“The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.” (CCC 1250)
Does the Bible support the baptism of infants? Yes it does, though the evidence is indirect (deductive):
- Acts 16:15 (RSV) . . . she was baptized, with her household, . . .
- Acts 16:33 . . . he was baptized at once, with all his family.
- Acts 18:8 Crispus, . . . believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
- 1 Corinthians 1:16 . . . I did baptize also the household of Steph'anas . . .
Who are the members of a household? In my own household, the “members” are my wife and I, three sons, and a daughter. Families had many more children in those days, so it is quite reasonable to assume that they were included in the baptism. In Acts 18:8 the phrase used is all his household. Many biblical passages connect household and children (e.g., Gen 18:19; 31:41; 36:6; 47:12; Num 18:11; 1 Chr 10:6; Mt 19:29; 1 Tim 3:12).
As in Acts 18:8, above, many other passages reference entire households being saved (Lk 19:9; Jn 4:53; Acts 11:14; 16:31). I see no reason to exclude infants from that equation. To be saved (or baptized), one doesn't necessarily have to be aware of what is happening.
For example, say a child was born with severe brain defects, and died at ten years of age, still incapable of rational thought or communication. Is that child damned simply because he or she couldn't “believe”? The determination of salvation or reprobation is a mystery ultimately resting with God. But it's certainly not based only on mere age and state of knowledge.
The baby obviously doesn't consciously “accept Christ,” but is made a member of God's covenant by grace, just as the Old Testament circumcised child was part of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.
People receive grace all the time based on other people's actions. That's what intercessory prayer is about. When the child is old enough, he or she can choose to be a follower and disciple of Christ of their own accord (a large part of the function of the sacrament of confirmation).
Another argument for infant baptism is St. Paul's analogy to circumcision, as initiating one into a covenant with God, or the kingdom (Col 2:11-13). Israel was the church before Christ (Acts 7:38; Rom 9:4). Circumcision (of eight-day-old boys) was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham, and applies to us also (Gal 3:14, 29).
Infants were fully included in the covenant (Gen 17:7; Dt 29:10-12, cf. Mt 19:14). Likewise, baptism is the seal of the new covenant in Christ. It brings cleansing from sin, which circumcision signified (Dt 10:16; 30:6, Jer 4:4; 9:25; Rom 2:28-9; 4:11; Phil 3:3).
Biblical indications for baptismal regeneration are even more explicit and undeniable. When we compare the following three passages, we find striking parallels having to do with baptism:
- Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
- John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “ (cf. 3:3)
- 1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Note the thematic similarities:
- Titus: “saved” / John: “enter the kingdom of God” / Paul: “justified”
- Titus: “washing of regeneration” / John: “born of water” / Paul: “washed”
- Titus: “renewal in the Holy Spirit” / John: “born of . . . the Spirit” / Paul: “in the Spirit of our God”
We interpret Scripture by comparing it with itself, to help determine what less clear passages mean. “Washing” in one verse (with two other common elements) is similar to “water” in the other. Thus, baptism is tied to salvation, in accord with the other verses above. Many other passages directly indicate baptismal regeneration:
- Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; . . .
- Acts 2:38 . . . “Repent, and be baptized . . . for the forgiveness of your sins; . . .”
- Acts 22:16 . . . be baptized, and wash away your sins, . . .
- Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
- Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
- 1 Peter 3:20-21 . . . God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, . . .
The latter passage is a typical Hebraic parallelism, or what is called “types and shadows”. In the Old Testament, when “salvation” was mentioned, it usually referred to winning a battle or being saved from an enemy. In other words, “physical” salvation. This became a metaphor for spiritual salvation in New Testament thought. Here, Peter makes the same sort of analogy. The eight persons in Noah's ark were saved through water (i.e., primarily saved from drowning). The water of the flood symbolized baptism that now saves you also.
Baptism saves us spiritually, not physically. In no way can water baptism be thought to save us physically, so in order to maintain the symbolism Peter is referring to, we must conclude that it saves us spiritually (baptismal regeneration). The parallel is between the Flood and water baptism. As Noah and his family were saved through water, so Christians are saved by baptism — not merely “symbolically” saved, or engaging in “a symbolic ritual” after being saved.