Friday, April 07, 2006

Having our baptismal cake and eating it too

The traditional assumption in the debate between Presbos and Baptists is that the NT church did one or the other: either baptized infants, or else it baptized believers.

Perhaps that is so.

But this assumption neglects the fact that there were two very differences classes of coverts in the NT church: Jews & Gentiles.

Since Jews had an entrenched and immemorial practice of infant circumcision, it would be quite natural for them to baptize infants.

Since Gentiles had no universal practice of circumcision, or fixed age for circumcision in those cultures which did perform it, there would be no such presumption.

Indeed, as we know, one reason many Gentile converts to the faith were God-fearers rather than full-fledged proselytes was due to a distaste for adult circumcision.

One authority says the following:

"Circumcision is practiced by man peoples in different parts of the world. In biblical times it was a custom among the West Semites (Hebrews, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites) but was unknown among the Eastern Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia. In Egypt, as indeed generally in the ancient world, circumcision was a rite performed either at puberty or in preparation for marriage. Among the people of Canaan the Philistines were exceptional in their nonadherence to the practice, and of them alone is the term 'uncircumcized' customarily used. An additional example of uncircumcised Canaanites is given in Gen 34:13-17, but there is the possibility that the Shechemites also were of non-Canaanite or non-Semitic descent," ISBE 1:700.

So, to the extent that Gentile Christians associated baptism with a rite of passage, they might well perform it at the same age as they used to perform their traditional rite of passage.

Of, if it was a culture which did perform circumcision, and associated baptism with the sign of the NT covenant, in contrast to the Old covenant sign, they might well perform it at the same age as they customarily administered circumcision, such as puberty or the onset of marriage.

It would be useful, in this regard, to do a systematic study of circumcision and other rites of passage in the Roman Empire leading up to the 1C and into the post-Constantinian era.

5. As the early church achieved legal standing (e.g., Constantine; Theodotius), greater centralization (monarchical episcopacy), and the rising authority of episcopal sees situated in the Eastern & Western capitals of the Roman Empire (Rome, Constantinople), standardization occurred.

Perhaps it's possible to have our baptismal cake and eat it to.

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