The brilliant 18th century theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote: “There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.”
He wasn’t kidding. And the debate between “orthodox” believers and theologians over whether or not to baptize the infants of believing parents or believers only hinges on this very point.
In this debate over whether infant baptism is to be practiced in the New Covenant Church, or Believers’ baptism only, we are in the final analysis dealing with two fundamentally different views of the Church. Each view grounded in a difference in understanding the “precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.”
I want to stress here that this is an “in house” debate The Church of Jesus Christ has discussed and debated this topic nearly since its inception. And many of those who hold the opposite opinion of the one expressed and defended here are towering giants of holiness and devotion to Christ. Scholars and saints of the highest order. I disagree with their view on this topic – but we lock arms as fellow believers, lovers of Christ, defenders of the faith and those with whom we will spend eternity around the throne with our mutual Savior.
That said, I respectfully submit the following 5 positive arguments for believer’s only baptism, and 4 negative arguments against the baptism of the infants of believing parents. I qualify that last statement so as not to mischaracterize the orthodox, who would not approve of baptizing any infant but those of believers.
5 Positive arguments:
1. Believer’s Baptism is the Unbroken NT pattern
2. Entrance into the New Covenant is expressly by the Holy Spirit
3. The Scripture descriptions of & denominations for The Church all incorporate terms of faith, belief & regeneration
4. Baptism inherently testifies to a completed work
5. The Promise in Acts2:39 is of the gift of the Holy Spirit – which is restricted to those whom
God shall call in every generation.
4 Negative Arguments:
1. Familial Solidarity – Evident under the Old Covenant, is expressly denied under the New Covenant
2. The so-called “Household” argument proves too much
3. Holy children in 1 Cor.7:14 has no reference to baptism
4. There is no mention of it in the New Testament – period
5 POSITIVE ARGUMENTS:
1. Believer’s Baptism is the Unbroken NT pattern: People believed, and were baptized. No other pattern is ever given anywhere in the New Testament. The old pattern perished with the Old Covenant.
A survey of all the pertinent passages leaves this without reasonable doubt, even when beginning with the b
Matt. 3:5-6 / 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Acts 2:41 / So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 8:12 / But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 8:36-37 / And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Phillip said, “if you believe with all your heart, you may. “ And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Acts 9:17–18 / So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;
Acts 10:44–48 / While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Acts 16:14–15 / One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
Acts 16:32–34 / “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”
Acts 18:8 / “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”
In every case recorded, without exception, baptism was linked to understanding and faith in those being baptized. They understood their sin and the message regarding how it must be dealt with prior to their baptism. By knitting the passages together, we see that it was the Gospel, God, the Word of the Lord, etc. which was believed. Even in the case of John’s baptism, his work reaches its zenith in proclaiming to those he is baptizing that it is Jesus Christ who is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Nowhere do we ever find a single mention of anyone being baptized who was not believing themselves. Such then certainly is the case with infants who cannot yet believe.
2. The means of entrance into the New Covenant is expressly by the Spirit: No other way into the Church – properly denominated Christ’s body (“baptized into one body”) is ever alluded to in Scripture.
Galatians 3:25–29 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
This passage in Galatians helps us understand the nature of the one-bodiedness of those “in Christ.” What is to be noticed is:
a. All “in Christ Jesus” are “sons of God through faith”.
b. All who were baptized into Christ have “put on Christ.”
c. This oneness is due to being “in Christ Jesus”.
d. As such, those in Christ are Abraham’s offspring – or “heirs” according to the promise”.
All of which Paul says in vs. 25 is the result of “faith” having come, and therefore no longer being under a guardian (in this place, the “guardian” being the Mosaic law).
Note how faith is the essential to being “in Christ Jesus” and therefore a part of the one Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Here again we see the foundational concept of the Body of Christ being “one” – by virtue of each member being baptized into the Body by the Spirit. The Spirit alone brings us into union with Christ and one another.
