4 Stars Out Of 5
Well Researched Resource
June 22, 2015
There is evidence that for 1500 years, from the Resurrection to the Protestant Reformation, the church practiced infant baptism.
Its not uncommon for modern Christians to believe that infant baptism is an artifact of the Roman Catholic Church; done away with when the Anabaptists of the 1600s discovered the real meaning of the New Testament and did away with all the corruptions of the Roman Catholics. Christianity, however, wasnt legalized by Rome until the fourth century and the Roman church didnt usurp authority over the whole church until the fifth century. That leaves four centuries of pre-Roman Catholic Church that practiced infant baptism.
What happened in those four centuries is the focus of Joachims book. While there is no direct example of infants being baptized in the New Testament there is a great deal of evidence that it was happening.
Joachim Jeremias book is a scholarly work originally published in 1960. It is not intended to be a cleverly worded narrative of ancient history and theology. It is a dry read, not unlike a technical document in an obscure class on an esoteric topic. Not only is it a translation from German to English it still includes Greek and Latin phrases that in many cases remain untranslated. The author expects you to discern the translation from the text and, thankfully, Joachim is thorough in his descriptions making this a relatively straightforward endeavor.
What Joachim does exceptionally well is take you through a process of getting the reader into the right mindset and put the argument in historical, societal and theological context. To that end, the evidences are presented in four chapters in chronological order. What I have here should be considered highlights of a larger case, or the things that stood out to me on one reading, and not complete arguments in themselves.
Joachim starts with the culture of the early believers. In the ancient east they did not think in individualistic terms like we do today in the modern west. The beginning of Christianity took place in a culture where one person could bring shame, or honor, to the entire family. We see this played out in Acts 16 where Lydia (presumably the head of the household) believed and the entire household was baptized. Again the Philippian Jailer believed and was baptized, along with his entire family.
This gives added meaning to a passage like 1 Corinthians 7:14 where Paul says the children are made holy even by one believing parent. Children of believing parents were considered part of the church and therefore eligible for baptism. In Acts 21:21 we learn that Paul was instructing Jewish believers not to circumcise their children, but Paul also considered baptism the Christian circumcision (Col 2:11). Since children were circumcised under the Old Covenant, it is probable that Jewish believers would have interpreted baptism as including children in the New Covenant. This is also supported by Mark 10:13-16 when Jesus declared that the children should not be forbidden to come to him.
Moving forward in history to Tertullian, a theologian in the late 100s and early 200s, we have the first known dispute against infant baptism. In between the New Testament and Tertullian, Joachim offers several tomb stone inscriptions and writings about children who died in infancy and toddlerhood and are described as believers. Given the 1000s of years of Jews circumcising infants, the lack of argument against baptizing children and the description of infants as believers, Tertullians argument isnt against a new practice, but rather an established practice.
In the fourth century Augustine is known to have written that no heretic renounced the baptism of infants showing that infant baptism was not started by heretics, but rather corrupted by them. As Joachim writes, In 388 Chrysostom in Constantinople in the Homily to Neophytes lauds the batismatis largitates and draws therefrom the conclusion Therefore we baptize little children also, although they have no sin (italics are the authors).
Joachim finishes with a note from Augustine, who may have been the last theologian before the usurpation of Rome. Augustine, writing against the heretical Pelagians, wrote that, [They] would have reason to fear that men would spit in their faces and women would throw their sandals at their heads if they dared to say of infantes, Let them not be baptized. A drastic reaction perhaps, but still showing that infant baptism was an established practiced in the early church.
If youre interested in the history of baptism, Joachims work is a must read as it is an historical investigation and not necessarily a theological one. As I said, Im summing in a page what Joachim expounded on in 100 pages with replete footnotes. Whether you agree with infant baptism or not, Joachims work is not a show piece for the faithful, but rather an in depth and well documented study that infant baptism was a regular practice in the church starting with the Apostles.