Infant Baptism: Does the Bible Teach It?
Dr. Gregg Strawbridge

Does the Bible teach that the infant children of Christians are to be baptized? Or, was baptism only to be given to "believers" who consciously profess allegiance to Christ? In this short study I hope to defend that the Bible does indeed teach that the infant children of Christians are to be baptized.(1)

--Let us reason together according to the Scriptures--

Where I am on the Map

The view of baptism I will be defending is that which flows from Reformed theology as expressed in the great evangelical creeds and confessions in the 16th and 17th Centuries. I hold to those doctrines of grace which are expressed in the great Reformation confessions (Genevan, Helvetic, Belgic, Westminster, etc.) and catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster Larger & Shorter). Many of the greatest minds of the Christian church have written and defended these confessions, including John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Robert L. Dabney, Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen and many, many others to this very day. I find my place here on the theological map, too. Surely, it need not be said that these confessional statements and the great defenders of them stand in opposition to Roman Catholicism's understanding and practice of baptism.(2) These documents and their writers and defenders teach that according to the Scriptures salvation is by the grace of God, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone--sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria!

Just like Romanism, there are some baptistic churches (e.g., the "Church of Christ") which deny sola fide and sola gratia by teaching baptismal regeneration. Though there are those who believe this error, it would be most unfair for evangelical paedobaptists to associate evangelical baptists with ("believer") baptismal regeneration. It would be a violation of the ninth commandment to imply that the reason why baptists require believers' baptism is because they really, deep down, believe in baptismal regeneration. In the same way, it is most unfair (and fallacious) when baptists assault Reformed paedobaptists with the Romanism charge. For example, one thinks of works like John Gill's, "Infant-Baptism: A Part and Pillar Of Popery," or John Q. Adam's, "Baptists the Only Thorough Religious Reformers," in which it is said that infant baptism is "human invention" and that it is one of the traditions which the Protestant Reformers brought from Rome. On the contrary, the Reformed faith repudiates Romanism's errors, that's precisely why it's "Reformed" and "Protestant."

When it is urged that infant baptism puts “into the place of Christ’s command a commandment of men, [which is] the essential principle of all heresy, schism, and false religion”—a good, round, railing charge to bring against one’s brethren: but as an argument against infant baptism, drawn from its effects, somewhat of a petitio principii [assuming what is to be proven]. If true, it is serious enough. . .One or the other of us is wrong, no doubt; but do we not break an undoubted command of Christ when we speak thus harshly of our brethren, His children, whom we should love? Were it not better to judge, each the other mistaken, and recognize, each the other’s desire to please Christ and follow His commandments? Certainly I believe that our Baptist brethren omit to fulfill an ordinance of Christ’s house, sufficiently plainly revealed as His will, when they exclude the infant children of believers from baptism. But I know they do this unwittingly in ignorance; and I cannot refuse them the right hand of fellowship on that account.—Benjamin B. Warfield, The Polemics of Infant Baptism (in his Works, 9:408)

Before considering the Biblical information on baptism, it will be important to remember that one's view of baptism, whether one holds the baptist or the Reformed infant baptism position, is not an essential doctrine or a cardinal belief. Among evangelical and Reformed believers, this discussion is an "intermural debate." Or to use the language of Paul, baptism is not listed as a doctrine of "first importance" (protos) (1Co 15:3; cf. 1:13). C.S. Lewis' insightful metaphor is instructive. He writes of mere Christianity,

It [essential Christianity] is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. . . .even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: "Do I like that kind of service?" but "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?" When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.(3)
I have observed that there are also doors between certain of the rooms. It would seem that between the various Reformed churches it is this way. As Lewis implies, and the Bible prescribes, it is the duty of every Christian to be diligent in study and charitable to those who cannot see it as we do. We should move to another room only when we believe it is the truer one. May the peace of God reign in truth.

Where is Infant Baptism in the Bible?

One baptist writer, surely representative of many more such writers, says that "baptizing babies is an unscriptural and anti-scriptural innovation, and an abomination of untold enormity."(4) Well, I do not have any trouble admitting that in the Bible the words "infant" and "baptism" are not found together. But, that is a long way from accepting the claim that such a practice is "unscriptural and anti-scriptural innovation, and an abomination of untold enormity."

There is no explicit statement about the "infant baptism" of a Christian's child. But neither is there an explicit case of a Christian's child who grows up and is baptized as a believer. In both cases we must think beyond a surface scan of the words of the Bible. I would not want to limit the authority of the Word of God to only its explicit declarations. Is abortion permissible because the word "abortion" is not in the text of the Bible? Of course not. The God-breathed Word is fully authoritative "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" both explicitly and implicitly (2Ti 3:16). If the Scripture was given "for teaching," the question should be whether the Word teaches that the children of believers are to be baptized by virtue of their covenantal relationship to a believing parent. (When the term "infant baptism" is used it is just shorthand to express this.) It is true that there is no statement of "infant baptism" in just those terms. However, let us ask another question of the text of Bible: Is there any evidence of believers' households being baptized because of the faith of the head of the household?--Considering this question, the Bible student is forced to conclude that there are clear statements about households being baptized. What do these passages teach?

Examples of Baptism in the New Testament

Those who deny the validity of infant baptism are usually quick to cite the examples of baptism (often selected examples) in the New Testament to support the contention that "only believers were baptized." Let's consider all of the examples of Christian baptism recorded throughout the apostolic history of the church, beginning in Acts. Does it teach that only self-conscious, professing believers are to be baptized or does it teach that the households of believers are to be baptized because of the head of household's faith? The outline of the book of Acts is indicated in the first chapter, that the gospel of Messiah Jesus was to expand from Jerusalem to the remotest part of the earth (1:8). As we will see, the patterns of baptism are quite similar to this expansion because the Great Commission of Christ is that in Him "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (3:25).(5)

First, we find that the initial occasion of baptism in Acts was the Jews at Pentecost in Jerusalem. We are told that this festival gathering was of "devout men" (2:5), "men of Judea" (2:14), "men of Israel" (2:22), etc. Hence, it appears that only men were baptized on this occasion--"So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).(6) This event was in fulfillment of the promised coming of the Spirit of God. Such a promise was given "for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself" (2:39).

Second, we find that the gospel crossed into Samaria, following the pattern of expansion (1:8). Philip was "preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" and "they were being baptized, men and women alike" (8:12). This is the first passage in which the baptism of women is explicitly mentioned. Luke seems to emphasize that not only men were being baptized, but women, too. Perhaps this emphasis is because only men were baptized at the first new covenant baptism event at the Jewish Pentecostal feast. The Samaritan passage, however, is focused on the evil intent of Simon the Sorcerer who offered the apostles money to receive the miraculous powers they had by the Holy Spirit. The text says that "even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip" (8:13). According to Justin Martyr, Simon became a great heretic and an opponent of Christianity.(7)

Third, the next person connected to baptism is a (Jewish) proselyte eunuch from Ethiopia who had "come to Jerusalem to worship" (8:27). He was reading the passage around Isaiah 53:7, "Like a lamb that is led to slaughter . . ." "Beginning from this Scripture he [Philip] preached Jesus to him" (8:35). The eunuch said, "'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?'" (8:36). Perhaps the eunuch's emphatic request is because Philip explained the new covenant sign--a sign, not only for all nations, but for eunuchs, too. Only a few verses before the text Philip explained, we read, "Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him" (Isa 52:15). And only a few chapters later we read a new covenant prophecy, "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, 'The LORD will surely separate me from His people.' Neither let the eunuch say, 'Behold, I am a dry tree'" (Isa 56:3). This entire baptismal episode takes on more significance when it is remembered that eunuchs were shut out of the old covenant assembly (Deu 23:1) and in many cases may not have received the sign of covenant inclusion, circumcision.

Fourth, in chapter nine we are told of the conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul, after falling to the ground and being temporarily blinded, "arose and was baptized" (9:18). The Lord told the timid Ananias, the one who apparently baptized Paul, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:15-16).

Fifth, the gospel first crossed to pure Gentile territory with the episode regarding Cornelius in chapter ten. The household of Cornelius was baptized (10:48). The text of Acts tells us regarding the God-fearer Cornelius, "you will be saved, you and all your household" (11:14). The emphasis of the text is that the Gentiles could be saved, just as the Jews. The "unclean" people could receive the Holy Spirit and also be saved by Messiah Jesus. Remember that because of Peter's prejudice, God provided him with a vivid object lesson--an unclean buffet--to orient him to accept Gentile believers. The very voice of the Lord declared, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (10:15).

Sixth, "Lydia, from the city of Thyatira," was saved by the grace of God, as "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (16:14). Verse 15 tells us that "she and her household had been baptized."

Seventh, in the same chapter, the Philippian Jailer's household was baptized. "He was baptized, he and all his household" (16:33). We are told that Paul and Silas were brought into the house of the Jailer to eat and the Jailer "rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household" (16:34).

Eighth, we find that many Corinthians were baptized. Acts 18:8 tells us that "Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized." In Acts we are not informed of any person's name who was baptized. But in 1 Corinthians, Paul says that he baptized Crispus, Gauis (1:14), and "the household of Stephanas" (1Co 1:16). In Acts we find that Crispus "believed in the Lord with all his household" and since we learn that Crispus was baptized in 1 Corinthians, it seems valid to infer that his household was baptized with him.

Ninth, and finally, we learn that there was a group of disciples acquainted with John's baptism, but not with the fulness of his message. These "disciples of John" were made up of "about twelve men" (19:7) in Ephesus who lacked an understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit. These "were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus" (19:5) after being instructed by Paul.

In summary we find the following: (1) At Pentecost it seems that only men were present, thus only men were baptized, some 3000 of them. Still, the new covenant promise was "to you and your children" (2:39). (2) In Samaria "men and women alike" (8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). (3) The eunuch (who had no household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). (4) Paul (who had no household) was baptized (9:18). (5) Cornelius' household was baptized (10:48, 11:14). (6) Lydia's household was baptized (16:15). (7)The Philippian Jailer's household was baptized (16:33). (8) Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus' household, Stephanas' household, and Gaius (18:8, 1Co 1:14, 16). (9) The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (19:5).

These are the facts about those baptized. From this we learn that of the nine narrative passages on baptism, four are household baptisms, four other cases consisted of only adult men (Pentecost, eunuch, Paul, twelve disciples of John), and the other case is of Simon and the "men and women alike" in Samaria. In this case, consider carefully the phrase used by Luke in 8:12, "men and women alike" (andres te kai gunaikes). This is the first case in which females are explicitly said to be baptized. Hence, it is important for Luke to emphasize that "both men and women" were baptized (KJV, NKJ, ASV, RSV, NRS).(8)

Considering the nine individuals singled-out in the baptism narratives--five had their households baptized (Cornelius, the Jailer, Lydia, Crispus, Stephanas), two had no household for obvious reasons (eunuch & Paul). That leaves Simon, who actually turned out to be an unbeliever and Gaius, whom Paul baptized (1Co 1:14). As for Simon, I think it is reasonable to conclude that he was an atypical case and was not a likely head of household. Certainly, his case would be a less than ideal basis for the baptist view. As for Gaius, in Romans 16:23 we read that "Gaius [is] host to me and to the whole church." This implies that he was a man of some means. As such, he may have had at least household servants, if not a familial household. Gaius is mentioned with Crispus, who was a household head. Crispus , "believed in the Lord with all his household," thus it was undoubtedly baptized with him (Acts 18:8). Yet Paul said in no uncertain terms, "I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius" (1Co 1:14). Paul could name Crispus as head of the baptized household, just as he could have with Gaius. As would be perfectly intelligible to any first century Jew, it seems that Paul simply spoke of Crispus as representing the household in the administration of baptism. Therefore, if Gaius had a household, it is quite reasonable to believe that it was baptized, just like Crispus' household.

So, it is not an overstatement to say that virtually every person who had a household had it baptized! And in the non-household baptism cases, we can validly infer that the recipients did not have households (the eunuch, Paul) or the households were not present (in the case of Pentecost men, the twelve men in Ephesus). The exception turns out to be the Samaritans. The "both men and women" and perhaps Simon the Sorcerer, if one wants to press the issue. Still, I suppose that some baptists are happy to make the first explicit case of female baptism ("both men and women") and the unbeliever Simon the rule rather than the exception to the pattern of the household baptism--but I am not.

Non-Household Baptisms

Household Baptisms

3000 (men) at Pentecost (no household present)

Cornelius and household

Samaritans: ("both men and women")
Simon the Sorcerer

Lydia and household 

Ethiopian Eunuch (no household)

Philippian Jailer and household

Paul (no household)

Crispus (and household)
Stephanas and household

Disciples of John (12 men) (no household present)

Gaius (and household?)

The Baptist Response to the Household Baptisms

These important Biblical facts regarding the household baptisms are often dismissed by those denying infant/household baptism. Recently, in pointing out these facts to a defender of "believer's baptism," he responded, "Since the New Testament teaches only believer's baptism the only logical conclusion is that the people in these households were all believers."(9) I would not fault the logic here; only the method. He is undoubtedly correct--if the New Testament teaches only believers are to be baptized. However, a better method would be to consider the Biblical facts about who was baptized before determining what the New Testament teaches! According to the above believer's baptism defender, "the Bible does not teach . . . household baptism."(10)

This is a quite predictable response--that everyone in these households must have believed (i.e., since we already know that only believers were baptized). But think for a moment what this response requires us to believe--that in the individual baptism narratives, their writers (Luke & Paul) intentionally include more irregular and anomalous cases of baptism (households), than "regular" cases. So, it just so happened that all these "believers" were in the same households. And it just so happened that every individual in these homes was not a little child. And it just so happened that in the non-household baptisms (excepting the Samaritans), there were only men present (Pentecost, eunuch, Paul, twelve disciples of John).

Now this "just so" story might be more convincing if the larger context of Acts were not considered. Remember the outline of Acts--the gospel was to go to Jerusalem, all of Judea, Samaria, and the remotest part of the earth. Surely Luke is instructing his readers about what Jesus continued doing in His church of all nations (Acts 1:1). When the gospel crossed to Gentile territory, beginning with Cornelius, every baptism passage is a household baptism passage--except where we are expressly told that those present were "twelve men," who were Jews after all (Acts 19:7). The Gentile households of Cornelius, Lydia, the Jailer, Stephanas, and possibly Gaius (see the previous discussion) were all baptized.

Those who deny the validity of household/infant baptism do not usually take seriously these facts. We must ask whether the impressive number of household baptisms, concentrated in the period of Gentile expansion was an unrepeatable oddity of apostolic Christianity? Was it coincidence that virtually all of the newly reached Gentile households were baptized? Acts is a selective history of thousands of examples of baptism over the first few decades of the church. It would be incredible to believe that Luke recorded the only household baptisms in the entire apostolic period! On the contrary, Luke does not present these household baptisms as though they were extraordinary just because they were household baptisms. Rather, this was the routine practice of the apostolic church as the gospel went to Gentile families. The gospel and its outward sign went to families because it was families that were to be saved. Most evangelicals know the answer to the Biblical question, "What must I do to be saved?"--"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved." But that's not the answer in the Bible, rather, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household" (Act 16:31). Contrary to this, consider the individualistic practice of baptism in baptistic churches today. Those who deny the baptism of the children of believers simply do not conform their practice to the facts of apostolic Christianity.

