One of the reasons that Catholics get criticized is because Catholics baptize infants. One often hears it said, “Well, I was baptized as an infant, and I didn’t have any say in it!! I felt nothing then, and it should only be given to those who have a chance to believe. The Bible says Believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38). There is not one text in the Bible that says that infants should be baptized!.” True, there is not one text that explicitly says that infants should be baptized. On the other hand, there is not one text that says explicitly not to baptize infants. Therefore, we must examine whatever Biblical implications point us to in taking a purely Biblical analysis of the situation. In this piece, I will examine only Biblical texts, and what they allude to. Now, as a Catholic, the Bible is not our only guide. The teaching of tradition and the Church is unambiguous and unanimous: Infants should be baptized. The first group to teach against infant baptism were the Anabaptists in the 16th century. Even Luther and Calvin (using their principle of the Bible Alone) taught infant baptism, with Luther teaching infant baptismal regeneration. I will show that the practice of infant baptism is clearly consistent with the Bible. Here I will give reasons from the Bible, which point toward the necessity of infant baptism. Some of these reasons individually are enough to point towards infant baptism. When one looks at these reasons in total, the case for infant baptism is overwhelming.
Why do babies need to be baptized? The Bible teaches quite clearly that with Adam’s sin, all the human race was infected with sin. Sin is on the soul. Through Adam’s sin, sin touches even the soul of the infant. Psalm 51:5:
Psalm 51: 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
What is the background for this? David is here repenting for his sin with Bathsheba. If we look at Psalm 51:5, we see him speaking about his own iniquity from birth. Some may say, that well, it is talking about his mother’s sins in Psalm 51:5. However, the context is about David’s sins, and not his mother. His mother only had sex with his Father, and there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that David was an illegitimate child. It is not a sin for a mother to have sex with her husband. Thus, ‘Brought forth in iniquity’ only points to sin on David’s soul at his time of birth. The whole context is about David. David himself is the focus, not his mother. Since birth, he was in iniquity. He himself is the focus of the whole Psalm, and he had iniquity since birth, before he could choose. What is that except original sin?
1 "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. 2 He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not. 3 And dost thou open thy eyes upon such a one and bring him into judgment with thee? 4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.
Since birth, man is unclean. Only Jesus can make one clean. But one starts off unclean, according to Job and Psalms.
Paul develops the concept of original sin further in Romans 5:12-19. Let us look at some of these verses:
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned--
Because of one man’s sin, all sin? What in the world is that? What causes all men to sin? One man’s sin? That is Adam’s sin. If it was just that all men, happen to coincidentally 'choose' to sin, why does Paul mention Adam as foundational to that choice? It is that Adam's sin causes men to be bent towards sin. Otherwise there would be no reason to mention Adam. What is that? Original sin.
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,
How can death reign from Adam onward if there was no original sin? Why does death reign, even if it was not like the sin that Adam chose?
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
Through one man’s trespass, many die. That is what original sin does. Paul explicitly says that one man’s sin, spreads to many. What is that except original sin? Why do all later in life choose to sin? Because of that one man’s sin spreading to all. That is original sin. Thus, one is bent towards sin, even from birth.
If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
One man’s sin causes death to reign on all? It doesn’t say, well, because we choose to sin later on. No it says that through one man’s sin, death reigns on all. What is that except original sin. It is original sin, that bent away from God, that causes us to sin.
For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.
Many are made sinners by the one man’s disobedience. That is Adam’s sin we are made unrighteous. Not through us committing our own sin. We start off as bent towards sin, and actually unrighteous. That means as babies, we are so bent. Thus, original sin. Scripture profitably instructs us that Adam’s sin death spread to all, which is the reason that man commits sin. In fact, if there is no original sin, then why do we all sin when we get to the age of reason. Because of what Adam did. All sin, because of what Adam did. That is original sin. Notice that Paul writes that through one man’s sin, many are made sinners. If I am only a sinner because I choose to be, then how in the world would Adam’s sin make me unrighteous? In fact, why do I choose to be a sinner? Because Paul says it is Adam’s sin. What is that except original sin? What is Paul’s solution? Through Jesus one is made righteous. Thus, Jesus makes man righteous. How does he do that? It is not a coincidence but right after that, Paul writes:
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 5 speaks of the sin of Adam effecting all of those who are born, as being unrighteous. Romans 5 shows that all are effected by Adam’s sin, and that would obviously start at birth. And we notice that right after that he says that we are made righteous in Roman 5:19 through Christ. In Romans 6, following upon this he gives us the further solution in how we are made righteous. Since he is speaking about all and all would include babies, his solution would also include all, including babies. What is his solution to get people into Christ? Those who are baptized into Christ. The solution to original sin is thus baptism, and since those in original sin are babies and are in Adam’s sin, to get out of Adam and into Christ’s death, and thus get justified, is baptism.
