Should Babies Be Baptized?

Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church:

“Perhaps you were baptised as a believer, but have never considered that this sign of cleansing from sin (Acts 22:16; 1 Pt 3:21) and union with the Lord (Rom 6:1-6; Gal 3:27) should be given to your children. Or perhaps you were baptised as an infant and are considering the significance of your baptism. Or perhaps you are a believer thinking about the baptism of your own child. Surely this Old Testament narrative causes us all to pause and ask – “What does this covenant sign of baptism mean to me and my children?””

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Is Baptizing Children Pointless?

Wilhelmus a Brakel:

Objection #2: Small children are baptized who do not as yet have understanding and are as yet unable to be believingly exercised with their baptism in order to be sealed by it. Baptism either has no efficacy—and is thus administered to them in vain—or by reason of inherent efficacy must beget grace in a natural sense. Since the first concept is absurd, the second is therefore confirmed.

Answer 1) The children in the Old Testament were circumcised and their circumcision was not in vain; it nevertheless had no inherent efficacy to circumcise the heart. It is thus evident that a child‟s reception of a sacrament can be of benefit, even though the sacrament has no inherent efficacy to beget grace. 2) Since baptism functions as a sign and a seal, a child can likewise be sealed. God, the congregation, and thus also the parents, view him as being sealed. The parents derive their comfort from this, and the baptized child, upon coming to the years of discretion, derives from his baptism its sealing efficacy to his comfort and sanctification. (TCRS, vol. 2, p. 502).

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Must We Baptize By Immersion?

From a church’s enquirer’s/communicant membership class booklet through the Westminster Confession of Faith (Ch. 28):

28:3: Dipping (or dunking) a person is “not necessary”; this does not mean immersion is an option, but rather that the practice is only “rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling”.[1] Jay Adams explains: “ … mode cannot be separated from meaning. The sacraments are symbolic. If so, then ‘mode’ and ‘symbol’ are one and the same … Mode and symbol, and therefore mode and meaning, cannot be divorced.”[2] A number of considerations are in order about baptism’s mode and meaning:

a. Christ’s baptism was related to His anointing to office as with the sprinkling or pouring of oil over the head of priests and kings (Ex. 29:7; Num. 8:6-7; 1 Sam. 10:1; Ps. 2:2: King Jesus is “my anointed”). As well, the sacrament represents the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which in Acts 2:17-18, 33, is said to be “poured out” on the Apostles, and later to have “fell on them” (and so they were “baptized”) in 11:15-16.[3] Van Dixhoorn says “ .. the actions of sprinkling and pouring repeatedly symbolize the divine work of salvation in the Bible in a way that immersion simply does not.”[4]

b. The Greek word for to baptize (βαπτίζω) has a broad usage, but primarily means to dip, to purify, to wash; it is used interchangeably with another Greek word that means “to wash” (baptism represents inner cleansing and purification by the regenerating and renewing washing of the Holy Ghost that unites us to Christ).[5] Ward explains, “The root idea of the Greek word baptize is not total immersion but an intensive dipping which involves a transformation (cf dyeing) …”[6] So, in Mark 7:4, “wash” and “washing” is the Greek “baptize” and “baptizing”, including a table (not immersed). In Lk. 11:38, the Pharisees marveled that Jesus had not “washed” (“baptized”) before dinner (see Mt. 15:2 of His disciples), and they didn’t mean diving into a lake, but using a utensil.

c. Heb. 9:13, 19, 21, and 10 refer to the OT “sprinklings” of blood to ceremonially cleanse, atone, or sanctify the people and the tabernacle and its ceremonial tools as “baptisms” (translated “washings”; see the connection with 10:22, 24 related to sprinkling of Christ’s blood to cleanse consciences.)[7]

Moses and the OT Church were “baptized” under the cloud (Christ) and by the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4), just as Noah and His family were “baptized” by the flood waters (1 Pet. 3:20-22); they were savingly sprinkled by merciful mist while God’s enemies were immersed with judgment.

e. Paul was baptized standing up by a bedside (Acts. 9:18, 22:16), and, “In the case of Saul’s baptism, the baptism of the household of Cornelius, and that of the household of the Philippian jailer, since each of these acts of baptism was carried out within a home (Acts 9:11; 10:25; 16:32), and in the last case sometime after midnight (Acts 16:33) but before dawn (v. 35), it is virtually certain that these baptisms would not have been by immersion, since few homes in those times would have had facilities for such an act …”[8]