Considering the pattern of household baptisms, the presumption of an individualistic baptist perspective is seriously called into question. The pattern is recognizable to the reader of the Scripture, if one begins with Genesis and moves forward. It might be easier to dismiss if this was the only information about households in the Bible. Baptist responses treat these cases as mere isolated "proof texts" for which the paedobaptist grasps as straws in the wind--when in reality, Luke simply adds one more thread to the tapestry of God's covenant redemption. The pattern of Gentile household baptisms, especially as it relates to Luke's purpose in showing the expansion of the gospel, should not be so quickly dismissed by baptists. It is not as though we have a hundred cases of baptism and there are these exceptional, anomalous few household cases. We have nine individuals identified; five clearly have their households baptized; two do not have households (eunuch, Saul); one is dubious (Simon); and Gaius is left (1Co 1:14, see the above discussion). This is not a promising set of statistics for the baptists.

The oft-repeated reply, "but every member of the household believed," will not be persuasive to one who considers the exegetical particulars of the two cases which include statements about the households believing (the Jailer 16:31-34 & Crispus 18:8). We should ask whether the exegetical nuances of these texts support the individualist (baptist) thesis (every member believed) or the covenant family thesis (household members followed the leader according to their capacity).

In the Philippian Jailer passage (16:31-34) and the Corinthian passage with Crispus (18:8), the Greek texts use singular verbs, not the plural verbs, to describe the action of believing. These texts do not say, the Jailer (or Crispus) "and (kai)" his household "believed" (with a plural verb). This would be one way Luke could have nuanced the text to indicate the equal action of each member in believing. This is something Luke surely would have said if he was seeking to correct the covenantal household concept established in the previous millennia of Biblical history. Instead, these texts teach what any Old Testament believer might have expected: the Jailer, the household head, "rejoiced (singular verb) greatly, with all his house (panoikei, an adverb), having believed (pepisteukos, participle, singular) in God" (16:34, ASV); and Crispus, the household head, "believed (episteusen, verb, singular) in the Lord with (sun) all his household" (18:8). However, observe Luke's careful language indicating that baptism is administered to each member of the Jailer's household: "he was baptized, he and (kai) all his household" (16:33).

Biblical Signs

It is not only true that the book of Acts supports the claim that all those in the home of a believer are to be baptized, but the nature of Biblical signs and symbols foundationally supports this belief and practice. Since the Bible is one book and not two, we must ask whether the symbol of baptism as an outward ritual is similar to other rituals in the older portion of Scripture. Rituals which involve a symbolic act, such as baptism, are connected to Biblical covenants between God and man. Invirtually every case Biblical covenants include signs which visibly represent the realities behind the covenant promises.

 In the covenant with Adam, sometimes called the covenant of works, or covenant of life, or covenant of creation, the tree of life is the visible sign of the invisible reality (Gen 3:22). In the Noahic covenant, the rainbow is the "sign of a covenant between Me and the earth" (Gen 9:13). In the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision "shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you" (Gen 17:11) and for the believer Abraham it was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith he had while uncircumcised" (Rom 4:11). In the Mosaic administration of the covenant, the sacrifices and festival days are carefully defined and the covenant meal is given. In the institution of the covenant meal, Passover, the Lord said, "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live" (Exo 12:13). In the new covenant, baptism and the Lord's Supper signify its meaning. Baptism is a sign of entrance into the covenant (Mat 28:19-20; Acts 2:38-39). In baptism one is visibly identified with the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with His people, and with His kingdom. The Lord's Supper is a sign of communing in the covenant (Mat 26:28). It is a "sharing [koinonia]in the blood of Christ" and a "sharing in the body of Christ" (1Co 10:16).


What else can be deduced from this than that it was a sacrament, that is, a sign and seal of life?”– Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (I:362)

“We should not think of the fruit of this tree as magically or medically working immortality in Adam’s frame. Yet it was in some way connected with the gift of life . . . . So the words of Genesis 3:22 must be understood sacramentally”– Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (p. 217)

The Bible often speaks of the signs interchangeably with the reality signified. For example, fallen Adam is not to eat of the tree of life "lest he eat from it and live forever" (Gen 3:22).(11) Jehovah "will look upon [the rainbow], to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature" (Gen 9:16). The Lord told Abraham that circumcision "is My covenant" (Gen 17:10). Of the Passover blood the Lord says, "when I see the blood I will pass over you" (Exo 12:13). Jesus, in the Lord's Supper, said the cup "is the new covenant" (1Co 11:25). Peter says, "baptism now saves you" (1Pe 3:21). Please understand that these God-ordained ritual acts are not magical, but they are sacramental. They are visible promises of God's redemptive purposes to save and sanctify a people, His church (Eph 5:25-27).


The Westminster Confession (27:2) says, “There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.” (Gen 17:10; Mat 26:27,28; Tit 3:5)

To realize the full blessings of such salvific promises, an individual must be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9, 1Pe 3:21, Tit 3:5, 1Co 11:28-29). One must receive the reality behind the signs and seals, Christ. Of course, we know from Biblical and church history that not every person who partakes of such covenant signs also has the reality signified in the symbol.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this truth is the passage which follows (1Co 10:1-4):

Christ is the Reality Behind the Signs --Even in the Old Testament
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1Co 10:1-4)

In the argument of the apostle, this is a powerful admonition against those in the Corinthian church who think they are "spiritual" (pneumatikos) and have "knowledge" (gnosis) (1Co 2:15, 8:1). First, it might be observed that Paul indicates the continuity of the faith from its Old Testament expression through the new covenant expression by referring to even this perverse generation of Israel as "our fathers." Then, he illustrates their continuity with new covenant signs by singling out that they too were baptized and had spiritual communion. In fact, they ate of the "same spiritual food" and drank of the "same spiritual drink." It is "the same" because it originates from the same source, Christ. Just as Christ is the reality in Passover (1Co 5:7), and He Himself said, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven" (Joh 6:51)--the source of the water was Christ (1Co 10:4; cf. Joh 4:14).

If some among the Corinthians claimed spiritual superiority, how much more could these Israelites. They were not baptized with mundane water, but in a visible cloud of God's presence and the very Red Sea which parted before them! They didn't have a mere Paul or Apollos as their leader, but the more-than-legendary, miracle-working Moses whose very face had the residue of God's glory! In this sacramental type, these Israelites did not partake of ordinary food and drink. No, no, they ate of bread that descended from heaven itself and drank from a rock in a desert! What's more, the rock was Christ! All of this and much more, but most were "laid low in the wilderness" (10:5). Could these "spiritual" Corinthians even approach this visible, demonstrable, miraculous spirituality? Yet, the punch-line is that, as superior in spirituality as these Israelites were, "twenty-three thousand fell in one day" and others were killed by "serpents" and still others were "destroyed by the destroyer" (10:8-10)!

Who's In?
The above discussion of the apostolic practice of baptism concludes that virtually every person who had a household had it baptized and in almost every case of non-household baptism, there were only men present. Are other visible signs and symbols of God's covenant redemption administered to households? Do other covenant administrations include a principle of "you and your children"?

Reviewing the Biblical teaching, we find that the covenant with Adam involved all of the children of Adam. "As in Adam all die" (1Co 15:22, Rom 5:12). The covenant with Noah included the "salvation of his household" (Heb 11:7). The sacrifices of the patriarchs (including Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were for the whole family. Job offered "burnt offerings according to the number of them all" (Job 1:5). Similarly, "Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal" (Gen 31:54). Circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of God's covenant for "you and your descendants after you throughout their generations" (Gen 17:9). Under Moses the Israelites were commanded to put the blood of the Passover lamb on their doors to preserve the firstborn in the household. Israel was to observe Passover "as an ordinance for you and your children forever" (Exo 12:24). Even in the promise to David, the Lord said, "I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever, and build up your throne to all generations" (Psa 89:3-4).

Covenant (Administration)

Visible Sign

Descendants Included


Tree of Life






(Other Patriarchs)






Passover (blood, then meal)





New Covenant

Baptism (entrance)

Lord's Supper (continuance) 


Therefore, the pattern of covenant administration includes a principle of family inclusion and successive generations in both covenant content and covenant recipients of the signs. The visible portrayal of covenant promises in signs and seals have a household administration--the question now is whether the visible sign of entrance into the new covenant (baptism) is to be administered to the household of a believer. If this is true, then just as in circumcision, those who come into that household by birth or adoption would also have a right to the rite. I have come to be convinced that there is much evidence for the continuity of this pattern. From the very beginning the visible symbols and pledges were administered in a covenantally corporate and familial way. As has been demonstrated, baptism also follows this pattern (five of the nine cases of the individuals identified are household baptisms).

Now it would be exceedingly unlikely in the "large-family-friendly" culture of the ancient world to find five households which did not included small children-- and remember, the five cases of household baptism in the New Testament surely stand for thousands more (unless we suppose Luke and Paul give us the anomalies as the rule). However, it would be a mistake to think that the above argumentation rests on whether infants were in these five households. The importance of the household baptism line of argument does not depend so much on whether infants were in these households--as it does on whether households, as households, are to be baptized because of the believing head of a household. This pattern we have--which should not be lightly dismissed, considering the small number of baptisms expressly recorded and the lack of households in the others cases--stands on the shoulders of the whole of the prior Biblical revelation.

The New Covenant Also Includes the Children

Perhaps someone might say that the new covenant is different from previous covenants in just this sense. Does the promise of the new covenant include successive generations, our children, as did the previous covenant administrations? Are the children of believers included in the new covenant promises? One important writer, defending a baptist perspective says, "I would argue then that the principle of believers and their seed no longer has covenantal significance, precisely because the age of fulfillment has arrived." He goes on to say, "Nowhere in the content of the new covenant is the principle 'thee and thy seed' mentioned."(12) If this were true, such a change in covenant membership and covenant content could hardly be more drastic! Covenant membership has always and ever included "you and your children" and covenant content is most fundamentally that the Lord is "God to you and your descendants" (Gen 17:7, Deu 7:9, 30:6, 1Ch 16:15, Psa 103:17, 105:8).

Consider these prophecies regarding the new covenant. Let the reader decide whether the children of believers are included in the new covenant promises--

In the very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:

Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise. Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included. Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear that the children of believers are included.

In the New Testament, the apostles repeatedly included the principle of "you and your seed."

These texts provide overwhelming, compelling, and unmistakable Biblical support for the belief that the children of believers are included in the promised new covenant. How many more texts are required to convince one that the new covenant includes the children of believers? Certainly no one can produce even one text which explicitly excludes them. There are dozens and dozens which explicitly include the children of believers. If baptism is the sign of entrance into that covenant, why are not the children of believers to be baptized? If they are promised its blessings no less than adults, then why are they not to receive the visible portrayal of the promise? The objection that "the principle of believers and their seed no longer has covenantal significance" or "nowhere in the content of the new covenant is the principle 'thee and thy seed' mentioned"--simply will not stand against the overwhelming refutation of the above passages.(13) The very same language of the inclusion of believers' children permeates both the old covenant administrations, as well as the new covenant.

The above texts are not a mere "proof-texting" against this objection, they indicate a deep Biblical and theological theme which undergirds the entire mission of the Savior and His Commission to the church.

Baptism and the Great Commission

Before our Lord ascended to reign at the right hand of the Father, He commanded the discipling of the nations. He predicted the advance of His good news "in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). He said to His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach [disciple, or make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Mat 28:19 KJV). From this text there are those who claim that Jesus' command excludes anyone from baptism who is not a self-conscious disciple. Hence, such interpreters claim that this Commission commands the discipling of "individuals from all nations, not the national entities" and the individual baptism of only "those who were made disciples."(14) However, the grammar of this command does not support the individualistic thesis. Rather, the direct command (mathãteusate panta ta ethnã baptizontes autous) simply translates, Disciple all the nations and baptize them (nations). The pronoun "them" (autous), grammatically refers to "nations" (ethnã), not "disciples" since "make disciples" (from mathãteuõ) is a verb.(15)

If one thinks about the Commission both grammatically and culturally, a Jewish Rabbi of the First Century or before would not have been troubled if it had said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, circumcising them in the name of Jehovah, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." A Rabbi would not have thought this was a Commission to abandon infant circumcision for exclusive adult circumcision. In fact, this was precisely the practice of proselytism in the New Testament era. To illustrate, in the events of Acts 15:3ff, we read there of "the conversion of the Gentiles" (v 3) and that some of "the Pharisees who had believed" demanded that "it is necessary to circumcise them" (v 5). Surely these Pharisees were not insisting on exclusive adult "believer circumcision" by demanding that those "converted" be circumcised. When the Pharisees made a proselyte (Mat 23:15) they considered their children to be proselytes. They considered "them" collectively to be "converts." And as the children grew, they were to mature into a self-conscious ownership of their faith. If they grew up to be a reprobate, they were "put out of the synagogue" (Joh 9:22).

Why did Jesus command baptism in the first place? Are there any hints in the Old Testament that the Messiah would baptize? When one studies carefully the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah, we see that the Word includes allusions to a cleansing rite administered to a corporate entity, nations. "He will sprinkle many nations" (Isa 52:15). Ezekiel 36:24ff, records a new covenant promise to the nation Israel says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean . . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh . . . you will be My people, and I will be your God." In these foretastes of Messiah, it is "nations" or "peoples" that are cleansed. Predictably, then, the Commission to baptize is to baptize the corporate "nations."

The Great Commission, in biblio-theological development, is the predictable Messianic restatement of multitudes of Old Testament commissions and promises and prayers for all the nations to be made disciple-nations--

--These and about 100 other passages declare that all nations (and not merely some individuals from them) are to be disciple-worshipers! The Commission on earth and Song of Heaven are the same, [and they sang] "Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; for all the nations will come and worship before Thee, for Thy righteous acts have been revealed" (Rev 15:3-4).

Further, the Commission to disciple and baptize nations, in the Biblical thematic development makes sense of the apostolic practice of household discipleship and household baptism. If one puts himself in the place of the (Jewish-Christian) apostles, is it credible to think that they saw the Commission as including making disciples of families or households? I believe that it is for the following reasons: (1) In Biblical usage, the term "nations" is equal to "all the families of the earth" (Gen 12:3, 28:14, Act 3:25; cf. Psa 22:14). (2) In a Biblical survey of the term "nations," the terms "family" and "house" or "household" are explicitly and organically connected. For example, in the book that defines the beginning of family and nation, Genesis, "nations" is equal to "families." "From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations" (10:5). In Genesis 10:32, the terms "families" or "households" are semantically identical to nations: "These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood." These family-nations were further divided at Babel when separate languages came into existence. Add to that the interchangeableness of "nation of Israel," "house of Israel" and in the New Testament, the "household of God," and "a holy nation" (1Pe 4:17, 2:9). (3) Therefore, if the command had been, "Make disciples of all families, baptizing them . . ."--would this not be warrant for the baptism of households under the leadership of a believing head of household? Perhaps the reader can see that "families of the earth" in Biblical-theological development from Genesis on, quite explicitly does have reference to "families" or "households." Perhaps this is why the apostles baptized them!

Genesis 9-12: The Origin of the Nations

Noah's Household Saved in the Ark (Gen 9) 
Table of Nations from Noah's Family (Gen 10)
Division of Languages/Nations at Babel (Gen 11)
Blessing to "All the Families of the Earth" (through Abraham)(Gen 12)

The Great Commission: The Salvation of the Nations

Blessing to "All the Families of the Earth" (through Christ, the "Seed")
Pentecost "Undoes" Babel and Empowers the Disciples
Expansion of Gospel to "All Nations"
Gentile Households Baptized

So, from the flood to Babel the division was made. But from Pentecost to the end of the age, the Kingdom advances with the power to undo the confusion of the nations by the Spirit's power through the gospel. The language of the Great Commission emphasizes first generation contact with the "families of the earth," as would be expected after a study of a Biblical theology of missions. But the Great Commission's purposes are not limited to adults and neither are its grammatical categories. To divide parents from the little children for whom they are responsible is completely foreign to the Biblical concepts of family, headship, covenant, and even salvation ("you will be saved, you and all your household," Acts 11:14, 16:31). The command is to disciple nations and discipled nations include little children. It follows strictly, does it not, that Christ's Commission to baptize thus includes children?

