Gavin Ortlund Critiques Paedobaptism on the Basis of Circumcision

Dr. Gavin Ortlund presented a very interesting paedobaptist challenge at the Evangelical Theological Society, San Diego (November 20 – 22, 2019). The title was: “Why Not Grandchildren? A Critique of Reformed Paedobaptism” – You can hear his talk here. Listen to our interaction in a WordMp3 iView podcast – I interacted with him directly.

Dr. Ortlund argues that circumcision was for the multi-generational “nation” Israel (eg., “all the seed of Abraham”), it is inter-generational (grandchildren/future generations); however Reformed infant baptism is claimed only for “you and your children” (eg., merely, “generational”). So he argues there is an actual discontinuity between recipients of circumcision and the recipients of baptism (for the Reformed paedobaptist). He points out that Calvin, Knox, Rutherford, et al (early Reformation) agreed that any child, grandchild, greatgrandchild of a believer had a right to the rite. His helpful example is John, sr. is a faithful believer; John, jr. is unfaithful; What do we do with John, III? Should he be baptized (as an infant)? Contemporary paedos do not baptize John III. There is discontinuity on circumcision’s recipients and baptism’s recipients.

I interact with this challenge. My view is that the first generation of circumcision is for the whole household, then it should be generation after generation. If a generation becomes unfaithful then there is a pastoral problem about kickstarting then next generation (eg., the Wilderness generation). I provide examples of grandfathers raising their “children” (actually grandchildren) who could properly bring their (grand)children to baptism, as well as the question of foster child baptism.

Listen to the podcast for the conversation. Here are few matters we did not address:

  • Exegetically: Gen. 17 states that, “I will make nations of you” – but this starts with the household (oikos in Greek; bet in Hebrew). Genesis 17:23 – “Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him.” Genesis 17:27 – “All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” Therefore, it starts with the household as is explicitly stated (3x). It is not that “a nation” (singular) will come (Israel), “nations” plural will come, not only Isaac/Israel, but sons of Keturah (Midianites, Keturah may have been Hagar) and Ishmaelites. At any rate, we know Ishmael was circumcised. Contra brother Gavin, circumcision is not a “national sign” of Israel since Ishmael received the sign, yet was not in the nation of Israel (Gen 17:20-25). Rather, it is a sign of Abraham’s faith, a sign of the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4), a sign of inclusion into the covenant that Yahweh would be his God and his children’s God (over many generations). This inclusive rite and faith promises Gentile inclusion in Paul (Gal. 3-4; Rom. 4, 15): God intended all the families of the earth to be engrafted into Abraham’s promise of the restoration of fallen humanity (Eph. 2:15). It started with Abraham but is for “all the nations of the earth” (Mt. 28:19-20).
  • Logistically: Why deny that circumcision was generational in practices (parents bring infants)? How would it possibly work to circumcise those born/adopted if not one generation bringing the next to circumcision? Would an eight day old child not need to be with his mother? Would the mom hand off the grand baby to the grand dad and send them off to this ritual procedure with nothing to do with it? Would a distant relative (yet “nationally” connected, as Gavin suggests, nieces and nephews) be abducted for this covenant rite? Does circumcision entail kidnapping the child for a time, for this minor medical procedure? Use your imagination, but the point is that it is plainly, logistically, and theologically intended to be one generation after the next generation, not generation contra generation, not generation despite generation. This seems to be the meaning of, Genesis 17:9 – “throughout their generations.” If Gen. 17 is not clear, Peter specifies, “you and your children” (Acts 2:39). See a longer article with dozens of “you and your children” references (“Covenantal Infant Baptism: An Outlined Defense” on this site).
  • Theologically: The best this Gavin’s (interesting) argument could do against paedobaptism is show an inconsistency in current paedobaptist practice (if Gavin is right about intergenerational circumcision). Well, I grant that there may be many inconsistencies in current paedobaptist practice. This is not a refutation. Rather, paedo-inclusion is to be practiced consistently, as is evident in Gen. 17. This is a rather foundational redemptive passage on how we address the households and children of those in covenant.
  • Pastorally: To anticipate an objection: the true “seed of Abraham” must believe: yes. But my Baptist brothers mean a self-conscious expression of someone over about 4 years of age. Before that they are not the “seed” or “descendants” or “children” – this is all despite the actual meanings of the words, “seed, descendants, and children” — but Isaac, Jacob, and many that followed believed and realized the covenant sign’s meaning in their lives as they become mature. The baptist view confuses entrance into the covenant relationship with the mature expression of this life of faith in relationship. We should not reject the least child in the household of faith for the covenant sign as a means identification in the very promise of God. It is a rite, an ordinance, a sacrament, a hope, a prayer, a wish, an ardent desire and everything else good we want for a new and beautiful person who just entered the world, perhaps a child or a grandchild. Like my newly minted delight, our first grandchild, Marlowe — how could I not want all the best for her? Blessings and salvation to her. Does she have a right to the rite because of her dad, mom, granddad, grandmoms, great grandmoms, great great grandmoms, great, great, great grand moms — or even her 8th great grandfather, Robert Allen Strawbridge, the first Methodist preacher/circuit rider in America? Well — all of the above. But it only takes one such believer to make her a covenantal “saint” (hagios), as Paul taught (1Co. 7:14). But would not any of these desire or “the desire” of baptism’s end for her? Like all believers we have the most sincere hope for this little one to grow up to know forgiveness in Jesus, express a mature faithfulness, know our Triune God deeply, accomplish mighty things in the kingdom, and live forever in the New Creation. Baptism (in our day) is the tangible expression of this wish-hope-longing-faith. Baptists and Paedobaptists desire the same thing: faithful children who grow to faithful adults. Baptism is (I think we agree) the sign of this faith. Circumcision was this sign in Abraham’s day. As Paul states: “he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them” (Rom. 4:11). It is precisely because of this pastoral, parental, multi-generational desire, that we should raise our children in the culture and counsel of Christ (Eph. 6:4). The sign and seal of this desire is baptism.
  • Calvinistically: While Gavin marshals Calvin (on Gen. 17) to the effect of circumcision as an inter-generational (what he takes ia a “national”) sign, there is more to Calvin here. Gavin argues that circumcision was a national sign without the relevant spirituality captured in “believers and their children” (ie., Reformed paedobaptist view). I am not sure from reading Calvin on Gen. 17, this is an accurate summary. Gavin misses a major emphasis of Calvin on Gen. 17: “since circumcision is called by Moses, the covenant of God, we thence infer that the promise of grace was included in it. For had it been only a mark or token of external profession among men, the name of covenant would be by no means suitable, for a covenant is not otherwise confirmed, than as faith answers to it. And it is common to all sacraments to have the word of God annexed to them, by which he testifies that he is propitious to us, and calls us to the hope of salvation; yea, a sacrament is nothing else than a visible word, or sculpture and image of that grace of God, which the word more fully illustrates….We now consider how the covenant is rightly kept; namely, when the word precedes, and we embrace the sign as a testimony and pledge of grace; for as God binds himself to keep the promise given to us; so the consent of faith and of obedience is demanded from us….And Abraham is not only commanded to dedicate and to offer unto God those born in his house, but whomsoever he might afterwards obtain.” John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 1399ff. I rest my case with brother Calvin.

The Case for Covenant Communion: 2nd Edition (part 2) – 1 Cor. 11 (a)


A second edition of The Case for Covenant Communion is forthcoming (d.v.). I am interacting with Children and the Lord’s Supper (Christian Focus, 2011). In the first chapter summary of their case, Waters and Duncan write, “First Corinthians 11, then, sets for clear criteria for participation in the Lord’s Supper. The Supper is not for all church members” (21).

This is the first post on understanding 1 Corinthians 11, focusing on the original context. A common reading (esp. Reformed) of this passage uses Paul’s rebukes as grounds for admission to the Table and inverts his reproofs into “criteria” for entrance. This is not the only way to read this passage (see Jeff Meyers ch. in The Case for Covenant Communion, 1st ed.). Turning the rebuke of evil Pharisees by John the Baptist into “entrance criteria” is precisely what Baptists do. I maintain this is a bad hermeneutic. We should address the entrance requirements (into saraments/covenant, etc.) for children in passages that address children, not passages reproving adults for sinful behavior.

