The New Covenant, Faith, and Infant Baptism?

PMT 2014-008b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Reformed Baptists argue that the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 indicates that all members of the new covenant will know the Lord. They see this as undermining the case for baptizing infants (who are incapable of faith) and including them within the new covenant community.  The point seems to be that a primary distinction between the new and old covenants is that under the new covenant there would be no members bearing the covenant sign unaccompanied by faith as there were under the old covenant.

How does a paedobaptist respond to this objection to infant baptism?

Just briefly I would point out that the focus in Jer 31 is on the nation’s disobedience to God despite God’s goodness to them (Jer 31:31-32). In contrast to their previous disobedience, God declares that the coming new covenant will have a spiritual power that the old covenant did not have. That is, through the new covenant God will write the law on the heart’s of men (Jer 31:33).This is his point: the promise of spiritual strength for insuring covenantal obedience. His point is not to define (or redefine) covenantal membership, but to promise strength for covenantal obedience through the internalizing of his law (by the Spirit, cf. Rom 8:1-4).

Infant Baptism” by Ken Gentry
A brief biblical introduction to infant baptism employing both Old Testament and New Testament exposition.

When he states that “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jer 31:34), this must be understood as over against their former disobedience. God reminds them of their past when he speaks of “the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke” (Jer 31:32). Thus, we must stick to his point: Israel of old disobeyed God, therefore God will correct the problem by internalizing his law.

Consequently, we must understand that in this new prophetic scenario he is setting future (mature) obedience over against the past (mature) disobedience. I doubt if v 32 would imply that the infants broke the covenant when they came out of Egypt, any more than 1 Cor 10:7 implies that infants “sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play” which involved acting “immorally” (1 Cor 10:8), testing the Lord (1 Cor 10:9), and grumbling (1 Cor 10:10). Likewise, here in Jer 31 God does not have in mind the infants when he speaks of the spiritual internalization of the law in the future new covenant. To bring in infants in this context is to mix apples and oranges — against the express context of comparison of adult actions.

The reference “from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jer 31:34), then, does not mean that the entire covenant membership in the new covenant era will have faith and knowledge of God (in a mature sense), so that we may surmise that by definition God no longer includes those incapable of mature faith. Rather, it means that all of the people in consideration who are involved in the particular problem in view (that problem being overt covenantal disobedience, such as not capable by an infant), will have the spiritual power for obedience under the new covenant. This is his point, and nothing more.

That he is speaking of adult problems (and therefore does not even consider the question of covenantal membership) is also indicated in the context: it also focuses on faithlessness and intentional behavior such as is incapable for infants to commit: “Set up for yourself roadmarks, / Place for yourself guideposts; / Direct your mind to the highway, / The way by which you went. / Return, O virgin of Israel, / Return to these your cities” (Jer 31:21). This is not a call to eight day old members of the covenant, but their representatives. Likewise the new covenant promise does not deal with the question of membership but of conduct.

Nourishment from the Word (by Ken Gentry)
Reformed studies covering baptism, creation, creeds, tongues, God’s law, apologetics, and Revelation.

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11 thoughts on “The New Covenant, Faith, and Infant Baptism?

  1. Joseph Grant Bradberry January 17, 2014 at 11:23 am

    You make the statement of, “spiritual internalization of the law in the future new covenant,” so did the law of God only exist externally in the Old Testament period? Thanks and God Bless

  2. Kenneth Gentry January 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    According to Jer 31:31-33 the new covenant differs from the previous (stone) covenant broken by Israel: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'” This apparently speaks of the pouring out of the Spirit whose presence is intensified in the new covenant era. See Heb 8:10, 16.

    This appears to be behind Paul’s imagery in 2 Cor 3:2-3, 6-7: “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…. Who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was.”

    Rom 8:3-4 “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

  3. Andrew K January 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    In response to Joseph Grant Bradberry – The law of God did in fact exist internally in those who were God’s people in the Old Testament period, however this was only because those that did had been changed by the power of the New Covenant, which is eternal. In other words, those who were true ‘believers’ in the Old Testament period had the law of God written on their heart (internalized) by the power of the cross. They were, in effect, Christians in the Old Testament time. Jeremiah prophesies the coming time when this glorious New Covenant will be revealed and all the people of God will have the law of God written on their hearts, however that New Covenant existed throughout all time and everyone who did in fact have the law written on their heart in the Old Testament had it written there because of the Cross. This wasn’t the case for Israel as a whole back then, who by and large tended to reject God and did not have the law written on their heart. This is an important subject I’m probably not doing it justice. The point is that every single person who ever was truly God’s, from our time, the New Testament time, the Old Testament time, and even before the Old Covenant was given – were all saved by the blood of Christ and had the law written on their heart.

  4. Kenneth Gentry January 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I certainly agree that all of God’s true people — in both the Old and New Testaments — were saved by the blood of Christ. And that they were brought to that saving knowledge by the Holy Spirit (since depraved sinners cannot come to Christ, John 6:44). But in the new covenant there is an increase in the work of the Holy Spirit, as indicated in John 7:39: “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This explains the glory of Pentecost and the coming baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1ff).

    I would not say that the new covenant existed in all times. Otherwise, it would not be a “new” covenant. God’s gracious covenant exists in all times, but receives greater strength in the coming of new covenant. Heb 8:13: “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”

  5. akeresey January 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Yes I agree – certainly the baptism of the Spirit and the increase in the work of the Spirit sets the New Covenant time period apart. When I say the New Covenant existed in all times, I guess what I mean is that no person was ever saved except by the New Covenant of Christ’s blood atonement. Joseph’s question seemed to me reminiscent of some dispensational friends’ I’ve had who thought that people in the Old Testament were saved by following the law, and that with the coming of Christ, salvation is entirely different now. When you say “God’s gracious covenant exists in all times” – I think that is what I’m trying to express.

