Is Infant Baptism A Roman Catholic Leftover?

Like a growing number of people in the Reformed churches I did not begin my Christian life there. I began my Christian life in an evangelical (Southern) Baptist setting. As part of my initiation into that culture I was given an explanation for why there are other approaches to reading Scripture, beyond those I saw and experienced in my evangelical Baptist circle. E.g., I was told that Roman Catholics baptized infants but that was purely out of tradition. Ours, I was told, was the biblical practice. When I learned that there were Protestants, however, who baptized infants that was more difficult. They too professed to follow Scripture as their principal authority. In those cases I was given a twofold explanation. Some of them, e.g., the mainline Presbyterians (PCUSA), I was told, are liberal and thus, like the Romanists, do not really adhere to Scripture. They baptize infants out of sentiment more than conviction. The others are still under the influence of Romanism. In their Reformation, they did not progress far enough.

Recently, a commenter on the HB raised this last case and explained that she has been taught the claim that Calvin continued to practice infant baptism because he was unable to break away from Roman tradition. Let’s consider this.

John Calvin (1509–64) was born in Noyon, Picardy. He was raised and educated in the Roman communion. Arguably, Luther did not reach anything like his mature Protestant position until 1521, when he defied the Empire and Rome on the basis of the unique, final, and sole authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura) over against ecclesiastical authority and tradition. Naturally, his theology continued to develop and it is not really until 1525 that he hit his stride. In that year he published one of his most significant works, On the Bound Will (De servo arbitrio). In this work one sees many of the great themes that would resonate for the rest of his career and beyond. In 1525, Calvin was just 16 years old. By that point he would have been, by late-modern standards, extraordinarily well educated. He would have had a number of years of Latin instruction and his is reading assignment would baffle most undergraduate students today but it would not be for 11 more years until he published his first work as a Protestant theologian, the first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Nevertheless, he was only 27 years old when he published it.

Calvin was, by nature, a truly conservative and cautious fellow. He encountered the Reformation teaching and particular Luther’s writings when he was in University. He was intrigued but cautious. He was, he later reported, unusually addicted to Romanism and stubborn. This might support the thesis that Calvin was unduly influenced by Roman tradition and unable to break away but actually it supports the opposite conclusion. It means that he did not reject Romanism hastily. He rejected it only after serious consideration.

One reason why he left Rome was his involvement in the Humanist Renaissance movement. Humanism, in this context, does not refer to an anti-Christian movement. In the 15th and 16th centuries it referred to a movement largely led by Christians to recover the Scriptures in their original languages and read in their original context.  He was a law student who had been taught to move away from the traditional summaries of civil law and to get back to the original sources (ad fontes). By his own testimony, when he encountered the Protestants and when he re-read Scripture, in its original language and context, in light of what the Protestants were saying, he began to see things very differently. He was not a mere traditionalist. He had respect for tradition but for Calvin, the sources, especially the holy Scriptures, were superior to tradition and even Roman ecclesiastical authorities. His humanist training taught him to read texts and arguments critically, to ask whether an interpretation was correct, whether it agreed with the original text as read in its original context.He applied those same methods to his study of Scripture.

After reading Luther and other Protestant (or “evangelical”) as well as humanist writers (many of whom remained in the Roman communion), and the early church Fathers (especially Augustine but also Chrysostom),  and after re-reading Scripture he concluded that just as the humanists had given a better account of the history of the law, the classical texts, and the original intent of the original sources, read in light of their original context, so too the Protestants were right about Scripture. He realized that the consensus (but not yet dogmatic) medieval and Roman position on salvation was not correct: we are not saved by the infusion of a medicinal substance (gratia) and by cooperation with that substance. Rather, he realized that, read in its own context, on its own terms, according to the intention of the original human authors and the divine author behind and operating within all the human authors, the Holy Spirit himself, Scripture did not agree with the medieval church nor the sixteenth-century Roman teaching on a number of points.

The claim that Calvin (and other Reformers) continued to teach infant baptism because they remained unduly influenced by Roman teaching rests on an unstated assumption: the only reason one might baptize infants is because of Roman tradition (or perhaps sentiment), that it cannot possibly be a conviction driven by Scripture itself. This is an unwarranted assumption.

It is true that for both Calvin and Luther the tradition of the church was weighty. They were evangelicals in an older sense of the word: they were “gospellers” as Tyndale put it. They were not, however, modern evangelicals. They did not assume that the church had begun just a few years before their experience. Many American evangelicals more or less assume that the church did not really get things right until the 19th century, that most of church history (except for bits of the Reformation perhaps) was a giant mistake from the 2nd century until the 19th to be bracketed and regarded as a source of amusement. Rather, they saw the whole history of the church as their history, as family history. They came to disagree with some of what had occurred in their family history but they were impressed that, as far as they knew, the universal understanding of Scripture was the believers and their children were to receive the sign of visible admission to the covenant community. That consensus, however, was not definitive for them. They rejected the widespread medieval consensus on a number of topics. Clearly they were prepared to reject earlier positions when they were not biblical.

