Baptism: Two Views


Over the past several months we have been looking at the doctrines and practices of our church that are foundational and give us some definition. And we have come to the doctrine of baptism. This morning I thought I would try an experiment that is totally different than anything I have ever done before. So I have no idea how effective this will be. But rather than seeking to prove the doctrine of infant baptism, and of baptism by sprinkling – which most of you believe anyway, I thought I would try to dig behind the scenes as to why good Christians look at baptism passages in the bible in quite different ways. I thought I would demonstrate how our views of other doctrines affect our interpretation of the baptism passages. You could call these things presuppositions, or prior assumptions. But it is amazing the degree to which our interpretations are colored by prior commitments. And in going through this exercise, I think it will help to give us patience with people who look at the same passages we do, but who come to totally different conclusions. We ought not to get frustrated with people when they can't see the facts and keep shoveling more facts at them. We need to think through why they interpret the facts differently. Most people never get down to the presuppositions when they argue.

There are godly Christians and brilliant Christians on both sides of the baptism debate. And you might think, "How can they read the same passages and not see what we see? Infant baptism is so clear! It just jumps off the page at us!" But you know what? They're thinking the same thing. They are thinking, "How in the world can you believe in infant baptism?"

Our worldviews shape our thinking on this subject. If we assume that a given passage only refers to Israel, our mind will (without even trying) tend to ignore its implications for us. If we read Scripture with assumptions of American individualism, we will read and apply that Scripture much differently than if we believe in the covenant solidarity of the family. If we think that Romans 6 is describing water baptism and what it symbolizes, we will come to radically different conclusions than a person who sees it as referring to Spirit baptism and not water baptism.

Two views of the weight of extra-biblical evidence

Extra-Biblical evidence is used to prejudice the case

"That's Roman Catholic"

And there are even subtle things that influence our thinking like a negative association that a doctrine has had. And that can be true of any doctrine. You knew someone who was a jerk who held to Calvinism, and it's kind of made Calvinism stink in your nostrils. I remember that the first argument I used against infant baptism when I was in my early twenties was that it was a carry over from Roman Catholicism. And my children will recognize that that is the fallacy of guilt by association. But even though it is a logical fallacy, it is very powerful. Long after I believed in infant baptism with my head, I had a difficulty with it in my emotions because of guilt by association. "That's Roman Catholic doctrine!" I argued that the Reformers did pretty well as far as they went, but there were some traditions that they should have reformed, baptism being one of them. And because it was an argument that carried weight with me (at least emotionally), I thought I should at least comment on it.

And my first comment is that we don't prove any doctrine from church history. The bible alone is infallible. And our opponents would usually agree with that. But we do need to examine our hearts to see the degree to which extra biblical evidence pulls weight. Because (let me tell you) there are people on both sides of this debate who appeal to history as if it carries weight. We can be guilty of that.

But the second comment I would make is that the Roman Catholics believe a lot of right things. They believe in the Trinity, the Deity and Humanity of Jesus, the omniscience of God, the holiness of God and hundreds of other doctrines that Baptists and Presbyterians also believe. Just because Roman Catholics believe something, does not make it wrong. And unfortunately, we Presbyterians often fall into the same trap. Many Presbyterians don't like to kneel in prayer because Roman Catholics do it. We don't like to raise our hands, because Pentecostals do it. But you can't build doctrine based on avoiding guilt by association. In fact, that can easily blind us to clear Biblical testimony. There are hundreds of Scriptures which talk about kneeling, raising hands, saying audible Amens, etc. And so, this is an encouragement that on both sides of the debate, this should not be normative.

Third, I would point out that this is actually not a Roman Catholic doctrine. Not only have they distorted infant baptism, but true infant baptism began long before the Roman Catholic Church. I remember when I used this argument, I was shown pictures dating to the first century from the Catacombs under Rome where Christians had fled from Nero's persecution (and so we are talking about ancient paintings that date to around 64 AD when the apostles are still alive), they all showed people being baptized with water being poured over their heads, and there are two or three pictures of Jesus standing a foot or two deep in water with water being poured over His head. I thought, "Boy, that's a little odd." I didn't know what to do with it.. But I dismissed it with the thought that the Bible is the only thing normative for theology anyway. And I agree with that, but I failed to realize that I was not being consistent. I wanted to use extra-biblical evidence to disprove a doctrine ("that's Roman Catholic"), and then when it backfired, to fall back on the argument of the Bible alone.

