Saturday, March 04, 2006

Justin Martyr And Infant Baptism

Paul Owen's latest article on infant baptism repeats some of his previous errors on Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Gregory Nazianzen without interacting with the refutations I posted in previous responses. However, he does address Justin Martyr in his latest article, which he hadn't done previously, so I want to discuss what Paul argues about Justin and infant baptism.

His case for infant baptism in Justin Martyr is similar to his case for infant baptism in Irenaeus, in that he once again relies on reading assumptions into the text while ignoring weightier contrary data. Paul doesn't even address what Justin wrote about baptism in chapter 61 of his First Apology, even though I cited that passage earlier. I'll quote it later in this article, and I think that the reader should understand why Paul didn't address it.

As I noted with Irenaeus, Justin Martyr discusses baptism many times. It's not as though he avoided any mention of infant baptism because of an absence of the theme of baptism in his writings. Rather, he discussed baptism much without mentioning infant baptism at all. He also discusses circumcision at length in his Dialogue With Trypho, and he makes a number of applications of the concept of circumcision to Christianity, but he never refers to Christians baptizing their infants rather than circumcising them. He does compare circumcision and baptism, but such comparisons don't lead to the conclusion of infant baptism unless other assumptions accompany the comparison. Since Justin doesn't supply those other assumptions, Paul Owen reads them into the text.

Does a comparison between circumcision and baptism require that both ceremonies be the same in every conceivable manner? No. So, how do we know how far the comparison is being taken? By the text and context. Does anything in the text or context of Justin Martyr suggest that the age of the recipients of circumcision is being repeated with baptism? No. Paul Owen wouldn't want us to assume that baptism can only be applied to males, since circumcision was only applied to males. He wouldn't want us to assume that circumcision was regenerative, since he thinks that baptism is regenerative. We can compare circumcision and baptism in some sense without intending a comparison in every sense. Paul needs to show that Justin intended baptism to parallel circumcision in being applied to infants. He hasn't shown that so far, and he won't be able to show it.

Let's look at some of the other comments Justin made about circumcision, not just the portions Paul quoted:

"Jesus Christ circumcises all who will - as was declared above - with knives of stone; that they may be a righteous nation, a people keeping faith, holding to the truth, and maintaining peace." (Dialogue With Trypho, 24)

Do infants "will" to be baptized? Do they "keep faith", "hold to the truth", and "maintain peace" as a result of a baptism that occurred in infancy?

Elsewhere, Justin tells us:

"But though a man be a Scythian or a Persian, if he has the knowledge of God and of His Christ, and keeps the everlasting righteous decrees, he is circumcised with the good and useful circumcision, and is a friend of God, and God rejoices in his gifts and offerings." (Dialogue With Trypho, 28)

Do infants "have the knowledge of God and of His Christ"? Do they "keep the everlasting righteous decrees"? Do they bring God "gifts and offerings"?

Justin writes:

"Those too in circumcision who approach Him, that is, believing Him and seeking blessings from Him, He will both receive and bless." (Dialogue With Trypho, 33)

Do infants "approach" God? Do they "believe in Him" and "seek blessings from Him"?

Justin tells us:

"For your first circumcision was and is performed by iron instruments, for you remain hard-hearted; but our circumcision, which is the second, having been instituted after yours, circumcises us from idolatry and from absolutely every kind of wickedness by sharp stones, i.e., by the words preached by the apostles of the corner-stone cut out without hands. And our hearts are thus circumcised from evil, so that we are happy to die for the name of the good Rock, which causes living water to burst forth for the hearts of those who by Him have loved the Father of all, and which gives those who are willing to drink of the water of life." (Dialogue With Trypho, 114)

Does infant baptism ensure that those infants will "be happy to die for the name of the good Rock"? Or does it seem more likely that Justin has a believer's conversion in view?

In the passage above, Justin refers to the preaching of the apostles as circumcision. As I said earlier, Justin applies the concept of circumcision to Christianity in a number of ways. Baptism is just one application. As D.R. de Lacey explains:

"At about the same time Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, provides the first link in a chain of development from Colossians 2:11 to the identification of baptism as 'Christian circumcision,' only for Justin the circumcision by which Gentiles are circumcised from their errors is achieved primarily by the words of the apostles (Dial. Tryph. 114.4; cf. Dial. Tryph. 19.2-3; only in Dial. Tryph. 43.2 is it said to be 'through' [dia] baptism)." (in Ralph Martin and Peter Davids, ed., Dictionary Of The Later New Testament & Its Developments [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997], p. 228)

Earlier, I mentioned chapter 61 in Justin's First Apology. Paul doesn't discuss that passage in his article, even though I had mentioned it earlier. It's a passage in which Justin is explaining Christian baptism to a non-Christian audience. Here would be a place to mention infant baptism as part of the explanation of what Christians practice. Instead, here's what we read:

"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. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated."

Justin refers to baptism in general as a ceremony in which the person baptized "dedicates" himself to God. Do infants do that in infant baptism? No. Justin goes on to refer to the recipient of baptism being "persuaded" and having "belief". The recipient attempts to live as a Christian. The recipient prays and fasts.

Later in that same chapter, Justin writes:

"And for this rite we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since 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; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings."

Justin contrasts the recipient of baptism with infants. The person baptized chooses to be baptized.

The most likely paedo-baptist response to all of these passages I've cited would be to suggest that Justin only meant to address converts, not all of those baptized. But that argument, if valid, would only render Justin's testimony inconclusive. It wouldn't result in Justin giving us evidence for infant baptism, as Paul Owen claimed he does.

But if Justin was living in the middle of the second century, with many children having already been born into Christian homes, why would he repeatedly ignore infant baptism while discussing baptism, circumcision, regeneration, and other related subjects so many times and at such length? Why would he so often make comments like the ones I've quoted above without even once adding a qualifier about how infants are an exception? Is it likely that Justin would contrast the recipients of baptism with infants, once again without any qualifiers, if he believed in infant baptism?

As I said before, Justin isn't as explicit as Tertullian. But when somebody discusses baptism, circumcision, and other related issues so much, yet he never mentions infant baptism and he repeatedly associates baptism with concepts that exclude infants, why should we think that it's likely that he believed in infant baptism?

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