Yesterday, I began to consider the necessary unity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or to put it differently, why baptism is the necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. Today, I will make a biblical-theological case for why this unity should be believed and practiced.
By looking at how the whole Bible sets the stage for Christ’s two ordinances, we find a compelling reason for practicing them together and in order—baptism first, then the Lord’s Table. Or as we will see from Joshua, the Lord’s is for those who have passed over the waters of baptism and entered God’s land. This is physically and historically true with old covenant Israel; this is symbolically and personally true for every member of God’s new covenant.
It will take a little bit of time to see all the pieces of this argument, but for those willing to put in the effort, there is a great reward for seeing how Scripture unifies God’s ordinances and explains their place in the life of the Church and the Christian today. In what follows, I will offer two presuppositions and four reasons for why the Lord’s Supper requires baptism.
Six Arguments for Putting the Ordinances Together
1. The Bible is organized into a pattern of promise and fulfillment.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” This is how Hebrews (1:1–2) begins and it is how we must begin when we consider baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
While space does not permit a full argument that Scripture is organized in a basic promise-fulfillment pattern, the Bible makes plain Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not erase it (Matt. 5:17). Likewise, the apostles regularly affirmed this pattern. It is evident in Hebrews, where the whole book is premised on Christ fulfilling the types and shadows of the old covenant. Acts 13:32–33 also frames the whole Bible in this way, as it records the ways Paul explains the gospel: “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.”
Promise-fulfillment is not the only way the two covenants relate, but it is a central means to understanding the progressive revelation of God. And more specifically, promise-fulfillment stands at the center of the gospel and at every doctrine related to the gospel.
2. Promise and fulfillment forms the basis of the gospel and every gospel-centered doctrine.
Just as Hebrews begins with an appeal to the Old Testament, so does Romans. In Romans 1:1–7 Paul outlines the gospel, and he roots it in the Old Testament. He states, “the gospel of God, which [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (vv. 1b–4)
Truly, the gospel message is the fulfillment of all God’s promises about the Son in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). Hence, when we consider the two gospel ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), it makes sense to understand them in accordance with the way the gospel developed from the Old Testament to the New.
In what follows, I will argue that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are fulfillments of Old Testament practices—namely, water crossings (“Old Testament baptisms”) and the Passover. More importantly for the argument here, I will show how these Old Testament signs should be paired together. This is, in my estimation, the clearest reason for requiring baptism before taking the Lord’s Supper.
Additionally, for reasons found in the text, we will see how circumcision is another covenant sign, with a new covenant fulfillment, that contributes to uniting baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, these arguments take a wide look at the Bible, but because these passages clearly point to one another (through linguistic repetitions and sequential correspondences), we will see why a fulsome biblical theology of baptism, Passover, and circumcision should result in a New Testament practice of requiring water baptism for participation in the Lord’s Supper.
3. New Testament water baptism is a fulfillment of Old Testament water baptisms.
As I have written elsewhere, baptism begins with Noah, continues through Moses, and finds its ultimate end in Christ and his followers. Proving this is not difficult. Both Paul (1 Cor. 10:2) and Peter (1 Pet. 3:21) speak, respectively, of Moses and Noah as experiencing a “baptism.” In fact, Paul says that Israel was baptized “into Moses” when it went through the Red Sea. As Joshua 4:23–24 connects the Jordan River to Red Sea, we must also see how the second Generation was “baptized into” Joshua.
In all these ways, water baptism, as a historical deliverance of God’s people through flood waters, was a memorial signifying the time and place where God brought his people into his presence. Geographically, Canaan was a place of milk and honey, a place where God would dwell with his people, and they would receive his blessing. Conversely, the Wilderness where Israel dwelled before crossing the Jordan was a place of death, disobedience, and covenant cursing.
Hence, the symbolism of the Jordan crossing prefigures gospel truth. Only those who cross the river with Joshua are brought out of death into life. Importantly, this historic event was not the means of eternal salvation, but it was a picture of the saving event of Christ’s death and resurrection—what Luke 12:50 calls a baptism—that would become the source of eternal salvation.
Today, water baptism fulfills the symbolism of the Israel’s multiple water crossings. And thus, just as Israel’s covenant identity came from this passage through water, so water baptism, as the initiation rite of the new covenant, serves to identify and unify God’s people. Thus, we should not treat water baptism lightly; we should treat it as a God given sign of our common salvation.
4. The Lord’s Supper is a fulfillment of Israel’s Passover.
If baptism, as the initiating rite of the new covenant, fulfills an Old Testament type of water crossing that brings people from death to life, then Passover, as another Old Testament type, fulfills the Passover and the covenant meal enjoyed in the Land. Indeed, this connection is made explicit when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover on the night before his crucifixion (26:17–25). At this meal, Jesus takes the bread and the cup and turns them towards himself. In Exodus 12–13, Moses instructed Israel to remember the night God spared the firstborn sons because of he passed over the homes where blood was smeared on the doorframes. Now, the One of whom Moses spoke (John 5:45), directed his followers to remember him and his death.
