By Louis Berkhof
Published by THE BANNER OF TRUTH TRUST
The Institution of Christian Baptism
[Editor’s Note: This article embraces infant baptism]
- IT WAS INSTITUTED WITH DIVINE AUTHORITY. Baptism was instituted by Christ after He had finished the work of reconciliation and this had received the approval of the Father in the resurrection. It is worthy of notice that He prefaced the great commission with the words, “All authority hath been give unto me in heaven and on earth.” Clothed with the fullness of that mediatorial authority, He instituted Christian baptism and thus made it binding for all following generations. The great commission is couched in the following words: “Go ye therefore (that is, because all nations are made subject to me), and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.” Matt. 28: 19-20. The complementary from in Mark 16: 15-16 reads as follows: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” Thus the following elements are clearly in indicated in this authoritative command: (a) The disciples were to go out into the whole world and to preach the gospel to all nations, in order to bring people to repentance and to the acknowledgment of Jesus as the promised Saviour. (b) They who accepted Christ by faith were to be baptized in the name of the triune God, as a sign and seal of the fact that they had entered into a new relation to God and as such were obliged to live according to the laws of the Kingdom of God. (c) They were to be brought under the ministry of the Word, not merely as a proclamation of the good news, but as an exposition of the mysteries, the privileges, and the duties, of the new covenant. For the encouragement of the disciples Jesus adds the words, “And lo, I (who am clothed with the authority to give this commandment) am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
- THE BAPTISMAL FORMULA. The apostles were specifically instructed to baptize eis to onoma tou patros kai tou huiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos (into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit). The Vulgate rendered the first words “eis to onoma” by the Latin “in nomine” (in the name), a rendering followed by Luther’s “im namen.” The words are thus made to mean “on the authority of the triune God.” Robertson gives this as their meaning in his Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 649, but fails to give any proof for it. The fact is that this interpretation is exegetically untenable. The idea of “on the authority of” is expressed by the phrase en toi onomati or the shorter one en onomati, Matt. 21:9; Mark 16:17; Luke 10: 17; John 14: 26; Acts 3:6; 9: 27, etc. The preposition eis (into) is indicative rather of an end, and may therefore be interpreted to mean “in relation to,” or “into the profession of faith in one and sincere obedience to me.” It is quite in harmony with this when Allen in says his commentary on Matthew: “The person baptized was symbolically introduced ‘into the name of Christ,’ that is, became His disciple, that is, entered into a state of allegiance to Him and fellowship with Him.” This is the meaning given by Thayer, Robinson, and, substantially, also by Cremer-Koegel and Baljon, in their Lexicons. It is also that adopted by the commentators, such as Meyer, Alford, Bruce, Grosheide, and Van Leeuwen. This meaning of the term is fully borne out by such parallel expressions as eis Mousen, 1 Cor. 10: 2; eis to onoma Paulou, 1 Cor. 1: 13; eis hen soma, 1 Cor. 12: 13; and eis Christon, Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3: 27. Dr. Kuyper’s argument touching this point is found in Uit het Woord, Eerste Serie, Eerste Bundel. It would seem that we should translate the preposition eis by “into” or “to” (that is, “in relation to”’) the name. The word onoma (name) is used in the sense of the Hebrew shem as indicative of all qualities by which God makes Himself known, and which constitute the sum total of all that He is for His worshipers. Deissman in his Bible Studies refers to interesting examples of this particular use of the word onoma in the papyri. Interpreted in this light, the baptismal formula indicates that by baptism (that is, by that which is signified in baptism) the recipient is placed in a special relationship to the divine self-revelation, or to God as He has revealed Himself and revealed what He will be for His people, and at the same time becomes duty bound to live up to the light of that revelation.
