There are two major views of Baptism held within Christianity. The first view is the Baptistic view or believer’s baptism, which is very common among Protestants, most notably Baptist denominations. The other is Paedobaptism, also known as infant baptism. There are two interpretations of Paedobaptism. According to Wayne Grudem, these two interpretations are the Roman Catholic view, which holds “that Baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the act of baptism itself causes regeneration,” (971) and the Protestant Paedobaptist view, which argues baptism is the New Testament sign of the Covenant (975). This paper will argue that the Protestant Paedobaptist view of baptism is at the very least a defensible position in the light of scripture.
Further Defining of Views
From this point on the Protestant belief of Paedobaptism will be referred to as Paedobaptist or Paedobaptism. For the sake of clarity, the Paedobaptist view will be further defined. Paedobaptists agree with the view that adult converts ought to be baptized. It is presupposed before an adult is baptized that they are regenerated by the workings of the Holy Spirit (Berkhof, 632). Paedobaptists also believe that baptism represents repentance and points to Christ, that it further points towards the remission of sins, but does not produce it; and points towards the transformation of life (Lipsy).
These are beliefs that those holding the Baptistic view would generally hold as true. However, the difference between Paedobaptists and Baptists arises is in reference to infant baptism. The Baptists argue that infants should not be baptized because they lack the cognitive faculties to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation, and that only those who have believed in Jesus Christ ought to be baptized. They also believe that baptism is, among other things, a sign of membership to the church.
The Paedobaptists disagree, on account of the covenant relationship between God and his people. They will then claim there is only one covenant by which God relates with his people, and for that reason it would seem to justify that the children of believers would be included in the covenant in the New Testament, just as the children of the Jews were included in the Old Testament covenant, whose sign was circumcision. However, with circumcision abolished, baptism has become the sign of the New Testament. Therefore, the children of believers are to be baptized as belonging to the covenant.
However, the common trend of dispensationalism within the Baptistic view would counter at this point that there is more than one covenant between God and his people (Berkhof, 632). As such the parallel between circumcision and baptism is null and void. They argue that the circumcision was based on the law, and baptism is based on saving faith (Grudem, 977-78). Therefore, infants and unbelieving children should not be baptized.
Defense of a Single Covenant
In order to counter this objection, and explain the biblical grounds of Paedobaptism, the topic shifts to the defense of a single covenant between God and his people. To begin, one must look to the original establishment of the covenant; covenant meaning a promise (Lipsy), in Genesis 12-18 where one sees God unfolding his covenant with Abraham. In Gen 12:3 God says, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (NASB). God also promises Abraham, land and descendants that outnumber the stars (Gen 15:18, Gen 15: 4-6). This much is in reference to the national identity of Israel, but it goes beyond that.
The covenant, though physical, transcends nationality because it is applied to all who would enter the covenant (Gen 34:22). When a foreigner would wish to become Jewish he would take the sign of the covenant upon his body. Through taking on the sign of the covenant, a foreigner and his family would then be considered physically Jewish (Witsus, 423).
The Covenant between Abraham and God was not only a physical one, but also a spiritual one, and according to Berkhof, “…and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal” (632). This is proven by the way the New Testament interprets the covenant. In Romans 4 Paul treats the covenant as one pertaining to the spiritual, by saying the covenant is by faith. In Galatians 3, Paul treats the covenant of Abraham the same way. It applies to the gentile believers in addition to Jewish believers, and is once again treated as spiritual; this is the trend of the New Testament in reference to the Covenant.
Beyond this, the New Testament always treats the New Covenant as applied to those who are the people of God (Berkhof, 633). In Galatians 3:7 Paul says, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” In verse fourteen, the blessings of Abraham are applied to the Gentiles through the work of Jesus Christ. As shown earlier, the blessings of Abraham applied to his children, and one of the main blessings to Abraham was that he would have many descendants. Through the means of a spiritual action of God believers who are treated as the descendants of Abraham become so both physically and spiritually. Therefore, the New Testament believers, the children of promise, the elect of God are the descendants of Abraham, and are under the Abrahamic covenant (Gal 3:29).
The Sign(s) of the Covenant
In the Old Testament, the covenant between God and Abraham had a sign. The sign of the covenant, according to Gen 17:11, was circumcision. This was a sign that was to be in the flesh of every male in the household of Abraham. It did not matter if the person believed, or had the ability to believe in God (Gen 17:12), for circumcision, being physical, was a reminder or a sign of the spiritual work of God. What was important was not the condition of the person who received the sign, but that Abraham obeyed God.
However, with the change from the Old Testament to the new, circumcision is no longer the sign of the covenant (Berkhof, 634). Paul’s teaching is consistent with this idea, because in Acts 15:1-2, and in the book of Galatians (Gal 2:3-5, Gal 5:2-6, Gal 6:12-13, 15), Paul stands against circumcision as a means of salvation before the Jews and the Gentiles. This leaves two possible options regarding the sign of the covenant, either there is no sign of the covenant in the New Testament, or a new sign was implemented (Berkhof, 634).
