Preliminary Remarks

At the outset, one issue that must be addressed with the study of infant baptism is clarifying what kind of infant baptism is being addressed. Today, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and various Reformed traditions all practice infant baptism, although not all practice it for the same reason. For example, the Roman Catholic Church believes infant baptism regenerates a person,[1] as opposed to the Reformed paedobaptist view that does not believe that baptism saves. Although all infant baptism in all forms undermines the Gospel,[2] this article addresses Reformed paedobaptism (“child baptism”) only, which is sometimes called covenantal infant baptism.



Peter Goeman wrote, “I believe that infant baptism is unbiblical and harmful to the church.”[3] This is a bold statement that stands up under scrutiny because, in Scripture, there is not a single account of an infant being baptized. Furthermore, the belief that infants can and should be baptized is replete with exegetical and theological errors.


For example, infant baptism functionally undermines the authority of Scripture. Although Reformed paedobaptists agree that Scripture alone is authoritative, functionally, they deny Scripture’s authority by rooting their belief in infant baptism in the theological system of Covenantalism rather than in the exposition of Scripture.[4]


Not only does infant baptism functionally undermine the authority of Scripture but it also encourages Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS).[5] Plummer observes that “Practitioners of TIS respect external theological parameters as guides for interpretation.”[6] As stated above, infant baptism requires the reader to interpret Scripture through the lens of the theological system of Covenantalism. The problem with this approach is that Covenantalism originated in the mind of Ulrich Zwingli[7] and not in the mind of the Biblical authors. Cory Marsh keenly observed that “theology originates in the mind of the text’s historical author(s), not in the texts themselves. Only a historical mind can think theologically—texts merely express that thinking. Therefore, history will be the starting point for discerning meaning…since theology or literature do not exist in themselves but are sourced in a historical mind.”[8] To interpret Scripture through the lens of Covenantalism roots the meaning of a given passage in the mind of a theologian instead of those God intended, the Biblical authors.


Other errors of infant baptism include wrongly encouraging Christian parents to believe that God has promised to save their children.[9] It also has the potential to give false assurance to a so-called Christian who believes they are saved, not because they show evidence of regeneration, but because they were baptized as a child. Or how about the error that infant baptism confuses the Church by including children as members of the community of belief (Acts 4:4).[10] An exhaustive treatment of the errors of infant baptism is beyond the scope of this article. However, in what follows is a Biblical analysis of the fundamental error of infant baptism.


The Fundamental Error of Infant Baptism

According to the New Testament (NT), the only legitimate subjects of baptism are true believers of Jesus Christ.[11] However, our Reformed paedobaptist brothers contend that a profession of faith is not an absolutely necessary prerequisite to baptism; therefore, infants may be baptized.[12] And here lies the fundamental error of infant baptism: it belittles the importance of belief.[13] Respected Baptist theologian Thomas Schreiner says it well when he writes:


“Baptism is important precisely because it is tied to the gospel, to the saving work that Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection. We do not think baptizing infants is merely a minor mistake…The fundamental teaching of the gospel is that human beings can be right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). Infant baptism compromises that teaching by counting infants as members of the church, either via sacramental theology, the alleged faith of the infant, presumptive regeneration, the faith of sponsors, or covenant theology.”[14]


When we turn to Scripture to answer the question of whether or not a profession of faith is an absolutely necessary prerequisite to baptism, all uncertainty ceases. Take, for example, the seminal verse on Christian baptism in what is known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.


“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[15]


In this passage, Jesus’ central command is to “make disciples.” The Greek participles (translated as “go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching”) are subsumed under the imperative verb (“make disciples”), which in Greek is one word, mathēteusate.[16] The challenge to the interpreter is to decide whether the circumstantial participles (“baptizing” and “teaching”) function as participles of means or participles of results. In other words, are “baptizing” and “teaching” how we make disciples (Reformed paedobaptist view), or the result of making disciples?