It is not necessary to assume that, when Jesus employed these words, He intended them as a formula to be used ever after. He merely used them as descriptive of the character of the baptism which He instituted, just as similar expressions serve to characterize other baptisms, Acts 19: 3; 1 Cor. 1: 13; 10: 2 12:13. It is sometimes said with an appeal to such passages as Acts 2: 48; 8: 16; 10: 48; 19: 5, and also Rom. 6: 3, and Gal. 3: 27, that the apostles evidently did not use the Trinitarian formula; but this is not necessarily implied, THOUGH IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE SINCE THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORDS OF JESUS IN THE GREAT COMMISSION AS PRESCRIBING A DEFINITE FORMULA. It is also possible, however, that the expressions used in the passages indicated served to stress certain particulars respecting the baptism of the apostles. It should be noted that the prepositions differ. Acts 2: 38 speaks of a baptism epi toi onomari Jesou Christou, which probably refers to a baptism on the confession of Jesus as the Messiah. According to Acts 10: 48 those who were present in the house of Cornelius were baptized en onomati Jesou Christou, to indicate that they were baptized on the authority of Jesus. All the remaining passages mention a baptism eis to onoma Jesou Christou ( or tou kuriou Jesou), or simply a baptism eis Christon. These expressions may simply serve to stress the fact that the recipients were brought into special relationship to Jesus Christ, whom the apostles were preaching, and were thereby made subject to Him as their Lord. But whatever may have been the practice in the apostolic age, it is quite evident that when the Church later on felt the need of a formula, it could find no better than that contained in the words of the institution. This formula was already in use when the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) was written (c. 100 A.D.).
The Doctrine of Baptism in History
- BEFORE THE REFORMATION. The early Fathers regarded baptism as the rite of initiation into the Church, and usually considered it as closely connected with the forgiveness of sins and the communication of the new life. Some of their expressions would seem to indicate that they believed in baptismal regeneration. At the same time if should be noted that in the case of adults they did not regard baptism as efficacious apart from the right disposition of the soul, and they did not consider baptism as absolutely essential to the initiation of the new life, but rather looked upon it as the completing element in the process of renewal. Infant baptism was already current in the days of Origen and Tertullian, though the latter discouraged it on the ground of expediency. The general opinion was that baptism should never be repeated, but there was no unanimity as to the validity of baptism administered by heretics. In course of time, however, it became a fixed principle not to re-baptized those who were baptized into the name of the triune God. The mode of baptism was not in dispute. From the second century on the idea gradually gained ground that baptism works more or less magically. Even Augustine seems to have considered baptism as effective ex opera operato in the case of children. He regarded baptism as absolutely necessary and held that unbaptized children are lost.. According to him baptism cancels original guilt, but does not wholly remove the corruption of nature. The Scholastics at first shared Augustine’s view, that in the case of adults baptism presupposes faith, but gradually another idea gained the upper hand, namely, that baptism is always effective ex opera operato. The importance of subjective conditions was minimized. Thus the characteristic Roman Catholic conception of the sacrament, according to which baptism is the sacrament of regeneration and of initiation into the Church, gradually gained the upper hand. . It contains the grace which it signifies and confers this on all those who put no obstacle in the way. This grace was regarded as very important, since; (a) it sets an indelible mark on the recipient as a member of the Church; (b) delivers from the guilt of original sin and of all actual sins committed up to the time of baptism, removers the pollution of sin, though concupiscence remains, and sets man free from eternal punishment and from all positive temporal punishments; (c) works spiritual renewal by the infusion of sanctifying grace and of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love; and (d) incorporates the recipient into the communion of the saints and into the visible Church.
- SINCE THE REFORMATION. The Lutheran Reformation did not entirely rid itself of the Roman Catholic conception of the sacraments. Luther did not regard the water in baptism as common water, but as a water which had become, through the Word with its inherent divine power, a gracious water of life, a washing of regeneration. Through this divine efficacy of the Word the sacrament effects regeneration. In the case of adults Luther made the effect of baptism dependent on faith in the recipient. Realizing that he could not consider it so in the case of children, who cannot exercise faith, he at one time held that God by His prevenient grace works faith in the unconscious child, but later on professed ignorance on this point. Later Lutheran theologians retained the idea of an infant-faith as a precondition for baptism, while others conceived of baptism as producing such a faith immediately. This in some cases led on to the idea that the sacrament works ex opera operato. Anabaptists cut the Gordian knot of Luther by denying the legitimacy of infant baptism. They insisted on baptizing all applicants for admission to their circle, who had received the sacrament in infancy, and did not regard this as a re-baptism, but as the first true baptism. With them children had no standing in the Church. Calvin and Reformed theology proceeded on the assumption that baptism is instituted for believers, and does not work but strengthens the new life. They were naturally confronted with the question as to how infants could be regarded as believers, and how they could be strengthened spiritually, seeing that they could not yet exercise faith. Some simply pointed out that infants born of believing parents are children of the covenant, and as such heirs of the promises of God, including also the promise of regeneration; and that the spiritual efficacy of baptism is not limited to the time of its administration, but continues through life. The Belgic Confession also expresses that idea in these words: “Neither does this baptism avail us only at the time when water is poured upon us, and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.” Others went beyond this position and maintained that the children of the covenant were to be regarded as presumptively regenerated. This is not equivalent to saying that they are all regenerated, when they are presented for baptism, but that they are assumed to be regenerated until the contrary appears from their lives. There were also a few who regarded baptism as nothing more than the sign of an external covenant. Under the influence of Socinians, Arminians, Anabaptists, and Rationalists, it has become quite customary in many circles to deny that baptism is a seal of divine grace, and to regard is as a mere act of profession on the part of man In our day many professing Christians have completely lost the consciousness of the spiritual significance of baptism. It has become a mere formality.
