Baptism and Infants


by Wayne S. Walker

     Of all the commentaries on the New Testament not written by our brethren, one of the better sets is that of R. H. C. Lenski, the great Lutheran expositor and Greek scholar.  Even though Lenski obviously had a bias towards Lutheran doctrine, most of his comments are true to scriptural teaching and to his own scholarship.  However, one place in which his prejudice shows through is his explanation of Matthew 19:14 where Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  Of this verse, Lenski wrote, "The implication is that children, and this includes infants (brephe), are ready to come to Jesus and need only that men let them do so.  And this coming has the same purpose as the coming to Jesus of any adult, namely to receive of him the Messianic salvation.  Their affinity for Jesus lies in their need of him which is due to their inborn sin" (Interpretation of Matthew, pp. 742-743).

     He continued, "It is also no more than assumption that at birth (or already at the time of conception) all children are made partakers of Christ’s atonement without any means whatever; the scriptures contain no word to this effect.  Because men have been misled by such thoughts, the little ones have been left outside the kingdom until receptiveness for grace has passed away and their salvation became jeopardized.  Baptism, in particular, was denied them, and this sacrament itself was considered a symbol that did not give or convey anything but only pictured something.  Baptism was regarded as an act of obedience (a law) that was possible only to an adult and not longer an act of the Triune God by which he adopted us as his children, deeded to us a place in heaven, gave us the new birth of the Spirit.  Who can estimate the wrong done to helpless babes, even in the name of Christ, by denying them the one divine means by which they can be brought (v. 13) and can come to their glorified Lord?"  (Ibid., pp. 744-745).

     More could be quoted, but this is sufficient to show the trend of thought.  Lenski’s position is, evidently, that infants and children should be baptized (or rather, submitted to sprinkling and such called baptism) to receive the forgiveness of sins because this is the way they are to be "brought to Jesus" by their parents.  First of all, I know of no diligent Bible student who believes that children have already been made partakers of Christ’s atonement.  Certainly the scripture contains no word to this effect.  But neither does it contain any word that they even need atonement in the first place.  In order for one to need atonement, he must have some sin which needs to be atoned.  And it is impossible for little children to have any sin, for sin is not something you get but something you do (1 John 4:3).  And if a person has "got" it, then that means he did it.  In short, babies do not need atonement, nor that which procures it–namely baptism–because they have no sin to be atoned.

     This brings us to the second point: that is, inherited or original sin.  "It is in vain to deny original or unborn sin, the total depravity of our race, and to call babes ‘innocent and pure’ in the sense of ‘sinless.’  Every babe that dies contradicts this claim" (Lenski, op. cit., p. 744).  When will men learn that human beings do not suffer and die primarily as a result of their own sin?  Paul wrote, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).  He is referring to spiritual death, not physical.  The passage simply teaches that spiritual death has passed upon all individuals who are guilty of sin because of the sins they have committed.  It is true that we all suffer physical death as a consequence of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:19; Exodus 20:5; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  But nowhere does the Bible indicate that anyone carries the guilt of Adam’s sin, except Adam.  "The soul that sinneth, it shall die [spiritually, WSW].  The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father [or any other ancestor, WSW], neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20).  There are some passages which, on the surface, seem to teach original sin (e.g., Psalm 51:5).  But a more careful study of the context reveals that such is not so.  And there are other passages (e.g., Ecclesiastes 7:29) which teach just the opposite.

     In the third place Jesus said, referring to the children, "Of such are the kingdom of heaven."  Mr. Lenski’s comments would lead us to believe that these children were being brought to Jesus to be baptized; but, of course, this was not the case.  However, a little common-sense thinking about this statement in connection with Matthew 18:3 would dispel any notion that children are born sinners and need baptism.  If a sinner wants to be saved, he must enter the kingdom where salvation is to be found.  In order for him to do that, he must be converted and become as a little hcild.  But if a little child is a born sinner, then how would becoming like a little child be of any benefit to a sinner seeking salvation?  And if the kingdom is made up of such as little children, and they are born sinners, what does it profit one to enter into the kingdom anyway, since he is already in the condition of being a sinner?  False doctrine never makes sense.  Because babes are "of such" as those who are in the kingdom, they are "safe" and do not need to be "saved," which is, after all, the purpose of baptism.

     Finally, Lenski’s view of baptism itself leaves something to be desired.  He does say some good things about it, to be sure.  Truly baptism is not merely a symbol which does not give or convey anything but only pictures something, an outward expression of an inward grace as many teach.  Yet at the same time it is indeed an act of obedience (Romans 6:17-18, Hebrews 5:8-9).  It is a law (Romans 8:2, James 1:25).  It is possible only for an adult (note Acts 8:12).  Nowhere do the scriptures even intimate that baptism is a sacrament, an act of God by which he adopts us as children.  Rather, it is an act performed by an individual in response to God’s word after he has believed and repented (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38).  By this he meets God’s conditions of pardon.  This infants cannot do.  Upon the person’s completion of this act, then God has promised to perform His act of declaring that individual’s sins forgiven.  To use Lenski’s own words, who can estimate the wrong thus done to helpless, screaming, kicking babies by bringing them to a "clergyman" at the front of some church to have a little water sprinkled on their heads, even in the name of Christ–especially when God’s word does not authorize it in any way shape or form–since it may prevent them later in life from truly obeying the gospel?

     There is no example in the book of Acts of anyone "baptizing" a baby (claims about the household conversions notwithstanding).  Nor is there any such teaching to that effect in any of the instructional epistles of the New Testament.  It indicates a very weak position for one to run to a passage like Matthew 19:14, that does not even mention baptism, in justifying a human doctrine that cannot be substantiated elsewhere.  The Bible does not say that babies are sinners, that they even need atonement, that they are lost outside the kingdom (at least until such an age as they transgress the law of God), or that baptism is God’s method of conveying His blessings upon them.  Scripture is absolutely silent about baptizing infants and small children.  Therefore, ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11).  We should be satisfied with that alone.   (taken from Faith and Facts; January, 1979; Vol. 7, No. 1; pp. 3-6)


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