon Adams: Contradiction: the unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy but is not part of the covenant of grace.

Glen Clary He is only holy in virtue of his one-flesh union to one who is a member of the covt
No contradiction

Brandon Adams: But the child’s holiness is on a completely different basis and produces completely different consequences, and you cannot define or articulate what the non-covenantal covenantal holiness of the spouse is?

Glen Clary: The child’s holiness may be on a different basis. I cant go beyond the text. If the text doesnt articulate or define the holiness of the unbeliever then neither can we. One thing is clear … his holiness is derived from his union to a believer. No doubt about that

Brandon Adams: If you believe the child’s holiness is by virtue of their membership in the covenant of grace, then you must conclude their holiness is on a different basis than the spouse, who is not a member of the covenant of grace. Correct?

Glen Clary: I have no prob with that

Brandon Adams: So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v14 is by virtue of one’s membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?

Glen Clary: Yes it does. The believer is only holy because of his membership in the covenant of grace. The unbelieving spouse is holy only in virtue of his one-flesh union to the believer. The preposition EN makes that clear. If the believer were not a member of the covenant of grace, neither married partner would be holy in any sense at all. So the text does require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v. 14 is by virtue of membership in the covenant of grace.

Brandon Adams: Let me rephrase then:
So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness of the unbelieving spouse or the child is by virtue of their individual membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?

Glen Clary: Correct. The text doesn’t state the basis of the children’s holy status, and I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.

I do think it is telling that Paul does not argue here for the holy status of the children. He assumes that the Christians in Corinth take that as a given. He uses the holy status of the children (which they are certain about) to prove his argument for the holiness of the unbelieving spouse.

One wonders why the holy status of the children is something that he assumes is a given. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace (which scripture explicitly states elsewhere) is a good explanation for that.

Brandon Adams: Ok thanks. Seems Jim Cassidy was a bit over-zealous in his claim that your sermon ends the debate on infant baptism, since the sermon does not claim that the sermon text proves infant baptism. Once again, upon examination, we find another text that only “proves” infant baptism if you first approach the text with the assumption that infant baptism is biblical.

The legitimacy interpretation mentioned above explains the holy status of children quite clearly and why Paul could assume it.


Glen Clary: The legitimacy interpretation, my friend, is ridiculous, which is why virtually every commentator rejects it today. It has no merit to it whatsoever (other than it might get you and other credobaptists off the hook for explaining the holy status of ourchildren).

I’ve made my case for the paedobaptist interpretation. There are difficulties with that interpretation, I know, but at least one thing it has in its favor is that it is a genuine exegesis of the text. It doesn’t totally redefine the meaning of holy as legitimate, a meaning which it NEVER has anywhere in Paul’s letters.

The legitimacy interpretation fails on that account, and for that reason, it must be rejected as incorrect.

Having said that, I fully admit that even if the legitimacy interpretation is wrong (which it is), that does not prove that the paedobaptist interpretation is correct. Both could be wrong. But I remain convinced that despite its difficulties, ours is correct.

You’ve done a fine job of pointing out the difficulties of the text, but you’ve done nothing at all to demonstrate any exegetical or theological fallacies in our interpretation.

1 Cor. 7:14 is not an easy text because it’s a bit unclear. What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture. And what’s equally clear is that children have always been included in that covenant.

I’m checking out of this conversation because we’re now repeating ourselves. In fact, as Mason illustrates, this debate over the meaning of holy in 7:14 is not new. Same old debate.

Credobaptists will never prove that God now commands children to be excluded from the covenant of grace even though he at one time commanded their inclusion.

Brandon Adams: Thank you for your time Glen. In conclusion, the spouse’s holiness is not derived from their membership in the covenant of grace, thus there is no reason one must conclude the child’s is either. That assumption is brought to the text from elsewhere to explain the text.

What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture.

Yes, but it does not therefore follow that Israel was the church nor that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace (see my previous quotes before this conversation from Edwards and Hodge).

Have a good night!

1 Cor. 7:14 – The “Legitimacy” Interpretation

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ESV)

The “legitimacy” interpretation of this passage recognizes that Paul is addressing the question of the legitimacy or sinfulness of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. The entire chapter is about how to view various marriage commitments as a believer. To the believer who is bound to an unbeliever, Paul says “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches… So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

But the objection would certainly be raised by some, “Paul, we’re not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

To which Paul responds, “Just as you are not to participate in the worship of idols, but you may eat meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8; Rom 14) because food ‘is made holy by the word of God and prayer’ (1 Tim 4:5) so to you are not to live as an unbeliever, but you may remain married to an unbeliever. The unbelieving marriage is made acceptable (“sanctified”) by the conscience of the believer, who did not enter into the union in sin, but was called in that state.”

