by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Romans 7:7-25
I. Historians will admit that infant baptism did not appear in the church until the second or third century
A. Roman Catholics
1. “There is no express mention of the baptism of infants in the New Testament” [Question Box, page 23].
2. “It is difficult to give strict proof from the scriptures in favor of it.” [Catholic Dictionary, page 61]
3. “There is no express precept or rule given in the New Testament for the baptism of infants.” [Bishop Burnet]
4. “Catholic controversialists soon proved to the Protestants that to be logical and consistent they must admit unwritten tradition. Otherwise by what right did they rest on Sunday and not on Saturday? How could they regard infant baptism as valid, or baptism by infusion?” [Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XV, page 7]
5. In other words, according the Roman Catholics, the practice of infant baptism is based solely on their unwritten traditions and is not found in the Scriptures.
B. Non-Catholics agree
1. “It cannot be proved by the sacred Scriptures that infant baptism was instituted by Christ, or began by the first Christians after the apostles.” [Martin Luther]
2. “I know of no one word in Scripture, that giveth us the least intimation that ever man was baptized without the profession of a saving faith, or that giveth the least encouragement to baptize any upon another’s faith.” [Baxter]
3. Yet, the practice was continued and justified in much the same manner. “Christ did many things that were not recorded, and so did the apostles; whereof this was one, for aught we know, the baptizing of infants.” [Willis]
4. Perhaps most bold, Henry Ward “Beecher said he had no authority from the Bible for the baptism of infants, and that he wanted none; that he had better authority for it that if even the Bible commanded it; that he had tried, and knew from actual experience that it was a good thing; he had the same divine authority for it that he had for making an ox-yoke – it worked well – and, therefore, it was from God.”
C. The earliest mention is Irenaeus in c. AD 180: “For he came to save all through means of Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.” [Against Heresies, vol. 1, p. 391]
D. Origen (185-c. 254) “Baptism according to the practice of the church is given even to infants.”
E. It became a practice of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, both using it before their big break up. Anglicans (and Episcopals), Lutherans, Presbyterians and Reformed churches, and Moravian – all broke away from the Catholic church, but continued this practice. Methodists, who broke from the Anglican, continue the practice. Some Nazarenes, which broke away from Methodists also continue the practice.
II. Why baptize infants?
A. I suspect the initial impulse was to imitate the Jews and have a ritual that would keep children in the church as they grew up.
1. Later justification was sought for a practice already being done.“Ecclesiastical custom with regard to the administration of Baptism has undergone a change in the course of history. Whereas the early Church baptized adults only, the baptism of children soon became the usual practice.” [Pastoral Medicine, pages 32-33]
B. A belief in inherited sin
1. “Where in the fourth and fifth centuries the doctrine of original sin became better known, the practice of infant baptism progressed rapidly.” [Legislation on the Sacraments in the New Code of Canon Law, page 72]
2. “Do babies have to be baptized? Yes, because they have Original Sin in their souls, which means they have no grace.” [Catholic Catechism for Adults, page 71]
3. Origen said, “Infants are baptized for the remission of sins ... that is the reason infants are baptized.”
4. Thus the primary reason for the practice is the belief that children born inheriting Adam’s original sin.
C. A doctrine not taught in the Bible
1. The phrase “original sin” is not found in the Bible, though it accurately describes the sin committed by Adam was the first, or original, sin.
a. But other than the fact that it was the first sin committed, the Bible doesn’t treat Adam’s sin different from any other sin.
2. What has happened is that people have seen the universal nature of sin, the fact that every person, outside of Christ, has been charged with committing sin - Romans 3:23
a. There must be a reason for this!
b. And the conclusion has been that sin is inherited.
3. Sometimes Romans 5:12 is sited as proof, but read Romans 5:12-14
a. Paul does not say that death came to men because they inherited sin.
b. Instead, he says death comes to men because they all actively commit sin.
c. Further, even though everyone is not guilty of the same sin committed by Adam, death still holds sway.
(1) Note that if Adam’s sin was inherited, Paul’s statement could not be true.
(2) We would be all guilty of the same sin, as well as our own.
D. The origin of sin is in law, not Adam
1. Sin is the breaking of law - I John 3:4
a. When you state someone has sinned, you are saying they broke a law
b. Thus sin cannot be inherited.
c. You can personally break a law and thus sin, but you cannot sin because an ancestor of yours broke a law.
d. It is “whoever commits” not “whoever inherits.”
2. Sin is not inheritable - Ezekiel 18:20
a. Given that fundamental truth, then Seth was not guilty of Adam’s sin.
b. He only bore responsibility for his own sins.