In addition, Ephesians 2 points to humans as “children of wrath” and we will see later that 1 Cor. 7 shows children are born unclean. To those against infant baptism, if children are born in a state of sin as evidenced by Job, David and Paul, original sin though it may be, why leave them that way and not put them in God’s grace? Even if babies have not sinned personally, this sin of Adam effects their soul. The baby did not choose to be unclean. Why do they absolutely have to be the ones who have to choose to be clean, when they can not reason for themselves?
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
According to Jesus one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven. (To see that water and Spirit means baptism, please see: Are Catholics Born Again?. Jesus did not give exceptions for infants. He did not say, “In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, adults must be born of water and Spirit, but babies get in without getting born of water and Spirit.” This command was universal, and if anybody wants their children, to be guaranteed of them going to heaven, in case of death, being born of water and Spirit is absolutely necessary. Even if there were no other principles that pointed towards infant baptism, the authority of Jesus words settle the matter.
If one does not interpret John 3:5 as referring to baptism, it is still fatal to anti-infant baptism theology. If you admit that it is baptism, your theology must have him baptized in order for the babies to get to heaven in case of death. Many argue that John 3:5 is not about water baptism, but the water is the mother’s amniotic fluid at birth and the Spirit is given when one is Spiritually reborn when one accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. For a dialogue on the issue, check this: An Attack on Baptismal Regeneration: Matt Responds. They argue that one becomes born again only when one reaches the age of reason and can accept Jesus by faith. Therefore, since Jesus said one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, those who hold that one must be of the age of reason to be born again, by their own theology consign children who die before the age of reason to hell. However,
on the contrary, they will say
these infants can go to heaven. Yet, since Jesus said one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, and these folks don’t posit the possibility of a third state (such as limbo), and since they argue that infants can not be born again, they do indeed consign infants to hell.
In the Old Covenant, the principle of including babies in the covenant is established. God tells Abraham in his covenant, Genesis 17:9-14:
9 And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.
In the Old Covenant, Abraham, the man of faith, is called to choose circumcision as an adult. Also, however, men of faith are called to exercise faith for their children. Babies 8 days old would have to be circumcised. That is how babies came into the covenant. The babies made no choice in the matter. God even says that those who are uncircumcised have broken my covenant. Babies who have not been circumcised are thus guilty, according to God’s own words. Children come into the Covenant established by God through the family. We thus see the necessity of those who love their children who want them in the covenant, circumcising their children.
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
12He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,
13 both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
We see that the way that children in their relation to God necessarily depending upon their parents believing for them. In Ex 4:24f, Moses is on the way back to Egypt and God seeks to kill Moses. Why? Moses neglected to circumcise his son. If circumcision gave spiritual benefits (Gen. 17:14, the part of being within the covenant), how much more would baptism?
All of Israel was told to sprinkle the blood of the lamb (which prefigured Christ) on the doors of the houses (Exodus 12:13). There was an issue of the firstborn of the land of Egypt and Israel. Those who were in Israel were commanded to sprinkle this blood on their doorposts so God would not destroy their firstborn. I guess maybe some individual Americanized Christians, with the anti-infant baptism mentality might have said “Well, let the children believe for themselves, since they must choose for themselves to sprinkle the lamb’s blood.” Instead, all of Israel, realizing that God works through the covenant, sprinkled
the lamb’s blood on the doorpost to save their children. The Egyptians, similar to those against infant baptism, did not sprinkle blood on their doorpost, and all of their firstborn died (Ex. 12:24-28). Neither the firstborn of Israel or Egypt showed any faith. However, the difference was, that those of faith believed for their children while the Egyptians did not believe for their children. If the anti-infant baptism mentality was around, Israel would have ended up with dead babies, just as the Egyptians. Who in the New Covenant should we imitate? The mentality that would have produced dead babies, or the parents who believed for their children and put them in the Covenant of the family of God , and thus saved their children?
We see later in Joshua that God punished the nation of Israel, and those with Joshua because they had not circumcised their children (Joshua 5:2-7.) It was not until all the children were circumcised did God remove the reproach of Egypt from them (Josh. 5:8-9).
We thus see that God puts his children into the Old Covenant through the faith of their parents and grace. Are we to assume that even though in the Old Covenant that children are included in it by their parents faith for them and obedience for them by having them circumcised, that the children are not to be brought into the new covenant? Hardly!!! After all, the grace of the New Covenant far exceeds that of the Old Covenant. Romans 5:15 says,
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many."
The anti-infant baptismal mentality actually argues that grace via incorporation into the Old Covenant family of God for children was greater than the grace available in the New Covenant. That is not only problematic to say the least, but directly contradicts Paul in Romans 5.
