6. The Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham (Genesis 17)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (37:34)

"Abraham and Isaac," by contemporary American artist Phillip Ratner. Illustration from the Ratner Bible. Larger image

It has been 24 years since Abraham came to the promised land and 13 years since Ishmael was born to Hagar. Thirteen years of silence from God (unless some of Abraham's visitations aren't recorded). Now God appears to him again to reaffirm the covenant that God has given him.

El Shaddai

Yahweh reveals himself as "God Almighty," El Shaddai. "Almighty" is the Hebrew adjective shadday, "Shaddai, (the) Almighty." Here it is prefixed by 'ēl, the generic word for "god." This is one of seven times with the prefix 'ēl (28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; Exodus 6:3; Ezekiel 10:5). In the other 41 instances shadday stands alone. Though we're not sure of the exact meaning, the Septuagint usually translates the word as pantokrator, "Almighty," which is found in most English translations. The ancient rabbis thought that the word might mean "the One Who is Sufficient."[1]

Walk Before Me and Be Blameless (17:1-2)

In the past, the covenant has been unilateral, enacted by God without any corresponding action from Abraham. "Covenant," Hebrew berit, as we saw in 15:18, is a "treaty, alliance of friendship."[2] It outlines the responsibilities of the parties to the covenant. This time, as Yahweh confirms the covenant, he introduces a performance requirement for Abraham.

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm[3] my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.'"[4] (17:1-2)

Yahweh identifies himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, and then gives a command: "walk before me and be blameless." This is not God's first command to Abraham. Others include "leave" (12:1), "lift up your eyes" (13:14), "fear not" (15:1), "look heavenward" (15:5), "bring me" (15:9). But the command "Walk before me and be blameless" has a definite ethical emphasis.

"Walk in front of" expresses the service or devotion of a faithful servant to his king.[5] "Be blameless" (NIV, NRSV) or "be perfect" (KJV) is the Hebrew adverb tānīm, "complete." It refers to animals which are without blemish, and is also translated as such related adjectives as "full, whole, upright, perfect." It represents the divine standard for man's attainment."[6] In other words, God expects Abraham to live a righteous life before him.

I don't think this means that Abraham must have complete moral perfection, with never a misstep or a hasty word. But as a monarch or suzerain might expect of a vassal, God expects Abraham to live out his side of the covenant wholeheartedly and honestly. Tānīm may carry the idea of "transparent or candid."[7] As we see from the incident of the four Mesoptamian kings punishing their five rebellious vassal states in chapter 14, rebellion and falsehood are not to be tolerated in a covenant.

Q1. (17:1-2) When God tells Abraham, "Walk before me and be blameless," is he requiring moral perfection? What kind of blamelessness does he require of Abraham? Does he expect more (or less) of Christians under the new covenant?

 

 

 

 

God's Side of the Covenant: Promises (17:3-8)

Notice the structure of this chapter, dividing the covenant into three parts:

17:3-8

"As for me...." (literally, "I")

God's part of the covenant, many distinguished descendents and a promise of land.

17:9-14

"As for you...."
(literally, "and you")

Abraham's part of the covenant, the sign of circumcision

17:15-16

"As for Sarai...." (literally, "Sarai")

The promise of Sarah bearing a son.

The first of these parts is the solemn obligation that God takes upon himself:

"Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 'As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.'" (17:3-8)

Here are the elements of this promise, combined from previous promises God has made to Abraham:

  1. Abraham will be very fruitful,[8] with nations and kings as his descendents.
  2. The covenant is of everlasting duration, between not only God and Abraham, but God and all of Abraham's descendents.
  3. God promises to be Abraham's God and the God of all his descendants.
  4. The whole land of Canaan will be an everlasting possession to Abraham and his descendents.

God acknowledges to Abraham that he is being given the land of Canaan "where you are now an alien" (NIV, NRSV) or "stranger" (KJV), the Hebrew noun māgōr, "pilgrimage, where they sojourn." As the writer of Hebrews observes:

"By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.... All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth." (Hebrews 11:9, 13)

Abraham never does "possess" the land literally, except for a small burial plot at Machpelah (chapter 23), but he does believe God and "possesses" it by faith.

