Is Infant Baptism Scriptural?

Guest post by Gabriel Hall.

Many denominations within Christianity practice pedobaptism (infant baptism), most notably Catholicism.  For the purpose of this short article I simply want to look at whether this practice is supported by scripture, and briefly look at some of its traditional origins.  

In a previous article on the topic of water baptism we looked at what water baptism is and what it is supposed to represent.  We saw that the Bible teaches us that baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21) and that it symbolizes how followers of Christ have been “buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead…even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) (Also, Colossians 2:12)

The first thing a student of the scriptures might notice when it comes to infant baptism is that no examples of it are found in the Bible.  

Proponents of infant baptism often point to the five examples of “households” being baptized in the book of Acts and first Corinthians.  However, even a cursory reading of these five examples gives no indication of any infants being baptized.

The first household mentioned is Cornelius’ household in Acts chapter ten.  At Cornelius’ request Peter came and preached Christ to him and his family. There is no mention of how many people were present, or what their ages were, but we are told that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” (v. 44)  Additionally, we have Peter’s proclamation: “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

Clearly it would be a far stretch to assume Peter was including infants among those who “received the Holy Spirit” and who they heard “speak with tongues and magnify God.”  

The second example is found in Acts chapter sixteen when Paul and his traveling companions met with some women along a riverside in Philippi.  We are told that a woman named Lydia received Paul’s teachings and was baptized, along with “her household.” (Acts 16:14, 15)  We are not given any details about Lydia’s household, and there is no mention of a husband or children.  We are told that Lydia was from the city of Thyatira (about 250 miles southeast of Philippi), and that she was a seller of purple (dye).  Later, when Paul and Silas were freed from prison they met up with their other traveling companions (Timothy, and likely Luke) at Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40).  The context of the account with Lydia would suggest that the “household” was not Lydia’s family, but rather a household of women who lived, worked and worshipped together in Philippi.  There is certainly no indication of any infants or non-believers being baptized.

The third example is also found in Acts chapter sixteen, during Paul and Silas’ imprisonment.  After stopping a Philippian jailer from committing suicide, Paul and Silas shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, and also to “all who were in his house,” (Acts 16:32).  Afterward we are told that “he [the jailer] and all his family were baptized,” (v. 33).  As the jailer and his family brought Paul and Silas into his house and fed them, we’re told, “he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household,” (Acts 16:34). Once again, the information suggests that everyone who was baptized first heard the word and then put their faith in Christ.

The fourth example is mentioned in Acts chapter eighteen.  Paul was in Corinth and preaching that “Jesus is the Christ,” (Acts 18:5).  A ruler of the local synagogue, named Crispus, “believed on the Lord with all his household.  And many Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized,” (Acts 18:8).  In this case it clearly tells us that Crispus and those in his household believed on the Lord.  We are also told that the other Corinthians who heard and were baptized “believed.”

This order is consistent with what we have seen regarding baptism throughout the Scriptural teachings; that they “believed” and then “were baptized.”  The order which we see laid out in Hebrews 6:1, 2 is repeated all through the New Testament examples, that there is “repentance,” “faith,” then “baptism.”  

The example from Corinth leads us to the fifth and final example of households being baptized. It is found in First Corinthians chapter one.  In the passages we are looking at Paul is lamenting the divisions among Corinthian believers resulting from them attributing unfounded importance on whom they were baptized by, rather than Whom they were baptized into.  Paul mentions that he baptized Crispus (as we saw in Acts 18). He also mentions Gaius, and adds, “I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other,” (1 Corinthians 1:16).  The text does not go into detail about the members of Stephanas’ household, but the Bible gives us at least five reasons to conclude that there were no infants included in the baptism of his household.  

  1. As we’ve mentioned already, the Bible lays out God’s desire for repentance and faith to preclude baptism.  
  2. We have no specific examples of infants ever being baptized in the Bible, so it would be an unlikely anomaly for Stephanas’ household to be the one exception.
  3. Acts 18:8 mentioned that all the Corinthian households who were baptized by Paul “believed” the message he was teaching.  Infants do not have the cognitive ability to hear a message and respond with faith.
  4. In 1 Corinthians 16:15 Paul says, “You know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”  Those who were of the household of Stephanas were believers who devoted themselves to ministering to other believers. Again, this is something that infants are not capable of doing.    
  5. Finally, the very definition and description of baptism would suggest that it is not something intended (or even able to be done) for infants.  As we discussed in previous studies, the word “baptism” (from the Greek “bapto” βαπτο) means, “to immerse; to dip.” Thus, sprinkling (which is the Greek word “rhantizo” ραντιζο) is not baptism.  Also, Peter tells us that baptism is “not the removal of filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,” (1 Peter 3:21).

The practice of infant baptism, or any pre-conversion baptism was unknown to the early church, and not based on Biblical principles.  The first mention of infant baptism is not found until the end of the 2nd century A.D.  Shortly after that time the early Christian author and apologist, Tertullian, taught against the practice.  The first instructions on infant baptism did not originate until 235 A.D. when Hippolytus of Rome wrote of it.  Even still, the practice was not known to be widely accepted.

The practice of baptizing people who have not first become followers of Christ is not based on the teaching of Scripture.  Rather, proponents of the practice attempt to justify it by extrapolating from what is not written, instead of what is written.  The Bible tells us to be careful “not to go beyond what is written,” (1 Corinthians 4:6).

To those who were “baptized” by the choice of another (a parent etc.) it would have no meaning.  Sprinkling a baby or dunking a non-believer does not make them, “born again,” nor does it guarantee that they will one day seek a relationship with Christ.  We have an example in the Bible of Paul meeting some disciples who were baptized into John’s baptism. When Paul taught them about the Holy Spirit, Who is given to those who believe in Christ, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And…the Holy Spirit came upon them,” (Acts 19:5, 6).  For people who have repented and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, baptism should be one of the next steps in their faith journey, regardless of whether they were sprinkled as a baby or dunked as an unbeliever prior in their life.  That old person has been buried and they have put on Christ and are a new creation (cf. Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 3:27; 2 Cor. 5:17).

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