Infants and the Law

An ingredient that ought to be thrown into anyone’s stew if they are cooking up a theology about faith in children is this:

Infants are called to keep the law; infants can break the law.

Cursory examples are:

Gen 17 – Circumcision

Positive: Infants required to recieve circumcision;

Negative: he who did not receive circumcision are considered “cut off from his people”

Jdg 13 – Nazarite Vow

Positive: Samson required to be a Nazarite “from the womb”;

Negative: Samson must not drink alcohol – so his MOTHER could not drink it while he was in the womb, because it would cause HIM to break the command.


Ability to break the law does not necessarily imply ability to keep the law.

Ability to keep the law externally does not imply internal regeneration.

However, I do think the fact that the Law binds infants is important to the question.  At very least it implies that whenever we talk about the subject of covenant infants it must be through or with God’s law, and not apart from God ‘s law.

Unrepentant covenant breakers are supposed to be excommunicated.  One of the reasons that some paedobaptists refuse to commune children is because they are either unsure of their faith or are sure that they have no faith at such a stage.

IF we are sure they have NO FAITH, then the children are necessarily UNREPENTANT COVENANT BREAKERS.  This means we must not say of them:

Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world. (WCF XXVIII.1)

In other words, if we KNOW that children have no faith, then we CANNOT mean that baptism is an intentional sign of regeneration and faith.  BUT that is exactly what both the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Bible maintain.  Both Baptism and Circumcision are seals of the righteousness that comes through faith.  Baptism says “this one is in Christ and forgiven” (See the Bible):

[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (Rom 4.11 ESV)

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  (Col 2.11-14 ESV)

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  (Rom 6.3-4 ESV)

27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Maybe, I’ll edit more into this later.


5 Responses to Infants and the Law

  1. steve says:

    interesting. i had always assumed that those commandments that you refer to in Genesis and Judges, were more for the parents than the infant (i mean, how is an 8 day old boy supposed to circumcise themselves?)

    i do like your train of thought with the connection between covenant community membership and the covenant community code-of-conduct (Law). i’m just not sure that those passages are actually binding the INFANT. in Judges 13:4,7; the mother is essentially taking a Nazirite vow on behalf of her child until Samson can take it for himself as his own. If she breaks it (while he is in her womb), she condemns him, he would receive the punishment.

    i think we do not need to get bogged down in the specifics of these passages to go with the truth that the Law is binding on infants because we know that we are sinners from conception, in part because we are born of Adam, and also because we ourselves have broken the Law.

    hmm … however, doing that takes us from the covenant community to everyone else. … hmm … i’ll have to keep thinking on this.

    • saintluke says:

      I think what you say is important, Steve.

      Here is some ongoing thinking outloud:

      I do of course think that a child cannot cause the circumcision to happen, so you are right. What I am mainly thinking about is that the law directly affects the covenant status of a child.

      My parents were believers and I was/am in the covenant. I am a believer and my kids are in the covenant. Were I to have disbelieved – I AND my kids would have been cut off. So it might be my disobedience, but it is their covenant too.

      I assume when Abraham is told, “anyone who is not circumcised shall be cut off from his people” (Gen 17), it is a sort of metonymy or encapsulation of a larger idea – “anyone whose family rebels against their God, and stops worshiping, they all are cut off.” I don’t know that God is mechanically looking for “oops, you forgot to get circumcised; you go to hell.”

      In the same way that God says, “This is my covenant: Circumcision” (the WHOLE idea of the covenant wrapped up in the sign), we hear “any non-circumcisers” and think “people who reject the covenant.”

      More thoughts?

  2. davidwperry says:

    There is no record in the gospels of Jesus ever uttering the word “circumcision”.

    Speaking in the same breath of circumcision and baptism is a dreadful muddling of categories

    • saintluke says:


      Thank you for your comment.

      Paul says directly that we are circumcised BY baptism (Col 2.11-12).

      Circumcision in the Old Testament represented a change of heart: (Dt 10.12-22, Dt 30.1-10, Jer 4.1-4).

      Ezekiel 36.22-32 has this change of heart happening at a baptism (directly juxtaposing baptism and circumcision):

      25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
      26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

      This is probably a VERY close referent for Paul in Colossians 2.

      I hope this shows why historically baptism has always been present as the Christian circumcision, and has continued the practice of including children.

  3. davidwperry says:

    Do you believe that in New Testament times babies and small children underwent baptism?

    If you do, what evidence can you produce to back it up?

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