Sacrament of Baptism:
Definition of Terms:
Infant baptism is a central practice in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and in Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran traditions where infant baptism is seen as a sacrament. It is also practiced in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches where Baptism is viewed as a sign of God’s covenant and grace. While some variations within this tradition may emphasize believer’s baptism, many still practice infant baptism as a sign of inclusion in the covenant community.
The practice of infant baptism is rooted in various theological, historical, and scriptural reasons. Infant baptism is seen as a means of cleansing the infant from this original sin and initiating them into the community of faith. The grace received in Baptism is not dependent on an individual’s understanding or decision, but is a gift from God. It acknowledges that God’s grace is at work even in the lives of infants who cannot yet comprehend it.
Baptism also signifies inclusion in the Christian community, with the expectation that they will be raised within the Christian faith and eventually come to a personal understanding and commitment. This is integral to the concept of Covenantal Theology. Just as circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the Old Testament, baptism is seen as the New Testament counterpart. Infants are baptized as a sign of being included in God’s covenant community and the promise of God’s grace.
Although the Bible doesn’t directly address infant baptism, it does contain verses highlighting the significance of children and households within God’s covenant. In Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17, Jesus welcomes children and underscores the importance of receiving the kingdom of God with childlike faith. Acts 2:38-39 sees Peter preaching about repentance and baptism, extending the promise of salvation to believers and their children.
In the New Testament, there are instances of entire households being baptized. For instance, Acts 16:15 mentions Lydia’s household being baptized, and Acts 16:31-34 describes the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his entire household. The mention of entire households being baptized suggests the possibility of infant inclusion.
While these passages don’t explicitly mention infants, it’s reasonable to assume their inclusion. This position is supported by a deeper understanding of infant baptism and it’s underlying Biblical theology. The historical practice of infant baptism has always been rooted in Covenant Theology and the concept of Recapitulation and Reburth.
Covenantal theology views God’s relationship with humanity as a series of covenants. In the Old Testament, the Abrahamic covenant included the practice of circumcision as a sign of inclusion in the covenant community. Circumcision was performed on male infants as a physical mark of their belonging to God’s chosen people. This covenantal practice highlighted the continuity of faith from one generation to the next. Covenantal theology emphasized the inclusion of entire households in the covenant. In the Old Testament, households were included in the covenant through the head of the household.
In the New Testament, baptism is seen as the new covenant counterpart to circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), symbolizing entry into the Christian community. Just as circumcision marked entry into the Old Testament covenant community, baptism is seen as the symbol of initiation into the new covenant community in Christ. Just as entire households were included in the Old Covenant, the New Testamentsuggests that entire households were baptized into the New Covenant (e.g., Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31-34) In these cases, if the head of the household believed, the entire household was baptized, which would likely have included infants.
One of the key points in covenantal theology is that salvation is not solely dependent on individual understanding or belief. Just as infants were included in the Old Testament covenant community without their understanding, proponents of infant baptism argue that baptism is a means of grace extended to infants as well. Just as children were present when Jesus blessed them and laid His hands on them (Mark 10:13-16), infant baptism is a continuation of this blessing, connecting children to Christ’s healing and restorative power. It’s a way of acknowledging that God’s grace is at work even before a person can fully comprehend it. The emphasis is this placed on God’s grace and the promise of salvation, rather than the child’s intellectual capacity to understand the faith.
Recapitulation is the idea that Christ’s work restores and fulfills what was lost in Adam’s fall. Through Christ’s death and Resurrection, He merited for us the grace to be born again in His new creation. Baptism is seen as a means of participating in Christ’s work, signifying this rebirth and restoration. Just as Adam’s sin affected all humanity, baptism offers an opportunity for infants to be cleansed from original sin and reborn in Christ’s new creation (John 3:5).
According to the doctrine of original sin, humanity inherited a fallen nature due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Recapitulation theology emphasizes Christ as the new Adam who undoes the effects of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12-21, 1 Cor. 15:45-49). Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are seen as a process of recreating and restoring what was lost. Baptism is considered a participation in this redemptive process. Infant baptism, within this framework, is a “rebirth” where the individual is made new in Christ, undoing the effects of the original sin.
