A few years ago, I posted an article about the Biblical
basis of baptism on this site. In May 2002, I received a
response to it which prompted another article on the subject of
covenant.' I then replied directly in the email reproduced in
section 1 below, and the conversation continued as you now read
Sorry about the delay in replying. I've had a lot on my plate over the last few months.
My response turned out to be more critical of various aspects of your question than I had intended. Please accept my apologies if it misunderstands what you are meaning to suggest, or or anything in it offends you. It is not deliberate, I promise!
If I have misunderstood something in your question, please let me know. It doesn't identify you in any way, but I want the response to be both honest and helpful.
At various points in the reply, I am simplifying some complex theological issues. This is deliberate, as I want the article to be accessible to a wide range of people, not just those with theological training. It is my intention that each simplification is fair and justified in the context (the aspects I ignore do not affect the argument), but if you think I have over-simplified any part, please feel free to say so and suggest what you would consider to be a more appropriate summary. Many thanks.
While we are here, would you mind answering a question or two from me?
Is your belief in paedobaptism based on your interpretation of the Bible?
If not (for example, if it is based on Church tradition, pointing back to certain Biblical passages), then thank you for your response.
If, on the other hand, it is based on the Bible, do you work from a broadly evangelical perspective?
If not, then, again, thank you.
But if you do, I would really like to know...
if I have missed something important in the Bible,
please let me know what it is!
and if you think I have misunderstood the relevant
Biblical passages, please show me how the standard hermeneutic
principles should be applied to those passages to enable me to reach a
My central purpose in all this is to understand and obey what God says, not to support a particular doctrine - whether concerning baptism or anything else. If my interpretation of the Bible is wrong, I want to put it right! And this will only happen by listening to people I (currently) disagree with.
Thank you again for your response. I hope you enjoy my reply
Thank you for your response. We obviously have
numerous differences in doctrinal positions (all
within the scope of orthodoxy, I trust) and are
therefore not likely to reach agreement here.
Nonetheless, I appreciate your response and would like
to demonstrate that by answering your questions and
pointing out where I believe some of your responses
Your questions, my answers:
Q.Is your belief in paedobaptism based on your
interpretation of the Bible?
A. Yes. I believe the teaching of Scripture beginning
in Genesis where Abraham was commanded to give the
covenant sign to his son along with the teaching that
baptism is the sign of the new covenant supports the
paedobaptist position. At this point, I will address
what I consider to be a pivotal point of difference in
our views. I believe the whole of Scripture is an
unfolding of God's plan of salvation. The NT unveils
the "mystery" of the "who" the Messiah is and the
gospel expansion to the gentiles. Therefore, I
disagree with the approach of starting with the NT.
Abraham, Noah, and our ancestors in the faith are also
Christians. If they are not saved by the atoning
sacrifice of Christ, they are not saved!
Q.If, on the other hand, it is based on the Bible, do
you work from a broadly evangelical perspective?
A. I don't believe I am theologically savvy enough to
understand your question. If you could expound, I
Next, I would like to point out a few areas where I
find your response to be questionable.
You say, "...quite frankly, I don't mind what the OT
may say about baptism or children. I want to know what
Jesus said..." Since an essential of Christianity is
belief in the Trinity and since Jesus is the second
person in the Trinity and therefore God, and since
Scripture is the Word of God, I hold that the OT
should not be given less weight than the NT because
both are the inspired, inerrant Word of God. As such,
they do not contradict one another, rather they are
harmonious. So, it is more appropriate to test
whether or not a doctrine based on NT principles alone
is in harmony with the OT than to discount the OT to
maintain the "NT-only" doctrine. The OT says that
God's everlasting covenant (which does not guarantee
salvation) includes children. Since the NT sign of
the covenant is baptism and since God's covenant is
everlasting, baptism of children is not only
appropriate but commanded.
You attempt to discredit the harmonizing of OT and
NT principles (such as the equating of Israel and the
church) by absurd examples that lack similarity. In
the case of the temple, we have clear NT teaching that
part of God's unfolding plan of redemption is that now
He makes His chosen people His temple (1 Cor. 3:17).
There is no such teaching that removes children from
covenant status. (This is only achieved by creating a
dichotomy of the NT and OT in such a way that the NT
is similar to the Book of Mormon and the OT the
Under your "God's Inability" section, you either
miss the point or disagree with it. God staked His
very being on His promise in Genesis 15. He gave me
the right to hope in His inability to disregard His
covenant promise. I agree (but for obviously
different reasons) that this is "breathtaking."
You state "We are commanded to baptise believers. We
are never commanded to baptise babies." Once again
this is relegates the OT to a lesser status than the
NT. The sign of the covenant in the OT was to be
given to children. No NT teaching repeals the command
to give the covenant sign to children. Upon
professing faith in God, adult believers in the OT
received the covenant sign. Your logic that because
only one example is explicitly cited in the NT the
other (baptizing babies of believers) is not valid is
You refer to the following in a different place on
"The natural way to read and interpret this passage
[Matt. 28: 19-20] is "... disciple ye [as many
people as possible in] all the nations, baptising
them..." in which case the "them" we are to baptise
are the "as many people as possible in all the
nations" who are being discipled. So it comes back
to the same thing in practice: the people we are
commanded to baptise and teach are those who are being
The crux of your argument appears to rest in your
belief that a child cannot be discipled prior to
confessing Christ as Lord. I believe Deut 6: 4-7
refutes this assertion. Impressing God's commandments
upon our children is discipling. Therefore, the Great
Commission does not support baptizing "confessors"
over "pre-confessors." If one is not discipled, he
never learns what to confess!
