In a RBAP post titled, “Coming sooner today than yesterday” Richard Barcellos writes:
Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology now has a cover and the book is soon to follow…in the next 2 – 8 weeks or so.
In a RBAP post titled, “Coming sooner today than yesterday” Richard Barcellos writes:
Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology now has a cover and the book is soon to follow…in the next 2 – 8 weeks or so.
How did our Particular Baptist forefathers view and do evangelism? James Renihan fills us in, with the help of some materials from his 1997 doctoral dissertation, “The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705: The Doctrine of the Church in the Second London Baptist Confession as Implemented in the Subscribing Churches.” (also see Edification & Beauty):
In order to account for the remarkable growth present among the Particular Baptists, one must remember this fact. Evangelism is at the heart of the doctrine of the church. New assemblies are planted as men and women are brought to faith in Christ. In these Confessions, practical theology is the necessary concomitant to ecclesiology. Doctrinal formulations are not merely theoretical constructions. They have very important implications and applications for life and ministry.
Historic Baptist theology brought together theology and practice. In the best puritan fashion, it was recognized that what we believe must influence what we practice, and that what we practice must rest on the theological truths we confess. These men and their churches sought to be faithful to that principle. As we strive to preach the whole counsel of God, and apply the principles of reformation in our churches, we must take hold of this perspective. Church planting ought to be at the very forefront of our agenda. In Particular Baptist Ecclesiology, the church was fundamentally the result of the personal and sovereign activity of Christ in calling sinners out of the world to salvation. From its roots in the New Testament, it was intended to be a holy community, separate from the world and focused on heaven. But, so important was the planting of churches that programs were established to promote their increase. Funds were raised, men were ordained and sent, and new congregations were organized. Does our theology of the church inform our evangelism? What more can we do?
Drew Mery [5 min. readout] provides us with a quote from Alan Conner’s book, “Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual?“, on the crucial point in the debate over infant baptism and covenant membership:
Covenant Membership the Key Issue
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.
(After coming to understand Reformed Biblical Theology, Dr. Welty’s White Paper, “From Circumcision to Baptism: A Baptist Covenantal Rejoinder to John Calvin” was the most influential on me regarding circumcision and baptism. This pamphlet from ARBCA has lots of good stuff in it but I most appreciate it for section V. Paedobaptist Sentimentalism Examined. What’s here is just a summary please click the link to the Founders site for the full article and get the ARBCA booklet from Solid Ground Christian Books.)
This paper was originally written to fill a primary need among the seminary interns and other young men at my church. My own experience has taught me that nondispensational, Calvinistic baptists are perpetually tempted to look over the fence of their small and often divisive camp and covet the ministry opportunities available in conservative Presbyterian circles. Many have made this leap, and often do so because they simply don’t have a deep, Scripturally-based conviction that the baptist view is correct. Rather, they have absorbed their baptistic sentiments culturally and emotionally, and thus often lose them by the same means. Many have not been presented with an extended series of biblical arguments against infant baptism, a set of arguments which is at the same time consistent with their own nondispensational and Calvinistic perspective. So consider the following to be a resource for seminary and Bible students who want a quick, clear, and accessible summary of the leading reasons why Reformed Baptists (and all biblical Christians) ought not to embrace the doctrine of infant baptism.
I. The Fundamental Hermeneutical Error Of Paedobaptists
Paedobaptists, while rightly affirming the fundamental and underlying unity of the covenant of grace in all ages, wrongly press that unity in a way that distorts and suppresses the diversity of the several administrations of that covenant in history. To put it another way, paedobaptists rightly emphasize the inner continuity of the various administrations of the covenant of grace, while wrongly neglecting the various external discontinuities which exist between those administrations. To put it in still a third way, paedobaptists rightly stress the unity of redemptive history, while wrongly ignoring the movement of that redemptive history. Thus their error is fundamentally one of biblical theology, of understanding the progressive unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes in history.
This hermeneutical error, thus stated, inevitably leads to a twofold distortion of the relationship between the two testaments of the Bible. Paedobaptists simultaneously “Christianize” the Old Testament (read the Old Testament as if it were the New(3)) and “Judaize” the New Testament (read the New Testament as if it were the Old). In thus “Christianizing” the Old Testament, paedobaptists restrict the significance of circumcision to purely spiritual promises and blessings, while neglecting its national, earthly, and generational aspect. In thus “Judaizing” the New Testament, paedobaptists import Old Testament concepts of “covenantal holiness,” “external holiness,” “external members of the covenant,” “external union to God,” “covenant children,” etc. into the New Testament, even though these distinctions are entirely abolished by the New Testament and completely foreign to its teaching.
Four biblical passages may be set forth as the exegetical basis for identifying and exposing this basic hermeneutical error of paedobaptists: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jeremiah 32:37-41, John 1:11-13, and Romans 9:2-4/8:15-17. Many other passages of Scripture could profitably be examined on this point, but none speak to the vital issues so clearly or succinctly.
1) Jeremiah 31:31-34 “‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”
Jeremiah’s statement is central, not peripheral, to identifying the relationship between the New Covenant and previous historical administrations of the one covenant of grace. Jeremiah’s words are quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12, in Hebrews 10:16-17, and alluded to by our Lord in John 6:45. They speak directly to the issue of continuity and discontinuity between the covenant administrations. Three implications clearly follow from Jeremiah’s description of the New Covenant.
First, the New Covenant is an unbreakable covenant. The very reason why God established this New Covenant with his people is because they broke the old one (v. 32). And if the New Covenant is an unbreakable covenant, then the paedobaptists have failed to recognize an important discontinuity between the New Covenant and the previous covenant administrations. The covenant as administered to Abraham and to Moses was breakable. “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14). “They broke my covenant” (Jeremiah 31:32; cf. Deuteronomy 28, 29:19-25). But according to Jeremiah, the covenant as administered in the New Covenant is not breakable by the covenantees.
Second, the New Covenant is made with believers only. This of course is the exact reason why the New Covenant is unbreakable, for only believers will persevere to the end without breaking God’s covenant. Three blessings are spoken of with respect to the New Covenant: law written on the heart–”I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (v. 33); personal knowledge of God–”No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (v. 34a); and forgiveness of sins–”For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (v. 34b). Now the contrast between the Old and the New is not that these three blessings will be experienced for the first time in redemptive history by the people of God! That would be to succumb to radically dispensational assumptions. The elect in every age have experienced these blessings, including the elect under the Old Covenant–law written on the heart (Psalm 37:31, 9:10, 76:1); personal knowledge of God (1 Samuel 2:12, 3:7); the forgiveness of sins (Psalm 32:1-2). Rather, the true contrast between the Old and the New Covenants is that now under the New Covenant, all who are covenant members experience these peculiar blessings. The fact that not all covenant members experienced these blessings under the Old Covenant is part of the divine motivation for readministering the covenant under the New! (v. 32: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers . . . because they broke my covenant.”)
Third, the New Covenant is made only with the elect, with those who have experienced these blessings. It is not made with those who have not experienced these blessings. This is simply a restatement of the first two implications already mentioned. Thus in accordance with the covenant as newly administered in Christ, baptists do not give the New Covenant sign to those who give no evidence of being in the New Covenant. While recognizing the proper Old Testament distinction between an external covenant (elect and non-elect) and an internal covenant (elect only), baptists understand this external/internal distinction to be abolished in the New Covenant. No one is in covenant with God who is not a believer. Thus when paedobaptists speak of their “covenant children” as “breaking covenant” (i.e. becoming apostate by rejecting the faith), baptists rightly respond, “What covenant are you talking about? Obviously not the New Covenant! Only those who have the law of God written on their hearts, who know the Lord, and who have their sins forgiven, are in the New Covenant! Your ‘covenant children’ were never in the New covenant, and so never should have received the New Covenant sign!”
Now paedobaptists may try to reinterpret this passage in at least four possible ways, in order to preserve their belief that non-elect persons (such as their “covenant children”) may still be in “external” covenant with God, as was the case under the Old Covenant.
A) Paedobaptists may claim that Jeremiah’s phrase, “they shall all know me,” applies only to those covenant members who happen to be elect, but not to all covenant members whatsoever. Thus the Lord is saying through Jeremiah, “All (the elect) shall know me,” not “all (who are in the covenant) shall know me.” But this would be to erase the very difference, the very contrast, the very newness that Jeremiah is attributing to the New Covenant! In every covenant administration (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic) only the elect covenant members knew the Lord, even if all covenant members whatsoever did not. Rather, Jeremiah is saying here that all the covenantees, all who are in the New Covenant, will know him. Thus only the elect are in the New Covenant. There are no covenant members who do not know the Lord.