Baptism is viewed as a symbol of dying to the old self and being raised to new life in Christ. Baptism becomes a means of initiating them into the new creation that Christ inaugurated, providing them with a new identity in Christ and delivering them from the consequences of the Fall;
1. Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
2. Colossians 2:12: “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
3. Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
4. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
The Early Church:
The Early Church practiced infant baptism as a means of initiating infants into the Christian community, emphasizing the idea of spiritual purification and inclusion in the covenant. The writings of the Church Fathers are full of examples that demonstrate the belief in infant baptism, such as Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235 AD), who in his work “The Apostolic Tradition”, wrote:
“Also, baptize the little children first; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.”
There were, however, certain individuals and groups that expressed varied beliefs about infant baptism. These individuals and groups didn’t reject infant baptism outright, but rather held differing opinions on either the timing that baptism should occur or the efficacy of baptism under certain conditions.
For example, Hippolytus also argued for re-baptism in cases where individuals had been baptized outside of the orthodox Christian community, particularly among heretical groups or schismatic sects. He believed that baptisms performed by heretical groups were invalid, and that the authority to baptize rested with the orthodox Christian community. Therefore, he advocated for re-baptism of those who had been baptized by heretics as a way to cleanse them from the taint of false teachings and ensure their true initiation into the faith.
Another early example is found in Cyprian of Carthage’s letter “Epistle 64,” which he wrote to a fellow bishop named Fidus around the year 252 AD. In this letter, Cyprian responds to Fidus’s inquiry about whether it is acceptable to baptize infants on the second or third day after birth instead of waiting for the eighth day, as was the practice with circumcision in the Old Testament. Cyprian’s main argument is that baptism does not need to follow the timing of circumcision because they are distinct sacraments with different theological meanings.
Cyprian argued for the necessity of infant baptism to cleanse them from original sin. He emphasized that baptism was a gift from God, not dependent on personal understanding. Cyprian wrote;
“But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day… In which thing you are so far from truth and the practice of the Church, that on the contrary you stand alone against all, and dispute in opposition to the whole world.”
An early heretical group known as the Montanists were a rigorist sect that believed in a stricter form of Christianity and considered themselves more spiritually pure, leading them to re-baptize those who had received baptism from mainstream churches. The Montanists believed in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through prophecy and ecstatic experiences, and they claimed that the orthodox church had become corrupt. Tertullian, an influential early Christian writer and theologian, later became associated with this movement.
Tertullian’s views on re-baptism evolved over time and were influenced by the Montanists. Initially, Tertullian held a similar stance to Hippolytus, advocating for re-baptism of those who had been baptized outside the Catholic Church. However, as he aligned more closely with the Montanists, he adopted a more radical position. He believed that serious sin, such as murder and adultery, committed after Baptism should not be forgiven through Confession and Penance. When Pope Callixtus I disagreed with him, Tertullian eventually argued that the Catholic Church had lost its legitimacy due to what he saw as compromise and corruption and began to support re-baptism not only for those baptized by heretics but also for those baptized within the Catholic Church.
In the early fourth century, another heretical group known as Donatists emerged in North Africa that questioned the validity of sacraments performed by clergy who had lapsed or renounced their faith during times of persecution. The Donatists believed that sacraments administered by such clergy were invalid, including baptism. They insisted on re-baptism for those who had been baptized by clergy tainted by perceived impurity or compromise. They believed that the sacraments should only be administered by “pure” clergy within their schismatic movement.
The Donatists’ insistence on re-baptism was a manifestation of their broader disagreements with the mainstream church and their emphasis on maintaining purity within the Christian community. Augustine, one of the most influential theologians in the early church, defended infant baptism against the Donatist heresy. He argued that baptism was a means of removing original sin and granting salvation and was effective no matter the spiritual state of the minister as long as the proper intention was there.
The Protestant Reformation:
The Anabaptists were a radical reform movement that emerged during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The term “Anabaptist” comes from the Greek words “ana” (meaning “again”) and “baptizo” (meaning “I baptize”), which reflects their distinctive practice of re-baptizing adults who had previously undergone infant baptism. Anabaptists believed in “believer’s baptism,” which means that baptism should only be administered to individuals who have consciously made a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
The Anabaptists often faced persecution and condemnation from both Catholic and Protestant authorities. The Anabaptists’ rejection of infant baptism, their call for the separation of church and state, and their advocacy for a voluntary and committed church membership clashed with the views of mainstream Protestant leaders.
