Perhaps you’re a new parent, and someone has suggested that your baby should be baptized. Of course, you want the best for your little one, and that begins with their relationship with God. Should your infant be baptized? We can conclusively answer this question by exploring four other questions. And once we finish with the fourth, we will explore some further implications on whether or not infants should be baptized.
What is baptism for?
When someone suggests a baby should be baptized, we should respond with the sincere question, “Why?” Biblically speaking, what’s the point of baptism? The Scriptures on baptism couldn’t be plainer.
- Baptism is a part of becoming Jesus’ disciple (Matthew 28:18–20).
- Baptism is for salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
- Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
- Baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16).
- Baptism buries the old person of sin (Romans 6:1–8).
(To study more on this, go here.)
Are babies born in need of forgiveness?
Baptism is a gift from God for the sinner. It’s an opportunity for a guilty person to say goodbye to his or her old life and “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:211). When we study the Scriptures further, we learn that children are not born with sin. There is no person of sin that needs to be buried within a little child. Babies have no need for forgiveness. Since baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, and infants have no sins to forgive, then baptizing them is a useless act. It’s just getting them wet the way you would at bath time. The apostle is emphatic that:
baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 3:21
When He was washing the dirty feet of the apostles, Jesus made this point:
He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.John 13:10
Everyone knows that it’s only the dirty who need to bathe. If children are not born in sin, then they need no cleansing.
Are babies scriptural candidates for baptism?
We already know infants are not lost. They don’t need additional salvation. But even if they were lost, this would not necessarily prove that they are candidates for baptism. Atheists are sinners, yet, why are proponents of infant baptism not baptizing atheists? It’s because faith is a prerequisite of baptism.
When Jesus prepared His disciples for their worldwide mission, He told them:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.Mark 16:15–16
Jesus says the candidate for baptism has three qualifications:
- A need for salvation
- A chance to hear the gospel
- Faith in that gospel
Babies are unable to have faith in Jesus Christ. Many people try to counter this by saying that an infant’s instinct to desire its mother shows capacity to believe. For one, if an infant is able to actively believe, he can also disbelieve. How do we know which babies believe and which ones disbelieve? For another, dependance on parents is a beautiful thing God has built into newborn children, but we all know that that is not the same thing as “confess[ing] with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe[ing] in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). No infant understands the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may be the case that every parent thinks their child is the smartest, but a two-year-old does not know what it means that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4), much less a two-week-old.
When the Jews in Jerusalem were pierced to the heart after learning that they killed the Messiah, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38
Repentance of sins must also precede baptism. Infants have neither sin nor the capacity to repent of sins. Therefore, they are not scriptural candidates for baptism.
What is the proper method of baptism?
When people talk about infant baptism, usually what they’re talking about isn’t baptism at all. Instead, it’s often a sprinkling of water on a child’s forehead. We get our English word baptism from the Greek word βάπτισμα, which means to plunge, dip, or wash.2 Every account of baptism in the Bible shows us that baptism is an immersion in water.
- John required much water to baptize (John 3:23).
- Jesus came up out of the water after His baptism (Matthew 3:16).
- For Philip to baptize his friend from Ethiopia, they both had to go down into the water and come out of the water (Acts 8:36–39).
- Baptism is described as a burial (Romans 6:3–4; Colossians 2:11–13).
Even if infant baptism were biblical, what most people receive as children cannot be called baptism.
What are some other considerations?
“Be baptized” is always a command (e.g. Acts 10:48; 22:16). That, by itself, is telling. Baptism is a choice of the mentally capable sinner. Yet, many churches practice “christening,” which is a baptismal dedication ceremony for infants. When an adult grabs an unsuspecting infant and places or pours water on their head, or perhaps even completely submerges them, the child is obeying nothing. What’s even more, the great majority of babies cry in objection to what they’re being forced to endure. And then, when the child is old enough, he or she then must depend on testimony of others that “baptism” actually occurred. In this case, the person is robbed of the joy of personal obedience to the Lord.
Survey all the Scriptures, and you’ll not find a single time God mentions or commands infant baptism. Searching desperately to justify a doctrine near and dear to their heart, proponents of infant baptism often mention the few times Scripture tells us that entire households were baptized into Christ. For example:
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.Acts 16:31–34
It doesn’t take a PhD in theology and logic to realize the fallacy in using this (and related) passage as an example of infant baptism. In every case of baptism in the Scriptures, it was “those who had received his word [who] were baptized” (Acts 2:41). It’s the same with the jailer of Philippi in Acts 16. He and his household were told to believe. They all heard the word of the Lord. They all responded to the message by obedience in baptism. Afterward, they were all called believers. I say this as respectfully as I can, but I hope you see how dangerous, sad, and silly it is to build an entire doctrine—in this case, infant baptism—on an assumption from a poor application of Scripture! In this case, the words of Jesus apply:
You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.Mark 7:9
Most people who subject their children to a religious water ceremony do it with the best of intentions. They also do so ignorantly. Good parents want the best for their children. If this describes you, then you must take responsibility for your own faith and actions first. Are you going to simply follow what your religion does by tradition? Or will you examine the Scriptures daily to see what is true (Acts 17:11)?
To baptize a baby, you must begin with the wrong idea that children are born with sin. Even if that were the case, since children can neither believe nor repent, then infant baptism would only be effective if baptism by itself saves. If baptism by itself saves, then why stop with little babies? Why not manhandle every sinner and plunge them into the water—with or without their consent? Even if we were arrested and imprisoned for doing so, if it means the salvation of souls, it would be worth it! But baptism by itself does not save. Jesus saves the sinner who not only is baptized, but also believes and repents.
This lesson is for two groups of people:
- Those who have an open and honest heart and are asking, “Should babies be baptized? What does the Bible say?”
- Those who have been “baptized” as infants.
Are you in that second category? If you were christened, or went through any ceremony called “baptism” as an infant, do you realize that doing so meant nothing in the eyes of God? It most likely was performed by your caregivers with great sincerity of heart, but the Scriptures remind us over and over, just because someone is sincere, it doesn’t mean they’re right. Just before Paul explained how wretched he had been, he said, “I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1). He was driven by a religious zeal, but in the end, he admitted that he still needed to repent toward God.
If you’ve depended on your infant “baptism” to save you, repent toward God today. There is only “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), and it neither involves sprinkling or children. Believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and was resurrected. Turn from man-made religions and ceremonies, and obey the gospel today.
God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11). What He requires of one person to be saved, He requires of all. What He required then, He requires now. If you’ve not obeyed the commandment of the one baptism to receive forgiveness, you must answer God one question:
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.Acts 22:16