What seems to be almost entirely missing in Reformed discussions of 1 Cor. 11 is the actual context of such an event. By missing this, it is easy to skew the reading toward entrance “criteria.” What is in the background? What did a Corinthian Lord’s Supper entail?

“Put together with what we know of the social conventions and mores of the time, we can suppose what is going on in Corinth at the Lord’s supper. One of the members with a large enough house–and this inevitably entails a commensurate servant staff–hosts the dinner in which the Lord’s supper is observed. Some persons–this apparently breaks along economic lines also–are free to come early, and they have (the choice?) food and drink. Some get drunk (11:21). Others (Paul characterizes them as “those having nothing”) perhaps get there late(r) and find, along with tipsy coworshipers, leftover food at best. (For more on the socioeconomic makeup of the congregation at Corinth, see the Commentary on 1:26–31.)” J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 934.

“What should have been a ritual of incorporation and group solidarity, with members of the one body sharing their food and drink in acts of reciprocal hospitality (cf. Neyrey 1996: 159–82), seems to have degenerated into a ritual of rivalry and competitive display threatening to split the fellowship (vv. 18–21). The common meal has become anything but “common.” In particular, disparities of wealth and status between members are being dramatized every time they “come together” to eat. How could this be? What is causing the breakdown into “divisions” (schismata) and “factions” (haireseis)? Vv. 21–22a provide the clue: “For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper [to idion deipnon], and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? Stephen C. Barton, 1 Corinthians, ed. James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 1339.

If this first century setting is described accurately, does this not raise some questions about the “criteria” of participation? Is Paul’s focus on mental capacity or social inequity? Is this just “liberal” social theory imposed on the text? No. It’s the best historical reconstruction.

Venerable evangelical commentatory, Leon Morris says, “The wealthier members of the congregation clearly provided most of the food, and this could have been a marvellous  expression of Christian love and unity. But it was degraded into the very opposite. The poor would have to finish their work before they could come, and slaves would find it particularly difficult to be on time. But the rich did not wait. They ate and drank in their cliques (‘divisions’, v. 18), each eating ‘an own dinner’ (idion deipnon). The food was gone before the poor got there! One remains hungry, another gets drunk.”1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 156.

The Case for Covenant Communion: 2nd Edition (part 1)

I am very happy to report that Ichthus/Areopagus  wants to publish the second edition of The Case for Covenant Communion (hereafter, CCC) (now out of print). So I have begun work assessing the two book-length works addressing the anti-paedocommunion point of view published since CCC:  Children at the Lord’s Table?: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion (Cornelis P. Venema) & Children and the Lord’s Supper (Waters and Duncan, eds.). I plan to give these books a fair reading and analysis.

My conclusion in 2006 in CCC was as follows:

“While there is no example in so many words of the children of believers in baptism or communion, there are numerous explicit texts on the inclusion of believers’ children in the new covenant (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:36–37; Acts 2:39), in the Church (Eph. 1:1; 6:1–4; Col. 1:2; 3:20; 1 Cor. 7:14), and the kingdom (Matt. 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). Communion is participation in these, if it is anything at all. No one can produce even one verse that explicitly excludes them from the tangible participation in the covenant promises through baptism or communion. In the final analysis all paedo-exclusion (anti-paedobaptism or anti-paedocommunion) is generated in theological inference from texts which are not explicitly addressing children.” (CCC, p. 164)
It will be surprising if Venema, Waters & Duncan, or anyone else can overturn that assessment. The main point is that our interpretation of texts should look to passages which address children or at least households (oikos), rather than passages that address adults. Such arguments usually then make inferences from such passages addressing adult sin (e.g., covenant breaking Pharisees or sectarian Corinthians). Then inferences are made to exclude children from participation (in baptism or communion). This is a misguided hermeneutic. A biblical interpreter should look to passages which address children and households to evaluate the status of children.