The Proper Mode of Baptism
Baptists are at variance with the rest of the Christian world in their position that dipping or immersion, followed by emersion, is the only proper mode of baptism; and that this mode is absolutely essential to baptism, because this rite is intended to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the consequent death and resurrection of the subject of baptism with Him. Two questions arise, therefore, and it is best to consider them in the following order: (1) What is the essential thing in the symbolism of baptism? And (2) Is immersion the only proper mode of baptism? This order is preferable, because the former question is the more important of the two, because the answer to the second will depend in part on that given to the first.
- WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL THING IN THE SYMBOLISM OF BAPTISM. According to the Baptist immersion, followed by emersion, is the essential thing in the symbolism of baptism. A surrender of this would be equivalent to giving up baptism itself. The real baptismal idea, they say, is expressed in the going down into, and the coming up out of, the water. That such an immersion naturally involves a certain washing or purification, is something purely accidental. Baptism would be baptism even if one were immersed in something that has no cleansing properties. They base their opinion on Mark 10: 38-39; Luke 12:50; Rom. 6: 3-4; Col. 2:12. But the first two passages merely express the idea that Christ would be overwhelmed by His coming sufferings, and do not speak of the sacrament of baptism at all. The last two are the only ones that really have any bearing on the matter, and even these are not to the point, for they do not speak directly of any baptism with water at all, but of the spiritual baptism thereby represented. They represent regeneration under the figure of a dying and a rising again. It is certainly perfectly obvious that they do not make mention of baptism as an emblem of Christ’s death and resurrection. If baptism were represented here at all as an emblem, it would be as an emblem of the believer’s dying and rising again. And since this is only a figurative way of representing his regeneration, it would make baptism a figure of a figure.
Reformed theology has an entirely different conception of the essential thing in the symbolism of baptism. It finds this in the idea of purification. The Heidelberg Catechism asks in Question 69: “How is it signified and sealed unto you in holy baptism that you have a part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?” And it answers: “Thus, that Christ has appointed the outward washing with water and added the promise that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.” This idea of purification was the pertinent thing in the washings of the Old Testament, and also in the baptism of John, Ps. 51:7; Ezek. 36:25; John 3: 25-26. And we may assume that in this respect the baptism of Jesus was entirely in line with previous baptisms. If He had intended the baptism which He instituted as a symbol of something entirely different, He would have indicated this very clearly, in order to obviate all possible misunderstanding. Moreover, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that baptism symbolizes spiritual cleansing or purification, Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:4 f; 1 Cor. 6:11; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rev. 1:5. This is exactly the point on which the Bibl places all emphasis, while it never represents the going down and coming up as something essential.
