Sunday, April 10, 2011

Circumcision and Baptismal Regeneration - Col 2:13

I was reading through St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians earlier this week and noticed something that I had never noticed before...
In Col 2:13 St. Paul tells the Colossians that they were once dead in their sins but now God had made them alive. What I hadn’t noticed was that St. Paul doesn’t say that they were only dead in their sins, but that they were dead in their sins AND the uncircumcision of their flesh. In other words, some part of their spiritual deadness was attributable to the fact that they had not been circumcised.
This actually made me realise that there was more to the sign of circumcision in the Old Covenant than simply the outward sign. If St. Paul says that they were dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh, then it stands to reason that those who were circumcised in the Old Covenant were actually made alive (or “regenerated”) by their circumcision.
Interestingly, this particular passage is in the context of St. Paul teaching the Colossians that they no longer need to be circumcised in order to be part of God’s covenant people. The reason St. Paul gives is that the circumcision of the flesh is replaced by the spiritual circumcision of the New Covenant (v11) which takes place in our baptism (v12).
So, in St. Paul’s thinking, just as God’s Old Covenant people of Israel were made alive in God by their circumcision, so too we as God’s New Covenant people (the Church, the continuation of Israel)  are made alive in Christ through our baptism. And that is why our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit in our baptism (Jn 3:5).
This has significant implications for us as Christians then. St. Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that because of this change that God has worked in us, our lives should show it. If we are dead to our sins, we are alive in Christ and so we should live knowing that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. May this be our challenge especially over these last few weeks of Lent. May we give ourselves even more to living for Christ as we strive to live holy lives, and especially as we reach out in love to those around us so that they too can experience the love of Christ.


  1. 1 Peter 3:21, Eph 5:26. This heresy has landed thousands in hell by falsely appeasing this consciences.

  2. Anonymous – thank you taking the time to comment. However, I would encourage you to read again the verses which you have listed because both talk about baptism and its effects:

    1 Pet 3:21 – baptism saves us

    Eph 5:26 – baptism washes away our sins

    Regarding the remainder of your comment, it never ceases to amaze me how so many Christians think they can play God and condemn others to hell and reprobation based purely on their own authority and interpretation. We should be far more wary in passing judgment, remembering the words of our Lord when He said that we will be judged in the same measure that we judge others (Matt 7:1-2).

    Rather we should leave the judgment of souls up to God who alone knows the depths of man’s heart.

    Also, it is interesting to note that the Scriptures state that God’s judgment for salvation and condemnation is based not on what we believe, but on how we live (e.g. Matt 7:21; Rev 22:12).

  3. 1 Pet 3:21 and Eph 5:26 clearly show that SPIRITUAL Baptism saves, that is, washing with the Word, NOT "as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience."

    We are judged by our works because works testify to faith. Remember that Abraham was justified by faith BEFORE he was circumcised.

  4. On the contrary, 1 Pet 3:21 does not say "spiritual baptism saves" but simply "baptism saves". What St. Peter is saying in this passage is that baptism is not simply an outward washing away of dirt, but is something far deeper i.e. it washes away our sins (which is what he preached on Pentecost).

    And Eph 5:26 does not say that we are cleansed by the word, but rather that we are cleansed by WATER together with the "word". It is the Word that makes the water effective to carry out this cleansing - without the Word, the water would just be water. Much like the Holy Eucharist - without the words of Christ ("This is my Body" and "This is my Blood"), the bread and wine would simply remain bread and wine.

    The above verses are not the only verses in the New Testament dealing with baptism. I'd encourage you to look up the other references, and you will find that baptism is elsewhere spoken of as actually being effectual rather than simply being an empty outward sign.

    In addition, I would encourage you to examine the Church Fathers. You will find that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration was an undisputed teaching of the Church for centuries because it was the teaching of the Apostles which has been handed down.

    In respect of Abraham...yes, he was justified by his faith before he was circumcised...but also remember that St. James also tells us that he was justified by his works when he offered up his son Isaac (Jms 2:21). Two implications of this spring to mind i.e.:

    1) We are NOT justified by faith ALONE, but by faith AND works; and

    2) Justification is obviously NOT a once-for-all transaction, as many Protestants teach.

  5. As an aside Anon, I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts on what St. Paul meant when he said that the Colossians were dead in their sins AND the uncircumcision of their flesh.

    And then, how does that relate to the issue of baptism which he is clearly relating this to in Col 2?

  6. Do you conveniently leave out "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience?"

    "Water" is a shadow used to symbolise spiritual cleansing, in fulfilment of Ezek 36. You fail to grasp that this shadow gives way to the spiritual "washing" of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5) with the word. Which by the way, answers your first question. The uncircumcism of the flesh is the old heart/old man, which is dead. Being dead in sin, legally and practically, is synonymous with
    being dead in the uncircumcism of the flesh.

