Thursday, March 10, 2011

Further Thoughts on Paedobaptism

Last week I asked a question: "How can infant baptism be considered the more biblical position when there is not a single example of it anywhere in scripture?" The comments generated were interesting and spirited.

Let me respond by saying up front that I understand the basic theological thinking behind paedobaptism. Proponents see a connection between New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision. Reading no explicit prohibition of the baptizing of infants, they feel obliged to follow the commands and examples seen under the Old Covenant when applying the sign of the New Covenant.

Support for the paedobaptist position relies heavily on the Old Testament since, as has been pointed out, no example of it can be found in the New Testament. Many point to passages like Acts 10:24-48, Acts 16:30-34, and 1 Corinthians 1:16, which mention the baptism of entire households. But the "entire household" argument is one made from silence, as there is never any mention of infants. In each instance, however, we can see that baptism followed belief in the gospel that had just been preached. I have a hard time picturing the disciples, in the middle of baptizing those who believed, saying, "While we're at it, let's take care of all the babies, too." With the exception of Jesus, baptism in the New testament is always preceded by repentance and faith.

Jesus ushered in a New Covenant that replaced the Old, so why this insistence that everything associated with Old Testament circumcision be carried over to New Testament baptism? Yes, all infants in ancient Israel were given the sign of the Old Covenant. And, yes, the unregenerate shared in the blessings of that covenant, even to the point of crossing over into the Promised Land. But scripture is quite clear who the members of the New Covenant are: those who have been born again.

What sealed the debate for me was what Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
If we have already died (past tense) to sin, and baptism symbolizes our sharing in Christ's death and resurrection, then how, by any interpretation, does that apply to unregenerate infants?

I would agree with those who say that this is not an issue over which we should divide. After all, baptism is not the gospel. I do think, however, that friendly discussion and debate over issues like this is helpful when all of us share the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of scripture and a closer walk with Christ.


Stan said...

I've spent some time examining the subject, too, and I've learned new respect for adherents of paedobaptism ... but I'm not convinced. Take, for instance that whole Acts 16 event in the "entire household" argument. First, as you point out, "And it included infants" isn't in there. It's an assumption. But the other thing that strikes me is "he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God." Assuming infants who were baptized without believing, we need to assume two other things. First, these infants (included in "entire household") would also have been rejoicing with him. Second, the suggestion seems to be that his whole household rejoiced with him that he believed ... but they didn't necessarily believe. Seems rather odd to me.

I have no problem with the parallel of covenant signs -- circumcision to baptism. However, I think there is an important difference. In biblical signs, there is a physical component and a spiritual component. Marriage, for instance, is a physical representation of a spiritual union with Christ. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a physical representation of Christ's sacrifice, a spiritual reality. So in baptism as the sign of the covenant, I try to draw the parallels. When was a person circumcised in the Old Testament? After birth. So when should the New Testament person be baptized? After the new birth. That is, they would be given the sign of the new covenant when they enter the new covenant.

But, hey, that's just me, right?

Nathan said...

Hi Lee,

I wonder if both positions rely essentially on an argument from silence, because if it were clear there wouldn't be a debate...

But I will say, from my knowledge of Greek, that the use of the word oikia and oikos elsewhere (the words for household) would include not only children, but extended family, servants, the children of servants, and possibly any clients the householder was a patron of... that'd be the most natural understanding of the word.

Children belong to a household, they belong to a family, if we're the family of God why would we not treat them as members until they ask to be thought of otherwise.

Lee Shelton said...

"I wonder if both positions rely essentially on an argument from silence, because if it were clear there wouldn't be a debate..."

Then couldn't the same be said of the Calvinism-Arminianism debate? Each side is certain theirs is the correct position, and each claims to have arrived at their respective conclusions through the prayerful study of scripture.

I am both a Calvinist and a credo-baptist, and, just as I believe there is sufficient biblical support for Calvinism, I think scripture supports the practice of baptizing believers. (I think the Romans 6 description of what baptism symbolizes is pretty strong.) However, given that it isn't a fundamental doctrine over which anyone should divide, I think the issue of baptism falls under the umbrella of Christian liberty.

chalee said...

“I have a hard time picturing the disciples…saying, ‘While we're at it, let's take care of all the babies, too.’ “

This points to the argument from silence from your side: you assume the babies would have been an afterthought. The OT makes clear that jews like Peter and Paul had been including babies in the covenant people their entire lives. I have a hard time picturing Peter needing to be told over and over that the food laws were really overturned after Jesus called it in Mark 7:19. I would have had the pork and shrimp stir fry that night…but I understand that Peter’s culture was different than mine…and that letting go of that culture usually required explanation (and repetition).

“Jesus ushered in a New Covenant that replaced the Old…”

But we would agree that there are numerous continuities – such as that “honoring your parents, the first commandment with a promise” is still valid. Weren’t the OT saints saved by faith?

Rumors aside, paedobaptists are willing to put aside everything that is specifically not continued in the NT, including animal sacrifice, circumcision and the food laws.

But when Peter quotes Gen17 in Acts2 in preaching primarily to “fellow jews” in Jerusalem, the natural reading suggests continuity in the matter of the inclusion of children. When a former pharisee like Paul writes about households, the natural reading would follow from the OT usage unless a distinction was made.

A lot of these issues did come up with the jews in the transition from the old to the new in the NT, but never the inclusion of children – which suggests (but doesn’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, of course) that that was not an issue because there was no change.

(JMO, but Paul doesn’t strike me as being that eager to repudiate Abraham and the promises to Abraham – Eph2 and Rom11, for example, also seem to point to continuity – where gentiles are grafted into something that already existed and continues on.)

“If we have already died (past tense) to sin, and baptism symbolizes our sharing in Christ's death and resurrection, then how, by any interpretation, does that apply to unregenerate infants?”

Would these unregenerate infants go to Hell if they died? For the sake of argument, let’s just agree that infants can’t confess faith.

Abraham “received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” - so how does that logically apply to infants? Paul was inspired to write both Rom6 and Rom4. Yet we agree that the sign of righteousness by faith was commanded to be applied to infants in the OT, right? Making the same argument about circumcision in the OT has no traction.

So if we agree that marking infants - and adults who had not been marked by circumcision as infants but wanted to worship God with the covenant people(Exod12:48) – was correct in the OT, I don’t get your confidence in your logic here. If it was correct then, how can you be certain that it is not now? (Other than that the new covenant is better and credobaptism “seems better” to us?)

The jews who mistakenly assumed that circumcised=saved and needed the clarification provided in Rom9 seem to me to have the same logic as those who have the NT yet still ask things like, “But if you baptize babies, does that mean you think they are saved?” Salvation has always been by faith, but children of the covenant have always been marked with the external sign of faith as the promise continues to be for us and our children.

The notion of baptism as a “rite of passage” for young adults in the church is appealing. It is less confusing than including babies – were it up to me, I would prefer that God had simplified things for both Abraham and us. I grew up under credobaptist teaching and I still appreciate those men. I understand the desire for a clearer teaching and agree that there is no Exod4 parallel in the NT ( ;-) ). We can at least agree that it should be an issue of conscience. (With that, I’ll finally leave you all alone - unless provoked.)

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