Should We Baptize the Babies? (Part 2)

Yesterday I directed your attention to an interesting discussion taking place on the Reformation21 Blog. Rick Philips has made some remarks on the paedo-baptist position, to which I have been responding. I am continuing that response here since Philips has posted another entry: “Wet v. Dry Christian Babies.”

Philips writes:

I would observe that this does not answer the uniform testimony of the Bible as to the application of covenant signs and seals to children of believers (including Peter’s new covenant teaching in Acts 2).

Paedo-baptists often appeal to Acts 2:39 to show that children of Christians are included in the New Covenant: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” For the paedo-baptist, this verse is cited as slam-dunk proof of “the uniform testimony of the Bible as to the application of covenant signs and seals to children of believers.”

I am surprised at how so many people can so consistently misread this text. Clearly, the “promise” is for three groups of people: (1) “you,” the listeners hearing Peter preach, (2) “your children,” the children of the people in group 1, and (3) “to the ones who are far off,” probably Gentiles (cf. Isa 57:19 LXX; Eph 2:14, 17). All three of these groups are delimited by the final phrase of the verse: “as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself.”

The final qualifying phrase indicates that not everyone in the three groups has the promise extended to them. Only those that the Lord “calls to Himself” are the proper recipients of the promise. It is, therefore, no more proper to assume that the promise applies to all children of believers than it is to assume that it applies to “all who are far off.” The promise is linked to calling.

Thus, those who are included in the New Covenant are those who have been called.


  • LloydR

    I am a Calvinistic Baptist living in the south where the only reformed teaching come from the Presbyterians. (Our family attends a PCA church.) I am continually flabbergasted at the unsupported assertions of paedobaptists I have dialogued with regarding this issue. An assertion and a reference are lobbed out (the Acts 2 reference being a classic example) without any sort of exegesis. Another that usually comes out is I Cor. 7:14 with the assertion that “children of believers are holy.”

    Whatever that passage means, a brief study of it will show that 1) The unbelieving spouse and the child have the same status; and 2) It is the marraige that makes them holy — not the condition of believing spouse.

    It is so disheartening that on this single issue so many many careful careful students of the Word become so casual.

  • Barcificus

    Denny Ray,
    The problem with infant baptism comes to the fore when we compare the illustrious passage from Heb 8 and 10 (citing Jer 31) with what someone such as Philips (or any other of my wonderful Presbyterian brothers) maintains. Philips writes:

    “We do not believe that by birth our children possess eternal life, but we do believe that by virtue of being our children, they are in covenant with God”

    My question is, “Which covenant?” How can Philips’ comment be squared with the writer of Hebrews? This covenant IS eternal (Heb 13:20: the covt that Jesus inaugurated with His blood), and thus its eternality applies to all who are in it, which is unlike the Old Covenant (Heb 8:9) which was always designed to be superceded by the New Cov’t of which Jeremiah speaks.

    How can unregenerate children be “in covenant with God”? Are they in the Old Covenant? Are they in the Abrahamic? Davidic? It cannot be the New Covt. I have long been puzzled over this specific matter, especially when Hebrews is so clear on the matter of what covenant membership entails (sins forgiven and the laws internalized – all a work of God via His mercy [Heb 8:10-12]). Again, it cannot be the New Covt, and that is the one that matters most!

    In short, Dr. Burk, you hit the nail on the head: New Covt members all have two benefits: sins forgiven by the mercy of God (i.e., the atonement applied to the NC member) and the internalization of the laws of God which produces covenant faithfulness (i.e. obedience from the heart), which is unlike the Old Covt people (Heb 3:7-19; 8:6-9). As you know, Hebrews and the NC are near and dear to my heart, and on this issue, this “man of words” speaks too clearly for me to justify baptizing my child, cute and wonderful though he be. He needs Jesus Christ to be in the New Covenant, and I and his mother pray for his salvation each night.


  • John


    Let’s cut to the chase here. What is “the promise” referred to in Acts 2:39? It is the promise of the Holy Spirit. See Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, and Acts 2:33. Do the “covenant” children of believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Of course not. He comes through repentance and belief (v. 38).

    Keep up the great work!

  • C Miller

    I have not read Philips discussion in its entirety. However, although I understand Acts 2:39 as an important verse in the discussion, it does not stand alone. Add Gen. 17:7 (God’s covenant promise to Abraham), Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, I Cor 1:16 (household baptisms) to name a few. On either side of the coin, baptism is discussed based on foundational views of Scripture ane theology. Baptism is not the foundation itself. I believe Scripture presents a Canonical continuity in covenantal language. I think one must define who God includes in a “household”. From Scripture, who are members of a family? If the answer to this question includes children, which I believe is true, then that should effect our understanding of passages that talk about the household.

    Check out John Scott Johnson’s article on Baptism: There are other good resources as well.

    I will read the Phillips/Burk discussion.

    As always, thanks for the post!

  • Tertius

    I think we might have Denny, but if I can get you to agree on the definition of baptism you are getting close to become a paedobaptist. :o)

    I don’t think baptism as defined in the 1689 Baptist confession of faith is compatable with the baptist’s position of the subjects of baptism. I know it is easy to quote that, but if you examine the history of the 1689 and compare it to the Westminster Confession of faith it is basically a “save as” then add some stuff and subtract stuff you disagree with. If you would like I can send you a document I made comparing the two and it is amazing. I don’t think it rests on Baptistic exegesis. I think it was revised at a systematic level. It took the Westminster Divines several years of debating the Scriptures to come up with that document. So I don’t think it rests on Baptistic exegetical foundations. Because when you begin to define the subjects of baptism from a baptistic point of view it always must began from the subjective to the objective rather than the objective to the subjective.

