Tuesday 17 September 2013

Should Babies be Baptized? (Part 1 of 2)

I was recently questioned as to why I believe that believer's baptism is scriptural, as opposed to infant baptism.  Having done some study on the topic roughly 10 years ago, but being quite rusty, I asked the pastor of our church if he had any good resources.  He did.

In the book Should Babies be Baptized? T.E. Watson examines the lines of evidence used for and against infant baptism.  His book is eminently readable, and highly recommended by both myself and Stephanie (we commonly found ourselves trying to read it at the same time!)

Throughout the book, the author exclusively quotes those who support infant baptism in refuting its validity.  It is interesting that many of the following arguments are affirmed by some to support infant baptism, while other staunch paedo-baptists utterly reject many of these same lines of reasoning, requiring other "better" reasons must be used.   

Below is a synopsis of the first half of the book.

(photo credit)

Did the Jews baptize babies? (Chapter 1)

Some affirm that the Jews baptized infants of proselytes, and therefore it is natural that Christians would do the same.

It is sufficient here to say with T.M Lindsay:
“But the subject of the baptism of proselytes is one of the most hopelessly obscure in the whole round of Jewish antiquities, and can never be safely assumed in any argument, and the general results of investigation seem to prove that the baptism was not one of the Jewish ceremonies until long after the coming of Christ, while there is much to suggest that the Jewish rite owes its origin to Christian baptism.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th Edition)
and to affirm with Pierre Marcel that:
"... as good Reformed Christians it is impossible for us to found infant baptism on extra-canonical texts, no matter how compelling their authority may be. In the Christian Reformed Church the baptism of infants must be established and justified biblically." (The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, p. 21.)

Did John baptize babies? (Chapter 2)

A review of John's ministry shows that he only baptized those who confessed their sins, thus excluding babies.

Thomas Scott writes:
"It does not appear that any but adults were baptized by him." (Commentary on Matthew 3:5,6)
And Francis Turretine writes:
 "John admitted none to baptism but those who confessed their sins; because his business was to baptize adults." (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Thelogy, Section IV, question 22)

Did Christ baptize babies? (Chapter 3)

Given John 4:1,2, this might be better stated, "Did Christ or the disciples baptize babies during Christ's earthly ministry?"

It is important to note that Christ made and then baptized disciples. 
Some affirm that Christ condoned baptizing of infants based on his blessing of the little children in Matthew 19:13-15 and related texts.

However, we agree with Jeremy Taylor:
"From the action of Christ's blessing infants, to infer that they were baptized, proves nothing so much as that there is want of better argument; for the conclusion would with more probability be derived thus: Christ blessed children and so dismissed them, but baptized them not, therefore infants are not to be baptized." (Liberty of Prophesying, p 327, Jeremy Taylor)
And concur with John Murray:
"To conclude: these two assertions: (1) that little children belong to the kingdom of God; (2) that they are to be received in Christ's name do not offer stringent proof of infant baptism and they do not provide us with an express command to baptize infants." (John Murray, Christian Baptism, (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company: 1970), pp. 55, 65.)

Did Christ Order the Baptism of Babies? (Chapter 4)

In the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:14-18) Christ commanded baptism.  The proper subjects of this command are considered in this chapter.

John Calvin writes:
“As Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when preceded by faith.” (Harmony of the Evangelist, Vol. 3, page 386)
John Calvin again:
“Baptism is, as it were, an appurtenance of faith, and therefore it is later in order; secondly, if it be given without faith whose seal it is, it is both a wicked and also a too gross a profaning,” (Commentary on Acts, Vol. 1, p. 362.)
And A. Plummer:
"Make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) implies those who are old enough to receive instruction." (Hastings Bible Dictionary)
Finally, Dr. Wall states:
"The commission given by our Saviour to his disciples in the time of his mortal life, to baptize in the country of Judaea, is not at all set down in Scripture; only it is said that they baptized a great many.  And the enlargement of that commission among all the heathen nations, is set down in such brief words, that there is no particular direction given what they were to do in reference to the children of those that received the faith." (History of Infant Baptism, vol. 1, p.5)

Did the apostles Baptize Children? (Chapter 5)

This chapter undertakes to study nine mentions of baptism (Acts 2:38-41, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:36,38, Acts 22:16, Acts 10:44-48, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, Acts 19:1-7) in Scripture in apostolic times.

