In This Lesson
The Church of Jesus Christ that is, all denominations that accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and that believe He died to pay the penalty for our sins is divided on the question of infant baptism.
It may surprise you to know that it's not only the Catholic Church that baptizes infants, but the Pedobaptist [those who practice infant baptism] churches are Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some Methodists. Some Nazarenes, Reformed, Anglican, and Episcopalians also baptize babies.
Anabaptist [those who do not practice infant baptism] Trinitarian [believing in the Trinity] Christian denominations include Baptists, Disciples of Christ [the Christian Church], and Churches of Christ. Other anabaptist denominations are Mennonite and Amish, Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, some Methodists, and most Pentecostals. The non-Trinitarian religious groups that oppose infant baptism include Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons], and the Community of Christ.
We know infant baptism can be a divisive issue within the Church. Therefore, as we present both schools of thought in this lesson, we encourage you to put aside your doctrinal/sectarian preconceptions and simply let the arguments speak for themselves.
John MacArthur, President of The Master's College and Seminary and featured teacher with the "Grace to You" ministry, opens our discussion with the following thought:
"The result of this [infant baptism] is that you have baptized non-Christians all over the world. They were baptized as infants, with what they believed was a Christian baptism and an initiation into the church [of Jesus Christ], and an initiation into salvation. And yet they are not Christians. They have not come to a personal confession of faith in Christ and so they are baptized, but they are non-Christians. On the other hand you have the same group of people who are actually not baptized at all because that baptism [infant baptism] is not New Testament baptism. So they are baptized non-Christians who have really never been baptized at all, in the true sense." (emphasis added)1
A Little History on the Subject
While John MacArthur's statement above is certainly true, it is also true that many of these people who were baptized as infants do come to true faith in Christ. They may start by being baptized as an infant, then come to true faith in Jesus Christ, but never partake of the believer's baptism commanded by Scripture because their church teaches that it is not necessary. So, in essence, the churches that baptize infants but do not baptize again when the person comes to faith in Christ, are making infant baptism more important than the believer's baptism commanded by Jesus and the Apostles.
It appears that infant baptism sprang up sometime in the late second/early third centuries. There is no evidence of infant baptism in the early Apostolic and post-apostolic centuries.
During that period and after the Reformation, there was much persecution even among Protestant Pedobaptists against those who re-baptized people who had been baptized as infants. In fact, the controversy reached such a fever pitch that some who believed in infant baptism only actually killed others who practiced adult baptism after making a confession of faith in Christ whether baptized as an infant or not.2
Thankfully, the controversy is not so tempestuous today; however, it is still an issue of disagreement and great importance in the Church. As a result, we have many baptized non-Christians, as affirmed above, and unbaptized Christians. Included in the group of unbaptized Christians are those who have responded to the Gospel through evangelistic crusades and TV and radio preachers, but have not connected with a local church, and those who attend "seeker-friendly" churches in which baptism is either not practiced or the importance of it is not emphasized.
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Arguments for Infant Baptism
Proponents of infant baptism [Pedobaptists] believe Jesus commanded infant baptism it in Matthew 28:19 when He said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." They assert that the phrase "all nations", as used here as well as in Matthew 25:32 ["Before him will be gathered all the nations..."], means "everyone" with no distinction based on age, race, gender, class/caste, or education.
They argue, "If we say that babies are not to be included in Christ's Great Commission, then where will it stop? What other people will we exclude?"
Although there is no example in Scripture of a baby being baptized, Pedobaptists question whether it is indeed reasonable to conclude from this that babies are not to be baptized. After all, there are also no specific examples of the elderly, teenagers, or little children being baptized. Instead, we read about men (Acts 2:41; 8:35) women (Acts 16:14-15), and entire households being baptized (Acts 10:24,47-48; 16:14-15; 16:30-33; 1 Corinthians 1:16). They further assert that the writers of the New Testament didn't feel compelled to give examples of every age group or category being baptized because they understood that "all nations" is all-inclusive.3
Sin Nature Passed to Child at Conception
Many, but not all, Pedobaptists also argue that babies need forgiveness. They believe that the Bible teaches that accountability as in the "age of accountability" used in the argument against infant baptism begins at conception, as David wrote in Psalm 51:5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."
