Turretin: Infants of Believers Should be Baptized

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) wrote one of the most influential works in Reformed theology. His works were influential and used as text books till the time of Hodge. Turretin is a special jewel that was largely forgotten in Reformed circles. In volume 3 of his three volume work he discusses infant baptism. The question he starts with is:

Should the infants of believers be baptized?

The question, as Turretin points out, is not for all children but specifically for the children of believers. This is also is not to say that baptism is of absolute necessity but it is considered, as Turretin states, a “hypothetical necessity of the command”. Turretin re-phrases the question

Are the infants of Christians to be baptized because Christ thus commanded and because by baptism graciously, yet freely, God is accustomed to be efficacious in testifying and sealing grace?

Turretin’s response: “We affirm”

Turretin rests his argument on seven points.

1 From the command of Christ

2. From the Covenant

3. From Circumcision

4. Because Infants Belong to the Kingdom of Heaven

5. Because the Children of Believers Are Holy

6. Because Nothing Prevents the Baptism of Infants

7. From the Fathers

The first is “Infant Baptism is proved from the command of Christ”

The command of Christ is:

Matt. 28:19 “ Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Matt. 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Infant baptism is included in this command by Jesus. We can conclude this because

(a) Infants are included in the command to baptize the nations. When you state something about the group as a whole the particulars are included.

(b) The intent of the command is to highlight the means of gathering and preserving the Church. This is given to the apostles and to be continued through their successors and will be done until the end of time. The church is made up of infants and adults, therefore baptism will be administered to both. However the condition of both are different. Adults should be taught then baptized while infants should first be baptized as Christian and taught afterwards.

(c) In saying, “all nations” the command is not limited to the Jews but is to include the Gentiles also. In the Old Testament the administration of circumcision was to the infants and adults. Therefore the administration of baptism should be treated the same.

(d) Lastly the custom of the apostles tell of the meaning of the precept and demonstrate by their practice how they understood it. They baptized families:

Acts 16:15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

1Cor. 1:16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

The objection is raised, “Christ says, ‘make disciples’ before he says, ‘baptizing them’ implying that teaching and understanding precede baptism therefore infants are excluded.” Turretin says that this “teaching” refers to adults that were to make up the gathering of the Church in the initial period. Turretin categorizes them as the church “to be constituted” and the church “constituted”. While adults belong to the first category, infants belong to the second. Therefore adults are to be taught and instructed before baptism as they are part of the “church to be constituted”. But infants are part of the “church constituted” therefore they are to be baptized and then instructed. Turretin interprets this based off the predicate of the command. “Infants” he says, “are not capable of instruction, therefore it does not pertain to them.”

Yet the command of Christ can be interpreted analogically based of the nature of the covenant with Abraham

Gen. 17:19 God said,“No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name  Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

The word used by Jesus could be rendered to teach but this is not to be teach in the sense that someone learns by hearing a sermon preached. This is the sense of “making disciples” which is why many versions have rendered this “make disciples”. The means of “making disciples” is by the administration of baptism. Where we understand baptism as an initiation rite, it is the “first entrance into the church” as Turretin states.

In John 4:1 John states:

John 4:1   Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and  baptizing more disciples than John

The phrase  “making disciples” means more than “teaching”. It is making a disciple and receiving them into a discipline. This might be understood much like an apprentice in today’s terms and this was common in the Jewish culture in 1st century Judaism. Those who were made disciples weren’t made disciples because they were already taught but so that through learning they would be taught.

Support for this is found by the first word in Matt 28:20 “teaching”. The ones to be taught are the disciples in verse 19 (make disciples) and the way they are made disciples is they are baptized then taught.