Note: I have updated the first bullet point with a few thoughts from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.

I often joke that I am one sprinkled baby away from becoming a Presbyterian. Aside from infant baptism and their church governance structure, I am fairly aligned with most of the theological convictions of the PCA (the conservative branch for those of you who get worried when the word “Presbyterian” comes up), the RCA, or the EPC.

I doubt I will ever baptize an infant, or have my children baptized as infants, so let me get those cards on the table now. I am a credo-baptist (“believer’s baptism”). In light of this, I have some honest questions for paedo-baptists (“infant-baptists”). These four bullets are not exhaustive (of course), or an attack on my infant-baptist brothers and sisters. I love you and appreciate your desire for gospel-saturated, Christ-centered ministry. These are just thoughts that sprung to mind this morning.

  • Romans 6:1-4: You would be hard pressed to fit infant baptism into this scenario Paul presents to the church in Rome. Can an infant say he has died and risen with Christ to new life? Can an infant say he can “walk in newness of life.” This is what Paul connects with Christian baptism. In saying baptism is “connected” to the newness of life, it does not mean baptism brings about new life. Rather, it is a symbol of what is true in the heart. According to Doug Moo, Paul would think it an oxymoron to meet an “unbaptized” Christian. He says, “Baptism is introduced not to explain how we were buried with Christ but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ” (NICNT, Epistle to the Romans, 364). Moreover, it seems that a baptized unchristian (an infant) would be just as unbelievable because of the context. Moo also notes that “in the early church [they] conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which [J. Dunn] calls ‘conversion-initiation'” (Romans, 366). If an infant has not exercised faith and received the Holy Spirit, why would they be baptized? They do not need to be “initiated” since they do not belong to God’s family yet.
  • Matthew 28:19-20: Would the disciples have assumed a connection with circumcision and baptism in this scenario, so as to baptize infants, even though they cannot be taught and thus become disciples before regeneration? Furthermore, Is not the promise of heart circumcision connected to, and what makes obsolete, flesh circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29)?
  • Though it is true Acts speaks of “household baptisms” (twice, in Acts 16:15, 31) it nowhere says that infants were, in fact, baptized. Of course, infant baptism is nowhere forbidden in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is this the case because the apostles would have thought it absurd to do such a thing? On Pentecost, the men responded to Peter’s sermon by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-39). Peter indeed says the promise of the Holy Spirit is for “your children” but there is a conditional clause: it is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Not all children of Christian parents–not even all baptized infants–are effectually called and saved by God. Will a child experience the blessing of being raised by a Spirit-filled parent? Of course! Will that Spirit be imparted to them apart from God’s grace and a true belief in Christ? No. So I ask: would Peter have expected a baby to stand in line that day? Probably not. Peter connected repentance and baptism. In the same way, John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), which Paul said pointed to Jesus’ coming (Acts 19:4). Jesus’ whole ministry expanded on his opening words: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Again this is something a baby–not even a toddler–can do. Paul’s own testimony connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16), something that cannot be given to a baby who is unregenerate.
  • Finally, as a side note: it is interesting that the same Reformed theologians who say that “household baptisms” occurred in Acts, thus giving credibility to infant-baptism is Scripture, will be the first to say that Acts was not “normative” as it concerns spiritual gifts (i.e. the so-called “sign” gifts). In order to be consistent with the issue of what is, or is not, normative in Acts, those theologians would have to say that all gifts continue until today or say that “household baptism” are either 1) not normative for today, or 2) may not have implied infants were members of those households.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, what are your thoughts?

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12 thoughts on “Thinking About Infant Baptism

  1. I often wonder why we limit what the Holy Spirit can do within a small child. Simply because a child cannot verbalize in words that we as adults understand why can they not verbalize in words that the Holy Spirit can use? For this reason alone is it not viable to believe that an infant could repent of their sin? The baptizing part would still be administered by adults but there is no way for adults to know that the infant has not repented.
    When you speak of the conditional clause “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” I am reminded of John Calvin and “unconditional election” and believe that the two correlate. If an infant is unconditionally elected should they not be baptized?
    Lastly, we have to remember that we do not make the claims that Peter preached but it is the Holy Spirit in us that makes such claims because there is no good in us as fallen human beings and therefore the Holy Spirit can assert words verbal to human ears or not on our behalf to the Father even when we are infants.

  2. Lacey, thanks for your comment. I have a couple questions that I’d like to hear from you about.

    I struggle to understand two things beneath your argument 1) the logical reasoning and 2) the biblical basis. Infants cannot repent because they can’t think, talk, reason, or feel for themselves. (Obviously people who have always had serious and irreversible mental disabilities would be a different conversation altogether, in my opinion.)

    Secondly, even though an infant may be among the elect, why should we baptize them? They have not professed faith. They do not have the Holy Spirit or a regenerate heart. My grandpa is an unbeliever and he is 72 years old. He may be elect and still yet come to faith. Does that mean he should be baptized because it’s a future *possibility*? Of course not.

    1. Yes, but then there is that darn John the Baptist, who believed from before his birth. I bet no one gave him the four spiritual laws and taught him to say the sinners prayer while in the womb. This is another aspect of the covenantal position, we believe the Holy Spirit moves when and where and how He pleases, and is not bound by our limitations.

      Was JtB normative? Not at all. But you cannot rule out the fact that the Holy Spirit can move in a child’s life before.. “he thinks, talks, reasons” showing once again that salvation is of the LORD, not our ability to think, talk, reason. This is another reason we believe in infant baptism, it is a far better picture of the Gospel in that God’s grace comes on one who is completely passive. Believer’s baptism stems from Armenian thought, in that the, they made the choice, therefore, they will decide to be baptized, and salvation is of them and their decision.
      Blessings

      1. I am not saying that our ability to think, talk, and reason proves that salvation is dependent on man. What I am saying is that it makes no sense to baptize someone who has not received the promise of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord, but a response is required (only Hyper-Calvinists deny this). What do you make of an infant who was baptized and then rejects Christ, leaves the church, dies apart from knowing God? Your logical end would be that God saves them apart from any confession they make “because they were baptized.” I am Reformed, and salvation is monergistic, but God uses means.

