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  • Writer's pictureTrey Talley

Does NOT Baptizing Babies Keep Them From Jesus?

(6th article of Baptizing Babies is not Biblical)

It is common for baby baptizers to believe that baptism is how babies are brought to Jesus and that to not baptize them would be to keep them from Jesus.[1] If this is true, then what parent would not immediately baptize their baby to get them to Jesus? However, the truth of their reasoning should be scrutinized. As we do so, let's look at the primary passage they draw such a conclusion from:

13Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)



Context, Context, Context.

Supposedly, when it comes to picking out a place for a business, location is everything. Realtors are known for saying location, location, location. Well, when it comes to interpreting Scripture, context is critical. In other words, one should look at the surrounding verses and passages to see if context clues would be of benefit when interpreting a specific passage. When we do this with Matthew 19:13-15, we find that neither the passage in question nor any surrounding passages, chapters, or even the entire Gospel of Matthew mention anything about baby baptism. However, if we look back to the previous chapter, we find a similar passage dealing with children that gives us a clue in determining what is being taught.

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

This passage is an immense help in understanding what is happening in Matthew 19:13-15. First of all, note that in neither of these passages does Jesus say anything about baptism. Instead, the emphasis of the teaching is on the children’s humility in contrast to the disciples’ pride. Jesus continuously reproofed the disciples for jockeying for position in the kingdom. Even on the night of His betrayal, Jesus had to again deal with their lack of humility.[2] Jesus spoke often about not only the pride of the disciples but also the Pharisees and the wealthy, who believed that their position and/or wealth were mighty in the kingdom of God.[3] 

In contrast to the deceitful arrogance of men, Jesus presents the children with the right attitude, that of humble reliance on Him. Jesus makes this point clear as He says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”[4] How can a grown man become like a child so that he can go to heaven? Physically, it is impossible. However, there is a trait that Jesus is pointing out that children possess that is needed among the adults: humility. From this, we can see that Jesus's primary point concerns humility, not baptism. In their arrogance, the disciples physically prevented the children from getting to Jesus. They thought they were doing Jesus a favor by keeping the “less” important ones away from Him. However, Jesus points out that the disciples need what the children have: selflessness, humility, and utter reliance on Him.

But baby baptizers would try to change these passages into teaching that if one is young, one is in the kingdom of heaven. But weren't these disciples once children? If the baby baptizer's interpretation of these passages were accurate, then the disciples who were once children would have already been going to heaven simply because they were once children. Clearly, this is not what Jesus is teaching.

One other point should also be mentioned while we look at Matthew 18 and 19: the children who come to Jesus in Matthew 18 are called "believers."

5Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6)

If the children who come to Jesus in chapter 18 are believers, then it is likely that the children who come to Jesus in chapter 19 are also believers. The word used for children in both instances does not demand that children be babies but is used often in the Bible to describe a wide range of children. Some baby baptizers go out of their way to try to prove that the children were babies in chapter 19 because they were brought to Jesus, but anyone with children knows that children, not just babies, are usually accompanied by their parents.

Whose Kids?

Baby baptizers would like to take authorial license in assuming that the parents, or at least one of the parents, of the children who came to Jesus were believers and, therefore, their children were automatically in the covenant, and that is why Jesus says what He does about the children.[5] Writing on these passages, baby baptizer Doug Wilson states, “Little children and infants of believers are expressly included by Christ in the kingdom of God, in the kingdom of heaven.”[6] However, we do not know anything about the parents of the children who came to Jesus. If parents were the deciding factor, then surely Jesus would have mentioned it. However, there is no mention of these children’s parents. This setting would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to state that these kids are members of heaven due to their parents' beliefs. However, nothing about the parents' faith is mentioned. Pondering the status of their parents should lead to more questions than answers for the baby baptizers. Had these mothers, or the children's fathers, already believed in Christ? If so, had they already been baptized by John the Baptist or the disciples? If the parents had been baptized and had been believers, then according to baby baptizers, the babies would have been baptized when the parents were baptized. Long story short, there is nothing in this passage about baptism or whether or not the parents were already believers.

Going Too Far.

To use these passages to teach baby baptism, one rides a theological razor's edge because their claim of children being in the kingdom of God before belief, before Jesus blesses them, or they are baptized would teach that all children are automatically saved. John Calvin, a great theologian in many regards, was one such baby baptizer who went too far. I'll use him as an example since, even today, many baby baptizers draw on his teaching to support their practice. Calvin's animosity towards believer’s only baptism led him to try to prove too much for baby baptism. Read the following quotes, and I believe you will understand what I mean.

