Q&A: Paul and Infant Baptism

Paul and Infant Baptism

Question

On page 11 of the article on Galatians 3:25-29, it states that "for Paul, and the Galatians, baptism symbolizes coming to faith." Do you think that Paul would reject or affirm Dr. Pratt's teaching about infant baptism (from the two multimedia messages on the thirdmill.org website)? Or, is it possible to agree that baptism symbolizes salvation and yet affirm infant baptism?

Answer

Article referenced: Receiving the Abrahamic Covenant Blessings in Christ

Yes, it is possible to affirm both this symbolism and infant baptism. Speaking in terms of systematic theology, baptism symbolizes several things, including the covenant with its stipulations, blessings, and curses, as well as coming to faith/regeneration.

In Galatians 3:25-29, though, Paul was writing primarily to people who were not baptized as infants but who were converted as adults. And he was reminding them of the significance of their own personal baptisms in order to stimulate their thinking about unity in Christ. By saying that "batism symbolizes coming to faith" in this context, I am not thinking so much of the symbolism inherent in baptism itself, but of the symbolic value of the Galatians' own subjective experience of baptism. That is, they associated their own experience of baptism with their own coming to faith because their baptisms were temporally and liturgically tied to their coming to faith. Their baptisms were the public rites by which they had proclaimed their faith, and had taken place at the time of their conversion. Moreover, they all had witnessed others being baptized, and those others had included Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, and men and women. Thus, by remembering these aspects of their own baptisms, they were reminded of the fact that all these different categories of people could come to faith in Christ.

For their children, however, baptism would have had a somewhat different significance. Their children would not have experientially associated coming to faith with the public proclamation of baptism because these events would not have coincided in their cases. For infants, the theological symbolism is the same as for adults: baptism represents the covenant and its various aspects, including the blessing of coming to faith. However, in the personal experience of the infant who is baptized, baptism does not temporally or liturgically accompany coming to faith. Rather, it temporally and liturgically accompanies the beginning of their membership in the covenant community (this is also an aspect of adult baptism). In the case of infants, the sign looks forward to future faith. In the case of the Galatian adults, however, it looked back to the coming of faith.

In this way, baptism is broad enough to mean different things to people in different situations -- not because the sign itself is ambiguous, but rather because not everyone personally experiences every meaning contained in the symbol in the same way. (In fact, this idea is included in Pratt's baptism lecture that is taken from the video.)

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.