Apostolic-era infant baptisms

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by Taufgesinnter, Jul 15, 2008.

  1. Taufgesinnter

    Taufgesinnter
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    I wasn't sure on which board here to post this. I have a question regarding sources attributed to the apostolic era that indicate a practice of infant baptism. Catholics usually say that Tertullian was the first person in church history known to have opposed infant baptism. Tertullian argued that children should wait until they are old enough to decide for themselves. Kurt Aland argues that Tertullian was writing against a new doctrine--that the whole tenor of his arguments against infant baptism reflects someone opposing an innovation. Tertullian, writing in A.D. 200 and later, is admitted even by Joachim Jeremias (in his book defending early pedobaptism) to be the first literary/patristic source to as much as mention baptism of infants. It is entirely absent from the historical and archaeological record (save, perhaps, some inscriptions--see below) of the first and second centuries, and first appears in the early third century as a recent trend in North Africa. Aland points out that it wasn’t until A.D. 180 or later that there were significant numbers of children born into Christian families—before that, the Marcionites and Gnostics lured a great number into marital continence, and most other children came into the church after having been born of pagans. Thanks to Gnostic influence, babies were also first beginning to be believed tainted by sin and in need of baptismal cleansing at about the turn of the third century. By A.D. 180, the Marcionites and Gnostics had been officially kicked out. Around 200, Tertullian argued in favor of the earlier, original, position that babies are born innocent.

    Tertullian, a Latin-speaking theologian, favored adult baptism partly because he believed that sinfulness first begins about the age of fourteen with the end of innocence (puberty); he’s often alleged to be the only real opponent to infant baptism in all of early Christian history. But quite a few writers in the mid-300s suggested delaying baptism to adulthood on the ground that baptism erased all of one’s sins, and so should be delayed as long as possible, preferably to one’s deathbed, in order to prevent new sins as much as one could before dying. This reflected the very common practice of treating catechumens as full Christians in every way except admission to the Eucharist and the exchange of the kiss of peace; like Constantine, they were often baptized approaching death. The main writer challenging that practice did so because these catechumens, he believed, were postponing their repentance, which had to precede baptism--something that, again, infants could not do.


    Origen wrote in the same century entirely on the defensive against an entrenched and large opposition that regarded children as innocent of sin and who should postpone baptism until they had need of such an act of repentance (Aland, 47). The strongest argument he could make was to appeal to infant baptism as being an apostolic tradition, and he is the very first Christian writer in all of history, writing A.D. 230 and later, to make that claim. It was a custom new enough to
    Palestine that he had to write against its opponents over and over again for years. Hippolytus agreed with Origen, writing about A.D. 215-220 (but it must be noted that the passage in his church order mentioning infant baptism, which falls right in the middle of a discussion of regulations for catechumens training in preparation for their baptism, is absent from all the earliest manuscripts and doesn’t appear in copies until the fourth century or later).

    Infant baptism was not universally accepted even by the mid-fourth century, when Christian families in geographically diverse areas of the Empire still carried on a tradition of their children deciding on baptism for themselves in late youth and adulthood. Jeremias claims this was a brief crisis for pedobaptism, but Aland argues quite skillfully in his own book that this was the last, dying gasp of the apostolic and biblical practice.
    Among those whose parents let them be converted before seeking baptism for themselves are some of the Cappadocian Fathers.

    Until recently, I had believed that the very first pieces of archaeological evidence regarding Christian burials were epitaphs from the year 200 and beyond, which record very young children and even babies as having been baptized so that they could die as believers. However, I've recently come across articles claiming that some young children’s tombs have been discovered whose epitaphs were carved during the reign of Emperor Trajan. One inscription is dated their calendar's equivalent of A.D. 91, and another tomb with baptismal inscriptions nearby containing the bodies of infants was supposedly carbon-dated to A.D. 105
    ±4 years. These inscriptions are not mentioned at all in either Jeremias' or Aland's books, written in the 1960s. Neither were they cited by Graydon F. Snyder in his book on the archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine, Ante Pacem, which was published in the mid-'80s and recently reprinted. I'm trying to contact Prof. Snyder with my question. Has anyone here heard of these inscriptions or anything like them? AFAIK, there are still no discoveries in literary or patristic sources before the third century mentioning infant baptism, and these are the only archaeological sources I've heard about so far that pre-date that century, but I can't seem to track down where these sources are, who discovered them and when, and so on. They're almost like urban legends. Can anyone here either help debunk or disprove their existence, or confirm it and point me to where I may find them?

