Baptism is the initiatory rite for Christians. This is clearly seen in words of the Great Commission where Jesus told His disciples to go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The question that has assailed the church within the last few hundred years involves who is to be the recipient of this baptism. Is it for believers only? Or do the Scriptures command, urge or allow an infant to be baptized?

If we are looking for a specific command or prohibition to specific infant baptism, then both sides must conclude that the Scriptures are relatively silent to the issue. Nowhere in Scripture do we have a specific statement that infants are or are not to be the recipients of baptism. Yet we do have Scriptural principles that can be applied that will lead us to a Biblical practice.



Baptism was not a Christian invention. The Greek word Baptizw had been around and in use for a long time prior to the coming of the Christians. In the 4th century B.C. the Spartan writer Xenophon speaks of warriors baptizing their weapons in animal blood as a means of sanctifying those weapons and sealing a military pact between different tribes.

Baptism was used by John the Baptist as a sign of repentance and readiness for the coming Messiah. Jesus Himself was baptized by John, not because He was in need of repentance or cleansing, but to identify Himself as being the One of whom John prophesied and as an anointing sign that He was set apart by God to do a special work.

Christian baptism signifies a rite of initiation and identification. By the outward symbolism of water, the recipients are identified with Christ. The apostles associated baptism with the washing away of our sins. Paul recalled his own calling: "Be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16).



Baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the old covenant. Both were a sign of faith. Both were rites of initiation into the covenant. The two are brought together in Colossians 2.

...and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (Colossians 2:11-13).

Both the outward physical rite of circumcision and the outward physical rite of baptism are symbols of the salvation that we have in Christ. Those outward rituals are meant to reflect an inward spiritual reality into which we have entered through faith.

Baptism is a direct correlation to circumcision in each of these areas. Paul explains elsewhere the spiritual dimensions of circumcision: For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:28-29).

The point is that outward circumcision does not save; it is the inward circumcision that brings salvation. The same could be said of baptism. The outward ritual of water does not save; rather it is the inward washing that saves. The outward washing is merely representative of the inward washing.

If it is true that baptism is the New Covenant counterpart to Old Covenant circumcision, then we must ask where the Scriptures teach that the recipients of the covenant sign are said to have changed? Under the Old Covenant, infants were to be circumcised, not as a sign of their own faith, but as a sign of the determination of the parents to raise up the child as a child of the covenant.

In both cases, the child comes to the event as a result of being born into a covenant community, not as a result of his/her own volitional choice. Let me be quick to point out that baptism doesn't insure salvation anymore that circumcision did in the Old Testament. It was merely an outward symbol. As we can tell by an even cursory reading of the Scriptures, there were plenty of outwardly circumcised people who hated Christ. By the same token, there are plenty of sprinkled, poured, and, yes, even immersed people today who hate Christ.

It could be argued that baptism is not exact in its correlation to circumcision. After all, only male children were circumcised. In this regard, circumcision was less inclusive than is baptism. Baptism is more inclusive because it includes women as well as men. But this is really an argument in favor of infant baptism because the New Covenant is always WIDER in its scope than the old covenant. In the New Covenant there is there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).



All three of the Synoptic Gospels tell of the incident when the disciples attempted to stop children from being brought to Jesus. We can imagine their thinking: "This is not appropriate; these children need to wait until their are old enough to make a verbal commitment of faith." Jesus had other ideas.

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:13-14).

We can make several observations from this passage:

In light of the words of Jesus, it is small wonder that the early church recognized the propriety of bringing children and infants to be baptized. Such a stance is confirmed by the promise that was made by Peter on the day of Pentecost.

And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself." (Acts 2:38-39).

The promise given by Peter is not merely for isolated individuals. It is made for families. He says that it is for you and your children.

Given the fact that these words were spoken to an all-Jewish audience who were themselves steeped in 1500 years of infant circumcision, it would be obvious to them that the sign of this covenantal promise was both for them and for their children.

This is not to say that all children of believers are necessarily saved. But it does mean that the children of believers are set apart for a special blessing. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (1 Corinthians 7:14).



On three different occasions, we read in the New Testaments where a person believed and his/her entire household was baptized.

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized... (Acts 16:4-5).

And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:31-34). Both the NAS, NIV and KJV make it sound in their translations that both the jailer and his whole family believed in God. But the Greek text does not necessitate such a translation. We note that both verbs in the Greek text are singular -- And HE rejoiced with whole household, HE having believed in God. It is for this reason that the RSV renders this passage he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.

I did baptize also the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16).

In none of these instances do we read that the entire household believed the message. Yet Luke shows himself perfectly capable of making such an assertion when he tells us in Acts 18:8 that Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household. What we do not read in the New Testament is of an instance in which the head of the household was baptized while children or infants were left unbaptized.



The writings of the early church fathers seem to make it quite clear that the church regularly practiced infant baptism.

...the Church received an order from the Apostles to give baptism even to infants [Commentary on Romans].

One dissenting voice seems to be that of Tertullian. He reasoned that baptism washes away all past sins, thus it is better for a person to be baptized just prior to their death so as to have the bulk of their sins washed away ("Why does the innocent age hasten to the remission of sins?"). In this regard, he not only advised against infant baptism, but also against the baptism of anyone who was not yet married and even against those who were recently widowed: "Anyone who understands the seriousness of Baptism will fear its reception more than its deferral."

Infant baptism was never questioned by any of the Reformers, even though the practice had been abused in view of infused versus imputed righteousness which was the centerpiece of the split with the Roman Catholic church. The continuance and defense of the practice by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the rest of the Reformers is certainly not a mark against the practice.



By baptizing their infant children, parents are affirming the New Covenant and are themselves covenanting to raise up their children as believing children and members of the household of God. This is in complete contrast to the popular folk religion of the day that says, "I will allow my children to make up their own mind about God and spiritual things when they are older." Christians are called to raise up their children in the way they should go so that when they are older they will not depart from it.

Parents put a pen in the hand of their infant child and sign a contract. It is a covenant. The child cannot sign it himself. He will grow into it. But for the time being, his parents enroll them as members of the church and make a determination to bring them up as citizens of the kingdom.

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