Hebrews 8:10–11 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”
Repeating the terms of the New Covenant (from Jeremiah 31), the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that all those within the Covenant have God’s laws put into their minds and written upon their hearts, and that they each “know the Lord”. This is central to our understanding of who is in covenant with God and who is not, from the vantage point of the New Covenant terms laid out in Scripture.
The Scripture simply does not describe anyone as being in the New Covenant apart from being a partaker of the Holy Spirit – who it is that baptizes us into Christ and into union with one another. New Covenant membership is utterly dependent upon the work of the Spirit in the individual. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone ever designated as a participant in the New Covenant apart from the Spirit of Christ.
3. The Scripture descriptions of and denominations for, The New Testament Church, all incorporate terms of faith, belief and regeneration, and never anything less.
a. Hebrews 12:22–23 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”
b. Galatians 3:23–27 “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
c. Ephesians 2:17–19 “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
d. Romans 5:1–2 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
e. Romans 8:9 “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
There is no Scriptural support anywhere in the New Testament for denominating someone as in the Church, apart from personal belief, a confession of faith and sharing of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean the Church does not care for those who are not yet believers, especially our children. But it is our first task to evangelize them, not to treat them as though they are already in union with Christ. Union with Christ is only by the Spirit of Christ.
4. Baptism inherently testifies to a completed work and the promise fulfilled, whereas Circumcision only points to a future promise yet to be fulfilled.
This is not to say there is NO future concept expressed in baptism. Resurrection is also pre-figured as established above. However baptism is PRIMARILY looking backward to the already accomplished death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Our salvation is dependent upon a finished work in Christ at Calvary, not a work yet to be accomplished. Even the fulfillment of the resurrection is dependent upon the promises already fulfilled in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
Romans 6:3 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
In contrast, circumcision was specifically given regarding a promise yet to be fulfilled, not, in regard to a promise already fulfilled. It was appropriate under the Mosaic Covenant, but not under the New Covenant.
Genesis 17:7–10 “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”
Deuteronomy 30:6 “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
Note too, how circumcision is related directly to the inheritance promised to the Israelites. In their case, that promise was of land, which was meant to typify spiritual realities, not to be the final reality – something Abraham fully understood. (Heb. 11:10)
In the case of the New Covenant, the spiritual inheritance is the focus, and that, received by the giving of the Spirit. So we read in Ephesians 2:11-19: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”
We see clearly here that access to the Father, and the Covenant, is through the blood of Christ (already shed) and the Holy Spirit presently poured out (vss. 18-19). This is in stark contrast to the forward looking emphasis of circumcision under the Old Covenant.
5. The” Promise” referred to in Acts 2:39 is of the Holy Spirit, not the Covenant, and is restricted to those whom God shall call in every generation.
While it is often argued that Acts 2:39 supports the baptism of infants by stating: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” It seems that perhaps 2 critical mistakes are made in that interpretation.
a. One must first determine what “promise” is being referred to here in the context of the passage. And there can be no exegetical doubt, the promise referred to is that of the giving of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the “promise” is not that children may have a part of the covenant through baptism – for baptism is not the subject of Peter’s preaching. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is Peter’s topic, required by both the unusual phenomena of the day, and by Peter’s express reference to the phenomena being directly related to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32.
b. In addition, Peter’s application is that the promise of the Holy Spirit is “for everyone whom the Lord God calls to Himself.” The qualifying factor is having been called by God to Himself, not, simply being the children of believers. Yes, this promise is for all who believe, even the following generations and not that unique generation alone – but children or no, it is for those who are called by God to Himself.
This interpretation is confirmed by observing whom it was that manifested the Spirit on that day – the believers gathered and not the unbelievers. The Spirit was not indiscriminately poured out upon all the circumcised present. The Spirit is not given due to familial solidarity with the “covenant people” bearing the sign of circumcision, but to those among them who believed.
