Posted by: bonarlairg | December 14, 2018

How the New Testament supports the case for infant baptism

I believe that a careful reading of the New Testament supports the case for infant baptism.  And I emphasise the word “careful”.   Because the New Testament’s support for infant baptism does not come so much from what it says, as what it does not say.

What the New Testament says:

1) The New Testament never explicitly forbids the baptism of babies.

2) The New Testament never explicitly commands the baptism of babies.

3) The New Testament never mentions a single infant of a baby or infant being baptised.

4) The New Testament never mentions a single incident in which a baby or infant in a Christian household is not baptised at the time his / her parents were baptised.

5) The New Testament never mentions a single incident of someone being baptised as an adult (or older child) who had grown up in a Christian home.

6) The New Testament mentions occasions on which “households” were baptised. It is possible that these households included small children or even babies, but we are not told.

In other words, the New Testament really does not enable us to be particularly certain about whether infant baptism should be seen as valid by the church, and if so, whether Christian parents are obliged to have their babies baptised.

There are, of course statements in the New Testament about the meaning of baptism, e.g.

1) The New Testament frequently associates baptism with personal faith, which suggests that baptism would not be appropriate for babies.

2) The New Testament on one occasion associates baptism with circumcision, which suggests that baptism would be appropriate for babies.

None of these things enable us to come to any certain conclusion about apostolic teaching on baptism or about the practice of the New Testament church.

However . . .

There is something very interesting about all this.

The New Testament tells us of baptisms in the name of Jesus Christ taking place just weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – which would be roughly A.D. 30

The New Testament, including the book of Acts and the various letters to churches and individual Christians, was written over the following decades. We don’t know when it was completed, but at the very earliest, it was completed around A.D. 70, and it is possible that some books were written after A.D. 90.

This means that there were at least 30 years (and probably somewhere between 40 and 70 years) between the first Christian baptisms and the completion of the New Testament.

In other words, there would have been many baptisms taking place in New Testament times, and many children being born to Christian parents.

We can be pretty sure that the New Testament church had a policy about whether or not babies (or other children) of Christian parents should or should not be baptised. This policy is never stated in the New Testament, so it must have been passed on by word of mouth by the apostles and other Christian teachers. The fact that there is no discussion at all of the subject in the New Testament letters tells us that it was not a subject of debate or controversy. In other words, the matter was settled. And since we have letters to churches and information about Christians in all parts of the Roman Empire from Rome to Jerusalem, it would appear that there was an agreed policy throughout the church by, say, A.D. 60.

What was that policy?

We don’t know. But we can make a fairly good guess. We have a huge number of Christian writings about various subjects, including church practice and order, as well as theological debates, from the apostolic period onward. In other words, we have Christian writings from the end of the New Testament – say, A.D. 100 – through the second, third, fourth centuries and beyond.

And there are two interesting facts about these writings –

1) There is no big debate at any point in them about whether infant baptism is valid.

2) Those that mention the issue of infant baptism, all the way back to Origen (about A.D. 200), are unanimous in agreeing that infant baptism is valid.

And so . . .

It seems to me that it is inconceivable that the whole New Testament church had a policy that regarded infant baptism as invalid in, say A.D. 60, but that without any big argument, the church throughout the whole Roman Empire should decide to accept infant baptism as valid by A.D. 200. Had there been a big change of mind on the subject, we would have expected much debate and discussion in the various early Christian writings that have survived. But there is none at all.

So I conclude that the historical evidence suggests that the Christian church in New Testament times was completely agreed that the baptism of infants was valid baptism.

That is not to say that I am convinced that Christian parents are obliged to baptise their babies – for there is some evidence of Christians in the early church (such as Augustine of Hippo) who were born to Christian parents but were not baptised as babies. However, it does seem to me that there is a strong case that infant baptism was regarded as normative in the early church right back to New Testament times.

 

Rev John Mann

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