Isn’t the nation of Israel a type of the Church, and circumcision a type of baptism or regeneration? If so, why can’t the children of Abraham in the Old Testament include infants, whereas the children of Abraham in the New Testament, being the antitype, only refer to adult believers (cf. Eph 5:8; 1 Thes 5:5; etc.)?

We have already answered positively, in our earlier article, why the Abrahamic covenant includes our children (see “What about my Children?” in PCC Bulletin, vol 3, no. 45, dated 5 May 2002). The fact that the Abrahamic covenant includes children (Gen 17:7) is indisputable. The fact that the Apostle Peter was referring to the Abrahamic covenant when he says: “the promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39; cf. Gal 3:14) is hardly disputable; or at least I have not seen one objective and straightforward, rather than forced and abstruse, argument against it. Anti-Pedobaptists, rather than being side-tracked by apparently difficult-to-understand explications and polemics of Pedobaptists, which are made in response to anti-Pedobaptists’ criticisms, ought really to pause and think if they, in the first place, can give a credible Baptist response to such claims as we have made above. It is an ironic twist in the Baptist/Pedobaptist debate that while the Baptist accuses Pedobaptists of using too much inferences or necessary consequences, he cannot point to one clear and direct statement in the New Testament to show that, in the New Testament, the children of believers are no longer comprehended under the Abrahamic covenant, and so are to be regarded as no different from pagan children except that they have the privilege of being brought up in a believing home. Rather than trying to argue off the Pedobaptists’ case that the numerous references to household baptism confirm that God is still dealing covenantally with believers and their children, let the Baptist show positively and directly that we should regard our children as broods of vipers who must attend worship with us only in the status of pagan visitors. We make this call not with an attitude of ridicule. Far from it! We make it with a poignant feeling that some of our beloved Baptist brethren may be kept back from receiving this ancient and biblical practice which recognises God’s covenantal grace upon us and our house, not by objective argumentations, but by strong emotions.

Nevertheless, in the interest of clarification, for such as is seriously seeking to understand the Pedobaptist position, I think it is needful for me to answer the question you have posed. It is true that if Israel is a type of the Church and circumcision is but a type of baptism, then it is possible that the word “seed,” in Genesis 17:7, has lost its original meaning (or aspect of meaning) of “descendants.”

Let me explain a little more in the interest of those who may not appreciate the reasonings behind your question.

The word “type” comes from the Greek tupos, which etymologically refers to an impression made by striking, from which also the meanings of “figure” (Acts 7:43), “example” (1 Cor 10:6) and “pattern” (Heb 8:5) have developed. Notice that the common denominator in each of these meanings is that there is an illustrative or signifying quality. That is to say: a tupos is what it is because it has an illustrative relationship with the object it represents.

When we talk about biblical types or typology, this same illustrative quality must be borne in mind. Thus, we may define a biblical type, as a temporary Old Testament reality that illustrates a spiritual or New Testament reality;—which, as it is an illustration, does not correspond in essence to what is illustrated. This Old Testament reality may be a person (e.g., David), an ordinance (e.g., animal sacrifice), an event (e.g., the exodus) or a unique object (e.g., the rock in the wilderness or the Tabernacle). The New Testament realities (or antitypes), on the other hand, would include Christ the Lord Himself, His substitutionary atonement and our redemption from sin.

It is clear that the New Testament writers saw much of the Old Testament as having typological significance. Old Testament realities are sometimes spoken of as being types explicitly. For examples, Adam was a figure or type (tupos) of Christ; baptism is the “like figure” or antitype (antitupos) of the water of the deluge wherein eight souls were saved (1 Pet 3:21); and the tabernacle was a “figure” (parabolê; used synonymously with tupos here) of Christ and His ministry (Heb 9:9). But elsewhere, the typological relationship is clearly implied though the word “type” or its synonyms may not be used. For examples, the rock that provided water in the desert was a type of Christ (1 Cor 10:4); the tabernacle was a type of Christ (Jn 1:14; Rev 21:3); the temple was a type of the church (Eph 2:21–22; 1 Pet 2:5; etc.); the Passover lamb was a type of Christ sacrificed (Jn 1:29; Rev 13:8); etc., etc.

