The New Testament and Infant Baptism

This post is part of a series on the question of infant baptism. The previous article gave an overview of the evidence that people draw from to argue for one side or the other.

In that article, we saw that most of the evidence people use can actually be consistent with either infant baptism or believers’ baptism. However, the evidence that only fits into one side is the evidence from the New Testament and the first century or so of church history.

In this article, I’ll discuss the New Testament evidence and show that the New Testament teaches believers’ baptism, not infant baptism. And in the next article, I’ll discuss the remaining evidence, the evidence from church history.

The New Testament evidence is key

We know that both infant baptism and believers’ baptism existed in the third and fourth centuries of the church. So either the practice of infant baptism was earliest, and it later devolved into believers’ baptism, or believers’ baptism was earliest, and it later devolved into infant baptism.

If we want to know which of them was earliest, we need to go to the earliest sources that we have. The New Testament evidence is incredibly important, not only because the New Testament is our infallible guide to true doctrine, but also because there are no earlier sources than the books found in the New Testament.

In this article, I’ll offer reasons for believing that credobaptism best fits the theology of the New Testament and the early church. I’ll also respond to some arguments from infant baptism that are based in the New Testament, and show why they don’t work.

Infants do not meet the conditions for baptism

I’m going to use two basic arguments for why only those who believe in Christ should be baptized, and why infants should not receive baptism. The first argument is based on what infants can or can’t do:

  1. The conditions for baptism include certain responses to God on the part of the individual being baptized.
  2. Infants are not able to make these responses to God.
  3. Therefore, infants do not meet the conditions for baptism.

Belief in Christ is a precondition for baptism

First, let’s examine whether Premise 1 above is true. Do individuals need to respond to God as a condition for being baptized?

It’s apparent that belief in Christ and a commitment to him is a precondition to baptism, for the following reasons:

Baptism is linked to our response to the gospel

  1. First, in Scripture, baptism into Christ is continually linked to our repentance, belief, and discipleship, in response to the gospel message (Matt 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-17, Acts 2:37-41, Acts 8:13, Acts 10:45-48, Acts 16:30-33, Acts 18:8, Col 2:12).
  2. Furthermore, in Scripture, salvation from sin is also continually linked to our belief and obedience, in response to the gospel message (Matthew 10:22, Luke 8:12, John 3:16-18, Acts 2:21, Romans 1:16, 10:10, 10:13, 1 Cor 15:2, 2 Cor 7:10, Eph 1:13, 2:8, Phil 2:12, 2 Thess 2:10, 2 Tim 3:15, Heb 2:3, 1 Pet 1:9). Furthermore, Scripture also links baptism into Christ and salvation, as we’ll see in a future section.
  3. Finally, the entire witness of Scripture does not suggest that the point of salvation is merely to create a group of people who have the status of “being saved”; instead, it is intended to create a group of people who have a committed faith and love for God and fellowman.

The straightforward conclusion from the Biblical evidence is that baptism and a response to God go together as part of the way they naturally occur. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, such as straightforward Scriptural examples of baptism occurring without a response to God, we should not assume that they can be unlinked. But as I’ll show later, there are no such examples.

No Scriptures indicate that baptism of nonbelievers actually happened. There are a few Scriptures that could be read that way, but they aren’t as straightforwardly obvious as the conclusion from 1. So I think it is much simpler to go with the prima facie teachings of Scripture, rather than to construct a more elaborate theological explanation than is necessary for explaining Scripture.

Our response to the gospel, when mentioned, is always listed before baptism

In Scripture, our response to God (repentance, belief, discipleship), when mentioned, is always listed before baptism into Christ.1Matt 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 4:1, Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12-13, Acts 16:14-15, Acts 18:8 In some cases, this is because Scripture is telling a story in which repentance occurred before baptism. This would indicate that our response is a condition of baptism. In other cases, it’s not as much telling a story—but since the response is listed first it suggests that this response is assumed to be a prerequisite for baptism. Furthermore, there are no Scriptural examples of someone being baptized before showing that response.

Was this just because of context?

But someone could argue that there’s another reason that baptism and our response to God are so linked, and that the Scriptural teaching isn’t a good example for how things should be done today. What if the apostles spoke on baptism of believers because they were dealing with adult conversions to Christianity, and just didn’t mention baptizing the children of Christians, since there weren’t a lot of them?

If we didn’t have such consistent teaching throughout the New Testament on the subject of baptizing believers, this might be a good response. However, it appears to be speculation rather than a good argument.

Furthermore, we know that many of the people who were interested in Jesus’ message had children. Children appear frequently in the stories surrounding Jesus. See, for example, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which mentions children. Thus, there was certainly occasion for the baptism of children to be mentioned—yet it never was.

Infants can’t believe in Christ

Next, let’s examine whether Premise 2 above is true. Is it true that infants can’t respond to God’s call with repentance, faith, and discipleship?

I have told my one-year-old son about God, using words that I frequently use to speak to him about other topics. Though I would like to think that he derived at least a little something from my teaching, he gives no indication of having understood even the most rudimentary aspects of it.

It should be obvious that infants are too young to repent and to believe in Christ. Not only do they not have the ability to understand many of the words necessary; the concepts themselves are beyond their comprehension. Even after children are able to understand or even speak some words, they are still too young to understand the gospel.

Can infants have faith?

Even so, some have argued that infants can have faith, so infants should be baptized. This argument often goes along with the covenantal argument, which I’ll address in a later section.

Here are some supporting arguments that they use:

  • Jesus tells us to be like little children (Matt 18). But he specifically says how: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (4). He does speak of “these little ones who believe in me,” but the child came to Jesus because he called the child (2), so we know that the child was not an infant. Thus, this is not evidence for infant faith.
  • Timothy knew the Bible from childhood (2 Tim 3:15). First, this is not about faith, but about knowing Scripture. Second, my understanding is that the phrase “from childhood” doesn’t necessarily indicate a saving knowledge of Scripture from infancy.
  • Psalm 22 says, “you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (9-10). This is a prophecy about Jesus. When applied to David, it’s simply poetic hyperbole, not intended as legally precise language.
  • When children praised him, and the Jewish leaders complained, Jesus said, “have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16). Notice that Jesus was stumping the Pharisees with a question, not making a theological statement (quoting Psalm 8:2).
  • John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. This is an example of God doing a miraculous work, something that is outside the ordinary. The story of John the Baptist is not trying to say that all infants are filled with the Holy Spirit.

If infant faith is a reason to baptize infants, then it would be important to know the signs of which infants had or didn’t have faith. But that’s not how infant baptism is practiced.

However, occasional examples of infant faith would not be a problem for credobaptism. If any of our infants ever give clear signs of being filled with the Holy Spirit or believing, I think it would be just fine to consider whether we should baptize them, since we don’t baptize based on age, but based on the faith of the individual. If an infant truly did in some miraculous way have the maturity to repent and have faith, they would be just as eligible for baptism as an adult who exhibited the same signs. However, it should go without saying that babies typically do not have that maturity.

Can infants be disciples?

So we can’t base a practice of baptizing infants on the argument that infants have repentance and faith, even if young children can begin to exhibit repentance and faith as they grow older. But what about discipleship?

Some paedobaptists argue that infants can actually be disciples. Paedobaptists point out that we teach our children and instruct them in the way of the Lord from little up. Since we’re teaching them, they are, in one sense of the word, our “disciples.” Jesus said to “make disciples, baptizing them.” So if infants can be disciples, wouldn’t that mean that we should baptize them?

This can be exposed as the rationalization that it is by a simple thought experiment. If someone asked me whether my one-year-old son is a “student,” I would say, “No”—even though the basic definition of “student” can denote any learner, and my son learns new things from his parents every day.

When we use words, we rarely use them for their basic definition. In ordinary conversation, we use context to determine what they mean. So when we speak of “discipleship” in the context of Jesus, we mean a specific form of discipleship, understood in context of the New Testament teachings, not just anything that could be called discipleship according to the basic definition.

The discipleship that Jesus speaks of involves following him in ways that infants cannot do. Jesus gives the following conditions for being his disciple:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? . . . So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)

Infants are not ready to deny themselves (Matt 16:24) or to count the cost in the way Jesus describes here. Infants are not ready to leave their families for Christ or to bear his cross. Nor are they ready to obey Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31).

Anabaptists took Christ’s words very seriously, especially given that being an Anabaptist in the early days did often require them to give up their families, possessions, and even their lives. That’s why Anabaptists have traditionally not baptized their children until adolescence, unlike many denominations, who often baptize children before age ten. As I said in my first article, there is room for disagreement about the proper typical age range for baptism. But what we can all agree with is that infants are not ready for the type of discipleship that Jesus describes.

Also, notice that Jesus said only to make disciples, baptizing them—not to baptize all people immediately upon their becoming a disciple. Even if someone becomes a disciple in the sense of Jesus’ words, they may need to be discipled for a length of time before they are ready to be baptized. In fact, the early church had a rigorous discipling class for those who converted to Christianity. While these learners were in the process of learning about the faith and preparation for baptism, they were called “catechumens.” So even if it’s true that an infant has begun to be discipled doesn’t mean that they are ready for baptism.

Finally, the truths that Christian infants are learning in their infancy are no more religious than what pagan infants also learn every day. Children even in their infancy naturally want to do what their parents do. They want to walk, talk, play with tools, eat with spoons, and everything pertaining to human interaction. But this is not being a disciple of Jesus; it is simply the natural development of a child. Should all children, then be baptized, since they are all, in the same sense of the term, disciples?

Infants do not need baptism

My second argument from the New Testament is based on what infants need in order to be right with God:

  1. Baptism is for salvation through the remission of sins.
  2. Infants do not need salvation through the remission of sins.
  3. Therefore, infants do not need baptism.

Baptism is linked to salvation

Baptism is not just a sign of inclusion into the church. It’s not just a personally meaningful ritual. The New Testament unilaterally links baptism with salvation. Whether or not one believes in baptismal regeneration, it’s at least clear that baptism is performed on all those who join Christ and is administered at the time of their forgiveness and salvation from their sins (Mark 16:15-18, Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom 6:4, Col 2:12, 1 Pet 3:21).

Baptism does have other purposes as well, but they are linked to this one main purpose that Scripture gives. Importantly, we are given no indication that there are other circumstances in which one should seek baptism—other than for salvation through repentance from former sins.

Infants are already saved

But infants are already saved. They don’t need the remission of their sins. Infants are innocent and therefore right with God, nor are they fully responsible for their actions. There’s a reason why Western law does not give as harsh of punishments to juvenile offenders as to adults.

Scripture teaches that infants do not inherit guilt from their parents (Ezekiel 18:20). And Jesus speaks of babies and young children as the paradigmatic examples of what adults must be like if they are to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 18:1-4, 19:14). It’s worth noting that the earliest Christians also taught the innocence of children, as I will discuss in the next post.

Since babies don’t need salvation, they don’t need baptism either. The central reason for baptism in the New Testament is remission of sins through identity with Christ, but infants don’t have sins to remit and are already identified with Christ.


In this section, I’ll answer some objections to the claim that infants do not need salvation.

Original Sin

One of the main arguments that infants need salvation is the doctrine of Original Sin. This is the idea that infants inherit sin from Adam, and that this sin is what needs to be washed away. For the sake of saving space, I won’t go into a lot of detail, but here are some of the main evidences offered for original sin, with my responses:

  • [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). “All” includes infants. Scripture teaches that infants have not sinned (Rom 9:11). Does this mean that Scripture contradicts itself? No. The statement “all have sinned” is not intended to be a legally precise statement. A better understanding is that all of the relevant group of people have sinned (adults). Another way to put it would be that “all have sinned” does not mean that “every human, including infants, have sinned,” but that “all who reach the full expression of humanity” have sinned—just as “all birds have feathers” does not mean to say that every unhatched embryo will have feathers.
  • None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside” (Rom 3:11-12). Note that Romans 3 is quoting from Ps 14 and 53, which also specify, “they have all fallen away.” If people have turned aside, fallen away, or gone astray, that means that they were once right with God. Thus, this is talking about adults, not infants, who are right with God.
  • [J]ust as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). This teaches that we die because we have sinned, so if infants die, infants must have sinned. Again, Scripture teaches that infants have not sinned. Furthermore, Jesus died even though he hadn’t sinned; thus, someone’s death does not prove that they sinned. So what might Paul mean instead? I think Paul is referring to eternal death here. Adam first sinned and brought the condemnation of eternal death into the world, a condemnation that passed to all those who have sinned. This makes the most sense of 1) the fact that those saved by Christ still die, in spite of Rom 5:17 and 1 Cor 15:22, and 2) that Paul specifically mentions eternal life as the result of Christ, suggesting that eternal death was what Christ answered (Rom 5:21).
  • “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:22). In context, this is not saying that every human has sin. Instead, in the very next verse, Paul explains what he means: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (3:23). Paul is saying that the Law of Moses could not bring life (3:21), and that it was only temporary, put in place because of transgressions (3:19). So why does he consider captivity to the Law the same as captivity to sin? Because Paul teaches that the Law gave sin its power (Rom 7:7-11). Thus, this passage is not teaching anything about original sin.
  • The Septuagint says, “For who shall be pure from uncleanness? not even one; if even his life should be but one day upon the earth: and his months are numbered by him: thou hast appointed him for a time, and he shall by no means exceed it” (Job 14:4-5 Brenton LXX). This is a poetic lament that is speaking of ritual uncleanness, not saying that all have sin.
  • David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This is not good evidence for Original Sin, since it 1) could easily be understood as hyperbole, since it’s a poem, or 2) could be about David’s parents. Either one could be true and is enough to show that this passage doesn’t provide evidence for Original Sin. However, I think the most straightforward interpretation is 3) that sin was all around David in the world where he was conceived, and that its effects led to David’s own sin as an adult (which is the context for this Psalm.

I conclude that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament suggests that we carry sins other than our own, sins that need remission through baptism.

Are there two ways to get to heaven?

The second objection to my argument that infants do not need salvation is that this entails that there are two ways to get to heaven. However, we all receive eternal life through Christ, and we know that there are people who are saved without being baptized (e.g., Old Testament saints). I don’t see that this objection has any weight. Furthermore, I assume most Christians today believe that unbaptized infants and those who die before birth are not damned. So if this is a problem for a view on baptism, we are all in the same boat.

There is no evidence for an “age of accountability.”

Another objection that credobaptists often hear is that our view entails that there is an “age of accountability,” which is never mentioned in Scripture. Credobaptists teach that infants are innocent and right with God, until they reach an age at which they become accountable for their sins. At this age, they must choose to commit themselves to Christ, or they will no longer be safe from judgment. But this view is not mentioned in Scripture.

This is not a good objection, since we don’t claim that the “age of accountability” is described in Scripture. Instead, we believe that Scripture teaches the innocence of children, but that all must repent and turn to Christ. If both of these are true, then children will reach an age of accountability at which they pass from the one state to the other. So paedobaptists should object to those two points rather than objecting to the “age of accountability” view.

Does this mean that children go in and out of salvation?

It may seem strange to paedobaptists that credobaptists believe children to be saved, but then pass out of the saved state into a state of needing repentance and baptism. However, this is not necessarily what credobaptism entails.

Anabaptists teach that, as children grow up, they finally reach a point where they are mature enough to be responsible for their mistakes and sins. This age will be different for different people. However, as they reach that point, the Holy Spirit convicts them of their sins, and they must choose to repent and be baptized.

Thus, children might never lose their salvation—at the point when they are responsible, if they follow the Spirit’s conviction and are baptized, they will continue to be saved, but now they will have a new status as members of the New Covenant and having been spiritually raised in Christ.

If a child reaches a point of responsibility and chooses not to follow Christ, we can’t trust that they will be saved. However, we do know that God is merciful to those who are seeking him, even if they don’t do so as quickly as they should.

What about Jesus’ baptism?

Jesus was also baptized. Does this mean that baptism is not linked to our response to God or to salvation?

Jesus, being sinless, is not the typical example of how Christian baptism occurs. Scripture so consistently links the baptism of fallen humans with salvation that this is not evidence against it. Besides, one could even argue that Jesus’ baptism was a response to God, since he asked John to baptize him in order to fulfill all righteousness.

Do some Scripture passages support infant baptism?

The most extensive New Testament argument from the paedobaptist side is the covenantal argument. The question of household baptisms and baptism as circumcision are tied together with this argument. So most of my response to paedobaptist arguments from the New Testament will be centered around that argument. However, I’ll first address some shorter arguments that attempt to show that the New Testament teaches infant baptism.

Let the children come

The following passage has been interpreted as a command to baptize infants:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matt 19:13–15 ESV)

It’s clear that the context of this passage is not baptism. But might this general principle mean that children should be brought to Jesus in every possible way, including being baptized?

One could interpret it that way. However, note that this passage is speaking about children, not about infants. The most this passage could prove is that young children can be baptized.

However, if this passage is really about baptism, then it supports believers’ baptism. Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Let the infants be brought to me,” but “Let the children come to me.”

The verb “bring” appears in the previous verse, so it would have made sense for Jesus to use it if he meant that children should be baptized even before they are old enough to ask for it. Instead, Jesus says to let the children come, a principle that credobaptists hold strongly.

This promise is for you and your children

In Acts, Peter says,

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. 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. (2:38-39)

Does this mean that believing Jews, as well as any children, whether they believed or not, could be baptized? That would be one way of reading this text, but it misses some key information.

First, this view fails to take into account the Jew vs. Gentile context of the early church. When Peter speaks of “all who are far off,” he is speaking of the Gentiles. What he means by “you and your children” are the ethnic Jews. Peter could have said “for you and for all who are far off,” but this wouldn’t have conveyed as clearly the fact that Christianity was to bring Jew and Gentile together. Saying instead “you and your children” emphasized the ethnic aspect of the old covenants and the fact that the New Covenant was broader.

So Peter is not actually talking about whether children could be baptized without believing in Christ. After all, he was not saying that Gentiles could be baptized without believing in Christ. Instead, Peter was making a statement about the intended reach of Christ’s gospel.

Israel’s baptism included infants

Paul compares Israel crossing the Red Sea to baptism in (1 Cor 10). Of course, there were infants present at that time; might that mean that infants can be baptized today as well?

Just because something prefigures baptism doesn’t mean that it is precisely like baptism. After all, when Israel crossed the Red Sea, no one that we know of was immersed in water. Does that mean that we can walk through a dry riverbed to be baptized? Certainly not.

In the Old Testament baptisms, there was no profession of faith (by recipient or sponsor), no statement of “in the name of” the Trinity, no immersion, no attention to individuals. These are all very important in New Testament baptism. So if such things can be different between Old Testament and New Testament baptisms, of course other things can be as well, such as whether infants are baptized or not.

So if such basic aspects of baptism aren’t found in the prototype of baptism, how could we expect to be able to reason out other characteristics of New Testament baptism from just looking at the prototype?

Instead, the passages that link the Old Testament baptisms with New Testament baptism are about prefigurements and typology, not about the details of practice and theology. They teach us that baptism saves, but not specific details on how baptism is applied.

Some extrabiblical arguments

In this section, I’ll respond to some arguments for paedobaptism that are related to the time period of the first-century church but aren’t specifically tied to particular Scripture passages.

Not baptizing infants would have created a huge controversy, but we never hear of one

One argument that I’ve heard goes like this: When Jews heard that baptism was the new circumcision, they would have assumed that it was for infants, as well as believers. If someone had told them not to baptize infants, they would have been shocked and wondered how to seal their children for the New Covenant. But we don’t hear of such a controversy, so that’s evidence for infant baptism.

However, this argument rests on the assumption that baptism replaced circumcision in the early church. This is simply not true. Later in this article, I’ll show that Scripture does not teach that baptism is the new circumcision.

But whether that is clear or not, it’s abundantly clear from Scripture that Christian Jews continued to circumcise their children. Baptism was a Jewish practice for purification. Simply teaching them a new form of purification (baptism into Christ) didn’t have ramifications for whether they continued circumcising or not. So the Christian Jews baptized, without replacing circumcision. Thus, credobaptism wouldn’t have led to such a controversy.

Who could be more childlike than a child?

Another argument is from Jesus’ statement that we must be like little children:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18:3-4)

Children are already childlike. So if everyone who is childlike should be baptized, than children should be baptized, right? This argument sounds good, but it fails for two reasons.

First, the Kingdom of God already belongs to little children (Matt 19:13-15), and they do not need baptism to receive it. Second, in this passage, Jesus is speaking of those who humble themselves like children, not children themselves. He doesn’t say, “Whoever is as humble as this child,” but “Whoever humbles himself like this child.” He is saying that becoming like children is a requirement for them to enter the kingdom, not that being like children is sufficient for baptism.

Shouldn’t children receive the Holy Spirit?

The final argument I will address before addressing the Old Covenant continuity argument is this one: Since baptism is associated with people receiving the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we baptize our infants so that they receive the Holy Spirit?

We can see from Scripture that, even though baptism is very much associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, God gives his Holy Spirit as he wills. John the Baptist received the Holy Spirit before baptism, as did some Old Testament saints. Cornelius and his household received what was apparently the full measure of the Holy Spirit before baptism. And some Christians didn’t receive the Holy Spirit in Acts until the apostles laid hands on them.

So if God chooses to bestow his Spirit on children, he will. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to force him to give the Spirit to those who don’t even know whether they want the Holy Spirit or not.

The Bible doesn’t give age restrictions for baptism

Nor do we; credobaptism is not about age, but about the state of the applicant. But the Bible does include conditions, and we have conditions as well.

Old Covenant continuity argument

The rest of this article will respond to the covenantal argument for infant baptism, as well as related arguments such as the arguments from household baptisms and from circumcision.

This argument is based on covenant theology, which was classically developed in the Protestant Reformation. It’s easy to see why this is one of the most common paedobaptist arguments—it makes a lot of sense, and I think it’s the best of all their arguments, even though it ultimately fails. Basically, the argument goes as follows (paraphrased):

In the Old Testament, all those who were part of the nation of Israel were members of the covenant that God had with his people. All male babies received circumcision, which is the sign of the Old Covenant, and were by default members of the Old Covenant, as long as their families were already members. This continues in the New Testament, where all those whose families are part of the New Covenant are also by default part of the New Covenant. These children should therefore not be denied the sign of the New Covenant, which is baptism.

One paedobaptist lays it out helpfully in these four headings, which make each step of the argument clear:

  1. The Children of Believers Were Members of the Abrahamic Covenant
  2. The New Covenant Is a Renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant
  3. Baptism Replaced Circumcision as the Sign of the Covenant
  4. Children Born to Christian Parents Are Members of the New Covenant

I’ll respond to each of these claims in turn.

Were the children of believers members of the Old Covenant?

First, were the children of believers members of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? The answer to this question is “yes,”2Although one could argue that it is “no,” since there were believers who were outside of these covenants. However, their key point is that children were automatically part of the covenant based on their families’ status, and they are correct to point this out. but the question is framed in a misleading way.

The children of believers were members of the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as the Mosaic Covenant. However, they weren’t members because of their parents’ belief. They were members because they and their families belonged to the earthly ethnicity of Israel. The actual Old Testament principle is that children of ethnic Israelites were members of the Old Covenant. Thus, even though the question is answered “yes,” it doesn’t help us to understand whether children can be automatically added to a covenant based on belief rather than earthly ethnicity.

Is the New Covenant a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant?

The next question is whether the New Covenant is a renewal of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. The answer to this question is “no.” The New Covenant is not a renewal of these covenants—it is the always-intended fulfillment of them. God promised that, through Abraham, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed, and Jesus’ gospel is the way that blessing occurs.

(Note: in a later section, I also address the idea that because we are children of Abraham, our children should receive baptism as the “new circumcision.”)

Are children of Christian parents members of the New Covenant?

The fourth point is a central one, so I will address it before addressing the third point. Are children of Christian parents members of the New Covenant? The answer to this question is “no.” Correcting the first two points helps us to correct this point and understand why believers’ baptism makes the most sense.

In the New Testament, the idea of the New Covenant is definitively linked with the redeeming blood of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28, Rom 11:27, Heb 9:15, 10:29, Eph 2). However, as previously noted, since infants and young children are innocent, they already occupy a special place near Christ and don’t need the forgiveness of sins. The redemption through membership in the New Covenant is not something they need—nor is it a responsibility that they are ready for.

Jesus says of little children, “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14). The Kingdom of God already belongs to little children, without their needing the forgiveness of sins under the New Covenant.

Here is where the two views really clash, and where the covenantal argument shows that, for all its persuasive power, it is not a good description of Scripture’s teaching.

Isn’t this a big, surprising change?

To reject that infants are part of the New Covenant seems problematic to paedobaptists, even though credobaptists believe that infants are already saved and that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. Paedobaptists often point out that it’s a surprising change if infants were part of the Old Covenants, but not of the New. In some ways, it is surprising. But there are several reasons why it makes sense in context of the New Testament.

The covenantal argument makes covenants the center of New Testament theology, when they aren’t the center.

First, the covenantal argument for infant baptism is an inference from Scripture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since credobaptists make inferences from Scripture as well. However, we need to be careful not to infer too much. This is one case where I believe that covenantal theology infers too much from Scripture.

Note that the word “covenant” appears around 280 times in the Old Testement, not including the Apocrypha. The word appears only around 32 times in the New Testament, and many of those instances are actually speaking of Old Testament covenants or quoting directly from the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, when covenants were made, there was a specific time when God visited and announced explicitly that he was making a covenant. In the New Testament, this doesn’t happen. Jesus did visit Israel, but he didn’t explicitly lay out a covenant with his people, as God did in the Old Testament.

The idea of a “new covenant” is important in the New Testament, but we get the impression that this terminology is more about helping the Jewish Christians to understand why things are different in the New Testament, and helping them transition to Christianity. Since Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, as well as the times God had foretold that there would be a new covenant, specifying that this was in fact the New Covenant helped Jews to see the way Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament.

We don’t get the impression that God is making a similar type of covenant in the New Testament as he did in the Old. So since we don’t have any indications that God’s new covenant is like the old covenants, we need to be very careful about extrapolating facts about those covenants and applying them to the New Testament.

The New Covenant differs from the Old in important ways.

Second, there are multiple things that change with the New Covenant which make it disanalogous from the old covenants in multiple ways. The change from covenantal inclusion of infants to no covenantal inclusion of infants is simply the direct result of the other “surprising” differences between the Old and the New.

Remember that infants are innocent, and the New Covenant is mainly about salvation, while the Mosaic Covenant was about being God’s earthly nation. It makes perfect sense that infants would not be considered a part of a salvation covenant, while they would be considered part of a national covenant.

The covenantal argument for infant baptism assumes that God’s New Covenant will work in similar ways to his old covenants. However, many things changed in the New Testament, so we can’t hang too much on Old Testament precedent. The following section will point out the biggest change—the way God determines who belongs to the covenant.

How Does God Determine Who Is Part of the Covenant?

Scripture makes it clear that God’s method of determining who is under his covenant has changed. When Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant, many who had been considered God’s people were thrown out. In their place, many who were not considered God’s people were brought in.

So what made the difference? This question requires us to dig into what is meant by the people of God in the Old and New Testaments.

God’s people in the Old Testament

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were defined according to an earthly ethnicity. God calls the people group of Israel “my people” (Ex 3:10, 6:7, 7:4). The Old Covenants belonged to them, Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh”; and they were the descendants of the patriarchs (Rom 9:3-5).

But just because God’s people were defined according to an earthly ethnicity doesn’t mean that they were defined according to biology. We have evidence in Scripture that family and ethnic lines were not accounted biologically.

For example, the people who came out of Egypt included a “mixed multitude” (Ex 12:37-38), but they all were considered the children of Israel in the desert. People like Rahab and Ruth joined the nation of Israel, as did others. Exodus 12:48 describes how a nonbiological Israelite could become an ethnic Israelite:

If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.

Also, in the Ancient Near East, it appears that “bloodlines” included adoptive children, not just biological children:

  • Eliezer would have been Abraham’s heir (Gen 15:2-3)
  • Ishmael was to be a child for Sarah (Gen 16:2-5)
  • Moses was adopted into Egypt (Ex 2:10)
  • Pharaoh’s nephew was among his sons (1 Kings 11:20)
  • Jesus was the adoptive son of Joseph and therefore an adoptive heir of David, since the kingship went through the male line (Matt 1)

So you belonged to God’s people if you were part of the earthly nation of Israel and followed the covenantal practices that made Israel God’s nation. The borders of the people of God were determined by ethnicity.

However, it’s important to note that God did not restrict salvation to the ethnic people of Israel, with whom he had the covenant. In fact, he never intended for the state of Israel to be his ultimate goal. His original promise to Abraham was that Abraham would father many nations and that through him, all the ethnicities of the world would be blessed.

So the Old Covenants were about God’s choice of a people for a specific purpose (bringing salvation to the whole world through Christ), and God gave salvation to faithful individuals who were not part of his people, like Job and Melchizedek.

Finally, ethnicities other than Israel were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). There were those outside of these covenants who were faithful to God, such as Job and Melchizedek, but, by and large, the Gentiles were following futile religions.

God’s people in the New Testament

Once God had accomplished his purpose through his ethnic people, everything changed. God’s people are now no longer defined according to an earthly ethnicity. God can call Gentiles, and not only Israelites, “my people” (Rom 9:24-26).

But how could this be explained to the Israelites, who thought that God cared about ethnicities? Paul points out that the true Israel was not “children of the flesh” but “children of the promise” (Rom 9:8), since God rejected Ishmael and Esau from being part of his people in favor of Isaac and Jacob—even though these men grew up in the tents of Abraham and Isaac.

And Paul reminds the Jews that Abraham was made right with God, not because he was circumcised, but because he had faith in God (Rom 4:9-11). This means that Abraham is properly both “the father of all who believe without being circumcised” and “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom 4:11-12).

In other words, God never really cared that much about ethnicity. He has always cared about whether people walk in the faith. The ethnicity of Israel was only his people because he had a purpose for them to accomplish. Now that his purpose is accomplished, one’s earthly ethnicity doesn’t matter at all.

So now, who is the people of God? Paul tells us that the unfaithful Israelites were cut off because of unbelief, but Gentiles were grafted in because of faith (Rom 11:20). The borders of the people of God are now determined by faithfulness to Christ. This new “spiritual ethnicity” which is the continuity of the old earthly ethnicity now fulfills God’s ultimate purpose of saving all the nations. Now Gentiles “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13).

God’s people are those of faith

So the Old Covenant was God’s agreement with the ethnicity of Israel. Non-biological Israelites could join it by becoming part of that ethnos or people group. The New Covenant is God’s agreement with those who have faith in him and who walk in the footsteps of Abraham.

So in other words, the boundaries of the people of God are now determined by who has faith in God, not by who descends from Abraham. This is deeply surprising, yet it shouldn’t be—even back in the Old Covenant, God cared most about who had faith.

So if God ever based his opinion of you on whether your father was one of his people, he doesn’t anymore. Now Christ’s nation consists of those who believe in Christ, not those who belong to an ethnicity whose progenitor believed in Christ.

The Old Covenant people were part of an earthly nation with earthly borders and that operated as an earthly ethnicity.

The New Covenant people are part of a heavenly nation with no earthly borders and that operates as a spiritual ethnicity.

I am a Christian, not because of my earthly patriarchs, but because of my spiritual patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am only their son because I have made the spiritual commitment that they made, following in their spiritual steps.

This is why credobaptists don’t accept the idea that the children of Christians automatically become Christians themselves. The New Covenant entirely removes this ethnic aspect of the Old Covenant. In fact, Paul shows us that the ethnic view was only a surface-level understanding of the purpose of the Old Covenant in the first place.

Those who enter God’s Kingdom are those who enter into a covenant with him, although the Kingdom already belongs to innocent children. All children, not just children of believers, belong to Christ.

The children of believers

Then what about the children of believers? Is there any advantage for them? Paul writes to Christians who have a non-Christian spouse,

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 Cor 7:14)

So the children of Christian parents are “holy.” Clearly, this doesn’t mean that children of Christians are saved while children of non-Christians aren’t. This designation doesn’t have to do with one’s current salvation, since Paul also says that unbelieving spouses are “holy,” and of course they aren’t saved. Paul continues,

For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor 7:16)

So being “holy” in this case doesn’t equate to being saved. The reason unbelieving spouses are holy seems to be that they have the constant influence of the believing spouse, which will influence them toward Christianity. The same is true of children of Christian parents. Because of the teaching and influence of their parents, they will be more likely to choose to follow Christ.

There is an advantage to children of Christian parents, but all children are saved, regardless of their parents.

Household baptisms do not prove infant baptism

The New Testament speaks several times of households that were baptized. Paedobaptists use this fact to argue that the children of believers, not just believers themselves, can be baptized. This argument is often, but not always, framed as part of the covenantal argument.

Since the New Testament includes no explicit examples of infant baptism, paedobaptists point to examples that they believe implicitly suggest infant baptism. They point to the different times when the New Testament writers say that a “household” was baptized.

There are several ways that paedobaptists approach this argument, and I’ll discuss them each in turn.

  1. If the Bible does not specify a group within the household who cannot be baptized, then an entire household can be baptized.
  2. If the regular apostolic practice was to baptize households, then our regular practice should also be to baptize households.
  3. Since it’s probable that one or more of the households contained infants, we can conclude that infants may be baptized.
  4. The biblical precedent is that everyone under the authority of someone must follow that person, and household baptisms are an example of this.
  5. The Bible speaks of households as a unit when it comes to salvation, so that means that households are intended to be saved as a unit.

If the Bible does not specify a group within the household who cannot be baptized, then an entire household may be baptized.

Credobaptists would agree with paedobaptists that, unless Scripture indicates that someone may not be baptized, then that person may be baptized.

However, everyone agrees that the Bible specifies what the conditions are for being baptized, and that not everyone meets those conditions. Credobaptists believe that one of the conditions is repentance and faith in Christ. If this condition is truly biblical, then that means that the Bible specifies that anyone who does not repent or have faith—such as infants—may not be baptized.

Thus, the real question is whether Scripture teaches that one of the conditions for baptism is to repent and have faith in Christ. In an earlier section, I show that Scripture does teach that.

If the regular apostolic practice was to baptize households, then our regular practice should also be to baptize households.

Credobaptists would agree that we should follow the apostles’ normative practice. But does the apostles’ normative practice indicate infant baptism?

Let’s lay this inference out logically:

  1. The apostles baptized several households.
  2. It is appropriate for us to maintain the apostolic practice.
  3. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to baptize households.

This inference is entirely logical and reasonable. That is why credobaptists believe that it is appropriate for us to baptize households.

However, this doesn’t answer the question yet. Nobody really cares whether it’s okay to baptize households; the question is whether it’s okay to baptize households in their entirety, even if they include people too young to profess faith in Christ.

Thus, the real question under dispute is this: May households be baptized in their entirety, if they include people too young to profess faith in Christ? Let’s see what inference would be needed in order to answer yes:

  1. The apostles baptized several households.
  2. It is appropriate for us to maintain the apostolic practice.
  3. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to baptize households in their entirety, even if they include people too young to profess faith in Christ.

Of course, this inference doesn’t work. Premises 1 and 2 are not justifications for inferring the conclusion. Here’s another example that shows why:

  1. It is legal for children to drink beverages from the store.
  2. No one will be prosecuted for an action that is legal.
  3. Therefore, no one will be prosecuted if children drink beverages from any store, even if those beverages are alcoholic.

Of course we know that 1 and 2 are not justifications for believing 3. Just because children may drink some beverages doesn’t mean that they may drink all beverages. So just because the apostles baptized some households doesn’t mean that they would have baptized all households.

What, then, would prove that households may be baptized in their entirety, irrespective of the age of the children? This is how our argument would have to be structured:

  1. The apostles baptized several households in their entirety, even though they included people too young to profess faith in Christ.
  2. It is appropriate for us to maintain the apostolic practice.
  3. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to baptize households in their entirety, even if they include people too young to profess faith in Christ.

In this case, the logic is valid, but unless we have evidence for Premise 1, the argument will fail. And there just isn’t any evidence for Premise 1. Scripture never says that any of the baptized households in the New Testament included infants. So we don’t know that the apostles baptized several households in their entirety, even if they include people too young to profess faith in Christ. And therefore, we can’t include infant baptism using this inference.

Since it’s probable that one or more of the households contained infants, we can conclude that infants may be baptized.

To get around the issues with the previous inference, people often argue that enough households are mentioned in the New Testament that at least one of them would have had to include an infant. Therefore, they might say, it’s just crazy to assert that the apostles never baptized an infant.

But this argument totally fails if, as I have shown, infants belong to a class of people who does not meet the criteria for baptism. If this is true, then anyone baptized within these households must have met the conditions for baptism, and one could reasonably conclude that none of the households that were baptized in their entirety included infants.

To show that this inference is not unreasonable, I’ll use an example. Suppose Officer Jones tells his two daughters that he pulled over five cars today.

Alice, the older daughter, reasons, “Lots of cars obey traffic laws. Five cars is enough that at least one of them must have been obeying traffic laws. Therefore, Daddy must have pulled over at least one car that was obeying traffic laws.”

Betty, the younger daughter, replies, “Cars that obey traffic laws do not meet the criteria for being pulled over. Therefore, the fact that lots of cars obey traffic laws has no bearing on whether or not Daddy pulled over any cars that were obeying traffic laws.”

Of course Betty is correct. The probabilities have nothing to do with whether Officer Jones has pulled over any law-abiding cars, since policemen aren’t supposed to pull over law-abiding cars.

Similarly, even if there were a high likelihood that a randomly-selected set of households would include an infant, a credobaptist could point out that these were not a randomly-selected set of households. These households were selected because they met the criteria for baptism in their entirety—and one of these criteria is that everyone in the household believes in Christ.

So the question is, again, whether infants meet the criteria for baptism, not how likely it is that households included infants.

The actual odds

A paedobaptist still might be able to employ probabilities if the odds were prohibitively high against any of the households not having infants. For example, if 90% of all households included infants, one might have some grounds to argue that it would be hugely surprising if none of these households included infants. However, the chances are not so high as one might think.

I decided to look up how likely it is for households to include infants. Of course, I don’t have access to the census data from the first-century Roman Empire. However, I looked at the U.S. census data for 2020. The specific spreadsheet I drew my data from is here.

In 2020, there were 83.677 million family households in the U.S. I counted anyone five or below as too young to make a profession of faith. The number of family households including their own children who were less than six years old was 14.379 million, which is 17% of 83.677 million. It also appears that only 10% of U.S. households in 2020 had a child of their own who was under the age of 3.

In other words, in the U.S. in 2020, if you selected any household at random, there would be only a 17% chance that it included someone five years old or under. So if all the information I gave you was that I baptized five U.S. households, you couldn’t assume with any degree of confidence that any of them included infants.

Not much actual evidence can be gained from these statistics. However, I think it’s important to note that one cannot argue that there was an overwhelming probability of these households including infants, unless the first-century Roman Empire was wildly different from the U.S. in this regard.


But credobaptists might not even need to employ these responses to the probability argument. Consider the following.

If someone were to say that Abraham had circumcised his entire household, we wouldn’t have an argument as to whether or not he circumcised the women. The fact is that God never required women to be circumcised, as some Muslims do. Since women don’t meet the criteria for circumcision, then if someone were to speak of Abraham circumcising his household, we can just assume that they are only speaking of the males, who were candidates for circumcision.

So if it is true, as credobaptists believe, that infants do not meet the criteria for baptism, then whenever the New Testament writers talked about baptizing “households,” they would have assumed that their hearers knew that they were not including households with infants.

After all, the New Testament writers didn’t feel the need to specify that dogs and horses weren’t to be baptized, even though some people might consider them part of the household. They didn’t feel the need to specify that servants or adult children who refused baptism weren’t to be baptized by force, even though (I hope) most people would agree that such members of the household are not candidates for baptism.

So if we believe, from New Testament evidence, that infants weren’t candidates for baptism, there’s no need to assume that infants in these households, even if those households included infants, would have been baptized.

Let me use another example, to show that this makes sense. Suppose that my son tells me that he has washed “all our cars.” Do I assume that he must have washed my children’s toy cars? Certainly not. I assume that he washed all the cars that were candidates for a typical carwash.

So I conclude that the mere probability of households containing infants simply doesn’t work as an argument for infant baptism.

The biblical precedent is that everyone under the authority of someone must follow that person, and household baptisms are an example of this.

Some paedobaptists use households in a different way. They argue that household baptisms are simply one more example of the biblical principle that all those under the authority of the father followed the father in his religious choices. Some even argue that all those who followed a king would also need to follow him in his religious choices.

This is simply not true. In an earlier section, we showed that this is not how the New Covenant works. Once, the boundaries of the people of God was ethnically based. However, now the ethnicity of Israel has been replaced by believing Gentiles. This means that we are no longer saved under an ethnic head. We belong to the New Covenant if we are spiritual children of Abraham, not if we are earthly children of Abraham.

Besides, Scripture includes multiple counterexamples to this supposed principle:

  • This principle would demand that if a king goes heathen, then his subjects should too. But the early Christians didn’t follow the Roman emperor’s religion.
  • Or, if a husband and father doesn’t become a Christian, then his wife and children couldn’t. Or, if a husband became a Christian, then his wife would be forced to as well. But this contradicts 1 Corinthians 7.

One could say instead that there is a pattern in Scripture for people to follow their household head, unless that head is leading them away from God. However, once one needs to complicate this “principle” to such an extent, it becomes a speculative hypothesis rather than a clear theme that we know we should follow.

The Bible speaks of households as a unit when it comes to salvation, so that means that households are intended to be saved as a unit.

Some paedobaptists use the households in the New Testament to say that Scripture seems to think of households as a unit when it comes to salvation. Thus, the Scriptural paradigm is that households are saved as a unit, which would mean that infants would also be included.

