Paedobaptistic Myths

September 10, 2007

by Steve Owen

Four Paedobaptist Arguments Reviewed and Critiqued

Those who baptize babies have a number of problems if they want to think of themselves as following the Bible. There is no command to baptize babies in the Bible; there is no instance of the water baptism of babies in the Bible; there are no regulations governing the baptism of babies to be found in the Bible. Moreover, throughout the New Testament, baptism is coupled with repentance, faith and discipleship (Matt 3:6; 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 4:1; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12f, 37; 11:47; 1Cor 1:16 taken with 16:15 ).

Yet Paedobaptists do not let these things discourage them. They have a number of arguments of their own. I want to look at three that are relatively new, along with a fourth argument which is much older and is perhaps the most important of them all. I hope to show that they do not stand up to Biblical scrutiny, and are in fact, myths.

The first argument concerns Acts 2:37-9:-

‘Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”’

Now the paedobaptist argument from time immemorial has been that the reference to children means that children are part of the New Covenant. However, the natural reading of the text is that the children reference is not a promise that all the children of believers are in the New Covenant, either internally or externally, but it is a promise that the Holy Spirit will be given to all who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and that this is true for all generations (‘you and your children’) and also for all the Gentile nations (‘to all that are afar off’- compare Eph 2:11-13, 17 ). Repentance and faith in Christ are not inherited (John 1:12-13 ).

The new argument states that Peter could not possibly have referred to the Gentiles because up until his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10, he thought that salvation was only for the Jews. Therefore he must have been referring to the children, grandchildren and later descendants of the Jews. This is a quite ridiculous statement unless one supposes that Peter did not know the Jewish Scriptures. Starting with Gen 12:3, there are literally dozens of OT Scriptures that speak of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Covenant (eg. Psalm 22:27; Jer 16:19; Zech 2:11 ). Peter himself refers to one of them in Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2:28: ‘And it shall come to pass afterwards (ie. in New Covenant times) that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.’ Peter knew perfectly well that the Gentiles would come into the Covenant and that it would happen in the time of the Messiah (Isaiah 60:1-3 ). What he did not understand until Acts 10 was that the Gentiles would not first need to become Jews by being circumcised. This was a misunderstanding shared by many Jewish Christians, even some considerable time later (Acts 15:1 ).

The truth of this interpretation is clearly seen in Acts 2:41: ‘Then those who gladly received his word were baptized.’ This is a limiting statement. Who were baptized? Those who gladly received Peter’s word. They did not go and fetch their infant children who had not even heard Peter, and would not have understood him anyway, so that they could be sprinkled. It was a simple case of Believers’ Baptism. If further proof of this be needed it is found in verse 42: ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.’ Can tiny infants learn and continue in Apostolic doctrine? Would paedobaptistic churches be happy to have them sharing in the breaking of bread?

The second argument concerns a part of Hebrews 10:30. ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ The paedobaptist case is that people in the New Covenant are subject to judgement, and so the Covenant cannot be composed solely of believers as Reformed Baptists claim. This claim has no respect for either the immediate or the larger context of the argument of Hebrews. It is important to note at once that these words are a quotation from the Old Testament (Deut 32:36 ) and therefore originally applied to Israel.

It is generally agreed by commentators that the author of Hebrews was concerned that the Jewish believers to whom he was writing were being tempted to revert from their faith in Christ back into Judaism once more. Therefore much of the letter is taken up with proving the superiority of Christ to the prophets, the angels, to Moses, to Joshua and the Levitical Priesthood, to the Temple and, in the early verses of Heb 10, to the OT sacrifices and the Mosaic Law itself.

Let us now consider Heb 10:14. For by one offering [Christ] has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.’ The word for ‘perfected’ (Gk. teleo) could equally well be translated ‘completed’ or ‘consummated.’ The state of Christians is infinitely better than that of those under the Old Covenant, who were obliged constantly to offer the animal sacrifices that could never finally take away their sins (vs1-3 ). The Christian has been cleansed once and for all from his sins by the blood of Christ (Rom 8:1 ) and is regarded by God judicially as perfect, even though he is still ‘being sanctified’ and receiving God’s Parental chastening, mentioned in 12:5ff.

It is these Christians who make up the New Covenant, as is made perfectly clear in vs15-18. The covenant promised by God through Jeremiah and inaugurated by the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20 etc) is made with the people described in verse 14. The law which had been written on tablets of stone as a ministry of condemnation to the Israelites (2Cor 3:7-11 ) is now written by the Holy Spirit on the hearts of believers and God is pleased to forget all their sins.

In the light of all this, the writer to the Hebrews urges these wavering Jews to place their trust fully in the promises of God in Christ (vs19-23 ). They are justified by faith, so long as they really have faith, and so he urges them to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope,’ and to encourage each other with the promises of God. He continues (vs24-26 ):-

‘And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…….’.

What then is this ‘wilful sin’ that places us outside the mercy of God, bearing in mind that in verse 17 we were told that God remembers the sins of New Covenant members ‘no more’? Surely it is the sin of unbelief? These Hebrews are being tempted to reject their Lord, to forsake the assembling of themselves together in His Church and to return to Judaism. But the writer warns them that if they do that there will remain for them, ‘no longer a sacrifice for sin.’ The Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to Christ, but if Christ is rejected, then no meaning remains in the sacrifices. Moreover, if they will return to the Law, to the Law they shall go. If the penalty for sinning against the Law was death (v28 ), how much greater will it be for those who sin against Him to whom the Law pointed, despising the very blood of the covenant by which our Lord was set apart for the saving of sinners (v29. cf. John 17:19 )?

If they will return to the Old Covenant, they will be judged by it. The Israelites were God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant, but by their rejection of their Messiah, they came repeatedly under judgement (Isaiah 1:9; Matt 23:37-8 etc). If these Hebrews will reject Christ, then ‘The Lord will judge His people,’ and they will be found to be ‘Not My people’ (Hosea 1:9 ) because they have scorned His way of salvation. They were never truly His and the Lord Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23. cf. 1John 2:19 ) and they will find just what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God. These words, ‘the Lord will judge His people,’ do not refer therefore to true Christians, who are kept by the power of God (1Peter 1:5 ), but to those who follow Christ for a while and fall away (cf. Mark 4:16-17 ).

The third argument states that baptism is the successor to circumcision, and therefore because infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant, they should be baptized under the New. This myth has a much nobler pedigree than the first two, being traceable to Calvin. That, however, does not make it true. The two ordinances are very dissimilar in nature. If a man were blindfolded and then had one of them performed upon him, I think he would be able to tell which one of them it was!

The most obvious difference between circumcision and baptism is the fact that circumcision was performed only upon males. We will return to this presently. The second obvious difference is that while baptism is repeatedly and specifically associated with faith, repentance and discipleship, as we saw at the beginning, circumcision is never associated with anyone’s faith except Abraham’s. In Rom 4:9ff, we are told that faith, not circumcision was accounted to Abraham for righteousness, and then that circumcision was the seal, not of his faith, but of the righteousness of his faith- a righteousness that would be gained for him in due time by Christ. It was a faith, moreover that he had before he was circumcised (Gen 15:6 ). Even the Abrahamic covenant was made while Abraham was still uncircumcised (Gen 15:18 ), and the sign of that covenant appears to have been the animal sacrifices, rather than circumcision (vs 8-9 ).

Circumcision was the seal of the righteousness of the faith of Abraham, and of him alone. No faith was required of any of Abraham’s servants when they were circumcised (Gen 17:13, 27 ), nor of Ishmael, nor, indeed, of Isaac. Nor was circumcision a voluntary business. ‘He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised’ Gen 17:13 ). Anyone who refused was to be ‘cut off from his people’ (v14 ). Nor was faith required under the Mosaic Covenant. All Hebrew infants were to be circumcised, whether or not their parents were true believers. A foreigner living in Israel who wanted to partake of the Passover had to be circumcised along with ‘all his males’ but no mention is made of a true faith in Jehovah (Exod 12:43-49 ). Yet Naaman the Syrian, who did come to true faith (2Kings 5:15 ) was not circumcised. Nor apparently were those Persians who became Jews as reported in Esther 8:17. Circumcision seems to have been reserved for those of Jewish blood, and those foreigners who were living in Israel and who wanted to eat the Passover, along with their families and servants. It was never a sign of or for those with true saving faith. It is worth noting that Ishmael was circumcised despite being specifically excluded by God from the covenant (Gen 17:18-21, 26 ). Indeed, Ishmael stands as a type of those who persecute the true people of God (Gal 4:28-31 ).

‘Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God’s expressly giving them the covenant (Gen 26:4; 26:13f; Exod 2:24 ), but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself……………. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless. -Alexander Carson

What then was the purpose of circumcision, if it sealed nothing to those who received it? God ordained it to be administered to all of Abraham’s male descendants to distinguish from all other nations that people from which the Messiah should come. It served as a continual reminder that from the Abrahamic stock, the promised Seed should spring and, along with the Scriptures and the Mosaic Law, kept them separate as a nation so that Christ should be born into a people that had at least an outward knowledge of the true God. Therefore, once He had come, circumcision lost all significance (Gal 5:6; 6:15 ). Next, circumcision was the title deed to the earthy inheritance of Abraham, this being a figure of the heavenly inheritance that is what Abraham truly sought and found (Heb 11:16 ). As A.W.Pink points out, ‘The servants and slaves in Abraham’s household “bought with money” beautifully adumbrated the truth that those who enter the kingdom of Christ are “bought” by His blood.’

Nor should we imagine that the Abrahamic Covenant is somehow in force today. God has not promised to me, nor to you the reader, that we should be the father of many nations, nor that we shall inherit any real estate in the Middle East. The land promises were fulfilled completely to Israel after the flesh (Josh 21:43-45 ). The other promises were fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16 ), and come through the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, not to those who have Abraham’s circumcision, but to those who have his faith (Gal 3:7-9 ). It is they who are the proper recipients of baptism.

