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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Baptismal Regeneration

Dictionaries :: Baptismal Regeneration

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Baptismal Regeneration:

bap-tiz'-mal re-jen-er-a'-shun: As indicated in the general articles on BAPTISM and SACRAMENTS, the doctrine ordinarily held by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and also by Low-Church Episcopalians, differs from that of the Roman and Greek churches, and of High-Church Anglicans, in its rejection of the idea that baptism is the instrumental cause of regeneration, and that the grace of regeneration is effectually conveyed through the administration of that rite wherever duly performed. The teaching of Scripture on this subject is held to be that salvation is immediately dependent on faith, which, as a fruit of the operation of the Spirit of God in the soul, already, in its reception of Christ, implies the regenerating action of that Spirit, and is itself one evidence of it. To faith in Christ is attached the promise of forgiveness, and of all other blessings. Baptism is administered to those who already possess (at least profess) this faith, and symbolizes the dying to sin and rising to righteousness implicit in the act of faith (Ro 6). It is the symbol of a cleansing from sin and renewal by God's Spirit, but not the agency effecting that renewal, even instrumentally. Baptism is not, indeed, to be regarded as a bare symbol. It may be expected that its believing reception will be accompanied by fresh measures of grace, strengthening and fitting for the new life. This, however, as the life is already there, has nothing to do with the idea of baptism as an opus operatum, working a spiritual change in virtue of its mere administration. In Scripture the agency with which regeneration is specially connected is the Divine "word" (compare 1Pe 1:23). Without living faith, in those capable of its exercise, the outward rite can avail nothing. The supposed "regeneration" may be received-in multitudes of instances is received-without the least apparent change in heart or life.

The above, naturally, applies to adults; the case of children, born and growing up within the Christian community, is on a different footing. Those who recognize the right of such to baptism hold that in the normal Christian development children of believing parents should be the subjects of Divine grace from the commencement (Eph 6:4); they therefore properly receive the initiatory rite of the Christian church. The faith of the parent, in presenting his child for baptism, lays hold on God's promise to be a God to him and to his children; and he is entitled to hope for that which baptism pledges to him. But this, again, has no relation to the idea of regeneration through baptism.

James Orr


Regeneration, the initial gift of life in Christ, is, in the church's normal system, associated with the sacrament of baptism. The basis for this teaching and practice of the church is found primarily in our Lord's discourse to Nicodemus (Joh 3:1-8) wherein the new birth is associated not only with the quickening Spirit but with the element of water. The Saviour's words, literally translated, are as follows: "Except one be born (out) of water and Spirit (ex hudatos kai pneumatos gennaomai), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (That it is the impersonal aspect of the Divine Spirit, i.e. as equivalent to "spiritual life" which is here presented, is indicated by the absence of the article in the Greek of Joh 3:5.) Entrance into the kingdom of God implies entrance into the church as the outward and visible embodiment of that kingdom. our Lord, in the passage above cited, does not limit the possibility or the need of "new birth" to those who have arrived at adult age, or "years of discretion," but uses the general pronoun tis, "anyone." The Anglican church does not, however, teach that baptism is unconditionally necessary, but only that it is "generally" necessary to salvation (compare the language of the Church Catechism with the qualification mentioned in the Prayer-Book "Office for the Baptism of Those of Riper Years," "Whereby ye may perceive the great necessity of this Sacrament, where it may be had"). It is not taught that the grace of God is absolutely or unconditionally bound to the external means, but only that these sacramental agencies are the ordinary and normal channels of Divine grace.

The typical form of baptism is that appropriate to the initiation of adults into the Christian body. Justin Martyr in his First Apology (chapter lxi) no doubt testifies to what was the general view of Christians in the 2nd century (circa 150 AD): "As many as are persuaded and believe that the things taught and said by us are true, and, moreover, take upon them to live accordingly, are taught to pray and ask of God with fasting for forgiveness of their former sins;.... and then they are brought to a place of water, and there regenerated after the same manner with ourselves; for they are washed in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." For the due administration of this sacrament, personal faith and repentance on the part of the candidate are prerequisite conditions. However, "the baptism of young children" (i.e. of infants) "is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable to the institution of Christ" (XXXIX Articles, Art. XXVII, sub fin.). In the service "For the Baptism of Infants," repentance and faith are promised for the children by their "sureties" (ordinarily known as "sponsors" or "godparents"), "which promise, when they come to age (the children) themselves are bound to perform."

