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  • « Some of Our Most Highly Recommended Books | Main | Images of the Savior (23 -- The Church in the Wilderness) »

    Christian Baptism

    I know that many of this blog's readers (and contributors!) don't share my conviction regarding paedobaptism (lit., "infant baptism"); I'm glad we can still get along so well! I used to be an ardent anti-paedobaptist (and I use this term because people on both sides are "credobaptists," thinking that believers ought to be baptized). But after much study and many conversations, the baptism of believers' children is something I've come to believe is biblical (there's no other good reason to believe in it).

    As good Christians often disagree strongly on the matter, there is a potential threat to loving unity in the Church. One factor in this is that the Presbyterian (as differentiated from the Roman Catholic) perspective on infant baptism is often misunderstood and caricatured. In the pursuit of civility between brethren who differ on the matter, then, I thought I'd post the mp3 of this sermon that I preached on Acts 2.36-39 at Intown Presbyterian Church (Portland, OR) on August 24, 2008.

    It's a sermon—not a systematics lecture intended to answer everyone's questions. But hopefully it will help anti-paedobaptists to understand how their paedobaptist brothers and sisters can desire to glorify God through the baptism of their children.

    Posted by Eric Costa on September 11, 2008 03:54 PM


    Rev. Costa,

    I look forward to listening to your sermon. I used to be anti-paedobaptist as well. However, my firstborn son was just baptized on July 27 of this year. I attend Christ Church, EPC in Anderson, SC. When some of my closest seminary friends and pastor explained to my wife and I what paedobaptism is all about, we had no choice but to embrace it. The aspect that hits home with me the most is the idea of covenant community. Since we are a part of the covenant community, as were the infant Israelites that were circumcised also a part of their covenant community, our children are, by default, a part of our community as well. Our son's baptism is a sign of that covenant between his parents and God.

    Again, I look forward to listening to your sermon and will endeavor to make a followup comment once I do.

    Peace to you,

    Danny Nelson


    I am Reformed but not a paedobaptist, after wishing I could be for many years. I say that to let you know that I am not against the idea if it is biblical. I am a student at RTS, where paedobaptism is taught. I have read more books and articles supporting and defending Reformed paedobaptism than I can recall to mind. The problem with it, in my view, is that it is only a plausible theory, which doesn't pass muster according to Chapter 1 of the WCF as a "good and NECESSARY consequence" of any teaching. It is at least as plausible not to be true than it is to be true. That doesn't cut it, especially since every time we hear about baptism in the New Testament it applies to believers (and not their seed, Acts 2 notwithstanding). It seems that if I am ever going to be convinced, it will have to be based on more than a plausible view that is no more plausible, than say, Paul Jewett's view of the covenant and baptism.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    Chris Haven


    Thanks for your point of view. If you read Acts chapter two at the end of Peter's sermon you should note that Peter is actually preaching to Jews and quoting (lifting) covenant language from Genesis chapter 17 which is directly speaking of God's covenant with Abraham - the sign and seal of which is put on infants.

    The Jews standing there listening to Peter's sermon could not have understood his statement "be baptized ...this is for you and your children" (Covenant language) any other way than that their infants were to be baptized. They could not possibly have understood him to be referring to wait till they were of age to consent. Instead the Jews heard him in their own context - understanding that he was relating the covenant sign with Abraham to the new covenant sign in the church - that their children were to be baptized in the same way they were circumcised. The Jews would have immediately understood the Gen 17 connection. The "and your children" to Jews could only mean "days old infants" - Peter does not redefine it. This would have been the place to do so. I believe It does not get much clearer than that. The fact that no one in the early church practiced believers'-only baptism reveals that this is also how they understood it.

    The Bible is a federal document. Like Adam Jesus is our federal representative. it is how the Bible speaks from beginning to end.


    for my sake, and because you probably have a more learned understanding of it, can you state for me the issue in credo as opposed to paedo?

    Is it "decision" theology, that is, one must grow up in their beliefs and make a decision to die with Christ in the waters of baptism by their own choice?

    I would welcome your thoughts.

    I am paedo for a reason and will bring it out after some comments from you, thanks.

