Old and New Testament Sacraments

One of the most controversial aspects of sacramental theology is the relationship between the Old Testament sacraments of Passover and circumcision (and some would even dispute that they are sacraments!) and the New Testament sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I am not going to treat this subject exhaustively at all. There are just two points that I wish to make, fueled by Vos’s discussions in volume 5 of Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 103-104.

The first point that Vos makes is that the Old Testament sacraments are types of Christ, not of the New Testament sacraments. There is, indeed, a correspondence between the two sets of sacraments. However, there is not a typological relationship between the two (p. 104).

The second issue is something that has bothered me for a while. Why is it that the recipients of the Passover have in an important way narrowed (those who can discern the Lord’s body versus all children in the Passover, thus making an age differene), while the recipients of baptism have broadened (all children and believing adults on their conversion, not just the male children)? Of course, it is merely a Baptistic assumption that the New Testament sacraments must be alike in how they work. There are several important differences between baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which we will not get into here. But why has the change to New Testament sacraments resulted in a seemingly opposite scope for circumcision giving way to baptism, and Passover giving way to the Lord’s Supper? Vos offers an explanation I have not seen elsewhere (though I would be surprised if this explanation originated with him: anyone know of sources from which this could have come?):

[I]n Israel the sacraments, besides their significance for the covenant of grace, also had a national aspect, from which a difference in practice arose between them and the New Testament sacraments on a few points. For us, one comes to the table of the Lord only after one has learned to discern the body of Christ. In Israel the children also ate the Passover. This was because the Passover together with its covenantal significance had national significance. The same is true for circumcision. Baptism in the New Testament is administered to both sexes of the children of believers. In the Old Testament, circumcision was only for infant boys. Indeed, in the national life of Israel only the men counted and represented the women, and this also had to come to light outwardly (p. 103).

There might be some fruitful ground here for answering both the Baptists and the Federal Vision folks, who both have the same error in treating the NT sacraments as working the same way. Indeed, as a friend of mine once said, the problem of the FV’ers in their sacramental theology is not that they have over-reacted to Baptistic theology in every respect, but that they have not thrown off the problems of Baptistic thinking enough. It must be born in mind that most FV’ers were Baptists before they became FV.

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11 Comments

  1. Roy Kerns said,

    December 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    After the first Passover, who ate the Passover? And where did they eat it? Answers to these questions will go a long way to resolving the paradox.

  2. Ron said,

    December 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    This is a wonderful piece. Best I’ve seen.

    https://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=552

  3. December 15, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    I have recently been struck by how similar Baptist and Federal Vision folks are in their view of the church (essentially denying the visible-invisible distinction) and thus it makes sense that their views of the sacraments are more closely aligned to each other and are both dissimilar to the Confession, because the Confession is working with a different view of the church.

  4. Rowland Ward said,

    December 15, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Vos’ first point is general among the Reformed Orthodox eg. Turretin,Vol 3, 373. The second point I don’t recall so clearly put although the subsuming of the females under the males is frequent in the polemical literature.

  5. Matt Holst said,

    December 16, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Interesting points here. All of them. Thanks.

  6. December 21, 2016 at 12:02 am

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  9. brandonadams said,

    January 23, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Brother, I would encourage you to look more closely at the reformed baptist arguments. The fact that Old Covenant sacraments were national in character and the New Covenant sacraments are not is a tremendous argument in favor, not against, the baptist position.

    17th century Presbyterians had no problem recognizing the national character of circumcision because they argued the same was true of baptism (hence national churches). I am unaware of how modern Presbyterians who argue Israel’s national character was temporary or typical have any consistent ground to stand upon in rejecting the baptist position that there was a two-fold seed of Abraham: physical (national) and spiritual.

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/blood-of-bulls-and-goats-blood-of-christ-physical-israel-spiritual-israel/

  10. brandonadams said,

    January 23, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Also, notice what you are arguing:

    Those who participated in Passover and received circumcision do not determine who participates in the Lord’s Supper and who receives baptism because Passover and circumcision were national in character and the Lord’s Supper and baptism are not.

    To which the baptist says:

    Those who participated in Passover and received circumcision do not determine who participates in the Lord’s Supper and who receives baptism because Passover and circumcision were national in character and the Lord’s Supper and baptism are not.

  11. rfwhite said,

    January 23, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    Green Baggins: regarding your second point, you state that “the recipients of baptism have broadened” — I take it, relative to the recipients of circumcision. It seems to me that this analysis goes off course by looking for a correspondence between the breadth of circumcision and the breadth of baptism. Yet there was no such correspondence in the OT: Israel’s baptism in the cloud and sea was broader than its circumcision; similarly the baptism of Noah and his house can be said to have been broader than circumcision. Those instances of what the NT dubs baptisms in the OT were each broader than circumcision.


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