Why the Lord’s Supper Requires Baptism: A Typological Approach

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Who can take the Lord’s Supper is a question of no little dispute among those who call themselves Baptist (yes, this is a Baptist blogpost). In my estimation, the best answer to the question of baptism and Lord’s Supper goes something like this:

Those who have undergone believer’s baptism (the initiation rite of the new covenant) are permitted to eat at the Lord’s Supper (the continuing rite of the new covenant).

In what follows, I will offer a biblical typology to explain why baptism should precede Lord’s Supper. Rising from the Old Testament, these symbols of the new covenant do not arise de novo from Jesus or apostles. Rather, as we appreciate the Old Testament pattern of water-crossing that leads to feasting in God’s presence, we will see why baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper.

In short, OT “baptisms” are types of the NT baptisms and the Passover is the chief type of the Lord’s Supper. To understand baptism and the Lord’s Supper requires understanding the symbolism of these OT events. But also, because these OT “water crossings” are paired with a meals in God’s presence (e.g., Passover), we see that baptism and Lord’s Supper should also be paired together. This is the basic argument and we will consider it below in four steps, giving primary attention to the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are informed by the book of Joshua.

1. Believer’s baptism is a fulfillment of Old Testament water baptisms.

In the Bible 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, about the “baptisms” of Noah and Moses. In fact, Paul says Israel was baptized “into Moses” when it went through the Red Sea. Similarly, as Joshua 4:23–24 connects the Jordan River to Red Sea, we can see how Israel’s second generation was “baptized into” Joshua.

In this way, water baptism, as an 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. With respect to crossing the flood waters of the Jordan, Joshua brought Israel into Canaan, a land of milk and honey, a blessed place where God would dwell with his people. Conversely, the Wilderness where Israel stood before crossing the Jordan was a place of death, disobedience, and cursing.

Hence, the symbolism of the Jordan crossing prefigures a key 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, identifies and unifies God’s people.

 2. The Lord’s Supper is a fulfillment of Israel’s Passover.

If baptism fulfills an Old Testament type of water crossing, then the Lord’s Supper 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, Jesus instructs his followers to remember him and his death at the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus turns the Passover meal into a covenant meal centered on himself. Jesus can do this because he is the substance to which the historical Passover was a shadow (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7). Today, the Passover lamb has been replaced by Christ and the Lord’s Supper is celebrated to remember him. As a result, the Lord’s Supper becomes the continuing rite of the new covenant, just as the Passover served as the continuing rite for Israel

Moreover, just as God restricted the Passover meal to those circumcised in Israel (Exod. 12:43–49), the Lord’s Supper is restricted to those who have believed (which comes from a circumcised heart). In shadow and substance, only those who are in covenant with God (via circumcision) can partake of the covenant meal.

The typology is instructive. 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 through faith in Jesus Christ. For all others, the command is to be joined to Christ by faith and to make that union public through believer’s 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 joined together. This pairing is what makes believer’s baptism necessary for eating the Lord’s Supper.

 3. Passover and Water Baptism were paired in the Old Testament.

Joshua 1:1 begins with a direct connection between Moses and Joshua: “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 led to connect the ministry of Joshua with that of Moses. Throughout the first four chapters, the Lord promised to be with Joshua like he was with Moses and to exalt him the same way he exalted Moses (cf. Josh. 3:6; 4:14)—which leads us to the crossing of the Jordan.

Importantly, 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 it also sets up how baptism (as a water crossing) leads to the Passover (as a feast in God’s presence).

First, if the Passover corresponds to the Lord’s Supper and the Jordan River crossing corresponds to water baptism (see above), then we find a coupling of these two events in Israel’s history. Such a connection lends credence to linking baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

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 to enter the Wilderness. Now in Joshua, Israel passes through the water with Joshua, to leave the Wilderness and enter the land with Joshua. In both instances, the actions are linked together, with Joshua’s “baptism” bringing Israel into the land of God’s promised dwelling.

