On the Salvation of Infants and Children

The question about the baptism of infants and very young children is usually complicated by the set of presuppositions that various parties bring to the matter. Those who reject the practice of infant baptism usually do so on the basis that there is no specific command or otherwise explicit teaching in the New Testament to do so. Neither are there any clear and explicit examples. Such opponents then note that the earliest clear historical references to such practices come in the second century, well after the apostolic and subapostolic eras. But these arguments founder on their own presuppositions. To reject infant baptism on the basis of the lack of clear and explicit command, teaching or example from Scripture itself relies on an interpretive principle that lacks any clear and explicit command, teaching or example. And the historical question is readily answered in that historical records normally address a teaching or practice that is already traditional only after it has come under dispute; and, in fact, our early references to the baptism of infants and very young children do, in fact, come up under the headings of various disputes.

The paedobaptism question also comes under the rubric of ecclesiology and whether and to what extent the Church is able to authorize various teachings and practices, or even to introduce new practices that conform to traditional teaching. But that question cannot be addressed here, as it would take us further afield from our primary aim, which is to establish the New Testament attitude toward the salvation of children.

One thing that I will not be doing here is answering the important and essential questions regarding original, or, better, ancestral sin, fallen human nature, and the nature of baptism. These questions do bear directly on the practice of infant baptism, but they also would take me afield of what I intend to do here.

Rather, what I intend to do here is to demonstrate that the clear and unequivocal understanding of the New Testament is that infants and young children are suitable candidates for baptism and salvation, since the New Testament presents them as capable of faith.

We begin first with Jesus’ own words.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)

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