Paedobaptism versus Believer’s Baptism
Paedobaptism is the practice of baptizing infants. Different churches have different stances on this.
Some agree with it and some do not. Even those who practice it are not in agreement. Clearly those who say baptism saves are
in error. There are churches who are clear and true to the Gospel in saying that baptism does not save. They still baptize
infants, however, but as more of a baby dedication. However, these churches also say that one is to remember his or
her infant baptism. Some churches believe in "believer’s baptism"
(credo-baptism) where the person being baptized is already a believer, where the baptism is an external sign of an internal spiritual reality.
There is no scripture that clearly says do or do not baptize infants. However, there are some interesting scriptures that
persons on both sides of this debate use. A believer’s baptism proponent’s (BBP) argument is that Jesus was both circumcised and baptized.
This confronts the paedobaptist (PB) argument that baptism replaces circumcision and can only be done once.
The PB argument that multiple baptisms cheapen baptism is a good argument. However, BBPs would question denying a believer’s baptism in view of
an infant baptism, perhaps even questioning how one would remember his or her infant baptism in the first place and question the validity
of the baptism being biblical if it was not performed in a Bible-teaching church (since PBs say that the baptism counts regardless of the church in which it was performed).
PBs would say that infant baptism would count regardless, but BBPs would not follow the practice and
would not consider it a believer’s baptism (since the internal reality has not yet occurred).
Let’s look at scripture:
- Romans 4:9-11 - "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the
uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what
circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still
uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that
righteousness might be credited to them."
BBPs would point out that Abraham was credited righteousness before circumcision, which many liken to
baptism. Further, BBPs would point out as the verse states that circumcision is a sign of the righteousness
credited to Abraham. PBs would likely focus on the concept of covenant and how Abraham was part of the covenant.
They might further argue that this verse does not nullify Paedobaptism since PBs do support the baptism of
adults who were not baptized as infants (and interestingly enough, after the adult believes). PBs would point
to Genesis 17, where God called Abraham and made a covenant with him, specifically Genesis 17:11, where it is a
sign of God's covenant with Abraham (i.e., The focus is on the covenant). PBs
would also point out that circumcision was practiced on infants.
- Romans 6:4 - "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."
BBPs would point out that an infant would not have been buried with Christ through baptism and raised in new life. This might
imply that the infant was saved by baptism, with which many PBs disagree. PBs would say that we
identify with Christ in baptism and are united with Him while BBPs would ask if that
can be said of an infant with certainty. A reformed BBP would argue that the
only way one can be certain is if the infant is among the elect, but no one
knows that except God (and BBPs would agree!). BBPs will ask what happens to persons
who are baptized as infants who later refuse the faith?
Yet, some of this also asks what happens to infants when they die?
- 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 the 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."
Again, BBPs would say this baptism is a "believer’s baptism" in how it likens putting off the sinful nature with
spiritual circumcision and being buried with Him in baptism and raise in new life by faith.
- 1 Peter 3:18-22 - "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring
you 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 symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—-not the
removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him."
BBPs would point out that the water symbolizes baptism that now saves you - not the removal of dirt, but a good conscience toward
God. They would likely point out the spiritual baptism that really saves. Some PBs might point out the saving through the water,
though we know baptism does not save (not by water). PBs might also mention the pledge of a good conscience -- pledge being like a
covenant, such as when parents of a baptized infant are making a covenant to raise the child in a godly home. BBPs would make a
covenant to raise their children in the instruction of the Lord, as well, in spite of the differences over baptism theology.
- Acts 2:38-41 - "Peter replied, ‘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. The promise is
for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With
many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt
generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to
their number that day."
BBPs would imply that they were baptized as believers since the passage mentions those being baptized were
baptized "for the forgiveness of sins" and were those "who accepted his message." PBs
would likely mention "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" with the implication of
belief following baptism. PBs would point out that it would be OK to baptize the adults who heard Peter
since they were allegedly not baptized as infants. PBs would also point out that "[t]he promise is
for you and your children" supports baptizing infants. BBPs would see the promise as a
reference to the Holy Spirit as a gift for believers "for all whom the Lord our God will call"
including children who are believers. This might get into one strand of Covenant Theology where children
of believers are part of a covenant. Yet, those who do not hold that view would cite examples of children
of believers who are not or did not become believers. PBs would also point out that God is the
one calling. BBPs might counter that God's calling is often not known until
children are older and then refer again to their arguments in regards to Romans
- Acts 8:12-13 - "But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the
name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip
everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw."
BBPs would point out that they were baptized after they believed (an external sign of an internal reality) and that it said
that men and women were baptized, not infants. PBs might point out that the men and women may not have been baptized as infants
and so their being baptized now is OK.
- Acts 16:15 - "When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.
‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded
BBPs would point out that Lydia mentioned being a believer in conjunction with the baptism. PBs would point out that household
implies infant baptism.
