T H E PA RT I N G O F T H E
WAT E R S
An Examination of the Various Views of Christian
Baptism
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My Path Book Distribution
Copyright © 2021 F. Wayne Mac Leod
ll rights reserved.
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CONTENTS
Title Page
Copyright
Introduction
Chapter 1 - Covenantal Infant Baptism
Chapter 2 - The Position Re-examined
Chapter 3 - Baptism as a Means of Salvation
Chapter 4 - Is Salvation Through Baptism Biblical?
Chapter 5 -
Infant Baptism as Dedication
Chapter 6 -
Believers’ Baptism
Chapter 7 - Believers’ Baptism and the New Covenant
Chapter 8 -
Sprinkling
Chapter 9 -
Pouring
Chapter 10 -
Immersion
Chapter 11 -
Baptism and History
About The Author
T
INTRODUCTION
his study was written many years ago and sat in an “unpublished”
folder on one computer after another. The reason for this is
because, for many years, this was a difficult topic for me to
address. I grew up in a tradition of infant baptism. This study is not the first
study I did on the subject. I can still remember the research I did on infant
baptism before I went off to Bible School. I was convinced that the practice
was biblical and had all the verses to prove it.
Even after many years, I still remember the setting. Some students had
gathered in a room at the Bible School where I was attending. Somehow the
subject of baptism came up. The words I heard that day still haunt me:
“How could any Christian believe in infant baptism?” I took those words
personally and felt deeply hurt by them.
As time went on, I continued to hear people commenting to me on this
subject. They would tell the joke about a book called “What the Bible
Teaches about Infant Baptism,” which only had blank pages when you
opened it. They would laugh and move on, leaving me frustrated and angry.
While I never really expressed it to them, I felt hurt and rejection because of
what I believed. I felt that I was a second-class Christian because I believed
what I did.
The opportunity came for me to do a research paper on the subject for a
theology class. Knowing all the arguments favouring infant baptism, I
determined that I would examine each one individually to see if it brought
clear evidence of the practice in the Bible. That paper was probably one of
the most difficult I ever wrote. It challenged my position and what I had
believed for many years.
Now I want to confess something here. It is one thing to come to a
conviction about what you feel the Bible is teaching, and quite another to
act on that conviction. As a result of that research paper, I believed that
baptism in the New Testament was for believers. However, it would not be
for years that I would have the courage to act on what I felt the Bible was
teaching. There were a couple of reasons for this.
First on my mind was the fact that I had grown up with the tradition of
infant baptism. I had a call from God to full-time ministry. In my mind, that
call implied working as a pastor in my denomination. If I could not stand
behind the denomination’s key distinctive, I had no chance of being
ordained as a pastor in that denomination. This threw the plans I had for my
future into chaos.
Second, infant baptism was the position of my family. I struggled deeply to
go against what my family had believed for generations. How would they
respond if I took a stand against their firmly held beliefs? This grieved me
deeply.
Third, I must admit, my heart still harboured anger against those who
ridiculed my infant baptism convictions. I was reluctant to join them and
hear them rejoicing over the fact that I had surrendered finally to their
position.
For years after that, I held believers’ baptism but refused to be baptized as a
believer. As the years rolled by, I would often feel a gentle conviction in my
heart to follow through with what I believed the New Testament taught.
This seemed to come to a head on one occasion, and I felt the need to speak
to the pastor of the Baptist church I was attending. I made an appointment
and sat down with him in his office. I have no idea how long I talked and
can’t even remember what I said that day, but I started from the beginning
and explained how and why I had come to a conviction about believers’
baptism. The pastor sat quietly, listening to me without interrupting. I ended
that conversation by saying, “I think I need to do something about this.”
When I finished talking, the pastor said: “Well, there is nothing that I can
say. You have covered everything.” He went on to say to my absolute
horror: “It just happens that on Sunday we have a baptismal service; would
you like to be part of it?”
There was nothing he could have said that would have floored me more
than those words. He was giving me the opportunity now to do something
about my belief. I still remember my hard response: “I don’t know.”
Hearing this, he said: “You have just spent all this time telling me what you
believe and that you need to do something about it. Now that I offer you an
opportunity to do just that, you say: ‘I don’t know.’
I knew the hypocrisy of this answer, but the obstacles were bigger than that
pastor understood. He reminded me very bluntly that I was putting other
things before God. I confessed to Him that he was right, but I still wasn’t
sure if I could go ahead with being baptized.
We ended that conversation with him saying: “Let me know if I should put
your name down for baptism.” He left the door open, and that meant that I
needed to do some serious soul searching in the days to come.
Over the next few days, I was in deep agony. I struggled with the obstacles I
was facing and what I believed to be the teaching of the Word of God and
His leading in my life. I knew I had to obey what I felt His Word taught, but
I did not want to do it. It was one of the most intense spiritual battles I had
ever experienced. I prayed: “Lord, I want to obey, but I just wish that the
pastor would hold me under the water until I died so that I could die in
obedience and not have to face what comes after.”
I remember making two lists on a piece of paper as I reflected on what I
should do. The first list was for the reasons why I should be baptized. The
second list was for the reasons I should not be baptized. When that list was
complete, and I studied it, the answer was quite clear. The mind was
convinced, but the heart was still powerfully resisted.
Ultimately it boiled down to an act of the will. I had to act on what I felt
that Lord wanted me to do. I picked up the phone and made the most
difficult phone call I had ever made. I told the pastor that I would be part of
the baptismal service.
The night before the baptism, I so wished I could die. That didn’t happen,
and I went to church. I was waiting in a change room, getting ready for the
baptism. Another pastor came in to see me and quoted a passage of
Scripture: “And those who believed were baptized.” He wasn’t expecting
what took place when I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. From
where I sat, I could hear the swish of water as other candidates were being
immersed. With each swish came an equally great movement of water in the
form of tears and waves of terror and grief. Finally, my time came. As I
stood in the baptismal tank before the congregation, the pastor asked me if I
wanted to say something. The words that came out were these: “I don’t
want to be here, but I need to obey.” And with those words, I was plunged
into the water and came up alive to face an uncertain future.