“If this were not the case, then you would have to cast off your children as well. But you do not have to because they are sanctified as well.”

The one objection brought against this reading is that marriage does not need to be sanctified by a believer. Marriage is a common institution and a marriage between two unbelievers is not illegitimate, so that can’t be Paul’s meaning. This ignores the fact that the question is not the legitimacy of marriage itself, but the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever – something that would normally be sinful if entered into consciously as a believer.

Furthermore this ignores the Old Covenant background to this question. Israelites were forbidden to take wives from other nations. Ezra 9-10 explains a situation in which many Israelites had taken foreign wives and had children with them. 10:14 says the fierce wrath of God was upon them for this. They were called to repent. They did. “Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.” (Ez 10:3). Paul explains that the situation is very different for Christians. They do not have to put away their spouse and their children because both are sanctified (set apart for use) by the Christian. Given the very different nature between the Old Covenant and New Covenant in this regard, it would be quite mistaken to appeal to the Old Covenant to explain how the unbeliever and the children are holy. In the Old Covenant they were not!


Chrysostom’s words make the situation clear.

Then lest the woman might fear, as though she became unclean because of intercourse with her husband, he says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband.” And yet, if “he that is joined to an harlot is one body,” it is quite clear that the woman also who is joined to an idolater is one body. Well: it is one body; nevertheless she becomes not unclean, but the cleanness of the wife overcomes the uncleanness of the husband; and again, the cleanness of the believing husband overcomes the uncleanness of the unbelieving wife… therefore the intercourse [is] allowed…

If any after marrying or being married have received the word of godliness, and then the other party which had continued in unbelief still yearn for them to dwell together, let not the marriage be broken off. “For,” saith he, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife.” So great is the superabundance of thy purity.

What then, is the Greek holy? Certainly not: for he said not, He is holy; but, “He is sanctified in his wife.” And this he said, not to signify that he is holy, but to deliver the woman as completely as possible from her fear

John Gill

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife
That is, “by the believing wife”; as the Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions read, and so it is read in some copies; and likewise in the next clause the same is read,

by the believing husband;
this is a reason given by the apostle why they should live together. This cannot be understood of internal sanctification, which is never the case; an unbeliever cannot be sanctified by a believer in this sense, for such a sanctification is only by the Spirit of God; nor external sanctification, or an outward reformation, which though the unbelieving yoke fellow may sometimes be a means of, yet not always; and besides, the usefulness of one to another in such a relation, in a spiritual sense, urged as a reason for living together, in ( 1 Corinthians 7:16 ) nor merely of the holiness of marriage, as it is an institution of God, which is equally the same in unbelievers as believers, or between a believer and an unbeliever, as between two believers; but of the very act of marriage, which, in the language of the Jews, is expressed by being “sanctified”; instances almost without number might be given of the use of the word (vdq) , in this sense, out of the Misnic, Talmudic, and Rabbinic writings; take the following one instead of a thousand that might be produced F19.

“The man (vdqm) , “sanctifies”, or espouses a wife by himself, or by his messenger; the woman (vdqtm) , “is sanctified”, or espoused by herself, or by her messenger. The man (vdqm) , “sanctifies”, or espouses his daughter, when she is a young woman, by himself or by his messenger; if anyone says to a woman, (yvdqth) , “be thou sanctified”, or espoused to me by this date (the fruit of the palm tree,) (yvdqth) , “be thou sanctified”, or espoused to me by this (any other thing); if there is anyone of these things the value of a farthing, (tvdwqm) , “she is sanctified”, or espoused, and if not she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or “espoused”; if he says, by this, and by this, and by this, if there is the value of a farthing in them all, (tvdwqm) , “she is sanctified”, or espoused; but if not, she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or espoused; if she eats one after another, she is not (tvdwqm) , “sanctified”, or espoused, unless there is one of them the value of a farthing;”

