Thursday, June 23, 2005

The covenant with David and Infant baptism

In my study of the covenants, I usually end up focusing on the one made with Abraham, the one made with Moses, and then the new covenant in the New Testament. These seem to be the big ones to be considered. I’ve always understood that the covenant with David was a natural extension on the other ones, but I didn’t think it was of as much importance until now. The thing is though, that Peter makes a huge deal of it at Pentecost. In my debating with various Baptists on infant baptism, the later part of the passage always comes up, but let me quote it here in more of its context:
Acts 2 29"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34"For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
"The LORD said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
35Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'

36"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"

38Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."(NKJV)

You see the covenant with David was built upon the previous ones with Abraham and Moses. Male infants were circumcised on the 8th day according to the law under the Davidic covenant. The main promise of the Davidic covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7:
12"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."(NKJV)

Peter tells us in the Acts 2 passage that this promise is fulfilled in Jesus because Christ sits on the throne that David’s throne only pointed to. Christ sits on the throne in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father--the real throne.

Now right after Peter had finished explaining to these mainly Jewish men how Christ was the seed of David that would sit on the throne forever, they asked him what shall we do? The implied last part of the phrase is “to be saved.” Now that we know who Christ is, and we know that we are guilty of crucifying him, what shall we do? Peter’s answer is that they need to repent and be baptized. They need to turn from their previous ways and turn to the living God, for he will abundantly pardon. This is by no means a completely new idea. Consider Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them: "As I live,' says the Lord GOD, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'” Even the baptism part isn’t really new. The Jews knew much about washings with water, but instead of saying be circumcised, he said be baptized. In my more systematic thinking, this was probably because the bloody ordinances, the sacrifices of the law, were all going away.

Repentance was always part of what God required of his people. This was not something new! Then he goes onto say that “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (I’m skipping over the part about being baptized for the remission of sins in the interest of space ;-p). This has both new elements and old elements. This is definitely an expansion from what Israel had commonly thought. They believed they were special, and in a sense they were. To them the oracles and promises of God had been committed, but it wasn’t because they were a righteous people or more deserving of praise. As Paul said in Acts 17:30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” God overlooked the gentiles at large before, but now the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the world should be blessed was going to be fulfilled.

And then, with all this background of the Davidic covenant, Peter says the promise is unto your children. This probably wasn’t even that significant to the Jews listening. Their children had been in the covenant for thousands of years already, and now the group to whom the promise was given was becoming even broader. It would be absolutely unthinkable for them to believe that baptism was not for their children--which included their infants. Of course this means that it is to their descendants as well; God has always dealt with families. As I wrote prior, God is merciful to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments!

Those who wish to argue that infants are not to be baptized have a very tough job. Peter relates the Davidic covenant to Christ in such a way that it is impossible to separate the promises to him from the promises of the New Covenant. The approximately 4000 years of Jewish history from Abraham to Christ speaks so loudly about the case for children being included in the covenant, that the fact the New Testament doesn’t abrogate the practice should be enough to settle the argument forever.


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter said - be saved and then baptized... salvation requires the individual to understand that they are a sinner in need, to repent and accept Christ's gift of life. Infants do NOT have this capability. So, logically, salvation can only come to a person old enough to do this- usually 6 or older. Once the person has salvation, then they are to follow God's command to join his church (a local, scriptural church) through baptism. When you relegate people to need to be baptized in order to receive salvation you are in effect saying that God's son, Jesus Christ, dying on the cross is not enough. Remember, it says, that salvation is a gift from God and "that not of yourselves lest any man should boast" - this means that NOTHING we do beside repent and ask that we be covered by Jesus' blood will save us.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Swinder said...

You missed the whole point of what I was saying in this post, but it’s beyond me to give a full exposition of the covenant right here. I never said that someone needs to be baptized to be saved, but given that baptism is a sign and seal of the promise, and those promises are given to us AND OUR CHILDREN, it only logically follows that they are to be baptized and have that seal.

Also, we do not earn our salvation by repenting and asking Jesus’ forgiveness. Faith is just the means that we accept Christ’s forgiveness and it, itself is even the gift of God.

At 4:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you missed my point - that infants cannot be scripturally baptized because baptism is to follow salvation and they cannot be saved until they are old enough to know they need to be saved.

Also, are you saying that you believe that unless someone is baptized they can lose their salvation?

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Swinder said...


No, I’m not saying that a person can loose their salvation unless they are baptized. Baptism is the sign and seal of being in the visible church.

I don’t agree with your point that baptism must follow salvation. Note that in the Old Testament converts to the Jewish faith were only circumcised after they had confessed to believe the promises given to the Jews, BUT the children of Jews were to be circumcised and set apart from the children of unbelievers. The same is true today with baptism. Children of believers are to be baptized because they are set apart from the children of unbelievers. No that baptism doesn’t save them; it joins them to the visible church in a way that they too have the promises committed to them. When Peter stands up at Pentecost (in the passage you quoted above) and says that the promise was to us, to our children, and to those who are afar off, the difference between that and the previous covenant with Israel was the “those who are afar off part” NOT the children part. The revolutionary New Covenant included Gentiles too; it didn’t remove the children! By suggesting that children are now not a part of the covenant is to suggest that the New Testament has in fact made it more narrow—not more broad. It also goes against what Peter is saying in Acts 2. The promise is to our children!


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