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
to live the Christian life. The purpose of this study is to learn
what the Bible says about this subject.
with an important basic principle: In order to participate
in a religious practice with God's approval, we must find New
teaching authorizing that practice.
Everything we do in religion must be done by Jesus' authority (Col.
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
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
babies should be abandoned.
Please consider the following Bible teaching:
Part I: Can Babies Meet the Conditions that Must Precede Baptism?
Bible reveals that a person must do certain things before he can
be baptized. If these things are not done, then the baptism
be Scriptural. So we ask whether or not a baby can fulfill the
Scriptural prerequisites of baptism.
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.
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
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
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
Never were they baptized on the basis of someone else's
faith, such as their parents. No one else can believe for us, just
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
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
whom this "promise" was made. But "children" simply means
offspring, regardless of age (note Matt. 3:9; 10:21; 21:28; John
The "promise" here is for those who repent and are baptized
(v38); but babies cannot repent, nor can they do other things
in the context (v36,40,41,42). The "promise" to
the "children" was fulfilled when they were old enough to do what God
not while they were babies.
[See also 2 Cor. 7:10; Mk. 1:4,5.]
D. Before Baptism One Must Confess Christ.
10:9,10 -- To be saved, one must believe in his heart and
confess Christ with his mouth. How can a baby confess Christ
cannot even speak?
Acts 8:35-39 -- Here is an example of confession before baptism. The
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
sins, and confess Christ. Little babies cannot do any of these
things. Therefore, the command to be baptized is not addressed
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
Part III. Can Babies Fulfill the Requirements that Follow Baptism?
a person is baptized, he is making a commitment to live all the
rest of his life according to the Bible. He automatically
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
His word (see our introduction). We now know that the gospel clearly
teaches conditions regarding baptism that babies
meet. Yet some folks still claim that infant baptism is Scriptural.
We have briefly answered several
such efforts already. Let us notice
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?
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?
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
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
would only be part of what God requires. Other things are
required, both before and after baptism, that babies cannot possibly
suppose babies could believe. Logically, then, babies could also
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.).
who practice infant baptism make a distinction between the babies
that believe and those that don't? If so,
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
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.
None of these examples actually say that babies were included.
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
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.
contexts of the household conversions actually imply those who
were baptized included no babies.
each of the Bible examples of household conversions:
Cornelius's household -- Acts 10:1-11:18; 15:7-11
taught these people that God is no respecter of persons
(10:34). So whatever anyone in the household did to be baptized,
the rest must have done the same things. Peter did not give two sets
of rules, one for babies and another for adults.
some things that people in this household did that babies
cannot do: all in the household feared God (10:2,35); all came
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
and they were told to work righteousness (10:35). No babies
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
repentance, confession, etc. If such a case existed,
God would be a respecter of persons.
Lydia's household -- Acts
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.
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,
servants, but no husband is implied, let alone children.
Paul later "encouraged" those who were brethren (NKJV), including
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
verse says there were babies in this household? Note that
Stephanas' house ministered to the saints. Again, people who
baptized must be old enough to be active in God's work as members of
the church. This does not include babies.
household conversions do not disprove what we have learned
elsewhere. Instead they harmonize with it. All who are baptized
do things that babies cannot do. Therefore, the command to be
baptized does not include babies. When people baptize
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
is to act by human authority without divine authority.
Second, infant baptism leads people to believe they are saved
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
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
requires much water (John 3:23). Infant baptism does not fit
God's pattern on any of these points. The evidence clearly
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
Antioch, IL 60002
Phone: (847) 395-8937