  6. Andrew K January 17, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I guess its probably getting somewhat off the topic, but I think I’m emphasizing the Covenant of Grace vs. the Covenant of Works from John Bunyan’s famous chart:

    Click to access bun-map.pdf

  7. Vince January 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Another great apologetic for Paedo Baptism…!

  8. Steve Finnell June 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    There are two things involved in the salvation of mankind. What God provides and man’s responsibility.



    Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,

    All men who hear the gospel have the opportunity to accept God’s grace.

    Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

    Grace is God’s mercy. Men do not work in order to receive mercy. Mercy is an unmerited favor.

    Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    It is because of God’s grace that men have the possibility to receive the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We receive the gift of salvation because of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are not saved because of our good works or keeping the Law of Moses.


    1 John 4:9-10 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.


    Romans 10:13-15 14…And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent…..
    Matthew 28:18-20 ….19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations……20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…


    John 20:30-31….31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

    —God provides grace, a Savior, preachers of the gospel, and the Bible—


    Man’s responsibility is to be obedient to the gospel.

    2 Thessalonians 1:6-9….8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus……

    Obedience is required. Good works and following the Law of Moses are not equivalent to being obedient to the gospel.

    Hebrews 5:8-9…..9 And having been made perfect, He became toall those who obey Him the sourced of eternal salvation,

    Obedience is man’s responsibility in order to receive salvation.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

    You need to believe and be baptized in water in order to be saved.


    Whoever calls on Jehovah God will be saved. Calling on false Gods cannot save anyone.

    Acts 22:16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name!

    Saul was told to be baptized and call on the name of the Lord to have his sins washed away. Saul had already believed in Jesus and repented, while on the road to Damascus, three days prior.
    (Paul was not saved by faith only)

    Saul’s responsibilities were to believe in Jesus, repent (turn from sin and turn toward God), be baptized in water, and call on the name of the Lord.

    When you confess Jesus, you are calling on the name of the Lord.

    Romans 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

    Men must confess Jesus as Lord and savior and believe in His resurrection from the dead in order to be saved. (Men are not saved by grace alone)

    Acts 8:27-38…35 Then Phillip open his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said. “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [And Phillip said, :If you believe with all your heart , you may.”And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Phillip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

    The eunuch believed in Jesus, he repented, he confessed Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God. He was baptized in water. The eunuch fulfilled his responsibilities for salvation.

    On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and proclaimed Him Lord and Christ. When the 3000 believed Peter’s sermon, they asked what they should do? (Acts 2:22-38…..38 Peter said to them, Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

    Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

    Notice: Peter said be saved, future tense. After they believed and were baptized, then they were saved and added to the church. The three thousand souls were only added after they believed and were baptized.

    The Lord only adds the saved to His church. Acts 2:47 …And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    What was the responsibility of the 3000?
    1. To believe in the resurrected Jesus.
    2. To believe that Jesus was the Christ and accept Him as Lord. 3. To repent (repent means to make the commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God).
    4. They had to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.


    God provides: 1. Grace. 2. The Savior. 3. Preachers of the gospel. 4. His written word, the Bible.

    Man’s responsibilities: BE OBEDIENT 1. Listen to the gospel. 2. Believe the gospel. 3. Confess Jesus as Lord, the Christ, and as God’s only Son. 4. Believe that God resurrected Jesus from the dead. 5.Repent (make the commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God). 6. Be baptized in water.

    FAITH is for the forgiveness of sins.
    CONFESSION is for the forgiveness of sins.
    REPENTANCE is for the forgiveness of sins.
    WATER BAPTISM is for the forgiveness of sins.

    Men can be saved in two hours more or less. No work, no good deeds, and no law keeping is required—Then remain faithful until death. (Matthew 10:22)

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

  9. Kenneth Gentry June 11, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Thanks for you comment. However, I believe you are quite mistaken in seeing water baptism as necessary for salvation. Paul writes in 1 Cor 4:15: “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” And this is true despite the fact that he states in 1 Cor 1:14-17: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

  10. Patricia Watkins June 11, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Regarding the statement by S.F. above, – “Water baptism is for the forgiveness of sins” -, I would suggest reading and studying the identical phrase used in Luke 5:14, where Jesus has just instantaneously healed a leper,”…but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer FOR THY CLEANSING, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
    The word FOR indicates “as a result of” the man’s cleansing that Jesus had already performed, not “in order to secure” his cleansing. The offering in the temple was for a TESTIMONY, just as baptism is a testimony of an already secured salvation.

    Every one of the 4 responsibilities listed above are acts of obedience performed after spiritual life has already been given. First the birth, then these breaths of life follow afterwards.

  11. Andrew K June 11, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    In response to Steve Finnell – the final sentence of your post seems profoundly contradictory:

    “Men can be saved in two hours more or less. No work, no good deeds, and no law keeping is required—Then remain faithful until death.”

    no work, no law keeping … (wait for it…) – but then a lifetime of good works to keep it! Certainly we must persevere in faith to be saved, but God is the one who works in us to keep us faithful, otherwise we would all fall away. From the context of the rest of your post, it appears that by this statement you mean that this is our work and not the work of God in us – to which I’d say friend that you have laid down quite the gospel of salvation by works for mankind to achieve – what a heavy yoke! “Gospel” means good news – not bad!

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