I want to ask whether circumcision is a prefigure of baptism?  A passage from the Bible, 1 Peter 3:20-21, seemingly says that the prefigure of baptism were the events in the days of Noah. On the other hand, Colossians 2:11-14 implies that circumcision was a prefigure of baptism. Can it be considered a prefigure of the baptism , as well as the crossing of the Red Sea?  Are all of these events prefigures of baptism?


There are several things in the Old Testament which God uses to prefigure baptism because baptism is such a key part of Christian teaching. In my opinion it is also because God knew that this doctrine would be problematic for so many people that he decided to put so many indicators of the role of baptism in salvation in the Old Testament.  Prefigures of baptism include:

1. The crossing of the Red Sea, in which the Israelites were symbolically baptized into Moses at the time they literally escaped slavery in Egypt (they were within the territory of Egypt until they crossed the Sea).   1 Corinthians 10:1-4 confirms that God intended this event to prefigure baptism, by which we escape our own slavery to sin.

2. The laver which was in the tabernacle and in the temple.  In order to enter the Holy Place, where the Jews symbolically came into the presence of God (with the bread/Jesus on the right and the menorah/Holy Spirit on the left) the priest had to wash in the laver.  Symbolically, the altar of sacrifice was not sufficient or the priest to enter into the presence of God.  The priest had to symbolically wash in the laver to enter God’s presence, even after offering sacrifice at the altar of sacrifice.  This is a rather obvious prefiguring of the role of baptism, through which we enter into a relationship with God and are given access to the temple.

3. The passing of the Israelites through the Jordan River under the leadership of Joshua is a prefigure of baptism.  The second generation had not passed through the Red Sea as adults and also had not been circumcised.  God commanded that they not circumcise the male children while in the wilderness.  They were “baptized” into Joshua when they miraculously passed through the Jordan River, as the earlier generation was baptized into Moses when they passed through the Red Sea.

4.  But this scene is a prefigure of  baptism in two senses.  As soon as they were baptized into Joshua in order to enter the Promised Land, which was a prefigure of baptism and salvation, the male children were also circumcised which God intended to use to teach the connection between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism.  In the Old Testament circumcision was used as a symbol of being God’s people.  In the New Testament baptism is when we become part of God’s people.  Paul makes the fact of the prefigure clear in Colossians 2:11 when he says that baptism is a kind of Christian circumcision.  He calls baptism a spiritual circumcision.

5. The water which judged the world (2 Peter 2:5-6 and 2 Peter 3:5-7) saved Noah and his family (1 Peter 3:20-21.  There is no doubt that the water of the flood is a symbol of baptism “that saves you also” because Peter tells us that it is a symbol.

Three of the five listed above are specifically described as symbols/prefigures in the New Testament and I believe the other two are as well, although I suppose I cannot “prove” it.   I conclude that all five of these are prefigures of baptism.  I like to say that we can do a baptism study using only the Old Testament.  There is no rule that says that God can only prefigure baptism through a single symbol.  God prefigures the saving action of Jesus through several means, including the Passover lamb, the snake in the desert (John 3:14), the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) and many more.

I hope this helps.

John Oakes

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