MAY INFANTS BE BAPTIZED?
By Robert L. Goldsby
It is not possible to answer this question without first setting aside, as much as possible, our preconceived ideas and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us through the Scripture. We must start at the beginning. Some of the basic question/issues must be answered.
- Do infants have a natural righteousness? Some teach that infants have no sin and, since they are not guilty of anything, are saved by their personal righteousness. Is that what the Bible teaches?
- Are they perfect, i.e. sinless? If infants are not perfect (sinless) their sins must be judged.
- Do infants need salvation? Are they naturally lost? We must know what the Bible says about the spiritual condition of infants and small children. Our opinions, preferences and practices are insufficient.
- What is the "age of accountability" doctrine and is it Biblical? This is the other commonly accepted doctrine among some denominations. It teaches that, while children are sinful, God does not hold them accountable for their sin. Because they have not reached an "age of reason" or "age of accountability" God will overlook their sin. This teaching is "another Gospel" from the one Paul taught (justification by faith).
- Can an infant believe? Since only believers are to be baptized we must discover whether it is possible for an infant to believe before we can decide whether or not they are proper candidates for baptism. How does faith come? Is it intellectual? Does God require an adult intellectual understanding and comprehension of sin and our Savior?
- If the infant can believe, is he eligible for holy baptism? What does the Bible require for baptism beyond faith? Adults, who have consciously committed sins, are called to repentance. Does that apply for infants who have not overtly, intentionally and consciously sinned?
- Is it necessary or permissible to baptize infants if they can believe? Which is it, necessary or permissible? Perhaps you believe it is forbidden. We must find our answers in the Bible, not human reason, not denominational practices and customs, not by what seems "fair" and "right". Only from the Scripture.
To answer these questions, let's look at the Scripture.
Do infants have a natural righteousness?
- In Genesis 5:3 we see that children (after the fall) are born in the image of man. While they may have an inheritance of the image of God it is not the direct created likeness Adam enjoyed. It is primarily the image and nature of Adam which is passed on to his children, not the image of God.
- Look at Psalm 58:3. Who are these "evil people" who are estranged from womb - born going astray? Are some of us "good people" while others are evil? The Bible says there is none who are righteous. This passage refers to every human born. All are born going astray from the womb.
- In Psalm. 51:5 we see the same truth expressed, that all are conceived in sin and develop with sinful tendencies.
- Romans 3:10,
23-28 None righteous (no exceptions for age) - not one!
- Isaiah 53:6 All have gone astray (no exceptions for age) - every one!
So we see that infants, like everyone else, are sinful from the womb. They are included in the general condemnation - "All have sinned, there is none righteous, no not one."
Do we dare presume upon God to "trust" him for something other than, and perhaps contrary to, His revelation? He has shown us how to be saved, that is the Gospel message!
What about an "Age Of Accountability"?
Does God overlook the sinful state of infants?
- In Acts 4:12 we see that there is no way to be saved except by Jesus - for anyone. There is no "Gospel of Infant Universalism" or "Gospel of the age of accountability". Salvation is by faith in Christ alone. All of the Gospel references are inclusive of gender and age. All who would be saved are saved ONLY by a personal faith in Jesus Christ. God has not revealed another gospel to us and any other "gospel" is to be rejected,
Galatians 1:6-9. To teach that God saves children by a method other than a personal faith in Jesus Christ is "another Gospel".
- Again in Galatians 3:22 we see that all are under sin and redeemed by grace through faith alone.
- In Exodus 20:5-6 (the 10 Commandments) and Exodus 34:6-7 God reveals Himself to Moses as one who... visits the sins of the fathers to the children of the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. It goes on to say that He shows mercy to the thousands who love Him and keep His commandments.
- Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to us. It seems right that infants and very young children not be judged sinful. But ways that seem right to us end in DEATH! (cf. Proverbs 16:25) All the "reason" and logic of man to find a way to "help God" save children is of no value. Those "ways" that seem right to men all end in death. There is only one plan of salvation, a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
- That truth is reiterated in Acts 4:12: There is no way to be saved but by grace through faith in Jesus, for anyone!