In your Ways to Heaven section, your failure to see
the new covenant as being built upon the old is clear.
Also, your reasoning indicates you believe OT
believers were justified by the law (the first route
to Heaven). Paul states in Gal. 3:11 that on one is
justified by the law. Again, OT and NT believers are
saved by grace through faith in Christ. Period.
There has never been another way; there will never be
You say "When you look at what God says in the
Bible, you discover that the terms "eternal" and
"everlasting" do not mean what we usually think they
do. We think they are primarily about chronology, when
they are more accurately understood to be about
purpose and the fulfillment of destiny."
See (3) above. If God's promises cannot be taken to
mean "what we usually think they do," then you impose
a criteria that undermines the very hope God desires
His children to have. God intends that His people will
abide in the living hope he lays out in 1 Peter 1:3-9,
not doubt whether He means what He says.
While I realize I am about as unlikely to persuade you
as you are to persuade me, I hope something in what I
have said above may cause you to think afresh on some
of the topics.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank you for your response. I have just skimmed through, and a proper response will take some time. Some of your points I was half expecting, while other points I did not expect at all.
I will try to reply in detail in the next week or two. In the meantime, one further question occurs to me - did you agree with any aspect of my response, or do you think I am seriously mistaken on every point? I would find it helpful if we can establish a few more points of agreement.
Hopefully, the following points of agreement will
help. (I don't mean to so focused on the negative. I
suppose it's the nature of these types of exchanges.)
I agree that:
"a standard principle of Biblical interpretation is
that we should interpret the obscure passages in the
light of the clear ones"
"Jesus was a Jew, and He believed the Old Testament
as the word of God."
"I read the NT in the light of Jesus, and I read
the OT in the light of Jesus " -- I believe to do
otherwise is to miss the point of God's unfolding plan
of salvation. I just think this can be a little muddy
based on where we place emphasis (i.e., NT first, then
OT (as I understand your view) or OT first
establishing the foundation, then the NT).
"the new covenant is based on the old. It is built
on the foundation of the old. "
There is only one route to heaven--Jesus Christ.
(Your answer appears to indicate this route only
became available after his advent, as opposed to being
the only route since the fall.)
Babies don't go to heaven because they are
baptized. Baptism is not a necessary condition of
I think I have been fairly thorough in this list. It
is intentionally short because we have many different
views related to this topic, which probably is a large
contributor to the reason the two camps are so
solidified! I wanted to touch on a couple of points I
specifically left out; so you would know they were not
"We are never commanded to baptise babies." (If
this means no specific verse says to baptize babies,
we have the same problem with the Trinity. Not every
doctrine is supported by a single verse.)
"The whole Bible is full of examples where God
changed His mind." (Such examples are
anthropomorphic--one of a few theological terms in my
dictionary! (Human descriptions applied to God in case
I misused or misspelled the term.) Since God is
omniscient, no new information can come to Him on
which He would base a change of mind.
"...there is a much more obvious group to worry
about: the Jewish people. How can that group, who were
included in the Old Covenant, not be included in the
New Covenant?" The Jewish people are included in the
old and the new. Covenant does not equal salvation.
Ishmael was included in the Old covenant (Gen. 17:23),
but not saved (Gen 17:19-21).
I disagree with your view of God's election.
People are not saved because they (of their own will)
respond to the gospel in faith. Therefore, they are
not sentenced to hell because they don't believe. God
elects according to His "pleasure and will" (Eph.
1:5), not on "him who wills" (Romans 9:16). Jesus is
the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). A
book does not accept or reject its author. We must be
born again (John 3). We didn't pick our parents the
first time. Why do so many change this simple and
straightforward illustration for the second birth? If
this is not the view of election taught in the Bible,
evangelism is the greatest curse the church can give.
If the gospel, rather than being the power of God unto
salvation (Rom 1:16), is merely a concept by which men
are doomed to hell only if they reject, then the Great
Commission is the command of condemnation rather than
the command of blessing. Election is where I find you
to have a double standard about basing your doctrine
on Scripture alone. Scripture alone clearly teaches
the election of God according to His good pleasure,
not on the basis of anything (works) man will do
(including faith--Jesus is author). Faith,
repentance,and obedience are the first fruits of
regeneration, not the causes of it.
I look forward to your response. And, once again, I
too do not mean to offend. As a sinner saved by
grace, I know I am wrong in places where I believe I
am right. I trust that all of the above is borne from
a pure desire to know Him more fully and bring Him
glory, not from pride and the desire to indulge the
flesh by being right.