in which short passage, the word which is used to “sanctify”, or be “sanctified”, in the Hebrew language, is used to espouse, or be espoused no less than “ten” times. So the Jews F20 interpret the word “sanctified”, in ( Job 1:5 ) he espoused to them wives; in the Misna, the oral law of the Jews, there is a whole treatise of (Nyvwdyq) “sanctifications” F21, or espousals; and in the Gemara or Talmud F23 is another, full of the disputes of the doctors on this subject. Maimonides has also written a treatise of women and wives F24, out of which might be produced almost innumerable instances in proof of the observation; and such as can read, and have leisure to read the said tracts, may satisfy themselves to their heart’s content. Let it be further observed; that the preposition (en) , which is in most versions rendered “by”, should be rendered “in” or “to” or “unto”, as it is in the next verse, and in many other places; see ( Matthew 17:12 ) ( Mark 9:13 ) ( Colossians 1:23 ) ( 1 Thessalonians 4:7 ) ( 2 Peter 1:5-7 ) if it be rendered in the former way, “in”, it denotes the near union which by marriage the man and woman are brought into; if in the latter, it designs the object to which the man or woman is espoused, and the true sense and even the right rendering of the passage is this: “for the unbelieving husband is espoused to the wife, and the unbelieving wife is espoused to the husband”; they are duly, rightly, and legally espoused to each other; and therefore ought not, notwithstanding their different sentiments of religion, to separate from one another; otherwise, if this is not the case, if they are not truly married to one another, this consequence must necessarily follow; that the children born in such a state of cohabitation, where the marriage is not valid, must be spurious, and not legitimate, and which is the sense of the following words:

else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;
that is, if the marriage contracted between them in their state of infidelity was not valid, and, since the conversion of one of them, can never be thought to be good; then the children begotten and born, either when both were infidels, or since one of them was converted, must be unlawfully begotten, be base born, and not a genuine legitimate offspring; and departure upon such a foot would be declaring to all the world that their children were illegitimate; which would have been a sad case indeed, and contains in it another reason why they ought to keep together; whereas, as the apostle has put it, the children are holy in the same sense as their parents are; that as they are sanctified, or lawfully espoused together, so the children born of them were in a civil and legal sense holy, that is, legitimate; wherefore to support the validity of their marriage, and for the credit of their children, it was absolutely necessary they should abide with one another. The learned Dr. Lightfoot says, that the words “unclean” and “holy” denote not children unlawfully begotten, and lawfully begotten; but Heathenism and Christianism; and thinks the apostle alludes to the distinction often made by the Jews, of the children of proselytes being born in “holiness”, or out of it, that is, either before they became proselytes or after; but it should be observed, that though the word “holiness” is used for Judaism, yet not for Christianity; and besides, the marriages of Heathens were not looked upon as marriages by the Jews, and particularly such mixed ones as of a Jew and Gentile, they were not to be reckoned marriages; for so they say F25,

“he that espouses a Gentile woman, or a servant, (Nyvwdyq Nnya) , “they are not espousals”; but lo, he is after the espousals as he was before the espousals; and so a Gentile, or a servant, that espouses a daughter of Israel, (Nyvwdyq Nhyvwdyq Nya) , “those espousals are no espousals”;”

nor do they allow children begotten of such persons to be legitimate. This learned writer himself owns such a tradition, and which he cites {z},

“that a son begotten in uncleanness is a son in all respects, and in general is reckoned as an Israelite, though he is a bastard, (wnb wnya hywgh Nm Nbh) , “but a son begotten on a Gentile woman is not his son”;”

all which are just the reverse of what the apostle is here observing; and who, it must be remarked, is speaking of the same sort of holiness of children as of parents, which cannot be understood of Christianity, because one of the parents in each is supposed to be an Heathen. The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.

Paeobaptists Agree

Abraham Booth (1829) compiled quotes from 18 paedobaptists affirming the same interpretation.

Mr. Poole’s Continuators

“The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife.” – I rather think it signifies brought into such a state, that the believer, without offense to the law of God, may continue in a married state with such a yoke-fellow; and the estate of marriage is a holy state, notwithstanding the disparity with reference to religion.

Annotations on the place.


The unbelieving husband hath been sanctified – that is, sanctified in the lawful use of marriage. For without this, the apostle says, the children would be unclean; that is, infamous, not being legitimate. Thus they are holy; that is, during the marriage, they are free from every spot of ignominy.

In loc.


‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified.’ That is, the husband, though unclean, shall be accounted pure in reference to matrimonial commerce; otherwise the children would not be legitimate, who nevertheless are legitimate.

In loc.


‘Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.’ This holiness, of which the apostle speaks, is not opposed to that impurity which by nature properly agrees to all, on account of Adam’s offense; but to that impurity of which believing wives were apprehensive, from their cohabiting with unbelieving husbands.

In loc.


Some think, by that holiness mentioned in 1 Cor. 7:14, is to be understood such an external holiness as was that of the Israelites, and of the circumcised; which was possessed by an Israelite and a Jew, even though his life made it appear that he was not a true Israelite, ‘whose praise is not of men, but of God.’ Now those who are of this opinion suppose, that there is a kind of external covenant under the gospel; on account of which covenant some are called holy, though nothing appears in their lives to prove them real saints. But I see no intimation of this external covenant in the whole gospel; and this opinion is akin to an error of the Papists, who suppose that a congregation may be a true church, though destitute of holiness.

