All in all, the graces an infant receives at baptism are truly remarkable, as are the parallels between the Old Testament story of baby Moses and the New Testament sacrament of infant baptism. So the next time a Fundamentalist friend asks where you find infant baptism in the Bible, show them a story they have probably never thought of. The story of how placing a baby in the water once saved him and a nation, the story of baby Moses, the story of an Old Testament type of infant baptism.
By Marty Bachicha
Many Christians have heard the phrase "the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, while the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed." This truth has always been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church. In fact, one can find it clearly taught in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 128 of The Catechism states "The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son." The Catechism goes on to teach in Paragraph 1094 "It is on this harmony of the two Testaments that the Paschal catechesis of the Lord is built . . . . This catechesis unveils what lay hidden under the letter of the Old Testament: the mystery of Christ. It is called 'typological' because it reveals the newness of Christ on the basis of the 'figures' (types) which announce him in the deeds, words, and symbols of the first covenant. By this re-reading in the Spirit of Truth, starting from Christ, the figures are unveiled. Thus the flood and Noah's ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, [Cf. 1 [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]Peter[Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ] 3:21[Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]] as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea.²
While only adults were rescued from the flood in Noah's Ark, at the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod. 14:21-31) and again at the crossing of the Jordan River (Josh. 3:14-17), all of God's people, including children were saved. Consistent with this, the Church from her earliest time has always baptized babies. Scripture, in fact clearly states the early Church baptized entire households (Acts 16:33; 1 Cor. 1:16). These verses do not at all exclude children younger than the age of reason. Nor does St. Peter when on the day of Pentecost he declared to the Jews, "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him² (Acts 2:38-39). The Greek word for children in this verse, teknon, does not simply refer to descendants. For in every place it is used in the New Testament it refers to a person already born. Thus, it is no surprise the early Church Fathers confirm in their writings the Church has always baptized infants. Origen as early as the 3rd century wrote: "The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]). Confirming the Church's tradition of baptizing babies, St. Augustine writes "The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]). Still, in spite of this evidence, most Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians reject the Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant practice of baptizing infants. Claiming it is unbiblical they ask ³where does the Bible teach infants should be baptized²?
Well infant baptism can be found in the Bible, but not where one would normally expect. For an all but overlooked Old Testament typology on infant baptism can be found in the story of baby Moses (Exod. 2), when at the age of three months his mother, in order to save his life from Pharaoh, placed him in a basket and set him adrift in the Nile River. Soon afterward, Pharaoh's daughter who had come down to the river to bath found him floating amongst the reeds. Moved with pity for the child, she claimed him as her own. She soon adopted him as ³her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, `Because I drew him out of the water'² (Exod. 2:10).
The parallels that exist in the story of baby Moses that point to the sacrament of infant baptism are absolutely remarkable. First, his mother's faithful act of placing him in the water saved Moses. In chapter one of Exodus we see Pharaoh had planned to kill all infant Hebrew boys by drowning them. For them water was the source of death. Yet for Moses it became the source of life. This follows the pattern of Noah's flood, whose waters brought death to the whole world, while bringing life to Noah and his family who were safe inside the Ark. Comparing the flood of Noah to baptism, St. Peter in his 1st epistle writes: ³Baptism, which corresponds to this [flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).² Through his "baptism" in the waters of the Nile River Moses was literally "born again." He began a new life, just as we who are "born of water and the spirit" through baptism begin a new life in Christ (John 3:5) ³by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit² (Titus 3:5). Moses was under the penalty of death because he was a slave. He was a child of Hebrew slaves who were multiplying far too rapidly in the land of Egypt for Pharaoh to feel secure. For this reason Pharaoh deemed all baby Hebrew boys were to be put to death. Nevertheless, the waters of the Nile River saved baby Moses and gave him new life. He went into the water as a slave and he came out as a free man, just as we went into the waters of baptism dead in our sin and came out with newness of life. The waters of baptism free us from the slavery of sin, and in the infant's case wash away the stain of original sin, saving him and filling his soul with sanctifying grace, the life of God. This is why the in the book of Acts the disciple Ananias proclaimed to Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) at his conversion: ³now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name'² (Acts: 22:16). Jesus Himself emphasized the necessity of baptism for salvation when He commissioned His disciples at the end of His earthly mission, ³Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned² (Mark 16:15-16).