We could say much more about this typology,[1] but the main point is that water baptism is necessary for Israel to enjoy the Passover meal in the land. Put differently, the bread of the land could not be eaten without crossing the Jordan River, which is the typology that believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper fulfill.

4. Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be paired today.

In Joshua 5, eating the Passover depended upon crossing the Jordan. It is inconceivable that someone could (legally) eat the Passover if they were not “baptized” with Joshua.

For this reason, the union of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is strongly supported by a biblical typology 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 keep baptism and the Lord’s Supper together. Indeed, Israel’s water crossing with Joshua finds its terminus in the finished work of Jesus Christ who is a greater Joshua.

In his own life, Jesus began his ministry by crossing the Jordan River in baptism. Like Joshua, he traversed the Southern and Northern parts of Canaan doing battle with the ungodly rulers of the land. And in the process, he called his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. In these symbolic words, Jesus hinted at the baptism (i.e., death and resurrection) his followers would share with him (cf. Rom. 6:3–6). Just as Joshua led Israel from death (symbolized in the wilderness) to life (symbolized in Promised land), so Jesus accomplished a greater Exodus (Luke 9:31; Col. 1:13–14).

Like the first exodus which began with the Passover and culminated with a meal in God’s presence, and like Joshua’s greater baptism and Passover in the land, Jesus added the Lord’s Supper to baptism. Indeed, in his two ordinances, Jesus gave us a pattern of worship. Those who are baptized must believe, and those who eat at his table must believe and be baptized.

To return to the opening question: Who can eat the Lord’s Supper? We can answer in two ways. (1) With respect to typology, we can say: Those who have gone through the water with Jesus can enjoy the produce of the land. Or (2), to strip the metaphor, we can say: those who have been baptized are granted access to eat the Lord’s Supper. Yet, do not miss how the new covenant ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper find their union in the typology of the Old Testament.

Indeed, while a la carte Christianity is prevalent today, when we consider the full counsel of God, we see how baptism precedes and leads to the Lord’s Supper. We cannot pick one without the other; both are required. For only together, do they tell the whole story of God’s salvation—a one-time crossing from death and to life and a blessed life that feeds on the faithfulness of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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[1] A third typological connection is introduced when we consider the place of circumcision in the Old Testament and the New. In Exodus 12:42–49 circumcision is required for participation in the Passover. And in Joshua 5:2–9, circumcision is performed as the males of Israel enter the land. Indeed, participation in the Passover will depend on this action, coupled with the crossing of the Jordan River.

In Joshua, this circumcision does not directly reflect on baptism, but it does indirectly confirm the point that this covenant sign (circumcision) is performed concurrently with baptism. In this way, circumcision like water baptism marks out the people of God who will enjoy the Passover meal with God in the land.

The connection of this point to the new covenant comes from Deuteronomy 30:6, where God promised to circumcise the heart. Because of Israel’s inability to circumcise their heart (Deut. 10:16; cf. Jer. 4:4), this is a clear prophecy of the coming gift of the Spirit who will write the law on the heart. Truly, circumcision done by hands in the Old Testament is a type of the spiritual circumcision of the heart under the new covenant. Today, when Jesus baptizes someone in the Spirit, he simultaneously circumcises the heart. In other words, Spirit baptism and heart circumcision go together. And because these invisible actions of God create a heart which believes, believers baptism is the logical consequence of someone baptized into the Spirit and circumcised in the heart.

Completing the connection from type to antitype, we say that the Old Testament is working with various signs symbolizing future realities of the Spirit. However, the point at issue here is the concurrence of baptism and circumcision. In both cases, these physical actions mark out the people of God. In both cases, they function as signs that initiate someone into the people of Israel. Neither baptism nor circumcision is repeated; both are once-for-all actions. Yet, they also invite a baptized and circumcised Israelite to eat the ongoing and repeated Passover meal with Yahweh. Hence, in the Old Testament we discover an indivisible link between water baptism and circumcision (as initiating rites) and Passover (as a repeating covenant rite). This parallels the connection of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.