Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Bad Argument Against Infant Baptism

In his book People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church Graham Twelftree has a small section on infant baptism.  He mentions that in the household baptisms of Acts "we have found do direct evidence to help decide whether or not he would have thought this included baptizing babies" (p. 100).  This is fairly standard baptistic argumentation--no infants explicitly mentioned.  Twelftree goes beyond this, though, when he tries to use an "indirect approach" to draw his baptistic conclusions.  Part of his argument is as follows:
To begin with, it is probable Luke held the long-standing view, widely shared across the Hellenistic world, that children were marginal to society and did not 'count' so that he would not have taken them in to consideration even when describing a 'complete' (holos, Acts 18:8) household.  (p. 100)
In a footnote Twelftree references Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca, and Josephus to substantiate his claim.  What I find to be a glaring omission is the one person Luke may have been most ready to orient his views around--Jesus!  Yes, Luke was in a culture where children didn't "count" but he served a counter-culture Lord.  This is demonstrated by looking at Luke's own writings in Luke-Acts.

First, consider how Luke begins his gospel--with children!  Chapter one begins with the earliest life of John the Baptist.  He is to be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb (1.15).  This focus on the Holy Spirit is a particular Lukan emphasis in his writings.  Add to this that only Luke, out of the gospel writers, narrates this event of John's birth.  Of course, we have the moving interest in Jesus' conception and birth in Luke 1 and 2.  Luke is the only writer to mention Jesus growing up (2.40) and his time at the Temple (2.41-52).  Luke also narrates the healing of a twelve year old girl by Jesus (8.42, 54-56).  Children are also mentioned in Acts 21.5 as part of the people (church) that was bidding Paul farewell.

Most amazing in this regard is Luke 9.46-48:
An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.  But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by his side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great."
Sure sounds like Jesus is subverting the common culture understanding of greatness and children.  New Testament commentator Joel Green writes on this passage:
Taking a child, perhaps even the child he had just restored to health, he places the child in a position of honor at his side, then makes a pronouncement that undermines everything that the Roman world would have taken for granted regarding questions of status and social relations.  "To welcome" people would be to extend to them the honor of hospitality, to regard them as guests (cf. 7:44-46), but one would only welcome a social equal or one whose honor was above one's own.  Children, whose place of social residence was defined at the bottom of the ladder of esteem, might be called upon to perform acts of hospitality (e.g., washing the feet of a guest), but normally they would not themselves be the recipients of honorable behavior.  Jesus thus turns the social pyramid upside down, undermining the very conventions that led the disciples to deliberate over relative greatness within the company of disciples and, indeed, that had led the disciples away from any proper understanding of Jesus' status.  The Gospel of Luke (NICNT), pp. 392-392.
Many other instances of Jesus overturning the social conventions of his day could be enumerated but the point should be obvious.  We ought not to assume that Luke simply shared his cultural assumptions about children when he narrates the behavior of his Lord who overturns those cultural assumptions.  Infant baptism is not thus proved.  But what is shown is the fact that Twelftree's argument listed above is simply without any foundation whatsoever.