I had the same reaction when I discovered that there is no evidence for anything but infant baptism in church history before the Reformation. In 180 AD, Irenaeus, who was taught by Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, (so we are just one generation away from Christ) spoke of baptism being applied to "infants and little ones and children and youths and older persons." Another church father from the same era said, "the church has a tradition from the apostles to give baptism even to infants." It was pointed out to me that the first controversy to arise over baptism was in 250 AD when an ecumenical council debated the question of whether infants had to be baptized on the eighth day, or whether it could be on Sunday. At that council they all believed that infant baptism had always been practiced. Their huge debate was, "which day?"

Now, does that prove that infant baptism is true? No. It doesn't prove it anymore than the opposite would be proved if there had been an absence of evidence. We believe history can illustrate a Biblical doctrine. We would for example, expect that if it was Biblical, you would find people practicing infant baptism by sprinkling from the earliest times. But whether we are pro-infant baptism or against it, we need to be careful about the degree to which extra Biblical evidence carries weight. Those early church fathers didn't point to extra-biblical evidence for why they baptized infants – they pointed to the Bible and the apostles.

"My lexicon says baptizo means 'immerse.'"

A similar argument from extra-biblical authority is the use of lexicons or dictionaries. And this game can be played by both sides. You can find lexicons or dictionaries which say that baptizo never means immerse, and others that say that it sometimes means immerse. I have a whole shelf full of books defending the idea that baptism has to be by immersion only. One book I have is called "Baptizo: Dip Only." And the interesting thing about that book is that it spends four pages discussing four Biblical texts, only one of which directly dealt with mode, and spent 161 pages giving testimonies of scholars as to what the term baptizo meant. Well, Presbyterians have done the same thing. I have a huge four volume treatise by James Dale that goes through every occurrence of the word bapto and baptizo in secular and religious Greek of the ancients and shows how there are numerous places where it cannot possibly mean immerse and no place where it has to mean immerse. Talk about a boring, boring read.

But the bottom line is, "How does the Scripture use the term?" Mark 7 says that couches and tables were baptized every day by Pharisees for ritual purification. Are we really to believe that they immersed their couches and tables every day? Alfred Edersheim (the Jewish scholar) says that they sprinkled them. Hebrews 9:10 speaks of various baptisms of the old Testament, and then proceeds to list out the various baptisms, all of which were by sprinkling. The text that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading prompted the eunuch to ask, what hinders him from being baptized? If you look at the passage he was reading in Isaiah, it says that the Messiah would sprinkle many Gentiles. The eunuch got his idea straight out of the text. In fact, every Old Testament passage that prophecies Messiah baptizing says that He would sprinkle them with water. We have a tract on the back table that goes through numerous texts that show that baptisms in the Old and New Testaments were always by sprinkling or pouring. Now, I got immersed, and Presbyterians have always accepted that. They do get some water on their head, right? But I try to talk people out of it because I don't believe it was the biblical mode. I'm not going to even get into those Scriptures this morning. My purpose today is to demonstrate how it is so easy to allow other things to drive our interpretation of a passage, whether we are Presbyterian or Baptist. And it needs to be the Scripture.

So what I want to do in the remainder of our time is to take several Biblical themes and to show how a different understanding of those doctrines makes a big difference on how you view infant baptism, and whether baptism is by immersion of pouring. And hopefully, this won't be too boring for you this morning.

The use of history simply to illustrate the Bible

Church writings from the first century on appealed to Biblical authority to teach infant baptism

While Scripture clearly defines the term, Dale's 4-volume work examines every secular usage of the term and shows how it is consistent with Biblical usage

Two views of Old Testament infant baptism

Irrelevant to the discussion

Continues to apply

The first doctrine that people look at quite differently is whether Old Testament baptisms have any relevance to the discussion. Many Baptists will insist that those are utterly irrelevant to the discussion of New Testament baptisms. And you can see why. They baptized infants in the Old Testament and they baptized by sprinkling. We say that those Old Testament baptisms are foundational to our understanding of how the early Jewish church would have understood baptism. Well, your assumptions on that issue are automatically going to color how you see New Testament baptism.

Turn to Hebrews 6. This is a passage which shows that before we can go on to understand more Christian doctrine, we need to understand certain fundamentals. Look at verse 1: Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation [and notice what's in the foundation] of repentance from dead works and faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms [and even Baptists agree that because of the plural he is probably talking about Old Testament Jewish baptisms], of the laying on of hands [how many people think that is a foundational doctrine – well it is], of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And in this book he is going to say a lot about Old Testament baptisms. He is going to show how there have been some changes from the bazillion baptisms they had back then to the one that we have now (as Paul words it elsewhere, one Lord, one faith, one baptism); from the use of blood and ashes mixed with water, to pure water, etc. But he also shows how the Old Testament teachings inform us on our own baptism. And once you begin to see that there is a relationship between the Old and the New in Hebrews it makes all kinds of puzzling Scriptures fall into place. It explains what Jesus meant by being born of water. It explains why Isaiah was relevant to the discussion of baptism in Acts 8. It explains what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 15:29 when he speaks of baptism for the dead. And it wasn't proxy baptism. Jews always practiced the baptism of Nida or the baptism from the dead. Every time they were cut off they were considered in the land of the spiritually dead. And I'll deal with that under point IV.