Opera, tom. i. p. 801

Dr. Whitby

By the wife: because of the wife; i.e. he is to be reputed as sanctified, because he is one flesh with her that is holy… Or we may take these words in the sense of the Greek interpreters; viz. The unbelieving husband hath been sanctified to the believing wife, by his consent to cohabit with her, and to have seed by her.

Annotations on the place.


The apostle does not mean that sanctification of a married person, by which he becomes truly righteous and holy; but that by which the use of marriage may be honorably enjoyed.

Apud Chamierum, Panstrat. tom. iv. l. v. c. x. S47.


The sanctification intended relates to marriage.

Apud Chamierum, ibid

Suares and Vasques

The children are called holy, in a civil sense; that is, legitimate, and not spurious… As if Paul had said, If your marriage were unlawful, your children would be illegitimate: but the former is not the fact, therefore not the latter.*

*Chamier informs us that Ambrose, Thomas, and Anselm so understand the passage [footnote by Booth]

Ubi supra S50.

Dr. Ames

The unbelieving partner is said to be sanctified, not simply, but as to the use of marriage; like as all creatures are sanctified to a believer’s use (1 Tim 4:5)

Bellarminus Enervatus, tom. iii. p. 68, 69


Hath been sanctified; that is, legitimated, so that their marriage is lawful. This the apostle proves form the natural effect. For if the unbelieving husband be not sanctified, i.e. legitimated, by the wife; and if the unbelieving wife be not sanctified, or legitimated, by the husband; your children are unclean; that is, they were born of an unlawful marriage; rather, of an illicit commerce. But now are they holy: that is, legitimate, not bastards, or born of unchastity.

Apud Wolfium, Curae, in loc.


The opinion of Piscator, in his note on this passage, is very agreeable to me. He thinks that ‘the unbelieving husband is said to be sanctified by the believing wife,’ and the unbelieving wife to be ‘sanctified by the believing husband,’ because the use of marriages was granted as holy; that is, it does not injure the conscience of the wife or the husband; because the wife with a good conscience may cohabit with an unbelieving husband. Thus different kinds of food are said to be sanctified (1 Tim 4:5) which a person may use without hurting his conscience: which parallel passage is here urged, after Austin, by Flacius, and by Ames.

Apud Wolfium, ut supra


Paul answers, that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike of opinions of God, if the impious person do not cast away the other; and for comfort, he adds as a reason, ‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife.’ Of which speech divers interpretations are made; but the true and natural is this, as elsewhere he saith, ‘Meat is sanctified’ for that which is holy in use, that is, granted to believers from God. So here he speaks of the use of marriage to be holy, and to be granted of God… The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards, and so unclean; but your children are not bastards, therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. How bastards were unclean in a peculiar manner, the law shows, (Deut xxiii.) ‘Let not a bastard enter into the congregation of the Lord, to the tenth generation.

In Mr. Tombe’s Exercitation, p. 11


The generality of our Lutheran divines understand the sanctification of the unbelieving partner only in this sense; Paul asserts that a marriage of this kind ought to be esteemed lawful and firm by Christians, though only one of the parties profess the name of Christ.

Curae, in loc.


We would have it observed, the apostle does not mean, that all the children of believers and saints are truly partakers of the Holy Spirit, and by him engrafted into the body of the church; for there is no promise of this prerogative made to believing parents; nay, rather, the events of every day teach the contrary. You see parents that love and worship God, and educate their children in the fear of God; you see children in this respect, exceedingly different from their parents, and of contrary dispositions. He who reads the history of he kings of Judah, will meet, as it were, alternately, with a virtuous father, and w wicked son and grandsons; and again, from these an offspring that is acceptable to God… Seeing it is manifest therefore, that the children of believers are not called holy, because they are all actuated by the Holy Spirit; the generality of our divines recur to an external holiness, which has its original from an external covenant. So that the children of believers are holy, because, being separated from the world, they live and are educated in the communion of the external church, and are partakers of the symbols of the external church. Like as the Israelites in former times, being chosen out of the other nations of the world, are called a holy nation, (Exod. xix 6) though a very great part of them were impure; and their children are denominated a holy seed (Ezra ix. 2, compared with Neh. ix. 2)

It is undoubtedly true, that in Israel, according to the flesh, there was an external and typical holiness, arising from an external covenant, which consisted in external precepts, (the scripture calls them carnal, because the flesh is the exterior part of man) and so external promises, which the scripture calls worse than the promises of the new covenant; in which external covenant the internal covenant of grace was involved; for so God was pleased to act in the economy in those times. God signified this to Abraham, when he said, that he would make a covenant, not only with Abraham, but also with his seed, (Gen xvii. 7).