The person, whether adult or infant, receives in his baptism a real forgiveness; a washing away of all sins, whether original or actual. He also receives, at least in germ, the beginnings of new life in Christ; which life, however, must be developed and brought to perfection through his personal cooperation with the grace of God. But regeneration, as such, is not conversion; it is not even faith or love, strictly speaking. These latter, while they are conditions, or effects, or evidences of regeneration, are not regeneration itself, which is purely the work of God, operating by His creative power, through the Holy Ghost. The moral test of the existence of spiritual life is the presence in heart and conduct of the love of God and of obedience to His commandments (see 1 Joh passim).

It may be added that the bestowment of the gifts of spiritual strength-of the manifold graces and of the fullness of the Holy Spirit-is primarily associated with the laying on of hands (confirmation) rather than with baptism proper; the rite of confirmation was, however, originally connected with the baptismal service, as an adjunct to it. The newly-made Christian is not to rest content with the initial gift of life; he is bound to strive forward unto perfection. Confirmation is, in a sense, the completion of baptism. "The doctrine of laying on of hands" is accordingly connected with "the doctrine of baptisms," and both are reckoned by the author of the Epistle to the He as among "the first principles of Christ" (Heb 6:1,2 the King James Version).


For the Anglican doctrine on the subject of regeneration in baptism the following authorities may be consulted: Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, V, lix, lx; Waterland, The Doct. Use of Christian Sacraments; Regeneration; Wall, Infant Baptism; R. I. Wilberforce, The Doctrine of Holy Baptism; Darwell Stone, Holy Baptism, in "The Oxford Library of Practical Theology"; A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel. For patristic teaching on this subject, compare TERTULLIAN, De Baptismo.

William Samuel Bishop


1. Definition of Terms:

Regeneration is here taken in its strict meaning to denote that internal spiritual change, not of the substance, but of the qualities, of the intellect and will of natural man, by which blindness, darkness in regard to spiritual matters, especially the gospel, is removed from the former, and spiritual bondage, impotency, death from the latter (2Co 3:5; Ac 26:18; Php 2:13), and the heart of the sinner is made to savingly know and appropriate the Lord Jesus Christ and the merits of His of atoning sacrifice, as its only hope for a God-pleasing life here in time and a life in glory hereafter. Regeneration in the strict sense signifies the first spiritual movements and impulses in man, the beginning of his thinking Divine thoughts, cherishing holy desires and willing God-like volitions. But it does not signify the radical extinction of sin in man; for evil concupiscence remains also in the regenerate as a hostile element to the new life (Ro 7:23-25; Ga 5:16,17). Peccatum tollitur in baptismo, non ut non sit, sed ut non obsit-Augustine. "Sin is removed in baptism, not that it may not be, but that it may not hurt." Reduced to its lowest terms, regeneration in the strict sense may be defined as the kindling saving faith in the heart of the sinner; for according to 1 Joh 5:1, "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." Such terms as new creation (2Co 5:17; Ga 6:15 margin), spiritual quickening, or vivification (Eph 2:5; Ro 6:11), spiritual resurrection (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1), are true synonyms of regeneration in the strict sense. In the point of time justification coincides with regeneration in the strict sense; for it is by faith, too, that the sinner is justified. But these two spiritual events must not be confounded; for justification affects, not the internal conditions of the sinner's heart, but his legal standing with God the righteous Judge. Regeneration is called baptismal regeneration in so far as it occurs in the event and as an effect of the application of the Christian baptism.

See BAPTISM (I), I, 6.