In this way, Jesus turns the Passover meal into a covenant meal centered on himself. As 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, Jesus is the Passover lamb. Similarly, John 1:29 records John the Baptist’s words, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In these verses, the connection is made explicit. Jesus is the substance to which the historical Passover was a shadow. Today, the Passover lamb has been replaced by Christ and the Lord’s Supper is celebrated to remember him.
In this way, the Lord’s Supper becomes for the new covenant people of God the continuing rite of the covenant, just as the Passover served as the continuing rite of Israel. Moreover, just as the Israel was given explicit instructions regarding who could partake of the Passover, so the church is also given instructions about who can partake of the Lord’s Supper. In Exodus 12:43–49, Moses states explicitly, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, . . . No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it” (vv. 43, 45).
These words draw a clear boundary around the meal. Yet, in the verse excluded above (v. 44) and in the following verses (v. 46–48), Moses also makes a way for “foreigners” (non-Israelites) to eat. He says,
But every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.
The implications are certain. Those who are circumcised (i.e., inside the covenant) may eat, those who are not circumcised (i.e., outside the covenant) may not eat. If someone wanted eat the Passover, they must enter into covenant with Israel. For males this meant circumcision. For females (which is not directly addressed in Exodus 12), this would mean marriage to a circumcised male (as in the case of Ruth). For everyone else—all those outside the covenant of circumcision—there was no access to the Passover.
In the New Testament, this statute abides. The Lord’s Supper is only for those in covenant with Christ. As Jesus himself speaks of this meal, he describes it in covenantal terms. For instance, Luke 22:20 states, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” In other words, this meal is only for those who have been forgiven of their sins (which is the great promise of the new covenant) through faith in Jesus Christ. For all others, for those who long to eat at the Lord’s table, the command is to be joined to Christ by faith and to make that union public through the initiating rite of the new covenant—namely, baptism!
In keeping with the pattern of the Old Testament, participation at the covenant meal (Passover) would only be allowed after circumcision. So too, in the New Testament, participation at the Lord’s Table should only be allowed after baptism. That is the whole argument here, but before concluding that point, let’s see one more reality. In the Old Testament, Passover and water baptism (and also circumcision) were inseparable.
5. Passover and Water Baptism were paired in the Old Testament.
The book of Joshua begins with a direct connection between Moses and Joshua. Joshua 1:1 opens, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant.” Clearly, the reader is being led to connect the ministry of Joshua with that of Moses. Throughout the first four chapters, the Lord promises to be with Joshua like he was with Moses and to exalt him the same way he exalted Moses (3:6; 4:14)—which leads us to the crossing of the Jordan.
Already, we have observed how the Red Sea served as a baptism for Israel into Moses. Now at the Jordan River, something similar happens with Joshua. And notice the connection is meant to be picked up, as Joshua 4:23–24 connects Joshua at the Jordan to Moses at the Red Sea. Equally important is the way this event happens on the same day as the Passover. Both the day Israel left Egypt and the day Israel entered Canaan occurred on the tenth day of the first month (cp. Exod. 12:2–3; Josh. 4:19). This particular date highlights the way these two events are meant to be read together. But they also set up the way that baptism and Passover run together.
First, the Passover and Jordan River crossing occur on the same day, hence linking the two actions together. If, as it has been observed above, the Passover corresponds to the Lord’s Supper and the Jordan River crossing corresponds to water baptism, then here we find a coupling of these two Old Testament events, which lends credence for linking the two New Testament events.
Second, in both Exodus and Joshua, Passover and water baptism occur together. In Exodus, Israel experiences the Passover and then passes through the water with Moses (Exodus 12–15). Now in Joshua, Israel passes through the water with Joshua and then celebrates the Passover in the land (Joshua 3–5). In both instances, the actions are linked together, such that one does not occur without the other. This too strengthens the New Testament connection between of water baptism and Lord’s Supper, and explains why the latter requires the former.
Third, in Exodus 12:42–49 circumcision is required for participation in the Passover. And in Joshua 5:2–9, circumcision is performed so that the males of Israel can participate in the Passover. While this does not directly reflect on baptism, it does indirectly confirm the point that both covenant signs should be performed together, because circumcision of the heart is what the new covenant promises.
Indeed, already in Deuteronomy 30:6 God promised to circumcise the heart. This is a clear prophecy of the coming gift of the Spirit in the new covenant that will write the law on the heart. In this way, the circumcision done by hands in the Old Testament symbolizes the spiritual circumcision of the heart under the new covenant. Today, when Jesus baptizes someone in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12–13), he simultaneously circumcises the heart. All of this can be called regeneration, which is a baptism in itself—dying and rising with Christ—and which is the prerequisite for baptism.