B) Paedobaptists may claim that Jeremiah’s phrase, “they shall all know me,” applies to all types of people in the New Covenant. Thus they interpret Jeremiah’s contrast to be, “Whereas under the Old Covenant only one type of person really knew the Lord (the leaders: priests, prophets, and kings), now under the New Covenant all kinds of people will know him, from the greatest of them to the least.” But this characterization of the Old Covenant flatly contradicts the testimony of Scripture. Under the Old Covenant, even the lowly Hannah (1Samuel 1-2) and Mary (Luke 1:46-55) had an intimate knowledge of God, and not just the ‘great’ Samuel or David. All types of people knew the Lord under both covenants, so this can’t be the contrast Jeremiah is drawing!
C) Paedobaptists may claim that the knowledge of God which Jeremiah is speaking of is an external knowledge about the things of God revealed in Scripture. Since paedobaptists faithfully teach and catechize their “covenant children,” all covenant members do know the Lord under the New Covenant! But this is to woefully mischaracterize the knowledge of God spoken of in Jeremiah. The very point of God’s complaint against the people through Jeremiah is that the people, despite their external knowledge of the things of God, had yet turned away from the Lord and rebelled against him. The one kind of knowledge which the passage can’t be speaking of is an external knowledge of the things of God passed on by parents and teachers!
D) Paedobaptists may claim that baptists are failing to recognize that the contrast which Jeremiah is drawing here is between the New Covenant and the Mosaic (Old) Covenant, not between the New Covenant and the covenant as originally administered to Abraham. Since paedobaptists justify infant baptism with reference to the Abrahamic (not Mosaic) Covenant, the fact that Jeremiah speaks of the New Covenant as different from the Mosaic is of no relevance for the question of infant baptism. This point is well taken–the Mosaic Covenant was indeed added to the Abrahamic promises, not repealing or replacing them but furthering their ultimate purpose (Galatians 3:17-19). But reflection upon the realities of the Abrahamic Covenant will reveal that each of the contrasts Jeremiah asserts here between the New and the Mosaic Covenants, is also a contrast between the New and the Abrahamic! Under the Abrahamic Covenant, all did not have the law written on their hearts, or know the Lord, or have their sins forgiven. Covenant children such as Ishmael and Esau, who lived under the Abrahamic but not the Mosaic Covenant, bear eloquent testimony to this fact.
2) Jeremiah 32:37-41 “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
Now to all non-dispensationalist interpreters, the references to the land do not denote a future earthly millennium, but the Christian’s spiritual inheritance. This passage is fulfilled in the church. It reiterates the teaching on the New Covenant in the previous chapter. The text says that the covenant which God will make with his people is an everlasting covenant. It will not be broken and then succeeded by yet another covenant. The reference is not to the return of the exiles under Ezra/Nehemiah, but to the New Covenant under Christ.
Central to the blessings of this everlasting covenant is that, just like the covenant spoken of in chapter 31, it is an unbreakable covenant. The text says God will inspire the covenant members to always fear him, “so that they will never turn away from me.” All thought of “covenant children” who break covenant is banished in this covenant. Again, there is a contrast between this New Covenant and the older administrations, confirming what Jeremiah has said in chapter 31.
Yet blessings do accrue to the children of these covenant members! Baptists should be among the first to recognize the practical privileges their children enjoy by being in a God-fearing home. Jeremiah says that those who are in this covenant will not only fear God for their own good, but for the good of their children after them. The faithfulness of parents in fearing God will have a profound effect upon their children. But this blessing of “doing good” to the children does not imply their covenant membership. The very terms of this covenant explicitly describe all of its members as “always fearing” God and “never turning away” from him. Therefore if believer’s children are to be members of this covenant, they must be among the elect. Simply because they are believer’s children does not make them covenant members. Nor does this blessing guarantee salvation. To interpret this “doing of good” to the children as a guarantee of salvation would prove too much for the paedobaptist. It would imply that all “covenant children” are saved, that there are no apostate covenant children. This is a prospect which no (evangelical) paedobaptist accepts.
3) John 1:11-13 “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Jesus came to “that which was his own”; that is, to his own people. The Jews were his own people because they were in covenant with God, under the terms of the Old Covenant. They were properly considered to be God’s children: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). And yet those very people who were God’s own, his own children under the terms of the Old Covenant, rejected him. Indeed, they crucified him. But now who are the children of God, according to the text? Who are “God’s own”? Those in an “external covenant” with God? Those called out of Egypt but who later reject him? Those descended from certain parents? No! “To those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And these children are children because they were “born of God,” not because they were born by natural descent from Christian parents.
The implication is clear. Under the Old Covenant, you could be a child of God and yet reject God. You could be “God’s own” and yet be on your way to hell. But in the New Covenant it is not that way. Those who are children of God are not so by virtue of their birth. John explicitly denies this. Rather, they are children of God because they are born of God. In the New Covenant era, only the elect can be properly considered children of God, “his own,” in covenant with God. The concept of “belonging to God,” being a “son of God,” and being “his own” has been transformed under the terms of the New Covenant. But the aforementioned paedobaptist tendency to “Christianize” the Old Testament and “Judaize” the New Testament flattens out this historical-redemptive transformation of terms.
4) Romans 9:2-4, 8:15-17 “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” (Romans 9:2-4); “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15-17).
Note that under the Old Covenant (9:2-4), you could be adopted by God and yet be on your way to hell, in need of the very gospel which Paul proclaimed. This parallels the paedobaptist understanding of “covenant children” being in the “external covenant.” But under the New Covenant (8:15-17), all those who are adopted by God have the Spirit of God within them, testifying to their adoption. Because they are children, they are heirs of God who will certainly share his glory. Thus the concept of adoption has been transformed in the New Covenant. New Covenant adoption involves election, regeneration, and the indwelling of the Spirit. Such indwelling was not necessary to Old Covenant adoption, although Old Covenant adoption was by the design of God. All this to say: the “covenant children” of Romans 9 (Old Covenant) are not the “covenant children” of Romans 8 (New Covenant). There are no “covenant children” (in the Romans 9 sense) any more.
II. Significant Discontinuities in the Meaning and Function of the Covenant Signs
Having seen the exegetical basis for identifying the paedobaptist hermeneutic as indeed in error, it will now be useful to point out how this error leads paedobaptists to overlook significant discontinuities in both the meaning and function of the covenant signs. Much paedobaptist argument dwells upon the analogy between circumcision and baptism, inferring from the application of circumcision to infants under the Old Covenant, the responsibility to apply baptism to infants under the New Covenant. But this conveniently ignores the many disanalogies which exist between these signs as well. Such oversight causes many paedobaptists to overdraw the analogy between circumcision and baptism, illegitimately transforming that analogy into an identity.
1) The meaning of the sign of circumcision is not identical to the meaning of the sign of baptism. We agree that there is a significant overlap of meaning between the two signs (Romans 4:11; Colossians 2:11-12). But we deny that there is an identity of meaning between the two signs. Circumcision signified specific promises and blessings that baptism does not signify, and has never signified. God made many promises to Abraham in the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17, which confirmed the covenant of Genesis 15). Circumcision sealed the promises of that covenant. For instance: “I will make you very fruitful” (physical descendants as many as the stars in the sky)–baptism does not signify this promise, but circumcision did. Or “you will be a father of many nations”–baptism does not signify this promise, but circumcision did. Or “kings will come from you”–baptism does not signify this promise, circumcision did. Or “the whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you”–baptism does not signify this promise, but circumcision did.
Similarly, due to this difference in meaning, we also deny that the relationship between physical and spiritual blessings is the same under the Old and New Covenants. Under the Old Covenant, the previously mentioned physical blessings were enjoyed, and the promises for these blessings were cherished, by the Israelites, even by those Israelites who lived an outwardly moral life but had no personal faith in the God of Abraham. That is, the physical blessings of the Old Covenant could be enjoyed even by those who did not personally experience its spiritual blessings (as long as the community as a whole remained faithful). But under the New Covenant, things are very different. Any covenantal promises and blessings which could be construed as “physical” (the glorified resurrection body, the new heavens and the new earth) will never be fulfilled or enjoyed by those who do not personally experience the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant (i.e. the elect).
Additionally, if circumcision allegedly has the same meaning as baptism, then two important questions need to be asked: Why institute a new sign? Why baptize those who had already been circumcised into the covenant community?
2) Baptism did not replace circumcision as to its function among the covenant people of God. Jesus’ institution of the sign of Christian baptism commanded that it be applied to disciples who had been made by the original apostles (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16). Throughout the rest of the New Testament, and especially displayed in the book of Acts, baptism functions in accordance with Jesus’ institution of it. It is a sign for disciples, who have placed their faith in Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38). All clear cases of baptism in the New Testament reflect this “believers’ baptism” policy. (The “household baptisms” will be treated later in this paper.)