Martin Luther viewed them as radicals who threatened the stability of society and the authority of the state. While Luther himself emphasized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, he believed baptism to be the vehicle by which this was accomplished since infants need not “earn” their salvation. He also believed in the authority of secular rulers to enforce religious uniformity. Luther condemned the Anabaptists’ rejection of infant baptism and their call for the voluntary nature of the church.
Ulrich Zwingli, a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, had theological disagreements with the Anabaptists. While Zwingli’s reforms were comprehensive, he still adhered to the practice of infant baptism and believed that the state should play a role in church affairs. Zwingli held public debates with the Anabaptists, and his disagreements with them led to conflicts and, in some cases, violence. The authorities in Zurich, influenced by Zwingli’s teachings, ordered the execution of Felix Manz, an Anabaptist leader, in 1527. He was drowned in the Limmat River, marking one of the early instances of execution due to religious differences during the Reformation period.
John Calvin considered the Anabaptists to be heretics due to their rejection of infant baptism and their emphasis on direct revelation. Calvin also believed that the church and the state should work together to promote a godly society. Calvin’s theological views and his influence on the city of Geneva led to the expulsion and mistreatment of Anabaptists within that region. In 1547, Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician and theologian, was executed in Geneva on charges of heresy. Calvin’s role in the prosecution of such individuals is a point of historical and ethical reflection.
The Anabaptists were often labeled as extremists and were subject to persecution, exile, and even execution in various regions. The response from mainstream Protestant leaders contributed to the Anabaptists’ isolation and their subsequent development of communities separate from both Catholic and Protestant institutions. This reaction to the Anabaptist movement, although abominable, illustrates just how radical their view of infant baptism was at the time.
In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.
1 Cor. 1:16
I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.
1 Pet. 3:21
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
“And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’
”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Church Father Quotes:
Irenaeus of Lyons
“He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).
Hippolytus of Rome
“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).
Origen of Alexandria
“Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous” (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
“If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another” (ibid., 64:5).
Gregory of Nazianz
“Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).
“‘Well enough,’ some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?’ Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger. Better that they be sanctified unaware, than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated” (ibid., 40:28).
“You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).
Augustine of Hippo
“What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).
“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).
“Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born” (Letters 166:8:23 [A.D. 412]).
“By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive . . . gives also the most hidden grace of his Spirit to believers, grace which he secretly infuses even into infants. . . . If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this. . . . The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43 [A.D. 412]).
The Second Council of Mileum
“[W]hoever says that infants fresh from their mothers’ wombs ought not to be baptized, or say that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin of Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration . . . let him be anathema [excommunicated]. Since what the apostle [Paul] says, ‘Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so passed to all men, in whom all have sinned’ [Rom. 5:12], must not be understood otherwise than the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration” (Canon 3 [A.D. 416]).
The Epistle of Barnabas
“Now let us see if the Lord has been at any pains to give us a foreshadowing of the waters of baptism and of the cross. Regarding the former, we have the evidence of Scripture that Israel would refuse to accept the washing which confers the remission of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Jer. 22:13; Is. 16:1-2, 33:16-18; Ps. 1:3-6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, `Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.’ Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls” (11:1-10 [circa A.D. 70]).
The Shepherd of Hermas
” ‘I have heard, sir,’ said I, ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is’” (The Shepherd 4:3:1-2 [A.D. 140]).
“They had need [the Shepherd said] to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive, for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God and entered into the kingdom of God. For,’ he said, ‘before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal he puts mortality aside and again receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water. They go down into the water dead [in sin], and come out of it alive” (Ibid. 9:16:2-4).
Theophilus of Antioch
“Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration–all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God” (To Autolycus 12:16 [A.D. 181]).
“Whoever are convinced and believe that what they are taught and told by us is the truth, and professes to be able to live accordingly, is instructed to pray and to beseech God in fasting for the remission of their former sins, while we pray and fast with them. Then they are led by us to a place where there is water, and they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: In the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing of water. For Christ said, ‘Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.’…The reason for doing this, we have learned from the Apostles” (The First Apology 61:14-17 [inter A.D. 148-155]).