2. IS IMMERSION THE ONLY PROPER MODE OF BAPTISM? The generally prevailing opinion outside of Baptist circles is that, as long as the fundamental idea, namely, that of purification finds expression in the rite, the mode of baptism is quite immaterial. It may be administered by immersion, by pouring or effusion, or by sprinkling. The Bible simply uses a generic word to denote an action designed to produce a certain effect, namely, cleansing or purification, but nowhere determines the specific mode in which the effect is to be produced. Jesus did not prescribe a certain mode of baptism. He evidently did not attach as much importance to it as the Baptist do. Neither do the Biblical examples of baptism stress any particular mode. There is not a single case in which we are explicitly told just how baptism was administered. The Baptists assert, however, that the Lord did command baptism by immersion, and that all those who administer it in a different way are acting in open disobedience to His authority. To prove their assertion, they appeal to the words bapto and baptize, which are used in Scripture for “to baptize.” The second word seems to be an intensive or frequentative form of the first, though in general usage the distinction does not always hold. Bapto is frequently used in the Old Testament, but occurs in the New Testament only refer four times, namely, in Luke 16 24; John 13:26; Rev. 19:13, and in these cases does not refer to Christian baptism. Baptists were very confident to one time that this verb means only “to dip”; but many of them have changed their mind since Carson, one of their greatest authorities, came to the conclusion that it also has a secondary meaning, ”namely, ”to dye,” so that it came to mean “to dye by dipping,” and even, “to dye in any manner,” in which case it ceased to be expressive of mode. The question further arose, whether baptize, which is used 76 times, and which is the word employed by the Lord in the words of the institution, was derived from bapto in its primary or in its secondary meaning. And Dr. Carson answers that it is derived from bapto in the sense of “to dip.” Says he: “Bapto, the root, I have Shown to possess two meanings, and two only, ‘to dip’ and ‘to dye.’ Baptizo, I have asserted, has but one signification. It has been founded on the primary meaning of the root, and has never admitted the secondary….My position is, that it always signifies to dip; never expressing anything but mode.” The Baptists must maintain this, if they want to prove that the Lord commanded baptism by immersion.
But the facts, as they appear in both classical and New Testament Greek, do not warrant this position. Even Dr. Gale, who was perhaps the most learned author who sought to maintain it, felt constrained by the facts to modify it. Wilson in his splendid work on Infant Baptism,. which is partly a reply to the work of Dr, Carson, quotes Gale as saying: “The word baptize perhaps does not so necessarily express the action of putting under water, as in general a thing’s being in that condition, no matter how it comes to be so, whether it is put into the water, or the water comes over it; though, indeed, to put into the water is the most natural way and the most common, and is therefore usually and pretty constantly, but it may be not necessarily, implied.” Wilson shows conclusively that, according to Greek usage, baptism is effected in various ways. Says he: “Let the baptizing element encompass its object, and in the case of liquids, whether this relative state has been produced by immersion, effusion, overwhelming, or in any other mode, Greek usage recognizes it as a valid baptism.” He further goes on to show in detail that it is impossible to maintain the position that the word baptize always signifies immersion in the New Testament.
It is quite evident that both words, bapto and baptizo, had other meanings, such as To wash,” “to bathe,” and to “purify by washing.” The ides of washing or purification gradually became the prominent idea, while that of the manner in which this took place retired more and more into the background. That this purification was sometimes effected by sprinkling, is evident from Num. 8:7; 19: 13,18,19,20; Ps. 51:7; Ezek. 36:25; Heb. 9:10. In Judith 12:7 and Mark 7: 3-4 we cannot possibly think of dipping. Neither is this possible in connection with the following passages of the New Testament: Matt. 3:11; Luke 11:37-38; 12:50; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Heb. 9:10 (cf. verses 13,14,19,21); 1 Cor. 10: 1-2. Since the word baptizo does not necessarily mean “to immerse,” and because the New Testament does not in any case explicitly assert that baptism took place by immersion, the burden of proof would seem to rest on the Baptists. Was John the Baptist capable of the enormous task of immersing the multitudes that flocked unto him at the river Jordan, or did he simply pour water on them as some of the early inscriptions would seem to indicate? Did the apostles find enough water in Jerusalem, and did they have the necessary facilities, to baptize three thousand in a single day by immersion? Where is the evidence to prove that they followed any other method than the Old Testament mode of baptism? Does Acts 9:18 indicate in any way that Paul left the place where Ananias found him, to be immersed in some pool or river? Does the account of the baptism of Cornelius create the impression that water was to be brought and that those present were baptized right in the house? Acts 10: 47-48. Is there any evidence that the jailor at Philippi was not baptized in or near the prison, but led his prisoners out to the river, in order that he might be immersed? Would he have dared to take them outside of the city, when he was commanded to keep them safely? Acts 16: 22-23. Even the account of the baptism of the eunuch, Acts 8: 36,38, which is often regarded as the strongest Scriptural proof for baptism by immersion, cannot be regarded as conclusive evidence. A careful study of Luke’s use of the preposition eis shows that he used it not only in the sense of into, but also in the sense of to, so that it is entirely possible to read the relevant statement in verse 38 as follows: “and they both went down to the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” And even if the words were intended to convey the idea that they went down into the water, this does not yet prove the point, for according to pictorial representation of the early centuries they who were baptized by effusion often stood in the water. It is entirely possible, of course, that in the apostolic age some were baptized by immersion, but the fact that the New Testament nowhere insists on this proves that it was not essential. Immersion is a proper mode of baptism, but so is baptism by effusion or by sprinkling, since they all symbolize purification. The passages referred to in the preceding prove that many Old Testament washings (baptizings) took place by sprinkling. In a prophecy respecting the spiritual renewal of the New Testament day the Lord says: “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,” Ezek. 36:25. The matter signified in baptism, namely, the purifying Spirit, was poured out upon the Church, Joel 2: 28-29; Acts 2: 4,33. And the writer of Hebrews speaks of his readers as having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, Heb. 10:22.