But if, as paedobaptists allege, baptism did replace circumcision as to its function in the covenant community, several problems emerge. First, why did Paul have Timothy circumcised? “Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). Surely if baptism functioned the same way under the New Covenant as circumcision functioned under the Old, Paul would never have done this! Something must have been signified in Timothy’s later circumcision that was not signified in Timothy’s earlier baptism as a convert. Second, why did Paul bend over backwards to accommodate the Jewish converts’ continuing practice of circumcising their children? (Acts 21:20-26). Why did he not rather challenge the practice as completely inappropriate for Christian converts, since now baptism has replaced circumcision? Third, why didn’t the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem council refute the Pharisees’ charge (“The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses”, Acts 15:5) by the simple statement, “Because baptism has now replaced circumcision”? Fourth, why didn’t Paul, in the book of Galatians, refute the Judaizers who insisted on circumcision with the simple argument: “baptism has replaced circumcision”?
III. Paedobaptist Misuse of Key Biblical Texts
Apart from their more broadly hermeneutical and systematic errors (identified above), paedobaptists often misuse isolated biblical texts in an attempt to find the practice of infant baptism in the New Testament. The baptist response to these paedobaptist misinterpretations needs to be given.
1) Acts 2:38-39 “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Many, if not all, paedobaptists interpret this text to say that God has given a “special” promise to the children of Christians, which insures that they are in the covenant community, and are “different” from the children of non-Christians. Baptists rightly respond that the paedobaptist ear is so attuned to the Old Testament echo in this text (“you and your children”) that it is deaf to its New Testament crescendo (“and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call”). (4) The three phrases must be taken together: (1) you, (2) your children, (3) all who are far off. According to the text, the promise is equally applied to all three categories of people. There is nothing “special” about category (2) which cannot be said about category (3), with respect to the promise of God spoken by Peter.
Depending upon how the word “call” is interpreted (outward call of the gospel, or the inward call of God’s irresistible grace), this text either proves too much for the paedobaptist, or too little. The one thing it does not prove is a “special” promise for covenant children. If the outward call of the gospel is meant, then the text proves far too much for the paedobaptist. It proves that the promise is for all who hear the gospel, “all who are far off.” Do we baptize all hearers of the gospel into the covenant community, regardless of how they respond to the message? How does a promise for everyone serve to distinguish covenant children from anyone else who happens to hear the gospel? But if the inward call of God’s irresistible grace is meant, then the text proves far too little for the paedobaptist. It proves that the promise is for the elect only. Indeed, it proves the baptist position! Unless we are willing to presume election for our covenant children (a presumption without Scriptural warrant, and fraught with practical dangers for the child’s Christian nurture), then we must baptize only those who actually give evidence of being elect, of receiving the promise (i. e. a credible profession of faith). This is precisely what happened after Peter’s sermon, for it was only “those who accepted his message” who were baptized (Acts 2:41)!
Also, the content of this promise is often misconstrued by paedobaptists. In the immediate and surrounding contexts, it is obvious that the promise Peter is speaking of is the promised gift of the outpoured Holy Spirit, as predicted by Joel. Do paedobaptists assume that, because their children have received “the promise,” they have therefore received the Holy Spirit?
2) 1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified [hêgiastai] through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified [hêgiastai] through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean [akatharta], but as it is, they are holy [hagia].”
Many paedobaptists interpret that Paul takes it for granted that the children of at least one believing parent are “covenantally holy,” that is, in the covenant community. They are not “externally unclean,” like the children of non-Christians. But this is a species of “hit-and-run” exegesis. The same root word for “holy” is applied to both the child and to the unbelieving spouse. If they are both “covenantally holy,” then why are they not both included in the covenant community and baptized? Paedobaptists will baptize the child, but not the spouse. To posit a meaning for “holy” as it applies to the child, that is different from the meaning of “holy” as it applies to the spouse, is pure eisegesis (reading into the text). The same root word is applied to both persons. It also undermines Paul’s argument that the holiness of the child guarantees the holiness of the unbelieving parent. In order for his inference to be valid, the same type of holiness must apply to each.(5)
In addition, the paedobaptist interpretation of this text is a classic example of what was previously identified as “Judaizing” the New Testament. That is, distinctions peculiar to the Old Testament, such as “external” or “covenantal” holiness, are read into New Testament texts. Paedobaptists forget that the entire concept of “covenantal” holiness has been abolished in the NT. In Acts 10:28, Peter informed Cornelius’ household that “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure [koinon] or unclean [akatharton].” In the context it is obvious that Peter is speaking about external, covenantal holiness, based upon external membership in the covenant community. Thus the very thing which God commanded Peter never to do (call men unclean because of their birth outside the covenant community), paedobaptists do with respect to the children of non-Christians (call them unclean). They forget that such distinctions have been abolished in the New Covenant era, as God taught Peter.
3) Romans 4:11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.”
Many paedobaptists interpret this text to say that Paul is giving a definition of what circumcision sealed for everybody who received it: righteousness by faith. Thus circumcision was not a merely earthly sign. Rather, like baptism, it sealed the highest spiritual blessings of the covenant of grace. But paedobaptists overlook the fact that in the context, and in the verse explicitly, Paul is speaking of circumcision sealing the righteousness by faith which Abraham had, and a righteousness by faith which Abraham already had. That is, in accordance with the biblical notion of a seal, Abraham’s circumcision sealed to him a present possession. It did not seal his need for righteousness; it did not seal a conditional promise of righteousness; it sealed to him a righteousness which he already had while uncircumcised. Thus Paul in Romans 4:11 is not giving a general definition of the significance of circumcision for everybody who received it; that would go counter to the context of Romans 4, which is the personal case of Abraham and how he discovered that justification is by faith alone. Rather, Paul is giving the significance of that sign for Abraham. The fact that circumcision signified many other realities for everyone who received it (including Abraham) has already been discussed.
Of course, paedobaptists may respond that the baptist view construes two completely different definitions of circumcision: one for believers and another for unbelievers. But we do no such thing. Circumcision signified the same promises to everyone who received it. But to some who received it in faith (such as Abraham and adult converts into the covenant community), it also sealed the righteousness which they had by faith. Additionally, this paedobaptist response may be turned against the paedobaptist. For they also posit two “different” meanings for circumcision. For Abraham it sealed a righteousness which he already had by faith; it sealed a present possession. But for Isaac, and for all who received it in infancy, it sealed their need for righteousness by faith. These are two different things, and they are posited on the paedobaptist view of the sacrament, not the baptist view.
4) Colossians 2:11-12 “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Many paedobaptists interpret this text as teaching that baptism and circumcision have replaced each other, and have the same exact significance. These Gentile converts are considered by Paul to have been circumcised, when they were really baptized. In response, Baptists agree that there is an obvious analogy between the two signs asserted here, corresponding to the overlap in meaning previously mentioned. What we deny is the identity of meaning between the two signs. Who is this text talking about? About believers! Who are those who are circumcised in God’s sight? Those who have put off the sinful nature, and have been raised with Christ through their faith. Thus the concept of circumcision has been transformed in the New Testament, to denote those who have experienced salvation in Christ. It is this inward experience of spiritual circumcision that is tied to baptism in the New Testament!
5) Household baptisms, of which there seem to be four in the New Testament. It will be discussed later how paedobaptists never consistently practice the same kind of “household baptism” policy they claim to find in the New Testament.
A) With respect to Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:46-48), Peter’s explicit warrant for baptizing this household is that “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have,” NOT “the covenant head of the household has converted.” Indeed, Luke explicitly records that while Peter was preaching to them, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” Unless we are willing to posit the reception of the Spirit, and speaking in tongues, for unbelievers, we must conclude that this was a household conversion, on the part of the individuals who composed it, and for that reason it was also a household baptism.
B) With respect to Lydia’s household (Acts 16:15), baptists admit that evidence of an explicit profession of faith among all household members is lacking. But baptists also argue(6) that nothing in the passage implies Lydia was a married woman with nursing children, for she traveled on business some 300 miles from her native city; she felt the liberty, as head of the house, to invite men into her home; Luke speaks of her household being baptized, and of the importunity with which she constrained the apostles to abide in her house, no mention being made of her husband. Thus the most likely hypothesis is that she had no husband, and therefore no children. If Lydia had no children, she has no significance for infant baptism either. To read infants into the text thus goes contrary to the context (and to read the baptism of adults into the text, apart from their conversion, goes contrary to paedobaptist practice, as examined below).
C) With respect to the Philippian jailer’s household (Acts 16:33), note that in the preceding verse (v. 32), the entire household heard the message of the gospel: “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in the house.” Interpreters are divided on how to interpret the Greek singular participle of the succeeding verse (v. 34): did the jailer rejoice with his whole house, having believed in God? (paedobaptist interpretation), or did the jailer rejoice, having believed in God with his whole house (baptist interpretation)? Note that even if the paedobaptist interpretation is taken (which is quite unnecessary), it implies the baptist view that the entire household believed. For it would be exceeding strange if (1) the whole household heard the gospel, (2) the jailer believed the gospel but the others rejected it, and (3) the whole household rejoiced that the head of the household believed while they themselves rejected the same message! Only the baptist view avoids such absurdity. “Taken at its face value, the account in Acts sets before us a hearing, believing, rejoicing household that received baptism.”(7)
D) With respect to Stephanas’ household (1 Corinthians 1:16), Paul does indeed state that he baptized the household of Stephanas. But he also informs us “that the household of Stephanas were the first converts [aparchê, firstfruits] in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:15). This is positive evidence that a household conversion occurred, and not merely a household baptism. As Jewett puts it, “When Paul declares, ‘I baptized the house of Stephanas,’ and later adds that they ‘set themselves to minister to the saints,’ . . . how plausible is it to make the circle of his meaning larger in the one instance than in the other? ‘I baptized all the house of Stephanas, of which some have ministered to the saints’ is the way we should have to understand the apostle if we are to see clear evidence for infant baptism in this passage. Such an interpretation is possible, but it is a rather thin thread on which to hang the practice of bringing infants to baptism.”(8)
IV. Inconsistencies in Paedobaptist Practice
There is a tendency for paedobaptists to base their theory of baptism upon a strict principle of Old Testament continuity, and then to violate that very principle in their practice of baptism, by “smuggling in” discontinuities not warranted by the text of Scripture, but required if insoluble difficulties in the practice of infant baptism are to be avoided. This dilemma is to be expected, for once the teaching of the Word of God is misinterpreted as to our duty, inconsistencies are bound to be revealed in our practice.
1) Paedobaptists look for a warrant of faith in the parents of those to be baptized. On the one hand, paedobaptists claim that their practice is mandated by the command given to Abraham in Genesis 17. And yet paedobaptists will not baptize an infant unless the parent(s) give a credible profession of faith. Thus they baptize infants on different grounds than circumcision was mandated! A warrant of faith in the parents was never required in the Old Testament. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (Genesis 17:12), period. In fact, in the Old Testament, if anyone was physically descended from Abraham, he had no right not to be circumcised! Never in the darkest days of the judges or of the canonical prophets was the privilege of circumcision revoked due to the people’s apostasy.
Any attempt to read the Old Testament as if a profession of faith in the parents was required for the circumcision of their offspring is clearly a species of “Christianizing” eisegesis, a reading of the Old as if it were the New. When Abraham was required to circumcise his (hundreds of) servants (Genesis 17:27) and their offspring, neither he nor God required a personal profession of faith of any of them. Rather, “every male among you shall be circumcised,” period. When the people of God crossed the Jordan River under Joshua, an entire nation was circumcised in a day (Joshua 5:2-3). A profession of faith in the God of Abraham could not possibly have been required of each and every one of them. Again, “every male among you shall be circumcised,” period.
It may objected that the very fact that these parents remained within the covenant community shows an implicit profession of faith on their part. That is, by not living an outwardly immoral life, they were not cut off from the covenant community. But this objection could not apply to the hundreds of males in Abraham’s household, since at that time the covenant community was less than a day old, and there was no time to “apostatize” by an outwardly immoral life. Indeed, paedobaptists justify the practice of infant baptism with respect to the Abrahamic (not the Mosaic) covenant. In other words, the life of the parents could not possibly have been evaluated by the stipulations of the Mosaic law during the hundreds of years between Abraham and Moses, for the Mosaic law had not yet been given. There was thus no possibility of “excommunication” between Abraham and Moses. Once again, the criterion is physical descent from Abraham, and not the faith of the parents. Besides, since when does an outwardly moral life substitute for a profession of faith? Would paedobaptists baptize longtime visitors to their churches, simply because such individuals lived an outwardly moral life? The two are simply not the same.
2) Paedobaptists do not bring their little children to the covenant meal.(9) This is significant, because the replacement of the Passover Meal (Old Covenant) with the Lord’s Supper (New Covenant) as the covenant meal, is even more explicitly stated in the New Testament than the alleged replacement of circumcision with baptism as the covenant sign. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper while he was sharing the Passover meal with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; cf. Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-30). And under the Old Covenant, all in the household were invited to participate in the covenant meal. “Each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household” (Exodus 12:3). No warrant of faith in the recipients of the Passover meal was required. “You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat” (Exodus 12:4), not in accordance with their profession of faith!
In order to justify their failure to bring their little children to the covenant meal, paedobaptists appeal to the strictures of 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, 31, wherein “a man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself . . . if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” But baptists reply that the paedobaptist interpretation of this stricture is wholly inconsistent with their interpretation of various passages concerning baptism. When confronted with texts concerning the necessity of faith and repentance prior to baptism (Acts 2:38; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16), paedobaptists reply that such texts “obviously” are intended for adults only and not for all. But when they come to 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, paedobaptists arbitrarily reverse their hermeneutic and reply that such a text “obviously” is intended for all and not for adults only! Could it be that paedobaptists are accommodating their interpretation of Scripture to their previously-accepted practice, rather than judging their practice by means of Scripture?
Indeed, baptists also reply that this paedobaptist recognition of a significant discontinuity between the recipients of the sacraments under the Old and New Covenants only proves the baptist point: due to the progress of redemptive history, in the administration of the New Covenant the signs and seals of the covenant are for believers only. Paedobaptists accept this with respect to communion, but not with respect to baptism. They are “halfway baptists,” halfway down the road to a baptist understanding of the New Covenant.
In order to justify their failure to bring their little children to the covenant meal, paedobaptists also appeal to the alleged “active” nature of the Lord’s Supper, as opposed to the “passive” nature of baptism. But apart from Scriptural warrant, this distinction seems to be an arbitrary artifice designed to preserve the paedobaptist practice of baptizing (passive) babies, while only communicating (active) adults.
3) Paedobaptists do not baptize entire households. This is inconsistent with their “oikos formula” interpretation of the household baptisms in Acts, by which they see entire households being baptized indiscriminately upon the conversion of the head of the household. In order to justify their failure to baptize spouses, adult children, and household servants upon the conversion of the head of the household, paedobaptists appeal to at least three considerations.
A) The greater spirituality of the New Covenant. But this introduces the very type of “discontinuity without Scriptural warrant” that they accuse the baptists of affirming. Why would the “greater spirituality” include the babies but exclude the spouses and older children?
B) Cultural considerations. Paedobaptists recognize that it would be unacceptable in our culture to practice “coerced baptisms” on these adults. But since when should cultural considerations be allowed to overturn apostolic example, especially when we are talking about the explicit command of God (Genesis 17, “every male among you shall be circumcised)?
C) A supposed confession of faith on the part of the spouse and/or other adults in the household. But this is to do the very thing paedobaptists accuse the baptists of doing: reading into the household baptisms what is not explicitly there in the text.
4) Paedobaptists do not practice the “halfway covenant.” That is, if the children of covenant members are also in the covenant, then are the children of these covenant members also in the covenant? That is, if God has “children” (believers) and “grandchildren” (believers’ children), why may he not have “great-grandchildren” (believers’ children’s children), who by virtue of their descent from covenant members are also in the covenant? Thus, practically speaking, why not baptize the children of covenant children, even if those covenant children have never made a profession of saving faith? To do so was the practice with respect to circumcision under the Old Covenant. Why is it not the practice of paedobaptists under the New, given their principle of strict continuity with the Old Testament?
This “halfway covenant” controversy is no abstract speculation. It was a deep practical crisis for paedobaptists in New England (1634-1828), who were forced to develop several contradictory lines of response to a fundamental practical absurdity which their paedobaptist theology raised. Note how it was not an absurdity under the Old Covenant: “every male among you shall be circumcised,” period (Genesis 17:12-14). Also note how it is not an absurdity if the covenant signs are restricted to those who profess saving faith in Jesus Christ (i.e. if the baptist view is adopted).
V. Paedobaptist Sentimentalism Examined
Some may ask, “Why end your booklet by critiquing a series of emotionally-driven, ad hominem arguments for infant baptism? No respectable theologian would indulge in this kind of tugging of the heartstrings, as a substitute for genuine biblical argument!” Perhaps not, but otherwise respectable seminary students, professors, and their wives do, if my personal experience is any rule! And as long as these kinds of questions are repeatedly asked–informally yet forcefully–of baptist seminary students, church members and pastors, a response needs to be at hand.
1) “Are you saying my covenant children aren’t ‘special’?” Baptists rightly respond with the words of Paul: “Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13). Thus is God’s testimony concerning these “covenant children.” God may not love your “covenant children” any more or less than the general mass of unregenerate mankind. Your only assurance of God’s love for them is if they specifically repent and believe the gospel, thus showing themselves to be chosen and loved by him from eternity. Any other view is pure presumption without Scriptural warrant. Isaac would have been presumptuous to write a letter to his newborn Esau in which he stated: “Dearest Esau, child of the covenant: Not only do I love you, but more importantly, God loves you as well!” Such a letter would have been contrary to Christian responsibility, and the God-ordained facts.(10)
2) “Are you saying that God won’t hear the prayers of my four-year old covenant child?” Baptists rightly respond that God will always hear a prayer for conversion from anyone, young or old. God will also hear and answer any prayer which issues from a sincere, renewed heart. Of course, not all covenant children have sincere, renewed hearts (Ishmael? Esau? the sons of Korah? Eli’s sons?). Therefore, parents can have confidence that God hears the prayers of their children to the extent that they have confidence that their children have renewed hearts, or that their children are praying for conversion. Besides, what has this to do with infant baptism? Did the covenant with Abraham involve a “promise” to hear the prayers of all the descendants of Abraham, simply because they were his descendants? Do we adopt infant baptism because it allows us to say comforting things about our children?