Tertullian of Carthage
“A treatise on our sacrament of water, by which the sins of our earlier blindness are washed away and we are released for eternal life will not be superfluous…. Taking away death by the washing away of sins. The guilt being removed, the penalty, of course, is also removed…. Baptism itself is a corporal act by which we are plunged into the water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins” (On Baptism 1:1, 5:6, 7:2 [inter A.D. 200-206]).
Clement of Alexandria
“When we are baptized we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal… ‘and sons of the Most High’ [Ps. 81:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins, a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted, an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation–that is, by which we see God clearly, and we call that perfection which leaves nothing lacking. Indeed, if a man know God, what more does he need? Certainly, it were out of place to call that which is not complete a true gift of God’s grace. Because God is perfect the gifts he bestows are perfect” (The Instructor of Children, 1:6:26:1 [ante A.D. 202]).
Origen of Alexandria
“Formerly there was baptism in an obscure way…now, however, in full view, there is regeneration in water and in the Holy Spirit. Formerly, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the Word of God, as he himself says: ‘My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink’ (John 6:56) (Homilies on Numbers 7:2 [post A.D. 244]).
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which are washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [Post A.D. 244]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man” (To Donatus 4 [circa A.D. 246]).
Aphrahat the Persian Sage
“From baptism we receive the spirit of Christ. At that same moment in which the priests invoke the Spirit, heaven opens, and he descends and rests upon the waters, and those who are baptized are clothed in him. The Spirit is absent from all those who are born of the flesh, until they come to the water of rebirth, and then they receive the Holy Spirit….[I]n the second birth, that through baptism, they receive the Holy Spirit” (Treatises 6:14:4 [inter A.D. 336-345]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
“If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation. The only exception is the martyrs, who, even without water, will receive baptism, for the Savior calls martyrdom a baptism (cf. Mark 10:38)….Bearing your sins, you go down into the water; but the calling down of grace seals your soul and does not permit that you afterwards be swallowed up by the fearsome dragon. You go down dead in your sins, and you come up made alive in righteousness” (Catechetical Lectures 3:10,12 [circa A.D. 350]).
Basil the Great
“For prisoners, baptism is ransom, forgiveness of debts, death of sin, regeneration of the soul, a resplendent garment, an unbreakable seal, a chariot to heaven, a protector royal, a gift of adoption” (Sermons on Moral and Practical Subjects: On Baptism 13:5 [ante A.D. 379]).
Ambrose of Milan
“The Lord was baptized, not to be cleansed himself but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of baptism. Whoever comes, therefore, to the washing of Christ lays aside his sins” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 2:83 [circa A.D. 389]).
“This much you must know, that baptism forgives past sins, but it does not safeguard future justice, which is preserved by labor and industry and diligence and depends always and above all on the mercy of God” (Dialogue Against the Pelagians 3:1 [A.D. 415]).
“By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive,…gives also the most hidden grace of his Spirit to believers, grace which he secretly infuses even into infants….It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s Body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture too…If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this…The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43 [A.D. 412]).
“As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, and instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19], they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]” (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).
“‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).
“[N]o one can attain salvation without baptism, especially in view of the declaration of the Lord, who says, ‘Unless a man shall be born of water, he shall not have life’” (Baptism 12:1 [A.D. 203]).
“The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and he, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the Spirit of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all ye kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany 8 [A.D. 217]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“[When] they receive also the baptism of the Church . . . then finally can they be fully sanctified and be the sons of God . . . since it is written, ‘Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’” (Letters 71:1 [A.D. 253]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
“Since man is of a twofold nature, composed of body and soul, the purification also is twofold: the corporeal for the corporeal and the incorporeal for the incorporeal. The water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul. . . . When you go down into the water, then, regard not simply the water, but look for salvation through the power of the Spirit. For without both you cannot attain to perfection. It is not I who says this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter. And he says, ‘Unless a man be born again,’ and he adds the words ‘of water and of the Spirit,’ ‘he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ He that is baptized with water, but is not found worthy of the Spirit, does not receive the grace in perfection. Nor, if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but does not receive the seal by means of the water, shall he enter the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine; for it is Jesus who has declared it” (Catechetical Lectures 3:4 [A.D. 350]).