Verse 39 is prefaced by verse 38 – “And Peter said to them, “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.”
Those who repented and believed would receive the gift of the Spirit, and none else. The “promise” is of the Holy Spirit, and it is made to those who repent and believe. None other.
4 NEGATIVE ARGUMENTS:
1. Familial Solidarity –Evident under the Old Covenant, is expressly denied under the New Covenant.
The case is often made by our brothers and sisters who insist on infant baptism, that paedobaptism ought to be practiced as an expression of “familial solidarity” – a principle established by God in the giving of circumcision, establishing a lineage of promise and blessing.
Put simply, the idea is that God established a covenant with Abraham. God also gave a sign or a token of that covenant, which was circumcision. This sign was to be conferred upon all of Abraham’s generations, marking them out as God’s covenant people.
Based upon this solidarity which existed between all of the generations which issued from Abraham, the thought is that such a sign should still continue when we enter the New Covenant era. That since “God’s people” (all the descendants of Abraham under the Abrahamic covenant) were to have the “sign” of that covenant, all the descendants of those in the New Covenant should have the “sign” of that covenant conferred upon them as well. We simply follow the pattern already established.
And before going any further, we must agree that the logic of the position is sound on the face of it. It makes sense. However, the question isn’t whether or not the reasoning makes sense, but whether or not this connection between baptism and circumcision taken in this way is what the Bible teaches.
Two issues arise here which bear investigation in answering that question.
a. Does baptism in fact replace circumcision as the sign of the covenant? Did God institute water baptism as the sign of the New Covenant, in the same way that He established circumcision as the sign of the Old Covenant?
b. Does the Bible teach that the same principle of familial solidarity of passing the sign of the covenant on to natural offspring still apply under the terms of the New Covenant?
To the first question, we have to answer in the negative.
As noted in the first section of this book, Colossians 2:11 indicates that the “circumcision” of the New Covenant believer is one made “without hands”, having been buried with Christ in baptism. Since the baptism referred to there is one made “without hands” we see that it cannot be water baptism which is being discussed but rather that baptism of the Spirit whereby we are placed into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The text itself clarifies that interpretation by adding that we were “raised with Him through faith”. Faith is the operative agent here, not baptism as an act, which would be made “by” hands, as opposed to “without hands”. In other words it is not a physical act which is being referred to. And water baptism is certainly a physical act.
To the second question we must also answer in the negative.
It appears that under the New Covenant, the familial solidarity evident under the Old Covenant and as manifested in circumcision is removed. We see evidence for this shift right from the very beginning of the New Testament.
So it is John Baptizer warns those coming to his baptism to be sure that they are not depending solely upon their familial connection with Abraham to be in full covenantal relationship with God: Luke 3:8 “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”
Family lineage – while it once carried the types and shadows of union with Christ, is seen to be set aside in favor of the fulfillment which had been typified. So John 1 marks out that being “children of God” is located in having believed in Christ’s name and not somewhere else.
John 1:12-13 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Galatians 3 locates our familial connection to the family of believers in faith – not in circumcision or water baptism. Galatians 3:26–29 “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
1 Corinthians reminds us that the patterns in the Old Testament are types and shadows of the spiritual realities, and not the substance themselves. Therefore we are to expect a progression and transition in the forms to those more representative of the realities. We start with physical things, but move on to spiritual things.
1 Corinthians 15:45–47 “Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
2. The “Household” argument proves too much.
The substance of this argument is that the Greek word oikos (“household” – used in such passages as Acts 16;15 where Lydia was baptized, “and her household as well”) implies the entire household – including all family members, regardless of age. As such (those who take this position argue) there certainly might have been – if not MUST have been infants included in those numbers.
On the surface, the argument seems sound. But we must also bear in mind that the term oikos / household also went beyond that of spouses and progeny. As one resource defines it, oikos is defined as: “family, kin by blood or marriage, including slaves and workers ”
If (as proponents of infant baptism sometimes argue) one is required to assume that there were infants in the “household” references related to baptism in the New Testament, then we must also (if we are to remain consistent in our exegetical method) require that the slaves and workers in those households were also baptized – irrespective of age and/or profession of faith.
