Friday, March 03, 2006

Infant Baptism Before The Third Century

Paul Owen has posted another article on infant baptism, this time focusing on what Hippolytus wrote in the third century. Citing sources from the third century onward doesn't refute my argument. And Paul hasn't addressed what I wrote about Justin Martyr and other pre-Tertullian sources. He dismisses Tertullian as somebody "attracted" to Montanism, and he dismisses later sources that didn't baptize infants on the basis that they had motives similar to Tertullian's. But the fact that these sources disagreed with Paul Owen can't be overturned by referring to Tertullian's later association with Montanism and referring to later sources having motives similar to Tertullian's. I expect to address this subject again within the next few days, when I have more time, but for now I want to say more about Irenaeus.

Paul mentions Irenaeus in passing in his latest article, without interacting with what I said in my last response. Paul writes:

"What is interesting is that this work [Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition] provides us with one of our earliest sources of information about the practice of infant baptism (in addition to the earlier information supplied by Irenaeus and Tertullian)"

What do we learn about infant baptism from Irenaeus? The practice isn't mentioned anywhere by Irenaeus, even though there are many passages in which he discusses baptism or infant salvation. When he discusses infant salvation, baptism isn't involved.

Paul has focused on Irenaeus' belief that infants need regeneration, his belief that infants are among those Christ regenerates, and his statements about non-infants being regenerated through baptism. What if we were to apply the same reasoning to modern sources? If an Evangelical pastor argued for infant salvation, citing David's son in 2 Samuel 12 as an example, would we conclude that this pastor must believe that all infants who die have had faith in this life? After all, he believes that infants are born in sin. And he believes that Christ saves infants. And he believes that non-infants are saved through faith. Does it follow, then, that he must believe that all infants who die have had faith in this life? No, it doesn't.

Irenaeus does tell us how he views infants. In one place, he refers to infants being saved at a time when baptism wasn't yet practiced. Elsewhere, he refers to infants in general being saved because they're "innocent". Infant baptism isn't mentioned, and it isn't needed to explain why Irenaeus would think that Christ regenerates infants. If Irenaeus can attribute the salvation of infants to some factor other than infant baptism, and he never mentions infant baptism when discussing baptism, why should we think that he supports the case for infant baptism?

I wouldn't put Irenaeus in the explicit category, as I would with Tertullian (in opposition to infant baptism) and Cyprian (in support of infant baptism). But Irenaeus is similar to Justin Martyr in that his comments lean in support of the credo-baptist perspective without being as explicit as later sources. Irenaeus hurts Paul's case rather than helping it.

Again, I'll be writing more on this subject later.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying this series of posts. Keep up the fine work Jason.

    In Christ,