Editor's Note: In this article, Pastor Adriel lays out the argument for infant baptism. While Core Christianity holds to the view that infant baptism is Biblical, we are aware that within the family of God there are many who hold to other views on baptism and we warmly embrace them as brothers and sisters in the fellowship of the gospel.
When I first began going to church as a teenager, I assumed that only Roman Catholics practiced infant baptism. In the church I attended, we had public dedications of infants during the service, but never baptisms. Many believers in Jesus today reject the idea of infant baptism because they don’t think it’s biblical. Is it the case that infant baptism isn’t clearly supported in Scripture, though? Although this isn’t an issue that should keep us from viewing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, I think we need to re-examine some of the New Testament evidence that has compelled Christians throughout the ages (even the Protestant Reformers) to baptize their infant children.
Before we look at some passages, we need to remember that even doctrines arrived at by good and necessary consequence should bind the consciences of the faithful. Jesus argued using this methodology. On one occasion, the Sadducees tried to stump him on the resurrection (unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees rejected the resurrection). Jesus quoted the burning bush passage, accused the Sadducees of not knowing the Scriptures, and made an argument from good and necessary consequence for the resurrection on the basis of these words: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6)
You can imagine Jesus saying, “There’s your biblical proof, Sadducees!” The Sadducees should have embraced the resurrection as a good and necessary consequence of the fact that God is the God of the living, and not the dead (Mk. 12:27). It was a lack of understanding in the Scriptures that kept the Sadducees from embracing a doctrine for which they found little to no support for in the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). I think it’s a similar lack of understanding that has kept many believers from giving the sign of baptism to their children. The New Testament evidence compels us to believe that God is still in the business of blessing our children, and that one of the ways he does so is through baptism.
Luke 18:15-16“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Picture the scene: Moms are carrying their infants to Jesus (Luke employs a word that was even used at times to describe children in the womb), and they want Jesus to lay his hands on their babies. The disciples object, but Jesus insists, “…for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Now, what’s the kingdom of God? I think many of us miss the significance of this text because we assume it’s simply a synonym for heaven. “Heaven is filled with the child-like!” the thinking goes. But we mustn’t forget that the kingdom of God isn’t just a future reality. On the contrary, in a very real sense, it’s now. Christ inaugurated his kingdom and established his church as a present manifestation of it. The church on earth is an outpost of the heavenly reality, and in it we experience the power of God’s kingdom today (Heb. 6:5).
Jesus, as king of the church, rules over her by his word and Spirit through ordained officers (pastors or elders described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). These men have been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom(Mt. 16:19; 18:18) which they exercise through the ministry of word and sacrament (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). For Jesus then, the kingdom wasn’t just something that would show up in a couple thousand years. It was something he was establishing visibly on earth in his church. In the church, the signs of the kingdom (like baptism) are everywhere present, and Jesus said that they belonged to the children of the faithful!
Acts 16:14-15“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.”
In Scripture, a household included everyone in your immediate family, including infants. Often this text is seen as inconclusive on the question of infant baptism, because although the text tells us that Lydia’s household was baptized, we’re not told how old the people in her household were. The same goes for the baptism of the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). Setting aside the question of whether or not there were infants in these households, here’s what we can say for sure: Luke (who wrote Acts) had no problem using the household terminology in the context of the new covenant sign of baptism. This is significant because this language echoes the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17, when he commanded the patriarch to have the male children in his household circumcised (Gen. 17:11).
Everyone agrees that under the Old Covenant, God included the children of believers in the visible worshipping community through the sign of covenant inclusion, circumcision. The question is, “Does God still welcome our children into the visible church under the new covenant, with the sign of baptism?” The key here is that the New Testament writers don’t skip a beat when it comes to using familial terminology (very common for the Old Covenant) when describing baptisms in the New Testament. For Luke and Paul to use the household language in the context of baptism would have been terribly confusing if they wanted to suggest that God was no longer operating on that basis. The fact that these writers freely use this formula with its rich history for God’s people highlights that they knew exactly what they were communicating. God is still working with covenant signs through households.
