(I have already written Why Infant Baptism is Unchristian. Here I am adopting a slightly different approach.)
The question confronting us is: Since there is no clear example of infant baptism in Scripture, is it biblically, theologically and even anthropologically viable? The question clearly requires an answer.
First, while Hebrews 6:2 refers to baptisms or washings (ESV), John’s baptism with a view to repentance belongs to the old covenant. However, John himself as the last OT prophet and the herald of the Messiah is well aware that it will be superseded or supplemented by a superior baptism with the Spirit performed by Jesus (Mark 1:8).
Baptism belongs to the New Covenant
This suggests of course that Spirit baptism belongs exclusively to the new covenant and is beyond John’s range of competence. After all, as Jesus says on different occasions, though John was a burning and shining light (John 5:35) he was only the greatest of naturally born men or men born of woman (Mt. 11:11). When, however, in Matthew 3:13-17 Jesus requests John to baptize him, not surprisingly since he has already proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), John demurs. Apart from his own perceived incompetence, his assumption is that Jesus does not need to repent. For all that, Jesus urges him to go ahead on the ground that it is fitting for him, Jesus, to fulfil all righteousness. What does Jesus mean by this? Surely that though keeping the law was the precondition of life or regeneration (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Luke 10:28, etc.), still more was required if he was to attain to the perfection of his Father. Regeneration was, however, the first indispensable step towards perfection as babyhood is to both physical and spiritual adulthood (1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:2). As the author of Hebrews indicated, the perfection of God went beyond mere obedience to the letter of the law (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7). Paul also was well aware of this for, when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, though truly converted and a genuine Christian he nonetheless recognized that perfection still lay ahead of him and the goal of the heavenly prize had to be striven for with might and main (Phil. 3:12-14, cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Old Covenant Life Prior to New Covenant Life
If this is a true picture of the situation, we are forced to infer that life begins and is lived under the old covenant which forms a temporary provisional stage prior to experience under the new covenant. (1* On covenant theology, see my Covenant Theology in Brief.) In other words, as the author of Hebrews implies, when someone comes to faith in Christ the ministry of the old covenant is superseded and the new established (Heb. 10:9, cf. 8:13; 2 Cor. 3). Little wonder that John considered that he needed to be baptised by Jesus. However, in the event he was to die as old covenant believers in general had died before him (cf. Heb. 11) and this was before the death and resurrection of Christ. Yet even John in the providence and purpose of God was to achieve perfection despite what was tantamount to his chronological disqualification (Heb. 11:39f.).
The Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis)
It is here of course that the order of salvation is so critically important. Our Augustinian tradition has taught us that on account of the disabling effect of original sin (2* Original sin as usually understood is not a biblical doctrine. See my various articles on original sin including The Redundancy Of Original Sin and Thoughts On ‘Adam, The Fall And Original Sin’.), regeneration must precede faith and justification. But this is clearly not so. Ungodly and therefore unregenerate sinner though he was, Abraham was the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:5), a shining exemplar of faith under stress. In the words of Luther he was at once justus et peccator, justified though still a sinner. For him as for all OT believers regeneration was a promise that would be fulfilled in the future (cf. Dt. 30:6; Jer. 31:34), that is, when Jesus had met the precondition of life which was keeping the law (Lev. 18:5). Prior to him no one had kept it: all the rest to the very last man and woman had failed. Like Adam (and later Paul, Rom. 7:9f.) they had lost their initial innocence, become sinners and were hence disqualified (Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10, etc.). (3* On the order of salvation see, for example, my Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology, etc.)
However, the relevance of this to baptism remains to be established. It can be argued and indeed the church has apparently almost universally assumed that since the new covenant has now been inaugurated, the old covenant has become obsolete and irrelevant (cf. Heb. 8:13). New covenant times demand different practices, and instead of being circumcised baby boys now need to be baptised as members of a Christian society. Once we say this, however, apart from noting certain inconsistencies like the baptism of baby girls, the so-called Christian Bible which includes the OT seems to have got lost. What do I mean? As John Stott averred when dealing with the preaching of the law, God did not send Christ into the world at the start but at the appropriate time or, as Paul says in Galatians 4:4, when the fullness of time had come (ESV). A long program of education and preparation preceded it. Then quite remarkably Stott says that the law still performs the same function. If it does, it implies recapitulation or, as he rightly maintains, that every individual man’s spiritual history becomes a microcosm of God’s dealing with the human race (4* Authentic Christianity, pp.334f., cited from Our Guilty Silence, p.98, London, 1967.).