“[A]s we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened” (Four Discourses Against the Arians 3:26 [A.D. 360]).
Basil the Great
“This then is what it means to be ‘born again of water and Spirit’: Just as our dying is effected in the water [Rom. 6:3; Col. 2:12–13], our living is wrought through the Spirit. In three immersions and an equal number of invocations the great mystery of baptism is completed in such a way that the type of death may be shown figuratively, and that by the handing on of divine knowledge the souls of the baptized may be illuminated. If, therefore, there is any grace in the water, it is not from the nature of water, but from the Spirit’s presence there” (The Holy Spirit 15:35 [A.D. 375]).
Ambrose of Milan
“Although we are baptized with water and the Spirit, the latter is much superior to the former, and is not therefore to be separated from the Father and the Son. There are, however, many who, because we are baptized with water and the Spirit, think that there is no difference in the offices of water and the Spirit, and therefore think that they do not differ in nature. Nor do they observe that we are buried in the element of water that we may rise again renewed by the Spirit. For in the water is the representation of death, in the Spirit is the pledge of life, that the body of sin may die through the water, which encloses the body as it were in a kind of tomb, that we, by the power of the Spirit, may be renewed from the death of sin, being born again in God” (The Holy Spirit 1:6[75–76] [A.D. 381]).
“The Church was redeemed at the price of Christ’s blood. Jew or Greek, it makes no difference; but if he has believed, he must circumcise himself from his sins [in baptism (Col. 2:11–12)] so that he can be saved . . . for no one ascends into the kingdom of heaven except through the sacrament of baptism. . . . ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (Abraham 2:11:79–84 [A.D. 387]).
Gregory of Nyssa
“[In] the birth by water and the Spirit, [Jesus] himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by his own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things he became the firstborn of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to his own by water and the Spirit” (Against Eunomius 2:8 [A.D. 382]).
Gregory of Nazianz
“Such is the grace and power of baptism; not an overwhelming of the world as of old, but a purification of the sins of each individual, and a complete cleansing from all the bruises and stains of sin. And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the Spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths” (Oration on Holy Baptism 7–8 [A.D. 388]).
“It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated . . . when that infant is brought to baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn. For it is not written, ‘Unless a man be born again by the will of his parents’ or ‘by the faith of those presenting him or ministering to him,’ but, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.’ The water, therefore, manifesting exteriorly the sacrament of grace, and the Spirit effecting interiorly the benefit of grace, both regenerate in one Christ that man who was generated in Adam” (Letters 98:2 [A.D. 412]).
“Those who, though they have not received the washing of regeneration, die for the confession of Christ—it avails them just as much for the forgiveness of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism. For he that said, ‘If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven,’ made an exception for them in that other statement in which he says no less generally, ‘Whoever confesses me before men, I too will confess him before my Father, who is in heaven’” [Matt. 10:32] (The City of God 13:7 [A.D. 419]).
Martin Luther (1483-1546), Father of the Protestant Reformation & Founder of Lutheranism
“Since our baptizing has been thus from the beginning of Christianity and the custom has been to baptize children, and since no one can prove with good reasons that they do not have faith, we should not make changes and build on such weak arguments.” -Concerning Rebaptism,” 1528, Luther’s Works, vol. 40 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1964), 240, 241; henceforth LW.
“Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat. It is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted.” –Large Catechism 4:6
“Question: What gifts or benefits does baptism bestow? Answer: It works the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the word and promise of God declare” (Short Catechism 4:2).
“[I]t is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. . . . To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by men but by God himself. Although it is performed by men’s hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own act. From this fact everyone can easily conclude that it is of much greater value than the work of any man or saint. . . . Therefore it is sheer wickedness and devilish blasphemy when our ‘new spirits’ [Anabaptists], in order to slander baptism, ignore God’s word and ordinance and consider nothing but the water drawn from the well and then babble, ‘How can a handful of water help the soul?’” (Long Catechism 4).