But turn to Hebrews 9, and we will look at how this chapter deals with the mode of Old Testament baptisms and then applies that in chapter 10 to our own baptism. Hebrews 9 is a chapter that deals with several Old Testament baptisms. Look at verse 10. concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings [if you look in the margin you will see that the term washings is literally baptisms. "various baptisms"] and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. And then he goes on to list some of those baptisms. Verse 13: for if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh. This first baptism is by sprinkling. And I should say that the word for purifying of the flesh is exactly the same word that is used of the baptism of the church in Ephesians 5:26, of the baptism of Cornelius and his household in Acts 11:19, of the baptism that Christ's disciples performed and that John the Baptist performed. It is the word that describes all infants in the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7:14 otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. There are only two cleansings or states of being unclean. One is internal, and the other is outward or ceremonial. One is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the other is the baptism of water. So here is the first baptism, or ceremonial purification, and it is by sprinkling.

Verse 19, last phrase: and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people. Verse 21, Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. Now Baptists will frequently acknowledge that Old Testament baptisms were all by sprinkling, but they will say that this fact is irrelevant for us since our baptism is totally different. For example, Kirk Wellum admits that Old Testament sprinklings are called baptisms here, but says, "However, 'baptismos' in Hebrews probably reflects Jewish … as opposed to Christian usage, and as such covers a wide range of washings that are no longer valid because of the reality of the New Covenant." Well, let me ask: "What was the early church composed of? For the first twenty to thirty years it was mostly composed of Jews. And how would have Jews understood the term? I think that is the question?

And in fact, in Hebrews 9 and 10 the writer says that the Old Testament rituals were foreshadowing the New Covenant ones. The earthly were patterned after the heavenly. Chapter 10:1 says, For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come… They were foreshadowing what would happen now. Look at chapter 10:22 where the Old Testament shadows are applied to New Testament Spirit baptism and water baptism. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. So he ends up applying these baptisms to our baptism.

Now obviously, in a short compass like this, we can't get into an analysis of all the Old Testament passages dealing with baptism. Appendix B of my book on Baptism is titled "Infant Baptism Started with Moses," and does that exegetical work for you. But this morning, I just wanted to point out that the disagreement is not so much the existence of infant baptism in the Old Testament, or whether they baptized by sprinkling, but whether the Old Testament is relevant to our discussion. Did you realize that the only Bible the early church had for many years was the Old Testament. Paul praised the Bereans for checking out everything according to the Old Testament. Acts 26:22 says that Paul was saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come. And there are numerous New Testament passages which base New Testament baptism on the Old Testament. And you will have to read my book to see those.

Two views of the relationship of baptism to circumcision

Circumcision signed and sealed spiritual and physical things to Jews whereas baptism only signs and seals spiritual things to spiritual people (Col. 2:11-12). Also, faith was not required in the Old Testament.

All the promises are "Yea and Amen in Christ" and both circumcision and baptism sign and seal both spiritual and physical blessings to God's people. Also, faith was required in the Old Testament for circumcision.

Another doctrine where there are two different views is the doctrine of circumcision. And the New Testament has clearly changed this and done away with all bloody rites. But there are Reformed Baptists who agree with us that Colossians 2:11-12 calls Baptism "Christian circumcision" and that various other passages impute circumcision to us. For example, Baptist writer, Paul K. Jewett says, "the only conclusion we can reach is that the two signs, as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality in Paul's thinking. Thus circumcision may fairly be said to be the Old Testament counterpart of Christian baptism. So far, the Reformed argument, in our judgment is biblical. In this sense 'baptism,' to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, 'occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament.'" David Kingdom, another Baptist writer is forced to the same conclusion. Baptism takes over the role of circumcision as a sign of the covenant.

But where they disagree with us is on two issues: first, they say that faith was not required in the Old Testament, and secondly, they say that there is a movement in redemptive history away from external to internal, from visible to invisible, from earthly to heavenly, from fleshly to spiritual and from corporate to individual. I find it interesting that they throw in corporate with fleshly, earthly and external. But they do. To quote Walter Chantry, "But the New Testament Church is come of age. It is by way of contrast, inward, spiritual, and personal." So infant baptism no longer applies. Jewett says much the same: "This then is of capital significance – the temporal, earthly, typical elements of the old dispensation were dropped from the great house of salvation as scaffolding from the finished edifice."

