Saturday, October 26, 2013

Is Infant Baptism Biblical?

While I was a young Reformed Baptist I often wondered why we relied so heavily on the works of Presbyterians. I once questioned our small group, “If we believe Presbyterians are so correct on other issues, why do we not consider the issue of baptism?” I was quickly rebuffed.


The first step is to look to the Scriptures. What is the purpose of baptism & even more importantly what is its Old Testament typological equivalent? Baptism is often considered the sign of entry into the New Covenant. For example, Apollos received John the Baptists’ baptism but was apparently re-baptized into the New Covenant community at some point. (Acts 18:24-26) What then is the O.T. equivalent of entry into the covenant? In the O.T. circumcision was considered the sign of entering into the covenant. This is seen in verses such as Gen 17:11 –

and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

The question then is, did circumcision “save” a person? Did it say a person was REALLY a Jew? Or did it say they were to be considered part of the covenant community?
Perhaps the clearest connection between circumcision & baptism is found in Col 2:11-12 –

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Now, imagine a Jew in the first-century being told that if they convert to Christianity, that their children who under the old covenant were considered part of the covenant community would not be considered part of the community under the new covenant. Don’t you think this would have caused some sort of noise? Yet we hear nothing of it. Perhaps the answer is found in 1 Cor 7:14 –

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

On the surface, & disconnected from any other consideration this passage appears to be saying that an unbelieving spouse & children are “saved” by the faith of the believing spouse/parent – that is, if a person thinks “sanctification” means salvation. What then does it mean for a spouse & children to be “unclean” by faithless spouse/parents & yet made “holy” by believing spouse/parents? This is reconciled if we understand that baptism like circumcision is merely the sign that a person is considered within the covenant community & under the influence & grace of the community – yet salvation remains something between the individual and  God.

We also should consider WHEN circumcision was applied. The Bible indicates that circumcision should be applied within eight days of the male child’s birth. (see Gen 17:12, Gen 21:4, Lev 12:3, Lk 1:59, Lk 2:21) Why not wait until the children grow to an age of decision where they can determine if they want to be part of the covenant community? How does this square with 1 Cor 7:14?
The next question may be, where do we see children baptized in the N.T.? Let’s begin our exploration with a comparison of O.T. & N.T. texts showing that a WHOLE HOUSEHOLD was to be circumcised/baptized
O.T. Verses
N.T. Verses
Gen 17:12
Acts 16:15
Gen 17:13
Acts 16:33
Gen 17:23
Acts 18:8
Gen 17:27
1 Cor 1:16
Ex 12:48

To assume that the household excluded children is quite a stretch, especially as we consider the O.T. parallels & 1 Cor 7:14.


It is important to also consider what the history of Christianity says about various doctrines. Although I am not trying to rely on “tradition” alone, there is however Christian tradition that MUST be considered. (see 2 Thes 2:15)

The anti-paedobaptist argument usually claims that infant baptism is merely a Roman Catholic invention that has long been imposed on the Church, yet we can see from the earliest of times examples of infant baptism. Christian theologians such as Irenaeus (130-202), Origen (185-254), Tertullian (155-230), Hippolytus of Rome (170-236), Cyprian (died 258) & many others all AGREE that infant baptism was the norm among Christians by their time. Keep in mind that this is BEFORE the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, which is often dated from the time of the Roman Emperor starting about 306-337.
The other argument I’ve heard from anti-paedobaptists is to invoke a group called the Waldensians. It is claimed that this group never was part of the Roman Catholic Church & therefore did not follow the supposed imposed beliefs of Roman Catholicism. Yet a cursory investigation of the Waldensians will reveal that they eventually joined up with the Protestants/Genevan Christians & also had their own children baptized. From a pro-Anabaptist website a commentator even begrudgingly admits about the Waldensians:

“They were not fully convinced infant baptism was biblical or appropriate, but they seem rarely to have abandoned it.” (source)

Adult-only baptism is actually a rarity within the history of Christianity & is perhaps most prevalent among later groups starting in the 16th century & forward.

In conclusion, I AM convinced that infant baptism is both biblical & historically Christian. This was a difficult transition since I was an independent, fundamental Baptist for 10 years & a Reformed Baptist for 6 years. But the evidence both in Scripture AND via the historic Christian interpretation warrants the belief that children are to be considered part of the covenant community, “sanctified” by the faith of their parents & baptized as children were circumcised into the household of God. We leave salvation up to God who elects whom He will elect.

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