For years after that baptism, I could not watch another baptism without
breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing. My whole body would tremble
and shake. In fact, the entire pew would shake as I sobbed.
Baptism was one of the most difficult steps I have ever taken in my spiritual
life. I do not regret taking this step of faith. It taught me much that I cannot
detail here. In the years to come, I would be required to baptize new
believers in the church where I worked. God was certainly preparing me for
what was ahead.
The rejection and misunderstanding of those early days at Bible School had
a profound impact on me. All too many people are quick to judge without
ever taking the time to understand someone else’s position. When I held to
infant baptism, no one ever asked me why I held that position. No one ever
asked me to explain it from a Biblical perspective. They just assumed that
because they didn’t see it, it had to be wrong.
I also saw how easy it is for people to ridicule or question the salvation of
those who hold another opinion. It has often grieved me that baptism or
other such doctrines have so divided Christians that in some cases, they
assume that someone who does not believe as they do is not a true believer.
Let me assure you that you do not have to come to the same conclusion as I
did. I have great fellowship with sincere believers who are convinced of
infant baptism. I have learned much from them and respect them as godly
men and women of faith. There will be differences in our understanding of
the Scriptures, but unity comes from our common bond in the Lord Jesus
and what He has done to secure our salvation.
I expect that when my life on earth is over, and I go to be with the Lord, I
will meet believers of every denomination who have trusted the Lord Jesus
and accepted His work on their behalf. In this world, they were not perfect.
They did not always understand things correctly. But they knew the Saviour
and relied on Him for their eternal salvation and forgiveness. I am also quite
certain that I will also discover that I, too, fell short in my practice and
understanding of Him and His purpose. I have a suspicion that I will be
deeply grateful for His grace and forgiveness toward me and my failures.
My purpose in writing this study is to share my journey and help believers
of every perspective think through this important doctrine. While I cannot
be totally impartial in this study, I hope that I can at least faithfully present
the arguments from the various positions currently out there concerning this
question of baptism in the New Testament church.
- F. Wayne Mac Leod
S
CHAPTER 1 -
COVENANTAL INFANT
BAPTISM
ome years ago, after coming to my position on believers' baptism, I
was teaching an Old Testament survey course. In the process of that
study, I addressed the roots of infant baptism in the covenant God
made with Abraham. After the study, a woman came up to me and said:
"Wayne, had my church explained to me what you explained today, I would
have had my children baptized as infants." As one who had adopted a
position on believers' baptism, I wasn't sure how to answer that statement.
What it showed me, however, was that there is often a lack of teaching on
this subject. I have met believers in mainline infant baptism churches who
cannot explain why their church has adopted its position on baptism.
What is true of infant baptism is also true of many other theological issues.
We are all too quick to let someone else think for us, and we go along with
them. We take their word for it but do not have a personal conviction based
on our study of the Scriptures.
As I said in my introduction, I grew up accepting infant baptism as a
biblical practice. This belief perplexed my believers' baptism friends as they
could not find any evidence for this in Scripture. In this chapter, I want to
explain how I came to accept this position at that time in my life.
Abrahamic Covenant
Our study of infant baptism begins well before the New Testament church
was established. It starts with the separating out of a people by God for
Himself in the days of Abraham. God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 17:7
and told him that He was going to make an everlasting covenant with him
and his descendants:
7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant
between me and you and your descendants after you for the
generations to come, to be your God and the God of your
descendants after you. (Genesis 17:7, NIV)
This covenant was an agreement between God and His people. God
promised to be their God, and His people committed themselves to live in
obedience to Him. In many ways, a covenant is like a marriage vow with
each partner pledging himself and herself to the other. There was a special
relationship between God and the Jewish nation. It was not that they
deserved the favour of God more than other nations, for they would prove
to be unfaithful. While they often broke their covenantal vows with the
Lord, they were still God's chosen people.
So that His people would be reminded of their covenantal relationship with
Him, God gave them a sign. Listen to what God told Abraham in Genesis
17:10,11:
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you,
the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be
circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision and it will be the
sign of the covenant between me and you. (Genesis 17.10,11,
NIV)
Like a wedding ring, this sign of circumcision was a sign to the people of
God that they belonged to Him and were accountable to Him for their lives
and actions.
What is important for us to note is that the sign of the covenant was not
given to those who had faith in God or understood their responsibility
towards Him. It was given to male infants at the age of eight days. At eight
days old, these infants did not have any memory or comprehension of the
purpose of the sign given them. Many of these circumcised children grew
up and turned their backs on God. Circumcision was not a guarantee that
these children would serve the Lord, nor did it show that they were even in
a right relationship with Him. It did, however, remind them of their
obligation. They would go through life carrying in their flesh a reminder
that they belonged to God and were under obligation to Him as their Lord.
It would be easy for us to say that this sign of circumcision was only for the
Jews. But let's consider what the apostle Paul told the Gentile believers in
Rome:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by
grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring - not
only to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father
of us all. (Romans 4.16, NIV)
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He told the Romans that Abraham
was not just the father of the Jewish faith but also the father of all who had
faith in God. He repeats the same thought in Galatians 3.6-9:
Consider Abraham: 'He believed God, and it was credited to
him as righteousness.' Understand, then that those who believe
are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would
justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in
advance through Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through
you.' So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham,
the man of faith. (Galatians 3.6-9, NIV)
In Galatians 3:6-9, the apostle taught that the true people of God are those
who have put their faith in God. Abraham is the father of all who believe,
both Jews and Gentiles. In other words, we who believe today have become
children of Abraham and part of the people of God.
God told Abraham that He was making an "eternal" covenant with him and
his descendants. According to Paul, if you believe today, you are Abraham's
descendant and "blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." You have
entered a covenantal relationship with God. God promises to be your God,
and you promise to love and obey Him.