Infants and Children in the Church (book now available)

Adam Harwood (Ph.D.) and Kevin Lawson (Ed.D) were the editors of a helpful book, Infants and Children in the Church: Five Views on Theology and Ministry (Broadman & Holman/B&H Academic November 15, 2017).infants and children in church

This book includes chapters from an Orthodox view (Fr. Jason Foster, Ph.D.), a Roman Catholic view (Dr. David Libertro) , a Lutheran view (Rev. David Scaer, Ph.D.), a Reformed view (Rev. Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.), and a Baptist view (Adam Harwood, Ph.D.). This is an engaging book with responses from each presenter. Get the book via here  (with a free mp3 presentation) or via Amazon/Kindle here. More on the writers/presenters below . . .

Before this book was published each of the speakers presented their basic views at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (2015). Listen to here to these presentations, check out the audio recordings and Gregg Strawbridge’s video recording of his presentation.

Jason Foster (Ph.D., Durham University) – Advocate for the Eastern Orthodox view. He is Priest of Holy Nativity of our Lord Orthodox Church in Bossier City, Louisiana. He holds master’s degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary, Cranmer Theological House, and Oxford University. His Ph.D. dissertation is titled “Sursum Corda: Ritual and Meaning of the Liturgical Command in the First Five Centuries of the Church.”

Adam Harwood (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Co-editor of the book project and advocate for the Baptist view. He is Associate Professor of Theology, Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Kevin E. Lawson (Ed.D., University of Maine) – Panel discussion facilitator and co-editor of the book project. He is Director of the Ph.D. and Ed.D. Programs in Educational Studies, Editor of the Christian Education Journal, and Professor of Christian Education at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He served as a board member of The Society for Children’s Spirituality: Christian Perspectives (2001-12). Among other books, he edited Understanding Children’s Spirituality: Theology, Research, and Practice (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

David Liberto (Ph.D., Marquette University) – Advocate for the Roman Catholic view. He is Professor of Historical and Dogmatic Theology at Notre Dame Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has published several articles in academic, peer-reviewed publications and is currently working on a book-length treatment of the psychological analogy of the Trinity.

Donna Peavey (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) – Presentation on children’s ideas of God. She is Professor of Christian Education at NOBTS. Her 2003 Ph.D. dissertation addresses the influences of self-image upon children’s images of Jesus. She speaks frequently at training events for Christian educators on the topic of spiritual formation in childhood.

David Scaer (Th.D., Concordia Seminary) – Advocate for the Lutheran view. He is Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament and Editor of Concordia Theological Quarterly at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Among other works, he is the author of Infant Baptism in Nineteenth Century Lutheran Theology (Concordia, 2011) and contributed to Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Zondervan, 2007).

Gregg Strawbridge (Ph.D., University of Southern Mississippi) – Advocate for the Presbyterian view. He is Pastor of All Saints Presbyterian in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and is the Founder and Creative Director of, an online audio library of Christian worldview resources. He edited and contributed to The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (P&R, 2003).

Each of the five major Christian views will answer the same four questions:

  1. How are infants and children impacted by sin?
  2. How does God treat people who die in their infancy or childhood?
  3. When and how are children considered members of the church?
  4. When and how are children instructed in Christian doctrine?

The First Century Family – What Can We Validly Infer from Household Baptisms: The New Oikos Formula

Abstract – As we consider biblical revelation as it relates to marriage and family, all of the data matters. From Acts and the Epistles there are only nine individuals (explicitly named or described) who were baptized. It will be argued that six of these baptisms are “household baptisms.” This pattern has led to a century old discussion on the “oikos [household] formula” and what it means or does not mean. That debate between the likes of Joachim Jeremias and Kurt Aland  (circa 1960) set the stage for the current discussion about family solidarity and the ordinances of baptism and communion in the NT. What may we validly infer from this set of facts? I will work through the pattern and provide conclusions consistent with the implications.