The Father of Missions

The purpose of God in converting the nations (in missions) is part of God's covenantal promise to Abraham. Abraham is truly the father of the missionary movement. Peter preached to the Jews, "It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Acts 3:25). The promise of the gospel is that "the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph 3:6). Whereas Gentiles were "separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world"--"Now," writes the apostle, "in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph 2:12-13). Gentiles may now participate as receivers of the "covenants of promise." We have become Abraham's children too! To understand this, one must stand in the sandals of that earnest God-fearing Gentile of Paul's day who longed for acceptance in a world of religio-cultural exclusivism.(16)

Amazingly, Gentiles may become "Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:29). Paul teaches us that through faith the promise to Abraham "may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, 'a father of many nations have I made you')" (Rom 4:16-17). In other words, the promise is to "all the descendants" of both believing Jews and Gentiles, because Abraham is the "father of many nations" and in him all the "families of the earth shall be blessed" (Acts 3:25, Gen 12:3). A Cornelius, or a Lydia, or a Philippian Jailer, or a Stephanas, could now be like any of Abraham's children. The repeated and amazing contrast between the new covenant and the previous administrations of the covenant is that now one does not need to enter the Jewish nation to realize fully the covenant blessings.

If one reads the book of Romans backwards, we see that all of the doctrinal instruction on equal condemnation (chapters 1-3), justification (chs. 4-5), sanctification (chs. 6-8), the covenant history in its relation to the Jews (chs. 9-11), application to believers (chs. 12-13), leads to the same theme--the joint-heir relationship of Gentiles and Jews and the principles of their new life together (chs. 14-15) and Paul's mission to the Gentiles (16:15-21).

The Promises Confirmed, The Promises Applied
Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, "THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO THEE AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO THY NAME." And again he says, "REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE." And again, "PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM." And again Isaiah says, "THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE." (Rom 15:7-12 [All caps are OT quotations])

In fulfillment of the above passage, did "His people" (Jews who believed) with whom the "Gentiles" were to "rejoice" (Rom 15:10), include their little children? Certainly if only Gentile children were excluded, it would have been most contrary to the principles of equality and acceptance of Paul's previous chapter (14).

Gentile Inclusion or Infant Exclusion?

Perhaps it will be evident how very different the baptist understanding is than what is above. As I see it, the consistent emphasis of the apostles is that Gentiles have been grafted in and have become true heirs of the (originally Jewish) covenant promises and realities. This was very clearly predicted, though the religious and cultural pride of the Jews conflicted with the gospel fulfillment of this. In other words, just as the fulness of the promises belong to the Jews and their children, so too, the same promises predict the inclusion of the Gentiles and their children. Paul's refrain throughout the epistles was Gentiles are equal heirs with Jews. For the apostles, the demonstrable proof of this was that uncircumcised (unproselytized) Gentiles (as households) received the Spirit just as the Jews did.(17) In their words, God "cleansing their hearts" gave them "the circumcision of Christ" which is "of the heart, by the Spirit" and is the "true circumcision" (Acts 15:6, Col 2:11, Rom 2:29, Phi 3:2). We also know that these Gentiles were baptized, and in every explicit case of their baptism, it was of their households. Every Gentile baptism expressly recorded, is a household baptism!(18)

On the other hand, the baptistic view sees that the real emphasis of the New Testament is not so much Gentile inclusion as it is infant exclusion. "The age of fulness," in their view, demands that only individuals who are capable of self-conscious faith are permitted to be heirs of these promises. As Jewett says, "...the temporal, earthly, typical elements of the old dispensation were dropped from the great house of salvation as scaffolding from the finished edifice."(19) Among the ruins of the scaffolding lies the fruit of the womb, which was so jealously included in past eras. To the consistent baptist interpreter, a theology of the New Testament yields the conclusion that both Jews and Gentiles no longer should consider their children members of the covenant. At the heart of the baptist contention is the noble desire to protect future generations from a carnal and unbelieving church membership composed of only "children of the flesh." The reasoning behind this, however, proceeds in a most unBiblical fashion: by excluding the infant seed, can we protect the church from carnality. On the contrary, to the Biblical mind, it is by the inclusion of the children in the covenant promises, which usher forth in parental and congregational responsibilities, that the blessings of God's promised Word come about. Thus, it is my conviction that this view is not only out of sorts with the thematic emphasis of the New Testament, but also with the heartbeat of the entire Biblical revelation of redemption.

John's Baptism and Jesus' Baptism

Someone might ask, Aren't we supposed to "follow Jesus in baptism"?--Wasn't He baptized as an adult? Actually, we are never told in the Bible that we must imitate Christ in His baptism. In fact, we are told that Christ's baptism was "to fulfill (plãroõ) all righteousness" (Mat 3:15). I hope that no one else will claim that their baptism was for this purpose. Especially since Matthew uses "fulfill"(plãroõ)16 times. Except for the two cases in which it means "fill" in a quantitative sense (13:48 "full" & 23:32 "fill"), every other usage refers to "fulfilled" Scripure.(20) I will argue that in this case (3:15) it also refers to fulfilled Scripture, though it is an entire range of Scriptural typology, not a specific text.

The baptism of John was for a temporary and specific purpose (Luk 1:17, Act 13:35). John was a Levitical priest, as was his father (Luk 1:5). He was six months older than Jesus, and Jesus was baptized at the age of thirty (Luk 1:36, 3:23). This means that John began baptizing when he was thirty years old, the appointed age for a Levite to serve as a priest and perform ceremonial ritual washings (Num 4:3). The prophetic purpose of John was to "go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'To turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children,' and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luk 1:17, Mal 4:6). John tells us very specifically his purpose for the baptisms: "in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water" (Joh 1:31). How would John know who the Christ (the anointed one) was? "He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit' (Joh 1:33).

Thus, John's baptism of Jesus involved a cleansing ritual for the purpose of recognizing the one anointed of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament typology, Levitical priests underwent a ritual washing for their cleansing ("sprinkle purifying water on them," Num 8:7). These ceremonial instructions for priests also speak over and over of "the priest who is anointed [with oil] and ordained to serve as priest" (Lev 16:32, Exo 28:41, Num 3:3, etc.). The writer of Hebrews tells us, "For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever" (Heb 7:28). This means that the fulfillment of the oath of God's Messianic promise comes in the "appointing" of a perfect high priest, who is of course, Christ (Heb 8:5). The term "appoint" (kathistemi) is the same term used of ordaining elders (Tit 1:5) and deacons (Act 6:3), as well as the Levitical High priest, "every high priest taken from among men is ordained . . ." (Heb 5:1 KJV).

Christ was thus ordained and "designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:10). But when was He "designated" as this?--When He received, not the symbolic anointing oil of the Spirit, but the reality of the Spirit, at His baptism. Christ said of Himself, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel . . ." (Luk 4:18). When was anointed? At His baptism, when the Spirit descended upon Him (Luk 3:21). Hence, the final and transitional Levitical priest, John, ordained the greater Melchizedekian High priest, Jesus. Suffice it to say, then, the adult baptism of a Christian believer is not "following the Lord in believer's baptism."

Because John's baptism was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord," Israel was to receive their anointed Messiah and were accountable to be identified with the Messianic kingdom of God (Luk 1:17, Mat 3:2). However, many in that generation rejected Christ and His kingdom. "But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John" (Luk 7:30). For this they would receive the most severe judgment (Mat 23:36-39), ultimately the complete destruction of their Christless Judaism and its chief symbol, Jerusalem and its temple (70 Anno Domini). "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" (Mat 23:38).

Hence, John's baptism was temporary ("John was completing his course," Act 13:25). However, Jesus promises His presence in the baptism mandate "to the end of the age" (Mat 28:19). This implies what the Westminster Confession says, that Christian baptism is, "by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world" (28.1). Therefore, the baptism of the Great Commission is different than that of John's in purpose (preparation for Messiah), audience (for that generation of Israel), and even the duration (overlapping the time of Christ's earthly ministry). Jesus' Commission to baptize, then, follows through with John's teaching: "[John said] I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Baptism and Circumcision

It is just because of the initial teaching that Jesus' baptism relates to the Spirit, that we are led to see that in meaning and signification, the perpetual ordinance of baptism is very similar to circumcision. It is a symbol of a covenant promise and is an entrance sign. Baptism and circumcision symbolize the same reality, the work of the Spirit, essentially, spiritual regeneration.

Let me try to convince the reader of this in three points: (1) Circumcision represented the work of the Holy Spirit which is the circumcision of the heart. Stephen drew upon a very deep stream of the Biblical waters when he said to his persecutors, "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did" (Acts 7:51). This teaching regarding the meaning of circumcision is very evident in many Old Testament passages (Lev 26:41, Jer 9:26, Eze 44:7, 44:9, Deu 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4). The very promise of the new covenant included this metaphor, "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants" (Deu 30:6). Paul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, learned this too (perhaps from Stephen). It permeates virtually all of his epistles (Rom 2:29, 4:11, 1Co 7:19, Gal 5:6, 6:15, Eph 2:11-12, Phi 3:3, Col 2:11-12, 3:11). The reality behind physical circumcision is circumcision "which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter" (Rom 2:29).

(2) Baptism represents the work of the Spirit in regeneration, also. The very first words we read about baptism in the New Testament say this. John said, "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mar 1:8). Peter connects baptism with "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). He says of Cornelius' household, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (Acts 10:47). Paul alludes to the image of baptism in Titus 3:5 when he says "He saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."

(3) The reality represented in circumcision and baptism is explicitly connected in Colossians 2:11-12. In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Paul is speaking of the true meaning of both circumcision and baptism when he speaks of a "circumcision made without hands" and a "baptism in which you were also raised up with Him through faith." A person who has been heart-circumcised has been Spirit-baptized and a person who has been Spirit-baptized has been heart-circumcised. What can this teach if not that these two ritual acts signify the same reality? Other doctrinal passages affirm this meaning for baptism. Romans 6:3-4 teaches that by work of regeneration those "baptized into Christ Jesus" "have become united with Him in the likeness of His death" and "His resurrection." Galatians 3:27 tells us that those "baptized into Christ have clothed [themselves] with Christ." First Corinthians 12:13 likewise indicates the work of the Spirit is the reality behind baptism, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." These passages affirm that baptism symbolizes the work of God's Spirit in our spiritual union with Christ which takes place through regeneration. Peter teaches us that baptism is the antitype of the salvation of the household of Noah, as well as the symbol of a clean conscience. "There is also an antitype (antitypos) which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1Pe 3:21 NKJ).

So then, baptism is surely a sign, an antitype (1Pe 3:21). Baptism is most certainly representative of the work of the Spirit (Col 2:11-12, Mar 1:8, Acts 10:47, Tit 3:5). It is commissioned to be a ritual which identifies one with the truine God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Mat 28:19-20, Acts 10:48). Its meaning is unmistakably the Spirit's work in cleansing us and thereby uniting us with Christ and His body (Rom 6:3, Gal 3:27, Col 2:11-12, 1Co 12:13).

The argument against this is stated in this way, regeneration (not baptism) is the antitype to circumcision. David Kingdon says:

These New Testament texts demonstrate that circumcision in the Old Testament is the type of which inward circumcision, i.e., regeneration, is the antitype. If this is so, how can it be argued that baptism is equivalent in meaning to circumcision, when circumcision is clearly related to regeneration? No NT proof can be found for the contention that baptism and circumcision are identical, and we are therefore precluded from inferring that baptism should be applied to infants. If we put circumcision in parallel with baptism are we not ignoring the fulfillment of circumcision in regeneration?(21)
Having argued the case as it is (above), the answer to this is obvious. The meaning of baptism is regeneration, even as it is with circumcision. The very first word on the subject says this: "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mar 1:8). To pose such a question as how "baptism is equivalent in meaning to circumcision, when circumcision is clearly related to regeneration?" -- is just to set oneself up for unmistakable refutation. Circumcision means regeneration; baptism means regeneration. Baptism is the new covenant replacement of circumcision as an entrance sign.

Are circumcision and baptism identical? It is rather obvious that the rituals of circumcision and baptism are very different, though they both have reference to purification. The reality or meaning of these rituals is essentially the same--the work of the Spirit in regeneration. The recipients of circumcision were primarily the households of ethnic Israel (males only, in the nature of the case). The recipients of baptism, in the New Testament, are believing households within every nation. Surely it need not be repeated that going through the ritual of either is not the same as possessing the reality signified by the rite. This is true for adults, no less than little children. Baptism is a (visible) sign and seal of entrance into the visible covenant community, a community not of one nation (Israel), but made from all nations. Therefore, it functionally replaces the Abrahamic rite of circumcision, and is thus its sacramental equivalent.




cut flesh

cleanse flesh


circumcision of Christ 
circumcise the heart
cut off "flesh"

baptism by the Spirit 
cleanse the heart
wash the conscience


Jewish nation
All in the household (males)

Every nation
All in the household (males and females)

The temptation for baptists is to assume that since the reality signified in baptism is only true in regenerate people, that it is only proper to give this sign to those who demonstrate their regeneration. Reasoning this way, one entirely overlooks what has just been Biblically proven, that circumcision fundamentally signifies the same reality as baptism.(22) As Calvin says, "For what will they bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?"(23) Please let no one say that salvation was different in the Old Testament. The Abrahamic covenant is Paul's proof-text for justification by faith alone (Rom 4:3, Gen 15:6)! Moreover, Abraham's circumcision was the sign and seal of his justification by faith. He "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised" (Rom 4:11). But Isaac, who possessed the same Spirit-wrought reality, was circumcised as an infant. So then, the sign of an internal spiritual reality can be received when one is conscious of the reality, like Abraham. Or, it can be received before one is conscious of the reality, like Isaac, and every other believing Jew. Baptism can be received with understanding (in the case of an adult) or it can be "remembered" with understanding (as in the case of an infant). In both cases, it represents the inward work of the Spirit which we hope to be true in both. Baptists often argue that it is more certainly true of the "believer" (professing faith) than the infant (even when raised in the discipline and admonition of the Lord). This is a very unconvincing point to me, having grown up around baptistic churches which regularly practice repeat-baptism two or three times on their own members.

It is not that I don't sympathize with the noble motives at the heart of the baptist contention for a pure church. Baptists wish to protect the church from an unregenerate and ungodly membership. But it is difficult to see how putting out the most trusting, malleable, and teachable group (little children) "purifies" God's people. It has been my experience that the adults are the ones who cause all the trouble. To purify the church, shouldn't we rather exercise Biblical discipline on "professing" adults who are unrepentant, according to Christ's own command (Mat 18:15-20)?

As it stands even today, baptism, in fact, replaces circumcision. Baptism is the entrance sign, and before the new covenant, it wasn't the entrance sign, circumcision was. Therefore, it is really unreasonable to deny that baptism is the functional equivalent of circumcision.

Objections to this line of reasoning should be considered. On what basis can the position that baptism is the functional equivalent of circumcision be denied?

(1) Can the view above be refuted on the basis of the meaning of circumcision? Was circumcision intended to mean something other than circumcision of the heart by the Spirit? I believe that the above material is compelling as an answer. When one insists that the meaning of circumcision is “carnal” or “not spiritual,” etc., so as to prove that the reality signified in circumcision and baptism is radically different, the above Biblical information has not been adequately considered. Those who object to the parallelism of circumcision and baptism seem to ignore the pervasive Biblical teaching regarding the circumcision of the heart and its equation with the work of God's Spirit (Rom 2:29, 4:11, 1Co 7:19, Gal 5:6, 6:15, Eph 2:11-12, Phi 3:3, Col 2:11-12, 3:11, above et al). It will be important for us to get our view of circumcision from what Scripture teaches it to be. It's meaning is expressly stated to be spiritual ("a seal of the righteousness of faith," Rom 4:12).