Now the promises of that covenant, which are there mentioned, are both spiritual and carnal, which circumcision sealed. An interest in these was conferred on the whole seed of Abraham, whether pure or impure; but a right to those was limited to the spiritual seed of Abraham; that is, to them that should believe in Christ, and by faith obtain righteousness and life. Paul, to the Romans, expressly says; ‘They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,’ (Rom. ix. 8)

Thus also those learned men seem to conceive of this passage, that it is the external holiness of those who give up themselves to the church, so far as they are separated from the world: in the multitude of whole seeing there are infants, hence also they are called holy, as were infants of the Israelites in formers ages. But this is inconsistent with the clear doctrine of the divine word, and absolutely contrary to the genius of the new covenant… So far from an external holiness of this kind having any place under the New Testament, that, on the contrary, this is the prerogative of the New Testament or covenant, that no one belong to it, except he be truly sanctified; no one is called holy, except he be truly considered as internally holy; and in this consists the difference between the old and the new covenant, that this is entirely spiritual, entirely internal. The precepts and promises of it are internal: it acknowledges none as covenants but those that are truly sanctified, or accounted such. But that had both carnal precepts and carnal promises; and it also admitted covenants that were ceremonially clean, though not pure in heart…

The infants of believing parents are therefore called holy, because we justly presume, that they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit in their parents. For seeing God has conferred his grace on the parents, or on one of the parents, by a judgment of charity, we presume that he will afford the same grace to the infants, as long as the contrary is not manifest to us. This is the reason why the children of unbelievers are not admitted to baptism; because we are supplied with no argument or foundation by which, in a judgment of charity, we should be persuaded that God will communicate his grace to them.

Observat. Sac. l. ii. c. vi. S25-28

Lord Brooke

‘Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.’ I know some interpret it thus: If it be unlawful for a believer to live in wedlock with one that believeth not, then have many of you lived a long time in unlawful marriage; and so your very children must be illegitimate, and these also must be cast off, as base born: but this is not so; for your children are holy, that is, legitimate. I confess this seems a very fair interpretation; yet I much question whether this be all the apostle means by that phrase, holy; especially when I reflect on the preceding words, ‘The unbeliever is sanctified by the believer.’ Nor yet can I believe any inherent holiness is here meant; but rather, that relative church-holiness, which makes a man capable of admission to holy ordinances, and so to baptism, yea, and to the Lord’s supper also, for aught I see; except perhaps infants be excluded from this sacrament, by that text, ‘Let him that eateth examine himself and so let him eat.’

Discourse on Episcopacy, sect ii. chap. vii. p. 97, 98.


The most plain understanding of this place is, first, in that we understand not the word holiness, of that holiness which is by the covenant of God, or the spirit of faith, by which believers are sanctified as a people of God, but of the holiness of the conjugal bed; otherwise, it will bring forth a troublesome dispute, how an unbelieving husband may be said to be sanctified. Then, that we attribute this sanctification, that is, cleanness, not to the faith of the believing yoke-fellow, but to the marriage, by reason of the appointment of God; with Hierome, who saith, Because by God’s appointment marriage is holy; and Ambrose, who hath it thus, The children are holy, because they are born of lawful marriage…

I have sometimes abused the present place against the error of Anabaptists, keeping back infants of Christians from baptism; thinking that speech, But now are they holy, to be the same as, They are the people of God, by reason of the believing parents. But although it be sure in itself, that the children of believers are both holy, and pertaining to the people of God, by reason of the participation of the covenant, and so are partakers of baptism as the sign of the covenant; yet the present place makes nothing to this cause, in which the sanctimony of the covenant and people is not meddled with, but the cleanness of lawful marriage, even of infidels: for not only to children, to whom perhaps the holiness of a believing parents may so appertain, but also to unbelieving husbands and wives is sanctimony ascribed, although they oppose the Christian faith. Nor is any other holiness or cleanness of children meddled with, than that which agrees also to unbelieving parents; for to them no other agrees, than that which is lawful by marriage.

In Mr. Tombe’s Exercitation, p. 12, 13


The unbeliever is said to be sanctified by marriage with the believer; not as to the person, which is not sanctified, except by faith; but as to the use, and conjugal intercourse, which are sanctified b the prayers of the believing companion… Paul here treats concerning a mutual participation of such holiness as depends upon conjugal custom, as Chrysostom teaches; a holiness, which the believing and unbelieving partner have in common between themselves. Whence it follows, that these things have been rashly and violently applied by Calvin, Beza, Paraeus, and others, to a natural or original holiness of children born of believers.

