A Brief for Infant Baptism
A summary of Scripture, arguing for believers to baptize their children.
Covenant promise, and sign
1. God established a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7, to be God to him and to his children.
2. The sign of the covenant was circumcision, given to Abraham, and his descendants (Genesis 17:10-11).
3. This sign was according to God’s promise, not the Mosaic law, and so was not done away with as the OT ceremonial law was, in Christ (Galatians 3:17).
4. Blood was a sign of this covenant from the beginning, in circumcision and later in the sacrifices, and it is the blood of Christ that actually saves us, in this covenant (Zechariah 9:11; Hebrews 13:20).
Same covenant promise, from Old to New
1. God is building one house. Moses was a faithful servant, helping erect some scaffolding while also building the house; Christ was the faithful Son who completes the foundation (apostles) and removes the need for scaffolding. (Hebrews 3:5-6)
2. But the promise of salvation – re-entering covenant relationship with God’s favor – remains the same (Galatians 3:9).
3. Israel was baptized into Moses, and ate and drank of Christ in the manna and rock in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Paul compares the Church to Israel, saying the same danger is true of us. Don’t eat and drink in communion and still fall away (1 Cor 10:14ff).
4. We assume that the New Covenant did not remove everything found in the Old Covenant unless otherwise stated; rather, since our salvation in Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, into which we are ingrafted (Romans 11:17-18), we assume that the Old Covenant signs are in force, unless the New gives us a change, as it often does (Mark 7:19; Heb 10:1-10). But no change is given for the pattern of applying the sign of the covenant (see below “no change”).
Hypocrisy not an argument against infant baptism
1. Unbelieving Jews believed they were all right just because they were circumcised (John 8:33), but God can raise up covenant children from rocks (Matthew 3:9). The point is that you must have faith, be born again, even if you are a Jew (John 3:3ff).
2. God’s answer to this hypocrisy is not to withhold the signs of the covenant until we can be sure they believe, but to cut unbelievers out of the covenant, in His time and way (Romans 11:17, 20).
Same reality signified in circ. and baptism
1. What counted an Israelite a member of God’s Old Covenant was circumcision (Gen 17:10-14).
2. What counts a Christian a member of God’s New Covenant is baptism, whether Jew or Greek.
- We are baptized into one Body (made a member of God’s New Covenant) (1 Cor 12:13).
- If you are baptized into Christ, you have put Him on (Gal 3:27-28), and are an heir of the promise made to Abraham (Gal 3:29), which was signified by circumcision (Gen 17:10).
3. The initiatory rite of the Church was baptism from the beginning, for Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:41). This conflicts with the initiatory rite of Israel – circumcision. So everyone in the early church was asking “What gives? Do the Gentiles have to become Jews?” God’s answer is in Acts 15 and Colossians 2:11-12, which I quote:
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
4. To paraphrase: Gentiles, you don’t have to get circumcised like some Jewish believers are saying you should. Your baptism counts as your circumcision.
5. Circumcision and baptism are two signs of the exact same spiritual reality – being set apart for God, having your sin removed from you, cleansed in the righteousness of Christ, etc. So if God gives the first sign to infants, we have no argument to take the second sign from infants.
No change in including children in covenant
But one thing the NT does NOT change is the inclusion of children of believers in the covenant. Just as the inclusion of Gentiles without circumcision was controversial, so beginning to exclude children from the covenant would have been a MAJOR change. But the NT says nothing about it. In fact it confirms the opposite.
1. Peter says at Pentecost that the promise of salvation through Christ is to those present, and to their children (Acts 2:39), and they were faithful enough Jews to know he was hinting back to God’s promise to Abraham and his children. This is new, but not new.
2. God applies an Israelite covenant promise to Gentile children (Ephesians 6:1-3).
Sacraments given ahead of time; point outward to Christ, not only inward to faith
The sacraments signify a spiritual reality outside of us. Purity in baptism, washing of sin in Christ’s blood. They do not merely signify a spiritual reality at work IN us. An example of this is Passover. Israel eats and drinks of a Lamb, the means of their being spared, before they are redeemed from Egypt. Another would be the Sabbath, which is a secondary sign of the covenant in the OT. We have this sign, before we have the reality (Ezekiel 20:12; Hebrews 4). If circumcision/baptism only points inward to the person’s faith, then God should not have given circumcision to infants. But if the sacraments point to an outward reality into which we are brought (Sabbath, redemption, cleansing), then there is not a problem with applying the sign before the reality is there. This is one way God engenders faith in His people. The NT does not address or change this, and so we assume the pattern of infant circumcision carries over to baptism.
NT need not be explicit on a doctrine for it to be true
Remember that the NT is not a systematic theology; other key doctrines like the Trinity are also not explicitly taught in it, yet are true.