When the Second London Confession was published in 1677 (2 editions in 1677) and again in 1688, it included an Appendix seeking to provide further reasons why the Baptists considered it important to form their own churches based on the practice of believer’s baptism. They had been stung by criticism implying that such actions were divisive; that they should have been content to remain in the paedobaptist churches. The Appendix was an irenic attempt to express their convictions about baptism in greater detail than the text of the Confession itself would allow. We publish this appendix here; the only changes we have made are to modernize most of the spelling to conform to contemporary (American!) English standards.
The Baptists address 4 points: (1) ‘Sponsor Baptism’; (2) Baptism on the basis of Covenantal relation to parents; (3) The ‘holiness’ of children in 1 Cor. 7:12ff.; and (4) ‘Household baptisms’. Several other matters are briefly mentioned at the end. Their comments are of great interest. One will notice, for example, that they do not reject the possibility that the children of believers may be considered, in some sense, as covenant children.
We hope that ready access to this Appendix will further understanding of our great Confession of Faith.
Whosoever reads, and impartially considers what we have in our forgoing confession declared, may readily perceive, That we do not only concenter with all other true Christians on the Word of God (revealed in the Scriptures of truth) as the foundation and rule of our faith and worship. But that we have also industriously endeavored to manifest, That in the fundamental Articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.
This we have done, That those who are desirous to know the principles of Religion which we hold and practice, may take an estimate from our selves (who jointly concur in this work) and may not be misguided, either by undue reports; or by the ignorance or errors of particular persons, who going under the same name with our selves, may give an occasion of scandalizing the truth we profess.
And although we do differ from our brethren who are Paedobaptists; in the subject and administration of Baptism, and such other circumstances as have a necessary dependence on our observance of that Ordinance, and do frequent our own assemblies for our mutual edification, and discharge of those duties, and services which we owe unto God, and in his fear to each other: yet we would not be from hence misconstrued, as if the discharge of our own consciences herein, did any ways disoblige or alienate our affections, or conversation from any others that fear the Lord; but that we may and do as we have opportunity participate of the labors of those, whom God hath indued with abilities above our selves, and qualified, and called to the Ministry of the Word, earnestly desiring to approve our selves to be such, as follow after peace with holiness, and therefore we always keep that blessed Irenicum, or healing Word of the Apostle before our eyes; if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you; nevertheless whereto we have already attained; let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing, Phil 3. v. 15, 16.
Let it not therefore be judged of us (because much hath been written on this subject, and yet we continue this our practice different from others) that it is out of obstinacy, but rather as the truth is, that we do herein according to the best of our understandings worship God, out of a pure mind yielding obedience to his precept, in that method which we take to be most agreeable to the Scriptures of truth, and primitive practice.
It would not become us to give any such intimation, as should carry a semblance that what we do in the service of God is with a doubting conscience, or with any such temper of mind that we do thus for the present, with a reservation that we will do otherwise hereafter upon more mature deliberation; nor have we any cause so to do, being fully persuaded, that what we do is agreeable to the will of God. Yet we do heartily propose this, that if any of the Servants of our Lord Jesus shall, in the Spirit of meekness, attempt to convince us of any mistake either in judgment or practice, we shall diligently ponder his arguments; and account him our chiefest friend that shall be an instrument to convert us from any error that is in our ways, for we cannot wittingly do any thing against the truth, but all things for the truth.
And therefore we have endeavored seriously to consider, what hath been already offered for our satisfaction in this point; and are loth to say any more lest we should be esteemed desirous of renewed contests thereabout: yet forasmuch as it may justly be expected that we show some reason, why we cannot acquiesce in what hath been urged against us; we shall with as much brevity as may consist with plainness, endeavor to satisfy the expectation of those that shall peruse what we now publish in this matter also.
Recently, R. Scott Clark has released a series of podcasts in defense of paedobaptism. The majority of the material in the podcasts comes from a series of blog posts he wrote previously (he is often just reading them). Those posts, as well as other essays that Clark has written, have already been addressed in depth in A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology. Since Clark did not address any of the arguments in that post, it is still relevant and I refer you there for a thorough treatment.
That said, Clark makes a few comments in the podcasts that are worth commenting on. (It’s also worth noting that Clark speaks of “baptists” very broadly, often referring to Arminian Dispensationalists. Only very occasionally does he have confessional baptists specifically in mind.)
