The Biblical Roots Of Infant Baptism
“We baptise even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members.” - (John Chrysostom - A.D. 388).
“For I was born a sinner - yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” — Psalms 51:5
All are born with original sin, due to the fall of mankind (Romans 5:12). In an analogical sense, this is sin that is ‘contracted’ rather than ‘committed.’ To be absolved of original sin, the Early Church affirmed that infant baptism was necessary.
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.” - (Origen - A.D. 248).
Born Again By Water And Spirit:
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again... no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” — John 3:3-5
Through the grace of baptism, one is “born again” by the water of purification and the Spirit that gives life. Through baptism, one receives the Holy Spirit and the gift of salvation.
“For He came to save all through means of Himself - all, I say, who through Him are born again to God - infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.” - (Irenaeus Of Lyons - A.D. 189)
Irenaeus is a credible witness for outlining the practices of the Early Church, as he was taught the faith from Polycarp, who was taught directly from the Apostle John. When we are baptised into the body of Christ, we are regenerated into a new creation (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Whenever God starts something new, He always begins with water and spirit:
Genesis 1:2 - Creation begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.
Genesis 8:8 – After the flood, a new creation begins. Noah’s ark is saved through water and the Spirit is with them, in the form of a dove.
Exodus 14:19-22 - The nation of Israel begins with the exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are saved through water and the Spirit of God was with them in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.
Ezekiel 36:25-26 – The New Covenant is prophesied to begin with the sprinkling of water and the receiving of a new Spirit.
Matthew 3:16 - Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism into the water and the Spirit of God descended on Him.
“He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” — Titus 3:5-7
Since baptism saves, it would seem illogical to deprive your child of sanctifying grace, simply because they were not able to choose this good gift of salvation for themselves. Through baptism, infants become heirs to the Kingdom, as adopted sons and daughters of God.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." — Matthew 19:14
Since the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children, but one must be “born again” to enter it, infant baptism would, therefore, be reasonable and necessary.
Baptism Is The Fulfilment Of Circumcision:
“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” — Colossians 2:11-12
In the same way that physical circumcision was necessary for initiation into the Old Covenant, baptism (spiritual circumcision) is necessary for initiation into God’s New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, parents were obliged to consecrate their child to God through circumcision. The same applies to the New Covenant through baptism.
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." — Acts 2:37-39
Notice how the promise of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism is inclusive even of children. Unlike physical circumcision which does not save (Galatians 5:6), baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:21).
Infants in the Old Covenant were circumcised without being able to choose it for themselves. If God were to exclude infants from the grace of baptism, then the Old Covenant would be more inclusive than the New Covenant, which is not consistent with Scripture. Instead, in both covenants, the faith of the parents is enough to suffice for the faith of the child until the age of reason.
In the Old Testament, entire households would be circumcised (Genesis 17:27). Likewise, in the New Testament entire households were baptised:
Acts 16:15 = “She and her household were baptised.” (Lydia)
Acts 16:33 = “He and everyone in his household were immediately baptised.” (The Jailer)
1 Corinthians 1:16 = “I did baptise also the household of Stephanas.” (Stephanas)
These households would have likely included children, as infant baptism was a common practice in the Early Church.
“Baptise first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.” - (Hippolytus - A.D. 215).
The concept that the faith of the parents suffices is consistent with Scripture, as Jesus often healed children based on the faith of their parents (Mark 5:21-43, John 4:49-53, Mark 9:23-27). Even one believing spouse was enough to make the children in their family “holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14) as it is expected that the faith of the parents would be passed on to their children.
“Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.” — Mark 16:16
Belief and baptism are two conditions required for salvation, though not necessarily in that order. The Bible never states that one must first believe and then subsequently be baptised. For children, baptism will occur first and then the Holy Spirit will nurture the belief in them.
Sprinkling, Pouring Or Immersion Baptism:
The Greek term “baptizō” does not always refer to immersion. In Scripture, the term is also used to indicate the pouring of water used in Jewish purification washings (Mark 7:4, Hebrews 9:10). Moreover, there is a biblical precedent for non-immersive forms of baptism.
Ezekiel’s prophecy of baptism describes the “sprinkling” of water (Ezekiel 36:25-26), whereas Joel’s prophecy referenced in Acts describes the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Both would be considered legitimate forms of trinitarian baptism. The first-century Didache, provides instructions on how to baptise.
“Baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptise in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” - (Didache 7:1 - A.D. 70).
The extensive writings of the Early Church fortify the validity of the pouring method of baptism. This ensured that baptism was accessible to everyone, including infants and those with medical conditions, who were unable to be immersed.
Although, baptism by immersion is preferable, other forms of baptism are clearly also valid. These include baptism by pouring or sprinkling; baptism by blood through martyrdom and baptism by desire, for those like the thief on the Cross, who were unable to be baptised before their death.
The Benefits Of Infant Baptism:
John 3:3-5 = Baptism regenerates and enables us to be “born again.”
Acts 2:37-39 = We receive the Holy Spirit.
Romans 6:3-4 = We are buried with Christ and raised to a new life, as a new creation.
1 Corinthians 12:13 = We are incorporated into Christ’s mystical body – the Church.
1 Peter 3:21 = We are saved.
Why would you deprive your child of this good gift? Infant baptism is a beautiful way for your child to receive the Holy Spirit. This sanctifying grace will come to fruition in those who continue to believe and “work out [their] own salvation” (Philippians 2:12).