Saturday, February 2, 2013

Infant Baptism, Logic, and Exegesis

Paul Manata made the following statement regarding the soundness of the argument for believer’s baptist: Both argue from silence, but the Paedo argument is valid and the Baptist argument is fallacious. The determining factor is burden of proof, which is established by precedence.

The referents for the word “both” are infant baptism, and believer’s baptism. Manata’s contention is that both positions utilize an argument from silence in their attempt to establish the validity of their dogma. In analyzing Manata’s claims, a couple of issues are apparent. Frist, I am not convinced that either camp would agree with Manata’s contention that both employ an argument from silence. Second, the contention that the determining factor is the burden of proof and that the burden of proof is established by precedence is a loaded statement. It frames up the argument in a way that favors Manata’s position from the outset and hence, it should be challenged. Finally, is it really the case that arguments from silence have, as a determining factor, the burden of proof any more than any other argument has the burden of proof? The Implication of this statement is that the burden of proof applies specifically or especially to argumentum a silentio. I reject this implication because I am firmly convinced that in theology, and in matters of truth, every argument has, at its foundation, the burden of proof. In fact, I am convinced that all arguments are inherently obligated to prove their claims. Now, Manata may respond that it isn’t an argument he is addressing, rather, he is dealing with a truth claim.  However, within every claim of truth there is the process by which one arrives at his conclusion and along the way, there are arguments and counter-arguments. The entire enterprise of truth comes with this burden of proof. Every truth claim has competitors and hence, it must prove itself to be, well, true.

An argumentum a silentio is an argument that involves a conclusion that is based on a lack of evidence. In order to assess if Baptists actually employ an argument from silence, one must examine their evidence, or as Manata would say, their lack of evidence. Is the thrust of the Baptist argument for believer’s baptism based on the absence of any references in the NT Text, either commanding or documenting infant baptism? While Baptist theology does point to the fact that there are no imperatives or incidents of infant baptism recorded in the NT, it does not follow that this is ipso facto an argument from silence. It is not as though the entire argument against infant baptism rests on the absence of NT documentation for the practice. There are other factors and pieces of evidence that Baptists put forth.

Manata’s technique for shifting the burden of proof to the Baptists places Paedobaptists on the offensive and Baptists on the defensive side of the argument. This is a strategy I employ when I engage skeptics of Christianity. After all, it is much easier to play offense than defense. For instance, for health and fitness purposes, I study martial arts. I study two styles of Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. What is true in debate is true on the mat. When someone is on the attack, if the opponent does nothing but defend, sooner or later, they will be submitted or at the very least, be out-pointed. But if part of your defense is to attack, this forces the aggressor to defend, and this interrupts their strategy. The same is true in theological discussions. Manata wants to place the Baptist on defense and contend that they have to prove their argument while paedobatpists already have precedence on their side and are therefore in a superior position. Manata knows it is not quite that simple.

As I stated above, the burden of proof is on any argument making truth-claims. No argument is free from the burden of proof. It follows then, that both Baptists and Paedobaptists equally incur the burden of proof for their respective doctrines. The Baptists assert that baptism is reserved for those who come to faith in Christ. The Baptists have the burden of proving that baptism is reserved for those who have confessed faith in Christ. What Manata must show is that NT Scripture does not limit baptism to those who have come to faith in Christ, as the Baptists contend. On the other hand, the Paedobaptists assert that covenant infants are included in the covenant and hence, they must be baptized as part of the sign of the covenant. Paedobaptists have the burden of proving that baptism is the sign of the new covenant and that faith is irrelevant to the sacrament of baptism, at least, the current faith of the object of baptism. Moreover, Paedobaptists must also prove that there is a literal promise to Christian parents that their infants are included in the covenant and their salvation, guaranteed. If this is not the case, then paedobaptism is reduced to a mere ritual that runs the risk of treating the sacred contemptuously.