3) “How dare you baptists separate the children from their own parents in the covenant community! They are your own flesh and blood!” But paedobaptists do not include the spouse in the covenant community! And yet the term “flesh and blood” is more reminiscent of the marriage relationship than the parent-child relationship! “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Thus children are not “separated” any more from their parents on the baptist view, than the unbelieving spouse is “separated” from his or her spouse on the paedobaptist view. This question seems to imply that when baptist parents go to church, they leave their kids in the parking lot. Baptist parents also bring their children under the influence of preaching, catechizing, and family instruction. So what’s the point?
4) “Now you say, as part of your so-called ‘gospel,’ that my children aren’t in the covenant, and cannot receive the covenant sign. Is that ‘good news’? No!” This kind of argument, inferring from a general notion of “expanded privileges” under the New Covenant a specific application to infant privileges, should have about as much force as the following pseudo-argument of a paedo-communionist to most paedobaptists: “You won’t let my children partake of the covenant meal (Lord’s Supper)? You are revoking the privileges they had under the Old Covenant with respect to the Passover! Is that ‘good news’?” Thus, there is no paedobaptist “argument from expanded privilege” against the revoking of baptismal privileges for infants that cannot also be made for infant communion. Arguments like this have about as much force as any Jewish objection to the passing away of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. A much more relevant question would be: “What does God require of me under the New Covenant?” or “Who is in the New Covenant?”
VI. Summary and Conclusion
(I wanted to post a teaser of this article and give you the link but I couldn’t decide where to cut it! Enjoy!)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
1 Corinthians 7:10-16:
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
This post is a roundup of Reformed Baptist responses that can be found on the interwebs regarding this verse. These are just brief summaries. We want you to click the links for details.
John Norcott (-1676), Baptism Discovered Plainly and Faithfully
18. But the Children of Believers are holy, therefore they ought to be baptized.
As it is said the Children are holy, so it is said the unbelieving Husband is holy, or sanctified by the believing Wife. This Holiness is wholly to the use of Marriage, for the Apostle is in that place, ( 1 Cor, 7. ) speaking of Marriage, and whether those who have believed should live with unbelieving Husbands, or put them away, as I Cor. 7. 13. So that the Holiness here spoken of, it is wholly to their use ; it is said, Zech, 14.20. There shall be Holiness on the Horses Bells, and every pot in the Lords House shall be Holy. Now do you think this was a sufficient warrant to baptize Bells, as you may read they did in the Book of Martyrs? But there is a being holy for the use of the Believer, as every Creature is Sanctified by the Word of God and Prayer, 1 Tim. 3. 4, 5.And to the Pure, all things are Pure, Tit. 1. 15. That is to their use : Thus Children are holy, and unbelieving Husbands are sanctified to their use ; But if you think, Believers Children are inherently holy, doth not your experience tell you the contrary ? do not we see good Men have ungodly Children, and bad Men have holy Children ? So that they are only holy for their use,they are not born in uncleanness.
John Gill (23 November 1697 – 14 October 1771), John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
“The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.”
Abraham Booth (1734–1806), Paedobaptism Examined, Vol. II.
Reflect. IV. The incompetency of this passage to prove the lawfulness of infant baptism will farther appear, if the following things be considered. Whatever the apostle intends by the term holy, as here applied to children, one of whose parents is a believer, it is not confined to the infants of such persons, but belongs to all their offspring, whether younger Or older; whether born before the conversion of either parent, or after that happy event had taken place; for the children, without any distinction, are pronounced holy. If, therefore, it be lawful to baptize them on the ground of this holiness while infants, it must be equally so when grown up. That holiness, of which the inspired author speaks, is not inferred from the faith of the believing parent, but from the sanctification of the unbelieving party, by or to the believer. See No. 17. Whence it follows, that the holiness of the children cannot be superior, either as to nature or degree, to that sanctification of the unbelieving partner from which it is derived. For Paul as expressly asserts, that the unbelieving husband hath been sanctified by, or to the wife; and that the unbelieving wife hath been sanctified by, or to the husband; as that the offspring of such parents are holy. Agreeably to which Bengelius considers the holiness of the children, and that of the unbelieving parent, as the same: because (Greek) and (Greek), differ only as, to be made holy, differs from, to be holy. If, then, that sanctification of the unbelieving husband gives him no claim to baptism, the holiness thence arising cannot invest his children with such a right.
William Shirreff (-1832), “Lectures on Baptism“
“1 Cor. vii. 14, ”For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband ; else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.” The Corinthians had consulted Paul whether a believer might live with an unbelieving spouse. He acquaints them with the law on the subject, which sanctified the relation. He is not treating of baptism, nor does he mention, in any way, the sprinkling of infants.”
Alexander Carson (1776-1844), Baptism in its Mode and Subjects
“Give me Scripture for infant baptism, and I will receive it. Give me any reasoning that is founded on a basis of truth, and I will weigh it. But I can have no respect for a mode of reasoning that founds on nothing, or on untrue assumption. A man would read himself blind, before he would find anything like family baptism in Gal. iii. It cannot be truth that requires learned and ingenious men to adopt such a mode of defence. Mr. Ewing, either yield, or give us argument. Do not continue to force and misrepresent the word of God, to sanction the traditions of men. You are floundering in a quagmire, — every plunge to relieve yourself, will only sink you more deeply.
“Mr. Ewing has perceived that the passage cannot be consistently quoted for the one and not for the other, and that it applies equally to the Lord’s supper : he therefore, instead of giving up the argument, as proving too much, boldly adopts all its consequences. The unbelieving wife, then, is to be baptized, and to be admitted to all the privileges of a believer’s house. This privilege, it seems, is granted on the right of property. The unbelieving wife is to be baptized as the property of her husband. Slaves have a similar claim. To refute so monstrous a position, is anything necessary but to state it 1 Is this like the kingdom of Christ? Can anything be more contrary to the Scripture accounts of baptism and the Lord’s supper? Faith is necessary to entitle to admission into a church ; faith is necessary to eat the Lord’s supper without condemnation ; faith is necessary for baptism. How, then, can an unbelieving wife, or unbelieving children, be admitted to such privileges by this passage? Can any passage in the word of God give a warrant to persons to eat and drink condemnation to themselves ? Can any passage warrant the admission of unbelievers into a church from which the Lord has excluded them? Can any passage sanction the baptism of unbelievers, when all the accounts of baptism require faith ? Can any passage give countenance to persons evidently in their sins, to be admitted to an ordinance that figuratively exhibits their sins as, by faith in the blood of Christ, already washed away?
“Well, suppose they are all determined to adopt the shocking consequences avowed by Mr. Ewing, their hardihood will show only their disposition — it will not save their cause. This holiness of the unbelieving wife and children, is a holiness not of the truth nor of the Spirit ; and therefore cannot entitle to any ordinance of Christ’s kingdom. It is a holiness of marriage, which is an ordinance of God for his people, in common with all men. It is a holiness which is here expressly said to belong to unbelievers ; and therefore can have nothing to do with ordinances that were intended for believers. It is a holiness that demands the believing husband or wife to live with the unbelieving, not to baptize such. The question treated of is solely this. There is no reference to any ordinance of the kingdom of Christ. Why, then, should this unbelieving holiness admit to the ordinance of Christ’s kingdom, more than it will admit to heaven ? All the ordinances of Christ imply, that the partakers of them have the holiness of the truth by the Spirit. If this can be dispensed with as to an avowed unbeliever, the declaration “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” may equally be dispensed with for his salvation. The same reasoning that will baptize the unbelieving wife, will introduce her into heaven as an unbeliever.
“But why are unbelievers of this description baptized rather than any other unbelievers? Because, says Mr. Ewing, salvation is come to the house. Salvation come to the house! But it seems it has not yet reached the wife ; and if it had reached her, it may not have reached the children. The wife is here said to be sanctified while an unbeliever. Then salvation has not come to her, except the Gospel is false, and she can be saved as an unbeliever. Why, then, should she be baptized, or receive the Lord’s supper, which supposes that she has been already made a partaker of salvation? But it may be said, she will yet believe. I reply, although this were certain, it would be no reason to give her an ordinance that implies faith and sanctification of the Spirit through the truth. This, however, is not certain, for the reason by which the husband is urged to live with her as an unbeliever, is, not the certainty that she will yet believe, but the mere possibility of this. ” For what knowest thou, O.wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or, how knowest , thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife ?” Here the mere possibility of the future salvation of the unbelieving husband, or wife, through the means of the other party, is urged as a reason to continue in the marriage relation. Nothing can be a clearer confutation of the opinion of our opponents with respect to the meaning of the expression, ” salvation is come to this house,” than this passage. The utmost that the apostle states as a ground of not forsaking the unbelieving partner, is, that it may turn out to the salvation of such ; there is not a single promise pleaded. If this is a ground for baptism, we might baptize any person; for we do not know but he may yet receive the truth.”