However, this would seem to contradict the fact that individual repentance is a condition of salvation. So is this the only reason that Scripture would mention households in the context of baptism?

Not at all. It could just as a easily be that the New Testament writers spoke in terms of households because people of the day thought in those ways, not because God saves people as household groups. After all, the Philippian jailer would have wanted those nearest to him to be saved as well as himself. That was just how people thought back then (and how many of us think today as well). It doesn’t mean that households are saved or unsaved as a unit in God’s eyes, but because that’s how it would tend to occur humanly.

Consider that speaking of households would even make sense in today’s era of freedom for women and dependents—even in a credobaptist culture. A whole family will often convert to Christianity, or make a church move, together. A father can typically convince his family to voluntarily follow him, without requiring them to. We see this happen all the time. So even where religious changes are made by individual choice, households typically function as a unit.

Furthermore, the households mentioned in Scripture seem, at least in several cases, to have been made up of believers with individual faith, so it’s not clear that households were being considered as a unit rather than on the basis of their individual faith (Acts 11:14, 16:34, 18:8, 1 Cor 16:15).

Finally, Scripture indicates that belief is a prerequisite for baptism. Scripture never indicates that anyone who does not believe may be baptized. Nor does Scripture give us any examples of someone in the New Testament who was baptized based because of someone else’s faith. The households are the only evidence that paedobaptists can point to for this principle appearing in the New Testament, and as we have seen, they are not good evidence.

Baptism is not the new circumcision

The third point that I discussed when addressing the covenantal argument is that baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the New Covenant. Paedobaptists often argue that, just as all the male infants of the people of God were to be circumcised under the Old Covenant, all the infants of the people of God should be baptized under the New Covenant. However, this argument is not limited to the covenantal argument.

There is only one passage in Scripture that connects baptism and circumcision. Here it is:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11–12)

Does this passage say that baptism takes on the role for the New Covenant that circumcision had for the old? No.

In this passage, circumcision and baptism certainly both appear, and they are part of two contrasting paradigms. However, note that Paul doesn’t say that “the circumcision of Christ” is equivalent to “having been buried with him in baptism.” Clearly, the two are linked in some way, but the text does not call them equivalents.

Scripture does not speak of baptism as a replacement for circumcision. Baptism is never spoken of as the sign of the New Covenant, and it is never described as being for all those who are redeemed. Instead, baptism is always given to those who need salvation through the remission of sins, and since infants are not part of this people group, baptism doesn’t apply to them.

Circumcision is an analogy

Paul seems to be saying that spiritual circumcision occurs at baptism, not that baptism is the new physical circumcision. Paul’s point is that, when we are baptized into Christ, our old nature is removed. As an analogy, he references circumcision. Just like in physical circumcision, where an “unclean” part of a man is cut off, in the spiritual circumcision of Christ, made without hands, our old nature is removed.

Instead of equating the two, he links them by the similar effect that each one has (removing flesh). Thus, he is making an analogy between the two, not calling them equivalents.

Not all aspects of circumcision apply to baptism

Just because one aspect of circumcision corresponds to one aspect of baptism doesn’t mean that we can take other aspects of circumcision and apply them to baptism. So we can’t take the fact that circumcision was done on infants and assume that baptism should be done to infants. We can’t take the fact that circumcision was intended to function as the sign of the Old Covenant and assume that baptism is intended to function as the sign of the New Covenant.

This point is bolstered by the fact that there are several disanalogous characteristics of circumcision and baptism, so that we cannot safely assume a shared characteristic without specific evidence for it:

  • In this passage, Paul goes on to speak of further results of baptism—not only is something removed; we are actually made alive and forgiven for our past sins. This part, of course, is not analogous to circumcision.
  • Women weren’t circumcised, so circumcision never was something applying to all the people of God, as baptism does.
  • Baptism doesn’t really function well as a sign like circumcision, because it leaves no visible mark. No one needs to be confused as to whether or not they were circumcised as an infant—one has only to check one’s body. However, if you were baptized in infancy, you have to take someone else’s word for it. Ironically, adult baptism is more similar to circumcision, because the adult has a reminder of baptism in their own body (their memory), whereas no infant has a memory of baptism.

Furthermore, from the evidence of the early church practice, it’s clear that the apostles didn’t equate circumcision with baptism:

  • Note that, for years, Jewish Christians continued to circumcise. Paul, who taught against circumcising Gentile believers, even circumcised Timothy. Why, if baptism was the new circumcision?
  • Furthermore, when Paul argues against circumcision, he says that circumcision is unhelpful, not that Christians were already circumcised through baptism. Note that nowhere in the apostolic writings do we hear that baptism replaces circumcision. Paul never uses that argument against circumcision, even though he argues against circumcision time and again.
  • Paul also speaks about spiritual circumcision in Romans 2:28 but never mentions baptism.

Thus, we can’t take facts about circumcision, such as the age at which it was applied, and apply them to baptism.

Are we still under the Abrahamic Covenant?

I’ll wrap up this section by addressing a related argument. I’ve heard that, since Christians are spoken of in the New Testament as the children of Abraham, that means that aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant continue to apply today. Thus, we should receive baptism as a replacement for circumcision.

This misunderstands the way that we are children of Abraham. In Romans 4, Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith, and that he is “the father of all who believe without being circumcised” (Rom 4:11). Paul seems to be indicating that circumcision simply vanishes from the equation, now that the New Covenant has come. Paul gives no indication that a new circumcision appears, which is baptism.

Of course, we know that Christians must be baptized. However, Paul never seems to indicate that Abraham’s circumcision is a reason to be baptized.

The New Testament does not support infant baptism

So I conclude that infant baptism does not fit well with the theology of the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Baptism is for those who commit themselves to Christ, and seek the forgiveness of sins. Children neither need baptism nor or ready for it.

In the next post, I will look at how the evidence for the early church should be applied to the question of infant baptism.

  • 1
    Matt 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 4:1, Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12-13, Acts 16:14-15, Acts 18:8
  • 2
    Although one could argue that it is “no,” since there were believers who were outside of these covenants. However, their key point is that children were automatically part of the covenant based on their families’ status, and they are correct to point this out.

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