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I am a Reformed Presbyterian and it seems that for most people I run into, baptism for 'adults' after confession of faith only is the default position. I always find myself fighting an uphill battle against this view. However, I have yet to see one verse that prescribes that only adult believers be baptized. I would ask that answers show where the Bible says that only believers are to be baptized or if not then what series of texts of scripture and lines of reasoning are used to support this view.

Since the sign of inclusion into the covenant under the Old Covenant (circumcision) is so closely tied to the sign under the New Covenant (baptism) Col 2:11-12 and since the Old Covenant sign was offered to children and since the New Covenant is more inclusive in every way than the Old Covenant and since telling a Jewish Christian that they can not baptize their children would have been a big deal to them (and the scriptures show no discussion on this point at all), it has always seemed to me that the burden of proof showing the change in practice lies at the Baptist doorstep.

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This is a good question, but I just want to be sure: was your reference to "a Baptist" from personal experience only, or are you seeking answers from Baptists specifically? –  Matt May 8 '12 at 2:40
I suppose it does not matter. But I would like to hear from someone who can cogently defend their personal convictions on the matter. I normally totally stump the people I talk to - I want better arguments, more thorough arguments. –  Nathan Bunney May 8 '12 at 3:08
Okay, fair enough. Could you clarify this too: At the beginning of your question you ask about adult-only baptism but the end of your question asks about whether "only believers are to be baptized." And by adult do you mean 18+ years? –  Matt May 8 '12 at 5:33
Similar to: What Bible verses support infant baptism –  Brandon Boone May 8 '12 at 11:59
@BrandonBoone exactly the opposite question as to the infant baptism one. –  Nathan Bunney May 8 '12 at 14:23
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I think part of the problem with baptism discussions is that they are often mis-characterized as "adult" baptisms and "infant" baptisms, when really, the crux of disagreement is in the significance of the baptism rather than the age of its recipient. (baptism based on repentance vs. baptism as a covenental birthright) I know you clarify this in your question, but I think the terms set up certain caricatures of the actual doctrinal positions.

For example, I'm a credo-baptist who has no problem with young children being baptized. In fact, a bit ironically perhaps, when my oldest daughter professed her faith in Christ, she was considered too young to receive a "believer's baptism" in my Presbyterian church; she had to go through the communicants' class first, which was still a year or two off at the time. Had I opted to baptize her as an infant, they would have gladly done that (being within their doctrinal guidelines), but since I was credo-baptist (a rarity in my congregation), they actually upped the ante on me a bit. If I were really an "adult baptism" only advocate, then the issue would not really have have come up.

On the flip-side, I would wonder if/where paedo-baptists draw the line between a child of a believer being baptized by virtue of being a child of a believer vs. being baptized as a confessing believer in Jesus Christ. Hypothetically, say a family joins the Church: should the hypothetical 8 year old in the household be expected to repent before being baptized? 10 year old? 15 year old? 23 year old college graduate looking for job, but still part of the household and still his parents' child? The hypothetical "grandma" who is widowed and living with her children and grandchildren (I'm kind of shifting goalposts here as the "grandma" is obviously not a child of her children; but she is a member of the household, which I think is included in most paedo-baptist views)? I know that's a very contrived example, but I think how someone answers that question might reveal what I would consider a certain potential inconsistency in paedo-baptist thinking (though, I very well may be completely wrong about that, and perhaps paedo-baptists would happily baptize the entire household regardless of age and/or evidence of faith). If that question is wrong-minded, then I'm asking it out of my wrong-minded misconception based on the "infant baptism" moniker.

All that is a bit of a tangent, though. As far as direct biblical statements, Acts 2:38-39 seems to me to suggest a credo-baptist model:

Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)
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.”

In this passage, we are presented a promise (2:38) and three groups of people to whom the promise is offered (2:39). It's notable, that these three groups are given the same promise, and that the promise is explained with one explicit flow ("Repent and be baptized every one of you"). To me, the "easy reading" of the application is pretty straight-forwarded, and I don't see how we should read this passage as saying to "you": "Repent and be baptized"; to "those who are far off": "Repent and be baptized"; but to "your children": something like "be baptized that you may one day repent."


To answer the second part of the question (I'm kind of glad I'm not the only one who missed it :) ), I think Galatians address this a bit in chapter 3. The key passages are as follows:

Galatians 3:16-18 (ESV)
16  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Who is (not "are") Abraham's offspring and the recipient of the promise? Jesus.

Galatians 3:23-30 (ESV)
23  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

So where is our hope? It is found in the fact that we are counted as the offspring, too, by virtue of being found in Christ. Our adoption into the family of Christ does not happen when we are born (celebrated by "infant baptism"), but rather when we are born again (celebrated by "believer's baptism").