- Acts 16:30-33 - "He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’
They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the
word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and
washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized."
BBPs would look at this and say that the context is the jailer asking how to be saved and being told to believe and then
subsequently being baptized (not necessarily infants). PBs would argue that all his family was baptized, implying the possibility of infant baptism.
- Acts 18:8 - "Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of
the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized."
BBPs would point out that the baptism occurred after believing, the same being true of the Corinthians who heard and believed, and
mention that perhaps the household had no infants in it since an infant would not be capable of formulating belief.
PBs would point out that the household implies infant baptism.
- 1 Corinthians 1:13-16 - "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into
the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you
were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized
BBPs would argue that baptism was applied for believers as this was written to believers as shown in verse 10
("I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another
so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."). PBs would argue
that baptizing the household of Stephanas would imply infant baptism.
- Genesis 17:10-12 - "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. For the generations to come
every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including
those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who
are not your offspring."
PBs would see this as one of their cornerstone verses. A PB would argue that God
primarily works with families, not individuals adn that salvation is God-based.
The above verse mentions every
male being circumcised as part of the covenant and the covenant would continue
on in the practice of baptism. However, BBPs would consider circumcision as
as external symbol as there are many in the Old Testament and that the fulfillment
of that symbol would be represented in Baptism - an external sign of an
internal reality - which would beg the question whether it is a reality for
the infant. The BBP would also point out that the internal reality would totally be
based on God. Though BBPs use the "external sign of an internal
reality" argument, Michael Horton, himself a paedobaptist (PB), wrote of circumcision
that it "was an outward sign of invisible grace" (p. 223, Putting
Amazing Back into Grace, 5th printing). If by "grace"
he means common grace, then there is no debate except for the need for the
specific sign of circumcision. If he means specific grace (saving grace), then
it reinforces the "external sign of an internal reality" argument.
Further BBPs might add that to baptize an infant is presumptive when that
infant may or may not become a believer. PBs would remind us that baptism does
not save, but that the baptism involves trusting.
- Deuteronomy 10:16 - "Circumcise your hearts,
therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer"
PBs would point out that while persons were circumcised, there are some who
are not circumcised internally (in the heart). They might use this
argument to support paedobaptism since baptism does not save but is to be
administered just as circumcision. BBPs would point out that circumcision
of the heart is what really matters and if we are to use external symbols of
internal realities then we should not baptize until the internal reality
- Isaiah 65:23 -
"They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to
for they will be a people blessed
by the LORD,
they and their descendants with
In context, "They" are the people of God (Isaiah 65:19). PBs would point out that
children of believers are not unregenerate. BBPs might liken this to being
"saved" based on your parents' faith and would point out that children born
to believers are blessed to be in the optimal situation this side of Heaven, but
cite the unfortunate examples of children of believers who are not believers.
BBPs might also point out that the context of this verse is in the new heavens and
the new earth (Isaiah 65:17).
- 1 Corinthians 7:14 - "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."
The wife in this verse is a believer. A BBP would ask if the husband being sanctified
means he is saved. A BBP would also remind us of the scriptures that we are
born in sin. A PB would point out that this verse implies that the Paul followed the
Old Testament difference between clean children of the covenant and unclean
- Mark 9:36 - 37 - "He took a little child and had him
stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever
welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever
welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’"
Mark 10:15 - "I tell you the truth, anyone who will
not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
PBs would point out how verses like these use children (paedo) and they tie
into households being in the covenant family of grace. BBPs would argue that
these verses imply nothing about baptism, but rather faith. Further, BBPs would
point out that these verses don't necessarily mean infants, especially in
the verse in Mark 9 where the child stood among them.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism
addresses baptism in Questions 94 and 95.
Q. 94. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal
our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant
of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.
Q. 95. To whom is Baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible
church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but
the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.
Reformed PBs would agree with Q. 94 only if coupled with Q. 95. Reformed
BBPs would be in agreement with all but the last statement of Q. 95
and ask the reasoning for the last statement. Q. 94 and the beginning of
Q. 95 seem to speak to Believer's Baptism, but the last statement
of Q. 95 makes it Paedobaptist. The BBP person might point out that while
the Westminster Shorter Catechism is an important document, it is not Inspired
Scripture as we find in the Bible, meaning that the Westminster Shorter
Catechism could have error unlike Scripture. Yet, disagreement over baptism
remains, but may there be understanding.
Some get hung up on this issue and some go further to even argue about dunking or sprinkling. While
these discussions are worthy, may they be for the sake of understanding, not division. The bottom line is
faith in Christ. And remember, there will be those in Heaven who have not been baptized, but I recommend
baptism. You can guess if I am a PB or BBP! It might matter to some denominations. However, does it
or should it matter? Discuss to understand, not divide.
PART 2: Baptism - Part 2