Baptism in the Bible

and

Infant Baptism


Gregg Strawbridge




Dr. Gregg Strawbridge is the pastor of All Saints' Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He has held adjunct professor appointments in music, philosophy, and education at Columbia International University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and William Carey College. He holds the Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi (1994) where he has studied education and philosophy, the M.A. in Christian Education from Columbia Biblical Seminary, and is completing a Th.M. studies at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia). He and his wife Sharon are the parents of three beautiful girls.

 

© 2004 Gregg Strawbridge. All Rights Reserved.

www.allsaintspresbyterian.com * WordMp3.com

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—Let us reason together according to the Scriptures


D oes the Bible teach that the infant children of Christians are to be baptized? Or, was baptism only to be given to “believers” who consciously profess allegiance to Christ? If this is a question that you need to work through, I hope you will find this short study helpful. In it I will make the case that the Bible teaches that it is right to baptize the children of Christians. Footnote

       Baptism is like the fine china cups and glasses at an elegant dinner – it sits upon a table, in a room, in a house, in a neighborhood, in a country. Since I can’t take space to give a full theological context for baptism, let me identify the location of these china cups and glasses. The view of baptism I will be defending is that expressed in the great Reformation confessions (Genevan, Helvetic, Belgic, Westminster, etc.) and catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster Larger & Shorter). Many of the greatest minds of the Christian church have written and defended these confessions, men such as John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Robert L. Dabney, Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen and many others to this very day. Surely, it need not be said that these confessional statements and the great defenders of them stand in opposition to Roman Catholicism’s understanding and practice of baptism. Footnote These documents and their writers and defenders teach that according to the Scriptures salvation is by the grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone—sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria!


What is the Issue?

       A good starting point for this discussion is defining what is really at issue. Let me suggest that the infant baptism issue is whether we should baptize the children of Christians prior to their confession of faith. We all agree about adult converts—they must confess their faith prior to their baptism. Baptists and paedobaptists disagree about how to deal with the infant (and young) children of Christians. We acknowledge there is no explicit statement about the “infant baptism” of a Christian’s child. It is sometimes hard for baptists to also agree that neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized as a believer. There is then nothing explicit about the baptism of children on either side. This must be acknowledged by both sides if our discussion is to be fair. We cannot settle the case by appealing to an explicit text which tells us what to do with regard to Christian children. No appeal to the explicit cases of adult converts can settle the question — since, after all, we all agree about what to do with adult converts.

       What those holding covenantal infant baptism wish to maintain is that baptism should be given corporately, to all under the household of a believing head of household. Infants, when they are born into the household, therefore, should be baptized (as the rest of the believing household). So then, is the covenant household (infant) baptism position correct— are children of Christians to be baptized? Or, is the baptist is correct?—Only individuals who are mature enough to confess their faith and do so are to be baptized and upon such an individual basis. Let us contrast the case this way: Is the individualist-believer baptist thesis affirmed, or is the covenantal-family thesis affirmed?


Is Baptism is a Sign, Like Other Signs?

       The reason why the individual-believer vs family-covenant contrast is biblically necessary is because in previous eras biblical signs were given corporately to the family with a view toward the inclusion of future generations. Has that changed? Baptists answer yes, now it is individual, upon the grounds of one’s experiential confession. Since the Bible is one book and not two, we must ask whether the symbol of baptism as an outward ritual is similar to other rituals in the older portion of Scripture. Rituals which involve a symbolic act, such as baptism, are connected to Biblical covenants between God and man. In virtually every case Biblical covenants include signs which visibly represent the realities behind the covenant promises.

      Is new covenant baptism a radical departure from the way God “did it” in the Old Testament? This is a question of the continuity of an established pattern of sign-reception. Are other visible signs and symbols of God’s covenant redemption administered to households? Do other covenant administrations include a principle of “to you and your children”?

       Reviewing the Biblical teaching, we find that the covenant with Adam involved all of the children of Adam. “As in Adam all die” (1Co 15:22, Rom 5:12). The covenant with Noah included the “salvation of his household” (Heb 11:7). The sacrifices of the patriarchs (including Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were for the whole family. Job offered “burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5). Similarly, “Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal” (Gen 31:54). Circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of God’s covenant for “you and your descendants after you throughout their generations” (Gen 17:9). Under Moses the Israelites were commanded to put the blood of the Passover lamb on their doors to preserve the firstborn in the household. Israel was to observe Passover “as an ordinance for you and your children forever” (Exo 12:24). Even in the promise to David, the Lord said, “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations” (Psa 89:3-4).



Covenant (Administration)

Visible Sign

Descendants Included

Creation/Adamic

Tree of Life

absolutely!

Noahic

Rainbow

absolutely!

Abrahamic

 (Other Patriarchs)

Circumcision

Sacrifices/Meals

absolutely!

absolutely!

Mosaic

Passover (blood, then meal)

absolutely!