The Bible teaches original sin, that the corruption and guilt of Adam's sin is passed on to every human being at conception. Jesus affirms this teaching when He said, "Flesh gives birth to flesh" in John 3:5. And the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." (emphasis added)
Pedobaptists also use the verse in Mark 16:16 to prove that baptism is required of everyone for salvation. However, we have already discussed the grammatical mistake behind the incorrect interpretation of that verse in the lesson "Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation".
Unfortunately, so long as some people believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, it is difficult to reason against infant baptism or any baptism, for that matter. Sometimes when trying to counter what one believes to be an errant belief system, it is necessary to break it down into its lowest common denominator in this case, baptism itself.
When discussing infant baptism, we must first be persuaded that God's Word teaches that, while saving faith is required prior to baptism, baptism is not required for salvation. Once we arrive at that conclusion, then it is easier to reason against infant baptism. As the child has not yet matured to a point or age at which they understand their need for a Savior, Anabaptists assert that the child is not guilty before God.
Pedobaptists further argue that according to Jesus' own words, anyone who does not believe in Him will be damned. Jesus makes no exception for infants. Babies will not be saved without faith in Jesus. Again, proponents of infant baptism claim that the only dedication the New Testament supports is the "dedication" that takes place via baptism.
They say that, like everyone else who inherits the sin nature common to all people, babies need to be baptized so they can be "born again", as Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5) Thus, they believe that infant baptism is God's special means of grace for children by which He causes them to be born again. They argue that to withhold baptism from them is to keep them from forgiveness and to endanger them with damnation.4
The Practices of the "Early Church"
There are several other arguments for infant baptism, but perhaps the strongest case that can be made for the ritual comes, not from God's Word, but from the writings of early Christians about Church practices during the third to fifth centuries.
They quote from the writings of Irenaeus (died 202), Tertullian (died 240), Origen (died 254), Cyprian (died 258), and Augustine (died 430), all of which made mention of infant baptism as an accepted custom, though Tertullian disagreed with it.
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"For He came to save all through means of Himself all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men." (Against Heresies, Book 1, Ch. 22.4)
"The Church has received from the apostles the custom of administering baptism even to infants. For those who have been entrusted with the secrets of divine mysteries, knew very well that all are tainted with the stain of original sin, which must be washed off by water and spirit." (Romans Commentary, 5.9)
"In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man . . . Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision . . . we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another." (Letter 58 to Fidus)
"For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin." (Enchiridion; ch. 43)
Arguments against Infant Baptism
Before we discuss this belief system, let's declare upfront that being "against" infant baptism does not mean one group is pitted against the brothers and sisters on the other side of the issue! Actually, as we have already laid the groundwork to prove Scripturally that baptism is not required for salvation, those who object to infant baptism see this primarily as a non-salvific issue.
Does it really matter what you believe and teach on this issue? Well, yes, it does. As a Christian preacher or teacher, a shepherd of God's flock responsible to the Lord for your ministry, it is important to preserve in the Church what is precious to the Lord even if it goes against everything you've been taught from childhood, against your church and family traditions, or against your culture.
Jesus said, "...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) Sometimes that means forsaking culture, tradition, and even family in favor of God's revealed truth! It isn't pleasant or easy to do, but God's Word tells us in Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." What is that "yoke of slavery" to which Paul refers? It's religious rituals, customs, and traditions that do not and cannot save. It means deliberately letting go of culture and traditions, coming to Him with empty hands, not holding onto anything that's not Him!
Also, Scripture teaches that believers should be careful not to be a stumbling block to others, regardless of what belief systems they carry with them to the altar when they accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Master. A wrong or unloving teaching on this subject could become a salvific issue for a new convert. Therefore, elder Christian brothers and sisters must be sensitive as well as well-taught on this and other doctrinal issues that the enemy would use to try to thwart our Christian witness. Only God knows how many souls have been pushed away from the Church and Christ by insensitive teachings, criticisms, or accusatory or disgracing remarks!
Non-pedobaptists, or Anabaptists, maintain that few things in the New Testament are more unmistakable than the issue of baptism. They say Jesus said, "Go and preach the gospel, and baptize..." And Peter said, "Repent and be baptized." Since babies are not yet able to understand the Gospel message and also cannot repent, then clearly infants and young children are not included in Jesus' command to be baptized.
