Should Your Baby Be Baptized?
Does baptism wash away sins? Why did Jesus get baptized?
EVERYONE who has ever thought of his own or his child’s baptism should be vitally interested in this question. There is no doubt that baptism is a requirement for Christians. Jesus Christ himself was baptized in the Jordan River. But what is the Bible’s view of baptizing babies, which is usually done with a few drops of water? Does an unbaptized baby that dies suffer in a world beyond in what has been called “perdition”? Is there hope for unbaptized babies who die?
Just when infant baptism began is not known with preciseness, but it was definitely after the death of the apostles of Jesus Christ that the practice appeared. Explains The Encyclopœdia Britannica: “The whole early period knows baptism only for adults, who join themselves of their own resolve to the Christian community. Infant baptism appears sporadically towards the end of the second century and was practiced also during the following centuries, yet only as an exception.”—Vol. 3, page 84.
This same authority shows that it was nearly four hundred years after the time of Jesus Christ that baby baptism came into considerable prominence, due largely to the influence of Augustine: “The theorist of baptism who has been most influential for succeeding ages is S. Augustine.” What did he believe? “Infants dying unbaptized are excluded from the Kingdom of heaven in consequence of original sin, and live in the world beyond in some form of perdition, even if of the mildest kind. Baptism has effect upon original sin, in the sense that it takes from it its character of guilt.”
But what of the view that infant baptism is of apostolic origin? The religious historian Neander writes of the first-century Christians: “Faith and baptism were always connected with one another; and thus it is in the highest degree probable that baptism was performed only in the instances where both could meet together, and that the practice of infant baptism was unknown at this period. . . . That not till so late a period as (at least certainly not earlier than) Irenaeus, a trace of infant baptism appears, and that it first became recognized as an apostolic tradition in the course of the third century, is evidence rather against than for the admission of apostolic origin.”—Planting and Training of the Christian Church.
NO SCRIPTURAL PRECEDENT
Further, the historian of baptism, the abbey Jules Corblet, writes: “In short, we do not find in the Scriptures any certain fact, any precise text that is able to demonstrate beyond question that one baptized infants in apostolic times.”a
From these various historical facts we must draw the following conclusion: That baptizing infants was not the practice of the early Christians. What, then, led to the practice? It is largely the view that baptism is a sacrament, resulting in the washing away of sins.
Does not the Bible speak of baptism for the forgiveness of sins? Yes, both in regard to the baptism performed by John the Baptist and that performed in the name of Jesus Christ. First, let us examine John’s baptism. John baptized “those repenting for forgiveness of sins. . . . they were baptized by him in the Jordan river, openly confessing their sins.” (Mark 1:4, 5) This does not mean that baptism itself washed away sins. As Acts 19:4 shows, according to various modern translations: “John baptized with the baptism of those repenting.” “John’s baptism was a baptism in token of repentance.” (AT) “John baptized with a baptism that was an expression of repentance.” (Williams) John’s baptism, then, was a token or symbol of a natural Jew’s having repented for sins against the law covenant. Hence John’s baptism prepared these repentant persons for the Messiah. John’s baptism, moreover, was not sprinkling but immersion in water: “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was a great quantity of water there.” (John 3:23) To repent from sins one had to be old enough to understand repentance. That is why John did not baptize babies.
Did things change with the institution of Christian baptism, so that now babies should be baptized? To answer that question we must ask: How was Jesus baptized? Why was Jesus baptized?
SYMBOL OF DEDICATION
The Son of God went to John the Baptist and, to John’s surprise, asked to be baptized. John did not understand why Jesus should be baptized and said: “I am the one needing to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14) Jesus stood firm in his request and John obeyed, dipping Jesus under the water as he had been dipping others. Jesus was not merely sprinkled but was down in the water: “Jesus immediately came up from the water.”—Matt. 3:16.
Why did Jesus get baptized? It could not have been for the removal of sins or for a sign that he had repented of sins, because he was “guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” And “he committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth.” A perfect man—yet Jesus was baptized!—Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22.
The sinless man Jesus got baptized because of his desire to do his Father’s will. Explaining this, the apostle Paul applies Psalm 40:6-8 to Jesus Christ: “Look! I am come (in the roll of the book it is written about me) to do your will, O God.” (Heb. 10:4-7) Jesus was baptized because he wanted to symbolize his dedication to do Jehovah’s will; and he proved that he had made this dedication by turning his back on carpenter work and beginning the ministry. Jesus made this dedication as a full-grown man: “Jesus also was baptized. . . . Furthermore, Jesus himself, when he commenced his work, was about thirty years old.”—Luke 3:21, 23.
Christian baptism today should be performed in imitation of the example that Jesus Christ set. Thus the significance of Jesus’ baptism adheres to the baptism of his followers today. The baptism of a Christian serves as a symbol that one has dedicated his life to God and has vowed, like Jesus: ‘I am come to do your will, O God.’