f. When it is said of outdoor baptism events that they were “coming out of or up from the water” (Mark 1:9-10; Acts 8:36-39), note that Luke says such of Philip and the eunuch, but Philip was not baptized—he did the baptizing; and, the Eunuch had just read Isaiah 53, which is preceeded by 52:15: “So shall he sprinkle many nations …” (see also Ezek. 36:25)[9] They came up from out of the water location (not out from under the water). So when Israel crossed the Jordon River into the Promised Land, the priests stepped their feet into water, but then the waters were blocked up and they crossed over on dry land, of which they then were said to “come up out of” (Josh. 3:13; 4:16-19). R.C. Sproul points out that with where the Ethiopian and Philip were (Acts 8:26), “It is doubtful that in that ‘desert’ between Jerusalem and Gaza … there was enough water for an immersion.”[10]

g. Van Dixhoorn cites these other considerations: “ … there were times when too many people were baptized to permit immersion. Acts 2:41 tells us that 3,000 people were baptized on one day in Jerusalem. It is hardly possible …” Also, “ … there were times when baptism happened too quickly … at once … (Acts 16:33). The language of immediate baptism [with the Philippian jailer and his family] does not suggest that they went through the city and were baptized at the river, or a pool. Paul probably reached for a jug or a bowl and, after explaining baptism, poured or sprinkled water on these new converts.” As well, “The only plausible picture of immersion in baptism is that of Romans 6 or Colossians 2, but arguably it is plausible to us because we think of burials vertically, six feet under the ground, whereas in hard Palestinian soil burials were often effected horizontally, behind a rock in a cave.”[11] More importantly, Rom. 6 and Col. 2 are figures of speech for union with Christ.

h. “Total immersion lacks Old Testament precedent or clear New Testament justification.”[12]

[1] While not directly addressing the WCF here, John Murray’s comments seem to reflect this interpretation, if not of the Confession, of the Scriptural doctrine on mode: “ … there are numerous instances in which the action denoted does not imply immersion and which prove that baptism does not mean immersion (cf. Lev. 14:6, 51; Matt. 15:2 Mark 7:2-5; Luke 11:38; 1 Cor. 10:2; Heb. 9:10-23) … the ordinance is properly [correctly] administered by sprinkling or affusion.” “Baptism” in Collected Writings, vol. 2, 373.

[2] Jay E. Adams, TheMeaning and Mode of Baptism, vi.

[3] Adams, 23.

[4] Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, 371.

[5] A. A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Commentary, 341.

[6] Rowland Ward, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide, 176.

[7] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 933.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 932.

[10] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. 3, 119. David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, 219-220: “ … we read of three thousand baptized in one day, in the streets of Jerusalem, by twelve apostles at the most, where there was no river to dip them into (Acts 2:4I). And was not Jerusalem and all Judea and the region round about Jordan baptized by John the Baptist alone, which could not be done to all and every one by dipping (Matt. 3:5-6)?”

[11] Van Dixhoorn, 371, 372.

[12] Ward, 176.

Samuel Rutherford on Infant Baptism

Samuel Rutherford on Infant Baptism (Part 1)

Chapter 13 of The Covenant of Life Opened (published in 1655)

There are two sorts of Covenanting, one external, professed, visible, conditional, another internal, real, absolute and the differences betwixt them. 2. Infants Externally in Covenant under the New Testament 3. Some Questions touching infants. 

Persons are two ways in Covenant with God, externally by Visible profession, and conditionally, not in reference to the Covenant, but to the thing promised in Covenant, which none obtains, but such as fulfill the condition of the Covenant: For consent of parties, promise and restipulation whether express, by word of mouth, Deut. 5.27. We will hear and do, Josh. 24.24. And the people said unto Joshua, the Lord our God will we serve and his voice will we obey. Or yet tacit and implicit by profession. I will be thy God, and the God of thy feed, makes parties in Covenant. The keeping or breaking of the Covenant, must then be extrinsical to ones being confederate with God. And 2. Infants born of Covenanted Parents are in Covenant with God, because they are born of such Parents, as are in Covenant with God, Gen. 17.7. I will be a God to thy seed after thee. (2.) The Covenant choice on Gods part is extended to the seed, Deut. 4.37. And because he loved thy Fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them. Deut. 10.15. Only the Lord had a delight in thy Fathers, to love them, (and) he chose their seed after them, (even you (Fathers and Children) above all people, (as it is) this day. And the Covenant choice of seed is extended to the seed in the New Testament. Act. 2.39. For to you, and to your children is the promise made. He speaks in the very terms and words of the Covenant, Gen. 17.7., every one of you be baptized, he saith not every one of you, old and young, Parents and Children, repent. For that command of Repentance is given only personally to them who moved the Question, What shall we do, Men and Brethren? (v. 37). For we are under great wrath, and crucified the Lord of Glory. The Answer is, you aged, Repent. (v. 39). True. But ah, we prayed, his blood be upon us and our Children. He Answers to that, every one of you be baptized. Why, that must be every one of you who are commanded to repent? No. It must be every one of you to whom the promise is made, but the promise is made to you and to your children. (The promise of the Covenant must be made to infants, else the meaning cannot stand, Acts 2.39)…

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The Early Church and Infant Baptism

Irenaeus – Against Heresies 2.22.4:

“He came to save all through Himself, all I say, who through Him are reborn in God, infants, and children, and youth, and old men. Therefore He passed through every age, becoming infants for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age, and at the same time becoming for them an example of piety, of righteousness, and of submission; a young man for youths, becoming an example for youths and sanctifying them for the Lord.”