Davidic

***

absolutely!

New Covenant

Baptism (entrance)

Lord’s Supper (continuance)

?

(this is the issue)


       Therefore, the pattern of covenant administration includes a principle of family inclusion and successive generations in both covenant content and covenant recipients of the signs. The visible portrayal of covenant promises in signs and seals have a household administration—the question now is whether the visible sign of entrance into the new covenant (baptism) is to be administered to the entire household of a believer, including young and infant children. If this is true, then just as in circumcision and other signs of covenant, those who come into that household by birth or adoption would also have a right to the rite.


Are Children Still Included?

       Let us proceed by answering the question, Who was baptized in the Bible? Pretty simple, really. In obedience to Jesus’ command to baptize (Mat 28:19-20), who did the apostles baptize? In looking at all the actual recorded cases of apostolic baptism, is the individualist-baptist thesis affirmed, or is the covenantal-family thesis affirmed? Let’s consider all of the examples of Christian baptism recorded throughout the apostolic history of the church, beginning in Acts. Do these examples indicate that only individual self-conscious, professing believers are to be baptized or do they indicate that both adult converts and the believer’s households are to be baptized? The basic outline of Acts is indicated in the first chapter. The gospel of Christ goes forth: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Footnote The patterns of baptism follow this expansion.


Adult Conversion Baptisms

Household

Baptisms

3000 (men) at Pentecost (no household present)

Cornelius and household

Samaritans: (“both men and women”)

Simon the Sorcerer

Lydia and household

Ethiopian Eunuch (no household)

Philippian Jailer and household

Paul (no household)

Corinthians:

Crispus (and household)

Stephanas and household

Disciples of John (12 men) (no household present)

Gaius (and household?)


       In summary of the actual baptisms, we find the following: (1) The new covenant promise came in it’s fulfillment “to you and your children” (2:39) at Pentecost. Only men are said to have been baptized, some 3000 of them. (2) In Samaria “men and women alike” (8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). (3) The godly Ethiopian eunuch (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). (4) Paul (who had no household) was baptized (9:18; cf 1Co 7:7-8). (5) Cornelius’ household was baptized (10:48, 11:14). (6) Lydia’s household was baptized (16:15). (7)The Philippian Jailer’s household was baptized (16:33). (8) Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus, Stephanas’ household, and Gaius (18:8, 1Co 1:14, 16). (9) The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (19:5).

       These are the facts about those baptized. From this we learn that of the nine narrative passages on baptism, four involve household baptisms, four other cases consisted of only adult men (Pentecost, eunuch, Paul, twelve disciples of John), and the other case is of Simon and the “men and women alike” in Samaria.

       Considering the nine individuals singled-out in the baptism narratives—five had their households baptized (Cornelius, the Jailer, Lydia, Crispus [inferred], Stephanas), two had no household for obvious reasons (eunuch & Paul). That leaves Simon, who actually turned out to be an unbeliever and Gaius, whom Paul baptized (1Co 1:14). As for Simon, I think it is reasonable to conclude that he was an atypical case and was not likely a head of household. Certainly, his case would be a less than ideal basis for the baptist view, since he turned out to be an unbeliever. As for Gaius, in Romans 16:23 we read that “Gaius [is] host to me and to the whole church.” This implies that he was a man of some means. As such, he may have had at least household servants, if not a familial household. Gaius is mentioned with Crispus, who was a household head. Crispus, “believed in the Lord with all his household (Acts 18:8).” Thus, the household was undoubtedly baptized with him. Yet Paul said in no uncertain terms, “I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1Co 1:14). Paul could name Crispus as head of the baptized household, just as he could have with Gaius. As would be perfectly intelligible to any first century Jew, it seems that Paul simply spoke of Crispus as representing the household in the administration of baptism. Footnote Therefore, if Gaius had a household, it is quite reasonable to believe that it was baptized, just like Crispus’ household.

       About this time, one can see the hands raising of our baptistic brethren to object. These important Biblical facts regarding the household baptisms are often dismissed by those denying infant/household baptism. One baptist said, “Since the New Testament teaches only believer’s baptism the only logical conclusion is that the people in these households were all believers.” This is a quite predictable response—that everyone in these households must have believed (i.e., since we already know that only believers were baptized). But think for a moment what this response requires us to believe—that in the individual baptism narratives, their writers (Luke & Paul) intentionally include more irregular and anomalous cases of baptism (households), than “regular” cases. Remember the outline of Acts—the gospel was to go to Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth. After the Samaritan baptisms, we have the baptism of Saul (Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles), then when the gospel crossed to Gentile territory, beginning with Cornelius, every baptism passage is a household baptism passage—except where we are expressly told that those present were “twelve men,” who were Jews after all (Acts 19:7). The Gentile households of Cornelius, Lydia, the Jailer, Stephanas, and possibly Gaius (see the previous discussion) were all baptized.