Abraham and Moses
Clark’s main argument is simultaneously his main weakness. In response to baptists, Clark emphasizes that Abraham is not Moses. That is, the Abrahamic Covenant is not the Mosaic Covenant. I did not count, but I would not be surprised if he repeated that point at least 60 times over the series of podcasts. Clark is departing from Westminster on this point, resulting in an inconsistent covenant theology. This leads him to deny any kind of dichotomy in Abraham, resulting in some strange inconsistencies…
The popular 17th century Presbyterian preacher Stephen Marshall stated that rejecting infant baptism necessitated a rejection of the Lord’s Day Sabbath as well. Here is the reply from John Tombes.
John Tombes: An examen of the sermon of Mr. Stephen Marshal about infant-baptisme in a letter sent to him. 1645:
…Their ground you say is, because there is not an expresse institution or command in the New Testament: this then is their principle, that what hath not an expresse institution or command in the New Testament is to be rejected. But give me leave to tell you, that you leave out two explications that are needful to be taken in; First, that when they say so, they meane it of positive instituted worship, consisting in outward rites, such as Circumcision, Baptisme and the Lord’s Supper are, which have nothing morall or naturall in them, but are in whole and in part Ceremoniall. For that which is naturall or morall in worship, they allow an institution or command in the old Testament as obligatory to Christians, and such doe they conceive a Sabbath to be, as being of the Law of nature, that outward worship being due to God, days are due to God to that end, and therefore even in Paradise, appointed from the creation; and in all nations, in all ages observed: enough to prove so much to be of the Law of nature, and therefore the fourth Commandment justly put amongst the Morals…
Over at Founders Ministries’ THE BLOG, Pastor Tom Hicks writes:
…Jared Oliphint recently wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition in which he made a case for infant baptism on the basis of the distinction between the internal and external aspects of the covenant (Berkhof calls this the “dual aspect” of the covenant of grace). Oliphint argues that the new covenant is breakable, and that understanding the allegedly breakable nature of the new covenant helps make sense of infant baptism. I’m going to show you why Oliphint’s argument is unconvincing to this Reformed Baptist.
1. Oliphint says the new covenant is a mixed body.
The bulk of Oliphint’s case for infant baptism rests on the argument that the new covenant is a mixed body of believers and unbelievers. He makes this argument from Hebrews 10:26-30 and John 15:1-6…
2. I say the new covenant is a pure believers covenant.
Though theoretically a Reformed Baptist might grant Oliphint’s point about the mixed nature of the new covenant, that is not my position, nor is it the historic Baptist position. The reason is purely exegetical. Let’s look a little more closely at the two passages Oliphint provides in support of his position…
[K]ey to Oliphint’s argument for a mixed new covenant of believers and unbelievers is found in Hebrews 10:29, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has outraged the Spirit of grace.” Oliphint argues that this describes someone who was truly in the new covenant, sanctified by its blood, but who later fell away from the covenant, rejected Christ and came under His wrath
There are two serious problems with Oliphint’s interpretation:
1. It proves too much. Does Oliphint really believe that all baptized infants and unbelievers in the covenant are “sanctified” (v. 29) by the blood of the covenant? What about the Reformed doctrine of definite/effectual atonement? Does Christ’s blood sanctify unbelievers? Is Oliphint advocating a kind of limited Arminianism? What about the teaching in the book of Hebrews, just one chapter earlier, that Christ’s blood is effectual to save? It says that Jesus died, “securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). His blood “secures” or renders certain, an “eternal,” permanent, “redemption” by which Christ has bought liberty for all His covenant people. Hebrews also says, “A death has occurred that redeems” (Heb 9:15). This doesn’t say His blood potentially redeems, or makes redemption possible. It says that Christ’s blood actually redeems! Hebrews tells us that Jesus “sat down” in the courts of heaven because there is no more work for Him to do! His blood made complete “purification for sins” (Heb 1:3), securing perfect redemption. Oliphint’s exegesis seems to entail a weakening of the nature of the atonement and a broadening of the extent of the atonement.
• 25:18 – 29:00 “When a homosexual says, ‘We all have our pet sin’ how do you approach that?”
• 29:01 – 30:49 “While many Christians speak of it being a reality that same-sex attraction exist amongst truly born-again people, why is it that very few dare to say the same of some of the abominations recorded in the Scriptures such as bestiality and necrophilia?”
