A Response to: “Yes, We Baptize Babies”
The Christian News is a weekly journal published by some nice (though misguided) folks associated with the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). A couple of years back (June 30, 1997, p. 22) the paper published the reproduction of an article by Lutheran clergyman Stephen C. F. Kurtzhan, titled: “Yes, we baptize our babies in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” In this piece, Mr. Kurtzhan offers three reasons why infants ought to be “baptized.”
In this article, we would like to carefully examine Mr. Kurtzhan’s arguments in the light of sacred Scripture.
Before introducing the major points of his case, our Lutheran friend makes some preliminary observations to which we must give brief attention. Mr. Kurtzhan contends that with the application of baptismal water, “the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart of the child.” His view is thus: baptism first; later, faith. This is precisely opposite to the order demanded by the Lord. Jesus declared, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is grounded upon faith—not the reverse.
The gentleman then cites Acts 2:38-39, suggesting that baptism is not only for adults, but for “your children” as well. What he fails to comprehend is that the term “children” is employed frequently (as here) in the sense of “offspring.” The Hebrew people were the “children” of Israel, even as adults, centuries after Israel, i.e., Jacob, was dead. “Children” in Acts 2:39 does not denote literal infants; rather it refers to descendants, as in Matthew 27:25: “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
Mr. Kurtzhan then raises this point: “Now some might argue there is no passage in the Bible that commands us to ‘baptize babies.’ But neither is there a passage of Holy Scripture that says God is a Trinity. Yet every Christian believes that.” This reasoning is woefully flawed. His argument really is this: “A” is without authority. But so is “B”—which we believe. Therefore, “A” is scriptural! Is there any logic at all in that? None whatever.
The truth of the matter is, the alleged parallel is without validity. There is ample Bible authority for believing that though deity is one in nature (Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19), the divine essence is manifested in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 1:3; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-4). But where is the evidence that infants were baptized by divine authority in the first century? It simply does not exist, and many of those who practice infant “baptism” are candid enough to admit this.
Let us now turn our attention to Kurtzhan’s three prime arguments in defense of infant baptism.
Infants Among the Nations
Our friend cites the Savior’s commission where “all the nations” are to be discipled by baptism (Matthew 28:19); he then inquires, “[I]s He excluding anybody? . . . Certainly not.” Thus, supposedly, babies are included. The argument is deficient for several reasons.
First, there is an axiom: whatever proves too much, proves nothing. If it is the case that “all the nations” includes infants, and they therefore are subject to baptism, irrespective of their personal faith, then the phrase also embraces atheists, for they likewise are a part of “the nations.” Would Mr. Kurtzhan contend that Christians ought to pursue all atheists and force baptism upon them (as they do with infants), simply because they are of “the nations”? We do not think so.
Second, the term “nations” is a neuter gender form in the original language, whereas the pronoun “them” (“baptizing them”) is masculine. “Them” thus refers to those individually discipled and not to “nations” generally.
Third, no interpretation may be placed upon Matthew 28:19 which makes this text contradict others which clearly require faith preliminary to baptism (e.g., Mark 16:16). But let us note what several Lutheran scholars have said regarding this passage. Lutz, a theologian and historian, asserted that “infant baptism is essentially excluded” by the language of the Commission (310). Meyer, one of the most renowned of Lutheran commentators, argued that Matthew 28:19 contains ethical instruction that must accompany baptism: “That being the case, infant baptism cannot possibly have been contemplated” (1884, 530-31). Olshausen, another prominent scholar, in commenting upon Matthew’s account of the commission, charged that infant baptism represents a non-apostolic digression from the original ordinance (1860, 186). Any attempt to establish a case for pedo-baptism on the basis of Matthew 28:19 is an exercise in futility.
Babies Are Sinful
With no seeming sense of embarrassment, Mr. Kurtzhan writes: “[B]abies are sinful. They also need the forgiveness of sins.” He cites Psalm 51:5, where David exclaims, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”
Let me make two points that counter the gentleman’s assertion regarding this passage.
First, David’s descriptive is a poetic affirmation, charged with the drama of hyperbole. The language merely suggests that, relatively speaking, the bulk of one’s life is characterized by sin. The passage does not literally affirm that infants are conceived in sin and birthed in iniquity. (Note: if babies are actual sinners from the point of conception, then our Lutheran friends ought to practice fetal baptism, even as Roman Catholics do.)
But consider a parallel reference from the book of Job. In defending himself against the false charge that he had neglected the needy, the godly patriarch affirmed that “from my youth [the orphan] grew up with me as a father, and [the widow] have I guided from my mother’s womb” (Job 31:18). If one adopts Kurtzhan’s method of reasoning, Job, on the day of his birth, was out and about caring for the fatherless and the widow!
