Infant baptism

Infant baptism (also called paedobaptism, covenant baptism, and household baptism) is the most common form of baptism practiced in Christianity throughout its history. ^[1]^ As the name indicates, it is baptism for a person while an infant or child, commonly performed within the first two years of life. In Protestant traditions of paedobaptism, since such a baptism does not require the active participation of the baptized (as with a "believer's baptism"), the intent of the act and the liturgies of the worship services surrounding it are quite different from adult or believer's baptism. Whereas a believer's baptism is a willful act of the baptized, infant baptism is considered to be a symbolic as well as mysterious act of God by which a claim is placed upon the child's life by God and the Church. Such a claim does not ensure the salvation of the baptized, as believed within the Roman Catholic Church, but rather follows the Biblical tradition of God's calling people to himself and that the hope of what is to come is not found within the abilities or effectiveness of the baptized but within God himself. Thus the freedom that the Church has to baptize children relies on the basis that God's purposes will be accomplished despite the frailty of the baptized Church. This freedom is confirmed within Reformed theology as a continuance of the sacrament of circumcision under the Abrahamic covenant.

In many Protestant traditions which practice paedobaptism, particularly Reformed, a young adult will re-iterate the commitment of baptism through what is commonly called "confirmation." As a culmination of church classes, and perhaps a more personal mentoring as well, the young adult who has learned the rudiments of discipleship and his or her relationship to God and his people will confirm this understanding and commitment to it as a basis of his or her life.


  • Baptism (Real Audio), by Mark Bates (Presbyterian perspective)
  • Infant Baptism (Real Audio), by Richard Pratt (Presbyterian perspective)



One argument in support of the baptism of infants comes from the fact that controversy over the practice is conspicuously absent from the history of the early church. There is no question that Origen was baptized as an infant in 180 A.D., just 80 years after the death of the last Apostle, John the Evangelist. There are other possible references to infant baptism at earlier dates, but these references are somewhat unclear in their meaning. Born in the mid fourth century (358 A.D.), Augustine wrote, "This doctrine is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained." Tertullian (ca. 155-230) did argue in favor of believer's baptism, but this was in reaction to the un-biblical practice that was being taught in some areas that Christians should wait to be baptized until just before death, and not in reaction to infant baptism. Francis Schaeffer argued, "Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded."

Narrative biblical passages

Acts 2:38-39 ~ "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.'"

Acts 16:14-15 ~ "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' And she prevailed upon us."

Acts 16:29-34 ~ "The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved -- you and your household.' Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God —- he and his whole family."

(Emphasis added.)

Supporters of infant baptism note that in the Acts 2 passage, "the promise is for you and your children..." in contradistinction to the adults present at Peter's address. The households of Lydia and the Philippian jailer were baptized. At issue is whether these households included children, and if those children were able to make a credible profession.

Those opposed to infant baptism note that the above passages are silent as to whether the households contained children, and (correctly) observe the weakness of an argument from silence.

While western culture emphasizes individual salvation, some supporters of infant baptism observe that God has expanded the extension of grace beyond individuals to families and households.

Didactic biblical passages

I Corinthians 1:14-16 ~ "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel -- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

Colossians 2:11-12 ~ "In him also ?you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."

Supporters of infant baptism observe the linkage in Colossians among circumcision, baptism, and life in Christ.

Parallels between OT and NT

Based on the linkage in Colossians, supporters of paedobaptism note that circumcision and baptism are both signs and seals of the covenant of grace.

Gen 17:9-14 ~ Then God said to Abraham, "As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner —- those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

A few observations about Genesis 17.

  • The covenant was between God and Abraham.
  • The covenant was also between God and Abraham's descendants.
  • The sign of the covenant was in circumcision.
  • The eight-day-old male could not give his assent to enter into a covenant with God. It was the covenental relationship of the male's father with God that demanded the circumcision.
  • Compliance with the sign of circumcision was commanded; it was not optional.
  • Circumcision was commanded for all of the household. In particular, it was not just for the believing Abraham, but also for:
    • the never-to-believe Ishmael, and
    • the not-yet-believing Isaac, and
    • those slaves that Abraham purchased.
  • The sign of circumcision was given on the basis of Abraham's covenant with God, not on the basis of the recipient's covenant.

Romans 4:11 ~ And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

A few observations about Romans 4:11.

  • The "he" is Abraham.
  • Circumcision is a seal.
  • The sealing ordinance is for "all who believe."

Possible objections anticipated

Here are some possible objections to the infant baptism point of view.

No examples

While there are no explicit examples of infant baptism, it should be noted that the doctrine of the Trinity or the personhood of the Holy Spirit are also constructed arguments. These arguments in support of infant baptism are also constructive arguments.

Salvation conferred by baptism

While Catholicism asserts that baptism is salvific, the adherents of infant baptism do not believe that the baptism in and of itself confers salvation. The Reformed adherants baptize not to save infants, but because they are commanded by a sovereign God who is able to save.

Note that in Acts 8:13, Simon the Sorcerer "believed and was baptized." This did not confer salvation. See vv 21-22, especially "you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." No true believer would be a "captive to sin." Even credobaptists would be hard pressed to believe that baptism is sufficient for salvation.



One of the arguments against the practice of paedobaptism is the fact that its theological foundation was not developed until Ulrich Zwingli in the sixteenth century. Some would attribute this to his desire to salvage the long-standing tradition of infant baptism in the Roman Catholic Church by finding a way to make the doctrine fit with Scripture. Opponents argue that if baptism is such a prominent theme - if it is commanded of the Church alongside the necessity of so basic a doctrine as repentance - then why did it take more than 1500 years to develop Scriptural support for baptizing infants?

According to earlier sources, infant baptism was a topic of discussion during the times of the early church. Without argument, infant baptism was even practiced by some at this time, claiming that the practice was apostolic tradition. Yet Tertullian, who is often recognized as a staunch defender of apostolic traditions, gave no defense for infant baptism.

According to the Didache, which served as an early church manual, instructions for baptism imply it is adults that are baptized:

"Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand."^[2]^


Perhaps the most well-known argument against paedobaptism is the fact the Bible contains no explicit examples of the practice. Rather, proponents of the doctrine point to accounts in the book of Acts that record the baptism of entire households and argue that the text implicitly includes infants, such as the examples above. However, credobaptists (those who believe that faith must precede baptism) argue that the context of both passages demonstrates that the conditions for baptism include, repentance, hearing the Word, and faithfulness to the Lord.

Other New Testament verses which imply adult decisions as prerequisites for baptism include:

Matthew 3:5-6 ~ "Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."

Galatians 3:27 ~ "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Col. 2:12 ~ "...having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."


  • To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism—Covenant Mercy for the People of God, by Douglas Wilson (ISBN 1885767242)


  1. Infant Baptism in Early Church History, by Dennis Kastens
  2. Didache 7:4

See also