So let me quickly examine those two prior assumptions. First, was faith required in the Old Testament before baptism could be applied to the family? I devote an entire chapter to this in my book, but let me give a couple hints here: In Romans 2:28-29 Paul says For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit… He is saying that you can't even claim to be a Jew if you are unregenerate and don't have faith. That's why the Old Testament called apostate Israel, Sodom and Gomorrah. That's why Paul says, not all Israel is Israel. That's why Revelation denies that unbelieving Jews were really Jews. This is why Romans 4:10-12 speaks of circumcision as being a sign of justification by faith. It's the sign of justification by faith every bit as much as baptism is (Romans 4:10-12) Abraham believed, therefore he was able to receive the sign of the covenant and apply it to His children. But apart from faith, this family sign could not be applied. This is why in Joshua 5, God called the Jews Egyptians and had them get circumcised and roll away the reproach of Egypt. Their parents had died in the wilderness in unbelief, and therefore God would not allow them to circumcise their children. Only the children of believing parents were supposed to get circumcised. The language of faith connected with baptism is identical to that which is used with circumcision. And so, as John Calvin said, Any argument we could use against infant baptism could be equally well used against infant circumcision in the Old Testament.

But what about this notion that circumcision signed and sealed both spiritual and physical things like land, and health and Deuteronomy 28 blessings, but that baptism only signs and seals spiritual or heavenly things? Has God really removed the corporate dimension of families and made everything an individualistic concern? Is inclusion of infants really simply part of the scaffolding or is it part of the building? We would say it is part of the building because Jesus commanded us, "Let the little children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Including children is not part of the scaffolding. It is part of the building; part of the kingdom. And you can look that up in Luke 18:15 and you will see that He was talking about the infants that they brought to Him. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says that infants continue to be set apart: Paul says, otherwise you children would be unclean, but not they are holy. It's an outward sanctification or setting apart.

Contrary to what Jewett and Kingdon say, the corporate covenant solidarity of the family continues to be present, and it extends to the Gentiles. Acts 3:25 says that in Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed. John anticipates a time when all nations shall come and worship before God. Thus there is an expansion of Jewish families and Jewish nation to all families and all nations. The Great Commission commands us to disciple all nations. In fact, far from removing Old Testament blessings, the New Testament hugely expands upon every Old Testament blessing that is supposedly part of the scaffolding. The promise of the land is not done away with; it is expanded to, the meek shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). 3 John 2 says, Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. Isaiah 42:4 prophecies that all nations will submit to God's civil laws. And eventually, we will inherit new bodies and a new heavens and a new earth. It is hard for me to say that baptism does not sign and seal physical things. It signs and seals the entire universe – it expands the pledge of the Old Testament, it doesn't remove it. 1 Corinthians 3:21-22 says, For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours. And you are Christ's and Christ is God's. So they admit that baptism is the counterpart to circumcision. The only question is, "Who is right on the issue of faith, physical blessings and the corporate nature of the family?" Has that changed? And we would say, "No. It has expanded."

Two views of John the Baptist's baptism

It was unrelated to Old Testament proselyte baptism

It was Old Testament proselyte baptism

We're going to have to hurry here, but another teaching where there are two different views is the baptism of John. Almost all Reformed people believe that John's baptism is the same as Christian baptism. The apostles did not get rebaptized. Apollos who was baptized by John did not get rebaptized. The only passage where it may appear different is Acts 19, where the people didn't even appear to believe John's teaching. But Baptists vigorously contest that. But secondly (and I think even more important than that question), is that Reformed people say that John's Baptism was specifically the proselyte Baptism of the Jews, called "the baptism from the dead" or "the baptism of Nida" in the Old Testament. Let me explain what 1 Corinthians 15:19 is talking about when it refers to the Corinthians being baptized from the dead. It has nothing to do with Mormon doctrine of substitute baptisms. Every baptism was a baptism from the realm of the spiritually dead. Anyone who was cut off from the covenant, whether a Jew who had leprosy, or an apostate, or a Gentile, was considered spiritually dead, and had to be baptized when they became believers or when they were readmitted into the covenant. And what happened with Gentiles is that the males were circumcised and baptized, and the females were baptized, and their baptism was called a circumcision. That's the same language that Paul uses of Gentile believers. Though we are only baptized, Romans 2:26 says that it is counted as circumcision. And in Philippians 3:3 he says that we are the circumcision. What happened with Jews who were apostates and later repented, is that they couldn't be recircumcised, so instead they were baptized, and their baptism was treated as a circumcision. So that was proselyte baptism. When John the Baptist called all the Jews to get baptized, the Jews knew that God was treating them as being cut off from the covenant and as being pagans. And if they wanted to be part of the New Israel – the remnant, they had to be baptized into the covenant.

