Posted by: stpowen | December 24, 2009

Babes in Christ

From time to time one hears an argument for infant baptism based on two texts where the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to allow young children to come to Him to be blessed.  The argument runs that we likewise should not forbid baptism to infants.

 The first text is Matthew 19:13-15. ‘Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them:  for such is the kingdom of heaven.”  And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.’

The second is Luke 18:15-17. ‘Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”’

Of course, the elephant in the paedobaptists’ bathroom is the simple fact that our Lord didn’t baptize these ‘infants.’  Had He been in the habit of baptizing infants, here would have been the perfect opportunity.  But instead He blessed them and let them go.  According to the Biblical record, He only baptized disciples (John 4:1 ).  Of course, it goes without saying that all Christian parents should be bringing their children before the Lord in prayer and asking Him to bless them.  These texts are an encouragement to us to believe that He will answer such prayers.

It may nevertheless be interesting to do a brief study on the Greek words that are translated ‘babes,’ ‘infants’ or ‘little children’ in the New Testament.  There are six of them:

  Paidarion is a diminutive form of pais, a ‘child’ or ‘son.’  It is used only twice, in Matt 11:16 and John 6:9 .  It would probably best be translated, ‘Lad’ or ‘youngster.’

  Mikros, literally a ‘little one’ is used in Matt 18:6 and Mark 9:42.  We will touch upon these later.

Teknion, the diminutive of teknon, ‘a child,’ is actually only used in the NT of adult believers (John 13:3; Gal 4:19, and seven times in 1John).   Teknon itself is used by our Lord to His disciples in Mark 10:24.

Paidion, another diminutive of pais, is frequently used of very young children, particularly of the young Jesus in Matt 2. It is the word used in Luke 18:16, 17. However, the only time we are told of the age of a paidion, it is of Jairus’s daughter, who was 12 (Mark 5:40ff). Like teknion, it is also used of adult Christians (John 21:5; Heb 2:13, 14; 1John 2:13, 18 ).

Nepios means literally an infant without the full power of speech, but again it is almost invariably used to describe adult ‘babes in Christ’ (Matt 11:25; 21:16; Rom 2:20; 1Cor 3:1; Eph 4:14; Heb 5:13 ).

This finally takes us to Brephos, which is the word used for ‘infant’ in Luke 18:15. It certainly does mean ‘infant’ in Luke 1 and 2 , but in 2Tim 3:15. Paul writes, ‘And that from childhood (Gk. Brephos) you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’ Timothy did not learn the Scriptures as a new-born baby, so here it obviously also means a ‘child.’ This is corroborated by Luke 18:15, where the Greek states that the disciples rebuked, not the parents, but the children themselves, unthinkable if they were babies in the arms of their mothers or fathers. Furthermore, Jesus called them, not their parents, to Him and said (v16 ), “Let the little children (Gk. Paidion) come….” They are to come, not the parents, suggesting that these little ones were at least able to walk. Finally, Brephos is used of babes in Christ in 2Peter 2:2. ‘As newborn babes (Gk. Brephos), desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.’

Another text often used in connection with the children of believers is Isaiah 54:13.  Here it is promised that, ‘All your children will be taught by the Lord’ (v13 ). However, the Lord Jesus Christ referred to this prophecy when He said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Therefore, everyone who has heard and learned of the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45 ). What Isaiah 54 is saying therefore is that those who are the true children of promise (Gal 4:28) are they who have learned of the Father through the Spirit and therefore fly to the Son for salvation.

So we can see that these ‘baby’ words are used as often as not to describe new-born Christians of any age. This may help us to understand what our Lord is saying in Luke 18:16-17. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Those who are seeking Christ, whatever their age, are not to be kept away from Him. Their ignorance or their pagan or irreligious backgrounds are not to be used as an excuse to keep them from the Gospel. The kingdom of God will be filled with such people (Matt 8:11-12 ). This understanding will help us as we look at another text used by paedobaptists:-

‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!  If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost”’ (Matt 18:1-11).

 What is the Lord Jesus saying here?  He is saying that anyone wanting to enter the kingdom of heaven must be converted, born again, becoming a babe (Gk. Paidion) in Christ.  Moreover, a humble, child-like faith, that lays hold of Christ, setting aside all preconceptions, worldly wisdom and philosophical arguments, is the only faith that will bring one into the kingdom (cf. Matt 11:25).  Anyone who destroys the faith of such a child (‘little one’- Gk. Mikros) in Christ by false teaching or philosophy is in deep, deep trouble (v6ff).  Therefore the angels spoken of in verse 10 do not serve physical children and then abandon them at some supposed age of maturity.  No, no.   They are the servants of the born-again children of Christ (Heb 2:13b) of all ages.  ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?’ (Heb 1:14; cf. Psalm 91:11-12).


  1. Steve, I am grateful for your ventures into places I have not the time to go!

  2. Thanks Steve!

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