    Thanks,
    Tauf
     
    #1 Taufgesinnter, Jul 15, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 15, 2008
  2. Matt Black

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    Sorry, can't help you one way or the other, Tauf! Very interesting, if accurate then it is highly significant that none of the NT Apostolic writers have anything to say against the practice...
     
  3. David Lamb

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    In the bible itself, in The Acts of the Apostles, we have a source that is from the apostolic era - it's not merely "atrributed" to it. Far more important, it is the inerrant, inspired Word of God Himself.

    There, we see baptism linked with repentance (Acts 2.38), receiving God's word (Acts 2.41), belief (Acts 8.12-13, 36-37; 16.33-34; 18.8; 19.1-5), and the Holy Spirit coming upon people (Acts 10.44-48).

    The only incident I can think of where baptism is not explicitly stated to be connected to belief is the baptism of Lydia and her "household". Some people seem to assume that it must have included little babies, though I am not sure why. If it did, and if babies were baptised, why are there all the other references to baptism and belief? Why did Philip say to the Ethiopian eunuch, "If you believe with all your heart, you ma (be baptised)"? Why is there not one word about the appointment of "godparents" (I think you call them "sponsors" in America) to express belief on behalf of the little baby.
     
  4. Matt Black

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    I suppose there's the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 as well.
     
  5. David Lamb

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    Not really, for in Acts 16.30-34 we read (emphasis mine):
    "​


    30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household."
    So it sounds as though everyone in the household believed.
     
  6. Matt Black

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    Or, depending on how you read the Greek, "...he rejoiced, having believed, with his whole family."
     
  7. Doubting Thomas

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    I've read a quote by Irenaeus to the effect that infants can be reborn in Christ, implying the practice of infant baptism given the belief in baptismal regeneration (expressed earlier still by Justin Martyr). I'll see if can track down the exact quote and the source.

    I believe that Cyprian had written (in the third century) that baptism for infants need not be delayed to the 8th day. I have read the reason that some rigorists like Tertullian advised against infant baptism was because they believed that sins after baptism were very difficult (if not impossible) to be forgiven, and therefore was a trend toward delaying baptism as long as possible.

    As far as gnosticism as being a possible influence on infant baptism in order to 'remove the taint of sin', I submit the opposite would be true--many gnostic sects denied something material such as water could remove something spiritual such as sin, as they had a low opinion of matter.

    Anyway, I'll try to find the sources and exact quotes mentioned above.
     
  8. standingfirminChrist

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    Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is a pre-requisite to baptism. Since an infant has not the ability to profess such a belief, infants are not to be baptized.
     
  9. Doubting Thomas

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    Here are the quotes I found. First, from Irenaus:

    "He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age" (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

    "‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]" (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).




    Then from Cyprian of Carthage:


    "As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born" (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).

    "If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another" (ibid., 64:5).
     
  10. standingfirminChrist

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    The Bible tells the requirements for baptism... belief.

    Letters and fragments outside of the Word of God that teach contrary to Scripture are heretical trash.
     
  11. Doubting Thomas

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    The Bible also records Christ's statements that one must become as a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven (obviously little children are already...little children). Christ also told His disciples not to forbid the little children/infants from coming to Him for "such is the Kingdom of Heaven". He didn't say, "Nope...they have to wait til they're old enough to repent and believe and before they can be born of water and the Spirit and thus able to enter the kingdom of God (cf John3:5). We know that those baptized in Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:27) and so the infants, whom Christ would not forbid to come to Him, were not excluded from this.

    Peter, on the day of Pentecost, informs his hearers that the promise of the Holy Spirit (after baptism) was not only to those hearing (the ones urged to repent and be baptiszed) but for their children (Acts 2:38-39). I suppose one could argue that the promise is only for children at the "age of accountability", but that would be reading such into the text. We have evidence of the household of Lydia and the household of the Philippian jailer being baptized (Acts 16), and it doesn't say infants were specifically excluded, so we can't automatically exclude them either.