    The circumcism of Christ (made WITHOUT HANDS) is the cutting off of the old heart/body of the flesh, and is accomplished by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 6:11). (Notice in 1 Cor 6, you are washed from SIN in the context.) God follows by BAPTISING us "eis"/INTO CHRIST, BY FAITH (Eph 3:17, Gal 3:26-27, 3:14), so that in union with him in His death and resurrection, we have life, and the legal and practical problems are solved by justification and regeneration the MOMENT we believe. Paul elsewhere says that "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live BY FAITH in the Son of God..." Life comes as a result of union with Christ ("together with him" Col 2), BY FAITH.) You shouldn't automatically associate H2O with baptism.

    The word for justify in 1 Cor 6 is dikaioō. Declared righteous, once for all. "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever HEARS my word and BELIEVES him who sent me HAS eternal life. He does NOT come into judgment, but has PASSED from death to life."(Jn 5:23) BOTH legal and spiritual life. Do you see water or works here? NO. Faith alone.

    Now what do you make of Matthew 3:11? No water there.

  7. Anon - by the nature of your arguments, I am guessing that you are I right??? Either way, here is my response:

    I didn’t “conveniently leave out “not as a removal of dirt...”. Like I said, St. Peter was saying that literal water baptism was not simply an outward washing (i.e. removing dirt from the body), but it contained something far greater (the washing away of sins which allows us to have a good conscience before God).

    If water is simply a shadow as you say, then surely you shouldn’t even bother being baptised by water in the New Covenant. After all, haven't the shadows all given way to the reality? Unless of course, water is still valid and contains the sacramental grace that it speaks of i.e. when we are baptised with water, we are also baptised spiritually. And this speaks of God’s grace to us. It is not by anything we have done, but it is purely His work in us.

    Unfortunately, throughout your argument you try to separate water baptism from spiritual baptism. The two go hand in hand because that is the way that God ordained it. Again, I would encourage you to read the Church Fathers on this matter. You will find that your interpretation is a novel one brought about by the schismatic Protestant Reformers.

    Your interpretation of the circumcision of the flesh is interesting and does not take Col 2 in context. In v 11 St. Paul refers to a circumcision without hands – this is spiritual circumcision. This takes place by baptism: “ were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision...when you were buried with Him in baptism...”. The circumcision WITH hands then is the circumcision of the flesh i.e. St. Paul is referring to physical circumcision in Col 2:11.

    So, if justification is received the moment we believe, why was Abraham justified more than once?

    As for the notion of Sola Fide, you have quoted passages that speak of faith as necessary for eternal life. I agree with that. But what you are also doing is forcing the word “alone” into the passage. The only time the Scripture talks about “faith alone” it is in the context that we are NOT saved by faith alone. Faith AND works is necessary for eternal life. And on that note, isn't the act of faith a work because believing is something we do?

    Matt 3:11 – there doesn’t have to be water in v 11 because it is already in the rest of the passage. It is through the waters of baptism that the Lord Jesus Christ baptises us with the Holy Spirit. This is clear by Jesus’ own words in Jn 3:5. And St. Paul taught the same thing in Tit 3:5 when he said that God saves us by His mercy through the WATER of rebirth AND the Holy Spirit. What speaks of God’s mercy and grace more than the fact that we do not do anything in our baptism, but rather that it is something that is done to us?

  8. Anon - I just had another thought. You said in your original post "This heresy has landed thousands in hell by falsely appeasing this consciences".

    If you are right, I'd assume that you would be able to name at least one.

  9. Name one? Every professing Roman Catholic who is under a curse by relying on the works of the law. I hold this as much as I hold that Jews, Hindus, Muslims and all non-Christian men are lost in their sins.

    Roman Catholicism is the modern equivalent of the circumcision party. "Unless you are baptised you cannot be saved."

  10. There are a few problems with your statement.

    Firstly, you prove that you do not understand Catholic teaching. Catholics do NOT rely on the works of the law. If you have been reading anything I have said above, surely that would be clear. The Church has always taught in continuity with the Apostles that we are saved by God's grace alone. And that grace is imparted to us in many ways, one of them being baptism. Mk 16:16 says that the one who believes AND IS BAPTISED will be saved. Of course, this doesn't mean that works don't matter. Of course they do because it is the DOERS of the law who will be justified (Rom 2:13). Why? Because God will repay according to each one's DEEDS (Rom 2:6) giving eternal life to those who DO good (Rom 2:7).

    Secondly, be careful not to presume the place of God by condemning others to Hell, especially when you clearly don't understand what it is that they believe. Also, you are NOT God so be careful not to presume that you are able to see into the depths of a man's heart to condemn him.

    And thirdly, I can just as easily argue that you are part of the circumcision party because you claim that unless I perform the WORK of believing what you believe, then I am condemned to Hell.

  11. Deb Warrier said:

    "The water in baptism washes away original sin. It is not just symbolic, that is actually what happens. Christ thought baptism by water was so important He humbled Himself to be baptised this way by John the Baptist and isn't the objective of being Catholic to be Christ like? Also, it is no good to say you believe when you don't act like it. Faith is love in action."