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Ask A Pastor: Infant vs. Adult Baptism?

Question:

I have started to really study the Word about infant vs adult baptism. Over and over the New Testament states “they believed and were baptized.” According to our catechism infants should not be excluded from the covenant and it is to distinguish them from the children of unbelievers. It also states that baptism replaces circumcision, however in the Old Testament only boys were circumsied. So does that mean girls were not included in the covenant in the Old Testament? Why are girls then included in baptism? From all the studying I am doing it seems clear that we can and should indeed dedicate our children to God as infants, but that really is all infant baptism is isn’t it? Because we never claim that the child is saved simply because they are baptized and they must still confess their faith as an adult (but to my knowledge there is not one instance in the bible where it mentions being baptized when an infant and then confessing their faith as an adult). And I know the story of the jailer when “he believed and he and his family were baptized” but it doesn’t actually clarify that the rest of his family did not also believe.

Answer:

* Editor’s note: Becuase this question is so long we have answered it in two parts, divided according to how the question is divided above. Here is the second part. Part one was posted last Thursday.


Second note: The question asks about “infant vs. adult” baptism but technically we believe the Bible teaches both—that we ought to baptize both infants AND adults (if they were not baptized as infants, and then come to faith later in life). The “verses” is not really then between infant and adult baptism, but rather between “covenantal baptism” (which we practice in the FRC) and “adult only baptism.”

From all the studying I am doing it seems clear that we can and should indeed dedicate our children to God as infants, but that really is all infant baptism is isn’t it?

Children of believing parents should receive the initiating sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, which is baptism. The primary reason I do so, is not my desire to dedicate my child, but rather to obey God’s command to give children the sign and the seal (Gen. 17:7, cf. Acts 2:39). Before the question – “What benefit does baptism offer to a child?” – must be the question, “Is infant baptism a divine command?”

Yet, I would still then say that there is a tremendous difference between my parents presenting me for dedication to God (without baptism) and God coming to me as a child (before I knew my own condemnation) in covenant grace. The water of baptism speaks of cleansing. Where is this provision for cleansing in a dedication? Edmund Clowney correctly says that to ask God for a blessing on our children without the sign of cleansing (children are born in sin and subjects of God’s wrath in themselves) would be to call down a curse upon them. Baptism also becomes a wonderful reminder to the growing child of God’s covenant promises and provisions (washing, cleansing, justification etc…) and a great encouragement to personally plead these promises with faith and expectation.

Because we never claim that the child is saved simply because they are baptized…

We don’t presume regeneration upon baptism in children or in adults. However, we don’t presume that children are not regenerate either. It is possible. God is able to work how, when, and in what way He pleases (cf. John 3:8). Children are capable of regeneration without the intelligent exercise of faith (e.g. elect children who die in the womb). Therefore, they should not be denied the sign and seal of these things.

…and they must still confess their faith as an adult (but to my knowledge there is not one instance in the bible where it mentions being baptized when an infant and then confessing their faith as an adult).

You don’t need such an instance because for both things (infant baptism and adult profession of faith) you have clear Scriptural precepts (see Romans 10:8-10 for a precept on confessing faith). There are two things that regulate worship (Reformed Baptists would agree with this) – a precept/command or an apostolically approved example. If you have a clear precept (as is the case with making a profession of faith), then you don’t need an example.

True, you don’t have an explicit New Testament command: “Baptize your infant children.” One reason for this, I believe, is that this would have been so obvious to the people, that such a command would have made them scratch their heads and say, “Why tell us that? Of course we include our children.” Such an explicit command would have given pious Jews the idea that this was something radically new, when in fact it was not. However, infant baptism is not based in silence. You have God saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). You have Peter virtually quoting thispromise to a Jewish audience at Pentecost: “The promise is to you and to your children…” (Acts 2:39). You have Christ saying that children belong to the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:14). Paul says the child of a believing parent is “holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). Then you have the households baptisms – your next question… 🙂


But, consider this too. The Believers-Only Baptist is arguing from silence. The New Testament period spans about 65 years. A convert at Pentecost could be a great-grandfather by the time the New Testament canon closes. In this time, can you find one instance of someone who was born in a Christian home, grew up, repented and believed, and then was baptized? There’s not one. Also, can you find one instance in Scripture of children of believing parents who are spoken of as though they are outside the church?

And I know the story of the jailer when “he believed and he and his family were baptized” but it doesn’t actually clarify that the rest of his family did not also believe.

Interestingly, in Greek the verb “believing” in Acts 16:34 [“believing in God with all his house”] is a masculine singular participle. A literal translation would be: “And he rejoiced, with all his house, he believing in God.”  


Personally, I think it is almost impossible that there were not any infant children in the 3 or 4 household baptisms in the New Testament (and indeed, there would have been many more households baptized). However, here are the key points for the argument:

  1. The apostles clearly baptized households. This follows the pattern of Gen. 17.

  2. The baptism of the household is immediately linked with the faith of the adult. “She believed, was baptized, and her house.” “He believed, was baptized, and his house.”

When you study the idea of the household in Scripture (Old and New Testaments) it is replete with the idea of representation and consequent blessing or cursing. When Joshua says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15) no one suggests the infants who were incapable of intelligently serving the LORD were excluded from the covenant blessings of his home. Also, when Achan sins, his whole household dies with him (Josh. 7:24). This household concept is so fundamental to true religion in the Old and New Testament. When Zacchaeus believes, Christ says, “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). The apostles don’t go from people to people, but from house to house (Acts 5:42, 20:20). The idea of a house in Scripture does not include children “by coincidence” but includes them essentially. 1 Tim. 3:4 – “One that rules well his own house, having his (assumed!) children in subjection.”

I know this might not answer every question, but hopefully it helps. And thanks again for asking!


Also, if you want a fuller answer to some of your questions, as well as some more, I recently read an article titled, “Infant Baptism: How My Mind Was Changed,” by Dennis Johnson, and thought it was pretty good. His advice in the last paragraph is very good, which I’ll post here, in case you don’t read the article:

“So I would just encourage you to study the Bible’s teaching, not only in individual verses that contain the word baptism but also in passages that explain the symbolism of circumcision and baptism, that show how God treats children in the Old Testament in the New, that show us who belongs to the community of Christ on earth (both ancient Israel and the Church today), and that explain ideas like covenant and the role of the family/household in God’s plan for his covenant people.”

Pastor Ian


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