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View (part 3)

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View

In the debate I did with James White, (Now on Youtube) I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This post addresses the third fallacy: Baptizing the Invisible Church. This fallacy is thinking that by “believer’s baptism” one baptizes only “believers” or “regenerate persons” or only those that are “saved.” On the other hand, Baptists accuse paedobaptists of baptizing “unbelievers” and “unregenerate” individuals (see my previous fallacy discussion, Vipers in Diapers).

Baptists, like Dr. White, continually engage in an equivocation. They will say they baptize “believers” by which they mean people who have been saved. But when pressed they specify they mean, “professors” or “confessors” (i.e., those who have the capacity to somehow verbally confess some declarations of their belief and do so). When such Baptists go on the defensive they will say things like, “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever baptized?” – then a quick qualification follows: “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever knowingly baptized by the apostles?” This statement is almost verbatim from Dr. White in the debate.

The “knowingly baptizing an unbeliever” qualification guards the view from the case of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9ff). Simon S’s case is unique in the Bible on two accounts: 1) He is the only person who was basically cursed and called to repent by Peter after he was baptized. “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God” (Acts  8:21). Before the Spirit was conferred by the apostles (in this unique Samaritan example), he was excluded from Christ. 2) He, as it turns out, is the only named person baptized (post Pentecost) that could have had children whom were not baptized. Of the nine individuals baptized and individually identified, six are (very arguably) household cases, the Eunuch and Saul/Paul do not have children, and that leaves Simon. (For a proof of Gaius being a household case see my talk here (about 14 minutes into it). Therefore, of all the pericope’s on baptism, Simon the Sorcerer is only person who could have had children whom were not baptized. That is why I have emphasized in the debate and other presentations, that Simon S is the best example of the Baptist view. He alone is the only non-household example that might have conceivable had a household/children.

Baptists commonly talk as though every baptismal example in the NT is of an adult, apart from his/her household, and then there are these exceptional cases where a household consists of mature individuals who through a revival are all of age and all of them individually confess the faith. As if, each of them “walk down the aisle” and lo and behold an entire family came on the 12th verse of Just as I Am and their household-ness is strictly anomalous, since in the new covenant it is an individual choice. The facts do not support this point of view. Six of nine individuals named are arguably household cases (at least five are indisputable, leaving aside Gaius) and the others don’t have children, leaving Simon. Simon is the best example of the Baptist precedent. He could have had a family, but the household is not mentioned. That is not true of any other individual identified.

Now back to the main point, “Baptizing the Invisible Church,” Simon’s case is also instructive here. Acts 8:12 states, “Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip.” Yet he turns out to have “no part” in Christ. I realize this example creates some problems. “How could he have believed? Did he lose his salvation?” If we take the text in a direct manner, we could say: he believed, but his belief was temporary and not rooted (Matt. 13:7). Like those who believed in Jesus in John 2, they followed for the wrong reasons. This becomes evident in the case of Simon.

Stepping away from the particulars, look at the big picture of this example: a baptized man believed temporarily, was drawn toward the power of the apostles, yet he fell away and is condemned. What can this teach if not that we do not baptize only “invisible Church members” or only the elect or only regenerate people or true “believers”? Even when the apostolic legates (Philip) do the baptism, the baptism of “believers” does not guarantee fidelity and the regeneration of the baptized. If this is the case with Spirit-led Philip, then no one should presume today.

The view, the “New Covenant only includes regenerate people” (based on a misreading of Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8), really amounts to assuming  we should only baptize the regenerate. But since we cannot on any account actually do that (and neither could the apostles), then this view cannot be the right basis or theology of our practice. The actual Reformed Baptist practice is, “only regenerate individuals are in the new covenant, therefore (ergo) we only baptize professors.” But professors are not the same as regenerate individuals. The argument is illogical. If the only people to receive baptism (a sign of membership) must be known to be regenerate, then we are in a hopeless practical and pastoral situation. However, the Baptist view fudges or equivocates. They talk the talk of “regeneration,” but then walk the walk of mere “profession” of faith.