Does God have a way to save infants - apart from a personal faith in Jesus Christ and baptism into Him? Many feel that a kind of "INFANT UNIVERSALISM" or "AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY" exists to bring salvation apart from a personal faith in Christ. Nothing in Scripture supports such a teaching. The passages used in its support are oblique references taken out of context and do not address the universality of sin and need for a Savior. It is dangerous to teach as Gospel that which the Bible does not teach.
It is clear that sin has separated all mankind from God and that the children of sinful parents suffer the consequences of sin in their own bodies. Children become ill, they die and they express selfishness and rebellion. The theological term for this is "original sin" or "total depravity". It isn't that infants have consciously and volitionally chosen to sin, but that the contamination from the infant's father affects them so that they are sinful and cannot be in the presence of God without the righteousness of Christ.
That infants are sinful is not a surprise to any parent. As sweet and cuddly and wonderful as babies can be, they also express their sinful side. It is not uncommon for the first word to be "NO!" Even very small children will grab toys away from other children. Children must taught "to be good". It does not come naturally. All of this is an expression of their sinful nature. Every parent knows it is there. If you are persuaded that infants and small children are perfect, take a job in a day care center for a few days.
NOTE: Sometimes the question is asked about original sin, "why didn't Jesus have "original sin" if it is universal, after all He was truly human!". Jesus was fully human but had no earthly father. Original sin is not communicated through the mother but through the Father. Because Jesus had no human father original sin was not communicated to him. He is the only one for whom that is true. Being conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:34) enabled Him to be born like the first Adam, without original sin. Jesus was able to fulfill God's law by choosing to not sin. He did what Adam did not do, He perfectly obeyed God. That is not possible for anyone today because we, unlike Jesus, are all born with a human father's genetic strain and his sinfulness in our bodies, soul and spirit.
So let's look at it from another perspective. Are infants included or excluded from the primary passages on salvation and baptism? As we look at these passages note whether the grammar would INCLUDE or EXCLUDE anyone based on age.
- In Matthew 28:18-20 we find that infants are included in the words "all nations". I didn't say that the word "infant" is there, I'm saying that when you say "all nations" you have included every gender and age.
- In John 3:1-8 we see again that infants are included in the language. "No one can enter except..." Notice that Nicodemus did not understand how it could be. Jesus points out that it is that way with everyone who is born of the Spirit. Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit, not adult intellectual exercise. To say that infants and children are not included in this verse is to deny the natural and obvious meaning of the words.
- Again, in Mark 16:16 infants are included in the words "whoever believes," if infants can believe they can certainly be baptized. We address the issue of faith in infants later.
- Peter, in Acts 2:38-40 states that infants are included in the promise to those who repent, that their children will be included in the covenant blessing. This was well understood by the Jews who brought their children into the covenant by circumcising the male children at 8 days old. What promise (Acts 2:38-40) is God making to the parents about the children? "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Notice that the next verse promises it to their children.
- In Colossians 2:11-15 Paul emphasizes the connection between baptism and circumcision. Baptism, he says, is the circumcision made without hands. Clearly infants are included here since circumcision was performed on infants at 8 days old. To whom is it written? "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae:" (kjv) He is writing to the saints, the set apart ones in Colossae, and to the faithful brethren. In every way, children are included, even in this epistle (unless you deny that the infants of these believers were "set apart", i.e. saints, this is the only conclusion one can come to).
- In Acts 16:15-ff. we come to Lydia who hears Paul preach and comes to faith. We don't have the intervening details, but the next sentence indicates that she and her "household" were baptized. The question we wish to answer is, "does the Scripture exclude or include small children and infants?" While we cannot know whether she had children nor their ages, we can say with confidence that the term "household" is inclusive. Those who wish to teach the exclusion of children from faith and baptism must prove it since this passage, and the others, are always inclusive.
- The same wording occurs concerning Crispus and his household in Acts 18:8. It is important to note that none of these passages ever exclude children.