Having established that all who believe are children of Abraham and part of
a covenantal relationship with God, we must now consider the sign of that
covenant agreement in the New Testament. How do we move from the
covenant sign of circumcision to baptism? Circumcision was no longer
required of New Testament believers. While many in Paul's day wanted to
make it so, the church officially rejected this as a requirement.
What we do see in the New Testament, however, is the practice of baptism.
But is there any connection between circumcision in the Old Testament and
baptism in the New Testament? Consider what the apostle Paul told the
Colossians in Colossians 2:11,12:
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful
nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but
with circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him
in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power
of God who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2.11,12,
NIV)
Notice how Paul connects the meaning of circumcision and baptism in these
verses. He tells us that believers are circumcised in Christ by the cutting off
of the sinful nature. By baptism, they symbolized death to the sinful nature
and resurrection to newness of life. Circumcision and baptism, Paul tells us,
symbolize the same thing, dying to sin. Since the death of the Lord Jesus,
circumcision is no longer practiced. Baptism has now taken its place.
Baptism represents our death to sin and our new life in a covenant
relationship with God through the work of His Son Jesus.
It is here that we come to the crucial point of this study of covenantal infant
baptism. Circumcision and baptism symbolize the same thing. Both are
signs of entrance into a covenant relationship with God. Circumcision was
applied to the children of God's people in the Old Testament even though
they would not remember it or understand it. Would it not follow then that
baptism, as a sign of the new covenant, should also be applied to the
children of believers? If Jewish children bore a symbol of the covenant in
their flesh, should our children not also have a symbol of their obligation to
God?
If baptism is for believers and their children, then it should follow that there
would be some evidence of this in the New Testament. Supporters of
covenantal infant baptism turn to several passages to show that this is
indeed the case.
Household Baptisms
Consider the following passages:
Yes, I baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't
remember if I baptised anyone else. (1Corinthians 1:16, NIV)
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their
wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised.
(Acts 16:33, NIV)
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in
purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of
God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.
When she and the members of her household were baptised, she
invited us to her home. (Acts 16.14,15, NIV)
To these cases mentioned above, we could also add the family of Cornelius
in Acts 10. While not specifically mentioned, the context would also
indicate that he and his family were baptised by the apostle Peter.
In these cases, we discover that when God placed His hand on the parents,
they did not see themselves in isolation from the rest of the family. Like
Joshua of old, they proclaimed:
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua
25:15, NIV)
The parents saw to it that the entire family committed themselves to seek
the Lord God. They placed themselves and their children under the
obligations of the covenant. Their home would become a God-seeking and
God-honouring home. Because it was a covenantal home, their children,
who were under their authority, were also subject to the covenant and its
signs.
Other Scriptural Support
Consider the attitude of Jesus towards children in Matthew 19:14:
Jesus said: 'Let the little children come to me, and do not
hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as
these.' (Matthew 19:14, NIV)
It is obvious from this passage that the Lord Jesus has a special place in His
heart for children. If the kingdom of heaven belongs "to such as these,"
would it not be wrong to keep the sign of that covenant from them?
In 1 Corinthians 7:14, we read:
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his
wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her
believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean,
but as it is they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7.14, NIV)
Paul told the Corinthians that the children of a believing parent were holy.
Because their parents were part of a covenantal agreement with God, these
children are also part of that same covenant (even as they were under the
Old Testament). This does not mean that they are automatically believers,
but they are under obligation to God because they are part of a Christian
home and favoured with the teaching of God's Word in that home.
Let also consider Acts 2:38,39:
Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the
name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you
will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you
and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the
Lord our God will call' (Acts 2:38,39, NIV)
In this passage, Peter told his listeners that they were to repent and be
baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. In so doing, they would receive the
forgiveness of sins and the promised Holy Spirit. Notice that what Peter had
to say here was not just for them but also their children. In other words,
they and their children were to repent and be baptized, and they would
receive the promised Holy Spirit from God.
Let me make just one more point here. The believers of the early church
were initially, for the most part, from a Jewish background. The concept of
a faith that was separate from the rest of their family was foreign to them.
They served God not so much as individuals but as a family unit. The father
led his family in the worship of the God of Israel. A rebellious child would
be severely punished. If a son or daughter turned from the Lord God and
worshipped other gods, they could be put to death. It was only natural for a
Jewish family to bring their child to be circumcised and placed under God's
covenant. Would this attitude not be carried over into the Christian faith of
these Jews? Would they not bring their children as they always had to
participate in the covenant sign? There is no evidence in Scripture
forbidding children to join in the sign of the covenant as they had from the
days of Abraham. Doesn't the absence of any teaching to the contrary cause
us to believe that they continued with this practice, seeing their children as
part of the covenant God had made with them? If children were part of that
covenant, should they not be baptized as a symbol of their participation?
Believers who have adopted a position of covenantal infant baptism do so
from an understanding that God is a covenant-keeping God who has a heart
for them and their children. Like the Jews of the Old Testament, they place
themselves and their families under obligation to God. For these believers,
there is a connection between the symbolism of circumcision and baptism.
Just as infants were circumcision by Jewish families, baptism should also
be given to the children of Christian families to show that they are under
obligation to God.
H
CHAPTER 2 - THE
POSITION RE-EXAMINED
aving examined the position of covenantal infant baptism in the
last chapter, it now falls on us to explore the argument in more
detail. As I explained in the introduction, this was not an easy
task for me. Even as I write, I still feel a certain reluctance to go back over
this painful territory. My intention here is to share my theological journey
and not necessarily to convince anyone of my position.
The journey from an infant baptism position to one of believers' baptism
began with a research paper I did in Bible School. As I set out to work on
this paper, I did not doubt that the argument for covenantal infant baptism
was based on Scripture. I determined, however, to put each of the
arguments to the test to see if this was what I understood Scripture to say.
Let me share with you this journey.