It was Scripture, not the tradition, that drove them to hold infant baptism. Both gave lectures on Genesis and were impressed by the continuity between the way God dealt with Abraham and the way the New Testament speaks. They made a distinction that many Baptist(ic) evangelicals do not: they understood that Abraham and Moses had different places in the history of redemption. Both were utterly committed to the unique, final, sole authority of God’s Word.

Remember, many of the Anabaptists of the period did not accept sola Scriptura. One of the major Anabaptist leaders of the 1520s Thomas Muntzer mocked the confessional Protestants (e.g., Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli) for their reliance on the Scriptures as God’s Word. Muntzer and others were more like today’s Pentecostals, who claimed to have continuing, extra-biblical revelation. Indeed, Muntzer arguably anticipated Karl Barth’s doctrine that Scriptures only become God’s Word to us in an existential encounter. In other words, the confessional Protestants, as distinct from the Anabaptists had a higher doctrine of Scripture and were utterly willing to follow it where ever it leads. That the Anabaptists and later the Baptist movements rejected their way of reading Scripture (hermeneutic) and their understanding of redemptive history (e.g., the continuity of the Abrahamic covenant) does not make them slaves to the medieval tradition.

Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) was confronted directly by the Anabaptists, in Zürich over this very question. He admitted that, for a time, he was tempted by the Anabaptist case, that the discontinuity between the Old Testament (broadly) and the New is so great and the New Covenant is so eschatological (heavenly) that it is no longer possible that infants should be included in the visible people of God, that in the New Covenant, only those who make profession may be considered members of the covenant people and that baptism is only for those who make profession. He rejected that position, however, not because he was unduly influenced by Rome nor because (as some Baptists have suggested to me) he was worried about falling out of favor with the civil authorities, but because he was convinced by Scripture that there is one covenant of grace instituted by God with a variety of administrations. He became convinced from Scripture that believers are in the same covenant of grace as Abraham and that just as God had promised to a God to Abraham and to his children, so too he has promised to believers and their children in the New Covenant.

It is a tempting, easy answer to think that the reason the confessional Protestant Reformers and Churches all disagreed with the Anabaptists and modern Baptist evangelicals about baptism is because they were still unduly influenced by Romanism but that answer simply does not account for the actual history of the Reformation. It does not account for their own lives, writing, and ministry.

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  1. I agree infant baptism is of Apostolic origin and precept per scriptural implications and the numerous quotations from Augustine and the other Fathers of the church.

    My question is, though the church saw baptism’s link with circumcision, and even if one should wait the same length after birth as circumcision was administered, the church did not limit baptisms efficacy to that of circumcision. They unanimously, by the extant writings known to us, east and west, ascribe regeneration to baptism. The entire church for the first 1500 plus years did not hold to the Reformed view of infant or adult baptism for that matter. Baptismal regeneration was the only interpretation even through the Lutheran reformation until the Reformed. To try and twist the Father’s quotations into “sacramental language” as though they were Reformed seems patently false.

    So while we hold to sola scriptura how do we account for the church to be in the dark as it were in error over such a core basic doctrine such as baptism? And why wasn’t the Reformed view taught before the Reformed? The salvation of the child was the main impetus for infant baptism for the first 1500 years. They based the practice upon their understanding of the New Testament’s witness to the efficacy of baptism along with household continuity from the beginning of the OT church.

    • Michial,

      1. The church understood that the general pattern of “believers and their children” was distinct from the 8th day commmand, which they regarded as intentionally typological.

      2. Baptismal regeneration is not as universal as claimed. It’s relatively difficult to find it in the 2nd century. It became a growing conviction in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries but it did not become dogma until later. We must be careful not to read the later sense of regeneration back into the earlier uses, where it sometimes simply signals sanctification or setting apart.

      I doubt that it was the main impetus for infant baptism, at least not until much later. Again, we should beware of anachronism. As a matter of fact, the earliest fathers wrote relatively little about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Even the 2nd century Fathers were diverse and some of them were quite confused about some things. The 3rd century was a mixed bag and the 4th century was decisive (not authoritative) for several significant shifts and changes in Christian theology, piety, and practice.

      We’re fully entitled, even required, to criticize those developments on the basis of Scripture. By the 4th century, the church was reading Scripture under the influence of some powerful assumptions that we are right to criticize and reject.

      3. The Reformed saw their understanding of baptism as a return to patristic theology and practice.

      I think the story of the patristic understanding of the sacraments is more complicated than generally reported in popular and even in some academic literature.

  2. With all due respect I find your reading of regeneration and the Father’s use of it anachronistic. For the universal mention of it without controversy in the 3rd century in east and west one would be hard pressed to assume it was absent prior, especially in light of the numerous NT baptismal passages they allude their interpretation to.

