Baptism in History, Part 4: Historical Arguments for Believer's Baptism

Read Parts 1, 2 and 3.

Either we should baptize only believers or we should baptize believers and their babies. One of these must be right; the other must be wrong. One is old and apostolic; the other is newer. For the purpose of this paper, assume this much: The very early church practiced one teaching; the other developed later in the life of the church.

In the baptism debate, history seems unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, history is not clearly on either side of the debate. There were at least a few ancient Christians who seem to have practiced each baptismal system (or something near to it). And many old sources are vague enough that both sides claim them. Together, these mean that everyone comes away believing that they are in agreement with the vast majority of historical figures.

Second, very few early church figures take either of the Protestant views of baptism. Like modern credo-baptists, Justin Martyr taught believer’s baptism and claimed that such teaching was apostolic. But he also conflated baptism with regeneration. Baptists can point to him as the earliest clear witness for believer’s baptism, but have trouble with his view of regeneration. Early church history offers even less comfort to Protestant infant baptizers. I know of no one before the Reformation who held to infant baptism and avoided errors such as baptismal regeneration, infant communion and infant damnation.

But before we decide that little can be gained from history to solve the debate, let’s consider some additional arguments based on historical data.

Consideration #1: conflation of baptism and regeneration

Early Christians conflated baptism with regeneration, regardless of whether they baptized infants. That is, they taught that the washing of the body in baptism and the washing of the soul in regeneration were so closely linked that they were one. “Regeneration” was often used in reference to baptism. What are the consequences when each group conflates baptism and regeneration?

We cannot see inside men and identify who is truly regenerate. Paul taught the church at Rome that Abraham’s faith preceded his circumcision (Rom.4:9-11). The Apostle John gave us many tests (1 John) for knowing who is regenerate—no one of which is a guarantee. Jonathan Edwards, who devoted much energy to this question, said,

[I]t was never God’s design to give us any rules, by which we may certainly know, who of our fellow professors are his, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats; but that, on the contrary, it was God’s design to reserve this to himself, as his prerogative.1

Because we must use external signs to identify the regenerate, some conflation between external signs and regeneration is inevitable. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated when he offered his son. Faith is shown by and “completed by” such works (James 2:18-26, especially v. 24). These are works of faith in the sense of works that come from faith. Because we can’t see faith, but only works of faith, the two can be so co-mingled that they become inseparable.

If baptism is not conflated with regeneration, something else will be (e.g., praying for salvation). In the examination of an individual, we ourselves may be the most interested observer. Baptism, as a rite of initiation, becomes a way to clearly assert one’s own faith, both to others and to ourselves. Considered in this way, it is permissible to conflate regeneration with baptism if the baptism comes with understanding, belief, and assent. Scripture seems to require this sort of conflation (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21).

This can be done without damage to sola fidelis only because regeneration is conflated with a work of faith. In the case of infant baptism, the choice was not the child’s, so there is no evidence that the baptism is a work of faith. One might object that it is a work of faith on the part of the church or on the part of the parents. But that doesn’t help because the argument of James 2 is that a person is “justified” by works and not by faith alone—his own faith is completed by his own works.

When the infant-baptizer conflates baptism with regeneration, he does damage to that understanding and possibly to the gospel. When the credo-baptist conflates them, he does very little and possibly no damage (though he must occasionally clarify the matter). Therefore, the paedo-baptist who conflates baptism and regeneration is more likely to be distant from the true gospel and apostolic tradition than is the credo-baptist with similar conflation. If this argument is valid, the credo-baptist has a more reliable ancient historical tradition than the paedo-baptist.

Consideration #2: argument from widespread changes

The macroscopic trend during the first 300 years of the church was a shift from credo-baptism to paedo-baptism. The very early church offers no direct evidence of infant baptism. Justin Martyr argued clearly that baptism is different from physical birth in that it is done with knowledge and assent as opposed to the ignorance of infancy. He further claimed that that tradition and line of reasoning originated with the Apostles. Aristides used one’s faith as the basis for inclusion in the Christian community rather than one’s status as a child of believers, which is a basis for credo-baptism. Hippolytus and the Didache are consistent with credo-baptism, but do not explicitly defend it. By the 3rd century, the picture is mixed. After Augustine, paedo-baptism predominates.

The general trend of the first four centuries is from believer’s baptism toward infant baptism. If believer’s baptism was the original teaching, this fits with the trend. If infant baptism was the original teaching, then credo-baptism would have to have sprung up, become somewhat popular, and then waned. That explanation is possible, but it calls on us to explain how and why credo-baptism would have sprung up in a paedo-baptist very early church.

Consideration #3: argument from individual changes

The macroscopic move from credo-baptism to paedo-baptism can be seen microscopically in the lives of men such as Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Though they were not been baptized as infants, they went on to teach infant baptism. I know of no one in this period who was raised as a paedo-baptist and shifted to credo-baptism. History shows many instances of men who made the change from adult baptism toward infant baptism. Yet, there is no evidence of anyone making the change in the opposite direction. This gives empirical evidence that the adoption of infant baptism in the setting of adult baptism is more common than the adoption of believer’s baptism in the setting of infant baptism. This in turn suggests that believer’s baptism is older.

Consideration #4: theoretical theological argument

A church must act regularly upon its doctrine of baptism. This is especially true in a growing and spreading church like the early church. So while any new teaching on baptism was being developed, the old teaching was already in constant use. The question is, is it easier to suppose a theoretical way for infant baptism to develop in the setting of believer’s baptism, or vice versa?