It violates reason that none of these "households" had small children and infants. If they did children are certainly included in these texts. It is also a stretch to believe that Jews, who included children in their covenant, would exclude the children from baptism without comment. If Paul had been led by the Holy Spirit to exclude children he would have had to teach clearly about it. To include children required no teaching since that was what the Jews had always done. To include infants in the promises of God is not and argument from silence since all of Scripture has included children and they are included in all of the passages as seen above.
On the other hand, to exclude infants and children from the covenant of God would require a clear teaching. There is no New Testament teaching excluding infants and children. To argue that infants ought not to be baptized is an argument from silence. There is no such teaching in the Bible.
Some years ago my pastor and mentor, Bob Heil, told me about a conversation he had with other pastors while traveling together to a conference. The pastors, serving a mixture of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and with a variety of denominational backgrounds, were talking about children in their congregations. Each spoke of the giftedness of these children. The children were very young, well below any "age of accountability", but were obviously gifted by the Holy Spirit. Some spoke in tongues, others interpreted. Some had the gift of prophecy and others exercised a word of wisdom. After each pastor had shared his experience, and at a lull in the conversation, Bob said; "What doth hinder these to be baptized?" To acknowledge that God gifts young children with His Holy Spirit is to acknowledge that they have a personal faith in and relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Who can refuse them water baptism? Only those who believe that infants and young children do not have faith.
Examine the passages below for what they tell us about whether or not young children can believe.
- Examine Matthew 18:3-6. The words "this child" are Touto Paidion: and mean a very young child, an infant. In verse 6 the phrase "These very little ones (hena ton mikron touton) ..."which believe in me". Clearly Jesus has children at hand (He uses the demonstrative pronoun "this", not "that"). He refers to "this little child" and makes a clear statement that it believes in Him. To those who say that infants and young children cannot believe, you are calling Jesus a liar. Clearly, infants and very young children of covenant families can and do believe.
- Look at Luke 1:41, 44. Brephos, the Greek word in these passages, means an unborn child, embryo or newly born infant (8 days old or under). Here we find John the Baptizer in his mother's womb, anointed by the Holy Spirit and responding to the presence of his savior in Mary's womb. There is certainly no intellectual connection but in the spirit and anointed by the Holy Spirit, there was a response. Elizabeth talks about it.
- Look at Luke 18:15-16. Brephos:
The Greek word means an unborn child, embryo or newly born infant (probably before circumcision - 8 days old or under). The word is used of John while still in
Elizabeth's womb (Luke 1:41,44). It is used of the baby Jesus (Luke 2:12, 16)
and here in Luke 18 when Jesus teaches that we must be like them and that the kingdom of God belongs to them.
- The Greek word in Luke 18:17 is Paidion: as in #1 above.
Jesus teaches that adults must come as a "paidion" to enter the kingdom of God. What does He mean? Are we to act in childish ways?
No, Jesus is referring to the faith of a child of the covenant. It is not an adult intellectual faith which prevails, but the kind of trust a little child has.
- In 2 Tim. 3:15 we find a key and important verse in this matter. Paul reminds Timothy how as a BREPHOS the Scriptures were working in his life to make him "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus". The Jewish child experienced all manner of exposure to the Torah and festival celebrations of God. The Holy Spirit used this, in Timothy, even as a BREPHOS. The text clearly includes infants in both faith and salvation.
- David tells us, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Psalm 22:9-10 that God was with him in the womb and while nursing. He points out that he was "made to hope" and "cast upon God" from the womb and on his mother's breast. That hardly sounds like a theology excluding infants, or where infants don't have a relationship with God!
- In Matthew 11:25 Jesus deals with those who refused to accept the truth and pronounces His "woes" upon two cities. He points out that these adults would not receive the truth and thanks the father for revealing it to babes. It seems that these babies (nepios) had sufficient faith to receive the truth!
- In Matthew 21:16 Jesus uses the Greek word NEPIOS: A babe, a child as yet unable to speak! Jesus references these babies, unable to speak, as the ones through whom God has perfected praise. That sounds like someone with faith!
Our question was, "Can Infants Believe?". The clear answer from Scripture is, yes they can. Anyone who has worked with little children of parents who practice their Christian faith, know that faith is easily and often expressed by little children. Our problem is we want an adult expression of faith, i.e. the intellect. You do not get that with infants and small children, what you do get is the Holy Spirit working in them, even preferring the child's faith to that of an adult. Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that infants and little children, of believing parents, have faith.
