What does the Bible say about infant baptism? One of the reasons there is so much conflict over this matter is that the Bible doesn’t provide a specific command: thou shalt baptize your babies. But, knowing how we, in our utter depravity, can twist even the clearest meanings of Scripture into contorted perversions (“Thou shalt not steal” except by majority vote….That’s okay, right?), having a specific command probably wouldn’t help clarify this matter as much as we think.
I think much of the difficulty that arises in this matter stems from the fact that modern Christians seem inclined to consider the doctrine of Baptism apart from circumcision; in turn, I think this is because we neglect our Old Testament studies. Why should we want to do this?
Paul told us that all Scripture is given for edification because it is God-breathed [2 Tim. 3:16]. At the time he wrote those words, there was no “New Testament,” so certainly he meant, at the least, to include the Hebrew scriptures. Indeed, in Romans he wrote that “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Rom. 15:4]
Not only do we risk distorting Scripture and perverting the pure Word of God when we neglect the Old Testament, we miss out on the richness and depth of understanding that springs forth from studying the Bible in its entirety.
Why, then, would we insist on ignoring that which “was written for our instruction”? We should know the Old Testament better than the Jews during Jesus’ day did.
A decline in Scriptural intimacy was already a problem for those Jews even then. Jesus had to stop and explain to two men just what exactly his resurrection had meant. They were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” [Luke 24:25] They should have understood, plain as day, that Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day were inevitable, given by Jesus’ surprised response that “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
He was incredulous that they didn’t understand. “It’s right there, in the Scriptures!”
The fact that it wasn’t obvious to them meant they were not very good students of Scripture. So, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
This is something we should take to heart ourselves. Would we, having been made participants in a better hope, a better covenant [Heb. 7], remove that which was written prior to Christ’s coming in order to make “God’s grace more obscure and less attested to us than it had previously been for the Jews?” [Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.1329]
I don’t think that’s ever our (conscious) intention. But since it cannot be denied that our knowledge of the Old Testament has atrophied through the years, I’ll start there.
First, I will show that the sacrament of baptism was foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament to prove that we shouldn’t seek to understand the fullness of the sacramental act of baptism solely within the borders of the New Testament alone.
Then, with as much brevity as I think I can afford without doing violence to Scripture, I will attempt to show how circumcision and baptism are closely related and should, therefore, be taken as analogous to one another.
From this it will easily follow why infant baptism “best accords with Christ’s institution and the nature of the sign,” as Calvin put it in the title of Chapter 16 of Book 4 of his Institutes.
I will then give Scriptural evidences supporting the baptism of infants during the Apostolic age of the early church. Finally, I’ll provide a summary as a brief review of the position outlined here.
BAPTISM TYPIFIED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Baptism must not be understood or considered in any way apart from the Old Testament because it was prefigured all throughout, especially in the Levitical purification washings. For example, whenever anyone touched a dead body, they had to be washed with water on the third and seventh days afterward. Anyone who was not washed in the water was unclean, for “Because the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he shall be unclean”. [Num. 19:13]
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews specifically called these “sprinklings” baptisms, for he wrote that the priestly rituals at the Tabernacle-Temple dealt “only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” [Heb. 9:10] The Greek word translated as “washings” is the same word used in Matthew 3:6 which is translated as “baptized.”
[See the commentary at the bottom of the page here.]
Paul also referred to these “washings” as baptisms when he wrote “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” [1 Cor. 15:29]
The Reverend Ray Sutton, in his book on the five-point Biblical covenant, summarized the meaning and fulfillment of these washings succinctly when he wrote “When someone touched anyone who had died, he had to be symbolically resurrected, because death spread to death in the Old Testament. Second, notice that this baptism was applied on the third day. Jesus was raised on the third day. He was the complete fulfillment of what Old Testament baptism typified, the resurrection.” [Sutton, That You May Prosper, p.303]
[For other examples, see Num. 19:13; see also the cleansing of the Levites in Numbers 8:7, and Jesus’ purification in Luke 2:22]
Additionally, there are specific Old Testament stories of God’s people being sprinkled with water as they are “resurrected” when being brought out of destruction and delivered into salvation and new life. The Apostles in the New Testament specifically describe those acts as baptisms.