First, let’s consider the how paedo-baptism might have developed in the setting of credo-baptism. We begin by assuming that the church began baptizing only believers and conflated baptism with regeneration. Assuming that Baptism did begin as the answer of a conscience made good, it is understandable that it stood as proof to others and to one’s own self of regeneration. Soon, it was regeneration. From there it became a rite that provided total cleansing.

Parents I know in the Baptist tradition often wish to see their children baptized as soon as a profession of faith is made. In the case of a young child it can be difficult to discern between a true profession and parroting of words and phrases. I have been skeptical a few times that a profession was genuine. Many Baptist teens have a testimony that includes a prayer and baptism at a young age that they barely remember (if at all) and a later time of personal commitment to Christ.

With child mortality high, it is easy to see how parents would want very sick children washed of their sin with the slightest “I love Jesus” as the basis. Parents were anxious to know their children were God’s. Third century tombstones demonstrated this. If a very young child was sick and received baptism, another parent might question whether the baptism was really appropriate since the profession was doubtful. A kind-hearted clergyman would reply that since the child is sick, it is better to give him and his parents the comfort of baptism. What harm is there? With younger and younger children of questionable faith being baptized, the pressure to baptize children of younger age would naturally grow as well. Over the course of a couple of generations, it is easy to see how this could result in a progression toward baptism of infants.

Considering the opposite scenario is more difficult. How might believer’s baptism have developed in the setting of infant baptism? I was raised in a paedo-baptist Lutheran church and do not remember circumstances internal to the church that would tend to encourage people to forgo baptizing infants in favor of baptizing believers.

Note that this argument has the weaknesses of ignorance and lack of imagination. I may simply not be aware of the thoughts and circumstances that would allow the doctrine of believer’s baptism to develop. Perhaps I have not been imaginative enough or had enough experience in the paedo-baptist tradition to perceive how believer’s baptism could have developed. I invite paedo-baptists to consider this and reply. What circumstances and attitudes suggest to you that believer’s baptism is likely to have developed in the setting of infant baptism?

Nevertheless, if we assume that infant baptism was the original teaching handed down and practiced by apostles, the development of credo-baptism seems very unlikely. If a body of believers was accustomed to seeing their infants baptized, had been taught that the baptismal water cleansed their very souls, and was experiencing even moderate infant mortality, what intrepid credo-baptist could convince the parents of a little child (especially a dying child) to do nothing?

I conclude that it is likely that infant baptism could develop in the setting of credo-baptism. And I cannot imagine how believers-only-baptism could develop in the setting of infant baptism. Therefore, if we are right to assume that the very early church was unified in its practice and teaching on this matter, then a very early church that baptized only believers makes the most sense. And a very early church that baptized infants seems inconsistent with history, though I am open to hearing the thoughts of others, of course.

This paper was based on the assumption that there was one teaching that was old, apostolic, and right and that there was one teaching that was new and not apostolic. But what if that assumption is incorrect? Could it be that the very early church did not have a unified teaching and practice?

Notes

1 A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections In Three Parts, Jonathan Edwards, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004 reprinting, p. 120.

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Dan Miller's picture

Let me just note: I still haven't adequately dealt with Origen. I'm reading him and about him. I got a bunch of WWII books for Christmas that sidetracked me. Let me recommend Operation Mincemeat, Bodyguard of Lies, Between Silk and Cyanide, and Battle of Wits. Anyway, Origen must be discussed...

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate your work on this and look forward to your Origen analysis.

Charlie's picture

Dan, your essays have included several erroneous assumptions, which by this point are snowballing into almost entirely irrelevant articles.

1) There is not a single clear credo-baptist in the early church. All of the "credo-baptist" sayings you think you've found in really ancient sources have parallels in known paedo-baptists, so they aren't proof. At most they're questions. This makes statements such as "the macroscopic trend during the first 300 years of the church was a shift from credo-baptism to paedo-baptism" unsupportable assertions.

2) The only person to argue against the practice of paedo-baptism is Tertullian. He does so not by saying, in modern credo-baptist language, that an infant baptism is invalid, but rather by asserting it is unwise. He considers infant baptism a true baptism, which is why it is dangerous.

3a) The early church has a strongly conservative streak. We can trace a stream of protest against just about every innovation in early church history - papacy, veneration of relics, pro-Nicene terminology, etc.. Baptism is one of the two sacramenta of the Church. Surely, any major change to this sacred rite would have been accompanied by the normal strife and division. Where is it? There are no church councils called to address it. There are no bishops expelled for refusing to baptize infants. There is no polemical war. Tertullian is a lone voice if ever there were one.

3b) In particular, why does Tertullian not bring out the stereotypical charges of innovation against it? Why does he not cite precedent against it? Why is he so polite in his argument, when he is never polite? I think his own document pretty clearly presents the situation. He is not a conservative arguing against an innovation, but a progressive who wants to get rid of a practice that he cannot justify theologically.

3c) Origen, only a few decades after Tertullian, writes that the apostles gave the tradition of infant baptism. In De Principiis, the first chapter distinguishes between the apostolic faith and Origen's own theological exercises, so we know that Origen doesn't just slap the label "apostolic" on everything he believes. This testifies at the very least that infant baptism had been an entrenched reality in Alexandria for several generations.

4) What is the point of asking how credo-baptism could arise in a paedobaptist environment? The point is that it didn't. There's no need to explain something that never happened. You can look to the 16th century for answers to those questions.

I can give you a speculative "Presbyterian" rendering of church history, if you want. In the first century, the 12 apostles taught the church all the words of the Westminster Confession, but the churches soon forgot them. In particular, they turned away from understanding grace as God's covenantal action toward his people. Instead, they began to conceive grace along quasi-material lines, as a "substance" that could be infused into a habitus. Thus, although the church continued to baptize infants as the apostles commanded, they lost the reason and thought that the baptism regenerated the child or cleansed him from original sin. We can see the instability of this arrangement in Tertullian, who knows both that infant baptism is a traditional practice and that the justification for it seems forced. It remained until the Reformation's correction of an inadequate view of grace for the proper role of infant baptism to be rediscovered.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Dan Miller's picture

Charlie wrote:
1) There is not a single clear credo-baptist in the early church. All of the "credo-baptist" sayings you think you've found in really ancient sources have parallels in known paedo-baptists, so they aren't proof. At most they're questions. This makes statements such as "the macroscopic trend during the first 300 years of the church was a shift from credo-baptism to paedo-baptism" unsupportable assertions.
How are you ignoring Justin?
All then who are persuaded, and believe, that the things which are taught and affirmed by us are true; and who promise to be able to live accordingly; are taught to pray, and beg God with fasting, to grant them forgiveness of their former sins; and we pray and fast with them... [A ]nd after the same manner of regeneration as we also were regenerated ourselves, they are regenerated... [receiving ] the washing of water...
And we have received the following reason from the Apostles for so doing; since we were ignorant of our first birth... in order that we might not remain the children of necessity and ignorance, but of choice, and of knowledge; and that we might obtain remission of the sins we had formerly committed; in the water, there is called over him who chooses the new birth, and repents of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of all things; and calling Him by this name alone, we bring the person to be washed to the laver.

How could you be any more credo-baptist than that?
btw, I emailed Everett Ferguson. He reads this just as I do.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dear Dan,

You wrote quite an article. How this relates in modern times to the Campbellite sect is interesting and thought-provoking; sounds like you think they are not far off target?

Also, Charlie, do you disagree with Dan's interpretation of Justin Martyr? Dan wrote:

Quote:
Second, very few early church figures take either of the Protestant views of baptism. Like modern credo-baptists, Justin Martyr taught believer’s baptism and claimed that such teaching was apostolic.

My area of interest is Jewish roots, and I would argue that baptism is based on the Mikveh, particularly ritual baptism for conversion to Judaism (Hillel's viewpoint). Hillel taught that a gentile could turn from his sins and believe in the God of Israel and be saved without becoming a Jew. He had to then abide by the Covenant of Noah. If he wanted to be become a full convert to Judaism, he (or she) was welcomed as a Jew by immersion. Shammai said only full converts could be saved, and only circumcision for males was the initiation. No baptism, nothing for women. Thus the Acts 15 issue pre-dated the church.

I hold to an early "crash and burn" view of the church, so that color my thinking.

"The Midrash Detective"

PSFerguson's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
My area of interest is Jewish roots, and I would argue that baptism is based on the Mikveh, particularly ritual baptism for conversion to Judaism (Hillel's viewpoint). Hillel taught that a gentile could turn from his sins and believe in the God of Israel and be saved without becoming a Jew. He had to then abide by the Covenant of Noah. If he wanted to be become a full convert to Judaism, he (or she) was welcomed as a Jew by immersion. Shammai said only full converts could be saved, and only circumcision for males was the initiation. No baptism, nothing for women. Thus the Acts 15 issue pre-dated the church.

I hold to an early "crash and burn" view of the church, so that color my thinking.

I would be surprised that early Judaism held that immersion was the mode of baptism bearing in mind every ceremonial cleansing in the OT was by sprinkling. This post by Dan inspired me to collate a few thoughts on the subject as to why I reject immersion as the only valid mode of baptism which I placed on my blog,

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

We're off topic a little (regarding infant vs. believer's baptism) but Ed is right that people were immersing regularly in Jesus' day and before. If you go to Jerusalem, you can see what most believe are ceremonial cleansing pools not far from the south side of the temple... from Herodian era.

There is also an interesting use of baptizo in one of the gospels in reference to cleansing temple instruments... bowls and such. I don't have the ref. handy.

Charlie: is it your view that there was no credo baptism at all until the Reformation?

Dan's argument seems solid to me that which came first is reflected in which can most easily explain the rise of the other.

JobK's picture

Charlie wrote:
Dan, your essays have included several erroneous assumptions, which by this point are snowballing into almost entirely irrelevant articles.

1) There is not a single clear credo-baptist in the early church. .

Who were the "clear paedo-Baptists" in the early church?

Incidentally, as fundamentalist Christians adhere to sola scriptura, our practices are justified using the Bible, not received tradition. Instead, received tradition is used primarily to promote and defend "rule of faith" arguments; that our modern Biblical interpretations have been commonly accepted throughout church history (as opposed to being, for example, things that a bunch of fellows cooked up in more recent times to oppress people). So, what New Testament texts support paedo-baptism, either by command or example?

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Rob Fall's picture

Charlie, I for one am not returning to the mother ship.

JobK wrote:
Charlie wrote:
Dan, your essays have included several erroneous assumptions, which by this point are snowballing into almost entirely irrelevant articles.

1) There is not a single clear credo-baptist in the early church. .

Who were the "clear paedo-Baptists" in the early church?

Incidentally, as fundamentalist Christians adhere to sola scriptura, our practices are justified using the Bible, not received tradition. Instead, received tradition is used primarily to promote and defend "rule of faith" arguments; that our modern Biblical interpretations have been commonly accepted throughout church history (as opposed to being, for example, things that a bunch of fellows cooked up in more recent times to oppress people). So, what New Testament texts support paedo-baptism, either by command or example?

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Dan Miller's picture

Charlie wrote:
Dan, your essays have included several erroneous assumptions, which by this point are snowballing into almost entirely irrelevant articles.
Ouch! Charlie! That really HURT! Charlie! :)
Charlie wrote:
4) What is the point of asking how credo-baptism could arise in a paedobaptist environment? The point is that it didn't. There's no need to explain something that never happened. You can look to the 16th century for answers to those questions.

I can give you a speculative "Presbyterian" rendering of church history, if you want...

Why would I want that? You imagined a history that doesn't include any credo-baptists at all - that imagination is inconsistent with reality.

What I am saying is this:
1. Both credo-B and paedo-B exist.
2. Assume that paedo-B is Apostolic. (should be easy)
3. Credo-B must have developed later in the church.

Your challenge is to describe how credo-B teaching would develop an take hold in the setting of paedo-B. The toughest thing to explain, in my view, will be how the new credo-baptists convinced parents of ill children to do nothing.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Two things that you didn't touch:
1. Justin.
2. The relative effect of the baptism-regeneration conflation on soteriology by each group. My contention is that this conflation is more damaging to good soteriology for the paedo-baptist than the credo-baptist.

btw, I admit that the arguments in this paper are not extremely robust. Regarding #2 (macroscopic trend) I said, "fits with the trend," which I also agree that even the trend itself is not sure. In #3 (microscopic trend) I said, "suggests." Regarding #3 (imagining the development of each system from the other) I said, "Note that this argument has the weaknesses of ignorance and lack of imagination." So I don't think that I have gone too far in over-claiming, except perhaps with the general trend of #2 (though you still need to consider Justin).

Dan Miller's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
How this relates in modern times to the Campbellite sect is interesting and thought-provoking; sounds like you think they are not far off target?
...
I hold to an early "crash and burn" view of the church, so that color my thinking.
I would need to read about the Campbellites before I commented.

I tend to agree with the "crash and burn" view of the church. Eldership -vs- bishops (and other levels of hierarchy) comes to mind. That started early.

PSFerguson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
We're off topic a little (regarding infant vs. believer's baptism) but Ed is right that people were immersing regularly in Jesus' day and before. If you go to Jerusalem, you can see what most believe are ceremonial cleansing pools not far from the south side of the temple... from Herodian era.

There is also an interesting use of baptizo in one of the gospels in reference to cleansing temple instruments... bowls and such. I don't have the ref. handy.

I agree it is a little off topic. Just to tie up the point the reference you are looking for is Mark 7:4. In this passage we read of the Pharisees,

Quote:
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. (Mark 7:4)

Now, the Greek word translated “washing” is the verb baptiso. Yet the ceremonial cleansing of the household artifacts included “tables” or “couches.” These “tables” were the long couch beds that they reclined on for their meals. Now even if the tables or couches were covered in water in this process of cleansing, that is not immersion which requires a dipping under and raising up from the water. Bearing in mind that ceremonial cleansing was by sprinkling coupled with the scarcity of water in the East in is highly improbable to imagine the text is saying that they dipped their couches in water before they ate each time “they come from the market.” No sensible Baptist explanation has ever been put forth as to why the Pharisees would immerse their couches before they ate!

Dan Miller's picture

PSFerguson wrote:
... the reference you are looking for is Mark 7:4. In this passage we read of the Pharisees,

Quote:
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. (Mark 7:4)

Now, the Greek word translated “washing” is the verb baptiso. Yet the ceremonial cleansing of the household artifacts included “tables” or “couches.” These “tables” were the long couch beds that they reclined on for their meals....No sensible Baptist explanation has ever been put forth as to why the Pharisees would immerse their couches before they ate!

Interesting. A quick look reveals that in Luke 5:18 a man is carried by other men on a "bed" (klinē, same as "table" in Mark 7:4). This could be carried quite easily to the river for washing, if needed. Why not?

But to tie it back to what Ed was saying, Hebrews 9:10 also uses baptismos to describe Jewish washings.

Ed Vasicek's picture

PSFerguson wrote:
Ed Vasicek wrote:
My area of interest is Jewish roots, and I would argue that baptism is based on the Mikveh, particularly ritual baptism for conversion to Judaism (Hillel's viewpoint). Hillel taught that a gentile could turn from his sins and believe in the God of Israel and be saved without becoming a Jew. He had to then abide by the Covenant of Noah. If he wanted to be become a full convert to Judaism, he (or she) was welcomed as a Jew by immersion. Shammai said only full converts could be saved, and only circumcision for males was the initiation. No baptism, nothing for women. Thus the Acts 15 issue pre-dated the church.

I hold to an early "crash and burn" view of the church, so that color my thinking.

I would be surprised that early Judaism held that immersion was the mode of baptism bearing in mind every ceremonial cleansing in the OT was by sprinkling. This post by Dan inspired me to collate a few thoughts on the subject as to why I reject immersion as the only valid mode of baptism which I placed on my blog,

From the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Quote:
A Gentile wishing to become a proselyte must also immerse his whole body. This ceremony is, no doubt, historically allied to Baptism, which is thought by modern authorities to have originated among the Essenes, who were very scrupulous respecting ablutions, and in the observance of the rules of purity (see Lustration; Sprinkling).

Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=338&letter=A#ixzz1GGLd6...

This source should be considered fairly neutral I think.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

PS Ferguson said:

Quote:
Bearing in mind that ceremonial cleansing was by sprinkling coupled with the scarcity of water in the East in is highly improbable to imagine the text is saying that they dipped their couches in water before they ate each time “they come from the market.”

Going to Jewish sources to see what the Jews believed is not a bad idea. Here is another quotation.

Quote:
A religious ablution signifying purification or consecration. The natural method of cleansing the body by washing and bathing in water was always customary in Israel (see Ablution, Bathing). The washing of their clothes was an important means of sanctification enjoined on the Israelites before the Revelation on Mt. Sinai (Ex. xix. 10). The Rabbis connect with this the duty of bathing by complete immersion ("ṭebilah," Yeb. 46b; Mek., Baḥodesh, iii.); and since sprinkling with blood was always accompanied by immersion, tradition connects with this immersion the blood lustration mentioned as having also taken place immediately before the Revelation (Ex. xxiv. 8), these three acts being the initiatory rites always performed upon proselytes, "to bring them under the wings of the Shekinah" (Yeb. l.c.).

With reference to Ezek. xxxvi. 25, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean," R. Akiba, in the second century, made the utterance: "Blessed art thou, O Israel! Before whom dost thou cleanse thyself? and who cleanses thee? Thy Father in heaven!" (Yoma viii. 9). Accordingly, Baptism is not merely for the purpose of expiating a special transgression, as is the case chiefly in the violation of the so-called Levitical laws of purity; but it is to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God. This thought is expressed in the well-known passage in Josephus in which he speaks of John the Baptist ("Ant." xviii. 5, § 2): "The washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness." John symbolized the call to repentance by Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. iii. 6 and parallel passages); and the same measure for attaining to holiness was employed by the Essenes, whose ways of life John also observed in all other respects. Josephus says of his instructor Banus, an Essene, that he "bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day" ("Vita," § 2), and that the same practise was observed by all the Essenes ("B. J." ii. 8, § 5).

Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=222&letter=B&search=bap...

"The Midrash Detective"

PSFerguson's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
PS Ferguson said:
Quote:
Bearing in mind that ceremonial cleansing was by sprinkling coupled with the scarcity of water in the East in is highly improbable to imagine the text is saying that they dipped their couches in water before they ate each time “they come from the market.”

Going to Jewish sources to see what the Jews believed is not a bad idea. Here is another quotation.

Quote:
A religious ablution signifying purification or consecration. The natural method of cleansing the body by washing and bathing in water was always customary in Israel (see Ablution, Bathing). The washing of their clothes was an important means of sanctification enjoined on the Israelites before the Revelation on Mt. Sinai (Ex. xix. 10). The Rabbis connect with this the duty of bathing by complete immersion ("ṭebilah," Yeb. 46b; Mek., Baḥodesh, iii.); and since sprinkling with blood was always accompanied by immersion, tradition connects with this immersion the blood lustration mentioned as having also taken place immediately before the Revelation (Ex. xxiv. 8), these three acts being the initiatory rites always performed upon proselytes, "to bring them under the wings of the Shekinah" (Yeb. l.c.).

With reference to Ezek. xxxvi. 25, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean," R. Akiba, in the second century, made the utterance: "Blessed art thou, O Israel! Before whom dost thou cleanse thyself? and who cleanses thee? Thy Father in heaven!" (Yoma viii. 9). Accordingly, Baptism is not merely for the purpose of expiating a special transgression, as is the case chiefly in the violation of the so-called Levitical laws of purity; but it is to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God. This thought is expressed in the well-known passage in Josephus in which he speaks of John the Baptist ("Ant." xviii. 5, § 2): "The washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness." John symbolized the call to repentance by Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. iii. 6 and parallel passages); and the same measure for attaining to holiness was employed by the Essenes, whose ways of life John also observed in all other respects. Josephus says of his instructor Banus, an Essene, that he "bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day" ("Vita," § 2), and that the same practise was observed by all the Essenes ("B. J." ii. 8, § 5).

Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=222&letter=B&search=bap...

Thanks Ed. I am not questioning the authenticity of your quotations just the reliability. Modern Jewish traditions and interpretations I think we all agree are a poor reference tool to interpret Scripture. The fact is that there is no explicit reference in the OT to a ritual immersion. However, we do have multiple explicit evidence that the Jews were commanded to sprinkle by blood and water to evidence ritualistic cleansing:

Quote:
And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: (Numbers 19:17-18)

Quote:
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people. (Hebrews 9:19)

We even have the cleansing of the Messiah pictured as sprinkling:

Quote:
So shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isa. 52:15)

The point I am making is that if we have to judge over the cleansing rites of OT Judaism from Scripture or the Jewish Encyclopedia then there is only one winner.

PSFerguson's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
Now, the Greek word translated “washing” is the verb baptiso. Yet the ceremonial cleansing of the household artifacts included “tables” or “couches.” These “tables” were the long couch beds that they reclined on for their meals....No sensible Baptist explanation has ever been put forth as to why the Pharisees would immerse their couches before they ate!

Quote:
Interesting. A quick look reveals that in Luke 5:18 a man is carried by other men on a "bed" (klinē, same as "table" in Mark 7:4). This could be carried quite easily to the river for washing, if needed. Why not?

But to tie it back to what Ed was saying, Hebrews 9:10 also uses baptismos to describe Jewish washings.

Hebrews 9:10 is extremely problematic for immersionists as it cites OT passages dealing with washings that are explicitly sprinkling rituals. I have never read a credible Baptist explanation as to how baptismos could be only immersion in Hebrews 9.

The point I make about Mark 7:4 it is incredulous to imagine that every time a Jewish man was to eat he has to immerse his couch in water. This is even more so as all the ritual cleansings of artifacts in the OT was by sprinkling with water. What OT authority would a Jew have to base his view of immersion of a couch from? Remember they did not have the NT.

Quote:
And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave: (Numbers 19:17-18)

Quote:
And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean. (Numbers 8:7)

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Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. (Ezekiel 36:25)

Quote:
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people. (Hebrews 9:19)

Charlie's picture

Just for the sake of clear terminology, I want to point out that the issue is anti-paedobaptism. Paedobaptists believe in baptizing professing converts (credobaptism), but anti-paedobaptists do not believe in baptizing the children (or household) of converts. Furthermore, anti-paedobaptism in the strict sense denies the validity or possibility of infant baptism. For example, the Baptist that tells the Catholic, "You weren't baptized; you just got wet." So, Tertullian is not an anti-paedobaptist, because his opposition to the practice assumes the validity and efficacy of paedobaptism.

Now, Justin Martyr. Let me say first that it is possible that he is anti-paedobaptist. If so, what then? Justin was not a deacon, elder, or bishop. His teaching on baptism isn't cited (to my knowledge) by any later source. He was valued as an apologist and martyr, but his theology is idiosyncratic at many points. If he is opposed to paedobaptism, it could very well be the force of his peculiarly Pelagian understanding of man and salvation that drives him to emphasize will and choice (see George Tybout Purves, The Testimony of Justin Martyr to Early Christianity (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1889), 156-165). In any case, even in Justin Martyr was anti-paedobaptist, that doesn't show that the early church was anti-paedobaptist, or even that the early church in Rome was. Without corroborating evidence, it's just a historical anomaly.

On the other hand, Justin may not be anti-paedobaptist. There are known paedobaptists who talk about baptism in ways that would lead their readers to believe that they were anti-paedobaptist. Gregory Nazienzen, for example, in Oration XL, contrasts baptism (the second birth) with the first birth, though not as sharply as Justin does. Gregory calls baptism illumination, then refers to it as "the conversion of the life, the question put to the Godward conscience. It is the aid to our weakness, the renunciation of the flesh, the following of the Spirit, the fellowship of the Word, the improvement of the creature, the overwhelming of sin, the participation of light, the dissolution of darkness." At another point he refers to it as "a covenant with God for a second life and a purer conversation."

The point is that you can find many passages in known paedo-baptists that use language that doesn't translate well to infants. They're definitely thinking along different lines when they affirm infant baptism. And, they aren't all thinking about original sin, since John Chrysostom affirms the validity of infant baptism while specifically denying that infants need cleansing for sins. Is Justin's language so sharp that it absolutely precludes him approving infant baptism? I don't think so. For better or for worse, paedobaptists throughout history tend to run one way when they're speaking of believer's baptism and turn a corner when they speak of infant baptism. They aren't always consistent. Such may very well be the case with Justin.

So, having dealt with Justin, I still have outstanding questions. Why is there not a single person in the first 6 centuries that denies the validity of infant baptism? If infant baptism was a gradual accumulation beginning in the second century, why are there no councils called to deal with the paedobaptists? Where is the outcry? When the paedobaptists finally gain the upper hand, why are there no councils to solidify their position and anathematize their opponents? There are reams of polemic on all sorts of sacramental questions, particularly regarding Donatists and Novatians, but none on infant baptism.The proposed narrative just doesn't fit the way the early church worked.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

PFFerg. wrote:
No sensible Baptist explanation has ever been put forth as to why the Pharisees would immerse their couches before they ate!

Have to admit I haven't heard an explanation--sensible or otherwise.

Charlie, I think your point is valid that there is a difference between ancient credo baptists and ancient anti-paedobaptists.
The absence of any councils, etc. to deal with emergent paedo-baptism in an older credo-baptist tradition seems strong as well, but Dan's suggestion as to how paedo baptism could have developed also solves that problem.

I'm also not sure I can buy the idea that the realy early church was all that conservative about innovation. The epistles themselves reveal that a great deal of error was rising up even before the apostles died.
So I tend to buy into Ed's "early crash and burn" idea--if I understand his meaning.

At best, I think we can say that the very early church was selectively resistant to innovation, hence the councils that did occur. But it's clear to me that there were exceptions and the high infant mortality, persecution, etc. of that environment makes an unopposed rise of paedo baptism plausible as one of them (along with the strong Jewish background and identifying of baptism with circumcision... or is that a later idea?)

I can't deny though it's impossible to prove things happened this way. There's pretty much no extant evidence that isn't ambiguous. It's a logical argument.
And I definitely approach it with a bias, as do we all. I like to think that my bias comes from the Scriptural pattern of believed->baptized.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Quote:
Thanks Ed. I am not questioning the authenticity of your quotations just the reliability. Modern Jewish traditions and interpretations I think we all agree are a poor reference tool to interpret Scripture. The fact is that there is no explicit reference in the OT to a ritual immersion. However, we do have multiple explicit evidence that the Jews were commanded to sprinkle by blood and water to evidence ritualistic cleansing:

Thanks for your reply. But these sources quoted form the Talmud/Mishna, like Hillel, acturally predate in their origin the church and made up the religious and cultural context of NT teaching.

Why we would interpret New Testament Scripture based upon the comments of the church fathers typically over 100 years removed has never seemed reasonable to me. I think a much saner approach is to try to recreate the original context and understanding of the original audience.

I am not saying that baptism was commanded in the Old Testament, but I am saying baptism was a common Jewish ritual before the time of Jesus. John did not invent it. I am also saying that baptism (ritual immersion, using the Jewish definition) is not directly connected to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. The Jews later added this understanding to the Old Testament.

According to Hebrews 6, there were a number of "washings" involved in understanding the Scriptures and how they relate to the believer:

Quote:
1Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Raymond Fischer, in The Way of the Way, proposes that the Jewish believers (aka, Nazarenes) practiced triple immersion in the Names of each Person of the Trinity. They first instructed the candidate over a period of weeks, then anointed him with oil, he descended a 7 step baptistry (signifying Christ's coming down to earth through the 7 heavens) and then, after immersing himself under supervision, ascended the stairs, signifying Christ's ascenscion. Afterward, the new convert partook communion with everyone else, and then was given a cup of milk mixed with honey to celebrate and dressed in a white robe with a garland crown. I cannot say whether all early Jewish believers practiced this (I think not) or were taught this as implied by the quotation in Hebrews, but these elaborations probably had the net effect of confusing the whole matter. So these "washings" were not just about baptism. As practicing Messianic Jews, they had much adapting of the Law to the Messianic era.

Baptisms (ritual immersion) is simply the transfer of a Jewish concept to the church, obviously so led by the Spirit. If you have ever studied the Dead Sea Essene community, they were really into it!

It is that simple. As a matter of fact, we have no suggestion that the apostles were every baptized in "Christian" baptism, though the argument from silence is a weak one, I will admit.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Quote:
Interesting. A quick look reveals that in Luke 5:18 a man is carried by other men on a "bed" (klinē, same as "table" in Mark 7:4).

This may not be a proper "Baptist" answer to "immersing couches," but the Greek texts I use and most other versions do not have "table" or "couch" in Mark 7:4, they follow the critical text, which is my preference. So I cannot explain why something is there when I do not believe it is.

The NASB reads:

Quote:
and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)

The NIV reads similarly, but the ESV includes it. The United Bible Societies gives the addition of "couch" or "table" a C rating, which meanings the reading with "couch/table" is pretty uncertain, but possible, in their view.

So I will have to leave that refutation to others. I can understand why it would be a sticky point for someone who held to the Byzantines. But we certainly do not want to go there on this thread!

"The Midrash Detective"

Charlie's picture

Ed, I'm under the impression that Jewish proselyte baptism was a household affair. That is, the children of converts would be baptized as well. Do you have any info on this?

I do think it's relevant the NT goes out of the way to emphasize household (oikia) baptisms. I don't remember the exact figure, but something like 1/3 of the baptisms specifically mentioned are household in nature. There's not a lot of commentary given with them, but it makes a lot of sense coming from an Old Testament background, since converts in the OT were added by household. Call me biased, but I think the Scriptures are driving at a bit more than, "Isn't great that all the people in this family believed?"

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Dan Miller's picture

Quote:
Call me biased, but I think the Scriptures are driving at a bit more than, "Isn't great that all the people in this family believed?"
Why not? I mean, that would be a great thing, right?

Plus, in these passages, households do believe.

Acts 10:2 "a devout man who feared God with all his household"
Acts 16:34 "Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God."
Acts 18:8 "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household."

These are cases of exactly that.

The whole oikos formula is based on the assumption that the writer intended babies in the referent.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
I've been busy today; I'll get to the other posts in a while...

Dan Miller's picture

Just for the sake of clear terminology, I want to point out that the issue is anti-paedobaptism.If you ask for that standard, you are asking who in history takes the modern baptist view of baptism. Ok. But the baptist will ask you who teaches modern protestant paedobaptism. I answer "Justin." I don't think you have anyone.
So, having dealt with Justin, I still have outstanding questions…How you dealt with Justin:
1. He's not an elder.

ok, but he wasn't a yokel. He was an educated man. And he was quoted (generally, on other matters) by other early and late bishops and scholars.

2. He is doubtful because other people like Gregory Nazianzus said things that were unclear.

huh?

3. He was only one guy. You can't build a trend on one guy.

This is true. But he's still one guy. There is also Aristides, who considered the children of Christians not "brethren" until they become Christians. And Tertullian...

To answer your questions:
Why is there not a single person in the first 6 centuries that denies the validity of infant baptism?

(You mean besides Justin.) 1) Perhaps because the early church didn't write very much. 2) Perhaps it was simply not a contentious issue. 2) I still disagree with you about Tertullian. He isn't irascible about it, but he does say that baptism should be for those who ask for it and those who have become Christians. He makes no direct statement that he believes an infant baptized is actually regenerated, though he may acknowledge that idea as the mistaken theory of his opponent.

If infant baptism was a gradual accumulation beginning in the second century, why are there no councils called to deal with the paedobaptists? Where is the outcry? When the paedobaptists finally gain the upper hand, why are there no councils to solidify their position and anathematize their opponents?

This is a very good question. I'm going to hold on to this.

My questions:
1. Concerning the matter of the conflation of baptism and regeneration, what do you make of my argument that the paedobaptist who conflates does more damage to soteriology than the credobaptist?

Rob Fall's picture

but I can't go into the specifics.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

James K's picture

Aren't Fundies supposed to have scripture be their final authority?

How many infants in the Bible were baptized? None.

Who did Jesus say to baptize? Only disciples.

Who is a member of the New Covenant? Only believers.

When Paedos can produce some Bible verses that prove any of the above three points, then they will be able to discuss something. Until they can though, their arguments have nothing to do with Scripture.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Rob Fall's picture

Actually, Bible- Our only rule for Faith and Practice is a Baptist distinctive. Otherwise you couldn't have Fundamental Presbyterians and Methodists.

James K wrote:
Aren't Fundies supposed to have scripture be their final authority?

How many infants in the Bible were baptized? None.

Who did Jesus say to baptize? Only disciples.

Who is a member of the New Covenant? Only believers.

When Paedos can produce some Bible verses that prove any of the above three points, then they will be able to discuss something. Until they can though, their arguments have nothing to do with Scripture.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:
Ed, I'm under the impression that Jewish proselyte baptism was a household affair. That is, the children of converts would be baptized as well. Do you have any info on this?

I do think it's relevant the NT goes out of the way to emphasize household (oikia) baptisms. I don't remember the exact figure, but something like 1/3 of the baptisms specifically mentioned are household in nature. There's not a lot of commentary given with them, but it makes a lot of sense coming from an Old Testament background, since converts in the OT were added by household. Call me biased, but I think the Scriptures are driving at a bit more than, "Isn't great that all the people in this family believed?"

Charlie, I have never seen this mentioned in my Jewish studies, although I cannot say it did not exist. I need to remind all, though, that at the time of Jesus, Bet Hillel was the lesser (quantity and influence) school of Judaism. So when we talk about ritual immersion for conversion, we are only talking about the Hillel camp, and Jesus repeatedly show agreement with Hillel's ruling. The Talmud and modern Judaism has all descended from this School, however. Though Bet Shammai was more powerful and numerous at the time of Jesus, it was Bet Shammai that provoked the rebellions against Rome. Bet Shammai had connections both politically to the Herods, many of the zealous priests, and the Zealots.

After Jerusalem was destroyed and the Bar Kochba revolt, Bet Shammai had lost its credibility and only Bet Hillel survived. Like Jesus, Bet Hillel believed that if the people repented God would take care of Israel's oppressors, and thus he discouraged rebellion and advocated loving enemies and interacting with, loving, and reaching gentiles. Hillel's "Gold Rule" was, "If you do not want others to do it to you, do not do it to them." Christ made Hillel's distillation of loving a neighbor pro-active. It was Bet Shammai that created and enforced rules about ritual washing of the hands before a meal or not healing on the Sabbath. Hillel was the opposite.

The Essenes immersed themselves everyday, but I do not know of any gentile conversions to the Essene community. But, as far as I can tell, all conversions to Judaism were individual and required a commitment to obey the Torah. Children born in a home where the parents had converted to Judaism were considered Jewish. I do not know the status of minor children (under the age of Bar Mitzvah) whose parents had been gentiles but were now Jews. Were they immersed before their Bar Mitzvah (boys) or reaching that age (girls)? They did not have Bat Mitzvah back then. If I come across more info, I'll bring it up.

"The Midrash Detective"

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Rob Fall wrote:
Actually, Bible- Our only rule for Faith and Practice is a Baptist distinctive. Otherwise you couldn't have Fundamental Presbyterians and Methodists.

Hate to burst your bubble, but having been raised in a fundamental Methodist church, I can tell you that "the Bible as the only rule for faith and practice" was one of our cherished beliefs as well, so it's not a true "Baptist distinctive," as it did not distinguish fundamental Baptists from fundamental Methodists.

Of course, you could point to scriptures you believe Methodists are not following, and Methodists could do the same with regard to Baptists. What does that prove other than that the two groups interpret some scriptures differently? It certainly does not prove that those scriptures are being ignored or intentionally disobeyed. This is a lot like the "biblicist" moniker as used by those who think both Calvinists nor Arminians are more dedicated to their "system" than they are to the Bible. While that may be true for some, it certainly is not true for all.

Dave Barnhart

PSFerguson's picture

James K wrote:
Aren't Fundies supposed to have scripture be their final authority?

How many infants in the Bible were baptized? None.

Who did Jesus say to baptize? Only disciples.

Who is a member of the New Covenant? Only believers.

When Paedos can produce some Bible verses that prove any of the above three points, then they will be able to discuss something. Until they can though, their arguments have nothing to do with Scripture.

We can all play this game:

How many children born of christian parents who grew up and made professions of faith were baptized in the Bible? None - Certainly, by the close of the Canon of Scripture there would have been hundreds of examples to draw from.The reason early NT references are to adult believer’s baptism was because the first converts of the Church were adults when they believed. However, the same was true of Abraham, who was required to believe before he was circumcised, but then had his children circumcised as infants. Personal faith was a prerequisite for justification for adults in the Old Testament as it is in the New. Adult proselytes to Judaism had to believe first and then be circumcised (Rom. 4:11). This can be seen in the attitude of the Judaizers in Acts 15:1.

How many women are explicitly said to partake of the Lord's Supper in the Bible? None

Does baptism replace circumcision under the New Covenant? Give me the explicit verse that children are no longer to receive the covenant sign in the NT. While you at it, state the explicit verse teaching that the Sabbath was changed from the 7th day to the 1st day of the week. Is Acts a transitional book or normative for every aspects of Church life today?

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