• New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Where did Baptism Come from?

    When we read through the Bible from the Old to New Testament, a few things jump out when we get to the New Testament. One major surprise is the prevalence of baptism. Where did baptism come from? There doesn’t seem to be any indication of baptism in the Old Testament. However, the New Testament puts a significant priority and importance on baptism. What is the background to the baptism process? It seems unlikely that John the Baptist invented baptism. There is no indication that the Pharisees or Sadducees asked John what he was doing. Instead, the New Testament paints the picture that people were familiar with baptism. Scholars have attempted to explain why people were already familiar with the process. There are typically four possible options that scholars put forward as the historical background for New Testament baptism. Mystery Religion Adaptation Qumran Lustration Proselyte Baptism Jewish Purification and Washing Rituals…

  • Culture,  Theology

    Are All Cultures Equal? A Biblical Paradigm

    There is a growing belief today that all cultures are equal and that differences between groups are cultural, but not moral. In other words, no culture can claim moral superiority over another because it is just cultural expression. Although this is a common idea, it has met resistance from some who have demonstrated that, on a pragmatic level, productivity and the standard of living are better in some cultures than in others. Although that is undoubtedly true, that in and of itself does not necessarily mean a certain culture is better than another. As Christians, I think it is important to be in the habit of using Scripture to inform any kind of comparison—including culture. Speaking from a biblical standpoint, there are cultures that are better than others. The cultures which are better are the cultures that are more closely aligned with God’s standard for living, and these cultures thereby…

  • Old Testament,  Theology

    When did Israel Stop Being God’s People?

    No one can deny that Israel had a unique role as God’s chosen people in the past. They received a privilege no other nation had ever experienced! They were his firstborn son (Exod 4:22) and his treasured possession (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6). When Moses was reminding the people of their special role as God’s people, he noted the uniqueness of God speaking to them “out of the midst of the fire” and taking “a nation for himself from the midst of another nation by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war…” (Deut 4:33–34). We read one of the most descriptive statements about Israel’s unique status as God’s people in Deuteronomy 7:6. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the…

  • Theology

    Zwingli’s Separation of Faith from Baptism

    Prior to the Reformation, faith was always associated with baptism. This obviously raised issues for infant baptism, since it is difficult to see how infants can exercise faith. To deal with this difficulty, Augustine taught the concept of fides aliena, an alien faith that belonged to others was applied on behalf of the infant. Usually, this was the parent’s faith, but sometimes the church’s. However, many theologians viewed this as an unsatisfactory answer. So, the Catholic church developed the idea of fides infusa baptisme, faith or power which was “infused” to the infant through baptism. It was into the world of fides aliena and fides infusa that Martin Luther was born. Although Luther broke away from the Roman Catholic church in many key areas (one such area being justification by faith alone),[1] he largely embraced Rome’s view of infant baptism. One major difference was that Luther saw no problem with…

  • Theology

    Paedobaptism and Problem of the New Covenant

    Reformed paedobaptists view the new covenant as an extension of the old covenant, not its replacement. Specifically, reformed paedobaptists view the new covenant as an extension of the Abrahamic covenant. In Reformed paedobaptist theology, the newness of the new covenant is usually thought to refer to external aspects only. For example, Jeffrey Niell notes, “The newness of the new covenant pertains to the external aspects, the outward administration, of the covenant of grace. The new covenant is not new in its nature of membership.”[1] In other words, “The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant is a smooth unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, because the two covenants are organically connected—they are essentially one covenant of grace.”[2] I have argued in a previous post that the new covenant replaces the Mosaic covenant, not the Abrahamic. In this post, I will discuss the qualitative difference of the new covenant in…

  • Culture,  Theology

    Do Dispensationalists Cause Cultural Decay?

    Postmillenialists will often claim that dispensationalists do not engage the culture and have no interest in seeing the culture flourish. Furthermore, it is often stated that wherever dispensationalism flourishes, the culture decays. Thus, it is dispensationalism which is dangerous and causes cultural decay. Although I have written before that many incorrectly argue that dispensationalism hurts the church, today I want address the subject again, focusing on whether dispensationalists promote an escapist worldview which causes cultural decay. It is my goal that the argument that dispensationalists don’t care about culture should be be retired from use, since it is neither true nor the real issue. An Eschatology of Escapism for Dispensationalists? It is quite popular in some Christian circles (postmillenialists usually) to accuse dispensationalists as being escapists, unconcerned by what happens in the culture. Gary DeMar describes this alleged inaction and laziness as the “Fatal Flaw in the Culture War.” He…

  • Church,  Theology

    Paedobaptists and the Problem of New Covenant Regeneration

    Reformed paedobaptists view the new covenant as an extension of the old covenant, not as its replacement,[1] although as I argued before, the new covenant is discussed in terms of replacing the Mosaic covenant. However, in Reformed paedobaptist thought the newness of the new covenant is usually thought to refer to external aspects only. For example, Jeffrey Niell notes, “The newness of the new covenant pertains to the external aspects, the outward administration, of the covenant of grace. The new covenant is not new in its nature of membership.”[2] In other words, “The transition from the old covenant to the new covenant is a smooth unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, because the two covenants are organically connected—they are essentially one covenant of grace.”[3] However, an examination of the texts concerning the new covenant leads one to observe there are significant qualitative differences between the old and new covenants.[4] Although there…

  • New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Infant Baptism and the Connection to the Abrahamic Covenant

    As we have noted before, for the Reformed paedobaptist, the covenant of grace is the foundational argument for paedobaptism. Within the covenantal system, the specific covenants mentioned in Scripture are just various manifestations of that singular covenant. Specifically, however, for the Reformed paedobaptists, the New Testament discussion of the “old covenant” is the Abrahamic covenantal manifestation of the covenant of grace. In contrast, the Bible’s mention of a new covenant is not not “new” in the sense of something that has not been seen before, but rather, a renewed version of that Abrahamic covenant which already existed. Note, for example, renown Berkhof’s explanation. “The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal….  This covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation. The…

  • Theology

    Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace

    We looked previously at how important covenant theology is to the Reformed arguments for paedobaptism. Within the Reformed argumentation for paedobaptism, there is no more essential doctrine than the covenant of grace. On this point Booth, a Reformed paedobaptist, notes, “There are also other evidences in the pages of Scripture that support the truth of infant baptism. Nevertheless, the foundation of the argument consists of the unified covenant of grace evident in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”[1] There are many reasons the covenant of grace is essential to the Reformed position on paedobaptism. Primarily, it provides the theological connection between circumcision and baptism, so that “baptism and circumcision have essentially the same meaning.”[2] Additionally, it provides a framework to see the continuity in the people of God, and God’s dealing corporately with households in the New Testament.[3] It should be noted that, historically, many credobaptists (people who…

  • Church,  New Testament,  Old Testament,  Theology

    Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism

    Reformed paedobaptists are not shy to assert that their defense of infant baptism relies on covenant theology. In fact, although many Baptists take issue with infant baptism not being mentioned anywhere in Scripture, this is really a simplistic understanding of the Reformed position. In reality, for the Reformed paedobaptist, the entirety of the debate centers around the unified covenant of grace. Note the words of paedobaptist Cornelis Venema: This debate can be reduced to one principal question: Does the covenant of grace in its New Testament administration embrace the children of believing parents just as it did in the Old Testament administration? However complex and diverse the arguments, pro and con, on the subject of infant baptism may be, this remains the overriding issue. Precisely because the debate between paedobaptists and Baptists centers on the doctrine of the covenant of grace, particularly the similarity and dissimilarity of the covenant in…