The Lawful Administrators of Baptism
Roman Catholics consider baptism absolutely essential to salvation; and because they regard it as cruel to make the salvation of anyone dependent on the accidental presence or absence of a priest, they also in cases of emergency permit baptism by others, particularly by midwives. In spite of the contrary view of Cyprian, they recognize the baptism of heretics, unless their heresy involves a denial of the Trinity. The Reformed Churches always acted on the principle that the administration of the Word and of the sacraments belong together, and that therefore the teaching elder or the minister is the only lawful administrator of baptism. The Word and the sacrament are joined together in an ordinance of the Church, they also hold that it should be administered in the public assembly of believers. They have generally recognized the baptism of other Churches, not excluding the Roman Catholics, and also the various sects, except in the case of Churches and sects which denied the Trinity. Thus they refused to honour the baptism of the Socinians and of the Unitarians. In general, they considered a baptism as valid which was administered by a duly accredited minister and in the name of the triune God.
The Proper Subjects of Baptism
Baptism is intended only for properly qualified rational beings, namely, for believers and their children. Rome loses sight of this in so far as it applies the sacrament also to clocks, buildings, and so on. There are two classes to which it should be applied, namely, adults and infants.
- ADULT BAPTISM. In the case of adult baptism must be preceded by a profession of faith, Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:37 (not found in some MSS.); 16:31-33. Therefore the Church insists on such a profession before baptizing adults. And when such a profession is made, this is accepted by the Church at its face value, unless she has good objective reasons for doubting its veracity. It does not belong to her province to pry into the secrets of the heart and thus to pass on the genuineness of such a profession. The responsibility rest on the person who makes it. The method of prying into the inner condition of the heart, in order to determine the genuineness of one’s profession, is Labadistic and not in harmony with the practice of the Reformed Churches. Since baptism is not merely a sign and seal, but also a means of grace, the question arises as to the nature of the grace wrought by it. This question is raised here only with respect to adult baptism. In view of the fact that according to our Reformed conception, this baptism presupposes regeneration, faith, conversion, and justification, these surly are not to be conceived as wrought by it. In this respect we differ from the Church of Rome.. Even the Lutherans, who ascribe greater power to baptism as a means of grace than the Reformed do, agree with the latter on this point. Neither does baptism work a special sacramental grace, consisting in this that the recipient is implanted into the body of Jesus Christ. The believer’s incorporation into mystical union with Christ is also presuppose. Word and sacrament work exactly the same kind of grace, except that the Word, in distinction from the sacrament, is also instrumental in the origination of faith. The sacrament of baptism strengthens faith, and because faith plays an important part in all the other operations of divine grace, these are also greatly benefited by it. Baptism represents primarily an act of the grace of God, but because the professing Christian must voluntarily submit to it, it can also be considered from the side of man. There is in it an offer and gift of God, but also an acceptance on the part of man. Consequently, baptism also signifies that man accepts the covenant and assumes its obligations. It is a seal, not merely of an offered, but of an offered and accepted, that is, of a concluded covenant.
- INFANT BAPTISM. It is on the point of infant baptism that the most important difference is found between us and the Baptists. The latter hold, as Dr. Hovey, a Baptist author, expresses it. “that only believers in Christ are entitled to baptism, and that only those who give credible evidence of faith in Him should be baptized.” This means that children are excluded from the sacrament. In all other denominations, however, they receive it. Several points call for consideration in connection with this subject.