“Our know-it-alls, the ‘new spirits,’ assert that faith alone saves and that works and external things contribute nothing to this end. We answer: . . . Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire gospel is an external, oral proclamation. In short, whatever God effects in us he does through such external ordinances. . . . Hence it follows that whoever rejects baptism rejects God’s word, faith, and Christ, who directs us and binds us to baptism” (ibid.)
John Calvin, Protestant Reformer, Founder of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches
“But I reply, first of all, that infant baptism is not a recent introduction, nor are its origins traceable to the papal church. For I say that it has always been a holy ordinance observed in the Christian church. There is no doctor, however ancient, who does not attest that it has always been observed since the time of the apostles.
I wanted to touch on this point in passing for the sole reason of informing the simple that it is an impudent slander for these fanatics [the Anabaptists] to make others believe that this ancient practice is a recently forged superstition and to feign that it derives from the pope. For the whole ancient church held to infant baptism long before one ever knew about the papacy or had ever heard of the pope.
Besides, I do not ask antiquity to legitimate anything for us unless it is founded on the Word of God. I know that it is not human custom that gives authority to the sacrament, nor does its efficacy depend on how men regulate it. Let us come, therefore, to the true rule of God, of which we have spoken, that is to say, his Word, which alone ought to hold here.
Their view is that one ought to administer baptism only to those who request it, to those who have made a profession of faith and repented. And thus infant baptism is the invention of man, opposed to the word of God.
In order to prove this they cite the passage from Saint Matthew’s last chapter, where Jesus Christ says to his apostles,”Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” To which they add this sentence from the 16th chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” That to them seems an invincible foundation.
… We see that our Lord acted the same way toward Abraham with regard to circumcision. For before he conferred this sign on him he received him into his covenant and instructed him in his Word.
But we must now note that when a man is received of God into the fellowship of the faithful, the promise of salvation which is given to him is not for him alone but also for his children. For it is said to him: “I am thy God, and the God of thy children after thee.” Therefore the man who has not been received into the covenant of God from his childhood is as a stranger to the church until such time as he is led into faith and repentance by the doctrine of salvation. But at the same time his posterity is also made a part of the family of the church. And for this reason infants of believers are baptized by virtue of this covenant, made with their fathers in their name and to their benefit. Herein, thus, lies the mistake of the poor Anabaptists. For since this doctrine must precede the sacrament, we do not resist it.” (John Calvin: Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines, trans., Benjamin Wirt Farley, 1982, pp. 44–47.)
“But how, they [rebaptizers] ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. . . . But to silence this class of objectors, God gave, in the case of John the Baptist, whom he sanctified from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), a proof of what he might do in others. They gain nothing by the quibble to which they here resort, viz., that this was only once done, and, therefore, it does not forthwith follow that the Lord always acts thus with infants. That is not the mode in which we reason. Our only object is to show, that they unjustly and malignantly confine the power of God within limits, within which it cannot be confined.” –Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1995), Book IV, Chapter 16, “Paedobaptism. Its Accordance with the Institution of Christ, and the Nature of the Sign,” section 3, page 541
“In fine, the objection [that repentance and faith precede baptism] is easily disposed of by the fact, that children are baptised for future repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both lies hid in them by the secret operation of the Spirit.” –Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1995), Book IV, Chapter 16, “Paedobaptism. Its Accordance with the Institution of Christ, and the Nature of the Sign,” section 20, page 543
Ulrich Zwingli, Protestant Reformer
“In this matter of baptism — if I may be pardoned for saying it — I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles. . . . All the doctors have ascribed to the water a power which it does not have and the holy apostles did not teach.” –Huldrych Zwingli, “On Baptism,” Zwingli and Bullinger, in The Library of Christian Classics, Vol. 24, Edited by G. W. Bromiley, p. 130.
““For how is the testament and covenant the same if our children are not equally with those [of the Jews] of the church and people of God? Is Christ less kind to us than to the Hebrews? God forbid!” -Ulrich Zwingli comparing baptism to circumcision. Huldrych Zwingli, “Notes on Refuting Baptist Tricks,” in Selected Works, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1901), p. 236.
