A Scriptural Argument For Infant Baptism

A Scriptural Argument For Infant Baptism March 2, 2017

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)



Ephesians 6 is not a chapter I see people often directed to when they inquire about covenant theology or infant baptism. Yet, I find it to contain some intriguing text for the subjects. It speaks volumes about the relationship of children to their parents and God. It also gives us insightful historical references and context that we can draw compelling conclusions from, namely, substantiating that children are part of the covenant. When you study this text in detail you find that covenant theology is clearly seen and applied. Once this foundation is established, we discover a persuasive argument for infant baptism.

It is not lost on me that there are individuals reading this because they are resolved on disproving anything related to covenant theology and/or infant baptism. For those people, first, let me thank you for reading. Secondly, let me qualify something from the start, there will never be a right understanding for a case of infant baptism without an accurate understanding of covenant theology; one is dependent on the other. If you approach this text with strict dispensational glasses, there is a reasonable chance you will miss my argument.

lastly,  its worth saying from the outset that what I am providing is not an exhaustive argument for covenant theology and infant baptism.  There have been many fantastic books and articles written on it.  I am not looking to restate what has been said, I am rather, trying to add to the argument from a text that is often overlooked.


The Critical Nature of Context

When approaching any study of a section of scripture, regardless of the amount of the text, it’s a good idea to gather the context of the letter or book. Who wrote it? Why did they write? Who was it to? Basic questions, like these, serve us in understanding what is being said. Without context, we can get quickly get led astray and draw wild conclusions.

fd7d0641fa5c540e3c362733d882eae8One of my favorite examples of how easily the point can be missed when the context is lost comes from a friend of mine who observed a Daily Inspirational Verse Calendar at a relative’s house (pictured). We have all seen these; each day there is new verse for you to read and meditate on. In this case the verse reads “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine,” from Luke 4:7.

This verse, by itself and with no context, sounds quite powerful and awe inspiring indeed. Yet, if we take a moment to explore the context, we learn that it is actually Satan speak here as he is tempting Jesus in the wilderness! That GREATLY changes how you might interpret and apply this verse. Context is critical.

So, some quick context on Ephesians: almost everyone agrees it was written by the Apostle Paul (few dispute this). It was written around 62 A.D., we know this because of the mention of his imprisonment while writing it. The introduction of the letter communicates to us that Paul is writing this letter “To the saints who in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1). This may seem elementary or obvious, but it’s significant for our subject matter. Lastly, based on the overall theme and content, it’s generally assumed that Paul wrote the letter to encourage unity in Christ among a diverse set of believers. This too is also important.

The first point to make, which I have already hinted at, is that this letter is clearly defined as being written to those “in Christ Jesus”, or Christians. Paul did not write this to every person in the city/area. He specifies who it is for and then begins explaining (Chapter 1) that those to whom the letter is written are elected, predestined, etc. Undoubtedly, Paul does not intend for this letter to be received by the general masses. The message is unique and the audience has a unique qualification, being the body of Christ.

After the introduction, he goes on to describe what unity in Christ is and what it means to live as the body of Christ (Chapter 4). He then addresses wives and husbands and gives them a spectacular example of what the marriage relationship is to be like, modeled after Christ and the church (Chapter 5). We see no variation in the audience for who the letter is intended, as he transitions and speaks to the children in the church, in Chapter 6.

Paul addresses the children in the same way as he addressed the husbands and wives in the previous chapter, as if they are accepted members of the body of Christ. Also, note that the commands he gives them are “in the Lord”. That is a strong and weighty phrase. He doesn’t give any qualifications to indicate he is addressing a faithful segment of children; he speaks to all children in the church of Ephesus. If you connect that with the fact that the theme of the letter is unity is Christ, it begins to paint a strong picture of how Paul viewed the children in the church.