Manata avers that the Baptist argument is fallacious while the Paedo argument is valid. Manata’s argument can be reconstructed as follows:

Major Premise: Infants were circumcised in the OT

Minor Premise: Precedence should continue unless the NT explicitly forbids it

Minor Premise: The NT does not explicitly forbid infant baptism

Conclusion: Therefore infants of believers should be baptized

It is not difficult to see the problems in the Paedo argument. First, the view that there is a one-to-one relationship between OT circumcision and NT baptism is unproven, and I would contend, unprovable. Second, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Third, the two minor premises are misleading. Precedence has nowhere been proven. There is an inductive argument forbidding infant baptism, that is valid and that Baptists would say is also true. While Manata’s argument is valid, the question of whether or not it is true is another matter. In order for the argument to be valid and true, each premise leading to the conclusion must also be true. The non-sequitur is that OT commands for circumcision lead to NT commands for baptism. However, this contention is highly questionable and hotly debated. Indeed, support for this interpretation is exceptionally flimsy. How Manata can say that it rises to the level of precedence is puzzling to say the least. Precedence requires identical behavior. Circumcision would have precedence if it were continued from the old into the new covenant. Since it does not, it lacks precedence. In order for infant baptism to have precedence, it must have been practiced in the old covenant as well as in the new. Under Manata’s reasoning, Christian farmers should tithe 10% of their animals, crops, etc. But that would be preposterous to say the least.

OR (Paedobaptist argument)

Major Premise: Circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant

Minor Premise: Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant

Minor Premise: Infants of covenantal parents are included in the covenant

Conclusion: Therefore, infants must be baptized

When one examines the second construction for paedobaptism above, they realize quickly that the burden of proof that Manata says exists only for the Baptists, also exists for the paedobaptists. For example, paedobaptists must prove that baptism is the sign of the new covenant. However, this is not how the NT depicts baptism. Circumcision and baptism never appear in the same context with one another so as to lead any exegete to this conclusion. Circumcision has clearly been terminated according to NT teachings. Manata’s contention that the OT practice should continue unless the NT expressly forbids it is a moot point. At best it is question begging, at worse, it is decidedly subjective.

Looking at the major premise of paedobaptism, we agree that circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the OT and that this practice was not optional. If paedobaptists are going to argue for precedence, as Manata clearly does, then he will have to do something with millions of Christians who reject the doctrine of infant baptism. Will his reaction follow the same as that in the OT? That is to say, do paedobaptists respond to those who reject infant baptism the way that the OT Jew responded to those who refused circumcision? My experience has been that paedobaptists equivocate on this point. If they are right in their theology, discipline should follow those who are obstinate in their rejection of paedobaptism. After all, Baptists will excommunicate you if you refuse to submit to the sacrament of believer’s baptism. Baptism is the outward sign of something that has taken place inwardly. It is the objective sign of a subjective experience. It signifies that the old man has died and the new man has been raised to a newness of life. But if the thing signified is indeed absent, baptism is nothing but a quick bath. Without genuine faith, baptism is a contemptuous act. It is dangerous to make this public profession that one belongs to Christ when in fact they do not!

That infants of covenant parents are included in the covenant is highly debatable. There is no escape from the new covenant. Once one is in the covenant, they are guaranteed salvation. In fact, one is not in the covenant until regeneration has been wrought in the heart. Hence, the covenant is reserved only for God’s elect. Yet, we know children who were born to covenant parents, whose lives reflected nothing of Christ, nothing of a love for God’s word, and in their blasphemy they endured to the end. How mysterious and puzzling this must be to the paedobaptist. It does not comport with the central tenets of their theology. Yet, point this fact out to the paedobaptist and there is hardly a quibble. Many PCA men I know have so reduced the significance of infant Baptist that it is hardly more than a religious ritual.

The Baptist argument can be reconstructed as follows:

Major Premise: NT commands faith as a prerequisite for baptism

Minor Premise: Faith only comes by hearing the word of God

Minor Premise: Infants do not possess saving faith

Minor Premise: No one should be baptized unless they have expressed faith in Christ

Conclusion: Therefore, infants should not be baptized

Is the first premise true? Matt. 28:19 links baptism with becoming a disciple. Acts 2:38 links repentance with baptism. Acts 2:41 links baptism with those who received the Word. Acts 8:12 links faith with baptism. Acts 8:36 links conversion with baptism. Acts 9:18 links the conversion of Paul with baptism. Acts 10:47 links regeneration with baptism. It would seem that the major premise is a well-established fact. According to Romans 10:13, faith comes by hearing the word of God and therefore the second premise is also true. This brings us to the third premise. Do infants possess faith? Does God graciously instill faith in the heart of covenant infants? If we answer in the affirmative, it would seem to me that we risk the fidelity of the previous premise which says faith comes by hearing the word of God. Moreover, if we open the door to the possibility that faith can exist where the Word has never been, then why can faith not be imparted to those who have never heard the gospel or Christ? If I assert that infants can possess faith, then in Manata’s own words, the burden of proof rests with me. If I assert that infants do not possess faith, then again, the burden of proof to show that infants do not have faith rests with me. I could respond in two ways. I could say that I have no good reason to believe that infants possess faith and therefore no ground upon which to baptize them. On the other hand, I could say that infants have no ability to possess faith because they have no cognitive ability to receive the word of God. Hence, unless one receives the word of God, faith cannot exist. The third minor premise sees unambiguous with any reading of NT Scripture whatever. No one should be baptized unless there is a public profession of faith. Here it seems the Baptist position carries the day. If all three of the Baptist premises are true, then the conclusion is necessarily true so long as it follows from those premises. In this case, the conclusion follows the premises. True premises in a valid argument equals a true conclusion.

 Every argument has the burden of proof. No argument is free from this obligation. That the NT Scripture nowhere commands or forbids infant baptism misses the point. This reasoning would translate into legalistic tithing and Sabbath keeping. If baptism is the signifier that one has become born again, forsaking all to enlist in the Christian group, and it is true that regeneration is accompanied by faith in Christ, then it follows that faith in Christ is necessary in order for baptism to be administered. Baptism signifies regeneration. Regeneration necessarily produces faith prior to baptism. Hence, the relationship between faith and regeneration and regeneration and baptism and baptism and faith has serious implications for infant baptism. As a signifier of regeneration, baptism cannot antecede it. The thing signified must exist in order for the signification to be meaningful. We are baptized into water because we have already been baptized into Christ. Baptism signifies not only that we have died to sin, but that we have been raised in a newness of life. The new birth has already taken place!

In conclusion, the assertion that paedobaptists have precedence on their side and the Baptists are the only ones left with the burden of proof is simply not true. Infant baptism is either an obligatory command whose rejection carries dire consequences the same as believer’s baptism, or it is a religious ritual left to the discretion of the individual parent. From my perspective, the view that elevates the sacrament of baptism is clear. Believer’s baptism demands the work of God on the human heart as the antecedent for praxis. Rejection of this practice will inevitably lead to excommunication. As for paedobaptism, it looks good on paper. However, I have never read or heard of anyone ever being excommunicated or even sharply rebuked for rejecting the practice, which in that system, is a sacred command. Hence, paedobaptism equivocates on the issue of baptism and leaves one with the sense that it really isn’t that significant after all, at least outside the pages of a book or statement of faith, in the real world, where it should count most.

1 comment:


    Are infants proper candidates for baptism? Do babies meet the requirements to be baptized? The short answer is no.

    Acts 8:26-40 ....36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized? 37 [And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]

    Unlike the Ethiopian eunuch; babies cannot believe with all their heart. Infants cannot make the confession, that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. Babies do meet the requirements for water baptism.


    Acts 2:22-37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

    There were no infants baptized on the Day of Pentecost. Why not?

    1. They could not believe in Jesus the Nazarene.
    2. Infants could not believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
    3. Babies could not realize that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ.
    4. Infants could not be pierced to the heart, nor could they ask, " Brethren, what shall we do?"

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them,"Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Infants do not need to repent; because they have no sin to repent from. Repentance means to turn from sin and turn toward God. Infants are not candidates for water baptism.

    Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

    There were no infants added to the church that day. Why not? Because babies could not receive Peter's word. Infants are not capable of understanding the gospel. Infants are not qualified to be baptized in water.


    Acts 16:31-34 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.....33.....and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 ....having believed in God with his whole household.

    The jailer and his whole household believed before they were baptized. There were no babies baptized. Infants are not capable of believing. Infants are not qualified to be baptized.