• 30:50 – 34:47 “What part, if any, do you believe that Islam plays in the end times?”
• 34:48 – 41:31 “If you agree that the Abrahamic Covenant is a covenant of promise to believers and their children and is an eternal covenant, so how is the New Covenant any different?”
• 41:32 – 45:49 “In an interview with a King James Only guy you made the comment about Paul quoting an Old Testament variant… would you please comment on how that would affect the Word of God being perfect.” (here is the interview that was being discussed with Steve Anderson)
• 45:50 – 51:38 “How great of a danger do you see presented by the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ as compared to other religious or spiritual movements?”
• 51:39 – 55:22 “How or should we condemn Unitarianism and Modalism as damnable heresy even if it maintains a view of Christ’s deity when at the same time many Christian apologist recognize that the majority of Evangelicals in the pew could not Biblically define the Trinity without slipping into a Modalist [or Unitarian] example.”
• 55:45 – 64:00 “How would you teach the best way to approach a Muslim with the Gospel? …”
When Presbyterians are first introduced to 1689 Federalism, often one of their first responses is “Oh, so you deny the visible/invisible distinction of the church?” To which we respond “No.” For example, Chris Villi says:
In one of the key statements of the book, Denault writes, “The Scriptures do not provide any possibilities of being visibly in the New Covenant without participating effectively in its substance” (p. 153). This assertion represents one of the most fundamental errors of Baptist theology. Essentially, Denault is arguing that everyone in the New Covenant is truly saved and that it is impossible for an unbeliever to be connected to the New Covenant in any sense. Denault notes that, for Particular Baptists, the New Covenant “did not have an external administration in which the non-elect were to be found” (p. 86).
Again, the denial of the possibility of unbelievers in the visible church is one of the most problematic aspects of the federalism espoused by Denault. Is it really possible to guarantee that there are no non-elect people associated with the visible church? Even more, can this idea of “regenerate membership” in the visible church be defended as biblical? Given that 1689 federalists have always been convinced that true believers cannot lose their salvation, the very existence of a New Testament command for church discipline and excommunication contradicts their position.
1._____ The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
( Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23;Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32 )
2._____ All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
( 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22 )
So where is the confusion coming from? It’s the difference between de jure and de facto.
[Latin, In law.] Legitimate; lawful, as a Matter of Law. Having complied with all therequirements imposed by law.
De jure is commonly paired withde facto, which means “in fact.” In the course of ordinaryevents, the term de jure is superfluous. For example, in everyday discourse, when onespeaks of a corporation or a government, the understood meaning is a de jurecorporation or a de jure government.
A de jure corporation is one that has completely fulfilled the statutory formalities imposedby state corporation law in order to be granted corporate existence. In comparison, a de facto corporation is one that has acted in Good Faithand would be an ordinarycorporation but for failure to comply with some technical requirements.
[Latin, In fact.] In fact, in deed, actually.
This phrase is used to characterize an officer, a government, a past action, or a state of affairs that must be accepted for all practicalpurposes, but is illegal or illegitimate. Thus,an office, position, or status existing under a claim or color of right, such as a de factocorporation. In this sense it is the contrary of de jure, which means rightful,legitimate, just, or constitutional. Thus, an officer, king, orgovernmentde facto is one thatis in actual possession of the office or supreme power, but by usurpation, or withoutlawful title
Does Trinitarian baptism join you to the New Covenant? Does it join you to Christ? Does it make you a brother or sister in Christ with everyone else who has likewise been baptized, even if you hold to a false gospel? Are Roman Catholics our brothers and sisters in Christ by baptism, but not by confession of faith? These are the issues debated by Douglas Wilson of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho and James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries.
“From Circumcision to Baptism: A Baptist Covenantal Rejoinder to John Calvin,”
A White Paper Published by the Center for Theological Research (June 2006), Malcolm B. Yarnell, Director.
Calvin’s argument for infant baptism (which has become the standard justification for the practice in Reformed paedobaptist churches) applies to the church God’s command that Abraham circumcise his household, and appeals to the New Testament analogy between circumcision and baptism as a strong confirmation of this application.
In this paper I argue that Calvin (and his Reformed paedobaptist heirs) misapplies the command and misconstrues the analogy. In fact, the biblical material to which Calvin appeals provides significant reason to reject infant baptism and embrace its alternative: believers’ baptism. I close by noting some advantages of the believers’ baptism view.
