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Infant Baptism

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Should Babies Be Baptized?


Jesus clearly commanded people to be baptized (Matt. 28:18-20), yet
there is much disagreement about who should be baptized.

Some religious groups baptize babies. But other people say that,
before one is baptized, a person should be old enough to accept the
responsibility to make his own decision whether or not to be baptized
and to live the Christian life. The purpose of this study is to learn
what the Bible says about this subject.

We begin with an important basic principle: In order to participate
in a religious practice with God's approval, we must find New
Testament teaching authorizing that practice.

Everything we do in religion must be done by Jesus' authority (Col.
3:17). The Scriptures provide us to all good works (2 Tim. 3:16,17),
so if a practice is not included in God's word, it must not be a good
work. If a practice is not authorized in the New Testament, then it
must be human in origin and therefore not pleasing to God (2 John 9;
Gal. 1:6-9; Matt. 15:9; Prov. 14:12; etc.)

According to these Scriptures we should practice infant baptism only
if we can find statements in the New Testament that show that God
wants us to practice it. To prove infant baptism is unacceptable, we
do not have to find a passage that expressly forbids the practice.
Rather, if the Bible tells us specifically who to baptize, and if
infants are not included in those instructions, then the practice of
baptizing babies should be abandoned.

Please consider the following Bible teaching:
Part I: Can Babies Meet the Conditions that Must Precede Baptism?

The Bible reveals that a person must do certain things before he can
be baptized. If these things are not done, then the baptism would not
be Scriptural. So we ask whether or not a baby can fulfill the
Scriptural prerequisites of baptism.

Note that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34,35; Rom. 2:11),
so there are not two sets of prerequisites for baptism -- one for
babies and one for adults. Whatever the Bible requires of some people
to be baptized, it requires the same of all people.

A. Before Baptism One Must Hear and Understand the Gospel.

Mark 16:15,16 -- All who are baptized, must first have the gospel
preached to them. But what good would be done by preaching to a baby?

John 6:44,45 -- No one can come to Jesus without being taught from
the Father. This does not just mean simply hearing sounds. One
must "learn"; he must understand the meaning of what is being taught.

Can babies do this (cf. 1 Cor. 14:20)?

Acts 2:36,41 -- This example shows what it means for people to learn
the gospel before they are baptized. The people were given evidence
that Jesus is God's Son (v14-36). They were told that, on the basis
of this evidence, they must "know assuredly" that Jesus is Lord and
Christ (v36). Those who were baptized were those who gladly received this message (v41). Can babies hear and learn in this way?

B. Before Baptism One Must Believe the Gospel.

Mark 16:15,16 -- Every creature who is baptized must first believe
the gospel which they have been taught. Baptism is only for those who are capable of hearing and believing the gospel. No one is included in the command if they cannot first hear, understand, and believe the gospel. Can a baby do these things?

Galatians 3:26,27 -- However many people are baptized, all of them
must do so by faith. Everyone who is baptized must first understand
the gospel well enough to believe it.

Acts 8:12 -- When the people of Samaria gave heed to the gospel that was preached (v5,6), both men and women were baptized. When were they baptized? When they believed, not before. Can babies believe? If not, they should not be baptized until they do believe.

In all Bible examples of baptism, people were baptized only when they
personally had full faith, based on their own understanding of the
gospel. Never were they baptized on the basis of someone else's
faith, such as their parents. No one else can believe for us, just
like no one can be baptized for us.

[See also Acts 8:36-39; 18:8; Rom. 1:16; 10:13-17.]

C. Before Baptism One Must Repent of Sins.

Acts 2:38 -- Every person who is baptized ("every one of you") must
first repent. Repentance is a change of mind -- a decision to turn
from sin and begin to live for God (cf. Matt. 21:28,29). This
decision involves a commitment to put God first, and to live all our
lives faithfully serving Him.

Note that the person who is baptized is the same person who must
first repent. This is a personal choice. No one else can make this
decision for us. Can a baby make this choice? (Note that we will see
later that babies do not even have any sins to repent of.)

Some people claim that "children" in v39 means babies are included in
those to whom this "promise" was made. But "children" simply means
offspring, regardless of age (note Matt. 3:9; 10:21; 21:28; John
8:39). The "promise" here is for those who repent and are baptized
(v38); but babies cannot repent, nor can they do other things
required in the context (v36,40,41,42). The "promise" to
the "children" was fulfilled when they were old enough to do what God
requires, not while they were babies.