Those who believe that water baptism washes away sins often quote Acts 2:38 as support. This verse contains the apostle Peter’s words: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins.” Here Peter, at Pentecost, was talking to those who had sinned against Jesus. How could they gain forgiveness? They needed to repent and to accept Jesus and his cleansing blood and show this by getting baptized in Jesus’ name. Not that the baptismal water would itself wash away their sins; if that were the case they would have had to get rebaptized after every new sin. But as Acts 22:16 explains: “Now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name.” How are sins washed away? Not by the water itself but by “calling upon his name.”
So water baptism for Christians is a symbol of having repented of sins and of having accepted Jesus and of having dedicated one’s life to do Jehovah’s will faithfully, as Jesus did.
FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED
The command given by Jesus was: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
Did this term “people of all the nations” include babies? Manifestly not, for that would have changed the meaning of the baptism Jesus instituted! Babies cannot make a personal dedication to God, based on faith and knowledge. Further, baptism is not that which removes one’s sins. The apostle wrote: “Unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.” (Heb. 9:22) It is Christ’s ransom sacrifice and the Christian’s repentance and acceptance of that ransom, as proved by his changed course in life, that makes such forgiveness possible. Moreover, the apostle explains: “For ‘anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved’. However, how will they call upon him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach?” (Rom. 10:13, 14) No, the “people of all the nations” that were to be baptized did not include babies; they had to grow up first so they could understand the value of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and put their faith in it, after hearing about the Messiah.
One of the reasons for the misunderstanding about Christian baptism is the belief that the “water” of which Jesus spoke at John 3:5 is the water of baptism. Said Jesus: “Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Those who read farther can see that this water is not the water of baptism. This water is mentioned at John 4:14 and also at Revelation 22:1, 17 as “water of life” and “life’s water.” In each of these instances it is not the water of baptism but is something that one is symbolically to drink. Instead of being the water of baptism it is the water of truth, the refreshing, life-giving, cleansing knowledge of God’s Word. This water of truth remakes a person’s disposition and opens the way to everlasting life.
Search as you will in the Holy Scriptures, you will never find a single example of the baptism of a newborn baby! Supporters of baby baptism try to defend the doctrine by saying that entire families accepted Christianity in the apostles’ days and were baptized. But if these families included tiny babies, the apostles failed to say so—despite the excellent opportunity this would have given them to underline the importance of such a doctrine.
CHILDREN HOLY WITHOUT BAPTISM
But what if a baby dies before it is able to grow up and learn about God’s way to salvation? In answering this question, the Scriptures spotlight a striking reason why the baptism of babies is not necessary: God views a baby as “holy” by reason of its having believing, Christian parents. What if only one of the parents is a believer? Declares the apostle Paul: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) So babies are made “holy” in God’s eyes, not by a sprinkling ceremony, but because of their having a believing father or mother.
Instead of being concerned about baptizing their baby, Christian parents will heed the advice of the inspired Scriptures and bring up their child “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Teach the child the will and commandments of Jehovah God. Do as the inspired proverb says: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Prov. 22:6) If parents have been diligent to teach their children God’s truth, then when they grow up they will be able to make a personal decision to dedicate their lives to God. After having made this decision, they will, like Jesus, symbolize that dedication by water immersion. By being faithful to that dedication, they will prove worthy of enjoying everlasting life on earth, under the kingdom of heaven.
What if the child dies before it is old enough to make a personal dedication to God? We can be sure that since God views the children of believing parents as “holy,” any child of such faithful parents who dies will be certain to be resurrected from the dead. Parents who obey and follow Jesus’ example never go wrong. Even the evildoer who was put to death on the torture stake next to Jesus was promised a resurrection and the opportunity of gaining everlasting life in the righteous new world. “You will be with me in Paradise,” said Jesus. (Luke 23:43) If this evildoer, up till then an unbaptized person, will be there when paradise is restored on earth, then certainly the children of believing parents who follow Jesus’ example, instead of having them baptized as babies, will enjoy a similar blessing.
To real Christians the words and example of Jesus Christ carry far more authority than the traditions of men. Real Christians follow the example of Christ closely. They see from a study of the Holy Scriptures overwhelming evidence that (1) no baby was ever baptized by the first-century Christians; (2) Christian baptism is not for washing away sins but is a symbol of a personal dedication to God, and (3) children of believing parents, without baptism, are viewed by God as “holy.”
Babies, then, need not and should not be baptized. Baptism is a ceremony that marks a personal commitment, a commitment that no one else can make for you and that certainly a babe-in-arms cannot make for itself. The Biblical doctrine of water baptism, and therefore the one water baptism that God really accepts, remains the same today as it was when Jesus began it.
a Histoire dogmatique, liturgique et archéologique du sacrement de baptême, Vol. 1, p. 380.