Origen – Cited in Robert Rayburn, What About Baptism? (The Covenant College Press, 1957), 52:

“For what is sin? Could a child who has only just been born commit a sin? And yet he has sin for which it is commanded to offer a sacrifice, as Job 14:4ff and Psalm 51:5-7 show. For this reason the Church received from the Apostles the tradition to administer baptism to the children also. For the men to whom the secrets of divine mysteries had been entrusted knew that in everyone there were genuine defilements [sic], which had to be washed away with water and the Spirit.”

Cyprian – Letter 58 to a pastor named Fidus:

“1. Because God is no respecter of persons and his grace is universally given to all types, baptism ought to be administered to both adults and infants.

2. Because God is no respecter of persons and because his grace is universally given to all types, baptism ought to be given to adults and children and not limited to any particular age.

3. Because the grace of God is given to those who receive it in an equal measure, baptism ought to be given to both adults and children.

4. Since outward circumcision was abolished with the coming of Christ we are now given a “spiritual circumcision.”

5. Because God is no respecter of persons and because his grace is universally given to all types, baptism ought to be given to Jews and Gentiles alike: “spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision.”

6. If grace and baptism is given to those who commit heinous sins, “how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth.”

Augustine – On Baptism, Against the Dentists, ed. Philip Schaff, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series 1 (reprinted; Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), IV:461:

“And this is the firm tradition of the universal Church, in respect of the baptism of infants, who certainly are as yet unable “with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth to make confession unto salvation,” as the thief could do; nay, who even, by crying and moaning when the mystery is performed upon them, raise their voices in opposition to the mysterious words, and yet no Christian will say that they are baptized to no purpose. And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by apostolical authority…”

Source:, Comment 2

New Testament Forms of Worship

The Westminster Presbyterian:

“As forms of worship for the church of the New Testament, God has appointed prayer, reading of the Scriptures, preaching the Word, singing of Psalms, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s Day.”

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Not the Simple “New” but “Renew” or “Refresh”

Semper Reformanda on the word “new” in Jeremiah 31:

The Hebrew word is not just the simple “new” but “renew” or “refresh.” The word for “new” is an adjective that is used 53 times in the Old Testament. It comes from the verb form of the word. That verb form is its root and its basic meaning. When we trace the verb through the Old Testament, it is used to mean, “renew or repair;” cf. Isa 61:4; 2 Chron. 24:4, 12; Psalm 51:10 (12) Lam. 5:21; 1 Sam. 11:14; 2 Chron. 15:8; Job 10:17; Psalm 104:30; Psa. 103:5; 2 Chron. 24:4; 24:12; and etc. The idea around the word itself as an adjective means taking something already existing and “renewing it” – either repairing it to a previous state or in taking something that was already and making it better.

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The Baptism Debate

Shishko v. White on baptism:

The Argument for a Positive Command is Flawed

Semper Reformanda on Genesis 17:9 and its perpetuity:

“The error in interpretation rests in a skewed hermeneutic.  It comes from not taking into account the whole of scripture when you look at this idea. Most of the credobaptists are guilty of this due to their dispensationalism. It is hard to avoid the fact that God does not change and the theme of families and covenant permeate the scriptures. The argument that we see no positive command in the New Testament is flawed. The thinking should be, ‘we see no command to put the children out of the equation’. There is no abrogation of the principle, so hence, we commit to what God has commanded.”


John the Baptist was a Paedobaptist

Semper Reformanda on John’s baptism:

“So, when John was calling people, he was calling Jews. What would a Levite have to do with Gentiles and Samaritans? This was for the people of God. These peoples included the federal heads of the family. The federal headship understood the gravity of what their job was. They always functioned as a family unit. It was never individual; no one was independent of the federal headship. Federal heads had already placed the sign on their children prior to this event. There is no way that a faithful Jew would have thought for a moment that this washing was a replacement to the covenantal command to circumcise; it was in addition to.

The point is, John was actually a paedobaptist.  Paedobaptists function along the same lines as the Old testament saint in regards to the sign. In the Old, there was circumcision, in the new, there is water baptism.”