  3. With all due respect I find your reading of the Father’s use of regeneration anachronistic. The universal interpretation of it without any controversy in the 3rd century in both east and west one seems to imply it’s previous existence, especially since the church risked life to resist heresy and persecution for the faith. Even the latter Nicene Creed says one baptism for the “remission of sins.” Hardly a symbolic interpretation. I can’t find any Reformed type of statements regarding baptisms efficacy before the 16th century. Are you aware of any you can share?

    • Well Michial,

      1. As a scholar I don’t accept your claim about a “universal” understanding creating truth. I understand that much of the secondary literature is generated by Roman and Anglo-Catholic scholars, who regularly read later developments into earlier periods. E.g.,
        1. It’s widely held by some (if not many) of the same scholars that e.g., Irenaeus taught a literal Eucharistic sacrifice. I’ve read those places in their context and that’s not what he’s saying, at least not obviously.
        2. Many of the same scholars read Iganatius of Antioch to teach monarchical episcopal government. I read the Apostolic Fathers from cover to cover every fall with my Patristic seminar students (in Greek-English text) and I think that reading is not likely and perhaps untenable.
        3. Few of those scholars see Irenaeus as a covenant theologian, but he was.
        4. For decades the “universal” reading of the fathers was the all the orthodox were chiliast. Chuck Hill blew up that consensus in the early 1990s.
        5. In my own field of specialization the “universal” reading of Reformed orthodoxy or scholasticism was that they were rationalist Aristotelian corrupters of the pristine Reformation theology. I am part of that group of scholars who has shown that consensus to be untenable.

        In short, I have many reasons for doubting the “consensus” of scholars at any given point about most things.

      2. Your question/challenge rests on the assumption that people were addressing this issue in a way that was largely impossible until the late middle ages. It would take a long time to explain (I spend 26 class hours lecturing through the Fathers, and another 24 class hours lecturing through the medieval period) but by the time the West began to think closely about the sacraments certain philosophical assumptions had set in that, until they were seriously challenged, which did not begin until the 10th and 11th centuries and not with much effect until the 14th and 15th centuries), the realism that controlled the late patristic and medieval assumptions about sacraments and the relations between signs and realities would remain more or less fixed. That said, in his 9th century debate with Radbertus, Ratramnus laid out a trajectory of understanding the sacraments (and the relation of signs to seals in a way that anticipated the Reformation in certain respects).
      3. The Nicene Creed does not teach baptismal regeneration. The Reformed believe in baptism for the remission of sins. Baptism itself no more creates the remission of sins (ex opere) anymore than the elements of the Supper literally become the body and blood of Christ. As Ratramnus argued in the 830s and 40s, were that the case then we have lost the sacrament because the sign has become the thing signified. That holds for baptism as well as the Supper. Baptism is the sign and seal of the remission of sins. It does not ex opere create it. As Ratramnus argued, the sacraments require faith and if the sign becomes the thing signified (res significatum) then faith has become sight and faith is not needed and the sacrament is lost.
      4. When I say the Nicene Creed I do not cross my fingers nor do I equivocate nor am I obligated to a Romanist understanding of the Nicene anymore than I am to the Romanist understanding of “descendit ad inferna.” The original understanding of that phrase was simply “buried” (according to Rufinus). It only later came to mean “went to the place of the dead.”
      5. Asking what an author/text intends to say in its original context is hardly anachronistic. It’s the chief antidote for anachronism. Reading 13th century developments into the 2nd century, that’s the definition of anachronism.
  4. Makes me wonder sometimes: if the church hadn’t lapsed into the practice of sprinkling babies in the 3rd century and had continued with the Biblical practice of credobaptism, would the reformers have come along and said, “Wait, we’re doing it wrong! We should instead be sprinkling water on UNREPENTANT babies and calling it a sacrament instead!”

  5. “They came to disagree with some of what had occurred in their family history but they were impressed that, as far as they knew, the universal understanding of Scripture was the believers and their children were to receive the sign of visible admission to the covenant community.” This seems misleading as far as Luther’s view of baptism, as he believed it was much more than a sign.

    • I wrestled with how to write that sentence without side tracking the essay into ancillary issues. I used that word intentionally because it is true. It may not be exhaustively true of Luther’s view but that would be another essay.

      The point of the essay is not to delineate Luther’s view or Calvin’s exhaustively but simply to provide an overview to make the point of the essay: that the Protestants did not retain infant baptism merely out of tradition. They taught it because they believed it was biblical.

      FWIW, as I read e.g., Luther’s 1529 catechisms they do not say exactly what other parts of the Book of Concord says.

  6. Excellent. I wince when I hear the phrase “Reformed Baptist,” as every Reformer – to a man – was committed to the inclusion of covenant children in sacramental blessing. Sovereign Grace Baptist is more apropos. Thank you.

  7. I often ask why Reformed Baptists chose that nomenclature over Particular Baptists, the label they applied to themselves when the London Confession was formed. My only response is that they wanted to be attached to the Reformers who certainly would disagree with their view of the sacrament. As well as the sacrament also the idea of being covenantal as well.