Noah’s flood is the first example, as recounted by Peter. Noah and his seven companions were kept safe in the ark, which floated upon the waters that drowned the evil world below. The Ark was sprinkled by rain waters from above for 40 days. Peter said that just as they “were brought safely through water,” that “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” [1 Peter 3:20-21]
A second example is the Red Sea crossing, another Old Testament baptism. Paul, not wanting us to be unaware of this, wrote “that our fathers…all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” [1 Cor. 10:1-4] and “the clouds poured out water.” [Ps. 77:17] The wicked Egyptians were then drowned when God caused the walls of water to collapse upon their heads.
The prophet Joel spoke of the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he said that “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” [Joel 2:28-29] Of course, Peter cited this prophecy and proclaimed that it was fulfilled at Pentecost when God sent the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
As we see, then, that the sacrament of baptism in the New Testament should come to signify our salvation and initiation into the covenant in place of circumcision would have come as no surprise to the faithful Jews living during the days of Christ. There was already a deep, symbolic, Scriptural link between God’s saving power of regeneration and resurrection into new life and the pouring out of water.
THE DEFINITION OF BAPTISM
Baptism is an outward sign of Christ’s authorship of the inward grace he gives us, by which the illumination of the Holy Spirit in our hearts begets our faith and quickens it, nourishes it, and sustains it. It is indeed given to us to serve our confession before men, but before that it is given to serve our faith before God.
It is not given only as an outward display of our confession. It is God’s claim on man and his entrance into the covenant.
By it, the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith. Baptism testifies to the Lord’s divine grace toward us, confirmed by the outward sign, and by which we also attest that we confess our faith in Christ publically before men.
Baptism signifies forgiveness of sins and mortification of the flesh — our regeneration. It is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Old Covenant: “the sign of initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children” [Calvin, Institutes, p.1303].
Circumcision signed and sealed the promise that God made to Abraham [Gen. 17:11] of eternal life first, and his fatherhood of the nations second. The promise of the conquering of the promised land of Canaan was a down payment, in earnest, of the guarantee of the spiritual blessings of the kingdom to come.
God trains our senses, so corrupted by our fall into sinful misery, by using the material things of this world to testify to the reality of the spiritual things that our dull minds fail to fathom.
Accordingly, infants born into covenant families were circumcized on the eighth day of life to signify their adoption into the covenant promise. (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; Luke 1:59, 2:21)
BABIES AND ADULTS TREATED DIFFERENTLY IN THE OLD COVENANT
Babies (infants) and adults were treated differently in the Old Covenant. Look at the difference between Abraham and Isaac. Abraham’s faith didn’t begin with circumcision. God first revealed the covenant to him, after which he then gained faith in God’s covenant promise. He was circumcised only after this. (Rom. 4:11) His son Isaac, however, was circumcised at only 8 days old (Gen. 21:5), too young, most would say, to understand much of anything.
But why? What’s the difference between Abraham and Isaac?
The difference is that the offspring of believers — the offspring of Abraham — are already included in the covenant promise, for God told Abraham that he would establish his covenant “between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” [Gen. 17:7]
So whereas it was right to mark the babies of believers with the sign of the covenant before they fully understood it (in a sense), it was also right for Abraham, being a grown man full of awareness and understanding, to understand the terms of the covenant before he signed on to them.
Just as Adam, acting on behalf of all mankind, condemned to death all of mankind (Rom. 5:12), Abraham acted as a representative before God on behalf of all the offspring, nations, and kings who would come from him.
It’s not man’s doing, but God’s, by which we apply the signs of the covenant. He acts through his representatives, the priests, who apply the sacraments. Calvin wrote that “We ought to deem it certain and proved that it is he who speaks to us through the sign; that it is he who purifies and washes away sins, and wipes out the remembrance of them.” [Calvin, Institutes, p. 1314]
Is Calvin right to say that? Is receiving the sacrament of initiation into the covenant an act of man or of God?
According to the Bible, Calvin’s correct. Where in one instance God tells the people of Israel “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn,” [Deut. 10:16] in a later verse he proclaims that he, Himself, is the sole author of this circumcision, for “the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” [Deut. 30:6]
This is worth reminding ourselves: God said he would circumcise the hearts of our children.
This brings us to the next matter: circumcision was a physical, carnal ceremony that reflected a spiritual reality. It was an outward sign of an inward grace. It was, among other things, symbolic of our spiritual condition. The symbol was not detached from the thing which it signified, as Jeremiah wrote when he exorted the Israelites to “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts.” [Jer. 4:4]
What did this represent except mortification of the flesh and regeneration of the heart by the Spirit? It was a command to cast away our fleshly desires and to walk in obedience to the Lord. It was also a sign of hope that pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, in whom we are saved.
