“Can you give me a Bible verse on infant baptism?” I often hear this from Catholics who want to explain the Church’s teaching on the subject to non-Catholics.
Well, no and yes. No, because there is no Bible verse that says, “Baptize infants” (just as there is no Bible verse that says, “Do not baptize infants”). But, yes, I can give you a Bible verse on infant baptism if you understand that the Church’s teaching on this subject flows from the Church’s teachings on original sin and the sacrament of baptism.
In this article, I will focus on explaining, from the Bible, the Church’s teaching on original sin to help us understand the Church’s teachings on baptism. Most non-Catholics don’t care about what the pope says or what the Catechism says or what Vatican II says. They want to know: “Where is that in the Bible?”
The doctrine of original sin is that “in” Adam all have sinned. This parallels the doctrine of justification that “in” Christ all are righteous. Many Catholics do not fully understand or appreciate the importance of this parallel and how it weaves through much of Catholic teaching.
We can begin to understand this parallel—namely, through the first Adam all have died and through the second Adam (Christ) all have life—by looking at Romans 5. Verse 12 says that “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin.” And look at the evidence throughout verses 15–19: “Many died through one man’s trespass. . . . For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation. . . . Because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man. . . . Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men. . . . By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.”
Look at verse 16: “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation.” Who did it bring condemnation for? Adam only? No—verse 18 says, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men” (emphasis added). This is stated even more clearly by the King James rendering the same verse: “Therefore, as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”
These passages are all about the Church’s doctrine of original sin. Because of Adam’s sin, all men were made subject to sin and death. That is Scripture’s teaching on the doctrine of original sin.
This sin of Adam’s was not your ordinary sin. This was a sin that affected all mankind forever. This sin changed the course of human history. It did not just affect Adam personally; it also affected his human nature—which means it affected our nature, since we inherited it from him. Adam and Eve were created with immortal bodies. They knew no suffering, they knew no disease, they knew no death. Before the fall, their bodies would not have been subject to cancer or to Alzheimer’s disease or heart attacks or muscular dystrophy or sickle cell anemia or any one of a host of other diseases. But ours are.
Adam was tested by God not just as Adam but as the representative of the whole human race, since we are all the seed of Adam. Just as David and Goliath met on the battlefield as champions of their respective armies, Adam was our champion. If your champion lost in battle to the other army’s champion, then you lost the battle—even though you never unsheathed your sword and were never bloodied in battle. David slew the Philistines’ champion and the Philistines took off running (cf. 1 Sam. 17:51). In the battle against the evil one, Adam lost. As a result, we also lost.
Some folks have a problem with the concept that we, Adam’s posterity, should have to pay a price for a sin we didn’t commit. They do not understand how the Church is using the term original sin. As the Catechism says, “original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’—a state and not an act” (CCC 404).
Adam’s sin changed everything—for him and for us. There was a fundamental change in man’s relationship with God. God no longer walked the earth with man. What’s more, Satan was now ruler of the world. There was a fundamental change in the relationship of man to nature and a fundamental change in nature itself (cf. Rom. 8:19–22). A fundamental change in the relationship between man and woman. A fundamental change in relationships among all men, since sin and death had entered the world. A fundamental change in the nature of man himself. It’s all right there in the Bible. And it is the Church’s teaching on the doctrine of original sin.
But for each of those verses in Romans 5 about how Adam’s disobedience affected us, there is a parallel verse describing how Jesus’ obedience affected us. This parallel is paramount. One man’s disobedience leads to death for all; one man’s obedience leads to life for all. We see this parallel in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Let’s expand for a minute on this concept of being “in” Adam. The writer of Hebrews says something interesting in referring to when Abraham and Melchizedek met in Genesis 14: “Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham. For he was still in the loins of his ancestor [Abraham] when Melchizedek met him [Abraham]” (Heb. 7:9–10).
Levi wasn’t born for another seventy years or so after this incident of Abraham paying a tithe to Melchizedek, yet the Bible says that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. How is that possible? Because Levi was in Abraham—in his loins, according to the Bible.
This is the same concept we are talking about with original sin and being in Adam and with salvation and being in Christ.
We are born with a fallen nature, a nature that is separated from God as a result of Adam’s sin. We have to be born again to become joined to God, to be in Christ, to become a member of the body of Christ, to be saved. We are born of Adam’s body into condemnation. We are born of Christ’s body unto salvation.
Finally, we reach the part where this ties into infant baptism. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In verse 5 he repeats himself: “Unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
In other words, being born again is the same thing as being born of water and the Spirit, and it is a necessary condition for entering the kingdom of God. Jesus is saying that a man must be born of water and the Spirit—in other words, he must be baptized. The Bible tells us that you cannot enter the kingdom of God if you are not baptized.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Remember that: The Bible says that which is born of the flesh is flesh. Not only that, but “it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” (John 6:63).
Now, when a child is born, it is born into the flesh. But the Bible tells us that the flesh is of no avail because of the consequences of original sin. That’s why Jesus says we have to be born again. The first birth is birth of the flesh, but we need something more in order to have life.
What is that something more? The Bible tells us: Everyone must be born of the Spirit in order to have eternal life; it is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh. And how do we receive the Spirit? The Bible tells us that we receive the Spirit by being born again—by being born of water and the Spirit—by being baptized. We find this in Ezekiel 36:25–27, John 3:3–5, Acts 2:38, and elsewhere. When we are baptized we put on Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27). We are buried with him in baptism (Rom. 6:4). We become members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). We receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). We become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
To sum up these last few paragraphs: Adam is the representative of the flesh. Christ is the representative of the Spirit. When we are born physically, born into the flesh, we are in Adam. When we are baptized—when we are born again, when we are born of the Spirit—we are in Christ. Infants need to be baptized, just like anyone else, so that they can be “in Christ,” so that they can put on Christ, so that they can become children of God, so that they can become members of the body of Christ, so that they can be granted eternal life.
One other Scripture passage that I like to use when discussing original sin is found in Ephesians 2:3: “Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” We see here another very clear reflection of Catholic teaching in the Bible. Ephesians 2:3 is, in a nutshell, the Catholic teaching on original sin: We were by nature children of wrath. That’s what the Catholic Church teaches.
So can I give you a Bible verse on infant baptism? Yes, if you remember two things:
1. We are by nature children of wrath. Original sin is real. It is not something the Catholic Church invented. We are born of the flesh, not of the Spirit. We are not born in a state of holiness. We are born in a state of original sin.
2. Through baptism we are “born again” and made new creatures in Christ; through baptism our sins are forgiven. Through baptism we become members of the body of Christ, which is the Church. Through baptism we receive the Holy Spirit; through baptism we are saved. Baptism is necessary for salvation.
The washing away of original sin is a good and necessary thing. The joining of the infant to the body of Christ, the Church, is a good and necessary thing. The infant receiving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a good and necessary thing. The infant receiving the free gift of God’s salvation is a good and necessary thing.
It’s that simple. As Catholics, we want all these things for our children, not just for adults. Why would anyone want to deny infants and children the incredible gifts received through baptism? As the Bible tells us, the promise is to you and your children (cf. Acts 2:39). When you explain infant baptism in the context of original sin and sacramental baptism—of being born into a state of original sin and being born again into a state of grace—you make a very powerful argument on behalf of the Church’s teachings in this area. And you do it straight from the Bible.