Infant Baptism: Is it Biblical?

Preston Sprinkle

I’ve never advocated for infant baptism, nor have I let my kids near the dunking tank until I’ve witnessed a confession of faith. I believe in what’s called “believer’s baptism;” that is, a person should be baptized after they’ve made a personal confession of faith.
However, over the years I’ve come to see the logic and scriptural support for infant baptism. I still advocate for believer’s baptism but I don’t see this position as a clear, slam dunk, how-can-you-believe-the-Bible-and-baptize-babies issue. It’s much less clear than you may think. Here’s why.

One of the main arguments I’ve heard against infant baptism is that all the baptisms we see in the New Testament are of adults (e.g. Acts 8:36-38; 10:47-48; we’ll get to the household baptisms of Acts later). But this is a poor argument, because all of these adults are converts. That is, they weren’t raised in a Christian home, where their baptism was delayed until their parents saw a confession of faith. They were adult converts to Christianity from Judaism or Roman paganism. Their baptism as an adult convert supports neither side of the debate, since both sides—yes, even those who hold to infant baptism—believe that adult converts should be baptized, as adults, after a confession of faith.

The widespread presence of first generation adult converts getting baptized contributes nothing to the debate. We must look elsewhere.

A solid biblical argument for infant baptism is its parallel to circumcision in the Old Covenant. Just as infants were circumcised as a sign of Old Covenant membership, so infants should be baptized as a sign of New Covenant membership. “But we’re saved by faith!” the Baptist will interject. Yes, of course, but I didn’t say that infants were “saved” by circumcision or baptism. Infants were, at least in the Old Covenant, members of the Covenant by virtue of being born into it. There’s a difference between being part of the Covenant and having a personal response of faith to God. At least, according to the Old Testament.

For instance, many wicked kings in the Old Testament were circumcised and therefore part of the Covenant, but they were wicked. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children: they never had genuine faith in God. However, the very fact that God holds them to the standards of the Covenant—punishing them when they disobey, and rewarding them when they obey (cf. 2 Chronicles)—shows that they were part of the Covenant structure. But they weren’t “saved” in the sense that we use the term. They were sort of “in,” but they were also very much “out.”

Back to infant baptism. One of the loudest complaints from baptistic folks like myself is that infant baptism is an affront on salvation by faith. But infant baptists don’t claim that their freshly sprinkled babies are “saved” apart from a confession. They claim, with the grain of the Old Testament, that their baby is part of the New Covenant in the same way that little Ahab or Isaiah would have been part of the Old Covenant (or First Covenant) 8 days after they were born in Jerusalem. Isaiah would go on to be “saved”—a prophet of the Holy One of Israel—while Ahab would become an idolatrous wolf dressed in Israelite clothes.

The New Testament has no such parallel of second generation Christians (e.g. born into an existing Christian family), who were either baptized or not baptized as infants.

And then there’s the whole correlation between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism in Colossians 2:11-12:

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 raises the dead.

Okay, so it’s not the clearest association ever seen. But if Paul never wanted folks to relate circumcision to baptism, he could have done better. There appears to be at least a general correlation between Old Covenant circumcision and New Covenant baptism.

My point, though, is not to reveal the true meaning of Colossians 2, but to show that there is some solid biblical support for infant baptism. It’s not as if infant baptists have traded in their Bibles for the traditions of Rome (I’ve actually heard some Protestants say this). It’s an inner-biblical issue. And some of the arguments lobbed against infant baptism are not as strong as they seem.

“So why are you for believer’s baptism?”

Great question! Tune in to the next post to see why.

  • Share this story:

RELATED BLOGS

podcast-image
The Gospel and the Redistribution of Wealth

The apostle Paul spent more time in his letters talking about the redistribution of wealth than he did on justification...

Read Story
podcast-image
Where it all Began

By Chris Sprinkle Hey Friends,   I still remember landing in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2003 for Preston to start his...

Read Story
podcast-image
What Does it Mean to “Become More Like Jesus?”

I’m one of those guys who has an extra sensitive Christian cliché antenna. Some call it a BS meter. It...

Read Story
podcast-image
Dive Bar Church

I’ve come to believe that theology is best worked out in the context of real life. The city, the marketplace,...

Read Story
podcast-image
Meditate

The following post is written by Dr. Joey Dodson As a father of five, I rejoiced every time one of my...

Read Story
podcast-image
Jesus’s Upside Down Kingdom

The Prince of Peace was born into a world drowning in violence. The years between the Old and New Testaments...

Read Story
podcast-image
Downward Glory

When Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus had recently ushered in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity that would make...

Read Story
podcast-image
Suffering: God’s Power over Evil

Christians everywhere have debated whether violence is ever justified. Some make the case that it’s never okay to use violence,...

Read Story
podcast-image
Love: Our Greatest Witness

When I was in seminary, my professors taught me how to defend the faith. I learned how to navigate questions...

Read Story
podcast-image
Does the Bible Really Prohibit Sex Outside of Marriage?

God loves sex. The first two commands recorded in the Bible are “have dominion over creation,” and then “be fruitful...

Read Story

SIGN UP FOR THE NEWSLETTER