Question & Answer Forum: Pre-Teen Baptism

Are there any Scriptures supporting or not supporting pre-teen baptism?

Philip the evangelist went to Samaria and preached “things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ.” Those who were saved, “were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). These are the words for males and females but they also make a distinction between adult men and women and boys and girls. The expression “men and women” occurs four times in the book of Acts being used twice to describe those who were persecuted. For example, just a few verses prior Scripture says “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul affirms his persecution of believers using the same expression in his testimony before a Jewish mob (Acts 22:4). It is hard to imagine Paul hauling off young children to prison as he persecuted the church.

In the Septuagint, sometimes the expression “men and women and children” occurs. When Ezra prayed, it says there came “out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children” (Ezra 10:1). Therefore, “men and women” is referring to maturity (adults as opposed to children) as much as gender. Some have concluded that the Jewish mind could hardly conceive of a maturity level for spiritual things before a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and have tried to use that as a guide. Scripture rather puts the onus upon the baptizer(s) to make sure there is sufficient maturity to understand the significance and ramifications of baptism and reception. While parents can often be biased with their own children, it is best for neutral men to speak with a young believer. They will evaluate if there is sufficient cognizance of the requirements to be a true disciple (Matt 28:19) and of the symbolism, meaning, and commitment involved in believer’s baptism (Rom 6:1-4). The same would apply, and more so, to assembly reception.

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, Paul warns against the participation in the Breaking of Bread without proper understanding and priorities. Would it not be less than loving to put a child in that solemn position with either baptism or reception? While no one wants to discourage a sincere child with a tender conscience, it can be beneficial to the child in the long run so that with time he can gain a greater Scriptural understanding and even deeper Biblical conviction.

John Dennison