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Infant Baptism in the Early Fathers


Infant Baptism in the Early Fathers

Lee Freeman

I don’t believe the practice for infant baptism goes any farther back than the mid to late 2nd century. … As I understand it, children have no sin, hence no need of having sins taken away. Children can’t believe, adults can. …

Believer’s baptism is commanded, while a complete baptismal theology is not. In nearly ever case in Acts, as soon as a person came to faith in Christ, they were baptized \”immediately,\” apparently without a lengthy period of instruction, Bible correspondence course, Jewel Miller filmstrip (now on VHS and DVD) or a catechism class first. Infant baptism is neither commanded nor do we have examples of it. A person doesn’t have to have a through understanding of baptismal theology in order for it to be valid…. Baptismal candidates do have to be old enough to come to a personal decision to follow Christ: \”whoever believes and is baptized will be saved\”. . . An infant cannot make a mental assention to follow Christ. Basically, an infant cannot believe.

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This thread was inspired by a comment in another thread that the baptism question could be settled if everyone would simply follow the historic teaching of the Church regarding infant baptism. So I looked up some references in the Fathers to infant baptism.

Evidence which seems to be against it:

HERMAS (fl. 140/155)

Those who believed are such as these: They are like innocent infants, in whose heart no wickedness enters and who do not know what is evil but always remain in innocence. Such as these will undoubtedly live in the kingdom of God because in no way did they defile the commandments of God but innocently remained in the same frame of mind all the days of their life. As many of you then who will continue and be as infants, with no wickedness, will be more honored than all others, for all infants are honored before God and are in the first rank before him. Blessed are all of you, therefore, who remove evil from yourselves and put on guiltlessness. (Similitudes IX. xxix. 1-3)

BARNABAS (late first, early second centuries)

Since he renewed us in the forgiveness of sins, he made us into another image, so as to have the soul of children, as if he were indeed refashioning us. (6:11)

ARISTIDES (c. 140s)

And when a child has been born to one of them [Christians], they give thanks to God; and if it should die as an infant, they give thanks the more, because it has departed life sinless. (Apology 15:11)


Although all human beings who die are resurrected, not all those resurrected are judged. If justice in the judgment were the only cause of the resurrection, it would follow, of course, that those who have not sinned nor done good, namely quite young children, would not be resurrected. (On the Resurrection 14)

IRENAEUS OF LYON (ca. 135-c. 202)

Who were those who were saved and received the inheritance? Those, obviously, who believed in God and kept their love for him, such as Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun, and innocent children, who have no sense of evil. Who are those now who are saved and receive eternal life? Is it not those who love God and believe his promises and \”in malice have become little children\”? (Against Heresies IV.xxviii.3)

Evidence which supports it:

IRENAEUS OF LYON (c. 135-c. 202)

For he came to save all by means of himself-all, I say, who by him are born again to God-infants, children, adoloescents, young men, and old men (Against Heresies II.xxii.4)

TERTULLIAN of CARTHAGE (c. 155-c. 250)

According to the circumstances and nature, and also age, of each person, the delay of baptism is more suitable, especially in the case of small children. What is the necessity, if there is no such necessity, for the sponsors as well to be brought into danger, since they may fail to keep their promises by reason of death or be deceived by an evil disposition which grows up in the child? The Lord indeed says, \”Do not forbid them to come unto me.\” Let them \”come\” then while they are growing up, while they are learning, while they are instructed why they are coming. Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what sense does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have given \”to him who asks.\” (On Baptism 18) NOTE: Tertullian here is arguing against the practice of infant baptism.


And they shall baptise the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family.  And next they shall baptise the grown men; and last the women. (Apostolic Tradition xxi.3-5)

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA (b.185-fl. c. 200-254)

I take this occasion to discuss something which our brothers often inquire about. Infants are baptized for the remission of sins. Of what kinds? Or when did they sin? But since \”No one is exempt from stain,\” one removes stain by the mystery of baptism. For this reason infants also are baptized. For \”Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Homily on Luke XIV:5)


If, when they afterwards come to believe, forgiveness of sins is granted even to the worst transgressors and to those who have previously sinned much against God, and if no one is held back from baptism and grace; how much less ought an infant to be held back, who having been born recently has not sinned, except in that being born physically according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death by his first birth. He approaches that much more easily to the reception of the forgiveness of sins because the sins remitted to him are not his own, biut those of another. (Epistle 58 [64])

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1 Comment


    The word baptized is transliterated in most New Testament Bibles. A few Bibles actually translate the word from Greek to English.

    Transliterate Defined: to change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language.

    Translate Defined: to turn from one language into another or from a foreign language into one’s own.

    Transliterate does not mean to translate.

    Question: Does the account of the Philippian jailer prove that non-believing infants are subjects for baptism?

    Acts 16:31-34 so they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household,”……..33 And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (NKJV)

    Acts 16:31-34 ……33 …..and was immersed, he, and all his house, immediately. 34 Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and with all his house, having believed in God. (The Better Version of The New Testament By Chester Estes)

    Acts 16:33 Then, even at that late hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed off their wounds; and without delay, he and all his people were immersed. (Complete Jewish Bible)

    What occurred with the jailer and his household?

    1. They all believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Infants cannot believe.

    2. The whole household was immersed in water (baptized). Not one person was poured or sprinkled.

    3. They all rejoiced, having believed in God. Infants cannot rejoice nor can they believe in God.

    There were no adults nor unbelieving infants sprinkled or poured that night. The adults who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ were immersed for the forgiveness of their sins and were immersed into Christ. (Acts 2:38 and Galatians 3:27)

    If unbelievers need to be baptized for the false doctrine of original sin, then why do Christians not forcibly baptize unbelieving adults. Infants do give permission to be baptized, of coursed most infants are not immersed, they are sprinkled or poured.

    Immersion (baptism) in water is for adults who need to repent of their unbelief. They need to believe (John 3:16, repent Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38 confess Romans 10:9, and be immersed Mark 16:16.

    There is no Biblical account of unbelieving infants nor unbelieving adults be immersed for the forgiveness of the sins that they have committed. Certainly no Scriptures that states men need to baptized because of Adam’s sin.


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