Opponents of infant baptism argue that there are only two ordinances the Lord gave us: He gave us baptism and the Lord's Table (Holy Communion). And both of these are symbols that represent a greater reality. Water baptism is a symbol depicting the death and burial of a person's will and self-rule and resurrection to newness of life in Christ. Communion symbolizes both the body of Christ, which was subjected to punishment for our healing, and the blood He shed for our redemption. Jesus tells us to do these two things.
Doing these two things which Christ commanded is a matter of obedience and of honor to the Lord. Not doing them, or ascribing to them a different logic than Christ intended, is a serious insult. It is disobedience!
Let us make one point perfectly clear before we go any further. Although opponents of infant baptism also believe that baptism is not necessary for salvation, nevertheless, water baptism is critically important. We are called to understand it and practice it without delay or restraint or excuse.
However, standing in the way of that understanding is the barrier concerning infant baptism. As we noted earlier, between the mass of evangelized TV/radio converts who maybe never even hear about baptism and the millions of people who believe only in infant baptism and not a believer's baptism, is a multitude of unbaptized believers and baptized unbelievers! It is not a minor issue. It has never been a minor issue!
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What Does the Bible Say?
The fact of the matter is, Scripture both Old and New Testaments nowhere advocates infant baptism. There is no mention of it, no example of it, and no comment about it. It simply is not there.
Thus, it is impossible to prove that infant baptism is valid from the New Testament Scriptures. Any so-called "proof" remains extra-biblical that is, coming from a source outside of, or other than, God's revealed Word.
Jesus Was Dedicated, Not Baptized
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus Himself was dedicated to the Lord as a baby, but was not baptized, as Luke tells us in chapter 2, verse 22-24, in His gospel record:
22"And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord')
23and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.'"
Jesus was not baptized until the age of 30.
What about Infant Baptism in the Early Church?
There is no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic times. It is not in the New Testament and it did not exist among first- and second-century Christians.
- German Theologian Schleiermacher writes: "All traces of infant baptism, which have been asserted to be found in the New Testament must first be inserted [added] there."
- Following an intensive study of infant baptism and early Church practices, Lutheran Professor Kurt Aland says: "There is no definite proof of the practice until after the third century." And he adds, "This cannot be contested."
In fact, most theologians, scholars, and historians including those belonging to the Catholic Church believe the practice arose around the second or third centuries. This statement is supported by the quotations we used in the section "The Practices of the 'Early Church'".
Catholic Professor of Theology, Haegelbacher, writes: "This controversy has shown that it is not possible to bring in absolute proof of infant baptism by basing one's argument solely on the Bible."
Another well-known and respected Theologian, B. B. Warfield who, by the way, was an advocate for infant baptism affirmed the total absence of infant baptism from the Bible.
Logic and Reason
Let's talk about logic and reason, tools the Lord has given us to discern His Word and His will. He even encourages and invites us to use reasoning when dealing with His counsel. "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD." (Isaiah 1:18a)
Is the Bible the inspired, inerrant word of the Most High God? If you answer yes, then you would concede that it is the full counsel of God. And as the full counsel of God, all Biblical doctrine is either expressly set forth in Scripture or can be validly-deduced by reasonable, earnest, and conscientious effort.
In other words, it's either there explicitly [precisely and clearly communicated or readily observable], or it's there implicitly [implied though not directly expressed] and you can easily perceive it. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity, while not a precisely-communicated [explicit] doctrine, is an implied [implicit] expression and revelation that runs throughout Scripture.
The fact is, the practice and doctrine of infant baptism is neither precisely and clearly communicated and observable, nor is it implied in any necessarily-compelling and validly-deduced conclusion. It's just not there.
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What about Post-Biblical Revelation?
Ahhh! Now we get to the crux or basis of the issue! When discussing the practice of infant baptism and the fact that it's not in the Bible, we must remember that the Catholic Church wherein infant baptism was first introduced as Church doctrine holds that there are two points of authority on this and many other Church traditions. Believing themselves to be the unique recipient of post-biblical revelation that is to say, God giving His word to the Church beyond the Bible, or God not giving us His full counsel in the Bible they assert that all post-biblical revelations coming via the Pope carry equal weight with Scripture. The Catholic Church also believes it is the only and infallible interpreter of all revelation, both biblical and traditional or ritual. Thus, since infant baptism cannot be proven from Scripture, they readily acknowledge its inception and adherence through these post-biblical "revelations".