The Scriptural basis for infant baptism. It may be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the Bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptize. But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-Biblical. The Scriptural ground for it is found in the following data:
(1.) The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant, though it also had a national aspect, and of this spiritual covenant circumcision was a sign and seal. It is an unwarranted procedure of the Baptists to split this covenant up into two of three different covenants. The Bible refers to the covenant with Abraham several times, but always in the singular. Ex. 2:24; Lev. 26:42; 2 Kings 13:23; 1 Chron. 16:16; Ps, 105:9. There is not a single exception to this rule. The spiritual nature of this covenant is proved by the manner in which its promises are interpreted in the New Testament, Rom.4:16-18; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Gal. 3:8,9,1416; Heb. 8:10, 11:9,1013. It also follows from the fact that circumcision was clearly a rite that had spiritual significance, Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 9:25,26; Acts 15:1; Rom, 2:26-29; 4:11; Phil. 3:2-3; and from the fact that the promise of the covenant is even called “the gospel,” Gal. 3:8.
(2). This covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation. The unity and continuity of the covenant in both dispensations follow the fact that the Mediator is the same. Acts 4:12; 10:43; 15:10,11; Gal. 3: 16; 1 Tim. 2: 5,6; 1Pet. 1: 9-12; the condition is the same, namely, faith. Gen. 15: 6; (Rom. 4: 3); Ps.32: 10; Heb. 2: 4; Acts 10: 43; Heb. 11; and the blessings are the same, namely, justification, Ps. 32:!,2,5; Isa. 1: 18; Rom. 4:9; Gal. 3:6, regeneration, Deut. 30:6; Ps. 51:10, spiritual gifts, Joel 2:28,32; Acts 2: 17-21; Isa. 40:31, and eternal life, Ex. 3:6; Heb. 4:9; 11;10. Peter gave those who were under conviction on the day of Pentecost the assurance that the promise was unto to them and to their children. Acts 2:39. Paul argues in Rom. 4: 13-18; Gal, 3: 13-18 that the giving of the law did not make the promise of none effect, so that it still holds in the new dispensation. And the writer of Hebrews points out that the promise to Abraham was confirmed with an oath, so that New Testament believers may derive comfort from its immutability, Heb. 6: 13-18.
(3). By the appointment of God infants shared in the benefits of the covenant, and therefore received circumcision as a sign and seal. According to the Bible the covenant is clearly an organic concept, and its realization moves along organic and historical lines. There is a people or nation of God, an organic whole such as could be constituted by families. This national ides is naturally very prominent in the Old Testament, but the striking thing is that it did not disappear when the nation of Israel had served its purpose. It was spiritualized and carried over into the New Testament, so that the New Testament people of God are also represented as a nation, Matt. 21:43; Rom. 9: 25-26 (comp. Hosea 2: 23); 2 Cor. Tit. 2: 14; 1 Pet. 2: 9. Infants were considered during the old dispensation as an integral part of Israel as the people of God. They were present when the covenant was renewed, Deut. 29: 10, 13; Josh. 8: 35; 2 Chron. 20: 13, had a standing in the congregation of Israel, and were therefore present in their religious assemblies, 2 Chron. 20: 13; Joel 2: 16. In view of such rich promises as those in Isa. 54: 13; Jer.31: 34; Joel 2: 28 we would hardly expect the privileges of such children to be reduced in the new dispensation, and certainly would not look for their exclusion from any standing in the Church. Jesus and the apostles did not exclude them, Matt. 19: 14; Acts 2: 29; 1 Cor. 7:14. Such an exclusion would seem to require a very explicit statement to that effect.
