Infant Baptism and Covenant Theology:
1. The Old Testament church and the New Testament church are in essence the same church.
2. God includes the children of believers as members of the visible church.
3. In the Old Testament, the children of believers, by virtue of being covenant members, were given the covenant sign of circumcision.
4. In the New Testament, God substituted circumcision for baptism as the sign of entrance into the covenant.
5. Therefore, children of believers, because they are covenant members, are to be given the covenant sign of baptism, just as they were previously given the covenant sign of circumcision.
1. The way of salvation (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3-13) and the Saviour (Romans 3:20-26, 1 Timothy 2:5-6) are the same for people before and after Christ. Before Christ, people were saved by looking forward to Christ and what He would do. Today, people are saved by looking back to Christ and what He did (Hebrews 10:1-4). Both are under the same covenant (Galatians 3:27-29), members of the same body (Ephesians 2:11-19) and branches in the same olive tree (Romans 11:17-26) - unbelieving Jews were cut off, Gentile branches were grafted in.
As the Old Testament and New Testament churches are in essence the same church, their titles are interchanged: Old Testament Israel is called ‘the church’: [‘Church’ [Greek: ecclesia] = ‘congregation’ [Hebrew: qahal] (Psalm 22:22, Hebrews 2:12)]. Israel at Sinai is called "the church/congregation in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). The New Testament church is called Israel (Galatians 6:16), and terms used for Old Testament Israel are used for the New Testament church (1 Peter 2:9). God’s New Testament people are represented as a nation (Hosea 2:23, Romans 9:25-26, 2 Corinthians 6:16).
2. God included the children of believers in His covenant of grace – an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7). God nowhere overturned the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant: without such we cannot exclude them from the covenant. As the children of believers were covenant members, those who oppose infant baptism must prove that they were thrown out. Conversely, the New Testament affirms the covenant membership of the children of believers. Acts 2:39 “For the promise is to you and you children”. Peter was talking to Jews (people fluent in Old Testament); if their children were no longer covenant members, Peter certainly used the wrong words. The promise is the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:8, 14) – the Abrahamic covenant is only referred to in the singular.
Paul when writing "to the saints who are at Ephesus", in Ephesians 6:1 addressed the children of believers, recognising them as church members. Paul said the children of believers are holy (1 Corinthians 7:14); ‘hagios’ is a covenantal word meaning to be ‘set apart’ to God (Romans 11:16, 1 Corinthians 3:17, Ephesians 2:21, 5:27, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, 1 Peter 2:5, 9). Paul proclaims that the law did not nullify the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 17), rather the promise “to you and you children” still holds (Romans 4:13-18, Galatians 3:13-18).
3. Children of believers received circumcision in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:10-12): a rite with spiritual significance (Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 9:25-26, Romans 2:26-29).
4. Baptism replaced circumcision as the sign of entrance into the covenant. In the Old Testament, a proselyte and their household received circumcision as the sign of initiation into the covenant. In Matthew 28:19, Christ commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations – but baptise, not circumcise them. The spiritual meaning of baptism (Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38) and circumcision are the same. Circumcision symbolised regeneration (Deuteronomy 30:6), conversion, repentance and faith (Jeremiah 4:4). In the Old Testament, a true Jew was not an outward Jew, but a person who had the inward reality (Romans 2:28-19, Philippians 3:3) – a person who was justified by faith (Romans 4:11).
God substituted circumcision for baptism as the sign of entrance into the covenant – the two share the same basic meaning – which explains why they are used interchangeably. In Colossians 2:11-12, we are said to have received the ‘circumcision of Christ’ ‘having been buried with Him in baptism’. Christ’s circumcision, which is the circumcision of the heart, signified by circumcision in the flesh, was accomplished by that which baptism signifies (Galatians 3:27-29).
5. Baptism is to the New Testament, what circumcision was to the Old Testament. Because the children of believers are covenant members they are to be given the covenant sign of baptism, just as they were previously given the covenant sign of circumcision.
The main objections to infant baptism are:
1. “There is not an explicit example of or command for infant baptism in the New Testament”. The refutation is that the burden is on them to show that the children of believers were thrown out of the covenant. Also, there is no example of or command for women participating in the Lord’s Supper either: does this mean they cannot? Conversely, the New Testament speaks of the ‘covenantal’ baptism of whole households (Acts 16:15, 33, 1 Corinthians 1:16), upon the profession of faith of one parent. Lastly, there is not one example of the Baptist practise of a person growing up in a Christian home, then being baptised after years of proving themself to be a Christian.
2. “Faith comes before baptism, infants cannot have faith, therefore infants should not be baptised”. That objection could be rearranged to say “People cannot be saved without faith, ‘infants cannot have faith’, therefore infants cannot be saved”, which is clearly unbiblical (Psalm 22:9, Luke 1:41). Also, their argument makes faith depend on human ability, rather than God’s grace: both infants and adults cannot believe of themselves (John 1:12-13). They are correct that an unbaptised adult must profess faith before being baptised, but they are incorrect to extend this thinking to children. This Baptist objection would be equally applicable against infant circumcision. If we apply this Baptist objection to 2 Thessalonians 2:10 we would have “Only those who work may eat, infants cannot work, therefore infants cannot eat.”
“Baptism is to the New Testament, what circumcision was to the Old Testament. Because the children of believers are covenant members they are to be given the covenant sign of baptism, just as they were previously given the covenant sign of circumcision.”(C), J. Williams, December 2011.