Okay. Now we know more about the origin of the doctrinal teaching on infant baptism, but there still remains the question of why the Protestant reformers clung to the practice. After all, the theme of the Reformation was "Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Christus" [faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone] and also "Sola Scriptura" [Scripture alone].
The great byword of the Reformation was "Scripture only", "Scripture only", "Scripture", "Scripture", "Scripture!" and yet, if you go to Scripture you can't find a single word about infant baptism. It's not in the Bible and yet, it is defended and practiced as if it were biblical.
Pedobaptists will agree . . . yes, it's not in the Bible, but it's also true that Scripture nowhere forbids infant baptism.
Let's think about that for a moment. Should we really establish church doctrines by what's not in the Bible? There are a great many activities that are not in the Bible. Should we, then, make an ordinance out of everything that's not there?
We could list perhaps a hundred or more practices whether religious rituals and rites or general human conduct that are not specifically forbidden by Scripture. We believe to do so, however, would only serve to fan the flames of discord and would divide, not unite, Christian brethren. We feel certain that you can come up with your own list of practices, even harmful ones, that are not forbidden by Scripture. And in so doing, you can readily assent that they should not become church doctrine purely on the basis of Scripture not mentioning them.
As John MacArthur so rightly noted: "[Making church ordinances from practices not forbidden by Scripture] is merely an argument from silence, which is no argument at all. It provides no basis for acceptance . . . The fact that it's not there proves absolutely nothing, except that it proves that it's not valid. It certainly doesn't prove anything on its behalf. To justify that sprinkling of babies ought to be done because it's not forbidden in Scripture is to standardize what's not in the Bible as if it were the standard of the church. It's to imprint with divine authority something that men invent to open the way to any ritual, any ceremony, any teaching, any anything that isn't forbidden specifically in Scripture." (emphasis added)5
As we learned in Level 1's lesson on studying the Bible and in the study "Preparing a Sermon Exegesis", the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. We should let the Bible speak to us and answer our questions. Using normal historical, grammatical, hermeneutic [interpretive or explanatory] exegesis [explanation or critical interpretation], we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We should render and establish our traditions from Scripture, not interpret Scripture by our traditions!
We saw this reference earlier as alleged "proof" of Jesus' support, even commandment, for infant baptism when Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
This is yet another example of interpreting Scripture by our traditions instead of interpreting our traditions by Scripture. Jesus was not talking about children or babies. He was talking to religious leaders and His disciples [not just the 12]. He was saying small children have no achievements, have accomplished nothing, and are generally not productive. They don't do anything. Rather, we do for them what they cannot do for themselves cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.
So, Jesus is saying you don't come into God's kingdom with a record of all your great achievements. According to the Bible, you and I don't have any achievements worthy of gaining entrance into God's kingdom. A little child has no achievements, no accomplishments, no contributions at all . . . . and neither do we!
Just as babes come into the world naked and needy, we also enter into God's kingdom with nothing. No matter how much we've achieved or learned or earned in our lifetime, we must come to God just as naked and bare and needy as babies, as little children. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning his own accomplishments? He diligently and deliberately followed all the Law: He was circumcised according to the Law, of the tribe of Benjamin, of the people of Israel, and overly zealous for God's law. If anyone had a right to boast, it was Paul! And yet, he wrote: "...whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8)
That is what Christ was talking about in Matthew 18:3. We must come to Christ empty-handed, naked and needy, having no righteousness of our own, no accomplishments to boast about just like a little child.
Matthew 19:14 and Mark 10:14
These are two other verses proponents of infant baptism use for their case. In both verses, Jesus said to His disciples, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them..."
Both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus blessed them. However, He didn't baptize them. So, how is this evidence about infant baptism or any baptism, for that matter?
He was simply demonstrating that God cares very much for them. But the Gospel accounts don't even tell us if their parents were believers or not. Some might even have been Gentile children. We don't know. All we do know is that Jesus didn't baptize them, He didn't cause them to be baptized, and He didn't suggest that they should be baptized. He didn't say anything about their parents, whether they were believers and followers or not. This is a case where His actions spoke God's heart. He was saying, "Children are precious to God. He takes care of them. He blesses them." That's all.
As we mentioned earlier in this study, the next Scripture Pedobaptists use, which Anabaptists interpret differently, is Mark 16:15-16. "And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'" (emphasis added)
Opponents of infant baptism assert that this passage excludes infants, who are totally incapable of believing. Jesus' point in this directive is made even more clear in the second clause which mentions believing, but not baptism. Again, this excludes infants because they are not capable of believing.
