Biblical Basis for Baptizing Infants as Covenant Children

As a Presbyterian church, we baptise our infants. However, some Christians reject infant baptism. You might have been questioned about our practice of infant baptism. I would like to provide you with the following biblical reasons for baptising infants of believers in our church:

1. Baptism is the initiation into the covenant community, and the children of believers have always been included in the covenant community by giving them the sign of the covenant.

At Pentecost, when Peter invited the Jews who repented and believed to baptism, he also declared that the covenantal promise of the New Testament which he had just announced was “unto you, and to your children”. Acts 2:38-39 records, “Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

Peter did not say the promise is to all children, but to “your children”. Neither was the apostle addressing children who were present among his hearers. Clearly, Peter was specifically referring to the children of the new believers among his hearers as heirs of the promise. Peter was proclaiming, expanding and applying the central promise of the covenant of grace in Christ to his Jewish hearers.

The Jews of all ages have always understood God’s gracious covenant promises in the Scriptures as having been offered to believers in terms of “you and your children”. Whether it be the Adamic (Genesis 3:15), Noahic (Genesis 9:8-9), Abrahamic (Genesis 17:7, 10-14), Mosaic (Exodus 3:14-15; Deuteronomy 4:9, 13, 23, 31), Davidic (2 Samuel 23:5) or the New covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:39), every one of those gracious covenants that God had made, was made with Israel’s fathers and their descendants or children. It is significant to note that the new covenant that God promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is the New Testament / Covenant (cf.Hebrews 8:8-13; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25), clearly indicates that the promise is to them and to their house, or descendants, or children (cf. Jeremiah 33:14; 32:39; 50:4, 5).

On the day of Pentecost, through Peter, God affirmed once again the pattern which He has always expressed in the Scriptures to Jewish believers – “unto you, and to your children”. Then He expands it even to “all who are far off”, which is a reference to believing Gentiles.

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Let us also recall that God’s covenants, both in the old and new dispensations, were all gracious covenants that affirmed and reaffirmed His salvation through repentance and faith in Christ. In the Old Testament, people anticipated by faith the salvation God promised through Christ, while in the New, people affirm by faith
the salvation which God has accomplished through Christ. Therefore, in the Old and New Testament periods, salvation (or justification) has always been by faith in
Christ (cf. John 8:56; Genesis 22:18; Luke 2:28-30; 10:24; Romans 4:9-13, 16; Galatians 3:7-14, 29; 1 Peter 1:10-12).

While in the old dispensation, circumcision was the sign of faith and that of membership in the covenant community which God has instituted, in the new, the sign is baptism, as Peter has declared in Acts 2:38-39 at the beginning of the New Testament. In the Old Testament, circumcision – which was a sign of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:11-12) – was given to his descendants at the age of 8 days old, even before the child was able to exercise faith, as a sign of the child’s initiation into the covenant community of God’s people (Genesis 17:10-14). Likewise in the New Testament, as Peter’s words show, baptism – which is the new sign of faith and initiation into the church given to those who repent and believe on Christ – is granted to the children of the believers.

Baptism is offered as a sacrament of initiation into the local church, firstly to those who trust in Christ, and then to their children (Acts 2:38-39, 42, 47). God has always included children of the believers into the body of His believing people by granting them the sign of the covenant. While circumcision – the sign of the gracious covenant in the old dispensation – was given only to boys, baptism – the sign of the covenant in the new dispensation – is given to both male and female children.

2. Circumcision in the old dispensation and baptism in the new depict the same truth.

“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).

Paul clearly makes a connection between circumcision and baptism to point to the spiritual reality to which these covenant signs point. Both circumcision and baptism are covenant signs that point to the regenerating and cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

3. The Scriptures record that the whole households of new believers were baptised.

The cases of household baptism were mentioned in connection with Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14; Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34), and Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16).

These records of household baptism provide yet another proof that God has received children of the believers into the church through the sign of initiation into the covenant community of His people, just as it was all through the ages.

4. The apostle Paul taught the Corinthian church that the children born to Christians (even though the Christian was married to a non-Christian) are “holy” (sanctified or set apart for God).

In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul wrote: “… else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” The apostle Paul here instructed the Corinthian Christians concerning the proper understanding of God’s regard of believers’ children. The children of believers are to be regarded as “holy”. The basic meaning of the term “holy” conveys the idea of “setting apart for God’s use”. Now, God can set apart anything for a specific purpose as He desires. Even garments (Exodus 28:2), flesh and bread (Exodus 29:34), place (Leviticus 6:27), fruit (Leviticus 19:24) were called “holy”, for God wanted them for His use. Even though these things were incapable of consciously doing anything morally upright, God wanted them to be regarded as “holy”. Likewise, the children of believers should also be marked by the covenant community as separated unto Himself.

Paul was not coming up with a new spiritual concept. Instead, he was relating to the Corinthians what has been revealed throughout the history of redemption. The Lord has always called His people to bring up their children as a set-apart people for God. It was to be done, in the Old Testament times with the sign of circumcision. John Calvin commented that “the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.” Understanding how God regards the children of believers adds further doctrinal clarity to administering the covenant sign of baptism.

5. Children (like Timothy), who grew up in the church learning God’s Word from their childhood (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5-6; 3:14-15), were regarded as part of the church.

Nothing is said about such young men as Timothy, who had been in the church with their parents since young, being baptised when they grew older. This gives a firm reason for the deduction that they were baptised as infants, with their parents upon their conversion.

Furthermore, the apostles, like John and Paul, included instructions for children in the early churches (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20; 1 John 2:12-13). They did not treat the children of the believers as outsiders, but as an integral part of the church. Even parents were instructed to love their children and bring them up as faithful children (Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 3:4, 12; 5:10, 14; Titus 1:6; 2:4).

6. Finally, Jesus instructed His disciples that the little children (infants) should be welcomed to come with their parents to Him, and that the kingdom of heaven belonged to them (Matthew 19:14).

If Jesus welcomed little children (babies and toddlers) of believers as part of His kingdom, certainly there is good biblical basis for putting upon them the mark of the covenant in baptism, so as to receive them as part of the church, which is the visible realm of the kingdom of heaven on earth.