Now the question comes, "Why do Baptists insist that John the Baptist's baptism couldn't have been Jewish proselyte baptism?" Because they know that proselyte baptism always included the baptism of the infants of believers. The whole family was admitted. What was offensive to the Pharisees about this is that John was claiming they were apostates, cut off from the covenant and in need of Gentile proselyte baptism. They said "We are children of Abraham." And John denied it and said, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." They knew exactly what John was saying.

So again, if you see John's baptism as being Jewish proselyte baptism and rooted in the Old Testament, then it is so easy to see that it had to include any infants that were present. And thus Mark 1:5 talks about all the land being baptized, not just individuals. But if you see John the Baptist's baptism as an utterly new innovation, you can easily escape from that conclusion. Can you see how various doctrines impact how you view baptism?

Two views of what is symbolized

The view that water baptism symbolizes our death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6)

Another issue that good people differ on is what is symbolized by water baptism. Turn to Romans 6. This passage is used by Baptists to prove that baptism has to be by immersion because it has to symbolize our having gone down into the grave and having come up out of the grave. We will not deal with the fact that no one was buried that way – they were actually lifted up into rock crevices. But let's just assume that burial was the way we do it now. Baptist writer Kirk Wellum (after commenting on an identical phrase in Colossians 2:12) said, "We find something similar in Rom.6:3-6, where Paul sees the initiation rite of water baptism (not Spirit baptism).." We Presbyterians say, "No. There is not a drop of water in this passage. And it doesn't show what water baptism symbolizes, but rather what Spirit baptism actually accomplishes. Let's start reading at verse 3, and you tell me if this is water baptism or Spirit baptism.

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death?

I want you to notice throughout that whatever baptism Paul is talking about, these things happen to every single person so baptized. There are not exceptions. He says, "as many of us as were baptized." If that is talking about water baptism (and not Spirit baptism), it is saying that every one who is water baptized will be saved. That's not what Baptists usually want to say (although there are more and more Baptists who are being forced to the conclusion of baptismal regeneration – which is sad). It's definitely not what we would want to say. He goes on:

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, etc.

It makes a big difference whether you see that as Spirit baptism or water baptism. If it is Spirit Baptism, it doesn't symbolize anything. It actually accomplishes these realities. It goes way beyond symbolism. And it's my contention that he is indeed talking about what has actually been accomplished by the Spirit. There's not a drop of water in the passage.

But they will respond, "But doesn't verse 5 say the likeness of His death? Likeness implies symbolism. And we say, "Likeness means that it is similar, but not identical. Our spiritual death and resurrection is similar to Christ's, but not identical with it. And in proof of that you can sometime check out Colossians 2:11-13 which uses the same language for circumcision. But nobody would say that physical circumcision is a symbol or pantomime of death, burial and resurrection. But spiritual circumcision (on the other hand) does usher us into the reality of those things. Galatians 3:27 says For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Immersion doesn't symbolize putting on clothes, but the same language is used as Romans 6. What's good for one passage ought to be good for another. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Again, this is talking about what Spirit baptism actually unites us to, not what it symbolizes.

The view that water baptism symbolizes the baptism of the Spirit (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5,8; 2:3,17,33; 10:44; etc.)

In contrast, we Presbyterians believe that water baptism symbolizes Spirit baptism. So that's the debate. Does it symbolize death, burial and resurrection, or does it symbolize the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

John the Baptist indicated that His baptism pointed towards the Baptism of the Spirit. With Jesus baptism, the two were closely connected. After being baptized with water, the Spirit came upon Him like a dove. So the question for us is, "How did God baptize people in the Spirit? What mode of baptism did God use?" He tells us in Acts. Turn to Acts 1 and I will give you a few verses. Acts 1:8 again connects water and Spirit baptism. It says, for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. Look at verse 8: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you… Notice that the action is with the Spirit, not with the person, and that the Spirit is coming upon them. Look at chapter 2:3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. There is the baptism of fire, and it is by coming down upon them. Look at verse 17 where He quotes Joel's prophecy of the baptism of the Spirit. And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Notice the mode is pouring. And there are numerous Old Testament passages which speak of this and they are all pouring or sprinkling of water and of the Spirit. Look down at verse 33: Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. Again, God's mode is pouring. Look at Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. Notice again the action is from above, falling down upon them. Verse 45: And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also There's the consistent mode that God used for baptism. He always baptizes by pouring or sprinkling. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the LORD. Then they asked him to stay a few days. The word for forbid in verse 47 is koluso which literally means to hold back water. The implication is that water was going to be brought to the people being baptized.