    I have read and interacted with many of the arguments put forth by anti-believer baptists, but the inescapable stumbling blocks remain: the lack of explicit command or example to baptize infants contrasted with the command and example of baptizing confessing believers and the fact that Jeremiah 31 describes a new covenant, unlike the Old Covenant, that is different not only in mediator but in membership. Those who do not believe (which would include infants) are not members of the New Covenant and as such should not partake in the Supper and not be baptized into the covenant community.


    I have a few questions regarding Acts 2, if you'd allow me...

    First, whenever I see or hear v. 39 used to defend infant baptism, there is a group listed as beneficiaries of the promise that is never addressed - 'all who are far off.' I would guess this is referring to Gentiles who would be baptized upon believing?

    Second, in v. 41 there seems to be a prerequisite to baptism - the reception of the word. Repentance also seems to accompany baptism in v. 38. Are these applicable only to adults, or are they to be held as necessary for infants as well?

    Third, in v. 38, Peter promises that after repentance and baptism in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit will be given. Do infants who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit?

    I guess this is all a moot point if baptism is not the sign and seal of the new covenant. What passages of Scripture teach that baptism replaces circumcision as that sign and seal?

    While I'm sympathetic to your position, I remain unconvinced that Scripture teaches that I need to baptize my children. I do want to be biblical, so your comments would be greatly appreciated.

    Your brother in Christ,



    Thank you for participating in the discussion. You asserted that the OT was "different not only in mediator but in membership"

    Would you have us to believe that Jesus Christ is not the mediator of OT believers? That OT believers are not part of the body of Christ? But saved by some other dispensation? The promises of God are fulfilled in Christ to believers of all time. And likewise are you trying to say that everyone who is physically baptized as an adult is actually saved? The same rules apply both for OT and NT. "Only the children of promise are regarded as descendants" of Abraham. The difference I see is that Credobaptism tends to emphasize man's faith over God's grace, as if it were the cause of it, though I know not all credobaptists believe that ... but the picture credo-baptism gives reflects much more about what man does (i.e. his committment) rather than what God has done
    for us in Christ. I have many very close friends who are credo-baptists and I fully respect the position and those holding it. I believe it is held in genuine conviction .. I am simply saying that I have been convinced otherwise after years of holding that position.


    "And all whom God will call to Himself" - these is no issue and never has been an issue of believers' baptism, the problem is with believers' only baptism. I was personally a credo-baptist for 20 years and went to paedo-baptism kicking and screaming but I was finally overwhelmed by the testimony of the Scriptues and could no longer argue against paedobaptism. So I know exactly how you feel and I appreciate your positoin as a deeply held personal conviction which you think the Bible teaches.

    You asked >>>What passages of Scripture teach that baptism replaces circumcision as that sign and seal?

    I just showed you one. The end of the sermon of Peter in Acts 2 believers are commanded to baptise their children. He uses baptism in the VERY same covenantal language directly lifted from Genesis 17, which was God's covenenat with Abraham commanding him to baptize his 8 day old children - thus Peter directly equated baptism with circumsision.

    Gen 17: 10"This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.

    The Jews listening to Peter speak could not have understood him in any other way. They were intimately familiar with this language. I believe it would actually fall on you to prove that the Jews would have understood Peter differently.

    Infants who are baptized do not receive the Holy Spirit automatically as a result no. Neither did the infants circumcised in the OT receive the Holy Spirit automatically. Neither do all those who are baptized in the NT automtically receive the Holy Spirit. Only the "children of promise" (See Rom 9) will receive the Holy Spirit.

    Again, the church did not practice believers-only baptism until the 16th century and that includes the church fathers. The early church understood the apostles to be teaching covenant infant baptism. Look carefully at history. There were many hard debates about many issues in the early church. Baptism was not one of them. Why? Because everyone accepted infant baptism within the family of believers. If there was any question about this you would have certainly seen a big debate about this early on, but there wasn't. Don't you think the church is strangely silent on an issue that for sure would have been debated on if there were any doubt.


    I affirm baptism for people who demonstrate repentance and belief only. I don't affirm infant baptism in part because it is not something you come to from simply reading the Scriptures; as some have argued, it requires a bit of knowledge outside the Scriptures in order to arrive at it. There's a bit of complexity involved with arriving at it. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying this is bad. But at the same time, I am not sure those arguments hold well.

    An example is that of its history in the church. In one translation of the Confessions of Augustine, there is an endnote which says that during Augustine's time, baptism was often deferred and the practice of baptizing infants was more prevalent in North Africa than elsewhere. Also, I remember how one Baptist minister (I think Mark Dever) was mentioning how the Didache supported baptism for believers only; I think the Didache is dated at around the late 1st or early 2nd century. I was just reading the part on baptism, and the pouring of water is a last resort recommended by the author(s) when flowing, cold, or warm water are not available; doesn't seem like a kind ritual for a baby.

    There is also one more thing I would like to mention about basing a doctrine in part on church history. Church history can be shaky ground for a doctrine. Early Christians sometimes believed and practiced silly things. In book one of Augustine's Confessions, he mentions how he was "seasoned with his salt". An endnote to this section says, "Infants of Christian families were sanctified with prayers, the sign of the cross, and the placing of salt on the tongue as exorcism." Even great Christian minds in the early church believed and practiced things that most if not everyone would declare to be unbiblical today.

    But I will continue to study this issue. This issue is part of the reason I am hesitant to call myself a Calvinist or Reformed, even though my soteriology is Reformed. I'm somewhat confused as to what makes a person Reformed.

    I'm curious… how many of these comments have been made by people who actually listened to the sermon? I'm not trying to provoke anyone—it's just that the post was meant to kick off discussion about this topic around a sermon…

    Alberto: I don't affirm infant baptism because of church history, nor because "it requires a bit of knowledge outside the Scriptures in order to arrive at it." There may be some who believe in infant baptism who do so because of these reasons, but there are many good Christians who think it's ultimately biblical.

    In fact, I would turn the tables on you (kindly and gently!) to say that it's an individualistic eisegesis that would see the Scriptures from an anti-paedobaptist perspective. The entire Old Testament—especially those parts where God makes covenant promises to his people (including promises regarding the New Covenant)—reveals a God who deals with people together with their children. This is the religious milieu in which the New Testament is written, and the presuppositions that God makes covenants with families is nowhere repealed (but is, rather, reinforced in many ways). So when Peter says "be baptized, because the promise is for you and your children…," the unavoidable logic of all the original hearers would be that (since the promise is for the children) the sign of the promise (baptism) is for the children as well as the believers.


    yes, no I did not listen to the sermon.:(

    I will though.

    My earlier comment was directed to you. I asked "John" and I meant to ask you, Rev. Costa about the issue?

    I wanted to proffer one passage of Scripture that nails it for me, of the several that I am thinking about right now.

    This one, though, in my opinion, underscores your last comments so well.

    Consider "how" many times God speaks "into" the Womb in these verses. It settles it for me about infant baptism. I find it is as you say that one "must" eisegete into the plain meaning to step over the matter and as Isaiah says, one must swallow a camel and strain at a gnat here to miss this implied revelation of this Maskil of Asaph about baptism:

    Psa 78:1 A Maskil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
    Psa 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
    Psa 78:3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
    Psa 78:4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
    Psa 78:5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
    Psa 78:6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,
    Psa 78:7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
    Psa 78:8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

    I see in those verses, "the Grandfather, the Father, the child and a child within a womb and it goes even to another womb still"!


    It reminds me of the old saying about the apple. The saying goes something like this:

    "We can count how many seeds there are in an apple. Only God can count how many apples there are in a seed!"

    Oh, I guess I love His Word so I will post a couple more "insightful" passages that to me indicate infant baptism is where it's at!

    Deu 7:12 "And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.
    Deu 7:13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.
    Deu 7:14 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock.


    Deu 30:4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.
    Deu 30:5 And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.
    Deu 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

    It seems very apparent to me that no one actually dies during "baptism" and what we do is an outward form of His Faith in what God does inwardly in our hearts, us and our offspring.

    So summing it up from Psalms 78 and those passages from Deuteronomy, God does the killing by baptism and making Alive with Christ.

    Oh, I desire to start pasting Scriptures in the New Testament now.