    Of course, I'm sure the point of Tauf's OP was not to debate the biblical propriety of infant baptism (or baptismal regeneration for that matter), but to look at the earliest extra-biblical historical evidences for this practice. Though some may want to dismiss the writings of Irenaus (who was instrumental in combatting gnostic heresies in his day) as "heretical trash", I don't think the majority of orthodox Christians would concur with that assessment.
     
  12. standingfirminChrist

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    Becoming as little Children doesn't mean little Children are to be baptized.

    It simply means to have a child-like faith. Children will more easily believe the Gospel story than a person much older.

    Christ was speaking of faith there, not baptism.

    Read the pre-requisites in Acts 2. Peter told them to repent and be baptized. Repentance was a pre-requisite.

    One cannot put the cart before the horse. God set up an order and man is to follow it.

    Peter said one had to repent first. Can an infant repent? How do you know an infant has repented?

    As to Lydia and the Philippian Jailer, we cannot add to the Scripture and say children and infants were there either.

    Repentance and Faith are pre-requisites to one being baptized. Scripture is clear on that.

    And the case of Philippian jailer, as pointed out previously, the jailer and his whole household believed before baptism.
     
  13. Matt Black

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    Mark 16:16 + John 3:5 + I Peter 3:21 = baptism is a prerequisite for salvation, for coming to Christ.

    Matt 19:14 - infants are to come to Christ. Now, how are they to do that, since they lack the intellectual capacity to assent to statements of faith? Answer: by baptism. There is no other way for them.
     
  14. David Lamb

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    Mark 16.16 says:


    "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." ​
    It doesn't say, "He who is baptized will be saved", or "He who is not old enough to believe can be saved by baptism alone", or "He who is not baptized will be condemned."

    John 3.5 mentions being born of water, but to assume that refers to baptism, you would have to already believe that baptism actually imparts new life.

    1 Peter 3.21 is not a verse that I claim fully to understand, but if it really does mean that you have to be baptised in order to be saved, why was the jailer at Philippi not told, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized, then you will be saved"? Why did Jesus not say in John 6.47, "He who believes in Me and is baptized has eternal life"?

    In Matthew 19.14, the word used is not brefov the usual word for baby, but paidion which I am told can mean "a child recently born", but in the bible is never used that way. And I cannot see anything in Matthew 19.14 or the surrounding verses to give even a hint that these children could only come to Jesus because they had been baptized.

    Hope you are enjoying the good weather after all the rain last week!
     
  15. Matt Black

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    Could do with a little less humidity as I'm at work and a suit is no fun!

    Re the Philippian jailer et al, I agree that Paul doesn't mention baptism but he does go ahead and immediately baptise the jailer and his family (at least one assumes Paul baptised them; I guess it might have been Silas) so baptism does seem to be a normative part of conversion; actions speak louder than words and all that.

    As for the children, they were certainly small enough to constitute a nuisance in the disciples' eyes, so I would question whether they were of that much-used phrase "the age of accountability". I don't believe they were baptised at that time, FWIW, because baptism is a New Covenant sacrament (or ordinance if you prefer); for me the verse illustrates the principle that one should not seek to exclude small children (and by extention the metally ill and handicapped) from Jesus by virtue of their lack of intellectual capacity
     
    #15 Matt Black, Jul 16, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2008
  16. billwald

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    Infant baptism was the norm in 325 AD.
     
  17. David Lamb

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    Was it? How do you know? And even if it was, what is more important, what God's Word says about it, or what the "norm" was in 325 AD, (or in 326, or in 1527, or in 2007......)?
     
  18. Matt Black

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    The fact that Tertullian (c160-225) writes against the practice - particularly after his conversion to Montanism c207 - suggests strongly that infant baptism was widespread by his time. Note that he doesn't write against it for any reasons which we would today associate with Baptist objections to paedobaptism; rather he has such a strong belief in baptismal regeneration and its power to effect the forgiveness of sins that he is not sure whether sins committed after baptism can be forgiven and he therefore counsels delaying baptism until late in life, ideally on one's deathbed
     
  19. Agnus_Dei

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    Where in God's Word does it say infants are NOT to be Baptized?

    In XC
    -
     
  20. Thinkingstuff

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    good point.
     

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