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The Bulletin Insert Sunday 8th May, 2016 Year C Is infant baptism biblical?

Lismore Anglican Parish Bulletin Insert – Sunday 8th May 2016, Easter 7

Is infant baptism biblical? Acts 16:16-34, Revelation, 22:12-21, John 17:20-26

In today’s and last Sunday’s Lectionary readings from Acts we encounter two Scripture references often used in support of the practice of infant baptism. We learn that upon Lydia’s conversion, she and her whole household were baptized (vs. 15) and that when the Philippian jailor believed, he and his entire family were baptized immediately (vs. 33).

The common objection from those who don’t believe infant baptism to be biblical is that in neither case are children, let alone infants, specifically mentioned. They therefore state that this is merely an argument from silence, and as such (excuse the pun), doesn’t hold any water.

Whilst it is true that these two examples are arguments from silence, when we look at the meaning of this passage in the original language (Koine Greek) and place it in the context of the ancient world generally, and first century Judaism specifically, it becomes rather compelling.

For starters, the Greek word for household (oikos) was frequently used to describe a family with children (e.g. 1 Tim 3:4-5, 12; 5:4). Also, whilst most English translations of this passage are ambiguous, due to our lack of differentiating between ‘you’ plural and ‘you’ singular, the original Greek is very clear; The Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas’ “what must I do to be saved?” and they said “believe (singular) on the Lord Jesus and you (singular) will be saved, you and your household… then he and his entire family were baptised without delay… and he and his entire household rejoiced that he (singular) had become a believer in God.

In the ancient world, when the head of the family acted, he did so for the whole family. Where the head went, the family followed, such was the solidarity of the family. Perhaps in the Philippian jailor’s case, it was only he who expressed faith, but his whole family was welcomed into the church through the waters of baptism. Thus, it can be argued, that all members of a believer’s family, including infants and children, were baptised, whereupon, at an appropriate age, they were able to make up their own minds whether or not to respond in faith to God’s gracious initiative.

This was most certainly the case when Gentiles converted to Judaism, and it is abundantly clear that the early church closely followed this practice. The language the rabbis used of newly baptised converts to Judaism is most telling. The newly baptised is ‘like a new born child,’ ‘a new creation,’ ‘raised from the dead,’ ‘born anew,’ whose ‘sins are forgiven.’ Sound familiar?

Acts 16:16-34                                                                                                                                 16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you[a] a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer[b] called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord[c] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

John 17:20-26                                                                                                                                 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”