With all due respect, we find this neither tenable nor desirable.
That it was “possible” that there were infants who must have been baptized is not a solid approach. Possibility is neither proof nor safe. It is possible that Balaam’s ass spoke with Cajun accent. And according to the very same logic, it was possible that there were adult, unbelieving slaves or workers baptized as well. But there can be no proof and therefore it ultimately has no bearing whatever on the reality of how baptism is to be practiced.
3. Holy children in 1 Cor.7:14 has no reference to baptism.
1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
Three things are worthy of note here.
a. Whatever it is that is being said in this passage, this much is true – it is being said (at least contextually) irrespective of baptism. There is no reference to baptism in the passage, and therefore there can be no conclusion in regard to baptism drawn from it. Whatever happens here has no relation to baptism at all, but is only speaking of the relationships between a redeemed parent and their children, and their unredeemed spouse.
b. Whatever it is that is being said of the child of the believing parent, is also being said concerning the unbelieving spouse.
c. The main point appears to be: Just because you have come to the saving knowledge of Christ, do not imagine that you must separate either from your unconverted spouse nor your children. Believers are not defiled on their account, and the unconverted are in fact are benefitted by their connection to the saved.
For a believing Jew familiar with the account given in Ezra 10 and those Jews returning from the Babylonian exile and their marriages to gentiles – this could have raised significant issues in this regard. Paul quells them in this passage.
4. There simply is NO mention of infant baptism it in the New Testament. Period.
In fact, New Testament arguments are made which would be contradictory to infant baptism mindset. For example:
Galatians 6:15 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
If water baptism replaced circumcision, then what is said here about circumcision considered by itself must also be applied to baptism considered by itself. And what is said is – it does not count for anything. What DOES count? “A new creation.”
Ephesians 2:11–13 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what I called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Circumcision was once the marker which separated the Jews from all the other races. As a result, Gentiles were “separated from Christ,” “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel”, “strangers to the covenants of promise”, “having no hope”, “and without God in the world.” What changed that? Baptism? No. “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Philippians 3:3 “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—“
The Believer’s “circumcision” is not by virtue of baptism, but is located in worshiping by the Spirit of God, glorying in Jesus Christ and putting NO confidence in the flesh.
Believer’s Baptism is the Unbroken New Testament pattern.
Entrance into the New Covenant is expressly by the Spirit.
The Scripture descriptions of and denominations for “The Church” all incorporate terms of faith, belief and regeneration.
Baptism inherently testifies to a completed work.
The “Promise” in Acts2:39 is of the Spirit – is restricted to those whom God shall call in every generation.
Familial Solidarity – a principle evident under the Old Covenant, is expressly denied under the New.
The “Household” argument proves too much.
“Holy children” in 1 Cor.7:14 simply has no reference to baptism.
There is no mention of it in the New Testament. Period. Infant baptism simply is not taught in the New Testament, while Believer’s Baptism clearly is.
We conclude then that the practice of infant baptism is one that is not taught in the Bible. And though there maybe be some reasonable and logical constructs which can be made to justify the practice, such constructs actually run counter to the way in which circumcision was abolished, by virtue of a circumcision made “without hands” – and not by water baptism.
Thank you for this “Brief Defense” that nevertheless presents the main features of both a sound Biblical apologetic for this doctrine, and a polemic against “non-believer’s baptism.” An excellent resource on this subject is Andreas J. Köstenberger, Robert H. Stein, Thomas R. Schreiner, Stephen J. Wellum, Steven A. McKinion, Jonathan H. Rainbow, Shawn D. Wright, Duane A. Garrett, A. B. Caneday, and Mark E. Dever, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).
Great resources Jack, thanks!