In Peter's address to adults, "Repent and be baptized" in Acts 2:38, he makes the point that repentance is a prerequisite, and this requires a mature understanding of sin and a decision to turn away from sin. However, Peter was speaking to those who were already adults, not to infants. Anabaptists say it would follow, then, that his instructions are meant for adults and not for infants.
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The "Households" in John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians
Next, proponents of infant baptism argue that the incidents related in John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians of entire "households" believing and being baptized means that babies also were baptized. While we might be able to conjecture or infer that meaning, the fact is that the cited verses don't say that. In fact, the verses never identify the particular recipients, so it could mean all the men, or the family, or the family's servants who were a part of the household. But there is no mention of a baby being baptized.
Let's look at the other instances in John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians that mention entire households believing and being baptized.
- John 4:53 tells us about a nobleman whose son was healed. The text says: "Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, 'Your son will live.' So he and all his household believed." Notice here, while the text makes it clear that this man and his household were believers, there is no mention of any baptism. Would Jesus really exclude so needful a task if it were indeed a requirement?
- Acts 10:34 tells us about Cornelius, a devout Gentile who "had called together his relatives and close friends." And we read in verse 44 that "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word." (emphasis added)
These verses tell us plainly that Peter preached, Cornelius and all who gathered together with him heard the gospel, all believed, the Spirit fell on all of them, and they were all baptized. Of course, we can presume there might have been babies in the house; but if there were, they were hardly able to hear with understanding the message Peter preached, let alone believe it.
- Acts 16:33 tells us about a Philippian jailer who believed and who was baptized with all his family. "...then immediately he and all his family were baptized." All heard, all believed, and all who heard and believed were baptized.
- Acts 18:8 relates: "Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized." Again, all who believed were baptized. Babies and small children have no capacity with which to reason and believe.
- 1 Corinthians 1:16 is where the Apostle Paul relates that he "baptized the household of Stephanas [Lydia's household spoken of in Acts 16:14]; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else." Based on the pattern laid out in the previous verses, we can assume that the people heard the Gospel, they believed, and then they were baptized.
As we raised the question in the lesson "Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?", we'll ask again here:
- Firstly, if baptism is necessary for salvation, why was Paul "thankful" that he didn't baptize many, as he said in verse 14: "I am thankful that I did not baptize any..."?
- Secondly, if baptism is necessary for salvation, why did Paul say in verse 17: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel."
- And finally, if it is necessary for infants to be baptized in order to be saved, why would Paul neglect so needful a service and leave them all to be hell-bound?
In the case of Lydia of the "household of Stephanas" Acts 16:14 says: "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message." And so we understand that she heard the Gospel, she believed, others apparently heard the gospel too, their hearts were opened and they believed, and they were all baptized. We cannot assume there were children in the house, however, since Lydia was a single person.
In short, Scripture clearly teaches where there is no faith, there is no baptism whether immersion in water or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in God's Word does either baptism precede faith. Thus, infant baptism avails the child or the family nothing.
The Promise in Acts 2:38-39
In Peter's closing message on the day of Pentecost, Scripture tells us: "Peter replied, '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. 'The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off for all whom the Lord our God will call.'"
Proponents of infant baptism use Peter's words "and your children" to support their notion of infant baptism being commanded and practiced by the early Christians.
To be fair, I can see how some might interpret this promise to mean the children who were there at that moment. But God's Word does expect us to reason these things out by what we know from other Bible stories and passages again, Scripture interpreting Scripture. So, let's do that. There are:
- five verses in the Old Testament that reference "your children's children" (Psalm 128:6; Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 2:9; Ezekiel 16:36; 37:25);
- two verses that reference "your children and grandchildren" (Genesis 45:10; Exodus 10:2); and
- fifty-six verses that reference "your children" (Genesis 45:10,19; 47:24; 48:11; 50:21; Exodus 10:2; 12:26; 22:24; Leviticus 10:14-15; 18:21; 25:46; 26:22; Numbers 14:31-33; Deuteronomy 1:39; 3:19; 4:9,40; 6:2,7; 11:2,5,19,21; 12:25,28; 29:11,22; 30:2,19; 32:46; Joshua 1:14; 4:6; 14:9; 1 Kings 20:5; 2 Chronicles 30:9; Ezra 9:12; Job 5:25; 8:4; Psalms 73:15; 115:14; 128:6; Isaiah 43:5; 48:19; 49:25; 54:13; 57:5; 59:21; Jeremiah 2:9; 5:7; 31:17; Lamentations 2:19; Ezekiel 16:36; Hosea 4:6; Joel 1:3).