Outline of Acts

The Gospel Goes To...

Baptisms

Follow This Outline

Jerusalem, Judea

3000 Men at Pentecost

Samaria

Enuch, Samaritans, Simon

Ends of the Earth

Transition: Apostle Paul (Acts 9)

First Gentile: Cornelius (Acts 10)

God-fearer: Lydia (Acts 16)

New Convert Gentiles: The Jailer (Acts 16), Corinthians (Acts 18)

Saul (apostle to Gentiles)

Cornelius’ Household

Lydia’s Household

Jailer’s Household Corinthians:

Crispus Household Stephanus Household

Gaius, 12 Men in Ephesus


       Was it coincidence that when the gospel went to Gentiles, their households were baptized? Acts is a selective history of thousands of examples of baptism over the first few decades of the church. Surely Luke did not record the only household baptisms in the entire apostolic period! Rather, this was the routine practice of the apostolic church as the gospel went to Gentile families. The gospel and its outward sign went to families because it was families that were to be saved. “The covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED’” (Acts 3:25).

       Most evangelicals know the answer to the Biblical question, “What must I do to be saved?”—“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” But that’s not the answer in the Bible, rather, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household” (Act 16:31).

       The pattern of Gentile household baptisms, especially as it relates to Luke’s purpose in showing the expansion of the gospel, should not be so quickly dismissed by baptists. It is not as though we have a hundred cases of baptism and there are these exceptional, anomalous few household cases. We have nine individuals identified; five clearly have their households baptized; two do not have households (eunuch, Saul); one is dubious (Simon); and Gaius is left (1Co 1:14, see the above discussion). This is not a promising set of statistics for baptists!

       The oft-repeated reply, “but every member of the household believed,” will not be persuasive to one who considers the exegetical particulars of the two cases which include statements about the households believing (the Jailer 16:31-34 & Crispus 18:8). We should ask whether the exegetical nuances of these texts support the individualist (baptist) thesis (every member believed) or the covenant family thesis (household members followed the leader according to their capacity).

       In the Philippian Jailer passage (Acts 16:31-34) and the Corinthian passage with Crispus (Acts 18:8), the Greek has singular verbs, not the plural verbs, to describe the action of believing. These texts do not say, the Jailer (or Crispus) “and (kai)” his household “believed [plural]” (with a plural verb). This would be one way Luke could have nuanced the text to indicate the equal action of each member in believing. Instead, these texts teach what any Old Testament believer might have expected: the Jailer, the household head, “rejoiced (singular verb) greatly, with all his house (panoikei, an adverb), having believed (pepisteukos, participle, singular) in God” (16:34, see the American Standard Version); and Crispus, the household head, “believed (episteusen, verb, singular) in the Lord with (sūn) all his household” (18:8). However, observe Luke’s careful language indicating that baptism is administered to each member of the Jailer’s household: “he was baptized, he and (kai hoi autou pantes) all his household” [literally, those of his all] (16:33).


Are Children Included in the New Covenant?

       Perhaps someone might say that the new covenant is different from previous covenants in just this sense: the promise of the new covenant excludes successive generations, our children. Let us ask, then, are the children of new covenant believers explicitly included in the new covenant promises? One important writer, defending a baptist perspective says, “Nowhere in the content of the new covenant is the principle ‘thee and thy seed’ mentioned.” Footnote If this were true, such a change in covenant recipients and covenant promises could hardly be more drastic! Covenant membership has always and ever included “you and your children” and covenant content is most fundamentally that the Lord is “God to you and your descendants” (Gen 17:7, Deu 7:9, 30:6, 1Ch 16:15, Psa 103:17, 105:8).

       Consider these new covenant prophecies. Let the reader decide, on the testimony of many Scriptures, whether the children of believers are included in the explicit and repeated new covenant promises. So that no future baptist writer will assert this hencefore, world without end, Amen. I have put in italics the specific inclusion of believers’ children


In the very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:

 

       Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. . .


Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise.

 

       Jeremiah 31:1: “‘At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’”

       Jeremiah 31:17: [Though Rachel weeps for her children (destroyed in captivity), when they return] “‘there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD, ‘and your children shall return to their own territory.’”


Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included.

 

       Jeremiah 31:33-37: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. ....“If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “ Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. “ 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD.”

       Jeremiah 32:37-40: “Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.

       Jeremiah 33:22-26: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me . . . 26 then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”


Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear that the children of believers are included.

 

       Eze 37:24-26: David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd....and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them.... (NKJV)

       Zech 10:6-9: “And I shall bring them back, Because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God, and I will answer them. 7 “And Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; Indeed, their children will see it and be glad, Their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . They will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.

       Joel 2:1-29: Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! . . .So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations . . . 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. ....My people will never be put to shame. 28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy....

       Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.

       Isaiah 54:10-13: . . .Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed . . .13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.

       Isaiah 59:20-21: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion....“My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”

       Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.