However, Christ implemented baptism as the sign of the covenant before his accession in Matt 28:19 (Berkhof, 634), and baptism very closely resembles the spiritual meaning behind circumcision. Circumcision refers to the cutting away of sin and to a change of heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4, 9:25-26 Ezek. 44:7, 9) (Berkhof, 634), and Berkhof says “…baptism refers to the washing away of sin, Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21; Tit. 3:5, and to spiritual renewal, Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11,12. The last passage clearly links circumcision with baptism, and teaches that the Christ-circumcision, that is, circumcision of the heart, signified by circumcision in the flesh, was accomplished by baptism, that is, by that which baptism signifies”(Berkhof, 634). This is to say that baptism is a physical sign pointing towards the spiritual work of Christ. Baptism is not dependent on the merit or the ability of the one receiving the sign, but on the work that Christ brings about, which parallels the way circumcision is treated in the Old Testament (Deut. 30:6).
Circumcision and baptism are similar in that they both point to the saving work of Jesus Christ. Circumcision pointed forward to the work that Christ would accomplish, while baptism points back to the work that Christ has accomplished. The subject of both rites are not the one receiving the sign or their spiritual condition, instead, they bear witness to Christ (Wilson, 49). Therefore, because baptism is so closely linked with circumcision it is justifiable to believe that baptism is the sign of the New Covenant.
Children in the Covenant
Simply showing that baptism is the sign of the covenant in the New Testament does not alone prove infant baptism. It still requires the Paedobaptist to show that the covenant applies to the children of believers. This is one of the main contentions between Paedobaptists and Baptists. For the Baptist believes that only those who display genuine saving faith are to be baptized and recognized as members of the church (Grudem, 978). In order to counter this, it will be shown that children are included in the covenant.
During the establishment of the covenant, God makes it clear that the covenant is not only onto Abraham but also onto his children. It is applied to Abraham and his descendants based upon the work of God, and in obedience Abraham placed the sign of the covenant upon his children, and all those in his household. This theme of God placing the covenant upon those able to follow him and everyone else in the household continues throughout the Old Testament. In Deut. 29:10-13 when God renews His covenant with Israel, the covenant is placed upon everyone present (Berkhof, 633). The children and the foreigners are all covered by the covenant whether they believe in God or not. In Joshua 8:35, the passage once again makes a reference to everyone in the nation of Israel being present for the reading of the covenant. The fact that such emphasis is placed on children in these locations shows the significance of children in the Old Testament under the covenant.
Not only are the children present for the reading and renewing of the covenant, but they are included in the promises of the covenant. The prophet Jeremiah says “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 (emphasis added, Jer 31:33 NASB).” God refers specifically to a people, and when compared with how God refers to a people in Deut. 29:10-13 it follows that when God says a people he is referencing their children as well, not just those who believe in him. The same prophet also says in chapter 33:38-41 that God will work within His people and says this is for their and their children’s own good to show that they are included in His covenant. This means that children were included in the covenant in the Old Testament.
During the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament the same promises of the covenant upon the believer and their children are carried over from the Old Testament. In Acts 2:39 Peter says “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Peter was referring first to the Jews, and then to their children, and finally to the Gentiles (Calvin, Commentary on Acts Volume 1). The promises of God were upon all these people. The promise refers back to the covenant God made with Abraham (Rom. 4:16), and because it refers back to that covenant, and it is placed both upon the Jew and their children, and then upon the Gentile there is reason to believe that the covenant also falls upon the children of the Gentiles, for their believing parents have physically and spiritually become the descendents of Abraham.
More direct than the last reference is Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:14, where he says that the children of a believer, even if he or she is married to an unbeliever are sanctified. This does not mean that the children are saved because of the belief of their parent, but that the children are considered holy before God (Sartelle, 18). The children are brought under the promises and the protection of God, by the faith of their parent(s), just like the children of Abraham were brought into the covenant by Abraham’s faith. Therefore, it appears that the children of believers would be included in the covenant in the New Testament.
It should be noted that even if a child is included in the covenant, this is not a guarantee that the child will be saved from the wrath to come, for it says in Romans 9:6-7 “But it is not at though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” This means that an individual can be a partaker of the covenant physically, but in the end not be one spiritually.
It has already been shown that the New and Old Testament followers of God are under the same Abrahamic Covenant, and that each of these Testaments has its own sign from God. In the case of the Old the sign is circumcision, which has been abolished, and in the case of the New the sign is baptism. It has also been shown that the promises of the covenant applied to believer’s children in both the Old and New Testaments. If all of this is true then it follows that the children of believers ought to receive the sign or seal of the covenant based upon the faith the parents have through the work of God, thus the Paedobaptist view is at least a defensible position from scripture.
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