I. Calvin’s Two Main Assumptions
A. The baptism/circumcision analogy
B. The command to Abraham
II. Calvin’s First Assumption Examined: The Baptism/Circumcision Analogy
A. Even paedobaptists recognize that fundamental continuity is compatible with
B. Romans 4:11 does not teach what paedobaptists want it to teach
C. A refutation from logical analogy: even if baptism and circumcision do
overlap in meaning, this offers no safe inference to paedobaptism
III. Calvin’s Second Assumption Examined: The Command to Abraham
A. The continuity with the Abrahamic Covenant
B. The obsolescence of the Abrahamic command
C. Calvin’s reply considered
IV. Some Advantages of the Believers’ Baptism View
A. Believers’ baptism is supported by a proper construal of the parallel between circumcision and baptism
B. Believers’ baptism explains why there was a transition from circumcision to baptism at all, whereas the paedobaptist view leaves this a complete mystery
A couple of young people who occasionally drive from Williamsburg to attend our church, recently asked me to recommend some books on a confessional perspective on believers’ baptism by immersion, as they are studying the issue of credobaptism versus paedobaptism. Here are five suggestions (listed in chronological order by the year published) with a few annotations:
This is the companion volume to Dagg’s Manual of Theology (1857). It provides a classic defense of believers’ baptism by immersion (pp. 13-73). Special focus is given to the linguistic argument regarding the verb baptizo with references to its uses in ancient Greek.
This booklet, originally written in 1977, describes the author’s transition from being a Presbyterian to being a Baptist. It can be read online here. For a fuller treatment on the subject of baptism you can also read his book The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A covenantal argument for credobaptism versus paedobaptism (Founders Press, 2003).
3. Samuel E. Waldron, Biblical Baptism: A Reformed Defense of Believers’ Baptism (Truth for Eternity Ministries, 1998). [Publisher | Amazon]
This 80 page booklet from a leading contemporary Reformed Baptist systematic theologian provides a careful exegetical, theological, and practical discussion of baptism.
This self-published book from… [one] who considered becoming a Presbyterian but who eventually became a confessional Baptist offers a creative take on the topic by imagining a discussion between the Presbyterian B. B. Warfield, the dispensationalist J. N. Darby, and the confessional Baptist C. H. Spurgeon.
The general view set forth in these Confessions [i.e Heidelberg Catechism; Second Helvetic Confession; Westminster Confession of Faith] is that the infants of believers are in the New Covenant, are members of the church, and therefore, should be baptized. If this principle of infant membership is found in the New Covenant, then infant baptism has a strong ally. But, if the New Covenant presents a different principle of membership, one based on personal faith in Christ and actually possessing the blessings of the New Covenant, then infant baptism comes up against a powerful foe. Without the principle of infant membership, the view of infant baptism expressed in the Confessions above would suffer a major and perhaps irrecoverable blow.
New Wine in Old Wineskins?
Credobaptists believe that baptizing infants based on the principle of membership in the Old Covenant is similar to the faulty practice of trying to ‘pour new wine into old wineskins.’ The concept of membership in the New Covenant cannot be poured back into the old worn out wineskins of the Old Covenant. We believe that those who practice infant baptism do not take seriously enough that the New Covenant is, in fact, a ‘New’ Covenant, not like the Old Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-32). We affirm that there are important elements of both continuity and discontinuity [added emphasis] between the Old and New Covenants. Yet, the practice of infant baptism is based upon a mistaken view of continuity in the area of covenant membership.
We also believe that the principle of membership taught in the New Covenant is at the heart of its essential ‘newnewss.’ No longer is membership in the New Covenant defined by the genealogical principle of the Old Covenant. For, as Paul taught, ‘be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7) and ‘it is not the children of flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants’ (Romans 9:8). These ‘children of promise’ are determined not by physical lineage, but by the sovereign choice of God who chooses Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau (Romans 9:9-13). The New Covenant ‘children of God’ are not those ‘born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12-13). Thus, Old Covenant membership was based on physical birth, whereas in the New Covenant it is based exclusively on spiritual birth from above (John 3:3,5).
