Michael Bull (MB) posted a critique of my Infant Baptism teaching (booklet and video), see below. (I reply after each point). In beginning this discussion, I really appreciate Mike’s graphical work and his writing. He has drawn from sources like the Biblical Theology of James B. Jordan and we worked together to publish JBJ’s Garden of God Mp3 CD and the Revelation Mp3 DVD a few years ago available here. Hopefully, future debates on this subject will be between people who argue from “all of the Bible” (like Mike) for believer’s baptism vs people that argue from “all of the Bible” for infant baptism. In other words, no other Baptist has ever even engaged with material such as the following (from You and Your Household):
“From Eden flowed rivers. There are springs in the patriarch narratives. Israel (including children) passes through the Red Sea. A laver is at the entrance of the tabernacle for priestly cleansing. Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan into the Land. In the temple of Solomon an ocean and basins of water on chariots create a stylized river flowing out to cleanse the nations. Ezekiel and Zechariah see visions of rivers flowing out in the new covenant (Zec. 14:8). Washings in the tabernacle, as well as crossing the Red Sea are explicitly called baptisms (Heb. 9:10, 1 Cor. 10). There are many references to baptism(s) in the Old Testament” (GS).
So I am grateful for the chance to interact with a critique that actually is drawn from what the Bible says about water!
MB: a) The entire point of the baptism of the eunuch was that physical offspring was no longer important since the Seed had come. He was no longer barred from the Tabernacle because he himself was a Tabernacle of the Spirit, and his offspring would be born by his testimony (“out of his belly”). Why does Gregg not mention this? He only sees what he is looking for: physical descendants.
GS: I agree the eunuch is a case of the extension of access. I believe I say this in the video presentation and refer to the Isaiah prophecy (Is. 56:3, not 52 as I have erroneously said a few times). “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.'” But I have pointed out that taking the eunuch case as how to settle what to do with believers’ children is a fallacy. Most Baptists continually commit the “eunuch fallacy” – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Here’s the challenge: show that “only” adults (maturish people) are baptized.
MB: b) Rivers are territorial boundaries, including the Jordan, certainly, but NT baptisms continued after John’s Jordan “conquest” baptism. What does this mean? And why is there no mention of children at John’s baptism (or any other) since the OT makes such a point of it every time? Because baptism sorted the true Jews from the Jews. This can only be done on an individual basis, since it concerns each heart’s circumcision.
GS: On the rivers point, the Colin Brown thesis on crossing the Jordan is consistent with a wide range of people (including children) (“crowds”) crossing. It is unlikely that John individually, physically immersed all the people “in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). In the cases of the other baptisms, they may well have been collective (crossings) and ritual cleansings with confession (adult men, probably). The claim of MB that these baptisms amount to “sorting” true Jews assumes adult individualism. But this could have simply been a faithful head of household leading his household. In any case, men leading their homes are required to raise their children “in the Lord” (Eph. 6, Col. 3). To assume children are excluded is what I have called The Vipers in Diapers Fallacy – assuming that the status of a covenant child is the same as a pagan adult or an apostate adult. That is not the way the Bible treats the children of the faithful in the OT or NT (1Cor. 7:14).
MB: c) The New Covenant has no boundaries, so this Jordan baptism was a warning to Israel. Baptism must be something else, some other kind of boundary, unless the Church is just an Abrahamic body still concerned with fruitfulness of Land and womb (Genesis 3, 15).
GS: OK, but the point of the emerging (Prophets’ vision) of water flowing out of the visionary temple (e.g., Ez. 47) is the baptism of the nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Nations include children. I may be missing the point of MB, but in the new covenant people still have children and they still live on the earth. The way I would read the Abrahamic covenant is that it was about restoration (from the fall) and in the NT we see that it is for all the cosmos (Rom. 4:13), including children (Eph. 6:1-4 “on the earth”). I have written on this elsewhere, regarding the Land Promise.
MB: d) The stuff on the Tabernacle is great, but I don’t think Gregg mentions that the laver was only for mediators: priests and sacrificial substitutes. Once again, he only sees what he is looking for. New Covenant baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority. Jesus’ lambs were not little children but grown believers like Peter who became willing martyrs. Even within Israel, the heavenly water was not for everyone, only for mediators (see Exodus 24 for instance). Baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority, so “infant baptism” is a contradiction in terms. It is not for infants but for those who represent them before God, and represent God to them.
GS: On the laver and “washings” of the tabernacle, we might not be disagreeing here. But let me make a few points: certainly the priests are to wash, and be washed: Ex 30:21 – “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die.” But the sacrifices are ritually washed too; e.g., for the Ascension offering/burnt offering, “Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water” (Lev. 1:9). I have written more about the way sacrifices explain “Union with Christ,” elsewhere. Suffice it to say that many of these baptized sacrifices are representative of not just the individual worshiper, but the worshiper’s household, the priesthood (representatively), all of Israel, and in the case of the Feast of Tabernacles (70 Bulls), all of the nations of the world. Clearly children are representatively “washed.” Further, now the “priesthood” is conferred on all that are baptized in the new covenant (see Leithart). As I said in You and Your Household,
“Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
MB: e) Israel’s great “baptisms” were corporate events, but NT baptisms are always individual. Why is this? Could it be that God saves repentant individuals *before* they are qualified to be part of the NC body?