One objection to the connection I’m making is that circumcision was focused on physical promises and inheritance, while baptism is about an internal spiritual work of salvation. Let’s look at the next passage with that in mind.
Romans 4:11, “He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well”
Circumcision as a covenant sign pointed to several things, but ultimately it pointed to salvation. The circumcision of the heart (regeneration), was the reality which the sign called God’s covenant people toward. Paul made this absolutely clear in Romans 4:11 when he called circumcision a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Covenant signs point to something greater than themselves, and they also seal the promises of God to us. Circumcision served as a seal for Abraham, confirming the righteousness which he had by faith prior to his circumcision.
It’s in light of this that God’s command to Abraham to circumcise his infant sons should be puzzling to those who reject infant baptism. If circumcision was, according to Paul, a sign of justification by faith, then couldn’t Abraham have objected to circumcising his children for the same reason some Christians object to baptizing theirs? How could Abraham administer the sign of salvation to a child who might very well be “uncircumcised of heart?” That circumcision was a picture of the utmost spiritual blessings and yet given to infants supports the fact that the children of believers today should not be kept from baptism, since it signifies those same blessings.
1 Corinthians 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
This text comes in the context of Paul’s discussion on marriage and family. Under the old covenant, children born to God’s people who had married outside of the faith were regarded as covenantally illegitimate. The question Paul was addressing in this verse is, “Is it any different under the new covenant?” Happily, Paul makes it clear that it is.
The unbelieving spouse is in some sense made holy through the influence of their believing husband or wife (it’s for this reason that Paul will encourage believers married to non-Christians to continue in the relationship if possible). What’s more, even the children of one believing parent are categorized as holy rather than unclean.
Here again we have to recognize that the words Paul used are taken from the Old Testament. The language of clean, and unclean; holy, and profane comes to us from the book of Leviticus. Rabbi Jacob Milgrom wrote, “Biblical impurity and holiness are semantic opposites. As the quintessence and source of holiness resides with God, it is imperative for Israel to control the occurrence of impurity lest it impinge upon the realm of the holy God.” (Leviticus 123-123) Gordon J. Wenham noted, “The unclean and the holy are two states which must never come into contact with each other… The camp of Israel is holy, and in the middle of it stood the tabernacle seat of God’s most holy presence…” (The Theology of Leviticus 20-21). In Leviticus, the holy things belonged to God’s house or sanctuary. Whatever was unclean was removed from the sanctuary and wasn’t permitted into the camp.
In light of this, think of how significant it was for Paul to say that under the new covenant, the children of one believing parent are considered holy. They are a part of “the camp,” or covenant community, just as the Old Covenant children were to be sanctified for the worship of YHWH. Paul is invoking covenantal terminology to describe the status of children born to believers! Is it not a tragic irony that in so many churches today, we’ve not only withheld the sign of covenant inclusion from our children, but also treated them as unclean? Our conception of the Christian household, and the children born into it, seems far from what the apostles had envisioned.
What about the unbelieving spouse who is made holy? I think it’s noteworthy that Paul uses the verbal form of the word “holy” in reference to the spousal relationship, but an adjective to describe the status of the child. Simply put, the spouse is being influenced by their godly husband, or wife, but the child is covenantally holy. This seems straightforward enough, and it does justice to the unique status of the child as well as the positive influence that the believing partner bears upon their non-Christian spouse.
There are many other texts to consider in this discussion (including the testimony of the Old Testament), but these handful of verses do enough to establish some basic truths that undergird the doctrine of infant baptism. God’s kingdom is still administered to the household, and that household includes infants. Those infants born to believers are holy, a covenantal status enjoyed by the people of God. God’s saving promises have always been extended to believers and their children in a unique sense, being clearly evidenced by God’s promise to Abraham, but continuing on into the new covenant. May Christ who opened his hands to bless the babies brought to him in Luke 18 open his hands again toward our children in accordance with the promises in his word, and may we be diligent to bring them to him as the heirs of those promises.
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