Adoniram Judson, Jr. (August 9, 1788 – April 12, 1850), A Sermon on Christian Baptism
The following passage also has been supposed to favor the church membership of infants : “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband ; else were your children unclean; but now are they holy? (1 Cor. vii. 14)
The holiness ascribed to the children, cannot be moral holiness, for it is ascribed to the unbelieving parent also. Nor can it be ceremonial or federal holiness, securing a title to church membership, or any church privilege ; for though it is ascribed to the unbelieving parent, he is not considered a member of the church, or entitled to any church privilege. Nor is this interpretation consistent with the apostle’s reasoning. It appears, that the Corinthians had inquired of the apostle, whether it was lawful for believers, who were married to unbelievers, to continue the marriage connexion. The apostle determines, that it is lawful ] for, says he, the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer, that is, as ‘ every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving ; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.’ (1 Tim. iv. 4, 5) In this sense, the unbeliever is sanctified, so that it is lawful for the parties to dwell together. Now if it was not lawful to dwell together, your children would, of consequence, be unclean. But they are not unclean. Therefore, you may be satisfied, that your cohabitation is lawful marriage. But to urge the church membership of children, or their title to any church privilege, as proof, that the unbeliever is sanctified to the believer, so that it is lawful for them to dwell together, would have been quite irrelevant.! (Pages 69-70)
When I proceeded to consider certain passages, which are thought to favor the Pedobaptist system,. I found nothing satisfactory.
The sanctification, which St. Paul ascribes to the children of a believer, (1 Cor. vii. 14.) I found that he ascribed to the unbelieving parent also; and therefore, whatever be the meaning of the passage, it could have no respect to church membership, or a right to church ordinances. (Page 99)
James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), Reasons of a Change of Sentiment and Practice on the Subject of Baptism.
“Another passage which has been brought forward is 1 Cor vii 1 4 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband else were your children unclean but now are they holy”. This may at first seem to afford reason for supposing a peculiar holiness in the children of believers But it would not only establish the baptism of the children but of the unbelieving husband or wife for if the children are holy the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified This therefore cannot be a good argument Indeed it has no relation to baptism of young or old but to the question whether a believer might lawfully remain in the married state with an unbeliever ver 12 13 The idea that this was not lawful appears among other Jewish notions to have been creeping into the church and the apostle instructs them on the subject and shews that although a believer was bound only to marry in the Lord ver 39 yet if they were already married and the unbeliever chose to remain they were not to separate for as to the pure all things are pure Tit. i. 15. the unbelieving husband or wife was sanctified by the believer so that their connection was lawful and the apostle adds “else were your children unclean but now are they holy”. Were it not that the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer your children would be illegitimate or unclean and must be put away as well as the husband or wife He here refers to what is recorded of the Jews in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when they were not only obliged to put away their heathen wives but the children born of them Ezra x. 3. 44., Neh. xiii. 23. 24 (If the Jews being called holy though in unbelief Rom xi. 16 be no reason for baptizing them surely the children of believers being called holy cannot affect the question of infant baptism Holy is here opposed to unclean.)”
Fred Malone, A String of Pearls Unstrung
It is my conclusion that 1 Cor. 7:14 is referring either to the children’s legitimacy in the eyes of God, or at the most, to their “set apart” position for the sake of their parents’ gospel heritage rather than covenant position. And how can we give two separate meanings to the sanctification of the children, on the one hand, and not to the unbelieving parent, on the other hand, unless we do so arbitrarily? It is impossible to do so except by a prejudicial treatment of the text. This verse makes no mention of covenant children’s baptism even though this would have been a perfect opportunity for Paul to explain that practice to these Gentile Corinthians. The use of this text to support infant baptism is completely unwarranted.
Greg Welty, “A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism”
“In addition, the paedobaptist interpretation of this text is a classic example of what was previously identified as “Judaizing” the New Testament. That is, distinctions peculiar to the Old Testament, such as “external” or “covenantal” holiness, are read into New Testament texts. Paedobaptists forget that the entire concept of “covenantal” holiness has been abolished in the NT. In Acts 10:28, Peter informed Cornelius’ household that “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure [koinon] or unclean [akatharton].” In the context it is obvious that Peter is speaking about external, covenantal holiness, based upon external membership in the covenant community. Thus the very thing which God commanded Peter never to do (call men unclean because of their birth outside the covenant community), paedobaptists do with respect to the children of non-Christians (call them unclean). They forget that such distinctions have been abolished in the New Covenant era, as God taught Peter.”
These books also contain responses to 1 Cor. 7:14 but aren’t available online:
Until our last podcast I had not heard the name Henry Danvers. Here is the only writings of his our Bapti-bots were able to find on the Internet, and they happen to come from our last interviewee who mentioned him.
Contemporary Baptists have a narrow view of baptism. For many, all they see in baptism is the believer’s “first act of obedience” and “proclaiming their faith to the world”. While these things are true, there is far more to baptism than that.
Below are 7 statements on baptism derived from Henry Danvers (a 17th Century Baptist) book entitled A Treatise of Baptism. Danvers made these points to show that what they (the 17th century English Baptists) were saying about baptism was in agreement with what those Protestants who practiced paedobaptism were saying. While he did this to demonstrate that infant baptism was incompatible with the things that define the sacrament itself, it is interesting to note that the English Baptists of his day were in agreement on these points.
1. Baptism is sign that is “preached to the eyes” which had been preached to the ears and hearts by the Scriptures respecting the whole mystery and blessings of the gospel as well as the duty and obligation therein. [today we would consider this statement coming from a very “Reformed” understanding of sacramental theology]
2. Baptism is a sign of present repentance in the believer.
3. Baptism is a sign of present regeneration in the one baptized.
4. Baptism is a sign of the believer’s covenanting with God; to die to sin, and to live for Christ in faith.
5. Baptism is a sign of God’s covenant with the believer, of the washing away all sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. [It’s interesting to note that Danvers acknowledges that God was doing something in baptism; that is, as the believer is demonstrating his commitment to God in baptism, God is also demonstrating His commitmment to the believer. There is also an affirmation that baptism is a “sign of the covenant” in these last two statements. We would consider these points to be “Reformed” views today though English Baptists in the 17th Century also maintained these distinctions.]
6. Baptism is a sign of the believer’s union with Christ.
7. Baptism marks out the believer as a member of the visible church.
I think it is interesting to note that Danvers understanding of baptism was far more “Reformed” and developed than that of most modern day evangelicals. Indeed, most Christians haven’t even begun to consider that there may be more to it than simply a “first act of obedience” and “public commitment to the Lord”.
[source: Internet Archive]
“Let me give you the best argument for all [paedobaptist arguments]… When you put presbyterians together, between themselves they nullify all of the verses!”
This led us into a wide variety of topics such as paedobaptism, liturgy, sacraments, the best paedobaptist arguments and more.
Interviewee is pastor of Christ Reformed Church of Lawrenceville, GA
“Henry Danvers” is the 17th Century Baptist mentioned.
In response to Mark Jones’ short series of commonly-asked questions posed to Baptists, Jeremy Walker has offered some of his thoughts as a Reformed Baptist father:
If you have wandered around at all online you have probably seen one of those silly articles that purport to offer a string of very British problems, most of them variations on the joke about two British people marooned on a desert island, rescued ten years later, and found never to have spoken to one another because they had never been properly introduced. Mark’s article on Presbyterian parenthood put me in mind of such things: problems that arise from the very nature of the beast. That, of course, is not to suggest that there are no tensions or questions in a Baptist approach to the same issue: as a Christian parent, how do I deal with my children?
Mark’s historical survey introduces some of the debates that have characterised Presbyterian discussions. My angle on those would, of course, be different, as I am not working from precisely the same set of convictions. I also appreciate and face some similar difficulties. At the same time, I believe that a Baptist solution to the problems is more scripturally simple and straightforward, as well as avoiding any danger of making baptism a saving ordinance, and avoiding discussions about the difference between actual and federal holiness, and what seems to be the more-than-mere-tension of not knowing whether or not something is true but still judging it to be so. I suspect that Mark would endorse many of the elements of my parenting (and I would doubtless do the same with regard to his). I also know his esteem for particular Baptists (probably Particular Baptists), whatever he may think of yours truly (no need to respond, brother – we try to keep things civil here).