(2) Perhaps someone will object that circumcision was a nationalistic sign (i.e., whereas baptism is a non-national, spiritual sign). (Observe that this objection must first overcome the above material on the essential spiritual meaning of circumcision, regardless of its national overtones.) This objection rests on the false presumption that Israel was a mere nation and that the multi-ethnic church of the new covenant is not a "nation" in any sense. Both of these assumptions are false. Those who were shut out of the "commonwealth of Israel" were "separate from Christ" (Eph 2:12); hence the nation was no mere ethnic political entity. To Israel belonged “the promises” (Rom 9:4). Secondly, the new covenant people of God are "a holy nation" (1Pe 2:9). In fact, Jesus teaches us that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [collective unbelieving Israel], and be given to a nation [multi-ethnic spiritual Israel] producing the fruit of it" (Mat 21:43).

Even from the Biblical account of who was circumcised, we find a compelling response to the above ojections. We are told that "In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son" (Gen 17:26). The thirteen-year old Ishmael was certainly not in the nation Israel, yet he was circumcised because of God's very command on the very day that Abraham himself was circumcised. It would be strikingly inconsistent if the very same ritual act, administered the very same day was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith" (Rom 4:12) for Abraham, but for teenageIshmael it was a mere sign of being a physical, albeit virtually bastardly, descendant of Abraham. Imagine what Abraham would have said in performing circumcision on Ishmael or other non-Israelite offspring. Considering what circumcision meant to Abraham, could he have said or thought anything like what follows?

Child of my flesh and not of any spiritual relation, this rite of circumcision is performed on you only and exclusively and arbitrarily because you are my physical offspring. Do not mistake that there is any spiritual significance to this act whatsoever; it calleth you not to any spiritual obligation; it calleth you not to any recognition of the covenantally faithful God who only relates to man by way of covenant; think not that by it you are being called upon to believe in a God who circumcises hearts or saves the fallen sons of Adam from natural heart-uncircumcision; nay, nay, it calleth you not to keep the way of the Lord; think not that I am declaring that you are the Lord's; you are my mere flesh and blood, without a relation to the God who has granted me justification by faith.(24)
Further, we find that the New Testament indicates that circumcision was given to proselytes from other nations on the basis of their reception of the Biblical faith (in the pre-new covenant form). Therefore, not only the express teaching about the meaning of circumcision, but even considering who was circumcised is a clear refutation of the nationalistic objection.

(3) Another important objection which has become fairly popular is what I will call the Judaizer Objection. It is an objection to the sacramental equivalence of circumcision and baptism and is stated succinctly by Carl B. Hoch, Jr., a Baptist professor, in his interesting book, All Things New: The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology. In a discussion of Colossians 2:11, he says, "That baptism has not replaced circumcision can be easily seen from the fact that Paul did not attempt to refute the Judaizers' demand that Gentiles be circumcised with the statement, 'They have no need of circumcision; they have been baptized! You all know that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant!" (p. 290). This objection is convincing to many, and has begun to appear in recent infant baptism debates, as well (e.g., Sproul-MacArthur).

What can be said in response to this argument? First, let us observe that this is an argument (a) based on something believed about the Judaizers, that they required circumcision for salvation. And (b) that if (hypothetically), the apostles, especially Paul, had responded to the Judaizers by saying, "You all know that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant!"--that such an answer would have been taking as a sufficient refutation. This argument is an argument from silence. That is, it rests upon the silence of what isn't stated in the text. This is not to dismiss the value of such reasoning. Such considerations are very valuable. But for it to be compelling, it must take into consideration, as much as possible, th known beliefs of those involved and what actually was said, touching upon the issues disputed.

Let us consider this as fully as possible. In Acts 15:1-2 we read,

And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
The Judaizers, in insisting on Gentile circumcision, presumed that circumcision as a God-authorized covenant sign (Gen 17) was not ritually replaceable or salvifically negotiable. (Remember that this "custom of Moses" was not exclusive adult circumcision; it was of infant males, if any were involved.) The answer that was stated to the Judaizers was that these Gentiles had received, not merely a symbol and sign of cleansing their uncleanness, but the reality. Consider carefully the words of Peter to the Council, "And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith" (15:8-9). That baptism signified the Holy Spirit's work is clear from the episode of Cornelius' household baptism (10:48), as recalled by Peter (consider carefully):
And he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household. ' 15 "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" 18 And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."
Peter had said, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (10:47) Notice the emphasis on "the same gift" and "the Gentiles also" and "just as we did." In the fullest consideration, the apostles refuted the Judaizers with a twofold argument. First, the Gentiles possess what we Jews possess, even apart from the external sign. Therefore, the sign is unnecessary, for receiving what is of more infinitely more value, the reality.

Second, the apostolic apologetic takes into consideration prophetic fulfillment which comes to pass in the new covenant. James speaks to this point,

Simeon [Peter] has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 "And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 IN ORDER THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME.
This is just to say that in the new covenant era, the Gentiles, apart from becoming ritual Jews, will be part of the "tabernacle of David" or the true temple of God, the people of God. Now, the Gentiles, remaining Gentiles in terms of ceremony, will "rejoice with His people" (Rom 15:10). Because, after all, Abraham is "father of all who believe without being circumcised [Gentiles like Cornelius' household], that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised [that is Jews who believe]" (Rom 4:11-12).

Upon further consideration, then, the apostles, especially Peter in this case, actually did teach that these converts were not in need of circumcision precisely because they were truly baptized. Their "Gentile uncleanness" had been removed by the reality, not the ritual, a reality portrayed in circumcision and baptism. The reason why it was not stated in the words Dr. Hoch did--"You all know that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant"--is because to simply assert this would have been begging the question. The great "dispute" was whether the Spirit-baptized Gentiles, who had what circumcision signified, needed to have ritual circumcision too. This was evaluated in light of (first) the demonstrable way that God provided the Spirit to Gentile households, like Cornelius'. Such cases demonstrated that the ritual of circumcision, in fact, was unnecessary to receive the fulness of salvation and the observable manifestations of the Holy Spirit. And secondly, the apostles appealed to the Scriptural promises of the inclusion of the Gentiles. The Messianic new covenant, with its expansion beyond Jerusalem to the remotest part of the earth (Act 1:8), predicted the inclusion of the uncircumcised Gentiles. (Remember Paul's argument that Abraham is the father of the circumcized and the uncircumcized Rom 4:11-12).

The Judaizers did not see that "circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit" (Rom 2:29) and that the reality symbolized is more important than the external sign (Gal 5:6, 5:16, 1Co 7:19). They were not objecting to Gentiles' baptism (and that of even households as in the case of Cornelius), but to their mere baptism. They wanted them to be cleansed and cut, even as the believing Jews were both circumcised and had received the new sign of Messiah. After Peter's rather vivid object lesson (of eating that which is "unclean" 10:15), and the decisive Acts 15 Council, the apostles (especially Paul) argued that the converted Gentiles were not in need of flesh circumcision because they had what is truly greater, a circumcised heart.

Therefore, baptism was, in its essential qualities the ritual replacement of circumcision for the newly reached Gentiles. But, it is not an exact replacement of circumcision for the Jew, in that transitional time. With the temple standing and the expansion of the gospel in Jerusalem and Judea, the apostolic work to reach the Jews necessarily involved the continuity, for a time at least, of old covenant forms. They worshiped in the temple (Act 2:4). Paul even took a ceremonial vow in which a sacrifice was offered (21:26). But all of this was before the demonstrable refutation of Christless, Messiah-rejecting, Judaism by God's hand of judgment in the year, Anno Domini 70. During this transitional generation, it was certainly permissible for Jews and proselytes to be both circumcised and baptized (Act 16:3). The heart of the apostle is evident, "And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews" (1Co 9:20). On the other hand, the Judaizers' view was both a misunderstanding of the nature and requirements of salvation in the Old Testament, and the transitional era in the new covenant. It was a challenge to the heart of the Great Commission gospel for baptized Gentiles to be required to be circumcised. Why? Because what circumcision did for the Jew and those who became ritual Jews (proselytes), baptism now does for all nations.

Therefore, regarding the Judaistic objection, I believe that (a) above is true, but that (b) is false. It is true that (a) the Judaizers required circumcision for salvation; but it is not the case that if the apostles had said, "You all know that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant!"--(b) such an answer would have been taking as a refutation by the Judaizers. For an argument from silence to be compelling, it must take into consideration what actually was said and the known beliefs of those involved. What I have argued thus far is that this objection does not adequately consider what was said in response to the Judaizers. Namely, the Gentiles have the reality that circumcision and baptism signified.

Moreover, Judaizer objection does not adequately account for their known beliefs.

Given the known beliefs of the Judaizers, if the situation had really been (as the baptist must argue) that in the new covenant there was no covenant sign of inclusion for children whatsoever, it is a much louder silence that the Judaizers did not protest even more! If they protested against Gentile adults (and children) not having to be circumcised (a sign of inclusion for the whole household), how much more would they have protested that their own children were no longer considered in covenant with God!

If we stand in the sandals of the First Century Jewish (and proselyte) followers of Jesus, it is incredible (truly unbelievable) to think that a believer's little children would not to be considered part of the people of God. Imagine the shock of Crispus, the synagogue leader (Acts 18:8), who believes (on Friday, let's say) that his children are in covenant with God, part of the people of God, and members of the synagogue of God. Then, on the Sabbath after Paul preaches, he finds out that--in the fulfillment of the promised seed of the women, through the covenant promises, in the fullness of time, in the era of great David's greater Son, in the Messianic kingdom and the light to the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel--now his little children have no part in the people of God!

Or imagine the new proselyte family who have recently undergone the painful passage to covenant membership only to discover upon hearing of Messiah that in the new covenant his children are afforded less of a place than they were in the shadows of Judaism. From the original audience's mindset, this view of new covenant, Messianic-synagogue membership would be more than disappointing. It would be inconceivable. And more so when the First Century Palestinian religious practices are considered. It appears from history that Jewish proselytism involved the practice of proselyte household baptism. After a family had committed to be Jewish proselytes, the males of the household were circumcised and the final act which "cleansed" their Gentile uncleanness was a ritual washing, a baptism of the entire household, including infants. Thus, if such a practice were common, the baptist case requies a double discontinuity of both the inclusion of their children in the covenant membership and their inclusion in the common practice of Gentile (proselyte) baptism. To add, imagine the overwhelming status of inferiority that Gentiles would have felt if the Jews' children were considered members of the Christian synagogue (Jam 2:2) and part of the "household of God," while Gentile children had neither sign nor membership.

It should be admitted that both Dr. Hoch's argument and my argument are from silence. The reader must weigh which argument is most convincing based on the mind-set of the original audience. What must be decisive, though, is their mindset, not our biases. Which silence is loudest, given what we know? With the clearly stated objections of the Judaizers, their known beliefs, and what we know of their frame of mind, if the apostolic practice and teaching excluded the infant children of Jews (and Gentiles), it is very remarkable that no hint of this discussion arises in the pages of the New Testament.

Entrance Sign of the Covenant, Church, and Kingdom

To settle the question of whether the infant children of believers are to receive baptism, we must ask whether they are Biblically designated as part of what baptism signifies membership in. Very simply, baptism signifies that one has entered the (1) covenant, (2) the church, and (3) the kingdom. We must ask then whether the children of believers are considered as part of the covenant, church, and kingdom, in the Bible.

(1) The children of believers are surely promised to be part of the covenant generally and the new covenant specifically. When God revealed the covenant to Abraham He said in Genesis 17:7, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you." Lest someone say--"But that was the Old Testament"--Paul interprets this in the New Testament when he teaches that the promise was made "certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, 'a father of many nations have I made you')" (Rom 4:16-17).

The new covenant certainly includes believers' children in its promises, in the very same language of the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. How can baptists credibly maintain that the new covenant does not include the children of believers in light of the numerous explicit statements to the contrary?(25) The Covenant Lord promises to "circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants" (Deu 30:6); that "the offspring of Israel also shall [not] cease from being a nation before Me forever" (Jer 31:36-37); that the covenant is "for the good of their children after them" (Jer 32:39); that He will not "reject the descendants of Jacob" (Jer 32:26); that "their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . they with their children will live and come back (Zec 10:6-9); that His Spirit shall not depart "from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring" (Isa 59:21); that "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" (Mal 4:6); that His mercy continues to be "upon generation after generation toward those who fear him" (Luk 2:50)--because "the promise is for you and your children" (Acts 2:39)!

(2) The children of believers are addressed as part of the (visible) church, just as baptized adults are. Paul begins his letter to the Colossians, "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae" (v 2). Later he addresses "wives" (3:18), "husbands" (3:19), "children" (3:20), "fathers" (3:21), "slaves" (3:22), and "masters" (4:1). In the same way he addresses "the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph 1:1). In chapter five he addresses "wives" (5:22), "husbands" (5:25), "children" (6:1), "fathers" (6:4), "slaves" (6:5), and "masters" (6:9). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul addressed the children of believers as part of "the saints and faithful brethren" (Col 1:2).

Someone might respond, "But how can (unregenerate) little children be "saints"--"called ones"? To this I ask, "How unregenerate adults be saints?" In the same epistles addressed to the "church" of "saints," there are repeated calls for self-examination. "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves" (2Co 13:5).(26) In the epistles, church members collectively are addressed without stipulating, "Oh, and some of you are probably lost." Or, in more theologically precise language we might say visible church members are addressed. Visible saints are addressed.

Just as visible members are addressed in the epistles, Paul teaches that the child of even one believer is not "unclean," but "saintly"--"holy." In dealing with the problem of mixed marriages (1Co 7:12-16), he writes, "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy" (1Co 7:14). When this Greek term for "holy" (hagios) is used of people, its regular and consistent rendering is "saint."(27)

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His Church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances. Among these ordinances is baptism, which standing in similar place in the New Dispensation to circumcision in the Old, is like it to be given to children.”– Benjamin B. Warfield, The Polemics of Infant Baptism (in his Works, 9:408)

In the baptism debate, baptists have been virtually inoculated against the use of this verse (1Co 7:14). The usual vaccine is that it means a believer's child is legitimate, rather than illegitimate. The "legitimacy" position fails to be convincing, at least to me, for several reasons. Two unbelievers can have both a "legitimate" marriage and "legitimate" children. Paul's statement, however, is that "otherwise" (epei ara)--an emphatic contrast (i.e., if one of the parents was not a believer)--"your children would be unclean (akatharta), but now they are holy" (1Co 7:14).

It is even more unconvincing when baptists appeal to rabbinic, Jewish sources regarding the "marriage covenant" to prove that the children of believers do not occupy the place of covenant members (as in the Old Testament and Judaism).(28) Or, when it is argued that "Paul is here employing the concept of ritual holiness found in the Old Testament," though the children are not covenantally set apart.(29) These appeals are made as though the Jews saw Gentile children from a "legitimate" marriage as being "clean" or "holy" (!). It is extremely unlikely that this former Rabbi, Paul here teaches a "ritual holiness" of the Old Testament or Judaism, but that such a child is not covenantally set apart. On the contrary, the New Testament makes it clear that Jews considered Gentile households as unclean (akatharta), regardless of the legitimacy of the Gentile marriage. Peter had to be instructed both by a vision and by the demonstrable salvation of Cornelius' household that "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (Act 10:15). "God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean (akatharta)" (Act 10:28).

