There are some who argue that the baptism of infants is necessary because the Old Covenant is still in full force. Here’s what I want to know: Where in the Scripture does it say that?
In fact, I believe the Scripture says the opposite:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13)
The term “Old Covenant” is generally inferred by all the discussion of the “New Covenant” throughout the Bible. The only verse that uses the term is 2 Cor 3:14, which states: “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.”
Now, the verse is interesting for what it does and does not say. First, what does it say? Simply, the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:44), which we call the Old Testament, is here referred to as the “Old Covenant.” Second, it does not make mention of the covenant being in force, but rather that it is misunderstood apart from Christ.
In fact, being that Christ does not overturn the Law, but rather fulfills it (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:44) this leads me to believe that we need to look at the Old Covenant as something pointing to Christ. Paul writes, “The Scripture (i.e. the “Old Covenant”/Law and Prophets) imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe…Now before faith (i.e. the “New Covenant”) came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our tutor until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:21, 23-24). Further: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32).
So, if we go by just what the Bible says, there are really only two clearly differentiated covenants: the Old and the New. Those who espouse “Covenant Theology” usually try to place a difference between the Noahide, Abrahamic, and Sinai Covenants, which is to some degree an artificial differentiation because the Bible never speaks of them that way. However, in the language of Paul and Christ, the Old Covenant as well as the Old Testament Scriptures are generally both called “the Law.” There is no differentiation between the time period before and after the Sinai Covenant. Proof of this can be seen in Gal 4:21-22: “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman…” Obviously, this whole episode occurred before Moses ever existed.
In Biblical terminology, the Old Covenant is simply the Law. Just as the term “aggelos” can mean both human messenger and divine angel, the term “the Law” in the Scripture is a reference either to the Sinai/Old Covenant or the entirety of Old Testament Scripture. Paul uses it both ways in Galatians. If they are both called “the Law,” it leaves no mystery to what Paul is really referring to is Scripture when he is quoting something or the Old Covenant when he speaks to the way in which legalistic Jews thought they were saved. For example, in Galatians 3 when Paul says, “[I]f a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Gal 3:21), it is apparent that Paul is speaking of adherence to what we call the “Old Covenant.” To get back to the point, Paul is saying in stern terms that the Sinai Covenant which we generally coin the “Old Covenant” does not save.
What does? It is interesting that Paul emphatically says that faith does, and that Abraham is a testimony to this even though He was saved before the existence of the Sinai Covenant. Many will then jump on this as proof that the whole Old Testament and New Testament must really have just one covenant.
However, this is not what Paul says. Instead, he says that men in his time were “held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Further, Jeremiah speaks of a coming, and not then existent, New Covenant. The New Covenant is the result of the spilling of Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20), which obviously did not yet occur in Abraham’s time. It is true to say that Abraham was saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, hence he is saved by the New Covenant. Obviously, being the same God made both covenants, His will was and is always the same. Therefore, it should not surprise us that He makes both covenants in order to achieve the same goal, while the purpose of each covenant is different.
I also think people confuse the “Abrahamic Covenant” as a saving covenant, because Abraham had faith and it was credited to him as righteouness (Gen 15:6). God promised Abraham land (Gen 15:18) and then many offspring contingent upon Abraham circumcising (Gen 17:10). However, Abraham was made righteous back in Gen 15:6 by belief, not by any explicit covenant. In fact, the covenant God made was made in response to his faith. So, it was not a saving covenant at all. Instead, circumcision was to reflect an inward circumcision of the heart, and Abraham’s fathering of nations was to point to the many spiritual children of Abraham by faith. It merely pointed to future realities in the New Covenant, just as the Sinai Covenant did and all other covenants under the umbrella “Old Covenant.” It does not undo Scripture in which it is clear that the New Covenant was only put in force at the Cross.
This is not meant to put down the Old Covenant. To reiterate what I have already said, the Old Covenant’s whole purpose is to point to the New. We see that we cannot fulfill all of its legal requirements so that we seek God’s grace (Gal 3:21-24), it foretells the coming of Christ and what He will do (i.e. Is 53), and it serves as a shadow of the realities that were not yet realized:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16-17)
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Heb 10:1)
What are the ramifications of this?
We are no longer under Law, but under grace. This means, we are guided by God’s Holy Spirit into all truth (John 16:13) so that we still live in obedience to God, but our obedience no longer takes the shape of following Old Testament Law. Any denomination that teaches that we must baptize infants because “it stays true to God’s intentions for His covenant with us” totally misunderstands what it means that we are to cast out the bondwoman, which is Hagar, who represents the Old Covenant!*
Even more clearly, this undoes any assertions that Christians are obligated to tithe, follow the Sabbath, eat only foods considered “clean” and other rules that are pretty much inconsistently applied by groups such as Seventh Day Adventists. The fact that they don’t celebrate the Passover even though the Bible says it must be observed “generation to generation, you must celebrate it” (Exodus 12:14), pretty much settles that matter. You see, the Law is not done away with, Christ fulfills the Law. The fact that God calls us to live obedient, moral lives is a matter of a positive response of a faithful, reborn heart which the Old Covenant testifies to, not a careful observance of the Old Covenant’s laws. The Old Covenant is passing away, it is no longer relevant in the same way, the New has come!
*My interpretation of Col 2:11-12 does not lends itself to baptism being the new circumcision. Verse 11 is talking about spiritual rebirth which precedes the baptism and without such rebirth no one comes to believe and be baptized. Hence, “circumcision of the heart” is in accordance with Romans 2:29 which has to do with the Holy Spirit giving us new hearts, not circumcision or baptism.