  8. Perhaps “Reformed” Baptists like the terminology because they identify with so many of the doctrines that were reclaimed during the Reformation. Or, perhaps it is because, like other Protestant denominations, they were established during the Reformation.

    • Justin,

      I think the nomenclature “Reformed Baptist” dates to sometime in the 1950s or later. I think the earliest Particular Baptists knew that they were not Reformed in significant ways. Certainly, the Particular Baptists were not accepted by the Reformed as Reformed because of the significant differences that only on the sacraments but also in the doctrine of the church and in the way we read scripture. Using the same adjective to describe two groups at the same time is fairly confusing.

    • Dr. Clark,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comments. I think the clarification of differences comes from the Baptist and Presbyterian labels. A “Reformed” Baptist would certainly be distinctive. Even within traditional Reformed circles, the Scottish Reformed and the Dutch Reformed had differences. Granted, they shared basic Reformed doctrinal beliefs. But the point is that their entire label, i.e., “Scottish…” and “Dutch…”, provides us with their differences.

      To be clear, I’m not zealously hung up on “Reformed” Baptist and don’t mind “Particular” Baptist. Yet, over the last half century, the term has been fastened to those who adhere to original baptistic theology. You may know better than I, but I assume it was create a more clear distinction from the Arminian and dispensational Baptists that had taken over the ranks of Baptist theology.

      So, any confusion among “Reformed” brethren is clarified by addition of “Baptist.” However, the distinct separation from dispensational Arminian Baptist is a very welcomed one, in my view. And if “Reformed Baptist” is what fixed to create that distinction, then I am fine with it.

  9. Also, it seems there is a good deal of recovery within Baptist circles of their roots in, not only Reformed, but also Covenantal Theology. Continuity in the Abrahamic covenant occurs in believers according to Galatians 3:29 (also Rom. 9:8). Those who belong to Christ are the true children of Abraham, and, accordingly, are those to whom the sign of the NC should be administered.

    It seems, also, that verses such as Acts 2:39 actually support this view. The promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for “you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” The fulfillment of the promise hinges on whom the Lord God will call, whether it be one’s child or one who is “far off.”

  10. Actually originally they referred to themselves as Particular Baptists as opposed to the Anabaptists.

    • Alvin, the Particular was against the General baptists rather than in opposition to Anabaptistry, specifically referring to the two groups stands on atonement. Eventually Smythe’s group (general) disappeared only to reappear in the wake of the great awakenings.

  11. It’s the last part of the verse Acts 2:39, i.e., “as many as the Lord our God calls to Himself,” that qualifies the “you, your children, and those who are far off.” This most certainly has Abrahamic overtones, for Jesus fulfills all the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12). However, when you consider the nature of the NC promise here in verse 38, namely the granting of forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit, I think it is a very accurate interpretation to say that the recipients of the sign of the NC should be the true children of Abraham, namely, believers in the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:7) that have received the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sin.

    This also squares with the promise given to us through Jeremiah. According to chapter 31:31 – 34, every member of the NC “shall all know Me,’ declares the Lord.” This wasn’t so in the OC, where all Jews received the sign, but not all knew the Lord. Every true NC member knows the Lord, receives forgiveness, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. These members are considered by God in the NT as the “true children of Abraham,” and as such, recipients of baptism, the sign of the NC. This is the central point of differentiation between the “covenants of promise” and the New Covenant in Christ.

    • So are you saying that children who are elect and die aren’t saved? It is more likely that the apostles knew the covenant was a continuation not totally new. Credobaptists want to say the NC is a brand new thing like God woke up someday and said, I’ll change all the rules (similar to Dispensationalists). No, the covenant given to Abraham was for him and his children and it was again republished in Acts by Peter that it would be for you and your children. As household baptisms were for everyone in the household not for just the head of the household.

      To believe otherwise is to not take God at his word. Just like circumcision was a sign and seal of the Abrahamic, baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant. Paul makes this explicit in Romans 4:9-12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      9 Is this blessing then on [a]the circumcised, or on [b]the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was [c]circumcised, or [d]uncircumcised? Not while [e]circumcised, but while [f]uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [g]he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which [h]he had while uncircumcised.

      What you are saying goes against what the Apostle Paul wrote.

    • “…as many as the Lord our God shall call,” is as fundamental a principle of the Abrahamic covenant as the rest of Peter’s sentence.

      Gen.17:18-19, “And Abraham said to God, ‘O that Ishmael might live before you!’ And God said, ‘No.'” Not genetics, but promise, Abraham; as many as the Lord our God shall call. And indeed, the Judge of all the earth will do right, Gen.18:25.

      Circumcise all your sons, Abraham; and leave the sorting for me. Neither you, nor some future NewCovenant pastor will have my infallible knowledge who your “true sons” are. Take my sign, and declare your faith in me; give it to your sons, and “command them and your household after you, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, believing the Lord will bring to Abraham what he has spoken to him,” Gen.18:19.