However, I thought that it might be helpful to offer some thoughts from a Baptist parent trying before God to raise his children in a way that becomes my convictions.
My children hear the gospel in the family and in the church. Although I do not presume them to be disciples, there is a sense in which I “teach them diligently” the ways of God, and “talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Dt 6:7). I want them to learn to see the world through God’s eyes, as it were, defined by divine assessments and directives, so that they may respond appropriately, as the Spirit works in their hearts. I teach them, therefore, from the book of general revelation, so that they may know that there is a Creator who made them and to whom they are accountable, and from the book of special revelation, so that they may know that there is a Saviour from whom they may receive salvation. I am deeply conscious of the particular privileges that they enjoy growing up in a home where Christ Jesus is known and loved and proclaimed, and I urge them to improve those privileges by trusting in and serving the Lord Christ.
So Mark Jones wants to know if his kids can sing “Jesus loves me.” I thought he was a Presbyterian; don’t they have better hymns than that?
In all seriousness, though, Jones’ piece, albeit winsome and irenic, demonstrates the collapse of theological method which tends to occur whenever our Presbyterian brothers try to tackle the question of infant baptism. The same folks who give us lengthy, carefully documented tomes on other theological questions often descend into adorable mention of their own kids when this topic comes up. Even so great a mind as Charles Hodge referred to Christ’s “little lambs” being written into the book of life – and then excoriated Baptists for erasing their names.
(Yes, that Charles Hodge! I know it sounds like the sort of argument that might be offered by Beatrice from Esurance, but it’s not. It’s from the Charles Hodge.)
I suppose we’re meant to share an “Awww!” moment and agree to love our kids better and to stop locking them out of heaven. Sensitive Inquisitive Baptists, however, have a few questions to ask about the manner in which the discipline of theology is practiced, because it seems that there are some problems here – of an exegetical, systematic, and practical nature.
Jones opens his piece with a genuinely interesting account of the debates held among the Westminster Divines over the meaning of I Corinthians 7:14. The Apostle’s statement is this:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Apparently such lights as Rutherford and Goodwin debated the meaning of “holy” at the conclusion of this verse without ever bothering to read the verse as a whole. This is, in fact, one of the “magic bullet” verses of pedobaptism – one which no Baptist has ever noticed and which will devastatingly turn us toward Presbyterianism.
But let me engage in my own nostalgic reflections. When I was “Tom the Baptist” (the one Baptist student in my class at a Presbyterian school) we had a discussion on Baptism one night in the home of our systematics professor. To put it another way, everyone took turns convincing me to stop being a Baptist. The first exchange of the night was quite memorable. To paraphrase:
Eager Presbyterian Student: I think the entire question is settled by I Corinthians 7:14. Think about it! With just one believing parent a child is holy! He is part of God’s covenant! How could I not baptize him?
Incredulous Baptist Student: So, do you baptize the unbelieving parent also? Since he/she is described as being holy in exactly the same terminology as the child?
Eager Presbyterian Student: (desperate turn to the professor, wordlessly asking for help)
Seasoned Presbyterian Professor: I’m sorry, I never really thought that verse had anything to do with baptism.
And that was that, because of course the verse really doesn’t have anything to do with baptism, with the covenant of grace, or with how Christians view their children. A simple reading of the verse in context reveals that Paul’s concern is whether or not an existing marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is legitimate; he answers in the affirmative. In other words, Goodwin and Rutherford notwithstanding, Paul is writing about neither real nor federal holiness, but about marital legitimacy.
This instance is a microcosm of the Presbyterian problem; there aren’t actually any verses that address infant baptism, and collectively the Presbyterian authors know it. They all have some passages that they like to talk about, but they cannot at all agree on what those passages actually are. Through the corpus of their literature on the subject they all debunk one another’s passages.
This argument has been made by Baptists for ages, but it is often misunderstood. Our Presbyterian friends will respond that theology is not made with proof-texts, and that similarly there is no passage which – taken alone – proves the Trinity. However, we would all agree that there are certain passages – many of them – which address the nature and persons of God. In other words, Trinitarians can agree on which passages form the exegetical basis of our Trinitarianism. Pedobaptists cannot do this with baptism. If there is no internal agreement on which parts of Scripture even address a doctrine, how are we supposed to believe that the doctrine even exists?
Reformed Baptists in particular shake our heads in confusion at this sort of thing. We have become accustomed to exegetical precision from our Presbyterian brethren, but they too often engage in the most extreme eisogetical gymnastics in order to shoe-horn baptism into passages on children, or alternately children into passages on Baptism.
Jones’ article further demonstrates the tendency of Presbyterians to confuse theological categories as soon as they address the question of baptism. He agrees with Goodwin that the children of believers are holy in a federal sense, not a real sense. However, from this he argues that these children are Christians. Which means what, exactly?
In old covenant terms, federal holiness meant being part of the community which was set apart by God as His own and marked as His by circumcision. Both Isaac and Ishmael were marked by circumcision, as were both Jacob and Esau. Is this the federal holiness of which Jones speaks, and if so, does it really say about his children all that he wants to say? Put another way, does federal holiness imply genuine faith? Let’s imagine for a moment that Isaac had written the following questions:
1. When Esau sins and asks for forgiveness from God, can I assure him that his sins are forgiven?
2. When I ask Esau to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask him to forgive Jacob? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because he should forgive in the same way the Messiah has forgiven him?
3. Can Esau sing “Messiah loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)
4. When Esau prays during family worship to his heavenly Father, what are the grounds for him praying such a prayer? Does he have any right to call God his “heavenly Father”? Do non-believers cry “Abba, Father”?
5. Should I desire that Esau have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for him to simply say each day that he trusts in the coming Messiah alone for their salvation?
You see, what Jones is attempting to do in this section is to jump from federal holiness to regeneration, which are two very distinct and different categories. It is for exactly this reason that Rutherford and Goodwin had their debate over the nature of a covenant child’s holiness: the category of New Covenant child doesn’t exist in the Bible, and the category of Old Covenant child is distinctly unsatisfying.
In fact, we might observe that the holiness offered in the Covenant of Grace is in fact very different from the holiness conferred upon Ishmael and Esau. It is both federal and real, in that what the gracious covenant offers is the righteousness of Christ. That righteousness is genuinely holy, but it is federally conferred – how? The answer of Romans is “by faith.”
Jones concedes near the end of his piece that perhaps one of his children might be non-elect, but what exactly does that mean if federal holiness means being a Christian? It is distressing to hear a New Covenant believer speaking of his children – or anyone – as being in that covenant, enjoying the benefits of that covenant, and yet still possibly being non-elect. The benefit of the Covenant of Grace is Christ. If Jones’ children have that benefit (and I hope that they do) then they received it by faith and they will never lose it! This has nothing whatsoever to do with their baptism, or with their parentage, or for that matter with the federal holiness of the Old Covenant. It is instead the promise, the free gift, the inheritance of all who believe.
Jones speaks – in keeping with the Goodwinian tradition – of considering or judging his children to be Christians, but again, we must ask why? Is it because, as his narrative suggests, they express their faith in Christ through prayer, or is it for some other reason? Is this not arguably one of the greatest questions of all systematic theology? Do the just live by faith, or by the presumption of their baptismal proxies?
Many of Jones’ best friends and favorite preachers are Baptists; I wonder if he has ever asked any of them the sort of questions he poses in this post. I wonder because it seems to me they are rather the sort of rhetorical questions Pedobaptists love to bat about between themselves without ever asking them of any actual, real-world Baptists. As a father of children in the same age-range as Jones’, allow me to posit my own answer.
How do I deal with my children when they ask questions about their salvation? With this answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” I’m sure Jones knows this answer; in fact, he’s probably preached it.
Let me ask a few questions in return, and perhaps it will make our position somewhat clearer.
If a woman comes to Jones and tells him she is struggling with assurance, that she has sinned greatly and prayed about it, but that she doesn’t know whether or not God hears her prayers, will he point her to federal holiness, or to Jesus?
If Jones is counseling a drug-addict who wandered into church, and if he wants to avoid moralism, does he adopt the indicative-imperative model of Christian ethics and say, “Christ died for you, you are saved, therefore obey”? Or, given the obvious questions about the man’s spiritual state, does he call him to faith in Christ?
If Jones has urged an unbeliever to call upon the Lord, and that unbeliever kneels and says, “Oh Father…” does Jones interrupt and say, “Please don’t call God ‘Father’ until after you’ve had forgiveness for your sins and been baptized”? (Honestly, at one point did we imagine that the “Spirit of Adoption” has anything to do with permissions?)
You see, these questions are silly; it does no good to ask them of Jones about his congregation, nor to ask them of Baptists about our children. Our answer is simple and biblical. When my children ask me, “Are my sins forgiven?” I respond, “Do you believe in Jesus? Because God forgives the sins of everyone who believes.” Note that I do not ask them for a profound conversion story, but only if they believe. As a Baptist minister, I have baptized some teenagers with very “boring” testimonies – they believed in Jesus as long as they can remember, and I rejoice in those testimonies.