Practically, most Baptists baptize young children upon a simple profession. The Reformed Baptist, rejecting this, await the teen years to greater assurance of knowing the truth of their profession. I really tried to press this point on Dr. White in the debate. Something like, “so little children are inauthentic, but teens are honest?” He did not like that line of questioning. Well, at 51, I can only say, the “age argument” on authenticity is just folly.  My goodness, I was baptized on profession at 10 (after being shown the film, The Burning Hell, let’s hope that’s not on Youtube). At 16 I had a dozen contradictory views of spiritual things flashing in my head. I think I was more sincere at a younger age, actually.

For my well-meaning Baptist brethren, I would suggest only baptizing those over 50, but it would be better to wait until the hour of death for the greatest sincerity and credibility. I want to advocate, not for believer’s baptism, but for “die-er’s baptism.”

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View (part 2)

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View

In the debate I did with James White, I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This post addresses the second fallacy: The Vipers in Diapers Fallacy.

I am indebted to Pastor Mickey Schneider (the founder of the PCA!) for this name. He suggested that the Southern Presbyterians (Dabney/Thornwell, etc.) believed that covenant children were nothing more than “vipers in diapers.” I have not researched this to confirm their specific views, but it sounds consistent with what I know of them. Certainly many Presbyterians (past and present) hold a much less robust doctrine of covenant children than I do. In the film, A River Runs Through It, the Presbyterian minister said that Methodists are “just Baptists who can read.” Dabney and Thornwell may just be Baptists with a theology. (Don’t take offense, my 6th Great Grandfather was the first Methodist preacher in America, Robert Allen Strawbridge and I was born’d and reared a Southern Baptist.)

The Vipers in Diapers fallacy assumes the status of a covenant child is the same as a pagan adult or an apostate adult. Calvinists believe that total depravity applies to all, but this doctrine must be harmonized with grace. I feel sure that I still  have “total depraved” and yet, I am saved. For me to deny that I am in Christ, though I am painfully aware of my sin, is not faithfulness, but faithlessness. The only hope of my sanctification is accepting both sin as a reality in my life and grace through Christ alone. Applying this to covenant babies is the confusion of stamping the model of adult conversion on covenant infants. While I am expressive and conscious of my sins and the grace I have received, children are neither.  The right stance for Calvinists who embrace paedo-inclusion is not to deny our children’s depravity (that is hardly a matter to debate), nor to deny that grace in all its extravagant goodness applies to them. I think it is a failure of faith (in covenant promises) to be agnostic on our infant children’s status.The right posture is to believe with all our hearts that they have received the fullest measure of the grace of God in the womb and then raise them with the bold faith that they are the Lord’s. This is not presumption if we are “grabbing them by their baptism” at every moment of their sinfulness. God may be both kinder than you think and harsher than you can imagine.

I have heard many a Baptist defense of “believer’s only” baptism which began with John’s Baptism and argued it excludes children on the grounds of requiring individualistic repentance. So Matthew 3:7 says,  “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'” Many Baptist defenses take such texts to exclude children. But – Is this text addressing the children of the faithful? Are these vipers babies? Or, are the adult apostates? The answer is obvious. However, this text and those like it are pressed into the Baptist cause by saying this is a radical change in the new covenant. Whereas in the OT children were included, but now they are excluded because only repentant “believers” may be admitted to the covenant and the covenant rites (baptism). This not only overlooks the whole covenant purpose (God to you and your children), but it is just plain false with respect to the Old Testament. Do we not find similar admonitions from Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and every other OT writer? Calling fleshly Israelites to repent of their apostasy is hardly a new covenant phenomenon! John was not inventing a new mode of ministry by calling for their repentance; neither does John explicitly exclude children. There is not a word about children in John’s preaching, except the expectation that he would turn their hearts to their fathers. This cannot be consistent with the Baptist cause. Would it not be a better hermeneutic to get our views of children from texts that address children? On this the New Testament is not silent.

