Home > Baptism, Prayer, The Fruit of the Womb is a Reward > How Babies In the Womb Are Saved According to Wittenberg Theology

How Babies In the Womb Are Saved According to Wittenberg Theology

Johann Bugenhagen “Concerning Unborn Children and Children who cannot be Baptized”

I’m reposting this because in its previous form, it was attached to a long preface about “Confessional Lutheranism as Ideology.”  But it needs to be read and disseminated to pastors and laity in its own right.

Johann Bugenhagen Pomeranus

“Concerning Unborn Children and Children Who Cannot Be Baptized”

Wittenberg, 1551.

p. 62 f.

But we say that children are conceived and born in sin and cannot be saved without Christ, to Whom we carry them in baptism. Here we have a gracious judgment, secure and certain: “Let the little children come to me…etc.” This we won’t allow to be taken away from us; it does not mean a secret counsel of God or a dark illusion, but instead God’s gracious promise that the kingdom of heaven belongs to our children. Thus they are brought to Christ, because without Christ there is no salvation. For that reason the children of Turks [Muslims] and Jews are not saved—because they are not brought to Christ.

Yes, I say still more on the same promise of Christ, that the parents, or others who are present, may and should take the little child in prayer even while it is still in the womb, and with thanksgiving for Christ’s command, offer or bring it [to Him] together with this or a similar prayer.

“Beloved heavenly Father, thank You that You have blessed us with the fruit of the womb. Beloved Lord Jesus Christ, let this little child be Yours, as You have said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, because such is the Kingdom of God.’ On this Your promise we bring this child with our prayer. When it is born and comes into our hands, we will also gladly bring it to You to carry it to you in Baptism, etc.”

The prayer, of course, may well be said using other words. That doesn’t matter at all, as long as the prayer proceeds only from the promise of Christ concerning the little children. Thus we should certainly believe that Christ accepts the child, and should not commend it to the secret judgment of God.

We have, then, two strong promises from Christ which we cannot deny, but in which we can firmly trust. One is that He has called us to pray and has graciously promised to hear us. And to this He has sworn: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, so it will be.” John 16. The other is the promise concerning the children: “Such is the kingdom of heaven. Let them come to Me.” Here we Christians should understand that whether we carry the little children to Christ in Baptism or with our prayers, we carry them to Christ in person, here and now, and He is also present and takes them up and accepts them here and now. Because Christ is in His Word and promises, in His Sacrament, and in our prayers which have been commanded us.* Yes, truly, in us ourselves—effectually, presently, and substantially.** Oh, what an unspeakable grace of God!

*It appears to me that this is what is being said—“and in our prayers which have been commanded to us—“ but for this I really need to consult with some people to make sure I’m not wrong.

** I’m not completely clear what these last 3 adverbs say exactly. But the point of the entire section seems to be—Christ is present in Word and Sacrament. But He is also present in our bodies; He dwells in Christians, fills them, He prays in them and does good works in them. So when I bring my child to Christ in prayer, He is not far off so that I am unable to bring my child to Him, but He is present also in the bodies of the saints.

  1. Marilyn Hess
    September 8, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Babies hear in the womb. They react to sound. When the baby needed to move during a medical non stress test, the technician put a television speaker next to my sleeping baby, and he woke up and moved. I think it is another good reason for an expecting mom to read and hear scripture so that her baby hears. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”

    • September 8, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      Yes, but babies don’t understand words. The Lutheran teaching is not that babies are saved because they hear the word in their mother’s womb, or because they receive the Sacrament through their mother’s uterus (as some pastors have argued), but through, as Bugenhagen said, bringing them to Christ in prayer on the basis of His command and promise, “Let the little children come to me.” This was Luther’s teaching, and it was also the teaching of later orthodox Lutheran theologians like John Gerhard.

      • Marilyn Hess
        September 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm

        I wrote a comment, but I am not sure it went through. Thanks for clearing it up.


  2. hoppykins
    July 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Was it a reflexive understanding of words that caused John to leap in the womb of his mother? If the answer is “no”, then we should consider that there is something about God’s Word (be that the Word preached or the Logos Hinself) that transcends this. Or do we dismiss this as evidence of infant faith because it is John?

    • July 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      I don’t dismiss it as evidence of infant faith. It most certainly is infant faith. The problem comes when we extrapolate from this that babies always have conscious faith, or that they rationally understand the Word, or that the spoken or preached Word always conveys the Holy Spirit apart from hearing and understanding it. The example of John only proves that babies in the womb can have faith. It does not provide us with a mandate or tell us how we are to provide pastoral care for infants in the womb.

  3. July 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I just realized I have to correct my comment above. I don’t want to say that babies can’t receive the Holy Spirit through hearing mom read Scripture or hearing hymns in utero. But I’m not going to make the claim that that is what happens either. What I know for certain is that Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

    What that means is that when we bring our children to Christ, He will give them the Kingdom of heaven. How he will do that–whether through giving the Holy Spirit through His Word (even though the child doesn’t understand it), or whether children do understand the Word, or whether God sends the Spirit apart from means–is really not my concern. I only know that He says He will do it.

    My suspicion is though that Luther is saying in the Smalcald Articles that the Holy Spirit does come to the in utero infant through the Word, despite the fact that in the situation of John the Baptist we are dealing with an extraordinary case.

    It is a funny thing in Scripture. You have numerous instances where people who seem like they should not believe do anyway–like the centurion (“I have not found such great faith in Israel.”) On the other hand, people who constantly hear it have ears and hearts of spiritual concrete–including, at times, the disciples. In the case of John, it seems to be the case that Elizabeth received the Spirit through her child, who grasped that the Son of God was speaking through the mother of God.

    Still, though John seems to have received the Spirit without the words that came from Mary’s lips doing much in terms of conveying content or information, Luther never draws the conclusion that we should therefore forego teaching and explaining the Word of God, or not worry about whether the people we are speaking to can understand what we are saying. It is of course true that God can work faith through His Word even if no one understands the language. Yet we work hard to speak in an intelligible way to people, rather than tempt God. Just as it would be wrong for us to say, “God is able to save without Baptism, therefore put off getting your baby baptized as long as you like.”

    • Anonymous
      July 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Thanks for clarifying

  1. September 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm
  2. October 13, 2012 at 12:02 am
  3. November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm
  4. January 15, 2013 at 9:40 am
  5. May 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm

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