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Just a comment on the Acts 2:38 passage: try taking it not as the promise that changes, but the definition of "children" to mean "descendants" and "far off" to mean "gentiles". –  Joel Coehoorn May 8 '12 at 19:20
Also, I really like the "celebrated by" phrase at the end. There's a lot of "faith vs works" discussion around baptism, and I think those who see baptism as a work miss this. –  Joel Coehoorn May 8 '12 at 19:22
Like your response. As a paedo-baptist I would look to the household baptisms and especially the household circumcisions of the OT and say that all in the household should be baptized, unless they specifically resist. –  Nathan Bunney May 8 '12 at 23:50
@NathanBunney: Thanks for answering my question. That sounds like a good, consistent response. –  Steven May 9 '12 at 12:40
@JoelCoehoorn: This is a very delayed response, but I agree with you on the metaphorical nature of the three mentioned parties. I take this message to be one of the timeless ("your children") and global ("those who are far off") scope of the Gospel. I just believe paedobaptists err in interpreting what I see as an edge case through the semi-literal (most wouldn't deny the metaphorical interp. as well) reading of "your children." I also don't think that justifies an application that's transposed (baptism preceding belief and repentance) in that case vs. the others. –  Steven Nov 14 '12 at 16:59
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There is no precedent for infant baptism in Scripture

Infant baptism simply is not found in the Bible. That isn't an argument that it can't be done, but it should be seen as an extrabiblical tradition.

Baptism is commanded with salvation

Jesus commanded the apostles as follows:

Matthew 28:19 (NIV)
19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

The thrust here (and everywhere baptism is commanded) is that the people that the apostles are making the disciples of, and the people they are baptizing, are the same people. I believe that people must choose to be disciples for themselves, which is a choice babies are unable to make.

Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change

Paul describes the inward change that baptism symbolizes:

Romans 6:2-4 (NIV)
By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

It is a symbol of our spiritually putting ourselves to death, so that we may live with Christ. This is not a decision that babies can make, so why perform an act that reflects an inward change that has not yet occurred?

The water is just water

In Acts, we have an example of people who had been baptized with water, and needed to be rebaptized.

Acts 19:2-5 (NIV)
and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Clearly not all baptisms are equal. Yet, what changes between right and wrong cases? The water is constant, so I argue that it is the heart of the baptizee. Certainly, whatever knowledge the people were lacking that made their baptism null, babies lack even more. Peter tells us explicitly that the water is not what's important:

1 Peter 3:21 (NIV)
21  and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Babies are easily able to undergo the removal of dirt from flesh - that can be accomplished by the simple act of pouring water on them. What they aren't able to do is the very thing that Peter says is important: "the pledge of a clear conscience toward God".

In regard to your arguments...

I think you bring up some interesting points, but I don't think that they make a compelling case for infant baptism.

Since the sign of inclusion into the covenant under the Old Covenant (circumcision) is so closely tied to the sign under the New Covenant (baptism) Col 2:11-12 and since the Old Covenant sign was offered to children and since the New Covenant is more inclusive in every way than the Old Covenant and since telling a Jewish Christian that they can not baptize their children would have been a big deal to them (and the scriptures show no discussion on this point at all), it has always seemed to me that the burden of proof showing the change in practice lies at the Baptist doorstep.

Is baptism circumcision 2.0?

It sounds like this is considering baptism to have been seen as a replacement for circumcision. I don't know of any Scriptural basis for this, and Colossians 2:11-12 doesn't seem to make the case. The absence of an argument in Galatians to this effect is also very conspicuous. Since in Galatians, Paul is arguing that in Christ, physical circumcision is not important, it seems that the silver bullet argument for his case would have been that baptism is the new circumcision.

Does baptism place us in the new covenant?

I don't know of any indication in Scripture that water baptism includes us in the new covenant. Rather, the indication seems to be that we are included by spiritual baptism, which occurs by faith in Christ, and water baptism is a subsequent act symbolizing that (1 Peter 3:21, Acts 10:44-48, Matthew 3:11).

John Piper makes an excellent point on this topic here. He points out that in the New Covenant, we are not included by physical descent, but spiritual:

Galatians 3:6-7 (NIV)
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.

As an aside

I'm not completely familiar with the doctrine surrounding infant baptism, so I may be off on this point. But one thing I don't understand about infant baptism placing someone in the New Covenant, is this: isn't its efficacy disproven once someone who is baptized as an infant grows up to be a non-Christian? Surely there must be some examples of this... Or is the belief that infant baptism places babies in the New Covenant until they reach an age of accountability, and then they must decide to enter it themselves? In that case, shouldn't they be rebaptized anyway once they re-enter? Neither option seems to have Scriptural support.

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Like your answer @Eric, much of what I have heard in the past. However you have not answered all of my question. –  Nathan Bunney May 8 '12 at 17:53
@NathanBunney, whoops sorry - I'll edit my post sometime today or tomorrow to address the telling a Jewish Christian that they can not baptize their children would have been a big deal to them part. Right now I should probably get back to work :) –  Eric May 8 '12 at 18:09
No problem @Eric. –  Nathan Bunney May 8 '12 at 23:51
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