If these convictions are true to the teachings of the Bible, then membership in the New Covenant is restricted to those who have faith, and they alone should receive the covenant sign of baptism. This is a clear departure from membership in the Old Covenant, but it is one made necessary by the fact that new wine requires new wineskins.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. I Cor. 7:14
The implications of I Cor. 7:14 for the issue of infant baptism have often been debated by baptists and paedobaptists. Regrettably, both sides have been guilty of handling this passage in a simplistic manner. The paedobaptist errors are particularly disturbing, since most paedobaptists appeal to this passage to help establish their case for infant baptism. To read some of their claims, one would think that the passage implies infant baptism in a most obvious way. A closer examination, however, reveals that this passage offers no support for infant baptism; in fact, we will see that the passage actually argues against infant baptism.
A Critique of the Paedobaptist Interpretation
The paedobaptist argument from I Cor. 7:14 is expressed well by John Murray:
The apostle was writing to encourage them against this fear [that their Christian standing would be prejudiced by this mixed relationship]. The encouragement he provides is that the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother. In order to reinforce the argument drawn from this principle he appeals to what had been apparently recognised among the Corinthians, namely, that the children of even one believing parent were not unclean but rather holy. (Christian Baptism, p. 64)
This argument, though plausible on the surface, reveals serious difficulties upon closer examination. The Greek term “is sanctified” referring to the unbelieving spouse is simply the verb form of the adjective “holy” that refers to the children. Therefore, we must question any interpretation that posits a different meaning for the two terms. But the paedobaptist argument does just that. The holiness of the children is taken to be such that it qualifies them for baptism. The holiness of the unbelieving spouse, however, does not qualify him or her for baptism. What exactly is the holiness that the children possess? According to Murray, it “evinces the operation of the covenant and representative principle.” However, this meaning must be denied in connection with the unbelieving spouse. Otherwise, the unbelieving spouse would be “in the covenant” and have a right to baptism.
Strangely enough, few paedobaptists address this difficulty. Although Murray, Calvin, Henry, Hodge, Marcel, Sydenham, and Poole all make the argument for covenant status of the child from the passage, none of them seem to recognize that this implies covenant status for the unbelieving spouse too. (Or maybe they consider the objection so trivial and the rebuttal so obvious that they don’t bother with it.)
One might argue that “holiness” has the same meaning but different implications for adult and child. But this is not generally what is claimed concerning the meaning of “holiness”. Holiness for the child here does not simply imply covenant status; it denotes it. Murray says “there is a status or condition that can be characterised as `holiness’.” Hodge says, “The children…are universally recognized as holy, that is, as belonging to the church” and “Otherwise, your children would be unclean, i.e. born out of the pale of the church.” (I Corinthians, p. 116) Quotes could be multiplied from Marcel and others.
Bromiley, on the other hand, is bold enough to admit the connection: “[the unbelieving spouse] is separated to God, enjoys a status within the covenant, and comes into the sphere of evangelical action and promise.” (Children of Promise, p. 8) But if the unbelieving spouse is in the covenant, then how can baptism be denied to him or her? It is a cornerstone of paedobaptist theology that “the covenant is the sole basis of infant baptism” and that “the ground of baptism is thus identical for adults and children.” (Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism) Bromiley does not tell us how to resolve this difficulty.
Another difficulty in drawing a distinction between the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse and the holiness of the children is this: The more one presses the distinction between the two concepts, the more one weakens the force of Paul’s argument in the passage. Paul’s argument is predicated on a similarity between the two parties. If the two cases are different, then the logic breaks down. The covenant status of the children is no encouragement for a believer to remain with his unbelieving spouse if the unbelieving spouse does not also enjoy the same status.
The holiness of the children is assumed to be sufficient to include them in the covenant and qualify them for baptism. This holiness is adequate for the believer not to be defiled by his own children. Is the holiness of the unbelieving spouse also adequate to prevent the defilement of the believer? If we adopt the paedobaptist understanding of the passage, we are left in doubt. The sanctification must be at least as thorough and of the same character as that of the children, else we cannot be sure that the holiness of the children implies a holiness in the unbelieving spouse that is sufficient not to defile the believer.
Any attempt to distinguish the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse from the holiness of the children is necessarily an exercise in eisegesis rather than exegesis. Nothing in the passage suggests that these two concepts differ, and the language itself and the proximity of the terms is a strong argument that they are the same. Eisegesis may be necessary to harmonize a difficult passage with passages that speak more clearly, but it is arrogant at best to eisegete a passage and then claim it as a proof-text for your doctrine. At best, eisegesis can vindicate your doctrine in light of a difficult passage; it cannot be used as an argument in favor of your doctrine.