All of these verses refer to God's promises of blessings or penalties to Israel. By saying "your children" or "your children and grandchildren" or "your children's children", it was understood that God's promises were not only to the present generation but to their offspring, to their children's children and even to their children's grandchildren.
So, logic dictates that what Peter was saying was: "Repent, come to faith in Christ, be baptized in His name, and you'll receive forgiveness of your sins. You'll also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this promise is not only for you but it's for your children wherever and whenever they may be!" And the "for all who are far off" meant the promise was for the Gentiles too! So Peter was saying: "for your children now, and for Jews and Gentiles in the future as well." The promise was to anyone who repents, anyone who believes, anyone who receives forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise would be fulfilled to anyone anytime anywhere.
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1 Corinthians 7:12-14
This is another passage Pedobaptists use to support the doctrine of infant baptism.
12"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.
13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
13For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."
Does this passage really teach that an unbelieving husband can be saved by a believing wife and vice versa? Does it really say the children are saved because one of their parents is a believer? No, it doesn't.
Here's the point Paul is making: It's a simple, yet profound, principle not really about the conduct of a believer to an unbeliever, but about the graciousness and benevolence of God.
Paul had just finished writing that a believer should not be yoked to an unbeliever. So, the question then comes up, what should a person do who comes to faith in Christ but their spouse is still an unbeliever? Should they then divorce? No, Paul is saying that by staying in the marriage, the blessings God pours out upon the believing spouse and parent will also positively affect the unbelieving spouse and their children, too. To divorce would bring hardship on the children, not blessing.
In thinking about the last three words of that passage, "they are holy", keep in mind the meaning of the word "holy". It does not mean "saved"; it means "set apart", usually for blessings. If the couple divorces, they have then separated the children from God's blessing. Keeping the home together, even with an unbelieving spouse, brings blessings not only on the believing spouse and parent, but on the children as well.
It does not mean the children are believers, nor does it mean the children are saved. It simply means the children are the beneficiaries of God's blessings because of the believing parent.
Of course, no one would argue that it's good for a believing spouse to divorce an unbelieving spouse, so long as the unbelieving spouse wants to remain in the marriage. It's always good to keep a marriage together because, as a result, the unbelieving spouse and children will reap the blessings God bestows on the believer; and who knows but what those blessings and the believing spouse's obedience to God's Word might bring the other parent or the children to faith in Christ.
Regardless, there is absolutely no mention of baptism. Paul is simply talking about keeping the family together.
Paralleling Circumcision and Baptism
Proponents of infant baptism often argue that infant baptism is the new covenant parallel to the old covenant circumcision. They assert that the old covenant sign was the baby's circumcision. That introduced the baby into the covenant between God and Abraham. Thus, circumcision was more a sign of ethnic identity than of any spiritual element.
Nevertheless, Pedobaptists say we now need a parallel that introduces the baby into the new covenant, into the new community of believers. And the parallel sign, of course, is baby baptism. They say that baptism is for Christians what circumcision was for the Jews.
Well now, isn't that interesting?
The problem is that Scripture never makes that connection. Nowhere in the Bible is baptism ever associated with circumcision. This analogy, while sounding very spiritual and right, has no Scriptural support, no Scriptural connection.
The Bible says that male babies were to be circumcised on the eighth day, which introduced them into an earthly temporal community of people, the nation Israel. It was physical and it was temporal. But there was no circumcision for girls, only for male babies. If you think about it, that poses a real problem now in trying to draw a parallel between circumcision and the new covenant. Why? Because girls weren't circumcised and yet, we now allow them to come into the new covenant by means of a prescribed procedure that's supposed to parallel a ritual that only applied to boys under the old covenant.
How can we have a parallel ritual to one that never existed before? Answer: You can't.
Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission
Referencing the same "Great Commission" text that Pedobaptists interpret as instruction from Jesus Christ to baptize infants, let's dissect Matthew 28:19.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."
Opponents of infant baptism interpret this as referring to three distinct and successive stages:
1. First, becoming a disciple (which is beyond the power of an infant).
2. Second, being baptized.
3. Third, receiving instruction.
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Age of Accountability
This is perhaps the strongest argument Anabaptists use to support their doctrine against infant baptism. The "age of accountability" refers to the time in a person's life when they are capable of understanding their need of a Savior and they can make a purposeful decision whether or not to trust Jesus Christ for salvation.
In Judaism, boys and girls receive the same rights as full-grown adults and become "sons/daughters of the law" or bar mitzvah for boys and bat mitzvah for girls, at the age of 13. Christianity borrowed many customs from Judaism, in this case, an arbitrary age at which we consider a child to have reached the age of accountability. Some individual churches may sometimes either set the age of accountability much lower than 13 or permit younger children to be baptized if they are deemed to possess the capacity to believe.
This raises two important questions:
1. How old should a person be when he/she is baptized?
2. Do infants or children who die before the "age of accountability" go to Heaven?
Most of us think of infants and small children as innocent. However, the Bible teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature, inherited from Adam's disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden. As we have already discussed, that is why some churches baptize infants. The belief is that the child will be protected before they reach an age when they can understand and respond to the Gospel [the "age of accountability"].
Churches that don't practice infant baptism practice believer's baptism, in which the person must reach the arbitrarily-determined age of accountability before being baptized. Some churches that do not practice infant baptism instead practice baby dedications, a ceremony in which parents or family members pledge to raise the child in God's ways until he/she reaches the age of accountability.
Regardless of baptismal practices, almost every church conducts religious education or Sunday school classes for children. Through some type of religious education whether in the church, a church-operated school, home schooling, or family devotions we teach our children...
- The Ten Commandments
They come to know what sin is and why they should avoid it.
- The Twenty-third Psalm
They learn that God is interested in everything that concerns them, and just as a shepherd leads his flock, we can count on God's guidance for our lives.
- Bible Stories from the Old Testament
They learn about David and Goliath, Joseph, Noah, Moses, and others so they can begin to understand the great benevolence of God.
- Bible Stories from the New Testament
They learn about the miracle of Jesus' birth, about Jesus creating wine from water, feeding thousands of people with only a few fish and bread, walking on water, and healing all sorts of diseases. They learn about Saul's conversion, of Peter and John healing a paralytic outside the temple gate, of God's miraculous deliverance of Peter from prison. And they learn about Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, giving them a basic understanding of God's plan of salvation.
All of these lessons, plus what they see modeled in their parents and other adults, help them to make an informed decision about whether to trust Christ as Savior when they do reach the age of accountability.
The Question about Babies' Souls
The Bible does not use the term "age of accountability". Like the doctrine of the holy Trinity, it is implied. In addition to the Jewish practice of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah, we can deduce from Scripture that young children go to Heaven when they die, whether they're baptized or not.
For example, in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, the story unfolds of King David committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered. In 2 Samuel 12:16-17, we see David fasting and praying for the life of their child. After the child died, "David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped." (v. 20)
Afterward, when his servants questioned his behavior, he replied: "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, 'Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'
But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." (vv. 22-23)
David, the "man after my [God's] own heart" (see 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22) was confident that when he died he would go to his son, who was in Heaven. He trusted that God, in His benevolence and graciousness, would receive the child's soul as an "innocent" and not blame the baby for his father's sin.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church taught the doctrine of infant "limbo", a place where unbaptized babies' souls went after death not Heaven, yet a place of eternal happiness. However, the current Catechism of the Catholic Church has removed the word "limbo" and now states: "As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites . . . allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism."7
The Apostle John wrote: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14) Most Christians including Anabaptists and some Pedobaptists believe the "world" in that verse includes those who are unable to comprehend the Gospel message, regardless of age.
Since the Bible does not emphatically support or deny an "age of accountability", believers are wise not to approach the subject too rigidly. As with other unanswerable questions, the best we can do is weigh the matter in light of Scripture and then trust God who is both loving and just.
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1"A Scriptural Critique of Infant Baptism", Grace to You Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time. 18 October 1998. Web. 07 January 2013.
3"Why We Baptize Babies (The Case for Infant Baptism)", Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. np. web. 07 January 2013.
5"A Scriptural Critique of Infant Baptism", Grace to You Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time. 18 October 1998. Web. 07 January 2013.
7"The Age of Accountability", About.com Christianity. np. Web. 07 January 2013.
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