Still, many will ask since an infant has no capacity to believe, how can he be saved? And if his faith is not present how can the effect of the baptism take place? The answer to this question is faith is present when an infant is baptized, only it is the faith of the parents. And God does honor this faith. There are many instances in both the Old and New Testaments where the faith of one person is acceptable to God on behalf of someone else. Take for example the faith of the Centurion, who on behalf of his sick servant told Jesus, ³Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed² (Matt. 8:8). Jesus, moved by the Centurion's faith, immediately healed his servant (Matt. 8:13). The best example comes from the story of baby Moses himself. ³By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict² (Heb. 11:23). Notice it was baby Moses parents who had the faith, but it was baby Moses who was saved by it. Let us not forget also that when Jesus' disciples rebuked some parents for bringing their little children to Him, Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:14-15). In Mark's Gospel, the children - the Greek word brephe means "infants" - did not come on their own accord, their parents brought them (Mark 10:13). Yet, Jesus spoke as if they came on their own. This is not to say newly baptized infants have a guaranteed ticket to heaven (although they do before the age of accountability) or have no need to grow into a mature faith in Christ. This they must do later, once they reach the age of reason. But until they reach that age it is their parent's faith that counts. In the case of baby Moses, his mother obviously believed placing him in the water would save him, otherwise why [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]would she [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]have done it? I like to use the analogy of the parents of a newborn daughter, whose child needs to go to the pediatrician for a series of shots. They would not wait for the [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]baby to decide on her own whether she wanted to go to the doctor to receive her shots, would they? If the child had a choice she would certainly not go, why would she put herself through the trauma of having a needle stuck in her leg? No, they [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]would take her for her shots because they know what is best for her. They know not taking their daughter to the doctor means she may later become seriously ill or even die. It is the same with baptism, where the parents are doing what is best for the child. You baptize the baby because baptism washes away original sin, the sin every child born has inherited from their first parents Adam and Eve. You baptize her because it restores in her the life of God. And the cleansing from original sin is not the only gift your baby receives from baptism. Regarding its benefits, St. John Chrysostom, the renowned Bishop of Constantinople wrote, "You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ's] members" (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]). So the real issue is not the choice of the child, but the abundant graces baptism bestows on her despite her lack of personal choice.
St. John spoke of how baptism bestows on an infant brotherhood with Christ. Pointing to this, the papyrus basket baby Moses was placed in can be seen as a symbol of Christ, the Word Incarnate. A common plant, the Bulrush completely covered the banks of the Nile River in several places. Papyrus, made from the Bulrush, provided the earliest known material for making paper. The sacred scrolls of the Torah, the Word of God, that were placed in the Ark of the Covenant were made of papyrus. Thus, Moses being placed in the papyrus basket and then into the water prefigures how at baptism, the child is baptized into Christ, ³For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ² (Gal. 3:27, see also Rom. 6:3-4). Being in Christ, he is now a part of His body, the Church, ³For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit² (1 Cor. 12:13). Since the Church is God's family, when he is baptized a child becomes an adopted son of God the Father, a member of His household (1 Tim. 3:15), just as Moses was adopted into Pharaoh's household after being pulled out of the waters of the Nile River. The Exodus story, as well as the New Testament (Acts 7:22 and Heb. 11:24), shows how Moses became a part of Pharaoh's household. All that Pharaoh had was his. He became a part of his family. At our baptism we become adopted sons of the Father, part of the family of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Speaking of the People of God, God's Household, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 782, ³One becomes a member of this people not by a physical birth, but by being 'born anew,' a birth 'of water and the Spirit,' [John 3:3-5[Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]] that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism.²