The objection we have brought forward is serious. It calls into question the value of one of the pivotal passages used in the paedobaptist apologetic. I would hope that paedobaptists would drop this passage from their apologetic in light of the serious difficulties in their interpretation. In spite of that, I acknowledge that my disproof of the paedobaptist assertion from this passage is not the same as proving the contrary. Furthermore, baptists have also been guilty of misinterpreting this passage.
A Critique of the Usual Baptist Interpretations
John Gill states the common baptist view of this passage as follows:
The children are holy in the same sense as their parents are; that as they are sanctified, or lawfully espoused together, so the children born of them were in a civil and legal sense holy, that is, legitimate. (Gill’s Expositor)
This view rightly interprets “is sanctified” and “holy” in a similar sense; that is, both terms refer to lawfulness or legitimacy. Even so, one might justifiably object that different nuances creep into these terms as expounded by proponents of this view. If the language “is sanctified” is derived from the concept of the marriage covenant as the proponents of this view usually maintain, then the “holiness” of the children necessarily takes on a different focus. It seems that the proponents of this view are flirting with the very error that they seek to avoid.
An even more decisive critique of this view is enunciated by Richard Baxter. According to the common views of both baptists and paedobaptists, Paul argues from a fact accepted by the Corinthians — the holiness of the children — to prove the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse. We should ask then how it is possible that the Corinthians knew the former while still questioning the latter. Baxter argues that it is impossible to know that one’s children are legitimate without also knowing the sanctity of the marriage from which they sprang. By very definition, a legitimate child is one who is born of a legitimate marriage! One cannot conceive of the notion of a legitimate child apart from the legitimacy of the union from which that child came. Therefore, this interpretation does not account for the state of knowledge assumed in this passage. (Plain Scripture Proof, pp. 86-87).
One might respond that the children contemplated here are only those that were born before the conversion of one parent; in this case, the legitimacy of these children is beyond question. That is true, of course, but this restriction completely undermines the power of the argument. These children’s legitimacy only testifies to the sanctity of the marriage before the conversion of one of the parents. It says nothing of the legitimacy of the marriage after one parent’s conversion, nor does it address the legitimacy of children born after this conversion. To restrict the scope of the children here would leave the Corinthians’ question unanswered.
Another view of this passage is given by David Kingdon:
…the offering up of the believing spouse sanctifies the whole, not in the sense of making inwardly holy but in setting the family apart for the operation of the grace of God in salvation through the witness of the believing partner (I Cor. 7:16). Paul is confident of the power of the Gospel to exert, in many cases, a truly converting and sanctifying influence on the family through a Christian father or mother. Therefore, the believer should on his part not break the marriage bond if the unbelieving partner is willing to continue in it. (Children of Abraham, p. 90)
While this is true as far as it goes, it does not fully come to grips with the nature of Paul’s argument. In fact, it fails at exactly the same point as the view described previously — it fails to account for the Corinthians’ state of knowledge. It appears from Kingdon’s description that sanctified and holy mean “set apart to the power of Gospel influence.” If so, why would the Corinthians know that the gospel has a powerful converting and sanctifying influence on their children but doubt this in the case of their unconverted spouse? Contrary to the previous view, it is possible that this describes the Corinthians’ understanding. However, such a peculiar state of understanding cries out for some plausible explanation of its origin, and no such explanation is offered.
Furthermore, even if the Corinthians were convinced of the sanctifying influence of the gospel in the life of an unbelieving spouse, how does this remove the scruple they had about remaining with the spouse? Gospel influence may often come even through unlawful associations. One might argue with equal validity that it is lawful to marry an unbeliever because the believer can exert a sanctifying influence on the unbeliever through the marriage.
Finally, on what basis are we to believe that the holiness of the children implies holiness of an unbelieving spouse? This interpretation does not show us why Paul’s logic is compelling. It is conceivable that the Corinthians would have been left with continuing doubts about the issue.
Thus, the common interpretations of baptists and paedobaptists alike are clearly inadequate.