If baptism were the successor to circumcision, we might expect to see some reference to it in the Bible, but there is none. In Acts 15, we see a great palaver over the question of whether the Gentile Christians should be circumcised. Why didn’t Paul simply say to the Judaizers, “These people have been baptized; they have the new version of circumcision. Why would they need the old version as well?” It would have ended the discussion at a stroke. Moreover, those who were baptized on the day of Pentecost were all Jews (Acts 2:5 ). The males had all been circumcised. Why did they need a second covenant sign when they already had the first? It appears that the Jewish Christians continued to circumcise their boy babies even after Pentecost. We read in Acts 21:20 that they were all, ‘zealous for the law’ which obviously included circumcision. Yet Paul seems to have been quite relaxed about this situation and was happy to be associated with them in an Old Covenant ceremony. The fact is that circumcision was for the physical descendants of Abraham. It had nothing to do with faith, as we have seen. Baptism is for Abraham’s spiritual descendants, the children of promise (Gal 4:28-29; 3:7 )

There is one place in the Bible where circumcision and baptism are mentioned together. It is Col 2:11-12. A. W. Pink has a simple but accurate explanation of this text:-

It is a mistake to suppose that baptism has come in the place of circumcision. As that which supplanted the Old Testament sacrifices was the one offering of the Saviour; as that which superseded the Aaronic priesthood was the high priesthood of Christ; so that which has succeeded circumcision is the spiritual circumcision which believers have in and by Christ. ‘In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ’ (Col 2:11)- how simple! How satisfying! ‘Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him’ (v12 ) is something additional: it is only wresting the Scriptures to say these two verses mean, ‘Being buried with Him in baptism ye are circumcised.’ No, no; verse 11 declares the Christian circumcision is ‘ made without hands’ and baptism is administered with hands! The circumcision ‘made without hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh’ has come in the place of the circumcision made with hands. The circumcision of Christ has come in place of the circumcision of the law. Never once in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as the seal of the New Covenant; rather is the Holy Spirit the seal (Eph 1:13; 4:30 ). – A. W. Pink: The Divine Covenants (Pietan Publications )

Note that Paul is speaking to all the Colossian Christians; ‘In whom you were also circumcised…’ All of you. Every true Christian has the circumcision of the heart which was lacking in Israel after the flesh (Jer 9:25-26; Acts 7:51 etc). It is having God’s law placed in the mind and written on the heart as described in Jer 31:33. It is being born again by the Spirit of God through faith in Christ (1Peter1:3ff). This is the reason why both male and female are baptized, whilst only males were circumcised. Ciecumcision had nothing to do with anyone’s faith but Abraham’s and nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. It signified that that the coming Messiah should be born (according to the flesh) of the line of Abraham. Baptism signifies the New Birth and the coming of the Spirit, which according to Joel and repeated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, would be given to both male and female (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16ff). This is not, of course, to say that no one under the Old Covenant received the Holy Spirit, but at Pentecost, the Spirit was given in a new and much wider way.

Immediately I foresee an objection from my paedobaptist brethren. Baptists do not know, they say, that those whom they baptize are born again just because they have professed faith. This is true, but it misses the point. We are not comanded to baptize only regenerate people for the very good reason that we don’t know who they are. On the Day of Pentecost, ‘those who gladly received’ Peter’s words were baptized (Acts 2:41 ). Maybe not all of them were regenerate, and some fell away. We are not told. But the Apostles did not for that reason baptize everyone in the crowd, but only those who professed faith. Those who later revealed themselves not to be true disciples were disciplined and eventually expelled from the Church (Acts 8:21; 1Cor 5:13; 1Tim 1:20 ).

A helpful analogy here is that of banks. If you ask a banker to whom he lends money, he will answer, ‘only to credit-worthy people.’ However, he knows perfectly well that occasionally mistakes are made and money is lent to people who cannot repay it. However, they do not therefore throw up their hands and lend to everybody. On the contrary, they run their credit checks and vet their customers all the more closely because they know that mistakes are inevitable. So it should be with the churches. Because we know that unregenerate people are sometimes baptized, we should seek to make this as rare as possible by ensuring as best we can that professions of faith are credible.

The final argument need not detain us long. It is the claim that we should not look for Scriptural evidence for infant baptism because there is no such evidence for women being admitted to the Lord’s Supper. This is a wretched suggestion. If paedobaptists can really not find such evidence then they should bite the bullet and not admit women to Communion. In fact, the proof is not hard to find if one follows the principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture. It is clear that women were counted as members of the church (Acts 1:14; 8:12; Rom 16:1 etc). Then in 1Cor 11:17ff, we learn that the whole church came together for the Lord’s Supper. Therefore women must have joined in. It is this clear Scriptural evidence that is lacking for infant baptism. It simply isn’t there; no command, no instance, no regulation, and therefore no warrant.

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