To exclude from the grace of redemption those who are of that age would be too cruel; and therefore it is not without reason that we employ this passage as a shield against the Anabaptists. They refuse baptism to infants, because infants are incapable of understanding that mystery which is denoted by it. We, on the other hand, maintain that, since baptism is the pledge and figure of the forgiveness of sins, and likewise of adoption by God, it ought not to be denied to infants, whom God adopts and washes with the blood of his Son. Their objection, that repentance and newness of life are also denoted by it, is easily answered. Infants are renewed by the Spirit of God, according to the capacity of their age, till that power which was concealed within them grows by degrees, and becomes fully manifest at the proper time.[7]

For we must not lightly overlook the fact, that our Saviour, in ordering little children to be brought to him, adds the reason, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And he afterwards testifies his good-will by act, when he embraces them, and with prayer and benediction commends them to his Father. If it is right that children should be brought to Christ, why should they not be admitted to baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven is theirs, why should they be denied the sign by which access, as it were, is opened to the Church, that being admitted into it they may be enrolled among the heirs of the heavenly kingdom? How unjust were we to drive away those whom Christ invites to himself, to spoil those whom he adorns with his gifts, to exclude those whom he spontaneously admits.[8]

Supposedly, Calvin did not believe in baptismal regeneration; at least he states that of adult baptism in his catechism,[9] but who can read his quote from above and not come away thinking that all baptized babies are, in the fullest sense of the word, saved. He says that they have been washed by the blood of Jesus, forgiven, adopted, members of the kingdom of heaven, and that they are renewed by the Holy Spirit. In his own words, he has ascribed to babies what the Bible ascribes only to those who are saved. And this is my point: in their effort to prove that babies should be baptized, many baby baptizers end up going too far.

Ultimately, Calvin's argument for baby baptism more easily leads to the belief of salvation, not by faith in Christ or even baptism, but by birth. Calvin says they are already in the kingdom of heaven and should, therefore, be baptized. Calvin applied salvific language to all of the children. Does birth equal salvation? Does being young equal salvation? Are all people saved because they were once born and young children? Using this passage to prove the importance of baby baptism takes the passage beyond the point being made by Christ and leads to dangerous doctrines that oppose salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Are Non-Baby Baptizers Evil?

Before we leave this quote from Calvin, notice what he says about not baptizing babies: "To exclude from the grace of redemption those who are of that age would be too cruel" and "How unjust were we to drive away those whom Christ invites to himself?" In his fight against the anabaptist (those who advocated for only believer's only baptism), he went as far as to say that not baptizing babies was to exclude the child from the grace of redemption. Reading this makes one wonder, "Was Calvin even a Calvinist?" When it comes to adult salvation, he certainly was, but when it comes to babies, baptism, and salvation, it appears that he throws Calvinism out the window with his rejection of the "U" of T.U.L.I.P, Unconditional Election. He believed that not baptizing a child was to keep them from the grace of redemption. According to his teaching on baby baptism, the child's salvation depends on whether or not the parent baptizes the child. Just in case someone thinks that I am overreaching, He goes even further (toward the end of the above quote) to accuse those who do not baptize babies of being cruel for driving them away from Christ. The parents of those who do not baptize their children are accused of not allowing their children to receive grace and redemption. As excellent of a theologian as Calvin was, and as much as I agree with him in most of his writings, I would have to say that Calvin says the most non-Calvinistic things when it comes to baptizing babies. And it is not just him. Ask your supposed Calvinistic baby-baptizing friend or pastor to explain baby baptism and watch the theological gymnastics take place as they attempt to maintain reformed soteriology and teach the necessity of baby baptism.[10] 

No Baptism Took Place.

As is quite common, the text that baby baptizers choose to support their doctrine does not even contain the word or deal with the subject of baptism, and this is what we find with their choice of Matthew 19:13-15. Jesus is known for choosing His words well. To insert baby baptism into this passage when Jesus has intentionally not mentioned baby baptism is absurd. We know that John the Baptist had already been baptizing many people, "John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."[11] Jesus could have easily instructed the parents to take them to John for baptism. But they really didn’t have to go that far because the disciples of Jesus, who were now holding children back, were also baptizing. “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).[12] This is another interesting point: if baby baptism was already being practiced, then why would the disciples have held the children back, since supposedly they had already been baptizing babies?

If Jesus wanted to emphasize that babies should be baptized, this was the perfect opportunity to do so. But Jesus did not have the babies baptized. Instead, he prayed and blessed them. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Him to say something like, "Bring the babies to me to be baptized, and do not hinder them." However, nothing like that is said.

No Parental Instruction to Baptize Was Given.