      The physical nation was a vehicle to bring to light the world’s Savior. Outward circumcision never made a true Jew, but the Jew who was “circumcised in heart” only deserved the designation, Rom.2:28-29, Lev.26:41; Dt.10:16.

      Moses isn’t Abraham; Jeremiah contrasts Moses with Christ, not Abraham with Christ. He contrasts the law-heavy, glory-gilded covenant loaded with externals delivered at Sinai; with the promised age of the Spirit. The latter only lately comes to be seen clearly as a two-phase, Already/Not-yet reality.

      The only perfect exhibit of the NewCovenant is manifested in the eschaton. Only then will dispensing with evangelism and teaching–dispensing with discipleship–be the order of the day: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor… saying “Know the Lord!” Jer.31:34. That’s the end state, glorification. We aren’t in heaven yet.

      Every true child of Abraham, from before the Old Covenant, during, and since its setting-by was “by faith,” not by flesh, Gal.3:7. These “knew the Lord.” Those who did not were not true sons; if they merely hoped in their infant-cut flesh (the sign) it was in vain. And every faithless baptized-as-an-adult, who hopes in his flesh (the sign again) instead of the Christ to which it witnesses–he also boasts in vanity.

      The issue is not “who is circumcised or baptized,” but who believes in what his possessed sign promises: forgiveness of sins through the Christ who was to come; or who came and shall return. Who should bear the covenant-sign has never been established by wizard-like insight into the elective counsels of God, neither before Christ nor after him. The NT continues to make the “house” a fundamental unit of his visible kingdom; see Mk.10:1-17–husbands, wives, and little children of the kingdom; cf. Act.16:15,33; 1Cor.1:16.

      God put the children into his public program in Gen.17. He never took them out. The message of Act.2:28-29 is consistent with the covenant with Abraham, Gen.12,15,17,22.

      “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.” Is.59:21

    • Hey Alvin. Not sure where you got the notion that elect children who die aren’t saved. I would certainly not say that.

      Regarding the NC, it is the fulfillment of the “covenants of promise” referred to in Ephesians 2:12. In the unfolding (and general continuity) of the covenants, there is something that distinguishes them from the NC, namely, according to God in the Ephesians text, they are essentially promise-based, while the NC is the fulfillment. Keep in mind, Jesus did not say, “This is the cup of the ‘renewed’ covenant in my blood,” but rather “of the new covenant.” Likewise, God revealed His purpose in Jeremiah 31, not to “renew” the Abrahamic Covenant, but to make a “new covenant” with the houses of Israel and Judah.

      Understanding that God cut a NC in Christ does not automatically imply “dispensationalism.” I am certainly not a dispensationalist. Since the covenant of works was initially broken in Adam (humanity’s first federal head), every person has been born in sin, separated and dead to God (Rom. 3:23; 1 Cor. 15:22). Likewise, it is only by faith that God’s true elect have ever been saved. This is true even before Abraham (I know you are familiar with Hebrews 11). In Adam all die, and only in Christ can a dead sinner be justified and saved. Before Christ, God’s elect believed God’s promise and had faith in the coming Messiah (John 8:56).

    • Also, we are in agreement that baptism is the sign and seal of the NC. However, one of the fundamental differences between the Old and New Covenants (according to Jeremiah 31:34) is that in the New Covenant literally every member will “know” God. Under the OC every circumcised member was considered to be in the covenant. Yet, many of them did not know God, as they did not belong to him by faith. This is not the way of the NC. Again, according to God in Jeremiah, every NC member will know God, i.e, be a born-again, saved by faith member. These NC believers are the true people of God and the true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 29). The sign and seal of a covenant belongs to its members, and NC members are those that belong to Christ through faith.

      Grace and peace to you, brother.


    • Bruce,

      We do not have to have “infallible knowledge” of who God’s true children are. Question for you: when someone comes to your church and wants to become a member, do your elders require that they have a clear and genuine testimony of faith in Christ? I would hope so. Similarly, we baptize those who profess, and in some reasonable measure, display the fruits of belonging to Christ.

      Sadly, many base their salvation on some childhood “decision” or baptism, though faith is not really present. This, however, does not change the charge for us to “go and make disciples, baptizing them…”. There will always be tares among the wheat, and as rightly stated, God will do the ultimate sorting.

      Also, I don’t agree with your interpretation of Jeremiah 31:34. The context is God making a NC with His people, whose sins will be forgiven and who will have His law written on their hearts and minds. The reference here is to members of the NC and most certainly pertains to His people on earth and in heaven. To be clear, the forgiveness of sins, the giving of the Spirit, and the Law written on hearts and mind, leads to future glorification, but most certainly pertains to God’s NC people here on earth.

      Lastly, and I’ll only introduce the counter-argument for time’s sake, household baptisms are not a solid defense for infant baptisms. As a matter of fact, we see in the more descriptive accounts a pattern more in line with credo-baptism. For instance, in the case of Cornelius and his household, there is an explicit connection with receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10 & 11). Note the conclusion of the Cornelius account in Acts 11:18 regarding the granting of repentance unto life.