[See also 2 Cor. 7:10; Mk. 1:4,5.]

D. Before Baptism One Must Confess Christ.

Romans 10:9,10 -- To be saved, one must believe in his heart and
confess Christ with his mouth. How can a baby confess Christ when it
cannot even speak?

Acts 8:35-39 -- Here is an example of confession before baptism. The
candidate for baptism must make an understandable statement, so that the one who does the baptizing knows they are baptizing someone who has faith. Babies cannot communicate regarding their faith in any understandable way, therefore it is not Scriptural to baptize them.

Churches that baptize babies often have a practice called "confirmation." People are baptized as babies, but later when they get old enough to understand and make their own choice about serving God, they are taught and are asked to publicly "confirm" their faith and their desire to live for God. The very existence of such a practice is an admission that the child did not understand, believe, and repent before he was baptized.

We have now learned four things which the Bible says every person
must personally do before he can be baptized. God is no respecter of
persons, so the plan is the same for everyone. Before anyone can be
baptized, he must hear and understand the gospel, believe it, repent
of sins, and confess Christ. Little babies cannot do any of these
things. Therefore, the command to be baptized is not addressed to
them. To baptize them anyway would be to act without God's authority.

It would be doing something different from what God says must be

Some people baptize them anyway as a "dedication" to encourage parents to train the child properly. But where does the Bible say this is the purpose of baptism? The purpose of baptism is to receive remission of sins. And furthermore, we have learned that no one can decide that another person will be dedicated to God. Each person must decide that for himself.

So no matter how you look at it, infant baptism perverts the purpose
of baptism.

Part III. Can Babies Fulfill the Requirements that Follow Baptism?

When a person is baptized, he is making a commitment to live all the
rest of his life according to the Bible. He automatically and
immediately becomes subject to certain responsibilities that the
Bible requires of all baptized people. If a person is not able to
accept these responsibilities, then he is simply not ready to be

Can Infant Baptism Be Scripturally Defended?

Remember that practices displease God unless they are authorized in
His word (see our introduction). We now know that the gospel clearly
teaches conditions regarding baptism that babies cannot possibly
meet. Yet some folks still claim that infant baptism is Scriptural.
We have briefly answered several such efforts already. Let us notice
some more.

A. Babies with Faith

Some people claim that babies can have faith, and therefore they
should be baptized (note Matt. 18:6). But remember that denominations typically baptize babies as young as a few days or a few weeks old.

Can anyone seriously believe that babies, at this age, can have the
kind of faith the Bible requires before baptism?

Romans 10:13-17 -- Faith comes by hearing God's word.

The only way anyone can have faith is by being taught God's word. Do
churches that baptize babies teach them before baptizing them? Of
course not. So they are baptizing people who have no faith.

They do, however, try to instill faith in these children later in life in "confirmation." Why is this necessary, if the child had faith and knowledge from infancy? The practices of these churches prove of
themselves that they know babies do not have knowledge and faith.

And remember that 1 Cor. 14:20 expressly states that babies are not
capable of having sufficient understanding to be baptized and be
members of Jesus' church.

What about repenting and confessing?

We have shown that these are also required before baptism. Can babies do these? And remember that the confession must be understandable so that other people know the candidate has sufficient faith to be baptized.

And what about the responsibilities that are involved in church

Can babies do these too? Remember, all baptized people are in the
church and must learn to fulfill these duties. Even if babies had
faith, that would only be part of what God requires. Other things are
required, both before and after baptism, that babies cannot possibly

Just suppose babies could believe. Logically, then, babies could also

But the Bible says to baptize the ones that believe and not the ones
that do not believe (Mark. 16:16; Acts 8:12,36,37; etc.). Do folks
who practice infant baptism make a distinction between the babies
that believe and those that don't? If so, how?

The Bible describes different degrees of faith (Heb. 10:39; cf. Jas.
2:19; John 12:42,43; Matt. 14:31). Children gradually grow in
understanding and in faith, but they do not have "saving" faith,
sufficient to be baptized, until they are old enough to repent,
confess, and fully accept the responsibility of living the Christian
life, as we have already studied.

B. Household Conversions

Some people refer to Bible examples where whole households were
baptized. They claim that these households must have included babies, so infant baptism is authorized. But notice:

None of these examples actually say that babies were included.