But you can see how different understandings of what water baptism symbolizes will tend to prejudice us towards a particular mode. If I believed that water baptism symbolized our death, burial and resurrection, then I would probably use immersion. (And by the way, I was immersed. We do accept that. We just don't believe it best symbolizes Spirit baptism.) If I believed that water baptism should symbolize Christ's baptism by the Spirit, then I would try to imitate God's mode, which is pouring or sprinkling

Two views of our role in salvation

Man contributes

Man contributes nothing (Rom. 3)

But again, this brings up another difference of viewpoint – and that is, the role that we play in salvation. Calvinism sees regeneration is 100% the work of God, and we being passive. With immersion, we act and we move, the water doesn't. With pouring or sprinkling, we are acted upon. It symbolizes that we are not saved by works, but by God's grace alone. Infant baptism symbolizes the same thing. We believe that the normal pattern once an ancestor comes to faith is infant baptism (for generations to come), and that God did it this way to symbolize that we contribute nothing to our salvation.

Two views of the Old Testament as a whole

We are New Testament Christians

Old Testament infant baptism has not been done away – only circumcision (a bloody rite) has.

Going through these items quickly: there are two views of the Old Testament as a whole. We hold to covenant theology and that the Old Testament saints are part of the bride of Christ – they are not a separate people; we are the Israel of God. Your view on that point will make a big difference on which Scriptures we believe apply.

Two views of the place of children in the church

Though dedicated to God, children are in a "no-man's land" with respect to the church

Children are dedicated to God and are members of the church

Point VIII is pretty obvious. There are two views of the place of children in the church. And I think that Baptists usually intuitively recognize that they need to do something with their children. The substitute that some evangelicals have made for baptism is baby dedication. And while I have run across some Reformed Baptists that treat their children as pagans, most evangelicals act like their children are in the church. They teach their children to pray, to sing, to worship, to give offerings and to do everything else that members do. And they take their expressions of faith seriously.

We believe this is happily inconsistent. We are delighted with that inconsistency. But we say that God takes ownership of our children and places them into the covenant even as Abraham's children were admitted to the church. Over and over His promise is, "I will be a God to you and your children after you." Every covenant God has ever made has always included the children. And I think it is so neat how God treats them as being in the church. When it is time for worship, Scripture says, Gather the people together, the men and the women and the little ones… Here's a description of the congregation. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation. Assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes (Joel 2:16) He sees nursing babes as in the congregation of God. 2 Chronicles 30:18 says, their little ones, their wives, their sons and daughters, the whole congregation of them. Well, obviously the congregation included little ones. Matthew 21:16 says, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise' He obviously accepted the worship of babes and nursing infants in the church. When Paul addressed the children in Colossians and Ephesians, he treats them as being in the church. But you can see how your view of this will affect whether the sign of church membership should be applied to infants.

Two views of who can be heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant

No one is an heir unless he has faith (Gal. 3:26-29)

The children of believers are heirs before they come to faith (Gal. 4:1)

Another issue on which there are two views, (and we will have to wrap it up soon) is of who can be in the Abrahamic covenant. Turn to Galatians 3. This passage is used to show that only believing adults can be admitted to the Abrahamic covenant. Verse 26 says, For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [and that was true under Abraham. His Gentile servants were admitted to the covenant]; there is neither slave nor free [ and that was true under Abraham. Abraham's slaves were admitted to the covenant by faith just as Abraham was, and they were equal to Abraham before God, even though they were slaves] there is neither male nor female [females were also admitted into full membership into the covenant with Abraham. Women today are daughters of Sarah] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

I don't know how many times I have read Baptists quote this to show that the Abrahamic covenant has been narrowed here to individuals, and not families or children. But they just haven't read far enough. Remember, that verse and chapter divisions were added in modern times. They weren't in the original Greek. It's not just the believing adults who are heirs. Keep reading in chapter 4. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child… Notice that the children of these Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, men and women are still called heirs of the Abrahamic covenant. Now its true, that they are no different than slaves. Their decisions are being made for them. But they are heirs. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine being in the Abrahamic covenant without it including our children. Every promise God gave to Abraham, he gave to Abraham and his seed. Every promise. At it's essence, the Abrahamic covenant is a family covenant. It's inconceivable to me that Baptists make it into an individualistic covenant (except for the fact that I was a Baptist once and I did it). And so Acts 2, after calling for faith and repentance and baptism explained, For the promise is to you and to your children The next chapter he once again applies the Abrahamic covenant to those being saved and says, For you are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' Notice that there is no narrowing of the Abrahamic covenant. It continues to include families, but broadens this promise to all the families of the earth.