      The Philippian jailer was filled with joy because he and his household (which had been baptized) had “come to believe in God” (Acts 16:34).

      Granted, Lydia’s household is less descriptive, however, as a working woman, the more likely assumption is that she didn’t have any infants. Add to that the descriptors in the other accounts that point to belief, rejoicing, and the receiving of the Word and Spirit of God, and you either have a case for believer’s baptism, or for baptismal regeneration. I adhere to the former.

      In conclusion, I appreciate you taking the time to share your response and apologize it took me so long to respond (I have been quite busy). May the peace of Christ rule in your life and heart today, brother.

      Grace and peace to you.


      • Justin,

        Let me address just one part of your reply:

        Also, I don’t agree with your interpretation of Jeremiah 31:34. The context is God making a NC with His people, whose sins will be forgiven and who will have His law written on their hearts and minds. The reference here is to members of the NC and most certainly pertains to His people on earth and in heaven. To be clear, the forgiveness of sins, the giving of the Spirit, and the Law written on hearts and mind, leads to future glorification, but most certainly pertains to God’s NC people here on earth.

        There are two problems here. 1st is hermeneutical. My Baptist friends insist upon reading Jer 31 in a way that they do not read other, parallel, prophecies. E.g., Isa 52:13-15:

        Isa 52:14-15
        As many were astonished at you—
        his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
        and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
        so shall he sprinkle many nations;
        kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
        for that which has not been told them they see,
        and that which they have not heard they understand.

        Was Jesus’ appearance literally so marred that no one could recognize him? Has he literally sprinkled many nations? Have kinds literally shut their mouths?

        No, no, and no. These are hyperbolic figures of speech. Jesus’ body was mangled but he was recognizable. The civil rulers did speak to him and about him. Many nations have been sprinkled metaphorically but not literally. This is the way most of us read this portion of Isaiah but my Baptist friends switch their hermeneutical principles when it comes to Jer 31. They insist on reading it in a way that is untenable, in a way that they do not read Isa 53. Both are OT prophecies, from similar periods in redemptive history looking forward to roughly the same period in redemptive history: the coming of Christ and its consequences.

        Let’s apply the same approach to Jer 31 that we apply to Isa 53. I’ve done so here:

        Please take some time to read the essay. In it I think you’ll see that the NT teaches us an alternative understanding of the New Covenant to the one you assume.

    • Justin,
      Thanks for the reply. I don’t presume to press others on the internet for their time, and I feel no obligations to give them mine. Still, your consideration is appreciated.

      I’ll answer your first question with a question of my own. When someone came to the elders of Israel and wanted to become a member of the OT church, the people of God, were they required to confess faith and hope in Jehovah and his covenant which promised the coming Christ? See Ex.12:48. I think your stance is predicated on the premise that the OT taught a different standard for membership in the Israel of God than the NT teaches. Israel circumcised those who professed faith, and their sons. We follow that biblical pattern with regard to baptism.

      It is sad that many adults and youth are false disciples. You believe the phrasing, “go and make disciples, baptizing them…” is orderly in nature. The Gk grammar of that verse sets forth “make disciples” as controlling verb, followed by two participles of manner (i.e. “how” disciples are made), viz. by “baptizing… and teaching.” Mt.28:19-20 does not teach the “making of disciples” as one act; followed by two other acts. Adults volunteer themselves for discipleship; their offspring are volunteered. That is nature.

      Re. Jer.31: It seems you don’t understand my treatment of the text. There are both “this age” and “age to come” elements in that passage. I’m sure your church “teaches.” So, who needs the gospel in your church? Do you understand, “know the Lord,” merely as a euphemism for the beginning of saving faith? When is “teaching to… know the Lord” unnecessary in NC terms? I know for our part we presently teach ALL church members and hopeful converts to “know the Lord” on a weekly basis with gospel-preaching. Therefore, we aren’t in heaven yet, when that NC aspect won’t be a requirement (per v34).

      You appealed to Jer.31:31-34, only noting the one phrase, “…all shall know me declares the Lord, and made that specific the sine qua non of the NC. I understand Baptist denial of visible covenant administration in this age, making the H.S. the sole and invisible administrator; because that’s the ONLY way you are going to keep the NC “pure” this side of the eschaton. Just write the false professors OUT of the church whether caught in their lie or not.

      Well, Israel had church-state discipline also. They were supposed to “cut off” members for despising the covenant (e.g. Lev.23:29; Num.15:30; etc.; cf. Gen.17:14), and so maintain godliness. Israel was not: all external then, but now is all internal. Rather: it was both then, and both now. 1Sam.2:9, “He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked shall be cut off.” I don’t think your claim to deal properly with Jer.31 with its “this age” and “age to come” elements is coherent, assuming you think the church ought to be teaching God’s people today to know the Lord as they profess to.

