We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Some Thoughts About Baptism

Does the Bible teach that infants and children are to be baptized?  Does baptism save a  person?  Can one be saved without baptism?  And how should baptism be performed?
Let’s look at what the Bible says about baptism, and see if we can find the answers.

Notice that baptism in the Bible is always by immersion.  In this way it symbolizes descent into the grave and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).  Even the Didache (dated between late first and early second centuries) designates the primary method of baptism to be immersion.

Concerning Baptism.  And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

Notice the mention of fasting first; this by itself demonstrates that in the minds of whoever wrote the document, infants were not considered.

Acts 2:38:  Is Peter saying that baptism is necessary for salvation?  The following commentary is from Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes in their book, “When Cultists Ask”).

CORRECTING THE MISINTERPRETATION: What Peter means here becomes clear when we consider the possible meaning of being baptized “for” the remission of sins in the light of its usage, the whole context, and the rest of Scripture.

First, the word “for” (eis) can mean either “with a view to” or “because of.” In the latter case, water baptism would be because they had been saved, not in order to be saved.

Second, people are saved by receiving God’s Word, and Peter’s audience “gladly received his word” before they were baptized (Acts 2:41).

Third, verse 44 speaks of “all who believed” as constituting the early church, not all who were baptized.

Fourth, later, those who believed Peter’s message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

Fifth, Paul separates baptism from the gospel, saying, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17a nasb). But it is the gospel that saves us (Rom. 1:16). Therefore, baptism is not part of what saves us.

Sixth, Jesus referred to baptism as a work of righteousness (Matt. 3:15). But the Bible declares clearly it is “not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 niv).

Seventh, not once in the entire Gospel of John, written explicitly so that people could believe and be saved (John 20:31), is baptism noted as a condition of salvation. Rather this Gospel instructs people to “believe” to be saved (cf. John 3:16, 18, 36).

It seems best to understand Peter’s statement like this: “Repent and be baptized as a result of the forgiveness of sins.” That this view looked backward to their sins being forgiven at the moment when they were saved is made clear by the context and the rest of Scripture. Believing or repenting and being baptized are placed together, since baptism should follow belief. But nowhere does it say, “He who is not baptized will be condemned” (cf. Mark 16:16). Yet Jesus said emphatically that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:18b niv, emphasis added). Scripture does not make baptism a condition of salvation.

Acts 2:41:  “Those who accepted his message were baptized.”  Notice they heard the gospel FIRST and then ACCEPTED it.  Can infants understand the gospel?  Of course not, so they would not fit the category of “those who accepted his message.”  So they would not have been baptized.

Acts 8:12, 13:  People heard the good news of the Kingdom of God FIRST and then they were baptized, “both men and women.”  No mention of infants or children.  Simon believed and THEN was baptized.

Acts 8:36 is the incident of the Ethiopian.  He heard the message FIRST and then asked for baptism.  They went together down INTO the water, and vs 39 says they came up OUT of the water.  So they were definitely IN the water rather than being sprinkled.

Acts 9:18: Saul/Paul was baptized AFTER having believed.

Acts 10:23b-48 and the incident with Cornelius and others at his house.  Cornelius had friends and relatives with him.  Peter taught them all, beginning with reminding them of what they knew.  Infants and small children would not have known all those things, nor would they have understood what Peter was saying, and that is assuming that infants or small children were even present (which is not even hinted at).  Notice Peter says at vs 43 that forgiveness of sin is NOT via baptism, rather it is through the name of Christ.  AFTER they heard the gospel, THEN they were baptized.

Acts 16:11-15.  Lydia and her household.  The teaching took place first, and then the baptism.  Since baptism followed the teaching, infants would not have been able to understand the teaching and place their faith in Christ.  The order is still, teaching FIRST, and THEN baptism.

Acts 16:25-37:  Paul and Silas, and the Jailer and his household.  The jailer asked how to be saved - notice he wasn’t told to be baptized first, rather he was told to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ FIRST.  And “you and your household” follows the command to believe FIRST.  “You and your household” are commanded to “believe in the Lord Jesus” and THEN they will be saved.  Once Paul and Silas arrived at the Jailer’s house, we aren’t told about what teaching took place during the time their wounds were being treated, but in order for those in the household to be baptized, they would have had to first “believe in the Lord Jesus.”  How can an infant exercise such a belief?

Acts 18:7-8:  Teaching in the synagogue, and then “the synagogue ruler and his entire household believed in the Lord;” - in order to exercise such belief they could not have been infants.  “and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.”  Belief came FIRST and THEN baptism.

Acts 9:4-5.  Paul taught John’s followers about Jesus and THEN they were given a Christian baptism.

Act 22:16:  Paul’s testimony, showing that he believed FIRST and was then told to be baptized.

1 Cor. 1:16:  Paul said he baptized the household of Stephanas.  He doesn’t mention what led up to the baptism, but it would be logical to assume that they were first taught the gospel, and infants - if even here - would be unable to understand.  

Baptism is what the Christians do because they have become Christians by being justified by faith in Christ; it is an outward, public sign of the person’s confession, which is based on what they have learned or have been taught.  Learning and understanding the Gospel always comes first before baptism.  There is nothing about baptism that saves a person who has not placed their faith in the atoning work of Christ. Since infants and small children do not have the ability to understand such concepts, they would not be able to have faith before baptism.  Without the faith in Christ FIRST, there is no purpose for baptism.

There are those denomination which claim that baptism is a seal, and therefore babies should be baptized because the will later place their faith in Christ and confirm their baptism.  Baptism is a SIGN of one’s belief in Christ; it is a public proclamation of one’s faith.  Babies cannot make such a proclamation.

Faith in Christ alone is what saves us from sin and provides our salvation through Christ. (John 3:16, 36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16; Rom. 3:22,25; Rom. 10:9; Tit. 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9, 16; et al).


Neil said...

Great thoughts, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very clear and well written. Sadly there are some genuine believers today who still hold to the error of infant baptism. This issue also has an ugly side even in protestant church history.


Joe said...

I agree.

What is your opinion of the "age of accountability?" What does the Bible say about it and in what year of life does it happen? Does it vary from person to person? How young is too young?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Hi Joe,

I sort of covered that issue in my article about children and salvation a couple years ago:

This is how I end that article:

"So let’s look at the issue of not only children, but also those with the mental capacity of a child - or even less. There has been a long-standing teaching among Jews and Christians about an “age of accountability.” Some give numbers such as 8 years old, but others don’t. If there is such an age, I would say it would have to be variable because each person matures at a different rate, and some may be a genius at four years old while other may not have a clue until they are almost pubescent!

"The God of the Bible is a loving and merciful God, and not one who would condemn to hell the souls of children who never saw life, let alone children who not only never learned right from wrong, but also never matured enough to know anything about spiritual matters. And this of course would apply to those with severe mental disabilities whose mental capacity is no more than a child’s.

"I cannot be dogmatic about this subject because the Bible does not specifically state children are saved, but I think the implication is certainly there."

Anonymous said...

There is not one translation of the Bible that translates the Greek word "eis" as, because of, in Acts 2:38. Sins are forgiven after water baptism, not before. Men are not baptized because their sins have already been forgiven.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


The point is not that any version translates it as such, rather the point is what the meaning actually is. Baptism saves no one. Baptism does not save from sin -- only Christ can do that.