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.
* Editor’s note: Becuase this question is so long we’re going to answer it in two parts, divided according to the paragraphs above. Here is the first part. Part two can now be read here.
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.”
Hello and thanks for raising these questions on this important subject. This is a subject where in more recent centuries good people have differed. It is very sad that one of the two New Testament sacraments should be a cause of such division. However, even though I am ever-increasingly persuaded that our Baptist brothers and sisters are very seriously wrong on this point, I am also very thankful that we do agree on the great doctrines of salvation – like the need for regeneration and justification by faith alone.
Over and over the New Testament states “they believed and were baptized.”
True. But do consider the context of these phrases. The New Testament is a time of rapid evangelistic expansion where the gospel is going to “heathen lands”; people who worship other gods. The call to “believe and [partake of the sacrament of the covenant]” is nothing new. If you were preaching the gospel in Babylon in Old Testament times, you would also say to an unbeliever, “Repent and be circumcised,” or “believe in the promised Messiah and be circumcised.” That’s what is happening over and over in the New Testament. In itself, this doesn’t address the question regarding the covenant status of the infants of converts.
In Matt. 28:20, imagine Christ had said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, circumcising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” What would a pious Jew think? Would he now think that the children of converts should not be circumcised? My contention is that that question would not even have crossed his mind. For the pious Jew to think something like that,he would absolutely need a statement that said something like: “The way God deals in covenant has now radically changed. Though God previously included children of believers in his gracious covenant, this is no longer the case. Intelligent faith, and not my covenant, is now the basis upon which people and their children will receive my sign of admission.” But this kind of statement or idea is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.
…baptism replaces circumcision, however in the Old Testament only boys were circumcised. Sodoes that mean girls were not included in the covenant in the Old Testament? Why are girls then included in baptism?
Girls were included in the covenant in the Old Testament though they were spared the (painful) sign of the covenant. Two examples. 1) Jesus called one female believer “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). 2) The sons of Jacob made a distinction between their (covenant) sister and the “uncircumcised” admirer (Gen. 34:14). Girls were represented by their circumcised father/family and so were accounted as though they were circumcised. They had all the privileges of circumcision.
The fact that girls are now included in baptism does not argue for a change in the covenant make up, but only in the way in which it is administered. Now, the sign is gentler and able to be received by girls, and the covenant is more (not less!) inclusive (cf. Acts 2:39). It is no surprise therefore to find the sign applied to male and female (cf. Gal. 3:28). It is worth noting that it is a far, far bigger difficulty to argue for a change from “male child to no children” than it is to argue from “male child to all children.” The second is a change of administration; the first changes the very nature of a divine covenant.
To press this: every divine covenant in Scripture includes children. The Covenant of Redemption is made with the Son and His seed (cf. Isa. 53:10), the Covenant of Works is made with Adam and his posterity (Rom. 5:12, 1 Cor. 15:22), the Covenant with Noah is made with “your seed after you” (Gen. 9:9), and the same with Abraham, Moses, David, and all the way to Christ saying in Hebrews 2:13 – “Behold I and the children which God hath given me.”