      To be clear: the forgiveness of sins, the regenerating and sanctifying work (not the same copious indwelling) of the Spirit, and the Law written on hearts and mind, was the essential purpose for ALL the covenant administrations, even those before the New. Jesus’ arrival as Mediator makes all that was hoped for “better,” Heb.8:6. But we still aren’t in heaven yet.

      Re. arguments against the potency of references to household baptisms: When the theology of baptism has been established from the Old and New Testaments, including who in theory should be the recipients, then and only then do we attend to instances of baptism, to see if NT practice is consistent with our expectations. If the examples fit, then they are excellent for confirming the theology. The appeal to household baptism in the NT is a Reformed conclusion, not the argument.

      That said, that the three (four, if you include Cornelius; but “house”-references in that connection are separated from “baptism”-references) NT references to house-baptisms are more in line with anti-paedobaptism: the claim is filled with exceptions and interpolations. Biblically, the unqualified meaning of “household” is easily determined by a simple word study; so Baptist constraints on the concept in these contexts are largely theologically, not textually driven.

      A general conclusion predicated of a class (Gentiles, 1:18) is not predicable on the same ground for any specific member of that class. Simon Magus was numbered among the “believers” of Samaria, Act.8:13, and “they received the Holy Spirit,” v17. It is the following narrative, and a theology of persistent Spirit indwelling, that leads to the conclusion Simon was excepted from the general gift. With that prior account behind, the mere description of the fall of H.S., Act.10:44, is insufficient proof of certain and immediate conversion of every audience member that day, though the general observation holds true. Neither can infants be excluded, simply because they pass mention.

      As for the Philippian jailer, Act.16:33-34 says, literally, “He took them the same hour of the night and [he] washed their stripes; and [he] was baptized, himself and all his, immediately. He brought them up into his house and [he] set food before them, and [he] rejoiced greatly with all his house [he] having believed in God.” You can parse the verses various ways; but you cannot avoid the huge singular focus on the head of this house. Your conclusions on Lydia are exceptions imposed on the text (she certainly had a house; had she no bond-servants at least?). Hers and the household of Stephanus (1Cor.1:16) are mentioned with no qualifications whatsoever.

      I’ll check back for your reply, but I’m not burdening you for back and forth.

      May God bless you, and all who are yours.

  12. Also, thanks for links you provided above. I have begun reading them.

    Grace and peace,


  13. “And to your children” as stated to the Jailor, can easily be seen to parallel Jesus’ words
    to His Disciples in John 17 when He says, “I do not pray for these alone, but for all those who believe in me through their word.” All of us probably know of devout Christian believers
    who have had a child who evidently died unrepentant, having even been baptized either as an infant, or after professing faith in Christ and then denying Him. Certainly dedicating our Children to the Lord as infants is important, but it is their personal faith, a gift from God, that ultimately saves them. The application of water however the mode has no saving merit
    either before or after profession of faith, but is a salient testimony before witnesses that one has chosen to put their faith in the Savior who died and rose again for their Justification.

    • Kenneth,

      The great problem with this response is that it also applies to infant circumcision and yet our Lord instituted that under Abraham (not Moses) and nowhere revoked the covenant of grace and its outward administration to believers and their children. Indeed, every indication in Scripture (please read the articles I’ve linked above) is that very promise continues: “For THE PROMISE is to you and to your children,” which “promise”? That is the Abrahamic formula.

      Two things are true at the some time: God has instituted an outward administration of his covenant of grace. Behind that outward administration lies God’s secret election. We do not know whom God shall bring to faith. The Baptist pastor does not know with ontological certainty whether the professing believer baptizes is really a believer or merely making a profession of faith. So, he has no great advantage over the Reformed pastor who follows God’s command to administer outwardly the promises of the covenant of grace to believers and their children and the Reformed minister has the benefit of obeying God’s command.

    • Ken,

      I’ve supplied links to a number of articles addressing your concerns. You might not find them convincing, but you’ll never know unless you read them. Please take a look at them. After you’ve done that, we can talk more.

  14. Justin,

    I fail to see how your view of the NC as a replacement covenant thusly giving lie to God’s word that the covenant with Abraham is void. How can you say an elect child doesn’t die to eternal punishment if the NC isn’t a continuation of the Abrahamic. That covenant is still in effect otherwise our children and our children’s children have no promise. I fail to see how your view of the NC doesn’t turn it into one of works. Therefore our children aren’t part of the promise.

    The Adamic covenant was fulfilled by the breaking of that covenant by our Father Adam but we have a greater Adam. The Apostle Paul was clear without the Adamic covenant the covenant brought by Christ was not available to us. It is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant that is the continuation of that covenant through Christ. The problem with the Pharisees was that they did not see the connection.

    You say you aren’t a dispensationalist but you verify that the promise given to Abraham isn’t holding today. That is the covenant that brought us, assuming you are a gentile, into the tree. Otherwise Abraham’s faith is different from mine or yours. How do you say he didn’t have a different way to salvation if you deny his covenant isn’t in effect?