The Old Covenant And The New Covenant
There was no question in my mind that the Scriptures taught that God was a
covenant-keeping God. He had entered a covenantal relationship with His
people in the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah, however, prophesied
that a day was coming when God would make a new covenant with Israel.
Listen to what the prophet said about this new covenant:
31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I
will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the
house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their
fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them
out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I
was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the
covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those
days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I
will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they
shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his
neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for
they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,
declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will
remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31, ESV)
Jeremiah told Israel that this new covenant would not be like the covenant
made with Abraham, their father. Though Israel was already part of a
covenant relationship with God, many did not truly know or serve God.
Under this new covenant, however, everyone would know the Lord from
the least to the greatest. They would be forgiven of their sin and have His
law written on their hearts. No unbeliever would be part of this new
covenant. By telling us that the new covenant was not like the old covenant,
Jeremiah makes a clear distinction. Things would be different under this
new covenant.
The writer to the Hebrews explains this more fully when he says:
6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much
more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is
better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that
first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no
occasion to look for a second. (Hebrews 8:6-7 ESV)
Hebrews 8:6 tells us that the covenant Jesus mediated was better than the
old covenant. He tells us that if the first covenant had been faultless, there
would not have been a need for a second covenant. Jesus came to establish
another covenant that would replace the first. This old covenant would
become obsolete and vanish:
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one
obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is
ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV)
Jesus did not come as a priest according to the Jewish tradition. He was not
legally qualified to be a priest according to the Law of Moses because He
was not a descendant of Aaron. Listen to the words of Hebrews 7:
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical
priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what
further need would there have been for another priest to arise
after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the
order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the
priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13
For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to
another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah,
and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about
priests. (Hebrews 7:11-14 ESV)
Note a couple of details here. Christ was not a priest according to the order
of Aaron. He did not come to administer the Old Testament covenant laws.
He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:12 tells us that a
change in the law was required under this new priesthood. According to the
old law, Jesus could not even be a priest because He did not descend from
Aaron. Jesus did not modify or update the Old Covenant –He fulfilled it and
established a completely new and different covenant under a new
priesthood and law.
The New Covenant is not the Old Covenant—its priesthood and regulations
are different. We need to be careful about applying Old Testament
requirements to this New Testament covenant. Just because children were
circumcised under the Old Covenant does not mean that this will be the
case for baptism in this New Covenant under the priesthood of Christ,
unless there is clear evidence in the New Testament to support this. Let's
take a moment, therefore, to examine this evidence to see if it does support
the baptism of children under the new covenant.
Household Baptisms
The first set of verses used to support infant baptism in the New Testament
comes from the passages that speak about household baptisms. While there
is no actual proof for this, the assumption is that there were infants in these
households. An examination of these passages, however, reveals in three
out of four cases that the members of the families were believers.
Regarding the household of Cornelius, in Acts 10, we read:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in
what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family
were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in
need and prayed to God regularly. (Acts 10.1,2, NIV)
Consider also what Acts 16 tells us about the Philippian jailer and his
family:
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before
them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in
God -- he and his whole family. (Acts 16.34, NIV)
Writing about the household of Stephanas, Paul says:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first
converts in Achaia, and they devoted themselves to the service
of the saints. (1 Corinthians 16.15a, NIV)
Also consider 1 Samuel 1:21,22 in relationship to this question of
households.
When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the
annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did
not go. She said to her husband, 'After the boy is weaned, I will
take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there
always.' (1 Samuel 1.21,22, NIV)
1 Samuel 1:21,22 clearly stated that Elkanah with all the family to the
annual sacrifice. Notice, however, that the phrase "all his family" did not
include the infant child and his wife. If the reference to the family did not
include the infant child, how can we be sure that the New Testament verses
on households include infants?
There is simply no proof that there were any infants at all in these
households. The only description we have of these families is that they were
believers. These verses, therefore, do not provide evidence of the practice
of infant baptism in the New Testament.
Argument From Silence
Let's move now to the argument that states that the Jews were so
accustomed to their children receiving the sign of the covenant that they
would have naturally brought them to be baptized, just as they would for
circumcision. The assumption is that the absence of any problems in the
New Testament church proves that children were also accepted for baptism.
Surely, if things had changed, there would be teaching or some rebuke
stating that children were no longer entitled to participate in the covenant
sign.
The problem with this argument is that the opposite could be equally true. If
children were brought regularly for baptism, why is there no evidence of it
in the New Testament? Adult baptisms are regularly mentioned, but there is
no indication of infant baptism. This is in stark contrast to circumcision in
the Old Testament, where the practice is spoken of often. The silence speaks
equally as loud for believers' baptism as it does for infant baptism.
"Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me"
Matthew 19:14
In Matthew 19:14, mothers brought their children to the Lord Jesus. While
the disciples tried to stop them from doing so, Jesus told them to let these
children come to Him. There is no question that children have a special
place in the heart of our Lord Jesus. His heart is always open to receive
them.
The problem here, however, is that Jesus was not baptizing children here.
The context is found in verse thirteen. These children were brought to Jesus
so that He could put His hands on them and pray for them. There is no
water mentioned here. If we are to follow the example of Christ in this
passage, we need to pray for our children and lead them to Him. This
passage is not intended to give instruction on baptism but to show that
Christ has a heart for little children and will receive all who come to Him.
"Holy Children" (1 Corinthians 7:13,14)
13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he
consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the
unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the
unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.
Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are
holy. (1 Corinthians 7:13-14 ESV)
1 Corinthians 7:14 tells us that the children of a believing parent are holy.
The assumption is that if they are holy, they should be baptized. A closer
examination of the passage, however, reveals that it is not only the children
who are holy but also the unbelieving spouse. If we see this verse as a
reference to baptism and grant baptism to the "holy" children, should we
not also do so for the unbelieving spouse in the same household described
as "holy"?
