November 1, 1987 Issue
Ronny F. Wade

If baptism is not a replacement of circumcision, then how is Col 2:11-12 to be explained? (Tex.)

Baptism was not given in lieu of circumcision. It is apparent that Jewish Christians did not so consider it since they continued to practice circumcision for a long while after the establishment of the Church, and even tried to force it on Gentile Christians. What then is the teaching of Col 2:11-12? Under the law, circumcision was a physical operation, "made with hands". In circumcision there was a "putting off of the flesh." In baptism there is a putting off of sins. The former is an operation performed by man; the latter an operation performed by God. As a man takes off and puts away clothes, in baptism we put off the old man and his actions. The same power that God exerted in raising Christ from the dead is the same power exerted when in baptism we are raised up with Christ. Paul declares that when we enter Christ at baptism we receive the true spiritual circumcision made without hands. Thus the "true circumcision" is putting off the body of sins of the flesh.

This similarity, however, does not mean that baptism takes the place of circumcision or that they are parallel in every particular. Some who advocate infant baptism argue that because male children were made partakers of the covenant of circumcision in the old testament, so are all children to be made recipients of God's grace through baptism in the new testament. Those who make this argument press Paul's analogy too far. The following reasons show its fallacy:

If the analogy extends to infants then only males could be baptized since only males could be circumcised.

Under the new covenant one must be taught of God before he is prepared to come to the Father. Jno 6:45 Infants are incapable of being taught.

Circumcision was not an initiatory rite, but for those already members of the Jewish family. One is baptized to get into the family of God. Gal 3:26-27.


Circumcision was in obedience to the law of Moses. Baptism is in obedience to the law of Christ, hence cannot take the place of circumcision.

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