Two views of the relationship of the Abrahamic Covenant to baptism

Many believe that (if there even is a relationship of baptism to the Abrahamic covenant) the relationship is circumstantial at best – that faith is the issue, and that baptism is a sign of that faith

We believe that since baptism replaces circumcision, you cannot understand baptism apart from the Abrahamic covenant

But this brings up another issue on which you find different perspectives. Many people reject the idea not only that infants continue to be part of the Abrahamic covenant, but they reject the idea that baptism is specifically the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. But Galatians has been arguing exactly that – that baptism replaces circumcision, and to insist on circumcision is to deny that these baptized believers are in the covenant.

Verse 27 says, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Verse 29 says, And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Look at verse 17: And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

It is impossible for the Abrahamic covenant to be annulled. I won't take the time to prove it this morning because of time constraints, but if you examine all of the New Testament passages on baptism, you will discover that they are rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. That is hugely significant. If we are in the Abrahamic covenant and heirs of its promises, and if every promise made to Abraham included his children, then the sign of the covenant must be consistent with that. John the Baptist tied his baptism to Abraham and being children of Abraham. Acts 2 tied the baptisms that were happening to Abraham and said, the promise is to you and your children. Acts 3 does the same to those being saved in that chapter and says of Abraham, in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Not Jewish families, but all families of the earth can enter in. Why? Because the Abrahamic covenant is still in force? If baptism is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, all you have to do is look up Genesis 17 and you will see that to fail to include your children in the covenant sign is disobedience to God and unbelief in His promise.

Two views of what is promised in baptism

Our promise to God

God's promise to us

I need to skip over some of these, even though they are relevant.

Two views of the possession of the Holy Spirit

A claim to the possession of the Spirit

A claim to the promise of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; Isa. 44:2-5)

Baptists will only baptize those who claim to already possess the Spirit. We will baptize all to whom the promise of the Spirit is given. And it is given to believers and their seed. Acts 2 says, then Peter said to them, "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. For the promise is to you and to your children…

Isaiah 44 speaks of the New Covenant and it speaks first of birth in verse 2, then pouring of water on the child in verse 3, then pouring of the Holy Spirit, then in verse 4 growing up, then in verse 5 profession of faith. For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses. One will say, "I am the LORD's" another will call himself by the name of Jacob; another will write with his hand, "The LORD's" and name himself by the name of Israel.

No one can know for sure who has the Spirit. Even the apostles were fooled when they baptized Simon the Sorcerer. But we can know to whom God has promised His Spirit. He has promised it to all who profess faith in Jesus and to their children. Sometimes the children may be filled with the Spirit from their mother's womb, like John the Baptist. And others may receive the Spirit much later. But we can have confidence that our children have been promised the Spirit, and by faith lay claim to that promise in baptism.

Two views of the household baptisms

No children were present, and all the household must have believed

Children were present, and while the adult believed, no mention is made of the children believing

This sermon won't settle who is right on this debate, but hopefully it will get people to start thinking. One thing worth thinking about is why every time households were present when there was the faith of an adult, it says that the whole household was baptized. Now obviously, Jesus didn't have a family, the apostle Paul didn't and the Ethiopian eunuch couldn't. But it is an amazing thing to see that when Lydia believed, her whole household was baptized. And to see that the same was true of the households of Cornelius, the Philippian jailor, Crispus in Acts 18, Stephanus in 1 Corinthians 1 and Crispus and Gaius in 1 Corinthians 1. Baptists will say that everyone in the household must have been grown up, and must have believed. But the passages don't say that. Someone might say, "But you can't prove that infants were present." And that is true. We can't prove it. But when so many baptisms were of households, and when Old Testament baptism included infants, and when John the Baptists proselyte baptism included children, and since God's promises, and God's Abrahamic covenant (of which we are a part) all included children, it seems like the oddest thing to arbitrarily exclude them from the household baptisms in the New Testament. They didn't use birth control back then, and it seems unlikely that so many households would not have children. But you can see how people come at these passages from different perspectives.