The context of 1 Corinthians 7:13,14 shows us that the problem being
addressed is the union between a believer and an unbeliever. What
happened when one partner came to know the Lord in a marriage? Did this
mean that they were now living in sin by being unequally yoked? What
about their children? Were these children illegitimate because God did not
accept the marriage? Paul assured his readers that God expected new
believers to remain with their partners. He assured them that God accepted
their marriage. Their children also were legitimate or holy.
The passage does not refer to baptism, nor was it intended to be instruction
on baptism. Paul's purpose is to show believing husband or a wife whose
partner was not a believer that their marriage was still acceptable to God
and that their children were not unclean or illegitimate.
The Promise For You And Your Children (Acts
2:39)
38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one
of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the
promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far
off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts
2:38-39 ESV)
In Acts 2:38, Peter called his listeners to repent and be baptized. In so
doing, they would receive the forgiveness of sin and the promised Holy
Spirit. This promise was for them and their children as well as for those
who were far off.
I have sat under preachers who used this verse to prove the call of Scripture
for Christian parents to baptize their infants. They interpret the verse to
mean that God's promise for believers and their children is repentance and
baptism.
A closer examination of this text, however, shows that the promise of this
verse is not baptism but forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy
Spirit. This promise is for those who repent of their sin and identify with
Christ in baptism. This promise of forgiveness was for the Jews and their
children and Gentiles from every nation. Peter is saying that anyone who
repents of sin and identifies with Christ, regardless of nationality or age,
can know the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling presence of the Holy
Spirit. The passage does not promise baptism to infants but forgiveness and
the Holy Spirit.
While not all readers will agree with my interpretations of the verses, the
point I want to make is that we must take the time to examine what we are
taught. Writing the book of Acts, Luke commended the Jews in Berea
because they listened to the apostles but also searched the Scriptures for
themselves to see if what they heard was true:
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night
to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish
synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in
Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness,
examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
(Acts 17:10-11 ESV)
As I wrestled through each of these arguments, I found it difficult to support
my former position on baptism. This, however, was my theological journey.
Each person must be convinced in their minds about what the Scriptures
teach.
Not all proponents of infant baptism base their understanding of infant
baptism on a covenantal relationship with God stemming from the Old
Testament. In the next two chapters, I would like to examine two other
positions on infant baptism found in the church of our day.
B
CHAPTER 3 - BAPTISM AS
A MEANS OF SALVATION
elievers in covenantal infant baptism are all in agreement.
Baptism is not a means of salvation but rather an indication that a
child is under a covenantal obligation to God and part of a family
that has chosen to love and serve Him. On the other side of this debate are
those who see baptism as a means of salvation for their children. In other
words, the God of grace has chosen baptism as a means by which He
blesses and saves His children. He has given His church the obligation to
bring salvation to the world through baptism.
Those who adhere to this view base their doctrine on Bible verses showing
the connection between baptism and salvation. I will examine the
interpretation of these verses in the next chapter. For now, let’s try to
understand the Biblical basis for the doctrine of salvation by baptism from
the perspective of proponents of this view.
Baptism, Forgiveness And Salvation
In Mark 16:16, as Jesus prepared to return to the Father, He commission
His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He then made
this statement:
(15) And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim
the gospel to the whole creation. (16) Whoever believes and is
baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be
condemned. - Mark 16:15-16 ESV
Note that Jesus told His disciples that whoever believes and is baptized will
be saved. Jesus does not say that these individuals were only to believe to
be saved; he also told them that they needed to be baptized.
Also consider the ministry of John the Baptist as recorded in Luke 3:
He went into the country around the Jordan, preaching a
baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3.3,
NIV)
Luke describes the ministry of John the Baptist as “preaching a baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” There seems to be a strong
connection between John’s “baptism of repentance” and the “forgiveness of
sin.”
Speaking to Nicodemus about the importance of being born again, Jesus
said:
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the
kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John
3.5, NIV)
Proponents of baptism as a means to salvation interpret Jesus’ use of the
word “water“ to refer to baptism. “No one can see the kingdom of God,”
say supporters of this position, “unless they pass through the waters of
baptism.” According to them, the Spirit of God works through the waters of
baptism to bring salvation.
Listen to the words of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and
your children and for all who are far off for all whom the
Lord our God will call. (Acts 2.38,39, NIV)
Peter told his listeners that they were to repent and be baptized for the
forgiveness of sin. While he could have told his listeners simply to repent,
Peter told them also to be baptised for the forgiveness of sin.
After sharing his testimony with the Jews in Jerusalem, Paul concluded
with the following statement:
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and
wash your sins away, calling on his name. (Acts 22.16, NIV)
Notice that Paul told these Jews to be baptised and wash their sins away.
This has led some to understand that there is more to baptism than just a
symbol. Proponents of baptism as a means of salvation see here a reference
to cleansing and forgiveness through baptism.
Writing in his epistle, the apostle Peter compares the floodwaters of Noah’s
day to baptism. In this illustration, the apostle makes a striking statement:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the
unrighteous, to bring us to God. He was put to death in the
body but made alive by the Spirit through whom also he went
and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago
when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark
was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved
through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now
saves you also not the removal of dirt from the body but a
pledge of a good conscience toward God. (1 Peter 3.21, NIV)
Peter told his readers that Noah and his family were saved through water
and the water of the flood of Noah’s day symbolized “baptism that now
saves you” (NIV).
Consider what the apostle Paul told Titus in Titus 3:5:
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the
Holy Spirit (Titus 3.5, NIV)
Notice the phrase “the washing of rebirth.” Proponents of baptism as a
means of salvation interpret this to show that rebirth takes place through the
waters of baptism. The Spirit of God blesses this baptism and renews the
baptismal candidate. The verses we have listed here show us a connection
between forgiveness, salvation, and baptism.
The Church’s Responsibility
While those who support this position claim that salvation is by the grace of
God, they believe that baptism is how that grace is applied to the life of a
child. The children they baptize are sinners in need of forgiveness. God,
however, has given the church the ministry of reconciling humanity to
Himself:
And this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through
Christ and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation. (2
Corinthians 5.18, NIV)
Christ told His disciples that if they forgave men their sins, they would be
forgiven:
Again, Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent
me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and
said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins,
they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not
forgiven.’ (John 20.21-23, NIV)
Those who see baptism as a means of salvation see it as their responsibility
to unleash the forgiveness of God through baptism.