The story of baby Moses provides another link to infant baptism. Baptism is the sacrament that initiates a child into the New Covenant and incorporates him into God's family and household, the Church. Moses was the initiator of circumcision, the rite of initiation of the Old Covenant. On the eighth day after his birth every Hebrew male child was circumcised (Lev. 12:3). This rite incorporated him into God's people Israel. Similarly, baptism is the New Testament equivalent of Old Testament circumcision. For in the book of Colossians, Paul writes: ³In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses² (Col. 2:11-13). Since in the Old Covenant infants were incorporated into God's Household by circumcision, it only makes sense that in the New Covenant, which is superior to the Old, God would also include infants in His Household through the sacrament of Baptism. For what family do you know of that never had babies? [Author ID2: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]In fact, the Early Church Fathers drew heavily on the circumcision to baptism parallel and it even became a source of controversy in the early Church when some taught infants ought not to be baptized before the eighth day after birth. Commenting on this controversy, the Church Father St. Cyprian in the 3rd Century wrote: "As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born" (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
A fascinating observation is Moses ³baptism² not only saved him, it saved an entire nation, for he went on to become the deliverer of his people (cf. Acts 7:35). Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians even speaks of how during the Exodus, the Israelites were baptized into Moses by passing through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2). In the same way Christ's baptism (Matt. 3:16-17), which prefigured the Pascal Mystery of His passion, death and resurrection, was the precursor of our own baptism that now saves us (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16). Jesus, the new Moses, was holy and did not need to be baptized. He was baptized in order to sanctify the waters, to impart to them His power and grace, so that when His disciples were later baptized in His name - in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit - they might receive that same sanctifying grace. At Jesus' baptism, which provides the model for our own, the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the voice of the Father could be heard saying, ³this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased² (Matt. 3:17). So it is at our baptism. The Father says to each one of us when we are baptized, ³this is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased² and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Since every family has a mother, so it is with the Church. Thus, we should note the three women who were present in the Exodus story about baby Moses. The three are his biological mother, his sister Miriam, and Pharaoh's daughter. Each of them is an Old Testament type of the ³mothers² we receive at baptism. When he is baptized, the Christian infant receives a godmother, represented by Miriam in the story, who places him in the water. Moses also received a new name upon being baptized, for Pharaoh's daughter upon finding him ³named him Moses, for she said, `. . . I drew him out of the water'² (Exod. 2:10). At Catholic baptisms, it is traditional for godparents to give their new godchild a baptismal name after one of the saints. It was also Miriam who returned baby Moses to his real mother (Exod. 2:7-8). After that his real mother nursed him (Exod. 2:9). In the same way it is the Church, our Mother, who nourishes us spiritually by the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, after she births us through baptism. Speaking of the Church, Paul wrote to the Galatians: ³But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother² (Gal. 4:26, see also Rev. 21:2). Finally, Moses received a new adopted mother, Pharaoh's daughter who pulled him out of the water. At baptism, the Christian infant also receives a new adopted mother. Having been baptized into Christ's family the Church and become Jesus' brother, he now receives as his own mother the Mother of our Savior, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus demonstrates this when seeing His mother at the foot of the cross, and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, he said to her: ³`Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, `Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home² (John 19:26-27).
All in all, the graces an infant receives at baptism are truly remarkable, as are the parallels between the Old Testament story of baby Moses and the New Testament sacrament of infant baptism. So the next time a Fundamentalist friend asks where you find infant baptism in the Bible, show them a story they have probably never thought of. The story of how placing a baby in the water once saved him [Author ID1: at Tue Aug 16 00:01:00 2005 ]and a nation, the story of baby Moses, the story of an Old Testament type of infant baptism.
© Copyright by Martin R. Bachicha, 2005
Note: All quotations from the Early Church Fathers in this article [Author ID3: at Fri Sep 5 08:38:00 2003 ]are taken from the Catholic Answers tract ³Early Teachings on Infant Baptism² (http://www.catholic.com/).
About the Author:
Marty Bachicha is the author of The Kingdom of the Bride a book on Bible Prophecy (http://kbride1.home.comcast.net). He also writes a prophecy newsletter, The Kingdom of the Bride Prophecy Newsletter. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and teaches catechism at his local parish, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
You may contact Marty at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
4908 Sherry Ann Road NW
Albuquerque, NM 87114