It is noteworthy that Thomas Boston affirms:
"There is no example of baptism recorded in the Scriptures, where any were baptized, but such as appeared to have a saving interest in Christ.' (Works, p. 384)
And Richard Baxter states boldly:
“I conclude, that all examples of baptism in Scripture do mention only the administration of it to the professors of saving faith; and the precepts give us no other direction. And I provoke Mr. Blake, as far as is seemly for me to do, to name one precept or example for baptizing any other, and make it good if he can.” (Disput. of Right to Sacrem. Paed. Exam. Vol. II, p. 29.)

Indirect evidence in the New Testament (Chapter 6)

A study of the texts that are sometimes said to infer the existence of baptism in the apostolic church are undertaken in chapter six.

The first verse commonly used is 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."
While there is much that could be said about the use of this passage, it is sufficient here to agree with the second of Albert Barnes' assertions here quoted, while not agreeing with the first:
"I believe infant baptism to be proper and right, and an inestimable privilege to parents and to children. But a good cause should not be made to rest on feeble supports, nor on forced and unnatural interpretations of the Scriptures. And such I regard the usual interpretation
placed on this passage." (Notes, explanatory and practical, on the First epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, p.134, Albert Barnes)
Colossians 2:11,12 is the second passage discussed in this chapter, and is commonly used to link physical infant circumcision in the OT to infant baptism in the NT.  These verses run:
"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."
As Watson points out (p.47), the reference to circumcision is to a spiritual circumcision, made without hands, and baptism is a sign of this spiritual circumcision; it is not mentioned as a replacement to physical circumcision.

We can conclude with A. Plummer that:
"Not only is there no mention of the baptism of infants, but there is no text from which such baptism can be securely inferred" (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible)

Baptism of babies unauthorized by the New Testament (Chapter 7)

This chapter discusses the conclusion drawn out of the first six chapters, that there is neither precept nor precedent (example) in the New Testament for infant baptism.  This conclusion is well stated by B.B. Warfield:
“It is true that there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, no express record of the baptism of infants and no passages so stringently implying it that we must infer from them that infants were baptized. ...The warrant for infant baptism is not to be sought in the New Testament , but in the Old Testament.” (Studies in Theology, p. 399)
But, as Watson says:
"...it is the custom of Reformed Paedobaptists to demand either a precept or a precedent to prove a matter Scriptural." (p. 52)
And Mathew Poole is of this mind when arguing against indiscriminate baptism of adults:
"I cannot be of their mind who think that persons may be baptized before they be taught: we want precedents of any such baptisms in Scripture." (Annotations. on Matthew 28:19)
Watson addresses the common challenge from paedo-baptists that female communion lacks precept or precedent as well on pp. 54,55.

Infant baptism inconsistent with New Testament teaching (Chapter 8)

In this chapter Watson endeavours to show that infant baptism is inconsistent with NT teaching in 5 specific texts:

Romans 6:2-4
1 Cor 1:13
Galatians 3:27
Colossions 2:12
1 Peter 3:20,21

The plain understanding of "walking in newness of life" after baptism, "putting on Christ" in baptism, "buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith", and baptism as "an appeal to God for a good conscience" is confounded when applied to baby baptism.

Watson spends some time on each passage and comes to the conclusion that these texts teach either believer's baptism or baptismal regeneration.  The answer seems clear.  

It is sufficient for us to here affirm with J. V. Bartlett and A.C. McGiffert:
"Infant baptism is not an Apostolic usage. It is not only that there is no trace of it in the first century: but the very idea of baptism then universal, namely as a rite of faith's self-consecration (often outwardly ratified by manifestations of the Spirit) is inconsistent therewith. (The Apostolic Age, p. 472, J.V. Bartlett)
"Where the original idea of baptism as a baptism of repentance, or where Paul's profound conception of it as a symbol of the death and resurrection of the believer with Christ prevailed, the practice would not be likely to arise. But where the rite was regarded as a mere sign of one's reception into the Christian circle, it would be possible for the custom to grow up under the influence of the ancient idea of the family as a unit in religion as well as in all other matters." (A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, p. 543, A.C. McGiffert)

The Who Can Stand summary of the first eight chapters

It has been shown that there is neither precept nor precedent (example) in the New Testament for infant baptism.  It has also been shown that the teaching of infant baptism is inconsistent with the doctrine of baptism as expounded in several New Testament texts.  

We will discuss the final six chapters later in the week.  In the meantime, we highly recommend you buy the book (there are a number of used copies for less than $2 on Amazon).

If this synopsis has piqued your interest, you can also read a good review of the book by Fred Malone here.

What about you?  Do you have a favourite argument or book regarding infant baptism?

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