1) In the first case, Jesus was a child and Matthew’s first dozen uses of the word “child” (teknon) refer to the Child, Jesus. I doubt Baptists will be converted by this point, but it is very strong evidence that simply being a child is not the same as being a “devil” or “heathen” or “unregenerate.” Along these same lines, in Luke we are told that John was filled with the Spirit in the womb and that he did a holy dance as an embryo. Since John was least in the kingdom, what can this mean except that in the new age to come under Christ, myriads more embryos will leap for joy in knowing their Lord. And so they do.

2) Jesus fed not only adults, but children (Matt. 14:21). This reflection (to use a Calvinism) may be “spat upon” by Baptists, but he who has ears, let him hear. The Bread of Life which was united to the person of Christ in thanksgiving and then distributed to the 5000 men, was no less given to the thousands of children present. It seems likely that Jesus was more concerned to feed the children than the adults. The Church today ought to feed the children.

3) The obvious texts that address children as part of the kingdom refute the “vipers in diapers” thesis. The most critical term here is “toioutos” –

Matthew 18:3–5 – “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever receives one such (toioutos) child in My name receives Me;

Luke 18-15-17 – And they were bringing even their babies (brephos) to Him so that He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such (toiouton) as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.

The most persuasive Baptist defender, Paul K. Jewett writes, “When the Jews cried out against Paul (Acts 22:22), ‘Away with such a one (toiouton)!’ they could hardly have meant, Away with someone like this man Paul.” (Baptist Defense: Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace)

These texts plainly teach that “such” (toioutos) children belong to Christ’s kingdom. This implies that the children of the faithful (i.e., those bringing their children to Christ) are subjects of the kingdom and thus in a different status than adult apostates or pagans.

4) If nothing has been convincing thus far, we have the apostolic word which explicitly teaches that children of believers are in a different status: 1 Cor 7:14 – “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified (hagiozo perf. tense) through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified (hagiozo) through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (hagios pl. “saints”).” The Baptist scholar, AT Robertson, noted that the sanctification of the spouses means that “the marriage is holy and need not be set aside.” True enough. However, what Jewett (Baptist) and others confirm is that the children’s hagios is “covenantal” holiness. Exactly! Jewett concedes that the children of believers are part of the “saints” (54); that the children of believers are in the kingdom (60); that household proselyte baptism most likely existed concurrent with Acts (64); that circumcision and baptism are both signs of entrance to the covenant community (86); that circumcision and baptism are both “seals” (86); that the “two signs, as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality” (89); that baptism “occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament” (89); that “circumcision means ‘essentially’ what baptism means in the New Testament” (96); and that the sanctification of children (1Co 7:14) is due to the “marriage covenant” as in the Jewish/Mishna sources (136).

It is a fallacy to view the children of believers as pagans or apostates. They have a different status in the Old Testament, surely. But the New Testament explicitly teaches that they are in a separate category from pagans or unregenerate apostates.

Audio/PDF of Infants and Children in the Church (Reformed View)

Infants_ConferenceThis talk is from a conference held at the New Orleans  Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist) on the topic of Infants and Children in the Church featuring Five Views: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist. Rev. Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D. presented the Reformed view. See the Outline (pdf) for the visuals and notes. The audio is available here MP3 and the PDF of the presentation (keynote slides) is available in the OUTLINE of the item (PDF).


Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View (part 1)

Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View

In the debate I did with James White, I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This is a post to elaborate on the first of them.

The Eunuch Fallacy – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Why weren’t the eunuch’s children baptized? (umm, well, he’s got no) . . .

The interactions with Baptists of which I am aware assume without argumentation or cogent proof that a command or an example of adult baptism proves that children/infants should not be baptized. This is one of the most significant issues in addressing the subjects of baptism. Is it really true that  a command to “believe and be baptized” or an example of an adult’s profession of faith prior to baptism (like the Eunuch, Acts 8) (of itself) proves the exclusion of children in baptism? I think there are many reasons to rethink this.

If children were never ever included in any biblical signs or covenants, etc., then one might assume only those that have the capacity to confess the faith could be baptized. But we have thousands of years of the inclusion of children in signs of covenant prior to this. We have an entire theology of the generational promises (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 34:7). In the case of circumcision we have exactly the same kind of sign inclusion: adults coming into the (old) covenant submitted themselves to Yahweh, but their infants were included (without conscious consent). So the Baptist case depends on a very important assumption: the commands and example to believe and be baptized actually exclude children/infants from participation. But could someone please show this from the Bible?