CIRCUMCISION AND BAPTISM UNITED
You see, circumcision and baptism were united in Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul explained this when he wrote that “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.” [Col. 2:11-12]
Baptism symbolizes being cleansed of our sins by the washing of Christ’s blood and being quickened to life by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism [Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32]. So are we, also, when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead [Rom. 10:9]. We have been established in Christ, and God “has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” [2 Cor. 1:22-23]
What “seal” has God put on us?
When Paul wrote those words, he was writing to confessed believers, “to the church of God.” [2 Cor. 1:1] He used this same word (“seal”) when describing Abraham, who “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” The whole point of this was “to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.” [Rom. 4:11]
Abraham, in a sense, is our father because we, as adults, believe in Christ and the promise given by God without first receiving the sacrament.
Confirming our status as children of Abraham, Paul wrote, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,” and “the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” [Rom. 9:6-8]
As Paul wrote in his letter to the converted pagans of the Galatian churches [Galatians 4:8], “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” [Gal. 4:28]
It follows from this that Gentile believers, being children of the promise, are also the offspring of Abraham. But they were outside of the promise until they were adopted into the Kingdom by God. Now that the Gentiles have been adopted into the covenant and received a seal of righteousness, so have their offspring, just as did the children of the Jews.
THE MEANING OF THE SIGN
By faith we are sealed by righteousness “with the promised Holy Spirit.” [Eph. 1:13] Just as Abraham received the sign of circumcision that testified to his seal of righteousness by faith in God’s promise and the coming Messiah, so we receive the sign of baptism that testifies to our washing in the blood of Christ.
Christ the Messiah, who came and who now lives and reigns in Heaven, had his blood shed on the cross as our atoning sacrifice. Baptism also testifies to our being annointed by the promised Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.
Circumcision pointed to the coming of Christ. It was a bloody circle made in the flesh that represented the requirement of a bloody sacrifice to be made for atonement. It was made in the male reproductive organ, through which comes the seed of men. In this sense, it represented the entire sacrificial system, all of which pointed to Christ, the promised seed [Gal. 3:16], as our one true passover lamb. It represented, through a cut made in the flesh, a covenantal boundary which, when crossed into, carries one out of death and into life.
As Reverend Sutton noted, the emphasis in the Old Testament was on the flesh because “The Old Covenant was made with the ‘flesh.’ Adam, who was created flesh – actually from the ‘dust’ of the ground (Gen. 2:7) – was the covenantal representative. When Adam fell, the ‘flesh’ became a term of derision, meaning the Old Covenant itself had fallen into disrepute. Shortly after the Fall, man was referred to as ‘flesh’ in a negative sense. God describes the pre-Noahic situation: ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh’ (Gen. 6:3).” [Sutton, That You May Prosper, p.289]
Circumcision represented the judicial act of being brought into new life through God by being judicially adopted into his family. Circumcision was meant to symbolically kill the fleshly self and raise us to new life under God’s covenant.
This set up the battle between flesh and Spirit. As Paul summarized it, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” [Rom. 8:6]
In the New Covenant, God poured out his Spirit through Christ. The Spirit had come to believers in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant something different happened: it was poured out on the whole world. For the first time Gentiles would become priests after having been adopted into the priesthood by Christ.
Along with this new covenant came a new sign: baptism.
As the Holy Spirit so clearly wrote for us hundreds of years before Christ, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses…And I will give you a new heart…And I will put my Spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27; see also Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 11:19-20 for God’s pattern of changing peoples’ hearts.)
Calvin described this spiritual work of God in us, by whose grace alone we are given faith to obtain salvation, by describing the Holy Spirit as “the inner teacher by whose effort the promise of salvation penetrates into our minds, a promise that would otherwise only strike the air or beat upon our ears.” [Calvin, Institutes, p. 541]
Who will circumcise our hearts? God will. Who will sprinkle clean water on us and make use clean? God will.
Baptism represents the crossing of the covenantal boundary in the New Covenant. But it represents a better covenant: one made of the Spirit, not one made in the flesh.
