The Case For Infant Baptism

Baptism is Baptism

A response to professor Steve Wellum:

"Wellum takes issue with paedobaptists at the point of making baptism equivalent with circumcision. He is correct to observe that this is one of the main lines of arguments used by many in the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions to prove the case that the infant children of believers in the new covenant should be given the sign of the new covenant. With Wellum, I believe that if circumcision is made a strict parallel to baptism or is said to be a replacement for baptism, it is a somewhat flimsy argument. Wellum is right to note that circumcision is given within a particular historical covenant–the covenant with Abraham–and finds its place within that temporary historical context. What Wellum says about the lack of evidence in the NT for the strict parallel between the two has some weight. No doubt, baptism is analogous to circumcision in that it is an initiatory rite, but it is not a mere replacement of it. Nowhere does the NT say that circumcision is now unnecessary because baptism replaced it. That would have been the most logical answer to the Judaizers, if the paedobaptist position was correct. This answer is never given because baptism is a new rite, applied to each person who has repented and believed, who has been born of the Spirit, united to Christ, and has demonstrated that he has entered into the new covenant realities inaugurated by our Lord.” 

It would seem that if baptism replaced circumcision one-for-one, this would have been an easy argument to make for the Apostles. They didn’t make this argument because, in my estimation, baptism did not replace circumcision in a one-to-one fashion. Baptism was and remains baptism from the old creation world to the new creation in Christ.

Where I take issue with Wellum is the assertion quoted above that “baptism is a new rite.” That is simply not the case. When John the Baptist, the last of the OC prophets, was in the middle of the Jordan baptizing people, no one came to ask him, “What are you doing? What is this new rite that you have introduced in Israel?” This is because baptism was practiced throughout the history of God’s people. They understood the types of baptism in the flood of Noah’s time and the crossing of the Red Sea (cp. 1Pt 3.20-21; 1Cor 10.1-2). They also had baptismal rites at the Tabernacle and Temple. The great sea/laver in the courtyard of the Tabernacle was used for some of the various baptisms about which the writer of Hebrews speaks. Certainly we can be sure that the children who gathered before God for covenant renewal (cf. e.g., Dt 29.10-11; 31.12; Josh 8.35; cf. also Joel 2.16) and were able to participate in the worship feasts of Israel (cf. e.g., Dt 16.11, 14) had to be cleansed from uncleanness. The only way to come before God’s presence was to be washed or baptized. I believe it is safe to assume that the infants who were counted among God’s people were indeed baptized. 
The people of God were familiar with the rite of baptism. Baptism has always been baptism and children have been baptized throughout the history of God’s people. Once this is recognized (along with the theme and theology of the redemption of the family as the family), then the circumcision = baptism argument becomes rather irrelevant to the debate. It is helpful because in it we see an aspect of the privileges and responsibilities that our children have from birth: the privilege of being a part of God’s priestly people and a vocation to live out that calling by faith. But arguing from this as a fundamental premise to defend infant baptism is no longer needed.

The clearest example in Scripture of children being included among God’s people and receiving the sign of that status is in the crossing of the Red Sea. In 1Cor 10.1-2 Paul makes it clear that they were all baptized into Moses in the Sea. Since the people of God were “the body of Moses” at that time (Moses being a type of Christ), being baptized into Moses was equivalent to being initiated into the people of God. Israel was now be transformed and incorporated into Moses through the Passover, exodus, and crossing of the Sea. They were moving into a new stage of history and were thus reconstituted into Moses. We know from the historical evidence of the Exodus that even the smallest children were included. Indeed, when Pharaoh offered to let Israel go to worship but refused to let the little ones go with them, he brought upon Egypt the plague of locusts with his rebellion (Ex 10.9-10). All of the people of God must leave to go and worship YHWH. All included the little ones. So, we can be assured that the little ones left Egypt and passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea with all of the people of God. This whole scene is in itself and also typifies a move from the old creation to the new creation through the waters of baptism. The people of God are saved through the water (like Noah and his household), and the enemies of God are destroyed by the waters returning to their original position. Just as the people of God moved from one stage of history to another by being incorporated into Moses, so the people of God moved from one stage of history into another being incorporated into Christ. He is the Mediator, the one in whom the people of God are now constituted. Paul says that baptism into Moses through the Sea is a type of which Christian baptism is the antitype.
As a new creation sign, the reason for baptism as the new covenant rite of initiation makes perfect sense. The work of Christ is the fulfillment of the types of the Exodus as well as all of the de-creation to re-creation themes. He brings in the new creation. When people pass through the waters of baptism, it is signified that they have become a part of that new creation people, the church, the body of Christ (i.e., the physical, visible body that has gone through death and been raised again as a new creation). We are baptized into Christ as the people who passed through the Red Sea were baptized into Moses. When Paul says this to the Corinthians, he is drawing a parallel between these experiences. “Just as the people of God of old were baptized, so you all were baptized.” Since children participated in this baptism, there is no need in the NT to reiterate that children need to participate in baptism. Baptism is not a new rite. It is an ancient rite in which children participated. All of those various baptisms in the OC are now fulfilled in this one NC rite of baptism. Since baptism has always been applied to children, and since the NT nowhere commands us to stop baptizing children, therefore, we should assume that the practice of baptizing the infants of at least one believing parent should continue."