In the New Testament, the apostles repeatedly included the principle of “you and your seed.”

 

       Luke 1:17: “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

       Luke 2:49-50: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.

       Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.

       Acts 3:25: “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

       Acts 13:32-33: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus . . .

       Rom 4:13-17: For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith . . . 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.


These texts provide overwhelming, compelling, unmistakable, redundant, powerful, sustaining, unambiguous, and persuasive Biblical support for the belief that the children of believers are included in the promised new covenant.

       How many more verses are required to convince one that the new covenant includes the children of believers? Certainly no one can produce even one text which explicitly excludes them. These fifty and more explicitly include them! Let us settle the question at this juncture. The new covenant explicitly includes believers’ children. The whole message of the whole Bible requires that our children are a heritage. If baptism is the sign of inclusion in covenant with God, then let us conclude with who in fact , the apostles baptized? The unmistakable impression is that baptism goes to households of believers. We have no biblical reason to doubt, then, that infants born into such households are to be baptized by virtue of their believing household membership. But, let us add more weight to the case.


What About Jesus Command to Baptize?

       Before our Lord ascended to reign at the right hand of the Father, where He reigns NOW, He commanded the discipling of the nations. He predicted the advance of His good news “in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), just as we have seen in the study of baptism above. He said to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach [disciple, or make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat 28:19 KJV). From this text there are those who claim that Jesus’ command excludes anyone from baptism who is not a self-conscious disciple, making credible profession of faith. Hence, such interpreters claim that this Commission commands the discipling of “individuals from all nations, not the national entities” and the individual baptism of only “those who were made disciples.” Footnote This a good theory to support the individualist cause in baptism.

       Unfortunately for baptists, the grammar of this command does not support the individualistic thesis. Rather, the direct command (mathãteusate panta ta ethnã baptizontes autous) may simply be translated, Disciple all the nations [and] baptize them (nations). The pronoun “them” (autous), grammatically refers to “nations” (ethnã) a noun, not “disciples,” since “make disciples” (mathãteuõ) is a verb. Footnote

       If one thinks about the Commission both grammatically and culturally, a Jewish Rabbi of the First Century or before would not have been troubled if the text had said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, circumcising them [the nations] in the name of Jehovah, teaching them [the nations] to observe all that I commanded you.” A Rabbi (b. Y0k A.D.) would not have thought this was a Commission to abandon infant circumcision for exclusive adult circumcision.

       Indeed, see how the apostles practiced the baptismal mandate—adults after confessing discipleship AND their households were baptized whenever they were present. This is precisely because the Great Commission baptismal mandate is not separate from the original Abrahamic Great Commission.

       The purpose of God in converting the nations (in missions) is part of God’s covenantal promise to Abraham. Father Abraham had many sons, as you know — “I am one of them and so are you. . . .” Recall that Peter preached to the Jews, “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Acts 3:25). The promise of the gospel is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6). Whereas Gentiles were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”—“Now,” writes the apostle, “in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). Gentiles may now participate as receivers of the “covenants of promise.” We sing, “Father Abraham Had Many Sons...” It is true, we have become Abraham’s children too! Amazingly, Gentiles may become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

       The apostles repeat the promise to Gentile Christians, especially Paul. The promise to Abraham is “certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, ‘a father of many nations have I made you’)” (Rom 4:16-17). In other words, the promise is to “all the descendants” of both believing Jews and Gentiles, because Abraham is the “father of many nations” and in him all the “families of the earth shall be blessed” (Acts 3:25, Gen 12:3). Households of a Cornelius, or a Lydia, or a Philippian Jailer, or a Stephanas, could now be counted as Abraham’s children.


Aren’t We to Follow Jesus in Believer Baptism?

       Someone might ask, Aren’t we supposed to “follow Jesus in baptism”?—Wasn’t He baptized as a believer? We are to imitate Christ’s character. We are to follow the apostles as they followed Christ. We are to strive for Christlikeness, fully. But we are never told to imitate Christ in a 40-day fast in the wilderness; or in being crucified; or in the exact form of His baptism. I have known those who went to the “Holy Land” to be baptized in the Jordan River, even though they had been baptized before. This is more like following Mohammed to Islam’s Mecca, than the Lord of all nations in truth and holiness!

       We are told that Christ’s baptism was “to fulfill (plãroõ) all righteousness” (Mat 3:15). I hope that no one else will claim that their baptism was for this purpose, especially those baptized in the Jordan in 1998. Matthew uses “fulfill” (plãroõ) 16 times. Except for the two cases in which it means “fill” in a quantitative sense (13:48 “full” & 23:32 “fill”), every other usage refers to “fulfilled” Scripture. Footnote I will argue that in this case (3:15) it also refers to fulfilled Scripture, though it is an entire range of Scriptural typology, not a specific text.

       The baptism of John was for a temporary and specific purpose (Luk 1:17, Act 13:25). John was a Levitical priest, as was his father (Luk 1:5). The prophetic purpose of John was to “go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘To turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children,’ and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luk 1:17, Mal 4:6). John tells us very specifically his purpose for the baptisms: “in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water” (Joh 1:31). How would John know who the Christ (the anointed one) was? “He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’ (Joh 1:33).

       Thus, John’s baptism of Jesus involved a cleansing ritual for the purpose of recognizing the one anointed of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament typology, Levitical priests underwent a ritual washing for their cleansing (“sprinkle purifying water on them,” Num 8:7). These ceremonial instructions for priests also speak over and over of “the priest who is anointed [with oil] and ordained to serve as priest” (Lev 16:32, Exo 28:41, Num 3:3, etc.). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb 7:28). This means that the fulfillment of the oath of God’s Messianic promise comes in the “appointing” of a perfect high priest, who is of course, Christ (Heb 8:5). The term “appoint” (kathistemi) is the same term used of ordaining elders (Tit 1:5) and deacons (Act 6:3), as well as the Levitical High priest, “every high priest taken from among men is ordained . . .” (Heb 5:1 KJV).

       Christ was thus ordained and “designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:10). But when was He “designated” as this?—When He received, not the symbolic anointing oil of the Spirit, but the reality of the Spirit, at His baptism. Christ said of Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel . . .” (Luk 4:18). When was anointed? At His baptism, when the Spirit descended upon Him (Luk 3:21). Hence, the final and transitional Levitical priest, John, ordained the greater Melchizedekian High priest, Jesus.

       Suffice it to say, then, the adult baptism of a Christian believer is not “following the Lord in believer’s baptism.” Rather, as Peter proclaims, Jesus as the High Priest, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Act 2:33). The shadows of the Levitical system illustrated that the priests were anointed for service with the symbolic oil, now Christ (literally, “the anointed one”) pours forth the real oil on the “royal priesthood”—the true temple (1Pe 2:9, 2:5).

       Because John’s baptism was “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” Israel was to receive their anointed Messiah and were accountable to be identified with the Messianic kingdom of God (Luk 1:17, Mat 3:2). However, many in that generation rejected Christ and His kingdom. See this key to John’s baptism, “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luk 7:30). For this they would receive the most severe judgment (Mat 23:36-39), ultimately the complete destruction of their Christless Judaism and its Christless temple (70 Anno Domini). “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Mat 23:38).

       Hence, John’s baptism was temporary (“John was completing his course,” Acts 13:25). However, Jesus promises His presence in the baptism mandate “to the end of the age” (Mat 28:19). Jesus’ Commission to baptize, then, follows through with John’s teaching: “[John said] I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The baptism in the name of Jesus signifies a baptism with the Spirit.


Is Baptism in Place of Circumcision?

       It is just because of the initial teaching that Jesus’ baptism relates to the Spirit, that we are led to see that in meaning and signification, the perpetual ordinance of baptism is very similar to circumcision. It is a symbol of a covenant promise and is an entrance sign. Baptism and circumcision symbolize the same reality, the work of the Spirit, essentially, spiritual regeneration. Yet, baptism is greater than circumcision.

       Let me try to convince the reader of this: (1) Circumcision represented the work of the Holy Spirit which is the circumcision of the heart. Stephen drew upon a very deep stream of the Biblical waters when he said to his persecutors, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). This meaning of circumcision is very evident in many Old Testament passages (Lev 26:41, Jer 9:26, Eze 44:7, 44:9, Deu 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4). The very promise of the new covenant included this metaphor, “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants” (Deu 30:6). Paul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, learned this too (perhaps from Stephen). It permeates virtually all of his epistles (Rom 2:29, 4:11, 1Co 7:19, Gal 5:6, 6:15, Eph 2:11-12, Phi 3:3, Col 2:11-12, 3:11). The reality behind physical circumcision is circumcision “which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29).

       (2) Baptism represents the work of the Spirit in regeneration, also. The very first words we read about baptism in the New Testament say this. John said, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mar 1:8). Peter connects baptism with “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). He says of Cornelius’ household, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” (Acts 10:47). Paul alludes to the image of baptism in Titus 3:5 when he says “He saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”

       Therefore, a person who has been heart-circumcised has been Spirit-baptized and a person who has been Spirit-baptized has been heart-circumcised. What can this teach if not that these two ritual acts signify the same reality? Other doctrinal passages affirm this meaning and their correlation (Col 2:10-11).For example, Romans 6:3-4 teaches that by work of regeneration those “baptized into Christ Jesus” “have become united with Him in the likeness of His death” and “His resurrection.” Galatians 3:27 tells us that those “baptized into Christ have clothed [themselves] with Christ.” First Corinthians 12:13 likewise indicates the work of the Spirit is the reality behind baptism, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” These passages affirm that baptism is a sign and seal of the work of God’s Spirit in our spiritual union with Christ which takes place through regeneration. Peter teaches us that baptism is the antitype of the salvation of the household of Noah, as well as the symbol of a clean conscience. “There is also an antitype (antitypos) which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 3:21 NKJ).