2. Scriptural Basis of This Doctrine:

The two leading texts of Scripture which declare in plain terms that baptism is a means for effecting regeneration in the strict sense are Joh 3:5 and Tit 3:5. But this doctrine is implied in Ac 2:38; Eph 5:26; Ga 3:27; 1Pe 3:21. In Joh 3:7 it is immaterial whether anothen gennethenai is rendered "to be born from above" or "to be born a second time." For the second birth is never of the flesh (Joh 1:13; 3:4,5); hence, is always of divine origin, "from above." It is ascribed to the agency of the entire Trinity: the Father (Jas 1:18; 1Pe 1:3); the Son (Joh 1:12); and the Spirit (Tit 3:5). But by appropriation it is generally attributed to the Spirit alone, whose particular function is that of Quickener (see Cremer, Bibl.-theol. Worterb., 9th edition, under the word "pneuma," 894 f). Baptism is an instrument by which the Holy Spirit effects regeneration. "Water and the Spirit" (Joh 3:5) is a paraphrastic description of baptism: "water," inasmuch as the man is baptized therewith (1 Joh 5:7,8; Eph 5:26) for the forgiveness of sin (Ac 2:33; 22:16; 1Co 6:11), and "Spirit," inasmuch as the Holy Ghost is given to the person baptized in order to his spiritual renewal and sanctification; "both together-the former as causa medians, the latter as causa efficiens-constitute the objective and causative element out of which (compare Joh 1:13) the birth from above is produced (ek)" (Meyer). In Tit 3:5 "the expression to loutrou palingenesias, literally, ‘bath of regeneration,' has been very arbitrarily interpreted by some expositors, some taking loutron as a figurative name for the regeneration itself, or for the praedicario evangelii, ‘preaching of the gospel' or for the Holy Spirit, or for the abundant imparting of the Spirit. From Eph 5:26 it is clear that it can mean nothing else than baptism; compare too, Heb 10:22; 1Co 6:11; Ac 22:16." Of this laver of regeneration Paul says that through it (dia), i.e. by its instrumentality, men are saved. Meyer is right when, correcting a former view of his, he states: "According to the context, Paul calls baptism the bath of the new birth, not meaning that it pledges us to the new birth (‘to complete the process of moral purification, of expiation and sanctification,' Matthies), nor that it is a visible image of the new birth (Wette), for neither in the one sense nor in the other could it be regarded as a means of saving. Paul uses that name for it as the bath by means of which God actually brings about the new birth." The application of baptism and the operation of the Spirit must be viewed as one undivided action. Thus the offense of Spurgeon, Weiss and others at "regeneration by water-baptism" can be removed.

3. Faith in Baptism:

Baptism does not produce salutary effects ex opere operato, i.e. by the mere external performance of the baptismal action. No instrument with which Divine grace works does. Even the preaching of the gospel is void of saving results if not "mixed with faith" (Heb 4:2 the King James Version). Luther correctly describes the working of baptism thus: "How can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God which is in and with the water (God's giving hand), and faith which trusts such word of God in the water (man's receiving hand)." But this faith, which is required for a salutary use of the gospel and baptism, is wrought by these as instruments which the Holy Spirit employs to produce faith; not by imparting to them a magical power but by uniting His Divine power with them (Ro 10:17; 2Co 4:6; Eph 5:26).

4. Infants and Adults:

The comprehensive statements in Joh 3:6; Eph 2:3 ("by nature") show that infants are in need of being regenerated, and Mt 18:3,6, that they are capable of faith. It is not more difficult for the Holy Spirit to work faith in infants by baptism, than in adults by the preaching of the gospel. And infant faith, though it may baffle our attempts at exact definition, is nevertheless honored in Scripture with the word which denotes genuine faith, pisteuein, i.e. trustfully relying on Christ (Mt 18:6; compare 2Ti 3:15; 1:5). In the case of adults who have received faith through hearing and reading the gospel (Jas 1:18; 1Pe 1:23; 1Co 4:15), baptism is still "the washing of regeneration," because it is a seal to them of the righteousness which these people have previously obtained by believing the gospel (Ro 4:11-13; Ga 3:7); and it reminds them of, and enables them to discharge, their daily duty of putting away the old and putting on the new man (Eph 4:22,24), just as the Word is still the regenerating word of truth (Jas 1:18) though it be preached to persons who are regenerated a long time ago. Accordingly, Luther rightly extends the regenerating and renewing influences of baptism throughout the life of a Christian, when he says "Baptizing with water signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die, with all sins and evil lusts; and, again, a new man should come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (Smaller Catechism).

Written by W. H. T. Dau

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