The Bible does not teach that infants are sinners. In fact, just the opposite is suggested in numerous passages (cf. Isaiah 7:15; Matthew 18:3; 1 Corinthians 14:20).
Second, even if one could establish that children are contaminated with sin (which cannot be done), such still would not prove the case for infant baptism. Atheists are sinners, but they are not candidates for baptism until they, by means of instruction, arrive at the point of faith—because belief must precede immersion (Mark 16:16). So, similarly, infants are not qualified for baptism until they reach that stage in life where they can be taught the gospel and become believers.
Infants Can Believe
It is obvious that Mr. Kurtzhan feels the pressure of the argument that faith must accompany baptism, for he attempts to argue the case that babies can believe. Hear him:
[B]abies can believe. That sounds remarkable doesn’t it? [It certainly does!] But it’s true, because faith is not a good work, or an act, or a decision that we make on our own. Faith is a gift of God, the Holy Spirit. Since faith is a gift, God can create it in the heart of a child just as much as He can create it in the heart of an adult.
The gentleman goes on to cite Matthew 18:6 (“these little ones that believe on me”) to buttress his claim that infants can believe, and therefore are subject to baptism. There is so much wrong with this argument that it is difficult to know where to begin in reviewing it. But consider the following:
In Matthew 18:1ff (cf. 19:14), the Lord used a little child as a visual aid to teach a particular truth to his disciples. The Master said, “Except you [adult disciples] become as little children, you shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Note the Savior’s use of a simile—as little children. A comparison is not made with itself. The Lord then speaks of tender believers who are child-like in disposition, and warns against causing such a one to stumble.
Kurtzhan’s problem is that he confuses the illustration (the child) with its object (the new believer). Olshausen, a prominent Lutheran scholar, states that Matthew 19:14 contains “not the slightest trace” of reference to infant baptism (186).
Faith is a gift from God only in the sense that the Creator provides the evidence for the generation of faith, and so provides us with the opportunity to believe. Faith is rather similar to repentance. The Lord “granted” the Gentiles “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), but they had to exercise their wills in the actual repenting (Luke 13:3, 5). It is foolish to argue that faith is a mere gift from God, void of human responsibility, when the New Testament approaches believing as a command to be obeyed (Acts 16:31).
And consider this: if faith is merely a “gift” from God, who is at fault if one does not possess it? Some appear to give no forethought to the consequences of their arguments.
The Scriptures nowhere teach that the Holy Spirit directly generates faith in anyone’s heart—child or adult. Paul affirms: “So belief comes of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). There is no example anywhere in the Bible of a person possessing faith apart from instruction (cf. Acts 8:5-13; 16:32-34). No one can cite a solitary case where anyone has ever had “faith” in Jesus Christ generated in his heart—apart from an exposure to the gospel message.
Logic demands that if a baby is capable of “belief,” then it also is capable of “disbelief.” These are two sides of the same coin. How do Lutheran clergymen determine which infants are the believers and which are atheists? It is certain they cannot interrogate them. Do “atheistic babies” who die in infancy go to hell? Jesus said, “He who disbelieves shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Lutheran Scholars and Infant Baptism
Many Lutheran scholars have been honest enough to acknowledge there simply is no evidence for infant baptism in the New Testament. We introduce the following testimony, as chronicled by J. W. Shepherd (240ff):
Willibald Beyschlag, professor of theology at the University of Halle wrote: “The New Testament contains neither command for, nor example of infant baptism.”
Christian Bunsen confessed that pedo-baptism “was utterly unknown in the early Church,” and not practiced until the middle of the third century.
Philip Hahn, a prominent theologian, acknowledged that baptism, according “to its original character and design” was administered “only to adults.”
Karl Holsten, professor of theology at Heidelburg University, said there is neither “a precedent nor an example of infant baptism” in the New Testament. Quotations of this nature could be multiplied many times over.
The fact is, infant baptism is no more than a human tradition. It has no higher authority than fallible man. It represents a digression from the New Testament order of things and ought to be abandoned by conscientious people who respect biblical authority. There are eternal consequences associated with advocating this error. As Schweitzer acknowledges: “[I]f Christian baptism is only for those who have enough faith to repent and believe, we are wrong and hypocritical to baptize anyone who is too young to exhibit these qualities” (1999, 14).
- Lutz, John Ludwig Samuel. Quoted in Stier’s Words of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 8 (Edinburgh, Scotland).
- Meyer, H. A. W. 1884. Commentary on the New Testament. New York, NY: n.p.
- Olshausen, Hermann. 1860. Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 4. Edinburgh, Scotland: Sheldon & Co.
- Schweitzer, Keith. 1999. The Christian News, December 6.
- Shepherd, J. W. 1950. Handbook on Baptism. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.