    I think this is from the Southern Baptist Confession of which you are, right? Would you like to revise this?…

    “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the BELIEVER’S FAITH in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony TO HIS FAITH in the final resurrection of the dead. ”

    I think this is more coherent with the baptist’s explanation of the subjects of baptism. Which is from the subjective to the objective.
    Paedobaptist’s hold that it is from the objective first then the subjective.

    If you agree with me on this it is a big step to becoming a paedobaptist. :o)

    You just have to turn the teloscope around and look through the correct end and you can see. But you have to realize you are looking from the wrong end first.

    It has been said that there is always an easy wrong explanation for every difficult bible question. I think the baptist takes that route on Acts 2:39. The most coherent explanation that beautifully coheres with all the other covenants in the Bible is the “to you and your children”. Children are included as the previous ones. Do some more exegesis in Jer 31 to see what is NEW about the New Covenant. But don’t just stop there make your arguments cohere. Why does the Hebrews writer quote Jeremiah? What is his argument from the beginning? What is his point? Is the Baptist making the Hebrews writer imply something he did not have in mind.

    Also, remember Jeremiah is contrasting the OC and the NC not the NC and the Abrahamic Covenant. The children were included even before the OC, and even before the AC – look in Gen 9 at the Noahic echoing even back to Gen 1 with Adam…

    There is a lot more involved here…

  • WLC

    (Tertius, this may not even be close to what you are implying)

    For some reason I feel that neither the Abrahamic Covenant nor the “Noahic echoing” are qualified for me. I am gentile, I am in a covenant that is unlike their’s. I dont think the ones being grafted replace the ones in which they are grafted into.

    Help me to understand, I may be way off and not know what I am talking about?

    Sharpen me,

  • C Miller

    My question still stands, how does Scripture define a “household” or family? Who is included in the family?

    BTW, have anyone read the article I posted a link to?

  • Fundamentally Reformed

    I am coming in late on this discussion. (Truth be told, I meant to comment earlier but the birth of my 3rd daughter happily prevented me!) Anyway, let me start by recommending an excellent debate (still open by the way) on the issue of paedo vs. credo baptism from a Reformed perspective. The articles are available here at Pitchford’s Ramblings. The initial posts are very good (in fact Monergism has linked to them) and the comments underneath them are well worth looking at. The debate in all is very charitable and a spirit of unity permeates virtually every response. What makes this most interesting is that Nathan Pitchford (the author of the blog and posts) originally defended credo baptism from a Reformed perspective, but in the ensuing dialogue he came to be convinced by the evidence for paedo baptism. He then issued a retraction. I contributed in the debate, somewhat, and am still working through the issue. I remain credo baptist but have a newfound respect for the paedo baptist position.

    In my opinion, both sides of the debate base alot of their argument on silence. We must be honest in acknowledging the silence the NT presents us with. Children are not explicitly excluded or included in the administration of the covenant sign. There are no examples of or clear teaching concerning what to do with 2nd generation believers as far as baptism is concerned. The examples and clear teaching apply to adult conversions only. The household baptisms are silent both ways.

    Based on this silence, we can assume from the OT and from the Scriptural teaching of the unity of the Abrahamic covenant and the present New covenant, that infants should be given the sign of the New covenant. But we could just as easily assume from the newness of the new covenant, and its discontinuity with the old covenant that both the sign and the recipients of the sign have changed under the new covenant, thus excluding infants from baptism.

    All things considered, we should not let this issue divide evangelicalism so sharply as it has and does. We should agree to disagree, and realize that both sides affirm the necessity of adult converts submitting to baptism. Both sides obey the command to be baptized, and both see it representing/symbolizing both the objective reality of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the subjective reality (hopefully) of the faith believer’s have in Christ. (Remember circumcision symbolized faith even though it was administered to infants.) So we should prize our similarities and not magnify our differences.

    To respond to C Miller, I am working my way through that article. I will say that his treatment of infant baptism has not added that much new light to me as far as the credo/paedo debate, but concerning the affusion (sprinkling) vs. immersion question the paper was eye-opening to me–helping me understand from what bases paedo baptists can legitimately conclude in favor of affusion against what before had seemed to me an open/shut case on immersion. The paper has made me all the more interested to continue my research and prayerful study of this topic. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    To Denny, I say that I agree that the defense of infant baptism presented on the Ref 21 blog was not all that convincing. But there are other defenses out there which require me to be less quick to write off the whole system of paedo baptism as definitely unScriptural.


    Bob Hayton
    Rom. 15:5-7

  • Allen Smith

    Hello Dr. Denny and the other bloggers,

    It took me a while to get in on your very interesting discussion carried over from Reformation21 Blog. I think I am a month late! We just moved to Peru and I am finally catching up on my reading.

    Denny, I really like your dedication to the Biblical text and challenging us paedo-baptists with exegetical arguments. Have you considered when Peter calls for repentance in Acts 2, that in the back of his mind he has the covenantal promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 17? Here God promised a personal relationship with Abraham, then commanded him to circumcise himself, his children, and the foreigners of his household. Notice the parallels between the two passages: you (head of the home), your children (Abraham’s descendants), those far off (foreigners in Abraham’s household).

    If this is a fair parallelism, the last phrase of Acts 2:39 (“as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself”) could be taken as a general description when and where God will make His calling (starting first with the head of the family and his children then to those families that are far off). Instead of being a delimited and qualifying phrase, it can also be taken as a general descriptive phrase. OK, I will not die for that interpretation, but I’d be interested to know your throughts on it.

    Please tell Susan hello for Sandi and me. Tell her we still listen to the “New Leaf” CD.

    Your friend from way down south,


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