Saturday, March 04, 2006

Justin Martyr And The Early Absence Of Infant Baptism

Paul Owen has added a paragraph to his earlier article on infant baptism. The paragraph is meant to address what I wrote about Justin Martyr. However, Paul doesn't defend his original claims about Justin. Rather, he argues that I haven't shown that Justin didn't believe in infant baptism. In my article on Justin, I explained that arguing that Justin's testimony is inconclusive isn't the same as arguing that Justin probably believed in infant baptism. Paul originally argued that Justin probably believed in the baptism of infants. If he still holds that position, why isn't he interacting with what I said about the problems with it?

Paul writes:

"Jason cites Dialogue with Trypho, 24, 28, 33, 114; and Apology I.61. These passages simply do not affect my argument whatsoever, for one simple reason–they all are addressing baptism in the context of evangelism and the conversion of unbelievers."

The credo-baptist position maintains that all of those who are baptized are "in the context of evangelism and the conversion of unbelievers". If that's the only context that Justin discusses, perhaps it's because Justin didn't believe that people are baptized in other contexts.

Remember, Paul originally argued that it's probable that Justin believed in infant baptism. Paul is no longer defending his original argument, but instead is defending the lesser argument that Justin Martyr doesn't contradict infant baptism.

Paul writes the following about the passages I cited from Justin:

"They are not addressing the subject of the baptism of infants who are born within the Church to Christian parents. That is abundantly clear in every one of these quotes."

When Paul cited chapters 19 and 43 in Justin's Dialogue With Trypho, did he show that those chapters "address the subject of the baptism of infants who are born within the Church to Christian parents"? No, he didn't.

Most of the passages I cited are dismissed by Paul with nothing but an assertion that the passages are irrelevant. But I cited the passages for more than one purpose, to address more than one issue, such as how Justin viewed the relationship between circumcision and Christianity. Even if all of the passages were about the regeneration of converts and not about regeneration in general, as Paul claims, they would still be relevant to Paul's assertion that Justin probably believed in infant baptism. Again, there are two issues here:

1.) whether it's probable that Justin believed in infant baptism

2.) whether Justin contradicted infant baptism

Saying that my citations are irrelevant to the second doesn't prove that they're irrelevant to the first.

Paul does say more about chapter 61 of Justin's First Apology than he says about the other passages I cited. He writes:

"In the quote from his Apology, I.61, Justin explicitly contrasts the free choice of baptism with the non-choice of those who are born to non-Christians, and so have been 'brought up in bad habits and wicked training.' Why on earth should we expect Justin to talk about infant baptism in the context of discussing people from outside the Church who have come to faith?"

In considering the plausibility of Paul's argument, let's first ask how likely it is that Justin Martyr would tell his audience about the baptism of people from non-Christian homes rather than addressing Christian baptism in general. Wouldn't it be more likely that Justin would want to tell his audience about Christians in general, not just one portion of the Christians who are baptized? Justin's apology is meant as a defense of Christians in general (First Apology, 1-5), so it would make more sense to address baptism in general. Paul's suggested interpretation is less natural at the outset.

Let's look at how Justin begins his comments on baptism:

"I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making." (First Apology, 61)

Who is the "we" Justin refers to? Only converts to Christianity from non-Christian homes? No, he's referring to Christians in general.

Has Paul Owen argued that infants are "made new through Christ" in baptism? Yes, he has. Justin, in contrast, associates that regeneration with people who "dedicate themselves", which wouldn't include infants. Paul would argue that Justin is only addressing people outside the church who are regenerated, but Justin doesn't add any such qualifier. Paul has to read it into the text.

Later in the same chapter, Justin explains:

"And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings."

Why would baptism in general be called "illumination", as a result of an illuminated understanding, if baptism was being applied to infants who weren't "learning these things" for their illumination? Paul could argue that Justin is applying the term "illumination" only to the baptism of non-infants, but we would have to ask what reason we have for thinking that Justin has in mind a separate category for infants.

As I said before, Justin's testimony isn't as explicit as that of a Tertullian (against infant baptism) or a Cyprian (for infant baptism), but I don't see how it can be denied that his testimony leans in the credo-baptist direction, unless we're given better reasons than Paul Owen has offered. The fact that Justin paralleled baptism with circumcision isn't sufficient reason to assume that Justin was repeatedly addressing only some baptisms when he made comments that are inconsistent with the inclusion of infants.

Paul refers to a sentence in chapter 61 of Justin's First Apology, where Justin refers to how "at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training". Paul tells us that the reference to "bad habits and wicked training" is a reference to being raised as a non-Christian. Therefore, we're told, Justin must only be addressing converts from non-Christian homes. But anybody who grows up unregenerate, and is continually being influenced by the world around him, is going to have "bad habits and wicked training" to some extent, even with Christian parents in his life. Just before this sentence Paul is focusing on, Justin quotes a passage in Isaiah and applies it to baptism. It's a passage telling the Israelites about how wicked they are and how they need to be cleansed. Isaiah was addressing circumcised children of Jewish parents, yet he refers to them as wicked and in need of cleansing.

But let's grant Paul's argument here for a moment. Even if Justin is referring to people from non-Christian homes at this point in his comments, it doesn't follow that all of his comments I cited in the First Apology are about such people.

If you go on to read chapters 65-67 of the First Apology, you see that he's describing Christian practices in general, such as prayer, the eucharist, and the reading of scripture. He's not just commenting on converts to Christianity from non-Christian homes. He's addressing Christianity in general, how Christians in general behave.

If all children were to be baptized, then a large number of people would have been baptized as infants at the time when Justin wrote. As I said before, how likely is it that Christians were baptizing all of their infants, yet Justin repeatedly chose to describe baptism in terms that would exclude infants? How likely is it that his many comments on circumcision in his Dialogue With Trypho would never address the baptizing of infants? In the writings of Justin Martyr, we have a person who frequently discusses relevant subjects, such as Christian parallels to circumcision, regeneration, baptism, and other aspects of Christian church services. Yet, he never refers to the baptism of infants. When he does discuss baptism, he repeatedly makes comments about it that would exclude infants, and he never adds any qualifiers about how infants are baptized also, under different standards.

I anticipated Paul's line of reasoning in his latest response. In my last article, I explained that a paedo-baptist could argue that Justin was only addressing converts, not all people. But all recipients of baptism are converts in some sense under the credo-baptist view. If Justin only discusses the baptism of people who come to faith after living in sin, then that's what a credo-baptist would expect. If Paul Owen wants us to believe that Justin also supported the baptism of infants, then he needs to give us more than the fact that Justin paralleled baptism with circumcision. Or, if Paul wants to change his approach by only arguing that Justin's testimony doesn't support either position on this issue, then he ought to tell us that he's changed his mind. And he ought to explain why Justin's failure to include the baptizing of infants in so many relevant contexts doesn't lean in the credo-baptist direction.

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