What does all this signify? The truth is, as was asserted above, baptism belongs to the new covenant but babies by definition belong to the period of the uncovenanted physical creation. Though not literally created in the earth like Adam, they are born of woman who typifies the earth as Adam typified the creator God (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7,12). They are thus (pro)created by human parents as Isaiah noted long ago (Isa. 45:9f.). If procreation is creation recapitulated, it is necessary to treat babies as what they really are. To apply baptism which signifies faith, repentance and regeneration to them is to ride roughshod over the OT which deals with creation and man’s subsequent physical, mental and spiritual development from the beginning. In other words, infant baptism implies Marcionism, the early church heresy whereby the OT was disregarded and God’s plan of salvation subverted. (5* Marcion was a second century heretic who denied the continuity between the OT and the NT, Israel and the church and even between the God of the OT and that of the NT.) The plain fact is that we all like Adam and Eve whose (fleshly) children we are by nature (Gen. 5:1-3, cf. Heb. 2:14f.) begin at the beginning, at (pro)creation, not at the onset of Christianity. As such mutatis mutandis (making the appropriate changes) we all, both as individuals and as a community, recapitulate both the creational and covenantal history of the race. This, of course, is what was taught especially by Irenaeus in the early church but was eventually lost to view by Augustine of Hippo by whose thinking and worldview the churches have been governed since the fifth century. (6* On Augustine, see my Augustine: Asset or Liability?.)
Jesus the Epitome of Covenant Theology
It has always seemed strange to me that if infant baptism is appropriate for Christians, Jesus who constitutes our model or paradigm was baptised as an adult as Abraham was circumcised as an adult. If he was truly human, we may well ask: Why the difference? Assuming Jesus was the perfect or rather the perfected man (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:26,28, etc.), the one who developed (as surely man should and indeed must evolve or develop) fully and sinlessly until he attained the complete image of God and hence sat down at his right hand (Heb. 1:3,13, etc.), then we his followers must surely do the same. (7* On human development, see B.B.Warfield’s essay on the human development of Jesus in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B.Warfield 1, ed. John E. Meeter, Nutley, 1970.) So what is the picture?
The Perfection (Maturation) of Jesus
In order to become the second Adam Jesus initially had to repeat or recapitulate to perfection first Adamic life (cf. 1 Cor. 15:47) in the flesh (cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14,17). So he was first flesh, born of woman in an animal stable. Then, having completed his infancy, he went as a child under the covenant with Noah like his ancestors before him to heathen Egypt (Mt. 2:15, cf. Acts 14:17; 17:25-27, etc.). Next, on his return to Israel he began his necessary stint under the law of Moses as a son of the commandment (cf. Luke 2:40-52). Then, having uniquely kept the law to his Father’s satisfaction, he received the blessing of the Spirit which remained on him (John 1:32; 3:34), was born again (John 6:27) and completed the work his Father had given him to do (John 17:4). Finally, once he had atoned for the sins of his people, he was glorified with the glory that he had before the world existed (John 17:5, cf. Heb. 2:9) thereby guaranteeing the glorification of all who believed in him (John 17:24; cf. Rev. 3:21).
Jesus our Covenantal Pattern
Now if the previous paragraph is a true picture of the maturation process undergone by Jesus, the one and only fully perfected man, it must surely be the model or paradigm of ours if we are genuinely human. Like him we are all born of woman (Gen. 3:20; Gal. 4:4) who through Adam derived from the ground (cf. Ps. 103:14; Eph. 4:9). As such we enter innocent and sinless like the animals into an uncovenanted world. (8* Even Jesus was born in a stable. See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?) Again like him as children we pass through a preceding heathen stage under Noah before we receive instruction under the law like the Jews in general. (9* While it is true that only Jewish (circumcised) boys as teenagers were specifically under the law of Moses, their education is mirrored by our modern three-tier system in which the ‘schoolmaster’ figures (Gal. 3:24f. KJV.) However, since we all prove incapable of keeping the law in order to achieve regeneration (Lev. 18:5), it is only as believers in Christ that we are born again in preparation for our eventual entry into the kingdom of God (John 3:5-7; 7:39; 1 Cor. 15:50-53). Glorification in the presence of God is, of course, our ultimate goal (Rom. 8:30).
In light of the above, our conclusion must be that baptism is a Christian rite, the sign of repentance, faith, justification and regeneration. If as John Stott implied in the passage referred to above we are not born Christian but become Christian as both individual and community, the baptism of infants implying especially their regeneration is to turn theology on its head and begin where we should end! The Bible is thoroughly teleological. Just as progressive revelation is widely recognised, so faith should be too. (10* The relativity of faith suggesting diminished responsibility is nowhere better brought out than in Hebrews 11. This ought to be of profound comfort to bereaved parents. Assuming recapitulation, if the ‘child’ Noah who was clearly unregenerate could be saved, so can our children who come short of a credible profession of faith in Christ.) Only against this background can evangelism make sense.
The basic problem with infant baptism is that it reflects a false worldview inspired and dominated by the false dogma of original sin. (11* See my Worldview, The Biblical Worldview.) The Bible teaches us that once man is created, he develops or evolves or is subject to perfetion and hence the (hi)story of man. The same can be said of the individual who is (pro)created (cf. Isa. 45:9f.) and grows to maturity. Physical, mental and spiritual development follow in accordance with the purpose of God. Personal growth is a major theme in apostolic teaching (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Eph. 4:11-24; Phil. 3:12-14; Heb. 5:11-6:2; 1 Pet. 2:2, etc.). So if we start at the end with the spirit as baptism implies (Gal. 3:3) instead of at the beginning with the flesh (1 Cor. 15:46-49), we inevitably become immersed in confusion and find ourselves at odds with history, personal experience and notably with modern science. This ought not to be.
See further my: