One of the most common arguments I hear against the baptism of children in the New Covenant is that the New Testament pattern is adults being baptized upon profession of faith. The pattern is repent/believe and be baptized. I don’t want to argue that this is not true, but want to paint a fuller picture of the Biblical testimony in order to better understand how infant baptism is consistent with the biblical narrative.
Did you know that the Old Testament pattern of the application of the sign of the covenant starts with an adult (Abraham) who has faith before the covenant sign is applied (Rom 4:11)? And do you know who received the covenant sign after Abraham? His teenage son, Ishmael, and all the men of his household, which was at least 318 adults (Gen 14:14, Gen 17:24-27). After that, infants – like Abraham’s son Isaac – began to receive the sign of the covenant as well (Gen 21:4). So, initially it was a believing adult who received the sign, along with the adults of his household. Adults continued to receive the sign into the future (if they joined the Israelites from another people group), though over time it was more common for infants to receive the sign than it was for adults. And obviously infants received the sign before they believed the promises of God. As generations went by, you had fathers who would have been circumcised as infants, who had their children circumcised as infants, and so on.
I would argue that this paradigm is what we find in the New Testament as well. It is simply that we do not have nearly the historical timelapse in the New Testament to see it played out as we do in the Old Testament. That said, we do have evidence of the same pattern.
Like the Old Testament, the first to be baptized are those who believe before the covenant sign is applied (Acts 2:41). That said, upon their hearing, Peter also makes it clear that while the New Covenant IS new, there are certain aspects of continuity with the Old. For example, in Acts 2:39 Peter makes clear that these New Covenant promises and blessings are not only for those Jews who were hearing, but also for their children (and for those who are far off – i.e. Gentiles and their children). So among other things, we see that the Old Testament household pattern of the covenant sign continues in the New Testament, a fact that is further clarified with the household baptisms of the New Testament: the household of Stephanas – 1 Cor 1:16, the household of Lydia – Acts 16:13-15, and the household of the Philippian jailer – Acts 16:25-34 .
It is noteworthy that with Lydia, the passage only speaks to her faith in the Lord, but also notes that her entire household was baptized when she believed. Also with the Philippian jailer. The passage notes that the word was spoken to all in his house, and that all in the house were baptized, but only notes that he had believed:
34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.Acts 16:34
Maybe all of Lydia’s household believed as well. Maybe all of the jailer’s household too. We aren’t told. Maybe there were children, maybe there weren’t. The point for us to consider is that there is obvious continuity with the way the covenant sign was applied in the Old Testament… to Abraham and his household. And just like with the jailer and Lydia, we know Abraham believed before the sign was given, but he and his household received the sign of God’s covenant.