Presbyterians have talked a lot lately about an “indicative-imperative” model. Reformed Baptists agree. We tell our people (and our children) that obedience apart from Christ’s accomplished work is impossible, and that strivings toward obedience without Christ are both moralistic and offensive to God. Having said this, we call adults and children to faith in Christ.
Too often of late our Presbyterian brothers present the indicative-imperative model as something like this: “Jesus died for you; therefore you should live for Him.” The problem is that, absent any call to faith, this amounts to saying something they do not know, or to reaching a judgment on no basis whatsoever. Moreover, it sounds a lot like the universalistic preaching one hears from Arminian Baptists.
It is my honest belief that most Presbyterian parents do call their children to faith. I worry, though – I honestly worry about the effect which anti-Baptist rhetoric may have on some Presbyterian apologists. If they talk too much in Old Covenant terms about things like federal holiness, will they forget that the principle of New Covenant life is faith? Will they forget to call their children to believe?
I hope not, but the questions they ask us sometimes make me worry that they might.
Today’s Free E-book Friday is brought to you courtesy of James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851), “Reasons of a change of sentiment and practice on the subject of baptism: containing a plain view of the signification of the word, and of the persons for whom the ordinance is appointed; together with a full consideration of the covenant made with Abraham, and its supposed connexion with baptism”
On the last Dunker Bunker I mentioned that I think James Haldane is unique but I want to be wrong.
There are many who have “converted” from paedobaptism to credobaptism. There are even some of those men who have published works critiquing their old position and defending their new position (I’m thinking of Dr. Alexander Carson, Dr. Fred Malone, and Dr. Gary Crampton). What makes James Haldane unique is, to my knowledge, he is the only one who has published works defending paedobaptism and published defending credobaptism. See James Haldane’s, “A View of the Social Worship and Ordinances Observed by the First Christians: Drawn from the Sacred Scriptures Alone, Being an Attempt to Enforce Their Divine Obligation and to Represent the Guilt and Evil Consequences of Neglecting Them.” specifically, “Chapter IX. Of the Ordinances Observed by the Apostolic Churches, Section 7. Of Baptism” (pp. 313-340)
Perhaps I am wrong. If you are aware of anyone else who has done this please let us know in the comments.
To find out more about James and Robert Haldane see Volume 2 of “British Particular Baptists” from Particular Baptist Press (Series Editor, Michael A.G. Haykin) and the Banner of Truth book, Lives of Robert & James Haldane.
For last week’s Free E-Book Friday we featured Alexander Carson’s “Baptism in its Modes and Subjects”.
In the comments Ian Clary informed us that in the June 2010 issue of Gospel Witness was published the article “‘Defending Truth at Every Expense’: Alexander Carson (1776-1844) on Baptism” A brief survey of the eighteenth-century Irish Baptist Alexander Carson’s justly famous work “Baptist: It’s Mode and Subjects.”
Listen to readout of document: (18:29 minutes)
When I said mug on the show I meant pint, my bad :)
But here are the excellent pints from MissionalWear.com:
This is what most the discussion got into. One of the videos we recommend you watch is the following Intro on 1689 Federalism:
And please, do check out the other video and charts at 1689Federalism.com, if anything, just to learn what we believe:
The book on this subject that we think is a good start is Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism.”
Per our site scope, we interviewed the author about this book on episodes two and three of our podcast. Since those interviews proved to be so helpful to many we combined the interview portion about of the book into one show [mp3]:
For more interviews we’ve done on this topic you may want to check out:
We talked about the upcoming book from Reformed Baptist Academic Press [RBAP] Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology (at that point I misspoke and said Sam Waldron was apart of that book but meant Sam Renihan [told you we weren’t experts]. :P However, Sam Waldron does have a book that is very relevant to this subject.) and encouraged e’re body in da pub to check out some Reformed Baptist Publishers like…
…just to name a few.
We mentioned the charity and unity we had with the broader Reformed world talked about in the introduction of our confession (2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 1677/1689).
Update 7:30am: To address one question we’ve already seen in another forum, we are NOT proponents of New Covenant Theology.
Another preview from the forthcoming RBAP title, “Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology”
Baptism does not replace circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We have seen clearly that spiritual circumcision, not baptism, replaces (better, fulfills) physical circumcision. Baptism in Colossians 2:12 (i.e., vital union with Christ) is a result of spiritual circumcision. Burial and resurrection with Christ is not equivalent to but causally subsequent to spiritual circumcision. Physical circumcision has been replaced or fulfilled by spiritual circumcision under the New Covenant. The correspondence between the two, however, is not one-to-one. Paul tells us this by saying that New Covenant circumcision is “a circumcision made without hands.” Though physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision are related they are not equivalent. One is physical and does not affect the heart; the other is spiritual and does not affect the body (at least not initially). Both are indications of covenant membership, though not necessarily of the same covenant. But only the circumcision of the heart guarantees one’s eternal destiny, for all the regenerate express faith and “are protected by the power of God through faith” (1 Pet. 1:5).
We must take issue with those who argue from this text that baptism replaces circumcision. The Lutheran scholar Eduard Lohse asserts, “Baptism is called circumcision here… The circumcision of Christ which every member of the community has experienced is nothing other than being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.” We have seen, however, that the only “replacement” motif in this text is between physical circumcision and spiritual circumcision. Spiritual circumcision is not equivalent to baptism. Baptism (i.e., union with Christ) is the sphere in which burial and resurrection with Christ occurs, which is effected through faith, and a result of spiritual circumcision.
The Reformed commentator William Hendriksen says:
Evidently Paul in this entire paragraph magnifies Christian baptism as much as he, by clear implication, disapproves of the continuation of the rite of circumcision if viewed as having anything to do with salvation. The definite implication, therefore, is that baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Hence, what is said with reference to circumcision in Rom. 4:11, as being a sign and a seal, holds also for baptism. In the Colossian context baptism is specifically a sign and seal of having been buried with Christ and of having been raised with him [emphasis Hendriksen’s].
We take issue with Hendriksen’s view on several fronts. First, Paul is not magnifying Christian baptism in this text. He is magnifying Christian circumcision. This is evident by the fact that “you were also circumcised” is the regulating verb to which the rest of verses 11 and 12 are subordinate. Second, there is not a “definite implication …that baptism has taken the place of circumcision.” Our exegesis has shown this to us clearly. Third, it is not true that “what is said with reference to circumcision in Rom. 4:11, as being a sign and a seal, holds also for baptism.” This is so because Paul is not arguing for a replacement theology between physical circumcision and water baptism and because the seal of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Fourth, Paul says nothing in Colossians 2:11-12 about baptism being “a sign and seal of having been buried with Christ and of having been raised with him.” He does say, though in other words, that the subsequent, spiritual concomitant of spiritual circumcision is spiritual burial and resurrection with Christ in baptism effected through faith. There is no hint of baptism being a sign and seal as argued by Hendriksen…
Last week we featured the Journal of Baptist Studies by Baptist Studies Online from California Baptist University. Volume 6 (2014) of the Journal featured an article by Ian Clary on Alexander Carson, a former Irish Presbyterian converted to Credobaptism. I was surprised to find we hadn’t yet featured Dr. Carson in our “Free E-Book Friday”.
Therefore, please enjoy, via Archive.org and Princeton Theological Seminary Library, “Baptism in its Modes and Subjects” by Alexander Carson, LL.D., Minister of the Gospel, With a Sketch of His Life, published in Philadelphia by the American Baptist Publication Society, 1855, Fifth American Edition.
The book contains:
“Vigorous efforts were now made by the Presbyterians to dispossess him (Dr. Carson) of the meeting-house. A party was organized, whose business it should be to eject him by force. While he was preaching, on a Lord’s day, to a large congregation, they entered, and announced their intention of thrusting him from the pulpit. He quieted the rising tumult, and requesting the intruders to wait until the close of his discourse, assured them that he would then voluntarily retire. They accepted the proposal, and remained. After the services were concluded, as he descended from the pulpit, and was passing out, one of his deacons lifted the Bible from the desk, swung it upon his shoulder, and taking up his march in the rear of his pastor, exclaimed, ” let all who wish to follow the Bible come this way.”” The house was instantly emptied. A vast mass congregated in a green field near by ; and there, guided by the Bible, as by a Shekinah of glory, a little band, sixteen in number, partook, with hearts joyful amid their tribulations, of the emblems of their Redeemer’s love. This was the feeble beginning of greater things — the chrysalis from which was to spring a glorious gospel church, walking in the ordinances of Christ blameless, and pouring a flood of light upon the surrounding region.”
See also Ian Clary’s paper delivered at the 2009 Andrew Fuller Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Alexander Carson—‘Jonathan Edwards of the Nineteenth Century’”