Vid. Grotium, in loc.

Booth’s Reflections

Reflect I. From these quotations we learn, that the sanctification of the unbelieving husband relates entirely to matrimonial commerce, No. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18; – that the holiness of the children is not of an external kind, arising from an external economy; the new covenant being altogether spiritual and internal, No. 5, 7, 15; – that no holiness is here ascribed to children, which does not agree to the unbelieving parent, No. 17; – and that this passage affords no argument for infant baptism, No. 17. Such are the sentiments of these paedobaptists concerning this remarkable text. I will now add the concurring testimony of Anthony Purver, an impartial Friend. “Is sanctified: so as to continue married together. Unclean: in respect of parents, as if born out of wedlock.”

Booth notes that Paul’s teaching here actually does not match Jewish practice.

Reflect IV…

Whatever be the holiness here designed, we have reason enough to conclude it is not like that of the ancient Jewish offspring, which consisted in being the lawful issue of a Jew and of a Jewess: for if an Israelite married a heathenish woman, and had children by her, they were not accounted a holy seed (Ezra 9:2; Nehem. 9:2). Whereas, it is highly probable, the apostle is here speaking of two Gentiles; one of them converted, the other an idolater, whom he forbids to separate on account of the Christian faith; while, on the contrary, the Jews were commanded to put away their heathenish wives, even after having had issue by such marriages. This external, relative holiness of the chosen tribes entirely ceased, when that dispensation to which it belonged became extinct. Consequently, as holiness of this kind has no existence under the new economy, no argument for infant baptism can be derived from it.

Booth goes on at length on several points if you wish to read the rest.

The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

In “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism” W. Gary Crampton argues that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on the issue of infant baptism. He notes (among several arguments) that WCF 28.1 and WLC #165 contradict WCF 28.4 because infants are unable to “enter into an open and professed engagement.” “Water baptism symbolizes, not only the blessings of the gospel, but the saving response to the gospel by the party baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:36-37; Gal 3:27; 1 Pet 3:21; Heb 10:22-23).” He notes that William Cunningham and James Bannerman recognized this and taught that the baptism of adults has a different meaning than the baptism of infants, which contradicts Ephesians 4:5.

Over at Particular Voices, there is a fascinating, candid discussion of this problem recorded by George Gillespie in his notes from the Assembly.

Source: The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

Les & Tanner Talk Baptism

Les and Tanner, hosts of the Reformed Pubcast, recently discussed baptism at length after Les announced he had become a peadobaptist (he had been attending (member?) a PCA church for quite a while). Since most of the things they talked about have been addressed at one time or another on this blog, I thought I’d provide links to those posts with some comments.

First off, Les struggled for many years to understand the paedobaptist position but he has now grasped the substance/administration distinction, which was key for him. I will just note that fully understanding the paedobaptist position is required in order for one to fully appreciate 1689 Federalism. One can hold to 1689 Federalism without understanding Westminster Federalism, but one can’t fully appreciate it until they have a grasp on Westminster Fed. Les seems to have a clear grasp of the Westminster position, so now the conversation can really begin 🙂

Are our children heathens?

In his excellent essay “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan notes:

Jones and van Raalte draw attention to Marshall’s (and others’) accusation that the doctrine that children do not belong to the covenant of grace by birth “puts all the Infants of all Believers into the self-same condition with the Infants of Turks, and Indians.” Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 728. Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys responded by saying, “But some may think, that this will put the children of Believers into as bad a condition, as the children of Turkes, Heathens, and any other wicked men; and this they are perswaded is a horrible thing, and a dangerous opinion. We put not the children of Believers into as bad a condition as the children of Turkes, &c. It was Adams disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, that put all his posterity equally into a sinfull and miserable condition, Rom. 5. 12. 19. And the doctrine which Mr. CAL. and his brethren teach, doth the like. They say (and it is truth) that all the Infants of Believers…are born in sin, and are by nature children of wrath as well as others. And now let the Reader judge, Whether this their own doctrine, do not put the children of Believers into as bad a condition.” Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys, A Declaration, 17.


