Baptism: Why Wait?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Here’s a common question that Catholics get from our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ: Why do Catholics baptize infants?

First off, let’s go over briefly why baptism is important. Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist in a baptism of repentance, but after Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church, baptism wasn’t just symbolic but salvific, according to Jesus himself in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”. St. Peter clarifies this even more in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. So we can see that baptism is actually necessary for salvation (yea there’s exceptions thanks to God’s mercy for people who haven’t ever heard the Gospel and stuff).

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is one of the cooler passages about baptism and demonstrates its importance:

“An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down to Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Cada’ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said. “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now this passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “Please, about whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” – Acts 8:26-38

We can see from this story that it is important to be baptized as soon as possible, and the joy that it gave them both.

Now, it’s safe to say that most Christians are in agreement about everything that I’ve said so far. The tricky part is the question of what age is a good age to be baptized. Catholics baptize infants, and some Protestants have issues with that because they really haven’t made a choice for themselves. I can see their point. But we have to remember that Baptism is a sacrament that gives grace, no matter what choice you had in it.

Let’s look at examples of what the apostles said and did in terms of baptism. In his first big speech, St. Peter told all the people of Jerusalem, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to y our children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” in Acts 2:38-39. There were no clauses in what he or Jesus said that designated only adults. St. Paul baptized Lydia and her entire household (children included probably) in Acts 16:15 after they converted. A similar thing happened with the jailer and his whole family in Acts 16:33. St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:16 that he baptized the entire household of Steph’anas.

As we can see, there is plenty of evidence for the baptism of infants in scripture. Denying the affects of baptism just because of someones age seems to make the sacraments more about us and less about God’s power. In fact, the bulk of the proof lies on the side of the Protestants (as it seems to in all of these sorts of things), since from the earliest Christian traditions infants were always baptized. It is treated like circumcision for the Jews, so the only time that an issue came up in the early Church, in the 3rd century, was whether or not to delay baptism to the 8th day, like circumcision. Origen wrote in Commentaries on Romans 5:9 in A.D. 248 that “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.”

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it; they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:15-17

See more: Catholic Answers


2 thoughts on “Baptism: Why Wait?

  1. Thanks for this. I started my whole in-depth series on Baptism (I think I’m going to re-title it “Baptism in Depth” :P) specifically to address the issue of infant Baptism. But I realized I needed, in my usual, slow, deliberate, long-winded way, to first establish what Baptism is, what it does, why it matters… I’ll get to infant Baptism eventually. 🙂

  2. If people will go to heaven without ever hearing the Gospel, then why bring anyone the Gospel? Wouldn’t that just be damning them to hell? In your line of reason, we should warn people that if anyone tries to share the Gospel of Christ with them, they should put their fingers in their ears and run the other direction. Jesus commanded us to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel”. Right? What is the Gospel? Repent and believe on The Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. I noticed that your Catholic Bible version of Acts suspiciously leaves out what the eunuch asked and then Philip’s answer.

    Acts 8:36-37
    “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
    Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

    Belief precedes baptism. A baby can’t believe, nor can they appeal toward God for a good conscience. You can’t put infant baptism on equal footing with circumcision because if you consider Jews who have converted to Christianity (Jews for Jesus and such) they absolutely do not baptize their infants. Wouldn’t they hold to infant baptism if it takes over for circumcision? After all, they are the people that God originally gave circumcision to. Infant baptism is such an easy thing to do, so it seems that if it could truly save, all denominations would be practicing it. I pray that you will search the Scripture as a faithful Berean to see if Catholic tradition is truly of God’s Word or man made. God will honor a heart that truly searches.

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