The Bible and neuroscience support infant baptism

Estimated read time 4 min read

There are movements in Christianity in general and some in the Episcopal Church to delay the baptismal sacrament until adulthood or even dispense with it as it can be replaced by an implied baptism of faith which can occur by participating in the Eucharist. However, the way our brains are made and how we are intended to function in society as God intended is not compatible with this idea.

Human beings from a neurobehavioral point of view seek out secure trusted relationships from an early age. The introduction of these relationships is best done early on in development. One of the wonderous things about being a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon is my discovery of how well the Bible and the message of Jesus coincides with what we know about how our brains work to function in placing us in groups of mutual benefit and security. The weakness the Apostle Paul talks about that turns into our greatest strength is how we function best in groups. The concept of joining the Corpus Christi which is lead by an all knowing and all powerful loving God matches our societal needs to thrive.

Baptism tells the recipient and the community that they are a member of a community in a secure and trusting relationship. Every human society ever recorded has initiation rites that clearly distinguish one has become a member of a mutually beneficial group. This is a need built into our brains as creatures of God’s creation.

The Bible itself does not describe infant baptism. Opponents point to the fact that Mark 16:16 says “He that believes shall be baptized and be saved”. Meaning that one must have a mature enough mine to understand the process. On the other hand in Matthew 19:14 and Luke 18:16 Jesus actually scolds the Disciples for trying to block children from approaching Jesus. Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”

i have dealt with young adult and older recent Cuban immigrants who sometimes are very reticent to accept Jesus or that there is God. This is because as children they were imprinted by government directed education systems that there is no God. I saw a similar situation in Africa when I lived there for a decade in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Christians for the most part include religion in everything they do because it is woven in their family and community life from birth. Contrarily, I often met Chinese workers sent to work on Chinese investment projects who just laugh at the idea of a God. I once had several meetings with a Chinese translator and her husband who told me Jesus was a fool because he taught people not to work.

We know that in child development even at the earliest stages the brain is set up to look for secure relationships that can be trusted and are reliable. Being exposed to the concept that God exists, that Jesus is a message of love, eternal companionship, and life guide must begin with young children. There is a religious and neurobehavioral reason for this.

Of course a significant part of this Christian teaching is that it also must be family based as well. What we learn from our parents and other closest relatives, the people we have our earliest closest bonds, is vital.

Similarly, baptism is intended to be a formal joining to the Christian community. Baptism is not just a covenant between the child and God but also a renewal of commitment by the family and church community to that child. It is an important landmark but not the end of Christian formation. I like to think that the baptismal process in a way extends from that point of the Baptismal rite, is renewed with every worship and witness to another Baptism, and further sealed with confirmation.

Professor Tony Magana

Dr. Tony Magana is Professor Emeritus in Neurosurgery who spent many years doing international teaching and research including 10 years in Ethiopia. Over the past 15 years he concomitantly intensified his Christian faith through study and worship through the Episcopal Church. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Attended Texas A&M University, Harvard Medical School, and trained at the University of Miami. Additionally he took the University of South Education for Ministry as well as attending the Southeast Florida Episcopal Diocesan School for Christian Studies.
Professor Tony Magana, a seasoned neurosurgeon, has not only dedicated his life to medical practice but also embarked on a profound spiritual journey. Over the past 15 years, he has deepened his Christian faith through study and worship within the Episcopal Church. His experiences span international teaching, research, and a decade of service in Ethiopia
Dr. Tony Magana’s writings blend faith, compassion, and wisdom, inviting readers to explore the intersection of spirituality and the human experience. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking deeper connections with faith and humanity.

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