Under the old covenant, the children were declared a part of the covenant family of God by the circumcision of the male children. Let us examine whether in the New Testament the same inclusion occurs for children of believing parents.
The account of the covenant between Abraham, his descendants, and God, established based on Circumcision is found in Genesis 17:9-14.
This is referenced by Paul in
In Colossians 2:11-15 Paul makes a clear connection between the former covenant seal, circumcision,
and the new covenant seal, baptism. At the time of Christ proselytes to the Jewish faith were ALL baptized, even small children, and the males were also circumcised.
It is this practice of circumcision and baptism which is the background of the Christian practice of baptism. As you can see, children were always included and
counted as a part of the covenant people of God. Notice that the children were not making their own decisions, the parents made that decision for them because God
had made that provision.
Both Circumcision and Baptism are initiatory acts which seal one into a covenant with God.
"In Genesis 17 The New Bible Dictionary has an article on circumcision, a portion of which is made
- Examine Colossians 2:11-12. What is the 'circumcision made without hands'? Obviously it is
water baptism. Only in this way is the context of the Scripture and the heritage of Paul fully considered.
- 1 Peter 3:21 Peter both understood Holy Baptism as the replacement of circumcision as the seal of the
covenant. This text provides a clear comparison between the two. Peter even goes so far as to say that baptism "saves us".
Notice that in Genesis 17, those who were not baptized were excluded from the covenant.
May infants be baptized? There is nothing in Scripture or the heart of God to forbid. it. Passages addressed to "adults" which command them to repent,
for example, are not addressed to infants. It takes the passage out of context to apply Peter's preaching to adults as if his command for them (adults) to repent
should be unilaterally applied to infants. That is not the intent of the passage.
The command of God regarding infants under the old covenant actually made them a part of the covenant, without any choice on their part,
by circumcision of the male children. Circumcision has been replaced, under the new covenant, with water baptism.
In Exodus 20:5-6 the Lord tells us that He does hold the children guilty to the third and fourth generation of
those who hate him. He also promises to show mercy to the thousands who love Him and keep His commandments. Here we see that there is no promise to "wink"
at the sinful condition of children. He does promise to extend His mercy to those generations who love Him. As we have pointed out, Faith is a work of God the Holy
Spirit, a work which He does in us. That He works it in the children of those "who love Him and keep His commandments" should not surprise us.
It is a direct fulfillment of this text.
May infants be baptized? The question is wrong. As we have seen, only those with faith may baptized, and all of those with faith may be baptized.
Is it possible for children to have a saving faith? We have seen that the answer is yes. Jesus Himself said that an infant "believed in me".
Faith is not the product of adult intellect, in fact Jesus insisted we become like children, not the other way around.
May infants be baptized? All who are brought to Jesus, whom we have reason to believe have faith, are to be baptized. There is never a
restriction on age or category. Baptism is, after all, a work of God toward us, not a work of ours toward God. Luther agrees that only those who have faith
should be baptized but
insists that infants (of believing parents) do have faith, given by the Holy Spirit based on the covenant God has made with the parent(s). Jesus promised to
receive them, commanding little children to be brought to Him. The Holy Spirit creates saving faith in such a child and that makes them a proper candidate for
Must we baptize infants? While the preponderance of Scripture persuades us that children are proper candidates for baptism, many churches have a strong
conviction that children should not be baptized until they are prepared to make their own personal decision to serve Christ. Since there is no direct command
that all infants must be baptized, we should not insist on it. Therefore, those who baptize the children of believing parents do well and, in the absence of a
direct command, those who choose to wait for the children to embrace water baptism by their own choice do well.
The document was written by Robert L. Goldsby (5101 NE 121st Ave #140, Vancouver, WA 98682-2121) and is the sole property of the author. It reflects his
convictions and does not necessarily represent any group or denomination. It may be used for personal and group Bible study but may not be used for any commercial
or publishing purposes without the express written consent of the author.
This WEB page updated on February 5, 2002