Now, the question is: Is Israel a type of the Church and circumcision a type of baptism? My answer to the first question is: No! Israel was the Church, albeit with political and geographic trappings because it was also a nation. But since it was the Church (albeit a Church under-age), it cannot be a type of the Church. It is not difficult to prove that Israel was the Church. First, consider how Stephen calls the Jews wandering in the desert the “church [Greek: ekklêsia] in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), and the fact that the Apostle Paul calls the Church the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). Secondly, consider the fact that Gentiles are engrafted into the same olive tree (Rom 11:16–17) and united with the “commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12); and that the Jews and Gentiles are “one body” in Christ and “have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph 2:13–18). Thirdly, consider the fact that the terms used to describe the Jewish people in the Old Testament are exactly the same terms being used to describe the New Testament church, e.g., the “people of God” (Jdg 20:2; Heb 4:9; 11:25; 1 Pet 2:10), the “holy nation” (Jer 2:2–3; 1 Pet 2:9), and the bride of Jehovah (Isa 62:5; Rev 19:7–8; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:31–32). Fourthly, consider the fact that the Old Testament saints were also saved by grace through faith, only that because they saw Christ only in shadows and types, “they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:40). That is to say, the Church is not complete without the New Testament believers engrafted in.

The fact is that the nation of Israel, though having a different outward form from the New Testament, is in essence (or substance) the same body. And if it is the same body, how could it be related by a typical-antitypical relationship? A young boy does not illustrate a mature man, he grows into the grown man. If it makes sense to say that Israel is a type of the Church, then it would make sense to say that the Old Testament Scripture is a type of the Bible we have.

The same is true of circumcision and baptism. We have already shown that they are of the same essence or substance since they both signify regeneration, and is the symbolic sign of admittance into the covenant body (see “Now, That is a Good Question!” in PCC Bulletin, vol. 3, no. 22, dated 25 November 2001). Yes, it is true that the land promised under the Old Testament is a type of the spiritual inheritance in Christ that the New Testament emphasises; but circumcision is not a type of baptism in the technical sense of the word. Baptism simply replaces circumcision. It is not a reality which circumcision pointed to. They both signify or symbolise heart circumcision or the washing of regeneration.

It is true that some Pedobaptist writers have called circumcision a bloody type, which has a bloodless antitype in baptism, and I myself have followed the description without sufficient thought. But this description can only be true if the words “type” and “antitype” are used very loosely. In scriptural and theological usage, a type and its corresponding antitype must be of different substance, else it makes no sense.

But what about saying that circumcision is a type of regeneration? Well, circumcision is a bloody Old Testament ordinance, which signifies regeneration; and regeneration is spoken of in Scripture as a benefit of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:33–34). Therefore, it does appear, at first look, that it is right to speak of circumcision is a type of regeneration. But on closer look, we see that it is in fact misleading to think or speak of the relationship of the two realities in this way. Firstly, although regeneration is indeed a benefit of the New Covenant, it was already enjoyed by the true Jews of Old, in prospect of Christ’s atonement, and was in fact the known spiritual meaning of circumcision Deut 30:6; Ezk 44:7; Rom 2:28–29). This being the case, it is more proper to say that circumcision symbolises regeneration rather than typifies it. There is, of course, some overlap in meaning between what is a sign or symbol and what is a type, but our Baptist brethren wish to call circumcision a type because it would then allow them to reinterpret infant-circumcision so that it has nothing to do with regeneration. But this would deny the plain testimony of Scripture that circumcision is a token of God’s everlasting covenant of salvation (cf. Gen 17:7; 2 Sam 23:5), which surely includes regeneration. For, secondly, if circumcision typifies regeneration (as our Baptist brethren assert), rather than symbolises it, then God’s promise to Abraham, “to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,” is an almost empty promise that carries only temporal blessings. Were the Jews of old only an earthly people? We have shown above that they were not, and the writer of Hebrews confesses that they were not (Heb 11:10, 13–16)! If the Jews were merely an earthly people, how could we be said to be engrafted into the same olive tree or joined into the same commonwealth? Thirdly, circumcision has a bloodless New Testament form to replace it, namely baptism; and they both have exactly the same spiritual significance. A type, in the proper sense of the word, ceases to be meaningful in the New Testament. The fact that it has a New Testament form shows that it was not a type. It was, as Paul says, a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:11), as is baptism.

We conclude that Israel and circumcision were not types. They continue to exist in the New Testament in the same essence and meaning, though under a different economy. We therefore re-assert the thesis that is being challenged: Baptised children of believers under the New Covenant have the same covenant relationship with God as circumcised children of believers under the Old Covenant!