As a result, God keeps his promises to the offspring of Gentile believers just as he did to the Hebrew believers because all are under God through adoption, and as such he will keep it to the Gentiles so as to not invalidate his original promise by “showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” [Ex. 20:6]
CHILDREN OF BELIEVERS ARE HOLY
Paul confirms the special status of the children of believers in the New Covenant as in the Old. In a marriage in which one spouse is a Christian and the other is an unbeliever, the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse, “else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” [1 Cor. 7:14]
Notice that there is a difference between the unbelieving spouse, who is sanctified, and the child, who is holy.
Paul here is talking about existing marriages in which, where before neither was a believer, one of the two converts to Christianity. Since man and wife join together to become one flesh, he’s addressing the concern that the unbeliever would pollute or defile the believer. He explains that this is not the case; the unbeliever is sanctified such that, as Calvin wrote, it “is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated by intercourse with him, and marriage itself is not profaned. [Calvin, Commentary, 1 Cor. 7:14]
This is important because “to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.” They defile everything they touch and every thought or action, despite how pure it may be, that comes from within their heart. They defile the sanctity of marriage because they do not recognize its status as a divine institution ordained by God. As Job wrote, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” (Job 14:4)
If this remained the case, then the unbelieving spouse would defile the marriage of the believer and corrupt them (just as the dead bodies did when touched in the Old Testament). Additionally, since nothing clean can come forth from that which is unclean, children, being a product of an unclean marriage, would also be defiled.
But the children are not simply “sanctified” as the unbelieving parent is; they are “holy,” set apart by God. Calvin answers this incredible situation with the boldness it commands:
“The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches, that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church…As to the Apostle’s assigning here a peculiar privilege to the children of believers, this flows from the blessing of the covenant, by the intervention of which the curse of nature is removed; and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace.” [Calvin, Commentary]
He does not shy away from the obvious question that follows, which is “But how will this statement correspond with what he teaches elsewhere — that we are all by nature children of wrath”? He addresses this in his commentary on Chapters 10 and 11 of Romans which, for the sake of brevity, I will pass over here and leave it to the reader to seek out on their own. Here are the links:
Chapter 10 – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.xiv.html
Chapter 11 – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.xv.html
WELCOMING INFANTS INTO THE CHURCH
When we are brought into the body of the church as adults, whose head is Christ, we are initiated with the sacrament of baptism. Afterward we are welcomed and embraced by the body of believers whose head is Christ.
But concerning children and babies, Jesus commanded us to let them go to him [Matt. 19:14]. He chastized his Apostles when they tried to keep them away from him saying, “…do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:15-16)
If our babies, being made holy through Christian marriage, belong to the kingdom of God and are eligible to partake in all the benefits enjoyed through membership in the kingdom, and if Christ embraced the little children in his arms — just as he does us when we profess our faith in him and seek baptism — why should we deny the sign of God’s blessed favor to our children who are to be admitted into the body of the church from birth, nay, into the very bosom of Christ himself?
What of the common objection that infants cannot properly understand what faith and baptism are, and so therefore should not be baptized? First, to object here you must contend with God himself, for he deemed it quite good for infants under the Old Covenant to be circumcised. Men did not receive a second circumcision once they were old enough to understand and confess faith; they were included in the fellowship of believers from their infancy.
So it should be with Christian children.
Second, we must not apply passages meant clearly for adults to children. Was Peter talking about babies when he said to “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”? How could he have been? Infants cannot even talk, so how can anyone know if they’ve repented?
This is certainly not a limiting case. Just because babies cannot talk does not mean they cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke clearly tells us that John the Baptist was quickened by the life-giving power of the spirit before he was even born, saying ”he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” [Luke 1:15]
This one specific example doesn’t extend generally for all infants, of course, but why should we try and limit God’s power in who — and when — he can regenerate? This example reveals to us that God can indeed save infants even while still in their mother’s womb.
We may back up a bit and consider further where the previous line of reasoning leads us. We say that babies can’t be baptized because, according to Peter’s instructions, they can’t repent. Similiarly, Paul was explicit that “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” [2 Thess. 3:10] Would we dare say that babies, therefore, aren’t to be fed because they do not work?
NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE SUPPORTING INFANT BAPTISM
Finally, I’ll briefly give a few New Testament examples that lend support to the doctrine of infant baptism.
We see numerous examples in Chapter 16 (and throughout) the Book of Acts of entire households being baptized. When the head of the household confesses faith in Christ, the whole family is baptized shortly thereafter.
The New Testament does not say “And the entire household was baptized — except for the infants.” Were there no babies in any of those households? It would be arguing from silence to say that just because they aren’t mentioned means they aren’t there.
