Question #117

What about infant baptism?

What about the argument for infant baptism that surely "all of his household" or "all the nations" includes infants and children? This is what we hear from Lutherans we know, and it is the argument that they got from their pastor. It's the only way they imagine that they can find infants being baptized in the Bible.

The Answer:

This answer also applies to Question 141.

Both of these questions inquire concerning infant baptism. The first (117) raises an argument that purports to find scriptural support for infant baptism in biblical references to “household baptisms.” It is an argument that has been “floated” often through the years, and just as often shown to be both illogical and unscriptural. The second (141) simply asks what the Bible teaches concerning the practice of baptizing infants. Note that the question has been rephrased from asking “what is your teaching on infant baptism?” It must be stressed that it makes no difference what “I” teach unless that which I teach is both Bible based and is in fact what the Bible teaches, i.e., that it is Scripture in context, expounded correctly, and properly applied. If that is the case then it is not my teaching, but that of scripture. If that is not the case it is erroneous and unscriptural. That said, let’s discuss what the Bible teaches concerning infant baptism.

A good beginning place is to inquire concerning the proper subject of baptism. Characters, not persons as such, are the subjects of baptism. The character that is the proper subject of baptism in scripture is the penitent believer. It is neither infants nor adults, neither males nor females, neither Jews nor Greeks. The proper subjects of baptism are professors of repentance toward God and faith in Christ. “2 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved [note: not he that is baptized and believeth]; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16. There is no example in Scripture of any subject of baptism who was not a penitent believer with faith in Christ.

Some argue that the limitation of New Testament examples of baptism to adults is because in the infancy of the church the preaching was all to adults and the responses were all from the adults. It never seems to occur that this was exactly what Jesus commanded – “Go. . . teach. . . baptizing. . . teaching. . . .” Matthew 28:19-20. The great commission was not given just for the apostolic age but for all ages. Infants cannot be taught; if taught they cannot believe; could they believe they have nothing of which to repent.” Hence, it is impossible for them to be proper subjects to whom the gospel is to be proclaimed, impossible for them to be penitent believers, and thus impossible for them to be subjects of scriptural baptism. But were there not infants in the “household” conversions recorded in the Scripture? (Acts 16 – the Philippian Jailer and Lydia; 1 Corinthians 16 – Stephanas). Absolutely. But the testimony of these two events contains not a hint of a suggestion of a possibility in favor of infant baptism. If fact, the testimony is so strong in favor of penitent believers that most Pedobaptists (espousers of infant baptism) commentators have given them up. To quote a few of the more famous of early scholars:

Whitby on Acts 16:15 – And when she, and those of her household, were instructed in the Christian faith, in the nature of baptism required by it, she was baptized and her household.

Limborch – An undoubted argument, therefore, cannot be drawn from this instance, by which it may be demonstrated that infants were baptized by the Apostles. It might be that all in her house were of a mature age: who, as in the exercise of a right understanding they believed, so they were able to make a public profession of that faith when they received baptism.

T. Lawson, referring to this argument states – Families may be without children; they may be grown up, &c [etc.]. So it is a wild inference to ground infant baptism upon.

Assembly of Divines – Of the city of Tryatira – a city of Asia – here dwelt Lydia, that devout servant of God. . . . And entered into the house of Lydia: doubtless to confirm them in the faith which they had preached to them – Lydia and hers, hearing of their miraculous deliverance, could not but be comforted and confirmed in the truth.

Doddridge, Matthew Henry, and Calvin wrote to the same effect.

Doddridge – Thou shalt be saved and thy house. The meaning cannot be that the eternal salvation of his family could be secured by his faith; but that if they also themselves believed, they should be entitled to the same spiritual and everlasting blessings with himself; which Paul might the rather add, as it is probable that many of them, under this terrible alarm, might have attended the master of the family into the dungeon.

Matthew Henry – The voice of rejoicing, with that of salvation, was heard in the jailer’s house. He rejoiced, believing in God, with all his house: there was none in his house that refused to be baptized, and so made a jar in the ceremony; but they were unanimous in embracing the gospel, which added much to the joy.

Calvin – Luke commends the pious zeal of the jailor, because he dedicated his whole house to the Lord; in which also the grace of God illustriously appeared, because it brought the whole family to a pious consent.

These quotes surely demonstrate that many scholars who otherwise endorse infant baptism are honest enough in their scholarship to state plainly the inability of these passages to support the doctrine of infant baptism. This is not true of those who are more interested in supporting a doctrine than they are in searching the scripture to see whether or not it supports infant baptism. They cry for those who teach that infant baptism is unscriptural to bear the burden of proof and establish from the scripture that infant baptism is not scriptural. They put the rules of logic and apologetics aside and demand that we establish a negative. No logician, lawyer, or common-sense thinker ever requires his opponent to prove a negative, i.e., prove that there were no infants in these households or families. But we will accept the challenge to demonstrate what the scripture does teach from the description of these households:

  1. They heard the gospel preached.
  2. They rejoiced in God.
  3. In the case of Stephanas, they addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints. 1 Cor. 16:15.

These are descriptions that could, at a minimum, only characterize believers old enough to perform those acts. Those descriptions being true, infants are logically excluded as scriptural subjects of baptism.

See also the answer to Question 68 on this website.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)