In the next chapter, I will respond to this argument and comment on the
interpretation of the verses used to support this view.
I
CHAPTER 4 - IS
SALVATION THROUGH
BAPTISM BIBLICAL?
n the last chapter, we examined the belief that baptism is a means of
forgiveness and salvation. We mentioned the verses of Scripture used
to support this idea. It falls on us now to look more closely at this
doctrine to see if this is really what the Scriptures teach.
If there is one truth this position underlines, it is that we are sinners in need
of salvation. David understood this when he wrote:
(5) Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my
mother conceive me. - Psalms 51:5 ESV
Another important truth underscored by this position is that the church of
Jesus Christ has an obligation on its shoulders to reach out to those who are
lost in sin. The church has a great responsibility to reach out to a lost world.
The Lord has given it the ministry of pointing men to their need of
salvation. Just before He returned to the Father, the Lord Jesus issued this
command to His disciples:
(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." -
Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
The church of our day has the awesome task of making disciples from
people of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit. This is a responsibility we must take seriously. Having said
this, let's take a moment now to examine the various Bible passages used to
support the idea that salvation is through baptism.
Does The Sign Of The Covenant Guarantee
Salvation?
The first matter we must address is the question of whether baptism or
circumcision guaranteed salvation. To answer this, consider the many
young children of Israel who were circumcised as infants. Did all of them
serve and honour the Lord God in their lives? A quick reading of Scripture
shows us that God killed some for their rebellion and abandonment of the
faith. In fact, after Solomon's death, when the nations of Judah and Israel
were divided, the entire nation of Israel turned its back on the Lord God and
set up another religion in opposition to the faith of their fathers. While
circumcised as children, these men completely abandoned the Lord God.
Consider this also in more modern terms. Do all those baptized as children
continue in the faith? Do we not see all around us men and women who,
though baptized as infants in their church, have now turned their backs on
the Lord God and want nothing to do with Him? Evidence in real life shows
us that baptism does not guarantee true salvation.
Beyond this evidence in real life, there is evidence in Scripture that shows
that God also poured out his Spirit and saved individuals who had never
been baptized. Consider the case of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10.
Cornelius was a Roman. As Roman, he would not likely have been baptized
as a Christian, for Christianity was only starting to have an impact in those
days. Though he was a God-fearing man, Cornelius did not know the Lord
Jesus and the salvation He offered. God told Cornelius to call for Peter, who
would explain the gospel to Him. When he heard what Peter had to say,
Cornelius accepted the message and became a Christian. Here was a man
who became a believer in the Lord Jesus before baptism.
Later, in Acts 10, we read how Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit falling on
the Gentiles. He saw how the Spirit of God transformed these pagans into
men and women filled with awe and praise to God. Seeing how God has
saved and filled these man and women with faith, Peter declared:
(47) "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" - Acts
10:47 ESV
Clearly, baptism was not the means of salvation. These men and women
were already saved before Peter baptized them. These examples show us
that God does not wait for men and women to be baptized before saving
them.
"Believe And Be Baptized" (Mark 16:16)
(15) And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim
the gospel to the whole creation. (16) Whoever believes and is
baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be
condemned. - Mark 16:15-16 ESV
Notice how Mark 16:16 tells us that those who believe and are baptized will
be saved. The connection between believing and baptizing is quite clear.
Does this imply, however, that we can accept the Lord, but we are not
guaranteed salvation until we are baptized? Is baptism a necessary
ingredient for salvation?
To answer this, let's look first at that second half of verse 16 "but whoever
does not believe will be condemned." The passage tells us that whoever
believes and is baptized will be saved, but condemnation comes to those
who do not believe. In other words, while baptism is a symbol of one's
belief, what condemns an individual is not the lack of baptism but disbelief.
Also consider the interaction between the Lord Jesus and the thief crucified
on the cross beside Him. The thief, believing in Jesus, asked Him to
remember him when he went to His Father.
(42) And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into
your kingdom." (43) And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with me in paradise." - Luke 23:42-43 ESV
Notice the response of Jesus to this thief "Truly, I say to you, today you
will be with me in paradise." There was no time for this sinner to be
baptized. True salvation came to that unbaptized criminal. He would be in
the presence of Jesus that very day.
Clearly, from this passage, we see that while baptism is a sign of a changed
life, it is not a requirement for true salvation.
"Baptism Of Repentance" (Luke 3:3)
Luke 3:3 tells us that John the Baptist preached a "baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins." We have an example of this preaching in Luke
3:7-9:
(7) He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized
by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the
wrath to come? (8) Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And
do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our
father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up
children for Abraham. (9) Even now the axe is laid to the root
of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is
cut down and thrown into the fire." - Luke 3:7-9 ESV
John called people to repent of their sins. He baptized them as a symbol of
that repentance. No one was baptized who was unwilling to repent. John's
baptism was a baptism of repentance because he baptized those who
repented of their sins. This humble repentance before God and the turning
over of their lives to Him guaranteed forgiveness and not their baptism. The
passage teaches us that repentance brought forgiveness, not baptism.
Baptism was merely a symbol of this repentance toward God.
"Born Of Water" John 3:5
(5) Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is
born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of
God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that
which is born of the Spirit is spirit. - John 3:5-6 ESV
Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that unless a person was born of water and
the Spirit, he or she could not enter the kingdom of God. The question we
need to ask ourselves here is this: What does it mean to be born of water?
While some see here a reference to baptism, Jesus explains Himself in the
next verse when he says:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born
of the Spirit is spirit. – John 3:6 ESV
In John 3:5, Jesus speaks of water and Spirit. In the next verse, He speaks
about flesh and Spirit. The words water and flesh are used interchangeably.