A Stronger Baptist Interpretation
A great deal of confusion has arisen over this passage because interpreters have failed to consider the nature of Paul’s logic in the passage. The common baptist and paedobaptist views both understand Paul to be making a cause/effect argument. In their view, Paul is arguing from the presence of a known effect to the presence of its cause or necessary condition. The argument can be stated in the form of a syllogism:
Major premise: Sanctification of the unbelieving spouse is necessary for the holiness of your children;Minor premise: Your children are holy;
Conclusion: Therefore, the unbelieving spouse is sanctified.
This construction of Paul’s reasoning is an assumption unwarranted by the text. In my view, Paul considers the case of the children to be parallel to that of the unbelieving spouse. He is arguing from analogy rather than by cause/effect. If the unbelieving spouse is holy, the children are holy; if the unbelieving spouse is unclean, the children are unclean — not because one causes the other but because they are like cases. This view was proposed by John Dagg (Manual of Theology, Part II, pp. 155-156, and “A Decisive Argument Against Infant Baptism, Furnished by One of Its Own Proof-Texts”) in the mid-1800’s and was adopted by several of his contemporaries. However, it appears to have fallen into obscurity in later years; I have not seen it so much as mentioned in any discussion of the passage published after the mid-1800’s. It is time then to blow the dust off this view and give it the consideration that it deserves. In the discussion that follows, I rely heavily on Dagg’s work.
According to Dagg, Paul considers the question and
decides that a believer and an unbeliever may lawfully dwell together…The intercourse of a married pair with each other, and that of parents with their children, must be regulated by the same rule. An unconverted husband or wife stands on the same level with unconverted children. If intercourse with the former is unlawful, intercourse with the latter is equally unlawful. [The contrary decision] would sever the ties that bind parents to their children, and [force them to leave their children]. By showing that this monstrous consequence legitimately follows from the doctrine, he has furnished an argument against it which is perfectly conclusive.
Is there evidence for a parallel argument as Dagg advocates? Yes. The language of the passage points strongly in this direction. First, there is the pronoun “your” (plural in the Greek). Virtually all commentators assume without question that “your children” are the children of the mixed marriages being discussed in the passage. But why would Paul say “your children” instead of “their children”, since in the immediate context he is referring to the marriage partners in the third person? Paul is in the middle of a section in which he is dealing case-by-case with various questions that had been addressed to him by the church as a whole (v. 1). He is addressing the church as a whole in his answer, even though he is discussing the cases of various subgroups within the church. When he says “your children”, he is signifying the children of those whom he is addressing, that is, the children of the church members as a whole, not the children of the mixed marriages exclusively.
In v. 8, he addresses a specific subgroup with the statement, “I say to the unmarried and to widows”. Yet he goes on to address them in the third person — “it is good for them if they remain even as I”. He follows the same pattern in v. 10 and again in v. 12. In vv. 13-15 on both sides of the pronoun in question, Paul consistently uses the third person to refer to the believing partner. Following the same style, Paul would have said “otherwise their children are unclean” if he had been referring exclusively to the children of these mixed marriages. In v. 16, he addresses the believing partner in the second person, but he explicitly states the party that he is addressing, and even here he uses the singular.
In v. 5 Paul uses the second person to address a specific subgroup without a formal notice of the restricted audience. However, in this context he is addressing a general concern touching the church as a whole (see vv. 1-2 and v. 7). He is issuing a directive, which makes the shift to the second person natural and expected. This is an extended statement whose intended audience is utterly unambiguous. It applies to all who were married just as “your children” applies to all who had children.
Finally, if we insist on finding a reference to “your” in the immediate context, the logical referent is the unbelieving spouse. The unbelieving spouse is the subject of the previous sentence and is more prominently in view than the believing spouse. But is it likely that Paul addressed those outside the church with “your” when in the broader context he is addressing specific questions of the church?
These considerations point us to the conclusion that “your children” refers to the children of all the church members and not to those of mixed marriages exclusively. But how does this bear on the nature of Paul’s argument? If some of “your children” are not the fruit of mixed marriages, then we cannot explain how they could hypothetically be unclean as the effect of an unsanctified unbelieving parent. In other words, the argument must be understood as an argument of analogy rather than of cause/effect.
