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Are Mark 10:13-16 (and its parallels) valid prooftexts for paedobaptism?

I recently read Baptism: Three Views, ed. by David Wright, with Sinclair Ferguson arguing for paedobaptism, Bruce Ware for credo-baptism, and Anthony Lane for dual practice.

I thought Ferguson’s selections were the best parts of the book, and there is much in his case for paedobaptism that I agree with. For example, I thought he handled the symbolic meaning of the sacrament better than the other writers: he shows how baptism ultimately points to Christ (not our faith!).

One of the things that I found unconvincing about Ferguson’s case, however, was his repeated appeal to Jesus’ blessing of children in Mark 10, Matthew 19, and Luke 18, and in particular Jesus’ statement, “to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.”

Why I respectfully feel that this statement by Jesus falls short of an argument for paedobaptism:

First, Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, not to children per se. What he is commending is child-likeness, with all that it entails, as a prerequisite to entering the kingdom.

As in Matthew 18:3-4, where anyone (of any age) can enter, if they become like a child: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (italics mine). Or Mark 10:15/Luke 18:17: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Second, Jesus’ statement is not made with respect to the “children of believers,” but children in general. He is not talking about covenant children.

Third, Jesus refers to children entering the kingdom, which is not precisely what evangelical paedobaptists believe is happening at the baptism of an infant. Kingdom entrance is associated in Colossians 1:13-14 with redemption and forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ point, in my opinion, can be summarized as follows: kingdom entrance requires childlikeness. For these passages to constitute an argument for paedobaptism, Jesus would have to say that church membership (not the kingdom) belongs to children (not those like children) of believers (not children in general).

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Gavin,

    Good post. Just one thing. With regards to entering the Kingdom, paedobaptists do believe that baptism is the initiation into the Kingdom – visibly considered. In other words, the Kingdom, like the church, can be understood in a two-fold fashion: as visible and invisible. While baptism need not necessarily initiate one into the invisible (although, it may) church/Kingdom, it does (always) initiate them into the visible church/Kingdom.

    Perhaps some more explication is needed on the “although, it may” comment. With Calvin we believe that God may regenerate a person through baptism (and ordinarily does). God is sovereign and he can regenerate when he pleases. He may regenerate a person before baptism, even as early as the womb. Or he may regenerate a person during baptism. Or, he may regenerate a person after their baptism. But Baptism, while a sign and seal, is also more than that. We don’t have a – if I can put it this way – Zwinglian view of Baptism. Baptism is a means of grace, not a mere symbol. And it actually confers what it symbolizes – in the elect only, and in God’s time. In other words, this view of Baptism as a means of grace is not ex opere operato.

    Hope that helps.


  2. Its good to hear from you again, Jim. I am familiar with paedobaptist argumentation on this point, but I would understand from Luke 17:20-21 the kingdom of God to be, strictly speaking, an invisible reality. I am therefore not comfortable speaking of the “visible kingdom” like we speak of the visible church.

    Two of your points I can, as a Baptist, wholeheartedly agree with:
    1) I would agree from Psalm 22:9-10 and Luke 1:15 that God can regenerate from the womb.
    2) I agree that baptism, in addition to being a sign and seal, actually communicates grace when met with faith.

    There are many other points which I would see differently from what you wrote, but perhaps one place to begin would be to ask: if baptism confers “in the elect only,” why not give it to those who give evidence of election (i.e., through profession of faith)? But obviously that leads into the larger discussion….

    Feel free to comment or email if you’d like to dialogue further.

  3. Hi Gavin,

    Thanks for your good reply.

    I am thinking, of course, of what the Westminster Confession says when it states that the church “is” the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. This becomes at once evident in numerous places such as the parable of the tares and wheat where they are referred to as “the Kingdom.” Given the mixture that is there we can not say that it is a reference to an invisible Kingdom, but a visible one. Also, the teaching of Christ with reference to the Keys of the Kingdom where the elders of the church have the authority to bind and loose on earth what is bound and loosed in heaven. I know more exegesis needs to be done here. But suffice it to say that the Kingdom is not always and everywhere an invisible reality in the New Testament.


  4. Thanks for your interaction, Jim. I’ll reflect on those Scriptures, and how they pertain to the relation between the church and the kingdom. I am sorry I don’t have time right now to follow up in any detail.

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