Skip to main content

How Old Is Infant Baptism?

The earliest explicit mention of infant “baptism” in the history of the church is from the African church father, Tertullian, who lived from about A.D. 160 to about 220. He was born in Carthage, studied in Rome for a legal career and was converted to Christianity in about 195. He was the first Christian theologian to write in Latin and exerted significant influence through his apologetic works.
The work, de baptismo (Concerning Baptism) was written, evidently between 200 and 206. In it Tertullian questions the wisdom of giving baptism to infants. He says,
According to everyone’s condition and disposition, and also his age, the delaying of baptism is more profitable, especially in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if [baptism itself] is not necessary—that the sponsors should be thrust into danger? For they may either fail of their promise by death, or they may be mistaken by a child’s proving of wicked disposition…. They that understand the weight of baptism will rather dread the receiving of it, than the delaying of it. An entire faith is secure of salvation! (de baptismo, ch. xviii)
What we see here is that the first explicit witness to infant baptism does not assume that it is a given. In other words, at the turn of the third century it is not taken for granted, as it is 200 years later when St. Augustine addresses the matter. Tertullian speaks the way one would if the practice were in dispute, possibly as a more recent development.
When we look at the New Testament, the closest thing to infant baptism that we find is the reference to three “households” being baptized. In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Paul says, “Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.” In Acts 16:15, Luke reports concerning the new convert, Lydia, “When she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’” And in Acts 16:33, Luke tells us that after the earthquake in the jail of Philippi, the jailer “took [Paul and Silas] that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his [household].”
It is significant that in regard to the family of the Philippian jailer Luke reports in Acts 16:32, just before mentioning the baptism of the jailer’s household, “[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” This seems to be Luke’s way of saying that hearing and believing the word is a prerequisite to baptism. The whole household heard the word and the whole household was baptized. In any case, there is no mention of infants in any of these three instances of household baptisms, and it is an argument from silence to say that there must have been small children. It would be like saying here at Bethlehem that a reference to Ross Anderson’s household or Don Brown’s or Dennis Smith’s or David Michael’s or David Livingston’s or dozens of others must include infants, which they don’t.
Yet from these texts, Joachim Jeremias, who wrote one of the most influential books in defense of infant baptism, concluded, “It is characteristic that Luke could report the matter thus. For by so doing he gives expression to the fact that ‘the solidarity of the family in baptism and not the individual decision of the single member’ was the decisive consideration” (Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, 1960, p. 23, quoting Oscar Cullman, Baptism in the New Testament, 1950, p. 45). I would rather say that the entire drift of the New Testament, and many particular sayings, is in the opposite direction: it is precisely the individual in his relation to Christ that is decisive in the New Testament, rather than solidarity in the flesh. “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8).
Pastor John Piper


Popular posts from this blog

When God turns a deaf ear on prayers

Does God always hear people’s prayers, or do some pray in vain thinking that God hears them, when in reality He chooses to turn a deaf hear to their cries? Some may perhaps have a notion that all prayers are worthy, and God being who He is is by nature willing to listen and hear their prayers delightfully. They entertain the notion that it is their birth right for God to listen to their prayers and answer them accordingly. Also, there are some who come before the presence of the Lord with severe doubts, defeated by the devils whisper that they are such an unworthy soul that for them to lift up their cries to the Lord is an abomination. They are mute by their own wickedness, depressed and thus fail to pray.

What does the scripture say about God turning a deaf hear to prayers? It is to be said that God is sovereign and can choose to answer any prayer as He sees fit. He is altogether happy and never backed into a corner, God always does whatever He pleases for He is free to do as He wills…

What does it mean to live a godly life?

If you ever asked yourself the question, what does it mean to live a godly life? and if your not exactly sure what living a godly life involves, this extract taking from Charles Seet book 'A Christian in a non-Christian world' provides ample guidance on just what to do.

Now it is worth asking the question then, 'What does it mean to live godly?' It does not mean that we are just to confine ourselves within a set of rules and regulations. Some people reduce godly living to a list of 'do’s and don'ts.' But the meaning of godly living goes far deeper than that.

Godly living means living in the manner that God wants us to live. It means having the same feelings, attitudes and heart's desires that God has. It means that we love the things that God loves, care for the things that God cares for, and dislike those things which He dislikes. And since God loves righteousness, a godly person also loves righteousness. Since God hates sin, a godly person also hates …

Women of the Bible: Adah and Zillah

The Sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the fall of humanity. Every generation after them became wicked and that is why scripture affirms, ‘that there is no one righteous, no, not even one.’ Mankind became enslave to the passions of its flesh, its desires became its ruler and men followed the natural dictates of their hearts; and were it not for Sovereign grace, the race of men would now only be read of by angels in the library of extinct creatures. Adam and Eve witnessed the consequences of their sin in the death of their beloved son, Abel, by the hands of Cain who murdered his brother in anger and was thus sent away from the presence of God. My dear sisters, sin is not only sin when it is found in its extremes, sin is also sin in its subtlety and vanity. Sin is sin when one's affection is set on another and not on God, when one lives to please a thing or a being which is not God; this is also sin.
This becomes especially evident in the lives of Adah and Zillah the wives of Lamech. Th…