On Baptism, Babies, and Salvation…

January 14, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

I received the following question recently concerning the Lutheran Church’s stance on the baptism of babies. Because this is a perennial question, I thought it might be helpful to post my answer on my blog. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Question:  Would you please explain the baptism of babies?  Do you think this is a salvation experience?  If so, why?

There are really two parts to this question.  The first has to do with the baptism of babies and whether or not such an action is appropriate.  I would say it certainly is. Biblically, the “household references” which surround baptism are pertinent to understanding the baptism of infants.  A few examples will suffice:

  • Acts 15:14-15 The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.

  • Acts 16:31, 33 “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household”…At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

  • 1 Corinthians 1:16 “I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.”

  • This is just a sampling of the “household references” which surround baptism.  This term “household” refers not only to adults, but also to children.  Again, we do well to consider just a few biblical and historical references of households which include children:

  • 1 Samuel 22:16, 18-19 And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.

  • This reference is significant because the “father’s house” in verse 16 is explicitly connected to those who are children and infants in verse 19.

  • Genesis 17:12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not your offspring.

  • Again, this reference is significant because eight-day old infants are considered to be part of one’s household.

  • Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 13:1  “Greetings to the families of my brothers, along with their wives and children.”

  • This greeting, written by the church father Ignatius around the turn of the second century, simply and logically notes that households include children.

    The weight of the above evidence suggests that when a “household” was baptized, children too were included.

    Now, on the second part of the question:  “Even if children were baptized in the early church, what’s the point?  Is baptism a salvation experience?”  Again, the answer to this question is unequivocally, “Yes.”  The witness of Scripture is clear:

  • Acts 2:37-39 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

  • Note here that baptism is connected to forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit, both marks of salvation.  Not only that, but “children” are specifically mentioned, once again emphasizing the importance of baptizing even our youngest.

  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

  • A couple of things are notable about this passage.  First, Peter explicitly connects baptism to salvation.  There can be no doubt as to baptism’s salvific work.  Second, in verse 21, Peter maintains that the water of water of Noah’s flood “symbolizes” the water of baptism.  The Greek word for “symbolizes” is antitypos, meaning a “copy” or “knock-off” the original (see Hebrews 9:24 where the earthly temple is an antitypos of the heavenly one).  Peter is arguing, then, that the water of Noah’s flood was only a knock off of the water that God was already anticipating in baptism. Baptism is bigger than the flood!  Thus, baptism is clearly fundamental to God’s will and work in history and in our lives.

    Whenever baptism is hailed as a “salvation experience,” the inevitable objection arises:  “But I thought Jesus saved!  How can you say that splashing some water on someone will save them?”  Martin Luther addresses this objection when he writes:

    Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these [salvific] things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.  For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no baptism.  But with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. (SC Baptism 3)

    Luther reminds us that Baptism is no good if God does not show up.  Baptism does not save us without Jesus.  Rather, through baptism, Jesus comes to us and saves us.  He declares us to be his children, even as the Father announced Jesus to be his beloved Son when he was baptized (cf. Matthew 3:13-17).

    Baptism, then, is no magic trick where water is sprinkled on a baby and that water somehow saves them.  Nor is baptism to be used as an insurance policy against hell, where a parent brings their child to be baptized and then never brings them to worship or teaches them the tenets of the faith, believing that, by some mysterious, inherent, undefined virtue in a baptism performed years ago, their child will be saved.  God’s Word and baptism must go hand in hand, as Jesus himself teaches:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word go together.  For it is there that we meet Jesus.  And it is there that Jesus saves us.

    And so, we continue to baptize.  And we continue to share God’s Word.  And God continues to work to save people like you and me.  And so we thank God, who has given us baptism and his Word through which we can meet him and meet with him.

    Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at

    Entry filed under: Theological Questions.

    ABC Extra – Luke 2:22-33 ABC Extra – Psalm 119:101-105

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