Jeremiah 31 And Infant Baptism

Awhile ago Ian Clary interacted with R. Scott Clark on baptism and Jeremiah 31 over at his blog. It’s an interesting post. I want to use it as a springboard for some of my own thoughts on baptism (helpfully plagiarized from others of course).

Undoubtably, Jeremiah 31 is a prophecy about the coming new covenant which has found its ultimate fulfillment in Christ and the new covenant church. But, there’s more to the prophecy than meets the eye. If you look at Jeremiah 31:31 you’ll see that the prophecy is clearly dealing with (physical) Israel and Judah. He also says in 30:1-3 that the prophecy he’s about to deliver is a prophecy about bringing the Jews back into their land. God did this under the Medo-Persian empire. So then, this ‘new covenant’ had a preliminary fulfillment in Israel’s physical (and imperfect) return from exile.  

The problem it seems with baptists is that they too quickly gloss over this near fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. John Calvin would agree. In commenting on Jeremiah 30:7-8, Calvin writes:

“He [Jeremiah] indeed speaks of the return of the people to their own country, and this ought to be allowed, though Christians have been too rigid in this respect; for passing by the whole intermediate time between the return of the people and the coming of Christ, they have too violently turned the prophecies to spiritual redemption.”

The implications of this are good for the paedobaptist. For if the new covenant dealt with Israel and Judah before the time of Christ then the language Jeremiah used had to apply to children. This is consistent with the text. God promises in Jeremiah 31:1 to be the God of all the families of Israel. In Jeremiah 31:17 Israel’s children are included in the promises of restoration after exile. And In 31:36, the classic text for the new covenant, offspring of Israel are explicitly included. (See Jeremiah 32:37-40 and 33:22-26 for more texts).

If you’re going to argue against infant baptism fine, but be careful arguing about it from Jeremiah 31 … Jeremiah might have some issues with you.

 As an aside I must say that I wish there was more written on the period of biblical history Jim Jordan calls ‘the restoration.’ I downloaded Peter O’Brien Hebrews commentary on my Kindle and found nothing on it. From my vantage point it’s essential to understanding the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies. I’ve included some exercepts from Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes below to help people (myself included) get a better grasp on this important topic:

The Restoration is the least familiar and least studied phase of Old Covenant history. It is often assumed that the Kingdom of God went into the doldrums during this period, and that the people simply suffered until the coming of Messiah. Such an understanding of the post-exilic era utterly fails to do justice to the case. The Restoration was actually a far more glorious time than ever before, in terms of spirituzd power, though not in terms of outward glory and splendor.

The New Covenant, however, was far more glorious than the previous one.

 First, God wanted the World Imperial era because it facilitated evangelism. The Jews (their new name) had been told to settle in Babylon and work for the good of their new cities (Jeremiah 29:4-7). As a result, the faith was spread throughout that land. In the Restoration Covenant, God’s Spirit would be given in greater measure, and the Jews would travel land and sea, making Gentile converts.

 Second, God wanted non-Levitical synagogues, because these brought out the spiritual gifts of laymen, and anticipated the New Covenant Church.

 Third, God wanted a smaller Temple. With the Restoration Temple we have great shift in meaning. Moses had seen the pattern on Mount Sinai, and had built it below, The Mosaic Tabernacle symbolized both the nature and the glory of the Mosaic establishment. Similarly, David had been given the directions for the Temple. The Solomonic Temple symbolized both the nature and the glory of the Davidic covenant. This time Ezekiel was given a vision and blueprint for the post-exilic Temple, but it was a temple so vast and huge that it could never be built. Ezekiel’s visionary Temple symbolized both the nature and the glory of the restoration establishment, but the Temple actually built by Ezra was a small affair. Ezra’s Temple symbolized the nature, but not the glory, of the new restoration covenant.

This post owes a massive footnote to this paper by Pastor Bill Smith.