Founders Journal


A Review of Baptism

Should Babies Be Baptized, by T. E. Watson. London: Grace Publications, 1995, 125 pp.

Reviewed by Fred A. Malone

This expanded republication of Baptism Not for Infants (1962), often overlooked, is a welcome addition to any shelf as a useful refutation of infant baptism. Watson's unique method of argument is to take quotations exclusively from paedobaptist authors and allow them to refute each other. The result is a persuasive nonsectarian rejection of every Scripture and argument used by paedobaptists to defend infant baptism. The often heard argument that disagreements between paedobaptists on each Scripture and argument actually strengthens the case for infant baptism from all the Scriptures makes no sense in the light of Watson's presentation.

On his way to the Anglican ministry, the Thomas Watson was converted and began to question the Anglican baptismal regeneration position. As a lover of the Puritans, he questioned how he could disagree with such learned men (a common confession by many today). However, seeing that the sacraments are not small matters, and that he must be convinced in conscience by Scripture alone in order to baptize babies, he came to reject each point and ground of infant baptism biblically for himself. Along the way, he discovered great disagreement between paedobaptists themselves.

Chapter headings deal with such questions as did the Jews, John the Baptist, Christ, or the apostles baptize babies? He asks if Christ ordered the baptism of babies? Major paedobaptists answer in the negative. He discusses indirect evidence, the antiquity of infant baptism, Old Testament arguments, Charles Hodge's "church" argument, J. G. Vos' "covenant" argument, as well as his own position that infant baptism is unauthorized by and inconsistent with New Testament teaching. Closing chapters deal with the evils of infant baptism. Appendices deal with the blessing of babies, the antiquity of infant baptism, and the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The result is an astonishing refutation of the doctrine from the mouths of paedobaptists themselves.

Such classic Scriptures used by paedobaptists as Acts 2:39 and 1 Cor. 7:14, as well as the household baptism texts are so well refuted by major paedobaptists that one cannot use them with any confidence to support infant baptism anymore. Watson's paedobaptist analysis of the Great Commission firmly establishes its intention for the baptism of disciples alone. Further, Watson's discussion of the antiquity of infant baptism reveals paedobaptist evaluations that the Apostolic and Church Fathers do not provide clear testimony that infant baptism is an apostolic tradition. His revealing analysis of how Charles Hodge and J. G. Vos are inconsistent with their own definitions of "church" and "covenant of grace" in order to establish their argument for infant baptism is masterful.

Watson's last chapter on the evils of infant baptism catalogues misleading statements from paedobaptists such as Pierre Marcel, as well as from church confessions, which have led many thousands into dangerous presumption concerning their salvation because of their infant baptism. Watson does not wish to be a controversialist, but he cannot help noting in church history how such presumption has led to the downfall of many. He also charges that the "resistible grace" and breakable covenant of Pierre Marcel for covenant children is really a tenet of Arminianism. I think he is right.

In his conclusion, Watson brings three significant applications. First, if infant baptism is unbiblical, then everyone needs to be baptized "as a professed believer to keep the ordinance of Christ." Second, one cannot continue as a Christian worker or minister in any church or denomination which makes infant baptism obligatory. And, third, if it is unbiblical, then one is obligated to show others the error of their ways.

Watson's little book is extremely persuasive and useful in considering arguments for and against infant baptism. The large and significant disagreement between paedobaptists on each point, specific Scriptures, and various grounds for infant baptism is condemning, as is B. B. Warfield's statement: "Let us confess that we do not all argue alike or aright. But is not this a proof rather of the firm establishment in our hearts of the practice?" (Studies in Theology, p. 406). To which Watson responds: "Indeed it is, and hence men are so slow to give the practice up" (79).

Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism. By Robert R. Booth. Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 190 pp.

Reviewed by Fred A. Malone

Children of the Promise is an attractive and well-presented argument for the paedobaptist position. Formerly a Baptist pastor, Booth writes simply and with the sensitivity of one who has wrestled seriously with the doctrine of baptism, settling into the paedobaptist position. His call for charity toward one another with open Bibles is a needed call which resonates with every true Christian.

Developing his argument along the lines of a theology of the biblical covenants, Booth argues that the Old Testament "covenants of promise" were an unfolding of the one covenant of grace. Therefore, to Booth, the covenant of grace, by definition, includes the household and its children as did the covenants of promise. From this assumption and inference, Booth concludes that the New Covenant, as the fulfillment of those Old Testament covenants of promise, must also include the household and its children by definition. Therefore, just as the household children were circumcised in the covenants of promise, so the household children of the New Covenant receive the sign and seal of baptism. This line of reasoning is Booth's primary argument. To prohibit household children from the sign of baptism would require for Booth a specific statement prohibiting them, even if the instituted commands and examples of baptism in the New Testament described "disciples only" baptism. For Booth, positive instituted New Testament revelation cannot override logical inference from the Old Testament.

Booth includes an appendix entitled "Samuel Miller's Argument from Church History," even though Pierre Marcel (The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, see review in Founders Journal 35) denies that such an argument is worthy of use in the debate on baptism. Miller argues that from Tertullian forward, infant baptism was the accepted practice of the church until the Anabaptists arose, thus establishing the supposed apostolic tradition of infant baptism.