We see in the Old Covenant that the people who are in God’s covenant, are put into the covenant of faith, for the most part, by the faith of their parents, as shown in the covenant that God established with Abraham, and by the parents sprinkling the blood on the doorposts for their firstborn. Is there any hint that in the New Covenant that children are not be included in the covenant, and thus we should deny baptism to them? The rationale given for this idea is that one must repent before they should be baptized (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38). How does the idea of circumcision in the Old Covenant relate to the New Covenant? Paul writes about this in Colossians 2:11-14, where he refers to circumcision when he writes of baptism:
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ;
Paul specifically declares that baptism replaces circumcision in the New Covenant. What does baptism do? Put off the body of flesh, forgives trespasses, and raises them up. We saw earlier that children were born in sin (even if it is only original sin, according to David and Paul). They thus need the cleansing of baptism. Thus, Paul, mentioning in passing, as a matter that everybody should know, that baptism , which forgives sins, (See also Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Rom. 6:3-4, etc.) replaces Circumcision. Romans 5:15 shows that the grace in the New Covenant is far greater than the old (where God commands Abraham that the children in the Old Covenant must be circumcised or else the children would be cut off from covenant with God). It follows naturally that children would enter the new covenant that Paul is writing of through baptism. He makes no disclaimer that circumcision in the Old Covenant was for babies, but baptism is only for those “of an age of reason” in the New Covenant.
12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
In Colossians, Paul equates circumcision with baptism. Circumcision was done on the 8th day, and of course, without the infant's consent or belief. As we saw earlier in Genesis 17:14, and following, we saw that uncircumcised infants are outside of God's covenant. If circumcision gave spiritual benefits (Gen. 17:14, the part of being within the covenant), how much more would baptism? Since the OT covenant promise applied even to infants, the NT covenant would as well.
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 shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him."
Peter talks of the promise and how to get forgiveness of sin. What is the promise in regards to salvation? The promise of the Father of our Faith, Abraham (Rom. 4, Gal. 4). We see that this promise that was made to Abraham is now made to the believers in the New Covenant. Who does this promise include? Only those who are of an age of reason? No, according to Peter it is to you and your children. Children are thus included in this promise. All the believers were Jews, who had been brought up in the Old Covenant, and realized that children were included in covenants that God made with his children. It would have been unthinkable that in a new covenant with greater grace, that now all of a sudden they would have been excluded. Peter confirms this idea, all the more, when he says this promise is for you, and your children. When they heard Peter give this promise, they no doubt brought their children to be baptized. If the children were not to be included, there would
have been a great controversy, and Peter would have had to have said, “Well, even though I said the promise included children, this baptism can only come when we reach this age of reason, that they could choose for themselves.” There was no controversy only because children were not to be excluded in the New Covenant.
How are we to come to Jesus in the New Covenant? Jesus proclaimed that we must come to him as children, Matthew 18:2-5:
2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
Notice that we must come to Jesus in the New Covenant, as children. It would be strange to say that we must come to him as children, but then exclude the very children he proclaims that we must be like, from entering communing with him through baptism!!! This definitely has baptismal implications, especially since he says in my name. In Acts 2:38 it is used of baptism in Jesus name. the New Testament talks about people being baptized "in the name of Jesus," , or Jesus Christ. There are four such passages (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, and 19:5); It means to baptize in the authority of Jesus. Thus, when Jesus uses the phrase to welcome the children in my name, he definitely has in mind, that this would be a reference to baptism. Now unlike the oneness Pentecostals, we baptize per Jesus’ commission in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19), but this specific reference in the gospel, when compared with the baptism in Acts, shows that baptism is in Jesus’ mind here. God does not work in coincidences. BTW, in this great commission he said to baptize all nations (includes the people in that nation, whether adult believers, or their children).
We have seen in the Old Covenant through Abraham and Moses that God commanded that they circumcise their children who had absolutely no say in the matter. In Jesus’ teaching, is their any hint as well, that spiritual blessing and forgiveness can be given through the faith of others? In Matthew 9:2-6, we see:
2 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, take up your bed and
Notice it was not the paralytic who chose for himself to accept Jesus words. It was the faith of his friends, which provided not only his physical restoration, but most importantly the forgiveness of his sins!! We also see in Mark 5, a Father acting on behalf of her dying daughter, saying:
22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja'irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, 23 and besought him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."
We see later in fact, over the guffaws of many who might have thought, “well, this daughter should have believed for herself!! Nobody could believe for her”, Jesus responding to the faith of her Father. In fact she was now dead. However, Jesus, acting on the faith of her Father, restored her to life.