Though the Old Testament is working with various signs to symbolize future realities of the Spirit, there is a parallel function between baptism and circumcision. In both cases, these two physical actions mark out the people of God. The one is a once-for-all event (baptism), the other an ongoing rite (circumcision), but in both cases, they function as a sign that initiates someone into the people of Israel. Neither baptism nor circumcision is a repeating ordinance; both are once-for-all actions. Still, each leads to the continuing practice of eating a covenant meal with God (i.e., Passover). Hence, in the Old Testament we find a strong connection between water baptism and circumcision as initiating rites and Passover as a continuing rite for the people of Israel.
6. Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be paired today.
The last move brings all that we have seen to the New Testament. And here we are simply completing the picture of what the Old Testament foreshadowed. In Israel, the rites of the covenant (circumcision, baptism, and Passover) held together. It is inconceivable that someone could (legally) take the Passover if they were not circumcised. Similarly, it would be more than a little odd for the people of Israel to share the Passover with “Israelites” who did not cross over the Jordan with them.
For this reason, the union of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is strongly supported by a biblical theology of covenant signs. Just as Israel had initiating rites (baptism and circumcision) and a continuing rite (the Passover), and these held together, so the church must unite baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The only difference today, is that instead of having two initiating rites of the covenant (baptism and circumcision), there is one. Why?
Because circumcision has been fulfilled by the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Likewise, there is a Spirit baptism that is done by Jesus. Incredibly, both of these are discussed in Colossians 2:11–12.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
In this case, the circumcision made without hands is the circumcision of the Spirit that was promised in places like Deuteronomy 30:6. The circumcision of Christ is his death on the cross, where after he was cut off for his people, he was also buried and raised to life. Because of this death and resurrection, Jesus died and rose again in the place of his people. Paul describes this as a baptism in Romans 6:3–6. Here, he is speaking about the spiritual effect on people, and the life they have received from Christ’s resurrection, which is communicated through the Spirit and the circumcision made without hands.
All in all, the physical acts of circumcision and baptism find their terminus in and are superseded by the finished work of Christ. Today, there is an ongoing act of spiritual circumcision and Spirit baptism. This is the mysterious work God when he raises someone to life in Christ (Eph. 2:5); faith and repentance bear testimony to this antecedent Spirit baptism. Water baptism now corresponds to the Spirit baptism we receive from Christ. And mortification (i.e., the putting off the old man and putting on new man, Col. 3:5–12) corresponds to the circumcision performed by Christ. In truth, neither water baptism nor Spirit-empowered mortification save us, but they do confirm realities of our new life in Christ. (Interestingly, mortification is not an ordinance, but it does play as a part in our preparation for the Lord’s Table).
And this leads to the commands Christ has given us. In the Lord’s Supper and in baptism, Jesus has commanded his disciples to practice these two ordinances. We cannot pick one and not the other; both are required. And they are required in order to make visible the secret work of God in raising the dead to life. When this happens, we are to baptize believers to memorialize their faith. And then, only after baptism is the Lord’s Table open to those who have been identified with Christ. In fact, Paul even says to examine ourselves to make sure we are taking the Lord’s Supper rightly (1 Cor. 11:27–32), which certainly includes a consideration of Jesus’s command to be baptized.
Serving the Lord’s Supper in the Light of Scripture
In the end, this is where, we must consider how we are taking the Lord’s Supper. Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:27ff. is clearly for the individual who partakes, but earlier he instructs the church who takes the Lord’s Supper together—for it is not an individual meal—to judge what he instructs (10:15). Indeed, in his instructions, Paul tells the church to consider Israel’s practice of covenant-meal eating. His instructions, like the points laid out here, are taken from the Old Testament. And from what we have seen and what Paul says, I would contend there is no place for giving the elements to unbaptized believers.
The New Testament does not even have such a category—an unbaptized believer. In Acts believers were baptized; the baptized were believers. There is no other category. Even in the early church (2nd – 3rd C.), as belief and baptism moved further apart in time—mostly due to pagan converts needing to be catechized before entering the church—there was never a place for believers to purposefully delay baptism. Nor did the churches make a practice of offering communion as a community service.
Indeed, the uncoupling of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is not a biblical practice; it stands against the Old Testament pattern and it compromises the New Testament witness. Further, it works against the unity of the ordinances and the unity of the church. It misrepresents what it means to be in Christ or outside of Christ. And it accidentally, or in some cases intentionally, threatens the clarity of the gospel by blurring the line between the church and the world.
Truly, the Lord’s Table belongs to Christ. And where his Word has spoken, we should as well. And in the case of requiring baptism before eating the Lord’s Supper, this has great biblical support. By contrast, the argument for uncoupling the two ordinances has very little (or, no?) biblical support.
It may seem that adding a requirement (i.e., baptism) for partaking the elements limits the grace of God, but it must be remembered this is the Lord’s requirement, and it is only as heavy as what Christ himself required. For those who steward the Table, our requirement is to help believers and unbelievers examine themselves, so that they can take the Supper in a worthy manner. If that means baptism first, then let us not miss the chance to persuade people to identify with Christ in the manner he commanded. In that way, we are not being legalistic sticklers, we are being faithful disciples of Christ.
To that end, let us pray and labor. And to that end may we open and close the Lord’s Table.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds