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What does the Bible say about infant baptism / paedobaptism?

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The Bible is silent on infant baptism, or paedobaptism (also spelled pedobaptism). There is no record of a baby being baptized in the New Testament. Nevertheless, infant baptism has been practiced by many Christian churches throughout history and as early as the second century.

By Augustine’s time (AD 354—430), infant baptism was accepted as a standard procedure in Christianity. Today, Roman Catholics, most Orthodox churches, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed traditions, and Methodists practice infant baptism.

However, during the Protestant Reformation, infant baptism came under examination. Many Protestant groups, particularly the Anabaptists, challenged the idea of infant baptism, believing that baptism should be reserved for those who first make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. This view is known as believer’s baptism, or “credobaptism.”

Jesus was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13–17; Luke 3:21) and taught His disciples to baptize those who repented of their sins, believed in Him, and received salvation in His name (Acts 2:4, 38; 9:17–18; Matthew 28:19). Those who hold to believer’s baptism see it as an important initial act of obedience that a person makes after accepting Jesus as Lord—baptism is a public testimony of faith. And baptism by immersion clearly shows one’s identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (see Acts 2:38–41; 16:29–34; and Romans 6:3–4). Pouring or sprinkling, the method used in infant baptism, fails to illustrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Those who oppose infant baptism stand on the New Testament’s repeated emphasis on repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. An infant cannot repent and place his or her faith in Christ. A newborn cannot understand the gospel and consciously decide to obey and submit to Jesus. Babies are oblivious to the spiritual significance of water baptism. Credobaptists insist that baptism, being an act that follows salvation, should only be performed on those who have chosen to believe in and follow Christ.

Since the original word translated as “baptize” means “to dip or immerse in water,” believer’s baptism is usually done by total immersion. Infant baptism typically involves sprinkling with water or pouring water over the forehead. Thus, it’s a stretch to say the definition of baptism covers the methodology employed in infant baptism.

Many Christian traditions that support infant baptism do so because they understand baptism to be the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision. Just as circumcision joined Old Testament Hebrews to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, baptism is believed to join a person to the New Covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ. This view is based on the apostle Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:11–12: “When you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead” (NLT).

GotQuestion’s view of this passage is that Paul is not replacing the Old Testament rite of circumcision with the New Testament ordinance of baptism; rather, he uses both circumcision and baptism as analogies of spiritual truth. The fact that circumcision does not equate with baptism is shown in Paul’s teaching that Christians have been both circumcised and baptized. The circumcision is, of course, spiritual, “made without hands” (Colossians 2:11, ESV). And, again, being joined to the New Covenant requires a volitional act of faith—something infants are incapable of doing. Faith in Jesus Christ, and not works such as baptism (or circumcision), enables one to enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 9:15).

Churches that practice infant baptism often hold that baptism is how a person receives the Holy Spirit. They base this belief on Peter’s words in Acts 2:38: “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.” According to many paedobaptists, baptism sets the child apart and secures salvation. They also cite household baptisms in the New Testament as evidence that whole families were saved and baptized (assuming that children and babies were included), and not just adults (see Acts 11:14; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16). But this assumption goes beyond what the text of the Bible says.

Neither infant baptism nor adult baptism can save a person. We are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Ephesians 1:13; 2:8–9; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Philippians 3:9). It does not matter if you were baptized by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling—if you have not first trusted in Christ for salvation, baptism (no matter the method) is insufficient to save.

If Christian parents wish to dedicate their child to Christ, a baby dedication service is appropriate, but there is no biblical mandate or example of baptizing a baby. Whether an infant is dedicated or baptized or both, he or she will, at some point in the future, still have to make a personal decision to repent of sin and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.

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This page last updated: July 31, 2023