But do we have any indications of any households being baptized that would include infants? “The indications are fairly clear. Lydia was converted by Paul's preaching. "She was baptized, with her household" (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer whom Paul and Silas had converted to the faith, who had been about to commit suicide when they were miraculously freed from their imprisonment, was baptized that night along with his household. We are told that "the same hour of the night . . . he was baptized, with all his family" (Acts 16:33). And in his greetings to the Corinthians, Paul recalled that, "I did baptize also the household of Stephanas." In all these cases, whole households or families were baptized. This means more than just the spouse; the children too were included. (1 Cor. 1:16, also, Acts 18:8). If one is against infant baptism, one would have to argue that in not one of these households (Acts 11:14 implies household baptism, as well) were there any babies, or small children below the age of reason. The term oikos, (or household), normally refers to and would include small children or infants. If only one of those households had infants or small children, infant baptism is right there. It is very unlikely that there were no small children in any of the households. This was a world with no reliable form of birth control. Furthermore, if given the New Testament pattern of household baptism, there were to be exceptions to this rule (such as infants), they would be spelled out.”
Fervent former fundamentalist Mark Romero pointed out to me the following points on this matter (His comments are italicized):
“Concerning Infant Baptism, I always ask non-Catholics this question, actually one that they always love to quote themselves: Act 16:30, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (v31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, AND THY HOUSE." I usually stop at the word "saved" in Verse 31 and let them complete the rest. I emphasize to them that after an individual became a Christian the whole family becomes justified (or made holy/sanctified). They usually either disagree or are puzzled by my statement. “ (Also, if the text referred simply to the Philippian jailor and his wife, then we would read that "he and his wife were baptized," but we don't. His children must have been baptized as well.)
Romero continues: “Then I take them to 1 Cor. 7 to prove my case that one believer suffices in a house to make the others holy. I inform them that Paul stated in Verse 14 that if one member was a believer and the other an unbeliever, that the unbeliever was justified by the believer. Then I over-emphasize the next part in that same Verse, "ELSE WERE YOUR CHILDREN UNCLEAN; BUT NOW ARE THEY HOLY." Some will start to understand, but others will reiterate that that verse has nothing to do with baptism. I will then counter that the Verse states that the children were UNCLEAN, and I will inform them that baptism of water cleanses them and makes them holy. I tell them that baptism is implied by the act of changing one from an unclean state to a holy state.
To prove it further, I take them back to Acts 16 and tell them of the passage of Lydia who sold purple. I state that the Bible shows that God touched Lydia's heart and she became a believer after hearing the Word by and through Paul, and as a result, Paul baptized her household because of her belief. I tell them that it does not say God touched the hearts of her family, neither whether the family were true believers, but baptism was given because of her faith.
If any disagreers are still resisting or doubting, usually informing me that the Bible does not say infants were included in the household of Lydia, I informed them again that Acts 16:31, says, "..AND THY HOUSE" and insist that is everyone in a house is sanctified accordingly by one believer minimum. Yes, all are still accountable and responsible in time for what they do after baptism, but baptism cleanses them from original sin nevertheless and gives them grace.”
In the New Testament, no doubt adults are called to repent and believe before they are to be baptized. And I assert as well, if one is unbaptized as an adult, one does not baptize him unless he believes. I also affirm, unambiguously, that one who is baptized as an infant, when he reaches the age of reason, must come to believe in Jesus. The Catholic Church does affirm the necessity of believing in Jesus when one reaches the age of reason. However, the grace that is given in infant baptism makes it easier for him to come to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord, than one without that grace given at baptism. The child who is baptized as an infant should be nurtured in the faith, no doubt. All parents are commanded to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”, Proverbs 22:6. Us Catholics must admit that many Catholic parents do not do what they were commanded to do this very thing at their infant's baptism.
Nevertheless, what do we do with the idea that one should repent and believe before they are baptized? As I just said, for those who by God’s grace are of the age of reason, and who have the ability to believe, they must believe for baptism. Nevertheless, those who have no ability to believe should not be denied, because of a principle well established in the Bible. Biblical commands must be looked at in context, and with common sense. For example, let us look at a similar command by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where he unambiguously writes:
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.
Many in the camp of Thessalonians were not working, because they were expecting the Lord to come. Paul writes that those who do not work, should not eat. No exceptions seem to be given. Well, using the same line that those against Infant baptism argue, should we say that we should starve infants (or wives who do not work, or old people unable to) because they do not work? Of those against infant baptism that I know, not one of them starves their children because of the command in 2nd Thessalonians 3:10. They use common sense in appropriating the verse. The principle that is established, is that those who have the ability to work, should work. Those who do not have the ability, such as infants and Old people are also given food, even when they are unable to work. God works through family. In the same way in reference to baptism, those who have not been baptized and are of the age of reason to believe, should believe before they get baptized. However, just as we do not deny food to infants per 2 Thes. 3:10, neither should we deny babies the sacrament of salvation, who are unable to choose for themselves.
With these principles established, we can say that Infant Baptism is indeed Biblical, and one should never forbid the Children from entering the covenant established by Christ. After all, Jesus did say, Mt. 19:14:
Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”(Mt. 19:14)