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Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages

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Did Jesus Command Infant Baptism?

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

Some suggest that because Jesus welcomed children (Luke 18:15 indicates they were infants), and said of them, “of such is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17), infants should be baptized just as adults are baptized.

Christ told the disciples not to shun children, because children possess a deep humility that followers of Christ should develop (see Deaver, 1985, p. 9). Adults must receive the Gospel with the same humility and trust that characterize little children (Mark 10:15; see Hendriksen, 1975, p. 383), and there are important things we should learn from the young (see 1 Timothy 4:12). In this instance, Jesus certainly expressed appreciation and affection for infants. But what about baptism?

Jesus did not command His disciples to baptize the children—whoever brought the children did not bring them for the purpose of having them baptized (Matthew 19:13). Furthermore, while we have record of Christ’s disciples baptizing adults (John 3:22; 4:1-2; see Lyons, 2003), we have no record of them baptizing children. In fact, the disciples shunned the children at first, possibly because the disciples thought that the children “interfered” with one of the main objectives of Christ’s ministry: to baptize penitent adults. If those who brought the children did not intend for the children to be baptized, why did they bring them?

First, it is possible that those who brought the children sought a medical benefit for their children, though the text does not so imply. Many people brought their children to Jesus to have them healed of diseases. Some parents incorporate Christianity into the rearing of their children only when their children are afflicted with terrible illness (of course, parents should at all times encourage their children to learn about Christ and to live according to His precepts [see Proverbs 22:6; Henry, 1706, 1:271]).

Second, it is possible that those who brought the children perceived some religious, spiritual, or supernatural benefit available only in the presence of Jesus. However, people who benefited from Christ’s personal presence did so by hearing and applying His message, or by being healed of diseases. By taking the children into His arms, Jesus did not promote or endorse the idea that anything “mystical” happened to people who simply entered His presence.

Before baptism, one must know God (2 Thessalonians 1:8; see Coffman, 1975, p. 186). If one is baptized as an infant, he is baptized without believing that Christ is the Son of God, without repentance, and without confession. There is no New Testament record of the administration of baptism without belief, repentance, and confession (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 17:30; Romans 10:10; see Coffman, 1984, p. 296). Baptism is for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Infants have no sins, so they do not need to have sins remitted. Also, each account of baptism in the New Testament shows that people who were baptized had the option of refusing baptism, but infants do not have that capability.

On December 18, 1964, the New York Times reported that some Anglican Church officials were renouncing infant baptism because, according to Richard A. Vick, preacher for the St. Paul’s Westcliff-on-Sea church, performing infant baptism is “denying adults the privilege of believer’s baptism. We are denying something essential to salvation. [Infant baptism] isn’t agreeable to the word of God” (“More of Clergy...,” 1964).

Young children should be “brought to Christ” today, i.e., reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), though they cannot be scripturally baptized. The responsibility of bringing children to Christ rests on the shoulders of mature Christians.

REFERENCES

Coffman, James Burton (1975), Commentary on Mark (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).

Coffman, James Burton (1984), Commentary on Matthew (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).

Deaver, Roy C. (1985), “Questions/Bible Answers,” Firm Foundation, 102[19]:9, August.

Hendriksen, William (1975), Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Henry, Matthew (1706), Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (McLean, VA: MacDonald).

Lyons, Eric (2003), “The Bible’s Teaching on Baptism: Contradictory or Complimentary?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/617.

“More of Clergy Balk at Infant Baptism in Anglican Church” (1964), The New York Times, page 16, December 18.




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