Looking at the entire subject of the status of children, if we stand in the sandals of the First Century Jewish (and proselyte) followers of Jesus, it is incredible (truly unbelievable) to think that a believer's little children would not to be considered part of the people of God. Imagine the shock of Crispus, the synagogue leader (Acts 18:8), who believes (on Friday, let's say) that his children are in covenant with God, part of the people of God, and members of the synagogue of God. Then, on the Sabbath after Paul preaches, he finds out that--in the fulfillment of the promised seed of the women, through the covenant promises, in the fullness of time, in the era of great David's greater Son, in the Messianic kingdom and the light to the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel--now his little children have no part in the people of God!

Or imagine the new proselyte family who have recently undergone the painful passage to covenant membership only to discover upon hearing of Messiah that in the new covenant his children are afforded less of a place than they were in the shadows of Judaism. From the original audience's mindset, this view of new covenant, Messianic-synagogue membership would be more than disappointing. It would be inconceivable. And more so when the First Century Palestinian religious practices are considered. Everyone acquainted with the Jewish synagogue would have been familiar with the practice of proselyte household baptism.(30) After a family had committed to be Jewish proselytes, the males of the household were circumcised and the final act which "cleansed" their Gentile uncleanness was a ritual washing, a baptism of the entire household, including infants.(31)

(3) The children of believers are included in the kingdom of God. One baptist defender states, "Therefore, based on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and its description of regeneration in the new covenant participants, and in light of Christ's definition of the entrance requirements to the kingdom (Joh 3:5, 6) and church (Mat 16:16-18), I cannot say that children of believers are 'in' the new covenant or church or kingdom or 'God's people' until they show, by outward confession, evidence of regeneration."(32) Would it not be a more reliable method to develop one's conclusions regarding the status of children fundamentally from passages which actually address the status of children? The above writer has built his case on inferences (though he denies that paedobaptists are to use inferences for their position). He is inferring that the children of believers are to be put out from texts which do not even address the status of children. He selects part of Jeremiah's prophecy--notice that the other eight passages in Jeremiah where children are included have been omitted, and only one line down, in verses 31:36-37, the "offspring" are emphatically included, twice. Jesus' dialogue with an adult Pharisee (in John 3) and the adult apostolic confession of Peter (Mat 16:16) are pressed into service. Please consider that the method used here will yield unwarranted conclusions, to say the least. For example, "If anyone will not work, neither let him eat" (2Th 3:10)--Are little children to work for their food, too?

Rather, let us discover what the text says about children in the places where the status of children is actually addressed! First consider the explicit inclusion of children in Christ's kingdom, made explicit by the King Himself.

And they were bringing even their babies (brephos) to Him so that He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such (toiouton) as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all."(33) (Luke 18:15-17)
The single most important grammatical detail is the "such" (toiouton)--Does it include the children or not? Is Jesus saying the kingdom belongs to those who have childlike attributes, or is He saying that it belongs to these children and others with these childlike attributes? Paul K. Jewett (baptistic), in one of the most scholarly and convincing defenses of the baptistic position, deals fairly with the "such" in this passage. He writes,
The Greek (toiouton) by no means implies the exclusion, but rather the inclusion, of the ones mentioned. When the Jews cried out against Paul (Acts 22:22), 'Away with such a one (toiouton)!' they could hardly have meant, Away with someone like this man Paul. Rather, they meant, Away with Paul and everyone of his kind! By the same rule, when Jesus bade little children to come to him, 'for such is the kingdom of heaven,' he most likely meant, 'The kingdom belongs to these children and all others who are like them in that they have a childlike faith.' The truth that the kingdom belongs to the childlike should not prejudice the affirmation that it also belongs to children."(34) It might be added that when Christ says, "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all" (Luk 18:17)--He is saying that children do, in fact, "receive the kingdom."
It was the Covenant Lord Himself who set a (literal, not a figurative) child before His disciples and said,
And whoever receives one such (toiouto) child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. ... See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Mat 18:2-10)
Is not Jesus in a position to know who is in His church and kingdom and who is protected by the holy angels? One and the same Covenant Lord put the infant seed of believers in His visible church in Abraham's day. They have not been put out--they have not been put out by God, that is.

The Internal and Legal Dimensions of the Covenant

Some of the confusion of who is "in" the covenant, church, and kingdom is alleviated when we properly define the covenant and distinguish between its internal and external or legal dimensions. A covenant proper is the treaty words or stipulations of God's relationship to His people--"the words of the covenant" (dabar berith) (Exo 3:28, Deu 29:1, Isa 59:21, Jer 11:3, 11:8). When one speaks of being "in" the covenant, a non-Biblical phrase is introduced. While Scripture speaks of entering "into the covenant" (Deu 29:12, 2Ki 23:3, 2Ch 15:12, Jer 34:10), the Bible (in the original or English translations) does not speak of a person or group being "in the covenant." The reason for this is that the covenant, technically speaking, is the treaty words. The point here is not to be super-scrupulous. There's nothing wrong with using "in the covenant" as shorthand to mean "under the stipulations of the covenant." Often however, a subtle shift takes place when one speaks of being "in the new covenant." It goes like this, the new covenant promises the regenerating work of the Spirit, so how can someone be "in the new covenant" and not be regenerate? This question presupposes a view of the covenant which limits the terms of the covenant to only one of its chief components, while ignoring the other stipulations.

It is not only those who are Reformed paedobaptists who believe that the new covenant involves stipulations beyond the promise of regeneration. Dr. Carl B. Hoch, Jr., a Baptist professor, in his interesting book, All Things New: The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology, argues that "it would appear reasonable to assume that the new covenant is also a suzerainty-vassal covenant [like the Mosaic covenant in structure and form]. One would expect the new covenant to have a preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, and cursings and blessings formulae like the old covenant."(35) The original codification of the covenant with Moses included such stipulations. But to discover all the information on the new covenant, one must gather it from an inductive study of the redemptive plan in both testaments. As Dr. Hoch says, "Unlike the old covenant, you cannot point to a passage in the New Testament and say, 'This is the new covenant in its entirety.' This requires a hypothetical reconstruction of the new covenant form along the lines of the reconstruction of the old covenant form from the Old Testament materials."(36)

What is the relationship between the church, covenant, and kingdom?

The New Testament indicates that the visible church, which is the covenant community, consists of both regenerate and unregenerate members. This is hardly controversial. But beyond this, many passages indicate that the new covenant has stipulations for judgment--"The Lord will judge his people" (Heb 10:30, Mat 16:19, 1Co 11:29-30, 34, 1Pe 4:17). Such stipulations for judgment are directed to visible covenant community members--who are yet unregenerate. Also, many passages teach that the kingdom (in its present administration) includes both regenerate and unregenerate individuals (Mat 8:12, 13:24-31, 41, 47-50, 21:43, 25:1-13, Luk 13:28, Rev 11:15). Jesus says this in rather plain language: in the judgment, "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place therhall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mat 13:41-42).

What can be said to our baptistic brethren who have a covenant community (the church) with both regenerate and unregenerate; but a covenant membership of only regenerate individuals (?)--a kingdom rule of Christ over wheat and tares, but wheat alone are addressed in the new covenant stipulations (?)--an ecclesiology (study of the church) which admits visible and invisible realities, but a (covenant) theology which admits only regenerate membership? Such a view is incoherent, as well as unable to account for all the Biblical information about the covenant, church, and kingdom.

Now if the new covenant prophecies include "the offspring"--and if their restatements and quotations in the New Testament also expressly say the promise is "for you and your children"--and if the apostolic writers address believers' children as part of the saints and church--and if Jesus own explicit and direct statements grammatically and exegetically include children in His kingdom--On what grounds may we deny them the entrance sign to the visible, covenant community of God's people?

Covenant Responsibilities: Family Worship

When the first Gentile households were given the sign of covenant membership, they, just like Abraham, were commanded to bring their children "up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4). An elder in the church, as well as the spiritually mature person, is one who "manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity" (1Ti 3:4). A ritual act, even though it be ordained of God, is of no use if the spiritual reality is not foundational to the sign. What is the spiritual reality behind the sign of entrance into the covenant? For Abraham, the Lord says, "For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him" (Gen 18:19). Yes, this is the Old Testament--but oh how practical it is this very day! We must heed that ancient command, "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deu 6:7). Do you command your children to keep the way of the Lord? Do you teach them diligently to love the Lord their God (Deu 6:4)? Without the reality of leading one's home to Christ, in Christ, and for Christ, the water of baptism is worse than useless, it is condemnatory.

“. . . Infant baptism does not relieve parents or guardians, as the case may be, of that solemn responsibility to instruct, warn, exhort, direct and protect the infant members of the Christian church committed to their care. . . .The encouragement derived from a divine promise must never be divorced from the discharge of the obligations involved. It is only in the atmosphere of obligation discharged, in a word, in the atmosphere of obedience to divine commandments, that faith in the divine promise can live and grow. Faith divorced from obedience is mockery and presumption.”–John Murray, Why We Baptize Infants (in The Presbyterian Guardian, Vol. 5 1938).

 The Scripture declares that, "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee" (Psa 22:27). Joshua nobly said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (24:15). A baptized child should be a child being brought up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, whose parents vow, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Every person that grows up in a Christian home should be taught God's Word from their earliest times. Just like Timothy, each Christian child should be exhorted to "continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood (brephos) you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2Ti 3:14-15).

I surely pray that regarding family worship, baptists, as well as those who baptize their children, will take this practice to heart and home. However, I must point out the radical inconsistency of teaching a noncovenant member, nonchurch member, nonkingdom member, nonChristian, to praise, confess, follow, and pray to Christ as their Savior! In other words, in reality the children of sincere believers, seeking to obey Ephesians 6:4, are treated and required to act as visible members of the church. It makes perfect sense to educate them as Christians, to think the thoughts of God, to confess the holy faith, to walk with Christ all the days of their life--but this only makes sense if they are counted as part of God's people. It is contrary to nature and Scripture for a believer to treat one's little children as though they are excluded from Christ as unbelieving pagans. The sign which demonstrates that they are part of God's visible people is baptism.

Certainly, one could seek to carry out family worship in a way consistent with the baptist view of the children of believers, except that it would not be family worship, it would be family evangelism, exclusively so. On the other hand, the paedobaptist has family worship which is inclusive of evangelism in the deepest sense, it is discipleship from daylight til dawn. Just as worship in the congregation has an evangelistic component, calling all to self-examination (those within and without of the visible church). Family worship, just as congregational worship, calls the "worshipers" to be sure one has the reality behind the water.

"The close and endearing connection between parents and children affords a strong argument in favour of the church-membership of the infant seed of believers. The voice of nature is lifted up, and pleads most powerfully in behalf of our cause. The thought of severing parents from their offspring, in regard to the most interesting relations in which it has pleased God in his adorable providence to place them, is equally repugnant to Christian feeling, and to natural law. Can it be, my friends, that when the stem is in the church, the branch is out of it? Can it be that when the parent is within the visible kingdom of the Redeemer, his offspring, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, have no connection with it?" — Samuel Miller, Infant Baptism: Discourse 1 (Presbyterian Board of Publication, from a sermon in 1834])

The Objective and Subjective Dimensions of Baptism

Of course by the children's inclusion into the visible church one should not presume that they are regenerate; and certainly by baptism, regeneration is not to be presumed. (Again) This is true with adults, no less than with children. What baptist would say that because someone was baptized in their church, that they are (somehow by that) regenerated? But many baptists would quickly say or insinuate that the Reformed paedobaptists believe that infant baptism saves the infant (!).

The problem here is that of the relationship of baptism to the life of a Christian. The baptist view sees the significance of baptism as primarily a testimony of one's (past) personal experience of salvation. So the value of an infant's baptism is completely dismissed--since they weren't saved then, and even if they were, it was not a testimony of their experience in salvation. They didn't "decide to follow the Lord in believers' baptism" and stand in the water and tell those enthusiastically on-looking that "well I used to be...but now I'm saved." Of what value could the baptism of a helpless, unreasoning, decision-less, infant be--an infant in need of grace, but utterly unable to even ask for it or make the smallest contribution to salvation? --Perhaps the reader can see now, infant baptism actually affords a very accurate picture of that salvation which is by grace alone. According to the Reformed faith, faith is a response to the prior grace of God, is it not?

On the other hand, the paedobaptist sees baptism in a much more objective relationship to the Christian life. For the professing convert, he certainly must profess; but that's only the beginning. Such a person is to vow to bring all their life in conformity with whom they have vocally and visibly identified, the Triune God. Baptism testifies of that. Baptism testifies of what God has done in His gracious covenant to bring salvation. And to whom is this salvation brought? As a parent, he is to "Believe in the Lord Jesus," trusting God for the blessed result, "and you shall be saved, you and your household" (Act 16:31, 10:14).

In the case of an infant who is baptized and then raised in God-consciousness, with vibrant family discipleship, vital community fellowship, and vigorous public worship--baptism is the simple symbol of that life to be manifested in heart, home, and church. It is to be recalled and invoked by father, mother, brothers, sisters, and pastors, "child you are 'engaged to be the Lords.'"(37) Just as the preachers of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) called for those who were circumcised in flesh to be circumcised of heart; so it is that we are to call those baptized (whether our children or ourselves or others) to live out the realities behind the cleansing emblem.

This means self-examination (2Co 13:5, 1Pe 4:17). It is not those who have the sign of the kingdom that inherit it (regardless of when they received it); it is those who have the King that inherit it! (1Co 6:9-11, Gal 5:21). Paul, in systematically explaining the gospel, called Christians to live out the reality behind their baptisms (Rom 6:3-7). Paul says, "knowing this [our union with Christ's work, which is sacramentalized in baptism] . . . we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Rom 6:6-7).

What is sacramentalized in baptism is that precious spiritual union accomplished through our Savior's unique baptism (Mat 10:38-39). He drank of the cup of the wrath of God for us and was united and completely identified with our sin: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2Co 5:21). Baptism is a testimony, not so much of the our salvation experience, though we pray this be increasingly so--rather it is a testimony of our Savior's experience. He became vile so that we could be purified. He was contaminated so that we could be washed. He shed drops of blood so that we might feel water. He was cut so that we might only be cleansed. He became sin so that we could be saints. He said "My God, My God why hast thou forsaken Me" so that we might hear, "I will be God to you and your descendants after you."

Objections to Household/Infant Baptism

There are, I am sure, objections in the minds of many. Given the brevity of this study, let me examine what I take to be the central objection.(38) The basic structure of the baptist polemic against paedobaptism is that since we have (1) an explicit basis for "believers' baptism" and (2) since there is no explicit warrant (an example or command) for "infant baptism," and since (3) the new covenant is made with exclusively regenerate individuals (and believers' little children cannot be assumed to be regenerate)--Therefore, the baptistic conclusion is: the children of believers are not to receive the sign of the new covenant until they confess their faith (and thus give evidence of their new covenant membership). I believe that this is the strongest form of the baptist argument. It involves the explicit warrant for "believers' baptism" and it includes the theological basis, the nature of the new covenant.

It is important to observe the structure of the baptistic argument. The baptist assumes (1) that the cases for adult converts to believe and be baptized are sufficient to deal with the case of the children of believers. (2) Though the baptist lacks explicit warrant to put the infants of believers out of the covenant (there is no command or example which demands their exclusion), (3) their exclusion is inferred from what they take to be the nature of the new covenant.