Another evidence that Paul was arguing from parallel cases is the tenses of the verbs in the passage. Literally, we have the following translation: “The unbelieving [spouse] is made holy in the [believing spouse]; otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.” The verb “is made holy” is in the perfect tense, and “are” is in the present. The implied major premise is: If the unbelieving spouse is not made holy, your children are unclean. In contrast, cause/effect arguments ordinarily use a temporal progression in their verb choice to signify a dependent consequence. In such a case, a more natural choice for the implied major premise would be: If the unbelieving spouse had not been made holy, then your children would be unclean. The passage would then read: “The unbelieving spouse is made holy in the believing spouse; otherwise your children would be (or “were”) unclean, but now they are holy”. (Regrettably, this word choice appears in many translations, although there is no warrant for it other than the mistaken notion that Paul is making a cause/effect argument.)
The use of “would be unclean” is the most natural wording for the situation in which the contrary is an established fact to the audience. When Christ said to the Pharisees, “If God were your father, you would love me”, the contrary fact “you do not love me” was established and known to the audience. Christ did not need to say explictly “but you do not love me” since this fact was known to both him and his audience. On the contrary, in I Cor. 15:16, when Paul said “If the dead are not raised, then neither is Christ raised”, he did not assume that his audience accepted Christ’s resurrection. Instead, he went on to show that the denial of the resurrection leads to absurdity to complete his argument. In Dagg’s argument, the cleanness of the children is not so much taken as an established fact; instead, the contrary notion leads to absurdity. Paul’s use of “is unclean” and his conclusion with the statement “but now they are holy” more naturally suggests that his argument does not assume the children’s cleanness as an established fact. Therefore, it suggests that the common cause/effect interpretation is in error.
Another phrase in the passage also suggests a parallel argument. We note that the Greek phrase “epei ara” translated “otherwise” is only used one other time in the New Testament. The other occurrence is in a nearby passage, I Cor. 5:10, where Paul makes a similar argument concerning a similar issue. He argues that we are not to avoid contact with immoral people as a class; otherwise, it is necessary for us to go out of this world. In this passage Paul is arguing using parallel cases. He argues that if we avoid contact with immoral people, then we must also avoid contact with other people to whom we need to relate. The similarity of word choice and issues in the two passages suggests that the nature of the argument is similar too.
None of these arguments is conclusive in itself. Taken together, however, they form a strong case for understanding the argument as one of parallel cases rather than cause/effect. Furthermore, even if all of these arguments can be overthrown, it would not provide any positive evidence for the opposing view. In fact, the parallel cases view would still be preferable simply because of its natural accord with the passage and the insurmountable difficulties of the alternative. This interpretation is strong in exactly the ways in which the others are weak. It assigns an identical meaning to the holiness of the children and the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse. Furthermore, it accounts for the fact that the holiness of the children is accepted as true, for the contrary would call into question the relation between all believing parents and their children, which the Corinthians agreed was contrary to all Christian principles. Finally, it gives cogency and strength to Paul’s logic. It applies directly to all mixed marriages, whether there are children or not. And the effect of the opposite conclusion would be so horrible that it compels agreement with Paul’s decision.
The Question of Infant Baptism
Interestingly enough, the interpretation given here does more than free us from an argument for paedobaptism. It actually provides a strong argument against paedobaptism. Paul’s argument is founded on the similarity between the case of unbelieving spouses and the case of believers’ children. If the holiness of the unbelieving spouse falls short of qualifying him/her for baptism, then by Paul’s reasoning the holiness of believers’ children falls short of this too. If the church at Corinth admitted their children to baptism and church membership but denied this to unbelieving spouses, then the two groups were in quite different circumstances. Thus, Paul’s argument would be completely invalid. Since Paul’s argument must be valid, we are forced to conclude that the church at Corinth did not admit their children to baptism or church membership.
It may be objected that this interpretation forces us to understand children to refer only to unconverted children if we are to maintain the parallel with the unbelieving spouse. We grant that the children considered must be outside the church to maintain the parallel. However, we need not read the word “children” as “unconverted children”. The word for children here is tekna, which can equally well be translated “offspring”. Paul is contemplating them in the natural state as they are born to believing parents, not as they may eventually come to be by the grace of God. Moreover, we should observe that the paedobaptist view is subject to the same objection, since the holiness of children in their view only applies to the offspring of believers as long as they are literally children and have not yet repudiated the covenant.
Having shown the weaknesses of the competing views and the strength of this view, I commend it to you as the true sense of this passage.