GS: First of all, thank you for reading the OT! Yes. Israel was baptized. Wow, I was beginning to think that Baptists just have an aversion to reading the OT and 1 Cor. 10:1-4. But, as I tried to show, the baptisms of the NT are not, in fact, “individual,” in the sense of excluding the collective household. Let me say it again:
In summary of the actual baptisms, we find the following: (1) The new covenant promise came “to you and your children” (Acts 2:39) at Pentecost. Only men (3000) are said to have been baptized (Acts 2:5, 14, 41). (2) In Samaria “men and women alike” (Acts 8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). (3) The Ethiopian eunuch (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). (4) Paul (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 9:18; cf 1 Cor. 7:7-8). (5) Cornelius’ household was baptized (Acts 10:48, 11:14). (6) Lydia’s household was baptized (Acts 16:15). (7) The Philippian Jailer’s household was baptized (Acts 16:33). (8) Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus, Stephanas’ household, and Gaius (Acts 18:8, 1 Cor. 1:14, 16). (9) The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (Acts 19:5).
These are the facts about who was baptized. From this we learn: of nine people singled-out in the baptism narratives—five had their households baptized (Cornelius, the Jailer, Lydia, Crispus [inferred], Stephanas), two had no households for obvious reasons (eunuch & Paul). That leaves Simon, who actually turned out to be an unbeliever, and Gaius listed with Crispus, whom Paul baptized (1 Cor. 1:14).
This does not look like a change to “individual” reception of the sign of inclusion. While individuals receive the application of water, it is not as though the reception of this looks very different from the household inclusion in the previous covenant administrations. Every “individual” was also circumcised. And every “individual” was baptized in crossing the Red Sea.
MB: f) Why is the total immersion of Jonah never, never, ever mentioned, especially since Jesus said His death and resurrection (pictured in His own immersion) were the sign of Jonah (the dove)? Or was Jonah merely “sprinkled” inside the fish? If the mode of baptism doesn’t matter, then there is no difference between the life giving dew and the breath-extinguishing Great Flood. Huge blind spot.
GS: This point suggests that “immersion” is quite important. But then Paul seems to miss the significance of this in citing Israel’s Baptism (1 Cor. 10). But let me say, once again, thank you for reading all of the Bible. This is an interesting argument for immersion. I do not object to the mode of immersion. I do object to exclusive immersion. As I said in my presentation, all modes are valid. This is because baptism is the application of water and from all of the Bible we see many ways/modes of baptism. I agree that baptism is a “flood.” But it is also the pouring out of the water from above (e.g., specifically Pentecost). Jonah is a story about a man swallowed up, cast into the sea. He goes down . . .
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord.
And the chiasm communicates the rebellious nature of Jonah’s plunge. But Jesus’ death is not disobedience (as in Jonah’s case). Jonah was chucked “up” (Jon. 2:10). Jesus (as true Israel) and Jonah show the story of the nation (Hos. 6:2). Israel was baptized into the sea of the Gentiles; but came out and was finally delivered/vomited back into the Land. This will result in the increasing knowledge of God (in Assyria, Babylon, Persia), the baptism of the nations (Is. 52, Ez. 47). “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40). This is partly a reproof of Israel (e.g., you are like that generation that went into exile). So, I agree, that’s a great argument for immersion as a mode. But if you were to say baptism is not baptism apart from immersion, then the Bible would contradict that (1Cor. 10, Heb. 9, Acts 2).
MB: g) The animals were included as part of the household in every OT event used for support. Why not now? Because the sacrifices have ended, and God no longer requires the firstborn of the offspring, which is what the sign of circumcision (and Passover) was all about – not a sign upon infants but a sign upon males. It is finished. Confusing circumcision with baptism misses the entire point of each sign.
GS: Ok you got me on this one. Perhaps we should baptize cats in the new covenant. But on the relation of circumcision and baptism, I think I have a pretty strong case. Circumcision represented the work of the Holy Spirit, the circumcision of the heart. Stephen drew upon a very deep stream of the Biblical waters when he said to his persecutors, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). This meaning of circumcision is very evident in many Old Testament passages (Lev. 26:41, Jer. 9:26, Ez. 44:7, 44:9, Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4). The very promise of the new covenant included this, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants” (Deut. 30:6). Paul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, learned this too (perhaps from Stephen). It permeates virtually all of his epistles (Rom. 2:29, 4:11, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6, 6:15, Eph. 2:11-12, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11-12, 3:11). The reality behind physical circumcision is circumcision “which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). Circumcision signifies the renewal of the heart toward God, just as baptism does.