The succinct answer to this central line of objection is (1) to recognize that a million cases of adult converts professing their faith prior to baptism proves nothing with regard to the infants of believers (the question at hand). Paedobaptists heartily concur with the practice of adult profession prior to baptism as is evident in every Reformed creed.(39) Most baptist polemics just hammer away at the examples of adults, as though this settles the case--ironically, the childless eunuch becomes the paradigm for settling the question of children. If every case of baptism was individualistic and of one who professed and was then baptized, such a point might be more forceful for the baptist contention. But quite the contrary, virtually every person who could have conceivably had a household, had it baptized. (2) Explicit warrant on the baptism of believers' children is lacking in both directions. There is no case of an "infant baptism" and neither is there a case of the "believers' baptism" of a Christian's child. (3) The paedobaptist, not the antipaedobaptist, possesses explicit warrant for the inclusion of children in the new covenant (Deu 30:6, Jer 31:36-37), church (Eph 1:1/6:1-4, Col 1:2/3:20, 1Co 7:14), and kingdom (Mat 19:14, Mar 10:14, Luk 18:16). Moreover, we can argue from truly necessary inferences(40)--drawing upon both the continuity of the covenant promise (God to your children after you) and covenant people, as well as the examples of baptism (Cornelius' household, Lydia's household, the Jailer's household, Crispus' household, and Stephanus' household). Let us consider further, however, the two components of this argument.

(1) The explicit warrant objection. "I am not going to believe it until I read in the Bible that an infant was baptized." I actually heard a pastor say this once. Of course, it has already been admitted that there is no statement of "infant baptism" in just those terms. I believe that the Bible is perfectly clear that the children of believers are included in the new covenant promises, in the church, and in the kingdom of Christ. This is taught in the passages which actually address and refer to children.(41) Again, it may be true that there is no express statement about "infant baptism," but this objection cannot be raised about "household baptism." When the familiar response comes, that every individual in those households must have professed faith (contrary to a precise grammatical analysis of Act 16:34 & 18:8), the real trouble is why the term "household" (oikos) shows up in the baptism examples at all!(42) If baptism is only for individual believers, why would Luke and Paul present a pattern which could so easily mislead readers to think that baptism was for families, as other signs of covenant had been? Remember, the original audience was Jews, proselytes, and God-fearing Gentiles whose ideas about households, covenants, signs, and family unity come from the Old Testament and Judaism. What teaching in the New Testament would correct their "faulty" (?) belief that baptism would be for households, as in all the previous administrations of covenant signs and pledges (sacrifices, meals, circumcision, and Passover)? Surely, the examples of household baptism would not correct them!

It is true that there is no explicit statement about infant baptism, but there is even less about infant exclusion. And if the overwhelming and prevailing belief system of the original audience expected the inclusion of their children, the burden of proof rests with those who deny that believer's children are to be included.

For those who need to read something about "infants," please observe that very little is said about "infants" per se in the New Testament. The Authorized Version only records one New Testament reference to "infants" and it teaches that they are included in the kingdom of God. "And they brought unto him also infants (brephos), that he would touch them . . . for of such is the kingdom of God" (Luk 18:15-16). The NASV includes only two New Testament references to "infants." One regards the "infants" of the Jews who were killed under Pharaoh (Acts 7:19). The other is supportive of the place of little children in Christ's kingdom. Jesus quoted Psalm 8:3 in reference to the "children who were crying out in the temple and saying, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' . . . 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou hast prepared praise for thyself.'" So to require the Bible to say "infant baptism" not only overlooks the way the Bible uses its own terms, but also the foundational themes of the inclusion of believers' children in the covenant, church, and kingdom.

It seems most persuasive to baptists, almost without any other consideration, that since the Scriptures contain no explicit statements about "infant baptism," that such a practice is, to use T.E. Watson's words, "an abomination of untold enormity."(43) However, the lack of explicit statements alone should not be persuasive, for at least two compelling reasons: (a) other doctrines are embraced and practiced (by baptists and others) without explicit commands or examples. And (b) there are many practices explicit in the Bible which are not embraced by either baptists or other evangelicals.

(a) For example, one could list practices permitted in many evangelical contexts without an explicit New Testament command or example:the baptism of believing children; the partaking of communion by women; the observance of Sunday as a day of rest; the recognition of Christmas and Easter as religious holidays; the use of musical instruments in New Testament worship; the church (corporation) owning property. (b) On the other hand, there are many examples of practices which have an explicit New Testament command or example, but are not practiced in many evangelical congregations: the washing of feet, the baptism of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands; the practice of charismatic/miraculous gifts to confirm the gift of the Holy Spirit; the immediate baptism of converts (even in the middle of the night); the miraculous use of physical objects for healing (the handkerchief); speaking in tongues/other miraculous gifts; the use of wine (containing alcohol) in communion (1Co 11:21); greeting each other with a kiss. Now it is not my purpose to approve or disapprove of the continuing practice of any of these, but only to point out that explicit example or command is not enough to settle doctrinal belief or church practice.

In this case--when deciding between covenantal infant baptism or baptizing the children of believers only after they grow up and profess their faith--both baptists and paedobaptists should admit that there is no explicit Biblical material on this subject in either direction. From the baptist point of view, we do not have an explicit case of the child of a believer growing up, professing faith, and being baptized. This is a point that is not appreciated or even acknowledged from the baptist side. On the other hand, from the infant baptism point of view (as it has already been acknowledged), we do not have an example of a Christian family who has a child born into the home which is then baptized as an infant. How should we then proceed to resolve the dispute with our baptistic brethren?

The baptist proceeds on the assumption that the child of a believer is to be subject to the same rule as an adult convert from paganism. So they will point to the Biblical examples and commands directed to new convert adults. On the other hand, the covenantal infant baptism position maintains that the children of believers are to come under the household rule, like in the previous administrations of the covenant (i.e., circumcision).

It is crucial to realize that when the baptist settles the case by appealing to the examples of adult converts, by doing so, they are denying that the children of believers in the Old Testament and the children of believers in the New Testament occupy the same place. They are denying that the children of believers are covenantally set apart in the visible people of God. They are denying that the responsibilities of Christian parents to "teach them diligently" (Deu 6:4) and "to keep the way of the LORD" (Gen 18:19) are their covenantal responsibilities.

It is undisputed that in the Old Testament these duties were part of the covenant. These saints were to keep the covenant, in light of the promise that "the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant" (Psa 103:17-18, Exo 19:5). Keeping covenant is simply a single term for the relationship of faith and works that the Bible presents in both testaments. Faith is the horse and works are the cart. In the Old Testament, Abraham was justified by faith and that justification was demonstrated by obedience (Jam 2:22-24). When Abraham "believed God" (Rom 4:2), he believed God's covenant promise (Gen 15:5). When the Israelites in the wilderness "broke the covenant" they did so because they did not believe--"You neither believed Him nor listened to His voice" (Deu 9:23).

Please hear me clearly, I am not saying here that baptists forsake these responsibilities. Rather, if they are self-conscious and consistent with their espoused belief, they must realize that their rationale and purpose is no longer the same as their Old Testament counterparts. One baptist writer makes the contrast quite practical. "Israelite children therefore were educated for their lives as God's covenant people." However, he writes regarding the children of Christians, "God's people are in all the world and their children need to be educated to live in the world . . . If children are to be educated to live in this world they will have to be educated as those around them are." And who will their educators be? "Nothing is clearer than that the entire education of Old Testament children was entrusted to their parents." However, for Christians he writes, "Education for life in the world means education with and by the world."(44) This is a very consistent working out of baptistic principles. However, I pray, sincerely, that my baptistic brethren might be inconsistent, here.

I would submit, however, that Deuteronomy 6:4-7 and Ephesians 6:1-4 are parallel passages. The New Testament does not treat the children of believers as though they are in a different relationship with God or their parents than they were in the Old Testament. Parents have the same duties to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4, Deu 6:7). We certainly have more light in that task, more knowledge of the gospel. But our children must keep the same covenant law, "Honor your father and mother," just the same (Eph 6:2; Exo 20:12, Deu 5:16). And obedience brings the same blessing since it is "the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth" (Eph 6:2-3, Exo 20:12, Deu 5:16). (Please observe that "the land" is now much larger, "the world" Rom 4:13.) Christian parents must still say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Jos 24:15). Reviewing what the New Testament says about believers' children, I cannot see any validity to the conclusion that believers' children occupy a different standing in the two testaments. God still "keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments" (OT: Deu 7:9) because "His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him" (NT: Luk 1:50). There is no difference in the OT or NT language about the children of believers. In fact, just to be literalistic about it, we still have at least 36,700 years of the covenant inclusion of children to go!(45)

The Place of Believers' Children is the Same in Both Testaments

Old Testament

New Testament

Duties of Parents

"Command his children to keep the way of the LORD" (Gen 18:19)

"Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4)

Duties of Children

"Honor your father and mother" (Exo 20:12) 

"Obey your parents" (Eph 6:2)


"Live long in the land" (Exo 20:12)

"Live long on the earth" (Eph 6:3)

Children Must Obey the Word 

"Your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes " (Deu 6:2)

"Continue in the things [Scripture] you have learned" from infancy (2Ti 3:14-15)

Household Leadership

"As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Jos 24:15)

The jailer "rejoiced greatly, with all his household" (Act 16:34, ASV)

Promise of the Spirit

"I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring" (Isa 44:3)

"For the promise [of the Spirit] is to you and your children" (Act 2:39)


"To a thousandth generation" with those who love Him and keep His commandments" (Deu 7:9) 

"His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him" (Luk 1:50) 


"All the men of [Abraham's] household...were circumcised" (Gen 17:27)

The jailer"was baptized, he and all his household" (16:33) (Cornelius', Lydia's, Crispus', Stephanus' households, too)

(2) The second objection which must be considered is the new covenant objection. This objection has to do with insisting that the nature and recipients of the covenant have changed such that now, every member of the new covenant is regenerate. This would mean that until the children of believers demonstrate their regeneration, they should not be baptized. The focus of this objection is Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant (31:31-34), cited earlier.(46) A critic of covenantal infant baptism says it this way, ". . . the true contrast between the Old and the New Covenants is that now under the New Covenant, all who are covenant members experience these peculiar blessings [i.e., law written on the heart, know God, forgiveness, etc.] . . . the new covenant is made only with the elect, with those who have experienced these blessings" [emphases his].(47)

While this objection seems persuasive, several facts of Biblical teaching militate against it. (a) The prophecies of the new covenant themselves explicitly and repeatedly include promises of the inclusion of the children of believers. The language of their inclusion is precisely the same as before.

"Older Covenant" Language

New Covenant Language

"To be God to you and to your descendants after you" Gen 17:7

"[By gospel faith] the promise may be certain to all the descendants [Jews & Gentiles]" Rom 4:16

"I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly" Gen 17:2

"[When they return] I will multiply the descendants of David My servant" Jeremiah 33:22-26

"I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands" Gen 26:3

"I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants" (Isa 44:3) & "For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was ... through the righteousness of faith" Rom 4:13

"That it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time" Deu 4:40

"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them..." Jeremiah 32:39-40

"Your descendants would have been [under Mosaic covenant] like the sand, and your offspring like its grains; Their name would never be cut off or destroyed from My presence" Isa 48:19 

"But this is the covenant which I will make . . .If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. . . If this fixed order departs . . . then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel" Jeremiah 31:36-37

In fact, almost every statement of these type of prophecies repeats the "to you and your seed" principle. (Please refer to the several pages of references above which abundantly demonstrate this.) Because of this, it seems more than a little implausible that the original audience of these prophecies, or their New Testament counterparts, could have understood from promises including their children, that their children actually were excluded.

It is important to see that the new covenant objection rests on the inference of the exclusion of children from the covenant because of the alleged nature of the covenant. What could overturn such an inference, if not dozens of verses which explicitly include the children of those to whom the promise comes? It is not only implausible, but illogical that the first century audience of Peter's Pentecost address would have reasoned in this way: (1) "The promise is for you and your children" (Act 2:39); (2) the promise is of the foretold pouring out of the Spirit "on your offspring" (Isa 44:3); though they are explicitly mentioned in the promise, I should infer that my children are excluded from this promise. (?) This reasoning is both fallacious and contrary to the explicit teaching on whom the new covenant promises include.

(b) The future of the covenant likewise indicates that the children of believers are considered part of the covenant. Paul identifies ethnic Israel's re-grafting into the covenant in this way: "This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (Rom 11:27). This Old Testament quotation is from Isaiah 59:21. It says,

"And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the LORD: "My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring, "says the LORD," from now and forever."
Whenever and however the fulfillment of this passage comes, surely these Jews will not think that their children are excluded from the new covenant!

(c)The apostolic teaching about the historical unfolding of the covenant expressly indicates that those in covenant with God can be "broken off." Surely regenerate people (if all in the new covenant are regenerate) cannot be "broken off." Paul teaches that in God's covenantal dealings "some of the branches were broken off, and you [Gentiles], being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partakers with them of the rich root of the olive tree . . . Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you" (Rom 11:15-21).

(d) If every individual under the stipulations of the new covenant is regenerate, we should not expect to find a passage which says that a person set apart in that covenant relationship is apostate. Yet, this is exactly what we have in Scripture--

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." and again, "The Lord will judge His people." (Heb 10:28-30)
Only ten verses before, the writer cites the new covenant passage (Jer 31:33f). In fact, the entire book of Hebrews echoes this theme. Some individuals who have been "sanctified" [hagiazo, set apart or "consecrated"] in "His people" [the visible people of God] may commit apostasy. Of course, these individuals were not regenerate. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term hagiazo often referred to the consecration of the visible people of God (Exo 19:10, 14, in the LXX; cf. Heb 9:13-20). The imagery of Hebrews 10:29 is drawn directly from this ceremonial typology. Those who have been consecrated by the blood of the covenant in the visible church (Heb 9:19-20) may "have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away"(Heb 6:4-6). They did not "lose their salvation"--but they did become covenant breakers. To do this they must have been visible covenant members. Those who "shrink back to destruction" (Heb 10:39), who "come short of the grace of God" (12:15), who are "like Esau" (12:16-17), who "neglect so great a salvation" (2:3), who "have tasted of the heavenly gift" "and then have fallen away" (6:4-6), who "harden [their] hearts" and "fall through following the same example of disobedience" (4:7, 11), and who "throw away [their] confidence" (10:35)--are new covenant breakers.

Jesus says it in this way with the vine/branch covenant metaphor, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away. . . If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (Joh 15:2, 6). Those in view here are unregenerate covenant members, who turn out to be covenant breakers.

(e) Finally, asserting that only regenerate people are "in the new covenant" really amounts to saying that the older covenant administrations were with the visible people of God, but the new covenant is only with the invisible people of God. It is true that the fulfillment of the new covenant is seen only in regenerate people who walk by faith (something also true in the Old Testament by the way(48)). However, it does not follow that the new covenant administration is to only the invisible people of God (only the regenerate). Indeed, how could signs and seals and laws and offices and discipline, etc. be only given to the elect? In fact, when Jesus inaugurated the covenant with these words, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins"--Judas, called a disciple, drank of that cup and became the arch covenant breaker (Mat 26:27b-28). It follows necessarily, does it not, that those who partake of such visible signs of the new covenant are visible members of the new covenant?

A Few More Questions

Appendix A: A Historical Fiction Letter


Julius, my fellow God-seeker,

Grace and peace to you. I have written to you briefly to tell you of my experience over the last two years since you have moved to Rome as part of Caesar's household. Dear friend, as you know, it started when I looked at the stars one night. Do not the heavens declare the glory of a creator God who made the heavens and the earth? The philosophers of Greece and Rome today grope for a unifying Logos amidst all the flux. But we know that there is one God, who is Elohim, Adonai, Yahweh.

After you departed, I struggled for several months about whether to become a Jew. I saw my now dear friend Crispus, the chief elder, proselytize several God-fearing families, like Gaius' family. I knew them before they were proselytes. They are now synagogue members. For enduring the solemn, but painful act of circumcision and the public ritual washing, they are now permitted to enter the blessed fellowship of the synagogue on the Sabbath to hear the Law and the Prophets.

Maybe it was fear of ridicule from my Roman friends that kept me from being circumcised and becoming a Jew. Or maybe it was the very thought of the act itself. But, for a few years I have hesitated. Deep in my soul I believed that the God who made heaven and earth and all peoples, nations, tribes, and civilizations would surely have not designed that salvation be in and to one nation--and a peculiar people at that.

