Infant Salvation: Infant Regeneration, Part 2
I said that in this installment we’d take a more direct look at the scriptures in question for this concept. Here’s a brief recap:
Luke 1:15: “For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Here we see that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was but a mass of rapidly dividing cells and growing tissue in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Wayne Grudem quips that “we might say that John the Baptist was ‘born again’ before he was born! (Systematic Theology, 500)”
Another instance is found in the Psalms, where David says of himself (and prophetically, of Jesus): “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:9-10)” Note the similarities between David and John the Baptist.
Now, let us critique the interpretation of these verses. I think that we can clearly understand that infant regeneration does not have to be inferred from the passages quoted. Here is why.
With Luke 1:15, we can clearly see that in no way, shape, or form do we read that John the Baptist was “saved” from his mother’s womb. In fact, if we read our Gospels, we see that John the Baptist had his doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah! It is debatable as to whether John knew his cousin Jesus was the Lord until just before His baptism. But as Scripture is silent on both matters (John’s prenatal salvation and a priori knowledge of Jesus’ Messiahship), these are issues we do not have to infer from the text.
To be “filled with the Spirit” appears to be something very Old Testament-like, and very, very likely it is this understanding of being Spirit-filled that Luke is referring to. Remember, the Holy Spirit was not given to believers in the manner we understand as salvific until Pentecost. This explanation is the simpler – and much more Biblical – of the two possibilities. Therefore we cannot say that John the Baptist was “saved from his mother’s womb.”
In the same manner, we cannot say that Psalm 22 states David was “saved” from his mother’s womb. We must understand that until the modern day, Israelites (or Hebrews, or in Jesus’ day until now, Jews) were raised from birth to worship Jehovah only. Think about this. A babe was circumcised on the 8th day and was also presented to the priest in the Temple. Worship of the one true God began the moment a child was born, not when they understood that it was right to worship. It is more likely that David is saying that he has been raised from birth to regard God as the only god worthy of worship.
Incidentally, Psalm 22 makes a stronger case for infant regeneration, since verse 9 says that God made David trust Him. But since it is not clear that trust is the regenerative trust of saving faith, we do not have to infer infant regeneration in this passage. Perhaps a better inference is to say that David learned what saving faith was like by trusting that he would be fed when suckled by his mother. Saving faith is utter dependency on the Lord, and a baby is utterly dependent on its mother for nourishment. Coupled with the understanding we have in the above paragraph, it is quite likely that David is saying he was raised from birth to be utterly dependent on the only God worthy of his worship.
We must, however, be willing to say that it is entirely possible for God to regenerate an infant or small child unto salvation. An omnipotent God can most certainly save an infant or small child if He so chooses. Indeed, we must fervently hope and pray that such is the case. But since Scripture is glaringly silent, we must not make inferences into this issue, nor can we state as fact that God does what this doctrine teaches.
So, I think that in conclusion we cannot accept the doctrine of infant regeneration. It is contrary to Scripture — it unwarrantedly bypasses the Scriptural means of salvation, it potentially (I won’t say ultimately) leads to a modification of post-mortem salvation (which is an un-Scriptural position), and it potentially takes the power of salvation out of God’s hands and puts it squarely in the infant’s. And we cannot accept a position that leaves us no hope that dead infants are with the Lord.
In the next post, we will look at a final position held by those who advocate infant salvation: the call of Christ to children.