Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 17, 1966
NUMBER 28, PAGE 7b-8

The Proper Age For Baptism

Sewell Hall

Recently we received a letter from a brother regarding the age at which our children should be encouraged to obey the gospel. It had been his conviction that they should obey as soon as they could understand baptism, but he has more recently had some uncertainty on this. In the event that others may be interested, we offer some thoughts on the question here.

Baptism Is For Sinners

The proper age is not to be determined by the ability to understand baptism but by guilt of sin. Baptism is for sinners.

The age at which one becomes guilty of sin cannot be determined by the calendar. Neither is it to be determined by the shedding of tears, since just stepping out before an audience may produce tears from a sensitive child. Nor is concern for having displeased parents to be confused with awareness of sin.

A little dog is ashamed when it has displeased his master, but this is far different from the sense of guilt that accompanies sin.

Sin and physical self-consciousness seem to be related. Only when Adam and Eve sinned did they become aware that they were naked (Genesis 3:7,11). Little children are wholly unconscious of their physical bodies. As they grow older they may be taught to be careful of exposure, but there is an age when each normal person becomes aware of himself, regardless of teaching. This is at least one indication of the presence of sin.

Sin hardens the heart (Hebrews 3:13) and alienates the sinner's heart (Colossians 1:21). Every par - ent who has watched a child grow into maturity has observed develop that tendency to withdraw, to be resentful of correction, to be moody. When all is as the Lord would have it, these tendencies are quickly brought under control by the Spirit of God within the heart. Nevertheless, they are symptoms of sin.

Guilt And Justification Require Maturity

Sin implies the ability to discern right from wrong. The child, like the animal mentioned above, is governed by human authority. Right is what will please parents, bringing approval and reward; wrong is what displeases them, resulting in disapproval and punishment. But there comes a time when a young person begins to question the precepts handed down by parents. He is becoming an adult and learning to decide for himself what is right and wrong. It is then that God becomes the authority with whom he must deal and when he violates God's law, he has sinned.

Justification requires faith. A child's faith is based on what he is told by parents or teachers. He believes in God because he believes in them. But the faith that saves comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), by examining the evidence and reaching conclusions. At the same time one begins to question the precepts of parents, he is developing this ability to reason, to believe on the basis of his own investigation. His faith in God becomes a direct personal relationship between him and God.

Thus, the ability to sin and the ability to believe develop at the same time. The possibility of guilt and the possibility of justification are milestones reached simultaneously. This is just such an arrangement as might be expected of an all-just Creator.

But until one has known by experience the guilt of sin, that godly sorrow which produces repentance is impossible and an understanding of baptism for remission of sins is most unlikely. Neither is needed.

Another Consideration

Of some significance may be the fact that in the time of Jesus, a male was considered a "son of the covenant" at the age of thirteen. In preparation for the responsibility of participation, he was expected to begin attending feasts a year or two prior to that age. Thus the visit of the Lord to Jerusalem at the age of twelve was considered significant. This is not to say that the age of twelve or thirteen may be set as the time of obedience. The new covenant is written in the heart and subjective factors play a more important role. It is well known that individuals develop into maturity at different ages. But twelve or thirteen is the average age at which the above mentioned changes are most common.

Men And Women

It is often argued that since Acts 8:12 specified men and women as subject of baptism, this excludes all others. If this is granted, we still have the task of defining men and women. Using the same line of reasoning it can be shown from scripture that only men and women sin and that only men and women reproduce. One never reads of a child doing any of these three things.

Thus, when it can be shown that one is old enough to reproduce and old enough to sin, it has been shown that he is what the scriptures call a man - therefore, a proper candidate for baptism when he has fulfilled scriptural prerequisites.


Since the age of guilt is so subjective and so difficult to determine, it is best to allow the youth to determine it for himself. Though faith, repentance, and baptism should be taught, they should not be urged until it is absolutely certain that the young man or woman is responding to the authority and love of God rather than to parents. Nor should parents hesitate to discourage, at least, those who obviously are not ready to obey. Young people are often moved by the action of other young people or by other considerations to be baptized. There is no real covenant with the Lord. This absence of a mature commitment is often responsible for half-hearted, irresolute service in later years.

Parents are sometimes afraid they may keep a youngster from obedience and then be responsible for him should he die. But if a youth is mature enough to realize the superior authority of God, he will obey even over their objection. If he is not, he is not responsible anyway.

But, it is argued, he may not choose to obey when he is older. If the mature mind does not choose to obey the Lord, a choice made in childhood will not avail to salvation.

Let us keep our children and young people surrounded with good influences, keep them in Bible classes under good teachers, keep them attending gospel meetings and studying the Bible at home. Then let the consciousness of sin, their own personal love for the Lord, and the power of the gospel working in their souls, bring forth fruit in its season.

-108 French Way Athens, Alabama 35611