MB: h) Total failure to describe what each Covenant sign actually meant and why they are different (i.e. Passover was about the firstborn; the last supper was about the firstborn from the dead. Big difference but totally overlooked).
GS: Ok this is a great suggestion for a new paper/booklet: What all the signs of covenant in the Bible signify. However the subject of my writing/speaking was simply a demonstration that the Bible authorizes infant baptism. I believe I addressed the subject with the relevant material. I can’t say everything about every detail, but I don’t think an examination of the meaning of each sign will imply that “now little children are excluded from baptism.”
MB: i) If baptism is about physical descendants, how is it any different to circumcision? The New Testament places no importance upon physical offspring as the “mechanism” of the Covenant. Tribal genealogies are not sanctified but eradicated in baptism. Once again, Gregg misses the point with his way-too-broad “Covenant” paintbrush. Covenant theology is great, but New Covenant theology is greater.
GS: I would put this point under the category that the NT or New Covenant excludes children. But does it? This is my most succinct answer:
Consider these new covenant prophecies. Are the children of believers included in the explicit and repeated new covenant promises?
The very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live . . .
Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise:
Jeremiah 31:1: “At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’”
Jeremiah 31:17: [Though Rachel weeps for her children (destroyed in captivity), when they return] “‘there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD, ‘and your children shall return to their own territory.’”
Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included:
Jeremiah 31:33-37: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” . . . If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 32:37-40: “Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
Jeremiah 33:22-26: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me . . . 26 then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”
Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear the children of believers are included:
Ezekiel 37:24-26: David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd . . . . and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them . . .” (NKJV)
Zech. 10:6-9: “And I shall bring them back, Because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God, and I will answer them. 7 “And Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; Indeed, their children will see it and be glad, Their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . They will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.
Joel 2:1-29: Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! . . . So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations . . . 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. . . . My people will never be put to shame. 28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy . . .”
Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.
Isaiah 54:10-13: Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed . . .13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.
Isaiah 59:20-21: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion. . . .” My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
In the New Testament, the apostles also repeatedly included the principle of “you and your seed.”
Luke 1:17: “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 2:49-50: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.
Acts 2:39: 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.
Acts 3:25: “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Acts 13:32-33: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus . . .”
Romans 4:13-17: For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith . . . 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
These texts provide overwhelming and unambiguous Biblical support for the conviction the children of believers are included in the new covenant.
MB: j) The aim of the Great Commission is not an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant. That Covenant – and its division of flesh in circumcision, etc. – had to *die* to be a blessing to all nations. The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel: the preaching of the Gospel and the baptism of converts. It was not a command to extend some kind of watery circumcision across the world. God is only interested in circumcised hearts. Again: Gregg misses the point.
GS: This is not persuasive to me. The Abrahamic covenant is relevant to the new covenant (see my above paper on the Land Promise). Paul seems to think the Abrahamic covenant is quite relevant (Gal. 3, Rom. 4 and just about everything he wrote). I think we agree that, “The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel.” However, baptism, like circumcision, has a judgment dimension (1 Pet. 3). Colossians 2:11-12: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This text is disputed, especially in the meaning of “the circumcision of Christ.” Is this spiritual circumcision/regeneration or something else? It may be that this circumcision “of Christ” is the “cutting off of Christ” on the cross, i.e., His death. Even so, this would still correlate baptism and circumcision, but addressing the cutting off or “death” aspect: circumcision=death, baptism=death. My argument, does not depend on a particular reading of this passage, but rather that there are parallels between circumcision and baptism in their meaning. On the face of it, Paul refers to both here, because there is a similarity (whatever it is in this passage).
MB: k) An earlier one that I missed: Gregg says that not only do we have no explicit infant baptisms in Scripture, we have no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptised. True in one sense, but totally false in another. Timothy grew up in the equivalent of a believing home. So did Nathaniel, the “Jew indeed.” The coming of the Spirit simply gave full access to both Jewish and Gentile believers, erasing the demarcation of offspring (or males). Baptism identified the “true Jew”, the one with the circumcised heart, which could be either Jew or Gentile. Baptism is *not* a wiped down circumcision recycled but basically the same.
GS: MB fails to actually answer the point. I say there are “no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized.” MB suggests Timothy and Nathanial (?). Good try Mike, but no cigar . . . (Nathan is not even mentioned post-pentecost). Timothy does not qualify for several reasons. 1) We are not told of his baptism (ever). So how can Timothy’s baptism be evidence in the argument? The argument is no “baptism” of a grown-up believers child. 2) We are told that he was a “disciple” (Acts 16:1) and knew the Scripture from “infancy” (2 Tim 3:14). My point stands, despite Baptist claims and confusions, in fact, there are no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized as a believer in the Bible. MB please refute this point or concede. As I wrote in You and Your Household: “There is no explicit example of infant baptism in the Bible. Baptists also should admit: neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized on profession. The Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way. This is a fact. This lack of an explicit basis should be acknowledged on both sides.”