Where Does Scripture Command Infant Baptism?

Where, exactly, does scripture command the baptism of infants? Depending on who you ask, you might receive a whole crash course on Covenant Theology for free! I happen to take a more simple and direct approach when I have the privilege to answer this question. I point to two Scripture passages: Matthew 28:19-20 and Ephesians 6:1-4. This isn’t an article to argue for Presbyterian Covenant Theology or a case for infant baptism. It simply answers the question of how the Reformed and Presbyterian receive the command to baptize their children from Scripture. It makes the case that the command for infant baptism is conveyed through a basic and clear understanding of those two wonderful passages.

Summary: The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) not only provides the mandate to make disciples of all nations, but it also provides the means on how to make disciples. Disciple-making requires two essential components: baptizing and on-going instruction. Scripture instructs Christian parents to disciple their children (Eph. 6:1-4); therefore, to disciple children means to have them baptized and instructed in the faith.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Mark Dever, a Reformed Baptist pastor, in his book “Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus” notes that baptism and teaching are the means of disciple-making.  

“After telling the disciples to make disciples, he tells them how—through baptizing and teaching. Yes, the individual missionary or evangelist goes out into the world, into the office, into the school, into the neighborhood, whether on this side of the globe or the other. But the ministry of the ordinances and the ministry of teaching primarily occur through churches. Churches fulfill the Great Commission, and discipling is the work of churches.”

(Introduction, “Disciple Where and How?”)

Andreas J. Köstenberger in “Believer’s Baptism – Sign of the New Covenant in Christ”, one of the most popular books opposing paedobaptism, explains how “baptizing” and “teaching” are essential components of disciple-making, expecially when you consider the biblical Greek:

“The image in mind here may be that of a victorious military general who assures his followers of his unlimited authority. On this basis, Jesus’ disciples are to “go … and make disciples.” The aorist participle “go” (poreuthentes) modifies the aorist imperative “make disciples” (mathteusate) as an auxiliary reinforcing the action of the main verb. Jesus’ followers must “go” in order to “make disciples.” “All the nations” includes Israel. The two present participles “baptizing” (baptizontes) and “teaching” (didaskontes) specify the manner in which disciples are to be made.”

(Ch. 1, “Baptism in the Gospels”)

Our brother Köstenberger is not alone in this understanding of the original language. According to Daniel Wallace, a respected biblical Greek scholar, the participles used in Matthew 28:19-20 are called the “participle of means.” In his book “Greek Grammar – Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament”, Wallace explains the function of these participles in the context of the Great Commission.

“Finally, the other two participles (βαπτίζοντες, διδάσκοντε) should not be taken at attendant circumstances. First, they do not fit the normal pattern for attendant circumstance participles (they are present tense and follow the main verb). And second, they obviously make good sense of participles of means, i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and then teach.”

(pg. 645)

As a Presbyterian, I fully agree with my brothers who I quoted above. This understanding of the Great Commission is not exclusive to Presbyterianism. Matthew 28:19-20 not only provides a clear mandate to make disciples, but also provides the essential elements of disciple-making, namely baptizing and teaching. So, how does this relate to infant baptism? For the Reformed, the Great Commission has everything to do with the command to baptize children of believers! In fact, Francis Turretin believes this passage provides basis for infant baptism. (Although, he takes a different approach to arrive to the same conclusion.) If being a disciple requires being baptized and instructed, what does this mean about discipling our children?

Are Christian parents commanded to “disciple” their children? 

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:1-4

Michael Lawrence, a Baptist pastor and contributor to 9Marks.org (a Baptist organization), in his review of Voddie Baucham’s “Family Driven Faith” writes that prior to “Sunday schools, youth pastors, and the discovery of the ‘homogenous unit principle,’ parents were understood to be the primary evangelists and disciplers of their children.” He also writes the following:

The New Testament is no less straightforward. Paul commands fathers to “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). One of the qualifications for serving as an elder in a local church is that a man has managed his family well, including raising children who are “faithful” and “not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). In contrast to Eli, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, are commended as models of a sincere faith “that now lives in [Timothy] also” (2 Tim. 1:5).

We will cover what Voddie Baucham wrote in his book in just a minute. First, I think it’s interesting for Lawrence to mention Timothy’s mother and grandmother after making the case that we ought to disciple our children. Let’s take a quick look at what Paul further mentions about Timothy’s upbringing:

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

2 Tim. 3:14-15 (NASB)

This, in fact, touches on how early we ought to disciple our children. Paul recognizes Timothy’s mother and grandmother’s efforts in teaching the Scriptures to Timothy from childhood. What’s interesting about this passage is that the word used for “childhood” is always referenced to unborn babes, infants and small children. Paul could have used other words like teknon (τέκνον, Strong’s g5043) or paidion (παιδίου, Strong’s g3813) which are more generic Greek terms that can refer to a child of any age, young or older, but the phrase brephos (βρέφους, Strong’s g1025) appears to be reserved for unborn babes, infants and small children in the New Testament scriptures. It’s pretty clear that Paul credits Timothy’s mother and grandmother for him having “known the sacred writings” so early in his life, as most translators have used “childhood or “infancy” for this passage.

The book that our brother, Michael Lawrence, reviewed is worth reading. In “Family Driven Faith” Voddie Baucham references Ephesians 6:2-3 and makes the case, in true Voddie fashion, incredibly clear about discipling children:

“This is the linchpin in every argument I have made or will make in this book. God has designed your family—not the youth group, not the children’s ministry, not the Christian school, but your family—as the principal discipling agent in your children’s lives. The most important job you have as a parent is to train and disciple your children.”

Once again, this is not exclusive to Presbyterianism. This is something that prominent Reformed Baptist teachers can stand shoulder to shoulder with us Reformed and Presbyterian. Are Christian parents commanded to disciple their children from infancy? The answer is a resounding YES!

The GOOD and NECESSARY Conclusion 

The teachings of our Lord left no room for ambiguity or doubt: to make disciples is to baptize and instruct. The teachings of the apostle Paul were also crystal clear: it is the duty of Christian parents to “bring up” their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. In other words, the overall biblical (good) mandate for Christian parents is to disciple their children from infancy, which inevitably (necessarily) means to baptize and instruct them. The command to disciple our children is understood as a command to baptize and instruct our children. 

In this article, I have not argued for infant baptism by pointing to the continuity of the covenants, the household principle we see in Old and New Testaments, the essential properties of the Covenant of Grace that include children, or by pointing out 1689 Federalism inconsistencies – those are far greater arguments. The purpose of this article is to briefly demonstrate how the Reformed & Presbyterian receive the command to baptize their children. My hope is that this short response will give Baptist brothers and sisters a better understanding of this Reformed practice. The command to baptize children of covenant members is not from mere tradition that has been blindly accepted by the Reformed and Presbyterian. It should not be seen as a “golden calf” or “catholic hangover” that the Reformers couldn’t shake off. Instead, it is a beautiful and biblical command that is traced back to the words of Christ and apostolic teaching. This is how the command of infant baptism is received and understood from Scripture.

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