A New Name to Recall the New Promise (17:5, 15)

Part of the covenant promise is a new name by which Abraham will be called. He goes from being called Abram ("exalted father") to Abraham ("father of many"). Sarah's name changes, from Sarai to Sarah (17:15), the meaning of her name doesn't seem to change. It still means "princess" or "chieftanness." As Abraham is called "the father of many nations" (17:4), Sarah is called "the mother of nations" (17:16).

Every time that someone now calls Abraham by name it is a reminder of God's promise -- "Father of many nations."

Abraham's Side of the Covenant: Circumcision (17:9-14)

After outlining his own obligations under the covenant, God now outlines Abraham's obligations:

"Then God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner -- those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'" (17:9-14)

What does it mean to "keep" the covenant? "Keep" in verse 9 is the Hebrew verb shāmar, "keep, guard, observe, give heed." "It expresses the careful attention to be paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws, statutes, etc."[9]

Circumcision in the Ancient Near East

Circumcision, cutting off the male foreskin, was rather common in Abraham's world. The earliest evidence we have for circumcision is from a number of bronze statuettes found at Tell Judeideh in northern Syria, dating to about 2800 BC. The Scripture lists the cultures that practiced circumcision in Jeremiah's day:

"'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh -- Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.'" (Jeremiah 9:25-26)

An ivory found at Megiddo (14th or 13th century BC) shows Canaanite prisoners who are circumcised. Circumcision does not seem to have been practiced in Babylonia, Assyria, or by the Philistines. Thus David speaks scornfully of the Philistine Goliath: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26).

Other nations, however, administered circumcision at puberty or as a prenuptial ceremony,[10] with the idea of purification. In contrast, God instructs Abraham to circumcise a male infant on his eighth day (17:12; 21:4; Leviticus 12:3; Luke 1:59)[11] as a sign of the covenant. For other nations, circumcision may be a sign of purification, but for Abraham and his descendents it was to a sign of a unique relationship with God.

The Meaning of Circumcision

The meaning of circumcision for Abraham is very simply a sign that this person is a member of the covenant people. It was a sign of the covenant. Derek Kidner comments:

"The striking feature of the stipulations [of the covenant in chapter 17] is their lack of detail. To be committed was all. Circumcision was God's brand; the moral implications could be left unwritten (until Sinai), for one was pledged to a Master, only secondarily to a way of life."[12]

In a few minutes we'll consider how this understanding of circumcision developed and deepened in Judaism and Christianity.

The Sign of the Covenant (17:11)

Circumcision is called the "token" (KJV) or "the sign of the covenant" (NIV, NRSV) in verse 11. The Hebrew noun is ’ôt, "sign, mark, token." It covers the entire range of the English term "sign" and the Greek word sēmeion. Here it is used in the same sense as Christians see the Lord's Supper and baptism -- as outward sign or pledge of covenant. The rainbow is a sign of God's covenant with Noah (9:12-13, 17). The Sabbath is a sign of the holiness of God's people (Exodus 31:13, 17; Ezekiel 20:12). The blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts is a sign of redemption of the family within the house (Exodus 12:13).[13]

Sarah, the Mother of Nations (17:15-16)

The covenant considered (a) God's obligations (17:4-8) and (b) Abraham's obligations (17:9-14). Now God turns to Sarah, Abraham's aged wife who is nearly 90 years old.

"God also said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.'

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'" (17:15-17)

First, God had promised Abraham many descendents (12:2, 7; 13:16). Then he made it clear that his descendents will be his own natural, not adopted, offspring (15:4). But in this passage is the first time that the Lord designates Sarah herself to be the mother of Abraham's promised son -- and through him many nations and kings.