I have seen some theologians use this tactic. For example, in his generally rather good book What Baptists Believe, Herschel Hobbs wrote “The New Testament knows nothing of infant baptism but that of believers only.” [Hobbs, What Baptists Believe, p.83]
One gets the impression that Hobbs is straining a bit at writing this, especially considering his earlier defense of the virgin birth. Some argue against the virgin birth because the Gospels of John and Mark omit direct reference to it, but Hobbs says that “to deny the virgin birth because these do not specifically relate it is to argue from silence.” [Hobbs, p.33]
It’s as if Hobbs is saying here that “Just because the Gospels are silent on whether or not Mary was a virgin does not mean we can draw any conclusion one way or another from that. In fact, here is other evidence that supports the position.”
But he then turns around and seems to defend not baptizing infants by saying “The New Testament is silent regarding infant baptism, therefore we must conclude that it is not correct to do so.”
He’s inconsistent within his own book!
[But then again, perhaps he wrote that to placate some influential people within the Southern Baptist convention who were against paedobaptism. He does such a good job elsewhere in the book using Scripture and supporting evidence when drawing conclusions, but then takes a rather “neutral” position simply by stating “The New Testament is silent on the issue”; he doesn’t even say “therefore we shouldn’t do it.” He just leaves it at that.]
To apply the same argument — that the New Testament knows nothing about this — is to reduce reality into absurdity. We could just as easily say “The New Testament knows nothing of women eating the Lord’s Supper, but that of men only.” Are we really going to say that this line of reasoning is valid, that women are prohibited from the Lord’s Supper because the Bible doesn’t say specifically that they partook?
I think not.
HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM, HOUSEHOLD CIRCUMCISION
Of course, it’s easy to discount these examples of New Testament household baptisms if you consider the New Testament in a vacuum; it should come as no surprise that it’s easy enough to show how these household baptisms could have included everyone under the sun except for infants if we shroud in darkness the truth in its fullness by attempting to re-hoist that veil which Christ tore down. [Mark 15:38]
But again, the picture changes and is brought more clearly into focus — and our theological edges are sharpened — when observed through the lens of the Old Testament as well.
The head of the household, then and now, represents his family.
Consider Christ’s command: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy ghost.” [Matt. 28:19] How should we apply this directive?
Is anyone in the modern church under the misconception that it’s as easy to baptize a nation as having a priest baptize a king or a president or the entire nation at once? No; we would think it absurd to say that, by baptizing our president, we have baptized everyone in the nation.
On the other hand, some churches, revolting over the implication of baptizing “the many” all at once, have reacted by individualizing the covenant to the extreme. To baptize a nation, to them, means to baptize every single individual living in the nation. I suggest that this, too, is a bit of a misguided approach that shifts too much focus away from “the many” to “the one.”
I think the Bible teaches us that the individual building blocks of a “nation” are bigger than a single individual but smaller than an entire nation. The Bible teaches that the family is the individual building block of a nation.
This was true in the Old Testament: On the same day that he was circumcised himself, Abraham “took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day.” [Gen. 17:23]
We saw this principle demonstrated again with the laws for keeping the Passover. No uncircumcised person could eat of it. Strangers and sojourners could not partake in the feast. However, if they did desire to do so — “If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord,” — then he could if he would “let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land.” [Ex. 12:48]
What if “all his males” didn’t want to be circumcised? Could the head of the household not partake because one of his members declined? No; the rebel would have been cut off from the covenant and, therefore, from the kingdom. The man who wanted to participate would have to first be circumcised, then all the males of his household — sons and slaves and servants alike — would be circumcised also and allowed entrance into the kingdom and the covenant.
This remains true in the New Testament also: those who are not baptized should not partake of the Lord’ Supper. Even Hobbs, writing about the beliefs of the Baptist church, agreed with this, for he wrote “In the New Testament baptism is the prerequisite of the Lord’s Supper. It is an initiatory, symbolic ordinance and is to be administered ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19 RSV).” [Hobbs, What Baptists Believe, p.84]
Of course, as Hobbs was wont to do in his book, he did not reference any Old Testament scripture in support of this claim. His case would have been made more tightly secure, but perhaps he would have opened a can of worms that he preferred not deal with; if he were to compare the Lord’s Supper to Passover, after all, he would have been negligent not to compare baptism to circumcision.
Here, he avoided the issue entirely.