An unborn child living in the womb of his or her mother is protected by
fluid. At the time of birth, that fluid is expelled. The clear sign to the
mother that her time has come is the breaking of her water.
Jesus speaks here about a very natural process of childbirth. A child is
physically born with the expulsion of water from the mother's womb. This,
however, is not the only birth an individual must experience if they are to
enter the kingdom of God. Those who enter the kingdom of God must also
be born again of the Spirit. The water Jesus speaks about here is not the
water of baptism but physical birth.
"Wash Away Your Sins" (Acts 22:16)
(16) And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash
away your sins, calling on his name.' - Acts 22:16 ESV
In Acts 22:16, Paul called on his listeners to be baptized and wash away
their sins, calling on the name of the Lord. As we seek to understand what
Paul is saying here, we need to ask: How are our sins washed away
according to this passage? Are they washed away by baptism, or are they
washed away by calling on the name of the Lord? The criminal on the
cross was forgiven because he called on the name of the Lord. To the best
of our knowledge, he was never baptized. Paul is telling his listeners here
that they were to wash away their sins by calling on the name of the Lord
and, as in the case of John's baptism, demonstrate their commitment to walk
in obedience by baptism.
"Baptism That Saves" (1 Peter 3:21)
(21) Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as
a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a
good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, - 1
Peter 3:21 ESV
Peter uses the illustration of Noah and his family being saved through the
waters of the flood. He tells us that these waters symbolize baptism that
saves us. Let's examine what Peter is telling us here.
Notice how Peter goes on to say that the baptism to which he refers is not "a
removal of dirt from the body" but "an appeal to God for a good conscience
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This distinction is vital if we are
to interpret the verse correctly.
Peter made it clear in this verse that the baptism to which he referred was
not about the removal of dirt from the body. When we remove dirt from the
body, we do so by using water. That water is poured over the hands so that
the dirt can be removed. Peter tells us here that when he speaks about
baptism, he is not referring to water being poured over someone. In other
words, he is not talking about baptism with water.
Peter tells us that the baptism he is speaking about is a good conscience
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle is telling us that while
physical water cleansed the body of dirt, there was a baptism that cleansed
the conscience of all sin. That baptism was the result of the work of Jesus
Christ through His death and resurrection. What saves us is not a baptism
with water but a baptism of salvation that cleanses us on the inside. This
salvation is possible because of the Lord Jesus, who paid the penalty for our
sin and through His Spirit give us a clear conscience and right standing with
the Father. Peter tells us that water baptism is not what saves us but rather a
baptism of salvation that cleanses our conscience the work of Jesus Christ.
"Washing Of Regeneration" Titus 3:5
(5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in
righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing
of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (6) whom he
poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior - Titus
3:5,6 ESV
Paul told Titus in Titus 3:5 that believers have been saved through the
washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains this
in verse six by reminding us that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us
richly. The image here is one of water being poured upon an individual to
cleanse him. The Jews were familiar with this purification rite. The pouring
out of the Holy Spirit, like this water of purification, cleanses us from our
sins and brings regeneration and renewal. This passage does not speak
about baptism but of the ministry of the Spirit of God in the life of
unbelievers, cleansing them and making them new creatures.
"If You Forgive Their Sins" (John 20:21-23)
(22) And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said
to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (23) If you forgive the sins
of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from
any, it is withheld." - John 20:22-23 ESV
In John 20:23, the Lord Jesus told His disciples that if they forgive sin, it
would be forgiven, but if they refused to forgive, sin would not be forgiven.
Does this mean that the apostles had the power to forgive sin? Does this
imply that this ministry of forgiveness has been passed on to the church?
The context of this verse is important. Jesus had just breathed on His
disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. In this context, Christ
told His disciples that if they forgave anyone their sin, it would be forgiven.
Who has the power to forgive sin in this context? It was not until they
received the Holy Spirit that this ministry could be possible. It was the Holy
Spirit who indwelt them that made this ministry possible. He was the power
behind this forgiveness.
How does the Holy Spirit make forgiveness possible? He would minister
through these disciples as they presented the message of the gospel to the
world. He would reach out through them and touch the hardened hearts of
unconverted sinners to offer them forgiveness of sin. These disciples had in
them the means by which forgiveness of sins was possible. The Spirit
within them could grant forgiveness to whomever He wished. That Spirit
would lead them to the people he wanted to forgive. They would move in
response to His leading, offering pardon and passing God's judgement.
The power to forgive is not in the church but the Holy Spirit. The Holy
Spirit works through those filled with His presence, offering this
forgiveness to those with whom they speak. This is not the task of a select
few but a ministry God has given to all who know the indwelling Spirit. We
go in the power of God's Spirit to offer forgiveness to our friends and
neighbours. In the power of that Spirit, we see the miracle of forgiveness
and rebirth taking place before us. Lives are transformed because the Lord
Jesus empowers His people as His representatives through His Holy Spirit.
Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Nor is baptism the means to
salvation. Salvation is a work of God's Spirit in all who repent of their sins
and trust His work for cleansing and forgiveness whether they have been
baptized or not.
T
CHAPTER 5 -
INFANT BAPTISM AS
DEDICATION
he third position held by those who believe in infant baptism sees
baptism as a means of dedicating children to the Lord and placing
them under the care of the body of Christ. It should be noted that
even churches that do not practice infant baptism observe some form of
infant dedication.
For the most part, those who hold this position do not see baptism as a
means of salvation. It is merely a means of bringing children into the
church and under its care. It should be noted that believers in this position
do not necessarily see a connection to the circumcision of the Old
Testament, nor do they make any reference in this baptism to a covenant
with God.
The question we need to consider here is this: If we remove the focus on the
covenant God made with Abraham and the idea that baptism is a means of
salvation, then where do we find support for infant baptism in Scripture?
