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Question and Answer

Infant Baptism and John's Baptism of Jesus

Question:

I am a Presbyterian who believes in infant baptism. Today I was told by an Evangelical (Baptistic) friend that Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day, yet even Jesus was baptized; therefore we as adults must be baptized also in obedience to the Scriptural command (and that our baptism at infancy is considered totally invalid). How would you answer the preceding statement? I would appreciate your prompt response to the above question as I will meet my friend again in two days.

Answer:

First of all, I hope you have a fruitful meeting with our Baptist brother in Christ. I hope you have much to rejoice in together as the Lord works in your lives and in the lives of your congregations.

Several thoughts:

1. Ask your Baptist friend to which specific Old Testament command to receive adult baptism our Savior submitted? I'm curious. The way you have framed his concern is that our Lord obeyed a scriptural command to adult baptism; therefore, so must we, but where is such a command to be found?

2. If your Baptist friend appeals to the example of the Lord, then are we not also to follow his example of circumcision, temple and synagogue worship, and, indeed, observance of every aspect of the Mosaic Law? Are we also to imitate the Lord's performance of miracles? Much more theological reflection is required than simply to argue: "The Lord was baptized as an adult; therefore, we must be baptized as adults too."

3. On what basis does your Baptist friend equate Christian baptism with the baptism of John? Christian baptism is a sacrament instituted by Christ, and it was instituted at a further point in redemptive history:

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:16-20, English Standard Version.
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4. Does your Baptist friend locate the Gospels and Acts in their proper period of redemptive history? I am not now thinking specifically of Jesus' baptism, but of the baptisms that occur in the book of Acts. It does not surprise me that, as the Old Covenant concludes, adult believers who bore the sign of the Old Covenant also received the New Covenant sign. That they were baptized as adults is not decisively in favor of the Baptist position. What would give me pause were I a Baptist is that there is not a single instance in the New Testament of an adult baptism for a child of New Covenant believers.

5. What does your Baptist friend make of the household baptisms of the New Testament?

And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay. And she prevailed upon us." (Acts 15:15, ESV)

And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. (Acts 16:33, ESV)

I did baptize also the household of Stephanas .... (1 Cor. 1:16, ESV)

Baptists too easily dismiss these passages by arguing that the text does not specify the presence of infants or young children. This is unfortunate, for the "household" language in Acts and Corinthians is the household language of the Old Testament:

9And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He who 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, 13both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. (Gen. 17:9-13, ESV)

The covenant includes believing parents and their children, both of whom receive covenant sign and promise. "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." (Acts 2:39, ESV)

6. The New Testament does not equate Christian baptism with the baptism of John the Baptist, but it does link New Covenant baptism with Old Covenant circumcision:

11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having 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, ESV)

And the Old Covenant rite of circumcision was undeniably administered both to Old Covenant believing adults and to the infants of Old Covenant believers. So also the New Covenant rite of baptism is to be administered both to New Covenant believing adults and to the infants of New Covenant believers. Old Testament circumcision (and not the baptism of John the Baptist) is the proper parallel to New Testament Christian baptism, following the institution of that sacrament by Christ (again, see Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 2:39).


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