This principle of household representation goes all the way back to the very beginning of time. God made woman from out of man. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Adam when they were created.” [Gen. 5:1-2]
“Adam” means “man” in Hebrew. Though man and woman, husband and wife, are two distinct people with different roles and responsibilities, they are not separate; together they make “Man.” Men and women are different, but when married and bonded into a family, the “Man” as a family is “made in the likeness of God.”
This concept also carries over into the New Testament as we see in the book of Acts.
TRINITARIAN DOCTRINE EXPLAINS BAPTISM
It is right that the family be the individual building blocks. God is one, but God is also many: one God in three persons. The three persons are distinct, but they are not separate from each other. Each person of the Triune Godhead has his own purpose and responsibilities vital for the operation of the whole: all things take their source from the Father; they are ordered and disposed by the Son; and then those things are accomplished by the efficacy of the power of the Spirit.
The family is the same. The family is an individual unit, but it is made up of distinct people, each with their distinct roles and responsibilities within the family. Just as God, the Holy Trinity, is the foundation of all of existence, so the family is the elementary building block of the nation, of God’s Kingdom. The family is one of many stones “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” [Eph. 2:20-22]
This Trinitarian doctrine also adequately explains the link between the symbol of baptism and the reality it conveys. Reverend Sutton tied this together when he wrote that “The covenantalist argues that God’s Trinitarian Name helps to explain properly the relationship between symbol and reality. In the Trinity, the members of the Godhead are ‘distinct but not separated.’ So, since the Church is baptized in this Trinitarian Name (Matt. 28:19ff.), the relationship between symbol and reality is ’distinct but not separate.’ Faith is distinguished from the rite (baptism), meaning there is no power in the sacramental elements themselves to convey salvation, but neither is faith to be separated from the sacraments. The latter clarifies why baptism is so closely associated with salvation (Acts 22 :16).” [Sutton, That You May Prosper, p.89]
Baptism is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The sacrament seals us to God. It’s a visible demonstration of his claim over us, and it allows us to confess public faith in Christ Jesus. It marks our entry point into God’s covenant, the Church and the fellowship of believers.
Baptism, when examined in light of Trinitarian doctrine, should be distinguished from faith but not separated from it. This follows from our God, who is Triune: one God existing in three distinct persons, but not separate from each other.
We also should not seek to understand it within the boundaries of the New Testament alone, but in light of the entirety of Scripture.
The Old Testament typified sacramental baptism throughout. Sprinkling of the purifying water was required to consecrate priests into the priesthood and cleanse the unclean. There were some historical examples of God saving his people as a whole that are described as baptisms by the Apostles in the New Testament.
Circumcision was the Old Testament sacrament that denoted entry into the covenant and the kingdom. Babies of covenantal families were circumcised on the eighth day of birth. Circumcision signified the promise of eternal life through the coming Messiah and the mortification of the flesh. Old Covenant Circumcision is analogous to New Covenant Baptism.
The children of believers in the New Testament are holy, just as they were in the Old. The head of the household represents the family in the New Testament, just as they did in the Old.
Though its workings are impossible to understand — they are innately inexplicable as are all divine mysteries — we shouldn’t be unhappy with settling on the knowledge that some things God did not intend for us to understand. We should resist debasing the inherit power of baptism because we cannot understand how it works; we should not divorce the sign from the thing signified.
We should remember that God attaches his name to the sacrament: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” We should look to our baptism as a reminder of our salvation and God’s claim on us.
As Calvin wrote, “Therefore, there is no doubt that all pious folk throughout life, whenever they are troubled by a consciousness of their faults, may venture to remind themselves of their baptism, that from it they may be confirmed in assurance of that sole and perpetual cleansing which we have in Christ’s blood.” [Calvin, Institutes, p.1307]
As our children grow up, we should assure them of their salvation as evidenced by their baptism. We should teach them and raise them in the covenant, in a Christian household according to God’s Word, so that their faith may grow through the power of the Spirit.
We should remind them that God will not let us go as long as we persevere in our faith until the end. He is our shepherd, and we are his sheep, and he gives his sheep “eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” [John 10:28]
A friend of mine, when describing how he explains it to his children, put it more simply this way:
“You’ve been baptized, you belong to the Lord – here are his commands – get your act together. Obey Him, or suffer his curses.”
And, I may add, enjoy the benefits and blessings he bestows upon us as members of his covenant. May it be so to the thousandth generation. Amen.