Probably one of the greatest supports for this view of baptism comes from
Luke 2.22-24:
(22) And when the time came for their purification according to
the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present
him to the Lord (23) (as it is written in the Law of the Lord,
“Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to
the Lord”) (24) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is
said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two
young pigeons.” - Luke 2:22-24 ESV
When the days of His mothers purification were over, Mary brought Jesus
to the temple to present Him to God. The presentation of Jesus in the temple
is seen as an example to follow. Parents present their children to the Lord
through baptism.
In Matthew 19:13-15, Jesus encouraged parents to bring their children to
Him for blessing. He rebuked His disciples for not allowing little children
to come to Him:
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his
hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked
those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children
come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven
belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on
them, he went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15, NIV)
Many parents bring their young children to be baptized for a similar reason.
They seek the blessing of the Lord for the lives of their infants.
Advocates of this view of infant baptism also use references to household
baptisms (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 16:33; Acts 16:14,15) to support their
argument. The assumption is that these households must have included
children. They also use the same New Testament passages as those who
believe in covenantal infant baptism to support their position. I will not
repeat this here.
In this view, there is a heavy emphasis on the presentation of Jesus in the
temple and His words encouraging children to come to Him. Children are
brought for baptism to present them to the Lord and place them under the
care and supervision of the larger body of believers. As the mothers of Jesus
day, parents bring their children so that the church might lay its hands on
them and bless them in Christ’s name. Often during these baptisms, parents
publicly declare their commitment to raise their children for the Lord and
call upon the church to support, encourage, and pray for them.
A RESPONSE TO BAPTISM AS A
DEDICATION OF INFANTS TO THE LORD
Need Of The Larger Body Of Christ
One of the strong points of this position is the realization that we need each
other in the process of raising our children for the Lord. Many people will
influence the young child presented before the church. Each of these
individuals will either point them to the Lord or away from the Lord. When
the child is brought before the church in this manner, it is a reminder to
each member and adherent that this young child will watch their lives. It
also reminds each person present that the shape of this child’s life will
depend, in part, upon their influence in his or her life. We need this
reminder as believers today.
Prayer For And Dedication Of Children To The
Lord
We cannot underestimate the importance of prayer for our children. The
Word of God tells us that our prayers will move the hand of God. We have
seen God move in powerful ways in response to even one simple prayer
offered up in faith. What will be the result of the concentrated prayers of the
church as they cry out for children presented to the Lord? Only eternity will
tell how many times those prayers moved God to work in the lives of our
children. Any opportunity to present our children to the body of Christ for
prayer is a welcomed opportunity.
The Presentation Of Jesus In The Temple (Luke
22.21-24)
This view of infant baptism uses the example of Jesus’ presentation in the
temple as proof of their position. The problem with this is that Jesus was
not brought to the temple to be baptized. Let’s look at Luke 2:22-24 more
closely.
(22) And when the time came for their purification according to
the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present
him to the Lord (23) (as it is written in the Law of the Lord,
“Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to
the Lord”) (24) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is
said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two
young pigeons.” - Luke 2:22-24 ESV
There are two details we need to see here. First, the Law of Moses
considered a new mother unclean for seven days because of the blood flow
resulting from childbirth.
(2) “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives
and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days.
As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. -
Leviticus 12:2 ESV
If the child born to the mother was a male, he was circumcised on the
eighth day. The mother would continue in her uncleanness for another
thirty-three days (Leviticus 12:3-4). At the end of this time, the mother
went to the temple to present an offering for her impurity (Leviticus 12:6-
8). This is what Mary was doing at the temple with Jesus.
The second point we need to make from Luke 2 is the reference in verse 23
to the law of the firstborn “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every
male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (Luke
2:23). This law is found in Exodus 13:2:
(2) “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to
open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of
beast, is mine.” - Exodus 13:2 ESV
According to Numbers 18:15-16, the firstborn male child was redeemed
(bought back) from the Lord at the cost of five shekels:
(15) Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man
or beast, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours.
Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the
firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. (16) And their
redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you
shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the
sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. - Numbers 18:15-16 ESV
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia has this to say about the
practice:
The custom of redeeming the firstborn son is preserved among
the Jews to this day. After thirty days the father invites the
“Kohen,” i.e. a supposed descendant of Aaron, to the house.
The child is brought and shown to the “Kohen,” and the father
declares the mother of the child to be an Israelite. If she is a
“Kohen,” redemption is not necessary. The “Kohen” asks the
father which he prefers, his child or the five shekels; the father
answers that he prefers his son, and pays to the “Kohen” a sum
equivalent to five shekels. After receiving the redemption-
money, the “Kohen” puts his hands on the child’s head and
pronounces the Aaronite blessing (Nu 6:22-27). - (“The
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia”. Marion, IA:
Laridian, Inc., 2017. This book is in the public domain.
Electronic files copyright © 2017 by Laridian, Inc. All rights
reserved.)
Mary brought Jesus to the temple to present Him as a firstborn child and
pay the price to redeem Him according to the Law of Moses. Luke 2 is not
intended to give instructions for baptism. It shows us that Mary was faithful
to the Law of Moses and its teaching about purifying herself and redeeming
the firstborn child.
“Let The Little Children Come” (Matthew 19:13-
15)
We have already examined the story of mothers bringing their children to
Jesus. This passage shows us the heart of Jesus for little children but makes
no mention of baptism. Jesus laid His hands on these children and prayed
for them. He did not baptize them. John 4:1-2 tells us that Jesus did not
baptize at all:
(1) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that
Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (2)
(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples) -
John 4:1-2 ESV
In this story, the disciples, who were the ones to baptize, tried to push these
children away. Jesus received them, and while He did not baptize them
here, He laid His hands on them and prayed. If we follow the example and
instruction of Jesus here, we will spend time with our children, value them
and pray for them.
While the passages used to support this view do not speak about baptism,
the position does show us the importance of the body of Christ in raising
our children. We can learn from this that our prayers and example will have
a powerful impact on the next generation. An African proverb says: “It
takes a village to raise a child.” This is true for the church. May God give
us the grace to follow the example of Christ in valuing and praying for the
church of the next generation.