We all agree about adult converts—they must confess their faith prior to baptism. Baptists and paedobaptists disagree about how to deal with the infant (and young) children of Christians. 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. We cannot settle the case by appealing to an explicit passage in the Bible which tells us this child was baptized or this child was not baptized. The cases of adult baptisms do not automatically settle the question.

The Baptist case rests on the assumption that “believe and be baptized” actually means “only those with the capacity to consciously confess their belief are to be baptized.” To make this assumption is a fallacy since it assumes adult capacity excludes children/infants. This was not true from Genesis to Malachi (at least). We have an entire world of biblical history prior to new covenant baptism which include commands/actions of adults as well as the inclusion of infant children. Circumcision is one example and many other rites like passover, and sacrificial meals and acts in the tabernacle/temple also include children.

I would enjoy seeing a Baptist start on the “level playing field” and then make the argument, e.g., acknowledging that the Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way (infant or growing up to profess). By the way, no Baptist I know has thus made this admission which is not a matter of interpretation, but plain fact: no believers’ baptism of Christian’s child is recorded in the Bible. Could someone please argue the Baptist case from the Bible, rather than make fallacious assumptions about commands/examples of adults?

How would one argue this Baptist case? Let me suggest several way to overcome the Eunuch Fallacy:

One could argue that the Old Testament is in no way authoritative about anything and become a Marcionite, thus dismissing the OT god (sorry, I just could not resist). Seriously though, I really do have concerns when I hear Baptists routinely make “semi-marcionite” arguments that only the NT is relevant to the discussion of baptism. Let me be specific: listen to the White-Strawbridge 2015. Who refers to all the Bible as authoritative on baptism and who excludes part of the Bible as relevant? As a matter of fact, both 1 Cor. 10:1-4 and Heb. 9:10 refer explicitly to “baptisms” in the OT. Therefore, it is quite wrong to exclude the OT conceptions from the issue of baptism.

One could argue that in the new covenant no children are included in salvation, let alone baptism. I was moved early in my adopting paedobaptism by the beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism (73) on this point:

“Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.”

As this doctrinal summary states, children, “no less than adults, are promised” the salvation accomplished in Christ. This is surely a comfort to all who have lost children in miscarriages and infancy. I remember a kind of epiphany about this (circa 1997). Children can have salvation. Baptism represents salvation. Children should get baptism.

One could argue that in the new covenant we are agnostic about the status of children (in salvation) and so we wait to purify the church with only those that are regenerate prior to baptism. (I used to hold this view. I think this is the substance of the “new covenant” Reformed Baptist view). But baptizing those who consciously profess faith prior to baptism is clearly not the same as baptizing those who are actually regenerate prior to baptism. It is not as though all Baptist churches have “only regenerate members” and paedobaptist churches sadly include unregenerate people. We can only deal “covenantally” with people. We do not have access to the “invisible/elect/regenerate” church roll to know who to baptize and who not to baptize. (In another post I will address the fallacy, “Baptizing the invisible Church.”)

One could argue that in the new covenant, though children may be saved, baptism (like certain priestly rites of the OT, e.g., ordination) only applies to adults/mature because it is not about salvation but setting a person apart for service, e.g., the “staff uniform of the new covenant.” (This is the view of Michael Bull). But is this the explicit teaching about baptism in the Bible? “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). This verse must be explained (and the covenantal approach makes the most sense on it), but let me assure you that it is in the Bible. It is pretty hard to reconcile 1 Pet. 3:21 and about 20 other verses on baptism with the view that baptism only refers to an elite group of those in the Church. Rather, most Baptists and paedobaptists agree, baptism admits a person to the Church in a covenantal rite.

I am sure there are more defenses of the Baptist view (on the point of the Eunuch Fallacy) than I have represented in this post. So please write me and I will try to interact with it. WGS at