What about the baptism of John?

Over Christmas, I read the updated re-print of David Kingdon’s Children of Abraham. Among the updated sections is an excellent chapter on John the Baptist. Personally, I think the book is worth the money for that chapter alone.

In a previous post, referencing another article, I highlighted that many paedobaptists argue the following:

we would expect to find some mention in the New Testament if, after thousands of years of including children in the covenant community as recipients of the covenant sign, things were supposed to be so radically different in the new covenant era.

Kingdon’s comments on the ministry of John the Baptist deal with this objection to believer’s baptism head on. You will have to buy the book (which you can get here) to see his full argument. However, I wanted to share one particular comment he makes in respect to this question.

The evidence seems very clear that John did not baptise infants. His baptism is administered to those who confess their sins… William Hendriksen, a paedobaptist, comments: ‘Without confession of sins no baptism! For those who truthfully repented of their evil state and wicked conduct baptism… was a visible sign and seal of invisible grace (cf. Rom. 4:11), the grace of the forgiveness of sins and adoption into God’s family.’ This is a statement to which all baptists could give hearty assent.

Those who are capable of confessing their sins are clearly not infants who cannot yet talk, as Francis Turretin clearly recognises. He writes: ‘John admitted no one to baptism unless he confessed his sins because he was dealing with the baptism of adults’, though in the next sentence he denies that this has anything to do with the baptism of infants: ‘But it does not follow that the same should be done with infants’. However, he makes this assertion without supplying any evidence whatsoever!

We have already noticed that the disciples of Jesus administered a baptism that was identical with that practised by John – a baptism of disciples who commit themselves in baptism to the lifestyle of God’s remnant people (Jn. 4:1-2). We have also noticed that our Lord acknowledged that his work and that of John are intimately connected. He avers to the Jewish religious leaders that John’s baptism has behind it the same authority as his own dramatic act in cleansing the temple – it is from heaven. Clearly, then, he was endorsing a baptism that was not for infants, but only for those capable of confessing their sins.

An important implication follows from this. If John the Baptist only baptised those who were capable of confessing their sins and if the disciples of our Lord followed this same practice with his approval, why should it be so difficult to believe that the apostolic church did not practice infant baptism?

David Kingdon, Children of Abraham, (Grace Publications, 2021), p.192

In addressing the above question directly, Kingdon says the following:

In light of John’s ministry, the neat schema of circumcision/baptism is to be questioned. For in baptising only those capable of confessing their sins, John clearly abandoned the principle of you and your seed (Gen. 17:10). Furthermore, our Lord, in endorsing John’s baptism, clearly did the same.

Earlier in this book, I pointed out the dilemma that faces paedobaptists when it comes to the baptism of John: on their principles, John should have baptised infants as well as adults, since he would, as a Jew, have accepted the principle of ‘you and your seed’. Yet he did not baptise infants. There would seem to be no satisfactory answer to that question, from a paedobaptist standpoint.

To insist that the principle of ‘you and your seed’ is meant to continue in force beyond the ministry of John the Baptist is thus to assume that the clock of redemptive history be turned back and the principle be re-established, having for a time been set aside. But this would be without precedent in scripture.

Kingdon (2021), p.195

You will, of course, have to buy the book to hear the rest of his argument. Not just the fuller discussion of John the Baptist’s ministry, but his entire case. But I do agree with him, due weight is often not given to John’s ministry and, I think, more should be.