The question is quickly answered by examining how the 11 Disciples carried out this command in the book of Acts. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke carefully documented that the Apostles and Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) only baptized those who had professed to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The following passages reveal that baptism resulted from becoming a disciple and not the means to becoming a disciple.


The first text is Acts 2:41.


“So then, those who had received (emphasis added) his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” 


In this passage, we see the first sermon of the first church, and the prerequisite for being baptized was receiving the message preached. One Greek lexicon defines “received” as “to come to believe something to be true and to respond accordingly.”[17] From the very first converts to Christianity, we see that baptism was the first act of obedience for those who believed.


The second passage is Acts 8:12.


“But when they believed (emphasis added) Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.”


Here, we see Philip preaching to the Samaritans who believed, and then they were baptized. A leading lexicon defines the Greek verb “believed” in both verses as “to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence.”[18] Note that the people entrusted themselves to the message of the Gospel before they were baptized.


The third passage is Acts 8:35-38.


“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If (emphasis added) you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.”


Notice the conjunction “if.” In these verses, we see that Philip was only willing to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch “if” he believed with all his heart. This passage highlights that true belief in the NT was a “volitional expression that resulted in a changed life.”[19] For Philip, superficial faith would not do. An empty profession would not cut it. The Ethiopian needed to believe wholeheartedly. Again, this makes infant baptism impossible because it is impossible for infants to believe.


The fourth passage is Acts 10:47-48.


“Surely no one can refuse (emphasis added) the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”


In this text, Peter orders a group of Gentiles to be baptized, but not before arguing that no one should "refuse" to baptize them. The word "refuse" implies that some people should be refused the waters of baptism. But on what basis should a person be prohibited from being baptized? The passage above indicates that baptism should be denied to those who do not believe. Because the NT makes it clear that the reception of the Holy Spirit happens at the moment of conversion.[20] So, not only should we not baptize unbelieving infants, we should refuse to baptize them.


The fifth passage is Acts 19:4-5.


“Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”


Again, the connection between belief and baptism is unmistakable. What makes this text unique is that Paul is the one delivering the message. From here, we can examine the rest of the Pauline Epistles and note that Paul consistently taught that belief must precede baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 4:4-5; Colossians 2:11-12).



The passages above and others like them (Acts 16:14–15, 33-34; 18:8) make it explicitly clear that faith is a necessary prerequisite to baptism. The argument favoring infant baptism rests on theological assumptions and not sound exegesis. Therefore, we can confidently conclude that the practice of infant baptism is unbiblical and should be rejected.

Editors Note: This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of the Voice magazine, Used with permission.



[1] Dean Probst, “Hey Father - Why do Catholics baptize infants? Why can’t the child grow up and decide for himself or herself?,” Catholic Times, Magazine of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, July 26, 2020,


[2] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 2.


[3] Peter Goeman, The Baptism Debate: Understanding and Evaluating Reformed Infant Baptism (Raleigh, NC: Sojourner Press, 2023), 3.


[4] Randy Booth, Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995), 8).


[5] For a helpful definition of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, see Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 313-319.


[6] Ibid., 316.


[7] Lyle D. Bierma, German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 31.[1]


[8] Cory M. Marsh, “Synchronic with Caveats: A Fourth Wave of Interpretation for the Forth Gospel,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 65, 1 (2022): 107.


[9] Goeman, 145–146.


[10] Schreiner and Wright, 3.


[11] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Salvation, the Church, and Last Things, vol. 3 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), 274.


[12] R. C. Sproul, What Is Baptism?, The Crucial Questions Series 11 (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011), 63.


[13] For a full analysis on why Reformed paedobaptists argue that baptism does not require a profession of faith, see Peter Goeman, The Baptism Debate: Understanding and Evaluating Reformed Infant Baptism (Raleigh, NC: Sojourner Press, 2023).


[14] Schreiner and Wright, 2.


[15] Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASB) (La Habra: Foundation Publications, 1995).


[16] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, vol. 1, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 1080.


[17] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 371.


[18] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 817.


[19] Goeman, 39.


[20] McCune, 330-338.