A Quick Footnote to “Reformed, Baptists, and Infant Baptism” re: Acts 2:38-39

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Paul Liberati’s series Reformed, Baptist, and Infant Baptism, especially his most recent pieces, “Concluding With Continuity” and “The Principle of Covenant Solidarity”.  While reading these posts, I was struck again by the power of Acts 2:38-39 as a proof text when rightly understood in its Biblical Historical context, as Paul explains well.  But, unfortunately, equally striking to me is how summarily it is rejected by Credobaptists, to the point that Paedobaptists rarely even bring it up anymore. It seems that the clause, “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” qualifies the whole statement for Credobaptists, wiping out all presumed covenant continuity or solidarity. So I asked Paul if I might add one footnote to his piece in order to highlight and reiterate the probative force of Peter’s words on the subject by surveying some more Biblical passages that led up to Peter’s proclamation. (Please forgive any redundancy as Paul has covered the same territory, but by a somewhat different path.)

We Paedobaptists do not, of course, expect this passage to win the day in the baptism debate (which is why Paul is covering this so extensively).  But we would argue that if taken in the context of the hearers—viz., adult male Jews, Old Covenant members who were familiar with the promises—it lends a lot of weight to our position of Covenant continuity, including the proper subjects of Covenant Signs.

Christ had indeed come to these very hearers to confirm the promises made in the Old Covenant:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs. (Romans 15: 8)

And Peter in the following chapter says to his fellow Jews,

You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:25-26)

And these Jews had always understood the Covenant and the promises, including the promise of the Spirit, to be to they and their children:

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:7)

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 59:21)

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32: 39-40)

The Covenant sign, that which the Covenant signified, the Pentacost outpouring of the Spirit, and the renewed Covenant, all promised to their children. And Peter, in the very speech in question, quotes the following as realized that very day of Pentacost:

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)

clearly hearkening back to Isaiah 44:3 and household solidarity (sons, daughters, old men, and young men).

So, as  Peter does by no means breaks this centuries old pattern, nor the Jewish hearers’ expectations, but rather just repeats the standing formula from Genesis on; but with the one new addition:  “…and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  And we Paedobaptists, rather than diminishing God’s thousands of years way of covenanting, his constant generational promises, and the right presumption and expectation of Peter’s hearers, see the addition as the glorious new addition of the Gentile nations into the same promises along with Peter’s hearers.  No exclusivity!  This promise is to you and your children, and is the same promise to the “far off”, everyone God calls.  The “far off”, as in the following:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ… And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2: 13,17)

As promised in Isaiah,

“Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:19)

So, given the history of God’s dealing with the hearers in question, that the promises spoken of here were always also extended to the children, and that Peter used the exact formula of his predecessors, it seems plain to us Paedobaptists that the addition of “far off” and “whom God will call” is the grand extension of the “you and your children” principle to all the nations of the earth.  It was the day of Pentecost after all.

The worst way to interpret this passage, to my lights, is to abstract it from the whole of Redemptive History, interpreting it as though it was not couched within thousands of years of covenant relationship between God and His people.


3 thoughts on “A Quick Footnote to “Reformed, Baptists, and Infant Baptism” re: Acts 2:38-39

  1. Brandon Adams May 7, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    I would recommend reading E. Calvin Beisner’s (OPC) treatment of the text.

    “Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world. Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.”

    As well as Meredith Kline on Acts 2:39 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnL__JxiqWo


    • Nathan van Eyk December 8, 2017 / 10:26 pm

      The promise (of the Holy Spirit) can be given to God’s covenant people, but the promise (of the Holy Spirit) can only be received by faith. Additionally, the “call” in “everyone whom the Lord our God shall call” is not the effectual call, because the promise can be extended to the non-elect, as it had been in the Old Testament.

      The promise of the Holy Spirit is to be extended to the visible church (i.e., covenant members and their children and anyone outside the covenant who the Lord calls). And if some don’t receive that promise? Well, Romans 3:1-4. It is not God who is unfaithful! Let God be true though every man a liar!


  2. Angela Werner December 12, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    Nathan, thank you! Excellent response to credo-baptist objections on the continuity of infant initiation into the covenant community.


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