       So then, baptism is surely a sign, an antitype (1Pe 3:21). Baptism is most certainly signifies the work of the Spirit (Col 2:11-12, Mar 1:8, Acts 10:47, Tit 3:5). It is commissioned to be a ritual which identifies one with the truine God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Mat 28:19-20, Acts 10:48). Its meaning is unmistakably the Spirit’s work in cleansing us and thereby uniting us with Christ and His body (Rom 6:3, Gal 3:27, Col 2:11-12, 1Co 12:13).

       Are circumcision and baptism identical? It is rather obvious that the rituals of circumcision and baptism are very different, though they both have reference to purification. The reality or meaning of these rituals is substantially the same—the work of the Spirit in regeneration. The recipients of circumcision were primarily the households of ethnic Israel (males only, in the nature of the case). The recipients of baptism, in the New Testament, are believing households within every nation. Surely it need not be repeated that going through the ritual of either is not the same as possessing the reality signified. This is true for adults, no less than little children. Baptism is a (visible) sign and seal of inclusion into the covenant community, a community not of one nation (Israel), but made from all nations. Therefore, it functionally replaces the Abrahamic rite of circumcision [befitting to the antecedent age], and is thus its sacramental equivalent [in the age of fulfillment].


 

Circumcision

Baptism

Ritual

cut the flesh

cleanse the flesh

Reality

circumcision of Christ

circumcise the heart

cut off “flesh”

baptism by the Spirit cleanse the heart

united to Christ

Recipients

primarily Jewish nation/All in such households (males)

expanded to every nation/All in the household (males and females)


       The temptation for baptists is to assume that since the reality signified in baptism is only true in regenerate people, that it is only proper to give this sign to those who demonstrate their regeneration. Reasoning this way, one entirely overlooks what has just been Biblically proven, that circumcision fundamentally signifies the same reality as baptism. Footnote As Calvin says, “For what will they bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?” Footnote Please let no one say that salvation was different in the Old Testament. The Abrahamic covenant is Paul’s proof-text for justification by faith alone (Rom 4:3, Gen 15:6)! Moreover, Abraham’s circumcision was the sign and seal of his justification by faith. He “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised” (Rom 4:11). But Isaac, who possessed the same Spirit-wrought reality, was circumcised as an infant.

       So then, the sign of an internal spiritual reality can be received when one is conscious of the reality, like Abraham. Or, it can be received before one is conscious of the reality, like Isaac, and every other believing Jew. Baptism can be received with understanding (in the case of an adult) or it can be “recalled” with understanding (as in the case of an infant). In both cases, it represents the inward work of the Spirit which we hope to be true in both. Baptists often argue that it is more certainly true of the “believer” (professing faith) than the infant (even when raised in the discipline and admonition of the Lord). This is a very unconvincing point to me, having grown up around baptistic churches which regularly practice repeat-baptism two or three times on their own members. In many cases the baptist position is EXPERIENCE-I-FEEL-LIKE-I-AM-NOW-SAVED-BAPTISM.

       Therefore, baptism was, in its essential qualities and necessarily (in covenant development) the ritual replacement of circumcision for the newly reached Gentiles. But, it is not an exact replacement of circumcision for the Jew, in that transitional time. Without adequate consideration of the transitional generation (30-70, A.D.), one simply cannot make sense of the book Acts. Footnote With the temple standing and the expansion of the gospel in Jerusalem and Judea, the apostolic work to reach the Jews necessarily involved the continuity, for a time at least, of old covenant forms. They worshiped in the temple (Act 2:4). Paul even took a ceremonial vow in which a sacrifice was offered (21:26). But all of this was before the demonstrable refutation of Christless, Messiah-rejecting, Judaism by God’s hand of judgment in the year, Anno Domini 70.

       If we stand in the sandals of the First Century Jewish (and proselyte) followers of Jesus, it is incredible (truly unbelievable) to think that a believer’s little children would not to be considered part of the people of God. Imagine the shock of Crispus, the synagogue leader (Acts 18:8), who believes (on Friday, let’s say) that his children are in covenant with God, part of the people of God, and members of the synagogue of God. Then, on the Sabbath after Paul preaches, he finds out that—in the fulfillment of the promised seed of the women, through the covenant promises, in the fullness of time, in the era of great David’s greater Son, in the Messianic kingdom and the light to the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel—now his little children have no part in the people of God!

       Or imagine the new proselyte family who have recently undergone the painful passage to covenant membership (circumcision) only to discover upon hearing of Messiah that in the new covenant his children are afforded less of a place than they who were only in the shadows of Judaism. From the original audience’s mindset, this view of new covenant, Messianic-synagogue membership would be more than disappointing. It would be Biblically inconceivable. And more so when the First Century Palestinian religious practices are considered.

       To add, imagine the overwhelming status of inferiority that Gentiles would have felt if the Jews’ children were considered members of the Christian synagogue (Jam 2:2) and part of the “household of God,” while Gentile children had neither sign nor membership. With the clearly stated objections of the Judaizers, their known beliefs, and what we know of their frame of mind, if the apostolic practice and teaching excluded the infant children of Jews (and Gentiles), it is very remarkable that no hint of this discussion arises in the pages of the New Testament.


How Do We Raise Covenant Children?

       When the first Gentile households were given the sign of covenant membership, they, just like Abraham, were commanded to bring their children “up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). An elder in the church is one who “manages [proisteme] his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1Ti 3:4). A ritual act, even though it be ordained of God, is of no use if the spiritual reality is not foundational to the sign. What is the spiritual reality behind the sign of entrance into the covenant? For Abraham, the Lord says, “For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Gen 18:19). Yes, this is the Old Testament—but oh how practical it is this very day! We must heed that ancient command, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deu 6:7). Do you command your children to keep the way of the Lord? Do you teach them diligently to love the Lord their God (Deu 6:4)? Without the reality of leading one’s home to Christ, in Christ, and for Christ, the water of baptism is worse than useless, it is condemnatory.

       The Scripture declares that, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee” (Psa 22:27). Joshua nobly said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (24:15). A baptized child should be a child being brought up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, whose parents vow, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

       Every person that grows up in a Christian home should be taught God’s Word from their earliest times. Just like Timothy, each Christian child should be exhorted to “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood (brephos) you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2Ti 3:14-15).

       I surely pray that regarding family worship, baptists, as well as those who baptize their children, will take this practice to heart and home. However, I must point out the radical inconsistency of teaching a noncovenant member, nonchurch member, nonkingdom member, nonChristian, to praise, confess, follow, and pray to Christ as their Savior! In other words, in reality the children of sincere believers, seeking to obey Ephesians 6:4, are treated and required to act as visible members of the church. It makes perfect sense to educate them as Christians, to think the thoughts of God, to confess the holy faith, to walk with Christ all the days of their life—but this only makes sense if they are counted as part of God’s people. It is contrary to nature and Scripture for a believer to treat one’s little children as though they are excluded from Christ as unbelieving pagans. The sign which demonstrates that they are part of God’s visible people is baptism.

       The baptism question is most essentially about the relationship of our children to our God. It is perfectly clear that Old Testament saints considered there children under the covenant terms and given covenant signs. Has that changed? No. The New Testament does not treat the children of believers as though they are in a different relationship with God or their parents than they were in the Old Testament. There is no difference in the OT or NT language about the children of believers. In fact, just to be literalistic about it, we still have at least 36,700 years of the covenant inclusion of children to go! Footnote

The Place of Believers’ Children:

The Same in Both Testaments

 

Old Testament

New Testament

Duties of Parents

“Command his children to keep the way of the LORD” (Gen 18:19)

“Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4)

Duties of Children

“Honor your father and mother” (Exo 20:12)

“Obey your parents” (Eph 6:2)

Blessings

“Live long in the land” (Exo 20:12)

“Live long on the earth” (Eph 6:3)

Children Must Obey the Word

“Your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes “ (Deu 6:2)

“Continue in the things [Scripture] you have learned” from infancy (2Ti 3:14-15)

Household Leadership

“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Jos 24:15)

The jailer “rejoiced greatly, with all his household” (Act 16:34, ASV)

Promised Reality

“I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring” (Isa 44:3)

“For the promise [of the Spirit] is to you and your children” (Act 2:39)

Duration of Inclusion

“To a thousandth generation” with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deu 7:9)

“His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him” (Luk 1:50)

Sign of Inclusion

“All the men of [Abraham’s] household. . .were circumcised” (Gen 17:27)

The jailer “was baptized, he and all his household” (16:33) (Cornelius’, Lydia’s, Crispus’, Stephanus’ households, too)



Yea, But? The Central Line of Objection

       There are, I am sure, objections in the minds of many. Given the brevity of this study, let me examine what I take to be the central objection. Footnote The basic structure of the baptist polemic against paedobaptism is that since we have (1) an explicit basis for “believers’ baptism” and (2) since there is no explicit warrant (an example or command) for “infant baptism,” and since (3) the new covenant is made with exclusively regenerate individuals (and believers’ little children cannot be assumed to be regenerate)—Therefore, the baptistic conclusion is: the children of believers are not to receive the sign of the new covenant until they confess their faith (and thus give evidence of their new covenant membership).

       The succinct answer to this central line of objection is (1) to recognize that a million cases of adult converts professing their faith prior to baptism prove nothing, of themselves, regarding the infants of believers (the question at hand). Paedobaptists heartily concur with the practice of adult profession prior to baptism as is evident in every Reformed creed! Footnote Most baptist polemics just hammer away at the examples of adults, as though this settles the case—ironically, the childless eunuch with his crystal-clear case of prior belief becomes the paradigm for settling the question of infant children. But, in fact, we do not have anything like a million cases, do we? If every New Testament case of baptism was individualistic and of one who professed and was then baptized, such a point might be more forceful for the baptist contention. But quite the contrary, virtually every person who could have conceivably had a household, had it baptized. The explicit cases of baptism, when fully considered, are not evidence of the baptist view.

       (2) Explicit warrant on the baptism of believers’ children is lacking in both directions. There is no case of an “infant baptism” and neither is there a case of the “believers’ baptism” of a Christian’s child. This question must be settled by the proper application of Biblical teaching. It cannot be settled with a direct appeal to an express text.

       (3) The paedobaptist, not the antipaedobaptist, possesses explicit warrant for the inclusion of children in the new covenant (Deu 30:6, Jer 31:36-37), church (Eph 1:1/6:1-4, Col 1:2/3:20, 1Co 7:14), and kingdom (Mat 19:14, Mar 10:14, Luk 18:16). Moreover, are all those under the terms of the new covenant regenerate? No. There are many passages which teach the possibility of apostasy from the visible covenant community (Heb 6:1-4, 10:28-30, Joh 15:2, 6, Rom 11:21). There are many passages which teach that the New Covenant has stipulations for judgment (Mat 16:19, 1Co 11:29-30, 34, Heb 10:30-31, 1Pe 4:17). There are many passages which teach that the kingdom includes regenerate and unregenerate (Mat 8:12, 13:24-31, 41, 47-50, 21:43, 25:1-13, Luk 13:28, Rev 11:15).


A Few More Questions

     Do you believe that infant baptism saves the child? No. Neither does adult baptism save the adult. The relationship of baptism and salvation is that of a ring to a marriage. The ring is part of the reality of the marriage. But no one treats a ring, in and of itself, as the marriage. But don’t throw your ring out the window because it’s just a piece of metal.

     Why baptize children if they do not understand the meaning of baptism? Baptism is like circumcision. For adults it is entered with understanding, for infants it is “remembered” with understanding. In principle, one cannot object that a sign of an inward reality be given to an infant, because it is so clear in the case of circumcision. Is it meaningful that my little children are citizens of the United States? Though they do not comprehend it now, they have all the rights and protections of a citizen, though under age. As they grow, they will learn their duties, along with all the rights and privileges that their citizenship afforded them, while they were yet unaware of it. So it is with baptism.

     What about baptized children who grow up and forsake the faith? Apostasy is a reality for children baptized as infants, for believers’-baptized children, and even for adult converts who were baptized with the most ardent professions of their faith. It is the Biblical function of church discipline (Mat 18:15-20), not baptism, which purifies church membership of those who willfully and unrepentantly deny the faith.

     What if a baptized child has a dramatic conversion later, are they to be baptized again? A Christian (child or adult) should only be baptized once, since baptism signifies a reality that only takes place once, regeneration. We do not always know when regeneration takes place, especially in the case of children growing up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The reason many re-baptisms take place is (wrongly, I believe) because baptism is viewed as meaningful only if the one baptized has a certain prior experience (i.e., baptism is a testimony to my conversion experience). In fact, according to official statistics, one prominent baptist denomination reported that over 40% of its baptisms one year were for “rededication.” Footnote I have argued (above) that this is a misunderstanding of baptism.

     Shouldn’t baptism be done by immersion? If we compare baptism with the Lord’s Supper, whether the Lord’s Supper is actually a “supper” (deipnon, an evening meal), is not essential to its purpose, meaning, or sacramental quality. In the same way, the mode of baptism, whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, is surely less important than its meaning and recipients. Reformed Christians do not usually require a particular mode to be necessary for baptism. However, Biblical baptisms or “washings” in the Tabernacle were performed by sprinkling (baptismois in Heb 9:11, see verses 9:13, 19, 22). And, the baptism of the Spirit is spoken of as the Holy Spirit “poured out upon the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45-47).

     If you believe in infant baptism, by the same principles aren’t you bound to believe in infant communion? Not necessarily. After all, the Passover meal was simply not edible to infants any way. The question of paedocommunion involves (a) whether infants or toddlers, in fact, partook of the Passover meal, (b) if not, were there spiritual qualifications, such as asking and understanding, “What does this mean?” (Exo 12:26), and (c) thus, whether the recipients of Christ’s passover in the new covenant are qualified differently. Footnote The Princeton Theologian B. B. Warfield said, “The ordinances of the Church belong to the members of it; but each in its own appointed time. The initiatory ordinance belongs to the members on becoming members, other ordinances become their right as the appointed seasons for enjoying them roll around.” Footnote