Does Acts 2:39 Support Infant Baptism? A Baptist’s View

Does Acts 2:39 support the practice of infant baptism?

As discussed on episode 10 of the podcast, the primary issue separating paedobaptists (those who baptize the infants of believers) from credobaptists (those who baptize believers only) is their different understandings of God’s covenants. (Listen to “The Source of the Baptism Debate”).

That being said, there are a number of verses that are given to support the practice of infant baptism.

Attending a predominantly Presbyterian seminary as a Baptist meant I encountered a lot of arguments in favor of infant baptism. One of the most common verses my classmates used was Acts 2:39.

In case it may be beneficial to a fellow credobaptist evaluating a similar argument, I wanted to examine this important verse.

For context, here is Acts 2:38-45:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

The focus of this passage is placed on the statement “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” in verse 39.

But does this give strong evidence for infant baptism?

Here are five reasons I do not find this passage to be compelling evidence for the paedobaptist position:

1. What is “the promise” that Peter is referring to in verse 39?

Verse 38 tells us the promise is “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That this is “the promise” is indicated not only by its grammatical relation to the next verse, but by Acts 1:4 where believers receiving the Holy Spirit is specifically referred to as “the promise” that Jesus gave. It is also found as “the promise” just a few verses earlier in Acts 2:33. (See also Luke 24:49).

2. Who is the promise for?

This promise is “to you and to your children and to all who are afar off.” If they repent and believe the Gospel, this promise is to those Peter is speaking to, to their children, and to those “afar off” (typically understood to mean the Gentiles, see Ephesians 2:11-13).

If this is a call to baptize the unbelieving children of believers, what does it mean for those who are afar off? In the text, there is no special distinction made between those in the second group and those in the third. (There is also an argument to be made that the “children” spoken of here is meant as “posterity” rather than immediate offspring, such as is Isaiah 59:21).

3. To whom does the promise ultimately go to?

Peter qualifies his statement by saying “…as many as the Lord our God will call” (verse 39). Both Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists would recognize that salvation is due to the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit, and we see here that those who are called receive this promise and those to whom this promise applies are the proper subjects of baptism. (For another, similar use of “as many as” being used as a qualifier, see Mark 6:56)

4. Who is it we see baptized in this passage?

It is not the hearers of Peter’s sermon and their children, but “those who gladly received his word were baptized” (verse 41). Only those who heard, understood, and responded in faith received baptism.

It is also important to note the prerequisite given by Peter in verse 38 to those who would be baptized: “Repent.” The order of operations given in Peter’s message is A) repent and B) be baptized, and this is what we see play out in the next verses.

5. What occurred right after?

What was the response of all those who were baptized? Verses 42-45:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Those who were baptized dedicated themselves to the apostle’s teaching, broke bread, prayed, shared their belongings, sold their possessions, and distributed the proceeds to those in need. These are activities that infants of believing parents clearly could not participate in.

 

In summary, I do not see Acts 2:38-45 as evidence of infant baptism because the promise is the believer receiving the Holy Spirit, it is to those whom God will call, repentance is the prerequisite for baptism in this passage, only those who heard and believed Peter’s message were baptized, and those who were baptized are the same group that participated in the activities listed in verse 42 – activities that infants and older but unbelieving children could not participate in.

It is worth noting that while I do not find this passage to be a very good argument for the paedobaptist position, I have had the benefit of learning from a number of great teachers, pastors, and theologians who see this passage differently.

My hope is that I have presented their argument from this verse fairly and that I have articulated a helpful credobaptist response.


Curious about the source of the baptism debate between Presbyterians and Baptists? Check out the podcast episode below!

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