Abraham can't help but laugh. The idea of a son being born to a 90-year-old mother and a 100-year-old father is just too much of a surprise. "Laughed" (NIV) is the Hebrew sāhaq. The simple stem conveys the idea of laughter, whether in joy or incredulity," used of the reaction of the announcement of the birth of a son to Sarah by both Abraham (17:17) and Sarah (18:12-13). Isaac's name (yishāq) comes from the word for laughter (sehōq).[14]

Does Abraham's laughter represent (a) unbelief or (b) surprise? When Sarah laughs a few weeks later, her laughter seems to reflect unbelief, to which God asks, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (18:14). But God doesn't rebuke Abraham. Perhaps because he is laughing out of surprise and because he actually believes it will happen. His belief in what God says seems to be indicated by his question about Ishmael.

Why Not Bless Ishmael? (17:18-22)

Ishmael is now thirteen years old and very dear to Abraham.

And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!'

Then God said, 'Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.' When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him." (17:17-22)

Because he is Abraham's son, Ishmael will be blessed, be fruitful, and multiply. Apparently he falls under God's initial promise to Abraham of blessing (12:2-3; see 21:13). But the full terms of God's covenant with Abraham are clearly to be established through Isaac's descendents only -- this is mentioned twice to emphasize that fact (verses 19 and 21). Ishmael is circumcised with the sign of the covenant -- as are all in Abraham's household, but the special promises of the covenant are not for Ishmael's offspring (see Galatians 4:22-30).

Abraham Circumcises the Males in His Household (17:23-27)

So Abraham obeys the Lord's command -- without delay!

"On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. And every male in Abraham's household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him." (17:23-27)

The promises God makes to Abraham extend to everyone for whom he has responsibility. They are all included in the covenant promises -- though only through Isaac does the full promise and covenant pass to descendents.

Q2. (17:11) What does circumcision signify for Abraham, his household, and his descendents? Why is some kind of definite act on Abraham's part important to confirming the covenant? What does Abraham's obedience the very same day signify?

 

 

 

Circumcision of the Heart

How are Christians in the twenty-first century to understand the covenant of circumcision and apply its principles in our day? What does circumcision have to do with Christianity?

For the answer we need to continue to read the Old Testament. It became clear to the Israelites rather early that there is a difference between outward and inward circumcision.

  • In Leviticus, God talks about Israel's future treachery and hostility towards him, using the term "uncircumcised hearts" (Leviticus 26:40-41).
  • Moses commands the people: "Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer" (Deuteronomy 10:16).
  • At the giving of the Law, Moses says, "The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live" (Deuteronomy 30:6).
  • Jeremiah called on the Israelites to "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts...." (Jeremiah 4:4) and mourned that "the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart" (Jeremiah 9:26).
  • Stephen angered his enemies by calling them "stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!" (Acts 7:51, referring to Deuteronomy 10:16).
  • Paul wrote, "A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (Romans 2:29).

The prophets and apostles declare that physical circumcision is not enough. The heart, too, must be cleansed. Finally, the Christian movement moves away from circumcision to a new mark of the covenant -- baptism.

Q3. What does it mean to have your heart circumcised? Why is this a necessity for all true believers, both Jew and Christian? How can we keep our faith active as an inward expression of love rather than become only an external religion? Have you ever struggled with this?

 

 

 

The Circumcision Controversy in the Primitive Church

Christianity was born in the nursery of Judaism, where circumcision of baby boys on the eighth day was the norm. Circumcision was the essential sign of Jewishness in a Roman and Greek world where circumcision was not practiced. Initially, all the Christians were Jews.

The trouble came when the Gospel was received by Gentiles. When Peter spoke to a God-fearing Roman centurion named Cornelius at Caesarea, all heaven broke loose and upset Peter's Jewish theology:

"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:44-48)

When Peter was called on the carpet for his actions, he told the Jerusalem church how "the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning" -- that is, at Pentecost (Acts 11:15).

Paul's mission was to the Gentiles in particular. In Roman cities, synagogues were established as the Jewish Diaspora spread. Many of those who attended synagogue were Gentiles known as "God-fearers" (Acts 13:16, 26, 50; 17:4, 17). While they believed in the Jewish Scriptures, they were unwilling to take the final step of circumcision required for one to become full Jewish proselytes.