    God over and over in his word says I will keep my promise, when was the promise to Abraham fulfilled? We can see the mechanism of that fulfillment in Christ but we are still waiting. It is not done yet.

  15. To me, one of the strongest Biblical arguments against infant baptism is found in Acts 15. For the sake of discussion, I’ll ignore the fact that neither the term “infant baptism” nor the idea is even implicitly mentioned in the passage, rather it is imported into the text (as in every case in Scripture). But that’s another debate. Regarding Acts 15, at the beginning of the passage we’re told that there were some who demanded that new believers be circumcised, saying, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (v.1). After discussion, it was decided by the apostles (Jewish Christians, keep in mind) that circumcision for a believer was not requisite. We are told explicitly and numerously in the passage that the way of salvation (for anyone) is that a person, “hears the word of the gospel and believes (v. 7), has his/her “heart cleansed by faith” (v. 9), and most forcefully in verse 11 that, “we believe that we (Jewish Christians) will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they (Gentile Christians) will.” There is simply no prescription for infant baptism present. My question is, if the apostles concluded that circumcision was an unnecessary requirement (“yoke”) for new believers, would it not then be a yoke to require Christian parents to have their infants baptized? Further, if the external administration of infant baptism was a supposed early church practice and replacement of the Old Covenant external administration of circumcision, then why is there not an explicit instance of the apostles (obviously familiar with the circumcision custom) replacing circumcision with infant baptism, thus ushering in a new era for the people of God? It would have been an opportune time for the apostles to do such a thing, but they didn’t.


    • Isaac,

      Your is an argument from silence. There’s another argument to consider: If Peter had wanted Jewish men, who naturally assumed that they would continue doing as they had done for 2,000 years, namely admitting covenant children visibly into the covenant community, to refer to the promise of Genesis 17 (“for the promise is to you and to your children” Acts 2:39) was a most unclear way of saying, “I know that we have been admitting covenant children into the covenant community for 2,000 years but we’re not doing that any longer.”

      Further, there is an important distinction to be made between “the old covenant” and Abraham. The latter was not an old covenant figure. Take a look at 2 Cor 3 and Heb 7-10. The “old covenant” there = Moses, not Abraham.

      The promise to Abraham is still in effect: I will be a God to you and to your children. The promise of Gen 12 and 15 too: “and to as many as who are far, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” God promised to make out of Abraham many nations. He’s doing it in the new covenant by calling all his elect, Jew and Gentile alike, to faith in Christ and administering to them and to their children the signs and seals of the Abrahamic covenant.

  16. Importing infant baptism into the text is the epitome of arguing from silence. It’s the pot calling the kettle black here. You said, “admitting covenant children visibly into the covenant community” – but you see, it’s the failure to recognize this critical discontinuity in the Testaments/Covenants that makes the infant baptism position weak. Children (or anyone) do not enter into the New Covenant in the exact same way children entered into the Old Covenant. Hence, baptism is not administered in the New Covenant in the exact same way that circumcision was administered in the Old Covenant. This is fleshed out in detail in the New Testament, namely, how one enters into the New Covenant (faith), and the physical administration/sign associated with the covenant (baptism by immersion). We’re told explicitly by Paul that the “children” of Abraham to whom the promise was made were not those born according to the flesh, but those born according to promise (Rom. 9:6-8, Gal. 3:6-7). Hence, “children of promise” and “children of the flesh” are not the same. Therefore, regarding Acts 2:39, the children to whom the promise is made are the children who are “called”, and the call of God is free and bound to no physical family. Further, the New Covenant members are not defined by physical descent, as the Old Covenant members were, but by God’s writing his law on their heart and calling them to himself and bringing them to repentance and faith (Jer. 31, Ez. 36, Heb. 10). Thus, there is a narrowing of the covenant people to those who are truly born of God, and the new sign of the covenant (baptism by immersion, post-faith) is meant to signify that a person is indeed part of that new covenant community, which is evident by faith (John 1:13). In the same way that a change in the sign came in to allow both men and women to participate in the sign (baptism instead of circumcision), thus making it clearer than before that women and men are equal heirs of salvation (1 Pet. 3:7), so also a change in the recipients of the sign came in to make it clearer than before that under the New Covenant God’s people are not determined at all by physical descent, but by spiritual transformation, evidenced in faith. An example of this would be when John the Baptist (a Jew) called for New Covenant baptism (immersion, post-faith) for those already having the sign of the Old Covenant (circumcision) – proof positive evidence showing that a new meaning was being given to the sign, no longer pointing to physical descent from Abraham, but rather spiritual descent through faith and repentance. This is not to mention the other numerous New Testaments instances where baptism administered in accordance with faith.

    • Isaac,

      Most of us are quite familiar with Baptist arguments and objections.

      Please take some time to read to try to appreciate sympathetically why the historic Christian church and the confessional Reformed would see infant baptism as biblical.


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