This is not the only place that Paul addresses children like they are members of the body. Consider 1 Corinthians 7:14. Here, Paul argues that children are “holy” if there just one believing parent in this house. They are set apart; they belong to a culture that seeks to honor God, in Christ.  While they are certainly spiritually dead in their sin, (outside of the saving grace of Jesus Christ) they are within the visible body of Christ and, as we will see, expected to not only be familiar with covenant language but partakers of its promises.


Covenantal Theology and Language

I should explain a little more about what covenant theology is as its helpful in interpreting this set of verses. Covenant theology is a conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. Stated differently and more plainly, it’s how we understand the way God saves His people. The Old Testament and New Testament are joined together in part of one perfect plan by which God fulfills His promise of “I will be their God and they will be my people”. This statement, and ones like it, are scattered through the whole of scripture. This He does to praise of His glorious grace.

The big overarching plan of salvation is comprised of several covenants that work and flow together to accomplish God’s purpose. You might have heard of some of these smaller covenants, such as the Adamic covenant, Noahic covenant, Davidic covenant, and the one Christians today know intimately, the new covenant.

When considering this text in Ephesians 6, we should remember that much like the people of God in the Old Testament, there were some who were part of the visible congregation, but necessarily spiritually reborn or “saved”. Yet, that didn’t make these people any less of a member of the nation or culture of Israel. They were taught the same laws, philosophy, and values as everyone else. They attended the same gatherings and events. They were treated like Jews because they were Jews; they have been given the covenant sign (circumcision) of the Jews. Consider Genesis 17:10, when circumcision was introduced as the covenant sign and deep connection it has to the covenant itself: “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”

A similar reality is true for us in the church today. We don’t avoid teaching our kids the bible until they profess faith in Christ. No, we are commanded to teach and instruct our children about the gospel from the beginning and hope for faith to come. We work to impress upon them God’s law, philosophy, and Christian values. We treat them as Christians because in every visible way, they are.

Furthermore, notice the text that Paul quotes in our Ephesians text, “Honor your mother and your father”. He is quoting from a well-known section of scripture called the 10 commandments. We find this narrative in in Exodus 20, when God established the Mosaic Covenant. Clearly, children were members of the covenant then or they would have not been bound by the law or held to its commandments. In the same logic, why would Paul give the same command to the children of church, if they were not also part of the covenant people of God?

It’s also interesting that Paul directly references the promise that is tied to the original commandment in Exodus. One could argue that it looks as if Paul is trying to establish a connection in the relationship of parents and children now to the relationship of parents and children in The Old Testament, or Israel. It would be very odd for Paul to apply covenant language under the  “in the Lord” qualifier to those outside of the body of the Christ. To whom covenant promises are given, they are covenant members.

In this text, we also see a promise of “land” to the children who “honor their mother in father”.  In the new covenant, we understand this to be eternal life and not physical land as it was for the children of Israel. But this parallel further draws the connection between how we are to understand the covenantal relationship between parents, children, and God.


The Sign of Covenant

Once we establish that children of Christians are to be recognized members of the church and covenant community, the journey to infant baptism is not difficult. Much like circumcision was physical sign given to identify someone in The Old Testament as members of the covenant, we know from the New Testament that baptism is the method by which we make this pronouncement today.

When Christians baptize our children, we do so with the understanding that this child will be taught the gospel, taught the laws of God, taught Christian customs, taught how to worship, they will go to church, they will be involved in church events, and so on. They are to be treated as if they are part of the church because they are part of the church. After all, they given a commandment with a promise.

In closing, its worth stating clearly that baptism does not save, as circumcision did not. Faith is required for salvation and that is not imparted through baptism. God alone initiates faith as He is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Baptism is an outward physical sign of a larger covenantal reality.


For more information and reading on covenant theology I suggest the following books:

The Christ of The Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson

Far as The Curse is Found by Michael D. Williams

Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry edited by R. Scott Clark

Christian Baptism by John Murray

What Christian Parents Should Know About Christian Baptism by John P. Sartelle


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  • Leo J. Woodman

    So the Apostle Peter was wrong when he said “baptism now saves you”? So he was wrong we he said baptism was for the forgiveness of sins “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.”