Two views of the abilities of infants

Age of accountability shows that infants don't need it and lack of ability to believe shows that they ought not to have it

Infants are accountable for sin right from the womb (Psalm 58:3) and can have faith (Psalm 22:9-10) and frequently are saved from the womb or infancy (Luke 1:41,44; Jer. 1:4; Isa. 22:9,10; 2 Sam. 12:15-23; 1 Kings 14:13; 2 Tim. 3:15). However, it is primarily the parent's faith that is at issue (Gen. 17)

There is also the doctrine of the abilities of infants. Many who do not believe in infant baptism hold to the concept of an age of accountability. But Scripture condemns infants for sin right from birth. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. God holds them accountable, and He expects parents to begin training their children from birth on. They are in need of salvation. We believe that the faith of the parent is what is key for our children to receive baptism, but it is interesting that God's ordinary mode is for the children of believers to never know a time that they were not Christians trusting God. I give a few examples in your outline. But one is that Timothy knew God from the time he was a newborn (a brephos) according to 2 Timothy 3:15. In Psalm 22 David says, But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust when I was on My mother's breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother's womb You have been My God. I think that is the ordinary experience of the children of believers. And when we are suspicious of their faith and treat them like pagans, it may become self-fulfilling prophecy. It shouldn't surprise us when little children express faith in God.

Two views of the blessings infants can experience

Let me list some of the different blessings infants can experience, and I won't bother to cover the differences on this point: Only the children of believers are said to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14), are said to be heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 4:1; Acts 3:25), are said to have the promise of the Spirit (Acts 2:39), are said about, for of such are the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18:15-16), are said to have angels assigned to them (Matthew 18:10), are said to have His blessings poured out on them (Isaiah 44:3; 40:11), are said to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord as opposed to being brought to the Lord (Eph. 6:4), can have the statement said to them, whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me (Matt 18:5) or can have the confidence of David that he would see his child in heaven (2 Sam. 12:23). You don't see those kinds of statements of the children of unbelievers.

Two views of holiness

2 Corinthians 7:14 is neither talking about inward holiness nor outward setting apart, but simply legitimacy of offspring (as opposed to illegitimate)

God sets the child apart and also outwardly cleanses the child

I will end with 2 Corinthians 7:14 because I think it is a passage where presuppositions of Baptists so strongly drive the exegesis. The passage in context is Paul's admonition for a believer to not divorce his or her unbelieving spouse. And he gives as his reason, for the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

Ever since John Gill, Baptists have tended to interpret this passage to mean that the faith of one of the spouses legitimizes the marriage of the unbeliever, and if there had not been at least one of the spouses a believer, the children would be unclean or illegitimate. While it is an ingenious way to try to get around the clear doctrine of infant baptism in this verse, it does not fly for several reasons. First, the word "holy" or sanctified is never used to mean legitimate marriage in the Scripture. Secondly, the children of unbelievers are never called illegitimate. Their marriages are over and over considered to be lawful, while fornication was considered unlawful. And thus John the Baptist accused Herod of an unlawful second marriage. The Samaritan woman of John 4 had four true husbands according to Jesus and the man she was presently living with was not considered a true husband. So that argument just does not hold water.

Third, there is only one word used to describe the unbelieving spouse, but two words that are used to describe the child. The unbeliever is said to be sanctified or set apart. The only two ways that this word is used in the Bible is either inward sanctification by the power of the Spirit or outward sanctification or being set apart. The context indicates that it can't refer to inward salvation, because verse 16 says, For how do you know, O wife, whether you wills save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? So the unbelieving spouse is outwardly set apart to the Spirit's working with the hope of salvation. The same is said to be true of the child. He is immediately put into a covenant context of God's working.

But there is an additional word used of the child. Otherwise your children would be unclean… There were only two ways that people could be clean or unclean in the Bible. Either their hearts were cleansed or purified or their bodies were cleansed and purified. It refers to either Spirit baptism or water baptism. Unless we are willing to say that every child of a believer is already saved, the only other Biblical option is to say that every child of a believer in Corinth was outwardly cleansed with baptism. And in fact, this word is a synonym for baptism. You could paraphrase it, "otherwise your children would be unbaptized, but now they are set apart. And indeed, this is the word that was used for the various baptisms in the New Testament.

Again, it would take a lot more time than I have this morning to settle this question. But I wanted you to see that it's important to examine the assumptions that we bring to any Biblical text. We believe that infant baptism is a Biblical mandate that has never been removed by the New Testament, and which the New Testament upholds in numerous different ways. And I would encourage any who have doubts about it to pick up my booklet from the back table. But let's delight that God has made Christianity a family religion. And to God be all the glory. Amen.

Baptism: Two Views is part of the Foundations series published on October 5, 2003

Support Dr. Kayser

Biblical Blueprints runs on donations and coffee. You can help Dr. Kayser stay awake while working by buying him and his team more coffee.

Give Here


Want to know next time Dr. Kayser publishes?


Contact us at [email protected]

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This website designed for Biblical Blueprints by Tobias Davis. Copyright 2023.