Did the Apostolic Church Baptise Babies? A Seismological Approach -- By: Anthony N. S. Lane

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 55:1 (NA 2004)
Article: Did the Apostolic Church Baptise Babies? A Seismological Approach
Author: Anthony N. S. Lane


Did the Apostolic Church Baptise Babies?
A Seismological Approach1

Anthony N. S. Lane

Summary

The direct evidence from the first century is insufficient to establish conclusively whether or not the apostolic church baptised babies. An alternative approach is to look at the practice of the post-apostolic church and to ask what must have happened in apostolic times to account for this later development. Unequivocal evidence is not found until the beginning of the third century and for the next two centuries and more we see a variety of practice, with the children of Christian homes being baptised at any and every age. Significantly, no one claimed that anyone else’s practice was unapostolic or wrong in principle. Given that oral tradition offered real, though limited, access to the past, the most natural explanation is that this acceptance of a variety of practice goes back to apostolic times.

I. Introduction

These days, if there is an earthquake in Los Angeles, scientists in London can measure and describe it. How can they do this if they are not on the spot to witness it? The answer is that they can measure and interpret its effects at a distance. The situation is similar with the question of infant baptism in the apostolic church. We don’t have an explicit witness from the time. One way of surmounting this problem is to torture the early evidence in order to make it say more than the

authors intended, to read between the lines of first-century documents. This is a valid approach, but there is another – to seek to measure first-century practice by its effects in subsequent centuries. This paper has no new evidence to offer. The topic is so well-discussed that it is unlikely that anything has been missed.2 What it does offer is not so much a different interpretation of individual items of evidence as a fresh way of looking at the whole picture. We will adopt a ‘seismological approach’, asking what must have happened in apostolic times in order to account for the evidence of later centuries.

First, it might help to clarify what we are looking for. The word ‘infant’ will be used to refer to those considered too young to answer for themselves.3 There are a number of different questions to be answered. (1) When is the practice of believers’ baptism first attested? (2) When is the first indisputable reference to infant baptism? (3) When is the first indisputable reference to the baptism at any age of someone from a Christian home? (4) When is infant baptism firs...

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