Typical of paedobaptist arguments, neither Booth nor Miller discuss the importance of the Didache (100-125 A. D.), the earliest tradition of the apostles outside of the New Testament, which actually is a church manual giving directions for how baptism should be practiced. Yet it only describes the baptism of disciples, a glaring omission if infant baptism were practiced. Miller's essay is a weak presentation of the historical argument.

Another appendix has Booth's chart of the similarities between circumcision and baptism. While Baptists recognize many of Booth's comparisons (ie., cleansing and regeneration), he misses the most important point of his own comparison: that circumcision was an Old Testament type of which regeneration, not baptism, is the antitype (Rom. 2:27; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11-12).

Baptism is the new sign given in the New Covenant to those who have repented and believed as evidence of that regeneration (heart circumcision) and membership in the effectual New Covenant (Heb. 8:8-12). It is retrospective of the antitypical reality of which circumcision was the type. Booth does not understand that the connection between circumcision and baptism is that of prospective and retrospective signs of the reality they both symbolize, the regeneration of the heart. This is why Holy Spirit regeneration is called the "seal" in the New Testament (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:20), not baptism, as Booth claims. It is perfectly plausible for the prospective sign to be required typically of the Old Testament people of God while reserved antitypically and retrospectively for the New Testament people of God in the fulfillment. And this is exactly what the biblical evidence presents against Booth's logical inference.

One reason Booth's argument is not persuasive to covenantal Baptists is its glaring exegetical errors on major points. For instance, his definition of a biblical covenant goes beyond Scriptural evidence by "good and necessary consequence." Booth's definition of a divine biblical covenant is: "a conditional promise, sealed by blood, sovereignly administered by God, with blessings for those who obey the conditions of the covenant and curses for those who disobey its conditions" (24). Booth would be hardpressed to fit the Noahic Covenant into this definition as well as the unbreakable and effectual New Covenant (Jer. 31:27-34; 32:40), guaranteed successful in each member by God Himself (32:40).

Booth takes the New Testament warnings against false conversion experientially and forces that possibility to redefine every divine covenant as conditional and breakable--all to justify infant baptism of covenant members who later can become covenant breakers. This a priori approach to biblical revelation is too obvious to be accepted.

One other example of the kinds of exegetical errors which mar the book is Booth's biblical definition of "new" in the New Covenant. He actually says:

"The Hebrew word for 'new,' hadash, used in reference to the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, is not the meaning 'brand new'; rather, it means 'renewed' or 'fresh.' The new covenant, like previous covenantal administrations, added to and expanded the redemptive revelation of God. It renewed the previous covenants, rather than replacing them" (51).

This "renewal" statement is a huge exegetical error, which is a major point for Booth's definition of the New Covenant as a breakable covenant for infant baptized members. It also appears to support the theonomic position. Yet how can the New Covenant "renew" the Sinai Covenant, which it is "not like," when it replaces it in Gal. 3:19 and Heb. 8:8-12? Further, it takes little effort to open a concordance and to see that hadash is used of a "brand new" king (Ex. 1:8), house (Deut. 22:8), wife (Deut. 24:5), cart (1 Sam. 6:7), song (Psa. 33:3), heavens (Isa. 66:22), heart (Ezek. 36:26), and a brand new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), instead of "renewed" or "fresh." The same is true of kaina (new) in the Greek New Testament. Booth's sloppy hermeneutics and exegesis cannot be given serious consideration by covenantal Baptists. It also grossly misleads the lay reader who may not know how to check such misleading statements.

Finally, Booth's cry for charity between disagreeing brethren rings hollow in light of the offensive way he gradually identifies the covenantal Baptist argument with dispensationalism ("the dispensational and baptistic argument" p. 80). He actually says, "While some Baptists have sought to defend their view of baptism with a covenantal method of interpretation, most Baptists have not taken this approach. Over against the covenantal approach, the dispensational method of interpretation emphasizes the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments" (18). Either Booth is ignorant of the historical Baptist argument from the covenantal view, or else he misrepresents the facts to the uninformed reader on purpose. The 1689 London Baptist Confession, Abraham Booth, Adoniram Judson, Alexander Carson, John L. Dagg, R. B. C. Howell, Charles H. Spurgeon, Paul H. Jewett, Walter Chantry, the reviewer, and many others (including David Kingdon referenced by Booth), all have argued for the baptism of professing believers within a covenantal Baptistic perspective. All would be offended at being classified as dispensationalists, as Booth so cleverly does. If he wants to say that many numbers of modern Baptists are dispensational, then he should say so. But that is not the same as to say that most Baptists have argued from a dispensational perspective. Such careless language does not foster brotherly charity between covenantal Baptists and paedobaptists.

All in all, Booth's attempt to justify infant baptism is valiant if exegetically and logically flawed. One has trouble believing that all paedobaptists would even agree with his definition of a covenant (John Owen does not), which is a fundamental issue. If one were looking for a good argument to become a paedobaptist, and if one felt comfort reading of a former Baptist's theological journey, then one might become convinced by Booth's presentation to leave the trials of reforming a difficult Baptist church, or denomination, and to seek the safe haven of paedobaptist service and ministry. But if one is looking for sound hermeneutics and exegesis, an understanding and refutation of the covenantal Baptist position, and a better argument for infant baptism, this book will sadly disappoint.