        Again, I reiterate that in Scripture baptism is ALWAYS, I repeat, ALWAYS connected to salvation and thus repentance.

      2. James,
        We are not saying the child IS a believer because they are baptized. I think only Rome says this. I’m saying that the Spirit could move in the child at an early age and they could grow up never knowing a time when they did not know Christ, or were known by Him.

        As for those who grow up and reject Christ, we would agree that these are covenant breakers, and unless they repent and return, they have no hope of salvation. Yes, we agree that there are children that receive the sign of the covenant, grow up, and never believe and are covenant breakers. That is true for believers baptism as well, people profess faith, get baptism and after the newness wears off, they leave the church never to be heard from again.

        In either case, I can offer no hope of salvation for either group, either those raised covenantally as a believer who departs, or the one who got excited for a while, was baptized and departs (Luke 8, John 15:1-5). Both are not what Christ is intending… for those in Christ to bear much fruit.

        However, given that, I still believe that covenantal baptism is the best picture of God’s grace (the gospel) in the life of a believer. It comes all by grace. This is one of the purposes of the signs, to be visible representations of the gospel. Dunking is not a visible representation of the gospel.

  3. Hello my brother.

    I’m interested in your exegesis on Colossians 2:11-12 (and surrounding text of course). Is Paul connecting circumcision with baptism, or can that connection not be justifiably made? (I figured I’d just stick to one verse at a time… I get easily sidetracked)

    It’s slightly amusing to me that you are one of the reasons I believe in infant baptism… directing me towards all those reformed guys, those several years ago, persuaded me (albeit loosely) towards paedo-baptism.

    @Lacey: (I could be wrong of course, but) I don’t think you will find many protestant theologians, that support infant baptism, as saying 1)infants are somehow repenting of their sin or 2)infants are somehow given the Holy Spirit at baptism.

  4. Jordan, thanks for the comment. Also glad I was such an influence in pointing you toward Reformed theology. I didn’t think you’d go so far as to be completely baptized in it. ;)

    On Colossians 2:11-12, here’s a very brief “bullet-point” exegesis without having studied it seriously:
    – First of all, the Colossians are people who have received the gospel because they have “understood the grace of God in truth” (1:6). They were “once alienated” but now “reconciled” (1:21-22).
    – The overarching context is that the recipients of Paul’s letter have “received Christ” and therefore can “walk in him” (2:6). Paul is going to tell them to beware of carnal philosophies that are not from Christ. Christ must be our focus, because he is divine and we are filled with him (v. 10). Paul will appeal to their heart circumcision and baptism (2:11-12) to remind them that they have received forgiveness and no longer have a debt record against them (2:13), and therefore should not let people put human regulations on them (2:16).
    – Paul’s use of the circumcision metaphor shows that this is a spiritual act that God has done on their hearts (“made without hands,” 2:11). This spiritual circumcision happens “by…Christ” (v. 11).
    – Then notice the particular phrasing of verse 12, when Paul uses another metaphor to illustrate the new life in Christ: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” Baptism here represents an identification with Christ’s death and resurrected life (“having been buried with him,” and “also raised with him”; cf. Rom. 6:4). Furthermore, this resurrection we experience to new life (through baptism) is “through faith.”
    – Paul wraps these two metaphors together in verse 13 to sum up: “you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…”

    If there is any connection here between circumcision and baptism, it is not between flesh circumcision and baptism, but rather *heart* circumcision and baptism. So again, I will maintain that *flesh* circumcision is never equated with baptism. Heart circumcision is the new flesh circumcision; whereas baptism represents new life (i.e. heart circumcision). Heart circumcision is the giving of a new heart to the sinner by God (this is what Paul talks about in Rom. 2:28-29). Baptism is the salvific initiatory rite that symbolizes new life. There’s simply nothing here that would prove as a “proof” for a paedobaptist. Paul is talking about Christians who have come into new life through faith. What goes along with this type of circumcision and baptism? The things of salvation: reconciliation to God, forgiveness, new life, empowerment to walk in Christ, etc. These are things that infants cannot experience because salvation only comes by grace through *faith.* And an infant cannot have faith.

    There’s my best shot…

  5. I do indeed (thanks to texts like Col 2) see a correlation between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism. I think the former foreshadows the latter. I think the former is an image of the latter. So, when did the Israelites get circumcised? AFTER they were born. When should we get baptized? AFTER we are born … again. Just like circumcision, we would be set apart, marked, after the new birth by baptism. I know. Sounds flippant. But I don’t mean it that way.

    1. I know I am jumping into this conversation relatively late in the game. I have read all of the posts and came to brother Stan’s post. I think you may be on to something Stan when you said that circumcision being the sign of the covenant to the Israelite when they were born. Which would somewhat correlate as a foreshadowing of baptism in the New Testament. However, your argument seems to fall apart when you go beyond that. The Israelite, from birth, was born into the covenant. Which is to say, based on your argument, that infants are born into God’s new covenant to believers without actually being born of the Spirit first. So, basically what I am trying to say is, yes, circumcision given to infants at birth could be a foreshadowing for baptism in the the new testament. However, I would say that it would only be plausible if we are talking about the TRUE birth that is in Christ. Not in a woman’s womb. I hope that I was clear and not pugnacious. I just wanted to hopefully point out the logic in your argument and clear up some of the muddiness that it might have.

      Grace and peace to you my brother.

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