Baptism has been something under debate since before the New Testament cannon was fully put together. Who is supposed to be baptized? What does baptism mean/cause? Should we baptize by immersion or sprinkling? The point of this post is to discuss who should be baptized, and as the article suggests, defend the view of Credo Baptism.
The first thing I want to do is explain the position I am defending. The name Credo Baptism derives from the Latin word “credo” meaning “I believe”, but today it is more commonly referred to as Believer’s Baptism. At the moment of conversion, the believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit. Baptism by water is meant to be an outward representation of that baptism, showing the new life the believer has through Christ. It does not hold any saving value. It is simply a symbol for the internal change that happened at conversion.
I could discuss the tradition of baptism in the early church and debates that have sprung from that. Unfortunately, there is too much material to sift through to deal with all of it in this article. Instead of talking about all that, I want to focus only on what the Bible has to say on the issue. I intend to walk through the Gospels and Acts to see exactly who was baptized and the nature of the baptisms.
Baptism in the Gospels
The first time we see baptism is with John the Baptist and his ministry before the ministry of Christ began. The purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare a way for Jesus (as seen in Mark 1:2-3), and the means of his ministry was through baptism. Nearly every time the Gospels talk about John baptizing people, it is characterized through confession of sin and repentance (Matthew 3:6; 3:11; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3). It is important to note, that these accounts will often say that John preached a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. This does not mean the act of being baptized forgave sins, rather the prepositional phrase is connected to the repentance. Those who repented had their sins forgiven, and as a result, were baptized.
After John’s ministry, baptism mostly is spoken about in the context of baptism of the Holy Spirit. The next time we see baptism in the sense of the symbol we are discussing is in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19. Jesus commands his followers to make disciples by spreading the Gospel, and to baptize them. Clearly the baptism Jesus talks about here isn’t baptism of the Holy Spirit, because if it was the disciples would not have to administer it, so it must be referring to the symbol of baptism.
John only baptized those who understood his words and repented, and Jesus tells his disciples to spread the Gospel, and baptize the new converts. In these cases, the nature of the baptisms is the same. People who believed the words spoken were baptized. Because of the pattern we see, it is safe to believe that we are also to follow that pattern. This isn’t the only place in the new Testament where we see this though. The accounts of baptism in Acts follow the same model.
Baptism in Acts
The Book of Acts gives details about the ministry of the Apostles and early Church after Christ’s ascension, so it is not surprising that we read about many accounts of baptism. They are: Acts 2:41 and the Crowds on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 8:12-13 shows us Simon and others, The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:36, the baptism of Paul in Acts 9:18/22:16, Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:47-48, Lydia and her household in Acts 16:15, The Philippian Jailer and his household in Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8 and the baptism of Crispus and many Corinthians, and the Disciples of John in Acts 19:5.
First I want to deal with the household baptisms. I have spoken with people who have used these passages to say that if a whole household was baptized, it is fair to assume that an infant would have been baptized. I have two problems with that train of thought. First, it is just as fair to say that there were no infants in any of the households as it is to assume there were. It is not explicitly said in the text, so we shouldn’t read it into the text. Secondly, the passages in question don’t actually say that every person in the family was baptized. In Acts 10:47-48, Peter only baptizes those who have already been baptized by the Holy Spirit, and that could only be those who believed the words Peter spoke, not infants. It is a similar case with the Philippian Jailer and his family (Acts 16:33). Paul preached the Gospel to all in his household, and then they were baptized. This infers that the Jailer’s family believed the words Paul spoke, and then were immediately baptized.
At Pentecost, Peter told the crowd to repent and be baptized. The only ones who could follow that command are those who could understand the words that Peter spoke. In Acts 8:36, we read about the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Eunuch asked Philip what the words of the Old Testament meant, and Philip then shared the Gospel with him. The text says that they found water and the Eunuch asked to be baptized. This is another example of one being baptized after hearing and accepting the Gospel.
The book of Acts records the earliest actions of the Church, and the Apostles’ actions are very consistent throughout the book. Baptism was always done to believers after they hear, understand, and fully believe the Gospel. The apostles did not deviate from that pattern, and neither should we.
The Problem with Infant Baptism
I think the problem with infant baptism is straightforward. It is not found anywhere in Scripture. Any verse where people see infant baptism is a result of it being read into the text by the reader. I have discussed why the household baptisms do not support it, and that is the closest to a proof text that most people have. While the logic that baptism acts as the new circumcision makes sense to an extent, it does not fall in line with the model we see in Scripture. Baptism is an outward symbol showing the inner change that happens to a believer.
I want to add that this post is not one I write with the desire to cause division. I would not refuse to be in fellowship with someone who believed in infant baptism (so long as they don’t view it as a means of grace). I know and respect many believers who hold to infant baptism, and some of the most influential church leaders of history have held to it.
To wrap up, I want to say that I think the Bible is clear on the issue as to who should be baptized. All the passages we have looked at here, along with others, have shown that someone should be baptized after they have already put their faith in Christ. It does not hold any special spiritual meaning beyond an outward symbol of the inner change that happened to the believer at conversion.