Is infant baptism a real baptism or just a dedication to the Lord?

Question
Is infant baptism a real baptism or just a dedication to the Lord?
Answer
Baptism is God's covenant sign and seal to his people. Infant baptism is just as real and as biblical as adult baptism. It's more than a dedication of a baby to the Lord which is often seen in some churches. A proper and complete interpretation of Scripture supports infant baptism (Acts 2:39; cf. Luke 18:15-16; 1 Cor. 7:14).

Consider Colossians 2:11-12:

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, 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.

Paul compares and contrasts the new covenant sacrament of baptism with old covenant circumcision. This is commented upon by Dr. R. Scott Clark:

The connection between baptism and circumcision is quite clear in Colossians 2:11-12. The connection is not direct, but indirect and the point of contact between them is Christ and baptism is the sign and seal of that circumcision.... The point not to be missed is that, in Paul's mind, baptism and circumcision are both signs and seals of Christ's baptism/circumcision on the cross for us. By faith, we are united to Christ's circumcision and by union with Christ we become participants in his circumcision/baptism. Because circumcision pointed forward to Christ's death and baptism looks back to Christ's death, they are closely linked in Paul's mind and almost interchangeable. [1]

Baptism replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of God's covenant. Under the old covenant circumcision was administered to both adults (Gen. 17:9-11; cf. Exod. 12:44, 48; Acts 7:8; Rom. 4:11-12) and children (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3; cf. Gen. 21:4; Luke 1:59; 2:21). Likewise, the covenant promises attached to baptism are rightfully given to both professing adults and their children (Acts 2:39). Indeed, numerous complete households are baptized in the New Testament (Acts 10:48; 16:15, 31; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; some include Gaius in 1 Cor. 1:14; Rom. 16:23). (Please see "What are Oikos Baptisms?" below.)

Covenant circumcision wasn't in recognition of something that an infant had done or a quality he had. After all, the child was only eight days old. Rather, circumcision was an outward statement of God concerning what he would divinely do with respect to those he commanded to receive the sign and seal of his covenant. Similarly, when infant baptism is properly done, it is not a declaration about something done by or a personal quality a baby has. Instead, it is an outward statement of God concerning the covenant blessings that he lovingly gives to all those whom he has commanded to receive his sign and seal. It is God's declaration concerning his covenant promises to both professing believers and their children (Acts 2:39).

So, while baby dedications may be acceptable in some denominations, covenant infant baptism is, by a good and necessary consequence of interpreting the whole counsel of God (tota scriptura), a biblical command (Acts 20:27; WCF. 1.6). God honors his covenant sign and seal to both infants and adults alike. It is a very real and literal covenant sign and seal of God's promise to those within his covenant. It is real, biblical, and in keeping with the terms of his everlasting covenant to all his people (Gen. 17:7, 13, 19; 2 Sam. 23:5; 1 Chron. 16:17; Psa. 105:10; Isa. 24:5; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 31:31-34; 50:5; Ezek. 16:59-60; 37:26; Heb. 13:20, etc.). (Please see "The Re-Newed or New Covenant?" below.)

Reference

[1] R. Scott Clark. A Contemporary Reformed Defense of Infant Baptism. 3 Sept. 2012. (http://rscottclark.org/2012/09/a-contemporary-reformed-defense-of-infant-baptism/). Last accessed 20 Sept. 2018.

Related Topics

What are Oikos Baptisms?
Baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2?
Mark 16:16 and baptismal regeneration?
Explaining Baptism in Children's Language
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
What is Sola Scriptura vs. Tota Scriptura?
The Re-Newed or New Covenant?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).