Union with Christ

Tanner “So covenant is this agreement between two parties and there are responsibilities on both sides… My hangup in all this, as far as the New Covenant is concerned, you’re claiming that God has established this covenant with people and there are some who will be covenant keepers and there will be some who will be covenant breakers. So my issue with that claim is that is the beauty of the New Covenant is that it removes the work of the person to be a covenant keeper and Christ now becomes the covenant keeper. Christ fulfilled the responsibility that was meant for us…”

Les “Well, think about this. Think about Moses. Think about Israelites under Moses…”

Note: every time Tanner pressed Les on the implications of our union with Christ, Les’ response was “But Israel…” Baptism signifies union with Christ, so why baptize someone you don’t have reason to believe is united to Christ? Israel. Abraham. Circumcision. Of course the problem is that Scripture says the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, specifically on the matter of Christ’s mediation, so appeal to the Old Covenant to answer questions about union with Christ is unbiblical and inappropriate.

Hebrews 8:6 But now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

…To proceed with the text; this covenant, whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator, is said to be a “better covenant.” Wherefore it is supposed that there was another covenant, whereof the Lord Christ was not the mediator. And in the following verses there are two covenants, a first and a latter, an old and a new, compared together. We must therefore consider what was that other covenant, than which this is said to be better; for upon the determination thereof depends the right understanding of the whole ensuing discourse of the apostle. And because this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties, it will be necessary that we use the best of our diligence, both in the investigation of the truth and in the declaration of it, so as that it may be distinctly apprehended…

They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Galatians 3:19. And this was no other but Moses, who was a servant in the house of God, Hebrews 3:5. And he was a mediator, as designed of God, so chosen of the people, in that dread and consternation which befell them upon the terrible promulgation of the law For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor treat with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be an internuncius, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person, Deuteronomy 5:24-27. But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” 1 Timothy 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and herein it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant.

Hebrews 8:9 Not according to that covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant

This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.

On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.

-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:9)

Owen is clear that 1) the New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant. It is an entirely separate covenant. And 2) What makes the New Covenant better is specifically union with Christ as surety of the covenant, which was precisely Tanner’s point.

How were they saved?

Les’ assumption is that saved members of the Old Covenant were saved by the Old Covenant. He says if they looked upon the typological sacrifices and thereby learned of Christ and had faith in Christ, they were therefore saved by the Old Covenant. He also says that Abraham believed God’s promise and was justified, so he was therefore justified by the Abrahamic Covenant. But this does not follow at all. Only Christ saves and Christ is only mediator and surety of the New Covenant. Again, Owen:

This covenant [Old Covenant] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works…

[N]o man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.

-Commentary on Hebrews 8:6

According to Owen, the Old Covenant was only about temporal blessing and curse in the land of Canaan. Israelites became ceremonially unclean, which required ceremonial animal sacrifices to cleanse them (Hebrews 9:9-10). Those animal sacrifices, and thus the Old Covenant, did not forgive any man eternally. It only taught typologically of the work of Christ, which alone saves by virtue of the New Covenant. Furthermore, there were sins under the Old Covenant that had no sacrifices to cover and thus no way of forgiving them.

The Old Covenant does not grant anyone faith. It does not give anyone a new heart. Only the New Covenant does. Not even the Abrahamic Covenant does. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant forgiveness of sins. It promised that Christ would come and grant forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant.

So yes, Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise that Christ would come and bless all nations. But Abraham’s regeneration, faith, justification, and sanctification were all blessings he received through union with Christ in the New Covenant. Just as Christ’s atonement reached back in time to save those who lived before his death, so too did the New Covenant.

I strongly encourage you to read Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8. He spends about 150 pages explaining it because he believed reformed theologians misunderstood the Old Covenant. He wrote his exposition in 1680 after the best Puritan treatments of the subject had been written, and yet he still said “this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties.” He specifically explains that he rejects the “judgment of most reformed divines” on the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Read Owen. He anticipates and answers all of the objections that are in your head right now.

Covenant Conditions

Les and Tanner continued talking about conditions of the Covenant of Grace. Tanner emphasized that Christ, as our surety, has met all the covenant conditions and we simply receive the benefits of the covenant. Les argued that Christians, and Christian children, are responsible to God in a way that pagans are not. When God “claims them” they come under all the stipulations of what it means to be in covenant with God. They’re responsible to have faith and obey God and love God (isn’t that true of everyone?). God enters covenant with Christians and their children, and it’s up to them to to fulfill their part of the covenant. God is “not obligated to fulfill my end of the bargain.”