“Since, therefore, the children of the Hebrews have always been counted with the Church with their parents, and the divine promise is sure, it is clear that the children of Christians belong to the Church of Christ just as much as their parents. This promise is not conveyed in baptism, but he to whom it has been previously given is baptized, that by a visible sign he may bear witness that he is of the number of those who through the goodness of God are called the people of God. Here surely nothing new is brought in, but that which has been previously given is recognized by a religious rite, and the name is given when the symbol and pledge have been received.” -Huldreich Zwingli, The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli, ed. William John Hinke (Philadelphia: Heidelberg Press, 1922), 2.194–95
“Hence it follows that water-baptism was given even when there was no faith, and it was received even by those who did not believe.” –Zwingli, “Of Baptism,” translated and edited by Rev. G. W. Bromiley, in Zwingli and Bullinger, vol. 24, Library of Christian Classics, eds., John Baillie, John T. McNeil, and Henry P. van Dusen (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1953), 135. Note this work dates from May 1525.
Martin Bucer (1491-1551)
Protestant Reformer in Strasbourg, Germany
“We confess and teach that holy baptism . . . is in the case of adults and of young children truly a baptism of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whereby those who are baptised have all their sins washed away, are buried into the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, are incorporated into him and put on him for the death of their sins, for a new and godly life and the blessed resurrection, and through him become children and heirs of God.” –Martin Bucer, “A Brief Summary of Christian Doctrine,” 1548, in Common Places of Martin Bucer, trans. and ed. David F. Wright, 85.
Dale Moody, theologian & professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“A baptismal hymn in Titus 3:4–7 is thelocus classicus on baptism in relation to regeneration . . . Baptism in relation to the whole process of salvation brings further focus on the primacy of faith. Another baptismal hymn found in 1 Peter 3:18–22 does indeed declare that, after the antitype of Noah’s flood, ‘baptism now saves’” –The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation, pg 466 (1981).
James McClendon Jr. (1924–2000), Anabaptist theologian
“How can some gallons of water (and some words) make outsiders insiders, beget anew, banish sin, merge our lives with the risen One’s life, transmit God’s Holy Spirit? How can any rite admit, or convert, or identify, or endue?. . . It will not be enough to point out that it is God and not the Christian assembly, God and not the candidate, who does these things, for while in Scripture the believer, the community, Christ, and the Spirit are all depicted as active agents in baptism, Scripture also speaks of the baptismal act itself as effectual (cf. Luke 3:16, 1 Cor. 1:14ff, Acts 2:38, with 1 Pet. 3:21)” –Systematic Theology: Doctrine, pg. 387 (1994)
George Raymond Beasley-Murray (1916-2000) Baptist scholar & Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Known for what became the standard work on Baptism in the New Testament
“The rite of baptism is not only God’s appointed way of his either bestowing or confirming the gift of the Holy Spirit (i.e., regeneration) and of our entering into the church of Christ, but it is also the means by which the new Christian testifies to having been born from above and converted to the Lord Jesus Christ” –Born Again: A Biblical and Theological Study of Regeneration, pg. 188 by Peter Toon
Howard Ervin (1915-2009) Pentecostal pastor & professor at Oral Roberts University
“As Noah and his family were saved through water, so baptism, as the fulfillment of the Noachian type, ‘now saves you’ [1 Pet. 3:21]. . . . The salvific event of baptism involves more than the baptismal confession of faith. It is through the resurrection that God’s saving power is extended to mankind. The convert’s baptismal confession is rendered efficacious through the resurrection of Jesus Christ ‘into whose death and resurrection we were baptized.’ Baptism is, therefore, more than an expression of ‘man’s repentance and/or faith to God’” (Conversion, Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 157f).
R. C. Sproul (1939-2017), Reformed Presbyterian pastor & theologian
By the middle of the second century infant baptism “is spoken of as the universal practice of the church. It appears to be occurring everywhere.” -How Then Shall We Worship?: Biblical Principles to Guide Us Today (2013).
J.N.D. Kelly, early Church historian
“From the beginning baptism was the universally accepted rite of admission into the Church. . . . As regards its significance, it was always held to convey the remission of sins. . . . [It is that washing with] the living water which alone can cleanse penitents and which, being a baptism with the Holy Spirit, is to be contrasted with Jewish washings. It is a spiritual rite replacing circumcision, the unique doorway to the remission of sins.” –Early Christian Doctrines