Many households do not include babies or even small children. If the
Bible does not mention babies, then to claim there were babies in the
household would simply be an unproved assumption. The simple fact
that households were converted proves nothing by itself. Unless these
passages themselves show us that babies were included, then we must settle the issue on the basis of other passages on the subject.

We have cited clear, specific evidence that people who were baptized
must always first hear, believe, repent, and confess, and that they
must be baptized for the right reason, and that they must be able to
accept the responsibilities of church membership. Babies can do none
of these things. It is a misuse of Scripture to assume without proof
that babies were included in the household conversions, in contradiction to this evidence.

The contexts of the household conversions actually imply those who
were baptized included no babies.

Notice each of the Bible examples of household conversions:

Cornelius's household -- Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:7-11

Peter taught these people that God is no respecter of persons
(10:34). So whatever anyone in the household did to be baptized, all
the rest must have done the same things. Peter did not give two sets
of rules, one for babies and another for adults.

Notice some things that people in this household did that babies
cannot do: all in the household feared God (10:2,35); all came
together to hear and receive what God had commanded (10:33,44;
11:1,14); they heard and believed (15:7,9; 10:43), they repented
(11:18), and they were told to work righteousness (10:35). No babies
baptized here!

Furthermore, since God is no respecter of persons, we are not going
to find any examples of conversion in which less was required of
people than in the examples we have already studied. Some examples
may give fewer details, but no one in any household was baptized
without faith, repentance, confession, etc. If such a case existed,
God would be a respecter of persons.

Lydia's household -- Acts 16:13-15,40

In this case there is no reason to believe that Lydia was even
married, let alone that she had little children. The Bible teaches
that, if a woman has a husband, he should be the head of the
household (Eph. 5:22-25). So whenever the Bible refers to the
activity of a household, if the husband is included in that activity,
if the wife is mentioned by name then the man is also mentioned.
(Notice how the other household conversions demonstrate this.
Genealogies also followed this rule.)

Since Lydia's household was baptized, the fact that no man is
mentioned would imply that she was the head of the household. Her
household may have included relatives, especially older relatives,
and perhaps servants, but no husband is implied, let alone children.

Paul later "encouraged" those who were brethren (NKJV), including
Lydia's house (v40). Did this include babies?

The Jailer's household -- Acts 16:23-34

Before this household was baptized, Paul spoke the word to all in the
house (v32), and they believed (v31,34). Again, babies can't do these
things, so no babies were included in the number baptized here.

Stephanas' household -- 1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15

Again, what verse says there were babies in this household? Note that
Stephanas' house ministered to the saints. Again, people who are
baptized must be old enough to be active in God's work as members of
the church. This does not include babies.

The household conversions do not disprove what we have learned
elsewhere. Instead they harmonize with it. All who are baptized must
do things that babies cannot do. Therefore, the command to be
baptized does not include babies. When people baptize babies, they
follow human authority, and they displease God.


Infant baptism is objectionable for several reasons.

First, infant baptism is an unauthorized change in God's pattern for
baptism. God tells us whom to baptize. He tells the conditions people
must meet in order to be baptized, but babies do not fit. To baptize
babies is to act by human authority without divine authority.

Second, infant baptism leads people to believe they are saved when
they are not. God requires people to be baptized for the remission of
sins when they are old enough to make their own decision about the
matter. But many people have been baptized as babies. Then, when they are old enough to be responsible for their conduct so they should be baptized, they refuse because they believe they have already done so.

But their infant baptism was not Scriptural. So the person goes
through his whole life never having been Scripturally baptized, and
therefore he never has received forgiveness of his sins!

A final objection to infant baptism is that it is almost always done
by sprinkling or pouring, not by immersion. But the Bible says that
baptism is a burial (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). A person must go down into
the water and come up out of it (Acts 8:38,39; Mark 1:9,10). Bible
baptism requires much water (John 3:23). Infant baptism does not fit
God's pattern on any of these points. The evidence clearly shows that
Bible baptism is an immersion, not a sprinkling or pouring.

What should a person do if his baptism was not done the way the Bible teaches? He should realize that he simply has not yet obeyed God, and he needs to obey God by being baptized according to the Bible (Acts 19:1-6). If this is your need, we urge you to find a faithful local church belonging to Christ and be baptized Scripturally today!

Copyright David E. Pratte, 1980, 1991

Pratte Publications
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Antioch, IL 60002
Phone: (847) 395-8937
Email litepath@g...

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