Baptism as Covenant: Covenantal Language in Acts 2:38-39

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More thoughts from Colijn….

While reading her take on covenant in Scripture, more especially the New Testament, my mind turned to the verse of my youth –

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles– all who have been called by the Lord our God.” (Act 2:38-39 NLT)

In that phrase of ‘this promise is to you…’ I am reminded of YHWH’s covenantal charge to Abraham –

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. (Gen 17:9 NLT)

God then goes one to institute circumcision as a sign of that covenant which was administered to all males in the house, regardless of age or choice.

As well as the the giving of the Passover,

“Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. (Exo 12:24 NLT)

Again, everyone in the home partook of it.

Most who hold to the covenantal view on baptism turn to the jailer and his family –

Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. (Act 16:30-33 NLT)

The promise was given to the jailer and through his faith the promise of salvation is given to his family as well. But there are more verses about sharing of the Covenant through the family.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1Co 7:14 NAU)

So then, isn’t baptism from the start a sign a covenant? Is Peter re-instituting the covenant but instead of circumcision, baptism is now given (a thought that Paul I believe greatly expounds in Romans)?

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

2 thoughts on “Baptism as Covenant: Covenantal Language in Acts 2:38-39

  1. This is the standard Presbyterian theology for infant baptism. The problem will always be the lack of examples of baptism of unbelievers in the NT. Unless its the baptism of John which does not seem to require personal belief.

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