    • Jack Lee

      The position you allude to has been refuted and struck down many many times throughout church history. The way you present it here is not the way the Apostle Peter intended it to be understood. Fortunately, we have MANY verses that deal with salvation, baptism, and faith to draw a complete picture of what the new testament teaches regarding the subjects. While there may be some disagreement among protestants as to when baptism should occur, it is widely agreed upon that faith alone is required for salvation.

      If church history has for hundreds/thousands of years regarded a position or doctrine as false, there is often a reason for it.

      Lastly, if you want to base an entire position off of a single verse I urge you to consider this one – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

      • Leo J. Woodman

        It is sad they you as well as many others cannot take scripture at face value. Rather than dismiss scripture through convoluted arguments, it would be good to read it, absorb it, and live by it. Continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

      • William Stiefel

        Jack—I think the issue is that you see Baptism as man’s work, not as God’s work. Baptism is God working faith in us, not some work parents, or their children, infant or otherwise, do for God. So when you see Baptism as the “gift of God”, the verse you shared is in complete harmony with Paul and God’s teaching “baptism also now saves you”.

        • SKPeterson

          And it saves infants too.

  • Jim Bob

    That is the weakest argument for infant baptism I have ever heard. It is almost laughable, but I know you are serious. I would love to debate but I will assume it would be a waste of both our time. Cheers!

    • Jack Lee

      I’m still just trying to figure out why you even commented at all.

  • Monty

    I am very late to this discussion so forgive my intrusion. One of the biggest problems is the use of the word “Salvation”. It seems that the meaning has been debased to mean something like not going to hell when you die. I prefer the word “Deliverance”. Being born again is instantaneous and we immediately have our sins forgiven. There is an ongoing “salvation of the soul”, I.E. our souls are progressively delivered from the attitudes and beliefs that conflict with God’s ways and word. Baptism is a part of the second “salvation”. We publicly declare to the world that Jesus is now our Lord and Saviour. I don’t know how an infant can make such a declaration. Having said that I would not shun a believer just because he believed in infant baptism. The things that unite us are far greater than that which divides us.

  • KateGladstone

    Part of your article uses the following phrase (in quotation-marks) — “honor their mother in father” … is “in” there a typo for “and”? If so, would you please fix it?

    • Pamela Diehl

      If you have time to read all these posts and find the mistakes, you surely can use this time in a more productive way! Why not post encouraging comments for others? If you would like to connect with me and chat about your struggles, I would be happy to work with you toward a solution.

  • kaikkonen

    I took the time to read this article because I thought it might be edifying. Sadly, I am disheartened that too many authors who profess to believe in Jesus as both Lord and Christ then write from the perspective of traditions of men, and not the scriptures. As evident from the example, there is no mention of water baptism being the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Peter 3:21); no mention of the first 3,000 souls saved in the New Testament church first repenting before being water baptized in the precious, holy Name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:36-41; Acts 10:44-48); and neither is there any reference to water baptism including being buried in Him, or that when we come up out of the water, it is similar to the resurrection. (Romans 6:3-4) Paul was clear about who the Rock was that followed the Israelites through the Red Sea (I Corinthians 10:1-4). We know that Paul baptized, and we know that he himself was baptized only “after” he received the meat. (Acts 9:10-17) So much to learn herein but the one foundation we all should stand on is this — the starting point is the Word, and if our traditions don’t fit/align with the Word, we need to start asking why, rather than trying to make a square peg church tradition fit in a place that it was never intended to be …

  • Kent

    Infant baptism is always presented by adherents as a derivation or deduction from the particular interpretive framework of covenant theology, as opposed to a clear instruction, precept or portrayed in a clear biblical narrative as is believer’s baptism in the NT. If covenant theology demands an additional extra-biblical NT symbol, why not carry forward the OT rite of circumcision which would most closely approximate its NT equivalent? In fact, this would seem to be more consistent with the “non-dispensational theology” which is championed – why change the OT symbol?