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Baptism and Reconciliation
Condensed from “Baptism, Reconciliation and Unity” (chapter 4) by Kevin Roy, who is Lecturer at the Baptist Theological College, Cape Town.

Who was baptised in the NT?

The household baptisms recorded in the New Testament have been a source of not a little discussion by scholars.  Paedobaptists suggest that some of these households must have contained infants, so infants were obviously baptised in New Testament times.  Baptist scholars reply that careful examination shows it is impossible that infants could have been included in these baptisms.

 A. Konig* makes the perceptive point that in order to know whether the phrase “he and his household were baptised” includes the infants, it is first necessary to know whether infants were baptised or not.  For instance, “he and his household ran away” cannot include the infants, since infants cannot run; but “he and all his household were killed” must include the infants, since infants can be killed.  The meaning of “his household were baptised” depends on the answer to the prior question about whether it was the practice of the church to baptise infants, and not vice-versa.

 The historical approach

The question of the early church’s practice was debated by Jeremias and Aland* who came to opposite conclusions: Jeremias maintaining that the early church did baptise infants and Aland that it did not.  Although this seems an impasse, what did emerge was the large body of information on which they agreed, and which is now generally held as a consensus view.  These areas are: lack of conclusive evidence before AD 200, existence of various practices after AD 200, a developing sacramental theology, the catechumenate in the third century, and emergency baptism administered to catechumens and unbaptised children who were in danger of death.  From these we can come to a tentative view on the developments and variations in the baptismal practices of the early church.

If we do so, we cannot avoid the conclusion that all contemporary baptismal practices are a development of the apostolic baptism of the NT, but that all of our present-day practices differ from the NT pattern.  In the NT it seems that baptism was administered by any Christian to any person desiring to become a Christian at any place and at any time.  By contrast, all our denominations have delayed baptism, reserved it to special times, places and ministers, and given it a structure and planning which is remarkably lacking in the NT.

Is anyone right? 

Rather than conclude that all are wrong, it would be better to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses in all modern practices, and so to engage in authentic dialogue towards reconciliation and unity.  Baptism is incorporation into one body in unity: let us acknowledge our common base of partial knowledge and our need of one another for wholeness. 

*A Konig “Die doop as kinderdoop en grootdoop” 1986; J Jeremias “Infant baptism in the first four centuries” 1958 (English translation SCM 1960); K Aland “Did the early church baptise infants?” 1961 (SCM 1963); and J Jeremias “The origins of infant baptism” 1962 (SCM 1963).
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