(4.) In the new dispensation baptism is the divine authority substituted for circumcision as the initiatory sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Scripture strongly insists on it that circumcision can no more serve as such, Acts 15: 1-2; 21:21; Gal. 2: 3-5; 5: 2-6; 6: 12, 13, 15. If baptism did not take its place, then the New Testament has no initiatory rite. But Christ clearly substituted it as such, Matt. 28: 19-20; Mark 16: 15-16. It corresponds with circumcision in spiritual meaning. As circumcision referred to the cutting away of sin and to a change of heart, Deut. 10: 16; 30: 6; Jer. 4: 4; 9: 25-26; Ezek. 44: 7, 9, so baptism refers to the washing away of sin, Acts 2: 38; 1 Pet. 3: 21; Tit, 3:5, and to spiritual renewal, Rom. 6: 4; Col. 2:11-12. The last passage clearly links up circumcision with baptism, and teaches that the Christ-circumcision, that is circumcision of the heart, signifies by circumcision in the flesh, was accomplished by baptism, that is, by that which baptism signifies. Cf. also Gal. 3: 27, 29. But if children received the sign and seal of the covenant in the old dispensation, the presumption is that they surely have a right to receive it in the new, to which the pious of the Old Testament were taught to look forward as a much fuller and richer dispensation. Their exclusion from it would require a clear and unequivocal statement to that effect, but quite the contrary is found, Matt. 19: 14; Acts 2: 39; 1 Cor. 7: 14.
(5.) As was pointed out in the preceding, the New Testament contains no direct evidence for the practice of infant baptism in the days of the apostles. Lambert, after considering and weighing all the available evidence, expresses his conclusion in the following words: “The New Testament evidence, then, sees to point to the conclusion that infant baptism, to say the least, was not the general custom of the apostolic age.” But it need not surprise anyone that there is no direct mention to the baptism of infants, for in a missionary period like the apostolic age the emphasis would naturally fall on the baptism of adults. Moreover, conditions were not always favorable to infant baptism. Converts would not at once have a proper conception of their covenant duties and responsibilities. Sometimes only one of the parents was converted, and it is quite conceivable that the other would oppose the baptism of the children. Frequently there was no reasonable assurance that the parents would educate their children piously and religiously, and yet such assurance was necessary. At the same time the language of the New Testament is perfectly consistent with a continuation of the organic administration of the covenant, which required the circumcision of children, Matt. 19: 14; Mark 10: 13-16; Acts 2: 39; 1 Cor. 7: 14. Moreover, the New Testament repeatedly speaks of the baptism of households, and gives no indication that this is regarded as something out of the ordinary, but rather refers to it as a matter of course, Acts 16: 15, 33; 1 Cor. 1: 16. It is entirely possible, of course, but not very probable, that none of these households contained children. And if there were infants, it is morally certain that they were baptized along with the parents. The New Testament certainly contains no evidence that persons born and reared in Christian families may not be baptized until they have come to years of discretion and have professed their faith in Christ. There is not the slightest allusion to any such practice.
(6.) Wall in the introduction to his History of Infant Baptism points out that in the baptism of proselytes children were often baptized along with their parents; but Edersheim says that there was a difference opinion on this point. Naturally, even if this did happen, it would prove nothing so far as Christian baptism is concerned, but it would go to show that there was nothing strange is such a procedure. The earliest historical reference to infant baptism is found in writings of the last half of the second century. The Didache speaks of adult, but not of infant baptism; and while Justin makes mention of women who became disciples, and ek paidon does not necessarily mean infancy. Irenaeus, speaking of Christ, says: “He came to save through means of Himself all who through Him are born again unto God, infants, and little children, and boys, and youths, and old men.” This passage, though it does not explicitly mention baptism, is generally regarded as the earliest reference to infant baptism, since the early Fathers so closely associated baptism with regeneration that they used the term “regeneration” for “baptism.” That infant baptism was quite generally practiced in the latter part of the second century, is evident from the writings of Tertullian, though he himself considered it safer and more profitable to delay baptism. Origen speaks of it as a tradition of the apostles. Says he: “For this also it was, that the Church had from the apostles a tradition (or, order) to give baptism even to infants. The Council of Carthage (A.D. 253) takes infant baptism for granted and discusses simply the question, whether they be baptized before the eight day. From the second century on, infant baptism is regularly recognized, though it was sometimes neglected in practice. Augustine inferred from the that it was generally practiced by the Church throughout the world in spite of the fact that it was not instituted in Councils, that it was in all probability settled by the authority of the apostles. It legitimacy was not denied until the days of the reformation, when the Anabaptist opposed it.
In the second part of “The Institution of Christian Baptism,” Brother Berkhof deals with “Objections to Infant Baptism,” which will be printed at a later date by The Kayelton Group.