    Mr. Costa, I hope you don't think I meant all my criticisms for you. I heard a little bit of the sermon, but mostly responded by what I read on some of the previous posts.

    Let me clear myself a little more. What I am saying is that many, if not most people today, who read through the NT don't recognize infant baptism on their own. It's usually if not always explained and taught to them by someone who already affirms infant baptism; that has been my experience. Now I am not saying there is absolutely no reference or implication to infant baptism in the Bible, I am in no position to say that, especially since I have not applied myself to study it with more depth. Nor am I saying that it's a bad thing that it usually has to be taught to a reader who comes to the Bible without knowledge of infant baptism; I affirm justification by faith alone, but I know that not everyone would grasp hold of that doctrine by simply reading a Bible on their own. I do think the collective wisdom of the Church throughout the centuries is a necessary resource for anyone who truly wishes to know the truth and be biblical.

    One more thing, I don't like anti-paedobaptist as a description for me. I know some Presbyterians out there who would view me in a bad way if they heard I was an anti-paedobaptist. It also reminds me of why some people prefer to be called pro-life over anti-abortion; the prefix anti- helps create certain negative ideas about people in the minds of some listeners. It also shows how people prefer to define opponents in negative terms.


    The argument from history was merely an afterthought. The original argument was made directly from Scripture. We all respect one another whatever position we end up believing because I know both sides believe they are attempting to be as biblical as possible. But as a credo-baptist (for 20 years) turned covenant infant baptist I was persuaded because when one reads from the OT forward rather than the NT backwards ... when one sees the apostolic doctrine in light of its actual seeing among Judaism, then it all begins to look a bit different than when we read it in an ahistorical way.

    I would encouage you to read Genesis 17 on the coventant of grace. Look carefully at the language used in that covenant "this is for you and your children..." and measure it against what Peter says to the same Jews who only had the OT and consider what they would understand when they heard Peters words. They could have ONLY understood Peter to be relating baptism to covenant children on the NT in the same way Abraham related circumcision to children in the OT. There is no escaping this. As Eric said above, "the presuppositions that God makes covenants with families is nowhere repealed (but is, rather, reinforced ...). So when Peter says "be baptized, because the promise is for you and your children…," the unavoidable logic of all the original hearers would be that (since the promise is for the children) the sign of the promise (baptism) is for the children as well as the believers.

    Alberto: I'm don't mean to offend anyone with the use of the term "anti-paedobaptist." I just think it really is the best descriptor for the position, since I would consider myself a credobaptist as well! I surely believe that believers ought to be baptized, just as you do! I just happen to think, because of the meaning of baptism, that this sign and seal of the covenant ought to be given to the children of believers as well. So "credobaptist" doesn't truly distinguish your position from mine, unless you want to call yourself "solocredobaptist" or something! =)

    Thank you all for your kind responses. May God bless you.


    I listened to the sermon.

    So that's what you sound like? :)

    Very good Word, indeed!

    Mr. Costa,

    I am an adherent to the credo baptist view on baptism. The only question that bothers me on the paedo-baptism is all about the exclusion of females in the rite of circumcision in the OT. Whereas in the NT females are included in the rites of baptism. How then could these two view be in parallel with each other? The fact that the purpose of circumcision is for the inclusion in the community. Females therefore are not included in the community. Would you give me a convincing explanation for that? Thanks!

    Mr. Poloc,

    Good question! If I understand, you need convincing that OT circumcision is actually a sign of inclusion in the covenant community, since women didn't receive it, yet they were part of the community…?

    In Gen. 17:10, God says to Abraham, "This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you."

    It would seem from these verses that the males represent the people in the covenant community. Circumcision was given in order to remind ALL God's people that they had been set apart by God through his promises, but it was a sign only given to the males.

    Obviously NT baptism is not a straight parallel; it's bigger and better. Baptism points to a truth that has already taken place, rather than being a promise of something yet to come (as with circumcision in the OT). It is not a bloody and painful thing, but a beautiful and peaceful symbol of being set apart by cleansing. It is extended to many more people in the world (not just primarily the Hebrew nation, though you'll notice that non-Hebrews were circumcised if they were part of the household). And it is granted to ALL God's people (whether man or woman).

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