Then one day a former Pharisee came into Corinth preaching Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. As this apostle of Jesus spoke, I knew that he was telling of the promised Christ, the one to be anointed of the Father. As I had studied the Scriptures, I began to see that this was how God was purposing to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham and his seed, the seed of the first woman. This Messiah would be more than a ruler and a king. He would somehow be a suffering Servant. This former Pharisee, Paul, explained all of this and so much more to many God-fearers and to the Jews and proselytes in the synagogue. The elders of the synagogue, however, rejected Messiah Jesus. So after pleading for his kinsmen, Paul, the defender of the Way, shook the dust of his feet and began proclaiming the good news to the Gentiles, even my own household.

Paul was asked to stay with our old friend Titius Justus, the devout God-fearer, still a Gentile even--And this Pharisee did! That's because "what God has cleansed, let no man call unclean." It's amazing how God worked through this. With Justus' house being next to the synagogue, over a few months, Crispus, the synagogue leader reasoned with Paul. Now he believes! For a year and a half now many Jews and Gentiles have became followers of Messiah Jesus.

Paul taught us that the purposes of the temple, the sacrifices, the priests, and all the clean and unclean laws were temporary. They were shadows of the good things to come. They illustrated the truths of the gospel of Messiah. Everything that we objected to about becoming a Jew had a telos, a consummated purpose, which was fulfilled in the coming of Messiah. He told us of the counsel at Jerusalem with James and Peter and how the whole church now understood that a Gentile does not have to follow these ceremonial laws to become a follower of Jesus.

Before I knew Messiah, I believed in the Scriptures and the God of the Jews with all my heart. But I was hesitant to adopt all the customs of the Jews and have my whole household circumcised. I could see that their ceremonies were of God, but somehow they seemed different than the law that is written on our hearts: to love God and to love neighbor. I also challenged Crispus many times that the customs of the strictest sect of Jews, the Pharisees, were not of the Scriptures, but of their own making. Paul has shown us that they have substituted the laws of men for that of the only true God. Judaism is not necessarily the faith of father Abraham. Not all Israel are truly Israel. I could tell you so much more of this dear Julius.

We have learned that we all stand as unclean in Adam, but we can be washed by the last Adam, Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. By the gospel of Messiah we can know true forgiveness of sins and acceptance with both God and men. I had seen Crispus baptize proselyte families declaring, "You were once unclean, but now you are clean." Now Crispus, the baptizer, has been baptized with his family by Paul the messenger of Jesus. When Crispus was washed, I knew that Jesus was not just a Messiah for the Jews. As the Scripture says, He came to baptize many nations. Before, I was considered unclean, though devout in fearing God. My children were considered unclean, unconsecrated, and excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. But now, just like Crispus' children, my children are part of God's covenant and have the sign of Messiah. He is not only the King of the Jews, but King of every people.

We have become heirs according to the promises made to Abraham. Paul has taught us that whoever believes in Christ, from any nation, is a child of Abraham. Now I stand like Abraham, I was washed with water which was a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith which I had while unbaptized--because I had believed and had known a washing of my heart a long time before I went to the river. I have known, not the circumcision of the Pharisees, but the circumcision of Christ. It was this to which Moses and all the Prophets testified. My children, though Gentiles, are like Isaac who received from birth the gracious symbol. They have been washed and they will know all their lives that they have been set apart for Messiah and in the name of the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not unclean, now they are holy, just as the children of circumcision have been. In the same way that the devout Jews had been such an example of good deeds to family and of gentle care for children, now I must command my children after me to keep the way of Messiah Jesus. I read the Scriptures just as Crispus and know that the mercy of the Lord is to a thousand generations of those who fear Him. I can trust the promise of Jehovah that my youngest, named for you, will one day proclaim in the assembly his own heart washing.

Beloved Julius, seek out those in Rome who speak of Messiah. Now the blessing of God the Father, the Spirit, and the love of Messiah Jesus be upon you and your household.

Your Fellow God-seeker--no, God-Finder!


Appendix B: A Brief Exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34

Perhaps the reader is persuaded that there are serious Biblical difficulties with believing that the new covenant is only made with regenerate individuals, rather than with the visible Church collective, still--What does Jeremiah's (31:31-37) prophecy mean?

31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,

In the historical context, Jeremiah consoles Israel that after the judgment of Babylon, his people will be brought back to the land (30:3) and experience blessings (31:23). The people are to be encouraged in the unfailing promise, that though they have played the harlot (3:1), the Covenant Lord still promises that the "offspring of Israel" will not be utterly cast off (31:36-37): "'At that time,' declares the LORD, 'I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.'" (31:1). God will make, literally "cut" (karath), a new covenant. Perhaps this vivid word-picture prefigures the eternal blood of the covenant (Heb 13:20). Christ institutes the Lord's Supper, referring to this covenant in the words of the LXX, kainos diatheke ("New covenant"): "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luk 22:20, 1Co 11:25).

Jeremiah uses the term "covenant" (berith) to refer to "the words of this covenant" (11:2) and the judgments of treaty violation, "I brought on them all the words of this covenant" (11:8, 34:18). The apostolic instruction on the new covenant confirms that judgments are associated with it: "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly" (1Co 11:29; cf. Heb 10:29-30). As befitting the context, however, in chapter 31, Jeremiah focuses on the consolational aspects, and thus only on the blessing stipulations.

32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, "declares the LORD.

The "new covenant" will be different ("not like") than the covenant administration of the wilderness generation who broke the covenant. It is evident here that Jeremiah uses prophetic language which is general and hyperbolic, since Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb, etc. did not break the covenant. The contrast is clear, however, generally the wilderness generation broke the covenant. And very literally, the covenant words were broken on the tablets of stone (Exo 32:19). The contrast is full of Biblical imagery; the words of this covenant will be written on the heart. The law will not be on stones which Moses can break, it will be on the hearts of the people, which God can turn from stone to flesh (Eze 11:19, 36:26). There is no warrant to absolutize this picture, since the law is written on the heart and in the heart before the new covenant (Deu 30:14, Rom 2:14-15) and it is propositionally written as "Law" after the new covenant (Rom 13:9). The language of the prophet simply implies a spirituality in the essence of this promise, which is consonant with the manifest role of the Holy Spirit in the Church (post-Pentecost). This manifestation of the Holy Spirit chiefly testifies of Christ. Jesus said, "the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me (Joh 15:26). Moreover, this seems to be how the apostle Paul understood the implications of the new covenant (2Co 3:2-18): "But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2Co 3:15-16).

Jeremiah has many strong allusions or even citations of Deuteronomy, which emphasize heart (leb and lebab) renewal. Moses even said the word of the law is "in your mouth and in your heart" (Deu 30:14; e.g., 30:1, 2, 6, 10, 14, 17, 32:46).

And the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. (Deu 30:5-6)
Parallel to this, Jeremiah calls Israel to "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart" (4:4). Jeremiah warns of judgment to those "who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised" (9:25). In fact, judgment is imminent because, "all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart" (9:26). This strain of Old Testament thought is evident throughout the apostolic defense of Gentiles having the reality which is signified by circumcision (Acts 15:6, Col 2:11, Rom 2:29, Phi 3:2). Those Judaizers who rejected Jesus were like those spoken of in Jeremiah. The circumision of heart motif is a pervasive refrain in Jeremiah and Deuteronomy, the two heralds of both judgment on covenant breakers and the consolation of the new covenant's arrival.

33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Jeremiah's content of the promise is the same. God condescends to be a God to His people. "I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (31:33). "My people" is defined in the context as all "the families of Israel"--"they shall be My people" (31:1); "Thy people, the remnant of Israel . . . the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; a great company, they shall return here (31:7-8); "My people shall be satisfied with My goodness" . . ."Rachel" is comforted because "your children shall return to their own territory" (31:14-17). Since "My people" (la am) are explicitly inclusive of the children in context (31:1, 7-8, 14-17) and the "offspring of Israel" (31:36 & 57), there is no reason to believe the central covenant promise has been altered to exclude them. Hence, the central covenant promise ( "I will be their God, and they shall be My people," 31:33) is the very same as was given to Abraham and Moses, to be "God to you and your descendants" (Gen 17:7, Exo 29:45, Deu 7:9, Deu 29:13, 30:6, 1Ch 16:15, Psa 103:17, 105:8).

34 "And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

In the days preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, those who handled the law "did not know Me" (2:7-8). But now, "they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them." This phrase "least to the greatest" is found two other times in Jeremiah. In 6:13, "For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely." And in 8:8-10, in a precise parallel, he accuses "the lying pen of the scribes" and "wise men" who "have rejected the word of the LORD" "because from the least even to the greatest everyone is greedy for gain; from the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit." It would appear, then, that the use of this phrase has special reference to those who "teach" and it seems to signify the breadth and depth of religious leadership, "prophet even to the priest." This section parallels the earlier promise, that after returning to the land and to the Lord,

"Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. 16 And it shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the LORD, "they shall say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' And it shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again. (3:15-16).
Therefore, the knowledge of the Lord will be present in the leadership and the people and there is a strong implication that the Mosaic forms of mediation (the ark in the holy of holies) will be superseded. What a powerful word, foretelling the new covenant era! Of the most important symbol of the Mosaic forms, the ark of the covenant, it is said "nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again" (3:16). They shall not even speak of it: "they shall say no more, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD'" (3:16).

Perhaps there is also allusion to the blessings of the universal knowledge of God, "they shall all know Me" (31:34), similar to the prophetic refrain, "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD" (Isa 11:9, Hab 2:14, 2Co 4:6).

Such an interpretation (focused on the OT forms of mediation being removed in the era of the universal knowledge of God) seems to be confirmed by what follows, "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (31:34). From the Old Testament perspective this statement must have been striking. Every sacrifice and the spilling of blood was an occasion to remember sin. Now, sin will not be remembered. This implies that the mediation of repetitious animal sacrifices which reminded of the sin and the need for forgiveness will be somehow superceded. From our Anno Domini ("year of our Lord") perspective, we understand very well how those forms of mediation are removed and how God is able to not be reminded of sin by perpetual sacrifices. We look back through the corridor of time and see the cross of our Covenant Lord, the mediator of the new covenant and to His sprinkled blood.

The New Covenant Usage in Hebrews

This is precisely what the infallible interpreter teaches about this passage. In Hebrews 8:6-12, the writer cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 to prove that a better covenant administration was promised than the Mosaic, with its temporary ministry of animal sacrifices and Levitical priesthood (8:1-13). The writer explains that since "He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete" (8:13). This point is very relevant to his audience of Jewish Christians who are being tempted to return to the shadows.

In Hebrews 10:16-17, the writer cites Jeremiah 31:33-34 again and even provides his very intention in quoting this prophecy, because "the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. . ."(v 15). That is, the preceding argument in Hebrews is confirmed by Jeremiah. Namely, Jeremiah teaches that the "first order" of shadow-like sacrifices, which were intended as temporary, have been replaced by the second (final) order of the "once for all sacrifice" (v 10). It is a contrast of the singular, unrepeatable, sufficient sacrifice of Jesus with the "shadow of the good things to come" (10:1) in the Old Testament repeatable sacrifices. In the shadow sacrifices, "there is a reminder of sins year by year" (10:3) but now "their sins" will not require an annual day of atonement, rather, "their lawless deeds I will remember no more" --quoting Jeremiah's prophecy (Heb 10:17). Whereas the Old Testament sacrifices were a mediated means of receiving forgiveness which required repetition--now the covenant people of God have direct and unmitigated access to forgiveness. The one sacrifice accomplished the job: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (v 14). Hence, to return to the shadows and the things imposed "until a time of reformation" (9:11) is to forsake the final sacrifice and no longer have "a sacrifice for sins" remaining (10:26). It is to trample under foot, not the servant of the house (Moses) and the sprinkled shadow-blood of bulls and goats (9:13), but the very Son of God and His precious, once-for-all-shed blood which both sanctifies eternally (10:10) and consecrates the visible people of God (10:29-30).

In light of the above, to absolutize the prophetic words like, "they shall all (kol) know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" is untenable. (In the first place this overlooks Jeremiah's own use of the phrase "least to greatest.") The "New Covenant Objection" really arises from the exegetical error of absolutizing such prophetic language, coupled with an inadequate Biblical theology of covenants. Neither the writer of Hebrews, nor any other New Testament writer interprets Jeremiah to mean that only regenerate individuals are covenanted with. Prophetic language often is hyperbolic and care must be taken when it is read in a quantitatively literal fashion. For example, God called "all the families of the kingdoms of the north...and they will come, and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah" (Jer 1:15). Read in a quantitatively absolute fashion, this would have been a physical impossibility.(53) As has been adequately demonstrated, this was not Hebrews' purpose in the text cited and is inconsistent with the entire theme and refrain of the book.

Moreover, if the new covenant is so radically different than older administrations of the covenant, why does the New Testament,(54) and especially Hebrews, draw so many strict parallelisms of the Old Testament people and new covenant people of God?--Especially in its calls for perseverance--allegedly, the very area of difference.(55)

Consider these striking parallels, which presuppose a parallel covenant relationship:

Excursis on Who is Included in the "Remnant"

Jeremiah is permeated with language regarding "the remnant" (sharith). The remnant refers to the remainder of the people. The term "remnant" (sharith) is sometimes spoken of in neutral and descriptive terms, stating the historical information about "all the remnant of the people" (Jer 41:10, 16). In other passages, the remnant is spoken of in prophetically positive terms (23:3-6, 31:7-8). And in other cases, the remnant designation is spoken of in terms of judgment (11:23, 24:8). In a full Biblical theology, it seems that it is the prophetic (new covenant) "remnant" who receive the fulness of the promises. For example,

Then I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture; and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 "I shall also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD. 5 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.'" (Jer 23:3-6)
Of the 66 occurances of the Hebrew term for "remnant" (sharith), more than one-third are in Jeremiah. Many others are in similar new covenant passages in the prophets. These passages regard both the physical remnant who returned to the land following exile (Hag 1:12, 14, 2:2, Isa 10:22), and their spiritual-prophetic counterpart (Zec 8:6, 11, 12).

The use of Paul's teaching in Romans chapter nine should be addressed at this juncture. Paul says, "In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice" (Rom 11:5, cf. Isa 10:22). His teaching at this point in Romans assures the reader that, though a partial hardening has happened to Israel (i.e., they rejected Christ), there are still believing Jews. This is evidence that the promise has not utterly failed (Rom 9:6). He writes, "For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin" (11:1), just as God kept for Himself, "SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL" in the days of Elijah (11:4).