It was to this group of God-fearers that Paul's gospel seemed to have its greatest appeal. Paul's missionary strategy was to request an opportunity -- based on his credentials as a rabbi -- to speak at a local synagogue. He would attempt to prove to them from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. Typically, some of the Jews would believe, but most would reject the message. However, a great many of the Gentile God-fearers would become believers and form the nucleus of a Christian congregation in that city.

When this began to happen, not only were the Jews enraged, but Jewish Christians from Judea came to these new, predominantly Gentile Christian churches teaching, "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).

The matter was brought before a Church Council in Jerusalem and all the arguments were presented. The leaders recognized that the Holy Spirit had "made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith... We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:9, 11). James summed up their conclusion:

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." (Acts 15:19-21)

The church wrote this in a general letter to the new congregations, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements..." (15:28). Thus it came about that Gentile Christians were not required to be circumcised as part of their salvation.

Circumcision and Baptism

The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision, but the sign of the New Covenant is baptism, which supersedes the old. On the Day of Pentecost, when his Jewish audience asked what they must do to be saved, Peter declared:

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39)

Paul put it this way:

"In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature (Greek sarx, "flesh"), not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:11-12)

Literal circumcision was a sign in the flesh, but did nothing to circumcise or purify the heart. Beasley-Murray translates verse 11, "In Him you were circumcised ... in the stripping of the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ" -- a gruesome figure for death.[15] Paul seems to be saying that in his crucifixion, Christ's flesh was stripped off, corresponding to the physical rite of circumcision. When we are baptized, we identify with Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection and our hearts are purified. We are circumcised spiritually.

The physical act of accepting the New Covenant is now baptism, but the sign of the covenant we bear in our persons is not physical but spiritual -- it is the seal of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30; compare Romans 4:11), which is associated with, but not identical to, baptism.

Q4. In your own words, how would you explain why circumcision is now obsolete for Christians and that baptism is now sign of the covenant?

 

 

 

Does Baptism Function Identically to Circumcision?

One question that has vexed theologians since the primitive church concerns the baptism of the children of believers? Should they be baptized as infants in the same way as infants received circumcision on the eighth day under the Old Covenant? Or should these children be baptized when they are old enough to make a profession of their own faith?

This question has spawned many books,[16] but it is apparent that children of believers were being baptized rather early -- in North Africa as early as 200 AD. While some objected,[17] this was already an established practice by that time.[18]

Those who baptize infants believe that baptism corresponds to circumcision in several ways as the sign of the New Covenant. They see infant baptism in the New Testament occurring when whole households were baptized (Acts 16: 15, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 1:16). Some Christian churches believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, making baptism of infants a compelling responsibility for Christian parents.

Others teach that children should wait to be baptized until they are old enough to believe, and thus conform to the consistent testimony of Scripture that links baptism and salvation with faith -- called "believer's baptism." This is my own understanding, though I respect my fellow Christians who observe infant baptism.

I say this not to begin a fight, but to help you understand how our passage about circumcision as the sign of the Old Covenant has had a powerful influence on how we understand baptism as the sign of the New Covenant. We can have our own convictions on this matter, but let's agree to disagree, and maintain the unity of the Spirit in love.

Should Christians Be Circumcised?

Finally, let's consider the question: Should Christians be circumcised? Generally speaking, it is up to the individual parents whether or not they want to have their sons circumcised. This is not a religious decision for Christians, but may be done for other reasons.

The only exception I can think of would be a Messianic Jewish family that is living under the Law while believing in Jesus as the Messiah, much like members of the early Jerusalem Church. They do this out of tradition and conviction -- and so they can witness to their fellow Jews. Paul himself circumcised his assistant Timothy, so he would be accepted by the Jews to whom Paul ministered on his missionary trips (Acts 16:1-3). But for Christian believers -- both Jews and Gentiles -- circumcision now is a free act of those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ's sacrifice for them. Circumcision is not a requirement for a Christian and has no saving efficacy for Christians.

What Do We Learn from Chapter 17?


Available in PDF and Kindle formats.