3. Sin is tied to the existence of law - Romans 4:15
4. Paul’s discussion of the relation of law and sin - Romans 7:7-25
a. The question being addressed is: if sin comes because of law, is there something in the nature of God’s law that causes people to sin.
b. The answer is a resounding, “No!”
c. Law merely defines sin.
d. But in defining sin, people become aware of sins they might never have thought about on their own.
e. Note Romans 7:9
(1) There was a period in Paul’s life when he was alive (without sin)
(2) That period was when he lived without law
(3) When do people live without law? - Deuteronomy 1:39
f. In Paul’s dilemma concerning the conflict between what he desires to do and what he ends up doing
(1) Nowhere does Paul indicate he inherited sin
(2) The conflict arises from what he does and not from what he receives.
(3) The point remains that Paul, like everyone else, sins
g. What about Romans 7:18?
(1) Paul is acutely aware of the sorry fact that he sinned
(2) He can’t excuse himself because he knows what he ought to have done. His mind, in himself, testifies against his actions.
(3) It is the same reason Paul said the Gentiles were in sin - Romans 2:13-15
E. Some, like Lutherans, try to avoid this obvious fact that sin is not inherited by stating it is not the actual sins, but the nature to commit sins that is inherited.
1. “As a Lutheran I don’t believe we inherit the guilt of specific sins committed by our parents, but I do believe we inherit a sin nature – an innate will toward sin which in itself is sufficient to separate us from God.” [E-mail from a Lutheran minister, 4/25/2007]
2. The guilt of sin is individual - Ezekiel 18:4
a. It is not the soul who inherits sin, but the one that commits sin
3. Isaiah 59:1-2
a. Note “your iniquities” and “your sins” do the separating, not Adam’s
4. If something is inherited that is sufficient to separate us from God, then a dilemma arises in explaining Jesus.
a. He knew no sin - II Corinthians 5:21
b. He committed no sin - I Peter 2:21-22
c. In him there is no sin - I John 3:5
d. What happened to the “innate will toward sin?” - Hebrews 4:15
(1) You cannot excuse him because of his deity or else we cannot claim that Jesus was tempted like man.
(2) It was because the potential for sin existed that it is significant that Jesus lived without sin.
5. Jesus’ life proves that man was never forced to sin.
a. Sin has always been due to man’s free choice
III. Justification for Infant Baptisms Sought
A. Households were baptized - Acts 10:23-24, 47-48; 16:30-34
1. The assumption is made that a household would include children.
2. The problem is that it is not a necessary inference. There are households without children.
3. In addition these households are said to believe. Would that include the children? If anything, it would indicate that small children were not present.
B. Baptism and circumcision are paralleled - Colossians 2:11-13
1. The argument is that children were circumcised, so children can be baptized.
2. This is probably one of the earliest arguments for baptizing children
3. While they are a parallel, they are not exactly the same
a. Only men were circumcised, but men and women are baptized.
b. Baptism puts off sins, which means sins must first exist, which means a child must be old enough to be accountable to the law
c. Faith is required before baptism, which means the person must be old enough to have faith
IV. If infant baptism is required, then what happens to infants who are not baptized?
A. Denominations that believe in predestination say that it depends on whether they were predestined.
B. A few say they end up in hell. This was the teaching of Augustine in the fifth century.
C. The Roman Catholics created a realm they called limbo that was said to be neither heaven or hell.
1. It was a “state of natural happiness.”
2. Recently (April 20, 2007) the Vatican reversed its stance “Our conclusion” is that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness.”
3. To keep from appearing to contradict their earlier stance, they hedged by saying that this new stance is not “sure knowledge.”
4. They still want babies baptized because it is a sacrament of their religion.
5. Of course some object. “It makes baptism a formality, a party, instead of a necessity. There would be no reason for infant baptisms. It would put the Catholic church on par with the Protestants.” [Kenneth J. Wolfe, Catholic newspaper columnist]
6. In a way, he is right. Infant baptism and the belief in original sin go hand-in-hand. If a unbaptized baby can go to heaven, then it means there is no original sin.
V. And so we arrive at what the Bible teaches
A. Children are born sinless - Ecclesiastes 7:29
B. They might do wrong as they grow, but because they have no knowledge of good and evil; that is, because they have no concept of responsibility to the law, they are not held accountable.
C. When they are old enough to know that they are personally responsible to the law, they sin when they break the law they now know exists.
D. They need to turn to Christ, who died for our sins (not Adam’s alone) - I Corinthians 15:3
E. In Christ’s death, through baptism, we wash away our sins (not Adam’s) - Acts 22:16
F. Thereby we are healed - I Peter 2:24