Observe what he says though: to his "kinsmen according to the flesh," to "Israelites," "belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises" (9:3-4). Let me repeat this: to the collective Israelites belong "the covenants" (hai diathekai) and "the promises" (hai epangelai). The Israelites, because of the covenant with Abraham, received the covenant promises; but they did not all receive all that the covenant promises. They were included generally and ostensibly in the covenant. Why aren't they all saved then? The covenant included stipulations of blessing (for those with faith) and cursing (for those without the faith of their father Abraham). It is by the operation of grace that one who is included in the covenant promises is granted all that God requires to keep covenant and fully receive its salvific blessings. In terms of the Reformed view of salvation, only the elect ultimately are saved. Abraham is given a promise that God will be God to his descendants, yet Abraham is told in rather conditional language,For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him. (Gen 18:19)

There are covenant responsibilities which provide the regular means of God's grace (e.g., family worship). This was true for Abraham, as well as those who later have the faith of Abraham. According to the earlier sections of Romans, this includes Gentiles who have been grafted in (4:11-17; 11:17). In explaining why some do not receive the salvific blessings through embracing Jesus as Messiah, he says, "They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (9:6). Yet the promise has not failed because there is a remnant. "IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED" (9:27, quoting Isa 10:22). Later in chapter eleven Paul indicates a more overwhelming reason to believe that his word to the Jews has not failed: "For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (11:15). In other words, Paul seems to indicate that there is both a remnant, then and through the ages, and there will be a rather demonstrable acceptance of Christ by the Jews following the "fulness of the Gentiles" "and thus all Israel will be saved" (11:25-26).(56) Please observe who is included in the fulfillment of the covenant promise Paul cites:

Observe the latter section of the original citation--
"This is My covenant with them," says the LORD: " My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring,"says the LORD," from now and forever." (Isa 59:21)
The "spiritual" or "true" children of Abraham discussion often becomes fuel in the fires of the "covenant children" debate regarding who is "in" the new covenant. The essence of the argument from the baptist view proceeds in this fashion. Only the elect (those who have the faith of Abraham) are included in the promises (illustration: Jacob & Esau). Therefore, (especially in the new covenant) only those that demonstrate their inclusion (by having Abraham's faith) should be counted as covenant members (and receive the sign). Paul K. Jewett (baptistic) argues,
Of course, the sign of this new covenant belongs to the covenantees. But who are they? Those who can say, "We have a Christian for our father," just as the Jews said to Jesus, "We have Abraham for our father" (John 8:33f.)? Not so. The covenantees are not those who are born into the covenant, those whose father and mother have the law "written upon their hearts," but those who themselves have had this experience, having been born again by the Spirit of God. This subjective, inward, existential, experiential, spiritual change is the hall mark of the new covenant.(57)
This argument is stated even more bluntly by "New Covenant" writer, John G. Reisinger. In his influential manuscript Abraham's Four Seeds, he writes, "The real difference between a historic Baptist and a Paedobaptist (those who baptize babies) is not the mode of baptism, but rather 'who is the true heir of God's promise to Abraham and his seed.'"(58) Later he exclaims, "How can a Christian parent claim that his physical children are included in the 'covenant with Abraham' when that covenant never even promised that to Abraham himself!" And, "Paedobaptists actually claim for their physical children through the Abrahamic covenant more than Abraham himself could claim for his physical children in the same covenant."(59)

Jewett's argument on the remnant (pp. 227ff) is subtle, but amounts to what has been answered in the above "New Covenant Objection." Certainly the present exposition of the new covenant does not confirm Jewett's contention that the new covenant rejects the "offspring of Israel." The covenant promise is still, "they shall be My people [inclusive of the children in context]" (31:33; 31:1, 7-8, 14-15, 36-37). I would maintain that it is simple not exegetically demonstrable that the only stipulation of the new covenant is regeneration to all its members. In fact, there is a virtually explicit refutation of that position in Hebrews 10:28-30.

In response, to the more radical "remnant" theology of those who entitle themselves "New Covenant Theologians" (J. G. Reisinger, et al), several other points should be considered. It is true that mere natural descent is insufficient to guarantee the fullest reception of the covenant promised blessings. This being true during the Old Testament, according to Paul, then how does this truth affect the question of the sign of covenant given to believers' children? In the previous eras they received it, though it was still true that all who were authorized by God to receive the sign did not partake of the reality signified. The argument is fatally flawed. It says that since only the truly spiritual seed received the promises, then only the spiritual seed have a right to the sign. But this argument (from Paul's statements about true Israel) is fallacious. Because, it is simply not true nor intended by God's command that only the true "spiritual seed" (the elect) are to receive the sign of the covenant. The sign is a visible sign, for visible members of God's people. It is not enough to prove that only the elect are elected. This is granted. God, who knew about Esau, still commanded the sign of circumcision on him, even though he did not have a circumcised heart. What must be proved if the argument for covenant inclusion, leading to infant baptism is to be dismissed, is not the truth of election--but that only those that are elect are to receive the sign of the covenant. It is certainly impossible to prove this was God's intention in the Old Testament and it is just as impossible in the new covenant.

Consider the case in point further, Esau. Not denying the truth of election, the writer of Hebrews indicates that Esau was a covenant breaker, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God. . .that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal" (Heb 12:15-16). Thus, one is still warranted in putting the sign on those of whom we do not have infallible assurance of their election. In fact, this is necessarily the case every time the signs were (and are) administered. All baptism, as Warfield rightly says, "... no one, however rich his manifestation of Christian graces, is baptized on the basis of infallible knowledge of his relation to Christ. All baptism is inevitably administered on the basis, not of knowledge, but of presumption."(60) So long as the candidate meets the initial qualifications of being under the terms of the covenant, the sign is authorized. Just as Isaac was warranted by God's command in putting the sign on both his children, Jacob and Esau, so believers today are warranted in putting the new sign of baptism on their children. The household baptism pattern strongly indicates the continuation of this practice.

The point of Paul in Romans nine is perfectly clear in both testaments: it is not mere physical birth which grants one the reception of either the temporal or salvific blessings of the covenant. This is true in the previous covenant administrations. The Psalmist summarily teaches us that "the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant, and who remember His precepts to do them" (Psa 103:17-18). Hence, it is perfectly clear that using this truth (not by mere physical birth) as an argument cannot prove a change of covenant structure, recipients, or mode.

Further, Paul is not arguing that individually elect persons are all that God has in view now, whereas before, He viewed the nation as sufficient to receive each blessing by mere physical lineage. He says, the Israelites received "the covenants" and "the promises" (Rom 9:4); though they did not all receive its salvific blessings. Elsewhere these people are called covenant breakers (Psa 78:10), Esau being the apostolic example (Rom 9:13, Heb 12:16). In the very passage under discussion, he actually parallels the Jews (whose children were covenant members) collectively in the covenant to Gentiles collectively who were grafted in the covenant (Rom 11:13-27). We can be quite sure, as has been abundantly demonstrated above, that the Jews considered their own children in covenant with God (Jer 31:7-9; Isa 45:25)--not only because this would have been almost inconceivable for a Jew to think otherwise--but because exegetically the remnant included the children of believers .

Let us put to rest every objection arising from the "remnant" theology with the following. Does the "remnant" include the children of believers?

(1) Exegetically, the original reference to "remnant" (those returning to the land after the exile) explicitly included children:

(2) The very concept of remnant has reference to future generations: (3) Even more, the spiritual fulfillment of the remnant concept explicitly and even emphatically includes the children of believers. In Summary

In Jeremiah and the New Testament, the prophecy of new covenant is interpreted as follows:

The New Covenant--

Appendix C: A Few Resources for Further Study

Countless books have been written on baptism. Many are focused on the mode of baptism, sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Of course, mode is not the focus of this study. In what follows, I will suggest only a handful of books which are very edifying and readable. I believe that on both sides of the question, the books represent some of the best and most accessible studies. It is through searching the Scriptures and reflection on such books that I have formulated my arguments in the present study. If the arguments I have presented are good, know that for the most part they are hardly original, but any errors in them are entirely my own responsibility.

Books which Defend the Baptist Position

Books which Defend the Reformed Infant Baptism Position


1. I will contrast the "baptist" position (believer's, professor's, or confessor's baptism) with the "paedobaptist" or infant baptism position (paidion in Greek means "child" or "infant"). I will use the lower case (baptist) rather than the upper case "baptist," since I have in mind the baptismal practice of many denominations, not a particular denomination.

2. Roman Catholicism teaches that baptism by the Roman Church regenerates in and of itself and apart from faith. See the Council of Trent, 5th Session, decrees 4-5, from the year 1546.

3. Preface to Mere Christianity (Macmillan/Barbour & Co.: Westwood, NJ, 1952).

4. T.E. Watson, Should Babies Be Baptized? (Grace Publications: London, 1995), p. 115. For more, see my critical review at

5. Please note that all Scripture citations will be from the New American Standard Version, unless otherwise noted, and all of the italicized print in Bible texts represents points I am seeking to emphasize.

6. Luke's use of 3000 "souls" (psyche) need not be taken as a generic term for both genders, since he often uses this term to emphasize the spiritual nature of what is happening to the person(s) involved, e.g., 2:27, 2:43, 3:23, 14:22, 15:24.

7. Justin's (A.D. 110-165) reference to this is in the First Apology, chapter 26; however, some historians question whether Justin was right about this.

8. Considering the use of the phrase itself, it is evidently employed to emphasize both genders in Luke-Acts, "male and female" - not adult males and females vs children, Acts 5:14, 8:3, 8:12, 9:2, 22:4.

9. Via email with Harold Smith. His defense of believer's baptism can be found on the Internet at

10. This last statement is a quote from Mr. Smith and was what prompted my dialogue with him.

11. The "tree of life" prohibition in Genesis 3:22 makes sense when viewed with the other teaching on covenant signs in mind. It fits in the coherent covenant picture; it was a tangible sign and symbol of the promise of life. The fruit was the sacramental means of life (see also Rev 2:7, 22:2, 22:14). See the text box quotes above of Brakel and Berkhof.

12. David Kingdon, Children of Abraham: A Reformed Baptist View of Baptism, the Covenant, and Children (Carey: Sussex, UK, 1973), pp. 34, 35. For more, see my critical review at

13. David Kingdon, Children of Abraham, p. 34.

14. Fred Malone, A String of Pearls Unstrung: A Theological Journey Into Believers' Baptism (Founders Press: Cape Coral, FL, 1998), p. 7. For more, see my critical review at

15. "Nations" (ethnã) is in the accusative case and is thus, the direct object of the verb. In this verse, the verb, "disciple" (mathãteuõ, in the imperative form), is a transitive verb, since it has an object. I am aware that "them" is masculine in gender and "nations" is neuter. This usage is called the ad sensum use (according to the general sense). See for example, Mat 25:32, "all the nations (ethnã, neut.) will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them (autos, masc.) from one another."

16. I have tried to paint this picture more vividly in the Appendix A: Letter to Julius.

17. If this seems striking I urge you to review, Acts 11:9, 14-15, 15:3-9, 16:30.

18. The eunuch was a proselyte; Crispus is a Jew; and the 12 disciples of John are clearly Jews or at least proselytes (cf John's ministry purpose); that leaves Cornelius, Lydia, the Jailer, Stephanus, and perhaps Gaius, see the discussion above.

19. Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Eerdmans, 1978), p. 91. For more, see my critical review at For more, see my critical review at

20. Matthew 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54, 26:56, 27:9.

21. Children of Abraham, p. 34.

22. Lev 26:41, Jer 9:26, Eze 44:7, 44:9, Deu 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4, Rom. 2:29, 4:11, 1Co 7:19, Gal 5:6, 6:15, Eph 2:11-12, Phi 3:3, Col 2:11-12, 3:11.

23. Institutes of the Christian Religion, (4:16:9, McNeil/Battles ed., Westminster: Philadelphia), p. 1331).

24. As far as I know this has not been found in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

25. I refer the reader to the several pages of citations above.

26. E.g., 1Co 1:2/6:9, 2Co 1:2/13:5, Gal 1:2/5:21, 2Pe 1:1/1:10.

27. See Rom 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:31, 1Co 1:2, 6:1, 6:2, 14:33, 16:1, 16:15, Eph 1:1, Col. 1:2, etc.

28. E.g., Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, p. 136.

29. David Kingdon, Children of Abraham, p. 90.

30. Even the best baptist defender, Paul K. Jewett, admits that "the majority of scholars suppose a pre-Christian origin of the practice" of household proselyte baptism (Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace), p. 64.

31. Infants born into a proselyte context after the initial cleansing did not need to be baptized, since they were clean by virtue of being born into a "clean" household.

32. Fred Malone, A String of Pearls Unstrung: A Theological Journey Into Believers' Baptism, p. 19.

33. In the Mark 10:14 parallel, this is the only occasion where Jesus was "indignant." He was enraged (aganakteo).

34. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Eerdmans, 1978), p. 60.

35. Published by Baker, 1995, p. 93.

36. P. 92.

37. This phrase is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism 94. "What is baptism ? A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,(1) doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's." (2) (1)Matt. 28:19 (2)Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27

38. Other objections and critical reviews of anti-paedobaptist books my be found in the writer's, Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense.

39. The Larger Catechism 166, for example says, "Unto whom is baptism to be administered? A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized."

40. A necessary inference is a logically valid argument from true premises, such as: 1. the children of believers are covenant members; 2. covenant members are to receive the entrance sign of the covenant; therefore (this follows necessarily from the premises) the children of believers are to receive the entrance sign of the covenant.

41. Those denying infant baptism must do so by taking their presuppositions from the passages which don't even refer to the status of children in the church, kingdom, and covenant.

42. Oikos in the LXX (the Greek translation of the OT) is used of Noah's family (Gen 7:19), of Abrahamic covenant and those to be circumcised and taught (Gen 17:13, 18:19), regarding the families in Passover (12:27), and David's descendants in the Davidic covenant (2Ch 21:7).

43. T.E. Watson, Should Babies Be Baptized?, p. 115.

44. Eric Lane, Special Children?A Theology of Childhood (Grace Pub: London, 1996). From pages 34, 35, 36, and 37, respectively.

45. If a generation is 40 years, it has been about 3300 years since the Exodus when this promise was given. That leaves over 36,700 years to go! Obviously, "a thousand generations" doesn't mean 40,000 years, but it is just a way to say the promise extends to endless generations.

46. See the Appendix B for a brief exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and/or the author's, Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense for more.

47. A Critical Evaluation of Infant Baptism, Greg Welty (Reformed Baptist Publications: Fullerton, CA, [undated]), pp. 4-5.

48. I could marshal many texts to support this, but it will suffice to point out the entire chapter of Hebrews 11.

49. The number of rededication baptisms was around 60,000, according to the representative sample, The Troubling Waters of Baptism, Thomas Ascol, Founders Journal, available at

50. For a good discussion on this from the non-paedocommunion point of view, see the response to this objection in John Murray's Christian Baptism (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), p. 73-76. For a contemporary representative of paedocommunion consult Steve Wilkins, whose tape series on the subject, Unto You and Your Children, can be obtained from Covenant Media Fellowship, 4425 Jefferson Ave., Suite #108, Texarkana, AR 71854, 800/553-3938.

51. The Polemics of Infant Baptism in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. IX (Baker, 1991 [1927]), p. 408. Available at

52. This is an attempt to help the reader recapture the original context and audience of the New Testament revelation. What was the frame of mind of those in the first century who first heard about Christ? The more we comprehend this, surely, the closer we will be to the truth about baptism.

53. One would think that Calvinists would be hesitant to establish there arguments from the use of "all" in a quantitatively absolute sense anyway. How much more in prophetic language! For other examples of the general us of "all" in Jeremiah see, 2:29, 3:17, 4:19, 12:9, 13:13, 15:4, 16:15, 21:14, 23:3, 24:9, 25:2, 31:24, etc.

54. For similar thoughts in other writers see Rom15:4-5, 1Co 10:1-11, Jam 5:10-11, Jude 1:5.

55. Please know that I believe in the perseverance of those who are regenerate, in both testaments. However, every visible covenant member may not persevere, in both testaments also.

56. I take (tentatively) "all Israel" in the sense of all of true Israel, including both Jews and Gentiles, after the fulness of the Gentiles comes and the collective "acceptance" of ethnic Israel. I believe this view is evident in the language of the Westminster Larger Catechism 191 ("fulness of the Gentiles" & "the Jews called") and its proof-texts, citing Romans 10:1 and 11:25-26. Moreover, prayer for ethnic Israel is part of the original Westminster "Directory for Worship."

57. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, p. 228.

58. Abraham's Four Seeds (Sound of Grace: Webster NY, 1990,), p. 3. For more, see my critical review.

59. P. 60.

60. The Polemics of Infant Baptism in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. IX (Baker, 1991 [1927]), p. 390.

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