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J I Packer on infant baptism…

June 27, 2012

Jim PackerI’m continuing my reading of ‘The Renewed Pastor‘ a book of essays by the great and good of modern evangelicalism. This weeks chapter was the great Packer’s essay on infant baptism, originally published in the Churchman. This is probably the clearest explanation of the biblical grounding of paedobaptism which I have read and deserves to be studied by all Christians. For this blog a lengthy quotation will suffice (pgs 149-151):

… the ground of the practice [of paedobaptism] is the fact that from the moment of birth these children share their parents’ covenant status. The covenant sign, therefore, has the same significance when administered to them as it has for adult converts: it does not create, but it confirms and attests a status and relationship which is already theirs on other grounds… The necessity of the practice derives from the fact that when God announced the covenant of grace to Abraham He commanded that all his male descendants, as members of the covenant, should be marked with the covenant sign in infancy and thus be formally admitted to junior membership of the church… the New Testament teaches that the covenant sign has since been altered, the sphere of the covenant extended to cover the whole Gentile world and the blessings of the church on earth increased; but it nowhere suggests that God has changed the rule which He originally laid down concerning infant church membership… The proof-text for the baptism of Christians’ children is thus Genesis 17:10: ‘This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.’ Since God spoke these words to Abraham, baptism has replaced circumcision as the covenant sign and the distinction between male and female has ceased to be relevant to the possession and sealing of covenant status, the command therefore to the Christian church now reads: ‘Every infant among you shall be baptised.’ Infant baptism is thus the will of God. It is not merely legitimate; it is obligatory. Christians’ children are to be enrolled as junior church members by means of the regular ceremony of admission. There is nothing in the Bible more certain than this.

If you’d like to read more then you can buy the the book here!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Phil permalink
    June 28, 2012 10:19 am

    I wouldn’t say I completely subscribe to one way or the other – I’d lean towards baptism being for believing adults, but I don’t think I could say paedobaptism is wrong. Never really seen that biblical view for it though.

    How he can say there is “nothing more certain than this” though…? For as good as the reasoning is, there are far more things with more “certainty” in the Bible. Surely he can’t deny that there would appear to be more certainty surrounding adult baptisms in the Bible.

  2. June 30, 2012 9:22 pm

    I would have to disagree with Packers theology here. Although I don’t have a problem with looking at infant baptism being equal to infant dedication, the thought that it is somehow equivalent to the covenant of Abraham is stretching it. There is no record of infant baptism in the N.T. and always it was believers that were baptized. They did so out of a choice to be identified with Christ, which an infant has no ability to decide this. I believe this is one case where Packer’s tradition and religion superseded his biblical interpretation.

  3. August 31, 2013 10:55 pm

    Why is the New Testament silent on Infant Baptism?

    Baptist/evangelical response:

    The reason there is no mention of infant baptism in the New Testament is because this practice is a Catholic invention that developed two to three centuries after the Apostles. The Bible states that sinners must believe and repent before being baptized. Infants do not have the mental maturity to believe or to make a decision to repent. If God had wanted infants to be baptized he would have specifically mentioned it in Scripture. Infant baptism is NOT scriptural.

    Lutheran response:

    When God made his covenant with Abraham, God included everyone in Abraham’s household in the covenant:

    1. Abraham, the head of the household.
    2. His wife.
    3. His children: teens, toddlers, and infants
    4. His servants and their wives and children.
    5. His slaves and their wives and children.

    Genesis records that it was not just Abraham who God required to be circumcised. His son, his male servants, and his male slaves were all circumcised; more than 300 men and boys.

    Did the act of circumcision save all these people and give them an automatic ticket into heaven? No. Just as in the New Covenant, it is not the sign that saves, it is God’s declaration that saves, received in faith. If these men and boys grew in faith in God, they would be saved. If they later rejected God by living a life of willful sin, they would perish.

    This pattern of including the children of believers in God’s covenant continued for several thousand years until Christ’s resurrection. There is no mention in the OT that the children of the Hebrews were left out of the covenant until they reached an Age of Accountability, at which time they were required to make a decision: Do I want to be a member of the covenant or not? And only if they made an affirmative decision were they then included into God’s covenant. Hebrew/Jewish infants and toddlers have ALWAYS been included in the covenant. There is zero evidence from the OT that says otherwise.

    Infants WERE part of the covenant. If a Hebrew infant died, he was considered “saved”.

    However, circumcision did NOT “save” the male Hebrew child. It was the responsibility of the Hebrew parents to bring up their child in the faith, so that when he was older “he would not depart from it”. The child was born a member of the covenant. Then, as he grew up, he would have the choice: do I want to continue placing my faith in God, or do I want to live in willful sin? If he chose to live by faith, he would be saved. If he chose to live a life of willful sin and never repented, and then died, he would perish.

    When Christ established the New Covenant, he said nothing explicit in the New Testament about the salvation of infants and small children; neither do the Apostles nor any of the writers of the New Testament. Isn’t that odd? If the new Covenant no longer automatically included the children of believers, why didn’t Christ, one of the Apostles, or one of the writers of the NT mention this profound change?

    Why is there no mention in the NT of any adult convert asking this question: “But what about my little children? Are you saying that I have to wait until my children grow up and make a decision for themselves, before I will know if they will be a part of the new faith? What happens if my child dies before he has the opportunity to make this decision?” But no, there is no record in Scripture that any of these questions are made by new converts to the new faith. Isn’t that really, really odd??? As a parent of small children, the FIRST question I would ask would be, “What about my little children?”

    But the New Testament is completely silent on the issue of the salvation or safety of the infants and toddlers of believers. Another interesting point is this: why is there no mention of any child of believers “accepting Christ” when he is an older child (8-12 years old) or as a teenager and then, being baptized? Not one single instance and the writing of the New Testament occurred over a period of 30 years, approximately thirty years after Christ’s death: So over a period of 60 years, not one example of a believer’s child being saved as a teenager and then receiving “Believers Baptism”. Why???

    So isn’t it quite likely that the reason God does not explicitly state in the NT that infants should be baptized, is because everyone in first century Palestine would know that infants and toddlers are included in a household conversion. That fact that Christ and the Apostles did NOT forbid infant baptism was understood to indicate that the pattern of household conversion had not changed: the infants and toddlers of believers are still included in this new and better covenant.

    Circumcision nor Baptism was considered a “Get-into-heaven-free” card. It was understood under both Covenants that the child must be raised in the faith, and that when he was older, he would need to decide for himself whether to continue in the faith and receive everlasting life, or choose a life of sin, breaking the covenant relationship with God, and forfeiting the gift of salvation.

    Which of these two belief systems seems to be most in harmony with Scripture and the writings of the Early Christians?

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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