Again, Owen disagrees with Les here. According to the Covenant of Redemption, once Christ fulfilled all the conditions, God was indeed covenantally obligated to fulfill “our end of the bargain” by granting us faith. Christ earned our faith, and therefore God is covenantally obligated to grant faith to all members of the New Covenant as a blessing of the covenant. Matthew Mason explains

According to Owen, although God’s will toward the elect was not changed upon the death of Christ, for he is immutable, Christ’s death nevertheless changed the status of the elect. On the basis of Christ’s merit, founded on God’s free engagement in the covenant of redemption with his Son, God is obliged to deliver them from the curse ipso facto. Therefore, because of Christ’s satisfaction, God is able to make out the benefits Christ purchased, without any other conditions needing to be fulfilled. In particular, Christ also purchased the condition of the covenant, faith; hence, from the time of the atonement, the elect have an absolute right to justification.

(See New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen for an extended discussion of this)

the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken… But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant…

It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?


Ver. 11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God… The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…

Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…

Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.

-Owen on Heb 8:11

(Of course, God does not believe for us. We must believe. But Owen carefully clarifies that our faith is not a condition of the covenant itself, which is the question at hand.)

Les objects that it is the “case historically” that God does not grant faith to all those he enters covenant with. “God said to Abraham, I will be a God to you and to your children. Was he lying?” Again, Les retreats back to Israel, Abraham, Circumcision. But as we’ve noted, that is unbiblical because that is not the same covenant. Whether or not God granted faith to every member of the Abrahamic Covenant is entirely irrelevant to whether or not God grants faith to every member of the New Covenant.

I will be a God to you and your children

Was God lying? Well, Les is in a bit of a conundrum. If he believes “I will be your God” has any salvific meaning, then that raises the question of God’s covenant faithfulness when the children of believers are not saved. (See God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?)

If the promise has no salvific meaning then why is it being appealed to? Jonathan Edwards rightly notes:

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.

For an extended explanation of this quote and many similar quotes, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Earlier, Les said his children belong to God the same way Israel belonged to God. I guess that means Les’ children have been set apart as a nation in the land of Canaan, in which case they should be circumcised, not baptized. No Israelite was ever baptized apart from a profession of saving faith in Christ.


Which brings us to the question of circumcision.

We will now pass on to Genesis 17. What is more largely recorded there, is briefly pointed at by Stephen in his general view of the history of Israel (Acts 7:8), “and he gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac,” etc. By the covenant of circumcision we are to understand that covenant of which a restipulation was required by the observation of this rite or ordinance, as in Genesis 17:9-11.

It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”

-Nehemiah Coxe, p. 91

For more, see Coxe and Pink on Circumcision as well as Paedobaptism and Forks, and the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

Romans 11 and Hebrews 10

Les also mentioned the standard Romans 11 and Hebrews 10 objection. For detailed treatments of those passages, see

1 Cor 7:14

Finally, Les appealed to 1 Cor 7:14 to argue that “When God saves you he saves everything that belongs to you.” The basic problem is that Les is equivocating on the word “save.” When God saves you, he does not save your car. Only image bearers can be saved. What Les says he means is that when God saves him, he recognizes that everything he “owns” is actually God’s and he is just a steward of it. Thus his car belongs to God, and so do his children. He is to be a good steward of his children by raising them in the fear of the Lord.

That’s all well and good, but baptism is not a sign of your stewardship of a possession. Baptism is a sign of one’s “ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” We don’t baptize our car even though our car belongs to God because our car is not ingrafted into Christ. Neither do we baptize our children when we are saved because our children are not ingrafted into Christ simply because we are. So “When God saves you” he does not, in fact, “save everything that belongs to you.” Otherwise all the children of believers would be believers. And they’re not. It’s simply confused equivocation.

So what does 1 Cor 7:14 mean? Certainly nothing about baptism, the covenant of grace, or church membership.

See John Gill’s comments on the passage, in which he notes

The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.

See also the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession dealing with this text.

I Will Be God to You

I know very little of T. David Gordon beyond his essays in “By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification” and “The Law is Not of Faith”. From these essays I gather that he is someone who speaks his mind, and perhaps bombastic (he carelessly compares John Murray to the drunk uncle no one wants to talk about). The main thrust of his essays is that Murray departed from the reformed tradition by not acknowledging great discontinuity between the Mosaic and New covenants. He makes several good points, but he tends not to realize that he is not arguing against Murray so much as the WCF tradition. I enjoyed his response to the oft-used argument that paedobaptists use: For God to say he will be God to someone necessarily implies a soteriological relationship.

Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it. His pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s God, he sustained the relation of covenant suzerain to her; he did not bless or curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, he was not the God of other nations as he was the God of Israel. (p 120 “By Faith Alone”)

Of course, such an admission undermines the paedobaptist claim that “I will be God to you and your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7) means “the promise of salvation is to your offspring.” Compare Gordon’s comments with Jonathan Edwards’.