To sum up, chapter 17 teaches us:

  1. God expects us to be honest and guileless towards him, in our willingness to keep the terms of his covenant with us. We must be blameless, not hypocritical and two-faced (17:1).
  2. We must respond to God's covenant towards us by taking on the sign of the covenant -- for the Jew, circumcision, for the Christian, baptism (17:10).
  3. We, like Abraham, should be immediately obedient to do what God tells us to do, and not put it off, no matter how difficult. One sign of Abraham's faith is his immediate obedience to confirm God's covenant with him through circumcision (17:23).

Prayer

Father, it's hard for me to imagine Abraham's utter willingness to confirm God's covenant with him by means of this painful procedure of circumcision -- and to do it immediately, without question. Help me to have this kind of faith and trust in you and follow you fully. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"'This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised....' On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him." (Genesis 17:10, 23)

References

Common Abbreviations http://www.jesuswalk.com/abraham/refs.htm

  1. Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #2333. Various translations and derivations have been suggested. The LXX translates shadday as pantokratōr, "all powerful," i.e. Almighty. The rabbinic analysis is "the one who is (self-) sufficient. More recent suggestions have included "my destroyer" and "God/El of the mountain or steppe". Also Hamilton, Genesis 1:462-463; Christopher J. H. Wright, "God, Names of," ISBE 2:506.
  2. Elmer B. Smick, TWOT #282a.
  3. "Confirm" (NIV) or "make" (KJV, NRSV) is the very common Hebrew verb nātan, "give, put, place, set, appoint."
  4. "Increase your numbers" (NIV), "multiply" (KJV), or "make numerous" (NRSV) is the Hebrew verb rābā, be(come) great, many, much, numerous."
  5. Hamilton, Genesis 1:461. "Walk" is the common Hebrew verb hālak, "go, walk," denoting movement in general (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #498). "Before me" is the Hebrew preposition lepnê, "in the presence of, before," literally, "at/to the face of." Usually the object is a person, in the sense of "in full view of, under the eye of, at the disposal of, in the estimation of" (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #1782b, citing BDB 186-187).
  6. J. Barton Payne, TWOT #2522d. The word denoted originally something other and less than ideal perfection. The word is used of Job, who admitted his sins, though not the accusations made by his friends. He was tānīm in the sense of being "wholehearted in his commitment to the person and requirements of God."
  7. Hamilton, Genesis 1:461.
  8. "Fruitful" is the Hebrew verb pārā, "bear fruit, be fruitful, branch off."
  9. TWOT #2414.
  10. This may be present in Zipporah's enigmatic expression "a bridegroom of blood." See also Paul R. Williamson, "Circumcision," DOTP 122-125. Thomas Lewis and Carl Edwin Amerding, "Circumcision," ISBE 1:700-702.
  11. Though circumcision is nowhere prescribed in the Koran, most Muslims males are circumcised. Depending upon the geographical region, the circumcision may take place when the subject is an infant, a young boy, at puberty, or later. A Hadith related from Aisha indicates that the prophet circumcised his sons Hassan and Hussein on the seventh day after their birth.
  12. Kidner, Genesis, p. 129.
  13. Robert L. Alden, TWOT #41a; BDB p. 16-17.
  14. J. Barton Payne, TWOT #1905.
  15. G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1962, 1974), pp. 152-160.
  16. See G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1962), which I have found quite thorough. Beasley-Murray is a British Baptist scholar. See also Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Eerdmans, 1978). On the side of infant baptism see: Joachim Jeremias, The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland (Studies in Historical Theological I; London: SCM Press Ltd., 1963). Jeremias is very careful with the ancient texts. See also Oscar Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament (Studies in Biblical Theology No. 1; SCM Press, 1950) and Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism: Children in God's Covenant Promises (Baker, 1968); .
  17. North African church father Turtullian (c. 160-c. 220), On Baptism, 18.4f, bemoans the current practice in his day of infants being baptized with sponsors taking vows for them. He thinks children should wait to be baptized: "The Lord does indeed say, 'Forbid them not to come unto me.' Let them 'come,' then, while they are growing up; let them 'come' while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ."
  18. Origin (c. 185-c. 254) of Alexandria discusses the practice of infant baptism in his homilies on Luke XIV and Leviticus VIII, 3. See also Aristides, Apology 15:6.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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