Another similar point should also be stated. The parents of the children were not given any instructions about the need to baptize their babies. Some might argue that there was insufficient water for baptism, but this is also spurious since baby baptizers only need about a tablespoon of water (just enough for a sprinkling). That amount of water could have easily been found. But if the babies needed to be baptized and Jesus chose not to do so at that time, He could have at least instructed the parents on their need to baptize their babies, but no such instruction was given. Jesus missed all opportunities to teach baby baptism. Why? Well, not because baby baptism slipped His mind, but because baby baptism did not exist. Jesus did not mention it here or anywhere because it was a doctrine later created by man. On a similar note, the parents were also not commended for having already baptized their babies, which, according to baby baptizers, would have been done at the same time the parents were baptized.

Argument From Silence (Again).

How can a text that has nothing to do with baby baptism become a primary text to support baby baptism? Well, you have to be willing to assume that even though Jesus didn't mention it, he meant it. This is a dangerous hermeneutic to prove any practice or doctrine, giving the interpreter the power to make scripture say whatever he wants it to. Instead of being bound by the inspired words of Scripture, a person can become their own Scripture writer. It is never a good idea to force a doctrine or practice into the mouth of Jesus. Such a practice is not wise and can be extremely dangerous. This style of argumentation is often called an argument from silence. An argument from silence is a well-known logical fallacy that uses a lack of evidence as evidence. It draws its conclusion based not on evidence but on a lack of evidence. A person who uses an argument from silence to arrive at a point is usually seen as weak and fallacious. However, baby baptizers are fine with using the absence of any baby baptism reference here to prove the doctrine of baby baptism.

This would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to establish the doctrine of baby baptism, but He didn't. And Jesus's silence on the matter should not be used as evidence. Bizarrely, baby baptizers such as Doug Wilson celebrate this fact: "It may be protested that there is no water, no baptism, in these passages. This is cheerfully acknowledged."[13] Why would one rejoice to find that, once again, Jesus does not teach here or anywhere about baby baptism? Because in the mind of the baby baptizer, no teaching of Christ on the subject is needed to establish the doctrine and practice of baptizing babies. Silence is no problem because when Christ is silent, they are happy to speak for Him.

Summary: Matthew 19:13-15 has nothing to do with baby baptism. Parents who do not baptize their babies are not evil, cruel, preventers of grace, or salvation-stoppers. They in no way, shape, or form are “keeping their children from Jesus” by not baptizing them. Jesus does not look at parents who do not baptize their children as he did the disciples who were keeping the children away from Jesus. To draw such a parallel is preposterous. If He wanted to make such a statement about parents, then He certainly could have, but He did not. Jesus did not encourage babies to be baptized in this passage, nor did He command the parents to have their babies baptized. To insert such a claim into this passage is an absolute misinterpretation of the passage and misses the point that is being made regarding humility in coming to Christ. If you want to get your children “close to Jesus,” then do as Paul commands and “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”[14]

[1] R. Scott Clark, “All things considered, bearing in mind Genesis 17:12, we must answer yes, the paedobaptist may fairly appeal to Matthew 19:13–15 for support of the theology, piety, and practice of infant baptism.” R. Scott Clark, Professor at Westminster California, May The Paedobaptist Fairly Appeal To Matthew 19:13–15? | The Heidelblog

[2] John 13:1-17

[3] Luke 18:9-14, Luke 12:13-21

[4] Matthew 18:2

[5] Doug Wilson, To A Thousand Generations, Canon Press, Moscow Idaho, 1996, P. 17. See also my previous article, “Holy” Baby Baptism: A look at 1 Cor. 7:14.” for a rebuttal of his position.

[6] Wilson, To A Thousand Generations, P. 16

[7] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 389.

[8] (Institutes, IV. 16. 7).

[9] Geneva Catechism 1545, Calvin, Q. 327 Do you think that the water is a washing of the soul? By no means; for it were impious to snatch away this honour from the blood of Christ, which was shed in order to wipe away all our stains, and render us pure and unpolluted in the sight of God. (1 Peter 1:191 John 1:7.) And we receive the fruit of this cleansing when the Holy Spirit sprinkles our consciences with that sacred blood. Of this we have a seal in the Sacrament.

[10] Wilson, Thousand Generations, P.9, Wilson even says, “In order for us to be satisfied that we are being biblical Christians, we must be content with nothing less than a clear biblical case requiring infant baptism.”

[11] Mark 1:4-5

[12] John 4:1-2, See also John 3:22-23

[13] Wilson, To A Thousand Generations, P. 16

[14] Ephesians 6:4

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