The following argumentation appears in Patrick Madrid’s Does the Bible Really Say That? under the topic of…infant baptism.
Some argue that the command to repent in Acts 2 means that repentance, something only someone above the age of reason can do (i.e., not an infant), is a prerequisite for baptism. Since infants lack the capacity to repent, they argue, infants can’t be baptized. This is a faulty argument however.
Let’s apply the same logic to 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where Saint Paul says that if someone does not work he shouldn’t be allowed to eat. Of course, infants cannot work. So does it follow therefore that infants should not eat? Of course not! (p. 114).
Now, having engaged the infant baptism issue in debate not too long ago, I admit it a little hard to shift from the meaningful arguments of my Presbyterian brothers to this kind of argument. We are truly in another world when we move from an intramural debate based upon the sufficiency of God’s Word to the Roman Catholic realm, where we always must keep in mind that the conflict between sola ecclesia and sola scriptura defines the battle lines.
I would surely make the argument presented by Madrid. The text is clear and compelling:
Acts 2:37-41 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Let us consider the text (something that we do not find Madrid doing in his book). Let us ask basic questions: who is the audience? What does the audience do? If this text is important in establishing the objects of Christian baptism, what conclusions can we draw from it? Having first allowed Acts 2 to speak for itself, we can then turn to Madrid’s attempted parallel to 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
First, the audience to which Peter speaks in v. 38 heard his preaching, v. 37. They respond to what they hear for they are “pierced to the heart.” That is, they heard, and they heard with understanding. They respond to what they hear and the conviction it brings by asking what they should do as a result of the proclamation they have heard and, evidently, believed. These are Jews gathered at Pentecost, and they have just heard their entire nation charged with the betrayal and crucifixion of none other than the Messiah Himself!
Peter’s response is direct. They are to do two things. They are to repent, an action that surely follows upon the previous indications of the capacities and abilities of Peter’s audience. And they, individually (“each of you”), are to be baptized, but not just any baptism, a uniquely Christian baptism, in the very name of the Messiah crucified, Jesus Christ. It is their repentance that brings the forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 3:21), and upon which grounds they are baptized. The first part of the promise is repentance brings forgiveness of sins; the second follows hard on it, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise of the Holy Spirit brings to mind the promises of God regarding the New Covenant, and Peter says that the promise is for you (his immediate audience), “your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Some interpret “your children” to refer to those who would have been present at the Pentecost celebration, referring to children who have not gained the age of maturity, but not to infants. I prefer a less complicated reading, where “to you and to your children” refers to the Jews, “those who are afar off” to the Gentiles. In any case, there is a delimiter present in the text: “as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Some see a general call here, but that would make the entire phrase extraneous, for if the “as many as” has reference to a universal group, no limitation or definition is being expressed. Instead, we have here the call of God unto salvation, for this is directly related to the promise of the Holy Spirit, who brings salvation to God’s people. So the promise is for Jews and Gentiles, for all the elect of God, or to borrow John’s later phraseology, “men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.” But the promise is to those who are called.
We note that after this commandment Peter did not stop testifying and exhorting, again, actions aimed at those capable of understanding. Note as well the fact that “those who had received his word were baptized” (41). Reception of the word indicates cognition, understanding, and acceptance. For those who look to the Scriptures as their rule of faith, there is little question as to who was baptized by Apostolic command here at the very beginning of the New Testament era. A great deal of extraneous argumentation must be mustered to find infant baptism when the text is clear: those who received the word were baptized.
Now, is the argument from this text as simplistic as Madrid represented it? Surely not. In fact, the text taken as a whole is compelling. And, it is that full examination of the text that shows just how shallow Madrid’s attempted parallel is to 2 Thessalonians 3:10:
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
See how Madrid created his own parallel that is not even in the text? Madrid has “if someone does not work he shouldn’t be allowed to eat.” The text actually says, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” This is in the context of undisciplined people “acting like busybodies” in contradiction of the apostolic command to “work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” This is a discussion of adults who are busybodies and unwilling to work. The entire connection drawn by Madrid is missing since Paul is talking about busybodies, people unwilling to work. Even attempting to draw the parallel demonstrates a cavalier mishandling of the text.
But, of course, the text of Scripture, since it is not the final authority in Roman Catholic teaching, can be used in any fashion the Roman apologist wishes: contextual considerations and care in handling the Word as a consistent revelation is overthrown by the exaltation of Roman tradition and teaching. This kind of argumentation is common in Roman Catholic works, all across the spectrum of issues where Rome’s tradition has violated Scriptural norms.